Divination: Art or Science? (1)

(Above: The Yin Yang symbol depicting polar opposites united in their life)

For as long as there have been humans on Earth, we have sought to find answers. Wise women and wise men have been cherished throughout history for their ability to throw ‘light’ on complex problems and situations. In our modern age, more people than ever find at least comfort and, often, guidance in some kind of fortune telling. My grandmother used to read tea leaves, using the pattern left when the (leaf) tea was swirled out of a cup at the end of a routine or ritualised consultation. Her advice was often sought.

I had a interesting childhood. I was raised in a mystically-active family, but felt the pull of a scientific career – ending up in computing. I never had any trouble reconciling the two, but was always hesitant to talk about it to other scientific types… There is a ‘religion’ of despising such things among the purists of science. Their prejudice is a strong as any of history’s zealous priests. Having said, that, the scientific method has brought immense benefits to mankind.

I was comfortable with divination because I could always see a bigger picture… Let me try to describe the basis of this:

What happens ‘inside me’, in terms of consciousness, is not really separated from the ‘out there’ of the world and its constant changes. I felt this long before I could offer any explanation for it. I knew that if I changed how I felt about someone, their behaviour to me would miraculously change, too. This doesn’t mean that I always did this, far from it…. our emotions are very strong with those we dislike and often override the still small voice of inner guidance.

We began this consideration of ancient Chinese wisdom by looking at the work of Lao Tzu (The Book of the Way – Dao Je Jing); (see The Old One and the Gatekeeper series).

The other great ‘book’, older than the Dao Je Jing, is the Book of Changes, otherwise known as the I Ching. Adopted by pop culture in the 1960s, the Yin Yang symbol was seen on everything from notebooks to tee-shirts. The Yin-Yang symbol is a later development, and has been associated with I Ching because its elements representing Yin – black, and Yang – White, are found in the broken and unbroken lines of the Hexagrams that are the ‘divined’ basis of the reading.

The Yin Yang symbol illustrates an idea from ancient times that the ‘whole’ is in constant motion – change. And that change, itself, is the real nature of the world. Things can be opposite yet still exist harmoniously. Each thing contains its opposite. Each thing becomes its opposite when it has reached its fullness and begins to decline.

We must learn to ride that constant change and be at peace with this. This is quite a statement. We are used to reality being the solidity of what is – and endures. Within the I Ching, the reality is shifted ‘upstairs’ to that process of change from which we take snapshots of our reality, much like, in quantum physics, how an electron in an atom obligingly reveals itself under quantum measurement, but is otherwise indeterminate in velocity and position.

Evolved and educated to seek stability as a basis for survival and prosperity, human nature finds this idea of harmony through change a difficult concept to embrace. Without stability, we reason, ‘fortune’ may be a fickle companion.

This idea has its parallel in Newton’s older and simpler non-quantum physics. Objects that move seldom do so with constant speed (velocity) – unless they are spacecraft. Newton showed, through a maths process called differentiation, that the derivative of a formula for velocity (speed) would produce a formula for acceleration. The latter is far more revealing, since it is linked to the real world of force. Force gives rise to motion, in the first place.

To slow an object requires force – imagine the sting of catching a well-struck cricket ball! Equally, to make an object move away from you with a throw requires the force of an uncurling arm. The ‘speeding up’ – acceleration, is equal to the force divided by its mass: the amount of substance it possesses.

Driving a car is, for example, a continuous process of acceleration and deceleration; controlled through exploding petrol in an engine moderated by the right foot. No wonder driving takes a while to grasp… Perhaps the difference between a driver and a watcher of fortune is that the driver is following a short-term goal of getting somewhere, whereas the ‘fortune hunter’ just wants to feel secure.

It’s a dramatic conclusion, but the universal Sea of Being does not offer security. Instead, it offers a science of personal change and an opportunity to learn how to sail.

All this may seem academic. However, in order to see that there is a ‘higher science’ of existence that lives happily in a dimension of ‘change’, we need to have these proven models to align us, correctly, with the potential to see differently.

This is the goal of the I Ching…

If we see the ‘out there’ as divided, we are not in harmony with the inevitable currents of change. If we see it as a fluid medium which must change, we begin to bring our consciousness into the ‘now’, taking new nourishment from the fact that its sparkling presence is the result of that constant ‘replenishment’. The present state cannot do anything put ‘perish’ to make way for the next packet of the new…

Science has shown us that both matter and energy cannot be destroyed. We can only change the form – the organisation – of its substance. Nor can we know that substance as something separate from our own consciousness.

The I Ching is a ‘book’ of collective wisdom, drawn from truly ancient times, and refined over the centuries. One of the most insightful teachers I know refers to it as a ‘Solar Work’ and uses it, herself, to describe the inner detail of a pattern of events. She has done this for many decades and views the I Ching as a constant and reliable companion.

This ‘book’ has been condensed into 64 ‘cores’ of wisdom, rendered as hexagrams, as in the image, below. The process of consulting the I Ching is one of ‘drawing’ a randomised reference to these hexagrams and reading the wisdom it offers, at various levels of detail.

(Above: A hexagram as used by the I Ching)

You can even buy an App for your mobile phone…. good ones, too. The best give you a choice of having random numbers generated for you or letting you throw three coins and entering the results to get the reading.

We will look at this, the consulting process, in the next post. For now, it is important to consider the idea of divination, itself…

The elements of effective divination are:

  1. To have a repeatable process of consultation – ‘looking up’ a guiding text or picture in response to a question, a feeling, or just to set a reflective theme for the day.
  2. To actively feel a connection to the external actions. In the sense of my explanation, above, to know that there is no real separation from in-here and out-there, other than what we are taught about the pre-eminence of reason over everything else.
  3. To loosen the faculty of reason and let something else speak, by way of inspiration.
  4. To open and close the process with respect… and a certain feeling of love for something that is letting us ‘touch’ another reality.

Next week, I will consult the I Ching before writing the Thursday blog. We shall see what it has to offer us in terms of describing itself!

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Marking the Horizon

Our garden is south-facing, which is lovely when the sun shines, as we benefit from its rays through most of the day.

I’ve begun to write about the history of our ‘gunpowder’ village of Sedgwick in other posts. The old (drained) canal bed that runs through our garden has been a challenge to incorporate into a coherent design, but, a decade on, we seem to have achieved it.

One benefit of the garden’s orientation is that the evening sun sets along a ridge about a mile away. In winter and early spring we have a clear view of this progression, as each day gives it a little more clockwise distance along the horizon line. As the foliage on the far side of the canal grows with the maturing summer, the ridge becomes more difficult to see, but is always there to our right – given that the sun is visible at all…

The approach to midsummer is, for me, the most emotionally powerful time of the year. As a mystically inclined person, I marvel each year at the level of sheer ‘aliveness’ that permeates the summer air, particularly as the sun is setting over that far ridge and filling the Cumbrian world with a last blaze of gold as it sinks between the distant trees.

I take a lot of photographs, as you may know from previous posts. One of the delights of the summer is to poke a long lens towards that sunset and let the blends and reflections create Their own work of art. It doesn’t matter if the photo is not technically good. What matters is to bathe in the beauty of the blazing reds and oranges as they project through the wooden branches of the near and far trees and shrubs.

Beginning in late March, if the day is clear, I will often be found nurturing a final cup of tea on our patio (occasionally, something stronger) and snapping dozens of shots of the moments just before, and just after, the sunset. I throw away most of these, but the odd few are worth keeping… and on a correspondingly dark day in winter, provide some fuel for the soul and a sense of ‘hang on in there’. Cumbria has long, dark and wet winters, which makes the spring and summer all that more precious. Summer, itself, is not guaranteed, though we always have the intense green and the knowledge of summer.

I’ve often tried to express that glorious feeling of the gentle months. It’s not just the obvious warmth, though that is pleasant. There is also a softness to the air, and the sense that it is filled with a kind of creative energy. There is the sense that you are being pulled out of the body and into a state of merged being… I suspect that we all, as children, do this naturally, and that is why kids go crazy with energy and fun when the sun shines.

Really, it’s a state of just being. As a verb it doesn’t need an object: In that golden state, I don’t need to be anything… It’s bigger than that and I will dilute it if I restrict it to a something. That golden feeling of summer captures this. Just to be is the most powerful thing possible. Throughout mystical history, people have sought to express and symbolise this in different ways. The Christian world, for example, names the longest day the Feast of St John. John is viewed as the most mysterious and the most mystical of the Christian fathers, and, for me, the attribution fits well.

This year, Bernie and I have decided to create a permanent marker in the garden to show the alignment with the solstice and the Sun’s final point of zenith on the horizon. One of my sons and his wife bought me, for my birthday last year, an armillary sphere, otherwise known as a spherical astrolabe. This is a model of objects in the sky, based on the the celestial sphere above us, rather than the celestial globe, which is a smooth sphere that maps the constellations.

The armillary sphere consists of a spherical framework of rings, centred on the theoretical Earth or the Sun. It shows lines of longitude and latitude and other important features such as the ecliptic. Our intention is to design a setting for it whereby the arrow can point to the point of farthest progress of the Sun as it crosses the far ridge in its final moment of setting.

This marking of the horizon of the longest day is, of course, an ancient practice. The solstice has been associated with festivals of ‘full-nesss’ for as long as mankind has gazed at the heavens and given thanks for the energy than enables us to have food for our bodies. The harvest comes later. The energy of the Sun is, by then, embedded in what keeps our bodies alive.

We hope our marking of the horizon in this way will provide us a little ‘food for the soul’ as we inch towards the third week in June. This simple act of marking the horizon, will become very special in the weeks to follow.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Joyous Photograph

(Above: the first of four simple photographic techniques for making local walks very special…)

From a photographic perspective, we live in a wonderful age. Even the most humble of today’s mobile phones boasts a decent camera. Used within their limitations, we can achieve an amazing record of our days – even locally to our homes – with the use of a few simple techniques.

My wife and I, plus our cat and dog, are lucky to live in the countryside, just south of Kendal, in Cumbria. Like everyone else we are ‘locked down’ except for buying food and exercising our Collie dog. The emergence of the spring has been a welcome respite, and has enabled a wider choice of photographic opportunities.

In my experience, taking photographs is a deeply therapeutic activity. It gets you out of the house, and makes you focus on something very positive. For the shots I’ve used in this blog my criteria were:

1. To walk only a short distance from home. A typical morning dog walk takes us about two hours and sees us less than two miles away, as we meander and the collie gets lots of ball-chucking.

2. To photograph only objects that are commonplace. The essence of this kind of challenge is to find something special in the ordinary.

3. To use only my mobile phone to take the shots, leaving cameras with more sophisticated lenses at home. Generally this means that the emphasis will be on the close-up shot, but, as we shall see, there can be exceptions.

The opening shot, above, is at the farthest point of our walk. The path along the old canal bank takes a sharp left and dives down into a field with sheep. This removes the middle ground and opens up the perspective available. A few seconds spent exploring the composition through the viewfinder can reveal a pleasing mix of foreground and distant background – in this case, a faded view of the Lakeland hills to the north-west, contrasting with the old limestone and aged wood of the fence.

(Above: Sedgwick House – once a gunpowder mangate’s mansion)

The second image, above, is of Sedgwick House, in the middle of the village. Once the palatial home of a local gunpowder magnate, the gothic-style mansion has seen many roles; including army base and children’s home. Following a recent building conversion, Sedgwick House is now divided into luxury apartments.

I’ve photographed it many times, but today was the first time I’ve seen the light so perfectly balanced between the dappled area beneath the trees and the brighter approach to the building. The two tall trees should have interfered with the shot but, due to their helping frame the light effects, they have actually enhanced it.

(Above: the ‘skewed bridge’ in the centre of the village – this once carried the full weight of the canal across the main road)

The third shot is of the ‘skewed’ aquaduct in the centre of Sedgwick. What is now known as the ‘Lancaster’ canal once ran all the way into Kendal. The canal-carrying bridge was built using advanced stonemason techniques that allowed the shape to be bent. This avoided having to reshape the road into a ‘z’ bend. The photo deliberately emphasises the skewed right arm of the structure, thereby demonstrating its length. The tiny view into the continuing main street is a visual surprise in something so massive and dense.

(Above: the final shot – nature bursts out in the very special hue of spring green)

The final photo is simply a tree bursting with the unique green hue of the spring. It’s impossible not to feel joy in its presence – especially after such a long and muddy winter. Always look for the dappled light at the base of the tree – it’s a joyous as the green on a lovely day like this.

Four simple techniques and sample shots. Anyone can take such photos, and come back home feeling something deliberate and mindful was achieved in the daily exercise walk. In addition, the air is clear and beautiful, given that there is so little traffic on the roads. Get your camera out and take advantage while it lasts… It will give you a record to discuss with your grandchildren, if nothing else!

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Line across the Moon

(Above: photo by the author)

The neighbour and I were speaking softly, last night, looking through the spring buds at the rising of the full moon. We were talking about the Covid-19 epidemic and its lockdown.

“I’ll be glad when this is over,” he mused

I nodded my agreement, but privately held other thoughts…

What exactly is ‘this’ I wondered? Have we really thought through what we are all going through?

Many things have come to a ‘harvest’ over the past few years, among them are:

The state of world politics has grown bleak. Particularly in the USA and the UK – which, not surprisingly, seem to be linked by far more than a common language and historic genes. So much that we took for granted as ‘the normal state of civilisation’ has been swept aside by the force, abuse of information and the power of the super-rich. We all seemed to take a breath and wait for the natural intervention of hidden guardians who would keep the faith with kindness and the kind of liberal values many of us thought were the established bedrock of our societies.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, that ‘old order’ seemed weak in its ability to do anything. Stronger, perhaps, in the home and communities that watched with horror as so much that had been hard-won was torn apart, as a wild dog might destroy a fine meal.

On another important issues, the general concern about ecology and looking after the Earth seemed subsumed by the single focus on a gas – carbon dioxide – now increasingly dubbed ‘evil’ despite being an utterly essential molecule of life. The complex relationships being modelled as ‘climate change’ have become so polarised that no alternative viewpoints are possible without being pilloried. I’m content to let the experts agree that their simulations, plus ‘much faster than ever before’ warming is taking place. But I’m not going to declare war on a gas that, until the start of the industrial revolution (1760 – 1840) had declined to such an extent that oxygen-breathing life on Earth was about to be threatened with extinction. Global warming may well be central, but our concern for the planet should be on a wider front…

Ironically, this is happening despite politics. Electricity generated from renewables (especially wind power) has now developed to such an extent that nuclear power is generally reckoned to have no future at all. I can only see this as an example of a much more potent ‘will of the people’ than the manipulation of political opinion during a once-in-five-years election that supposedly represents democracy. The alternatives to democracy are terrible, but are we really sure we have democracy in the first place?

And, now we have Covid-19. It’s a deadly ‘novel’ virus believed to emanate from bats via pigs in the ‘wet-markets’ of China. It has cut through the world’s societies without regard to any kind of status, wealth or privilege – though, like any illness, it infects the poor first, and hits them hardest. Most of the jobs being lost are lower paid ‘caring’ jobs that we’ve suddenly found so essential.

As I write this, the British Prime Minister is in intensive care in one of London’s top NHS hospitals, suffering from the deadly virus… in a country which has yet to begin to face the difficulties of ‘Brexit’ that lie ahead in our severed world.

And, it was this more that any other thing that has happened that made me think of a different level of meaning to what is changing all our lives.

My neighbour was staring at a beautiful full moon that had just emerged from behind the trees. It was so clear you could see its features with the naked eye. Quietly, he said, “It’s like someone has drawn a line across the moon… no-one can take their eyes off it.”

In that moment, I saw a new meaning to the Covid virus and its world-wide epidemic of misery and death. It was forcing us all, young and old, rich and poor, to think differently and as a single life-form.

The most potent part of this thought is the fragility of our world; not ‘world’ in the sense of nature – that will go on regardless of man’s waste, greed and folly – but ‘world’ as the way we live our daily lives.

The shock we are all feeling is a result of our previous way of life coming to an end, and of all of us staring into this face of the unknown ‘land’ where almost everything we took as inviolate is gone or dramatically changed… No longer will any British politician – regardless of ‘left’ or ‘right’ affiliation – be able to say that state money on a vast scale should not be spent from the country’s reserves to help people in need. That is already happening under the Conservative government’s own plan; recognising that those needy people are the very molecules of the economic system, itself – its life-blood.

All it took was a threat bigger than politics and more immediate than ‘climate change’.

That state of ‘gone’ may be temporary…or it may not. For the first time in living memory, nature has looked us in the face and dared us to survive. The scientific bits of how this happened are important. I’m not looking for some action of ‘God’ in this catastrophe. But, collectively, we are awakening in a world changed beyond belief in the shortest of timeframes. The power of this change makes politics look irrelevant. But perhaps the politics that might replace the stagnation of our present systems of government will find their birth in what the philosopher Gurdjieff would have called a ‘necessary shock’ to the system of regular rotation of events.

The archetypal ‘bully’ is on the floor, struck by a chance blow as we fell. But we can be first on our feet, and a changed and dramatic future may await those who can ride this energy of the new as the spectre of the world-virus fades from sight…but not from memory.

A ‘line across the moon’ indeed. Here’s to the sunrise…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Isolation or soul-elation?

Caroline Ormrod is one of the Companions of the Silent Eye working through the first year of the three-year journey towards the real nature of the individual Soul. I am delighted to be her supervisor for this process. Her brief and light-hearted bio is appended to this post. Recently, along with her weekly email ‘journal’ of progress and experiences, she sent me a short article she had written inspired by the upside of what we are all going through with the Covid-19 virus and its imposed social isolation.

(Above: Caroline Ormrod, the author of the rest of this post)

In this, she used the words ‘I-soul-ation’ (to replace isolation), and ‘In-soul-ation’ (to replace insulation). I asked if she would consider contributing it to our weekly cycle of posts here on the Silent Eye. She did this with gusto, and also provided the photographs and quotations used here.

I hope this gives the reader as much inspiration as it did me. Our thanks to Caroline for this important contribution to the Silent Eye’s Work.

Here is her article…


The Gifts of I-soul-ation and In-soul-ation

During this time of global uncertainty, we are being gifted a brief glimpse into possibilities and the wonder of the Universe.  Many of us are in isolation, insulating ourselves from the daily habits and interactions to which we have become accustomed.  Now, we are being required to slow down and reassess, to connect with and re-experience our Selves; to take into account the words of Ralph Waldo Emmerson who warns ‘But your isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation’. (see Ref 1, below).

(Above: Figure 1 – Photo courtesy of Ramona Thiessen)

The act of isolation is becoming one of i-soul-ation in which ‘I’ gets to tear off the mask of our habitual being and dive down deep into that which makes the ‘I’ unique – the purpose and goal of your Essence.  Isolation is alternatively, ‘the  condition of being  alone, especially when this makes you  feel  unhappy’ and ‘the  fact that something is  separate and not connected to other things’. (Ref 2)

(Above: Figure 2 – Photo by the Author)

However, neither of these definitions is ever true.  Although we may physically be separated (and, therefore, the ‘other’ may not even exist), we are intimately connected, not only to each other, but also to the whole world and Universe, as the spread of the C-19 virus demonstrates.  Just as we cannot see the threads that connect us to each other – or even, really, see each other at all – in times of isolation, the threads are present and gifted to us, just as they are present in our connection with our Soul.  This gift of i-soul-ating is donating time, space and direction to our ultimate goal of soul-connection. 

(Above: Figure 3 Photo courtesy of Ramona Thiessen)

We have been offered a choice here – we can buy into the propaganda which declares that isolation is horrific and we should be struggling and unhappy with the situation or we can be proactive and productive and buck that perspective by utilising this time offered to refine and condense our Selves into ourselves. 

(Above: Figure Four – Taken by the Author)

Similarly, the act of insulation, in-soul-ation, asks that ‘I’ find that which warms and comforts the Soul; in reality, that ‘I’ who finds warmth and comfort from the Soul like a big thick blanket and a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day.   Insulation is ‘the act of covering something to stop heat, sound, or electricity from escaping  or entering, or the  fact that something is covered in this way’. (Ref 3)  These aspects that we are stopping are our energies, our life resources that, although they may be invisible (like the threads joining us all), are vital to our survival, not only physically, but our whole being on all levels, especially those that access hope, faith, joy and love.  By in-soul-ating, we invite our Soul to join us in our daily physical lives, to merge with the already-well-practiced physical being who feels disconnected and alone.


(Above: Figure 5 Photo courtesy of Kristie Virgoe)

We are back-end co-ordinators – and, if you are reading this, then you are too, whether you recognise it immediately or not – and we are being called to our Work at this time.  We are being offered an opportunity, not only to i-soul-ate and in-soul-ate personally and individually, but also to support the whole population of the Earth, all her beings and the larger, wonderfully expansive and giving Universe of which we are a part.  In i-soul-ation, we move inside to explore our gorgeous inner Soul; in in-soul-ation, we encompass that energy and allow it to expand into the farthest reaches of our Cosmos, insulating all.  We are being summoned by the words of George Bernard Shaw who said ‘I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can’. (Ref 4)

It is time for us to practice our own privilege.


(Above: Figure 6 Photo courtesy of Ramona Thiessen)  

Author’s Bio:

Caroline Ormrod is an eternal student, questioning and exploring all aspects of this marvellous universe in which we live.  She is proud to be a Companion in The Silent Eye School of Consciousness, having graduated from, among other things, the Servants of the Light New Main Course and achieving a Masters’ in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology from the Sophia Centre at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.  Mother of four home-schooled young adults, Caroline enjoys spending time with her family, writing and editing and contemplating the mysteries of the Universe.  During this time of i-soul-ation and i-soul-ation, Caroline is reviving her love of yoga and keeping the candle industry strong and vibrant!

Caroline lives in Canada and is currently anchoring an etheric ‘Indigo Energy Tsunami’ at 1:00 p.m. E.S.T.  to in-soul-ate the world. All are welcome to take a seat, light a candle and send prayers, love, grace and gratitude to all the beings of our planet, to our beloved Mother Earth and out into the magnificent Cosmos.

References:

[Ref 1] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance, Essays: First Series (1841), [accessed March 30, 2020] https://emersoncentral.com/ebook/Self-Reliance.pdf p. 16. [1] (Cambridge Dictionary Online, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/isolation, accessed March 25, 2020).

(Ref 2) (Cambridge Dictionary Online, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/isolation, accessed March 25, 2020).

[Ref 3] (Cambridge Dictionary online https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/insulation accessed March 25, 2020). 

[Ref 4] George Bernard Shaw, As referenced to a private conversation with Professor Henderson and quoted in Edwin Björkman, ‘The Serious Bernard Shaw’, The American Review of Reviews (1911), 43: 425 [accessed March 30, 2020] https://todayinsci.com/S/Shaw_GeorgeBernard/ShawGeorgeBernard-Quotations.htm

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

All of Them

“Grandad,” said Jessica. “Can we have the Hoovid story, again?”

Her hazel eyes, wise beyond their five years, twinkled at him. He put down the book of the forest, with its fold-out leaves and simulated bark, and smiled at her.

“Okay,” he said. “Of course we can…ready?” He bounced her up and down on his knee: their chosen method for settling in for a story. She squealed. Her curls shook as she shouted,“ Story…story…stor–“

“Once,” Grandad said, capturing the silence. “there was a good bacteria named Hoovid.”

“Are all bacteria good, Grandad?” The earnest young voice asked.

“Well, no… lots of them are bad, but only to us humans. The bad ones can be very good for other forms of life… but Hoovid was good… and very special.”

“Why was he special?”

“Because he had been born very small, and he could see the nasty ghost organisms that were too tiny for even the good bacteria to worry about.”

“Were they ghosts because they were tiny bacteria?” Jessica asked. Then added, “And you could hardly see them?”

“No,” said Grandad. “They were ghosts because they weren’t actually a creature at all, but a chemical that was clever, and could invade the bodies of other creatures and take them over, turning them into bad ghosts, too!”

“Did Hoovid save the world?” asked Jessica, remembering.

“He saved a lot of the world, yes.”

“How did he do it, Grandad?”

“One very special day,” he said, “Hoovid was hungry and he came upon a group of ghost chemicals that were called viruses.

“Are there any good viruses, Grandad?”

“All things have their place and purpose, Jessica, or they wouldn’t be here on the Earth.” He paused, remembering. His eyes turned misty – something he didn’t want Jessica to see – so he pretended to cough.

“Did Hoovid do something else?”Jessica asked. Filling the silence.

Grandad cleared his throat and continued. “He ate the bad viruses…”

“All of them?” asked Jessica, bouncing, again, and swinging her arms.

“All of them,” said Grandad, emphatically.

“All of them in the world?” Jessica said, her tone rising in wonder.

“No… just the ones he’d found… but then, something remarkable happened!”

Jessica’s joy could barely fit on his knee…

Grandad continued. “The good bacteria can do a wonderful thing.”

Jessica had stopped all movement; she knew how important the next bit was.

“When they have learned something, the tiny coils of who they are can adapt to hold that learning… and automatically share it with all their relatives.”

“So all the other bacteria could eat the nasty viruses, too?” she shouted in wonder and excitement.

“Yes… and they did.”

“All of them?”

“All of them!”

A few minutes later he was tucking her into bed.

“Grandad, was Grandma a microbogist?”

“A microbiologist, darling, yes she was. She was the one that discovered and encouraged Hoovid, but not in time to save herself…”

Can I be a micro…biol…gist, Grandad.”

“That would have been your Grandma’s deepest wish, Jessica,” he said, turning out the light. “Sweet dreams.”

As he walked across the landing, he heard the little voice whisper into the gentle darkness. “Night, grandma…”

©Stephen Tanham 2020

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

On Cobbled Streets

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(Above:Streets that are still cobbled – Bolton)

The opening photo was taken last autumn, when the last of the summer brightness was fading. It shows the Bolton street where my mother still lives. Born in 1930, she survived the economic depression of the inter-war years, and the bombings, doodlebugs and devastation of WW2.

I was born at home, in a street of steeply sloping terraced houses not far from where that photo was taken. It was part of an entire hillside of Victorian terraces that filled the wedge between two of the arterial roads running out of Bolton to the west. The local name for the hill was ‘Spion Kop’ – a curious reference to a tragic battle during the Boer war (January 1900) in South Africa, where thousands of soldiers were seen ‘terraced’ up the hillside, defending the strategic point as they were slaughtered.

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(Above: Spion Kop’ as I remember it… it’s all gone, now)

The battle was important for social reasons, too. The Boer war had seen conscription into the army for the first time – and the battle of Spion Kop showed how poor their health was. This had great political impact back in Britain and led, via an Act of Parliament driven through by Lloyd George in 1911, to the establishment of the National Insurance Act. This replaced the ‘Poor Law’ provisions with a robust mechanism aimed at the national improvement of health, employment and sickness.

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(Above: Mum and my beloved Grandma in the 1960s)

My childhood – and those of my local friends, was filled with games played out in the many ‘bomb sites’ that were a feature of all industrial towns. We didn’t think of it as post-war devastation; it was simply where we were… Children have a gift of being in the moment, and, as long as their friends are from similar backgrounds, they are not self-conscious about the conditions of their lives.

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(Above: Bolton town centre in the bustling 1960s)

Bolton was a happy place. Although industrially black and often grim, it was fighting its way back from poverty and the war’s deprivation. In tune with this, my mother was intent on filling her sons’ lives with ambition and confidence. The town was surrounded by beautiful Lancashire countryside and there was always excitement to be found on a weekend walk with a picnic ‘up there in the hills’.

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(Above: Bolton’s Market Hall. A classic ‘folk-market’ where everything was inexpensive. Beloved by everyone in the town, the council knocked it down to be replaced by yet another bland set of ‘me-too’ shops, which, today are slowly going bust. Nearby Bury is booming because of its old-fashioned market)

My mother’s street is quiet, now. She’s never wanted to move, though she visits us often up here in Cumbria – an hour’s drive north up the M61 and M6 motorways. It’s an easy journey, but she’s always happy to be going home – her aged Pomeranian dog on her lap.

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(Above: She’s got a great sense of humour and loved this shot, taken on our last holiday in Northumberland)

These are testing times, and Bolton is affected by the threat of the Covid-19 virus as much as any other town. In Britain (and much of the rest of western Europe) we are likely, soon, to be ‘locked down’ into our houses; allowed out only to buy food, medicines or to walk a dog… one person per dog, of course.

Supermarkets are having to introduce rationing and set times when only the elderly can shop – a result of the ‘locust effect’ of fearful panic buying that has already stripped the shelves bare.

The last time anything like this happened on the same scale was World War II. My mother, who has recently turned ninety, remembers it well. She grew up hungry, and cold, but, as she says, ‘everyone else was, too…’

Already, mother’s neighbours have approached her to ask if she needs groceries or any else of importance. Normally, we do her shopping weekly for her, but if we are ‘locked down’ in Cumbria, we won’t be able to make the journey. My brother is closer (Preston) but even he may not be able to get to her.

Despite not being related, mother’s neighbours are already constructing a safety net around her. She’s a kind woman, and popular. But, for the past decade, she has struggled with increasing vascular dementia and cannot solve anything problematic. She won’t consider going into a home, of course. Nor will she move away from her beloved Bolton… though we have offered to give her a home here, at least through the pandemic.

The cobbled street she lives in remains a beacon of kindness and caring. There is no funding for this, just the sense of sharing and community from everyone else who lives there. It’s an island of how Bolton used to be; and it makes me very proud of what’s left of my hometown and how it is behaving in the face of this horrific pandemic.

That sense of looking out for ‘everyone else’ is going to be vitally important to our survival as societies. Already, city centres are empty, restaurants and pubs closing and businesses failing. The UK Government has announced a package of what amounts to guaranteed loans to help businesses survive, but loans simply add to the long-term debt of an enterprise. They may help with short-term liquidity – cash – but they store up problems for a future which is likely to be thin on profit for a long time to come.

There is no sign of a Danish-style government intervention whereby the government will fund the wages of all current employees as long as each company operates at 70% of its current employment costs – a wage cut for all, but one that protects the jobs of millions during this dire and prolonged period.

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(Above: Mum as she is today… Always smiling. When asked, at her 90th birthday lunch, what was the secret of her longevity, she replied, “Being happy…”)

The Covid-19 virus will be calling on Mum’s part of Bolton. We pray that she won’t catch it. If she does, it’s likely that she will leave us. But, for now, she’s warm and in the bosom of her fellow Bolton folk… in a cobbled street that feels like home.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Going Viral

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

There’s nothing funny about Covid-19, the Wu-Han-originated Coronavirus that has just been declared a global pandemic. But the explosive spread of the infection throws a lot of light on the state of human nature. A friend of mine said, recently, that, according to some 1960s comic books he had found in his loft, we should all be getting our personal flying cars by now; instead we are still persuading people to wash their hands after visiting the toilet…

Like any ‘aggressive’ aspect of nature, a virus can teach us a lot about life. The virus may sound like the work of the Devil, but it may also represent a key stage of the evolutionary path of life on Earth prior to the dominance of cellular organisms.

What is a virus and how is it different to a bacteria? One is an organism – the bacteria – and the other is not. On that basis, the bacteria is the more sophisticated, yet the most deadly of the two is the virus because if it succeeds in attaching itself to a living host, it will always cause a disease. A bacteria is not necessarily harmful and is formed from cells – the same structure of life that we all share… and the virus does not.

A cell has different functions. Firstly, it must persist for as long as it can, and be able to reproduce itself. a cell reproduces by dividing itself to form new cells. Each new cell contains a full copy of all its genetic material – its chromosomes, which are coils of DNA; the same DNA shared by all organic life on the planet.

The cell must be able to exchange material with its surroundings. Food is taken in, and waste is extruded – to form food for other, different kinds of cell, as in all nature.

Cells can also choose to die… Each ‘normal’ cell has a ‘death pathway’, called Apoptosis, which it initiates if it senses that its genetic material has been damaged, and it can no longer safely reproduce. The latest research into cancer cells indicate that the rogue cell is able to prevent the death pathway from being triggered – a little like a dictator locking himself into a nuclear weapons control room so that he can destroy the world. The rogue cell is then able to reproduce and create the ungoverned growth that is cancer. That so much of life remains orderly is a tribute to the usual integrity of the humble cell.

The normal cell is therefore a very stable and benign organism – even bacteria, most of which forms an essential catalyst in the vast cycles of life. The foundations of our evolutionary story are closely related to the simple cells of early ‘bacteria’; indeed, the planet that became the Earth we know was transformed around 2.3 billion years ago by single-celled cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) to create the oxygen-bearing atmosphere that now sustains life on the planet.

To achieve this, the cyanobacteria consumed methane – a far more deadly greenhouse gas – to produce the safer carbon dioxide which has become today’s ‘problem’. We worry about the levels of CO2, but, just prior to the industrial revolution (source Dr. Gary Vasey) the level of CO2 had dropped to a point where life would not have been able to continue. Industrialisation ‘fixed’ the problem.

Food for thought…

But, what about viruses?

Their structure is unlike the single-celled bacteria that transformed the Earth’s atmosphere. They comprise a protein shell that surrounds a nucleus of genetic material in the form of DNA or the simpler RNA – but none of it is alive. It is essentially a chemical missile designed to inject itself into the heart of another living cell. Once there, it uses the life of the host to make copies of itself, eventually bursting open and triggering whatever disease it carries. Viruses are found throughout our environment and all organisms can be affected by them. They are usually specific to a certain type of animal. Occasionally, such as happened with Covid-19, they cross the species boundary and become a deadly agent of disease for mankind.

But it may be that viruses hold a deeper link to our organic past, and that their presence in our world is not random, at all. They may even hold the key to some of our future.

All life on Earth is linked. All life on Earth began with the same cellular building blocks. We are all children of a single first-cell life form that crossed the boundary from molecular (chemical) to living, thereby laying down the rules and the elementary functions of life. This primary forebear has even been given a name: LUCA – Last Universal Common Ancestor.

Evolutionary biologists, who defined the founding principles on which organic life is built, established persistence as the primary determinant. The ability to endure – within a given form – is the building block of everything that follows. Above that is the ability to replicate that form. The cell does this, but the principle of replication, based on the genetic component at the cell’s heart, is the property of its DNA. In other words, the DNA, itself, is the material, the molecule, that made the transition from pre-organic to organic form; and therefore life.

The theories are constantly being challenged and updated, but biologists believe that the precursor to DNA was a similar but less sophisticated structure of spiral ‘genetic acid’ called RNA, and RNA is the predominant material at the centre of the virus, wrapped in its protein shell. In the envisaged RNA world, the primary need was to find a structure that could reliably reproduce itself.

It had always been believed that viruses had to come into existence after bacteria because they needed to be parasitic to the existing cellular world. That, is after all, how they exist today. Some scientists began to speculate that viruses might have existed before cellular life.

A major argument against this was the comparative size of the virus vs single cell. We are about 100,000 times bigger than our cells, a million times bigger than bacteria and 10 million times bigger than the average virus (source). Bigger meant more highly evolved, to a point, so the virus was assumed to have come much later.

Then, in 2013, evolutionary biologists Chantal Abergel and Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix-Marseille University found a sample of Siberian dirt that had been frozen for more than 30,000 years. It contained a new virus they named Pithovirus. (Source)

Pithovirus is the largest virus ever discovered and is even larger than some bacteria. Even stranger, Pithovirus has over 500 genes, some of which replicate the core function of cells. Most startlingly, and seeming to break all the rules, Pithovirus is able to reproduce itself, like a cell, without invading a host’s organism. Since then, more and more examples of ‘giant viruses’ have been found. There is increasing evidence that they may have preceded cellular life: that they are older than LUCA and have continued to evolve in their own right. As the two French researchers said: ‘It may be the reason we haven’t found them is that they are everywhere…’

Yet, they are not cellular. They appear to have followed a parallel evolutionary tree – in effect, a new form of life…

Covid-19 is not a giant virus. It’s a new-to-humans attacker of lungs, similar to any other flu-like germ. It’s very virulent and deadly and it may be about to change the world’s economic and politics. But the order of life to which it belongs may challenge the science of life as we know it. Who knows what miracles of medicine may result from that future study?

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Echoes of the Bunkermen

I was born in the 1950s. It was an age riven by anxiety about nuclear war. Ten years after the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been destroyed by the first use of atomic-powered warfare, the west was still consumed with the horror of seeing Oppenheimer’s equations translated into an explosion that ripped apart buildings, adults and children on a scale envisaged only in science fiction.

The threat of this has not gone away, though it can be argued that the deadliness of what the American ‘war games’ strategists termed ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ – MAD, has maintained the peace.

Some of the fiction of the time reflected the idea that the only survivors of an active MAD scenario would be be those ‘high’ officials important enough to warrant a place in a nuclear bunker. These were (and are) actual buildings set deep underground and stocked with everything such a group would need to survive the nuclear winter, as it was called, and re-emerge, years later, pure of creed, to begin civilisation, again.

Quite what mother nature would think of such beings was never discussed. But in my own heart, I developed a loathing for such a concept and the ludicrous politics that created such an idea in the first place. My pet name for these high-caste survivors was ‘the bunkermen’. I thought it appropriate, since it seemed always to be men, rather than women, whose aggression led to war, and whose willingness to lie about the facts, inequality and the complexity of human decision-making mirrored their lack of empathy.

As a long-departed aunt once said to me “The men were good at banging the drum, but not so good at mopping up the blood, afterwards.”

Fast forward half a century and, within the invisible bubble of the nuclear MAD, wars continue on a near-global scale. Nuclear-level money is spent on a second level of warfare that targets humans deemed worthy of assassination by descending missile, guided from satellite or drone control systems. Countries which possess the MAD systems may not use their own flags to fight wars, but ally themselves – often covertly – with proxy armies through which they operate on the ground. The past forty years of Afghanistan’s history are a perfect example of how this operates.

The last decade has been a difficult period to live through. Much of what we took for granted as ‘established and stable’ has been or is being swept away by authoritarian politics. To me, it feels as though the spirit of aggression moves through increasingly confrontation politics, designed to follow an age old model of mobilising hatred to create majorities in a politics that would seem dangerously out of touch, were there any alternatives that didn’t sweep away democracy in any form. That may follow, of course…

The results are focussed in two ways. Domestically, the sense of caring is diminished, and public institutions that support it are deliberately weakened. But a far more corrosive effect is being played out on the world stage, in which areas like parts of the Middle East become the point of focus for the most heartless policies – reducing the value of human life to nothing.

It may be that human life has no value to those who control this new order. Our worth may now be measured only in the sense that we are ‘economic units’ in a monetary world where increasing power is vested in fewer and fewer people. There is a certain logic in that being the end point of a system where the measure of value has become so singular. In those ‘fewer and fewer’ controllers I see again the bunkermen, safe in their gated estates, mixing only with their fellow bunker dwellers and exploiting their vast wealth in the cementing of the newly established status quo – in which everyone but them is poorer.

Against this tide of warped materialism stands the silent outrage of those who remember how much work it took to initialise the post-WW2 landscape of social institutions such as the provision of universal healthcare and the establishment of a minimum level of welfare that would provide the basics of living to those who were suffering through no fault of their own.

It’s a truism that ‘change is inevitable’. We can choose to believe that the state of the Earth is a soul-less cycle of cause and effect or we can see that nature has true cycles of evolution beyond the Darwinian model of biological mating and survival. Bigger factors can and do change the course of the planet’s history. The current, bleak outlook of the Covid-19 virus is an example of how something unforeseen a few months ago is changing the entire ‘health’ of the commercial world. I am not proposing that any kind of ‘divine intervention’ is behind the virus’ mutation into the human ecosystem, simply that the palette of such unforeseen and deadly triggers of chaos is much larger than mankind has ever considered – and therefore that our perceived ecological and societal stability may be an illusion we can no longer afford.

Against this background, the breakdown of the old order of ‘caring and inclusive’ societies may need to be re-evaluated. The nature of survival against, say, a deadly virus, requires us to work together, regardless of wealth or rank in society. The rich or powerful man is as much at risk as anyone else. True, they could retreat into a bunker of their own making, as continues to be the doomsday scenario in a post-nuclear holocaust, but who would want to emerge into the poisoned dust of such a world?

We have become disconnected from outrage. In Syria, children are freezing to death in their thousands on a nightly basis as they flee the barrel bombings of their own president; and this is just one example of many. Think Yemen or Myanmar and we will find the same deadly cocktail of a poor part of the world within which authoritarian powers play out ‘strategies’ of control that have failed us for the past century.

The bunker is our enemy more than those who inhabit it. It is state of mind as much as any other. The future of life on Earth is surely that we recognise our connections to every other member of the human race, and act in way that begins to include rather than exclude. In that, we will change the nature of mankind and face the real challenges at the microbial, viral and economic levels in a very different way. If we cannot offer support, then, at least we can turn to face suffering and offer awareness.

That is so much more than nothing… and, for a while we may have the freedom to open our personal bunkers and step out into the complex sunshine of a world not yet destroyed.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.