THE HILL WITH TWO STATIONS

(Above: In the foreground, the village of Sedgwick. In the distance, The Helm – a local peak with two stations!
photo taken in summer)

Our small village, Sedgwick, near Kendal, has a landscape shaped in the classic terminal topography of ancient glaciers. This area of gentle, rounded hills is typical of the final stages of the glacier’s course. The English Lake District, where we live, has them in abundance. ‘Basket of Eggs’ is another term you may remember from those geography text books at school. They are also known as ‘drumlins’.

(Above: Lake Windermere and the high glacial basin (corrie) from which it was formed in the background)

These small hills get bigger as you journey nearer to the centre of the region. The northern half of Lake Windermere was formed from a glacier whose origin was the mountain of Fairfield, a few miles north of Ambleside, at the head of the lake. See picture, above.

It’s the Friday before the third Sunday in the month. You’ll find me with a very happy Collie dog – Tess, walking from Sedgwick along the quietest country lanes and tracks towards the hill you can see in the distance in the opening photo – The Helm (also spelled Helme). It doesn’t look too far in that shot, but it’s a three mile walk, and takes about ninety minutes at a fast walking pace.

I love walking. You couldn’t live here and not do. But there’s a practical side to this monthly outing. I’m meeting up with Stuart France, my co-director of the Silent Eye… and we’re planning on having a couple of beers, whilst mapping out the next month of activities – including our new monthly Zoom chat – open to anyone interested.

That’s right – it’s a board meeting! But one held in a station… which may sound odd, but all will be revealed…

A year ago, Sue Vincent – as the third Director of the School, would have been part of the group meeting. This would have taken place in the distant hills of Derbyshire – the place where we’ve regularly held our Spring workshops.

Sadly, as many readers will know, Sue passed away last Spring, leaving the two of us to sail the Silent Eye ship. We are not alone, though, and have a great team of people to assist us – for everything from healing groups to highly-skilled administrative and document production assistance.

Technically, Stuart and I are ‘retired’…but you wouldn’t know it from our average working week of writing, teaching and lesson supervision.

Stuart used to live in Sheffield, which was an ideal base for our monthly meetings in the hills of Derbyshire. After Sue’s passing, Stuart decided to relocate back to his native Lancashire. This was to our mutual advantage because there is a fast rail connection between Preston and the place I’m headed – Oxenholme; the only mainline station in the UK located in a village. Quizzers take note. This might win you a prize!

(Above: the main West Coast line to Glasgow passes over this)

My journey takes me from our house near the centre of Sedgwick, along a steep country lane that runs beneath the West Coast Main Line. We’ll meet this vital link between London and Scotland, again, later. The bridge and line are only ten minutes from the house. If the wind is in the right direction, you can just about hear the trains at night as they thunder northwards to and from Glasgow and Edinburgh. There’s something magical about it…

The road crests a hill then descends to the village of Crosscrake, where we take a tiny lane up the first of several steep ‘drumlin’ hills. These are lined with dense hedges, most of which have just been trimmed. The resulting sharp relief is a pattern to be exploited by the photographer.

(Above: the bare, sharp hedges offer exciting texture to the Winter photograph)

Frustratingly, the lane then plunges down the hill to climb all the way up again – an unavoidable property of the egg ‘basket’ hills. This one is very steep. But, ten minutes later, and somewhat hotter, we’re at the top.

(Above: the tiny lanes are a pleasure to walk, with only occasional traffic)

Soon, we pass one of my favourite gardens, with its oak tree set just off the entrance drive. The photo was taken in October, and the autumn colours allowed me to indulge in a little fine-tuning.

(Above: The ‘oak tree’ garden)

The country lane marks the end of the ancient drumlin and leads to a minor junction of the celebrated A65 – the old trunk road that links Kendal to Skipton – and beyond to York and the East Coast.

There is always beauty to be found in the hedgerows, even on the busy A65. This image was taken here in October…

(Above: The A65; a fast road hostile to the walker – but those colours!)

Beyond the major road the way begins to climb up the initial slopes of The Helm, but the trees are so dense you can’t see the large hill looming above.

(Above: the dense woodland masks the beginning of The Helm)

We now have a choice… We can continue along the narrow lane and skirt the base of The Helm… or, with the Collie expressing a strong preference, we can set off on a rapid and lung-challenging ascent of the steepest face of the hill.

(Tess, the Collie, expressing a preference as to how we navigate The Helm. In the distance are the major hills of the central Lake District)

If we are feeling fit – and the Collie insists – we arrive, breathless at the summit of The Helm, fifteen minutes later. It’s a steep but rapid scramble to the ‘trig point’, but the views are worth it. Kendal is laid out below us like a street map, with the West Coast Main Line skirting the base of The Helm. The air is always pure… and often freezing!

(Above: the old ‘trig point’, now defunct with the advent of satellite navigation and mapping)
(Above: From the top of The Helm, the sweeping landscape takes the eye all the way down to Morecambe Bay in the distance)

Tess loves being here because it’s where we often come (by car) to ‘chuck the frisbee’. Today, however, her fun is curtailed by the sound of shotguns in the next valley. She scampers around, tail down and frightened. Collies are very sensitive creatures…

We’ve done all we can up here. The Collie’s walk will have to be sufficient. Now it’s time to descend to the edge of the village of Oxenholme, where Stuart will be arriving by train in the next 30 minutes.

The Helm is topped by a beautiful, long ridge. We can follow this all the way down to the road that leads into Oxenholme Station.

(Above: The ridge atop The Helm. Following this takes you to the road into Oxenholme, where one of the stations is to be found
(Above: photographed in the early hours of a day-trip to Glasgow, the station’s platform sign)
(Above: Oxenholme Station. Considering it’s just a village, it offers a glorious way to arrive in the Lake District)
(Above: Part of the puzzle revealed… There are two railway lines in Oxenholme. The first is the West Coast Main Line, the other links to the local shuttle service between Kendal and Windermere. The Helm is bottom left on the map. However, this is not the answer to our ‘two stations’ puzzle)

Stuart arrives on-time from Preston. We’re now going to leave one station to have our ‘board meeting’ in another – and its not the one in Kendal.

(Above: the luxury of intercity travel for a short journey)

Fifteen minutes later, two humans and a Collie are ready to have their meeting…

(Above: The other ‘Station’! And the best Guinness for miles around)

And that’s the end of the journey…. Except if we decide to walk home at the end of our chat. The alternative is to ring Bernie, who will gladly drive the fifteen minutes to collect me, while Stuart strolls down to the station to catch his train.

But the thought of walking home through that beautiful coming sunset and the photographs it might offer is calling… But we’ll not be going over The Helm!

©Stephen Tanham 2022

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

listening – an active magic

(Photo by the author)

We were having dinner at the end of one of our business trips to California. On the next table at the small restaurant were an American couple from Arizona. We struck up a friendly conversation, during which the subject of armed burglary came up.

The man expressed surprise that so few of the UK’s homes had guns. He was astonished when I said it was illegal to own a pistol, and that the only legal guns he would see over here were those owned by the police and armed forces, farmers, and those who shoot thousands of game birds on country estates as ‘sport’.

I said that we found it astonishing that lethal weapons were owned on such a scale. He fell quiet for a while, searching our expressions, then said, “Let me put it like this: if an armed burglar entered our family home and I had to rely on the police response… my family would be dead before they got to us. They are that bad, and it’s only my gun that gives us any sense of security”

He was a genuine and gentle man, and it made me think. Did I really know how it felt to be so vulnerable in the face of an armed intrusion into a family home? The conversation – on both sides – was a good example of gentle listening; with respect for the other’s point of view.

“The problem came from long ago,” he continued. “If we’d acted before everyone had guns, we could have stopped it…”

It’s many years since that night. The established ‘order’ of the world is now challenged, to say the least. Much of the democratic west is experiencing a crisis in which powerful figures with vast budgets have used the media to whip up emotions and polarise politics into camps of hatred. These are deliberate acts to undermine the ‘liberal status quo’ and the proponents are willing to sacrifice democracy to achieve it.

Many of these movements have been decades in the making and have well-funded plans to take over local and national centres of power. Many of them already own large swathes of the media.

Political forces move slowly against such brazen desecration. Unless there is widespread revulsion, the chances of the generation of a ‘new’ political force capable of resisting this negative manipulation are slim. The powerful forces unleashed against democracy are pivoted around a single idea sown in the minds of the dissatisfied: ‘you have real grievances and they’re not listening to you…’

Can we, as ordinary citizens of non-authoritarian regimes do anything?

The energy generated, harnessed and, in the internet age, farmed by those dismantling the old orders of tolerance and stability is predicated on convincing people that they are disadvantaged, and that the ‘ruling order’ is directly responsible. No specifics are given – just emotion, supercharged with hate and a new sense of ‘belonging’.

Perhaps we have created a society in which ‘some people’ deserve not to be listened to? In that sense, maybe we have forgotten how to listen.

I say this because listening is one of the most healing processes I know… and one of the most powerful interaction techniques I ever learned.

So why is it so hard to listen to another’s viewpoint? Is it just that our own values are emotively antithetical to another’s – especially when that ‘other’ has all the signs of someone we view as knowing less than we do; as having less experience in what it takes to collectively move a situation forward, or find a formula of constructive peace?

“Before you do anything else, listen. Listening is not a passive sport; it’s an active magic.”

In my working career, the most valuable tool I was ever provided with was a week’s course in core management skills. The experienced trainer began the first day with the words: “Before you do anything else, listen. Listening is not a passive sport; it’s an active magic.”

Imagine that you find yourself in the middle of a heated political debate being televised. Many of the participants are there for the enjoyment of snarling at ‘the enemy’. But some are there simply because their families support the snarlers. What if you could offer one or two of these the chance to sit down and genuinely explore how they feel. This would be managed by a skilled moderator in control of the room, someone with the capability and wisdom to make sure all interactions were very different to the brawl in front of the cameras.

We can all visualise that, though the opinions may not change, a far more complex and detailed picture would emerge of everyone’s point of view – and the often brutal and disadvantaged life that led up to it. We might actually see how someone came to have extreme and even violent opinions; and in that very action – of true understanding – the process might just have invoked the magic needed to break the grip of the snarl and the hatred… and take the wind out of the sails of those whose only interest is to destroy.

Someone once taught me that: “In resisting evil, we become stronger than the force that is tearing down what we love. If we do nothing, then we prove ourselves worthy of the wave that will sweep us away.”

There are many ways to resist evil, and some of them, while appearing passive, are quite the opposite.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

a devil called time

Time is an exceedingly curious thing…and much inner humour is generated in the course of exploring it.

We don’t really know what time is. It might even be ‘no-thing’ at all, of course, and simply some kind of movement of consciousness…

But let’s not get too high-minded about that. This is a basic post about common sense and the fact that we can’t shake time’s effects: real or imaginary.

I often muse that time is the devil. I can think bigger than my time can do; yet I’m trapped in this devil’s cage of passing time, and that big clock on the wall is extinguishing possibility… by the second.

It’s not just about the changing state of the out-there; the one that gives away the fact that something has altered i.e. that time has passed. Zen, at its core, is said to be about that: staring at the wall until you realise that there’s only you there, but ‘there’ is everywhere.

It’s the changing state of not-me plus the actual possibility of there being a change in the way I want – a kind of potential of the possible.

And perhaps there’s another thing: effort. For something to happen that (for example) is not simply that beautiful stream over there flowing through this glorious valley. For an action that I want to make happen, then I need effort. I need to have sufficient energy for that action to be completed. Without the finish, there’s nothing…

Perhaps there is a fourth aspect? My Action is nothing, is not even capable of beginning, unless I have some sort of goal, some kind of picture for what is to be the resulting state of the out-there. These pictures must have been learned as my young mind discovered its power to do, and began to refine it so that doing created pleasure.

Unless I’m being bad Stephen, and the goal is to exact revenge, or something equally horrible. In which case, most of the process is identical to before, with the exception of the initial ‘spark’. Where do such sparks come from, I wonder? From a state of ‘me’ that had been pleased or picked on, possibly.

These are the mechanics of how ‘time and me’ interact. And this is good, for now I can see a bargain, a deal, being struck that involves time, whatever that is. Time is the basis of the bargain between doing and not-doing. When we do, it involves the consumption of time.

At the base level, I might just want to sit on the banks of that beautiful stream and let all my senses enjoy the experience. If I’m any good at it, I’ll have refined a state of presence that allows me to simply be here, enjoying the natural beauty with no desire whatever to do anything.

But who wants that, when there’s so much to be done; when there’s so little time to do all that stuff that needs doing! After all, nature gave me (and you) this incredible ability to make things happen.

I have a list as long as your arm of things I need to do, and, most importantly, today!

Most of them are urgent. I will let people down if I don’t do them all… and I hate that. Careless or unfeeling people do that and I’m not one of those.

My mind flashes back to the systems of my corporate youth: The all-conquering ‘Time Manager’, that sexy Filofax (or equivalent) in which you could fly like a vulture over the day, week and even month ahead, and write – in pencil so that fine-tuning could be done at ‘run-time’ – before you picked up the phone and made something else happen. Oh, the joy of it…

I remember when I first spotted him – the devil, I mean – hiding in the vertical lines of my large, leather Time-Manager folder. So big you didn’t need to take a briefcase on the train to London, you could just organise your day the night before and clip everything into the vast rings and pockets of the system.

I was looking at the few spaces I had left in the month ahead, and wondering. When, as though not an accident, a torn-out piece of a corporate magazine slid out of one of the binder’s pockets. It was a secondary training course for the time management system that I’d seen some time prior and never read. The extension course offered to teach you how to be as ruthlessly efficient with your leisure time as you were, already, with your business time.

And there he was – the devil – staring back at me from the blank lines that were yet to be filled.

And I knew him…

He was the destroyer of peace, the shatterer of moments by the stream, the force that pulled apart the present and, laughing, threw it back in your ‘wastrel’ face.

I put my pencil down and refused to think about anything else… all the way to London. When I got there, I had a coffee and boarded another train back. Arriving home in the middle of the day, I changed, then pushed my motorcycle out of the garage and set off…

…For a beautiful valley in which I would sit in the spring sunshine and listen to the stream by which I would do nothing… and be everything.

And time, freed of the Devil, would be the song of nature that I would find in that place.

{Author’s note: most of this is true}

©Stephen Tanham 2022

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Can’t help ourselves?

(Above: the exhibit ‘Can’t Help Myself’ at the Guggenheim Museum
See sources and links, below)

Over the past three years, I’ve been closely following the ever-accelerating development of robots. In an age where the use of military drones for ‘state-backed’ assassinations is not unusual, and artificial intelligence is pervasively present in household devices, it pays to be aware of the various ways in which technology and the humanities are interacting.

It is also instructive to see how darkly we have diverged from the visions of our future seen in earlier sci-fi.

It was only last year that I became aware that the Guggenheim Museum in New York had, since 2016, staged a ‘robotic installation’ called ‘Can’t Help Myself’. This speaks to the heart of this malaise. It is, to my eyes, a deeply moving spectacle, and one that refers, quite subtly, to our sleepwalking into a new age.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit the New York Guggenheim, though that was many years ago. I would have loved to visited this exhibit, which is now closed. As it is, having seen a reference to it, I’ve gathered this information from the internet and the Guggenheim’s website.

The exhibit was surrounded by a dedicated glass corridor, enabling visitors to position themselves to see the action. The ‘action’ was an industrial robot set at the centre of what seems to be a violent crime scene. In fact, this is a robot modified so that its one job is to use a massive sweeper – positioned on the end of a flexible and extending arm – to gather back into itself all the blood-coloured liquid that has spilled across the floor. At the end of a successful exercise, the robot performs one of a number of dances…

The visceral liquid constantly leaks from the machine, as though from a wound. The smooth and precise movements of the arm and sweeper gather the liquid back into ‘the body’ of the device, but a thin film is always left behind – and more accumulates, by splashing, beyond the reach of the arm.

The ‘spilled’ dark red fluid is necessary for the machine to function. The robot is programmed to trigger the use of its sweeper when it sees the dark fluid has spilled beyond a certain radius, but the arm can only reach so far…

There were reports that when a certain level of fluid-loss was reached, the body of the robot literally dies… The audience looked on in silence as this miracle of modern technology came to the end of its life, unable to help itself.

Artists aren’t paid to be political… they’re paid to be revolutionary.

Personally – and these are my subjective views, only – I consider this was a ground-breaking statement aimed at the heart of our global society; a statement about our own, massive exposure to the effects of unchecked technology in the face of a moral and political edifice that has run out of the will and the means to redress it. That this trend has continued and accelerated only makes the greater case for such art to speak out. It’s one of the few voices that will do so…

With little debate, we have entered the age of the robots. Completely lacking in any kind of global governing agreements, we are walking, blind, into an era where the value of the individual human is defined by his or her economic contribution, alone, leaving behind the older societal norm that human life has intrinsic value.

In the near future, wars will be fought by robots whose job is the killing of populations. If you don’t have the best military robots, you won’t survive long as an important country; therefore massive spending on military robots will be assured We could say that this mirrors the ‘cold war’ and the nuclear stalemate, where the horror of mutually assured destruction (MAD) and the cost of deployment became the only buffers to further madness, but there’s an important difference.

Military robots have given the technologists an entirely new playing field; that of the ‘battlefield-limited aggressive automaton’, programmed to recognise and kill the human. ‘Bad humans’ will presumably be differentiated from ‘good humans’ by secret response codes built into their battle fatigues, or more likely, wired into their bodies. This won’t apply to you and me, of course, only soldiers overseeing the war. We will be at work, paying for it.

This should scare us. Reassurances from governments would be meaningful if they had any track-record in other, related fields, such as how many children live below the official poverty line in each country.

All of this is a far cry from Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics, formulated in the 1950s and written about in his famous Sci-Fi book ‘I Robot’:

First Law- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Second Law – A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

Third Law – A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, the creators of the ‘Can’t Help Myself’ robotic installation say of their work:

“More and more mechanical devices have entered our lives and even become part of our bodies. It is natural that they enter the art world.”
Sun Yuan goes on to say:

“This installation examined our increasingly automated global reality, one in which territories are controlled mechanically and the relationship between people and technology is rapidly changing. During the exhibition, viewers were invited to gather outside the transparent enclosure and watch the machine inside, setting up a dialectic that reflects a moral question, “Who is more vulnerable: the human who built the machine or the machine who is controlled by a human?”

Resources:

You can see a YouTube video of the ‘Can’t Help Myself’ robot in action by clicking here.

The opening photograph is taken from, and copyright of, the Guggenheim’s website, click here.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author, alone.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

a testing christmas…

(Image by Stephan Wusowski from Pixabay)

It’s been a challenging Christmas and New Year…

Two days before Christmas, my wife tested positive for Covid with a home lateral flow test. I immediately took the same type of test and it came up negative. She had some mild symptoms, including a strange headache and a dry cough. I had none, but I was cautious about being asymptomatic, hence the need for a more accurate ‘second opinion’.

We immediately booked a drive-in PCR test in nearby Lancaster. Within the hour, we were processed and returned home to await the results, hopefully the next day.

Shortly after we arrived back, my mobile rang. It was the care home, in Morecambe, where my mother is a resident. As part of their routine testing, she had shown up positive for Covid. I phone her every day, but we had not been physically together for over a week.

Bernie and I made some tea and digested the news and its implications.

We were due to visit mum on Christmas morning, taking her some presents and wearing our reindeer antlers to bring some cheer. With a confirmed Covid result, she would now be confined to her room for at least the next week, and possibly longer. She would not be able to take part in the home’s Christmas Day festivities. Our only link with her would be the mobile phone which, between us and aided by the force of habit, we manage to keep alive for her. She is still able to use it and its pre-programmed numbers of the four most important people in her life.

We had one final method of contact; an accidental benefit of her room’s location and used often during the two lockdowns she’s endured since March 2021 – we could go and stand outside her room’s window on the ground floor… Talking to her through the glass by using the mobile phones. It doesn’t sound a lot, but it’s something; and that something is a life-saver.

The one good thing was that we had already had our Christmas meal with the extended family. We had taken mum out of the home – with their blessing – for both the family meal and (at their request) to escort her to the home’s Christmas meal, held at a nearby hotel on Morecambe’s seafront. Both were lovely events. Serendipity had smiled on that, at least.

But now we had Bernie’s testing to deal with…

It came back, just before midnight, as positive, confirming that she had Covid – omicron variant; the one that’s sweeping the country, infecting at least 1 in 25 of us. Thankfully, its effects are reasonably mild – in the healthy body at least. It can be a different story in the elderly.

My PCR test was negative. So far, I was able to move around, freely.

We could do nothing about mum’s personal lockdown; nor my wife’s positive diagnosis – which meant she could not leave the house for the next week, and only then if she got a negative lateral flow test (LFT) two days in a row.

I rolled up my sleeves, went to bed early and prepared to play nurse, cook, dog-walker and general juggler. But, sharing the same life and bed, I was unlikely to be Covid-free for long.

My wife’s sister is widowed. She normally joins us for two or three days over the Christmas period. We phoned her with the bad news. She was instantly adopted by one of her close friends and invited to spend the whole of Christmas day with them. One problem solved… As long as Bernie’s infection followed the normal pattern, her sister would be able to join us for New Year, or shortly after.

We cooked as much food as we could store to be ready for the week ahead, Bernie remained well enough to stay out of bed within the house. I made sure I had my small armoury of tools to help fight off the infection, as I was the proverbial ‘last man standing!’. These ‘tools’ are my own and include regular nasal salt-water flushes and regular gargling with an alcohol-based mouthwash, like Listerine.

A friendly medic assures me the alcohol kills any virus in your throat stone dead, but needs regular refreshing. The former was a wonderful gift from a friend of my mother in my teens (a yoga teacher) who spotted I had troublesome sinuses. If anyone wants the recipe, I’ll gladly supply it. It’s slightly yucky, but very effective at flushing out sinus tissues. It’s been a lifelong friend ever since. The salt water does not kill viruses but the laws of physics (rather than molecular biology) suggest that it will flush most hostile things out of your nasal passages. I have no idea what the experts would say. It seems to work for me.

We phoned mum on Christmas day, to try to bring her into the family warmth. Her symptoms were still mild and she was okay with things. “At least,” she said, “we had our celebrations early.”

Over a week later, I’ve shown negative on two PCR tests. We have learned a thing or two about Covid testing. Chief of these is that you can have Covid (Omicron) for many days without it showing up on a Lateral Flow Test (LFT). This shocking fact was confirmed by a biologist friend who had recently recovered from the Omicron variant. In retrospect, she worked out that it was only on the fifth day of catching it that the second line showed up on her test.

Effectively, this means that the LFT is practically useless as an Omicron early warning tool. A massive number of responsible people who regularly test themselves are seeing false negative results until the ‘viral load’ builds up to a level detectable by these older devices. By that time, the infection will have continued to expand at its exponential rate.

If we could work this out, Governments have known this for some time. Yet, there appears to be no movement to produce a more accurate LFT.

Bernie is now through her Covid and feeling well, again. My mother is not, and her cough is getting worse. We are all praying that, at 92 years old, she has the strength to survive.

I’m still virus-free. My eldest son, a doctor in Australia, says I may have had it earlier and not noticed the symptoms.

Me, I have faith in total hand hygiene, masks to protect others… lots of fresh air and my little tool kit.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

The nothing of tasted darkness

“It’s a good time to meet nothing at the darkness cafe,” she said. It was many years ago and I had no idea what she was talking about… It was nearly Christmas and we were working on some of the initial Silent Eye lessons.

Our topic of conversation was the power of the winter solstice to invoke new feelings, new experiences… and new ways of looking at things. As we discussed at last Sunday’s Silent Eye Explorations Zoom talk (open to everyone, see References below), and written up, separately, by Stuart France, the longer days do not begin immediately after the day of the solstice, but rather three days later. For those three days, due to some complex solar system mathematics, the length of the day is suspended, frozen at its value on the 21st December.

There is a mystical Christmas tradition that we should use these three days to contemplate first the birth of Jesus in the manger; secondly, the visit of the shepherds; and finally, on the third day, the visit of the Magi – ancient magicians of great wisdom. Each imparts ‘layers’ of temporal and spiritual capability to the infant Christ at the start of its mission of love in the world.

We need not believe in these as historical or even actual events. It is sufficient to consider them as potent symbols. Ideally, we should meditate on them during the darkness prior to the dawn – not too difficult at this dark time of year. When the dawn breaks, we should open ourselves to the inspiration they have generated – without trying to think what that might be. An active intellect is the opponent of deeper contact with our inner realms; an active and freed imagination is its friend.

But my lady friend of the opening paragraph was intent on adding something to this; something involving the technique of ‘approaching nothing’.

We were discussing the idea of hooded robes, something made sinister by cheap horror films of the 60s and 70s. The origin of such robes was in ancient religious orders within monasteries, where monks signalled their desire for silence by ‘retreating’ beneath the hood so they could enter their religious contemplation. There never was anything sinister about these garments, but there is something spiritually effective about the use of a hood.

The period around the winter solstice is already one of stillness. We can augment this by an act of purposeful meditation that amplifies this stillness in the form of silence and a degree of restful darkness. To do this we need our own garment with a hood.

(Above: the humble dressing gown serves well, if it has a hood)

I’ve had the above dressing gown for years. It’s faded and familiar and is a great friend on a cold winter’s morning. I also use it for certain meditations, where I want to ‘withdraw’ from the immediate world of the day. It doesn’t work in the summer – it’s too hot – but in December, it’s perfect!

So, what do we do with this conjunction of garment and ideas?

By the time this publishes there will be three days remaining to Christmas, but the technique, here, doesn’t have to finish on the 25th. If possible, find a quiet place in your home and place there a comfortable but upright chair.

Just before you go to bed, return to the chair, calm your thoughts, and spend a few minutes thinking about the nativity images described earlier. On day one, therefore, we will fall asleep with the warm idea of the birth of a ‘saviour’ – a saviour of our lives, born into humble darkness. Once the image – and feeling – is clear, let it go, then go to bed, and drift off into a peaceful sleep. Don’t set an alarm but see if you can wake just before the time of the dawn.

On waking, return to the meditation chair wearing the hooded garment. Sit quietly and calm yourself. When this takes on an inner ‘glow’, pull the hood over your head and feel the warmth and protection of its presence covering this – the seat of your consciousness.

With your hood raised, think of nothing… This is, of course, a misnomer. We can’t remove the object of thought, but we can reduce the content to something different. In this mystical exercise, that something is the idea of nothing. In the beginning, this is a paradox… until we find there is something there beyond ordinary experience. Further work on this will reveal a deeply personal connection to it.

I can’t promise this will change your life…but it will change your Christmas.


Image: Author’s photograph and studio effects; from an original Christmas decoration belonging to Barbara Walsh.

References: The Silent Eye Facebook group ‘Silent Eye Explorations’ is open to anyone with a genuine interest in things mystical. Apply to join in within Facebook.

Stuart France blogs here and on France and Vincent)

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

seven christmas postcards

This will be my penultimate post of 2021. After Thursday’s blog, I will be taking a break till the new year.

Every December, I try to capture a set of images that would make good Christmas cards. I used to have a colour ‘photograph’ printer, and would send some of these to family members. But the device was old and had begun behaving erratically. For such a small level of use, it wasn’t really worth replacing. But they do find a good home in blog posts…

Here then are my pick of December 2021’s photographs, sent with love and thanks to those whose companionship and support has become so special, despite us only meeting here, in ‘cyberland’.

In these harsh times of Covid, this ‘virtual’ – yet very real – world has become precious to us all, and provided a continuation of communication and creativity that would otherwise have been aching void.

(Above: a favourite: a small lane that connects the village of Sedgwick with its neighbour, Hincaster. The brightly coloured Copper Beech hedge is a joy to see throughout the deep winter, lingering like a part of the year past that refuses to die… A bright messenger to 2022!)
(Above: The line of the old Preston to Kendal canal has been drained along most of its northern extent for decades, but it still defines the landscape. Here, caught in the freezing mist, the canal basin emerges into a farmer’s field beneath one of the ‘bridges to nowhere’ then disappears – at least for a while – into a ploughed field)
(Above: the old Wakefield House (now Sedgwick House) glimpsed through the mist. This was the stately home of the last of the ‘gunpowder barons’ who created the modern village of Sedgwick, where we live. The former mansion is now divided into luxury apartments)
(Above: another shot of Back Lane and the hedge, this time, I deliberately left the photo to be a gentle gradient into the misty distance)
(Above: I couldn’t finish without a shot of the powerful River Kent thundering through its limestone gorge, taken from the old bridge that links the village with the feeder road to the M6 motorway.
(Above: my favourite shot – the River Kent in the snow, just before it plunges into the gorge)

And there we have it… Happy Christmas! Thank you for being ‘out there’ and here’s to more blogging companionship in 2022.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

see what you’re seeing!

It sounds odd, doesn’t it? See what you’re seeing…

But we don’t. We do see, but we don’t see what we’re seeing.

I’d better explain my terms, here, before it becomes an exercise in Zen paradox – which I want to avoid. There are not only two, but three phases in our act of seeing. The first is the actual biological receiving of the light waves/particles by our eye’s receptors. The second is the rapid conversion into ‘object of interest’ by our brains – based entirely on what we have seen before.

The third is the intervention of our own consciousness to examine what we are looking at; and it’s that last one that make the difference when we are trying live more ‘mindful’ lives.

Habit makes us see superficially. The brain is programmed to cut down the volume, so, essentially, we see what we’ve always seen, and in particular what we saw the last time we were in ‘this situation’. This situation may be an event, such as a confrontation or it may simply be a something seen along a footpath or road,

Nothing illustrates this better than the process of writing a blog post. You start with an idea, then maybe create an outline of what you want to say – particularly how you want to end. You then have to shift mindset from that high-level exercise to one of beginning the detail, usually with a line that will generate enough interest to carry the reader through the post. The length of the blog is critical; people lead busy lives and you can help those who support you by being succinct.

You use this stage to flesh out the post, ensuring that you include all the notes you made before beginning to write the draft.

Then a different phase begins: you begin to turn the piece into a ‘whole’ by reading it back as a single entity, noticing that the flow between certain paragraphs feels good or not so good – usually because the latter feels ‘forced’. You may be able to modify this, or may have to delete the whole paragraph… sometimes because you’ve spotted that a neighbouring one can be expanded in an economic way to include that key idea.

And so on… Until you reach the finished post and can press ‘Schedule’.

But many wise bloggers have noticed that another review, some time later – or possibly the following morning, just before publication time – can throw up a whole field of errors you must have read twenty or more times… but not seen.

That last act of checking with a different head on removes us from the initial process of ‘constructing and seeing’ together. It forces us to focus on an entirely different aspect of our written piece: its structure rather than its content…or, to use a metaphysical concept, its form rather than its force.

If you have a trade or hobby in which ‘critical seeing’ is essential, then you are likely to have developed the skill of deconstructing the image of what’s in front of you. Photographers have to do this all the time. To use our terms above, their minds have been trained, usually over many years, to see good force; knowing that it will take accumulated skill to employ the techniques of composition and image finishing to deliver that forceful form to the viewer of the image. The force gives it life; the form lets it endure.

Our minds work in similar ways, and vision is the dominant component of the input to consciousness. We can approach the mindful – the spiritual – by a simple act of deconstructing the act of seeing.

When we encounter a natural scene that affects us, emotionally, we should stop the normal process of intellectual perception by refusing to let the mind think. Thinking contains all the value judgements: the likes and dislikes that distort what we see and shroud it (an appropriate word!) in our history. We don’t want the accumulated history of seeing similar objects, we want to see the now, expressed in the beauty of nature.

Having stopped the constant voice of habitual thought )and this is not trivial, but the struggle, itself, is so instructive) we then sense a different kind of seeing, one that usually contains a degree of calm emotion. If the emotion begins to contain value judgements, such as like or dislike, then we should gently nudge it back to simply seeing and not reacting. We are aiming to get a sense of presence, with a calm and sweet quality to it. You will know it when it happens… and never want to lose it, again.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

found objects

‘Found art’ is a style in which objects are discovered in the environment or workplace that have artistic value or gain artistic value through being arranged in new ways.

(Above: Google’s page on Found Objects)

That about sums up my knowledge of the genre, though, as a keen photographer, I can see the parallel between them. Both rely on ‘seeing’ something that may not appear obvious. Both require the extraction of that from the surroundings.

The photographer often ‘crops’ the taken shot to get the composition’s proportions glimpsed with the mind and emotions.

The ‘Found Object’ artist will go to great lengths to preserve and present the find. I once saw a programme in which a fallen tree embedded in crushed railings was purchased and extracted by powerful machinery before being exhibited in a major gallery, sawn and shaped.

I’m not an artist. An illustrator, sometimes, but relying on manipulation of something already existing. Sue Vincent was an artist , and we are currently working with another – Giselle Bolotin – on the creation of the Silent Eye’s new oracle deck of cards. Giselle is painting the core images for each of the characters used as archetypes in the Silent Eye’s three year correspondence course.

(Above: Giselle’s rendering of The Tyger Lady; one of the most dynamic characters in the Land of the Exiles, the landscape of the first year of the course. ©Giselle Bolotin 2021)

Returning to my opening image:

(Above – my own contribution to the ‘found’ genre, albeit only in photographic form)

The recent storms have brought considerable damage to South Lakeland. Thousands of mature trees have been felled; many of them in the most remote areas are still being discovered.

The priority has been to clear the roads and pathways. The result is the appearance, everywhere, of sawn-through tree trunks, like the one above. In this case the chainsaw has cut through both trunk and surrounding ivy to create a neat cross-section of circles. A striking image on the path where I came across it. It’s the closest I’m likely to come to a true ‘found object’.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog