Painting the Universe (1)

There are some ‘big blocks of colour’ in an understanding of the mystical perspective – which is the inner truth of our lives. Even a cursory examination of these brings insight. Let’s consider them…

Foremost of these is that there is a more powerful Life behind life; that the life we see is seen through a lens that distorts, and that our belonging, our real identity, is with that which is beyond the distorted lens. The basis of this is quite simple, but let’s approach it carefully.

The Sufi philosopher and poet, Rumi, wrote:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

What did he mean? Was he simply talking about love between two people – that we should devote our lives to ordinary love as we know it? Clearly this is insufficient. We can sense something vast in what he was trying to import, something that used the passion of love as a metaphor.

The Sufi poets used both ‘love’ and ‘wine’ to convey the experience of what lies beyond the clouded lens we use to look at the world. They also had a special meaning for the word ‘Beloved’. We will examine all of these in this series of posts.

True teachers of the ‘mystical life’ see – by direct experience – that there is a deeper life centred in the human consciousness. Our ordinary consciousness is a product of a ‘self’ developed from birth onwards. This self sees and feels objects around it. Some of them are pleasant and some aren’t. Because the newborn has no sense of itself – it simply is – it hungers to know more, and so adopts these reactions to the objects around it.

It’s a tasty world, and the child is hungry to understand it… and even more hungry to understand it-self, since this is where all the impressions of its world come to reside and stay. Even at this stage, the brain is busy recording the history of the person, generating a vast store of experiential data that will be added to all its life – as the primary filter (memory) against which all experience will be judged.

The adoption of these vivid early impressions becomes its first identity. We all have a primal hunger to know who we are. These patterns of identity, like and dislike, become the foundation of its character, its self. As the child grows, we say it develops a personality, more accurately, an egoic self.

We all have one… we were all once children experiencing this, hopefully under the loving eyes of our parents, who could do no more than guide the child to be what they were…

The word ego was bestowed on the developing self by the pioneering psychologist Sigmund Freud, whose work showed that the egoic-self had three divisions: id, superego and ego. As the child developed, it suppressed – under guidance from the parents – some of the wilder instincts in its nature (the id) – in order to fit in with the expectations of the parents, and, later on, society. This pattern of censure became the superego. Between id and superego, the child developed an identity of ‘acceptable me who gets praise’ and this is viewed as the ego, though really it’s part of a three-fold psychological structure.

From this early stage, the child colours everything that happens to it with the lens of its egoic-self. As the growing human becomes more capable, it fortifies its self. By adulthood, it is a suit of armour, which, initially, is wonderful… but gradually is seen to progressively dull the experience of life. This ‘dulling’ invites a question: If the suit of armour of the egoic self is all there is, then how does it know that fresh expereince has become ‘dull’?

Wordsworth famously wrote:

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy!”

It is a profound re-telling of what I’ve written above but written in the 1790s. It illustrates the depth of perception that great poetic and emotionally sensitive minds have always found, in ages that did not possess the idea that truth had to be numbers…

We shall have more to say about these ‘clouds of glory’ and – without trying to upset anyone, God, in future posts of this series.

For now, let’s close Part One, with the idea of ‘Object Relations’, an understanding of which, in the context of the truly spiritual, is the basis of these blogs.

The different experiences that colour the infant’s perception, and eventually becomes adopted or ‘imprinted’ on the child’s consciousness as building blocks of its identity, are referred to in developmental psychology as ‘Objects’ – that is, they are recognisable as separate things, capable of being labelled by the consciousness. In others words, they have repeatable properties. The field of Object Relations is one of the backbones of modern psychology. But this series of blogs is not intended to focus on psychology, beyond borrowing some of its words. Our purpose is to pursue Wordsworth’s ‘clouds of glory’ to see if the nature of the early ‘objects’ in our consciousness actually contain signposts back to the Greater Life from which we came…

And whether we can, in our modern world, remove the many barriers to Rumi’s ‘love’.

©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

An Artist named Giselle

(Above: one of Giselle’s paintings for the Silent Eye Oracle Deck)

Geographically, it’s an unlikely partnership… One person in Victoria, Australia, the other in Cumbria…

Giselle Bolotin is an Australian artist, but was born in Europe. She and I have never met, fac to face, but have established a good working relationship via the virtual world of the internet. We are collaborating on a set of images to illustrate the Silent Eye’s new ‘Oracle’ deck of cards.

When I say ‘we’, I mean Giselle paints what will become the oracle images, while I do my best to define to her the physical, intellectual and emotional nature of each of the characters to which she is giving form.

Giselle Bolotin- artist and friend

Giselle is joining us for the May 2022 workshop based in and around the Lakeland town of Keswick, so we will finally get to meet.

The words oracle and tarot are often confused. Both pertain to a set of cards representing the position and meaning of the image in a symbolic diagram.

In the case of the Tarot cards, the images are pictorial representations of states of consciousness and experiences within the Tree of Life as a map of personal consciousness. Those exploring the Tree can use the cards as a basis for meditations about where they feel themselves to be on the journey that the glyph encapsulates.

In the case of the Silent Eye’s Oracle, the cards will represent the journey of nine characters (each person’s different primary mix of characteristics) interacting and moving over three inner landscapes, taken in sequence as their understanding of the journey from ‘self to Self’ deepens. The three landscapes are:

1. The Land of the Exiles – a desert kingdom representing the experiences of the egoic self.

2. The Shallow Sea – an emotional and watery landscape in which personal transformation gathers speed.

3. Nine Gates of the Sun – a place of mysterious laws where the Egyptian Gods assume the forms of living beings who teach…

The Silent Eye’s work does not use the Tree of Life, though the founders of the School have experience of both systems. Instead, a figure called the Enneagram is the visual basis of the system.

Brought to the west by G I Gurdjieff, an Armenian philosopher from the early 20th century, the Enneagram has evolved in the hands of a fusion of developmental psychologists and modern mystics to describe the dominant characteristics of mankind’s ‘interior makeup’ – its personality, and the accelerated evolution that is available to us all.

In the Silent Eye’s system, the companion’s journey is taken through what we call the stations (1-9 in the image) of the outer personality. These develop inwards, eventually revealing the faces of the soul whose early loss – in childhood – gave rise to the shape of our personality. Each of the outer stations is reflected at two deeper levels, each involving deeper levels of our Self.

It’s a journey to the inner Self, by – as the Sufi poet Rumi wrote – ‘removing the barriers to love.’

(Above: another of the images from the new deck)

Giselle’s opening image is of a character known as the Arbiter-Queen within the landscape of the Shallow Sea. It illustrates the psycho-spiritual transformation of this formerly self-important and judgemental figure.

The Silent Eye Oracle is a work in progress. We hope to release the full deck, with accompanying guide-book, before the end of the year.

You can find samples of Giselle’s work on Instagram. Just enter her name in the search box.

©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 size of life

What size is our life?

It’s an odd question, but the kind of challenge that gets us thinking… Does our life have a ‘size’? We can measure it in years elapsed, of course, and that may have a lot to do with how we think we got ‘here’. But that continuity is entirely in our head, and, has little to do with the real world of now, out there. It’s curious that we allocate more reality to the solid stuff beyond our eyes than we do to the supposed ‘supercomputer’ that is busy assembling all this into reality.

Eyes, it is always said, are the ‘gateway to the soul’. But they are also the gateway to what we are taught is the world. The eyes detect a vast part of what we assemble into that world – which exists only in the mind. And yet, when we look out with those eyes, we see a world with which we are totally involved, with no sense of distance or division, and no real distinction between the in-here and the out-there – that is only added when someone invites us to consider that there may be a duality at work. Even then, the duality may be false.

There are eyes, and then there is seeing. How big is our seeing? There’s another odd question. I know that science says that what sees is in my head, but how much of my head does it take up? Is it, symbolically, like a vast cinema screen that I watch all the time, except when I’m sleeping, and maybe even then – in the form of dreams; which may explain why they make so little sense. Perhaps the part of the supercomputer that makes things make sense sleeps, leaving the connected feed to the outside world intact… But that seems not to be the case. The senses shut down the second we fall asleep, which is why we drop that teacup onto the carpet when we fall asleep in our armchair. The dream, then, seems to deal only with what we already have inside us.

The ‘me’ seems to return with wakefulness, which shows how interlinked with ‘the world’ it is. It makes us wonder what the other, dreaming self, really is? Perhaps that dream awareness is more machine-like than we think? Or maybe it’s just connected to the universe in a different way…

Back to size. In my waking ‘self’, I don’t feel any size at all. I have been taught by the world that I’m a certain size, so I behave according to that and perhaps look to bolster my medium height with other strategies that make me important, which makes my-self feel good.

But really the ‘point’ of me has no size at all. It’s simply the act of watching. When my mind is not watching the world, it is usually in that dream state, because the constant change of sensual stimuli is not present. If there are changing things out-there, my mind is busy watching and interpreting them. There is even a kind of voice that narrates the watching, giving each thing its name, like in the Bible book of Genesis. We are not only close-coupled with the world, we are also habituated to narrating its stream of existence.

Why is our existence so complicated? Mystically speaking we have two answers: It may not really be so complicated at all; and, secondly, finding the answer is what makes the whole journey so worthwhile.

In order to get out of our habitual way of being locked into the world and give our deeper ‘self’ its rightful place, we need techniques that ‘shake’ the questionable foundations of our perception. One of these, handed down from the spiritual wisdom of old, is related our opening focus on size.

Place a candle in front of you. Lean forward to light it. Be conscious of the distance. Sit back in your chair and focus only on the very centre of the flame. Notice its twin nature, with intense brightness forming a ring around a sometimes black centre where the flame begins.

Now imagine that your world is the bright ring. See its constantly changing nature and watch how it commands your attention. Then gaze into the middle – the point of origination of the flame – and let your whole attention be drawn into the central dark area within the light. Feel the unity of both aspects of the flame but know that your own ‘point’ of true self is at the centre, and that the rest is a process of reflection. Imagine you are nothing (no-thing) in that central point, yet completely present to everything.

©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

Deportment for the soul

Image by ADiamondFellFromTheSky
Image by ADiamondFellFromTheSky

He passed me the disc, about the size of a small dinner plate and quite heavy. My hands were full of things needing to go through to the kitchen. There was only one thing for it, I placed the disc on my head and walked through that way, thinking how the lessons learned when we are younger than we are today still have value and inordinately pleased with myself that I could still do it without effort..

My mother used to tell me about good posture when I was small and it was fun trying to walk around with piles of books balanced on my head. We had to do the same at dance class. We had it in school and in the gym too back then. For my mother, it was about deportment; the way a lady carries the body. For my teachers, the idea was that by developing balance we would be able better able to perform the movements that were required of us with grace and poise. Nowadays, it is simply about good posture and, hunched over a keyboard far too much of the time, I am grateful for those early lessons and still prefer a straight back.

Good posture stays with you. It is not something that you lose like the beauty of dewy skin or the lustre of youthful hair. Something of it remains. Even my great grandmother, her spine bent under the weight of almost ten decades, still held herself well. Those we deem elegant seem to have something in their carriage that stays noticeable for the rest of their lives too, even when the years have erased all outward sign of youth.

When I was fifteen, my grandfather gave me a copy of Dion Fortune’s Moon Magic. There is much to be learned from the psychological journey of the two protagonists and it is still one of my favourite and best-thumbed books. Being young and on the verge of womanhood, however,  one small phrase took my eye that had nothing to do with the story itself. “… the body should swing and balance from the waist and that is worth more in beauty than a slender line.”  I think this is true and it gives an impression of balance and grace.

We learn very early in our lives the mechanics of sitting, standing and walking and, once learned, we seldom give them another thought until we begin to suffer the consequences of what we failed to learn to do well. Then we get back-ache and have to learn anew, starting with the core muscles, as often as not. Yet the body is designed to both respond to and create those minute shifts and adjustments that are required in order to maintain perfect equilibrium. Until it knows a poised centre of balance, it cannot create it.

Our inner balance is very similar… we learn as children our techniques of how to deal with the world and though they may be perfectly serviceable for years to come, evolving as we grow, they may also come back to haunt us as emotional aches and pains. The accumulated effects of the years gradually throw the balance even further out and it may take going back to the beginning to put things right, through therapy or through the self examination we do when we seek to understand why. It is only in doing so that we begin to see the repetitive scenarios and reactions that have been there all along, but which themselves are no more than a symptom of something we learned awry  early in life. Once we find the starting point, we can begin too to straighten things out.

The spiritual life is little different. Spirituality does not necessarily mean religion, although religious faith should mean spirituality. The spiritual life is that very personal relationship we may each seek with whatever greater reality we come to know. We have all met those people who seem to radiate joy, no matter how hard their lives may be, no matter their age… they have a glowing beauty for which there seems no reason and they find a beauty in life that may seem to pass us by.  We may ask ourselves why here too. We absorb what we are taught as children and it serves us as children. As we grow, so do our thoughts and beliefs change and grow with us. There usually comes a point where we may feel spiritually off balance and start to examine those deep-seated beliefs, tracing them to back to their beginnings. We may find that the spiritual ‘muscles’ were never fully flexed, that we simply accepted what we were given because it worked for us then, but now the core needs some work and the source  does not seem to show us the Source we feel may be there.

Where can we look to find the answers to those questions we begin to ask, to find that poise and grace that comes from spiritual equilibrium? We need only look within. The questions we ask are unique to every one of us, the answers we seek are part of us all. It matters little if we give what we find there a Name and a Story… it is the essence of what lies at the heart of us that straightens the spiritual spine and brings back the balance.

Chalice

                                                 Expansion, sculpture by Paige Bradley

“Empty your mind… empty yourself…you are nothing and nowhere… just floating in the embrace of the universe…” It is a nice idea and one I have heard at the start of many a meditation… and in meditation, such a vision has a place. As a way of living, it is not particularly practical though. Someone has to walk the dog, take out the trash and clean the bathroom… and a person wafting through life being ‘nothing and nowhere’ is unlikely to be getting down and dirty with a scrubbing brush or chasing a recalcitrant hound across a muddy field.

It is such concepts that, for some, consign the whole idea of spirituality to the odd corners of life. It becomes a pastime, something to ‘do’ in spare moments or with a group. It isn’t reality, is it?

For many others though, it is just that… the most eminently practical way to live… not something to do, but something to Be.

But just how can you reconcile the nitty-gritty needs of everyday life with living a spiritual life? Especially when the daily grind seems to get in the way and haul you forcibly back from the Threshold you long to cross?

As a young mother with two small boys creating daily havoc and a longing to pursue my own spiritual studies, I read a chapter in ‘The Training and Work of an Initiate’ by Dion Fortune, one of the most respected esoteric teachers of the past century or so. She wrote of the Path of the Hearthfire and how each moment, each task, every dirty cup or grazed knee could be part of the bricks and mortar of a spiritual life. She explained, with her customary clarity, how every experience and every chore, if the attention is focussed and the intent conscious, becomes a rite… and is, therefore, a very real part of the spiritual journey. She wrote of the Unseen Guest for whom we may keep a place beside the hearthfire and, slowly, I began to understand.

Everything we do, learn or feel becomes part of the fabric of our being. Every choice we make takes us to another fork on that personal road and leaves its mark on who we are and who we will become. Our lives, our experience and our actions are a spiritual journey, whether we recognise it as such, or not. The only difference between those who walk a deliberately spiritual path, regardless of its name, and those who do not, lies in conscious choice, awareness and intent. Each of us may learn and grow without turning our backs on everyday life. All of us have the same rich vein of experience from which to extract alchemical gold.

There comes a point in most of our lives when we begin to question and may turn to whichever spiritual path seems to call us.  It is at this point we are also called to question the nature of the vessel we have formed from the gold of experience. ‘Know thyself’, phrased in innumerable ways, is a core tenet of the Mysteries, whatever path we choose.

We learn to see ourselves as a chalice, a vessel made from the raw materials of our personality and experience into which the wine of life has been poured. That vessel may be a thing of beauty… but is more likely to be a little skewed and battered. It may be jewelled with knowledge or made of an earthier clay. It matters little… we do not taste the vessel, it serves only to hold the wine.

There may come a moment when we wish to offer that vessel in dedication, to serve the Light we see.  To hold up that vessel and allow the Light to fill it… and to do so, the vessel must first be emptied. Many texts seem to teach that we must turn away from the world, ‘rise above’ our flawed humanity or become detached from the humdrum life. I do not believe that this is so.

Detachment is a cold thing, very different from the non-attachment that embraces all but is enslaved by none.

We are what we are… fully human, full of flaws and imperfect. Yet there is purpose to our imperfection for without it we could neither learn nor grow. Our imperfection is perfect in its design and mirrors something greater. To turn our backs on our humanity is to deny our nature and refuse the value of our unique experience upon this earth.

We craft the vessel from the sum of our experience, its light and its darkness, our gifts and our knowledge, bringing all that we are to its making. We offer our whole self willingly and with love…and such a dedication empties us of the fears and desires of the fragile and transient personality that thinks itself king. There is no ruler in unity.

To be no-thing but whole, to be now-here instead of nowhere… to be present and conscious within the universal embrace… empties the mind of who we think we should be… and allows us to be what we are.

The fabric of being

We all know them, that handful of people who cling to a reactionary refusal to own a mobile phone… or turn it on when they do… or bother to check it. Or they don’t really like computers or social media. You can’t get hold of them, they pass their lives in a state of technological invisibility and you wonder how on earth they can survive…

Or… you secretly envy them their anonymity and accepted state of unavailability…

It is not so very long ago that communication was less intense, relying on ‘local’ calls and handwritten letters. The reliability of the mail was legendary, if slow, and such missives could be cherished or responded to in a timely fashion… say, a week or two. And that was okay. These days, ‘radio silence’ presses the panic buttons… people, including ourselves most of the time, expect an instant response. We have, very quickly, learned to live in a world that responds at the touch of a button and very often we seem to expect people to do the same. It is all about ‘now’.

Technological advances have not only changed our world, but our expectations, both of ourselves and others. We have, over the course of a couple of generations, seen a complete redesign of our daily lifestyles. We no longer have to beat carpets or black lead the range. Laundry is done, and even dried, at the touch of a button instead of the labour intensive wash-day that saw, even in my own childhood, coppers boiling, wash-boards and mangles at dawn and the flat irons heating in the embers of the black-leaded grate. Food no longer needs to be grown or prepared and ‘gourmet’ meals can be purchased ready-made from the supermarket chiller cabinet. And although, with the loss of cooking skills, the understanding of food and nutrition is being eroded, we can, of course, always take supplements…obviating even the need to chew.

Our days… assuming that our technologies are working as they should… have been freed of many constraints. We have more potential leisure time than we have ever had in the history of mankind… and many of us ironically turn to some kind of technological gadgetry with which to fill it. Meanwhile old skills are becoming obsolete… how many of us still know how to starch a shirt, for example? Do we need to know… do we even care? Most of us would emphatically answer in the negative… but are we really right to do so? Because it isn’t just the skills that are lost…

It isn’t exactly about how to dress a flawless shirt that crackles when you move… what I am thinking of here is the amount of care we put into the small, humdrum acts of daily life. The generations-old christening robe or wedding veil would not have survived this long had someone not learned to understand its fabric and spent time and effort on its care and preservation. With today’s wash-and-go fabrics, would we do the same? Do our email conversations hold the same place in our hearts as the bundle of faded, handwritten letters? Time and attention, a learned skill, a labour of love…

Anyone who has ever created a work of art or craft will know that feeling of pride and satisfaction when it is completed and you step back to look at the finished article. Anyone who cooks from scratch or watches the slow growth and ripening of fruit in the garden knows they taste different from their pretty, shop-bought cousins. Not just because of the obvious commercial factors, but simply because you have come to know the tree, the plant and the soil… you have watered and fed and watched as they grew and the relationship thus built with the fruit is personal. The care, time and attention we give to any object or task has a direct correlation to the value we place upon it and the relationship we build with it… a relationship that involves us on all levels, from the physical work involved, to the mental use of knowledge to the emotions it engenders. What we really earn, we value. What is done with love… like a child’s first scrawled painting of a parent… is valued. For the rest, we live in a society that allows for few things to impinge upon our hearts; our possessions often little more than visible symbols of our success that we can wear as a badge of status to convince others, and thus reassure ourselves of our worth. It sometimes seems that the biggest loss of all over the past generation or two is a lack of true value for ourselves.

We no longer know how to define ourselves; there is a lack of confidence in our identities, a pervasive uncertainty in our relationships with ourselves. Perhaps this is one reason why more and more people are turning towards the many spiritual paths made more accessible by the very technology that allows us the time to study them. Sadly, there are all too many pseudo-spiritual schemes on the market, profiteering from this need and offering little more than comforting reassurance, usually at a premium price. Or ways to achieve all with minimal effort… well, someone is doing well from these schemes, but it is seldom the sincere seeker of inner truth and harmony who profits…

scarf3

The spiritual journey is almost like laundering a garment. What we do will depend on what we seek from and for it in the longer term. Is this something we would wear for a season and discard, or something we hope will last a lifetime and beyond? A garment can come in every shade of the rainbow and the method of care of cotton is unsuitable for silk. Each is unique, yet shares a common underlying need.

When we are new and unworn, we are fresh and unblemished. Everyday life gradually adds its creases, stains and soiling and there is a point where we realise that we must do something about it or watch a steady deterioration that takes the garment beyond beauty. The first turning towards the path of the soul is comparable to a light wash… an initial cleansing that can be enough to freshen and maintain the garment in serviceable condition. We can go on that way for a long time, but without proper care the garment will, inevitably, begin to fade and pass a point where it will appear able to be restored to its pristine condition.

If, on the other hand, we look at the garment and take careful stock of its condition, learning to understand its fabric, identifying the damage and the individual stains and learning what they are so we can then learn how to remove them specifically, we can cleanse the garment with thorough and loving care. If we want to restore its pristine nature, we might learn how to properly ‘dress’ the garment… realising that its newly cleaned brightness may have to go back to the water to be dipped and soaked in starch… wrung into further creases and left to try in its own time, before being carefully smoothed with the heat of the iron. We may not know how to proceed… but we will know who will or where to search for those skills forgotten or unlearned. There is always someone to turn to who can guide us through the process, though sometimes the advice may seem strange.

It is a long process and there is much to be learned. It isn’t always an easy task, nor is it always a pleasant one. Many give up or prefer to believe that the stain on the front of the garment is something else entirely, not the ketchup they themselves had dropped there. Yet the longer we wait to begin, the more stains and moth-holes we may have to tackle. Restoration takes time, care and attention… which are, oddly enough, the very same qualities that allow us to engage with the things that matter to us most deeply… and which bring a true sense of achievement, value and identity.

In our society we are fast learning to want everything ‘now’. Yet the things we still value most are those that we work for, those we earn… those things that are worth waiting for. We do not expect to get such items without care and effort, nor do we expect to see the fruits of such long-term labours materialise immediately, though we may be working hard towards them. Nevertheless, we will see the savings in the bank grow, find our knowledge expanding or our skills improving, day by day, month by month as we turn our efforts and attention towards our goal. There comes, though, a moment when we realise that there was a ‘now’ where we made a start… and there will be a ‘now’ when we achieve our dream… but meanwhile our ‘now’ must be devoted to what we are doing right at this moment on the journey between the two.

The journey through life is unique for each of us, a turning point that may come early or late… some seem born with the starry heavens in their eyes and pursue that vision with all that they are, others seem to seek nothing until the silence of their last moments. Yet all of us, at some point, will question the stains and creases we acquire as life wears our soul. Sometimes, all we have to do is ask…

To dare, to dream, to be…

‘To know, to dare, to will… and to keep silent’… this is a phrase heard within many branches of the Mysteries and one which echoes facets of the labyrinthine journey undertaken by those of us who work within them. It is an old saying, but none the worse for that, as much of the magical and mystical tradition is rooted in history. It contains much wisdom… a veritable treasure trove that responds to exploration by the meditative mind.

When we were setting up the Silent Eye, talking about how we could encapsulate something of the essence of the School’s ethos in a few words,  that phrase was the starting point for a discussion. The school is a place where we ensure that ‘the heart and the head drink from the same stream’. It is just as easy to get lost in soggy sentimentality as it is to bury oneself in hardcore intellectualism and on the spiritual journey both ends of the spectrum need to arrive at the consensus where we find the road to Being.

It takes courage to set out on that road, for it is ultimately one that must be walked seemingly alone, facing the image of the constructed Self; the Ego that is our vehicle through this life in the mirror of the soul. It is not always a pleasant stroll; the flawed monsters that lurk within each of us are the demons the magician faces in his rites of evocation. It takes courage too to set out on a path that departs from the traditions and teachings you have worked with all your life and seek something new. To dare that road can seem like stepping off a precipice into the unknown… or it can be the most exciting voyage of a lifetime.

It is something many of us dream of doing. Yet where to start? How to translate that dream into a reality? And what is a dream anyway? It is a multivalent concept. We may think of a dream as something of no substance, the ephemera of the night; no more than a fleeting shadow of the impossible that haunts the edges of the mind. Many systems of thought, including our own, use the idea of the dream-state to reflect the limited reality of our daily lives, focussed upon the mechanical movement through the tasks and responsibilities imposed upon us, both by the world and by ourselves; seeing in our restricted and sleeping consciousness merely projected images upon the screen of the mundane world.

We can look at the Aboriginal and Shamanic dreaming that has woven its magic behind humanity’s vision, shadowing forth those aspects of being and divinity we have sought to understand for millennia. On the other hand, we may see a dream as an aspiration… something worthy of the questing soul that seeks the depth and meaning of the inner Light.

It has been asked which is the dream… does the soul dream this life… do we awake from life into a dream of the soul … are we ourselves the dream, the dreamer… or the dreamed?

Perhaps we are all of these and in that realisation… in daring to seek to bring the dream of the soul into reality, in the clear light of consciousness, we can live the dream and touch the realms of pure Being.

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.

Whitby weekend: Making soul cakes?

Whitby

There is more to a Silent Eye workshop than a simple wander in the landscape, but although the shape of the weekend may be carefully crafted, much of what happens next comes from the intent of those who attend. Working as a group, the shared journey amplifies the experience as we learn from and with each other. If we do not always go into great detail about how such a workshop ‘works’, it is because you really have to be there and be part of the alchemy, to feel the full effects.

Steve, who organised the Whitby workshop, has told how we gathered on the Friday for lunch and to talk about the themes for the weekend. On the slip of paper I pulled from the bag that was passed around the table, the four words given spoke to me on several levels. My immediate reaction was to identify them as pertaining to a point on the enneagram; those of us there who are part of the Silent Eye had the advantage of recognising their origin.

The enneagram is a symbol best known as a psychological tool but it can also provide a window on the inner and spiritual life, which is how it is used within the school. The nine points of the enneagram illustrate the nine major personality types. We are none of us just one ‘type’, but are, each of us, a unique mixture of all of them, with one being dominant. Within each type are levels of function, encapsulating the ‘best’ and the ‘worst’ aspects of how that type can…and will… interact with the world. The system is simple enough on the surface, but gets more complex the deeper you go, with each type being influenced by its secondary type, as well as its sub-type… and with each one of them functioning on different levels.

It is easier to think about baking.

Flour… eggs… milk… fat/oil… sugar… baking soda… spices… fruit…  nuts

I know that with just these nine basic ingredients in my cupboard, I can make any number of different cakes, cookies, pies and puddings, biscuits and buns. Within each type of ingredient, there are sub-types… I could, for instance, use butter, margarine, lard or oil. Demerara, white or powdered sugar. Any of the hundreds of available spices…

What comes out of the oven depends upon the proportions, quality and quantities of what goes into the mixing bowl, how each ingredient is treated and the process I use to combine them. A lemon meringue is a very different experience from, say, a pancake, a scone or an apple pie.  I could make any or all of them from those basic ingredients. None is better than another. All will be delicious if cooked to the highest standard… though personal taste may say otherwise… and all, even the best, have their negative side in their calorie content.

Beneath the Crossing at Lastingham

So, although the chains of four words that we each picked from the bag may, or may not, have pertained to the predominant lens through which we see and interact with the world, they were all relevant to all of us and, as the weekend progressed, we would each learn from the others as we explored their meaning.

The words I chose were indolence, procrastination, action, love. They illustrate an evolving process. For me, they were immediately relevant. I have never mastered the art of indolence…pure laziness does not sit well with me. Even when I am still and silent, it is an active stillness… a conscious choice with which I am engaged.

Procrastination, on the other hand, I have mastered. I can be hugely and genuinely busy… far too busy to begin the things I know I ought to be doing… especially if they are likely to be unpleasant or upset the status quo. And, like indolence, that is a fear reaction. Fear of change… of shifting the balance… of possibly making a situation worse…of failure…or even of facing an uncomfortable truth.  There are any number of fears hidden behind the pleasant veil of procrastination.

Action is what we choose when the tipping point is reached… when we step, deliberately, from one pan of the scales to the other. From resisting to embracing life in all its glorious, complicated messiness. We move towards love… and, as we do so, it reaches out to us.

A string of words, randomly chosen yet wholly pertinent… and, because we gave them our attention, applying them to our lives in a way that allowed us to focus on aspects of self we had, perhaps, ignored or simply not seen, any of them would have given us the keys to a shadowed part of our being. By looking within we can explore a wider horizon.

At the Crossing, Whitby Abbey

Later that weekend, at Whitby Abbey, we would be asked to find a location that symbolised the essence of those four words for each of us. The symbolism inherent in any place once held sacred can speak to us, regardless of the path we follow.

I chose the Crossing, where the vertical aisle meets the two ‘arms’ of the transepts. It is, in many ways, the heart of a church. The cruciform shape echoes that of the crucifix and the heart of the crucified would have rested above it.

Pickering Church… where we found the same icon as we had seen at Lastingham.

For indolence, it symbolised all the possibilities that were there for the choosing… and the choice made to embrace none of them. For procrastination, it was the perfect illustration of its fear and uncertainty; what happens when you leave the place where you stand? Have you made the right choice? What if you get it wrong? Better not to move at all…

By choosing action, you move, take one of the paths offered… actually get somewhere, even if it wasn’t where you thought you might go. And by moving, you leave the space empty for something else to come in… and what comes as you embrace life is light and love.

St Oswald’s, Lythe.