The Big Picture (1) : life and the image

We don’t live ‘in the world’… an outrageous thing to say, and yet it’s true. Well, if we don’t live in the world, where do we live?

We don’t live in the world; we live in a picture of the world… the ‘big picture’ of the blog’s title. If we actually lived in the world, we would go insane within a very short time in trying to process the near infinite information that the real world throws at us every second of the day. Nature has helped us with this; millions of years of evolution have honed and perfected this ‘signal processor’ that we call the brain.

Instead of losing our minds – itself a telling statement – we have evolved to have, at the pinnacle of our personal organisation, a sophisticated ‘summary engine’ that can be taught what’s important to us so that it can be extracted from the ‘flow’.

When we were children, staying alive was very important; as was staying close to ‘mother’, who protected us. The knowledge and methods of this stage of our lives are buried deep in our so-called ‘subconscious’, where they protect us by becoming ultra-fast reactions based on recognised patterns of events coming at us – like a hot coal that once burned us, or the initial taste of mother’s milk, our original food of life that went hand in hand with her deep and ‘most warm’ love.

The human being’s consciousness is made up almost entirely of reactions… and rightly so. In a potentially hostile universe, these reactions operate at lightning speed to protect and preserve us. They also give us fear, filling us with chemicals that speed up our reactive potential. They can also give us pleasure… to the point of addiction.

(Above: within us we have a kind of stage, where the events of our lives are turned into an ongoing story, a play. Image by the author)

Growing up to maturity in a stable way is not a trivial process. No wonder we value the stability of the bionic machine that protects us. That this reactive engine is the pinnacle of us is marginally untrue. We also have a strange other creature sitting high up there at the top of our personal organisation.

Reading this, you can, at any time, break away from these lines of language being interpreted by the equivalent of millions of lines of ‘brain code’ that sift and refine what the meaning is. You can break away from this information stream and ask yourself, ‘Mmm what do I think of this?’

The part of you that has this power of separate thought from the general engine of survival, pain and comfort is the self. The self is a very strange entity that arose in our internal experience once we had stabilised our survival. Essentially, the self was what survived in conscious memory from moment to moment within the sea of experience. We became attached to it, for it not only carried memories vital for survival, it also gave us a sense of worth. Because it was always there, we grew fond of it. With its help, we could take greater autonomy in our lives, choosing certain directions based, positively or negatively, on pleasure, pain or… even values.

Values are interesting. They dont feed us, they don’t frighten us, yet we have learned that they are important. Some humans don’t spend much time on values, but anyone brought up with love and affection is likely to have a small treasure-trove of culturally inherited values from their loving parents and those who have influenced them most strongly in their lives.

We might say we have an unusual instinct for the ‘good’, beyond any need for it to be linked to our survival… or even wellbeing.

Our higher levels of organisation – our minds – contain the most sophisticated abstract representations of our world and our selves. These representations are in the form of interior pictures. They may contain all the information our senses can provide, but they are still pictures. They are not the reality of the present. They are that reality seen through pieces of our history, as though through an evolved lens.

The nature of those pictures, and their relationship to any quest for the reality of our selves, is the subject of this series of posts. It’s a series I’ve wanted to do for a while, and I feel the time is right and appropriate to this felt sense of an ‘end of the age’. My belief is that things are indeed ending, but only to clear the way for the depths of human potential to be further revealed. Because of the way we are made, the real changes need to come from a psychological and spiritual perspective. Only an awareness of this dimension of ourselves will open up our possible future…

(Above: The Tree of Life, a representation of progressively higher levels of consciousness. Image by the author)

The idea of images being central to our mental and emotional existence is not a new one. Ancient systems of metaphysics used diagrams like the Tree of Life, above, to illustrate the relative place of the actual world and our consciousness within it. The lowest of the ten ‘spheres’, above, is Malkuth, which is the body and its raw awareness. But our composite consciousness of the world begins at the next higher level – the purple sphere of Yesod above it. One of the key meanings of Yesod is ‘The Image’.

The story of how our deeply personal ‘way of seeing’ developed is the story of how our experiences formed relationships between ‘me’ and the world. These started very simply, but powerfully, with the essential relationship between the infant and mother. In the first two years of life are to be found the essential lenses of our seeing that pattern the rest of our lives.

In the next part, we will examine this early state – not from a perspective of regression, but with a view to blending our early perceptions with the adult discrimination we now possess. The mixture can be a fiery one… But the flames of self-discovery can put an entirely new light on our habits, our fears, our joys and the potential for our consciousness to go much further than we currently envisage.

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

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

Wayland: The White Horse…

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But according to some, Wayland has far more onerous

responsibilities than shoeing the horses of passing way farers…

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A group of local lads were enjoying a drink

one evening at the White Horse Inn, Woolstone,

when an unknown man wearing old fashioned garb

entered and ordered a pint of the local beverage.

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He wore a leather apron, a tall hat,

and he took his drink and sat

to one side of the ale-house by himself…

*

After awhile the sound of a horn rang out

and could be heard

echoing eerily through the vale…

*

Startled from his reverie by the horn,

the stranger leapt to his feet and hobbled

out into the night, his pint unfinished.

*

As the uncanny sound faded over the downs

the locals looked out and up to the hillside

to find that the White Horse was gone!

*

When dawn broke the following day

more than a few of the previous night’s imbibers

looked out of their windows

and up at the hill with some trepidation…

*

Only to see the White Horse

back where it should be on the green hillside

but with feet-tips

that seemed to shine in the morning sun light.

 

*

 

A Day saved by a Church

I had meant to write a blog about Covid; about the way it is changing our world, and not just from a health perspective. Finishing on whether there is a dimension of spiritual (consciousness) development in what’s happening to our societies.

But…

But I’ve been up since 05:30 and had a day with my mother, a woman approaching 91 years whose vascular dementia has galloped along this past six months. If you’ve been there, or seen a relative or carer being ground down by the sheer effort and often futility of a day spent trying to ease their relative’s burden, then you’ll know what my face looks like, having just arrived home at seven in the evening.

The day began with our trip to the opticians – SpecSavers, in Bolton. Three years ago, mum’s sight had been diminishing rapidly, and we feared she was going blind. She had nearly died in hospital fifteen years prior and had an emergency ileostomy involving the removal of most of her lower intensities. She survived that, taking six months to convalesce and, finally, come home. One of her eyes was infected with MRSA during her stay in hospital, resulting in internal scarring. Her remaining good eye has been her lifeline.

Two years ago, she had a life-changing cataract operation, which restored a world of colour to her one eye. Sadly, this past few months, we feared that her days of sight were coming to an end, as the vision became blurred and she was unable to read.

The SpecSavers visit raised her spirits. There was good news: a ‘film’ had developed over the eye’s replacement lens, and this could be removed with laser treatment. She has been referred for a hospital visit to carry out the procedure. Hopefully, Covid permitting, she should be able to read, again, within three months.

Back home, she began a familiar litany: a family member was stealing all her money; and, worse, was now entering her home when she was out, to rearrange many of her personal effects, like her makeup. It’s awful, trying to find the right balance between what you know is the truth and attempting to refrain from confrontation. I will not go into details. Sufficient to say that fate smiled on my attempts to find objects that had been ‘stolen’. They were retrieved and placed before her astonished gaze. She even seemed close to retracting her accusations. The new sentiments may not survive the night, but it was good to see the ‘old mum’… albeit briefly.

I dashed to the nearby Morrisons to do her her weekly shopping, and we shared a final tea and cake before I left… but not for home.

We live near Kendal, in Cumbria. Mum is in the old family town of Bolton, in what was Lancashire. When I make a day trip to look after her, I try to make the best of the travel. The other ‘to-do’ before I could begin the journey home was some dental work in nearby Chorley, where we had retained our relationship from our days of living there.

Having a new ‘crown’ requires extensive drilling, and I wasn’t looking forward to it, even though the modern anaesthetics are wonderful. A difficult day was going to end painfully.

On the way back to the car from the dentist, mouth numb and only able to mumble, I passed the parish church on the A6 road. The icy path sparkled in the light as it curved up to the silhouette of the old church, framed against the fading light and emerging stars. It was a moment of perfect beauty, and the image captured it well. The uphill struggle of the day seemed mirrored in nature’s frosting of the frozen water on the curved stone.

So, instead of a consideration of Covid’s wider implications, this was my day. We live to fight another. But not too many like this one, please…

Dedicated to all those looking after dementia sufferers, and all those caring for other people, everywhere.

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

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

Magical mornings

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It was a luminous dawn, the world blanketed in a thick cocoon of frost against the darkness and silence of a newborn morning. The sun rose, pale and gold, strewing a million diamonds on the tarmac path; setting a fire in the heart of ice. There is a magic in the morning light that seems to bathe even the hard edges of winter in a soft glow. Where the light streams, its gentle warmth sends showers of tiny droplets glinting to earth, yet where the shadows hang heavy, the frost lingers, clinging to the day with hoary fingers.

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Looking down, splashes of unexpected colour stand out against the whitened world… the scarlet stalks of ivy and bramble, the earth tones of autumnal remains and the vibrant shades of the evergreens. Details, hitherto unnoticed, leap to the attention, thrown into relief by the blank canvas of the frost. Shapes unseen are highlighted; fractal patterns that seem to hold the story of creation in their humble familiarity.

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Looking up, the birds are waking, stretching chilled wings against the morning. I wonder at them… their delicate frames and fragile bones kept safe through the frozen night by no more than a feather. So tiny, so light, yet they can fly against the storm winds and through the battering of the rains. This morning I watched the sparrows as they woke, fluffing their plumage as we might shake an eiderdown. Such busy little birds, clinging to the smallest perch to watch the day begin.

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Light strikes the trees, turning them golden as the sun rises higher, painting the doves pink and waking the jackdaws in a flurry of wings. On the low roof the frost crystals turn the little clumps of moss into the hollow hills and forests of a faery landscape where imagination walks, painting tales of otherworlds to be explored. Even the cars are clad in jewelled fur that makes them look like the surface of some fantastic planet.

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I love mornings like this. They truly are magical, both to see and to ponder, when the delicate overlay of a winter frost changes everything and yet the beauties revealed by the frost are always there, just waiting for us to see them. We are blind to the familiar world, habituated to its presence. It takes change to open our eyes and hearts to what is already there waiting for us. In this way such a morning reflects the journey of the seeker; turning to face the light of being and seeing that no matter how far the journey may lead him, no matter how many changes may come, his destination has always been a place he never left.

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Love story…

"Where there is life, there is love" Ghandi
“Where there is life, there is love” Ghandi

It has been a lazy day, lounging half asleep on the sofa, nursing a rotten cold. The mind wanders down odd paths at such times and  I have been thinking a lot about the whole idea of love. It is, after all, possibly the most important of human emotions and one that preoccupies us more than any other.

We seek it on many levels and in many ways, from the filial to the romantic, from the parental and the passionate to the divine. We call it by many names that may not at first be obvious, hiding it in plain sight as with so many other things of deep significance.

"Where there is no love, put love -- and you will find love." Juan de la Cruz
“Where there is no love, put love — and you will find love.” Juan de la Cruz

Friendship is love, so is kindness, compassion, tenderness… the thoughtfulness that picks up the phone or opens a door, the small everyday gestures we make. They are all aspects of it, facets of that same precious jewel.

We seek it, consciously or unconsciously, all our lives. There is a warmth when we know ourselves to be loved, we feel complete when we share love, alive when we give it… even when things do not run smoothly, even when there is hurt or pain or the prospect of loss, there is something deep within us that is nourished and completed by the giving of love.

"The important thing is not to think much but to love much; and so do that which best stirs you to love." Teresa of Ávila
“The important thing is not to think much but to love much; and so do that which best stirs you to love.” Teresa of Ávila

Nothing new there… we all know this. We have all felt it at some point in our lives, all been touched by its presence or apparent absence from our lives. We have all known the fierce or gentle joy of a love that is shared, and the subtle pain of a love given  unwanted. Those pangs, of course, cut deeply as most of the time our loves are very human… we seek a return or a reflection, forgetting that there can be no pain in loving unconditionally… a simple giving without requirement, need or judgement.

Yet why does it matter so deeply to us? What is it that makes this strange rollercoaster emotion so important to us? It brings in its wake all kinds of possibilities for hurt and heartache. Remember the teenage years? Or the loss of a family pet? Or worse, a life partner, parent or beloved friend? Yet knowing the possibilities, we are still drawn like moths to a flame. Even when we shy away from it, we do so because we are aware of its depth and power.

So I was pondering.

“Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along." Rumi
“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.” Rumi

Maybe being in love is simply a small reflection of the Love we are seeking to Be In somehow, almost as if it is all we can manage on a human level until we can Be the higher part of our self? The difference is only in focus and degree… not in the essential quality. Those who have written of the love of God have done so in the language of the heart. From St Teresa to the Sufis, the imagery is that we would use to speak of a lover.

Perhaps we could live in such a way that the levels of love we feel and give could coalesce? Instead of separating the loves we have, human, abstract, spiritual and divine.. .what would it be like to see them as a single thing?

"Love is all we have, the only way that each can help the other." Euripides
“Love is all we have, the only way that each can help the other.” Euripides

What if all the human levels of love are just fragmentary glimpses of a greater love that we know at some very deep level of being? What if our human search for love is a quest to find a reflection, something that reminds us of a love so deep it pervades all creation and is intimately woven through the fibre of being? Seen ‘in a glass darkly’, it may be that it is a shadowy, unconscious knowledge of the wellspring of souls, a yearning for that Home of the heart, unnamed, perhaps, unknown, imprecise maybe, that fuels our dreams and hopes of love in life.

"If you love and get hurt, love more. If you love more and hurt more, love even more. If you love even more and get hurt even more, love some more until it hurts no more..." William Shakespeare
“If you love and get hurt, love more. If you love more and hurt more, love even more. If you love even more and get hurt even more, love some more until it hurts no more…” Anon

Wayland: The Blessed Isles…

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The tone of the tale once Britain is reached,

becomes very different…

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Alighting on Berkshire’s High Downs,

Wayland came upon an ancient chambered tomb,

and made it his home.

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Tradition now has it,

that if ever you are riding the Ridgeway,

and your horse loses a shoe,

you need only tether it nearby,

 leave a silver-sixpence on the uppermost stone of the tomb,

and on your return your horse will be shod and your money gone…

*

Wayland, it seems, never works while being observed.

*

 

 

Lucky birds

red kite

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” J.M. Barrie

When I was a girl we often spent New Year’s Eve with my great grandparents. Unless a neighbour could be relied upon to spontaneously perform the service, the tallest, darkest man of the company would be ushered outside via the back door at five to midnight and the door locked behind them… Heaven forefend that a woman should enter first by accident!

Duly armed with a silver sixpence, a piece of coal and a slice of the rich, dark fruit cake to make sure the conditions for first footing were met… that there would always be wealth, food, and warmth in the home throughout the year…. They would be welcomed back in through the front door, not able to speak until the gifts were distributed.  These first footers were called ‘lucky birds’ in my neck of the woods. The symbolic gifts were kept all year in a small box on the big mahogany dresser, while the old year’s cake and coal were given to the fire… and the old sixpence to the youngest.

As a young wife I kept this tradition, not through superstition but because it is a tradition… a bit of sympathetic magic that reaches far into our history and is backed by the centuries of its own evolution as a custom.  I also kept an adopted one, learned from a Glaswegian friend, that as the house be on New Year’s Eve, so will it be all year… which meant a thorough clean, a well-stocked larder and those you love around you.

There is a lot in these old traditions, even on a purely practical level… it was absolutely true, of course, that there was always silver, coal and food in my great-grandparents house all year… even if only in the little inlaid box… and the care with which the household was prepared for the family celebration says a lot about how the family is likely to live for the rest of the year.

Beyond the practical though there is something deeper… an almost instinctive belief. These traditions have a hold on a pretty visceral part of our collective imagination and though we may dismiss them as superstition, especially when we fail to meet the conditions, we feel an unreasonable, almost guilty satisfaction when all is in place. It doesn’t matter if traditions differ region to region… whether the black cat that crosses your path be a harbinger of luck or doom where you were born… the tradition you know at your roots will always linger at the back of your mind.

Of course, none of us really believe in these things these days… do we?

Yet isn’t this precisely what is behind all the self-help and motivational books? Hasn’t the power of positive thinking become a bit of a buzz –word? They have a point though, the power of the imagination, of belief, is not to be underestimated. It changes our world every day.

“What is now proved was once only imagined.” William Blake

Everything we are, everything we achieve in our lives, from the great to the small, depends upon a belief we create within ourselves… a belief in possibility. This is the basis of superstition on the lowest end of the scale, of psychology at a practical level and of the magical, creative, incredible things we are capable of bringing into the world. How others see us reflects only how we have chosen and learned to see ourselves in an endless exchange of projection and reflection.  Imagination is only held captive by belief…  We may accept that if we can truly believe in our dreams we can achieve them… We can work for that promotion, save for that holiday, lose those extra pounds… we do what we really believe we can.

But the same applies at the deepest level of who we are… we are who we believe we are, we alone limit the horizons over which we can fly. When imagination and belief are allowed to play together, anything is possible.

Celebrating the Light

Xmas St Faiths 024

“May you be blessed

With the spirit of the season, which is peace,

The gladness of the season, which is hope,

And the heart of the season, which is love.”

Irish blessing.

It is the Christmas season. It has been a dark year for many, with a constant barrage of fear and distress assaulting our senses. A virus has sundered many of our physical connections and many feel as if they are caught upon an ever-darkening spiral of despair. This year, that feels to have been stolen from us, has plumbed new depths for so many people, yet the shadow time of winter, with its long nights and chill weather, has always aroused its echo in the heart of humankind.

It is for this very reason that the dark, midwinter days of the year hold so many Festivals of Light that share a common thread of hope. For those of the Christian faith, it is the moment that celebrates the birth of Jesus, a fragile babe who grew to change the world. Whether or not we accept that story as literal truth, it is symbolic of one that has wound itself through our human lives, casting its light into our hearts.

Many cultures have told of the birth of a Child: Horus, Krishna, Mithras, Mabon, Zoroaster…. There are these and many other threads to this tapestry. Their stories differ in detail, but a common strand runs through them and it is golden. These are the Divine Sons, the Children of Light who illuminate a path we too might tread.

Many are now consigned to mythology by the modern mind that dismisses the miraculous or magical. Few now would accept the story of a Child who sprang fully formed from the rock on this day, whose worshippers came together in a communion of bread and wine. Yet Mithraism was widespread in the world of Rome, and the symbol of the unconquered Sun still persists.

Zoroaster was born laughing, which sounds beautiful to me, and with a glow about him… Horus was the Hawk of the Sun… the theme of Light pervades the faith of the races of Man. Religions have risen and faded over millennia, but faith remains ever fresh and constant in the heart of those who seek the Light, regardless of the Name it bears in our tongue, the symbols we use or the stories we have woven.

We have, throughout our history, followed with love and faith the path of the Lightbringers of our age and our belief has changed our lives. Religions, those organised bodies of doctrine, have not always changed the world for the better,  but the quiet, personal faith that carries us through the days and nights of our lives, upholding us and comforting us through the dark times, giving joy in the brighter days… this is a different thing… a personal, intimate thing, a relationship between the heart of man and the Divine. Religious institutions, like any other, may be rife with politics and intolerance, in spite of their message of love. But the flame that burns in each individual heart owes allegiance only to the Source of that Light.

Whatever path we choose to tread, whichever way our hearts are called, it is belief… faith… that shapes us. Even those who profess no faith in the One, by any Name, are shaped by whatever belief their heart holds in Its place. For myself it is simple; all life, all creation is part of the great and multifaceted jewel that is the One. And I believe that we can find Its Light within the world, within ourselves and within each other.

The familiar Christmas story is a beautiful one, of a carpenter and his wife far from home, a babe born in a stable and cradled in a manger while a Star lights the way. There are many ways we can understand the tale, from simple acceptance to the deeply symbolic. Imagine that stable… animals and the warm smell of hay, a very earthy, humble place, very much of this world. Yet from this simple beginning, a story unfolded… a Light was born… that guides millions of lives still today.

Within our ordinary lives, we too many feel far from Home, the humble things of earth occupy our hands and minds while the heart seeks a star to guide it. Yet within the frames of our lives, we are carrying that star… that spark of Divine Light… and this is what shines for us in those silent moments of turning within. Seeing it, we find our own bright birth in the earthy place we live. We do not have to seek far and wide like the Magi, nor wait for angelic hosts to point the way.

“….And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:  Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

Luke 17:20-21 (King James Version)