The Ship

This morning, I will drive to the family home town of Bolton, in Lancashire to collect my mother who is coming to spend Easter with us here in Cumbria.

The journey is straightforward: fifteen minutes will take me from the outskirts of Kendal to the M6 motorway, southbound. After that, at least conceptually, it’s a straight line to the intersection with the M61, which will take me south-east to within a few miles of my destination.

Yesterday, I was musing about a conversation I had with a friend where we related our lives to the voyage of a ship. For mankind, there has always been something romantic – potentially grand – about the notion of a sea voyage. My car journey this morning will be very tame compared with what the ‘ancient mariners’ faced. My car may be wobbled by high winds, but is unlikely to be blown off course. The road completely maps to the journey; I will not find myself having to navigate across strange hills and fields as I struggle to hold a course.

My ship – the vessel of the car – is designed to protect me in the event of a crash; in a way that few such vessels of the past did. And yet, at any time, the several tons of hurtling steel, glass and explosive liquid could do untold damage to others on the road. I may be safer, but the exposure to my own errors or lack of concentration is significant.

Can we compare the journey of our lives to the voyage of a ship? Is life in modern society making us more of a car than a free-sailing ship? Does that mean that where we go is completely pre-ordained by the equivalent of ‘roads’?

It’s a good question… And, often it helps to think in these stark terms…

The first question we might ask is: do we have a ship at all? Are we not simply a point of consciousness moving from a past, through a present, to a future? That is certainly how physics would describe it.

Do we really have any free will in that journey? Or does having to fit in with our world, our society, make us as conditioned as my car will be on its fixed road? Subject only to the weather, the fuel in the car, the attention I must place on the road and the behaviour of others on its length…

From a mystical perspective, we may say that we need to learn to have a ship in the first place. We have body, but that may not wholly equate to a ship. The captain of a sailing ship truly had the skills to take that vessel anywhere on the seas. He may have been under orders to adopt a certain route, but his freedom of choice was absolute.

Beneath the captain and the wood of his vessel was the ocean, a constantly changing surface beneath which he did not wish to go… Staying afloat meant playing by some hidden but very special rules learned over many centuries, if not millennia. Can we compare this to our lives?

The road of ordinary life is there to protect us. It serves us well. But we may choose a seemingly riskier path, one that leaves the road in a seemingly tiny vessel called the Self; one that has no fear of the sea and its ever-changing faces…

©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.

Digging deeper… with Anne Copeland

 

A story is told to engage the imagination and the sense of wonder. A tale that does so will stay in memory… making it a perfect vessel to hold a deeper meaning that may lie dormant until we are armed with the tools of life-experience and ready to understand. Many of the tales that have come down to us from the farthest reaches of our collective past are treasure chests of knowledge, allowing us to glimpse not only the belief-systems and cultures that bequeathed them to us, but to lift the veil on the inner workings of the human psyche, both as individuals and as societies.

When Anne Copeland, a student of the Silent eye, first came across a reference to the story of Gilgamesh in a post about our upcoming workshop, Lord of the Deep, she became fascinated by the story. Instead of simply reading the ancient Epic, she looked beyond the surface, seeking for understanding and symbolic meaning… which is exactly what you are supposed to do with these ancient tales.

Anne has yet to recieve a copy of the workbook we have produced for the weekend and has used a different translation from those we have employed… but some of the questions and realisations she has gained may blossom and bear fruit when, in two weeks time, we begin to share the story of the workshop.


Gilgamesh Makes an Appearance at My Home

Anne Copeland

The first time I read about the oldest piece of literature known, found in Sumeria, I was intrigued and had to find a copy and read it.  I had absolutely no clue as to what the story could contain that might be of specific interest to me, and yet as I began to read it, I was intrigued and could not stop reading.

In the version I read, which may be different from the version you will be following with the event, Enkidu, who became a best friend of Gilgamesh, was part of the wilderness in a most personal way.  It does not even make any sense that he was anything other than an integral part of it.  He is shown as the protector of the wilderness, and it is not clear in the reading where the wilderness ends and he begins.  It is a beautiful and amazing feat that these Sumerians considered that he was a part of and that the wilderness meant something totally significant to those people, something deep and abiding that the people needed to protect.

And yet, Gilgamesh comes into the story, and when he hears about Enkidu, he wants him to be brought to this place where the Gods he knows dwell.  He wants to join with Enkidu in an adventure that he wants to experience, in a world very different from his own. And so it is that the “trapper” comes to bring Enkidu, who is a form of God on his own, to the dwelling place of Gilgamesh.  And again, for what most might consider a primitive culture, the Sumerians had a clear understanding of the duality that exists in the world – good and evil, light and dark, droughts and floods, pain and wellness, sorrow and joy, life and death, and each part has its place.

I don’t want to spoil the event for you by giving you the whole story, but I WILL say that this story clearly has helped me to see what my own part in this world is in process of becoming. Is this story truth, or is it a myth or legend? What parts of it do you relate to or wonder about? Is there any part of this that causes you to shudder or feel concerned or uncomfortable? If you could change anything about this story, what might it be?  I know I spent a lot of time thinking about this and wishing that certain changes that take place might not have taken place.  But then I am just finishing my first year, and endeavoring to understand things that are still new to me.  This is not an overnight course or workshop where I spend one entire day and then I am full of great wisdom the next day.  How can I understand this duality in life and become one with it?  And how can I come to understand and believe that not everything that seems horrible may be so, and that it may or may not be everlasting when it happens?

Although I am not able to be there in person this year, I will definitely be there in spirit.  I will be studying this same story and trying to find the depth of meaning for my own life.  I wish each and every person in attendance the best that has been, the best that is, and the best that ever will be.  Enjoy!!!


You can find out more about Anne at her blog, All in a Day’s Breath


Would you like to know more?

For details of the School and our methods, how to join our Correspondence Course, or to find out more about our Workshops and Events please explore our website or email The Silent Eye at rivingtide@gmail.com

The Light between the Railway Carriages

The light between the railway carriages…

It was one of the best analogies I ever had given to me; yet it took me years to grasp its fullness. Like any true seed of ‘spiritual’ insight, it was strong enough to lie on the rock till a little pocket of earth developed beneath – a receptive place into which it could extend its roots.

We all grow up thinking, without question, that ‘thought’ is continuous, and the basis for our ‘in-here’ existence. It may take a lifetime to see that the thought-machine that fronts our world is our own creation and coloured with our thinking and emotional history. This colouration paints ‘the’ world, making it our world, familiar in its likes and dislikes, fears and moments of courage – many of them unobserved, except by that mysterious watcher within us.

The world we inhabit is therefore the sum total of our reactions to everything that has happened to us. Many of these reactions protect us – like knowing not to put our hands onto something burningly hot; others fill us with prejudice against threats that are not present in our moment.

The ocean in which this history exists is the internal ‘field’ of our thoughts.

‘Look, there’s a cherry-blossom tree!’ We cry, imposing the history-carrying words over the raw and beautiful experience of the reality. Names are useful, but they also pre-program our seeing. Knowing this, we can work backwards if we choose, and repeatedly use the word so that it temporarily loses its meaning. We may then find ourselves on the edge of a kind of fear. Have we damaged our brain’s memory of what a cherry-blossom tree is?

Of course not… but staying within that uncertainty may teach us something.

Just seeing how the mind takes that defensive stance is instructive. If, instead of allowing that fear, we carry on with the exercise and spend a ‘mute’ few minutes next to the ever-changing perfection of the tree, we may experience the gap – the light – between the railway carriages of the train of consciousness thundering by on its eternal and dominating journey.

In those precious moments, we may see that there is a landscape beyond the noisy and flashing train, one that comes slowly into focus and reveals itself as a very different place, yet one to which we are, most certainly, closely related – since we and it are now still… gazing upon each other in a new way.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school 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.

‘A succession of little things’…

With just over two weeks to go before we set off for the north and the start of the April workshop, things are getting a bit weird. On the one hand, everything is pretty much written, prepared, thought out and sorted. On the other, there is the worry of waiting for last minute props and the little odds and ends to be delivered, thought of, made or bought. It feels as if we have entered quiet waters at last and as if life has become suddenly rather manic, all at the same time.

We are over the main hurdle; the workbook that has been in the works for three years is ready… ideas, reading, research and writing have all come together. But that, though it is by far the most important task, is only the beginning.

I have a love-hate relationship with this point of the year. The excitement is mounting and so is the adrenalin; there is everything still to do and yet all the major things are already in place and can no longer be altered. The workbooks are not only written but printed, the roles attributed…’all’ we have to do now is get there with everything we need…and hope everyone else does too!

My biggest concern at the moment is a plant pot. Not just any plant pot… it is the headdress of a Sumerian god. I have tried so many different ways of creating the right effect, and failed miserably. Until now, at almost the last minute, when a child’s toy seems to have provided the solution.

I did offer to provide the gods with handbags too, but the gentlemen declined for some strange reason.

It is not as if I was joking… the Sumerian gods, kings and priests all seem to have carried them. Although, it must be said, they were probably not intended as functional items of fashionable apparel. The most likely interpretation, like many of the apparently mundane items we are packing, is rather more symbolic. The handle represents the arc of the heavens, or the rainbow, while the square ‘bag’ represents the earth…and together they symbolise the unity of the Cosmos.

 

I have barely started packing. I have yet to start rummaging beneath the bed and in the ‘walk in wardrobe’; both are stuffed with bags and boxes, holding the remnants of previous workshops. But the packing list is done… at least, it would be, if I didn’t keep adding to it. There are growing piles of boxes in my bedroom…and yet most of what they contain are very small items.

“The great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, and is a succession of little things that are brought together,” wrote Vincent van Gogh to his brother. A pair of scissors… a pack of drawing pins… a hair tie that won’t be used for hair… It is the little things that can change everything…and those are the easiest things to overlook.

The devil is not in the details… it is in forgetting and overlooking them. From sticky-paper dots to safety pins, our representation of an ancient work of literature will rest on such humble foundations. But is that not always the way?

No matter what we try to achieve, unless we get the simplest, most basic things in place at the beginning, we will hit problems. They may not be insurmountable, but a little attention at the start will make any task easier and more likely to succeed.

A journey with the Silent Eye ~ Anne Copeland

Anne Copeland, a Companion of the Silent Eye, writes of her journey with the School:

The Little Match Girl by Anne Copeland

I came across The Silent Eye Mystery School quite by accident, if anything can be truly considered an accident. I have studied a lot of psychology, archaeology, history, geography, spirituality, world religions, mythology, and other studies for many years, trying to discover just where I fit in within this world and this universe.  I sought to understand the meaning of the many things I encountered daily in the ways I related to others, or the meanings of things that cannot readily be seen, but which we all are conscious of. Somehow I never seemed to quite find the answers I was seeking.

Have you felt that you are somewhat alone with a world that seems to have so many problems and people doing wrong that it feels out of control?  Do you wonder if you will ever find peace and genuine happiness and understanding of the things of this place, this time of life? Will you ever feel at one with the light of this world? Perhaps most importantly, will you ever encounter the love and respect that you have wished for?

The school studies consist of a combination of contemporary psychological and ancient esoteric teachings that have been carefully selected to take you on a wonderful and magical journey into the light, wonder and color of the universe. As you venture into the guided journeys, you will begin to see how lost we can become as we attempt to relate to many things and people that exist outside of our sacred being. You will steadily find your way home as you have perhaps never known it.

 

This is the start of my second year of the three-year study, and I have never enjoyed any of my many studies as much as this. Not only have I come to know the archaeology, history, religions, mythology and geography of England; I have also come to know myself and to have a sense of how in the past I have reacted to so many aspects of my own life rather than interacting with them in a way that is beneficial to both sides. I have discovered a tremendous amount of personal peace and well-being even when I am surrounded by turmoil and disintegration. This is part of the great alchemy that brings us into a sense of oneness with all that is, all that ever has been, and all that will be.

Founded in 2012 by three amazing, knowledgeable people in England, Steve Tanham, Sue Vincent and Stuart France, The Silent Eye Mystery School is a wonderful correspondence course that is supplemented by in-person workshops and exciting events which are optional for students to attend if they are able. The course is extremely reasonable, and each student is assigned a “supervisor” who will assist you with gaining a deeper understanding of your studies, and who will answer all of your questions along the way.

You can find out more about Anne at her blog, All in a Day’s Breath


Would you like to know more?

For details of the School and our methods, how to join our Correspondence Course, or to find out more about our Workshops and Events please explore our website or email The Silent Eye at rivingtide@gmail.com

Costumes…

*

“So what’s it all about, then?”

“Oh, lots of things, like, duty and service, and honour, and love, and friendship, and devotion and good government, and bad…”

“But ultimately?”

“Ulitmately it’s about the need to balance polarity.”

“Is that an individual polarity or a collective polarity?”

“Somewhat inevitably, it is both the polarity of an individual psyche and the polarity of a collective state.”

“And erm, do we touch upon Matriarchy and Patriarchy at all?”

“Given that brief it would be very difficult not to.”

“And we seek balance in this sphere too?”

“But of course…”

“So, how come Aruru, the Mother-Goddess, gets to wear a delicate tiara of jewelled flowers,

while Anu, the Father-God, gets a plant pot plonked on his head?”

“It’s just the nature of things.”

*

*

Lord of the Deep – Workshop April 2019

The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

*

The glories above were unamed.

The word for that world beneath, unuttered.

Source and time, unfettered, merged…

From the mingling waves-of-water came mud and slime.

Enshar and Kishar, twin halves of the globe, shone out of them.

*

A DRAMATIC ADAPTATION OF THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH

The Oldest written story known to man…
What spiritual treasures lie hidden in this, five thousand-year old, Epic?
What can this ancient civilisation teach us about the questions of existence?
Join us on the quest of a life-time, this month, to find out…

*
‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

Fully catered weekend package, including room, meals and workshop: £235 – £260

Click here to download the Booking Form

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com

Lord of the Deep: The quest for Immortality

26-28 April, 2019 – Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

Dancing with the ghost in the machine

If you’ve ever been involved with anything of an ‘amateur dramatic’ nature, you will know that moment: the protagonist, hated until the final few moments (when the greater picture is revealed) shuffles off, in rags, to his doom; and the shared and questioning silence longs for the gentle and poignant soothing that only the right music can bring….

Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. .

Frantic sound of fingers fiddling.

Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. and then the final piece, a gentle Sufi melody cuts in… only it’s about twenty decibels too high in the flying fingers’ frantic search for sound… any sound.

The much maligned King Gilgamesh (who turns out to be only 99% schmuck) looks to the heavens in an unscripted gesture. Everyone is stunned… but for all the wrong reasons.

It didn’t happen, not yet… but it’s time to make sure it can’t…

Amateur actors – our annual workshop participants – such as the Silent Eye seems to be able to attract year on year, are wonderful people. They are enthusiastic, flexible and multi-tasking. They stand, clutching their scripts, in the middle of a space invested with spiritual emotion, power and purpose and give their all… to such an extent that, come the start of Sunday afternoon, no-one wants to leave and break up the intense camaraderie that these warm and mystical adventures generate.

There are no mistakes, just real-time variations in the script. Like Jazz, the best bits can be improvised, often with humour from above… Ask Barbara, who we once completely lost, Schrödinger-like, in the middle of Act Three in the centre of the room. To this day, no-one knows where she went.

Being the technician can be a difficult job. And, it’s near impossible to be one of the characters in the mystery play and the technician. So, the partial answer is to make the soundtrack as free-standing as possible.

The problem is the technology, or, rather, the combination of technology and the media – sound – that is required to be ‘piped’ through the technology. Most domestic music players are just not up to the job.

The epic stories of Gilgamesh the King are the oldest known legends on Earth. Using this as a basis, Stuart France has re-envisaged the story in five acts of ritual drama, where everyone attending plays their part, large or small. Stuart and Sue Vincent have crafted a workbook of nearly two hundred pages of beautifully laid out script.

I have been volunteered to play the part of Gilgamesh, but since I have taken our technology forward, too, I’m taking no chances…

Gone are the multiple CD machines, laid out at strategic points in the temple space of the mystery play; each one involving a lightning sprint from compass point to compass point. Gone, even, is the use of an uncooperative Apple iTunes with its incomplete staging of cues. Gone is any notion of carrying around the sound with a portable speaker – one of the past’s more heroic failures…

Instead of Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. or just plain silence, we have this on the iPad screen:

It’s a deck… a sound-deck in software. It’s what professionals use to control the music and lighting for stage shows, moving with consummate timing from event to event as the production progresses. If you were into William Gibson’s sci-fi (Burning Chrome etc) it’s what the pre-internet generation used to ‘jack into’ the ‘net and control the world with…

Tired of playing games that couldn’t really argue back, they began to design real software; masterpieces that really could kick-ass… but in a good way.

This scaled down masterpiece of software, called iMiX Pro, runs on an Apple iPad – mine. This is not to say that it does all the work for you. Oh, no… shoot, man, there’s a bucketload of stuff y’all need to do up frooont! (Sorry, that’s my inner Texan coming out). I’ve been sitting at this ‘deck’ for two days and only now… am I winning. And that’s the thing with these systems, you have to get the music into the machine before the ‘ghost’ that is the combination of producer and good software design come together in glorious expletives that do sound decidedly Texan.

In the beginning, there is the raw music, or other sound files; so, as before, you have to get them onto (in my case) your Mac and into… Hmmmm iTunes.

In the process, you have to re-name the tracks you want to use so that, when they re-appear in the iMiX software, they are recognisable. So, lovingly and carefully, you work out a naming scheme that shortens the track names in order to see something of their name in the individual panels on the iPad screen. The above first window is the result.

Next, you need to take the original files and convert them into one of Apple’s ‘Playlists’. These are just collections of songs. So it’s easy. You group all the original tracks and select ‘Add to Playlist’… and off she goes. You then have all your music in a second and more pliable container.

The use of a Playlist is essential because they have to be in this format to get the group of tracks across to the iPad. Along the way you get to put them in order – no mean feat with over twenty tracks. But, finally, they are ready to be beamed (okay, wired) across to their new portable home – a bit like the NASA lunar lander making a bid for freedom from the orbiter module. Once you’ve set off for the weekend, the iPad is on its own.

An hour later, you finally figure out how you did it last time and the transfer is complete… except the Apple transfer software has lost your carefully constructed sequencing and you’ve just got the order it decides you need on the iPad. They’re all in there, somewhere, you’ve just got to find each one again. So, you think about making paper list – or contact Sue, who recognises sleep-deprivation and provides one as a list of what should be happening in each act.

A small bottle of gin later, you realise that it doesn’t matter what the Apple software has done to your weekend’s sequence because the iMiX’s colossus of a DECK is about to rescue you!

Look back to the original diagram. Each of those vertical ‘pods’ is a beautifully programmed home for your hard-won music and sound tracks. And it offers you total control over how and when that track is played…. heaven.

You can control the volume; you can trim the clip regardless of what any other piece of software has done to it. You can select its unique fade-in and fade-out. And written up the side of the ‘pod’ is the full name of the track you so lovingly created…Texan sounds…

So, two days after I began, we have the Deck, fully programmed and ready to be operated, in lightning-fast real time, by our mega-techno dude who insists on being nameless.

But he’s related to one of the Directors.

There will be no ‘Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. or just plain silence’. So, while I won’t actually be operating the Deck, I’ll be the ghost in the machine…

Houston, we’re good to go.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to best play that ego-maniac, Gilgamesh…There are lots of ego-maniacs in the world at the moment. Very timely, that, Stuart…

Wish us luck… please. Even better, come and join us. We can fit in a few more people if you’d like to join this merry but sincere band. And we promise that you, too, won’t want to leave, come Sunday lunch…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

Joining the dots…

The waiting room was busy and the woman beside me said so… it was the opening gambit of one of those brief and revealing conversations that happen so often, where stranger speaks to stranger and they part as friends who will probably never see each other again.

Whenever you sit down and talk to someone, face to face, you begin to get a feel for their lives. From word, eye and gesture, from snippets of personal history that colour their conversations, you begin to learn, slowly building up a picture of who they are, and who they see themselves as being. The two do not always go hand in hand; from those with illusions of their own importance, to the ones so lacking in self confidence that they cannot see their own beauty.

Many things can blind us to ourselves. Those who raise us do the best they know how to do; parenthood does not come with an instruction manual or a failsafe. Yet their own inner shadows and insecurities, their beliefs, fears, and their joys, colour how we grow… not always without creating areas that are shaded grey, not always without some incongruous dabs of over-bright primaries. Experience is our next teacher, adding layer upon layer to our self-image, from all ends of the spectrum, as our lives and our choices shape us and our reactions to the reactions of others change us and mould our nascent personalities.

Imagine a pure, white lamp, then lay over it thin veils coloured tissue. Each layer is a clear colour, yet each layer, added to those that went before, will dim the lamp, changing its light, until very soon it will be impossible to see the original brilliance or determine either its own hue or the true colours of the overlay. The light within becomes muddied.

Whenever you sit down and talk face to face with someone who has chosen to consciously follow a spiritual path, you get a feeling that the life that streams behind them like a shadow has been… interesting. Not always good, not always easy, but somehow its peaks and troughs are sharp and vivid. Have their experiences been outside the norm? Are they any different from anyone else? Perhaps… and perhaps not. Their lives may have followed the same route and faced the same hurdles as thousands of others. Yet the glimpses that you see are sharper, carved in deeper relief.

Is it some magical ingredient? I think so, though not some arcane magic closed to the uninitiated. I think that the vividness comes from a clarity of consciousness… the awareness that seekers begin to develop from the moment they reach the turning point, ceasing to focus solely on the mundane life and instead gazing with intent upon the path ahead. That clarity is timeless and, like sunlight banishing shade, slowly extends across the past as well as present and future, throwing light into the dark corners of life and creating a new perspective, where everything has the potential to serve a greater good.

That perspective changes everything, infusing the minutiae with possibility and casting the larger events as opportunities for growth. Some may see this as a simplistic view, but to those who feel its touch, it makes perfect sense.

There are many, walking the varied spiritual paths, whose lives appear to have held more challenges than is usual, either from external events or from their own internal alchemy. Some have posited that this is why many turn to the Mysteries, seeking a validation… reasons, excuses, escape, depending on the mindset of the commentator. Having lived and worked within those circles all my life, I would say that nothing could be further from the truth… because what they are seeking is Truth… both personal and universal, and that is seldom comfortable when applied to the self… and that is where the magic has to begin.

There are no wands to erase the past in a puff of fairy dust. But we can change the essence of the past and how it overlays our own inner light, by learning to see clearly how what has gone before has shaped and influenced what is. We can learn to look upon the past… including the worst of events… even, and especially, our past self… with a love that wears the face of compassion and understanding.

There are neither potions nor spells that will instantly shape the future. It is the intent, the will, the imagination and, above all, the dedication of the individual that shapes the time to come.

And the present? We have to release the hold that we allow past emotions and future fears to have upon us, allowing ourselves to be whole, which is usually far easier said than done, as it means looking in the mirror of self with clear and honest eyes.

‘Living in the now’ has become a buzzword, but few say what they think it means. For me, it is neither the erasure of an unalterable past, nor a refusal to see some mythical future, by fixing our eyes solely on the moment at hand. It is more akin to joining the dots across time, like a child’s puzzle that reveals the hidden shape of that moment, or tracing the patterns we can barely discern in a starry sky, to bring all parts of being to a presence and awareness of what is and what it means to be a single point of light within a picture far greater than any one of us… but of which we are a part.

To have and to hold

From behind the curtain I am watching the birds in the garden. I am waiting for the hawthorns to grow tall and become a haven for feathered things. They are, for the moment, little more than bushes, but even so, every morning, sparrows and blackbirds, bluetits and doves visit my little patch. Ravens and jackdaws fly in most days, while Ani lies by the open door and watches, or bounds out to scatter them when she sees that I am watching. Every day, overhead, the great red kites soar majestically. Yesterday one landed on the roof behind my home and I watched, not daring to move for the camera, as the huge beauty surveyed its domain.

It was a rare privilege. Though I would give the proverbial eye-teeth to take a really good photograph of these birds in the wild there are some things you can only experience, not seek to catch. Had I moved for the camera I would have missed the moment; had I sought to capture it, I would have lost something precious. Some things are simply a gift from the Earth, just for you in that moment, to be enjoyed, cherished only in the heart… not to capture.

There are things, moments, that are so beautiful, yet so ephemeral and fragile that they cannot be held or possessed, only accepted. Like a sunbeam that cannot be caught, but only felt as it plays across your skin, or seen as it lights the rainbows in a diamond… or like a butterfly whose fragile wings are crushed by a child’s grasp at beauty. The ancients knew and told the story of Eros and Psyche… Love and the Soul…. Psyche could be with Eros only as long as she did not seek to look upon him and when she did, he disappeared.

By seeking to hold we can often lose the very thing that moves us. Yet it seems we are programmed very early on to want to ‘have’ what touches us, instead of being able to simply love something that is free to be itself.

Even language seeks to impose a degree of ownership on all we do, and particularly in regard to human interaction. Language conditions us and the careful choice of words can have devastating effect, for good or ill. While we may be aware of the effects caused by the deliberate usage of words in terms of propaganda, we unconsciously do the same all the time, not realising, perhaps, the insidious implications a single word can have.

Even the simplest statement… “I have two sons…” implies a degree of possession. We do not intend it that way, we may simply be using the easiest words… we may be indicating affection rather than ownership, if we think about it at all… yet the verb ‘to have’ implies ownership at some level.

Yet, when we possess something it ceases to be itself and becomes little more than an extension of ourselves… it loses more than freedom and autonomy, as its own identity becomes subsumed in our projection of our own. Even deeper than that, we often become, even in our own eyes, defined by what we think we possess… yet in truth, we come into the world naked and leave it the same way, so we possess nothing. We may think we hold things for a while, but the only thing we truly ‘own’ is our self. And even that is debateable.

As I watched the birds I was thinking about that. Would I want to cage a sparrow? No… I delight in their antics in the garden. I love them for their freedom. Would I want a red kite on a perch, just to say it was ‘mine’? No, I want only to see them ride the wind… though a little closer to the lens would be nice, I admit!

We all delight in the unexpected glimpses of wildlife. And, by their very nature, they are free… wild… unowned…untamed. Over the years a good many baby birds or injured ones have passed through my hands. While it is a delight to have that close contact for a while there is never any other goal, and no greater joy, than to see them fly free as soon as they are able. You are left with nothing but memories… perhaps a photo…with empty hands but a full heart. Maybe that is the only place we can truly hold anything.