A New Beginning…

Since the birth of the Silent Eye, we have held regular workshops, including, for the past seven years, an annual residential weekend of ritual drama in Derbyshire. We have had a huge amount of fun with these weekends over the years, in spite of the months of writing, work and preparation they entail. We have made some wonderful friends and seen our companions rise above the challenges to create pure magic within our place of working.

At the same time, we have also been pioneering a new kind of workshop, set within the living land. It is not enough to follow a spiritual path within the confines of a hallowed hall. Spirituality must be part of everyday life and must move in the world before it truly comes to life.

With this in mind, our landscape workshops visit ancient and sacred sites, right across the country, in varied and beautiful places, allowing the land and its history to illustrate and reveal the heart of the spiritual principles we explore.

Last year, we took the decision that we would follow the call to move all our workshops out into the landscape, with this year being the last residential weekend for a while. At our last monthly meeting, with confirmed bookings not meeting the necessary criteria, we decided that, rather than risk being unable to deliver a well-rounded weekend for our companions, we would move this event too out into the landscape.

And, as soon as we made that decision, the details and structure of the weekend fell into place.

Sometimes, you simply have to listen to what the winds of change whisper… and when you do so, magic happens…

Quest for a Quest: The Initiate’s Story

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

17-19 April 2020

There are mysteries just beyond the doorstep, sacred places and hidden stories in every landscape. From the five thousand year old track that once crossed the country to the enigma of the secret orders that have hidden their true purposes behind sanctity or debauchery, the landscape of rural Buckinghamshire abounds in unsolved riddles.

Join us as we ask why a medieval church was built upon the site of a prehistoric settlement… Why Sir Francis Dashwood and the Hellfire Club met beneath a sacred hill… and how the landscape beyond your threshold can open the door to adventure.

The weekend will be based around Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, and runs from Friday afternoon to early Sunday afternoon, and costs £75 per person. There will be a moderate amount of walking, some of it across field paths.

Meals and accommodation are not included in the price and should be booked separately by all attendees. Meals are often taken together at a local pub or café. For those arriving by public transport, we are able to offer a limited number of places in shared vehicles; please let us know if this would be required.

Contact us at Rivingtide@gmail.com for more details. Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

A magical path

“What,” asked my correspondent, enquiring about the School, “is magic?” It is not the first time I have been asked that question, once the difference between performance magic and the magical work of the esoteric path has been established.

Read any tale of magic, or indeed, the centuries-old treatises and grimoires that survive, and you would have to assume that magical work is all about gaining control. Spirits, demons, elementals and angels, all are to be summoned by the magician and bound to his bidding. Even those who have trained within an established and respected magical system will still use the old forms that look and sound as if this is the case. Young students who are just starting out on their path may well hold a vision of standing on a mountaintop commanding the storm like a Hollywood Merlin, anticipating the wild exhilaration of power. Are they deluded? Is there something real behind the dream? Or are they simply destined for disappointment?

The universe is held together by vast, natural forces; amongst them are many things science does not and may never understand. Is it really possible for a single human soul to take control of the machinery of the cosmos?

In his book, Magick in Theory and Practice, Aleister Crowley defined magic as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” Crowley, quite justifiably, acquired a polarising reputation amongst contemporary occultists that continues amongst their more modern successors. At best, that reputation is ambivalent, at worst downright unsavoury, but few would deny the value of his body of written work to the serious student of magic. Personally, I found his books invaluable… as long as you strip back the intentional blinds and ambiguities that are strewn throughout and read them with clear eyes.

Crowley’s definition is, in my opinion, probably the clearest and most concise way of describing magic. Yet, even in such a short phrase, there is enough ambiguity to lead the seeker astray. Over the years, I reached the conclusion that the magician’s quest for control is accurately described, but lacking one significant clue to the true nature of magical work; the arcane forces that are to be brought under control are all elements of our own being. We are part of the universe and its forces flow through us and have their echoes within us. The dark and bright aspects may be externalised and personified in order that we might work with them, but their source and the result of that work is the same; what changes is the magician.

On the surface at least, that sounds as if all you would have to do is train the will and bring it under full control and focus, in order to effect change. That would fit the common understanding of the type of magic of which neophytes might dream. It is, I believe, behind the misconception that human will is the highest manifestation of man. But what if the Will of Crowley’s definition is not our own, but that of the Divine? Is it then not saying that magic is the art and science of causing change by conforming to, and aligning ourselves with a Higher Will than our own? Creating change, both within the world and within ourselves, in accordance with the Cosmic Will. When you get right down to it, that is pretty much the aim of all spiritual and religious practices, regardless of the name or definition that is applied to divinity.

The definition is a clever one, precisely because of its ambiguity. Within the phrase lies the story of the seeker’s quest… a journey from the reactions and desires of the ego, through realisation, to harmony. How it is read reflects where we are on the path and whether it is to our own will or a higher Will that we surrender ourselves.

Within the Silent Eye, it is this change from within that we seek and encourage, allowing our Companions to seek their own, personal path to realisation and their own door to open to the forces of being.  But where does that leave our hopeful Merlin? Is there no storm to control after all? No wild exultation to feel as the forces of the universe course through him, body, mind and soul? On the contrary, once we ’open up and get out of the way’, setting the stormy and imperative desires of the ego aside and allowing the universal forces free expression, through and within us, we experience that change in accordance with Will. And that is truly magical.

Sowing warmth

There was a road closure on the way to work, so, to avoid the build-up of traffic, I took to the back streets, wending my way through a residential area and passing the house in which we had first lived when we moved south. To let oncoming cars pass, I pulled to one side, almost outside our old home, and was able to see what had become of my garden.

It had been a blank canvas when we had moved in, with nothing but grass and a bedraggled jasmine, struggling to survive in the concrete near the door. With little money, but lots of ideas, we had set about making a family garden. At the back of the house, surrounded by high walls and fences, we made a little wonderland for the boys.

A small pond, just big enough to attract a bit of wildlife, was lined with sheeting supplied by an undertaker friend. He also brought us a couple of sheets of wood, with an innocent suggestion that we ask no questions. These we turned into a wishing well filled with flowers, making shingles for its roof from a scrap of old roofing felt we found in the shed. Disposable plastic tubs were painted to make wall planters. Tin snips made a flock of painted butterflies up the side of the house and we added a waterwheel to the pond. Strange beings looked out from flowerbeds filled with the seeds, cuttings and wild herbs I collected. It didn’t take long before it was ablaze with life.

The front garden, though not the kind of place where you would spend much time, could be seen through the sitting room window and sloped upwards, giving a good view of the bare grass. I dug borders, planted as many cuttings as I could acquire. While they rooted and grew, I threw in seeds to add colour, and within a few months, the garden looked respectable.

While planting the back garden had been a case of filling space with whatever I could acquire, the front was planned with due regard for eventual height, spread, colour and flowering season, mixing in as many evergreens as I could with summer flowering shrubs and plants, so that it would be attractive all year round.

I have often wondered what became of our little wonderland. I can’t imagine anyone else would have enjoyed it the same as we did, when we had all been involved in its creation. The front garden, though, I have seen a few times over the years. At one point, it was an overgrown jungle. Then someone moved in who took care of it and it began to bloom again.

Today I had just enough time to see that what was left of my winter planting had worked and was still offering scented blooms, colour and texture, even on a cold January day. Many of the plants I had acquired were unlabelled mysteries. Unless I could recognise shoot, bark or leaf, I just planted things and tended them. The handfuls of seed fell where they would and grew how they chose. But the known shrubs had done as I had hoped… even though it is more than twenty years since I planted those first little cuttings.

I couldn’t help thinking, as I drove away after that brief glimpse, how good an analogy a garden can be for aspects of our own lives. I am far from the first to come to that conclusion: the parable of the Sower is well known. We never know if, or how, what we ‘plant’ will grow.

What really struck me, though, was that most of the time, we don’t even realise we are planting ‘seeds’. With every anecdote, every bit of life experience shared, every insight or opinion we offer, every bit of hard-won wisdom we can pass on… even in the lightest of conversations. What seems rather mundane to us, might be exactly what someone needs to hear, even though they may not need or recall it for years to come. When the need does arise, that ‘seed’, unwittingly planted, may just flower and bear fruit.

We may not be around to see it and may never know how our words, deeds and actions affect another’s life. It can be the smallest of things… something we ourselves have not even noticed, from a kind word or a shared smile, that changes a day for someone we don’t even know and may never see again. But it matters. Every time.

The perfect teacher?

When the student is ready, the master will appear.

This saying is often quoted both by and to those who walk a spiritual path. All too frequently, it is said with the kind of supercilious air that implies that the listener is not yet ready… and further, that they are in the presence of one who already knows more than they ever will. The early stages of any path are littered with those who like to think they have walked much farther than anyone else.

The trouble with that is how it devalues a principle that is, in fact, true… though not necessarily in the way the seeker might think.

A few envisage a numinous being descending in glory to reveal the inner secrets of the universe to them alone. Many expect to simply meet a person or group who can guide them, or point them in the right direction. For most of us, though, it is not even that… it is a thought, a book, a glimpse into a moment that changes our view of the path we have chosen and sets us on our way. It can be the smallest thing and its magnitude is seldom immediately obvious because it is so different from anything we thought we expected.

The clue, though, is in the proverb; the master will appear. Not from out of nowhere, in a puff of smoke… when the student is ready, the guidance they need becomes visible to his eyes. It may always have been there, indeed, there is a teacher within, just waiting for the question, but without everything he has learned on his personal journey, the student is simply unable to see it for what it is.

There is one teacher we each experience every single day. It illustrates many of the most basic beliefs upon which we have founded our complex religions and our personal faiths. It may be from observing its ever-changing face that those beliefs arose in the heart of Man in the first place.

We have only to look at the planet we call home, in all its beauty and order, to see the origins of wonder. From the rising of the sun that chases away the shadows, to the seasons of the year that lead from youthful spring to sere winter… and on again to the rebirth of spring. From the harvesting of what was sown, to the precise perfection in the design of any living organism and its place in an endless, cycling chain. There is a perfect teacher there for all of us.

If you look at the incredible design of body, leaf or crystal, even at the most minute level…and then consider how everything we know works in harmony, feeding from, nourishing and reliant upon other links in the endless chain… apart, perhaps, from humankind’s behaviour… you cannot help but marvel at the scale and perfection of the design.

Accidents, mutations and evolution, say the scientists.

Really?

Am I suggesting that there is a bearded old guy on a throne somewhere, compass in hand, drawing up plans for creation? No. I don’t discount the scientific explanation at all. But I do see it as just that… an explanation of what is and most scientific explanations are little more than descriptions of the mechanics of the physical world.  It doesn’t mean it is entirely correct… how can we, a species that is a mere blip on the face of evolutionary time, expect to fully understand the whole process of creation? Nor does it mean it is incorrect… as far as it goes. Accidents and mutations are certainly part of the evolving design… but that design is too vast for us to see in its entirety.

With the intricacy of the interwoven strands of the physical world before our eyes every day and the dance of the  heavens above us at night, little wonder that humankind percieved Intelligence behind the design. From there, it is but a short step to see the basis of beliefs such as reincarnation, karma and the survival of the soul played out upon the body of the earth. Nor is it difficult to see perfection in action.

It is worth considering. When the student is ready, the master will appear. Maybe all we have to do is open our eyes.

 

Keys to Heaven: Design…

Image result for odin's cross

*

… By Fox!

That is ‘Mister…’ to you.

‘C.J.’ – Charles James…

*

Sue saw the Banner Torches, unlit.

I heard the drums.

We both said in unison, “That’s Fox!”

“What’s Fox?” said Gary.

“You’ll see.”

*

One second earlier and we would have missed them.

Any later and we would not have caught the full half-hour show.

‘Standing Stones’ – ‘Three Magicians’ – ‘The Pentagram’

‘Mrs Widge’ – ‘Stella’ – ‘Ducks’…

to name but a few of the dances.

And observing all, at the head of the Dancing Ground, the Krampus!

So strange, how things turn out…

*

The next morning we found ourselves at the highest point of the area.

The Lion Inn, is the sort of hostelry one could frequent all day, every day,

and would not mind in the slightest getting snowed in to.

*

Coffee’s all round before taking in a trio of standing stones,

one of which, the third may just be a stoop…

And at the second we perform the third round of our ‘ritual’.

Just before the rain sets in.

*

Last of all is the church at Lastingham

and the reputed Crypt of St Cedd.

The possibility of his presence here, too, is ambivalent.

There is something, and we all feel it,

 though precisely what… is difficult to say.

*

In the pulsing crypt we perform our final ‘ritual’.

Wordless…

For we have each been working with

our ‘own’ words all weekend.

*

And the weighty matters at Whitby Abbey all those centuries ago

turned on a ruse involving keepers of the Keys to Heaven.

St Peter or St John, but then,

St John is the keeper, not of heaven,

but of a New Jerusalem.

*

Thought and Memory, can be wordless too,

so, it might be pertinent to ponder

just how those wide ranging ravens

communicate their wisdom to the High One?

He who, never eats and, for nourishment partakes only of wine.

‘By leaving space for Spirit’…

*

As we wave our goodbyes at the wood well.

I cannot help thinking the Wide Wanderer would have approved…

*

Image result for odin's cross

*

With thanks to organiser, Steve Tanham.

Whitby Weekend: Mysteries in stone

Illustration of how Lythe churchyard may have looked in the tenth century.Photo: information board at St Oswald’s, Lythe

It seems rather unfair to call the displayed Viking and medieval stones ‘the best bit’ of St Oswald’s church in Lythe, but in terms of excitement… and for me, at least… they were. I had seen them before…but once is never enough and photographs, of which I have many, are just not the same as being there.So, having done my duty by paying attention to the rest of the church… even if the Tobias window didn’t register… I wandered up to the west end and the display area, passing the medieval stone coffin on the way, complete with its rather practical drainage hole. ( I won’t say ‘for the juices’ because that never seems to go down very well…).

As I mentioned in a previous post, the church here is an old one and there are fragments of carved medieval masonry preserved within the church, the most interesting of which is a rather splendid Green Man. There are three main types of Green Man, or ‘foliate masks’ found in medieval architecture. Some, the ‘foliate heads’, are faces appearing through vegetation. The ‘bloodsucker head’ is the kind where leaves and vines grow from eyes, nose and mouth. Because the vegetation appears to be growing from his mouth, the Lythe mask is, I believe, of a type known as a ‘disgorging head’.

At first glance, it seems a pagan symbol, suggestion fertility and the natural cycles of growth, and yet they are found in even the most decorous of churches. Christianity explains the symbolism in terms of spiritual rebirth and renewal and therefore it becomes a symbol of the resurrection. I have wondered too whether it shows, even in Christian terms, the natural cycle of ‘earth to earth’, where death gives only our flesh back to be taken into the earth, ‘rendering unto Caesar’ what belongs to this realm while what belongs to other realms returns home.

Also medieval, from around the twelfth century, is a rather curious fragment of a tympanum that would once have graced the arch over the church door. Many of the tympanums we have seen seem to incorporate scenes from mythology or pre-Christian tales, though that might simply be that we have lost the keys to unlocking the symbolism they contain since literacy took away the need to understand these images.

This fragment is thought to show Adam in the Garden of Eden, but if so, you have to wonder what he is doing. Is it the weathered remnant of the serpent, a phallus or an umbilical cord that seems to attach him to the Tree? An information board gives a clear outline of the wind-blasted carving and where it would have sat within the door. Who, or what, is the hunched figure… as it does not seem to suggest Eve? And what has been lost from the scene?

Even further back in time we go with the tenth century Cross head. On the reverse there is interlacing and a central boss, on the front, the boss is a face, lacking the halo that would suggest the Christ.

There are other stones from the ninth and tenth centuries; one carved with wrestlers and a beast that looks like a horse with too many legs, suggestive, perhaps of Sleipnir, the horse of Odin…for these are Viking stones, recovered from the burial ground here. Many of them are hogbacks, carved with scales or roof tiles and details from both Norse and Christian stories. The two were not mutually exclusive and we have seen many stones where the symbolism seems to be deliberately merged to show that the Lightbringers of one faith are the same as the gods of another.

One detail on a fragment of a hogback shows a bird. It could be the Dove that represents the Holy Spirit…or one of Odin’s ravens, Huginn and Muninn, ‘mind’ and ‘memory’.  Another hogback is carved with a simplistic ‘gingerbread man’ and two wolf-like creatures. It has been suggested that this could be a portrayal of Ragnarök, the Norse ending of the world before its rebirth, or perhaps the god Tyr whose hand was taken by a wolf. But look a little closer and you notice that the arms of the ‘gingerbread man’ are not in the mouths of the wolves…they are the wolves’ mouths. The lines that form them are one and the same, in a similar fashion to the symbol of the three hares that have six visible ears, but only three are carved. Is this just economy of line on the part of the artist? Or are we looking at something more mysterious?

The stones go back even further, and two of the fragments have been dated to the eighth century, which has suggested that there may have been a stone-built church on the site at a similar time to the Synod of Whitby… and which might give credence to the idea that St Cuthbert really did dedicate the church in person to St Oswald.

But that, it seemed, was all we were going to see of the stones. We knew there was a crypt beneath the church where more were stored, but it was kept locked and only opened by arrangement. But Steve, it seemed, had a surprise up his sleeve… and down we went into the crypt… Down the spiral staircase and into a small room…

Between the grave markers carved with the cross pattée, medieval grave slabs and fragments of masonry, the tantalising fragments of hogbacks, some of which seemed to suggest ‘end-beasts’ like the one we had seen, so beautifully preserved, in Brechin, where we had also seen a definite Sleipnir…I felt like a child in a sweet shop! I could have stayed there for hours, poring over the stones and the catalogue…

One stone, in particular, stood out, carved very simply with a cross we have seen in so many places, including Bakewell church where so many new threads began to weave themselves into our adventures. It is called the ‘cross potent’ and is suggestive of four nails, their points meeting at the centre. It is far older than Christianity and was used as far back as Neolithic times. It is also called the Jerusalem Cross, as it formed part of the arms of the crusader state of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, established after the First Crusade by Godfroy de Bouillon… in whose army, it is believed, served one Hugues de Payens, co-founder and first Grand Master of the Knights Templar. But the light outside was fading and we still had another place to visit… so, reluctantly, lingering and last out, we climbed the stairs and locked the door behind us.

Whitby Weekend: Inside the church at Lythe…

Stuart and I had been to Lythe before, some years ago, early in our travels, sent to the little church by a friend. The church is dedicated to St Oswald, a figure we have come upon again and again in recent years. Born around 604, he was king of Northumbria from 634, a reign of a mere eight years… or nine, according to some chroniclers of the time, who assign the one year reign of the previous incumbent to Oswald because he was not a Christian king, whereas Oswald was accounted a saint, even during his lifetime.

It was his kindliness and concern for the poor, as well as his devotion to his faith and his association with St Aidan that had earned him such veneration. Curiously, Steve had begun his Northumbrian workshop at Oswald’s stronghold at Bamburgh, where Stuart and I had also visited the shrine of St Aidan in the church beside the castle. Later, we had all gone on to Lindisfarne, the Holy Island Oswald had given to Aidan who had come to Northumbria to bring his faith to the land. And after Steve’s last workshop in Scotland, Stuart and I had been sidetracked by the wonderful holy well dedicated to the saint in Kirkoswald.

There is something about this saint and his story that keeps drawing us back. Perhaps it has to do with the raven who stole the dead king’s severed arm and dropped it, causing a healing well to spring up from the ground. Perhaps it has to do with the unified land he ruled and served… or the notion of holiness and rulership combined, as in the priest-kings of old. Doubtless, an explanation will come in good time.

For now, though, it was enough to be back in the peaceful little church on the cliffs, with time to spare to explore the building and its treasures. The church itself is a simple one… you get the impression of a ‘no-nonsense’ place, very much in keeping with the character of the local folk. But there is beauty in the solid forms of the structure and in the delicate stained glass of the windows. There has been a place of Christian worship on the site for at least eleven hundred years, and who knows how much longer? The current church is Norman, but so much altered and remodelled in Victorian times that little remains to tell of its age except the ‘feel’ of the place… that quiet but unmistakable aura of sanctity that infuses the very stones of these ancient places of prayer.

A screen, carved in 1910 and upon which perches the organ, separates the aisle from the chancel. Above the altar, which is flanked by four carved angels, wings outstretched, the arched ceiling is painted in brilliant shades… though, as a Yorkshirewoman, I did rather feel like repainting the roses in their proper colour, as the white rose, not the red, is my county’s symbol.

The first panel of the east window shows scenes from the extremes of Jesus’ life… the nativity and the crucifixion. The second panel shows the risen Christ and the promised second coming. In esoteric terms, it could be argued that the Teacher did not become the Christ until the rebirth symbolised by those final moments… in which case, the window ‘bookends’ the human life of the Man at the point where He becomes Divine.

In the central panel of the window in the Lady Chapel, Mary the Mother holds her Child. To the right is Oswald, king and saint, who was killed in battle and dismembered. On the left is St Cuthbert, a holy man, reluctantly made a bishop of Lindisfarne, upon whose tiny island retreat we had ended our Northumbrian weekend, serenaded by seals. In his hands, he holds the severed head of St Oswald that he is thought to have carried back to the north; Oswald’s relics were once held in the ruined chapel within the castle walls of Bamburgh.

Cuthbert was one of those who attended the Synod at Whitby Abbey and would probably have passed through Lythe on his journey. It is thought that Cuthbert himself may have dedicated an earlier church on the site to Oswald. Somehow, because of how many times we have ‘fallen over’ Oswald, Aidan and Cuthbert, it all seems rather personal, as if we are missing something still…

Another window shows Richard I of England carrying the cross of St George to the Crusades and a red-gloved figure who is probably St Nicholas, because there are the three bags of money he secretly gave as dowries for the daughters of a  poor neighbour, to prevent them being unmarried and cast out. For a Christmas workshop, that would be appropriate. There was also a ‘Tobias and the Angel’ window, a rare subject for stained glass, which I duly photographed but which, somehow, completely failed to register… which is odd as his story plays a part in our latest book, which I had just been editing…

My favourite window, though, just for the colours alone, has to be the St Michael, with the blue dragon rearing at his feet, even though it looks as if the serene archangel has skewered the dragon, through the mouth to the throat.  It still doesn’t explain why an archangel should need beatification though… and the official line that all ‘good’ angels are saints, because ‘saint’ comes from sanctus, which means ‘holy’, does not explain why only Gabriel, Raphael and Michael commonly bear that title. But, much as there was to ponder in the church, it was the stones at the west end that had drawn us here…

Whitby weekend: First stop, Lythe

Several years ago, Stuart and I braved the bitter, biting winds of January to visit the Church of St Oswald at Lythe. There were, a friend had told us, stones…carved stones that we would want to see…and that trip had been all about the stones as we drove through England, did a Welsh border raid and up into Scotland discovering Albion.  We were frozen, tired and hungry and barely did the church justice, so it was wonderful to know that our first stop on the Whitby workshop would be St Oswald’s.

I knew the way and recognised the church and its parking spot with no problem. In spite of the same backdrop of winter skies, the church looked different; both Stuart and I remembered the tower as simply square…minus the squat little spire that was added a century ago. Which was odd, especially as, looking back at the photos we had taken at the time, they are almost identical to the ones I took that day.

It was, however, considerably warmer so this time we would be able to explore outside the church, as well as within. There has been a church here for at least eleven hundred years, with the original wooden building being replaced by stone eight hundred years ago. The churchyard was once an important burial ground for the invading Vikings, whose adoption of Christianity did not divorce them from their ancestral faith, but added a new layer to an already rich and ancient mythology.

The churchyard no longer holds signs of the Viking burials, but, perched upon its wind-blasted clifftop above the sea, it is still an interesting place to wander. Many of the headstones are carved with anchors and other maritime symbols, acknowledging the role of the sea in the lives and faith of the locals for so many generations. You can understand, when you know those cold and stormy waters, why those who sailed and fished there have always invoked the protection of higher powers, since long before Christianity came to the north.

Beside the porch is a memorial to the men of the parish who served and lost their lives in war. The stone is carved around with the symbols of the instruments of the crucifixion, which seems appropriate, for the suffering of these men and that of their families as they waited for news must have seemed like torture.

Behind the church, looking out across the bay towards the once-great Abbey of Whitby is the ornate Victorian monument to the Buchannan family, who were linked by marriage to the Cholmleys who had built the seventeenth-century house beside the Abbey that now houses a museum. Each face of the memorial bears a scene of the Christ in relief and it is a fabulous testament to the craft of the stonemason who carved it.

But what we had really come to revisit was inside the church and, although I was determined to take notice this time of the church itself, there were the old stones inside…

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.