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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gary continues to share his experiences on the recent weekend workshop in North Yorkshire:
The last time I visited Whitby Abbey I was a boy. I recall little of it. Just that I was bored. Of course, I have been to Whitby many times since, often with my father who had business there. He would leave me for an hour or so to wander and once I recall taking my oil paints to paint the harbor. I was last there just a few years ago with my parents, ex-partner and daughter. I do like Whitby!
I must say that the abbey ruins are fairly impressive but I felt no atmosphere or energies. It seemed a dead ruin to me. A stark reminder of other times. As we pondered aspects of the Abbey in the context of the spiritual prompts of the weekend, my sense was of the skeletal remains of something erected to the glory of man rather than the glory of God. What was left reminded me of what Asteroth has called the ‘horny matter of experience’ – essentially, the structure that we build through life to protect ourselves, shut out the inner and act out our public outer selves. The spiritual activities that took place in the Abbey are no more and, for me anyway, have left no energy ripple in time that I could pick up. In considering this analogy, I was reminded of how we act out roles, how we have our sensitivities dulled by our experience of life, and how we often lose sight of the true spiritual nature of self.
This weekend, I attended the Silent Eye Keys of Heaven weekend workshop in the Whitby area of Yorkshire. Of this much more later…..
However, the penultimate stop of the weekend was the church in Lastingham and a visit to its beautiful crypt. The remains of St. Cedd are supposed to be buried just to the right of the altar under the small church and there are a number of old carved stones to view.
On approaching the church, I could feel it. Energy! Once inside the church, I could feel it pulsating strongly and I remarked to one of my colleagues – it’s like a heartbeat! Down inside the crypt, the heartbeat was strong and regular. To sit there and silently experience the energy pulsating was I think possibly the highlight of the weekend – possibly along with the Sticky Toffee Pudding with masses of custard I had experienced the evening before….or perhaps the dance of the Foxes in Whitby. These weekends often have many highlights and magical – WOW moments that I genuinely believe are magical that spontaneously happen when a group of like-minded souls get together.
The problem with living in a downstairs flat is that there is no upstairs. This may sound obvious, but when you have lived in a house almost all your life, with an upstairs, you tend to forget. Many times I have grabbed my camera to head for the upstairs windows, only to realise that the couple who live up there might, possibly, object to me barging in unannounced every sunset and dawn.
My home is on a roughly east-west axis. Just sufficiently ‘off’ to mean that in summer, I can watch the sun rise from my pillow without needing to move. In winter I see the dawn through the garden doors that are, inevitably, already open for the dog.
Sunsets are a bit more problematic. The curve of the houses in my street and the rooftops opposite my kitchen window block most of my view. I get only the spreading colours as the light fades… which is where the upstairs would have come in handy. A little more height and I could see so much.
Yet, as I stood on the doorstep tonight, watching vivid pink and gold soften the sky, I realised how lucky I am to be able to watch the day begin and end, in glowing colours or beneath a pall of roiling clouds, every single day. City dwellers seldom see much of the skyline and, when work takes me early into town, I miss the dawn as it hides behind the rooftops.
It may be natural to wish for things that are seen, but just out of reach or it may be the way we are conditioned by our society from the earliest age to aspire to ‘something more’. ‘The grass is always greener’ and all that… But all that happens is that in looking beyond what is to what could be, we shift our focus away from the moment in which we stand and fail to appreciate what it offers. Not only that, but we create dissatisfaction for ourselves, a pressure for change for the sake of change and the stress of always chasing an illusive and elusive ‘something’ that we hope will be better than what we have. How often do we truly look at what we have in gratitude, not with some indefinable yearning?
Does it really matter that I see ‘only’ a sky suffused with colour and not the whole sunset? I could change that… a walk to the fields would give me an unobscured view, but it would take time and effort… a commitment and an active choice. Wishing alone will not get me from here to there… but I need do nothing at all to be here and now.
Every day is different, every dawn and dusk offers new wonders… and it does not matter at all where I am or where I stand. It matters only that I look up and see it as it happens.
I couldn’t sleep. I’d gone to bed sleepy, read until I could read no more, then snuggled down expecting the inner lights to go out within minutes. An hour later I was still waiting… and wide awake. It might have had something to do with the discomfort in my hand. Nothing to do with typing too much of course… not possible. I gave in and got up, heading for hot milk and more of the damnable painkillers. I wasn’t best pleased about the whole affair as I need to be up by six at the latest, Sunday or not, and it had been after midnight when I had finally gone to bed in the first place.
The previous night it had been the wind howling outside. It is odd, I have no qualms about being high on a hilltop in the wind, buffeted by gusts and struggling to stay upright. That I enjoy. But I don’t like the noises the house makes in a gale. I hadn’t particularly cared for the creaks and groans of the trees either when Ani and I had been out for our walk. But I had slept as soon as the rain began to batter the windows. That I find soothing.
It is strange the associations we make with sensory impressions and how deeply they are ingrained and affect behaviour. The smell of candlewax I find both comfortable and uplifting. The sound of rain on an umbrella is happy… and on canvas the memories of camping trips and laughter come back. The list is endless…
I was thinking about it when I was cuddling my granddaughter. The small sounds of a sleepy child seem to trigger the competence of motherhood again. The body knows what to do…how to lift and hold, how to rock and calm. Probably with far more confidence now than when the skills were first learned. The smell of paint reminds fingers what to do to create an image. The touch of flour tells them how to make pastry. The sound of a waltz reminds the feet how to dance.
I wondered how much our memory is rooted in the physical. All of it in some ways, as we can only experience through the senses. We know there is muscle memory, a pattern known to the body that it can repeat with increasing ease and accuracy as we learn new skills. Then we add the overlay of emotion, of course… a context that frames and defines each memory and colours our perception each time they are triggered. It is all part of the constant programming that builds up the layers of individuality that make us who we are.
Our experiences of the world are pretty limited really… limited by the portals of the senses themselves as to how we can perceive. Yet even if we experience the same event, emotion will make our perception of it different for each of us. A lifetime of such differences makes each of us a unique combination… individuals.
It shouldn’t be a surprise really, that pattern of infinite possibility born of limitation is all around us. Nine numbers can go on indefinitely producing other numbers that are unique unto themselves. Twenty-six letters of the alphabet combine to make over a million words in English alone… three primary colours combine with light and shadow to produce millions of tints, hues and shades… seven notes create every song ever sung, every symphony played…
It is within this limitation itself that harmony is established. Paradoxically, their very restriction creates the relationship between them that permits harmony, dissonance and growth and gives their distance both meaning and beauty as they spiral outwards towards infinity, allowing us to trace their patterns and begin to know them.
Within ourselves the five senses allow us to ‘harmonise’ too, understanding each other through the empathy of common experience. Seven billion humans alive today, have common ground through five shared senses. Untold numbers of other creatures share those senses too, and by their presence or absence, their experience is defined. Yet every single one of us is unique, perhaps solely because of the thoughts and emotions with which we respond to those experiences. The jury is out on which of those two come first… whether emotion gives rise to thought or vice versa. I’m not sure they are separable or separate, regardless of precedence. Perhaps they are the manifestation of the same process on a different arc of the spiral.
Looking out of the door, open to the night at the insistence of the dog, I look up at the stars; visible traces of our own spiral galaxy, and wonder of what it too may be a part… what its relationships may be to other galaxies… what harmonies might be brought into being out there in the blackness… Billions of point of light. From here they all look pretty much the same and yet I can discern the patterns of the constellations; remember their stories and mythology… know that man is already out there exploring…
My senses have taken me from pain to infinity; my thoughts have travelled the universe, through both the inner uniqueness of man and the vast wonderment of space. My emotions have spiralled from annoyance to awe… all in the time it took to recognise a pattern in the night.
The stories we heard as children remain with us as we grow. We know them well and, at need, can dredge from memory all the salient points to retell them to a new generation of children. The characters are familiar and many of them, such as the Fairy Godmother or the Big Bad Wolf, are archetypes that suggest their role within each tale as soon as their name is mentioned.
It matters little if the words we speak differ from those we heard; the story remains, a living thing that defies our attempts to re-frame it. A little girl wearing a red hood will always meet a wolf on her way through the forest to Grandma’s house and a woodcutter will always use his axe to rescue Granny from a fate worse than death.
But why do we tell such stories? Why do we recount tales of darkness and danger to our children…and why do images of a world not our own survive, generation after generation, to delight and terrify a child cuddled safe within a parent’s embrace?
Long before literacy was a common skill, such tales would be shared by the fireside. They could be carried the length and breadth of the land without effort, passed from imagination to imagination, where the seeds that were sown could take root and grow, quietly and without being noticed until their fruits were needed.
We think of them as children’s stories and yet, within their fantasy, many life lessons could be hidden and the kernel of a deeper story concealed.
We may have lost the keys that allow us to unlock fairytales with ease, but it is still possible to unravel their tangled threads and glimpse a world beyond our own… only to find that it is our own after all.
Sleeping Beauty forms the basis of our weekend workshop in April 2020. It is not just the tale of a disobedient princess, ignoring parental advice and suffering the consequences. Nor is it merely the story of her romantic awakening by a charming prince. Aurora, our Beauty, does not die…she merely sleeps for a hundred years. But… have you ever wondered what dreams may come when Beauty sleeps?
Join us for a weekend in the heart of Derbyshire…
17-19 April, 2020
Awaken the beauty that sleeps within.
Details of the fully catered, residential workshop are available HERE.
There’s something ‘monumental’ about planning to be high on the vast moorlands of the North Yorkshire National Park at the end of the first week in December. Yet that is exactly what we’ll be doing on the Sunday morning of the ‘Keys of Heaven’ workshop on the start of the workshop’s final day – weather permitting.
If it doesn’t, there’s a plan B…
Bridges and pathways…. I wrote earlier about how bridges are significant; how they divide and unite at the same time. That theme of division and unity are the twin poles on which the Silent Eye’s Whitby weekend is based. Its very topical for Britain at the moment – possibly so for the USA, also…
Pathways are significant, too, as any walker will tell you. The work done by centuries of previous walkers is reflected in the path before you – a ‘way’ made possible by their persistence against an often hostile landscape.
There are some very special pathways that cross the moors. Some of them link ancient sacred sites, often marked by crosses that surprise with their age – over a thousand years old in some, cases… possibly a lot older in others.
Where they cross – or meet, might be a better word – they create a special place of exchange and, often, hospitality. Years pass, then hundred of years, and there becomes established a place of meeting that defies the often hostile elements by become a permanent building of refuge.
The Lion Inn on the top of Blakey Ridge is one such. As high as you can be in the North Yorkshire National Park (1,325 feet), it sits astride a crossing of ancient ways and alongside the more modern linking the coast to Hutton-le-Hole. It has been run by the Crossland family since 1980. Being on the highest point, it offers breathtaking views down into the Rosedale and Farndale Valleys.
The history of this highest point on Blakey Ridge has been known to travellers since man first set foot here. We are fortunate in that three of the most significant sites are within a short walk of this very special place.
Cockpit Howe is a Neolithic burial mound just behind the inn which we shall visit after our morning repast. The grave at Loose Howe can be see from the East window in the bar, where a Bronze Age Chieftain was interred in a boat-like oak coffin, armed, clothed and equipped for his voyage.
During the reign of King Edward III a house put and ten acres of land on Farndale Moor were given to the Order of Crouched Friars (see below), who had been unable to find a home in York and received this land for the building of an oratory and other buildings. It is thought that the friars founded the Inn around 1554 to lighten their poverty. Friar Inns are common enough in all parts of the country – Scarborough having at least two.
The order of Crutched or Crossed friars (Fratres Cruciferi) was a mendicant order whose origins are unknown. Despite having their own buildings, Friars from Mendicant religious orders lived and worked among those they served – usually the poor. They claimed a middle-eastern foundation in the 1st century AD, but were later reconstituted in the 4th century in Jerusalem. Time has not allowed me to look into possible Knights Templar or Knight Hospitaler links (with deliberately obscured origin) but this would bear investigation, especially given their medical work – their properties usually comprised a hospital and a chapel.
Historically, they were known in Italy in the 12th century, when Pope Alexander III gave them a constitution and rule life similar to that of the better known Augustinian order. In England, the order first appeared in England at the synod of the diocese of Rochester in 1244.
We need to consider also the proximity of Lastingham, which will be our final visit of the weekend. This Celtic Christian church was established in the 7th century, prior to the polemic Synod of Whitby. More on this will be discussed in our final blog, prior to the worskhop.
The Crossed Friars were not a large order in England, but they established houses at Colchester, London, Reigate, Oxford, Great Weltham and Barnham (Suffolk), Wotton-under-Edge (Gloucestershire), Brackley (Northamptonshire) and Kildale (Yorkshire). The order seems to have disappeared in the 15th century, possibly because of Henry VIII’s dissolution of monastic orders.
Returning to the more recent history of the Lion Inn, around 1750, local farmers from Commondale, Danby, and Fryup established a market on the site to sell surplus corn to horse breeders and stable owners from the more prosperous Rydale area,
In the 19th century, the newly established iron mines brought increased custom to the Inn. The arrival of the motor car opened up the moors to visitors, and the age of the modern Lion Inn was begun.
The ancient Waymarks – standing stones and stone crosses – known as ‘Fat Betty’ and ‘Ralph’s Cross’ bear witness to the continuous tradition of passage over this the highest point on the North York moors. Much of its earliest history remains a mystery.
But… stand on the edge, looking down into the twin valleys and ‘feeling’ the inherent spirituality of the peak, and some of that ancient mystery becomes self-evident.
Our Sunday morning begins with a small challenge for those attending… locating and getting to the Lion Inn! So much easier by car than the hours or, more likely, days of walking that ancient visitors had to make to get to this point. Once there, we will gather for morning refreshments and to discuss the final day of our weekend.
We will also consider the ease with which we achieved the ‘climb’ and reflect on the dedication of those pilgrims whose journey was less opulent – such as the journeys by foot of St Cedd; Bishop Cedd as he was then, in the days when he travelled through his ‘diocese’ in this bandit-infested and lawless region of intense winter hostility…
Following our visit to the Lion Inn and its historic ridge, we will descend into the surrounding valleys to begin our visit to our final location: the magical church at Lastingham… and its wonderful and mysterious crypt…
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.