Stone and sea

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“Stone and sea are deep in life

Two unalterable symbols of the world

Permanence at rest

And permanence in motion

Participants in the power that remains”

Stephen R. Donaldson

P1110297I thought about those lines a lot over the past few days. It is the chant of the giants in Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. As we wandered through a landscape of gigantic structures in stone and earth, saw giant figures carved into the hillsides and sat by the ever-moving waves of the shore, it kept coming to mind.

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He’s right, of course, we see them as permanent, yet they too change and shift with time. Those who wrought in stone millennia ago left a mark on the landscape we can still see and touch today, yet how much has been lost? What was there that we no longer see? How much have we pillaged from their constructions to build our own? The stone may remain, but altered, shaped, reduced, perhaps, to dust. And even that, even the stone they used was once other than it became when it was hewn from the earth. Before that it was not even stone, but the possibility of stone, grown in the crucible of a new-born earth and formed into stone, perhaps, by the weight of the sea.

moors 023It is the same with the sea. It appears a constant, moving mass, yet, of course, it isn’t. Water evaporates and condenses, becoming clouds and rain, ice and snow. It falls on the land and runs through the stone, filtered by the living rock, until it again reaches the sea. The cycle never stops, and the permanence itself is but an illusion.

weymouth 032Yet their essence remains whole, throughout the changes wrought by millions of years. What they are does not change, only how they are seen, only how we see them, form them, harness and mould them. Water is water, whatever form it takes. Stone, whether shaped or crushed, does not change its essential nature with its form. So maybe we, too, though we are born, live and die, are also permanent in our essence. Maybe we too are ‘participants in the power that remains’.

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Something there is in beauty

which grows in the soul of the beholder

like a flower:

fragile –

for many are the blights which may waste

the beauty

for the beholder –

and imperishable –

for the beauty may die,

or the world may die,

but the soul in which the flower grows

survives.

– Stephen R. Donaldson

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July 2013

Standing out…

I was researching someone online and came across a so-called motivational site urging young people to get up and do something… to make something of themselves… to stand out from the crowd or risk sinking into obscurity…  fate that appeared to be almost ‘worse than death’ to the site’s author.

For a motivational piece, I found it rather counterproductive. All that I could see that it was doing was reinforcing, in the minds of the young and as yet uncertain, that they obviously were not good enough as they were. In order to have value within their society, they were being told, they would need to change… become something ‘other’ than they are. Different… and by implication, better.

That we are all works in progress, no matter what our age, and that we all need to continue to learn from our lives should go without saying. I doubt we would be here were there not that opportunity to grow from our experiences and how we face the events through which we live. But such growth should be a natural progression… like the fruit that follows the flower and the bud… not some enforced and calculated action taken to make us ‘look good’ in the eyes of others. Being allowed to be ourselves should matter far more than that.

I see nothing wrong with being ‘ordinary’. The word, in spite of its negative connotations comes from the same root as ‘order’… and without order, what would exist or function?

Most of us are ‘ordinary’. Our own kind of ordinary… because it is the only kind we know. Other people are extraordinary in our eyes. They do things we have never done, achieve things we have never even attempted, go places we will never go. We look at those who have done these marvellous things, not with envy, but with both respect and appreciation. ‘Ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ will mean different things to each of us.

My sons have, in all likelihood, seen far more of the world than I ever shall. They have jumped out of planes and flown them, stroked wolves, fed tigers and ridden elephants. That is extraordinary to me. Particularly when you consider that one of them is in a wheelchair.

I number amongst my friends a good many with stories just as unusual. My address book holds the names of the famous alongside those whose lives are lived in quiet obscurity but who command no less respect; people whose lives I find extraordinary for many reasons. They are teachers and artists, musicians and parents, writers and carers… with some it is art, with some skill, and some the simplicity of a heart that shines in all they do, even the little things of the humdrum, ordinary world. They are the truly extraordinary people to me.

Yet, to a man…or woman… they would all say, if asked, that they too live ordinary lives. Even the famous would only admit their circumstances, or perhaps their luck, to be a little different from the norm. They may recognise that they have a talent that is unusual… but will themselves look at the talents of others with respect. But however unusual their lifestyles may seem from the outside looking in, from the inside looking out these are their normal lives. Ordinary. Few see the impact one life may make upon another. Few realise they are extraordinary, because to them they are simply being themselves, living their daily life as best they can.

And I wonder sometimes what right any of us have to judge ourselves as ‘ordinary’ in that self-deprecating tone that usually goes with it. Somehow or other the word has become almost an insult… as if normality is to be avoided or is seen as less than good. As if we feel a need to excel and be ‘more than’ ordinary. As if being uniquely ourselves, one amongst billions, on a tiny blue planet, within a potentially infinite universe is not extraordinary enough.

Perhaps living ordinary lives the best we can is what makes people truly extraordinary and for me, there is a beauty in that.

Snail’s Pace

The internet was playing up, the email account had been hacked yet again, pages were taking up to ten minutes each to load and anything that had images or video took longer. It was going to be one of those days. It seems to be a common problem and it makes trying to work exceedingly difficult as well as frustrating. It highlights just how dependant we have become on a technology that really is quite new. Society has adopted computers and the internet wholesale and within a generation we have, rather than finding a little slot within our lives into which it might fit, changed our entire lifestyle to work with it.

It is amazing when you really look at it…millions of people use the internet daily; the world, or so it feels, would simply collapse in so many ways without its possibilities yet, when my own children were young, it did not exist. So many technological advances within a lifetime or two that have completely changed the face of the world. Television and communications media, transport… cars and flight that were once the privilege of the few who could afford them are now a part of normality…There are probably more and stranger things out there than the writers of the Jetsons, could have imagined in 1962. Mobile phones… more people own one than have decent sanitation, apparently… what does that say about us as a global family, I wonder?

Even the way we communicate has changed with instant messaging, video calls, text and email. We ‘speak’ to people all around the globe every day, time and distance no longer matter, spontaneous comments can be sent in a millisecond, news shared in a nanosecond. We are more aware of global events and can participate in them in real time, seeing pictures and hearing sounds almost as they happen and sharing the ensuing emotions with those caught in the midst of the unfolding moment. The downside of that is the risk of desensitisation as we are daily faced with images of atrocity and tragedy that we can simply accept as part of the human condition. We take a stand for or against a cause, but the images that should move us have lost their edge… we forget that these are women, children, fathers, sons… like our own. Real human lives edged in blood… closer than at any time in history, yet, in many ways, more distant through habituation.

The double edged sword that opens the world for us to explore also isolates us from face to face interaction in many ways. If it were not for the dog and caring for my son daily, I would no longer need a voice for weeks on end. I see no-one and speak seldom when at home; suburbia becomes a hermitage for many as social interaction becomes virtual and we lose the warmth of a human smile or the touch of a hand as we speak.

Handwritten letters are now a rarity and, if you’ll pardon me for waxing romantic, you can’t tie emails up with ribbon and keep them for a lifetime… printing them out is just not the same. How much of our real, personal histories will we be able to leave for future generations from passworded accounts and encrypted documents… and would it be the same without the trace of a human hand on paper?

Veracity too has taken a hit. Not so long ago a letter was either real or forged; now the printed word can be subtly altered, a word here or there that changes the focus, softens an edge or alters the emotive content. Images are tweaked, ‘photoshopped’… a new verb along with ‘googling’ to enter our language. We run to the internet for information when we know there is a huge amount of inaccuracy online, yet, of course, there is also a vast store of knowledge, art, literature and opinion available to us at the touch of a key… more than ever before in history.

We have adopted the new technology and will, no doubt, do the same when the ‘internet of things’ comes into our lives and every gadget we own is capable of communicating vital information about our statistics and habits. Once again there is the potential for enormous good as well as the capacity for abuse, misuse and an Orwellian future. We can’t even say it is ‘up to us’ as we, the ordinary people, will have little voice when there is large-scale corporate profit involved.

We are, however, incredibly adaptable creatures. Since the advent of the technological revolution that has become such an intrinsic element of our everyday lives we have managed to acquire new skills, create a common language to deal with them and accept a whole string of new terms for hitherto unknown events and needs. We seem to be developing a new skillset for communication that is, perhaps, more aware than ever of the use of language itself. Purists may rail against ‘text-ese’ terms and abbreviations and particularly the ubiquitous emoticon, but the more I look at the etymology of words since working on the books, the more I see that this is what we have always done and how our modern language has evolved from its ancient counterparts.

Emoticons allow us to take a possibly perceived sting out of our words or express something beyond them. They have evolved an unspoken protocol of their own and can both instigate and terminate a deeper conversation. We even seem to be evolving a kind of sixth sense that can read between words to emotions. As always, with the written word much depends on the reader’s own inner voice and character and it is easy to wall oneself in within the ego and miss the kernel of hurt, the laughter, longing or raillery in the words of another. Mind you, we can just as easily fail to see those things when they are in front of our eyes if we are too caught up in our own lives. Yet those with any kind of empathy or care for their fellow man seem able to pick up a good deal from a curt status update on social media, or through a brief text or email. It is as if lacking the visual clues of body language and expression, the timbre of a voice or the averted eyes we have learned to read them in the choice of word and the turn of a phrase.

I wonder if, as we move into a new phase of technological adventure, we are also moving towards a need to concentrate more on the unseen skills of being human; those abstract, unquantifiable qualities such as awareness, discretion and empathy and exercise a more mature and conscious attention and discrimination where our interactions are concerned. At no time in the history of our species has there been such possibility for communication and understanding, or for man to unite behind common goals… and, of course, the obverse of that is also true. In that, at least, it is up to us, as individuals, to choose which way we go.

Though it would help if our internet connections were actually reliable…

Spreading wings

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The hill was a verdant emerald rising into a sapphire sky that sparkled with motes of light… so high and clear. My companion walked behind, following at a far more sedate pace as I ran headlong to the summit, an uncompromising, absolute joy within that seemed to inundate every fibre of being. The white path led me higher and higher until I could see the curvature of the earth and felt I could reach out my arms and embrace the whole world and gather it to my breast…

My dreams have been vivid of late. They always are but even more so than usual, with the clarity and reality I knew as a child. I recall the flying dreams with the rollercoaster feeling in the stomach… I cannot have been more than eight years old and every night I would soar. Far too young to have any knowledge or interest in aerodynamics, lift or thrust, I can yet remember the minute adjustments needed to stay in the air and direct my flight. I seem to remember them in my flesh even though it was just a dream. I can feel even now the memory of physical sensation as my body swooped and banked through the air, learning to ride the wind, seeking the air-currents and updraughts, like a small fish playing in water, darting and diving through sunbeams. It was sheer joy. Every night as I closed my eyes I would wait for that first moment of flight with happy anticipation.

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It felt utterly real… the sensation of rise and fall in the gut, the air on my face, the wind in my hair. So real that my waking self would stand on my bed beneath the window, certain I would not fall but would fly if I launched myself from there… yet knowing also that it was supposed to be impossible. Wasn’t it? There was always that doubt in the mind, even though the body felt it knew just what to do.

So real was the experience for that young mind that it was, in those moments by the window, impossible to distinguish dream from reality. It was as if I was perfectly poised between two realities, each equally valid by their own rules and in their own world… which I believe they are. Yet I was in neither… I was apart from both, a third reality, if you will, where I was subject to neither of the others but could see and judge with yet another part of me what fragment of experience should fit where.

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I had always been aware of the existence of that higher part of being that we call the soul, the essence… and many other names. It was simply something I grew up with, that awareness. Yet this was the first time I remember feeling conscious of its reality. Not because I could see or feel it specifically, but the observation of the two realities by the third… and the fact that on yet another level I was somehow ‘seeing’ that observer… So what was seeing it? And was anything watching that? And where did ‘I’ end and Something Else begin?  This seemed to ‘click’ and I understood somehow in a way for which I am still not sure I have words.

To the eight year old mind that was something of a revelation. To us now, as adults, it is an illustration of infinite regress, a concept we explored at the first of the Silent Eye’s Glastonbury talks some years ago, yet it took a while before I made that connection. One of the inner ‘observers’ finds that highly amusing, that the conscious mind should take the best part of half a century to really realise a gift given so young.

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However that is often the way of things and we are adept at accepting what we know and believe, filing them in the cabinet of facts by which we live and not revisiting them with the added experience and understanding of years. As we grow and learn our store of facts expands, but we seldom take out the old ones and update them. We can, indeed, get very protective of them and refuse to even consider that we may have misunderstood, or been plainly wrong, through lack of a salient piece of information.

Over the past few years, as I have examined more and more the entrenched beliefs to which I have clung, I have found myself being obliged to discard and update many of them. I have also revisited many ideas I discarded as facile when I was much younger, realising that with the knowledge and experience I can now bring to them, they are richer by far that I imagined when I first dismissed them. The adventures with Stuart and our books have made me re-evaluate many things, while the School has seen me set aside the framework of many decades and begin to look at the essence of those beliefs from a different perspective.

When, some years ago, a friend and renowned author who had walked a similar path, told me he had spent half a lifetime building the inner Qabalistic Tree of Life… and the rest steadily dismantling it, I was surprised and recoiled from the very idea… now I know what he meant.

The ideas we cling to limit us. We do not seek beyond their bounds… why would we if they satisfy us? They are our beliefs and they ‘work’ for us. Yet, should we step across those self-imposed boundaries, prepared to risk seeing what might lie beyond, a whole world of possibility may open before us. It is worth a thought. Who knows… some part of us may even learn to fly.

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Storytelling

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Our earliest ancestors looked out upon this world and framed what they saw in stories that reached the heart through the imagination. As man and his questions became ever more sophisticated, the stories evolved, couching abstract concepts and ideas within the age-old tales. The mythology of any culture goes back beyond memory and history to a time before time was… to the Creation and before… in an attempt to answer the questions that arise in all of us.

Stories travelled and changed with each retelling, taking on the character of the teller, coloured by the season, the place, the landscape and by the politics of the local priesthood or rulership… and the myths rooted in different forms in the places they reached.

Yet if we look at the stories mankind has told there are striking similarities beneath the surface. All the mythological systems have some common themes… star-crossed lovers, the trickster, good versus evil and the unlikely heroes. All have the slayers of monsters or demons, their tales of magic and the parallels with fertility, life and death.

Many theories have been propounded, arguing for a common psychological expression of religious impulse through to a simplistic attempt to explain the seasonal growth of vegetation. It has been argued that all the stories are poetic allegories for spiritual truth and, at the other end of the scale, that they are nothing but linguistic misinterpretations… where the functions of the gods arise from the words for their names and stories are built upon them.

I have a feeling there is an element of truth to all of the theories and that the birth of the mythologies arises in as much complexity as the multi-layered mind of man.

What is certain is that there is something in these old tales that speaks to us at a very deep level of intuitive understanding. We can see the morals clearly in some of them, get a grip on the abstract through others and relate to all of them on an emotional level of personal engagement and life experience in spite of the passage of millennia.

The Egyptian myths give us the most complete record of how a system evolves over the centuries and scholars can chart the rise, evolution and demise of the various versions across the landscape of Egypt in both time and space.

From the simplest of stories a cosmogony evolved which encapsulated much of Egyptian history, culture and religious change. Between the words and images that remain we have a window into the minds of those who walked the Two Lands.

We can read their stories for entertainment, much as they would have been told around the hearths of old to while away the hours of night.

We can read them as they might have been told by the priests to the populace and see through their eyes something of the sacredness of the world, learning to see once again that same wonder in our own world, where the landscape is alive and as holy as the gods themselves.

We may choose to look at them as the priesthood may have seen them and read a deeper meaning behind the images and relationships of the gods, seeing in their interaction the story of all things… of mankind and his fallibility, of the relationships between man and nature as well as between man and that which he perceives as greater than all… the Source of Being from whence all arose.

We can read them in another way also and see ourselves in the gods, understanding the fractured facets of wholeness that make up our personalities. We may see that as the gods are both the fragments and the product of the One, then so are we a fragmented whole… pieces of a cosmic jigsaw puzzle waiting to be reassembled… and in doing so might see that we too are of the same essence as the gods.

I have a feeling that the best way to read them is as a child would read, with an openness to wonder and wondering, without analysing too much or dwelling on apparent inconsistencies and impossibilities that the adult may reject but which the child accepts without a blink.

Perhaps we just need to remember how to listen with the heart.

Extract from The Osiriad (Appendix)

The Time Vampires

 

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It’s a tough one, this. I love technology and I have a lasting belief that it has brought us a lot of good… but a nasty feeling that we are touching some of its ‘dark edges’; brought on, not because of the technology, itself, but because of the motive for profit and dominance inherent in the power that a few mega-companies wield.

Such companies are ‘enablers’. The real threat is the big money that has seen the potential for manipulation – global manipulation.

It was a 19th century historian and Cambridge professor, John Dalberg-Acton, 8th Baronet, who said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

It’s a quote many of us know, but what he went on to say in the same speech is less well known; “Great men are almost always bad men…”

We all like to believe in ‘great men’ (and women). Many of the The tech giants have risen, like David against Goliath, to overturn traditional market leaders and introduce vast innovation that benefits us all. When I compare what I can do, what I can reach, what I can understand, courtesy of the Internet and its access to largely-free resources, I stand in awe of what the past few decades have brought. My writing, and my supplemental efforts as an illustrator, have all been the result of what would now be termed Tech tools.

So why the opening sentiments?

They were prompted by a quote from one of the product directors of a major Tech company. He was quoted as saying that a new breakthrough in that company’s products would help ‘use up the mind cycles’ of the young people who formed the largest proportion of its customer base. Young people are increasingly targeted by Tech companies, such as social media sites. The young see it as a natural extension to their ‘talkative’ world – a sign of belonging, a ‘cool’ skill.

It’s a very powerful ‘pull’. It also makes Tech billions…

The young and the naive fill in mock ‘surveys’: What type of doggie walker are you? With the results, Tech can sell deeply effective profiles of each person, so accurate that exact product targeting can be placed in front of them, in their favourite colours, linked to their favourite games or cartoons or literature heroes…. or other products, of course – ‘your best friends are showing how grown-up they are by eating frizzzle-joys in luscious purple….’

And then there are drugs… Drugs are what you can’t live without; habits of ‘feel good’ that, especially in the impulsive and immature young, take hold very quickly. Like gambling, or children’s computer games that require them to pay for the key to a ‘level’ that ‘all their mates’ have already achieved… “Daddy!”

Drugs don’t need to be chemicals. The body and mind can make its own.

Online gambling has grown totally out of control. Some very big names are buying up the stragglers because the profits are so vast. As are the wrecked families and the huge debts that lead to crime to ‘repay’. Social networks I can understand; gambling has always been designed to exploit those who can’t comprehend the inevitability of their suffering. And children are being targeted: ‘just click here to say you’re over 18.’

The word ‘evil’ isn’t used much any more. It should be…

From a spiritual point of view, Tech can be seen as angel or devil. It has turned the ‘globe’ into a village. But the downside is that every atom of that village is now a target for money – big money. But that’s judging it from my perspective – someone who can see the massive abuse that is taking place.

Why aren’t we doing something about the downside? Because the problem is global and we’re not. Big money in Tech doesn’t want its opposition to be global, because that would enable effective control of its excesses. Britain votes Brexit and is leaving the only institution that is really trying to clean up this mess. America lurches to the right and its president wants massively less regulation and a weaker UN. In both cases the Tech social media machines were a dominant part of the Tech used to manipulate the elections – in fact, the same Tech companies were involved on both sides of the Atlantic.

On a very simple level, I don’t want my children (grandchildren, really – my children are in their thirties) to have their ‘cycles’ stolen. I want them to have some time to think, to dream, to read and enjoy fantasy. I want them to walk through the woods and climb the hills… and create in their growing minds. I want all that to lead to an eventual awareness of the living magic in the now, to a series of questions about themselves that will begin their real search for meaning in their lives.

So, next time I read of a rich, Tech product director who wants to interfere with the core of my grandchildren’s life, I’m going to get angry…

… Oh, yes, I just did.


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost supervised correspondence courses.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©️Stephen Tanham.

 

The quiet ones…

The computer decided to play the fool, doing unmentionable things with no provocation. I’d only just sorted the email that had blocked me from answering anything, even though it let me see all the emails piling up. And, to make matters worse, I have one of these horrid winter bugs that turn your brain to mush. By the end of the day, I had tried everything I could think of… it was time to ask for help.

That can be a difficult thing to do sometimes… not for a technical problem like mine, when we are all too ready to scream for any help we can get, but for the real things that affect how we can live our lives. My son and I have been talking about this a lot since his return from India, where the kindness and compassion of the people he met there allowed him to experience many things he would otherwise not have been able to access, and indeed, had it not been for a complete stranger, a ‘knight in shining armour’, his trip could have been a disaster from the start.

What does a knight in shining armour look like? They are everywhere, hidden in plain sight, quietly ready to take up the quest and tilt at windmills on our behalf. People are often ready to go to extraordinary lengths to help each other, as long as we ourselves are able to admit a need and accept the help that is offered. Compassion may see the need before we are ready to admit that it is there. It never makes a noise about itself, but simply gets to work to do what it can.

How do you define compassion? We all understand the word, but how often do we think about what it really means… both in fact and on a personal level? Looking up the definition in a dictionary, especially glancing at the synonyms, is a bit of an eye-opener and produces everything from pity to empathy. The latter is probably the best definition, as the word itself comes from the ecclesiastical Latin compati… ‘feeling with’. And that, to me, defines what motivates any act of compassion. Pity is a cold and distant thing. Sympathy looks on kindly from a distance. Compassion takes things to heart and carries them very personally. Compassion understands, if not through personal experience of the cause, then empathy and an opening of the heart. Compassion is love in action.

It is this awareness of the problems of others that allows us to place ourselves in their shoes, feeling their pain, sorrow or worry as if it were our own, just for a moment, and which allows us to act in some way that feels right. It may be something practical… a cup of coffee, sleeves rolled up to help, even good advice… or it may be something more ephemeral, like a hug or a smile or a simple word that acknowledges both presence and need.

There is a selective blindness sometimes to the hurt we can see lingering in another’s eyes. If we see, we have to acknowledge and then we feel… and must act. It is, perhaps, in self-defence that we have become able to insulate ourselves and we can be good at ignoring pain. So good, in fact, that we often cover our own and pretend it isn’t there. Part of that comes down to pride… few of us like to admit we cannot cope, regardless of the problem. Some of it has become ingrained… many children are taught not to whine. Boys are still taught not to cry… girls too, though it is still seen as more acceptable. Those who do speak and air their inner hurts often make us uncomfortable, whether we care to admit it or not and we may take refuge in some kind of moral superiority, feeling that we would not have said/written/shouted that… or else we try and ignore them; pretend we don’t see… like failing to meet the eyes of a tramp in the street.

While it is undoubtedly good to learn that tears should not be a first recourse when things go wrong, that there are things we can do, choices we can make, actions we can take, it is not, in my opinion, a good thing to teach our children to stifle their feelings. To learn a modicum of control, to learn not to be enslaved by reactive emotion is a different matter, but the ability to recognise, accept and express emotion lies at the heart of compassion. How can we ‘feel with’ if we do not first learn how to feel?

There is a huge difference between the tears shed in frustration or sentimentality and those that prick our eyelids when our hearts ache and bleed for the plight of another. When we can feel at least the shadow of their pain and heartache. It is these that can move mountains and change the world. And it starts with the small things.

What does a knight in shining armour look like? He looks like the man who opens a door for a young Mum struggling with a pushchair. He looks like the woman who smiles at the beggar in the street. He looks like the child who rescues an injured bird and brings it home. He looks like the granny who puts on the kettle or the friend who sits for hours on the phone. He looks like the guy who stands by you when you tilt at windmills. He looks like anyone who meets the eyes of another with an open heart in acknowledgement of a shared humanity.

He looks like you.

Deep and Personal

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“At what point should we expect the contact with the universe to become deep and personal?

The red-haired man in the corner had asked the question. He always sat in the corner of the room at the talks and always asked a stupid question.  I could feel my lips curl… As a field officer in this particular mystical organisation, I had the notional responsibility for making sure such events went smoothly; and that such dumb questions were kept to a minimum.

I half turned from my reserved seat at the front and shot him a look – the kind of look that  said, listen, fella, you should know better…

He always sat in the rear left corner, always asked the kind of question to which you could not supply a clear-cut answer. Deep and personal! Who did he think he was, a guru or something?

Of such occasions is wisdom made; but often, not until much later. The character of the red-haired questioner did not fit the usual profile of those following the course of study that the venerable organisation provided. He was not exactly a trouble-maker, but had the potential to be so. I didn’t want anyone of that ilk upsetting my carefully constructed agenda.

Of course, that was exactly what he was doing: upsetting my carefully constructed agenda. He was trying – and succeeding – in injecting a real question of the spirit into the mechanical, though precise, vision that I had of how the teachings should be discussed.

It’s a classic question: at what point should we expect the contact with the universe to become deep and personal. A scientist would very likely hate it. It would imply the kind of soggy thinking that, in such a mind, typifies mysticism. We might follow his train of thought thus:

‘The universe is an ongoing sequence of events, triggered by the Big Bang. Life on Earth began through a random creation of a self-sustaining proto-cell, probably in the deep oceans, near a thermal vent; and the long cycle of increasingly intelligent life began with primitive awareness of inside and outside, which eventually gave rise to consciousness as we know it. None of this requires a belief in there being intelligence behind such an event. The notion of a personal relationship of the distant relatives of such a single cell with the mechanical universe that gave it birth is nonsense.’

Deep breath… because there’s nothing wrong with that view, except the findings of consciousness, itself; and thankfully, science can’t get hold of that or measure it.

A good course of mystical study will not actually be study. It will be involvement. If it’s really good you may not know that’s happening, as you investigate how the part of you that considers itself to be a ‘self’ is put together. You will find that, as you journey into or alongside your self, the world begins to look different. This strange occurrence produces the beginnings of a question: where, exactly, is the world… and where am I?

Everything we know, or think we know, derives from signals received in the brain. These signals are the fruit of our senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. Each takes a section of the ‘out-there’ and feeds it to the magnificent super-computer that is the brain. Our lives are programmed to enable the question ‘who am I’ to be answered. Our own arising is the biggest mystery of all. What was I before I was born, cries our self; what will I be after my supercomputer dies?

Fear is at the root of much of our ordinary learning. A better equipped machine can defend itself more capably. The human race mirrors this at the national level. Fear is the key to most madness.

A truly mystical journey must concern itself with the dismantling of fear, and that requires an understand of where the notion of ‘authority’ comes from in our developing consciousness.

In our search for the true Self we encounter the false self – false only in that fear made it the centre of the only universe that counts – ours. Finding the edge of that cellular bubble called organic life brings us face to face with the division that never was…and then things can really begin to unfold.

The irritating man with the red hair knew this. He knew that we do not become real mystics by knocking on the edge of the cellular universe; we do so when that universe gets deep and personal and knocks on our door…


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost supervised correspondence courses.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©️Stephen Tanham.

 

Into the Dark Earth

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I have always thought that, from a mystical perspective, we are lucky to have winters. This may seem a strange sentiment, but I have my reasons. If we believe that we are a part of what is all around us, then the seasons assume great importance.

In reality each season merges slowly into the next, but our ancient forebears gave us four divisions of the year, each corresponding to a major ‘event’ in the way light – our primary enabler of outer consciousness – changes.

In the middle of the ancient Summer, the day would be longest. The time of fullness an warmth would have returned, albeit briefly, to the earth. The Christian church borrowed the ancient rites and named the Summer Solstice the Feast of St John; it marked a time when the joyful ascent of light (an upwards gradient, if you like), gave way, in a moment of profound stillness, to the descending gradient that led from the longest day to the shortest. There was no actual moment of pause in that glorious fullness – planets and suns do not stand still – but the human consciousness recorded and knew that a primary quality of existence had changed; and not for the better…

Halfway during that descent of the daily light, the times of day and night became equal at the Equinox: a word derived from Latin meaning ‘equal night’. The harvest was gathered in – probably the most important time of the ancient year, as it determined whether the long, wet and cold months ahead could be survived. There was little of more importance than that…

At the end of the darkening half-year begun with the Summer Solstice came the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night – Christianised as the Feast of St Stephen. The Christmas tradition has changed the Pagan calendar, somewhat, but the underlying principles of the Light-bringer’s birth in the darkest of days hold true.

The physical and agricultural marking of these times is obvious. Modern scholarly interpretations of such events focus simply on these, dismissing any other considerations as fanciful and superstitious – as though our forebears, often starving, had time for such diversions. They simply cannot conceive of the world-view of those of our ancient past, because they have been taught that anything outside of ‘science’ is invalid.

There are two deeper layers to these key points in the year – one is psychological, the other spiritual. We need to define our terms carefully: psychological refers to the workings of the mind – really ego; spiritual refers to contact with a layer of being which is greater than the small self; an experience or series of experiences within which the individual self realises oneness with a super-physical that is beyond question. In doing this, we have encountered that which simply ‘is’ – the Objective World.

Emotions are not the whole story, nor necessarily the highway to spirituality, but they can provide the energy to throw off the mundane perspectives that keep us locked into the world view of the small ‘me’ – now protected by science. At the time of the Winter Solstice, our emotions undergo a kind of ‘death’ – if we are sensitive to this unmeasurable ‘pause’ in the flow of life’s energies. For a brief moment, which may have more to do with the observer than the observed, we sense the awe of cessation… Of a death of the small self in the face of the fullness of objective existence around us.

What is around us has not died, but it challenges us to see the internal ‘death’ with which we need to come to terms if we are to sense the greater life that surrounds us, and from which the small self keeps us separate.

In this sleep of nature the one Life prepares the raw materials of the next phase of its expression. This is done in the dark places of the soil and the unconscious places of the self. When that rest is complete the Life comes forth from darkness, marked, symbolically, by the light-bringers’ victory over the darker days, and the advancement of the light-filled days – an outer sign of the manifest potential of what lived and lives through the dark night of Winter. In spiritual terms the physical return of the light is mirrored by the growth of human understanding, and its connection to all life around it.

The mythological archetypes of the light-bringers are there to enable us to attune with the subtle energies pervading the Earth at this very special time. They are our deepest friends…

Wishing you a very special Winter Solstice.

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Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost supervised correspondence courses.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©️Stephen Tanham.