Three Ghosts of Christmas Present

Unfolding nightmares can begin very innocently…

My mother, who is nearly ninety years old, has vascular dementia. She’s had a wonderful life and is enjoying a blessedly slow decline of her faculties – to the extent that she’s still in her own home and able to look after herself as long as the family watch for the ‘monsters’ at the edge of life.

Anything technical and new, or related to problem-solving, is now beyond her, but her zest for life; and the love of walking her little dog, Sammy, is undaunted. I have been surprised how much of a companion this ‘challenging’ little Pomeranian has been in her past decade.

We have a dog – a Collie – so Sammy has always been welcome at our house on the edge of the English Lake District. We are conscious of living in a beautiful part of country – and happy to share it with family and friends whenever we can. My wife’s sister, Joanne, is a frequent guest; and mum and Joanne look forward to spending each Christmas with us – often arriving a couple of days before so that we can all settle into the mood and have few runs out in the Lakes.

A few days ago, I could tell that I was coming down with a nasty cold. Despite my array of juicy oranges, concentrated garlic, salted water snorted up the nostrils (sorry…), the little sod seemed to have got through. On Christmas Eve I dosed off; doped, warm and comfortable in my chair not far from a blazing log stove…

In the dream, people were panicking, and there was the sound of a door to the garden being opened, repeatedly. When you spend a lot of your life in ‘carer’ mode, you get used to springing awake and alert on such occasions.

Mum was racing around the lounge looking for the coat she had dropped when she entered. Joanne, my wife’s sister, was yelling her apologies.

“Well, how long has he been out there?” mum was asking.

“I just forgot he’d gone out…” said Joanne, desperately worried that, in her inattention, she’d lost mother’s dog. “…perhaps twenty minutes or so…”

Both were distressed. Sammy the wandering Pomeranian had done this before, but not for many years. He’s old, largely blind and his back legs are going… poor love. You would think he would just stay in our ample garden with Tess and our cat Misti.

But no…. Pomeranians have a wandering gene… and it doesn’t matter how blind they are or how cold the winter day is.

By now, mum was chasing around the garden, calling out Sammy’s name. I knew in my bones that it was futile… I’d just about woken up and was trying get my befuddled and cold-strewn mind to come up with a plan. To add to this, the light was fading and a very black darkness was taking over the end of the afternoon.

Fellow dog-owners will know the value of the head-torch. These brightly coloured bands of elasticated fabric sport a tough square-ish light that can be focussed in different ways from the forehead. They allow the hands to remain free while you conjugate the million other things your dog needs, such as poo bag use… I’ll not dwell on it. but it’s doubly challenging in the darkness.

I suppose it was my slightly Lemsip-induced state, but I seemed to have left the house without a coat; though I did have thermal jumper on. I was trying to catch up with my mind… actually not true; I was striding through the darkness up the unmade lane that is the only road to our house following what I knew was the last chance of recovering our ageing Pomeranian. In the background, I could hear my mother’s near-crying voice and knew that her dog had long gone. The only chance was to choose the right direction and hope that his slow progress would allow me to catch up.

When you get to the T-junction at the top of the lane, you can go left, right or straight ahead. Straight ahead is up a hill, but the first house on the left is the home of two local dentists, and brightly lit due to them being a fan of decorating most of the house in lights. It’s lovely… sort of. It’s certainly bright.

I checked the dentist’s courtyard driveway, shouting out Sammy’s name and hoping the light might have attracted him – nothing. Breathing in the sharp, cold air, I strode off up the hill to find a genial figure walking down with his own dog.

We’ve met before but I don’t know him well. Graham is on the parish council and always stops to chat. He had heard me shouting out Sammy’s name as I came through the darkness towards him. He stopped and offered to help with the search, explaining that there had been no sign of our dog during his own descent of the hill I was climbing. At least we could tick off that route…

When we got back to the junction and the dentist’s house, the lady dentist was at the gate.

“Have you lost a golden dog,” she asked?

I coughed out my delight. She explained that, a few minutes prior, she had seen a Pomerian entering another, smaller lane, nearer the centre of the village. She had approached it, but every time she got close it ran off – further into the darkness and up the hill. She had been worried about making things worse and had left him to return at his own pace.

But he never has, in this situation…

Graham, my first helper from the parish council, then said we could split up and search the two branches of the dark lane – the place where Sammy had last been seen. One leads to a small housing estate, the other climbs, steeply, into the darkness of the open country and towards the main London-Glasgow railway line…

I told Graham I would take the steeper route and set off – gasping as the cold air hit my sore lungs harder, and with only a head-torch for company. It grew darker and darker – there are no street lights in the village. My spirits began to fall as my analytical mind raced through the diminishing odds of us ever seeing Sammy again – and the stupidity of having practically on the fella without a coat… But I had known, that, unless I left the house that second, we would never see Sammy alive again.

Near the summit of the lane the winds picked up. There can be a ten degree difference in wind-chill up there, as the are fully-fledged Lakeland hills in their own right. Thinking survival, I made sure my thermal jumper was stuffed into my trouser waistband and prayed.

The head-torch, my only piece of ‘armour’ shone valiantly into the darkness….and the unknown.

At first, I thought the reflected beam of light was the torch picking out a limestone wall. But then it got brighter… and I realised there was a car coming towards me from one of the farms on the local uplands. The lane will not permit two cars along its length; not even a car and a person along most of it. Passing places are provided lower down the hill, but not this high. To let a car pass, you have to clutch a branch of one of the bordering trees and pull yourself off the tarmac and partly into the hedge.

I did… hanging in space while the Citroen estate slowed down for an ill-dressed madman with a head-torch.

Half way along the car’s length, it stopped. I clung desperately to my branch as the window opened and warm air spilled out.

“Looking for a dog?”

I could barely speak.

“Name of Sammy?”

I had slipped into a parallel reality. A good story to ease me gently to a freezing death…

“Yes,” my steaming breath formed, hesitantly.

“In the boot!” said the no-nonsense voice of the lady farmer whose face, if not name, I knew. “Was taking him to the animal rescue…, but got to rush – family do!”

In a surreal world, I slithered along the line of the silver car and she opened the boot, electronically. There, looking up out of the warm darkness was Sammy…

Of course, I’d not brought a lead. But my cord trousers sported a belt. Stealthily, I slipped it off and looped it under the errant’s collar.

She, laughed. “Merry Christmas.” I repeatedly chanted my thank yous from the back of the car… frankly in a state of disbelief.

The rescuer waved in her mirror as she drove off, leaving us to descend through the darkness back into the warmth of the village, our house and the tears of my mother when she saw her freezing son shuffling up the lane with her beloved furry companion…

Truly three ghosts of Christmas present… and a lesson in trust in the possible, even in the face of great adversity. But I’d rather not have another one of those anytime soon…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Only a Horse and a Sword

We become habitual in our thinking. It’s a good idea (and fun) to play little games with our mind to help us look at things differently.

One of these is to look at things in a ‘zero-sum’ way: that is, to consider life as a vast journey of ‘bought and sold’: acquisition, usage and disposal…

Saladin, (Salah ad-Din) the legendary first Sultan of the combined lands of Egypt and Syria, and scourge of the western Crusaders, is recorded as having given away most of his belongings before his death.

At the end, his only possessions were his horse and a sword.

But that’s ‘just’ end-of-life, stuff. How about if we lived our lives such that everything we ‘took in’ to our lives had to be used, valued and then disposed of in a positive way as we went along?

What might this include? Well, our possessions of every kind would have to be acquired alongside the sentiment: ‘I want this, but I will ensure that others benefit from it, too…’. Then, when the thing ceased to be of use to us, we would look for others to whom it would be useful.

Not too much to ask, or too onerous?

Our home would be open to others, as long as they honoured its ‘foundations’. Those would include a certain attitude to looking after it and respecting its conventions. Our family – something not acquired in the same way, but given to us – would need to be considered, too. At the end of our days, how would our balance sheet look? Did we leave others ‘richer’ than we found them? Did our presence bring some joy, along the way. There are always struggles with family, which is often the most difficult ‘school’ of our lives, but, overall, did we try?

Our careers would be an important part of this, too. We work in increasingly ‘compressive’ environments, where we are expected to conform to behaviours that are not native to our higher natures. How do we manage this? There may be few choices – externally. But we can always project an inner air of integrity, even if what is around us is ruthless, uncaring or downright cruel.

Examining our lives across these broader timescales will bring us back to much shorter ones. One consideration will be that we will look for things that we did not earn in any way, short of being present. Our food and other means of sustenance is a vital part of our lives. The ‘Maslow’ approach to this was that we cannot hope to lead a higher personal life until our basic needs have been fulfilled; and we should be examining others’ lives on this basis, too, before we judge them.

On an even smaller scale, how about breathing? We take in air whose creation and preparation has nothing to do with our own effort. At this smallest scale, we are literally given life every few seconds. There is no bill at the end of this most basic of meals.

In such situations, perhaps we can think of it as a debt. We owe…

And, maybe that sense of owing would begin to renew both our ‘selves’ and the planet, replacing the viciousness of entitlement so prevalent among those who ‘rule’ us. It seems that, as the world’s wealth comes to belong to fewer and fewer people, civilisation goes back in time to a more feudal basis. It’s a frightening thought that our ‘democracies’ have become so feeble that even the most educated feel powerless to stop the erosion of what were – not so long ago- shared values.

But we are not the first to live in troubled times. It may be that they are there to teach us to act responsibly and collectively. Unless we can do so, we are powerless to change things.

We may conclude that, as an individual, we can do nothing to change the politics of our ‘world’; in which case we live in an age where only our personal behaviour can make a difference: good examples of light in darkness can catch the spirit of the times and become visible flames.

Saladin was a great warrior and is said to have been a fair and just ruler. He had a vast kingdom and ended the power of the Crusading forces.

Our true kingdom is our lives, not how much we possess. Will we be able to look back on our lives from our single horse, and kiss the keen blade of thoughts and feeling that brought us through? And then will we have the grace to leave both behind, in a final act of giving, before surrendering our physical existence to the drifting sands beneath our feet…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

In the Similitude of a Dream III…

*

… At this his relations were sore amazed; not for that they believed

that what he said to them was true, but because they thought that

some frenzy distemper had got into his head; therefore, it drawing

towards night, and they hoping that sleep might settle his brains,

with all haste they got him to bed.

*

*

But the night was as troublesome to him as the day; wherefore,

instead of sleeping, he spent it in sighs and tears.

So, when the morning was come, they would know

how he did. He told them, Worse and worse:

he also set to talking to them again; but they began to be hardened.

*

*

They also thought to drive away his distemper

by harsh and surly carriages to him; sometimes they would

deride, sometimes they would chide, and sometimes

they would quite neglect him.

Wherefore he began to retire himself to his chamber…

*

*

… to pray for and pity them,

and also to console his own misery;

he would also walk solitarily in the fields,

sometimes reading, and sometimes praying:

and thus for some days he spent his time.

*

*

Now, I saw, upon a time, when he was walking in the fields,

that he was, as he was wont, reading in his book,

and greatly distressed in his mind;

and as he read, he burst out, as he had done once before, crying,

What shall I do to be saved?

*

The Pilgrim’s Progress

*

*

Reflections from the, ‘Castles of the Mind’, weekend,

organised by Steve Tanham and Barbara Walsh.

*

In the Similitude of a Dream II…

*

…In this plight, therefore, he went home and refrained himself as long as he could,

that his wife and children should not perceive his distress;

but he could not be silent long, because that his trouble increased.

*

*

Wherefore at length he brake his mind to his wife and children; and thus he began to talk to them:

O my dear wife, said he, and you the children of my bowels, I, your dear friend,

am in myself undone by reason of a burden that lieth hard upon me

*

*

… moreover, I am for certain informed that this our city will be burned with fire from heaven;

in which fearful overthrow, both myself, with thee my wife, and you my sweet babes, shall miserably

come to ruin, except some way of escape can be found, whereby we may be delivered.

*

A Pilgrim’s Progress

*

*

Reflections from the, ‘Castles of the Mind’, weekend,

organised by Steve Tanham and Barbara Walsh.

*

 

In the Similitude of a Dream…

*

As I walked through the wilderness of this world,

I lighted on a certain place where there was a Den,

And I laid me down in that place to sleep…

*

*

And, as I slept, I dreamed a dream.

I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man

clothed with rags, standing in a certain place,

with his face from his own house,

a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back.

*

*

I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein;

and, as he read, he wept, and trembled;

and not being able longer to contain,

he brake out with a lamentable cry,

saying, What Shall I do?

*

The Pilgrim’s Progress

*

*

Reflections from the, ‘Castles of the Mind’, weekend,

organised by Steve Tanham and Barbara Walsh.

 

 

 

Reflections on Free Will

Reflections Free Will

What does it mean to have ‘free will’?

It’s a phrase that is used very casually, as though it carries an identical meaning to us all. It’s particularly important if you want to pursue a path of mystical self-development, since the whole idea of ‘will’ is a central concept of work on the self.

What is will? We take its very existence for granted, but we should be clear in our own minds as to what we mean by it. We could say that will prevails. It is a kind of force that determines what happens next – as  much as that is under our control. We will return to the subtlety of this point at the end of this short post.

It would be useless, as King Canute is reputed to have done, to exercise our will to hold back the incoming tide. Actually, Canute was a wise ruler and was trying to show that the divine right of Kings had limits… History can have a cruel ‘will’ of its own. This does imply a certain amount of wisdom about how we use our will: we have to know what is possible, or potentially so, whether or not we have the force to succeed. This, in itself is curious, as it implies we have some foreknowledge of our likely success in the exercise of our willed force. Do we, then chose to fail when exercising ordinary will power? Or is there some form of higher ‘seeing’ that knows what can be done, uniquely, in the personal now?

We can say we are successful in using will – for example in not having that heavy pudding that will add more weight to our already- January rich waistlines; or we can say we failed to exercise our willpower in refusing it. This is curious, since it implies that we are, somehow, split beings: one part doing the ‘right’ thing, the other the wrong or weaker one.

From a cultural point of view, this is serious stuff, since the very idea of will seems to be bound up with doing the ‘right’ thing, rather than the prevailing of a chosen and pleasant course of action (having the pudding). The cultural derivation is obvious: we live in societies that consider themselves to have a code of proper conduct. There are rules and expectations governing everything from personal hygiene to political and humanitarian conduct. It is not easy to go against any of these ‘norms’ and stay an accepted and respected member of that society.

In the human definition, to have a will implies that the entity wishing to use will is alive. Aliveness is a whole topic, in itself; but its origin as a concept begins with organic persistence. An entity is alive because it persists; and in a self-renewing form that gives it an identity. This is true from the single cell, right up to the most complex organisms, such as mankind. Something with an identity can belong to a family, and then its will is expected to conform to the expectations (and receive the praise) for actions supporting that group.

There are two things to carry forward here: the first is the mystery of the dual approach to our will: the having or not having that pudding. The second is the simple truth that any real form of mystical development requires the individual to step outside their ‘tribe’ and attempt to see things from a different (and hopefully truer) perspective. No harm is intended with the latter, but it can be painful to arrive at a set of values that are, from the new perspective, more ‘grown up’ that those inherited from the family or, more likely, the tribe.

The idea that we have conflicting wills is not simply that of organic hunger versus waistline and looking good. When we begin our mystical path, we begin to sense a more subtle world; one which has a very different set of (very gentle) expectations. These carry no prohibitions save that of belonging to something we have selected as an individual, rather than that received from a group.

Here, we can see a trap: a mystical training organisation that expects you to absorb its dogma without question is not behaving in a truly mystical way. Self-discipline is always a part of good things, but there is a fine line between dogma and a rigorous basic training. The western mind, with its industrialised psychology, is not very good at following group-disciplined paths.

A few years into our training, we may encounter the final consideration of will: that the universe is vividly alive, and that this vast life-force has a will of its own. If we have been successful in making our training our own and not just someone else’s dogma, there will have developed the first stages of a new level of consciousness in which the highest level of our will finds itself attuned to the needs of this vast intelligence. Then, the perception of will at all levels becomes a very different vision. We begin to see that the greatest freedom of will is to belong to something that works on a vast landscape of all-mind and that belonging to this is no loss of individuality at all.


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.