He didn’t use those exact words but that was the meaning of what he wrote. The words were suddenly there in the moment in my consciousness… and I knew they were right.
I had been reading a piece by Krishamurti – that fearless enemy of dogma, and proponent of the individual’s right to find their own spiritual path.
It does involve a certain amount of bravery – to contend with that feeling of ‘going against’ those of wisdom, those from whom we can learn, perhaps those of a tradition in which we were raised or trained. But that wasn’t Krishnamurti’s point; he didn’t deny anyone their well-found wisdom, rather, he urged each one of us to find our own… not second-hand knowledge. And to do that, the only way is to go out there and play with the universe; but play with a spirit of intent. And this is where it gets a little complex… until you see the whole of what he was saying…whereupon it gets very simple.
When you play with the universe, you do so in a way that stares in wonder at what you see. There’s a grown thing, covered in rust and tar and road rage; and it’s stuck onto our eyes, forming a film. This gritty, dirty, bitten lens imbues everything we try to see with its sticky waste. Staring in wonder at what you see is the cleaner that wipes the dirty grown thing from our eyes. For most, it happens in little stages, but there are some who ‘take the kingdom of heaven by storm’. They have a moment – a surging, brilliant moment that melts and washes what is keeping them from looking at the world, a universe that is alive and waiting to respond, personally, to their presence, their conversation, their love…
And when you find that relationship with what used to be ‘out there’ you will find that the primary desire of that sticky, dirty, bitten thing was always to change what was out there, because it wasn’t good enough – and having achieved that, to change it, again… and again….
The mind which knows only thought knows no rest.
‘Becoming nothing’ – what does it really mean? It is a mantra of power. It is a moment of revelation that alters our relationship to the whole of our lives. To reveal it via words would reduce the power of each of us being able to step through that mirror of self. It would rob the reader of the self-same experience. But this much can be said: that the word ‘nothing’ should not be the main focus until the rest is understood. What follows, then, is a journey of realisation that shifts who we are, and takes away its central power in our lives, leaving…
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.
Three weeks before the workshop, Stuart and I had headed north to walk the ground. Most of the sites we already knew, but there were a couple we had not visited in person and, if at all possible, we will check each site before taking others there. Small details like where to park, warning of muddy paths, unadvertised entrance charges and the proximity of coffee and conveniences can make the difference between a successful weekend and an uncomfortable disaster.
These reconnoitring trips serve a dual purpose though. They are not only practical, but they allow us to get a feel for the landscape too and will, fairly often, see us change an itinerary we thought was set in stone. This trip did just that, although it waited until the very last minute to tell us so.
We had finished for the weekend, seen all the places we needed to see, except one of the sites which had been going to play a central part in the workshop. We thought we had found a perfect place, sheltered from the wind and any foul weather, but every way we attempted to reach it seemed intent upon putting barriers in our path. Impassable mud and fallen riverbanks meant that we had to reconsider taking the party to Lacy’s Caves, a folly built by the man who had wanted to blow up the local stone circle. The story goes that the attempt ended in disaster and Lacy had a change of heart. The caves were later built for some unknown purpose, and although they may simply have been a folly, there has been suggestions of ritual activity on the site. Subsequent investigations made us feel we had not been meant to go there. Some types of ritual activity can leave behind an unpleasant psychic atmosphere… and these caves reminded us of the Hellfire caves infamously used by Sir Francis Dashwood.
So, by the end of our ‘recce’, we were a site down, but had replaced it with another small visit. We would have enough…but it felt as if something were missing as we began the long trek south and east. Before we left, though, we would try and find another place we had heard of that tied in loosely with our theme…
Our simultaneous exclamation would have left a casual observer wondering what on earth we were talking about. Driving down the road in search of the site, we had both seen a field bounded by walls and traffic…and both been hit by that phenomenon of recognition that we are calling ‘psychic shock’. Thinking back, there was little to actually see from within the low car. We should barely have registered the site… and yet it had hit us like a ton of bricks. Parking the car, we went to investigate… and within a very few minutes, had added two more sites to our list for the weekend as well as expanding the theme quite considerably. So, on the second day of the workshop, we gathered close to the site and walked our companions to King Arthur’s Round Table.
King Arthur’s Round Table is a late Neolithic henge, around four thousand years old. The circular ditches and embankments are what constitutes a henge, enclosing a central flat platform which was used by the community. These sites are feats of engineering and would have needed a substantial community to come together, united by leaders, belief and a shared vision of what was really important to the life of the community. While some speculate that these are purely practical affairs, designed to be used as marketplaces, arenas for entertainment and gatherings, it seems unlikely that such a space would be constructed, with so much human effort and then hallowed by burials, for a purely pragmatic use.
It is far more likely that these monuments, especially when they invariably form part of a much wider sacred landscape, were designed primarily for ceremonial use. Exactly what those rituals and ceremonies might be we cannot know for certain, but we can make a few deductions given the archaeological evidence, a knowledge of so-called ‘primitive’ civilisations worldwide and the sites’ alignments with astronomical events.
It is likely that the turning of the year…the solstices and equinoxes… were observed, measured and predicted at many of these ancient sites. Stellar, solar and lunar alignments are common, as are alignments with other sites in the area and there are many close to the Round Table.
There may be burials or inhumed cremations, placing these sites in the realms of the ancestors, where the elders of the clan might mediate between this world and the Otherworld. One companion suggested that this might be a place where the clan Elders were ‘made’… a ceremonial installing of one who has reached venerable status.
King Arthur’s Round Table has been much damaged in the modern era and is sliced through by modern roads. There used to be two entrances, marked by standing stones. Excavations revealed a central trench had once existed where burial or cremation ceremonies may have taken place. The banks would have been higher than they now stand, the ditches lower, and the whole part of the wider ritual landscape which includes the many sites around Shap. There was once another and much smaller henge, the Little Table, now almost entirely destroyed by roads and building, just a couple of hundred yards away.
The modern A6 that runs alongside the Table was once, in part, a Roman road. Many of these Roman roads, characterised, as we are taught in school, by the way they run straight across the landscape, may themselves be part of a much more ancient network of ‘old straight tracks’ that link many of the ancient sites. Kemp Howe stone circle now lays largely beneath another ‘straight track’ just ten miles away… mostly obliterated by the modern railway line. It is one of many circles and monuments in the remarkable Shap complex that we would have loved time to explore.
For now, though, we encouraged our companions to explore the Round Table, where legends say Arthur’s knights once jousted. The site is thousands of years older than the legends of Arthur and Merlin, but perhaps not older than the archetypes they may represent… the warrior-king whose fitness to rule depends upon his ability to bridge the worlds, and the mage-priest who was his bridge, his messenger and the gateway to the Otherworld.
We gathered for a meditation before leaving the site. We were impressed… only confirmed megalithomaniacs, we thought, would find this site interesting for more than a few minutes, but they had chosen to spend almost an hour there. What, we wondered, would they make of the next site… and what we wanted them to do there…
Penrith is a lovely old market town with narrow alleys and some wonderful old buildings. Sadly, we would not have time to do the place justice over the weekend, but at least we had a glimpse as we walked to our next site, the Parish Church of St Andrew.
The church itself is an interesting one. It appears to be a Georgian edifice, having been largely rebuilt and remodelled in 1720, by Nicholas Hawksmoor, inspired by St Andrew’s in Holborn, London. The elegant interior seems almost out of place in a northern market town, and lacks the homely feel of churches that have retained their character and appearance of antiquity. But the church has stood on this spot since 1133 and, taking a moment to ‘feel beyond form’, you can indeed feel its age and the centuries of prayer its walls have held.
The building is perfectly cross shaped, but, unusually, the ‘crossing’ is at the far end from the altar. You may enter from any of the three short ‘arms’ of the cross, with the nave and altar forming the longest axis. Coming in from the cold between the incongruous pillars that flank the west door, we found two medieval grave slabs and a carved font… one of three in the church of various ages. The font is used in the rite of baptism, which could be seen as one of the keys to the ‘way home’ for those choosing to follow the path of Christianity. This particular font is carved with symbols and we asked Steve to explain the one representing the nature of the Trinity.
On either side of the entrance, stairs lead up into the tower whose height was extended in the fifteenth century. The stairs are flanked by the weathered effigies of a husband and wife in Tudor dress.
On our visit a few weeks earlier, we had found the nave decked with banners bearing the names of the Celtic saints… it seems that the Ionian form of worship still has a place in the heart of the northern church. This time, though, it was discretely decked for Christmas, with each window embrasure holding a small tree, dedicated to various sectors of the community… including a poignantly bare tree for those who cannot celebrate this Christmas.
Leaving everyone to explore, we asked them to think about what the idea of ‘home’ might mean to the congregation here, knowing that the embrasure of the East Window behind the altar holds a heavenly mural, painted in 1844 by local artist Jacob Thompson.
There is plenty to see inside the body of the church, including some beautiful stained glass by such renowned makers as Burlison and Grylls, Clayton and Bell and Hardman and Powell. These are all ‘modern’ windows, with the newest being installed to celebrate the Millennium.
The oldest windows, though, consist of mere fragments of medieval glass, salvaged from the depredations of time, storm and war. Most of the fragments are unidentifiable… just whispers on the wind of time. A few can be recognised… the hand of St Peter holding the Keys of Heaven… the angels of Revelation swinging their censers… a crowned and sceptred king who may well be Richard III.
Set into another modern window embellished with the white roses of the House of York are two fragments once thought to represent Richard and his queen, but they are now thought to be his grandparents. It is curious that Richard, the last Plantagenet king, should feature so much in Penrith, when the theme of the weekend was ‘finding the way home’. Richard was killed in battle at Bosworth Field in 1485 and his body, tied naked to a horse, was taken to Leicester and, eventually, buried at Greyfriars Church. That church was lost after the Dissolution, and Richard’s remains were thought lost too…until a team from Leicester University managed to locate them in 2013. There followed a long, and ultimately unavailing campaign that sought to bring the last monarch of the House of York back ‘home’ to Yorkshire.
There were monuments too to those who had fallen in more recent battles, that their names and deeds might, at least, be carried home, even though their remains are scattered across the battlefields of the world. And a tree in a window for those who have no home at all.
So many concepts of ‘home’ in one small church, so many layers of history; a story two thousand years old had seen nine hundred years of worship in this place. Did the story of this site, though, go back even further? Many old churches are built on far more ancient sites, where once a wooden chapel may have stood unrecorded, chapels which may have been built upon pre-Christian sites. Although there seemed to be no definitive mention of an earlier church here, there were certainly clues in the churchyard… and as the light began to fade, we headed outside to have a look…
In spite of the rainbow that had greeted our arrival in Cumbria, the skies looked none too promising as we gathered beneath the shelter of the park gate in Penrith. The chill winds of December had brought showers, but at least, for the first afternoon, there would be a little cover. We could only hope that the following day would bring better weather. Not that rain would stop us. Since the downpour we had encountered in Scotland, we had accepted that rain was a natural benediction… a blessing and a cleansing beyond the gift of Man and, therefore, a perfect way to start a weekend of spiritual exploration.
We had chosen to begin at Penrith Castle, built between 1399 and 1470, probably on the site of a much earlier Roman encampment, as part of the defences against raiders from Scotland. Once thought to have been first built by William Strickland, who later become Bishop of Carlisle, it is now thought that the most likely builder was Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury. The castle’s main claim to fame, though, is that in 1471, it became a home for Richard, Duke of Gloucester who would go down in history as King Richard III of England, and it was this concept of ‘home’ that was to play such a large part in our weekend.
First off, we would need to think about what the concept of ‘home’ might mean. The obvious answer might be a brick-and mortar-structure, or the people within it. Could a castle be a home? Even in this dilapidated state, we found enough reminders of our own homes; kitchens, hearths and wide windows designed, not for defence, but for comfort.
Like everything that we take for granted, though, there are layers of meaning and, even such a simple idea as ‘home’ might mean a multitude of things, from the land upon which we walk to a more abstract concept of the source of being. We gathered, in part, to seek our own answers to such questions.
We had chosen the castle not just for its history or its almost alien homeliness, but for another reason too. It is one of those places that ‘jumps out’ at you when you see it for the first time. We were to visit several sites that had that surprising ‘wow’ factor that goes beyond physical appearance alone, a phenomenon we have variously referred to as a ‘psychic shock’, a ‘kick’, and, as one of our Companions put it, a ‘gut-punch’. Almost impossible to describe, it is equally impossible to mistake or ignore when it happens.
The cause? Who knows. Perhaps it has something to do with the placement of these sites on energy lines…and that was something else we would be looking at over the weekend. Telluric currents… earth energies… are real, not speculative energies. Leys and alignments may be argued, as may the purpose and positioning on these lines of so many ancient structures worldwide, but the existence of earth energies is well established. We do not fully understand their nature or potential use, any more than we understand our own ability to shape, direct, augment or sense their presence, but there is sufficient scientific evidence for their existence to leave many questions open to be answered.
Are we sensitive to unseen energies? Why not? Birds navigate across the globe when they migrate… other animals use methods of navigation and communication that seem alien and almost incomprehensible to a species that has long since divorced itself from its animal nature, deeming it too primitive to be explored. We are constantly reading and reacting to unseen signals, from the chemical signatures of moods sensed as smells, to changes in barometric pressure. That we might have a sensitivity to the earth upon which we walk seems feasible. ‘Feeling beyond form’ was another aspect of what we wanted to explore.
We allowed our companions time to explore the castle before gathering beneath the arch of the Red Tower. There are the remains of a White Tower too… and red and white are the colours of the Dragons of Albion, who, in legend, fought beneath Vortigern’s Tower until Merlin stilled their battle…and the dragons have been used to symbolise earth energies since time out of mind.
And then there was the Arthurian connection, for the castle at Penrith, according to some of the old tales, was one of his seats. His ‘round table’ was on our list of sites to visit too, and not far away, at Arthuret, the Merlin had killed his nephew during one of the Three Futile Battles of Britain, sending the mage mad with grief and guilt… In a curious ‘coincidence’, I had just been sent a photograph of the place to which he had supposedly withdrawn during his madness.
We gathered beneath the Red Tower to share and begin to explore the ideas everyone brought to the proverbial table, affirming our intent for the weekend with a simple meditation. It had, we felt, been a good beginning…and our next site was just a short walk away…
This is a mystical moment from this past weekend spent in Cumbria with The Silent Eye. The weekend was entitled The Full Circle : Finding your way home.
It was late morning on the second day of the course and we visited a ring of stones and trees. Physically there were eight of us present, (one of our number was unwell) After a few moments instead of the space of this large place holding only eight people I was aware that I caught up in a crowd of thousands of souls. I have a fear of crowds and I was afraid. One tree called to me and drew me to it.
I did confide this to one of my companions and she assured me, as the tree had done, that I was safe. There is more to tell.
It was cold, very cold on that Friday… just five days ago.
Across the road, people were trickling out of the railway station and along the busy main road through Penrith. Three hours from now it would fill with commuters both leaving and arriving in the Cumbrian town on the main west-coast line to Glasgow.
But not yet…
“Full Circle: Finding the Way Home’ was the name of the Silent Eye’s weekend workshop. The town of Penrith its base for the three days; and the bitter Cumbrian wind was seeing it start in true local style. The land of lakes and mountains was mounting a traditional Winter welcome…
Nine of us had Penrith Castle to ourselves and I was standing by the English Heritage notice-board quite stunned by what I was looking at. The word ‘Cycles” had just taken on a quite different meaning, and I was staring at an…