Curried garlic

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I recoiled as I opened the door. There had, quite apparently, been garlic the night before. Lots of garlic. Evidently in curry. And there can be few things worse than second-hand garlic, except, perhaps, walking, all unsuspecting, into a small, hermetically sealed room where the stuff has been exuded from every pore overnight. My tormentor laughed at the groans that escaped me, in spite of my attempts to hold my breath, as I beat a hasty retreat after diving for the window and throwing it wide open. I wasn’t going back till the miasma had cleared.

Those who say that garlic is good for you have evidently never encountered the phenomenon of the exudation of the stuff overnight. It may indeed have many health benefits, including as an antibacterial. Certainly nothing, even as virulent as a virus, could have survived in that room.

He, of course, had enjoyed the meal and was so habituated to the gradual garlic infestation of his environs that he was unaware of it. I had detected vague precursors to the pollution of his airspace as soon as I had opened the front door to let myself in, of course; but the sheer scale and venomous stench of the stuff was overpowering. Especially so early in the morning. Though I was fairly glad I’d only gulped down a coffee before the taxi arrived to take me to his home. Breakfast and I would otherwise have undoubtedly parted company.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like garlic. Properly used as a condiment it is rather like salt…barely noticeable; enhancing, rather than adding, flavour in a dish. As an ingredient, it adds a wonderful freshness and distinctive character. As a curried-morning-after-the-night-before, it is, however, vile.

The stench, for I cannot call it by a lesser name, holds memories for me. Vague wafts of the Parisian Metro at rush hour, coupled with its own distinctive smell of sulphur, as if the underground train runs through the bowels of Hell instead of beneath the steps of heaven. The doctor whose face was, for hours, inches from mine as he stitched it back together again. The desperation of mint and fresh parsley when a first date came immediately after a garlic and green bean salad… I have memories of garlic. And those that sprang to mind, elicited from the depths, were, it has to be said, none of them good.

My tormentor, however, having thoroughly enjoyed the meal the night before, was blithely unconscious of the effects of his allium indulgence. Until those effects were made abundantly apparent by my reactions to the olfactory assault. His hilarity was not, however, consummate with own state of mind and body by this point, as said body went into flight mode and headed for the open door…

A little garlic, I can cope with. It is easy to simply ignore and you become so accustomed to it, in small quantities, that you soon barely notice its presence. It becomes part of the atmosphere. It is easy too, to fail to notice another person’s memorial garlic, when you have shared the platter with them, or eaten a similar one of your own creation. One’s own level of exudation, however, remains often undetected.

I could, however, see an analogy in that as I breathed the fresh, clean air on his doorstep; wondering how often we can all create situations whose chain-reactions ripple through the lives of those around us, while we ourselves remain unconscious, like the toxic exhalation of curried garlic previously enjoyed… until something snaps, bends or breaks… and metaphorical fresh air is not always so easy to find. We do what we do, without malice, without any intention of causing potential harm or indeed discomfort to others, yet we cannot always foresee the effects of our behaviour until it becomes a cause of regret.

Rather like eating too much curried garlic.

Awkward Questions

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I was asked a question the other day with which I am intimately acquainted but for which I had no answer. “What does it mean to lead a spiritual life?” It is not strictly true to say I have no answer. I have my own answers, but those I recognise to be subjective, not definitive. It is, I think, one of those questions to which there are as many answers as there are querents and all will hold at least part of the truth.

To begin with it begs the question of what we mean by ‘spirituality’ itself. In this day and age it is often a term held to be quite distinct from religious belief and many will say they are ‘spiritual, not religious’, yet I am not so sure you can really make that distinction. Religion is generally defined as a formalised and organised set of beliefs, where spirituality is usually seen as a personal relationship with the non-physical life. Yet a religious belief that seeks a personal relationship with God, whatever Name is used, surely, by that definition, is spiritual? For me the choice of path matters little, it is how we choose to walk it that makes the difference between whether we embrace a particular path or merely pay lip-service to an outer form; a spiritual life should be a personal journey towards understanding regardless of the route taken.

For some religion provides the structure and the guide that they need. For others that very structure is anathema. Many forget that the underlying message behind most paths that is not so dissimilar when stripped of doctrine and tradition. They can all be paths to the Light. That is up to the traveller.

If I were to seek to express an answer to that original question and say what I personally mean by living a spiritual life, I would have to say that it is to live without blinkers.

I would have to consider the blindness that can make us the last to see our faults and flaws, the last to see our personal, inner barriers and the excuses we make for ourselves and say that the spiritual life leaves us naked with nowhere to hide. It demands that we look at ourselves, both in our weakness and in our strength, recognising the problems and screwed-up bits equally with the gifts, glories and beauty we all possess; as a rule we are not very good at that, tending to see only one side or the other.

To live a spiritual life is to live, fully… and to live in the world, alive to the world, in the moment we are given; and through knowledge and experience to seek the understanding that can be born of them.

For me, it does not mean being a saint or becoming perfect. It is about living in awareness and harmony, both within ourselves and within the world. It means recognising the perfection that already exists within each of us… within each other… and within which we all exist. It means aligning ourselves, little by little with that greater perfection and with who we are in the world. It asks of us that we live in compassion and love, obeying that golden rule that transcends all the religious and spiritual barriers we have created; to treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated, and to do so in the knowledge of our ultimate kinship as part of a single stream of life.

The pan-dimensional mouse

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I have spent a lot of time lately working with two-dimensional representations of multidimensional states. No, I don’t mean anything arcane and mystical… or something that belongs in the realm of science fiction either. I’ve been working with pictures.

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We tend to think of dimensions in spatial terms of height, length and depth. That is how we are first taught about the whole affair in school and why would we question it? We simply accept that we live in an apparently three-dimensional universe, and that an image, for instance, is only a two dimensional representation of a wider reality… a symbol, if you like. It has become widely accepted that ‘time’ makes a fourth dimension… the difference between how things were and how they are. Time travel has become such a popular idea through literature and entertainment that none of us boggle at the possibility… even while we accept it may well be impossible in practical terms. Time, after all, although an abstract idea, is something we can observe in action. Or perhaps have simply learned to accept.

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The Quantum branch of scientific thought throws other dimensions into the mix… it gets more abstract the deeper you go, but even here it can be simplified into the scales we understand through our own experience in many ways. The next two dimensions take into account the idea of the future… again, something that simply does not exist that we take on trust will occur.

242249According to the theory, an infinite number of futures may exist and the determining factor is the act of choice. For example, there may be a perfect three-dimensional cream cake in front of me, placed at this moment in time right within my reach. The future now depends from the point of choice… do I choose to eat it or not? Further futures may run off in all directions from this moment… it may be the tipping point for my waistline or cholesterol levels, it may be the only thing I eat today and so be fuel rather than fancy… or I could feed it to the dog… give it away or drop it on the carpet… you get the idea. My choice determines the future path of the universe, even on this infinitesimal scale.

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Except that the scientists then go on to posit multiple possible universes too, each with their own branching futures from points in time. Last time I looked at the research and theories we were up to a ten-dimensional reality and it seems that science is finally catching up with ancient esoteric thought that captures just such concepts in symbolic imagery. You have only to study some of the pictorial symbols to understand how those multiple dimensions can be expressed in two.

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I was wondering about even further dimensions we can add to the list… okay, perhaps, they are not strictly scientific examples of dimensionality. They may, however, be sub-headings of others, but they are just as abstract, invisible and yet observable. They are closer to home too. Maybe they correlate to the different ‘worlds’ of esoteric thought… modes of expression or levels of function. However you look at them, they are certainly contributing an added dimension to how we observe past, present and future. Not only that, they are determining factors in how the microcosmic universe that is ourselves moves through the fourth dimension of time and, more pertinently, they shape our future as effectively as the act of choice.

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I, for example, have been working with photographs the past few days. Opening each image there is immediately the dimension of memory. With it comes the attendant dimension of emotion… the emotions associated with that captured moment and also with the people and events that cluster around it in memory too. One image of a hillside, for example, recalls both the event, my companions and the warmth of the emotions attached to all of those. I see the image from several perspectives,  through the lens of a present now past… yet which is no longer past because it is once more present; the emotions and thoughts that were then and which are once again now. Yet I also see them from the perspective of now and the passage of time may have altered those emotions, so that the past itself takes on a different hue. This is the dimension of perception… personal perspective.

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Those are personal dimensions we bring to every single second of our lives and they are different for each of us. That same image will, to another observer who participated in that same moment, bring completely different memories, associations, perspectives and emotions. To one who was not present, the view will be different again. The experience and its interpretation… and therefore the effect upon the future… is unique for every one of us. Every time.

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There has been a lot of research done on the nature of perception and memory and their critical link to attention, which seems to be yet another dimension. Basically, it appears that our brain takes shortcuts and the physical world we perceive and believe we interpret is based upon a mixture of actual sensory input, such as an image for example, and our own preconceived beliefs built up over a lifetime. The brain has to both perceive and believe… and if the two don’t match up we either change our beliefs to fit the reality we perceive… or we change reality to fit our beliefs… and behave accordingly. We then simply perceive only that which we allow ourselves to perceive. The trouble with that is the attention we give to the conclusion of that alchemy; once a belief is formed in accordance with our perception it sticks and there is little we can do about it. And whatever our perception of now… even if we have drawn incorrect conclusions… our point of choice starts here and defines our future.

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Considering this, I was reminded of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe where “Mice are merely the protrusion into our dimension of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings who, unbeknownst to the human race, are the most intelligent species on the planet Earth. They spend a lot of their time in laboratories running complex experiments on humans.” Just how many dimensions do we live in at once? How many other layers, less scientifically provable are there to our existence? And it begs the question… are we the man or the mouse in the equation of own pan-dimensional reality?

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These incredible examples of optical illusion are the work of Ukranian artist Oleg Shuplyak.

A contract with wonder

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The glamorous sky seems an incongruous backdrop for mundane chimneypots and washing lines. Veiled by the pallid grey of low cloud or with a symphony of shades, the sun rises over the fields, painting the morning with impossible colour, every single day. Sometimes I can watch…sometimes I am occupied elsewhere… sometimes there is nothing to see beyond a gradual lightening of the sky, yet every morning, the same miracle unfolds, whether I can see it or not.

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The young rabbit really doesn’t seem to mind our presence, but carries on with the serious business of lunch as we watch. There is no hurry in its movements, no panic…no fear. As if it knows we mean no harm, are no threat, but are simply delighting in the privilege of a shared moment. Rabbits are always around… a common enough resident of the countryside, though they usually scatter at the approach of man.

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It is a perfect spring day. From inside the five hundred year old pub, sheltered from the underlying chill, it looks like midsummer. People sit on the tiny village green enjoying the sun. It is Midsomer though, not midsummer… the Lions at Bledlow, once two adjoining pubs, the Red Lion and the Blue Lion, is well known to fans of Midsomer Murders as the fictional  ‘Queen’s Arms’, while the village church has played the part of ‘Badger’s Drift church’ in the series. I have frequently seen the crews filming around here; the area is beautiful and full of historic hamlets, perfect for creating a magical illusion for the small screen.

We know most of the hamlets… know their churches and village greens, their old crosses and the folklore that meanders through their hedgerows like wild honeysuckle. We have spent a lot of time exploring the region and learning about it, our sense of wonder open wide for the gifts we have found by the wayside. From the unfurling of spring petals to the continuous unfolding of human history that is written in the stones of follies, castles and churches or the burial mounds of the ancients that mark the horizon, we are surrounded by an everyday magic that delights.

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The world is a place of wonder to a child, seen up close and through eyes alight with the joy of discovery. They are aware of every leaf and feather…every experience is new and full of potential. As adults, we tend to lose that capacity for wonder for the most part. The cares that hang heavy on our responsible shoulders can drag our eyes away from the wider vista of possibility to focus so closely on the task in hand that the magic of the world around us escapes our attention.

It doesn’t take much, though, to reanimate the heart of wonder. Just a simple walk in the woods and fields, a moment lying on the grass watching the play of light on a beetle’s wing the iridescence of a starling’s plumage…  or to stand on a hilltop and see the counterpane of fields far below. Getting out into the natural world seems to recharge our ability to see, feel and marvel at the beauties and little miracles around us, but the charge is easily depleted again when we return to the everyday world of work and need. It doesn’t take much, though, to renew the contract with wonder that we are given as children and bring that feeling home with us, keeping the eyes awake to the everyday magic of the world in which we live.

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Quest for a Quest: The Initiate’s Story

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

17-19 April 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Taking note…

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I had caught a glimpse as I drove past the lay-by and nipped round the back of the surgery…there are benefits to carrying a camera in your handbag, even if it does weigh you down a bit sometimes. The buzzard was still sitting there, unconcerned by the passing traffic. I was glad I had noticed and was feeling quite pleased with myself when I walked into the surgery.

A young mother looking harassed, was filling out forms in the waiting room.  On one side of her, there was a quiet lad about twelve, obviously not well. On the other, a young gentleman of perhaps three. Given the age difference there was every possibility of a third child, of an age somewhere between the two but currently at school. Mum had reason to look tired.

Three year old was swinging his legs and looking round, smiling at everyone in sight. I caught his eye and smiled back, sharing that direct complicity that you only get, as a rule, from the very young. Particularly when they are intent on mischief.

His eyes wandered some more then lighted on his Mum. His face lit up with a big, beaming smile.

“Love you, Mum!” he said at the top of his little voice, leaning in for a cuddle. Mum wafted him away as if he was an irritating insect, not even looking up from her task. Puzzlement and disappointment chased across the little face. Crestfallen he shuffled back in the chair and seemed to curl in on himself.

It didn’t last long. Small boys are resilient creatures and within seconds he was happily tormenting his brother. The whole incident took less than a minute before they were called into the surgery.

I couldn’t help thinking about that little incident. I wasn’t casting blame … I don’t know the family and you can never read whole story at a glance. I wondered whether if the mother even realised what she had just done, and what effect it could have on her son. She was so focussed on the sheaf of papers that had to be filled in at every visit these days that I doubt very much if she had even noticed.

More to the point, how often do I do that? Or you? Simply not notice.

It made me wonder. I would hate to feel I have dismissed or rejected expressions of affection through inattention or preoccupation, especially from children. I would hate to feel I have missed the confidences of a friend… or those small, tentative ‘feelers’ that are dropped into a conversation in the hope we will notice and give them space to speak what burdens their heart.

It goes without saying that I have. How many times? How would I know? If I was not paying attention then the moment would be gone and I would never know what I missed. We are the last to see these flaws in ourselves, simply because the attention is focussed inwards.

We are all aware of those times when our attention meanders off at a tangent when someone is speaking. We have probably all read a book and found our thoughts wandering so that we have had to go back and start a page again. It isn’t that we haven’t read the words or heard them… we simply didn’t take it in. We weren’t ‘with it’, weren’t paying attention… though attention should not be regarded as a price to be ‘paid’, but rather as a gift of love.

Because, when you think about it, attention is a gift. The fact that we are able to lift our eyes to see the world around us, to be able to drink in beauty, share laughter, see a ladybird in the grass or a star in the sky… The traditional five physical senses allow us each to perceive in our own way, but none of them give us anything unless we give them our attention.

We can hear the warmth in a voice, read the hidden message in a mundane phrase… if we listen. We can gulp down hot coffee or savour its taste. Our skin touches objects every day, all day… yet how often do we take the time to notice the silken caress of water, the gentleness of the breeze or the life in the hand that touches ours?

There is that old saying, you have to give in order to receive. By giving attention to the world around us, we know its beauty… by being open to a voice we are allowed into the heart of a friend. By hearing a child say ‘Love you,’ we touch a moment of tenderness and joy. And in giving our attention to the moment, we give something else too, showing others that they matter to us.

We are human, we make mistakes… get distracted… frazzled… We will not always pick up the signals, nor truly hear every word. But we can try. Attention is something that grows the more we use it and so is the given gift that comes with it.

Being present

It was weird. I had set up the blog for while I was away with every post I would usually publish. During my absence, I still managed to visit the blogs I would usually read and answered all the comments. In fact, there was absolutely nothing to show I was not at home and at my desk. Even so, the number of page views halved. That happens every so often for no apparent reason and it is not worth even thinking about. This time, though, the stats had been that way for exactly the duration of my absence. I can understand the change when it is obvious that I am away, when posts and responses might be erratic, but on this occasion, there was nothing at all to even hint that I might not be at home.

“So, in effect,” said my friend as I pondered the enigma, “the only thing that is different is your presence.” He was right and that was an interesting idea. There was no observable alteration in my usual routine, but somehow, my lack of presence was communicating itself.

I suppose it is the same sort of thing as when you are speaking to someone who makes all the right noises at the right moments, but who is not really listening. They may be genuinely preoccupied with something else, or simply not interested, but what they are not is present… and you can feel it.

That you can feel it is easy enough to explain in terms of those infinitesimal changes in tone and body language that we learn to read from the earliest age. But you can generally feel it just as clearly even without the visual and auditory cues. Silence and stillness can communicate presence just as powerfully as they can show disinterest… so I got to thinking about the whole idea of being present.

 

We talk a lot about ‘living in the present’…as if we could ever live anywhere else. We might focus on the past or future, but we can only be in the present. Are we always present though? The answer, for most of us, is ‘probably not’. We spend a lot of our time living on autopilot… a useful knack for routine actions, but not the most effective way to drink the essence of every moment. Our attention, instead of being open wide, is either tight-beamed onto one focus or so diffuse that we take in no more than a general impression. Either way, we can miss not only the details but the heart of the moment too.

Many of us are not even present to our own professed beliefs. We say the words, without paying them a great deal of attention, but fail to put into practice what we truly believe we believe. Most of us are horrified by examples of injustice, prejudice and cruelty… and most of us will be guilty of them at some point in our lives. Teachings of love and kindness are ignored in the pursuit of success, ambition can overrule conscience and ego blinds us to our own reflection.

One of the things we do in the Silent Eye course is to share techniques to combat this lack of presence, and even the simplest exercises can dramatically increase our sense of ‘being here’ and our awareness of the world around and within us. It is surprising how small the changes need to be to open ourselves to being aware of our own presence in the moment. I wonder if it was through some trace of far memory or prescience that we learned to call a ‘present’ a ‘gift’…

For there is another kind of Presence too, that is only felt as we learn to be present. Call it what you will, define it as you must… it is heard in that still, small voice within, that echoes across eons and touches heart, mind and soul, opening the doors of perception to a wider experience of life.

What do you see..?

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An email came in from one of the Silent Eye’s Companions. He was wondering about our perception of the world around us, saying that we walk through our days not really looking, because we are so used to our environments that we don’t give our attention to the details. Same workplace, office, staircase, or traffic every day. It would, he suggested, be interesting to develop goggles that only record what we truly see.

He went on to speculate that the playback of that movie would be for the most part a blank screen with perhaps a few people popping in and out of existence, or a tv show we have watched, maybe a few personal interactions. That, he thought, would be it. The rest would be blank because we don’t really see it, we expect it to be as usual and so we don’t truly register or process what we look at. Or perhaps we think we see only what we expect to see. It would be an interesting experiment.

To be fair, we have things on our mind, or we are busy, or stressed… or any number of other excellent reasons for being so self-contained that we fail to notice details. But most of the time, if we are honest, it is that we simply do just that… fail to notice. And we don’t even notice we are doing it till someone or something brings it to our attention. It might be a walk with a friend new to the area when they spot an interesting feature that we have walked past for years without it ever registering. Or it may be the loose flagstone we have walked over every day… until the day we stub our toe and pain brings it to our consciousness.

We are encouraged as children to play memory games. We think we are training memory, but really what we are doing is training attention… the ability to register and process what we see. We are learning to look. Now, it may be fun to use the tray full of jewels, but there are enough wonders all around us every day and it is easy to open our eyes and begin to notice them. It might be something as simple as a fly on a leaf, a fish blowing bubbles or the reflection of a deep blue sky on the ripples of a pond.

It is amazing just how much we miss. Try it and see… close your eyes and picture your room right now. Then open your eyes and look… really look. You’ll remember the main things, but details like the cobweb in the corner, the chip in the paintwork or the iridescent beetle crawling on the pot plant you will probably have overlooked.

Attention is not just about sight… the other senses come into play too. Textures, scents, sounds and taste are all part of the picture we build of our worlds. And not just the physical senses form our attention. Part of the process of perception is what we do with that information, and when we start to really look at what is around us, we see much more of the people in our lives. By giving them our full attention, we begin to understand them better, picking up on the minute changes in face or stance that allow us to understand their moods, concerns and fears. It allows us to be there for them when they need us, or to share their laughter and tears with a depth we might have missed.

Whatever you practice becomes stronger. The longer we walk around with our attention switched to ‘off’, the less we notice and the more we miss. As soon as we begin to look around and ‘smell the roses’, the world opens up in all sorts of hitherto unnoticed detail. It is by paying attention that we find ourselves caught up in the adventure of living… and I, for one, would prefer to think that if ever those goggles were invented, I would be able to have a full screen, rather than a blank one when I sit down to watch the movie of my days.

A little care…

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The narrow village street is busy with rush hour traffic. The lorry coming towards me on the other side of the road is respecting the speed limit, the impatient driver behind him is not. Without warning, the car pulls out onto my side of the road, overtaking the lorry and coming straight at me. In that scintilla of clarity that happens at these moments, I realise there was nowhere for me to go. I could turn into the path of the lorry…but that is hardly a good choice. I could wrench the wheel to the left and plough into the schoolchildren waiting at the bus stop… and that is no choice at all. Or grit my teeth, hold the wheel, and slam the brakes on, hoping the cars behind me are going slow enough to stop.

I hit the brakes… so does the lorry… and the impatient driver hits the accelerator, raising one obnoxious finger to the world, squeezes through the gap with millimetres to spare, racing off to whatever destination is more important to him than the lives of others.

I am not a timid driver and I don’t scare easily… but this brief incident left me shaking all the way to work. It had been close.

Sadly, it is the kind of scenario that happens every day on our increasingly busy roads. This time, tragedy was averted by the quick reactions of several drivers. It is not always so, and the toll of death and destruction on the roads rises daily. Accidents happen often enough, both on and off the roads, but many are not accidents at all, they are simply the result of heedless or selfish behaviour and, when lives are lost to such causes, it is tantamount to murder.

How would the lorry driver have fared emotionally, as well as legally, had I turned my car beneath his wheels? How would I have lived with my actions had I instinctively turned away and hit the children? How would either outcome have affected others… witnesses, those who care about us, the parents of the children? How many lives would have been injured, broken or lost? In both cases, the road would have been clear for our impatient motorist to speed away and possibly remain unaware of what he had done.

I could not help reflecting on the fragility of life. This gift that we are privileged to share can be torn away at any moment, by any number of unforeseen circumstances and there will be nothing left of us but a memory. Our emotional lives are just as fragile and can be broken by just such a lack of care as was shown by the reckless driver. We may be the guilty party, the one who causes harm… sometimes through a genuine misunderstanding or error, sometimes through a lack of empathy or care…  yet because we move forward with our own lives, we may not see the devastation we leave behind.

Our society is increasing the distance between us in many ways, even while it brings us closer in others. It is easier than ever before to keep in touch and to watch events unfolding across the globe, yet it is probably easier than ever before to remain isolated, touching the world only through the medium of keyboard and screen. It is our responsibility to ensure that we do not lose our ability to care… that, although we are undoubtedly the central point of our own consciousness, we do not learn to see ourselves as the sun in a universe of lesser satellites.

Consideration, empathy and kindness are social skills, and without social interaction, we can forget how central they are to allowing society to function. We see the effects of isolation every day and how quickly and insidiously these essential skills can be forgotten. Awareness and care for others can be unconsciously replaced with a false, but inalienable sense of self as the central point for all things. When one person’s journey…in their own eyes… becomes worth more than that of any other, tragedy will not be far behind.

It costs nothing except a moment’s thought and feeling to consider the impact of our actions. We will not always get it right, regardless of how well-intentioned we may be, but a little care goes a long way towards making sure that we do not go too far wrong. We cannot always avoid disaster, but if we can take responsibility for our own actions and open ourselves to the needs of others, we may not only be helping them, but saving ourselves untold heartache too.

A practical course…

“…am I missing something?” The frantic voice on the phone made it quite clear that he really hoped he was…
“There’s a grey ring with symbols on it. Turn it to the one with parallel lines.”
“Okay, done that.”
“Then, above where the ‘U’ shaped bit of red plastic is, there is a red slider. Push it to the right.”
“Whew… That’s got it. Thank you!” He hung up to deal with the piscine emergency and, while I threw on some clothes to go and join him, it occurred to me that this was a really useful example of one of the exercises we use in the Silent Eye to build awareness.

The gadget in question is nothing interesting, nor is it one I own, but it isn’t something I have to think about either; operating a hosepipe is just one of those things you do on autopilot. I cannot recall ever having particularly examined the fancy nozzle-that-does-everything-except-feed-the-cat, but I was, thankfully, able to conjure its image in sufficient detail to be of use.

I am lucky in this respect; my imagination and memory work with visuals and, while I may be utterly useless at remembering anything to do with numbers these days, what I have seen I can usually picture with clarity. Part of that is just down to how my mind functions; where some people remember the spoken word accurately and others have a gift for recalling numbers, I tend to remember what I have seen. Except numbers. But part of it too is down to training.

I have been working with the Mysteries for nearly half a century. Early in my studies, it became evident that there were two basic choices open to anyone seriously following that path… study for knowledge or study for application, and it seemed to me that the two needed to work in tandem.

While you cannot put into practice what you do not know, and therefore knowledge is necessary, the acquisition of knowledge alone serves no purpose unless it is used, except to satisfy the hunger of the inquiring mind and foster understanding. But as real understanding comes only with experience… so the most practical course would be to learn all you can, extrapolate the practical uses and apply them. And, as the lessons learned studying the Mysteries must be applied to life, it is through your own life that you learn.

Right from the very beginning of my own studies,there were exercises in awareness, even though, ironically, I did not realise it at the time. From simply visualising your room as you drift into sleep, to noting new details in familiar places, or playing memory games with yourself… they were simple enough exercises. It is difficult to gauge the cumulative effect, especially if your mind works best in pictures, until something makes you take note.

The hosepipe was an insignificant example, but the clarity with which it was brought to mind was striking. Places I have visited once, maybe thirty years ago, are still very clear. I drive thousands of miles on obscure roads and seldom look at a map… and if that kind of thing is a practical result of my studies, then I am happy to have spent so much time on ‘awareness’ exercises.

When the Silent Eye was founded, we wanted to create a distance learning course that was, above all, of practical use to the seeker, so it is no surprise that amongst the earliest exercises, we included those designed to stretch the unused mental muscles of simply noticing. They seem such simple exercises that most students approach them lightly…and yet, without exception, those same students find them a revelation, either through how many physical details they have been overlooking or how what they discover connects with other areas of their own experience. Almost all the journals about these exercises contain one common phrase… “I never noticed that before.”

Deliberately taking notice of something is only one step on the journey to awareness though. It goes much deeper than that, or there might seem little point in chasing this elusive state. It extends beyond the obvious, through an awareness of oneself, to that awareness of others that we call empathy. It opens you to emotion, and you may laugh and weep more readily, especially at the touch of beauty. It opens you to the natural world, so that its details are not missed and its creatures are seen in all their amazing complexity. Beyond that, too, until all you know of creation joins in a single, magnificent, delicate web of life. It opens you to life.