The Big Picture (4) : a hammer of sorts

As children, we lose ourselves in play and the toys or games that give the play structure: a skipping rope, chalk to mark out a court, balls to kick and control… perhaps, now, a computer to enter a virtual world. As adults we inhabit a different world, and the entanglements of our earlier years may pay us a return visit…

(1400 words; a ten minute read)

The big red ball was heavy. It was a toy for a large dog, and we didn’t have one, so I felt justified. When you held it, there was strangeness to its mass, as though the density came from ‘another place’… Alien.

The only pet we had was a mangy old tom that my mum had rescued from an icy death one winter. I knew nothing of the world of dogs – my repeated requests for a collie falling on dad’s deaf ears… Looking back, I don’t blame him. I know, now, how much exercise those lovely creatures need… mind you, I t’s worth it.

Conceiving of the big red project had taken a while. The Norse legends, made modern in the context of an excellent book set in the sci-fantasy genre, had captivated me. I took the large meat skewer and set into into the middle of the glowing embers of the garden fire I’d been nurturing for the past hour. My personal ‘furnace’….

Both my parents were out… of course.

I watched the skewer glow red, then, slipping my dad’s ‘fix the underneath of the car’ gloves on, I picked up its curly end and approached the sold red rubber ball locked fast in its makeshift wooden cradle on the top of mum’s rockery.

There was an appalling hiss as the red-hot metal melted its way through the first two inches of dense, composite rubber. I had the good sense to avoid the life-diminishing fumes, and continued pushing. It soon became apparent that creating a passage through the exact centre of the giant dog ball was going to take several return visits to the fire… but, eventually, it was done, and I held it up to the sun in triumph, aligning the dark tunnel like a telescope.

I’d already constructed the rest of the kit. The new rope, bought from the local hardware shop as a scrap piece, was too large to fit through the hole, but perfect for the strength I would need. To get around that I had wound and tied a piece of string to its end so I could thread the smaller line through then pull the thicker length along the red ball’s axle tunnel.

The wooden handle – to attach to the end of the two feet of rope, was a masterpiece. Carved by hand from a tree branch with my large penknife, then formed into a finer shape with a borrowed hemispherical file from dad’s toolbox. I had finished it off with hours of sanding, using a borrowed sheet of fine grade paper. When I closed my hand around it, each of my clenched fingers slid into place perfectly.

I threaded the end of the rope through the hole in the middle of the handle and tied it off with the newly-learned knot, pulling the rope back into the upper part of the shaped hole so that it would not stand proud and interfere with the grip… and the all-important swing.

I took the mighty red ball in one hand and let it drop to the length of the rope. The impact jolted the handle, but I was ready. I still remember the smile as I swung the great weight round and round in the air over my head, so fast it began to swish and hum. Unexpectedly, my scorched tunnel had given my red beast a voice!

Nearly there… now I had to test it.

Raymond Barlow lived in a much older part of Ainsworth than we did, yet was a neighbour ‘over the back’ so to speak. The stone cottages were on the main road, but set back, and with huge rear gardens. At the far end of one of these, Raymond’s grandfather had made two wooden outbuildings with a tiny alley between and around the back of each. In a far corner, a solid wooden post was set into the ground, looking like it had stood there for millennia. My best friend and I used it for stone-throwing practice.

“Go on then, get it out!” he said, exasperated, when I arrived through the hole in the hedge that marked the terminus of the excellent secret path we had forged between the two houses; very painfully, for it was full of trees and shrubs with thorns and others pointed spikes.

I straightened my back and reached into the largest pocket of my anorak, pulling out the handle and letting the coiled structure reveal itself.

It was the first time I had ever seen him speechless. “Bloody hell,” he whispered.

Imitating what I hoped was a strong but silent god, I took a step towards the post, leaving perhaps ten feet of throwing distance. There, I began to whirl the red ball of destruction around at great speed. In a practiced end-move, I snapped the handle down and towards its target, feeling the impossibly dense projectile whistle closely past my head on its descending curve.

It hit the post so hard, it snapped the wood clean in two… I tried not to show my utter surprise… as delight filled me from the toes upwards.

“Bloody hell!’ Raymond shouted louder. We gazed at the severed spar. I stood and saluted.

“Let those who advance on Asgard beware!”

There was a new god in town. His name was Thor and he had a hammer that would shake your world… That far-away, but close to the heart kingdom could sleep a little safer that night.

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It’s all completely true, yet here’s a story with a deeper meaning. This is the most powerful memory I can muster to illustrate the principle of identification. Identification is a process that affects and forms most of our lives. The young Stephen knew he wasn’t Thor, of course; but then no-one was. The difference between what he was doing then, and what he had done, before, was that his new hero (and many identifications are with heroes) was a figure with profound values.

The Norse Gods were good. They represented different aspects of us, though that was felt rather than understood at the time. In many ways, that fearful red ‘hammer’ was a ritual instrument, a thing forged and made, with the power of transformation gifted to of its worthy bearer…

The process of identification is one of the key areas where psychology and spirituality meet in entire agreement. What I identify with will change with time and circumstance, but it will be ‘me’.

The more carefree stages of childhood – if we are lucky enough to have a stable family background – will see identification fixed on positive things, even if they are fantasy. As we pass from being looked after to looking after ourselves, then others, the identifications can become either deeper in purpose or more negative – descending even to anxiety and illness. Much depends on that first decade of encounter with reality.

In each case, the identification is a process of becoming fixed upon something, and that something is a projected image from ourselves. Its source may be unconscious, but it’s at the heart of who we are…

Much of the work done by psychologists involves gaining the trust of those they treat so that they can take them on an internal journey where the ‘light’ of adult understanding can be thrown on the objects of fixation. The process is complete when the power is returned to the newly-balanced self, more intent on making its brighter face more powerful.

A modern mystery school’s focus is not treatment, but exploration. The mystery school will create such journeys in a landscape of the mind and emotions in a way that is safe, mentored and discussed. Group meetings will examine, often with roles being played, how the self is built from such images, and their component identifications.

Identification can be a bad or a good thing. It passes us from stage to stage of our self, as we mature from fantasy to (hopefully) reality. The young Thor becomes the student, who becomes the junior in an office, where he or she has to redefine his very existence before becoming proficient in his or her chosen adult role.

Only at the end of this, at a stage of maturity in our lives, do we come to question the entire process of identification. We notice that despite all the power being with us, the objects of our identification are difficult to change… What happens if we refuse to have an identity which is external to this now-powerful sense of self that I know is mine?

In the next part we will go deeper into where this quest leads, and to the help that may lie a short way along that path.

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, this is Part Four.

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, A journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being.

Identified Flying Object

Indentiy ConsoleAA

One of the key understandings in mystical thought is the idea of identity. Words morph their meaning over time, and identity is a classic case.

We might think of the police knowing the ‘identity’ of a person they want to speak to. We would find it in fashion magazines for both genders in the context of a garment to reinforce our identity in line with a progressive trend.

Both these show how the word identity means either a unique description or a close bond through some sort of ‘mapping’ of properties by adoption. The central theme is that of a chosen closeness. If I buy a new car and feel very good when I drive it, I’m identifying with an object that adds to my identity and makes me feel good.

The car analogy is a good one – and a very good way of studying one of the 21st century’s fault lines – in the sense that, if ten miles down the road, someone deliberately races past our new sports car, we may well feel aggrieved that we have been deliberately ‘slighted’ and that our inflated identity, centred on the car, has been wounded.

At such times, if we could step back and imagine we were flying above our shiny new car and watching the whole drama unfold, we might be a little ashamed by how we chased after the errant teenager and nearly caused a crash by proving that our new vehicle was superior.

It’s easy to insert the word ‘ego’, here. We all know the difference between driving our shiny new car and the theoretical view from above it. In the latter we are detached because we can see a bigger picture. In the former we are somehow compressed into a smaller space where the red mist of anger is a frequent consequence.

Most drivers have had that ‘red mist’ moment; particularly men, with their overdoses of testosterone. Young male drivers have an horrific accident rate precisely because, after yearning to drive for years, they suddenly get wheels and have to prove to the world that they have always been a better driver than anyone else… or, at least, their mates.

When recalling full story of accidents of this nature, the accused often say they did not know what came over them; the red mist descended and they went to war. Going to war is a good link to what’s underneath of all this, and we go to war for our country – because it’s a primary part of our identity.

The path to self-knowledge begins with such constructs. When I see that my stupid reaction to the teenager overtaking me was a reduction in consciousness, despite the elation beforehand, I might begin to investigate how such identification is at the root of many of the negative things I do, and the cause of much of the energy loss that I might suffer on a daily basis.

This type of identification is inherited from lower levels of our evolution – but not too far back. In anything but an age of true plenty, the possession of objects of visible status was a sign of rank and personal worth. You were important if you had them. Modern advertising works very hard to keep this alive in our societies, and the cult of celebrity is an even worse example of how someone here today and gone tomorrow can be all but worshipped; as can everything they are seen to drive and wear…

When we have to add objects to our selves for that good feeling, we are showing that the self does not have enough worth. We want the object because it will signal to the world that ‘I’ have grown along some axis of importance. In this way we see that much of what we are taught, by education, by family and by employment, is based upon an inherited sense of worth that is not related to the unique and precious self with which we came into the world and this life. That self is taught that it can feel ‘bigger’ if it acquires ‘classy’ things. But such objects do not actually make us feel a lot better – In fact the gain is often way out of proportion to their true cost.

There is a paradox at work here, and the shock generated when this is seen can be, and should be, life-changing…

Here’s the first part of the shock: the things we use to define ourselves need not be physical objects at all. We can be attached to our likes and dislikes, our hatred, our politics, our favourite food… or even our suffering. Identification, seen from the most powerful height above that speeding car, is a label saying ‘this is me’. The flow of life’s events, over which we have little or no control constantly brings us up a filmstrip of images, smells, tastes and other sensations. This filmstrip was originally seen by us the infant as a passing show. We did not attach ourselves to its display until we became more conscious of the link between ‘me’ and that filmstrip. But, and here’s the key, we had to be taught that – by others whose lives were already bound up with the film. Once tied in this way, any change to what is being ‘viewed’ is capable of taking us into sadness, anger, hatred or a dozen other negative states.

The two perspectives are radically different: one is that life is happening; the other that life is happening to us.

To break free of this, whilst still retaining the hard-won discrimination of adulthood, is the work of mystical development, under whatever banner. To break the link with the filmstrip’s negative power we need to open up a space within ourselves and move into it, in the sense that, from then on, we watch both the filmstrip and our own reaction to it – without allowing identification to take place. We watch the flashy car, we register it as a quality thing, but we do not allow that habitual effect of ‘yes, that’s me’ or ‘I would be a better me if I had it’. We do this because we know the real value of an awakened Self.

To do this is to be at odds with the world, to a certain extent, though that can be viewed with humour, too.  But in a time when the world appears to be on the edge of insanity, might not being at a slight angle to it be the saner option?


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, Silent Eye School of Consciousness.