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.

‘Updating your system…’

“Would you like to restart your PC now?” I growled at the pop-up on the screen. No, I would not… I was busy. I clicked a box that consigned the message to Hades, while asking it to remind me later. For three days, it did just that, each time picking the most inconvenient moment it could manage, and each time being banished to the Nether Regions with the click of a mouse.

The fourth time it reminded me, I knew I was going to have to give in… but not right then. I was deep in research, in thrall to words… and there was no way I was going to stop while a whole batch of probably unnecessary updates installed themselves, like it or not. I dismissed the thing and carried on writing until that queasy feeling made me glance at the clock. One a.m… Given that I rise pretty early and had to be at work by eight, I thought I should go to bed. Cleverly, or so I thought, I clicked on the option that said ‘update and shut down. The PC could install its nonsense while I slept.  Perfect.

So engrossed was I by the work I had been doing the night before, that I woke even earlier than usual next morning, bright-eyed and raring to get back to the screen. I could see to the dog and still have a couple of hours to catch up with the blogosphere and write some more. I flicked on the PC then wandered through to the kitchen to make coffee and give the dog her morning cuddles and breakfast.

It was on my return that I realised the error in my perfect plans. Had I not been so sleepy, I might have realised sooner and asked the thing to ‘update and restart’ while I slept. Instead, I was faced with that dire blue screen and the cheerful message that ‘updates are 1% installed!’ This was going to take a while…

So much for my plans.

My initial reaction was one of annoyance. I have my habits on a morning and was not happy about being forced to change my plans. I could have stayed in bed! Except, I was wide awake anyway. I could use the laptop… but the files I needed were on the PC. Annoyance gave way to frustration…neither reaction a productive use of my time.  I cuddled up with the dog, which is never a waste of time, and reviewed the situation.

While it is true that I work best early in the morning and late at night, those are not my only options. The weather was looking less than promising. How about, instead of writing, I did all the housework, such as it is, and took longer-than-usual walk with the dog instead? My furry friend agreed that this was a good plan…and one to be implemented without delay.

It was a ‘seaside morning’… one of those sunny days where clouds scud across the sky, borne by a fresh breeze that remind me of childhood holidays by the sea. The fields, in spite of the dog’s best efforts to scare the farmer away, were freshly mown. Hints of perfume rose from every garden and the fields were golden and sparkling with dew. We watched the birds go about their morning busy-ness, startled a portly and offended pheasant and watched the rabbits forage for breakfast. For an hour, we hadn’t a care in the world… which is not a bad way to start any day.

When I eventually came home from work, it would be to the knowledge that ll my time was my own, to do with as I chose… nothing that had to be done because it had already been taken care of. I could write to my heart’s content! Nice.

And there it was. There is always a lesson to be learned… or of which we can be reminded. Most of them, we already know and may be quite happy to point out to others, even when we fail to apply them to our own lives. We just get used to living one way and forget to take notice, in exactly the same way as I have grown used to my morning routine, failing to notice that it no longer the best use of my time.

I always used to make sure the housework was done before bed, staying up after the rest of the household had retired, so that it would be tidy for morning. But that was when the house held a family, all of whom needed to be able to get organised for school or work. Those days have long since gone. I would also tidy round before I left for work, so it wouldn’t have chance to get too bad before I started to cook in the evenings. Those days too are departed. Early mornings and late evenings were my only time to write. These days, I have more freedom. So why do the habits remain? Simply because I am so used to them that I had not realised they were there.

This morning’s enforced interruption of the pattern made me stop and take stock. A moment imposed and beyond my control and yet which allowed me to break the hold of a habit and see a new path. Life occasionally offers us these opportunities… and we call them disasters, because we are seeing them through the lens of the status quo, instead of a chance to take a new direction.

As far as life-lessons go, an updating computer doesn’t sound like much at all. But, habits need updating too, and  sometimes it doesn’t need much to open a window on your world.

Lessons in chocolate


Yesterday, I ate very badly.  In fact, I would be hard pushed to find anything healthy in the entire menu. All day. Not that I ate all day, you understand… in fact I ate very little, but, I admit, a nutritionist would cringe. Croissants and hot chocolate for breakfast, coffee for lunch, a melted cheese crumpet for tea, wine and chocolates for dinner and coffee before bed. In fact, about the healthiest part of that lot was the glass of red wine.

I could blame my sons. It was, after all, all their doing;  one provided breakfast, even if he did send me to the supermarket to pick it up on my way to his home and demand to be served his share in bed…  He then turned up on my doorstep, hungry from a bike ride at teatime… This was just before his brother arrived with wine, flowers and chocolates. The wine, apparently, being good for the toothache he was suffering, needed to be opened and as you shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach, the chocolates came in handy…


The dog, of course, desperately wants to share, but what is a pleasure, if a rather naughty one, for me, would be toxic to her. My sons can, with impunity, eat anything. They share a metabolism a supermodel can only yearn for. They didn’t get it from me… I am of the type who can eat half a pound of food and put on five pounds in weight. So goodness knows what is going to happen by the time I finish the chocolates… and I’m working on that; valiantly disposing of them to remove myself and the dog from further temptation.Which is a tactic we often seem to employ to fool ourselves…

Let’s not look at calories and fat content… suffice it to say that each small chocolate contains the potential to add far more than its own weight to mine. Very like experience, in fact, where the smallest thing can potentially change a life, out of all proportion to its size… it all depends on the person who experiences it.

So Forrest Gump’s Mama may have had a point when she reportedly compared life to a box of chocolates; not because ‘you never know what you are going to get’, although that is true enough, but because what you do get will affect everyone in a completely different way. What may be a common and pleasurable experience… and sons, dog and I all like chocolate…some may enjoy with no problems, others may not have without putting themselves at considerable risk and some will suffer long-term consequences for their choice to indulge. The experience is unique to each of us. In general terms we may know that what, in small doses, can be good, is always a negative when it is too much … but how much is too much for each of us cannot necessarily be measured. Nor can another dictate or decide for us, though they may be able to guide. We alone must ultimately take the responsibility for our choice and be prepared to accept the consequences.

Of course, it isn’t always that simple. The dog, for example, doesn’t know that chocolate is toxic  to her. She sees only the lure of instant delight. If she ate just a little, it would probably do her no harm and enjoying it, she would want more… but overload is not too far away and could prove fatal. For me, overload to fatality is a long way away… I sincerely hope!…but each mouthful will add inches I will have to work to eradicate. My sons just enjoy the moment, but actually, though there are no visible and obvious consequences, do we really know what is happening in their bodies and what the longer term fallout might be? Or will they just use the energy of the sweetness to fuel, for example, the long cycle ride home?

Oddly enough, it is past experience that teaches us enough to make those decisions about the experience at hand. My waistline, for example, is at known risk from such indulgence. On the other hand, there is a willingness to accept that as a small price to pay in exchange for what is now a very rare pleasure… an evening enjoying the utter randomness of my sons when they are together and seeing a small dog in utter heaven at having both her boys at home. You could say the consequences to my waistline were a willing sacrifice to the greater good.