©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.
I spent the night with friends… more socially distanced than any pandemic ruling could possibly require…. and I’m tired. I didn’t sleep as much as I would have liked and spent a lot of the night tossing and turning. That is not as contradictory as it might seem, for it was when I did doze that I spent the time watching those I love wander across the screen of dreams. Though that is not quite a true depiction. I was in there with them.
I dream vividly and in colour and was surprised when I learned how many people don’t, though apparently with the demise of monochrome media that is changing dramatically. Which raises some interesting questions about how our minds and perceptions are, quite literally, coloured by our environment.
Be that as it may, my dreams have always been vividly and graphically coloured and I feel them as reality while I am dreaming… and honestly, there are some you really wish did not feel quite so real…
Last night, however, it was lovely to see and to hold those who are distant in time and space, to talk with them and smile with them, hear much-loved voices and share the small things of every day. Most I recognised, though there were others I knew that I have known and loved, although they are not part of this life’s story. Waking each time, as I wavered between the worlds, brought a sense of both warm gratitude for that touch of presence, and a hint of loss that it was not ‘real’.
Yet, it was real, on its own plane, and in that moment. It was only on waking that the change in my mode of perception traced that dividing line. It was real as I felt the touch of minds and hearts, the embrace and warmth of those long departed or far away. Dreaming opens the doors to meet across the miles, or to be once again with those who have departed this world to a place where we may meet in joy, just as we would have done in life. These are not old scenes replayed, but new interactions.
What does it matter if they are not ‘real’ if they touch the heart and call up the deepest emotions? If such a meeting still fills you with joy and gratitude when you have woken, and it is real enough to change your world and your day.
Beliefs about the world of dreams vary widely, from soul journeys outside of time and space, to a simple working out of events and psychological details by the brain. Did it matter to me, while I dreamed, whether my brain was constructing images or if my soul was flying free? Not a bit. I was just happy to be with those I love.
There is no past tense here… even for those who are no longer in the world. Love does not die when the object of it is no longer beside us. It remains and is part of us always. It may be filed away, gently wrapped in the protective gauze of memory, but it is still part of who we are. Part, perhaps, of what makes us who we are.
I cannot help thinking of all those people who, as they approach the end of their lives, speak of loved ones being there to welcome them to the other side. I remember my great grandmother, close to death at one point, yet sent back, she said, to complete her tasks for this lifetime, telling us how she was a young woman again as she met my late, great grandad in a sunny field. It was not what she expected, not what she believed… but she smiled like a girl when she told us.
With my own end being pencilled in for ‘sooner’ rather than ‘later’, and with the restrictions imposed by COVID keeping so many people so very far apart, spending time with loved ones is more important than ever to me. And whether or not these visitations in the night have any reality outside of dream, their presence I can see only as a gift.
Whatever thought and logic might bring to the question, today I will walk with that touch of love in my heart in spite of a restless night. Although I glowered at the dawn through frustrated and heavy eyelids, when I rose from my bed it was with a smile on my face and the glow of a lifetime of love, given and received, to carry me through the day.
For the past few years, I have been immersed in the folklore and history, traditions and myths of my land in a way I had never expected. This is not the country of governments and politics, nor the land of business and traffic jams or socio-economic divides. This is the deep well of life accessible to all.
I have seen and shared the growth of bluebells under the trees, the chalk cut figures spanning millennia, the hillsides and skies, the wildflowers, valleys and groves. I have danced the serpentine dance and walked barefoot where legends tell a dragon was slain. I have gazed upon living history in brick and stone, traced the human story in the earth and told tales of long ago.
The land itself has changed me, I think, or else awoken me to a deeper vision of the world that has, like the buried treasure of some ancient site, lain hidden from my sight. I do not think it is possible to work with the stories, currents and history of the land and remain oblivious to the rich tapestry of life.
I have shared knowledge and received it, glimpsed understanding, heard tell of far off landscapes and peoples, stories other than my own, lives I will never know. And yet, they are the same. The details may differ, the names and the skein of history in which they are bound may change. There are redwoods instead of ash, deserts instead of moorlands, yet the human story within the landscape shares a thread that is lost in the same long ago and it bears a common theme.
Standing in the ancient holy places, it is these very differences that bring home the commonality of our heritage as human beings. They are but details seen through the vast lens of time. The emotions I feel are echoed, through the ages and across all the lands, by my ancestors and reflect a future yet to unfold over lifetimes yet unborn.
The same imperatives drive us, though we hunt now in supermarkets and trawl the internet for knowledge instead of parchment scrolls. The same human frailties and desires shape our lives. The same strength and courage in face of life’s challenges define who we become. The same reverence for the divine, however felt and conceived, carved both the great hill figures, carried the sarsens and built the churches and temples of our own times.
To take time to seek the wildflowers in the hedgerows, to watch the snow lay heavy on the bough, or to watch a hawk in flight and a sparrow welcoming the morning, is to step outside of time for a moment, the attention turned away from the hustle and bustle of the mundane. To stand within the landscape and feel the ancient life both of the earth and her people is to see this great vista of history spread like a patchwork quilt at your feet. Each square a different pattern or design, the colours and fabrics changing and contrasting with each other, yet together forming a thing of wholeness and beauty.
Watching the sunset tonight from a village garden, the urban traffic noise a distant hum, I wondered how many sunsets have been watched alone in joy or grief, or shared in laughter or silence by the millions of other eyes that have turned to that golden glow. How many more will watch as it sinks below the horizon, bathing the earth in a last flare of light?
Just sit for a moment, close your eyes. Beneath your feet, beneath the concrete, the wood, the tiles or the grass lies the same earth upon which I stand, upon which we all stand. It is there, ever-present. Evolving and ageing, changing just as we, but older and slower, deeper and richer, its surface buzzing with the same life that runs through us all.
Once again I am reminded of a phrase from an old Hindu prayer that I love: Thou art everywhere, but I worship thee here. There is a reverence that comes when we are rooted in the earth of our landscape, when we listen for its heartbeat in the changing seasons and feel our place within it. Our human lives differ only in detail and degree, both from each other and from that of the land, yet the essence of life itself runs through all with a kinship too often forgotten or ignored. Yet it is beautiful, and within this earth our own roots are planted deeply, and our life is drawn from the same source.
It has been a lazy day, lounging half asleep on the sofa, nursing a rotten cold. The mind wanders down odd paths at such times and I have been thinking a lot about the whole idea of love. It is, after all, possibly the most important of human emotions and one that preoccupies us more than any other.
We seek it on many levels and in many ways, from the filial to the romantic, from the parental and the passionate to the divine. We call it by many names that may not at first be obvious, hiding it in plain sight as with so many other things of deep significance.
Friendship is love, so is kindness, compassion, tenderness… the thoughtfulness that picks up the phone or opens a door, the small everyday gestures we make. They are all aspects of it, facets of that same precious jewel.
We seek it, consciously or unconsciously, all our lives. There is a warmth when we know ourselves to be loved, we feel complete when we share love, alive when we give it… even when things do not run smoothly, even when there is hurt or pain or the prospect of loss, there is something deep within us that is nourished and completed by the giving of love.
Nothing new there… we all know this. We have all felt it at some point in our lives, all been touched by its presence or apparent absence from our lives. We have all known the fierce or gentle joy of a love that is shared, and the subtle pain of a love given unwanted. Those pangs, of course, cut deeply as most of the time our loves are very human… we seek a return or a reflection, forgetting that there can be no pain in loving unconditionally… a simple giving without requirement, need or judgement.
Yet why does it matter so deeply to us? What is it that makes this strange rollercoaster emotion so important to us? It brings in its wake all kinds of possibilities for hurt and heartache. Remember the teenage years? Or the loss of a family pet? Or worse, a life partner, parent or beloved friend? Yet knowing the possibilities, we are still drawn like moths to a flame. Even when we shy away from it, we do so because we are aware of its depth and power.
So I was pondering.
Maybe being in love is simply a small reflection of the Love we are seeking to Be In somehow, almost as if it is all we can manage on a human level until we can Be the higher part of our self? The difference is only in focus and degree… not in the essential quality. Those who have written of the love of God have done so in the language of the heart. From St Teresa to the Sufis, the imagery is that we would use to speak of a lover.
Perhaps we could live in such a way that the levels of love we feel and give could coalesce? Instead of separating the loves we have, human, abstract, spiritual and divine.. .what would it be like to see them as a single thing?
What if all the human levels of love are just fragmentary glimpses of a greater love that we know at some very deep level of being? What if our human search for love is a quest to find a reflection, something that reminds us of a love so deep it pervades all creation and is intimately woven through the fibre of being? Seen ‘in a glass darkly’, it may be that it is a shadowy, unconscious knowledge of the wellspring of souls, a yearning for that Home of the heart, unnamed, perhaps, unknown, imprecise maybe, that fuels our dreams and hopes of love in life.
The seasons turn as we approach the turning point, the Solstice… the longest night… just three short weeks away. And yet, the sky is beautiful this morning, a clear, deep blue graced with the lights of heaven. The world is still and silent, even the birds are hushed as dawn creeps over the horizon of a rain-washed world. The moon lights the village and touches the rooftops with silver. Branches are down in the lane and few are the leaves that still cling tenaciously to the trees, most stripped away by the vicious fingers of winter winds.
There is such strength in the grasp of leaf to twig, both so fragile they can be plucked and broken by a child, yet the bond of life so strong it can withstand the most inclement weather. Until it is time for them to fall.
Even when the leaves fall it is part of a greater renewal, the confetti of the marriage of the seasons, nourishing the earth and the tree from whence they fell. The tree sleeps through the winter, seemingly lifeless, husbanding its resources against the coming of spring. Beneath the skeletal surface of this dying time the life within shapes new leaves and blossoms, waiting in pregnant patience for the warm kiss of the sun.
There is so much laid out before us, even in the avenues of our city streets. The life of nature is so strong and so beautifully balanced. So easy to damage when, with careless hands her children grasp at her skirts, taking anything that claims their attention and desire… yet strong enough to recover when we are no more.
In the little wood where we sometimes walk, the small dog and I, man has left his traces. From the earliest times, track and road have passed this way. From the air, the circled marks of ancient homes can be seen in the fields, the line of a Roman road, lost now to plough and furrow. And still we carve this little patch of green to serve our needs. Yet as soon as we turn our back the wild things cover our tracks, reclaiming the earth for themselves, our little lives more fragile than their delicate blooms.
In towns and cities, sites and factories that were once hives of industry fall silent as technology moves on and we are proud of our advances, not noticing the quiet crown of plant and sapling our forgotten edifices wear, the gentle but inexorable hand of nature taking back her own as soon as we depart.
The seasons of the earth are echoed too within our own lives… we are part of the cycle, our bodies dance to the same natal song of the seasons. Life springs from death, death from life in an endless round.
The cadence is echoed within us as we laugh for joy beneath the sun of summer and weep in grief when winter touches our hearts. In the dark days, we too may feel as if leaf and branch are being stripped from us, battered by the winds of change and the storms of emotion. Yet like the trees only the damaged and broken falls from us… the green heart is strong and holds the pattern of renewal within itself.
As the wheel turns it is easy to become lost in the dark days, feeling a verdant spring to be too far to reach, fearing in the shadows that it will not come. Perhaps, like the trees, we too are then husbanding our strength, withdrawing within where growth and renewal can work their magic unseen, ready to blossom at the first touch of the sun.
When the Solstice comes, the world, still facing the worst of winter, turns almost unnoticed towards summer. We know this, yet the winter is still to be endured. The days will lengthen, the light will be bright on days covered in snow, ice is yet to break open the cracked stones, and we will huddle by our hearths as if there is no warmth in the world, forgetting that we have passed the nadir and the eternal dance of the seasons carries us onwards towards a brighter dawn.
When we are lost in grief, gripped by the cold of fear, it is hard to see that light at the end of the tunnel, hard to believe that we have passed the worst point when we see a dark road still looming ahead. Yet this is the rhythm of life itself, as the earth holds us in the reassuring and loving embrace of a Mother and shows us that not all is lost in winter, it merely endures the frost while within, nourished by the fallen leaves that were stripped away by the storms and the turning year, the green life springs anew.
As the majority of our friends and readers will now know, I was rushed into hospital last week in a very bad way. I would like to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who has sent good wishes through all the various social media platforms, through the comments, by email, snail mail, text and phone. And to the friends wh have kept me company across the miles with tales of normality and laughter.
I am sorry if it has taken a while to respond to everyone individually, I am really rather unwell and my energy levels are a tad variable.
At a time when the Covid restrictions mean that even close family cannot visit, it has meant a very great deal to be touched by so much love, friendship and kindness. Trying to process the changes that serious illness has and will impose upon us as individuals and as families is always difficult. Just now, when we cannot even see our nearest and dearest, cannot give each other a hug, hold a hand… or even discuss the practicalities face to face, it is particularly harrowing. The feeling of utter isolation is terrible, and the care shown by family and friends, albeit remotely, matters more than ever.
This week has been a journey from looking death right in the eye as I failed to breathe at all, through relief as litres of fluid were drained from around my heart, to a sliver of hope. I have had a series of tests and procedures, and some exceedingly unpleasant biopsies, for which I still await the definitive results. One thing that is clear, however, is that I do have a lung collapsed by cancer.
They let me come home last night, until the results are in. The dog thinks it is hilarious as I too am now being kept on a short leash, attached by tubes to the oxygen extractor occupying way too much of my living room and not letting me out the front door.
I am being well looked after, the small dog seems glad to have me home. I am being well fed and cared for now I am home… and all I need right now are answers.
Thank you to everyone who has held my hand through this first rather shocking stage of the journey. Especially my friend, Mary Smith, with whom I have a date in spring at Cairn Holy when hopefully both of us will be in a rather better state than we are now.
To love and be loved… something that sits at the heart of every child. It is only as we grow that the accumulated disappointments, the rejections large and small, teach us to shield our hearts against being hurt again. We all get hurt as we grow… even the happiest childhood will carry the shadows of events, unnoticed and unintended perhaps, that have squeezed the little heart tightly. It may be no more than a ‘Not now’ from a busy parent engaged in something that is not safe for the child… with the best of intentions… but to the small person wanting to show that parent a caterpillar they found, it is a rejection. We all suffer them and learn, brick by brick, how to build a defensive barrier around our emotions.
We are taught that emotions have a time and place too. Some are socially acceptable. We can be calm or happy in public… as long as we are not too happy for other people’s comfort. Tears, however, should be a private affair and we learn to swallow them… hide them… except from those to whom we are close enough to let the mask slide. Romance is only acceptable in youngsters… old people may, perhaps, hold hands in public and draw an ‘awww’ from us… but heaven forbid that they have a proper cuddle or kiss. Even our own children see us as too old for ‘that sort of thing’.
Yet is it wrong to have emotions at any age… or merely to display them? For many that becomes an uncertain balance of suppression and repression. Is it wrong to weep for beauty…or for grief? No more so than to laugh out loud for sheer joy… yet both make many uncomfortable. Of course there is a need for self-control… we cannot be ruled by every emotion, displaying and acting upon them at every turn; the world would be untenable. A certain amount of appropriateness must be learned as we go, though our tendency as a society is to stifle all emotional displays.
For all of us there will come a moment when something starts picking away at the defensive walls we have built around our hearts. Something, or someone, will begin to breach our defences… and then we are faced with a choice. Do we let them in, knowing that we leave ourselves defenceless against possible heartache? Or do we shore up the walls with anything we can find to keep our vulnerability protected?
It isn’t always obvious, even to ourselves, how many ways we can find to strengthen the barricades of the heart. We can throw ourselves into a career, with perfectly legitimate goals, seeking security and the rewards of industry…the ‘things’ that distance us from the emotional depths. We might pursue a dream or a cause with a passion… and that passion is fuelled by the same source that we might lavish on a relationship…if we dared. There is, of course, nothing wrong with the dream, the cause or the career in themselves… on the contrary, we need those people who will focus and become the movers and shakers of society. Where it falls down is the ‘why’. Is the focus due to a pure intent to attain the goal, or is it being used to shield a vulnerability that dare not allow a chink of light into the inner fastness of the barricaded heart?
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
On any spiritual path, a path of consciousness, it is through the emotions that we begin to see a wider Love that it is possible to touch. We cannot do so whilst we are immured within the prison of our own fears. We have to live fully, embracing every part of our fragile, beautiful, vulnerable humanity before we can feel what lays both beyond and within us.
When we open ourselves wide to love, we open ourselves to every imaginable heartache as well as every conceivable joy. If we could hook our emotions up to a monitor as easily as we can the heart, for most of us the needle would trace a graph that looks remarkably like a heartbeat as life swings us between the two extremes with periods of quiescence in between. I don’t think that is coincidence… it means we are alive; fully alive, whole and living an emotional journey. That has to be better than flatlining ourselves through fear… don’t you think?
The red kites are teasing me again, circling low over the garden… until I grab the camera, disappearing in their typical fashion as soon as the lens is pointed skywards. They were at it all morning, yet all I managed was a blurry pic and a handful of distant dots in the sky as usual.
I love those birds and cherish an ambition to get a really good photograph of the great birds in flight, one of these days. I can get a clear picture when they have landed, but in flight it always seems that I click the shutter when they are head down, or in odd positions where it is difficult to see their majesty, or a blurred one eye to eye. The birds seem to smile at my naivety.
It reminds me of the incident with the feathers. When we first began following the kites all over Buckinghamshire, it seemed that everywhere we went there were feathers of every conceivable colour. I kept picking them up. Stuart shook his head every time I took anything out of my bag, as clouds of the things fell out, the interior of the car began to look as if someone had been pillow fighting and I had feathers of every variety… except kite.
Then, on one exceptionally hot day, we climbed our first real hill and walked miles in the heat. It was right at the beginning of the adventures that led to the writing of The Initiate and we barely knew what we were getting into at that point. It was, looking back, the first real physical effort we had put into our quest too. We walked up through ancient earthworks, seeking the path with dowsing rods and really getting a feel for the landscape. I remember Stuart talking about the sacrifice of energy required to climb the hills as part of the ‘contract’ with the heart of the land…. and then a red kite flew out of the sun.
We walked on, awed, in the searing heat… waterless as usual… climbing ever higher and following the ancient path of the Ridgeway, until I caught sight of something. I bent to pick it up… a whole bunch of kite feathers, plucked, it seemed, from the breast and shimmering with unexpected iridescence. We felt then that we had been accepted for the quest. If that sounds odd, it must be remembered that we had learned to trust and follow the birds, heeding the lessons in their flight, so it felt ‘right’ in ways I probably can’t explain. That afternoon unfolded with magic as we began to understand where and how we were being led.
I came home that night and proudly displayed the feathers on the table. And because I left them there, the dog ate them. So, I was gifted a lesson in non-attachment too… and a reminder that a gift once given must be cherished and cared for; take it for granted and all you have is a memory.
So, although I still try for that perfect picture, it still eludes me and it feels as if the denizens of the sky are laughing gently. The elusiveness of the kites holds another lesson too, for some things are simply too big to fit inside a camera or to frame within the terms of the physical world. They are gifts of the moment to be treasured. Sure, I might get a good picture… but the great birds are more than just beauty and aerial grace; to watch them fly is to watch the spirit of the air and the feeling that brings is one of awe; something I don’t think any photograph could capture. They evoke a feeling I can only call love and it seems I can watch to my heart’s content, accepting the gift and grace of their presence, as long as I do not attempt to pin down their grace and essence… which is exactly how love should be.
Yet there is an acknowledgement, a reciprocal amusement, it seems, where I still try and they indulgently tease; a daily reminder that both spirit and love exist in freedom and their gift is there to be known, accepted in all simplicity, for as soon as you try to hold them, they lose something and are changed. You can only accept the gift and the grace when it is given… and cherish it.
If I get that ‘perfect’ photo one day, it will not be when I try to take it, but when it is given. All I can do is be open to the gifts of the day…
17-19 April 2020
A Living Lore Workshop.
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Spiritual growth is a journey unique to each one of us and taken whether we will or no. It is a natural evolution against which we may fight, actively resisting change or more usually with apathy and inertia. Or we may choose to jump into the flowing stream willingly, seeking the adventure of new destinations, unknown and unfamiliar landscapes seen in the light of increased understanding and awareness.
Some choose to walk their personal path alone, others choose the companionship along the way that a group, faith or school can provide. Within these are found many paths that lead towards a single, lambent Centre that is known by many names and yet transcends them all.
Each path will draw those to whom it speaks, as if both the path and the heart have a voice raised in song, and when the two come together in harmony, something beautiful is born. However, seeking that path that resonates with your own inner song can be a long and painful journey in itself, with many false starts and missed turnings.
One cannot teach spiritual growth. What can be taught, however, is a method, a pathway.
With the Silent Eye we seek to share a path into Consciousness that is an ancient one, not of our devising, but one that has lain hidden beneath an accretion of arcane symbols, correspondences and complex language. It is a natural and simple path, one that we have cleared of the accumulated debris of centuries, the brambles and thorns have been stripped away and it gleams clear and white before us. We have, as Steve once wrote, given it a new life and a new language for the digital age.
To turn one’s face towards this quest for understanding requires both commitment and awareness. There is no quick fix, no instant solution and no magic wand. Results are always dependent upon the dedication of the student. The destination is not reached overnight and the road may be long and rocky. But as with any journey, a well-constructed road, a map and clear direction make it far more certain that the destination will be reached.
The active engagement in this journey has been called accelerated evolution, and that, I feel, is an apt description. The simple act of choosing to actively embrace the changing landscape of the path is, in itself, a powerful thing. The student who joins a Mystery School is guided by those who know the path ahead and can see the pitfalls before them having themselves walked the same way.
Seeds of knowledge are planted in mind and heart, for knowledge can be shared. Understanding grows with the student… and we are all students…and that unfolding is both personal and beautiful.