Dominions of Cnut – #Silenti

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image source CC BY-SA
Pity poor King Canute (Real name ‘Cnut’ pron: Kn-ootr). He went down in English history as the King who was so self-important that he sat in a ceremonial chair, on the beach, ordering the tide not to come in…

Only, according to many leading historians, he didn’t…

This intelligent eleventh century ruler of England, Norway and Denmark – the ‘North Sea Empire’, as it was known, had conquered the English by force of arms, but sought to rule with fairness. The gesture with the incoming tide was to illustrate that the only Will that really mattered was of a much higher nature than his own. He carried out the quoted royal act to illustrate his impotence in the face of God’s will, expressed through nature’s forces, to show that even Kings were subject to higher laws.

We could call this the art of ‘acceptance’, but there is a modern use of the word ‘allowing’ that ascribes a more potent meaning. Potency is the key, here; one will subsumed into another – a greater flow that we are all part of – one whose nature, though often unpredictable, is both to support and teach us…

Many would dispute that, believing that the hostile world of nature is one which teaches us only survival – and devil take the hindmost. It’s an attitude prevalent in some sections of modern political life, who feel that liberal values and compassion have gone too far and it’s time to look after ourselves.

We can liken life to a river. We can stand on the riverbank and observe a part of the river that constantly changes as it flows past, or we can jump in and be part of the river’s life, taking our chances. In the former, we are completely passive to the great flow, and likely to have a stagnant, if safe, existence. In the latter, we can, at least, exercise our own choices about how we navigate the fluid body around us – and to recognise that we are very much made of the same stuff, with one special attribute.

We can swim – that act of staying alive is analogous to surviving to reproductive maturity. Better swimming produces the art of direction: we can choose where in the immediate flow we wish to be. But we can’t choose (unless we want to daydream) to be somewhere unrelated to where we already are; we can only get there by a series of heres. And there may have changed from our perceptions when we get to it… You can’t anticipate reality, you can only be it.

We can do nothing about that nasty fork in the river’s flow, just ahead of us; nor the rocks we narrowly avoided a minute ago. We have our dominion, and it’s largely around our intimate space. If that floating log behind us gets any closer, we have the right and the ability to fend it off, but not to choose whether it’s there or not.

The ‘Life in a River’ idea can teach us a lot, but it’s finite in its extensions. At the heart of all the world’s truly deep spiritual traditions is the idea that things are really perfect if we can only see them objectively. Nothing I know of causes more unrest in the modern intellect. We cry out that we haven’t come this far in evolution to surrender to blind and stupid forces, intent on eroding our values and way of life. We’ve climbed out of that bloody river, says the angry self, and there’s no way we’re going back – even if most of humanity are still in there…

At the heart of this tale of the riverbank is an erosion of fundamental trust. Psychologically, we come into our lives with total trust, experienced as oneness in the womb. This absolute trust is eroded shortly after birth when the harsher, separated world – even with Mother’s help – cannot satisfy all our needs. The egoic self, (used, here, in its positive connotation), develops from this, shedding trust and learning fear as it develops to fend for it-self.

Civilisations go through this kind of cycle, too, though the cycle time is very much longer. Families understand compassion, but extending that boundary into a society involves bumping into power and greed and they often have guns and want to control through trust in fear.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is a good example of a wisdom-story designed to help those ready to understand what happens if you leap into the river. The symbolic son, leaving home, has to make his/her way in the world, but eventually comes to realise what a store of providence was already on the table at home. The price of that return is his experience, bitter and wonderful, which he ‘lays’ on his Father’s table, while his uncomprehending brother looks on… from the riverbank.

In mystical terminology, the Prodigal Son flows out, at the end of the river’s course, into the sea, realising that what he/she truly is, is the water made conscious – infinitely changing and unending. The ‘forms’ of those left on the riverbank lose their vitality, eventually, and decompose to become part of the life of the soil, again. Nothing wrong with that, but we can imagine that the sparkling sea is more fun?

To even speak of such things can mark you out as crazy. To be a King and attempt to demonstrate them may always be doomed to failure. But what’s the harm in trying to be a misunderstood Cnut once in a while…

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017

The Finding of Polarity (3) – #Silenti

Arrows of polarityAA

In parts one and two of this set of three posts, we have examined how the development of the individual, the ‘self’, is a different process from the development of our young bodies, and relies upon our departure from ‘oneness’ in the womb towards a reaching for individuality – a process that eventually matures into what psychology calls the ego.

From a psychological perspective, the scientific definition of the ego is in terms of a ‘self-image’, increasingly strengthened and stabilised as we grow through childhood. Various problem conditions, from aberrations to pathologies, are related to how well this ‘self-image’ takes hold and becomes the centre of our ‘me’ existence in the adult world. Narcissists, for example, often reach senior positions because of their extreme need to define themselves by projecting their self-worth onto what they do, rather than what they are. More rounded psyches are grounded in true relationship, whereas the narcissist relies upon a perceived and  constant reflection of their own worth in the world around them.

Western civilisation places enormous value on the achieving of individuality, particularly emotional and physical individuality; and glorifies financial independence above all else. Success in society is generally equated with such independence.

Here we have an increasingly agonising divergence: the world’s spiritual traditions have, for millennia, equated individual progress towards a spiritual state (one that is more real) with the diminishment, and, in some cases, the complete annihilation, of what we now know as the ego… the very centre of western culture’s mark of achievement.

We can take the view that the ancient knowledge of the inner states of our ‘selves’ is past its sell-by date and that modern thinking, based on science, is much more in tune with the truth of things. The majority of the population do just that, if they think of it at all. Many see spirituality as religion, only, and conflate the latter’s diminishing importance as mirroring its relevance – a view understandably fuelled by the constant headlines from the extremes of fundamentalism.

But absolutely none of this makes us happy… or even fulfilled. Something is missing if a person living a simple life in humble conditions can get more from life than those with an array of possessions and achievements.

The conventional response by those believing themselves on a spiritual path has been to attack our way of life. Only radical philosophers like Gurdjieff dared to consider that we might actually be on a perfectly valid spiritual path of our own.

The egoic nature of the western world has not stopped people from being caring individuals. Political societies might cycle through a lack compassion, but there is always a great degree of kindness in the family units that comprise them. The hunger for the personal truth and meaning that drives us may well be of a different nature. What if the ego’s development were necessary as a ‘fuel-tank’ for another journey? Suppose that the seeming negatives of the egoic self, with its anger, selfishness, avarice, pride, lust and the rest of the well-categorised deadly ‘sins’, were really signposts to what was missing – in effect the way home…

We’d have to want to be ‘home’, as in somewhere else, inside ourselves, of course. But if we are truly at the point where increasing our store of what society views as the stuff of happiness was simply producing more angst, then where else is there to go?

The key is not to find someone else’s truth; it is to find our own. The value of what psychology has given us lies, ultimately, not in the production of stable egos – though that is an important goal for anyone in whom that vital stage has not crystallised; the value of it lies in the clarity it has provided for the inner meaning of those ancient traditions and their relevance to those who would find their own spiritual path, today.

The founders of the Silent Eye gained their experience within a varied and mixed background of mystical traditions ranging from Rosicrucian, to Qabalistic to Fourth Way. We had all experienced the real power of people working together in a group aimed at ‘raising the consciousness’ of each individual, without drugs, so that we could begin to perceive deeper realities. We established the Silent Eye School using a core set of teachings that combined everything we knew to work, including mystical drama, and based it around a symbolic variant of the enneagram – a nine-sided kind of star that has evolved to describe and illustrate how ‘nature’ works the world and, latterly, how psychology’s map of the inner human maps into the heart of this. Only our synthesis of this is new; all the components were there before, though not in the form we gave them for our symbolic and inner three-year guided journey which is at the heart of the correspondence course.

The Silent Eye’s version of the enneagram

Our journey begins with this quest: to find and understand the ‘gap’ between the western self as described by psychology and the ancient wisdom of the ‘no-self’. Our goal as been to show that the value of the egoic nature can be preserved, but that its nature has to be healed rather than polished. Instead of retaining its desperate role as the ‘captain of the ship it must keep creating’, it can now relax into knowing that it is really only a picture – an image of our outer reactiveness, useful in terms of its skills, but redundant in terms of its knowing the answers about our real coming-into-being.

Those answers lie in a personal journey which unzips the ego, carefully and with love, using its restlessness (and suffering) to point to how those elements of unease are generated, in each part of its psychic anatomy, by a lack of something else. That something else eventually takes shape, and that is where the enneagram has its unique value – it acts as a map of the homeward journey, a journey in which the real characteristics of a true Self become apparent, requiring no validation from the material world. This newly discovered entity, which many call the Soul, is perfect in its individuality; is supported in its vivid feeling of being truly alive; and is secure in knowing, beyond question, that it is already a child of those formless realms spoken of so long ago…

Other posts in this series:

Part One, Part Two.

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017

To sleep, perchance…

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I snuggled under the duvet. The night was chilly but the bed, with its big feather pillows is perfect in this weather. Bliss, in fact. And I was ready to sleep, looking forward to it… it had been a long day, an early start. The dog had burrowed beneath the cushions again… I’ve given up on that. She needs an igloo. Me, I burrowed under the cosy duvet. I relaxed, switched down, let the muscles go and the breathing slow, into that meditative pre-sleep state. As I was drifting into dream I thought about the whole affair of sleeping…

Then I was wide awake again.

Hang on a minute here… what is it with this sleep thing that we look forward to so much? Rest… yes, that I can go with. Relaxation… that I can understand. A chance to recharge the batteries; for the mind and the brain to process learning, memory and emotion… for the body to heal and cells to renew… But what do we actually do when we are asleep that makes us look forward to it so much?

Think about it. We do… nothing.

In sleep the conscious self goes into abeyance. It may as well cease to exist. We… the we we think we are… is no more. Gone. Zilch. Might, to all intents and purposes, as well be dead.

We have no control over anything. The body ticks over on autopilot, the mind wanders off on its own to play in those strange landscapes and weird circumstances we call dream…places our logical, staid conscious mind would dismiss out of hand as arrant lunacy. The thought of firing wet fish out of a canon would normally be anathema… flying by flapping your arms just isn’t going to work aerodynamically and lemurs in hiking gear don’t turn up on your doorstep armed with champagne and the latest philosophical gossip. Well, not every day, anyway.

Look, I am not responsible for the content of my dreams, okay?

But this is serious stuff. Not the lemurs. Or the fish to be fair. But the whole question of where is the ‘we’ when we are asleep? That part of us that observes our lives unfolding, acts in a considered manner and fails to go around flapping its arms to try for lift off. Because all the elements are accounted for. Body is busy doing what it needs to for scheduled maintenance. Brain is busy processing the content of mind and overseeing the body… a sort of junction box between the two. So I got to wondering. The body takes its orders from the brain; the brain keeps tabs on the body and digests what the mind has been up to… filing, processing, writing reports etc. It is a fairly corporate entity. We’ve got a nice chain of command going here. And it takes sleep for all that to work at optimum efficiency.

It’s rather neat really. The body is fairly obvious to all of us. Especially as you get a bit older… but lets not go there. The mechanics of it are fairly easy to get a grasp of and it contains the brain. The brain we understand at the physical level, though there are still a lot of things we don’t know. We know enough, though, to infer the gaps in our knowledge. It almost seems as if the brain is ‘bigger’ than the body. You could say it ‘contains’ the mind… although I wouldn’t. Mind, though physically non-existent, seems bigger than the brain through which it manages, nonetheless, to manifest.

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So what’s the next bit up from the mind? Where is that getting its orders from and how big is that??? What, though too big to be contained within it, is manifesting through the nature of mind? And what is that part of us doing as we sleep? We are into metaphysics now… not a good move when you are crosseyed after midnight… especially when the dog is not the most voluble of conversationalists and the lemurs might arrive any minute.

By this point I am musing about the relationship between the absence of our apparent self during sleep and the absence of self after death… Then there is the soul to consider… that subtle part that pervades all of us… the junction box between us and the divine…and I appear to have opened a whole can of intellectual worms. And worms I do not wish to have wriggling through the images in my dreaming mind, thank you very much.

Maybe I should just go back to bed….

sleep* paintings by Polish surrealist painter Jacek Yerka

The Finding of Polarity (2) – #Silenti

Arrows of polarityAA

 

‘As I begin to understand how ‘I’ am made I begin to see that infinity can largely be equated with what is formless and not with some mathematically and useless hugeness’

I wrote that down some time ago. From one perspective, it describes the beginning of the real search for what uncovers the heart of polarity – rendering it useful, at last.

We live in a world of what mystics call ‘form’. Form gives us separate ‘things’. Without separate things the mind cannot function in the way it has been taught. Without things, mind begins to panic – though it need not; but our training in perception (in how to see) is received and deep, and conditions the self and the society in which that self grows.

Self is the continuity of thought. Self clings desperately to that continuity, thinking that this massively heavy baggage is its life. Unless I keep this picture of ‘me’ vividly alive, I will lose my life, it says… Even in writing it down we can sense the frailty of the mechanism. Thought is a continuous narrative around the supposed centre of the self – the picture, the emotional and physical image of a ‘me’ at the heart of things; and it’s made of memory. This construct generates all the problems that life contains: It separates an assumed ‘me’ from the rest of experience. That experience is real, but the packaging of duality we divide it into is not.

This is the heart of the twin concepts of duality and polarity. These concepts are the true, mystical endeavour. The separation of ‘me’ from my experience distorts the reception of my experience, for which ‘I’ as an unique point of perception in the universe, am beautifully equipped – we all are. Over a lifetime, the nature of that experience becomes entirely conditioned by the layers of this assumed ‘me’. Only careful unwinding of this dirty bandage will reveal where we – Life – really live.

Life grows through a gradient of awareness. We, the humans species, are said to be the pinnacle of that awareness. Through evolution, primitive awareness of the survival of a separated centre becomes, eventually, the accretion of a self, as like and dislikes come to define who ‘we’ are. To evolve intelligence, we have to be capable of manipulating the external. We examine it and need to separate its components, because we can’t ‘eat the whole elephant’. To do this, the mind takes a giant leap and names things… And, of course, one of the things it names, or is given a name for, is itself. The naming, praising or denigration of this self becomes the ego.

The way our minds work mirrors, and derives from, the survival instincts that protect our animal – and there can be no escape from the fact that a considerable part of us is animal in its nature. I like warmth, I hate cold, though I have to learn that there are degrees of things, and that too much warmth can hurt me – probably a lot more than cold, so paradoxes become frequent and the complex logic of mental words accommodates them. This duality of like and dislike, pain and pleasure, expands into a spectrum of preference in the adult -and preference brings with it an implication of dissatisfaction with what is.

These are all the product of the animal part of us. We have, by then, developed a strong sense of self-image, and the assertion of this is the key to our success in the world. That has to be based upon agreed advantage, so we quickly learn that to be successful we have to fit in.

And then, one day, we might wake up and realise that something very deep is, increasingly, being lost. That vividness of experience and honest feeling we had as a child has been clouded over, like a blue sky gone grey and without its sun. At that point we see that we have made a world for ourselves; that the egoic self-image has become the centre of our lives rather than the reality of undivided experience all around us. This world, seen as it is, in Reality – was not and cannot be created by use in this constant anxiety of the success-mind and so the estrangement grows and grows.

It’s quite a moment – in the Silent Eye we call it the ‘turning point’. Many people register it but do not act on it. Over time, it can be numbed by the usual diversions of the sensual world. For the small number who choose to act on it, a path awaits that will challenge everything they think they know – to paraphrase the Sufi mystics.

Firstly, we have to recognise that our lives are filled with duality: me and it. ‘It’ is the world, ‘me’ is the self-image. This duality robs our experience of its true life (Reality) and that dirty bandage must be carefully unwrapped, without destabilising the animal or losing the hard-won skills that give us power of action. Secondly, we come to realise that what gives us the most real excitement is not the self-image but the power of the experience of being alive. When we shut down our inner judge we begin to let reality flow in us, again. The original shutting off of that flow is the cause of most of our sadness, dissatisfaction and illness.

One very good way of sampling this for ourselves is to look at a familiar object – a tree is good subject – and say its name (eg ‘Oak’) over and over again until the world – the agent of thought- becomes meaningless. At that point of no-longer-knowing-anything about the tree, go closer to it and be with it. Walk around and touch it, smell it, see it from deliberately different angles, use all your senses and try to suppress anything that smacks of the past. Most of all, shut of like and dislike and any inner dialogue based on previous experience of trees.. This exercise will bring you into contact, however fractionally, with the Being of the Tree. There’s nothing ‘new-age’ about this, its the science of experience, though we should feel free to hug the tree if  we like! It will also show us that, once we turn off the habitual mechanism of the ‘word’,  the substance of thought, we begin to see that the duality of ‘me and it’ is entirely false, and that our real life is in the harmonisation of experience and the diminishing of the false self.

We have spoken here, mainly of duality; so what is polarity? Are they the same? Mystics speak of a subtle difference. Polarity is seen as a deeper understanding of the construction of form – objects with purpose being grouped together. We did not create such purposes in our own minds, we discover them through knowledge – the real purpose of science. With new eyes, we build new relationships with the natural world, seeing a much bigger will than ours at work.

There comes a moment when we see that the subtle difference between duality and polarity lies in the latter’s possession of an intelligence of reconciliation, and a realisation – like discovering a natural spring in the landscape – that this polar intelligence is there to take us home…

What, then, is the usefulness of a ‘self’? Has Nature spent billions of years evolving us from star-stuff to find that the self is not fit for purpose? The answer is an intriguing paradox that we will consider in the concluding post, next week.

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017

The Edge of the New?

Edge of new tree

We tend to view the approach of key milestones like the New Year as marking a transition for us, as though they had some objective reality. In fact, outside of major astronomical events, such as the solstice, their outward or objective aspect is a constructed thing. Their subjective significance is another matter, and the New Year, in particular, marks a reiteration of our belief that we can effect real change in our lives.

The ancient wisdom, in all its forms, has taught us that our real being – our Soul if you like – has its place and its growth in the now. Regardless of the constructs  of time and event our society places around things.

The now is a simple thing to say, but quite a complex concept to grasp, if we want to use it for personal transformation. To examine the now from the mind’s perspective is a bit like sawing through a tree to see its inner flow!

Edge of New tree trunk sawn

The reason we have such trouble living in the now is that there is a constant jostling between the mind and the soul. We live in an age dominated by the intellect. We may not all view ourselves as intellectually-driven, but the ‘psychology’ of being a ‘me’ is so dominated by the human thinking machine, that we don’t even notice it.

The mind has great intelligence. We can think of such intelligence as foresight – the ability to say “If I did that, then this would happen . . .” This great gift is a wonderful blessing in our physical existence; but can be a curse from a spiritual point of view, as it leads us to exist in a constant state of planning. This is because, habitually, it leads us away from, and makes us mistrust, the very powerful ‘now’.

We come to live in the now when we can step away from the mind’s constant chatter and just be . . . This doesn’t mean that we have to be stupid in the flow of the now – very much the opposite. In the flow of the now, of being, we connect with a higher form of intelligence that pervades all creation. This higher intelligence includes all of us in its flow of unfolding creation, and shows us how limiting our little island of separate intelligence can be.

Gull on river Kent rock

It is our spiritual immaturity that leads us to surmise that we can ‘out-think’ the intelligence of the cosmos. In so doing we try to create a little island of ourselves, one whose walls will help us in avoiding pain and discomfort, but one that also takes us out of the flow of the world, using our mind as a shield from what is truly reality.

Working back along these walls is one of the methods used by the Silent Eye School. As humans, we all share a common foundation in how we react to the world, from our earliest point of physical awareness onwards. How each of us reacts to the world becomes our personality – and we are all unique, though built on similar foundations. The resulting patterns of ‘me’ can be mapped in many ways. The Silent Eye School uses the enneagram to show how the purity of the soul is covered in layers of ‘dust’, thereby obscuring the view of the ever-alive now.

Mind, body, emotions and soul were meant to work together, under the latter’s command. This has always belonged to us, so the journey is not one of building the new, but of uncovering that which we already possess.

To recover that is not a rapid process, and quick-fix methods simply don’t work. Instead, they produce a hunger for constantly new ‘paths’ as the next quick-fix promises that elusive goal that the last one failed to deliver.

Two swans in Levens Park

We can think of the empowered soul, working with the mind, as a pair of swans in the flow of a river. The water is cold, and to our delicate skins, is shocking. But its reality is undisputed and its constantly changing patterns are the real truths of our lives.  By living in them, and seeing them for what they are, we open the partnership for soul and mind to work together in graceful harmony – each in its domain.

As we approach the new year, we wish you grace, harmony and purpose in your own journey and on your own wonderful river.

Happy 2015 from all at the Silent Eye School.

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