The Moment that Teaches

Most people who venture into the mystical encounter it before too long – that momentary sense of the world dropping away and an intense silence taking centre stage. In that silence is a new perspective which does not belong to the subjective, reasoning consciousness.

I think of it as the ‘moment that teaches’.

It is to be sought after as though it were gold. We will not find it by normal methods of analytical reason. The brain cannot reason beyond what it already knows, in some form. It can re-assemble the pieces, but the ‘moment that teaches’ comes into the consciousness whole.

That very sense of wholeness describes it as something other. Other, in this sense, means originating from a place not inside the usual stream of consciousness. The new perspective owes nothing to memory – other than the ability to try to communicate it – like this blog. That very act is doomed unless the receiver; the reader has, at some point in their lives, been ‘touched’ in this way by their own silence talking to them…

It is a natural condition that societal forces have obliged us to put to one side in favour of analytical reasoning. I’m not one who advocates disparaging the brain or its reasoning. It is a magnificent organ of consciousness that has taken millions of years to evolve. It makes sense of the billions of sense impressions available to us every second. Learning is largely a process of diminishing this flow of possible events – thereby avoiding madness and also creating a reliable picture of our world in which we can ‘not bang into things’ as a good friend of mine summarised recently.

In doing this, and allowing us to communicate the essential elements of our existence, the brain serves its purpose. It keeps us alive, and alerts us to potential and real danger. Potential danger can become anxiety, something whose collective danger I suspect we are learning society-wide as we wrestle with the moral foundations of our western lives… and the nature and value of truth.

Beyond morals lie values. And these come from a world which is not based upon logic but upon inspiration – seeing with different eyes. Each element of a moral code has at some time come into existence in the human consciousness as a spark of deeper knowing. It is seen to be ‘right’ and that rightness is grabbed, grasped and remembered by a mind opened to the entry of what mystics call ‘the higher’. The extracted facts can be passed on for contemplation Bearing witness to the truth of the revelation can only exist in the personal consciousness.

The higher speaks to us when we learn to listen to its silence. It speaks to us in moments that teach.

In the Silent Eye’s cycle of three ‘landscape’ workshops each year, we try to provide a formula of experience and place which has the greatest chance of allowing the entry into our lives of such a moment that teaches. Sometimes we do this by being in a place that has a vibrational history of the sacred. Sometimes we do it by being in an ordinary place that we psychologically ‘dress’ in the collective imagination to be somewhere different.

Sometimes, we are lucky enough to have a combination of real history and real sacred place around which to spin a special tale -based on the truth. Such a place is the internal space of Whitby Abbey, the location, in AD664, of the Synod of Whitby.

We will go into the detail in the coming weekend and in the blogs that follow, but in brief, the Synod was the place in which Saxon Britain’s most powerful king – Oswald (Oswiu in old English) set in motion a ‘court of learned opinion’ that would determine some very key elements of how Christianity flourished in the future.

Two streams of Christianity operated side by side in the seventh century. One we know a as Roman, the other Celtic. Celtic Christianity, as practised by King Oswald himself was a descended from St Patrick’s ‘conversion’ of Ireland, through the monastery on the Scottish Island of Iona and to the establishment of the monastery at Lindisfarne, off the Northumbrian coast.

A local man gave his four sons to the care of the monks at Lindisfarne. Two of them excelled in their work and became Bishops. One of them was summoned by King Oswald to carry out what we would now call the ‘facilitation’ of the competing ‘learned opinions’ of the synod.

Our deliberations are made more complex by the fact that King Oswald’s beloved queen was also a Christian, but of the Roman faith – established in Britain by Augustine and gathering momentum as the Pope pushed for consolidation of belief in an important outpost of his religious world view. Husband and wife were therefore on opposite sides of the debate… or were they?

One of the young bishops from Lindisfarne was Cedd – later St Cedd. He had risen to fame and religious prominence by the force of his intellect, and his religious devotion – learned from the Celtic Christian monks on Lindisfarne, only fifty miles north of Whitby.

The man who became St Cedd is the psychological focus of our weekend; and in the story of the last year of his life, we will trace our own footsteps – spiritual and physical, across the former landscape of Northumbria, a place that is now the beautiful county and coastline of North Yorkshire.

It begins on a Friday in December, when Bishop Cedd arrives, via the near two-hundred steps, at the Abbey of Whitby. He has a heavy heart, but knows that his duty to his king must be at odds with the only life he has every known. And he also knows that duty must come before all else, regardless of the effect it must have on everything he has always loved.

Cedd knows what he shouldn’t… and is powerless to act upon it.

In that decision, he opens himself to the moment that teaches… And we will try to follow…

The Keys of Heaven: in the footsteps of St Cedd takes place on the weekend of 6-8 December, 2019 in Whitby and surrounding region. Come and join us in the mind and heart of the man who became history’s St Cedd.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Pilgrims of Blood and Stone

 

 

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The blood: the Life that flows through us, taken in as breath, fresh each second, flowing out to be renewed in the world of nature; natural, given.

The stone: the fixed structures we rely on to ensure persistence of that life-force made flesh. The riddle, the contradiction – the mystery… beginning with that most profound and persistent structure: the body…

There is no more beautiful a coastline in which to explore the mystery of our being than Northumberland. The beaches are wonderful, the climate is usually mild late into the Autumn. The mellowness of September will be perfect.

This former Kingdom in its own right is rich in history; ancient and modern. Yet, it remains unvisited by most. Look on a map and you’ll see how it’s lovely hills and coast form a separate realm between England and Scotland.

Northumberland from Google
( Image above: Northumberland – an ancient Kingdom between England and Scotland. (Google Maps))

The castle or the fortified tower is capable of being used as working symbol of the way we guard against life; and Northumberland is full of such treasures. They mirror its history, from the ancient political and religious roots to its lawless centuries when gangs – land pirates – roamed, unchecked, in the times of the Border reivers.

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(Image above: the fortified Tower – about which, more later….

Pilgrims have always come this way, drawn by the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. We, too, will be drawn towards its mysterious and ancient shores, the birthplace of English (Celtic) Christianity. But, before we make that last odyssey across the causeway (or sands, for the adventurous) to that final island of the soul, we will make other journeys along the edge of the land, journeys that use coast and castle to explore the seemingly contrasting nature of survival and spirituality.

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(Image above: the castle on the far point of Lindisfarne. Taken from the Tourist Information board)

Day One: Friday 14th September, 2018

To begin our journey as pilgrims of blood and stone, we will gather, in the late afternoon, of Friday 14th September, in the lovely village of Bamburgh – home to the world famous castle of the same name. The Victoria Hotel will host us for tea, coffee and cakes while we make introductions, meet old and new friends, and discuss the plans for the weekend ahead.

(Image above: The Victoria Hotel, Bamburgh village – our Friday meeting place)

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After this, we will do what pilgrims have always done; we will walk, in essence, beginning our symbolic journey to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. One of the finest beaches in Britain is a few minutes away from Bamburgh village, and we will continue to set the scene by strolling and considering the splendour of Bamburgh Castle, seen from the shore.

During the walk, we will share thoughts and readings on the themes generated by the idea of Castles of the Mind – our name for this Walk and Talk workshop. We will ask the first of several questions, questions designed to shape the weekend from an emotional and spiritual perspective. All our answers will be unique; there is no right or wrong, they simply reflect our experiences and our aspirations.

The geographic base for our weekend is the lovely fishing harbour of Seahouses. We will retire there after our beach walk at Bamburgh

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A stroll around the harbour will help us work up an appetite for that most important ingredient of any trip to Seahouses: their world-famous fish and chips. Other dishes are available…

To finish our Friday, we will retire to one of several sea-facing pubs to relax. Tomorrow will be a busy day…

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Day Two: Saturday 15th September, 2018img_1174To begin the Saturday, we will drive the short distance to Bamburgh Castle and tour this famous landmark, known as the King of Castles. Bamburgh is the royal seat of the kings of Northumbria and is still a family home–though no longer to kings… The admission price is £11.00 per person and, as with the entry fee for other locations, is not included in the Silent Eye’s booking fee.

The guided tour will tell the story of Bamburgh’s many incarnations over the centuries, from Anglo Saxon Royal palace to its reconstruction in the Victorian period by inventor and industrialist Lord Armstrong; to whom it was the vision of a perfect castle. From the guidebook:

“Our vast and imposing walls have witnessed dark tales of rebellion and bloodshed, spellbinding myths, millionaire benefactors and ghosts who love Bamburgh Castle so much, they never want to leave.”

After this, ghosts permitting, we will take refreshments in the cafe, then gather on the ramparts overlooking the sea and consider the second of our discussion questions:

We will then drive a few miles south, along the coast, to arrive at the beautiful fishing village of Craster.

Craster is very compact, and easily explored. A short walk up the hill is the Jolly Fisherman pub, famous for its seafood dinners and ‘light’ lunches.

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This will be followed by a relaxed walk along the dramatic cliffs of the coastline between Craster and Embelton.

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A twenty minute walk will take us to the haunting ruin of Dunstanburgh Castle, which stands on a remote headland. Dunstanburgh became a key stronghold during the early fourteenth century; a tumultuous period in English history. Relations between King Edward II and Earl Thomas of Lancaster had broken down. Earl Thomas had begun the construction of the castle in 1313, very possibly as a provocative symbol of his opposition to the King. The Earl mounted a rebellion, but, when it was defeated by King Edward’s forces, he was arrested before he could reach the safety of his intended fortress.

Earl Thomas was executed in 1322. Dunstanburgh Castle passed, eventually, to John of Gaunt, who used it to defend against the Scots, converting the twin-towered gatehouse into a keep. During the Wars of the Roses, it was the scene of two sieges and eventually fell into Yorkist hands. Today, it survives as an impressive ruin, but visitors speak of how its ‘presence’ lingers in the memory….

Dunstanburgh Castle is operated by English Heritage, with reciprocal honouring of  National Trust memberships. Admission is £5.40. Concessions are available.

At Dunstanburgh, we will consider our third question, then, we will drive a few miles east, to visit one of Northumberland’s least-known historical gems: the Preston Pele Tower at Ellingham.

Northumberland, has a bloody history; largely because of its position as one of two border counties between England and Scotland. Few places convey the vivid fear and caution of the past as well as the Preston Pele Tower. The tower is owned by Major Tom Baker Cresswell and is privately managed. It was constructed in the 1390s when warfare between Scotland and England was at its height. At the time of the battle of Agincourt, there were 78 such pele towers in Northumberland. Among its owners was Sir Guiscard Harbottle, who was killed at the battle of Flodden in 1513 – the conflict that brought Mary, Queen of Scots to the Scottish throne.

By the 16th century, the rest of England was enjoying peace and prosperity. But, in the Borders of Northumberland, raiders, known as ‘reivers’, crossed freely though the area, ravaging and looting. This led to the continued use of ‘tower dwellings’ among the well-off families. The idea may sound attractive – and we could say reflects today’s ‘gated communities’, but the intact interior of the Preston Pele Tower, with its reconstructed rooms, shows how primitive such living had to be.

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The Preston Pele Tower (and gardens) is privately owned, and admission is a very reasonable £2.00.

The extreme nature of this isolation illustrates the power of fear to drastically change lives. With this in mind, we will carry out a mystical and psychological exercise related to our coming arrival in Lindisfarne on Sunday.

There are no refreshments at the Preston Pele Tower, but an early dinner will be booked at the nearby Pack Horse Inn in Ellingham.

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After the long day, and our early dinner, we will retire back to Seahouses for a possible nightcap before retiring for the night. A very special Sunday morning awaits…

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Day Three: Sunday 16th September, 2018

Our final day is a physical and spiritual homecoming. Our pilgrimage is to end on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which can be reached (subject to the tides) by car, over the causeway. Lindisfarne can also be reached on foot, across a three mile stretch of marked path over the sands. We will consult on the day, and if there are those who wish to make the final journey a true walking pilgrimage, then we will arrange for one or more cars to be left at Lindisfarne so that the walking is one-way only. Be prepared to be very sandy/muddy if you wish to walk! Having said that, to arrive at a place of pilgrimage after a degree of ‘hardship’ is an entirely appropriate thing.

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Lindisfarne needs little introduction. The monastery there was founded by an Irish monk, St Aidan. Aidan had presided over the monastery at Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. He was sent to establish the Lindisfarne community in the year 634 AD, and remained there till his death in 651 AD.

The holy island of Lindisfarne has attracted pilgrims for hundreds of years. It is a fitting and beautiful place to end the Castles of the Mind weekend. The village comprises:

  • a large car park; the first major feature you come to, having crossed the tidal causeway.
  • Two main streets, one of which leads to the crossroads and, beyond, the excellent museum; the other involves a fifteen minute walk to the far end of the island where the castle is situated.
  • There is also a meditation garden, which we may use if time permits.

For ease of finding, we will meet at the Oasis Cafe, which lies on the road from the car park.

The castle is currently undergoing work, but the visitor centre within it is open. The walk down from the village is well worth the views of the beaches and the headland on which the castle is built.

If we have worked our collective intentions well, we should each feel a certain ‘presence’ when we arrive on the island of Lindisfarne.

To conclude our weekend, we will remember the bravery of the early fathers of religion, such as St Aidan, who set sail into the complete unknown to establish their faith on distant shores. We can, perhaps, have little understanding of the depth of that faith; but we can, in our own ways, recreate that ‘setting off’ into the unknown – without fear.

Our final gathering will be a powerful and moving close to a wonderful weekend. Why not see out the end of the summer in style and join us…

 

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Castles of the Mind workshop

Weekend of 14-16 September 2018.

Location: Northumberland

To join us on our Castles of the Mind weekend email us at:

rivingtide@gmail.com

Or Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

Enquiries: rivingtide@gmail.com.

We’d love to have you with us. You can find our more about the Silent Eye School of Consciousness here.

Weekend Costs

There is a charge of £50.00 per person. All other expenses, such as accommodation, food and entry charge for the sites visited, are the responsibility of those attending. Meals are usually taken together in a local pub, and the costs shared.


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 home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham

 

 

 

Dwellers in Towers

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A recent trip to the beautiful Northumbrian coast threw up a chance visit to Preston Tower, one of a type known as a ‘Pele Tower’ – a fortified place of refuge for well-to-do families, built during the times of the ‘Border Reivers’ – armed family gangs who took the law into their own hands in these often un-policed borderlands between England and Scotland.

In the famous Pevsner’s Guides to the architecture of the UK, the Northumberland guide describes this type of building:

“In the 14th Century Northumberland was almost permanently in a state of warfare, and in the 15th and 16th centuries the county was still so sorely harassed by armies, gangs and thieves that a tower house was the only possible insurance a man of sufficient property could take out.”

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In the entrance room is a model of how Preston Tower would have looked in the 14th century. Only half of it remains, but that is in very good condition and considered one of the finest examples in Britain.

Towers and their dwellers have always interested me, as they illustrate a particular set of human attributes: the needs for security and the power of fear – something whose controlling power we make reference to as a block to individual spiritual development in the Silent Eye’s three year self-exploration course, where one of the archetypes encountered is just that Dweller in the Tower.

Towers have featured often in spiritual literature. The famous Tarot Card of the “Blasted Tower” is a reference to the destruction by natural forces (lightning, in this case) of the upper levels of the Tower’s construction. To find the whole origin of the essence of the card we need to go back to the Bible, where, in Genesis, it tells that, in a land after the great flood, all ‘men’ spoke the same language. They decided to build a Tower to Heaven from the ‘slime’ of the earth. God confounded their plans by causing them all to speak a different language.

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The ‘Blasted Tower’ from the Ryder-Waite Tarot Deck painted by Pamela Coleman-Smith. Wikkipedia Public Domain (source)

We might assume that a kindly God would be pleased at our attempts to build a tower to reach ‘him’, but the essence of the story is that the materials used were not those that would withstand a dialogue with so powerful a being; and hence that very force – or attempted dialogue – was the source of the destruction. A mystical interpretation is that a successful tower would have to be built from below and from above at the same time… But that is a topic for another post.

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Despite its apparent size, the interior space is minimal. The arrangement of the space is entirely geared to defence rather than comfortable living.

The Dweller in the Tower is secure but cut off from the world they fear. The fear is real, as is the perceived threat, but it may not be present.

The effect of separation from the surrounding landscape is a terrible price to pay. We might say that such an approach takes us away from the ‘flow’ of life – a flow that, if embraced openly, is the key to our personal evolution. This is not an easy step, and is counter intuitive. It is the kind of step we take only when we become convinced that our life (within the Tower) is no longer capable of providing any real sustenance.

Pele towers like Preston Tower were build by rich men. They subjected their families to terrible and cramped living conditions in the name of safety. Psychologically, we might say that our obsession with safety does much of the same, today…

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What would be attractive about life in a tower? One good thing might be the view. From a good height, we can see more… but not touch or feel or smell it. This suggests an isolation of the intellectual sense, that lives its life against a ‘picture’ of the world rather than the world, itself.

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The view from the roof of Preston Tower, near Bamburgh

From that height, using that view, I could see all around me. I could compile detailed maps of the world below, bringing all that knowledge back into my tower, like a spy might – but it would always be historical knowledge. My interaction with the world below could be minimal, or as slight as I wanted it. Whenever I felt the least bit threatened, I could close the thick doors and bolt them. Then, climbing the winding staircase, I could take myself farther and farther from what might hurt me… take myself farther and farther from life, itself, replaying only the bits I wanted.

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The Tower Dweller is not a complete human in the Silent Eye’s approach. He or she is an aspect of the personality, one formed from that part of the spectrum of ourselves which is associated with fear. The Pele towers were a very good model for one aspect of the modern personality, which feels itself under threat from things real – and many more, imaginary.

It takes targeted effort and a lot of self-honesty to see these deeply- rooted patterns in ourselves. The positive side of that coin is that they are fundamentals within our self. Any changes to these ‘magnetic poles’ in ourselves will alter the whole. If we simply concentrate on the Tower Dweller within us, then our self-work will be unbalanced. Far better to circumscribe ourselves so that we can see what other aspects hold the patterns of our vital energies prisoner.

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One day, we might climb to the roof for a different reason…

One day, we might climb to that roof and look at the view, all around, for a different reason. We might have come to a vision of the potential fullness of our real selves and want to take one last look at the landscape from above, before opening the door and venturing out into that world with a very different purpose. The map will still be useful, but limited, compared with being there.

As the first breaths of our new life enter the lungs, enriching neglected inner pathways with new life, we might look back at the soaring stonework and thank the Tower; thank it for keeping us safe until we grew confident enough in ourselves to make our destination the world and not its isolated heights.

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As the sun sets on the cold stone, we might find ourselves laughing and running into that forest, creeping up to shout ‘Boo!’ to the bogeyman who we once thought lived there…


Preston Tower details: http://www.prestontower.co.uk/


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 home-based, low-cost and supervised correspondence courses.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©Stephen Tanham, Silent Eye School of Consciousness.