First impressions…

I met a woman outside the village shop. We had the vaguest of acquaintance to begin with, a greeting over her garden fence, but enough, apparently, for her to decide she had reason to enquire after my entire family and circle of friends before starting to dig up anything she could about my past. It was done with eager curiosity, a toothless smile and no malice whatsoever. The lady is elderly and lives alone; she may simply have wanted the company, or someone to talk to… and possibly something to talk about when she next met her friends.

Walking home, I had to think about that. I had barely arrived when a knock on the door heralded the arrival of a couple of fresh-faced evangelists. Their interest was solely in my religious bias, not even the state of my soul. They did not seem intent on my salvation as much as coercing my cooperation. Brandishing the Bible under my nose they instructed me to pray in a particular manner for Government on Earth by God. Their perception of God, of course, not mine; they had no interest in that. They quoted Bible verses as if I knew nothing, assuming that I would know nothing, and seemed most disconcerted when I could quote them too. They had no interest whatsoever in listening to my view, or even my responses to their questions, only in promulgating their own.

The little old lady was sweet and made me smile, even though her questioning approached the third degree. I parried her curiosity as best I could and listened to her ailments. Although I had a lot to do, I was in no hurry to escape her. The evangelists looked earnest and tired. I can imagine that they had not been well received by the majority of doors upon which they had knocked. They were pleasant enough people, but the blinkers of their fervour placed a barrier between us through which no personality was allowed to shine. I might as well have been speaking with automata.

When we meet someone it is natural for us to be curious, I think. We like to know who it is that we are talking to, like to know something about the person behind the face, the clothes or the front door. Yet our assessment of whether or not we like someone seems to be made almost instantaneously, based not upon a detailed background knowledge of their life story, but simply on the ‘feel’ of them. Body language, a look in the eye, a smile… the ‘vibe’ we pick up from them. And perhaps what they reflect back at us of ourselves.

There is no need to give the third degree and question the past of a friend, their life’s journey is their own and those who become friends will share what they choose, when they choose, as the moment invites. Much is shared simply by them being who they are, without need for detail and history; their lives and choices, good, bad and indifferent; their stories, trials, successes and fears have shaped and made them who they are and it is who they are that we care about. Not who they have been, who they might have been or who they may yet become. Who they are right now, in this moment that they are spending with you, that is what matters.

There is not one of us who has not made mistakes, triumphed over something, suffered embarrassment, given joy or caused hurt to someone somehow. No-one goes through life without writing a story on the pages of time, and all stories call upon the gamut of human behaviour and emotion. Our relationships with people are seldom begun with a knowledge of that story, we simply reach out and ‘touch’ whether a person feels right or not in that first split-second of meeting and our smile or greeting will be warm, absent or polite in response to that feeling… and we are usually right.

And if that first impression is enough, why do we need the inquisition? I have known and loved friends others have disliked; it doesn’t matter at all who was wrong and who was right in their assessment of a character, what matters is whether the friendship was true. We look beyond the surface with a deeper understanding than facts and reason when we exchange that first smile of friendship. We ‘know’ that person in a way we cannot explain and which may bear little relation to the facts of their life or ours.

My little old lady and I will now exchange smiles and talk when we see each other again. The evangelists, their own human warmth closed and curtailed by their mission, I would probably not recognise in the street if I saw them. It felt as if they had not seen me as a person nor had they opened themselves for me to see. I found that sad, an opportunity missed. It seemed as if in opening my door, a door had closed between us. Perhaps they are so used to dismissal or antagonism that their personal shields are up. Or perhaps they had simply looked and not liked what they found. Those first impressions work both ways.

How we are three…

There are three of us who work together to run the Silent Eye. It started with one when Steve took the decision to build the School. I was drafted in soon afterwards and Stuart, who had been working with us from the start, was eventually persuaded to make the position official. Working as we do with the triangle at the heart of the symbol of the enneagram, three was a perfect number. It ensures that there is a constant cross-fertilisation of ideas, as well as echoing the spirit and the form of the equilateral triangle.

One of the things about which we have always been adamant is that we did not want to build a school built around a single personage… the cult of personality is too prevalent in our society and seldom has a happy outcome. On the other hand, the people who run a school such as ours should, we believe, be both approachable and visible. No student should be asked to entrust themselves to a nebulous shadow. Nor should we ask students to look at their own personalities if we are not prepared to share our own.

We all three have our own, personal blogs, where we share and explore our own ideas and beliefs. The Silent Eye subscribes to no single or political viewpoint and both we and our students are free to follow the dictates of heart and conscience. We also share some of our personal perspecives here on the Silent Eye’s blog, in that same spirit of openness.

So, some time ago, I thought it would be a good idea for each of us to tell our stories… and after a little prodding, the gentlemen sent me their tales to which I added mine. Our journeys have been very different, yet our paths have come close to crossing so many times over the years that there is a strange feeling of inevitability about where we now find ourselves. I have a feeling we are exactly where we are supposed to be… The stories were duly filed on the website, somewhere behind the Menu button, and barely saw the light of day again. I thought it might be of interest to share them here…

Steve Tanham

I was born in May 1954. I came into the world (with the help of my mother and a good midwife), in a terraced house belonging to my grandparents in a working-class district of Bolton. I had the good fortune to be born into a Rosicrucian family. My father had come across an advert for AMORC (one of the best-known Rosicrucian Schools) in a magazine he was reading while waiting at a railway station. He was on his way to carry out his basic training at an army camp. Later, he became the spiritual beacon of our family, and my mother married him, largely, she claims, because he was “different” from other men in this respect…

Continue reading Steve’s story here

Stuart France

I grew up in a religiously tolerant family which knew a thing or two about love and faith. Nan left the Catholic Church to marry Gramps and their eldest son, Uncle Geoff, my mum’s little brother eventually rejoined the Catholic Church in order to marry Aunty Cath which meant that when we went to spend holidays with Little Geoff and Janet and Mandy we went to their Church with them which was Catholic and when Little Geoff, Janet and Mandy came to spend the holidays with us they came to our church which was Church of England. It didn’t seem odd to do this and it came as something of a shock to realise that in olden times people had lost their lives for less.

Continue reading Stuart’s story here

Sue Vincent

My grandfather gave me his annotated copy of the Mystical Qabalah by Dion Fortune when I was 15. “This is the only magical book that you will ever need,” he told me. “But you’ll fill a good many bookshelves before you get there.” He was right. It was all in that first book; but learning is a spiral and you have to come back to the same point over and over again, bringing new knowledge and understanding each time before you can really see what lies in your hand.

Continue reading Sue’s story here