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

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 Finding of Polarity (1) – #Silenti

Arrows of polarityAA

We can speak of mysticism, of magic, of meditation, of psychodynamics and many other labels, but all these refer to the attempt by the human consciousness to become aware of a deeper level of existence than our normal day-world.

In dreams, we experience another ‘world’ but it is often confusing and seldom follows the laws of cause and effect with which we try to control what happens to us in our day-world.

A more accurate word to describe this quest is that we seek to enter the world of metaphysics. Meta, in this sense, implies a greater or underlying understanding. Physics speaks for itself, but only since the age of ‘rational science’ has it excluded the aspect of consciousness. Meta-physics, then, is the search for laws that involve the whole human in a deeper understanding of action, reaction and possible reconciliation.

Today, more than ever before, these concepts and experiences are important. We live in an age where the citizens of some of the most developed nations on earth are polarised against each other, not by physical harm being done – in the sense that a tribal feud would bring – but by an antithesis of idea…

Person ‘A’ sees that what is happening is against the very core values of their being, and turns the collective clock back for the county, in terms of its part in the world. Person ‘B’ see that ‘A’ is soft, susceptible to external persuasion and that things can be only be solved by self-based firm action and unity of purpose – and if there are casualties, well, they had it coming. Both sets of people are sincere in their beliefs. There are no laws of physics to describe such divergence of heated opinion; they are a complex mixture of logic, emotion, culture, and the invocation of ancient survival traits in the lower parts of our brain-stems.

Physics speaks of action and reaction. These have psychological equivalents as well, but the same laws are not followed. My beliefs may change tomorrow, but the angle at which a ray of light will be refracted through the same piece of glass will not.

Is there a science of how and why things happen? At a physical level the answer is a definite yes. Considered from the perspective of the whole of Life on Earth, the answer is not so simple. Metaphysics begins with a set of core principles – technically an ‘ontology’ or study of Being. Being is what is. Its attributes are to be rather than to do. If you believe in a human soul, an inner, deeper part of our being, then that soul may be said to live in world of Being, though we may pass the whole of our life without knowing of its presence.

Being does not need reason – it knows itself to be the child of a perfect universe.

Being underpins Doing. Doing is the unwinding of potential to do. Intelligence ‘aims’ that potential where it knows the most good can be done. In physics the ‘most good’ is the desired result – the football in the back of the opposition net, for example. In metaphysics, the idea of doing cannot be separated from the experience of moral good – as seen at the highest level of that person’s consciousness. Psychology sees ‘good’ in a similar way to physics, in that it is a relative quality. In metaphysics, good is a real thing and pervades the universe, waiting for its children of consciousness to wake up to its guiding presence.

We need not speak of God, here. But we can if we wish. We must, though, speak of Life. The Good is that which serves all Life as equitably as the distribution of potential for action will allow, looking after the developing consciousness as much as the physical vehicle which houses it.

The inner core of many of the mystical or magical traditions is the idea of polarity. Something is polarised when it exhibits an extreme of a certain quality. The ‘poles’ of such qualities might be easy to understand, like life and death or black and white, or hot and cold, or wet and dry. Many of these qualities are relative to the observer, in other words relative to the way we are affected by them. We are reactive to such things – they originate elsewhere and with a greater cause.

The word ‘spiritual’ simply means something that affects all the levels of our Being. The idea of spiritual polarity begins with the Will, or, in physics, the set of laws, that comes into existence at the birth of the ‘world’. We can define the ‘world’ as we wish. It can refer to the arising of life on Earth or to the Big Bang of the whole universe, depending how far back in time we wish to go. Time is, of course, not what it was. Einstein re-wrote the laws of classical physics with his proven theories of space-time within relativity.

The laws of consciousness describe increasing levels of awareness – from the simplest single-celled organisms, whose main property is to continue to exist as something separate, to the complexity of the human being, with the history of its entire evolution written in the increasingly sophisticated levels of its nervous system and brain. The story of Life on Earth is written along the human spine…

When Life is examined in this way, we begin to see the evolving climb of consciousness; and the importance of the polarities which drove its evolution. Something with increasingly powerful ‘eyes’ is being produced in the biosphere of the Earth. That original ‘Will’ of the universe, as seen on this planet, has resulted in the consciousness of mankind.

In the next post, we will ‘Look back along the telescope’ at the core polarities of how things happen, relating these principles to what is revealed in the depths of the human consciousness.

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017