An Eye full of Reflections (4)

 

As the land-train pulls out of the main square in Portmeirion, we head up into the forest. There are three distinct internal regions within the Portmeirion site. The first is the village, itself; the second is the coastal walk; and the third is the forest walk. The little train follows the forest road, but stops to give a view of the coast in several places. Sometimes, it’s difficult to separate the often wicked humour of the creator of Portmeirion – Clough Williams-Ellis, from the mental overlay that hunters of the ‘Prisoner experience’ project onto this unique place.

Station names like: Salutation, Old Castle, Playground, and Shelter Valley all take on a secondary, if not intended meaning within the context of following the McGoohan mind as you attempt to tease out the secrets of this landscape embedded in the Prisoner series.

We had invited our companions to spend their own time in the forest before meeting up for a group walk along the coastal path. The forest is a very special place and, to my recollection, featured in the Prisoner series only when No 6 was running away or having secret meetings with other ‘prisoners’ – many of whom were planted, and simply pretending to suffer to get No 6’s sympathy so that he would tell them why he resigned. The thought brings back the central question of the series: why was it so important that the various No 2 characters found out the motives of No 6? They were presumed to be all-powerful, so why did it matter what reasons had engendered the resignation in the first place?

“His power – the very reason for him being here and retaining a glimmer of that power – was that he had a secret,” hisses the intense green all around us… The sun is getting hotter and the deep, summer blue fills the gaps in the canopy of the forest. The shifting has begun, again….

And then, high up in the trees, a pagoda comes into view and we’re suddenly back in that different sense of presence where the voice of McGoohan is guiding us from ‘above’. There is no pretence that the being of the actor is actually here, simply that we have woven an internal, creative state – a kind of walking meditation that enables insights, using the ‘voiced presence’ of the creator of No 6 to help bring it to life. It’s a directed mediation, just like we use in the Silent Eye, and, in this rich and wonderful hillside, it’s working beautifully…

There is a real question here, beyond the mental and emotional game we are playing: what did it mean? What was the inner meaning that McGoohan went to such pains to conceal, giving only hints, even long after he had left the Prisoner behind. “It’s important, then,” says his voice in my head. “to work it out for yourself.”

We move deeper into the forest. The green intensifies…

“Who were they, then?” asks the dark voice of No 6, “The others – the supposed fellow victims of abduction to this demented heaven and hell?”

It’s a sobering question. If McGoohan was the ‘awakened’ self, projected, post-resignation, into a new reality in which his ordinary life became exposed as a prison and left him resolutely determined to escape to the ‘real’, then who were the characters who met him in the forest, pretending also to have been abducted? Agents of someone, singular or plural, but who? The mysterious No 1, presumably…

We are climbing now, and, up ahead a Japanese Cedar curls out its exotic curves, projecting an image of something that goes somewhere via a very roundabout route. Its shape suggests that straight lines don’t necessarily get you there as you expected, and sometimes curved paths are more fruitful.

How do you follow a curve? I ask myself. Then the old answer comes back, one borne of recent experience: with trust… in other words by staying on it. When the envisaged future is invisible you can either refuse to get off the bus in the forest or get off at Unknown Crossing and trust that you are where you should be…

The forest begins to speak for itself; there is the sense that we have discovered enough, that if we take what we have and see it from the green wholeness that this place provides, the important patterns will emerge.

We say little, simply walking and letting our thoughts wander.

 

There’s a signpost up ahead. Ironically, it speaks of a lighthouse. What more potent a symbol could there be? And then, as the path moves downhill and turns sharply left, the forest gives way to the coast. The splendour of the sea is revealed, pointing us back to the place where our adventure began, the previous evening – in the tiny cove of Borth-y-Gest. It’s a wonderful omen…

“I’m going to take a stab at it,” I say to Barbara.

“What, the whole thing?” she laughs.

“What’s to lose?” I ask, sounding more sure than I am.

“Ok,” she says, challengingly; waiting and watching as I draw breath and look out to sea.

“No 6’s life as a spy is just that – he spies on life from a distance and under the cover of special powers.”

I look across at her. Initially, she says nothing, then, “It’s a good start…”

Another breath, deeper this time, because I’m assembling this, charged with the forest’s green energy, as I go.

“He realises the shallowness of his life and resigns – the brochure of a holiday paradise in his case – intending to be free of the whole thing and completely underestimating the power of the establishment to curtail his little adventure.”

“The establishment… I like that,” Barbara says, laughing, and continues. “Who promptly drag him, drugged, back to where he came from and psychologically torture him.”

“Exactly,” I say, warming to this unfolding. “He forgot the power of the establishment – the ego – to take away his new, enthusiastic consciousness and drug him back to an imprisoned state where ‘it’ could find out what he was up to…”

“So, in a sense, he stays drugged, and wakes up powerless but determined to get back to that moment of truth from which he could see his new life, his paradise?”

I look at her, so glad this has been a shared thing. “Yes… Exactly that.”

“And No 1?”

“No One, Oneself… Take your pick. The other ‘controllers’ are the regents of the ego, trying different ways to undo him – as they have done all his life. They don’t answer his question of Who is No 1?, because they can’t.” I pause, slightly giddy with the ride, and grinning like the proverbial cat.

She is smiling, too. “But when he truly wakes, again, by defeating the No 2s, he will remember that he is really No 1?”

“Exactly… and paradise will be reclaimed.”

“Bloody hell!” she says.

It’s a very precise statement…

——- to be continued ——-

Other parts in this series:

Part One,   Part Two,   Part Three,

©Stephen Tanham

An Eye full of Reflections (2)

There is so much going on that you can miss him on the downward leg of the guided introduction to Portmeirion. In a world of the strangely beautiful, one in which the normal laws of constructing a ‘village’ have been changed, there is simply too much to see to notice the quiet, deeply bronze head of Patrick McGoohan.

We stop to consider this dramatic bust – strangely overlooked when we made our rekkie trip a month prior. Then, our attention is drawn to a bee, exhausted from its work, standing in the middle of the tarmac of the roadway along which the group is walking.  I stop to pick it up, using a leaf as stretcher, and relocate it beneath a laurel hedge. Later, I wonder at the world of that bee; at the intervention of a ‘higher power’ to create an alternate reality in which the little creature can have no notion of what just happened – even the fact that its life was probably saved. It is a metaphor that will return to my mind may times as this Silent Eye weekend unfolds.

And then, somewhat behind the rest of the group, we turn, again to study the bust of Patrick McGoohan, previously unseen. Amidst the splendour of Portmeirion – especially on a blazingly blue and golden summer day like this – you could be forgiven for thinking that it was just another wonderful art treasure, like so many others to be found in the village.

But it’s not…

Its a very good rendering of a man who had nothing to do with the creation of this gem of a village, just east of Porthmadog and sixteen miles south of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. It’s the head of a man–a British actor– who had a passion so strong that he turned down two separate offers to play James Bond in the early films, a role that would have brought him worldwide fame and fortune, rather than the lesser pickings from his (till then), most famous role as Danger Man in the hit British TV series.

Most of the tourists passing through the gate miss the bronze completely. And rightly so… They are here to see the architectural masterpiece created over a forty year period by Clough Williams-Ellis, whose own lifelong passion was the real village of Portmeirion. Even the official guide, leading our group, does not pause at the McGoohan statue, yet someone in power, here, viewed him important enough to justify the creation of it by Tiziano, and its donation to the village. Like the man and the bee, it occupies another, parallel realm, with a modern mythology so strong that a good proportion of Portmeirion’s visitors every year still arrive in search of its ‘McGoohan secrets’…

The two worlds co-exist very nicely. There is harmony in Portmeirion’s coffers, and who can blame them? The estate did give its permission for the filming of the famous TV series of The Prisoner in 1967 – a decision that greatly enhanced their own fortunes. Even today, fifty years after The Prisoner’s creation, people come in droves to see if they can further decode the enigmatic story of No 6, the British spy who resigned and then woke to find himself in the surreal landscape of a sugar-coated but deadly ‘Village’ – Portmeirion as it was and is, but viewed from a different consciousness.

Patrick McGoohan was close to Lew Grade, the head of ITV in that heady era of the late 1960s. McGoohan was a deeply religious man – and deplored any glorification of violence – which was why he had twice refused the Bond role. Later, he spoke in interviews of the ‘greatest enemy’ that mankind  faced – himself. He had been determined to create a ground-breaking series in which this deadly relationship between worldly success and inner insanity was broken open. The result was The Prisoner, which ran for seventeen episodes before Lew Grade, fearing that McGoohan was so involved he would be unable to bring it to an end, pulled the plug and forced McGoohan to curtail it, prematurely, with a single anarchic episode.

McGoohan’s adoring public, unable to understand it, jammed ITV’s switchboard for hours. McGoohan and his family fled to a rented cottage in Wales where they locked themselves in and rode out the storm. McGoohan emigrated to the USA shortly after.

One of the mysterious landscapes in the Village – the giant chess board. The chess pieces appeared only at the end of the Prisoner series, though the board was a feature from the start…

Our Friday night had begun gently at the Moorings Restaurant in Borth-y-Gest. During that evening, we had begun our consideration of the modern mythology of the Prisoner by discussion the idea of Resignation – what got No 6 in trouble, in the first place. We discussed whether it was ever valid to ‘resign’ from something or whether we were simply ducking what was before us, thereby judging ourselves ‘above it’.  It’s a very complex issue – as McGoohan knew it would be for generations of people attempting to understand his creation.

The No 6 cafe. We were inside, watching the opening episode of The Prisoner

Our Saturday morning had seen us taking coffee and, for some, breakfast, at the famous No 6 cafe, where, with the permission of the staff we got out a laptop and watched the opening minutes of the Prisoner series. This was a treat for the few who had never seen the original. Soon, though, the Guide was calling for those on the first tour to gather outside.

Now, only a few minutes later, but in another world, we turned, reluctantly, away from the bronze. The Guide was getting ahead of us, and I could feel that strange sensation that signals the entry of something deeper into the moment. At the base of the hill, where Portmeirion meets the estuary, we were due to consider the next ‘seed-thought’: when your world changes, completely, do you accept it or take up resistance against it?

——- to be continued ——-

Other parts in this series:

Part One, 

©Stephen Tanham

The ‘Village’ and its occupants

Portmeirion recci from hotel up hill copy

It is hauntingly  beautiful. It sits in its own part of a lovely estuary, just east of Porthmadog, in the south of Snowdonia, Wales. Its name is Portmeirion and it was the life-work of an architect named Clough Williams-Ellis, who held a passionate belief that a ‘tightly-grouped coastal village’ could be developed in that majestic mountain setting, and that its development would illustrate how such a design could grow into the landscape without spoiling it.

Chess thru arch colour

In the late 1960s it became the setting for the ITV series “The Prisoner”, created by and starring Patrick McGoohan, famous for the Danger Man series. The then head of ITV, Lew Grade, eventually got fed up with funding the rather eccentric series, causing McGoohan to bring it to a premature conclusion after only seventeen episodes. The final episode caused the television company’s switchboard to be jammed for hours, as tens of thousands of people rang in, demanding to know what it all meant!

Prisoner Logo Wiki
Image: Wikki, reasonable use

The Prisoner became a cult classic, overnight, and is still written about and quoted today. Something in it captured the imagination of the 1960s audience and was in-tune with the darker side of post-war civilisation and the cold war era, with its emphasis on the psychological aspects of dissent.

Today, a high proportion of those visiting Portmerion do so to follow in the footsteps of McGoohan’s character, the kidnapped British spy ‘No 6’, who had mysteriously resigned from the secret service to find himself drugged and transported to the surreal ‘Village’ so that his motives could be probed- psychologically and in increasingly deadly ways…

So what was it all about? McGoohan would never say. It may be significant that, as a devout Catholic, McGoohan had refused many other roles on moral grounds, including that of James Bond (twice). We can assume that the inner meaning of The Prisoner was close to his heart and portrayed something morally essential about mankind’s nature.

The Silent Eye holds four workshops a year. The main event, in April, begins our spiritual year, but the other three mark the nearest usable points to the dates of the summer and winter solstice and the autumn equinox. The midsummer period is very special, as it allows us full use of a long day with a chance of good weather. This year, we are using the landscape of Portmeirion and the story of McGoohan’s resigned and kidnapped spy, No 6, to create a ‘walk and talk’ basis for a weekend (Friday 16 – Sunday 18 June) of shared insights, fun and exploration in this beautiful landscape.

For each of the ‘themes’ referenced below, we invite you to bring (or, if you wish, create) your favourite readings of any nature, to share with the group at a time you find appropriate.

Portmeirion Chess Pieces+View

In “The Village”, No. 6 experienced different stages of separation and rebellion as he fought to find who was ‘No. 1″. His catch phrase, often shouted at cameras that were monitoring his every move was “I am not a number, I am a free man.” Nowadays, we all have numbers, and if those who seek to control society succeed, we may soon be expected to be ‘chipped’ so that the whole of a population may be tracked – purely to prevent terrorism, of course; and ‘those who have done nothing wrong have nothing to fear’, though my history books tell me that may have been used, before…

Portmadog area bigger
Map: Google Maps

No. 6 experienced disbelief, as he woke from his drugged transportation to find the pastel-coloured and surreal ‘Village’ as his new home.  This act of non-acceptance becomes one of our core themes for the weekend.

What do we do when we wake one morning to find that our world has changed, forever? That we don’t even live in the same land we thought we inhabited?

There are so many parallels in our domestic and political lives at present. On the Friday (16th June) of the weekend, we will explore what kind of things we can, psychologically, ‘Resign From’. The venue for this will be a via short walk along the coastal path from our base at Porthmadog to the beautiful cove of Borth-y-Gest, where drinks and dinner await us at the Moorings Bistro.

Saturday morning, 17th June, will be spent at the village of Portmeirion. We will meet at the famous No. 6 Cafe, just inside the Portmeirion village boundary. There, over a coffee or two, we will watch the beginning of the first episode of the Prisoner TV series… to set the scene for the day.

No 6 cafe sign

Our arrival will be timed to join one of the guided tours of the Village.

Portmeirion grand terrace

Portmeirion taxi road and dome

Portmeirion Ship on ball

Following our guided tour, we will visit some of the key places from the Prisoner series, before taking a short coastal walk around the boundaries of the gardens and the forest, beyond. Here, our theme will be the consideration of the word ‘Resistance’. Does it have value? What forms does modern resistance take? And what we – who have lived in an age of relative peace and prosperity – have to learn from history?

Forest back to main square

Portmeirion column and house

We will then have an hour’s free time to wander and take in the beauty of our last moments in Portmeirion, meeting at the No. 6 cafe for our departure to the next destination.

Portmeirion cove

Harlech, with its famous castle, lies about 30 minutes drive south of Portmeirion. Weather permitting, we will take a late lunch on the wooden deck on the Castle Museum’s cafe, looking down on the castle and the steeply-sloped valley that sweeps down to the sea; and points back at Portmeirion.

Here, we will consider the nature of ‘Authority’. How much effect does it have on our individual lives? Do we adapt our lives to ignore it or is it a constant pressure on our freedom and creativity? What are the sources of oppression in our lives? Are they all real or do some of them originate in ourselves?

Harlech Castle and estuary ace
Harlech’s famous castle

Harlech is a tiny town with a big castle and its ancient streets hold many pleasant surprises… some of which may be hard to resist…

Harlech ice cream

Our final destination for the Saturday afternoon is a secret; but there we will conduct a simple group ritual to mark the coming summer solstice, before returning to Porthmadog for a period of rest before drinks and dinner at one of the restaurants in the town.

It will have been a day well spent…

IMG_0123

Sunday 18th June will be spent considering the theme of ‘Escape’. Is there really such a thing as a noble escape? Are we greater or lesser if we take such a choice? Perhaps there are certain situations too intolerable which requires us to say, ‘enough’, and use all our energies to leave?

Our ‘escape’ will be from Porthmadog, rather than the Prisoner’s Portmeirion.

https://www.visitsnowdonia.info/ffestiniog_and_welsh_highland_railway-151.aspx

The Porthmadog Quayside also hosts the station from which the famous restored steam trains depart for the mountains of Snowdonia. After exploring our destination, we will have a light lunch and return via the train to say our goodbyes and make our departures.

These events are open to all. They are useful, informal occasions if you are interested in meeting the people behind the Silent Eye’s enneagram-based consciousness programme, delivered, with personal supervision, as a correspondence course.

For all but the main April workshop, those attending make their own arrangements for accommodation and share in the cost of the meals. We charge an administration fee of £50.00 per person for each weekend.

For details of any of our events, see the website at: www.thesilenteye.co.uk

Or send us an email at rivingtide@gmail.com

All text and images ©️Stephen Tanham.