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.

Four letter word

stonehenge 003

“Who do you love best?”

I overheard a conversation between mother and her small child and remembered my own sons asking me this question when they were very small. I imagine it is one many children throw at their parents and we reassure them, almost automatically, that we love them the same. It isn’t true, though is it? We may love them equally… in fact, I think by the very word love we are assuring them that we do, but we don’t love them ‘the same’.

Have you ever stopped to think about it? Such a small word for such a range of human emotions! The love we have for parent, sibling, friend, child or lover is always different. The colour of love may change, but it is impossible to quantify and all its colours, like those of the spectrum, blend and merge to make a love that encompasses all. There is no loving more or less… it simply is. There are no two loves alike, just as there are no two people identical, not even twins. Everyone is unique and so are our relationships with them.

We can like someone more than another, we can relate to them better, we can feel that odd attraction/repulsion that can be so strong… we can apply all sorts of other emotional overlays, both negative and positive, to the relationship; respect, sympathy, compassion… and all the rest. We can prefer the company of one, know light-hearted laughter with one friend, share an interest in books or butterflies with another, feel tenderness towards a child or a lover, fall hopelessly… or hopefully… in love, or burn with the flame of passion. We can be dutiful as children, loyal as friends… We can even find that miracle that seems to complete us. Or we can love in the hope that love will be returned. So many aspects to something both so simple yet so very complex it seems, yet it is the foundation of every human relationship by its presence… or absence. And it is such a small word.

The Greeks did it better… Four words instead of four letters, each with its own distinct meaning. Storgē is the love that accepts, and the love for what is. Philía is affection, friendship… the love for family, something to be shared. Éros, usually understood as the sensual and physical passion, falling in love through attraction and without thought, the desire of the senses. Yet Plato saw it as more than that… through the perfection of the physical form and its attraction he saw a pathway for the soul to remember beauty and through it find Truth. Agápe, the unconditional, selfless love that seeks nothing… only to be; the spiritual love for the Divine, or the purity of love for the child.

While we use that four-letter word so often, we seldom think about what it actually means and when we are asked ‘who we love best’ we give the answer that reassures. We do not stop to ask ourselves if we love our ‘best’ or could love ‘better’. Not in terms of quantity for I do not believe love can be measured, but in how we love and what we give… or seek.

Looking at the meanings behind the Greek words is revealing. In them, we can see a pathway to something more. In learning to accept what is, to love life without judgement, recognising both the good and the bad for what they are, what they might be or what they can teach, we could learn how to move through the world creating change. Through sharing… being able to give and receive what is given in friendship and affection… we can open ourselves to life and become part of a wider family, learning to understand the nature of love as we did as children, in innocence and trust. In seeking the beauty that sings to us, that embraces our whole being body, heart and mind, as deeply as we would a lover, we find a place of beauty within that simply wants to give love. It is enough. And when love ceases to seek anything in return it comes close to the Divine.

It is such a big thing, this little word, and we may all mean something different when we use it. It has become an everyday word used lightly… or it can be the deepest gift we have to give. It challenges us, holds up a mirror, breaks our barriers and sometimes our hearts. It can leave us wide open to hurt, yet to live it is to know the greatest joy.

Being Human

1200px-SantaCruz-CuevaManos-P2210651b
Cave of the Hands: artwork created up to thirteen thousand years ago. Image: Mariano CCAS3.0

Shadows dance in the firelight. A hand, warm upon cold stone, where many other hands have rested. The breath of the shaman, blowing ochre, staining the wall at this moment of passage. Rite of recognition within the tribe. Kinship and continuity indelibly inscribed upon the body of earth

***

The restaurant is quiet now, many of the tables are empty.  Sunset gilds the weathered stone of the window frames and casts ghosts of a beautiful day across the table, igniting the ruby heart of the half empty glasses. The woman tapping away at the little keyboard glances at her companion. There is an expression of deep concentration, emotions flitting across the unguarded face… She smiles. He is lost in the story, seeing it played out on the screen of imagination, reading from the heart, feeling the joy and grief of the characters. The book in his hands is a dream made concrete, the ephemeral made real. Her dream, his reality. From the back cover her own face smiles back.

***

An old story plays out in images on the flickering screen, acted to perfection by movie stars, long dead perhaps, but here, forever, captured in an unending moment. The story may have no basis in reality… or perhaps it does…but the grief of she who weeps for her son is that of every mother’s tears. Alone in the dark, tears course unstoppable…rivulets of pain and compassion… from cheek, to throat, to breast… back to the heart that watches, a mother’s heart who knows that grief. The acted emotion evoking a response, a mirror, in the reality that observes the fantasy.

***

Faded photographs, a tapestry of images… instants in time captured by the lens and brought back to life by the sight of the heart. Memories carry presence from the now to the then as eyes read the story of the past. The emotions are not then, but now.

***

Paint rushes across canvas, swirling and curling like dust-devils in the heat of summer. You can feel it beating down on the unprotected head. Energy flows in every line and curve…passion made visible, calling to something deep within your being

***

The music begins and you are lost in images born of sound and emotion, carried upon wings of imagination shared across centuries, heart to heart with unspoken words….

***

School dinners. It is not the same smell… but so close you are instantly transported back to childhood, feeling once more all the small details of that moment, recalling the taste of a favourite sweet, perhaps, or the comfort of a touch. For a scintilla of conscious time you are a child again.

***

You will have noticed a bit of a theme going on here… images, brought to consciousness through the senses and evoking emotions that are not images or memories in themselves, but, here and present now. Many spiritual paths over the ages have advocated a leaving behind of the things of the flesh, divorcing ourselves from the senses and focussing our attention firmly upon the higher and ethereal realms of spirit. I cannot, nor I think, can anyone say with any certitude, except that of personal conviction, whether this is the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to go about things.  There are and have been mystics of all faiths and paths that have embraced this concept with their whole being and who have come to a personal enlightenment. There are others who have embraced the world and all it offers and who have also reached that level of spiritual beauty.

For me, personally, and for the Silent Eye, we have chosen the latter path…or perhaps it is closer to the truth to say it has embraced us. The idea of turning away from the world, for me, implies a separation from the Divine, by whatever name we choose to call It. The world in which we live, the bodies we inhabit, the creatures, great and small, with which we share this planet… our home… to me are all expressions of the One.

Even as a child the idea that we should turn from ourselves… away from how we were made, the tools we were given with which to experience the world… seemed odd. Though I was raised in a rather unusual family with wide ranging religious and spiritual beliefs, I live in a nominally Christian country, went to Sunday School and learned from the Bible. It says, quite clearly, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Genesis 1:27. KJV.  In fact, in the same phrase, the point is hammered home  thrice.

Now, the Sunday School child, with the child’s simplistic viewpoint, could not quite grasp how, on the one hand, we were being taught that God was omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent… yet had obviously got it all wrong, because we had to be ashamed of our bodies and their functions, deny human emotions and senses and try to become perfect. Surely, I thought, if God had created us in His image… like a mirror… we were already perfect in His eyes?

Ah, said the Sunday School teacher, smiling beatifically… but there was the Fall… the expulsion from Eden…sin….

Hmm… thought the child, rapidly learning to keep quiet… but didn’t God create the Tree, the Apple and the Serpent too? Maybe He knew what He was doing? Maybe, they too were part of His plan, His perfection?

Decades passed, symbolism and abstract thought were engaged upon and explored, beliefs changing and evolving as life added to the store of knowledge and understanding…yet this idea always stuck, unshakeably, in my mind.

Maybe, just maybe, the things of this earth were meant to be experienced and learned from? And perhaps the senses we use to move blindly and often blandly through life were the gateway to a deeper understanding? And when I realised that it is through the senses that we touch the deepest emotions that began to make sense.

There is a difference between being a slave to the senses and using them… the same difference perhaps between using opiates for medical purposes and for the recreational escapism that ends in addiction. The one offers release from pain, the other dependency.

There is no guarantee that the reality any of us sees is the same as that seen through another’s eyes. We all see the sky is blue… but how can we tell if what I see as the colour I call blue is the same as the colour you see? We agree, by consensus, that it is blue.. and can replicate our own version of blue in other things… but who is to say my ‘blue’ is not actually your ‘green’… just called by the same name? Our perception of the world is unique and personal, but we have a consensual language with which to share experience.

Perhaps the only area where we can touch each other’s reality at a deep level of true understanding… where we can communicate heart to heart, wordlessly and in all simplicity… is through the emotions… and our emotions are accessed through the senses. Think about that; without the physical senses we could not feel… indeed, most of the language of emotion describes sensation… we feel, are touched, we hurt….

There is another phrase from the Bible that also stuck, “…a sword shall pierce through your own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Luke  2:35

Emotions are universal, timeless and understood by all. Once experienced they are part of us and we recognise them in ourselves and in others. Empathy, not sympathy. Compassion answers grief, eyes meet in joy, tenderness meets need… a wordless understanding that transcends all other forms of communication. Who among us that has experienced the heart-piercing sword of loss cannot feel it in another? The thoughts of many hearts, indeed, become clear when we allow ourselves to listen to our own.

Maybe just being human can bring us closer to each other than we realise…across time and space, across all political and geographical divides, leaving an imprint of emotion that others can understand, miles and millennia apart.

To have and to hold

From behind the curtain I am watching the birds in the garden. I am waiting for the hawthorns to grow tall and become a haven for feathered things. They are, for the moment, little more than bushes, but even so, every morning, sparrows and blackbirds, bluetits and doves visit my little patch. Ravens and jackdaws fly in most days, while Ani lies by the open door and watches, or bounds out to scatter them when she sees that I am watching. Every day, overhead, the great red kites soar majestically. Yesterday one landed on the roof behind my home and I watched, not daring to move for the camera, as the huge beauty surveyed its domain.

It was a rare privilege. Though I would give the proverbial eye-teeth to take a really good photograph of these birds in the wild there are some things you can only experience, not seek to catch. Had I moved for the camera I would have missed the moment; had I sought to capture it, I would have lost something precious. Some things are simply a gift from the Earth, just for you in that moment, to be enjoyed, cherished only in the heart… not to capture.

There are things, moments, that are so beautiful, yet so ephemeral and fragile that they cannot be held or possessed, only accepted. Like a sunbeam that cannot be caught, but only felt as it plays across your skin, or seen as it lights the rainbows in a diamond… or like a butterfly whose fragile wings are crushed by a child’s grasp at beauty. The ancients knew and told the story of Eros and Psyche… Love and the Soul…. Psyche could be with Eros only as long as she did not seek to look upon him and when she did, he disappeared.

By seeking to hold we can often lose the very thing that moves us. Yet it seems we are programmed very early on to want to ‘have’ what touches us, instead of being able to simply love something that is free to be itself.

Even language seeks to impose a degree of ownership on all we do, and particularly in regard to human interaction. Language conditions us and the careful choice of words can have devastating effect, for good or ill. While we may be aware of the effects caused by the deliberate usage of words in terms of propaganda, we unconsciously do the same all the time, not realising, perhaps, the insidious implications a single word can have.

Even the simplest statement… “I have two sons…” implies a degree of possession. We do not intend it that way, we may simply be using the easiest words… we may be indicating affection rather than ownership, if we think about it at all… yet the verb ‘to have’ implies ownership at some level.

Yet, when we possess something it ceases to be itself and becomes little more than an extension of ourselves… it loses more than freedom and autonomy, as its own identity becomes subsumed in our projection of our own. Even deeper than that, we often become, even in our own eyes, defined by what we think we possess… yet in truth, we come into the world naked and leave it the same way, so we possess nothing. We may think we hold things for a while, but the only thing we truly ‘own’ is our self. And even that is debateable.

As I watched the birds I was thinking about that. Would I want to cage a sparrow? No… I delight in their antics in the garden. I love them for their freedom. Would I want a red kite on a perch, just to say it was ‘mine’? No, I want only to see them ride the wind… though a little closer to the lens would be nice, I admit!

We all delight in the unexpected glimpses of wildlife. And, by their very nature, they are free… wild… unowned…untamed. Over the years a good many baby birds or injured ones have passed through my hands. While it is a delight to have that close contact for a while there is never any other goal, and no greater joy, than to see them fly free as soon as they are able. You are left with nothing but memories… perhaps a photo…with empty hands but a full heart. Maybe that is the only place we can truly hold anything.

Looking in the Looking Glass

As I schedule a post or two in advance to cover my absence for the Silent Eye’s workshop weekend, there are few things I can predict with any certainty. You never know what is going to happen or how things are going to work out. One thing I do know, though, is that barring unforeseeable disaster, I will get to spend some time with the friends and people I love. And we will talk… a lot… and when we start talking, we can cover a lot of ground, from the ridiculous to the sublime, the mundane to the mystical.

Walrus_and_Carpenter by Tenniel“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”

I often think of Lewis Carroll’s poem, “The Walrus and the Carpenter” when these conversations get going. Though to be fair, the subjects of our discussions are generally weirder and further reaching than that of the oyster-eating conversationalists thus described. And “Through the Looking Glass” would be an equally good title for the friendship we share.

But, like them, we speak of many things; along with talk of snowballs and poetry, statistics and magic, parenting and the nature of a bishop’s smile, we will speak of love. It is, in fact, the common, if invisible, thread that binds most of our exchanges together and can be felt, weaving its way through the apparent disparities as we talk our way from the gutter to the very gates of heaven.

Friendship itself is one manifestation of love. Some begin with one of those instant moments of recognition, when something, somewhere clicks into place and into purpose. Others grow slowly, unfolding their petals and taking time to reveal their inner hearts. We all share parallels within our lives’ journeys, and we slide down the latter half of life, some with great elegance, others with a less graceful, yet gleeful, abandon, towards a not dissimilar conclusion and in a shared inner joy.

Most of the people I will meet again over the weekend have spent very little time together eye to eye, yet heart to heart we have shared so much and we hold up a mirror to each other in which we are reflected as One. It is the kind of fraternity of the soul that we are seldom blessed with and is to be treasured as a rare and precious thing.

Yet were you to take a peek into our conversations, you would be as likely to find us talking of steam railways and the seedier side of humanity, laughing over risqué puns and gently poking fun at the cussed stubbornness of northerners, as you would be to find us speaking of the deeper questions of Life, the Universe and Everything. For they too are all one and a common thread of meaning is woven through them.

Amongst the cabbages and kings, we have spoken of love and how our relationship with it changes as we grow. We have spoken of the differences and misunderstandings between detachment and non-attachment. Most religious and spiritual traditions, as well as the Mystery schools, teach the need for non-attachment in some form or another, particularly with regard to the ego, and it can be a frightening thing to even contemplate letting go of the self to that extent. There is an underlying fear of ‘who will I be, if I am not I? If I cannot feel, think, love as myself then who will I become?’

No matter how painful loving can be, no matter how joyful or tender, how heart-aching or blissful, it is love in some form or another that fuels all our relationships from our parents to our friends, from our children to our partners. It is behind all the richest experiences of our lives… why would we want to become ‘detached’ from that?

It became clear to me at some point, that it is the ego that, through its own fear of dissolution, misunderstands. We do not need to detach ourselves from love, but from its dependencies. When we can lay those dependencies, those needs, on the altar with a clear heart, Love opens up to us in a way that we have not understood before.

When we can see a person clearly, ‘warts and all’ as the saying goes, and love them because of who they are, when we can love without needing them to love us back, without agonising over how they feel about us, and shedding useless tears when they do not give what we would like… When we can allow them to be themselves wholly and freely and simply love them anyway, without expectation or trying to mould them to our desire… Or when we can look into the mirror of the soul and see our own Self reflected in that greater Love, then perhaps we begin to know what non-attachment means. It does not take love away from us, it gives us the freedom to Love with a whole soul.

And, this weekend, I will be with people I love.

Chain reactions

Iceland, Volcano, Rainbow, Evening

I caught myself singing while I was hoovering… ‘Give a Little Whistle…’, a song I haven’t heard in years. It comes from Disney’s Pinocchio and the more I look at the story as it is told in the film, the more I see. It is the tale of an old wood carver who makes a puppet and yet wishes it were a real boy… a child. The Blue Fairy gives life to the puppet and promises that if he is “brave, truthful, and unselfish” and listens to his conscience, he will one day be a real boy. Jiminy Cricket becomes Pinocchio’s conscience and their journey through the temptations and trials of life begins.

The story is not unlike our own. And if we look at it symbolically, we may gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the way our inner child, the soul child, must learn and grown through its experience of life and through our mistakes. Our journey too is informed by that still, small voice of conscience, though we think of it as internal and silent, something we alone can hear and can choose to heed or ignore. We always have that choice. Sometimes, however, the voice belongs to an external agency… a book, a situation we observe or a friend… that can hold a mirror before us and allow us to see ourselves as we are. The picture is not always a pretty one and it takes courage and compassion for a friend to hold up that glass for us.

We see conscience in action every day, especially in our interactions with others. Once words are said or a tone is used, they cannot be recalled and no apology can erase them, even if we are forgiven and understood by others who see us more clearly than we do ourselves. Most of us will do that at some point or another, but that doesn’t excuse thoughtlessness, carelessness or unkindness… yet with the best will in the world, sometimes we simply react unthinking to whatever situation confronts us.

The worst of it is, that even though we may be behaving in a manner we can see, at some level, to be wrong, we simply do not or cannot find a way to stand back and think things through once we are in the grip of strong emotion, especially when we are, ourselves, hurting. Yet people are like a range of small, but potent, volcanoes and when one erupts, those around it may become part of a chain reaction.

Volcanoes are dangerous things when they are ready to spew lava and ash across the landscape, yet they are beautiful when they are at peace. Like a volcano, strong emotions can bring destruction, or be a creative catalyst; new lands may be born from volcanic activity… just as easily as they can be destroyed. Change is never brought about by placid indifference, but by the same token, a force unleashed will always affect its environment and, when that force arises within us, we have a responsibility to direct the flow.

One of the definitions for ‘reaction’ is ‘a process in which substances act mutually on each other and are changed into different substances, or one substance changes into other substances.’ Interesting if you apply that to human behaviour… to act upon mutually, with the result that both are changed. You can see that in  our interactions with each other, but it becomes especially apparent when we react without thought to the promptings of pent up emotion or pain. Anger, revenge, envy… reacting to negative emotions changes us, and often those around us, into something most of us do not want to be.

We see the other end of the spectrum with positive emotions like love, compassion, understanding. They too change us as we act upon them… and there seems to be that distinction. We act, rather than react, from those higher emotions and the changes that are wrought are both positive and visible, in ourselves and in those around us too. It’s something to think about… and puts a new slant on the saying that we should be the change we wish to see.

Freedom via Relationship -#Silenti

water-lillyarrows-for-silenti

The pre-born, living within Mother, but increasingly alive, knows only the dual world of She-and-me. The new-born, finding itself in an undefinable aloneness yet reassured by a Mother now separated, clings to her now-externalised warmth and nourishment. But a dramatic change has taken place. There is an imprinting within consciousness of separation and the key to the rest of life will be the question “Who am I?”

The pre-born starts off not knowing there is such a thing as separation. Souls entering the physical life have no choice but to experience it. Mystics seek to return to the source and transform it and them at the same time…

The birth is a combination of organic life given by Mother as part of her life, plus the character of the infant, genetic and egoic, as that sense of self is slowly realised, consolidated and acted upon. We have come to expect that the word ‘ego’ will be used negatively, yet it is the most essential of things in the formative stages of life. Without the experience of the growing self, there would be no growth of capability in that life, since we would not be able to harvest and keep the fruits of experience.

Spiritually, there comes a time when we question the validity of that (till then) lifelong separation – ‘in-here and out-there’. Working backwards through what is sensed as the ‘false self’ we come to the base survival conditioning that is associated with the issues of fear and trust. If there is enough force in our search we can see something shining in those waters…

From the time we emerge as infants, our discovery of our world is a matter of relationship.

Pleasure, pain and fear are low-level, survival-based drivers and essential to our physical existence. Consciousness, such as we use the word in self-development, is seen as an ‘upward’ extension of awareness, but can also be seen as a growing-back movement from the edge of the circle of raw experience towards the centre of a circle. That centre is our spiritual goal, the core of our real self.

We are not speaking of regression therapy here. The adult mind is essential to this quest and needs to be held, like a bright torch, against the still-present fears that disproportionately coloured our early experiences – and hence our lives. Like re-examining the stuff of early nightmares, we come to see how trivial were those fears, and yet their effect persists in our egoic makeup.

All this is a journey of self-knowledge. There are no Gods in this path, save those we create for our own use. Real self-knowledge can come only when our world ‘speaks’ to us about our selves – and that is only possible through relationship…

Why, then, do our relationships not propel us, immediately and continuously, back towards the centre of that circle we seek? In the last article of the #Silenti series, we considered the way the human mind constantly identifies with the external objects it considers desirable, seeking to define itself externally. Such ‘objects’ may be people or things or beliefs or even states of mind. The world of ‘Object Relations’ is a key part of modern psychology, though approached from the perspective of stable personality rather than the search for the missing/forgotten ‘heart’ of a non-egoic self.

The reactive brain has spent a lifetime equipping us with personal history. That history forms the basis of a continuously-updated database against which we evaluate experience. Conditioned by the pre-processing of this historical patterning, we lack any freedom to actually experience, since our brain-selves are busy liking or not-liking what’s happening to us.

In other words, we constantly judge our experience based on a subjective edifice of pre-conceptions, shutting out our own precious reality – a reality that, alone, has the power to transform us.

Do we have the ability to shut down this edifice?

Those who have trod this path tell us we do, but it requires a revolution in our thinking. Instead of considering the world as separate, we need to come to see it as a reflection of ourselves – not our perfected Selves – that is something else at the level of the soul, but our egoic selves. By seeing our subjective confusion reflected in the world, yet not reacting to it, apart from truly seeing, we come to realise that this duality of life is false… and that there is only one life.

As Krishnamurti said:

“…however learned or however petty the mind may be, it is consciously or unconsciously limited, conditioned, and any extension of this conditioning is still within the field of thought. So freedom is something entirely different.”

Krishnamurti, J. The Book of Life

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017

 

Security

Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Leon Gerome 1890

Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Leon Gerome 1890

Have you ever noticed how many times we cling to the known rather than risk the adventure of the unknown… even when the known is not so good and the unknown full of alluring possibilities? Security is a major issue for most of us at some level.

I saw this in action recently as I watched an attempt to ‘go back’ to a place now long gone, by someone too afraid to move forward. I watched in sadness, knowing that the place that existed in memory was not the reality of that past, but an attempted escape from the present and the fears of an unknown future.

I recall a conversation with my boss very many years ago, when I was about to leave the security of her home and a decent salary for an itinerant musician. We sat in the garden just outside Paris, under the stars, talking for a long, long time over a bottle of Burgundy.  It was a fabulous position with wonderful people, and in a place I loved. Possibly the first time in my adult life that I had been genuinely and consciously happy. Everything I could have wished for … and I was on the verge of giving it up and jumping into unknown territory.

There was no home to go to, and no real prospect of one at that time. Just a hotel room.  He owned nothing but a guitar and a suitcase… I just had the suitcase, nothing more. There was no regular income, only the uncertain rewards of the music. There was, in fact, neither security nor stability in any material sense. Yet my boss put into words something I suppose I had always known but never understood. Material security didn’t matter much to me… emotional security did.

She was right, though I had never seen it that way. I have thought about that a lot over the years.

I had been raised in a family where there was always ‘enough’, though there was seldom more. There had been periods in my teens of truly abject poverty and near starvation, even in this civilised society… but they had been survived and had become just part of the journey. I knew from that experience how little one truly needs. Most of what we count as necessity is, in fact, luxury.

I had been a child then, secure in my mother’s love, and with that security could survive anything.

Years move on, perceptions change and so do we, learning from the experiences life offers, or clinging to them and stagnating. There is always that choice. I clung to emotional security for years, living in a fog of nebulous hope, even when I knew it was an illusion. Looking back at the blindness I suppose I was still seeking that security of the child who knows itself loved. In pursuit of that I forgot who I was and moulded myself to the desires of others. It is a sad way to be.

When you think about it, as I did, this squeezing of oneself into expected moulds, regardless of the fit, reflects only insecurity and a lack of value of self. I had myself convinced that I had to be someone else in order to feel of value, to feel worthy of being loved. It took a long time before I understood that.

We are all worthy of love, every single one of us. But we have to be able to accept that in ourselves. To see ourselves for who we are, the fragility and flaws, the rough edges of a work in progress that yet holds the perfection of the master craftsman, waiting to be realised. We are each our own Pygmalion and Galatea at the same time.

Do you know that story? Pygmalion, a sculptor, carved a perfect woman and fell in love with her. Yet she was made of ivory, cold and lifeless. It was only when Love intervened that she was awakened with a kiss and the two united.

So it is with ourselves, the outer self that moves in the world, seeking, perhaps, for something deeper, and the inner self, waiting simply for us to remember its presence and embrace it before it can waken to Life.

There is a lot of spiritual and self-help stuff out there at present telling us we have to love ourselves. It doesn’t feel that simple when we have a lifetime of layers built around us, so deep, sometimes, that we forget who we are. But there is truth in it.

We are each of us responsible for the surface we present to the world. Just as we are responsible for the reflection we see in the mirror of our own heart. Next time you look at that reflection, look beyond the flaws that catch your attention to the innermost core, that child of the universe, and be secure in the knowledge that this inner child is beautiful and worthy of Love. And with Love, comes awakening.

May 2013