Reflections

X heather weekend 058

‘Know thyself’… Pausanius tells us it was inscribed in the court before the temple of Apollo at Delphi. We are given to understand it is associated too with the Inner Temples in ancient Egypt. It is one of the first phrases we come across in esoteric studies and where else could we begin? It is not the easiest thing to look into the mirror of the soul and admit to oneself what one finds there. Even less to share that openly with others by dropping the social masks and simply being who we are.

I first learned the concept as a child from my grandfather, but it was one it took years to begin to truly understand and longer still to try and put into practice. As we grow through adolescence and youth our self-image constantly shifts, changing as it reflects the desire to become who we think we ought to be, the image we feel the world should see, the mirage of our desire to become something different, perhaps, from who we are.

I have a feeling that it is only later that we have the inner space to truly look into that mirror, and by that time the masks we wear are so firmly in place it is difficult to strip them away and see what lies beneath. Many of us find it difficult to admit our worse characteristics, our fragilities and weaknesses. Even more, perhaps, do we find it difficult to truly admit our good points, gifts and talents as human beings. Our society tends to call this pride or ego and we see that as something to be shunned. Yet why should we fail to recognise the good when we can, it seems, accept the flaws far more easily? We are complex creatures.

Of course, unless we know ourselves from all angles, understanding who we are, how we move in the world, what the impulses are behind our reactions and actions, we cannot even begin to make a conscious change. Without that knowledge the changes that occur naturally through time and experience are simply reactions. Yet there is a difference , too, between knowledge and understanding. A child may know that fire is hot and learn not to touch. A parent sees the danger of the invisible ‘fire’ in radiators, hot irons, cookers… and understands how to keep the child safe.

I want to learn, to know. To understand. Both inwardly and outwardly… my inner self and the life around me, for I feel the two to be inextricably linked. Life, of course, involves me in a very personal way, the ultimate intimacy. It demands that I take account of, and responsibility for, thought, word and deed… it demands my awareness and my active participation in my own conscience, my own being. And this awareness is not separate from the rest of my life, but permeates every part of it. It provides the matrix by which I can live with my eyes open, allowing me to begin to glimpse the pattern.

Yet I was reminded recently that there is more to the phrase than the two words so often quoted. It is said that in learning to know oneself one can begin, however dimly, to see God. Whatever Name we choose to give to the Divine, there is that small spark of Light, a memory of our origins, and perhaps a foreshadowing of our destination, burning brightly like a jewel in the soul. Perhaps we have to look beyond not only the masks society sees us wearing, but also beyond the complex contradictions of the human personality we assume, to see that spark of Light within.

Not only is there a need to understand the impulses and characteristics that move us through the world daily, wearing a familiar face, but there is, I think, a need to look deeper towards the inner mysteries of who we are. By turning inwards in silence, which may at first glance, seem a self-centred thing to do, perhaps we are actually opening ourselves to a reality wider, vaster, deeper than we may see elsewhere, and by looking within we open ourselves to the whole wonderful vista of manifestation?

Nature Versus Nurture?

“Ewww!”said my younger son, screwing up his nose and making terrible, traumatised faces as he drank the small glass of milk, with about as much relish as if it were arsenic. “Straight from the udder?”
“‘From moo to you‘ it says on the carton.”
“Completely raw? Not treated…or anything?”
“Yep. Cow juice, just as nature intended.”
“Yeurch…”

I got the distinct impression that he would not be joining his older brother in his enthusiastic conversion to raw milk. I am well aware of the pros and cons of drinking unpasteurised milk, but the taste and health benefits outweigh any minor concerns about safety. The hygiene required for this nascent industry is stringent and well-regulated, and the industry too young to have grown complacent enough to take risks. And anyway, I rather like watching the ‘ladies who munch’ graze in the field while I fill my bottle with the milk they donated that morning.

“Ewww” said my elder son, the one who is into healthy eating and raw milk, screwing up his nose at the prospect of freshly picked blackberries. “There might be maggots and stuff…”
“I washed ’em.”
“Yeah but…” It is not that he doesn’t like blackberries. I had just made him a milkshake with commercially frozen berries… berries which are just as likely to have the odd stowaway and which are not individually inspected. His younger brother, on the other hand, the one to whom raw milk is anathema, enjoys growing his own fruit and vegetables. He has no problem picking off the odd slug or eating potatoes freshly dug from the soil.

I am no better. I carefully wash the few strawberries I have from my own garden, but will happily munch on punnets of fruit bought at the roadside and with no knowledge of what, if any, hygiene measures have been employed.

I think it is the plastic. Over the past few decades we have been ‘educated’, taught to believe the supermarket myth that, if it comes in plastic, it is safe, clean food and we are okay to eat it. This may, on the whole at least, be true, but it does not mean that plasticised food is the only food worth eating or that all else is unsafe.

I grew up in a time when potatoes were still sold covered in earth… and I was fascinated by the different colours and textures of the soils that encased them, wondering how that affected their growth and taste. Fresh fruit and veg may have had a blast from a hosepipe, and greengrocers hand polished their display apples, but most of it came straight from the ground… and most food was what is now expensively labelled as organic.

The local farm that sells raw milk also hosts a cooperative of locally produced food items, from organic meat to home-made jams, villagers’ surplus eggs, home-grown and beautifully misshapen vegetables and honey with the name and address of the ninety-year-old bee-keeper on the hand printed label. The honey my son had been using comes from Bulgaria… hardly local and ecologically not all that friendly in shipping miles. And the co-operative ensures a decent price for the growers too.

I still find it deeply satisfying to know where my food comes from, and that includes being able to see the soil still clinging to my carrots and knowing whether the beef in my casserole is shin or rib. Most younger shoppers have never had to wash a potato or ask for a particular cut of meat. A generation ago, few would have been fazed by having to gut and pluck a chicken. Their parents would have had no problem feeding  the bird in the morning and seeing it on the table at night… I know, my mother was good at that. Today, especially for those who live in urban areas, our food is sanitised, generically labelled and sold on looks not flavour.

That worries me.

We seem to be being systematically brainwashed into dependency by the big-money supermarkets. And this is just one example of the way the society we have created for ourselves is creating a reliance upon the structures that are supposed to serve us. Just one example of how our need to know, to question and to think for ourselves is being eroded…and these ar skills we should be employing in every area of our lives, from what we eat to what we believe. We allowing ourselves to be robbed of knowledge about what we are buying and eating… and meanwhile, we are losing the knack of choosing a ripe melon or a tender steak by sight, smell and touch, stifling our senses and suffocating ourselves with plastic. We rely on the supermarket to do it all for us.

More importantly, we are losing contact with the source of our food. We no longer think of the earth in which the potato grew, any more than we think of the lives, both plant and creature, that sustain our own. We forget the balance of sun and rain, day and night, winter and summer. We eat out of season and forget the seasons’ place in the grand and beautiful dance of life and growth.

Greengrocer’s, butcher’s and baker’s shops are disappearing rapidly from our towns. Convenience and the buying power of the supermarkets have already won the day and beggared small farmers. We cannot all afford the extra cost of organic food, especially when there is no farm selling local produce or innovative cooperative handy. But one thing we can all do, every day, is take a moment to consider what we eat and where it grew. It is a small act of gratitude… and a substantial act of rebellion against the fallacy that plastic is best. An act of rebellion that reclaims control and allows us to choose.

If we do not care about the earth that cares for us, we will damage it to the point where it can no longer do so.  It has taken a generation, that’s all, for town dwellers to lose the skills required to provide ourselves with food and informed choice, abrogating responsibility in favour of convenience. We forget reverence and gratitude and our connection to the earth that gives us life.

Just desserts…

No…! Really? That’s terrible…” It may well have been, but I doubt the subject of their gossip would have appreciated the evident relish with which the two women were discussing her misfortunes. I wasn’t eavesdropping, the strident voices were inescapable in the waiting room.

“Must be karma…” She folded her hands on her bag and sat back, nodding sagely.

“Yeah,” the lady almost licked her lips, “She must have done something really awful in a past life to deserve all that…” Here we go again, I thought, itching, as always, to jump into the conversation on that one subject, at least. Then, I suppose they would say the same of me… 

It is no secret that I have fulfilled the criteria of the infamous ‘Chinese curse’ and lived in ‘interesting times’. What with one thing and another, life has never had chance to become monotonous, though some manifestations of ‘interesting’ I could well have lived without.  Except, that I couldn’t, as to do so would have removed essential elements of the story that has shaped me and brought me to this moment. Without those ‘interesting times’, the person I think of as ‘me’, would not be me.

Have I ‘deserved all that’ as the two ladies were asserting about their absent friend? In all honesty, for a good proportion of it, I must accept the blame. Not necessarily through any conscious actions or omissions, but simply because life is a learning curve and we learn best from our mistakes…and of those, I have made plenty. Until we have made them for ourselves, we have little or no chance of ‘knowing better’ or behaving any differently, in spite of anything our elders may try and teach us. In that respect, our mistakes and errors of judgement can be seen as life’s opportunities for growth.

Some things, though, are out of our control and simply descend upon our lives unheralded and unavoidable.  All we can do is deal with them as best we know how. The scenarios are many and varied….and can be devastating. We can learn from such events too, and grow… but do we deserve them? Not necessarily.

I do not believe that karma works that way. It is not an ‘eye for an eye’ scenario, where what we do is ‘paid back’ in full measure. I see it more as a that pair of scales that features in the iconography of almost every culture throughout history. In one pan, the good that we do…in the other, the ill that we cause. Finding the balance, in this case, is literal… and making sure that better pan outweighs the other is our goal. Karma kicks in, life upon life, to even up the balance…or allow us to do so.

Imagine, for a moment, that A hits B over the head with a brick. In the next life, does B have the right to hit A in exactly the same way? Possibly in the classic misconception of karma… but would that not simply perpetuate violence? Would it not be better for A to learn regret and allow it to change his behaviour, while B learns forgiveness and compassion, forgoing such a negative emotion as revenge? Both could learn and grow by that.

What if A had lived a life doing nothing but good, and hit B, for example, in defence of a child? Or by accident? Would he deserve an exact retribution? Circumstances can mitigate the apparent facts. Intent counts for a good deal… and I believe intent may weigh heavier than action in the pan of the fabled scales.

Karma can be used as a good excuse for the events that befall us, just as we occasionally blame some predestined and nebulous fate. The concept that is missing here is that of personal responsibility. My belief is that, at the end of one life the nature of the balance we have achieved determines the circumstances we need for a future life in order to grow. We are responsible for our own thoughts and deeds, and for the consequences of our actions. Should we blame or thank ourselves for the opportunities for growth that then arise, in this life or another? What we deserve and what we need may be worlds apart… or not so very different at all.

Behind the times…

Louis XIV, by Bernini. Image: Louis le Grand

 

“Verily, verily, do I say unto thee,

Be wary of those who write your history.”

….so wrote Stuart a little while ago. Reading it, you might be forgiven for thinking of politicians, biased historians or religious bodies. I came across something even more insidious the other day, though… television. Not just any television either… this was a programme under the aegis of the BBC, once the most respected of institutions.

We all know…or I hope we all know… that Hollywood has always taken gross cinematic liberties with history, chopping, changing and reshaping it, just as they do with books, in order to produce something that gives a vague interpretation of events. This is Hollywood after all… Tinseltown… La La Land…the visual fantasy factory of the world. It rarely produces historical accuracy, that is not its brief. It produces entertainment and the definition of that mission is ‘to provide amusement or enjoyment’. Even the best and most accurate films deviate from reality… how could it be otherwise when a literary masterwork or a lifetime or two has to be squashed into ninety minutes?

The BBC, on the other hand, has built a long reputation as a source of educational and informative programming. It provides entertainment too, but we have acquired a habit of trusting it does its homework on its history.

Now, I do not have television. I have a television, but it is connected only to the player that was a gift from my son. I do not miss TV, but when I am unwell and cannot retire to bed because the dog still needs walking, feeding and access to the garden, I can happily relax with a film. I mention this to explain why I was ignorant of what I was about to see, for I had also acquired, by pressing one of those ‘find out more’ buttons, a free trial of an online viewing service. Scrolling through what was on offer, the title ‘Versailles‘ caught my eye. ‘Oh‘, thinks I, never having heard of the series and being, apparently, very much behind the times, ‘that might be good…

I lived in France for many years. I know a fair bit of French history, I know the palace of Versailles… the period and its people are fascinating for many reasons. I settled down to watch… and I was shocked.

It was not the inclusion of sex and violence, for they without a doubt reflect certain aspects of life at Louis’ court. Not that I think we need either representing quite so graphically on mainstream TV. I was more shocked by a reported statement from a producer that modern TV series’ should have a scene of sex or violence every fifteen minutes. Is this really what we require? Or it is that we have become so numb that we barely notice.

Pornography is widely available on the internet already. Gratuitous gore is so much a part of ‘entertainment’ these days that we barely flinch any more, and ever more shocking examples are placed before us to get our attention. That is a problem in itself and I wonder how close we now are to the scenario played out in the 1987 film ‘Running Man‘. The film portrays a totalitarian state where all artistic and cultural expression is  censored and the populace are controlled via the media feeding them increasing levels of sex and violence in ‘reality TV’ shows.

If that really is what we require, then we are a society in the final throes of decay… comparable to the Romans with their bloodthirsty arenas and ever more outlandishly staged contests designed solely to sate the appetite for blood and vicarious ‘thrills’.

What shocked me just as much was how far the producers of the film had rewritten history. It is one thing to set fictional characters against a backdrop of history… that is a staple of both fictional literature and film-making… but to twist facts to misrepresent historical figures, that is another matter altogether.

The series, I am told, runs through several seasons, presenting historical fiction mixed with historical fact as if it were one and the same. There seems to be no disclaimer that states it to be a fictional interpretation and viewers without prior knowledge will be learning ‘history’ from the script and assuming it to be true.

This worries me.

We can probably all discern that the sex and violence are only shown for shock value and the ratings. But how many could or would pick apart the fact from the fiction? We will just accept there is an element of dramatic licence, without questioning where it begins and ends, yet we still unconsciously absorb ‘facts’ that are fed to us via the imagination and in the safety of our own homes. That, I believe, affects how we view and trust things, the fact that we are within our own safe walls. Yet that is exactly where most media reach us.

There is little that can withstand a man who can conquer himself.
~Louis XIV

One of the tenets of the Silent Eye is to accept nothing and question everything. We encourage our Companions to take responsibility for their lives, thoughts and beliefs rather than simply accepting what they are told. In this age of bombardment by visual and aural information, I believe that developing a conscious attitude of discernment, the ability to exercise informed choice, and taking responsibility for those choices, is more important than ever.

We live in an age where both information and misinformation are as widely available as opinion. We have access to the thoughts, stories and histories of the world seen from many different perspectives. For the first time in human history, we have the ability to really think for ourselves in an informed manner, not follow blindly where our lords and masters may lead, either physically or intellectually. Do we not owe it to ourselves, and perhaps to those who have walked this earth before us, to choose a path of growth rather than the slippery slope to anaesthetised decay?

The future is ours to shape. Our future… personally and globally. Call me old-fashioned, but I would rather make an informed choice of the road I take than be led blindly by the nose… or a TV screen.

What price life?

The fish seem to have noticed that it is spring. The little male gourami needs floating plants in which to build a bubble nest before his mate will take his advances seriously. As they have, quite inconsiderately, eaten all the floating plants I had provided for them in which to build the aforementioned nest, a trip to the pet store was required.

All well and good. Except, the pet-store had no floating plants in stock. After a discussion with the very helpful young man there, we managed to improvise. I replenished the supply of algae wafers for the big pleco and headed for the checkout. The mistake was passing in front of the tanks…

I’ve lost a few fish to old age lately and, while I may sigh at the beauty of some of the fish on display, I know the big pleco comes first. She…don’t ask me why, but I think she is a she… needs a fair  bit of space in which to swim, so the bigger, more spectacular fish are out of the question until I can replace the tank for a more spacious affair. But the little glowlight tetras were on special offer… which struck me as odd in itself. How can you have a special offer on life?

As soon as I got home, I switched off the aquarium lights and opened the  lid. You have to float the plastic bag to acclimatise the fish before letting the tank water in, little by little. It takes a while. A little neon had died while I was out… they are all reaching the end of their lifespan, so there was a certain sad inevitability to its end. Removing the tiny body from the water, I was faced with the same dilemma I always face at these times. How do you dispose of the remains of a life? The traditional method of flushing the little corpse down the toilet seems wrong, on all sorts of levels. The garbage does not feel right either. I almost felt it would be better to leave him to the other fish… but settled, instead, for digging the smallest of graves.

By the time that was done and the dog convinced she need not dig him up again, the new fish were ready for release. I watched for a while as they explored their new home. I saw them being checked out by the resident ‘owners’ of the tank, the small but feisty Buenos Aries tetras, asserting their right of precedence…and watched the little glowlights run for cover in the plants before tentatively trying again.

The conditions for new life were created for the little gourami, one life had been lost, and six purchased. And that’s weird. I own lives… technically, at least! They are, as far as I can tell, happy in their environment. They are all tank-bred, not wild, but even so, were they released into the rivers and lakes whence their ancestors came, would they come back through choice? I think not.

I own the dog too, in principle. In reality, she owns me… but that is a different story. On the odd occasion when she has illicitly taken herself for a walk, she has always chosen to return, so there is no sense of ownership, just friendship…and responsibility.

In truth, I own no life but my own. Neither the fish nor the dog belong to me… they belong to themselves; they are simply in my care and it is my responsibility to ensure their wellbeing. I have children… created within my body and brought into life…yet although they are ‘my’ children, they too belong only to themselves. The ‘ownership’ here is not about possession, but denotes a duty and, more importantly, a privileged responsibility to the lives that pass into our care.

It is a strange thing, when you think about it, that we use terms of possession when we speak of those we love; the highest form of love is selfless and every day we see examples of people giving, not seeking to possess, simply because they care. Such a ‘duty’ is not an onerous task, but a joy.

There is only one life we can truly call our own, yet we do not always lavish the care upon ourselves that we would on a pet. We let things slide that would ring alarm bells with an animal in our care. We may pay less attention to our own true needs than we do to that of the cat or dog…or even the fish. We know the signs of stress in our pets better than we do in ourselves and move faster to help. Because we acknowledge responsibility… and because we love them.

I keep reading about how we are supposed to love ourselves first…and because of the way it is phrased, it gives the impression that we should put ourselves first, which seems an awfully selfish way to live. If, on the other hand, we looked at the way we love those lives in our care, taking responsibility for their wellbeing, perhaps ‘loving yourself’ might take on a whole new meaning.

We are responsible for all the lives in our care…including our own. While we may feed, water and excercise our bodies, we do not always nourish or care for our minds as well as we could…and many pay even less attention to spiritual needs.

Today I bought six lives for the price of a single capuccino and was immediately reminded of their fragility and impermanence. We have a precious and priceless gift, and too often we let it fade into grey. There are no ‘two for the price of one’ offers on life…we owe it to ourselves to live the one we have as fully and as vividly as we can.

Going the Whole Five Feet

Artist unknownThere is a lot of discussion going round at present about the new era in spirituality, the new wave of esoteric thought and a coming age of enlightenment. Some of it deadly serious, some seemingly less so. Some may seem ludicrous to others… though not to those who believe it… and that is a starting point for much heartache and worse. I’m a firm believer in the saying, ‘a thousand monks, a thousand religions’. Every one of us sees our own path a little differently, even when we nominally share a faith or set of beliefs.

The older I get and the more I learn, the more I see a very simple and common thread running through most belief systems, regardless of the symbols and tenets of doctrine, beyond the stories, scriptures and legends. It goes deeper than what we are taught and told, to a deep inner seeking that seems common to us all.

Whether we seek the answers in religion, faith, science or philosophy, there are deep-seated questions and a desire for understanding and purpose; a quest for a way to grow into ourselves. And because these are undoubtedly profound questions, we often take ourselves and life itself very seriously in light of them.

Now please, don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating any abrogation of responsibility. On the contrary, being responsible for oneself and one’s own thoughts and actions is, perhaps, the single most important thing we can choose to do. It pulls together the threads of all other parts of life. To take responsibility in that way requires that we be conscious, aware of what we do, who we are and the consequences of our actions, their impact on lives other than our own. It means accepting responsibility for ourselves.

It doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes. Just that we can see them, perhaps learn from them, be aware of the effects of our choices and make choices within that awareness.  It means putting into practice an inner honesty and accepting all of ourselves, good and bad, light and dark.

Speaking of one of the most deeply spiritual women I know, revered by many across the world, someone once said of her that she is an angel… but no saint. Looking around me at others I love and in whom I see the beacon of the soul glow brightly, that is another common thread, one of acceptance and joy.

It doesn’t seem to matter what religious or spiritual background they come from. They share a playfulness…even a naughtiness… that accepts both themselves and others for who and what they are, and they share a lightness of being that is a delight.

I see this as living in their own truth. They are fearless in this regard and, either quietly or publicly, follow their own path in honesty; not hiding their human flaws and foibles, not pretending to perfection or sainthood. Just Being… and with joy.

It’s not a bad example to follow.

When we began to build the Silent Eye there was a moment when I thought, “Oh bugger, I’ll have to behave.” Anyone who knows me will tell you this is foreign to my nature. I like a certain amount of gentle lunacy in my life, enjoy daftness and laughter with friends… you may have noticed.

As Director of a School of Consciousness I worried for a moment that I ought to become staid and ‘respectable’. At least publicly. Then, I realised, that would be denying the reality of who I am. It would go against anything I wish to be, do or share. It would not be me. And after all, I am only of any use to the service of the school as myself…whole, flawed and occasionally slightly cracked.

Do you know, I have a feeling that this is what the new current is about. A conscious acceptance of who and what we are. On all levels…  and we are all such a mix of contrasts and opposites within ourselves. I feel the new current is about integrating the inner contradictions, realising the human and the divine within, balancing the passive and dynamic, the tears and the laughter, the gifts and the flaws. Just Being who we Are…

Of course, being a small, nondescript Mum, nicknamed ‘the hobbit’ by my six foot sons and laughed down upon from their greater height, you may think I have neither knowledge nor authority to speak of the currents of the coming age. You may be right. I’m not telling anyone what to do here. But for myself I shall live within that truth that knows neither barrier nor label …and give it the whole five feet.