tender is the night

It’s a song by Blur and an iconic book by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The latter is autobiographical, and tells of the steady decline of his beloved wife, Zelda, as she descends into madness…

I don’t often write about dementia. But my mother’s own final years are proving to be a similar descent. She’s in a care home in Morecambe, on the seafront with beautiful views across to the Lake District where I can visit her with a short journey from Kendal… in normal times, that is…

The home is now in its third lockdown, following a mysterious and recurring outbreak on one of the upper floors; something that no-one, including the local health authority, seem to be able to get to the bottom of. People in care homes are subjected to far more screening that anyone else in the population, and yet they are the most mentally vulnerable.

The effects on the residents’ mental health have been devastating. My mother’s mental and physical wellbeing revolves around walks along the promenade into the centre of Morecambe. When Covid is not locking her up, she does this every morning, rain or shine. She’s nearly ninety-two and magnificent in her resolve to keep active; both mentally and physically. But the vascular dementia, diagnosed over fifteen years ago, is now approaching an advanced stage.

Because I have spent half my life teaching mysticism, I can see what is happening to her mind in a way that is easier to compartmentalise. From birth to the age of around seven years, we build our sense of ‘self’. Many people can remember the moment when they realised they had a self… and they stood on the edge of a changed and empowered world, full of a consolidated ‘me’ with all its hungers, fears and preferences.

This self strengthens until we mature into adults, then forms a stable layer of interaction with the world. All the ‘voluntary’ aspects of our nervous system are at its disposal. It’s truly captain of the ship, and has control of ‘the life’. It’s not the whole story, as mystical work reveals that there is a ‘higher self’ waiting to guide our lives… but that is for another post and speaks of a realm that requires the lower self to be fully functioning, too.

Part of that self-mechanism is responsible for checking itself. When we are young, we develop a tuned awareness of others’ opinion of what we do, achieve and when we disappoint. This is a conditioning that moulds our lives, and it’s central to how we feel about ourselves.

If mystical training is to be of use, this is the first thing that we need to learn to examine, checking that its values really represent the new and higher life we sense deep within us. Often they don’t; they were kindly imposed by a parental need for us to ‘fit in’ and have now become a prison. But the mechanism survives, albeit in diminished form.

The statistics tell us we are living longer, though given the levels of poverty one wonders why. On this basis, we will all face the slowing of memory and the mind’s logical workings. Are we able to equip our-selves to deal with this, not just for the care of others but also, in some small measure, for us? It’s a radical thought, and not one that psychology makes readily accessible.

Much of this is illustrated by some of my mother’s recent ‘behaviour’ – I hate that word, it makes you think she’s been ‘naughty’ in some way. It’s typical of how society shoves the elderly into a cupboard…

Typical dementia-related behaviour involves loss. Not just loss of memory, but loss of things – usually precious things, though the condition increases the sensitivity of the sufferer to the loss of anything. We’ll look at the reasons for this in a moment.

In Mum’s case, she has been losing things for years. When she was still independent, she would phone me in the middle of the night in a panic to say that ‘the thief’ had been in her house, again, and stolen her stoma supplies. She has a ‘bag’ following a near-death encounter with ulcerative colitis sixteen years ago. She rallied and has lived each day, fully, since then. But the importance of the stoma kit is deeply embedded, and often features in her panic.

Finding the stolen things was usually quite easy for me, my wife or my brother, but Mum’s mind was losing its ability to focus on problems. This is common with dementia, and shows how ‘problem solving’ is layered on top of ordinary thinking, and does not correspond with verbal logic, which usually remains high till near the end of life.

Following a fractured spine, when she fell out of bed while staying with us for a period of rest, we arranged, at her insistence, for her to go into a nearby home in Morecambe. It would take all her savings, but that was money well spent, and we weren’t worried about inheriting anything.

The first few months went well. She settled in, made a few good friends, and looked really healthy. Once Covid restrictions had lessened, the home was happy to let her walk along the prom each day, and she always came back, safely and on time. Her sense of direction – operating at a deeper level than the ability to find things, was (and is) intact.

But then the ‘thefts’ returned. And her fading mind told her that it was because none of the residents’ doors had locks… Item after item disappeared, until one day at the close of the latest partial lockdown, I was able to go in and find them hidden – by her – in her room; and action she had subsequently forgotten.

You could watch her mind working at that point – and what it was protecting was her self. She didn’t want to be ‘mad’. She wanted there to be a reason that she hadn’t been able to find the ‘stolen’ goods. The reason was that the thief was also sadistic and was putting the missing items into places where she wouldn’t be able to find them.

It’s part of the agony of having a loved parent with this condition that, no matter what you do, dementia will find a way of thwarting it. We discussed Mum’s fears with the home, who offered to install a lock in her door. For two weeks, she was gleefully happy, displaying the key on a string around her neck… until the thief returned, and something important went missing.

I walked with her along the seafront, and we discussed her new depression. She told me that she had worked out what was happening. There was a ‘skeleton key’ kept by the staff for safety, and the thief had somehow gained access to it… and continued to do so. At the time of writing, she is a depressed about this as before the introduction of the life-changing key. We are back where we started.

The sadness in watching each new thing we come up with fail is difficult to counter. Professional advice is simply to agree with them when they say something has been stolen. There is no way you can take them out of this perceived zone of peril and insecurity, because its the last thing protecting their sense of self…

When my time comes to face this decline – and I’m sure I will, given the genetics of both mother and grandfather, I want the night to be tender and for that night to know why I need to protect that most precious of possessions – my right to be the ‘me’ I’ve always known. I know that what I’ve been in this life – my personality – will die with the body. But the deeper Self will come to harvest the good of that lifetime, and learn the imbalance of the not so good. Then, we will move on, as the Cosmos constantly does… to new adventures, new learning, new development.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Making sense of it…

We have this interesting phrase: ‘Making sense of it…’ But we may never stop to think of its origins, or what logic is behind it.

(870 words; a five-minute read)

(Above: the setting sun reminds us that there is a single reason why all things are ‘seen’.)

There are at least two interpretations of what ‘sense’ means. The first refers to the domain of our five physical senses: sight, hearing touch, smell and taste – all but one of them centred directly in the head – the seat of most of the brain.

Physics tells us that we really live in a vast electromagnetic world, and have a meagre five narrow windows onto its expanse. Whatever our true ‘beingness’ is, these five windows are obviously important… to us, and possibly beyond. We pride ourselves on being a ‘dominant species’ of life on Earth, so we assume that the five senses and the information and context they bring are an important part of that eminence.

The other use of the word is when we get a ‘sense’ of something. This refers more to understanding than any individual sense, like taste. A novel may refer to a character, say a detective, ‘smelling fear’ on someone; a phrase that evokes a whole series of images in our minds. These draw on our past direct experience of such things at the composite level. We may well have been in fearful situations and ‘smelled’ our own fear… Sensory experience can often be unpleasant, so we build a life in which this aspect is minimised.

It’s a useful exercise to go through a week and deliberately try to experience one or two key situations with all the senses alerted. We may find connections we hadn’t thought about as the delicate hues of the rose blend with the ‘ebb and flow’ of its perfume, and the tiny noise as the breeze vibrates its petals.

The five senses continually ‘stream’ a vast amount of information to the brain, whose initial job is to get rid of most of it. If it didn’t filter it in this real-time way, we would go insane. To do this for us, unconsciously and continuously, requires that the brain learns what is important for us. These ‘heads of importance’ (the expectations of our mother, for example) become central to how we collect, filter and refine our experience. The refining stage recognises that the heads of importance may change over time – my mother may become old and suffer memory loss, so the way I gather and process her ‘data’ may need to revert to a more child-like model, effectively reverting backwards in time.

Making sense of our world, and continually refining it, is therefore a high-state process centred on memory. The structures in the memory – these heads of importance – are sophisticated ‘silos’ of information that go to make up living images of our world; in fact, they are our world…

Our ‘self’ is derived very much from how we feel about theses images. Those to which we have attached importance have a sense of belonging to us and we move towards them. Things we don’t like will be attached to a sense of rejection, and we move away from them – often building sophisticated barriers so we never have to meet them, again. As children, we may not have had that luxury… and suffered in silence. But our adult life is entirely shaped by being able to put force behind these preferences.

From a brain perspective, this is all well and good. We feel protected as much as our lives can allow. Poor people may live a life of horror, in which they are forced to live adjacent to the unpleasant. Very rich people may live in gated communities and feel a sense of disconnectedness with their worlds. This is not moral comment, simply how our brains are wired to drive our lives.

The problems arise with the self. The self is a composite image we hold of what is really important to us. It is what we identify with: ‘Yes, that’s who I am’. The self is double edged sword. A strong sense of self is essential to have a stable and successful life.

But… by its nature, being based upon memory’s structures, it is formed only from the past. Our existence in the present – in the now – is not consciously lived.

Thankfully, our senses are still working in the present; still gathering and passing data to the brain so that our heads of importance can be updated and fine-tuned (‘that Tony Johnson has turned out to be okay, despite my initial dislike of him!’)

One of the long-standing exercises in mystical training is to deliberately dwell on the senses, as we mentioned in the opening. When we first approach this, we may think we are ‘going the wrong way’; dwelling on the mundane and physical rather than turning to elevated thoughts and concepts. It is only when we experience the sudden influx of the truly new that we gain the contrast between our supposedly present state and the truly present

We may, then, have some life-changing choices…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

The Big Picture (4) : a hammer of sorts

As children, we lose ourselves in play and the toys or games that give the play structure: a skipping rope, chalk to mark out a court, balls to kick and control… perhaps, now, a computer to enter a virtual world. As adults we inhabit a different world, and the entanglements of our earlier years may pay us a return visit…

(1400 words; a ten minute read)

The big red ball was heavy. It was a toy for a large dog, and we didn’t have one, so I felt justified. When you held it, there was strangeness to its mass, as though the density came from ‘another place’… Alien.

The only pet we had was a mangy old tom that my mum had rescued from an icy death one winter. I knew nothing of the world of dogs – my repeated requests for a collie falling on dad’s deaf ears… Looking back, I don’t blame him. I know, now, how much exercise those lovely creatures need… mind you, I t’s worth it.

Conceiving of the big red project had taken a while. The Norse legends, made modern in the context of an excellent book set in the sci-fantasy genre, had captivated me. I took the large meat skewer and set into into the middle of the glowing embers of the garden fire I’d been nurturing for the past hour. My personal ‘furnace’….

Both my parents were out… of course.

I watched the skewer glow red, then, slipping my dad’s ‘fix the underneath of the car’ gloves on, I picked up its curly end and approached the sold red rubber ball locked fast in its makeshift wooden cradle on the top of mum’s rockery.

There was an appalling hiss as the red-hot metal melted its way through the first two inches of dense, composite rubber. I had the good sense to avoid the life-diminishing fumes, and continued pushing. It soon became apparent that creating a passage through the exact centre of the giant dog ball was going to take several return visits to the fire… but, eventually, it was done, and I held it up to the sun in triumph, aligning the dark tunnel like a telescope.

I’d already constructed the rest of the kit. The new rope, bought from the local hardware shop as a scrap piece, was too large to fit through the hole, but perfect for the strength I would need. To get around that I had wound and tied a piece of string to its end so I could thread the smaller line through then pull the thicker length along the red ball’s axle tunnel.

The wooden handle – to attach to the end of the two feet of rope, was a masterpiece. Carved by hand from a tree branch with my large penknife, then formed into a finer shape with a borrowed hemispherical file from dad’s toolbox. I had finished it off with hours of sanding, using a borrowed sheet of fine grade paper. When I closed my hand around it, each of my clenched fingers slid into place perfectly.

I threaded the end of the rope through the hole in the middle of the handle and tied it off with the newly-learned knot, pulling the rope back into the upper part of the shaped hole so that it would not stand proud and interfere with the grip… and the all-important swing.

I took the mighty red ball in one hand and let it drop to the length of the rope. The impact jolted the handle, but I was ready. I still remember the smile as I swung the great weight round and round in the air over my head, so fast it began to swish and hum. Unexpectedly, my scorched tunnel had given my red beast a voice!

Nearly there… now I had to test it.

Raymond Barlow lived in a much older part of Ainsworth than we did, yet was a neighbour ‘over the back’ so to speak. The stone cottages were on the main road, but set back, and with huge rear gardens. At the far end of one of these, Raymond’s grandfather had made two wooden outbuildings with a tiny alley between and around the back of each. In a far corner, a solid wooden post was set into the ground, looking like it had stood there for millennia. My best friend and I used it for stone-throwing practice.

“Go on then, get it out!” he said, exasperated, when I arrived through the hole in the hedge that marked the terminus of the excellent secret path we had forged between the two houses; very painfully, for it was full of trees and shrubs with thorns and others pointed spikes.

I straightened my back and reached into the largest pocket of my anorak, pulling out the handle and letting the coiled structure reveal itself.

It was the first time I had ever seen him speechless. “Bloody hell,” he whispered.

Imitating what I hoped was a strong but silent god, I took a step towards the post, leaving perhaps ten feet of throwing distance. There, I began to whirl the red ball of destruction around at great speed. In a practiced end-move, I snapped the handle down and towards its target, feeling the impossibly dense projectile whistle closely past my head on its descending curve.

It hit the post so hard, it snapped the wood clean in two… I tried not to show my utter surprise… as delight filled me from the toes upwards.

“Bloody hell!’ Raymond shouted louder. We gazed at the severed spar. I stood and saluted.

“Let those who advance on Asgard beware!”

There was a new god in town. His name was Thor and he had a hammer that would shake your world… That far-away, but close to the heart kingdom could sleep a little safer that night.

—————————

It’s all completely true, yet here’s a story with a deeper meaning. This is the most powerful memory I can muster to illustrate the principle of identification. Identification is a process that affects and forms most of our lives. The young Stephen knew he wasn’t Thor, of course; but then no-one was. The difference between what he was doing then, and what he had done, before, was that his new hero (and many identifications are with heroes) was a figure with profound values.

The Norse Gods were good. They represented different aspects of us, though that was felt rather than understood at the time. In many ways, that fearful red ‘hammer’ was a ritual instrument, a thing forged and made, with the power of transformation gifted to of its worthy bearer…

The process of identification is one of the key areas where psychology and spirituality meet in entire agreement. What I identify with will change with time and circumstance, but it will be ‘me’.

The more carefree stages of childhood – if we are lucky enough to have a stable family background – will see identification fixed on positive things, even if they are fantasy. As we pass from being looked after to looking after ourselves, then others, the identifications can become either deeper in purpose or more negative – descending even to anxiety and illness. Much depends on that first decade of encounter with reality.

In each case, the identification is a process of becoming fixed upon something, and that something is a projected image from ourselves. Its source may be unconscious, but it’s at the heart of who we are…

Much of the work done by psychologists involves gaining the trust of those they treat so that they can take them on an internal journey where the ‘light’ of adult understanding can be thrown on the objects of fixation. The process is complete when the power is returned to the newly-balanced self, more intent on making its brighter face more powerful.

A modern mystery school’s focus is not treatment, but exploration. The mystery school will create such journeys in a landscape of the mind and emotions in a way that is safe, mentored and discussed. Group meetings will examine, often with roles being played, how the self is built from such images, and their component identifications.

Identification can be a bad or a good thing. It passes us from stage to stage of our self, as we mature from fantasy to (hopefully) reality. The young Thor becomes the student, who becomes the junior in an office, where he or she has to redefine his very existence before becoming proficient in his or her chosen adult role.

Only at the end of this, at a stage of maturity in our lives, do we come to question the entire process of identification. We notice that despite all the power being with us, the objects of our identification are difficult to change… What happens if we refuse to have an identity which is external to this now-powerful sense of self that I know is mine?

In the next part we will go deeper into where this quest leads, and to the help that may lie a short way along that path.

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, this is Part Four.

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, A journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being.

The Mysterious Self

One of the most wonderful elements of being Human is the sense of self; yet there is great confusion as to what the ‘self’ really is… even whether it exists at all.

Something harvests the experiences of each day yet declares itself separate from them. This accumulation is deemed to be a living entity – the ‘me’ – resplendent with a memory of having lived it, rather than the actuality of what was lived, and containing a trace of the story of that day, which, over time, is consolidated into ‘like’ experiences.

Language cements this relationship with experience. In western languages, we have the basic construct of ‘I do this’: subject, verb and object. Some older languages – often associated with highly spiritual societies – do not have this structure. Sanskrit, for example, the ancient language of India, would say “This is being done”.

It is memory that gives us this certainty of self. Its power of continuity becomes vital to our wellbeing. We take this completely for granted. We do this because we have no choice – it became our dominant perspective at a young age, typically before the age of seven. Because we ‘live in it’, we no longer see it – like so many aspects of our individual worlds.

Although wonderful, it is also a spiritually-deadly perspective, because it separates ‘us’ from the rest of our world.

Let’s consider the elements of this.

Having a sense of Self means that I separate out parts of my experience and call them ‘me’. This act, alone, is quite remarkable. On what basis did my young self determine which bits were me and which were something else?

Vividness of experience must have played a big part. What my attention is drawn to becomes that which I focus on. My attention is grabbed by immediacy and there is nothing as immediate as my body. Continued focus on my body dulls the attention given to the rest of ‘my’ world, even though it is still there with all the power it had when I was a new-born.

This sense of my body becomes, in many ways, my first self – and this will remain dominant for the rest of my life. Spirituality in all its forms, faces this as the first barrier to development. We have to come to see that the solid reality of our own cluster of matter – our bodies – is only one reality; and that the dominance of this in our consciousness is due to habit, rather than any superiority of existence.

The dominance of self as body has another consequence – it locks us into pain. When the body is in pain, so becomes our whole self, if it is focussed in this way. Pain in the body will always be real, but its effect on our overall aliveness is determined by our attention. This discipline is one of the tenets of Buddhism.

The founding psychologists of the early part of the last century worked hard to establish a structure of the Self, or Psyche, so that they could truly investigate its workings. This was a giant leap in mankind’s ability to analyse its own existence. Freud is somewhat dismissed these days, largely because of his singular focus on the sexual power as the dominant ‘drive’, but he gave us a lasting legacy and some major insights into how the self develops and sustains itself. These are of great service to the spiritual seeker.

His description of the structure of the self is of great use to those pursuing a spiritual path; and has echoes across traditions as varied as the Kabbalah and Sufism.

Freud proposed a three-layer hierarchy for the psyche. The first of these was what became known (in English) as the ‘Id’. The translation serves us badly, because the native German was much more instructive. This word, (Das Es) was, literally, the ‘It’.  Using the word ‘it’ distanced the observer of her own psyche from this ‘beast’. The sentiment being: “I may need it for my survival, but I don’t have to suffer its beastiality in my normal life.”

And yet, the beast of the Id contains all our energy . . . Coming to terms with it is really important, if we want to lead a vital life. The sad part of this rejection is that it also locks away our younger self, with all its innocence and its delight – because it had appetites for things the subsequent world found ‘antisocial’.

This act of staring at the Id generated a kind of second self, known, in English, as the ‘Ego’. The native German, again more helpful, was ‘The I,’ (Das Ich). The ego’s job became to manage the monster below, allowing us to fit into society without picking our noses all the time – feel free to substitute your own metaphor . . .

But the Ego borrows all its energy from the Id, which it then seeks to manage . . .

The final layer of the Freudian self is, in English, ‘the Superego’; in German, the Uber-Ich (the over I). This is largely concerned with the ‘should-dos’ of our lives – the development of morality; that which is handed down to ‘well brought-up children’. Again, the Supergo borrows all its energy from the Id, to give the final structure and management to the concept of the self.

So… we have a beast and a trapped child, not allowed to develop into an adult self because we have rubbed up against the edge of acceptable society. Above that we have a parentally-created pattern of authority, that lives with us all our lives until we decide to break that ice ceiling and see the sky . . .

None of these things have been created by bad people. They result from two things: the commonly accepted concept of Ego, which is really the Personality; and the nature of Society – which centres itself around consensus and power, and therefore cruelly robs the individual of full life. If mankind has a purpose, it is to reconcile these forces, for the good of the life that follows.

These elements of the greater Self can be ignored – in which case the patterns of ego-driven personality will return to haunt us all our lives, producing similar patterns of events as the years progress. The alternative is to embark on a journey into the self; spiritually, we would say to go in search of the Self.

There are many trials to such a quest, the biggest being the act of turning away from the chosen path when the going gets difficult. The ego, which, remember, is a mental and emotional construct and has no real existence, has an armoury of below-the-radar weapons against such a frontal assault on its (false) kingdom.

Enneagram Reflected copy(Above: The Silent Eye’s own version of the traditional Enneagram has additional elements to enhance the deeper understanding of the Self, and its relationship to the self)

Techniques can help. One of the most powerful tools for providing us with a personal map of the journey is the Enneagram. Originally developed by Gurdjieff as a key to how the world ‘unfolded’ in its process (the spiritual ‘Word’), it was added to by deeply spiritual teachers, such as Ichazo, Naranjo, Alamass and Maitri, to become the basis of a way of understand the ‘whole in diversity’ in the sense of how the human personality obscures the greater part of the Soul, within.

The Silent Eye has combined this knowledge with the insight from a triad of mystical and magical pasts, to offer the student (we prefer Companion) a three year guided journey, taken by monthly correspondence course with personal supervision, where every aspect of the Self is encountered, deepening each year as the journey takes us to the realm of the soul-child and beyond.

Companionship is one of the keys. Schools like the Silent Eye offer this even more than they offer teaching. This is because the journey can only belong to the one taking it. In the real journey of the true Self, which brings us face to face, via the Soul-Child, with the Essence (Being) from which our Soul formed itself, we reach a point where no system or religion can have any power over us. We come, quite early on this path, to a place where we know that truth belongs to us, and only truth learned and experienced in this way has any value.

To stand alone and look out at that which we distanced ourselves from, when the founding layers of our personality separated us from the “Other”, is a moment that brings us to stand before reality – possibly for the first time. The new Self generated at that point is one of immense power . . . and intense humility.

10 June 2020

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Steve Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit, teaching organisation which delivers stages and mentored lessons via correspondence course. For more information contact us at rivingtide@gmail.com

Shine…

Have you ever thought how fragmented we are most of the time? Bits of our attention are given or called here and there, certain of our skills and talents required but seldom more than that. If I am asked to hang a picture, for example, it has no relevance that I can bake a fabulous chocolate cake or speak decent French, and (unless they have an urgent desire for cake with a little je ne sais quoi while I hang the frame) the person who asks me will have no interest in those talents at that moment in time.

How seldom is it that we are asked to give ourselves whole to any task or area of our lives? Even rarer, perhaps, are the occasions when we choose to do so, simply because we can, plunging head first into the moment at hand as if it is all there is in the whole of eternity?

I wonder if anyone is ever really known, except in a fragmentary way, through the facet of the self in action in a particular arena or relationship? Even our nearest and dearest have things they do not share with us, facets of themselves we may never see… and that is as it should be… we too have faces we may not show or share with everyone.

Even we seldom consciously know and accept our entire selves. We readily admit our flaws to ourselves, once we have become aware of them. Yet, while we may admit, nay boast, even, of the glories of our respective chocolate gateaux, few of us will admit to those personality traits which are seen as ‘good’.

We may admit to the socially acceptable ones… the type we put on job application forms… flexible, adaptable, good with people… but the really good ones, we seldom admit to seeing in ourselves. Possibly in part because those who voice that recognition of their own better qualities rarely seem to actually have them. ‘I see myself as compassionate/empathetic/generous’ … the vast majority of the time, these things are said by those who aren’t and we have all known those who voice them and yet wouldn’t know true humility or compassion if it hit them in the face with the proverbial wet fish.

But voicing it is different from feeling it. To speak of compassion and to feel it working through the layers of your being, reaching out, that is a different thing. Compassion is not pity… pity looks with a sad smile from on high… compassion reaches out in empathy from the level ground of a shared humanity.

Perhaps we need to take that scintilla of time to simply recognise the good within us as we feel it, in exactly the same way as we recognise the darker facets of ourselves in action… the ones that make us cringe and squirm occasionally. We all have those. Because unless we are prepared to admit who we are to ourselves… the good equally with the less good, accepting our wholeness in all its balanced beauty, how can anyone else ever see that in us too?

Don’t we all wish to be loved and accepted for who we are in our entirety? Yet we hide the good, even from ourselves, behind a socially acceptable modesty while brandishing our flaws and frailties as if they alone define who we are. They do not. We define who we are. As much by how we choose to see ourselves as by anything else. If we see ourselves whole, perhaps others may too. They cannot until we do, as we project outward only a fragment of who we are. The saying ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ comes to mind. Maybe if we love our whole selves we can love others wholly too.

We are told that the very physical fabric of everything we know, including our own bodies, is made of the matter from which the stars were formed. Our physical forms exist because somewhere, aeons ago, a star died. If that is so, why should we not simply shine?

Spell-check

harvest being 2014 071I’ve been upsetting the spell-check facility on my computer a lot again lately. It doesn’t seem to take much some days. It has never been keen on the fact that I write quite a lot in French for a start. But it can handle that reluctantly, once it has had time to think about things for a minute or two. It simply sighs and switches dictionary. You can almost hear it grumbling under its breath as the fan kicks in.

It offers a minimal amount of protest for the odd bit of Latin. Perhaps it assumes I am being academic. I hate to disillusion it… and it doesn’t like to admit it doesn’t understand.

It has never been happy about some of the more arcane languages that creep in when I am writing on esoteric subjects. It has grudgingly opened the dictionary for me to add Hebrew words, and will permit me to include ancient Egyptian names just as long as they are written with an upper case letter. It has, of course, completely lost its temper on the odd occasion where I have transcribed Enochian, underlining whole paragraphs in violent red.

But the worst offender, as far as spell-check is concerned, is nothing so eldritch or profound. It is the dialect of my home. It seems to think I am being deliberately provocative, and underlines every word, space, punctuation mark and spelling with every virulent colour at its disposal. It completely withdraws the ‘add to dictionary’ facility in high dudgeon and persistently reinstates every coloured line as soon as I tell it to ‘ignore’. And let’s not even begin to explore its attitude to Yorkshire grammar…

It is, of course, well known that Yorkshire is ‘God’s Own County’. It says so on Wikipedia, so it must be true. It therefore follows that its language should be accorded a certain reverence. Perhaps spell-check is simply in awe? Even the ‘national’ anthem of Yorkshire is in dialect, for goodness sake!

Wheear ‘ast tha bin sin’ Ah saw thee, Ah saw thee?
On Ilkla Mooar baht ‘at….

So when I wrote Sword of Destiny, a magical fantasy, set in Yorkshire, it was of course obligatory for at least a little dialect to creep between its pages. To me, it is the sound of Home, of memory, love, laughter and people. It is fresh brewed tea, scones and the smell of warm bread. It sings to my heart.

Regional accents have a way of drawing us back to childhood, I think. They are, thankfully, now widely accepted in a way they were not when I was a young. The voice of the BBC has softened that acceptance as it has changed over the decades. Which is just as well really, as I do not have the modulated tones of a 1960’s announcer, but the accent of my home, and in April I have to stand with my Lancastrian co-directors (they can’t help that, you know…) and present the School to the world at our workshop, with an open soul and no pretence to be other than I am.

It is seldom ‘broad Yorkshire’ these days, of course. Time spent in the south in married quarters as a child, years in France and other places have altered it and left their mark. So have the various jobs and social strata through which I have moved. Life does that to us, doesn’t it? Time, place and experience leave a layer of accumulated difference upon us. It is easy to lose oneself beneath that accretion, in the same way as the golden sandstone of the north became darkened by industry.

I will never forget the revelation of the town hall in Leeds… a glorious piece of Victorian civic pride… when the scaffolding came down in 1972 and the black stone, now cleaned of the accumulated grime as if by magic, was unveiled in pale gold glory.

I look at myself in much the same way… though smaller and far less stately. A lifetime of experience has overlaid the essential me with so many traces and layers that have changed the outward appearance both physically and in other more subtle ways. Sometimes the changes stem from habit, sometimes they are reactions, almost self-defence. It would be easy to lose sight of the fact that this is just a veneer, a thin overlay, and that beneath those layers the essence is still there. It may have aged, and grown, there may be signs of erosion and a bit of wear and tear, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that in a building that would just add character, a sense of living history and presence.

I often wondered though, whether stripping back the layers to the essence of Self would let us see ourselves in a different light. Working with the Silent Eye has shown that it does. There is no magic wand, no spell to cast that can remove the layers that life has painted on our face or our character. That we can still erase them by learning to see through them to the core of being and then we can learn to see ourselves all golden again too.