Facets…

‘Seek and you will find

Ask and the door will open’

The heart knows the way

All questions have an answer

All destiny a purpose

I wonder if anyone is claiming copyright on ancient spiritual texts these days? I have seen ‘copyright’ claimed as the reason why photography is forbidden in some of the bigger churches…even though those who built them stone by stone and whose artistry is designed to lift the soul heavenwards are centuries gone.

I cannot claim copyright for my soul. For a start, I cannot even say whether the soul is my creation or whether the being I know as ‘me’ belongs, instead, to it…or perhaps we are both part of some greater entity. Nor can I claim exclusivity for the question that arise from the core of being. In an era when pretty much everything is subject to copyright and property laws, the soul is the one thing that seems beyond the grasp of legislation. Spiritual systems, inspirational writings and the words held sacred by various religions may hold inalienable legal or moral rights to be given due credit, but the ideas from which those words arose are as much part of human life as the air we breathe.

The more I study spiritual thought, from our earliest ancestors to our own time, the more I realise that, in spite of the different names, stories and traditions with which we approach them, regardless of the differences between the systems, methods or doctrine with which we seek to address them, the fundamental questions that have drawn mankind to seek answers have always been the same.

Were I to believe that only one of those systems were right, then I would be choosing to believe, by default, that all the others must, somehow, be wrong. Yet all systems and beliefs answer the needs of those who seek their answers within them with a whole heart.

Truth is a vast jewel of many facets, casting prisms of shimmering colour from a single Light. I doubt we are big enough to see them all. We may not even be big enough to wholly understand a single facet of that Truth from which all other truths stem. But there is within each of us that ‘something’ that carries a spark of the Light. We may choose to call it the soul or find another name or concept to fulfil our need for labels. Whatever it is, it is closer to the source of our being than our conscious mind and, when we need answers, perhaps all we need to do is ask the question…

Shaping the world

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Back in the earliest days when mankind had his beginnings, it was the land and our response to it that had shaped us. It has been suggested that it was the long grass that caused us first to stand on two legs… a need to spot potential predators at a distance. As animals our physical defences are minimal. It is our intellect, adaptability and ability to use what comes to hand to serve our needs that allowed us to thrive. It was the land, the environment and climate that offered the raw materials to the responsive hunter, moving with the game and the seasons and which later planted the first seeds of agriculture from which our modern societies have sprung.

We are not very old as a species. It is thought that the earliest homo sapiens dates back a mere 200,000 years. On a planet that is 4.6 billion years old and where cellular life has existed for most of that time, that is a drop in the ocean. Yet from the beginning we have shaped the world to suit our needs, carving our presence on the landscape, altering the ecology with our predation and finally building upon it on a massive scale. No other species has impacted upon the life of the planet as drastically and visibly as we.

Yet on the whole we are still children, building sandcastles on the shore of time; things we see as permanent and solid that will, inevitably, be washed away when the tides change. Civilisations have sprung up, flourished and faded, leaving arcane structures, mysterious traces we can only strive to interpret and never fully understand for we have, inevitably, lost the context of their creation. Even within our own short history we have seen this happen time and again and no doubt it will continue. Yet these mysterious histories have influenced our own; the foundations of an ancient realm may be all we think remains, yet much of what they knew will have been carried outward, casting ripples on the pool of human understanding and knowledge. Our present is built upon their past.

There is a similar process in our own lives where the fragile castles we build around ourselves as a personality, reacting to the landscape of family, society and events is shaped by and shapes the way we see ourselves and the way we project our image into the world. Events experienced through the eyes and mind of the child may leave an arcane trace, a mysterious ruin in the tangled undergrowth of being that we stumble across in wonder, trepidation or confusion. It is upon these very places that we have built the person we see in the mirror and their influence contributes to the shaping of who we become.

Yet beneath the ruined castle or lost pyramid there is a constant. The foundations of all are rooted firmly in the earth. They are shaped from the land and to the land they will eventually return, gently gathered by the creeping tendrils of plants and washed away by rain, becoming once more a part of the landscape rather than apart from it.

There is an analogy there too for those who believe in the soul, that essence of self that is beyond the realm of the of the outer world and it is from this we spring, our foundations rooted within its light and it is to this we return when the edifice of the incarnate personality is washed away.

Does it shape us as the land shaped our forefathers, or do we shape it? Both I think… within it we touch the source of being, and draw its essence into our lives; yet our living teaches and enriches and the sum of experience shapes the next ripple we cast upon the waters of existence.

Looking out across the winter fields of my home today, watching the cloud shadows race across a gilded landscape I wondered how many of our ancestors had sat thus, watching the land and pondering the nature of the soul, seeing in the earth they held sacred an echo of their own inner light.

Principles of Fire (6) A Tribe of Two

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“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Rumi

Jalaluddin Rumi was a 12th century Sufi mystic, whose approach to the ‘real’ was remarkably modern. This should not surprise us. Anything spiritually true will have that immediate and familiar ring about it – the sense of a homecoming, something ‘just there’ beneath the surface of our consciousness.

The Sufi mystics knew that there is no need to use an ornate symbolic system to describe the psychologically-real in the human being. Most of the systems that do use ornate symbolism were created, in times of religious persecution, to enable teaching in secret. Today, there is a danger that they become the tools of egoic gurus who use them to veil the truth, rather than light a path to it. This is not always the case, but is a hazard for those new to any path, who might not know the difference.

In the previous post, we examined how the primary behaviour of the egoic self is to react. Rumi’s quote, above, is directly related to this. Distilled, his words describe a self that has built a shell around its essence – something that dwells in ‘love’. Love was intrinsic to the language of the Sufis: the seeker becomes besotted – intoxicated – with the discovered presence of what seems like another being inside themselves. Only much later do we see that we are the reflection of it and not the other way round…

The power of the shell that blocks out the interior love from our true Self is the power of reaction; the world ‘painted on our eyeballs’. The egoic, worldly self must constantly identify with reaction to life in order to maintain its illusory position at ‘the centre’. In the words of the Buddhists: there are two ways of looking at clouds passing; the first is to say “I see clouds passing”, the second is to say “Clouds are passing – there is consciousness of this.”

Nothing is lost in this, save the grip of the egoic self.  Clouds are still passing; but, in the second example there is an implied, deeper relationship between the one who was the observer and the thing observed. One of them has vanished – making the world whole, again.

Our world is one of relationship. Our bodies are instruments for receiving the electro-magnetic signals that give notice of change to consciousness. The world is our relationship to everything within it – in particular, other people in our life. In part three of this series we spoke about ‘projection’; an unconscious externalising of what ‘we are’ as though projected onto a screen. When we fall in love, we see the other as the object of our adoration, but, really, we are projecting a very beautiful and inner part of ourselves onto the perfect screen of a sympathetic person. This does not diminish love; far from it. The love felt from the other person shows us the power of love to shine an other-wordly ‘light’ into our lives. When we project on someone else in this way, we are bypassing the rigid egoic shell that keeps us imprisoned in this world of reaction. Because this intense feeling is seen in the person of another, we are free to observe it without our internal ‘commentary’ – a process that would reduce it to a regurgitation of our own egoic story.

When we look at a tree, we immediately get that voice in our head that names the tree, and we begin commenting on the nature, condition, habitat and a thousand other descriptions of ‘this beautiful, living thing in front of us’. As soon as that internal dialogue – based entirely on our history – begins, we have lost the moment of beingness with the tree. It doesn’t need to be a tree. An orange, apple, painting or a thousand other things could work just as well. As an exercise, gaze round for a few minutes each day and watch how quickly the internal jabbering switches on. Then try to ignore it, as though dismissing an unruly child… hold that feeling, that brief moment of being free to see things as they are, and without fear of losing the defensive commentary.

If we do not observe ourselves well, our world will be full of that confusion, projected outwards. If we know ourselves well, we can, day by day, draw into that knowing a certainty that our role is to ‘be with’ the world. This state of being happens in stages and needs to be accompanied by a systematic journey around our selves, beginning at the egoic level. Surprisingly, this is not a chore. it is an exciting adventure, with a considerable degree of humour and emotion along the way. Above all, from the first minute, it feels a lot more real than what was happening before…

With each bit of the defensive barrier taken down, more of the real – more of Rumi’s love – will come through. We do not need to invent, nor even visualise it. Its nature is to be; we need only let it in. It was there long before ‘we’ were.

To be continued.

©️Stephen Tanham


Other parts of this series:

Part One,   Part Two,   Part Three,   Part Four,  Part Five,


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics

Principles of Fire (5) A Tribe of One

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They who set out to discover the twin meanings of the word ‘self’ must walk a certain path. The route to the deeper, real self lies only in the journey through the everyday self. Without this study – and its consequent effects – there can be no personal transformation.

We have to learn to look at ourselves with intensity if we are to begin to glimpse the false edges of what we take ourselves to be. There are many forces at work to guide and help us. This is not a journey that is taken alone. To paraphrase the ancient Kabbalists: The universe is awake to an awakening Adam. Our birthright is the state of full and inclusive consciousness, free from the accumulation of the personal past. What prevents this state of living is the power of that past…

The ordinary, everyday self is characterised by one word: reaction. To begin to examine ourselves, we begin by studying – with intensity – how we react. We react to pain, or the threat of pain, even though it is not present. We react to pleasure and the possibility of pleasure. Between these two poles our lives are strung out like a historical washing line. On this line are familiar garments, comfortable resting points in good or bad times; places we can reside and be at home with the history of reaction contained within. Many, such as those generated in our early months, are unconscious and very powerful. They can be positive (love) or negative (paralysing fear). With the latter, if seen in the light of adult discrimination they would lose their power; but to ‘sit with them’ is truly work and better accompanied.

Some reactions are more subtle. It is hard to think in an original way. Typically, each of us belongs to a kind of ‘tribe’, where the core values of that group of people are shared among thousands, if not millions, of other members. When we belong to a tribe we don’t need to think originally, indeed it is often dangerous to do so. We risk drawing attention to ourselves, and the ultimate sanction against such behaviour is to be ejected from the tribe. Finding ourselves alone is a dreadful thing. Some people fear that more than anything else in their world.

When we begin to watch ourselves on a daily basis, the very act of self-watching begins the generation of a different ‘space’ inside us. This new, differently-aware space is what brings the early results that can be so heartening to those beginning the Work. This new space is not part of the historic egoic structure of our lives, since its very existence is to watch and study how that structure operates and has formed. The techniques that begin the creation of this space are analogous to a person realising that, from the perspective of consciousness, the world is actually projected on to their eyeballs – like a movie – with no gap between the event and the reaction to that event. The egoic self is what reacts, instantly, to this projected world. The vast majority of such reactions are pre-programmed by the personal life history; in other words, they are not truly alive…

The five senses bring us the shape and behaviour of the world around us. Patterns in our personal history tell us, immediately, if there is danger in the encroaching environment, whether physical or psychological. At the most intimate level, these patterns reveal threats to our physical existence – that which threatens the body. We do not need to process the logic of a burn from a red-hot object; the automated mechanisms from our early childhood react for us. But there was a time when we had to learn it…

Beyond that, we have patterns of emotional recognition, which are largely automatic, too, but in a different way. I can bat away the approach of a wasp in Autumn, but I can’t do the same with a bad feeling; I have to think originally about its possible origins – including searching within ‘my self’. I might not want the effort of doing that. Instead, I could reach for an alcoholic drink or switch on a movie, allowing the bad feeling to pass. Sadly, avoidance teaches nothing, whereas a naked inquiry into the newly formed internal state can teach us a lot.

Beyond the emotions is the power of the intellect: that which learns by reason. This is the slowest of all; yet allows us to form patterns that deal with very deep and often complex concepts, such as how and why people lie to others and to themselves. Reason is clever, allowing us to out-think the life-forms that came before us; using the intellectual jewel of ‘what if’. And yet reason is wholly a thing of the brain, and so is conditioned by the entirety of our personal history.

These three ‘space helmets’ – each one inside the other, like the famous Russian Dolls – are the glass through which we see the world. But our conditioned consciousness does not look at the world, it looks, instead, at the movie being shown on the glass bubbles in which we live. Our egoic consciousness is nothing more than the sum total of our personal reactions to the movies… But, it’s worse: there is nothing inside those three helmets, except the history of themselves and the historic washing line of fear and pleasure.

The riddle of this is the story of our real existence – and our wonderful potential as fully conscious creatures, connected, in microcosm, with everything.

To be continued…

©️Stephen Tanham


Other parts of this series:

Part One,   Part Two,   Part Three,   Part Four,


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics

Principles of Fire (4) Essence and Reunion

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Continued from Part One of this topic

In previous posts, we have seen that how we view and interact with the world is conditioned by how our egoic self has developed; from oneness with Mother in the womb, through birth as an independent entity, to the reactive adult whose life mirrors that of a suit of armour, grown, protectively, over the real and eternally-new Self.

We have referred to that inner being as Child of Light, and indicated that there is a method behind this image. But this is not the use of a psychological technique of regression to childhood. It is a fully conscious method that explores the level of self, but carries the hard-won adult discrimination with us.

This ‘adult’ capability allows us to examine the binding power of those early reactions to the world and see them in a way that acknowledges that they were ‘shocks’ to a young being which led to conditioning. This can seem contradictory: we began by praising the truth and rightness of the essence – our very real core – and showing the limitations of the personality – that suit of armour which has no real centre… save the real Self, which it sees as a threat to its control and so disavows. In truth we need them both. We should not underestimate either the power of the ego to resist, nor the determination of the inner child to live its life as an empowered centre of being. We can chose to avoid the struggle and live an egoic life, but, once glimpsed that would be to abandon something beautiful and uniquely ‘us’ in a way the ego can never be.

We need the wisdom and practicality of the personality, the egoic self, to function in the world. If we are to be mystical seekers, or even teachers, we need to be able to open the way to the essence, the true self, and empower it to use the channels of expression developed in that long journey to adulthood.

So, what is the method that combines these? All spiritual paths do this in one way or another. The value of the modern ‘mystery school’ is that it can hasten the person’s development because it is able to use, at least partially, the language of psychology – in particular esoteric psychology – and that reduces the need for much of the former trappings of spiritual teaching.

So, where does this leave us? If we are minded to follow a path that utilises modern knowledge we have only a few choices. This is not to say that traditional ‘ancient’ wisdom does not exist; it does; but finding a true and non-exploitative source is not easy. The findings of psychology have opened the doors to new passageways to the experience of the personal essence, yet psychology has other concerns than the spiritual.

The ancient schools of the soul knew how difficult it was to find paths to the soul from the outer armour of the egoic self. Often, the aspirant would have to renounce all worldly interests and live a humble life until the ego was depleted, and the real being could be glimpsed beneath the rust. This still exists. Many of the paths into Buddhism, for example, require such an approach.

In the West, we are steeped in busy and industrious lives. We are unlikely to be attracted by a process of renunciation of that nature. Is it possible, in such a society, to live ‘in the world’ and yet not be of it?

A controversial philosopher of the early 20th century thought so. His name was Gurdjieff. He developed a western-facing route to the personal essence that, if followed with discipline, enabled people to become aware of layers of their respective ‘selves’ in a short period of time. The route from there to real knowledge of the inner self – the essence – was a more detailed study, but that secondary journey was fortified by a glimpse of the real in the early stages of the Work. This method required no ‘guru’ to trigger the initial success, just some good companions along the way.

Gurdjieff rose to prominence before the emerging knowledge of psychology became widely known. His methods were adopted and adapted by those who believed that an esoteric form of psychology was of great value to the nature of the materialistic ‘West’. Of particular interest to these people was the potential for one of Gurdjieff’s teaching aids to be used within this wider context.

Enneagram Sunrise

The enneagram, illustrated above, is a mysterious figure consisting of nine points arranged around a circle. The Silent Eye’s own version (above) also has a central triangle and a core. Gurdjieff claimed to have inherited the original symbol from a mysterious school he encountered on one of his many early journeys. He said it was a fragment of an unknown teaching whose use could reveal certain keys about how things happened in the world – particularly for those systems – human or industrial – whose nature was cyclic. You can read more about the enneagram here.

The Silent Eye is deeply indebted to those who took the enneagram and mapped it onto the patterns that were emerging in the study of egoic behaviour (see below). These patterns formed a nine-sided figure that mapped perfectly onto the Gurdjieff enneagram. Gurdjieff died in 1949, and did not live to see this development of his work. In his later teachings, he did say that it would fall to others to extend the use of this fascinating glyph.

Within a few years, the new groups had consolidated their knowledge, providing the world with a map of the outer layers of the egoic self, but one with a vital difference…

The enneagram developed by the esoteric psychologists linked the outer faces of the figure with the inner qualities of the personal essence – the very qualities that were and are our hidden, original nature. For the first time there came into existence a map that could chart the individual soul’s psychological growth from conception to the adult egoic self.

A map of the outward journey to egoic self is one thing. The return journey – which needs to be guided – is another. The outer layer represents a linked set of qualities, such as fear, deceit and flattery, which have been reversed from their original state in the perfect but vulnerable new-born. By experiencing the outer qualities in a Gurdjieff- derived way, we come to see the thinness of their existence, and to glimpse the pristine attributes that still lie beneath.

There are several schools that use this knowledge. Each one uses it in their own way. Within our own method, the enneagram map is used to chart an internal journey across three linked landscapes. The first, as you might expect, is a desert, where the individual Companion finds themselves stumbling upon a remote arena, and witnessing the end of a mysterious confrontation between the crowd and a ruler whose loyalties seem distant…

Mystery is important…. It is no accident that ‘schools of the soul’ that teach these paths to the personal inner state have always been called ‘mystery schools’, for they taught the mysteries of human existence: physical, psychological and spiritual. Each age of mankind finds new ways of telling this story. The age of esoteric psychology builds on what came before, but offers new, personal and exciting ways to enrich our lives and relationships; and to discover the origin of what is truly real within ourselves.

The journey requires an open mind and heart. It also requires dedication, but that is learned and practiced in the gentle introduction of the first three months of study. Beyond that, it becomes a habit to seek the personal Essence each day, and their is no greater delight in life than that dedication. We think that our busy lives, our cars, buses, trains, families, jobs and children are a hindrance to what calls to us from within.

Nothing could be further from the truth…

The physical and psychological conditions of our age are mirrored in the depth of help that lies just below our surface. The power with which we react in normal life can become a slingshot to that layer of real Self that lies within us. Our egoic natures are not negative, they are simply pointed the wrong way. The suit of armour needs a living body inside it, and then it may find that its metal skin is too thick, after all. Within these new methods, our busy worlds provide the perfect ‘temple’ in which the real self can, gently, emerge to claim its life. All it takes is that first step.

References to key teachers in other schools who have helped develop the spiritual enneagram:

Claudio Naranjo,

Oscar Ichazo,

Almass

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics

 

Principles of Fire (3) Essence and Origin

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Part One

It is unusual to be able to say definite things in the teaching of spirituality, and yet, with essence, we can…

We can say three definite things: that Essence is our life; and that everything that is not essence is reaction and the history of reaction. We can also say, as did the ancient alchemists, that essence is not an idea, not a creation of the mind, not a thing to be imagined and created, but a physical pre-existing thing with substance. The alchemists, with their gift for hiding things under our own noses, described this ‘stone of the wise’ as ‘hidden in plain sight’.

You may never have heard of the word essence in the context of spirituality. Its use was an attempt by practical mystics of the last century to resolve the profusion of ideas surrounding the real meaning of the word ‘soul’. The word soul is used all the time, and we may already have an idea as to what it is. We think of something as ‘soulful’ when it touches us at a depth beyond the usual reaction. We think of our lives as, perhaps, a journey towards our own soul. We may consider that our soul will survive the death of our body, and travel through some afterlife. Or you may not… You may love the idea of a very exact definition of something that has been described as the centre of our real existence.

The ancients, who gave us the name soul, did not have the benefit of what we now call psychology – the study of the self. In this context, the self is the intense feeling of ‘me’ that is the centre of what we feel and do. The self feels pleasure – running towards it – and is frightened of pain, from which it retreats. The body feels pleasure and pain, but, beyond automatic responses, such as being burned, it is the self, rather than the body, that has control of how we react. We can force ourselves to feel pain, we can force ourselves to indulge in excessive pleasures, we can direct ourselves towards the good. For some reason, the forces of nature and evolution have placed an engine of determination at the supposed summit of our physical and psychological being.

Ultimately, and of the deepest significance, we can choose what we do… and, with guidance, how we react.

This engine of reaction and determination was viewed, in ancient times, as inseparable from the soul–the supposedly deeper and better part of us. Religion is aimed at the soul, and, like alchemy, the separation of the base response from the finer response is considered to be under its jurisdiction.

And then, in the early years of the last century, a man named Sigmund Freud began to scientifically study how this self – this engine of reaction and determination – is formed in the human childhood. His work is now considered to be slanted too much towards the effects of sex, but, despite this, he gave us a rich and accurate vocabulary of the real divisions of the self. Other psychologists followed, like Carl Gustav Jung, who held wider views of the layers of conscious and unconscious motivation in the human – us. There were many more, and this article has to be brief.

Someone touched by the spark of the mystical life seeks to deepen that relationship with the real, seeing that their ordinary perceptions, passed on by society and education, are really descriptions of morality and normality, not the fire of that which lifts the heart and mind, bestowing on it the certainty of a higher and self-evident set of truths.

For the mystical path, Freud’s insights remain of great use, though no claim is made that he was mystical in his outlook. Carl Jung was far more spiritual in his approach, but saw spirituality as the extension of the life we know. Freud established that there were three parts of the human engine of self: the ego, the superego, and the id.

The id is the ‘animal side’ of our natures. It is a storehouse of vast energies – many of which we suppress out of fear or misunderstanding. Much of what the id does has been pushed from our consciousness. We therefore name its domain the subconscious, and this refusal to come to terms with its potential results in great suffering in our idealised lives. Society does not like the id. It is an untamed expression of what is within us…

The Superego is the idealised self – an ongoing image of perfection that we can never reach. It nags at our lives and can never be pacified until we recognise its real nature. It often takes the inner form of an authority figure from our own past, such as our mother or father. Its presence within our lives is very active. It is the opponent of real spirituality, though the zealot often delights in its merciless company.

The ego is the bit in the middle; the ‘me’, the personality that tries to hold the whole thing together, attempting to mediate and keep the ship afloat. The ego is what we usually present to the world, but the inner picture of ourselves includes the doubts, wild energies and fears of our real inner state – which encompasses the other, hidden sides of the self.

Esoteric psychology has taken this picture much deeper. Where psychology is concerned with stabilising the personality and ensuring the ego serves society, esoteric psychology recognises that the spiritual is already part of our lives… in fact is the deepest part; beyond the reach and power of the ordinary self, though suppressed in the sense that the egoic self is established as a false king or queen in our lives. To understand the perspective of esoteric psychology, we need to understand our own origin

Within the womb, we share our lives with Mother, in what is sometimes called the merged state. We are not conscious of our separateness from Mother. What she feels or fears, we do, too. Because we have no sense of self, we come to externalise our consciousness and reactions into the ‘sea and sky’ of our mother. This forms the deepest of patterns that will determine how we interact with our future world – and with other people in that world.

We can speculate all we like about the nature of time in the universe. They will remain ideas. What is real for us is that our time began when our pre-infant consciousness in the womb began to register that things detected by what we would later know as our senses changed.

When we are born, the shock of separation from this merged state is profound, but Mother is still with us. Our mouth becomes the link to her goodness and her gentle hands and body warmth compensate for the oneness that we have lost. But this state cannot last. When we were merged, her desires were ours. Now, born as an independent creature, our needs and desires are our own, and, increasingly, they are not met in the same way as before. This forces us to a second ‘birth’–one in which the self, as described above, is born. Fighting to get back to a merged state, it forms itself, in the first few years of life, into the engine of reaction and determination described above. The result is that the perfect newborn nature, full of qualities like joy, love and a sense of its own intrinsic value, becomes submerged beneath a suit of armour that the self builds for protection from ‘life’.

Our personality develops very quickly after that. Unsettled yet empowered by the id, besieged by the nagging superego, the self that is <insert your name> staggers into the world…

For some, the walls of the self become a container that they are no longer prepared to tolerate. They feel that their own depths contain a very beautiful, if unattended child of light. The journey to that begins when they notice certain patterns in the mental and emotional ‘sky’ of their lives. These patterns may at first seem negative, but investigation reveals that they are capable of functioning as signposts back to a personal world in which the original child of light can be restored at the centre of our lives, protected by the now mature warrior of the self.

There’s just one problem. The warrior of the worldly self, the ego, has no intention of surrendering its castle… in which it has installed itself as King or Queen.

But the Child of Light is real. She is the essence of the being. And, alongside the maturity of the outer warrior, her strength is ready to take on the negative world of the self and break down its false walls.

In Part Two, we will consider the steps we need to take if we are to embark on this journey of the discovery and crowning of the true Self.

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics

All in the feeling?

It was a beautiful morning. I had watched a barn owl glide across the field as dawn limned the horizon with gold and palest pink. The sky was beginning to turn blue and the drive to work on almost-empty roads was accompanied by birdsong. It was one of those mornings where it felt good to be alive…. even though, I realised with a start, I wasn’t sure I really knew what that meant.

How does it feel to be alive? It is not as if most of us have anything to compare it with. It is an either/or situation and anything in between is actually neither, for consciousness seems to be elsewhere. What we think of as ‘feeling alive’ is really feeling emotion and sensation. It is hard to even separate thoughts, emotions and perceptions from who we are and how it feels to be us, here, now.

How did I feel? When I looked at it from this new perspective, I could not answer. Take away the sensation of sitting in a car… the pressure of seat and wheel, the thrum of the engine, the warmth of the morning rays through the glass, the faint tang of petrol and the sound of birds. Take away the emotions that react to movement, to the start of a day’s work, to spring mornings and the first cherry blossom… and what is left?

Were my body unable to feel, see, hear or otherwise engage the senses, I would still be alive. If heart and mind were so numbed that I was dead to emotion, or if consciousness were lost, I would still be alive. It would be no kind of life from our normal perspective, but it would still be life. How would that feel?

It is odd that we use that word, ‘feeling’, for so many different purposes, from emotion, to touch, from opinion to health…as if we cannot dissociate our idea of being alive from feeling in some form or another.

I slowed to watch a hunting hawk, feeling the discomfort caused by the pressure of foot on pedal, wishing, for a moment, that my body still behaved as it had when I was young. Could I remember what it felt like to be young? Not the thoughts, physical sensations or even the uncertain, unconfident emotions of youth, but what it actually felt like to be young? No, I realised, I could not. Nor could I even say, in those same terms, what it felt like to be older. Yesterday and today are too vague. There is only what I feel like now.

I could catalogue sensation, emotion and reaction, but that is all just a processing of sensory and social input. If the body is the interface between the world and the brain and the brain the interface between body and mind, mind must be the interface between the brain and… what? Consciousness? Being? Spirit? Soul? What was the next link in the chain… Where is the ‘I’ in all of that…and is there even an ‘I’ at all?

Caught in the limbo between home and destination, yesterday and tomorrow, there was only the road and the moment and both were part of a journey, a process in a constant state of change, but not without purpose.

For a moment, there was a glimpse beyond normality to Mystery. For a moment, I almost understood. But such things cannot be grasped, only, for want of a better word, felt. All that remained to put into thought was the consciousness of a road that leads to a somewhere that is everywhere. A somewhere that makes no distinction, no separation, between the road, the traveller and the destination. Only the journey is.

There is an odd sort of serenity in that. The vehicle may break down, the traveller may not know the way and the road may fail, but the journey is always itself, carrying us forward with purpose.

To sleep, perchance…

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I snuggled under the duvet. The night was chilly but the bed, with its big feather pillows is perfect in this weather. Bliss, in fact. And I was ready to sleep, looking forward to it… it had been a long day, an early start. The dog had burrowed beneath the cushions again… I’ve given up on that. She needs an igloo. Me, I burrowed under the cosy duvet. I relaxed, switched down, let the muscles go and the breathing slow, into that meditative pre-sleep state. As I was drifting into dream I thought about the whole affair of sleeping…

Then I was wide awake again.

Hang on a minute here… what is it with this sleep thing that we look forward to so much? Rest… yes, that I can go with. Relaxation… that I can understand. A chance to recharge the batteries; for the mind and the brain to process learning, memory and emotion… for the body to heal and cells to renew… But what do we actually do when we are asleep that makes us look forward to it so much?

Think about it. We do… nothing.

In sleep the conscious self goes into abeyance. It may as well cease to exist. We… the we we think we are… is no more. Gone. Zilch. Might, to all intents and purposes, as well be dead.

We have no control over anything. The body ticks over on autopilot, the mind wanders off on its own to play in those strange landscapes and weird circumstances we call dream…places our logical, staid conscious mind would dismiss out of hand as arrant lunacy. The thought of firing wet fish out of a canon would normally be anathema… flying by flapping your arms just isn’t going to work aerodynamically and lemurs in hiking gear don’t turn up on your doorstep armed with champagne and the latest philosophical gossip. Well, not every day, anyway.

Look, I am not responsible for the content of my dreams, okay?

But this is serious stuff. Not the lemurs. Or the fish to be fair. But the whole question of where is the ‘we’ when we are asleep? That part of us that observes our lives unfolding, acts in a considered manner and fails to go around flapping its arms to try for lift off. Because all the elements are accounted for. Body is busy doing what it needs to for scheduled maintenance. Brain is busy processing the content of mind and overseeing the body… a sort of junction box between the two. So I got to wondering. The body takes its orders from the brain; the brain keeps tabs on the body and digests what the mind has been up to… filing, processing, writing reports etc. It is a fairly corporate entity. We’ve got a nice chain of command going here. And it takes sleep for all that to work at optimum efficiency.

It’s rather neat really. The body is fairly obvious to all of us. Especially as you get a bit older… but lets not go there. The mechanics of it are fairly easy to get a grasp of and it contains the brain. The brain we understand at the physical level, though there are still a lot of things we don’t know. We know enough, though, to infer the gaps in our knowledge. It almost seems as if the brain is ‘bigger’ than the body. You could say it ‘contains’ the mind… although I wouldn’t. Mind, though physically non-existent, seems bigger than the brain through which it manages, nonetheless, to manifest.

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So what’s the next bit up from the mind? Where is that getting its orders from and how big is that??? What, though too big to be contained within it, is manifesting through the nature of mind? And what is that part of us doing as we sleep? We are into metaphysics now… not a good move when you are crosseyed after midnight… especially when the dog is not the most voluble of conversationalists and the lemurs might arrive any minute.

By this point I am musing about the relationship between the absence of our apparent self during sleep and the absence of self after death… Then there is the soul to consider… that subtle part that pervades all of us… the junction box between us and the divine…and I appear to have opened a whole can of intellectual worms. And worms I do not wish to have wriggling through the images in my dreaming mind, thank you very much.

Maybe I should just go back to bed….

sleep* paintings by Polish surrealist painter Jacek Yerka

A winter’s tale

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In the northern hemisphere, it is the Winter Solstice, when the balance between dark and light shifts once again and the Light begins to return. The moment has been celebrated as far back as we can search in human history, a tradition born from the movement of the heavens, with a message of rebirth and new beginnings not too dissimilar to the Christian ideal, though its roots lie in beliefs already ancient when Jesus was born.

There are some messages that seem common to all faiths and paths and which seem to come together at this point in the year. “Peace on Earth, goodwill to all men…” from carols to cards, this traditional phrase seems to encapsulate the essence of the season in a way that can speak to all men, across time and place, regardless of faith or creed. It is the hope for humanity that rules in most of our hearts; that we might emerge from the darkness of prejudice, fear and hatred into the light of love.

The fact that there is scholarly argument about the precise translation of this biblical phrase is unimportant…it has entered into consciousness and we even speak of Christmas as the ‘season of goodwill’. If we were obliged to look merely at the facts of the Nativity, we might be surprised at how much of what we ‘know’ of the story is based in tradition rather than in the historical record. Quite apart from the plethora of translations now available of the biblical texts, a greater understanding of the times has altered how we see and read the meagre verses that have given birth to the familiar and much-loved tale.

The ‘inn’ has, in many later translations, disappeared to become a ‘guest room’, using the same word that refers to the upper room whereXmas St Faiths 0261 the Last Supper was held. The lower floor in houses of the time often sheltered the animals too, so a manger would not be out of the question in a house. If there was no place for the couple in the guest room, then the warmth of the lower room might have been offered. Which leaves the innkeeper, who is not mentioned in the biblical story, redundant. The animals may well have shared the space, but the Ox and the Ass as we know them are not mentioned. The Magi are neither called kings nor are they numbered… only the three gifts are counted… and they may have visited the Holy Family up to two years after the birth if Herod’s decree is anything to go by. Even the date of Jesus’ birth is a based on a decision rather than facts.

There are other discrepancies between the biblical verses and the traditional Christmas story we have come to know and love. Various branches of the Christian faith attribute more…or less…importance to different passages and celebrate at different times. Many who are Christian only in name, not by personal faith, also celebrate this season and few can be unaware of the traditional and much loved tableau of the shepherds, the wise men and the stable where the Child sleeps beneath the star that shines brightly in the frosty night air.

The details really do not matter. Nor do the lines between fact, fiction and tradition. When something speaks directly to the heart, it does so in the wordless voice of truth. The story, as a story, is simply beautiful. As a symbolic tale… that the heavens rejoice as Divinity is born into the lowliest human form… it is also beautiful. For those who believe in either the story or its essence, it is the birth of Light in the darkness.

As I set up the little wooden figures of my nativity scene this year, I placed the Child in the manger with reverence, not for the small, crudely carved figure. Not even for the biblical Jesus. My reverence was for what that Child represents within the soul of humanity… and within every heart. In the darkest of times, the Light lives within each one of us, and we are one with the nameless One.

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