The fabric of being

We all know them, that handful of people who cling to a reactionary refusal to own a mobile phone… or turn it on when they do… or bother to check it. Or they don’t really like computers or social media. You can’t get hold of them, they pass their lives in a state of technological invisibility and you wonder how on earth they can survive…

Or… you secretly envy them their anonymity and accepted state of unavailability…

It is not so very long ago that communication was less intense, relying on ‘local’ calls and handwritten letters. The reliability of the mail was legendary, if slow, and such missives could be cherished or responded to in a timely fashion… say, a week or two. And that was okay. These days, ‘radio silence’ presses the panic buttons… people, including ourselves most of the time, expect an instant response. We have, very quickly, learned to live in a world that responds at the touch of a button and very often we seem to expect people to do the same. It is all about ‘now’.

Technological advances have not only changed our world, but our expectations, both of ourselves and others. We have, over the course of a couple of generations, seen a complete redesign of our daily lifestyles. We no longer have to beat carpets or black lead the range. Laundry is done, and even dried, at the touch of a button instead of the labour intensive wash-day that saw, even in my own childhood, coppers boiling, wash-boards and mangles at dawn and the flat irons heating in the embers of the black-leaded grate. Food no longer needs to be grown or prepared and ‘gourmet’ meals can be purchased ready-made from the supermarket chiller cabinet. And although, with the loss of cooking skills, the understanding of food and nutrition is being eroded, we can, of course, always take supplements…obviating even the need to chew.

Our days… assuming that our technologies are working as they should… have been freed of many constraints. We have more potential leisure time than we have ever had in the history of mankind… and many of us ironically turn to some kind of technological gadgetry with which to fill it. Meanwhile old skills are becoming obsolete… how many of us still know how to starch a shirt, for example? Do we need to know… do we even care? Most of us would emphatically answer in the negative… but are we really right to do so? Because it isn’t just the skills that are lost…

It isn’t exactly about how to dress a flawless shirt that crackles when you move… what I am thinking of here is the amount of care we put into the small, humdrum acts of daily life. The generations-old christening robe or wedding veil would not have survived this long had someone not learned to understand its fabric and spent time and effort on its care and preservation. With today’s wash-and-go fabrics, would we do the same? Do our email conversations hold the same place in our hearts as the bundle of faded, handwritten letters? Time and attention, a learned skill, a labour of love…

Anyone who has ever created a work of art or craft will know that feeling of pride and satisfaction when it is completed and you step back to look at the finished article. Anyone who cooks from scratch or watches the slow growth and ripening of fruit in the garden knows they taste different from their pretty, shop-bought cousins. Not just because of the obvious commercial factors, but simply because you have come to know the tree, the plant and the soil… you have watered and fed and watched as they grew and the relationship thus built with the fruit is personal. The care, time and attention we give to any object or task has a direct correlation to the value we place upon it and the relationship we build with it… a relationship that involves us on all levels, from the physical work involved, to the mental use of knowledge to the emotions it engenders. What we really earn, we value. What is done with love… like a child’s first scrawled painting of a parent… is valued. For the rest, we live in a society that allows for few things to impinge upon our hearts; our possessions often little more than visible symbols of our success that we can wear as a badge of status to convince others, and thus reassure ourselves of our worth. It sometimes seems that the biggest loss of all over the past generation or two is a lack of true value for ourselves.

We no longer know how to define ourselves; there is a lack of confidence in our identities, a pervasive uncertainty in our relationships with ourselves. Perhaps this is one reason why more and more people are turning towards the many spiritual paths made more accessible by the very technology that allows us the time to study them. Sadly, there are all too many pseudo-spiritual schemes on the market, profiteering from this need and offering little more than comforting reassurance, usually at a premium price. Or ways to achieve all with minimal effort… well, someone is doing well from these schemes, but it is seldom the sincere seeker of inner truth and harmony who profits…

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The spiritual journey is almost like laundering a garment. What we do will depend on what we seek from and for it in the longer term. Is this something we would wear for a season and discard, or something we hope will last a lifetime and beyond? A garment can come in every shade of the rainbow and the method of care of cotton is unsuitable for silk. Each is unique, yet shares a common underlying need.

When we are new and unworn, we are fresh and unblemished. Everyday life gradually adds its creases, stains and soiling and there is a point where we realise that we must do something about it or watch a steady deterioration that takes the garment beyond beauty. The first turning towards the path of the soul is comparable to a light wash… an initial cleansing that can be enough to freshen and maintain the garment in serviceable condition. We can go on that way for a long time, but without proper care the garment will, inevitably, begin to fade and pass a point where it will appear able to be restored to its pristine condition.

If, on the other hand, we look at the garment and take careful stock of its condition, learning to understand its fabric, identifying the damage and the individual stains and learning what they are so we can then learn how to remove them specifically, we can cleanse the garment with thorough and loving care. If we want to restore its pristine nature, we might learn how to properly ‘dress’ the garment… realising that its newly cleaned brightness may have to go back to the water to be dipped and soaked in starch… wrung into further creases and left to try in its own time, before being carefully smoothed with the heat of the iron. We may not know how to proceed… but we will know who will or where to search for those skills forgotten or unlearned. There is always someone to turn to who can guide us through the process, though sometimes the advice may seem strange.

It is a long process and there is much to be learned. It isn’t always an easy task, nor is it always a pleasant one. Many give up or prefer to believe that the stain on the front of the garment is something else entirely, not the ketchup they themselves had dropped there. Yet the longer we wait to begin, the more stains and moth-holes we may have to tackle. Restoration takes time, care and attention… which are, oddly enough, the very same qualities that allow us to engage with the things that matter to us most deeply… and which bring a true sense of achievement, value and identity.

In our society we are fast learning to want everything ‘now’. Yet the things we still value most are those that we work for, those we earn… those things that are worth waiting for. We do not expect to get such items without care and effort, nor do we expect to see the fruits of such long-term labours materialise immediately, though we may be working hard towards them. Nevertheless, we will see the savings in the bank grow, find our knowledge expanding or our skills improving, day by day, month by month as we turn our efforts and attention towards our goal. There comes, though, a moment when we realise that there was a ‘now’ where we made a start… and there will be a ‘now’ when we achieve our dream… but meanwhile our ‘now’ must be devoted to what we are doing right at this moment on the journey between the two.

The journey through life is unique for each of us, a turning point that may come early or late… some seem born with the starry heavens in their eyes and pursue that vision with all that they are, others seem to seek nothing until the silence of their last moments. Yet all of us, at some point, will question the stains and creases we acquire as life wears our soul. Sometimes, all we have to do is ask…

Work in progress

“Every Warrior of the Light has felt afraid of going into battle.
Every Warrior of the Light has, at some time in the past, lied or betrayed someone.
Every Warrior of the Light has trodden a path that was not his.
Every Warrior of the Light has suffered for the most trivial of reasons.
Every Warrior of the Light has, at least once, believed he was not a Warrior of the Light.
Every Warrior of the Light has failed in his spiritual duties.
Every Warrior of the Light has said ‘yes’ when he wanted to say ‘no.’
Every Warrior of the Light has hurt someone he loved.
That is why he is a Warrior of the Light, because he has been through all this
and yet has never lost hope of being better than he is.”
Paulo Coelho

There are people who come and go in our lives, some who may seem all-important for a while, yet fade away to nothingness, some who creep in almost unnoticed and take up residence in the heart and soul, kicking off their shoes and sharing the comfort of their soul’s fireside, some who resemble the flames of the fire itself, bringing an incandescent spark of Light into your life.

With these, the distance that may lie in between does not matter. Heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul the communication is whole, sincere and true. And with a rare few that sharing reaches a very deep level and wanders down some very strange pathways indeed from time to time as words become the deepest discussions.

Conversations like this tend to be punctuated by much laughter and silliness, and may be peppered with a fair amount of naughtiness too. It is an odd thing, but a true one, that those I have met whom I count as the most truly evolved in the spiritual sense all share a decidedly earthy sense of humour. When our discussions have addressed this, the answer has always been a take on the same theme…that those who have reached a certain level of being no longer hide behind a mask of quasi sainthood, but embrace their whole being with gusto, warts, as they say, and all.

They have often lived colourful lives, experiencing a rich tapestry of emotions and events beyond the humdrum normality of the ordinary; these few recognise and accept the full extent of their humanity, seeing in it only the action of the Divine Life. They cheerfully accept their own frailties and foibles and those, it seems, of everyone else around them as simply part of the beauty of life in motion, a perfection continuously unfolding rather than a flawed and static actuality. When they hit a stumbling block, as we all do from time to time, they simply roll their sleeves up and get on with life.

There are, for all of us at some point, mornings when we must drag ourselves from bed to face a world we do not want to see or be seen by. Where that hour around 3am seems to last an eternity of ‘what ifs’ and all choices seem to lead to heartache. Mornings where the night has broken trust and we face the dawn with only the bitter kiss of ‘why?’ upon our lips.

We can face the day hidden in brittle laughter or withdraw into silence, closing the windows of the soul and drawing the blinds to incubate our misery. Or shout the hurt from the rooftops in anger to gather sympathy or attention.

Or we can look ourselves squarely in the eyes in the bathroom mirror and say, ‘Today you are lucky. Today you have reached another crossroads. Today you have an opportunity for change. Today you can take responsibility for the next phase of your journey.’

Quite often we expect both too much and not enough of ourselves, once we have set our feet firmly upon a path of faith and growth, regardless of how we see that Light. We expect perfection now and are disappointed with ourselves when we fail, forgetting perhaps that we are works in progress, experiencing rather than experienced. Then our inner failure can plunge us into despair… which we may also see as another failure… and we wade through the treacle of dark emotions, instead of remembering that we ourselves are in charge of the sticky stuff and can choose to see opportunity for change instead of the molasses of negativity in which we have caught ourselves like flies.

Sometimes, we are too hard on ourselves. We are works in progress, but the perfection we strive for is already part of us. Maybe we need to be a little gentler with ourselves.

To dare, to dream, to be…

‘To know, to dare, to will… and to keep silent’… this is a phrase heard within many branches of the Mysteries and one which echoes facets of the labyrinthine journey undertaken by those of us who work within them. It is an old saying, but none the worse for that, as much of the magical and mystical tradition is rooted in history. It contains much wisdom… a veritable treasure trove that responds to exploration by the meditative mind.

When we were setting up the Silent Eye, talking about how we could encapsulate something of the essence of the School’s ethos in a few words,  that phrase was the starting point for a discussion. The school is a place where we ensure that ‘the heart and the head drink from the same stream’. It is just as easy to get lost in soggy sentimentality as it is to bury oneself in hardcore intellectualism and on the spiritual journey both ends of the spectrum need to arrive at the consensus where we find the road to Being.

It takes courage to set out on that road, for it is ultimately one that must be walked seemingly alone, facing the image of the constructed Self; the Ego that is our vehicle through this life in the mirror of the soul. It is not always a pleasant stroll; the flawed monsters that lurk within each of us are the demons the magician faces in his rites of evocation. It takes courage too to set out on a path that departs from the traditions and teachings you have worked with all your life and seek something new. To dare that road can seem like stepping off a precipice into the unknown… or it can be the most exciting voyage of a lifetime.

It is something many of us dream of doing. Yet where to start? How to translate that dream into a reality? And what is a dream anyway? It is a multivalent concept. We may think of a dream as something of no substance, the ephemera of the night; no more than a fleeting shadow of the impossible that haunts the edges of the mind. Many systems of thought, including our own, use the idea of the dream-state to reflect the limited reality of our daily lives, focussed upon the mechanical movement through the tasks and responsibilities imposed upon us, both by the world and by ourselves; seeing in our restricted and sleeping consciousness merely projected images upon the screen of the mundane world.

We can look at the Aboriginal and Shamanic dreaming that has woven its magic behind humanity’s vision, shadowing forth those aspects of being and divinity we have sought to understand for millennia. On the other hand, we may see a dream as an aspiration… something worthy of the questing soul that seeks the depth and meaning of the inner Light.

It has been asked which is the dream… does the soul dream this life… do we awake from life into a dream of the soul … are we ourselves the dream, the dreamer… or the dreamed?

Perhaps we are all of these and in that realisation… in daring to seek to bring the dream of the soul into reality, in the clear light of consciousness, we can live the dream and touch the realms of pure Being.

Questions

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What are the most important human characteristics?

Love, kindness, joy, honesty, integrity, compassion?

Who are we, why are we here, what is the Purpose of all this… and what do we do with it?

We have questions…we all do.

We seek a path through life that allows us to find our own answers, a path that makes sense of the universe and our place within it. A path that takes us beyond the bounds imposed by our three dimensional reality and the daily necessity through which we move towards a ‘something’ we sense may lie just beyond our vision. We may not know what that ‘something’ is, but we know enough to realise there are gaps in our knowledge and in our understanding …and we begin to wonder.

Ultimately, it is said, that whatever belief, faith or reasoning calls us the path we choose must be walked alone. Yet how do we define ‘alone’? Conscience, that intangible presence, is a guide and constant companion we are all familiar with. What is its source? The conditioning of our upbringing and culture can explain the majority, but occasionally we simply ‘know’ in a way that seems to go beyond what we have learned. Perhaps there is a deeper level of being than we are aware of on a daily basis?

There may come a time when we reach a turning point, a moment when we become conscious of a need to set our feet actively on a path that leads towards a greater awareness. There are many such paths to choose from and no one is better than another; all are right for those who choose to walk them with a whole heart. Like spokes on a wheel, they may begin at different points and take different directions, but the goal, that central point, is the same. All paths, spiritual, humanist or religious seek a spark of inner Light, and whether we think of that as Spirit, Divinity or simply as the highest aspects of human consciousness, our quest must begin in the same place… within ourselves.

This is where we begin in the Silent Eye.

Where the wildflowers grow

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Locus iste a Deo factus est,
Inaestimabile sacramentum,
irreprehensibilis est.

This place was made by God.
A priceless mystery,
it is without reproach.

Anton Bruckner.

I was talking this morning with a friend about the different directions that the spiritual journey may lead us and the effects that can have on a life… your life or mine. There is no way of knowing or predicting when, or indeed if, that journey will change gear and lead you to a place unknown, changing your expected destination for another as you enter a new phase of a life suddenly unfamiliar. It is like stepping through a doorway to another world, one where the demands are unknown, different and beyond the norm.

There are degrees, of course, from the ‘turning point’ we speak of in the Silent Eye, that point where the world dims and the eyes of the heart seek another Light, through the whole gamut of our differing experience to those moments of personal, spiritual revelation that are impossible to communicate.

It is easy to write of the details of daily life, less easy to describe the momentous yet invisible shifts by which that life can be pulled from under our feet by inner events. It is especially difficult to write of these things without sounding deluded, pretentious or both. And some things are simply better left unsaid and unwritten.

There are many who seek that moment of union, fighting their way toward it, as if by study, dedication or the application of intellect or faith it can be earned. I’m not so sure that it can. I think it has to be lived; the house prepared, the vessel clean and empty and held up for the wine to be poured by which it can be filled with something other than self.

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The vessel is what gives form in the world to what it contains, and to empty the vessel of self can be a painful process. We make of ourselves a container fit for purpose and, to use an ancient metaphor, the base metal must be shaped and formed, heated in the fires of life, impurities purged … and as the iron in the heat of the forge could attest, that is no sinecure.

We are such a tangled mass of illusions about ourselves and they have to be unravelled… a tapestry of self-images that must be unpicked and it can seem a fearsome thing when what has to be unpicked is you… every last stitch until you are naked in the mirror of Being and you can see, accept and know yourself for who you truly are and not what the ego has been trying desperately to believe in all those years. From the human perspective that is, for most of us, not a pretty sight! Yet, there is a freedom in it, a freedom from the weight of the masks and screens behind which we have hidden.

Knowing yourself for who you truly are, warts, blemishes and all, might not sound the most attractive of propositions. Most of us are aware of our deeper flaws, even when our conscious mind hastily glosses over them, or finds excuses, we still know, somewhere deep inside, what it is that drives us. We call it by many names but mostly it comes down to fear… the fear of rejection or being seen to fail, of being less than good enough or of being unloved, of being different…or of being the same… There are many facets to the gem of humanity.

Yet to know yourself for who you truly are carries another aspect, for there is within each of us a spark of divinity… a cosmic beauty and a light that burns whether we will or no. To turn to the source of that light and, in full awareness offer your self as a vessel can seem a terrifying prospect. What of you will be left? The old saying in the Mysteries is that he ‘who looks upon the face of God comes not again’… and we, as human beings, are programmed to preserve life and identity.

Yet you do not lose who you are… there is no miraculous wand waving change, no automatic sainthood; the faults, fears and problems remain and you continue to make the mistakes and live the life that makes you human. Yet, many things do change, priorities shift as the focus shifts from your outer self…you become more of what you really are… and aware of what you truly are. The crumbling mansions of the ego are well and truly cemented in, but if you can pull them down and see the ruins as they lie about your feet, it is then that the wildflowers come in.

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Spirit y’all? – Stuart France

This week, I will be sharing again a little about the people behind the Silent Eye… this is Stuart’s journey…

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‘Our own journey is entirely imaginary: that is its strength.’

– Louis Ferdinand Celine.

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I grew up in a religiously tolerant family which knew a thing or two about love and faith. Nan left the Catholic Church to marry Gramps and their eldest son, Uncle Geoff, my mum’s little brother eventually rejoined the Catholic Church in order to marry Aunty Cath, which meant that when we went to spend holidays with Little Geoff and Janet and Mandy we went to their Church with them which was Catholic, and when Little Geoff, Janet and Mandy came to spend the holidays with us they came to our church which was Church of England. It didn’t seem odd to do this and it came as something of a shock to realise that in olden times people had lost their lives for less.

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Anyhow, I eventually grew suspicious of a Church which required me to stand and proclaim my belief in something that is seemingly physically impossible and so I ceased frequenting on Sun Day’s, although, I still liked to ‘rock up’ around Christmas time to sing Carols, and even at the height of my teens I could be found attending Midnight Mass of a Christmas Eve.

My Religious Knowledge teacher at senior school was a good sort, Mr Whalley by name. He taught that all religious systems essentially referred to the same ‘thing’ which he called Spirit, and he stressed the personal nature of the contact which could be enjoyed with this thing. I liked the stories too, and not just the Christian ones. I liked all the stories because it felt like they were trying to tell me something, if I would only listen… It wasn’t though an immediately obvious thing and it wasn’t historical either because it went beyond history, although I liked historical stories too. I would have liked to study Religious Knowledge at ‘O’ Level but the selections were not set up right, so I couldn’t.

I suppose, really, I came to spirituality through literature and philosophy which I studied to degree level. One shouldn’t really be putting pen to paper unless one has something communal and good to impart and philosophy, properly, is the ‘Love of Wisdom’.

The Spirit is infinitely wise…

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Knowing that, though, is a lot easier than living it… so, really, my spiritual education was only just beginning when I joined and studied with a series of Spiritual Schools. First, OBOD, The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, which teaches love for the Spirit of Nature, then, AMORC, The Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, which teaches love for the Spirit of Mysticism, and finally, SOL, Servants of the Light which teaches love for the Spirit of Magic.

Can anyone conceive a well lived life without a love and reverence for the spirit of nature, and the inherent magic, and mystery of existence in some form or another?

I know I can’t.

I don’t think it is necessary to belong to a Spiritual School in order to be spiritual, quite the contrary, because life itself can be regarded as a school of the Spirit, which of course it is, but joining a Spiritual School can certainly help because what these schools really teach is a series of techniques which enable us to access our natural abilities in order to attune with the spiritual dimension of the world around us in a meaningful and productive way.

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Our School, the Silent Eye, in that respect, is no different from any of the others, we just have a different set of techniques and, perhaps, a slightly more modern approach.

‘The easiest way to approach spirituality is through stories, they are common to every tradition on earth and rather than demand belief all they ask is a willing suspension of disbelief…’
– The Initiate.

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…Y’all come back now… you hear?

My Spiritual Journey by Steve Tanham

This week, I will be sharing again a little about the people behind the Silent Eye, starting with its founder, Steve Tanham:

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Sue has asked Stuart and I to record, in an interview style, our individual spiritual histories. Here’s my offering:

I was born in May 1954. I came into the world (with the help of my mother and a good midwife), in a terraced house belonging to my grandparents in a working-class district of Bolton. I had the good fortune to be born into a Rosicrucian family. My father had come across an advert for AMORC (one of the best-known Rosicrucian Schools) in a magazine he was reading while waiting at a railway station. He was on his way to carry out his basic training at an army camp. Later, he became the spiritual beacon of our family, and my mother married him, largely, she claims, because he was “different” from other men in this respect.

I was enrolled into AMORC’s Junior Order of Torchbearers as a child, and loved the gentle introduction to the Mysteries that they offered. There was no hint of indoctrination in those early lessons (nor since) and the gradient of teaching was very gentle – perhaps too gentle.

Fast forward twenty years and I joined the local “Lodge” of AMORC, in Manchester, of which Dad had been a founding member. I served diligently and, a few years later, became one of the youngest Masters of the local body. The word “master” here corresponds to the use of “Magus” in a magical lodge, and relates to work undertaken rather than spiritual superiority.

diggingdog 266I was first married in 1980. Our two sons were born in the mid-80s and I took a decade off from mystical service to be as active a dad as my busy corporate life allowed. Something in me changed during that period. I became conscious just how much the expectations of being a good son and successor to my father had featured in my earlier involvement with AMORC. I had been dutiful, yes, but had I acted from the perspective of my own soul? No. So, when I re-joined AMORC in 1999 I was determined to approach it from an individual perspective, rather than doing the “expected thing”.

Today, I would recognise that as a breaking free from one aspect of the Superego, but, back then, it came as a growing realisation of the need to find my own path – which is an equally valid way of describing it. That drive, that search for a personal path, became quite dominant and often led me to lonely places. It was only much later, and reading works by such writers as Kishnamurti, that I realised the significance of what I had done. We often have to cross deserts alone . . .

Through the early years of this century I continued to work with AMORC, again becoming Master of the local Lodge (it was actually what AMORC calls a “Chapter”) and going on to become a Regional Monitor and then Grand Councillor for the North of England. Looking back on this period I can see both the spiritual and egoic patterns of my life evolving, as they have to, in a lifetime that contains an unfolding quest of this nature. I often cringe as I revisit the ego-based decisions that accompanied this period in my life. I was enjoying considerable commercial success at work and took that to indicate a cross-life ability to deal with everything in the same way. Looking back, I became insensitive to the many cries for a more gentle approach as I pushed by own “business-like” agenda through AMORC, aided by others who felt the same way. Some of this was necessary, but much of it showed a lack of real spiritual development, and also compassion. The period was also characterised by the pursuit of mystical knowledge, which I mistook for depth. Some very hard lessons lay ahead . . .

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I retired from AMORC in 2006, shortly after I met Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, the Director of Studies of the Servants of the Light (SOL) and her husband Michael, who ran the administration systems using manual techniques. I remember the grim day on which my father, hearing the news that I had resigned from AMORC, remarked, bitterly, that I had become the “master of surprises”. The wound lingers, but, from where I now look back on those days, I would not have changed that decision.

I had become fascinated by the magical Qabalah and its use of the Tree of Life. To this day, I believe strongly in the power of the right symbol to help teach – and teaching had, by then, already become my passion. I wanted to study with (and assist), an organisation with a genuine lineage back to the time of the Golden Dawn. I was looking for what I saw as an authentic “Englishness” – something that would take me deeper into my own landscape and geographic spiritual heritage. The seven years I spent with SOL were richly rewarding on both sides. Dolores taught me many things, and she, Michael and I shared triumphs and crises together, as I helped bring SOL’s administrative systems into the digital age and put its operating finances back on an even keel. I was not alone in this work, many other lovely people gave their time and efforts to help.

What I learned most from Dolores was the sheer beauty and power of ritual. More than that, I learned how freely we can use ritual, if such innovation is applied with respect for the powers one is dealing with. These powers are not “external” to the human mind. They are directly related to how we engender a change of consciousness in a group, opening a door for the Higher to enter the prepared space; and the prepared people. Towards the end of my time at SOL, I undertook the creation of two annual workshops, using the innovative formula of a single (new) story, told in a number of ritual dramas over a weekend. These workshops were known as Alchemy I and II. Despite being unsure that I could pull this off, I wanted to do this so that SOL members could count on a continuation of the School’s excellent dramatic and ritualistic workshops at a time when the former architects of such events had moved on to other things.

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Dolores and I worked very closely on these, and the results are a living part of me today. I remember what I think of as my “graduation” from her ritualistic nurturing, when, during Alchemy II, arm in arm, we left the temple room in Great Hucklow after one of the main ritual dramas and she turned to me, smiled and said, “Well, they don’t come any better than that.”

Alongside my Qabalistic studies another thread was developing in me, marked by a desire to break away from historical symbolic systems and to find or develop something entirely “modern”. This implied no lack of respect for Qabalistic work, I simply felt that the underlying truths could also be told in a different way. I had studied Gurdjieff as a lone student, since I couldn’t find a school near enough. I was deeply attracted to Gurdjieff’s no-nonsense approach, and the fact that he saw spiritual development as something that should take place during each moment and not be relegated to a remote meditation period. For me, he was also the first person to point out the destructive effect the personality (ego) has on spiritual development, and the importance of countering this, before anything else could be attempted. Many people have had individual “peak” experiences, only to lose their effects shortly afterwards due to the power of habitual responses from the entrenched personality. Gurdjieff did not teach that the personality was a bad thing, simply that it had to be harnessed to the Will of the developed Essence – the personal part of Being that is the deepest layer of our Soul.

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Having come across the original use of the enneagram in Gurdjieff’s work, I was increasingly fascinated by the impact of those who had developed from a Gurdjieffian base and used the principles of esoteric psychology, in conjunction with the enneagram, to tell of the journey of the Soul. With great sadness, I left SOL in 2012 to pursue this, and thus was born the Silent Eye School. I had approached Sue Vincent to work with me as a mystical artist to create what I thought would be a new Tarot deck (really an Oracle, since we were not using the Tree of Life as a basis). She graciously agreed but then found herself drawn to the greater quest and joined me as a founding Director in 2012.

I considered it inappropriate for the new School to be a ‘daughter school’ of SOL, since the symbolic bases were so different. The Silent Eye had to sink or swim on its own merits. Dolores and I agreed to keep closely in touch as the new School began its life.

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I brought with me what I had earned; and took nothing else. A handful of people from our old SOL Lodge in Manchester joined me and I introduced them to Sue, in her new role. Stuart France has since joined us as a fellow Director of the School; and that completes our “triad”.

By founding the Silent Eye we knew we were asking for a process of “rapid personal evolution’ and that it would work on each of us in different ways, according to our strengths and weaknesses. We could not condone teaching what we had not experienced for ourselves. The Silent Eye is focussed on a model derived from a synthesis of esoteric psychology and an inheritance from our former “magical” world. We have therefore, in many ways created the “magical enneagram” – the title of a book I am currently beginning to write.

What we teach is what we have become. It is based on the premise that we are born in contact with our Being – our true home. Life necessarily separates us from being, since we have to learn to be independent in the world. This outer growth via separation develops the Ego or Personality by a process of Reaction. That complex of fear and reaction becomes the pattern of our lives, even if it is well hidden. But Being is ever waiting for us to call it back into our lives, and our Souls are the intermediary to make that happen. I believe the soul to be the vehicle for our experiences in life – that the substance of that experience conditions the outer layer of the soul, which must be washed clean in order for the clarity of its depths to reveal the “lost horizon” of Being from whence it came.

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Looking back on my life to date, it has really comprised two major stages, separated by a ‘turning point’. The first stage, which contained all my outward successes, was really about the word ‘More’. The second stage, which came much more recently, is described by the word ‘Less’. The secrets of the inner life are revealed by a reduction in what we carry, what we wear, what we look through. These are metaphorical rather than literal, though they can be both.

Either way, to be true to your real self, you need to take away that which prevents it shining into the world. It already shines – we can never diminish it, but we can clean and polish the glass in the windows . . .Less is most certainly more.

Are we qualified to teach anyone else? That’s a very good question, in the sense that perhaps, ultimately, we have to take responsibility for our own spiritual education. But, we can, as a School, offer a method and companionship. Methods have an inbuilt danger in that they, too, can become mechanical, whereas a self-found path should always be in the “now” and filled with the emerging vitality of Being. Perhaps the best definition of the Silent Eye is that it seeks to be a Companion along the way, there to converse, to cajole and, above all, to be a friend. The method of distance learning, supplemented by workshops, is the best one we know to achieve this in a manner that is affordable. We are a not-for-profit organisation; we exist to teach and share, and we put a lot of our own resources into that work to supplement the meagre resources of the School.

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I have been told by my treasured colleagues, Sue and Stuart, that I am, essentially, a storyteller. I have always tried to use the mechanism of story-telling in my presentations and in the way I teach. I am passionate about how things are taught; and the Silent Eye’s three year distance learning programme is based on a continuous story – really a guided journey of the soul – to which is added the theory sections which accompany each month’s lesson. I am happy with that label. A good story, well told and brought to life, has been a human tradition around the communal hearth-fire for as long as people have gathered under the stars and looked up.

So if you’ll pass me that jug of ale, I’ll compose myself, draw a deep breath and begin . . .

The value of fluff…

Any journey has to start somewhere…and the only place you can start is at the beginning. For each of us, the spiritual journey will look very different… but at some point along the way, we all encounter what is known in esoteric circles as fluff.

I was always going to end up what my sons call ‘weird’. I was lucky, being born into a family where the term ‘spiritually eclectic’ was the understatement of the century. I was encouraged to question and learn from a wide extended family and, when the time was right, venture out into the unknown and find my own direction.

Between them, my family seemed to cover most spiritual and religious bases. One set of grandparents were a minister and psychic in the Spiritualist Church who, recognising nascent weirdness, wanted me trained as a medium. My other grandfather was a magician. Not the kind who pulls rabbits out of hats, but one who follows the magical path and learns to live by its tenets. His study, forbidden to most, but a place of delight for his small, curious granddaughter, was, had I but known it, a fully equipped ritual space. To me, it was just a magical place where wonderful things lined the walls. Strange diagrams, Egyptian gods, intriguing symbols… and a black mirror, the surface of which became a portal to a land where the rules of reality were other than those I knew.

It was this magical path that spoke to me. As a teenager, taking my first uninformed and tentative solo steps, I read everything on the subject that I could find. My grandfather’s books, the few rare volumes the local library could provide, odd tomes picked up in dusty shops and anything I could persuade the reference library to disgorge from the deepest, darkest vaults.

You soon learn which writers have something to say and which are simply riding the waves of curiosity. There has always been a market for books on magic; the majority are simply fictional or sensational. Some fictional works, written by those who have lived and worked with the magical systems, use storytelling as a way to explain and illustrate spiritual and magical concepts in action. Most of it, however, is written with little practical knowledge, often with one eye on entertainment and the other on the royalty cheque. Beyond fiction and sensationalism, though, there is a core of writers who genuinely walk the path and whose work may point you in the right direction. Sometimes, that direction is not what you first think it to be.

In any area of study, garnering knowledge via the intellect is an empty pursuit unless it is put to work. Until it is used, there can be no real understanding of its wider implications and true value. You may read as many books on plants and soil types as you wish, but you will not become a gardener or understand the beauty of encouraging a plant to grow, until you put your hands in the soil. For many who begin on the esoteric path, knowledge itself can be a trap. Magical systems and correspondences make a fascinating study and can occupy the whole attention until you forget why you began in the first place.

Looking for practical applications of what I was learning, I realised that, without joining a school… for which I was still too young… there was little I could do.  So, faute de mieux, like many who are drawn to this path, especially as youngsters, it was the readily accessible things… like tarot, palmistry and numerology… with which I started.

And… at least as I first began to use these applications… they were spiritual fluff.

‘Fluff’ is a derogatory term for those things which, although often rooted in something much deeper, are either being glossed over and played with like bright, shiny toys or are being used with neither desire nor intent to delve into their deeper meaning. Many such things are widely known only in their degenerate and superficial forms and, as such, are dismissed as having no value. Even fluff, though, may serve a purpose.

By my mid-teens I was reading palms, working with numbers and reading the cards. It was never about fortune-telling, even then. I had at least grasped that much. For me, they offered windows into human nature, including my own. It did not take long, however, for the gaps in knowledge and understanding to start letting in the light.

Hands have always fascinated me and this extra dimension of observation offered a real insight… but it was also the first area where I learned that the insights you gain may not be what you expect. Mention palmistry, and many will hold out their hands, expecting an instant reading of their future. Offer a character reading and you soon realise that, no matter what you say, people will only hear what they choose. Palmistry was the first to be discarded.

Numerology was another excellent way of beginning to understand character and also the relationships between numbers. It was a good introduction to working with their symbolism and correspondences too. But it did not take long before frustration set in… I wanted to understand why the numbers had their meanings, where they came from and what they had to teach about a life greater than that of one human being. That too was discarded.

When you buy your first Tarot, it usually comes with a little booklet giving basic meanings. Your first ‘spread’ will doubtless ask a fairly predictable question, relating to some current issue. The answers can be surprisingly revealing and helpful, but even here, there was a sense of frustration. I did not believe that I could ‘magically’ choose the cards to give me the ‘right’ answer… nor did they choose themselves. I soon arrived at the conclusion that I was missing something.

And this was where the fluff became useful. Frustrated by the limitations of what I had learned, I sought to understand what value these practices might truly hold…and where they could lead.

Palmistry rehabilitated itself for me, though I never took it up again, when I learned that physicians use hands in diagnosis. In the West, this is limited to things like colour, temperature and anomalies of the nails, but in both China and India, the lines themselves are used. It had also taught me how blinkered we can be regarding our own self-image and how impossible it is to change what we refuse to see.

For me, the Qabalah held the keys to unlocking a deeper use for the Tarot and the beginning of a more profound understanding of numbers. The cards have never been discarded, but I use them for a very different purpose these days, as gateways to the subconscious and their images form part of a map of existence. Numerology I think must be a degenerate form of gematria; both are based upon the fact that in many ancient languages, letters also have a numerical value. But, where numerology skims the surface and holds a mirror up to life, gematria seeks to elucidate those hidden and inner meanings pertaining to Life.

The frustration of fluff and the desire for understanding that it engendered set my feet firmly on a path that continues to evolve.  Looking back at my inexperienced self, I would shake my head in despair, except for one thing… fluff served me well. Without its limitations, my journey would have been much poorer and my spiritual landscape would look very different.

Some of the things we encounter are, undoubtedly, no more than fluff… far too light and insubstantial to hold meaning in and of themselves. Even so, we should not dismiss them as being of no value. For some, they may represent the first step to climb a personal Everest and a journey that will last a whole life long.