Arnside and Autumn Pastels

(Above: Arnside at low tide)

At first glance, it has something of the ziggurat about it. In reality it’s the final bit of Arnside’s Victorian pier, taken from a short distance back in order to include part of the famous viaduct – nearly 1600 ft – that links Arnside with Grange-over-Sands.

Arnside has the kind of beaches that you’d rather photograph than paddle from. The sands around here share Morecambe Bay’s treacherous reputation. The danger comes from two directions: the estuary is the outflow of the rivers Kent and Bela. The Kent being so powerful that it has carved deep gorges in the limestone rock in its approach to the sea – this over rather a long time, admittedly…

The other is the strength of the incoming tide, which crosses Morecambe Bay with a speed faster than a galloping horse.

Frequent trains cross the Arnside viaduct, linking it, south, to Manchester and northwards to Barrow in Furness.

I love it, as you can probably tell… The whole landscape of estuary, cascading village, station and viaduct reminds me of an boy’s ideal model train set! Not that I’ve had one of those for a very long time…

It’s also a great source of good photographs – in particular sunsets, of which I must have hundreds in my iCloud online storage. Today, while taking the collie for her morning walk, the pastel colours of the October sky reflecting in the calm waters of low tide were the epitome of autumnal stillness.

(Above: a very calm Arnside)

Not that it’s always quiet… During daylight hours, the peace of Arnside village is disturbed by a series of very loud klaxon noises. These mark the turning of the tide – fed by the powerful currents in nearby Morecambe Bay. At very high tides, the klaxon is also used to signal the approach of the estuary’s own ‘bore’ – a single wave that travels inland, often for miles. It’s not as dramatic as that of the river Severn, but is a fascinating sight, and people travel to Arnside specially to see it.

(Above: The way to fine coffee…)

There is a safe place for the collie to chase her ball; it’s near the entrance to the village and forms a kind of wild park on the foreshore. When she’s exhausted with that, we walk though the town and along the shore path to a newly-opened tiny cafe set back in the rock in a steep path that takes you into the posh residential part of Arnside. It’s run by two young women who do their own baking. It offers some of the best coffee for miles around… and they sell home-made Cornish pasties… I admit it’s not your usual breakfast…but I always make sure I am hungry when we go.

The cafe is take-away only. It is too small to do much else. Clutching what we have come to call our ‘Arnside brekkie’, we walk a little way down the estuary to a favourite block of limestone which boasts an accidental cup-holder, and I spread out my walker’s padded mat to get a degree of comfort.

(Above: that Cornish Pasty moment…)

And then it’s back to the village with a wistful glance at the rapidly filling estuary. The drive home can wait a few more minutes while I finish the last of that coffee, and reminisce about the pasty…

(Above: the final few minutes of calm before the tide begins its race)

©Stephen Tanham 2021

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

Heroes in a Landscape (3) Learning from Nature

(Above: Castlerigg on the Friday. We had to begin, storm or no…)

Continued from Part Two…

My phone wasn’t dead – it looked perfectly bright against the dark landscape, but it wasn’t responding to any finger gestures. And it contained my copy of the script, now locked away by the storm.

I reached into my ‘Fool’s’ kit bag, a sturdy old canvas friend that I’ve used for years. Often in the run up to workshops, I will, at the last minute, throw in a paper version of a script as an absolute backup. My wet fingers encountered paper and I extracted what turned out to be a last but one version. That would be okay, as long as I remembered the final changes we had made.

(Above: ‘The Cove’ within Castlerigg Circle! Photographed on the Sunday)

With the help of a mentor, the hero will cross a guarded threshold, leading them to a supernatural world, where familiar laws and order do not apply.

I held it up at chest level and began reading. The group let out a collective sigh of relief, but they couldn’t see the heavy raindrops dissolving the ink and melting the paper as it became increasingly saturated.

(Above: Castlerigg at Sunset)

I had the idea to memorise the next few lines, then fold the paper along its original creases and hold its axis vertical to the descending water. It worked – after a fashion – but every time I reopened it, the text was less legible and the paper itself had continued its journey to mush.

We have survived a few scrapes; Stuart, Sue and I, and found that it’s not unusual for something unseen to come to the aid of the drowning performer. But in this case, only we had the scripts. Our companions were being guided by our words, alone. Their faces expressed empathy, but they were powerless to help.

It’s difficult to remember at exactly what point I abandoned the ‘toilet paper’, as Stuart later christened it. He could see the change, he said, because I began to relax… simply letting what we have always called ‘the flow’ take over. And trusting…

…simply letting what we have always called ‘the flow’ take over. And trusting…

It did… Instead of behaving like someone reading a book, I let the flow take me and improvised in the moment, thankfully recalling from memory what we needed the Fool/Magician to do to get the companions through to the final gate and release them into their symbolic strange, new world, where – within the context of our play – nothing would behave as it had in the previous place. A fitting tribute to what we had just endured.

Somewhat post-storm, we left the Castlerigg circle. We would return here for the final act in our landscape play, but not before seeing the site from a mystery great height – fitting for a Hero looking down on the end of the quest.

The rain was abating but we had another problem. One of our companions – who had confirmed and paid for his attendance – was missing. During the damp ceremonials, I had thought he might be sitting it out in the car, having arrived late. But he was nowhere to be seen.

I didn’t have his mobile number but sent him an email as we left the circle. He had the information sheet and would know where we were headed next.

We had two important things to do…

The first was to escort everyone to a specific car park on the outskirts of Keswick. This would be our meeting point for the rest of the weekend, and it was essential that everyone knew its location.

The second was to have an early dinner. Weather, tension and stress had taken their toll… We were starving.

Our usual format for a first evening in Keswick is to have an inexpensive fish and chip supper. The central Moot Square boasts a fine chippy with upstairs restaurant, which offers vegetarian options. The small convoy drove the short distance to the car park and, now on foot, we followed the path of the river along the park and over the bridge into Keswick centre.

Dinner was a joyous affair. We laughed about the difficulties of open-air mystical theatre and resolved to learn the lessons of the day. This will be covered in the next post. Part way through the meal, the evening was brightened by the arrival of our missing companion. He had endured a nightmare journey up the M6 motorway with tyres that had been wrongly inflated by a defective pump at a service station near his home. At one point he felt the car was ‘floating’ and going to crash. He had the good sense to stop at the next services and get the problem diagnosed and fixed. But it had cost him the afternoon.

Stuart and I both had the thought that we might be able to do something creative about that…

The skies were clearing. The evening sun was mellow and promised a better day tomorrow. We had little idea how much better, though the long Saturday would not be without its challenges…

To be continued in Part Four.

Previous parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

A Poolewe diary (1)

A what? I can hear you think…

I’d never heard of it, either. Poolewe is a small lochside community between Ullapool and Gairloch in the far north-west of Scotland.

(Poolewe’s location (blue dot) between Gairloch and Ullapool. Image adapted by the author from Apple Maps)

If you were to sail due west – which you can’t because the loch points acutely north-west, bordered on both sides – you’d come to the island of Lewis and Harris, the major part of the Outer Hebrides; see map, above.

It’s very northerly, and has a climate to match. This morning, our first after yesterday’s ten-hour journey, we awoke to a combined sea-mist and drizzle, necessitating a hat for the statutory early dog walk. Why just a hat, you rightly ask?

It’s a quiet place with a vibrant community centre and a weekly market. There are also signs for wonderful local events such as this:

The four of us – we’re travelling with another couple – are booky people, so we’ll be visiting Ron’s Book Bothy between rain storms.

(Above: some of the oldest rocks in the world)

I remember from my A-Level geology course that the rocks around here are some of the oldest in the world… the word ‘Pre-Cambrian’ comes to mind. A five with so many zeroes only Donald Trump could make sense of it… Rishi Sunak, possibly…

From this morning’s walk, I can see that my best friend of the trip is going to be my ‘pork pie’ rain hat. It’s one of those (only) slightly floppy ones that mark you out as among the more discerning tourists in Scotland.

The inclusion of the hat is the good news…. The less good is that I’ve left both my waterproof coats (one short, the other long) at home…hanging in the wardrobe where I’d stashed them after the final packing was done…. The following morning, I had only to grab them and drape them over the cases in the car boot… Hmmm.

I’m not confessing… Bernie will only want to put me in a home.

I have one; well two, secret weapons in this obfuscation. The first is my one available outer garment – the one I travelled up in. It’s a top of the range, twenty-year old ‘wind-stopper’, made by Berghaus, and for reasons too complex for this blog, I’ve worn it only twice. I grabbed it from the back of the wardrobe as I ran out of the house – minus coats, of course – and have been wearing it ever since. It’s surprisingly effective for such a thin garment.

My salvation. A 20 year old Berghaus windstopper.

Reason 2 is Wim Hof, that monumental Dutch figure of cold weather frolics currently on TV. During the week, while I’m pretending not to shiver on our Poolewe-based outings, I will be professing loyalty to his fortitude and proclaiming myself an acolyte.

That will get me through the next few days – at which point it’s my birthday. This cunning plan sees me receiving a rather tasty outdoor walking jacket that Bernie has already bought me for the occasion.

I will, at that point, be warm again… and not in a home. Cunning, eh? Roll on Lewis and Harris!

Incoming! Gotta go…

All for now… More to follow as we explore.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

When the sky grows

There is a wildness to these last days of May; an energy long pent-up that rushes from the thrusting ground to meet the brightness of the glowing clouds…

The whole locked in some exotic equilibrium, one pushing, the other pulling, until, racing past the middle of June, they sight the shimmering solstice.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

Heroes in a Landscape (2) Lessons in the deluge

(Above: the splendid setting of the Castlerigg Stone Circle – but it didn’t look like this when the workshop began on the Friday!)

Those familiar with the attempt to hold any kind of drama in the open air will know the difficulties to be faced…

The vagaries of the British climate are well documented but the severity of the rain as we travelled through the blinding spray along the last few miles of the A66 towards the Castlerigg Stone Circle was a thing to be seen.

We had a brief respite, ahead, however. Although hoping to do a run-through in the stones before the arrival of the full complement of participants, we had offered a lift to an old friend who had travelled by train from the south of England, arranging to collect her from the local mainline station at Oxenholme, near Kendal. She asked us if we had time for her to check into the guest house in the centre of Keswick.

(Above: the sodden entrance to Castlerigg)

We were pleased at the potential this offered for a ‘pit stop’ with refreshments in the town centre. There is nothingof this nature at Castlerigg and a break would be welcome before the workshop was due to start at 2:30 in the afternoon. After a struggle with the satnav, which for some unfathomable reason thought we were in Turkey, we located her lodgings and were able to park outside on the road. Leaving our companion to check in, Stuart and I walked into the heart of the town and located a pub, there to shelter and await her return; at which point we planned to have a snack before returning to the stones to begin our afternoon’s work.

What we hadn’t allowed for was the poor and varying quality of phone signal in Keswick centre. We waited and waited, eventually deciding that something unforeseen had happened and we should try to contact her. Only then did we discover that for both of us, there was no signal at all…

We paid our snack bill and ventured out into the rain. In our final dry moments, we had run through a set of scenarios: she had arrived to find her room unready, but been asked to wait for a short while… which had turned into nearly an hour; she had been fed by a kindly landlady and unsuccessfully tried to contact us, being met by the same technical problem… or she had given up on the signal and was, at this moment walking the streets of Keswick centre, in the rain, in the hope that she might bump into her hosts. She needed our car to get to the stone circle. On foot it would be at least an hour’s walk from the centre of town.

(Above: The companions filter into the Castlerigg site from the nearby road)

Feeling guilty that our companion might have eaten nothing, we went into a neighbouring baker’s shop and acquired a Cornish pasty, asking for it to be double wrapped against the downpour. As we emerged from the shop, our gleeful missing companion was to be seen walking down the street towards us – also clutching a Cornish pasty – this one half eaten. She was happy to take the second pasty and explained it was her first meal of the day since setting out from Hertfordshire in the early morning.

I remember musing to myself that these are the real things that disrupt or enable a workshop!

It was one of those moments that carry a mixed message: she had found us; therefore ‘something’ was looking after us, but it was also a pointer to the nature of challenges ahead. We could not assume that translating a formula that had begun life in cosy village hall to a rugged hillside would be an easy transition.

(Above: Castlerigg on the Friday. We had to begin, storm or no…)

We located the car in the middle of a maze of Keswick’s oldest streets, and headed for Castlerigg. Any rehearsal time had vaporised. We were going to have to roll straight into the first drama on arrival – deluge or not.

We parked the car on the small lane alongside stone circle. We had invited the companions to enjoy the famous stones in front of us before gathering together and could see a few of them scattered across the dark landscape ahead.

I had taken the precaution of uploading our script – created by Stuart – onto my phone. I knew that once we started, every second would count, and I couldn’t imagine trying to read from a paper copy in that force of rain. In my experience, the modern phone is the safest and most waterproof place to store such vital information.

(Above: A plan of the Castlerigg Stone Circle. Stones 39-48 are known as ‘The Cove’. The entrance is between stones 1 and 2)

We gathered the group of hardy but undeterred companions together, welcoming them and explaining the use of the small rectangle of inner stones called ‘The Cove’. This would be the main site of the day’s drama, with each participant receiving a combination of instructions to allow them to understand the Tarot cards used for this part of the weekend. The Cove was to be the stage for the first three parts of the Monomyth, as described in last week’s post, and summarised below:

1. The hero’s adventure begins in the ordinary world.

2. He/she must leave the ordinary world when they receive a call to adventure. This is sometimes refused – initially.

3. With the help of a mentor, the hero will cross a guarded threshold, leading them to a supernatural world, where familiar laws and order do not apply.

The rain intensified…

I took my phone out of its waterproof pocket and flicked it on, ready to begin speaking my changing role of ‘Fool’ to ‘Magician’. The phone jammed in the opening screen as the waves of water cascaded onto it, and no amount of frantic finger movement or tissue drying would return it to operational normality.

Stuart looked at me, mute. His device was working fine…

I looked up at the heavens…. The rain was winning.

To be continued in Part Three.

Other parts in this series:

Part One,

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

From beneath

Photographs are meant to be taken from above, except….

Except when they’re not, and there’s some compelling reason to take them from beneath.

Often, I walk the collie in the early evenings. It’s impossible in the winter, except with a flashlight; and then you get strange looks. But in spring and summer, you can still find strong evening sunlight – full of golds – emerging from hedges and shrubs in patterns that often resemble diamonds.

(Above: hidden glories beneath the foliage; and a matching ‘orb’ to boot!)

My favourite; easier than finding the fragmenting light, is to simply insert myself beneath several layers of the leafy canopy and point the camera upwards… as in the image above.

(Above: the ‘ghost’ of what is beneath)

Sometimes it’s not what’s there, but rather the ‘ghost’ of what is there within the suppressed rays of light – its shadow… If you’re lucky, you might get the moon, too.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

Rather distracted…

This little soul is a relative…

He’s the son of my son and his wife. He’s my grandson. His name is Orson and as you can see, I’m rather distracted with affection for him; as is Bernie.

I can only pray that I live long enough to be a part of his life into adulthood. I intend to do everything to make that possible.

We have two other beautiful granddaughters who live far away in Australia; which means we don’t get to see them that often, but it’s wonderful when we do.

Young Orson lives in Yorkshire, therefore not only will he be able to play cricket for that fine county, but I’ll hopefully be an active part of his childhood.

Did I mention how happy I am? You can probably tell…

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

Heroes in a Landscape (1) Arrival

(Above: the splendid setting of the Castlerigg Stone Circle – but it didn’t look like this on the Friday!)

It’s a method for uniting a group of people to a common purpose. It’s a technique for ‘washing’ the immediate environment and dedicating your effort to the highest motive and energies. It’s a wonderful way to align yourself to your immediate surrounding, teasing out that sense of really ‘knowing’ what’s around you – especially in a landscape as beautiful and powerful as the English Lake District…in spring.

We can call it ceremony. Modern psychology, recognising its value, named it psychotherapy and psycho-emotional journeying. For thousands of years it has been known simply as ritual and, once you remove the populist rubbish from around its edges, there lies revealed a beautiful and empowering use of the human mind and emotions.

The best example of ritual I know is the simple hug. It has rules: the touching of bodies is proscribed in a certain non-sexual way. The hands grasp the other in a gentle embrace, and the heads align so they don’t clash. The duration of the hug and, indeed, the distance of the other person, can be adjusted according to the level of personal trust involved. A hug carried out with loving respect is a powerful and uplifting thing… It’s a wonderful ritual.

Like many ‘mystery schools’, we use ritual. But only when appropriate. The greater part of our ‘communion’ with the landscape on the Journey of the Hero weekend was simply walking and taking in the fresh green delight of spring in northern Cumbria. When we did use ritual, it was powerful…and in some cases, created there and then to adapt to the specifics of the landscape of beauty around us.

The idea for the ‘Journey of the Hero’ workshop began shortly after Sue Vincent’s death, a year ago. Keen to signal that the Silent Eye would be continuing its work, despite her sad loss, we came up with the idea of adapting the core of Joseph Campbell’s book; ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ into a three-day event that would reflect the Lakeland spring’s splendour, using the hills, lakes and even rivers of the region to provide a series of delightful challenges for our group of ‘happy adventurers’ – as Stuart named them.

(Above: the 1949 edition of Campbell’s groundbreaking book

A happy and wonderful bunch they turned out to be… But the weekend was to challenge us all in ways not always foreseen. The idea that the organisers were actually in charge of events in the underlying hyper-myth: life itself, was to prove deeply amusing…

Campbell proposed that all the world’s myths and fairy stories followed a common theme; a kind of ‘meta-structure’ whose building blocks were the skeleton on which each detailed journey was mapped. We wanted to use this structure to find synergy in the landscape, rather than an actual story. In this way, we would be more focussed and more in-tune with the beautiful places in which we wandered. He proposed the name ‘Monomyth’ for the underlying meta story.

The Monomyth contains the following stages;

1. The hero’s adventure begins in the ordinary world.

2. He/she must leave the ordinary world when they receive a call to adventure. This is sometimes refused – initially.

3. With the help of a mentor, the hero will cross a guarded threshold, leading them to a supernatural world, where familiar laws and order do not apply.

4. There, the hero will embark on a road of trials.

5. Allies sometimes assist.

6. As the hero faces the ordeal, they encounter the greatest challenge of the journey.

7. Upon rising to this challenge, the hero receives a reward or boon.

8. They return to the ordinary world, empowered to act in a higher way. The world gains much from their renewed presence.

(Above: from the Paul Foster Case deck, the Tarot card ‘The Star’)

While I concentrated on the locations and the vital timings, Stuart was busy crafting a method whereby the above stages of the Monomyth could be emotionally linked to their sequence. He proposed the use of the Tarot cards – that ancient method of both ‘divination’ and, more importantly, perhaps, the use of ‘active imagination’ to take us into a series of meditative states that reflected the Hero’s journey.

(Above: The ever-present Skiddaw mountain)

We were to begin, on the Friday afternoon, with the famous stone circle of Castlerigg, a ring of large stones at least five thousand years old, set on a natural plateau surrounded by some of Lakeland’s tallest mountains. Simply standing on that plateau is an act of magic, as nature quietly invites you to contemplate and share the reasons for the existence of this remarkable edifice.

(Above: Lakeland most famous weather – heavy rain!)

As we approached on the busy and fast A66 road, the skies began to darken. By the time we arrived at Castlerigg, we were in the middle of a full-blown Lakeland downpour… showing no signs of stopping.

It began to look like the ‘ordeal’ stage of our Monomyth was going to be thrust upon us ahead of schedule…

To be continued in Part Two.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

Spirituality in Transition

(Above: wonderful light and dark contrasts in the mysterious Lacy’s Caves alongside the River Eden)

There are times when you know that a particular world is changing. By ‘world’ I mean a specific part of life, not the whole world, though that could be said to be in a state of apparently chaotic change, too…

(Above: Castlerigg as we first found it – Driving rain on the Friday)

The ‘world’ I mean is that of spiritual teaching; and the challenges to its present methods come in various forms:

The major one is the worsening economic situation across most of the planet. If you’re not a billionaire, you’re getting poorer, as essential goods, such as sources of energy for heating, cooking and transportation become the subject of international strife.

(Above: Castlerigg on the final day – a basket of bright sunshine and a thankful contrast to the Friday)

When many are struggling to pay essential bills, the idea of paying out more for what appears to be a speculative investigation into the inner nature of ourselves may seem a scrambling of priorities. When such considerations are set at the end of a pandemic, and the world is struggling to get back to some sense of normal, we might expect little interest…

But last weekend, a group of dedicated adventurers from a variety of traditions enjoyed the immense beauty of the northern Lake District in all its spring glory, even venturing into the nearby Eden Valley – home of some hidden and mysterious treasures.

(Above: the ever-present Skiddaw mountain looms over everything around Keswick)

This experiment in using the outdoors, rather than a conventional indoor setting of rented hall, was forced upon us by the decline in the ‘old model’ of how such gatherings are conducted. Covid simply stopped such meetings from happening But it’s eventual fading did not automatically trigger a restart of the ‘old world’. No-one knew what would happen when travel was allowed, again. Things whose time has come can often fail to revive in these circumstances.

To compound the problems, there was a ‘new world’ in town, in the shape of Zoom-based meeting (and similar technologies). In order to maintain some contact with those we used to see, often, we too had begun to hold at least monthly meetings over zoom – involving people from across the world and slowly learning how to conduct meaningful dialogue and shared experiences across international video links.

(Above: beyond the Friday, the Lakeland countryside blossomed into one the most perfect weekends)

But, although here to stay, most said that video conferencing was no substitute for face to face gatherings. Having said that, the costs of travel and accommodation, post-Covid, mean that Zoom and it’s rivals are here to stay. Although this post is primary to introduce the weekend’s outdoor explorations, the Silent Eye team will be continuing and even expanding their Zoom presence in parallel with pioneering new ways of mystical experience in dramatic landscapes, as in Keswick.

That’s not to say that it was all plain sailing. The weather on the Friday afternoon – our first slot of the weekend – was enough to send anyone home. The ancient stone circle of Castlerigg was the soggy setting for the opening, and it was a challenge to get through, let alone enjoy. But it did begin the event, signaling, possibly rashly, that we were intent on making this happen.

(Above: the shores of Derwent Water, home to some of the finest views)

There is always some mischief on these meetings. It would be rash to attribute them to ‘mischevious spirits’ but sometimes it felt like that – especially on the Saturday; that long day of wonderful adventures… and some challenging mishaps.

Yet, enjoy it people did… enough to say so, as we all hugged in the bright sunshine of the final Castlerigg session and resolved to meet again in September.

The photos, here, will provide a taster. The detail – involving much humour and not a little irony – will be presented in what follows over the course of a series of posts. We hope to convey to you a little of what it was like to be there. It’s a wonderful journey and often a triumph over unexpected adversity, but it’s a story that’s never dull…

Part One will be on Thursday, here and on the Silent Eye blog.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

ButWhatIsIt? #8

Taken on a weekend trip – which is the only cunning clue I’m giving away, this rather unusual and large object was completely at odds with its surroundings…

Answer+++++++++++ below

Here’s the solution. I was convinced that no-one would get this but Carol of Carolcooks2 got it on the nose! It’s a very early form of church radiator, with huge, cast iron fins. At first, we thought that it was placed next to the seat of an important figure, but it turned out there were several of them and its positioning was purely engineering-related.

Congratulations to Carol, who gets the first prize bottle of delight. I’m giving a second prize bottle of virtual Limoncello to Di at Pensitivity who offered an old style fire hydrant – which visually was a possible close fit.

Thank you to all who played. Another one, soon!

I’m giving away two more virtual bottles of Limoncello, since I appear to have generated a lots of interest in this wonderful tipple. Treat it with caution – it’s a lot stronger than it first tastes…

Have some fun and enjoy the chase. At the time of publication, Stuart and I will be crossing the Shap summit on the way to the final day of the ‘Journey of the Hero’ workshop in, and around, Keswick.

The answer will be given on Monday evening. Thanks for playing.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

Orderly and Aligned?

(Image: ‘fate.darkness’ by itscosmoknowledge on Instagram)

There’s an old aphorism in the field of teaching mysticism: that if you endeavour to do something of significance; something that requires careful planning and even more careful resourcing, then you will be surprised how ‘testing’ the ‘final approach to the event will be. Moreover, the difficulties thrown at one may- humorously – be taken as a reflection of the event’s importance.

(Above: Castlerigg Stone Circle in its magnificent north-Lakes setting)

The word’s ‘final approach’ are borrowed from the art of flying a plane. As a much younger man, I did have ‘private pilot’ flying lessons; about fourteen hours of them in total, nearly enough to do my first solo flight – a big moment in a trainee pilot’s life… Sadly, we set up a software company at that point, and I didn’t have the time to dedicate to anything other than commercial survival…

I remember those days of flight-training, well. I learned a lot about how focussed pilots have to be in those last few minutes – then seconds – before the wheels hit the ground, hopefully together and in an orderly and aligned way. My instructor had a great sense of humour and those words of his stuck in my memory.

The same is exactly true of running a mystical workshop – any workshop, in fact, that requires acres of planning and ‘what if?’ testing.

(Above: the town of Keswick, seen from the shores of Derwent Water)

In theory, the Silent Eye’s ‘Journey of the Hero’ workshop, centred around the beautiful town of Keswick in the northern part of the English Lake District, was ready to roll about a week, ago. All the proposed walks – along lakes, rivers, ridges and mountains, had already been rehearsed and timed. The written material for our opening and closing ceremonies at the wonderful stone circle of Castlerigg had been examined and fine-tuned.

The only thing that remained was for me to design a new language…

(Above: the shores of Derwent Water)

J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor of ancient languages, and once designed the whole Elvish language so that the books comprising the Lord of the Ring trilogy would be founded in an actual spoken tongue. My admiration for this knows no bounds, especially since I’ve spent the last several weeks attempting to create an infinitely simpler language of ‘gesture’ so that we can carry out part of the workshop in complete silence…

It’s part of a series of ‘triggers’ that, with the right sense of place can induce the ordinary rational mind to have a rest and let the whole of our being come out to play. For hundreds of years we have lived too much in one side of our minds, and much damage is being done by this. The high goal of the Journey of the Hero weekend is, in some small part, to extend this.

(Above: the man and his amazing digger)

And then the Fates began to have their sport…

On Sunday, Simon – a local contractor who has done wonderful things with a small digger to remodel what was once an old canal and now actually looks like a garden – called by in his pick-up truck to tell us that he was ready to start work on our new fence… the day after. The old fence having been storm-damaged some time ago. I swallowed hard. Part of the deal with Simon is that, when needed, I act as his labourer. It’s not exploitation; it’s just that he’s a one-man-band and wants to stay that way. It’s not even a money thing, it’s simply a question of time. He’s very good at what he does and works on the projects he likes and with the people he gets on with. The issue is that he’s always short of time to finish each project, and deeply appreciates my help fetching and carrying things and materials (like truckloads of earth) to his point of focus in the garden. We had waited three months to get him back, and the spring was in full riot… I had little choice…

(Above: Lakeland’s weather can change in an instant)

In the middle of his first day, with me a dirty and sweaty bundle, the phone rang, again. This time it was the company from whom we have just ordered two exterior doors to replace the low-budget ones we had to settle for when the ‘building fund’ ran out, ten years ago. This company came highly recommended and we were eagerly awaiting their arrival… just not this week. We said yes, of course, knowing that it was going to detract from the available time to ‘write that language’.

Fast forward to this morning, when, after the third 05:30 start in as many days, we were driving through a violent downpour on the M6 south, enroute to our annual checkup at our old dentists near Chorley. We liked the team there so much, we elected to stay on their books and put up with the hour’s travel when needed. I’d already allowed for this interruption to the week’s plan, but not in concert with the other two… My ‘light aircraft’ was fast becoming, in the immortal words of Johnny Depp in the film Pirates of the Caribbean, ‘full of ‘oles’. I was beginning to lose my presence of mind.

(Above: who knows… we might even have time for an evening sail on the lake)

And then, on the outskirts of our destination, the mobile rang in the car. It was the receptionist from the dentist… frantic. She’d just arrived in, to find a phone message from her boss (the dental surgeon) to report that he’d been up most of the night with food poisoning – possible Norovirus. She knew we had driven down from Kendal through torrential rain… for nothing.

It was then that the magic happened. My wife and I looked at each other and burst out laughing; assuring the lady that it was okay; just another link in the testing chain of the week and something that could be re-arranged.

So here I am… typing away, having lost three days of my ‘finals’ week and hoping my remaining energy reserves will pull off a small miracle and deliver that ‘language of gesture’ before we leave for Castlerigg on Friday.

It’s not the first ‘final approach’ to an event that has been bumpy like this. Hitherto, they have gone well. I think I can see that small strip of safe landing space in the far distance. It’s starting to look orderly and aligned… I just hope my wheels are, too. Wish us luck!

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

ButWhatIsIt? #7

Answer: So I’d better reveal the story of the strange object in the photo. We ran many Silent Eye weekends over the past decade. The events were all stories where each person played a part, reading their part as though doing a final dress rehearsal, but these were real and carried a high degree of involvement and intensity.

Knowing how many parts to write was a nightmare. If you found yourself short, then people had to be asked to ‘play’ two parts, which make their enjoyment more challenging. One particular workshop, River of the Sun, was set in Egyptian times and told the story of a trainee priest of the Sun who had to navigate the wrath of a visiting Rameses II.

I had been looking forward to a ‘year off’ in the sense of simply directing and carrying out the job of musical technician – starting dramatic music and sound effects requires careful timing. In the two days before the workshop, two attendees came down with flu and were unable to attend. This meant we did not have enough people to stage the ‘play’ as planned.

In desperation, I sorted through my electronics drawer and found I had bought – then forgotten – a small but powerful portable speaker: the blue object fastened with wire wrapped in gold cloth in the above image. The snake was one of the props used by a character that I now had to play… plus I had to be the technician as well. To make this work I had to carry around the music (hosted from my iPad) as well as reading the character’s part from the same device.

The ‘tech-snake’ as it came to be known, achieved a degree of notoriety and served us well. The workshop, with its play and music, was judged a success by all. The combination of snake and tech saved the day…

TanGental’s response was popular with everyone, so I’m going to award both bottles of Cognac to him. Well done, Geoff. Thanks to all who took part. Another one next Sunday…

Original text below:

Slight change of emphasis with this one – and some wacky fun.

It’s pretty obvious what it is… in one sense. But!

Here’s a clue: it rescued me at a Silent Eye event a few years ago. That’s all I’m saying!

I’m giving away two virtual bottles of Cognac; one for the most accurate answer (including ‘why it is’), the other for the most humorous answer to ‘what’ it is.

Have some fun and enjoy the madness…

The answer will be given on Monday evening. Thanks for playing.

You’ll need a strong and refined tipple after having a go at this one, so here’s one I consider among the best: A VSOP Courvoisier Cognac.

The supplier (Virgin wines in this case) says about this fine Cognac:

  • All Courvoisier Cognacs are double distilled in traditional 25 litre alembic stills to create eau-de-vies of epic intensity.
  • Master Blender Patrice Pinet carefully selects each barrel and skilfully brings them together to create exceptionally fine brandy.
  • This VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) Cognac is smooth, has lovely oak spice, floral notes and plenty of lovely stone fruit character.
  • Stephen Tanham is not on commission!

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

Painting the Universe (1)

There are some ‘big blocks of colour’ in an understanding of the mystical perspective – which is the inner truth of our lives. Even a cursory examination of these brings great value. Let’s consider them…

Foremost of these is that there is a more powerful Life behind life; that the life we see is seen through a lens that distorts, and that our belonging, our real identity, is with that which is beyond the distorted lens. The basis of this is quite simple, but let’s approach it carefully.

The Sufi philosopher and poet, Rumi, wrote:

“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.”

What did he mean? Was he simply talking about love between two people – that we should devote our lives to ordinary love as we know it? Clearly this is insufficient. We can sense something vast in what he was trying to import, something that used the passion of love as a metaphor.

The Sufi poets used both ‘love’ and ‘wine’ to convey the experience of what lies beyond the clouded lens we use to look at the world. They also had a special meaning for the word ‘Beloved’. We will examine all of these in this series of posts.

True teachers of the ‘mystical life’ see – by direct experience – that there is a deeper life centred in the human consciousness. Our ordinary consciousness is a product of a ‘self’ developed from birth onwards. This self sees and feels objects around it. Some of them are pleasant and some aren’t. Because the newborn has no sense of itself – it simply is – it hungers to know more, and so adopts these reactions to the objects around it.

It’s a tasty world, and the child is hungry to understand it… and even more hungry to understand it-self, since this is where all the impressions of its world come to reside and stay. Even at this stage, the brain is busy recording the history of the person, generating a vast store of experiential data that will be added to all its life – as the primary filter (memory) against which all experience will be judged.

The adoption of these vivid early impressions becomes its first identity. We all have a primal hunger to know who we are. These patterns of identity, like and dislike, become the foundation of its character, its self. As the child grows, we say it develops a personality, more accurately, an egoic self.

We all have one… we were all once children experiencing this, hopefully under the loving eyes of our parents, who could do no more than guide the child to be what they were…

The word ego was bestowed on the developing self by the pioneering psychologist Sigmund Freud, whose work showed that the egoic-self had three divisions: id, superego and ego. As the child developed, it suppressed – under guidance from the parents – some of the wilder instincts in its nature (the id) – in order to fit in with the expectations of the parents, and, later on, society. This pattern of censure became the superego. Between id and superego, the child developed an identity of ‘acceptable me who gets praise’ and this is viewed as the ego, though really it’s part of a three-fold psychological structure.

From this early stage, the child colours everything that happens to it with the lens of its egoic-self. As the growing human becomes more capable, it fortifies its self. By adulthood, it is a suit of armour, which, initially, is wonderful… but gradually is seen to progressively dull the experience of life. This ‘dulling’ invites a question: If the suit of armour of the egoic self is all there is, then how does it know that fresh expereince has become ‘dull’?

Wordsworth famously wrote:

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy!”

It is a profound re-telling of what I’ve written above, but written in the 1790s. It illustrates the depth of perception that great poetic and emotionally sensitive minds have always found, in ages that did not possess the idea that truth had to be numbers…

We shall have more to say about these ‘clouds of glory’ and – without trying to upset anyone, God, in future posts of this series.

For now, let’s close Part One, with the idea of ‘Object Relations’, an understanding of which, in the context of the truly spiritual, is the basis of these blogs.

The different experiences that colour the infant’s perception, and eventually becomes adopted or ‘imprinted’ on the child’s consciousness as building blocks of its identity, are referred to in developmental psychology as ‘Objects’ – that is, they are recognisable as separate things, capable of being labelled by the consciousness. In others words, they have repeatable properties. The field of Object Relations is one of the backbones of modern psychology. But this series of blogs is not intended to focus on psychology, beyond borrowing some of its words. Our purpose is to pursue Wordsworth’s ‘clouds of glory’ to see if the nature of the early ‘objects’ in our consciousness actually contain signposts back to the Greater Life from which we came…

And whether we can, in our modern world, remove the many barriers to Rumi’s ‘love’.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

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