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.

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

The wings of the bird of reason and emotion

Have you ever watched your own mind racing between thinking and feeling? Usually, just before it triggers something about which you have a long-term feeling of unease?

We all do this. Our habitual reactions are based upon pre-formed responses, which, themselves, may be constructed from older building blocks of like and dislike going all the way back to our earliest childhood… These may be old, but they still skew our behaviour.

Many people – looking at their own lives – say that feelings are faster than thought, so thought isn’t involved in the experience. There is some evidence for ‘feelings’ being a faster response, but I maintain that there’s a tiny gap where conscious and ‘deliberated’ thought can enter the process of feeling a certain way. And it does so, right up front – if we let it.

None of this implies that thoughts are superior to feelings. Feelings are the key to the release of deep energies, energies that can be used for good or negative work. Thoughts are there to allow us to do real time ‘what ifs’, amongst other things. Used together, as they were meant to be, they are a dynamic combination.

(Above: a flowchart’s decision box)

This tiny space between thought and feeling is like one of those decision boxes in a logical flowchart; and it may just be that its presence is a deep part of our spiritual potential.

Say we have noticed, with surprise, that we have something in common with someone we regard as our ‘enemy’. We may harbour a strong dislike for this person. Whenever we come across them or their actions, we find ourselves getting tense and invoking an almost prepared script that rattles out the justification of our dislike.

Occasionally, we may be in a non-antagonistic situation where this disliked figure is seen responding to another and revealing part of their past. In a situation like this, I once found myself examining the previously unknown conditions of this foe’s past. For the first time, I could see how and why I reminded him of the adversity he had to face as a younger man.

Armed with this – and with a mysterious sense of heightened inner awareness, as though the moment were listening to itself – I said something supportive about him, giving reasons as to how a theoretical person might have developed aggression from that moment.

His eyes widened and he looked at me ‘in a new light’. I made sure we carried on the discussion, socially, after the encounter, in order to give this new condition between us chance to mature and stabilise.

We’ve been good friends, since…. To my astonishment.

Shortly after this turn-around, he and I were at a gathering of people, but far apart. At one point, I heard him speaking – and watched as my older reactions to his voice took over my responses. Knowing it would be instructive, I ‘hovered’ over my own triggered reactions and watched them play out. Assuming the role of a silent witness in my own mind. I saw, again, how decades of self-conditioning had formed something hard and ‘solid’, like an entire inner routine that played itself out when switched on by his presence.

And I could see how much energy was tied up in the creation of that construct… and keeping it alive.

As this continued, I substituted my new understanding of the man – now friend – and watched how my entire inner state changed; becoming ‘plastic’ instead of solid. This plastic mental and emotional state allowed me to take something new from the moment, something real, instead of the locked up and frozen negative of the past.

There was nothing special about me in that situation. Everyone has the capability. We just need to overcome that habitual ‘don’t want to go there’ barrier.

If we step back and look at our lives, honestly and in the light of such a moment, we see that a high proportion of what we do… and therefore are, is habitual. Even worse, it’s made up of frozen energies from our past that lock us into responses we have outgrown. This ‘self’ is lesser than we can be. Each of the elements of this habitual creature can be examined in the manner of my example, above. When we do this, we find patterns – entire patterns that have, literally, robbed us of ‘being there’ in the passing now.

Winter is a good time to reflect, and to review how we are and how much of that is down to how we react to things. Many aspects of nature are ‘frozen’ at this time of year, and we can use this to align with that which is in a similar state within us.

This allows us to begin the ‘spring-cleaning’ long before the renewing energy of nature’s cycle. Having derived and visualised such targets for positive treatment, the incoming spring tide of energy will flow straight into the negative and locked conditions – melting them… and showing us the boulders left behind, now devoid of anything fearful.

The ancients might have called it inner Alchemy. But we can think of it as using the wings of the bird of reason and emotion.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

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

Are we Book-Fat?

I’m not sure there’s ever been a rigorous definition of gluttony, but a series of incidents have made me wonder if we are suffering from its effects, in the form of book-fat.

I can hear wincing noises in the seats at the back, there… I certainly winced when I thought about it. I winced a lot more as I tipped boxes full of old books into a skip, devoid of anywhere locally to re-home them, despite great efforts.

“Nobody wants books, anymore, mate!”

Manager of a charity shop in Kendal.

We’ve had a great big tidy up, recently, Mrs Tanham and I. She’s as much a book lover as I am, perhaps, more so. A childhood in which her father died when she was six years old, and in which she and her elder sister became the main support structure for a mother who struggled to cope with the emotional impact of widowhood, let alone borderline financial stability, set her on the road for books for life. Books were friends: an escape and a source of knowledge; knowledge that could pass cold hours wrapped in a coat in a house without enough coal…and could, later, get you to university with a real love of history – consumed from books with a deep love of the subject matter.

She loves books…

In my own case, books were correct knowledge; a knowledge beyond the possible truth of what my parents – in good faith – gave me as their helpful opinions. It’s a growing thing, and a rite of passage, to know that, if you know how to look, there’s a book out there that can expand your knowledge and widen your horizon.

It was a library book that first alerted me to an emerging field called ‘computing’, and changed my choice of college and course… and the rest of my life.

As in everything it touches, the internet is at once a blessing to, and a killer of, books. Good, because you can now search with previously unheard-of accuracy, for that rare source of specialised knowledge for which you’ve been hunting all year to finish your project/novel/research paper etc…

But the internet has also seen the triumph of what Herman Hesse called the ‘Feuilleton’ in his brilliant final novel: The Glass Bead Game‘, published as the Nazis came to power in Germany.

The Feuilleton was the opposite of the deep knowledge pursued by the Magister Ludi and his followers; knowledge in which that depth threw up deep and potentially spiritual connections between ideas, connections that were previously unthought of – and wise.

The Feuilleton is the necessary result of too much information and too little contemplation of its meaning… resulting in the exaltation of the mindless and twisted ‘truth’ seen in today’s gutter press; an instrument that deprives many of understanding by wrapping it in glitz, glamour and sex. The Feuilleton makes us fat, because it deprives us of real nourishment, whilst increasing our hunger for more…

We’ve all seen the price of empowered ignorance. On both sides of the Atlantic, our newly fractured societies are its children…

Pure scholarship may not be the answer, either. Would any of us turn back the clock and not have the internet? Pandora’s box was well and truly opened when the humble ‘browser’ came along and masked all that technical spaghetti in relative simplicity. The rest is history…and is here.

And then the book, itself, changed. Probably entering our lives when we flew on holiday – with a limited weight allowance on the plane, and took that new-fangled Kindle with us – “It’s just for holiday, it won’t replace my lovely bookshelf…”

Has it? it’s a good question. In my case, I still have a room full of books, but equally, I’ve had to get rid of another room full that I finally realised were never going to be read. Now, my Kindle is mirroring that second room of books. Am I ever really going to read all the books on my TBR (To Be Read) list… to be honest, do I even really have a TBR, aside from the Kindle, itself…

Wince, indeed!

I love books…I love their feel. I love the physical craftsmanship that goes into their making. I love the feel of quality paper turning in my fingers, even their smell. Virtual paper may change – to be honest it has to, because the Tech leaders are waking up to the fact that our favourite looks shabby in its virtual book device.

I predict we will each have a ‘meta book’ of our favourite size and, binding, in which there is what appears to be blank paper. The paper will feel like the most exquisite paper we’ve ever held, but ‘washable’. When we select a book from the meta-library in its spine, linked to the all-books depository on the web, the download, in glorious full colour, will feel and look like we’ve just been granted a visit to our national archives. I will turn my pages, hearing a delicious sound and feel. When I get to page (say) ten, the last, it will refer me back to page one, and so onwards through the book. AI will tune my searches so that I can ask: Can we go back to the page where the idea of parliament first appeared?

There are many ways to treat this topic, and dark humour has to be one of them.

Diana Wallace Peach of the excellent Myths of the Mirror website had a new writing challenge for the new year called ‘The teetering TBR pile’. The link is below.

I hadn’t written any poetry for a while and decided to have a go at a little black humour on this subject. If you received Sunday’s post – which was Diana’s cut-off date, you may have already read it. If not, then here it is… and thank you!

Five Spines of Doom:

Five spines of doom, the living pile declares

To struggling mind awakening in the gloom

Of winter morning in the dreaming room

Who shouts? He whispers to the wall

Five spines of doom, where will has failed

To clear the conscience of the might

of these five books which through the night

Have taunted sleep of he who put them there!

Beside the bed, next to his head…

That, given this priority

They would at last be read and free

And not in their minority

Alas…

Like struggling morning’s light

He grasps, past January’s tea gone cold

The truth his doubting mind foretold

‘Five spines of doom’ … it rings, a nightmare’s fright

Five spines – now books – declare his guilt

Short days, he blames…or longer nights

The five lie mute, abed.. And sadder, yet, unread.

His rising knees make wall from quilt.

Around the Kindle fingers fumble

Seeking to suppress the mumble

Of words in millions’ silent plea

A digital majority.

————

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

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

Five Spines of Doom

Diana Wallace Peach, over at Myths of the Mirror set a writing challenge prompt for the new year… which I’ve just found out expires today!

Here’s my offering, ‘Five Spines of Doom’ for her ‘Tottering TBR pile’ prompt: a nightmare of the ‘to be read’ books we all have – particularly on our Kindles…

Five spines of doom, the living pile declares

To struggling mind awakening in the gloom

Of winter morning in the dreaming room

Who shouts? He whispers to the wall

Five spines of doom, where will has failed

To clear the conscience of the might

of these five books which through the night

Have taunted sleep of he who put them there!

Beside the bed, next to his head…

That, given this priority

They would at last be read and free

And not in their minority

Alas…

Like struggling morning’s light

He grasps, past January’s tea gone cold

The truth his doubting mind foretold

‘Five spines of doom’ … it rings, a nightmare’s fright

Five spines – now books – declare his guilt

Short days, he blames…or longer nights

The five lie mute, abed.. And sadder, yet, unread.

His rising knees make wall from quilt.

Around the Kindle fingers fumble

Seeking to suppress the mumble

Of words in millions’ silent plea

A digital majority.

————

© Stephen Tanham 2020

#StillLight : Wood, Tile and Plastic

It’s a morning photograph, taken last week. I wandered into the en-suite bathroom to find this beautiful display of light splayed across the end of the bath, onto the wood of the cabinet and then, fading, on to the white tiles.

It was one of the most beautiful and ‘fine’ displays of natural light I’ve ever seen; and I had no idea how it was forming…

Before working back along the lights-beams, I ran into the bedroom for the phone, which was still lying in its charging cradle on set of drawers near the window. Returning to the bathroom, I was delighted that the light patterns were still there – the reverse is usually true; these are fickle effects and often short-lived.

Several photos later, I turned to trace the source. By now, the light was fading, fast, but I caught a final twinkle from what we call the ‘theatre mirror’. Bought from a rather trendy furnishings shop in Chorley, several years ago, this glitzy item – deliberately ‘over the top’ – features edges made of prism-like glass. A line of these had caught the bright, winter light and flashed it back into the bathroom.

A stroke of luck, but I was glad I had some evidence of its beautiful existence…

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

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

The hill with two stations

(Above: In the foreground, the village of Sedgwick. In the distance, The Helm – a local peak with two stations!
photo taken in summer)

Our small village, Sedgwick, near Kendal, has a landscape shaped in the classic terminal topography of ancient glaciers. This area of gentle, rounded hills is typical of the final stages of the glacier’s course. The English Lake District, where we live, has them in abundance. ‘Basket of Eggs’ is another term you may remember from those geography text books at school. They are also known as ‘drumlins’.

(Above: Lake Windermere and the high glacial basin (corrie) from which it was formed in the background)

These small hills get bigger as you journey nearer to the centre of the region. The northern half of Lake Windermere was formed from a glacier whose origin was the mountain of Fairfield, a few miles north of Ambleside, at the head of the lake. See picture, above.

It’s the Friday before the third Sunday in the month. You’ll find me with a very happy Collie dog – Tess, walking from Sedgwick along the quietest country lanes and tracks towards the hill you can see in the distance in the opening photo – The Helm (also spelled Helme). It doesn’t look too far in that shot, but it’s a three mile walk, and takes about ninety minutes at a fast walking pace.

I love walking. You couldn’t live here and not do. But there’s a practical side to this monthly outing. I’m meeting up with Stuart France, my co-director of the Silent Eye… and we’re planning on having a couple of beers, whilst mapping out the next month of activities – including our new monthly Zoom chat – open to anyone interested.

That’s right – it’s a board meeting! But one held in a station… which may sound odd, but all will be revealed…

A year ago, Sue Vincent – as the third Director of the School, would have been part of the group meeting. This would have taken place in the distant hills of Derbyshire – the place where we’ve regularly held our Spring workshops.

Sadly, as many readers will know, Sue passed away last Spring, leaving the two of us to sail the Silent Eye ship. We are not alone, though, and have a great team of people to assist us – for everything from healing groups to highly-skilled administrative and document production assistance.

Technically, Stuart and I are ‘retired’…but you wouldn’t know it from our average working week of writing, teaching and lesson supervision.

Stuart used to live in Sheffield, which was an ideal base for our monthly meetings in the hills of Derbyshire. After Sue’s passing, Stuart decided to relocate back to his native Lancashire. This was to our mutual advantage because there is a fast rail connection between Preston and the place I’m headed – Oxenholme; the only mainline station in the UK located in a village. Quizzers take note. This might win you a prize!

(Above: the main West Coast line to Glasgow passes over this)

My journey takes me from our house near the centre of Sedgwick, along a steep country lane that runs beneath the West Coast Main Line. We’ll meet this vital link between London and Scotland, again, later. The bridge and line are only ten minutes from the house. If the wind is in the right direction, you can just about hear the trains at night as they thunder northwards to and from Glasgow and Edinburgh. There’s something magical about it…

The road crests a hill then descends to the village of Crosscrake, where we take a tiny lane up the first of several steep ‘drumlin’ hills. These are lined with dense hedges, most of which have just been trimmed. The resulting sharp relief is a pattern to be exploited by the photographer.

(Above: the bare, sharp hedges offer exciting texture to the Winter photograph)

Frustratingly, the lane then plunges down the hill to climb all the way up again – an unavoidable property of the egg ‘basket’ hills. This one is very steep. But, ten minutes later, and somewhat hotter, we’re at the top.

(Above: the tiny lanes are a pleasure to walk, with only occasional traffic)

Soon, we pass one of my favourite gardens, with its oak tree set just off the entrance drive. The photo was taken in October, and the autumn colours allowed me to indulge in a little fine-tuning.

(Above: The ‘oak tree’ garden)

The country lane marks the end of the ancient drumlin and leads to a minor junction of the celebrated A65 – the old trunk road that links Kendal to Skipton – and beyond to York and the East Coast.

There is always beauty to be found in the hedgerows, even on the busy A65. This image was taken here in October…

(Above: The A65; a fast road hostile to the walker – but those colours!)

Beyond the major road the way begins to climb up the initial slopes of The Helm, but the trees are so dense you can’t see the large hill looming above.

(Above: the dense woodland masks the beginning of The Helm)

We now have a choice… We can continue along the narrow lane and skirt the base of The Helm… or, with the Collie expressing a strong preference, we can set off on a rapid and lung-challenging ascent of the steepest face of the hill.

(Tess, the Collie, expressing a preference as to how we navigate The Helm. In the distance are the major hills of the central Lake District)

If we are feeling fit – and the Collie insists – we arrive, breathless at the summit of The Helm, fifteen minutes later. It’s a steep but rapid scramble to the ‘trig point’, but the views are worth it. Kendal is laid out below us like a street map, with the West Coast Main Line skirting the base of The Helm. The air is always pure… and often freezing!

(Above: the old ‘trig point’, now defunct with the advent of satellite navigation and mapping)
(Above: From the top of The Helm, the sweeping landscape takes the eye all the way down to Morecambe Bay in the distance)

Tess loves being here because it’s where we often come (by car) to ‘chuck the frisbee’. Today, however, her fun is curtailed by the sound of shotguns in the next valley. She scampers around, tail down and frightened. Collies are very sensitive creatures…

We’ve done all we can up here. The Collie’s walk will have to be sufficient. Now it’s time to descend to the edge of the village of Oxenholme, where Stuart will be arriving by train in the next 30 minutes.

The Helm is topped by a beautiful, long ridge. We can follow this all the way down to the road that leads into Oxenholme Station.

(Above: The ridge atop The Helm. Following this takes you to the road into Oxenholme, where one of the stations is to be found
(Above: photographed in the early hours of a day-trip to Glasgow, the station’s platform sign)
(Above: Oxenholme Station. Considering it’s just a village, it offers a glorious way to arrive in the Lake District)
(Above: Part of the puzzle revealed… There are two railway lines in Oxenholme. The first is the West Coast Main Line, the other links to the local shuttle service between Kendal and Windermere. The Helm is bottom left on the map. However, this is not the answer to our ‘two stations’ puzzle)

Stuart arrives on-time from Preston. We’re now going to leave one station to have our ‘board meeting’ in another – and its not the one in Kendal.

(Above: the luxury of intercity travel for a short journey)

Fifteen minutes later, two human and a Collie are ready to have their meeting…

(Above: The other ‘Station’! And the best Guinness for miles around)

And that’s the end of the journey…. Except if we decide to walk home at the end of our chat. The alternative is to ring Bernie, who will gladly drive the fifteen minutes to collect me, while Stuart strolls down to the station to catch his train.

But the thought of walking home through that beautiful coming sunset and the photographs it might offer is calling… But we’ll not be going over The Helm!

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

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

When the Picture is the Blog

(photo by the author)

They are a part of living in the country. They’re a lot faster than they used to be, and there are a lot of them… And when you’re stuck behind one, on a narrow Cumbrian lane, there’s little you can do but wait.

Often, you find yourself thinking ‘I’m late… could anything be worse than this?’

Plenty… as we found the other day when this behemoth was suddenly ahead of us, completely blocking the road; and not just any road: Sedgwick’s most notorious country lane, which curls over the stone bridge at the River Kent to twist steeply upwards, narrowing as it climbs from a width of two cars, to one… to a distance that has driven many in the village to vow they will never use it again…

Bernie and I are both competent drivers. Our many years of commuting into Salford from Chorley made us so. When we arrived in Sedgwick, ten years ago, we scoffed at the idea of being frightened by narrow lanes; and our confidence has proved correct. ‘Slow lane’ as it’s known, locally, has never challenged us… to date. The odd snarl from folks who don’t know the width of their vehicles, but nothing serious.

On the day of the photograph, Bernie was driving – which allowed me to grab my phone and take the shot without us ending up in the river…

When we pulled up behind the giant machine in the picture, we groaned for two reasons. The driver, Ken, is a local man who specialises in cutting the hedges and verges of the area’s villages – twice a year. Generally, he does a fine job, but he once sliced through the main signal BT signal cable that supplies our small enclave of five houses with phone and broadband. We were out of contact with the world for a week before the cable was restored. Thank goodness for the modern digital phone!

We recognised the tractor and Ken’s spinning blade before we saw him in the cab. We knew there would be no chance of passing him, as he was approaching the narrowest part of Slow Lane and concentrating on the skillful placing of the deadly hedge-trimmer. What neither of us saw until a moment later, was the small silver car that was inching its way into the opposite hedge, as though creeping sideways. I’ll swear I’ve never seen a car do that before. It seemed to be expressing the fears of its terrified occupant – an elderly lady.

Within a few seconds, she was stuck; and gazing at us and, increasingly, upwards at Ken, as he loomed on his weapon of destruction above her. At the last moment, he saw her plight and stopped the tractor.

I could see she was frozen in terror. We stopped our car, ready to get out. It was suddenly much quieter on Slow Lane. I paused to see if Ken was going to clamber down, but he was waiting for her to use the ample space he had left to exit the scene. Only she was effectively stuck in her side of the hedge and going nowhere. She looked like she needed some help.

I got out of our car and walked across the lane.

“Can I help?” I asked in a voice that I hoped was devoid of accusation. “Tricky this bend…”

Her eyes blinked, then re-focused on me, scanning up and down to check if I was a n’er do well or a decent bloke. I could hear her exhale when she determined I was the latter.

Five minutes later, and innumerable turns of the wheel, we managed to get her enough space to manoeuver her way free. Ken had left her lots of room, and soon she was on her way. I looked up at his smiling face as we exchanged a look of ‘job well done’.

As I got back in the car, I watched him edge the tractor into the hedge on his side, leaving us a generous amount of room to pass. I had left my window down, and, as we crept past, he yelled in a lovely thick Cumbrian accent. “Lot easier in this bugger!”

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

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

The rings of a hundred years

A poignant reminded of the effect of the deadly ‘Ash Dieback’ fungus that is devastating the Ash tree population.

This lovely tree, possibly a hundred years old, lies in sliced sections at the side of the road to Helm. The effects of the Dieback can be seen in the left side of the photo.

We’ve lost three so far in our garden. Our favourite tree may be next…

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

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

Listening – an active magic

(Photo by the author)

We were having dinner at the end of one of our business trips to California. On the next table at the small restaurant were an American couple from Arizona. We struck up a friendly conversation, during which the subject of armed burglary came up.

The man expressed surprise that so few of the UK’s homes had guns. He was astonished when I said it was illegal to own a pistol, and that the only legal guns he would see over here were those owned by the police and armed forces, farmers, and those who shoot thousands of game birds on country estates as ‘sport’.

I said that we found it astonishing that lethal weapons were owned on such a scale. He fell quiet for a while, searching our expressions, then said, “Let me put it like this: if an armed burglar entered our family home and I had to rely on the police response… my family would be dead before they got to us. They are that bad, and it’s only my gun that gives us any sense of security”

He was a genuine and gentle man, and it made me think. Did I really know how it felt to be so vulnerable in the face of an armed intrusion into a family home? The conversation – on both sides – was a good example of gentle listening; with respect for the other’s point of view.

“The problem came from long ago,” he continued. “If we’d acted before everyone had guns, we could have stopped it…”

It’s many years since that night. The established ‘order’ of the world is now challenged, to say the least. Much of the democratic west is experiencing a crisis in which powerful figures with vast budgets have used the media to whip up emotions and polarise politics into camps of hatred. These are deliberate acts to undermine the ‘liberal status quo’ and the proponents are willing to sacrifice democracy to achieve it.

Many of these movements have been decades in the making and have well-funded plans to take over local and national centres of power. Many of them already own large swathes of the media.

Political forces move slowly against such brazen desecration. Unless there is widespread revulsion, the chances of the generation of a ‘new’ political force capable of resisting this negative manipulation are slim. The powerful forces unleashed against democracy are pivoted around a single idea sown in the minds of the dissatisfied: ‘you have real grievances and they’re not listening to you…’

Can we, as ordinary citizens of non-authoritarian regimes do anything?

The energy generated, harnessed and, in the internet age, farmed by those dismantling the old orders of tolerance and stability is predicated on convincing people that they are disadvantaged, and that the ‘ruling order’ is directly responsible. No specifics are given – just emotion, supercharged with hate and a new sense of ‘belonging’.

Perhaps we have created a society in which ‘some people’ deserve not to be listened to? In that sense, maybe we have forgotten how to listen.

I say this because listening is one of the most healing processes I know… and one of the most powerful interaction techniques I ever learned.

So why is it so hard to listen to another’s viewpoint? Is it just that our own values are emotively antithetical to another’s – especially when that ‘other’ has all the signs of someone we view as knowing less than we do; as having less experience in what it takes to collectively move a situation forward, or find a formula of constructive peace?

“Before you do anything else, listen. Listening is not a passive sport; it’s an active magic.”

In my working career, the most valuable tool I was ever provided with was a week’s course in core management skills. The experienced trainer began the first day with the words: “Before you do anything else, listen. Listening is not a passive sport; it’s an active magic.”

Imagine that you find yourself in the middle of a heated political debate being televised. Many of the participants are there for the enjoyment of snarling at ‘the enemy’. But some are there simply because their families support the snarlers. What if you could offer one or two of these the chance to sit down and genuinely explore how they feel. This would be managed by a skilled moderator in control of the room, someone with the capability and wisdom to make sure all interactions were very different to the brawl in front of the cameras.

We can all visualise that, though the opinions may not change, a far more complex and detailed picture would emerge of everyone’s point of view – and the often brutal and disadvantaged life that led up to it. We might actually see how someone came to have extreme and even violent opinions; and in that very action – of true understanding – the process might just have invoked the magic needed to break the grip of the snarl and the hatred… and take the wind out of the sails of those whose only interest is to destroy.

Someone once taught me that: “In resisting evil, we become stronger than the force that is tearing down what we love. If we do nothing, then we prove ourselves worthy of the wave that will sweep us away.”

There are many ways to resist evil, and some of them, while appearing passive, are quite the opposite.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

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

A devil called time

Time is an exceedingly curious thing…and much inner humour is generated in the course of exploring it.

We don’t really know what time is. It might even be ‘no-thing’ at all, of course, and simply some kind of movement of consciousness…

But let’s not get too high-minded about that. This is a basic post about common sense and the fact that we can’t shake time’s effects: real or imaginary.

I often muse that time is the devil. I can think bigger than my time can do; yet I’m trapped in this devil’s cage of passing time, and that big clock on the wall is extinguishing possibility… by the second.

It’s not just about the changing state of the out-there; the one that gives away the fact that something has altered i.e. that time has passed. Zen, at its core, is said to be about that: staring at the wall until you realise that there’s only you there, but ‘there’ is everywhere.

I need not to drift too far…

It’s the changing state of not-me plus the actual possibility of there being a change in the way I want – a kind of potential of the possible.

And perhaps there’s another thing: effort. For something to happen that (for example) is not simply that beautiful stream over there flowing through this glorious valley. For an action that I want to make happen, then I need effort. I need to have sufficient energy for that action to be completed. Without the finish, there’s nothing…

Perhaps there is a fourth aspect? My Action is nothing, is not even capable of beginning, unless I have some sort of goal, some kind of picture for what is to be the resulting state of the out-there. These pictures must have been learned as my young mind discovered its power to do, and began to refine it so that doing created pleasure.

Unless I’m being bad Stephen, and the goal is to exact revenge, or something equally horrible. In which case, most of the process is identical to before, with the exception of the initial ‘spark’. Where do such sparks come from, I wonder? From a state of ‘me’ that had been pleased or picked on, possibly.

These are the mechanics of how ‘time and me’ interact. And this is good, for now I can see a bargain, a deal, being struck that involves time, whatever that is. Time is the basis of the bargain between doing and not-doing. When we do, it involves the consumption of time.

At the base level, I might just want to sit on the banks of that beautiful stream and let all my senses enjoy the experience. If I’m any good at it, I’ll have refined a state of presence that allows me to simply be here, enjoying the natural beauty with no desire whatever to do anything.

But who wants that, when there’s so much to be done; when there’s so little time to do all that stuff that needs doing! After all, nature gave me (and you) this incredible ability to make things happen.

I have a list as long as your arm of things I need to do, and, most importantly, today!

Most of them are urgent. I will let people down if I don’t do them all… and I hate that. Careless or unfeeling people do that and I’m not one of those.

My mind flashes back to the systems of my corporate youth: The all-conquering ‘Time Manager’, that sexy Filofax (or equivalent) in which you could fly like a vulture over the day, week and even month ahead, and write – in pencil so that fine-tuning could be done at ‘run-time’ – before you picked up the phone and made something else happen. Oh, the joy of it…

I remember when I first spotted him – the devil, I mean – hiding in the vertical lines of my large, leather Time-Manager folder. So big you didn’t need to take a briefcase on the train to London, you could just organise your day the night before and clip everything into the vast rings and pockets of the system.

I was looking at the few spaces I had left in the month ahead, and wondering. When, as though not an accident, a torn-out piece of a corporate magazine slid out of one of the binder’s pockets. It was a secondary training course for the time management system that I’d seen some time prior and never read. The extension course offered to teach you how to be as ruthlessly efficient with your leisure time as you were, already, with your business time.

And there he was – the devil – staring back at me from the blank lines that were yet to be filled.

And I knew him…

He was the destroyer of peace, the shatterer of moments by the stream, the force that pulled apart the present and, laughing, threw it back in your ‘wastrel’ face.

I put my pencil down and refused to think about anything else… all the way to London. When I got there, I had a coffee and boarded another train back. Arriving home in the middle of the day, I changed, then pushed my motorcycle out of the garage and set off…

…For a beautiful valley in which I would sit in the spring sunshine and listen to the stream by which I would do nothing… and be everything.

And time, freed of the Devil, would be the song of nature that I would find in that place.

{Author’s note: most of this is true}

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

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

That early January feeling…

It was the Christmas tree outside the Booths supermarket that triggered the thoughts…

Now pale against the bright January sun and the crisp cold, its icy beauty was somehow less than the real thing, a warming image of a Christmas now gone and packed up into the storage boxes under the eaves.

Ahead of me, the Kendal district of Fellside climbed up in the direction of Lake Windermere; bright, cold and tree-lined.

January is a challenging time, but the start of three months that give us the freedom to ‘get our house in order’ before the energy of the spring drops gently on us from an unseen, brighter sky.

How we greet that renewed energy is up to us. The quieter months of being indoors, being in the darkness, having time to contemplate, enjoying the crispness, warming ourselves by the log-burner… all go to make up a time of inner preparation.

March will be on us, soon enough. With its ‘mad Mars’ energy. Then will will need to look to our little, cleaned-out store of resolve and see, like the surfer, if we still have the skills to climb on that wave and surf the joy of life.

I speak metaphorically, of course. I’ve never climbed up on a surfboard, though I greatly admire those who can…

Happy January! Seize the cold, seize the spaces between the heartbeats. Align yourself with yourself. There is only the world you live in… the rest is supposition!

And if it snows, enjoy it like a child…

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

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

Can’t Help Ourselves?

(Above: the exhibit ‘Can’t Help Myself’ at the Guggenheim Museum
See sources and links, below)

Over the past three years, I’ve been closely following the ever-accelerating development of robots. In an age where the use of military drones for ‘state-backed’ assassinations is not unusual, and artificial intelligence is pervasively present in household devices, it pays to be aware of the various ways in which technology and the humanities are interacting.

It is also instructive to see how darkly we have diverged from the visions of our future seen in earlier sci-fi.

It was only last year that I became aware that the Guggenheim Museum in New York had, since 2016, staged a ‘robotic installation’ called ‘Can’t Help Myself’. This speaks to the heart of this malaise. It is, to my eyes, a deeply moving spectacle, and one that refers, quite subtly, to our sleepwalking into a new age.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit the New York Guggenheim, though that was many years ago. I would have loved to visited this exhibit, which is now closed. As it is, having seen a reference to it, I’ve gathered this information from the internet and the Guggenheim’s website.

The exhibit was surrounded by a dedicated glass corridor, enabling visitors to position themselves to see the action. The ‘action’ was an industrial robot set at the centre of what seems to be a violent crime scene. In fact, this is a robot modified so that its one job is to use a massive sweeper – positioned on the end of a flexible and extending arm – to gather back into itself all the blood-coloured liquid that has spilled across the floor. At the end of a successful exercise, the robot performs one of a number of dances…

The visceral liquid constantly leaks from the machine, as though from a wound. The smooth and precise movements of the arm and sweeper gather the liquid back into ‘the body’ of the device, but a thin film is always left behind – and more accumulates, by splashing, beyond the reach of the arm.

The ‘spilled’ dark red fluid is necessary for the machine to function. The robot is programmed to trigger the use of its sweeper when it sees the dark fluid has spilled beyond a certain radius, but the arm can only reach so far…

There were reports that when a certain level of fluid-loss was reached, the body of the robot literally dies… The audience looked on in silence as this miracle of modern technology came to the end of its life, unable to help itself.

Artists aren’t paid to be political… they’re paid to be revolutionary.

Personally – and these are my subjective views, only – I consider this was a ground-breaking statement aimed at the heart of our global society; a statement about our own, massive exposure to the effects of unchecked technology in the face of a moral and political edifice that has run out of the will and the means to redress it. That this trend has continued and accelerated only makes the greater case for such art to speak out. It’s one of the few voices that will do so…

With little debate, we have entered the age of the robots. Completely lacking in any kind of global governing agreements, we are walking, blind, into an era where the value of the individual human is defined by his or her economic contribution, alone, leaving behind the older societal norm that human life has intrinsic value.

In the near future, wars will be fought by robots whose job is the killing of populations. If you don’t have the best military robots, you won’t survive long as an important country; therefore massive spending on military robots will be assured We could say that this mirrors the ‘cold war’ and the nuclear stalemate, where the horror of mutually assured destruction (MAD) and the cost of deployment became the only buffers to further madness, but there’s an important difference.

Military robots have given the technologists an entirely new playing field; that of the ‘battlefield-limited aggressive automaton’, programmed to recognise and kill the human. ‘Bad humans’ will presumably be differentiated from ‘good humans’ by secret response codes built into their battle fatigues, or more likely, wired into their bodies. This won’t apply to you and me, of course, only soldiers overseeing the war. We will be at work, paying for it.

This should scare us. Reassurances from governments would be meaningful if they had any track-record in other, related fields, such as how many children live below the official poverty line in each country.

All of this is a far cry from Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics, formulated in the 1950s and written about in his famous Sci-Fi book ‘I Robot’:

First Law- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Second Law – A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

Third Law – A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, the creators of the ‘Can’t Help Myself’ robotic installation say of their work:

“More and more mechanical devices have entered our lives and even become part of our bodies. It is natural that they enter the art world.”
Sun Yuan goes on to say:

“This installation examined our increasingly automated global reality, one in which territories are controlled mechanically and the relationship between people and technology is rapidly changing. During the exhibition, viewers were invited to gather outside the transparent enclosure and watch the machine inside, setting up a dialectic that reflects a moral question, “Who is more vulnerable: the human who built the machine or the machine who is controlled by a human?”

Resources:

You can see a YouTube video of the ‘Can’t Help Myself’ robot in action by clicking here.

The opening photograph is taken from, and copyright of, the Guggenheim’s website, click here.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author, alone.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

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

A Testing Christmas

(Image by Stephan Wusowski from Pixabay)

It’s been a challenging Christmas and New Year…

Two days before Christmas, my wife tested positive for Covid with a home lateral flow test. I immediately took the same type of test and the result was negative.

Bernie had some mild symptoms, including a strange headache and a dry cough. I had none, but I was cautious about being asymptomatic, hence the need for a more accurate ‘second opinion’.

We immediately booked a drive-in PCR test in nearby Lancaster. Within the hour, we were tested and returned home to await the results, hopefully the next day.

Shortly after we arrived back, my mobile rang. It was the care home where my mother is a resident in Morecambe. As part of their routine testing, she had shown up positive for Covid. I phone her every day, but we had not been physically together for over a week.

Bernie and I made some tea and digested the news and its implications…

We were due to visit mum on Christmas morning, taking her some presents and wearing our reindeer antlers to bring some cheer. With a confirmed Covid result, she would now be confined to her room for at least the next week, and possibly longer. She would not be able to take part in the home’s Christmas Day festivities. Our only link with her would be the mobile phone which, between us and aided by the force of habit, we managed to keep alive for her… and her ability to use it and its pre-programmed numbers of the four most important people in her life.

We had one final method of contact, an accidental benefit of her room’s location, used often during the two lockdowns she’s endured since March 2021: we could go and stand outside her room’s window on the ground floor…talking to her through the glass by using the mobile phones. It doesn’t sound a lot, but it’s something; and that something is a life-saver.

The one good thing was that we had already had our Christmas meal with the extended family. We had taken mum out of the home – with their blessing – for both the family meal and (at their request) to escort her to the home’s Christmas meal, held at a nearby hotel on Morecambe’s seafront. Both were lovely events. Serendipity had smiled on that, at least.

But now we had Bernie’s testing to deal with… The lateral flow tests are not completely reliable, so we had to wait for the end of the following day to get the PCR results back.

It came back, just before midnight, as positive, confirming that she had Covid – omicron variant; the one that’s sweeping the country, infecting at least 1 in 25 of us. Thankfully, its effects are reasonably mild – in the healthy body at least. It can be a different story in the elderly.

We could do nothing about mum’s personal lockdown; nor my wife’s positive diagnosis – which meant she could not leave the house for the next week, and only then if she got a negative lateral flow test (LFT) two days in a row.

I rolled up my sleeves, went to bed early and prepared to play nurse, cook, dog-walker and general juggler. But, sharing the same life and bed, I was unlikely to be Covid-free for long.

My wife’s sister is widowed. She normally joins us for two or three days over the Christmas period. We phoned her with the bad news. She was instantly adopted by one of her close friends and invited to spend the whole of Christmas day with them. One problem solved…

As long as Bernie’s infection followed the normal pattern, her sister would be able to join us for New Year, or shortly after.

We cooked as much food as we could store to be ready for the week ahead, Bernie remained well enough to stay out of bed within the house. I made sure I had my small armoury of tools to help fight off the infection, as I was the proverbial ‘last man standing!’. These ‘tools’ are my own and include regular nasal salt-water flushes and frequent gargling with an alcohol-based mouthwash, like Listerine.

A friendly medic assures me the alcohol kills any virus in your throat – stone dead, but needs refreshing, often. The former was a wonderful gift from a friend of my mother in my teens (a yoga teacher) who spotted I had troublesome sinuses. If anyone wants the recipe, I’ll gladly supply it. It’s slightly yucky, but very effective at flushing out sinus tissues. It’s been a lifelong friend ever since. The salt water does not kill viruses but the laws of physics (rather than molecular biology) suggest that it will flush most hostile things out of your nasal passages. I have no idea what the experts would say. It seems to work for me.

We phoned mum on Christmas day, to try to bring her into the family warmth. Her symptoms were still mild and she was okay with things. “At least,” she said, “we had our celebrations early.”

Over a week later, I’m still showing no signs of Covid, but we have learned a thing or two about Covid testing. Chief of these is that you can have Covid (Omicron) for many days without it showing up on a Lateral Flow Test (LFT). This shocking fact was confirmed by a biologist friend, who, in retrospect, worked out that it was only on the fifth day of catching it that the second line showed up on her test.

Effectively, this means that the LFT is practically useless as an Omicron early warning tool. A massive number of responsible people who regularly test themselves are seeing false negative results until the ‘viral load’ builds up to a level detectable by these pre-Omicron devices. By that time, the infection will have continued to expand at its exponential rate.

If we could work this out, Governments have known this for some time. Yet, there appears to be no movement to produce a more accurate LFT. The LFT results are the only way you can get to see an elderly person in a care home.

Bernie is now through her Covid and feeling well, again. My mother is not, and her cough is getting worse. We are all praying that, at 92 years old, she has the strength to survive.

I’m still virus-free. My eldest son, a doctor in Australia, says I may have had it earlier and not noticed the symptoms.

Me, I have faith in total hand hygiene, masks to protect others, staying away from crowds… lots of fresh air and my little tool kit.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

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

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