The Big Picture (1) : life and the image

We don’t live ‘in the world’… an outrageous thing to say, and yet it’s true. Well, if we don’t live in the world, where do we live?

We don’t live in the world; we live in a picture of the world… the ‘big picture’ of the blog’s title. If we actually lived in the world, we would go insane within a very short time in trying to process the near infinite information that the real world throws at us every second of the day. Nature has helped us with this; millions of years of evolution have honed and perfected this ‘signal processor’ that we call the brain.

Instead of losing our minds – itself a telling statement – we have evolved to have, at the pinnacle of our personal organisation, a sophisticated ‘summary engine’ that can be taught what’s important to us so that it can be extracted from the ‘flow’.

When we were children, staying alive was very important; as was staying close to ‘mother’, who protected us. The knowledge and methods of this stage of our lives are buried deep in our so-called ‘subconscious’, where they protect us by becoming ultra-fast reactions based on recognised patterns of events coming at us – like a hot coal that once burned us, or the initial taste of mother’s milk, our original food of life that went hand in hand with her deep and ‘most warm’ love.

The human being’s consciousness is made up almost entirely of reactions… and rightly so. In a potentially hostile universe, these reactions operate at lightning speed to protect and preserve us. They also give us fear, filling us with chemicals that speed up our reactive potential. They can also give us pleasure… to the point of addiction.

(Above: within us we have a kind of stage, where the events of our lives are turned into an ongoing story, a play. Image by the author)

Growing up to maturity in a stable way is not a trivial process. No wonder we value the stability of the bionic machine that protects us. That this reactive engine is the pinnacle of us is marginally untrue. We also have a strange other creature sitting high up there at the top of our personal organisation.

Reading this, you can, at any time, break away from these lines of language being interpreted by the equivalent of millions of lines of ‘brain code’ that sift and refine what the meaning is. You can break away from this information stream and ask yourself, ‘Mmm what do I think of this?’

The part of you that has this power of separate thought from the general engine of survival, pain and comfort is the self. The self is a very strange entity that arose in our internal experience once we had stabilised our survival. Essentially, the self was what survived in conscious memory from moment to moment within the sea of experience. We became attached to it, for it not only carried memories vital for survival, it also gave us a sense of worth. Because it was always there, we grew fond of it. With its help, we could take greater autonomy in our lives, choosing certain directions based, positively or negatively, on pleasure, pain or… even values.

Values are interesting. They dont feed us, they don’t frighten us, yet we have learned that they are important. Some humans don’t spend much time on values, but anyone brought up with love and affection is likely to have a small treasure-trove of culturally inherited values from their loving parents and those who have influenced them most strongly in their lives.

We might say we have an unusual instinct for the ‘good’, beyond any need for it to be linked to our survival… or even wellbeing.

Our higher levels of organisation – our minds – contain the most sophisticated abstract representations of our world and our selves. These representations are in the form of interior pictures. They may contain all the information our senses can provide, but they are still pictures. They are not the reality of the present. They are that reality seen through pieces of our history, as though through an evolved lens.

The nature of those pictures, and their relationship to any quest for the reality of our selves, is the subject of this series of posts. It’s a series I’ve wanted to do for a while, and I feel the time is right and appropriate to this felt sense of an ‘end of the age’. My belief is that things are indeed ending, but only to clear the way for the depths of human potential to be further revealed. Because of the way we are made, the real changes need to come from a psychological and spiritual perspective. Only an awareness of this dimension of ourselves will open up our possible future…

(Above: The Tree of Life, a representation of progressively higher levels of consciousness. Image by the author)

The idea of images being central to our mental and emotional existence is not a new one. Ancient systems of metaphysics used diagrams like the Tree of Life, above, to illustrate the relative place of the actual world and our consciousness within it. The lowest of the ten ‘spheres’, above, is Malkuth, which is the body and its raw awareness. But our composite consciousness of the world begins at the next higher level – the purple sphere of Yesod above it. One of the key meanings of Yesod is ‘The Image’.

The story of how our deeply personal ‘way of seeing’ developed is the story of how our experiences formed relationships between ‘me’ and the world. These started very simply, but powerfully, with the essential relationship between the infant and mother. In the first two years of life are to be found the essential lenses of our seeing that pattern the rest of our lives.

In the next part, we will examine this early state – not from a perspective of regression, but with a view to blending our early perceptions with the adult discrimination we now possess. The mixture can be a fiery one… But the flames of self-discovery can put an entirely new light on our habits, our fears, our joys and the potential for our consciousness to go much further than we currently envisage.

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

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

Across a Scattered Land

Mystical Poem in the Sufi style: 120 words. A one-minute read

Across a scattered land I sought you

For almost all a lifetime’s days

Until within a book I brought you

To be a light beneath my gaze.

Within a scattered mind I sought you

Aflame with thoughts and secrets found

But words declined to let me find you

Who watched the eyes that chased you round.

Within a scattered heart you found me

And pulled me back from lines that fade

I am, you said, your essence finding

The song by which your life was made.

Dedicated to Rumi, the Sufi Poet

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

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

Winter walks with camera (5) : long-shadowed figures

A bright winter day brings a wonderful benefit: long shadows. Often a matter of being lucky and at the right place at the right time, the long shadow is at its best extending the movement of people…

(300 words, a two-minute read)

The opening shot was taken while walking behind a family. It was a Sunday afternoon and we had been strolling behind them on the promenade at Heysham. As the prom approaches the village, it climbs steeply up a small cliff. At that point, the shadows in front of us, cast by the early setting sun, became extended. I had finished taking photographs for the day but I grabbed the camera from my coat pocket and pressed the shutter – not even sure I’d get a shot. I was delighted with the sheer joyfulness of people and shadow this produced.

This shot, above, taken on the same Sunday, is one of my favourites. I was focussing along the promenade, playing with the linear effect of the wide tarmac surface in the bright sun. Two cyclists appeared in the distance and the potential began to unfold. As they got closer, I forgot the longer shot and tried to get the timing right to capture the moment the shadows reached their maximum width for the lens.

The final one, above, is more shape than people. Morecambe is doing a fine job of bringing itself up to date, spending a fortune on its prize possession: one of the longest promenades in Britain; with an unparalleled view of the Lake District thrown in. As a lover of Art Deco, for which the town is justly famous, I’m delighted that they are using the styles and (here) curves of the period to enhance the increasingly impressive seafront. The monochrome medium simply increases the contrast, beautifully.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2021.

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

Saved by a Church

I had meant to write a blog about Covid; about the way it is changing our world, and not just from a health perspective. Finishing on whether there is a dimension of spiritual (consciousness) development in what’s happening to our societies.


But I’ve been up since 05:30 and had a day with my mother, a woman approaching 91 years whose vascular dementia has galloped along this past six months. If you’ve been there, or seen a relative or carer being ground down by the sheer effort and often futility of a day spent trying to ease their relative’s burden, then you’ll know what my face looks like, having just arrived home at seven in the evening.

The day began with our trip to the opticians – SpecSavers, in Bolton. Three years ago, mum’s sight had been diminishing rapidly, and we feared she was going blind. She had nearly died in hospital fifteen years prior and had an emergency ileostomy involving the removal of most of her lower intensities. She survived that, taking six months to convalesce and, finally, come home. One of her eyes was infected with MRSA during her stay in hospital, resulting in internal scarring. Her remaining good eye has been her lifeline.

Two years ago, she had a life-changing cataract operation, which restored a world of colour to her one eye. Sadly, this fast few months, we feared that her days of sight were coming to an end, as the vision became blurred and she was unable to read.

The SpecSavers visit raised her spirits. There was good news: a ‘film’ had developed over the eye’s replacement lens, and this could be removed with laser treatment. She has been referred for a hospital visit to carry out the procedure. Hopefully, Covid permitting, she should be able to read, again, within three months.

Back home, she began a familiar litany: a family member was stealing all her money; and, worse, was now entering her home when she was out to rearrange many of her personal effects – like her makeup. It’s awful, trying to find the right balance between what you know is the truth and attempting to refrain from confrontation. I will not go into details. Sufficient to say that fate smiled on my attempts to find objects that had been ‘stolen’. They were retrieved and placed before her astonished gaze. She even seemed close to retracting her accusations. The new sentiments may not survive the night, but it was good to see the ‘old mum’… albeit briefly.

I dashed to the nearby Morrisons to do her weekly shopping, and we shared a final tea and cake before I left… but not for home.

We live near Kendal, in Cumbria. Mum’s house is in the old family town of Bolton, in what was Lancashire. When I make a day trip to look after her, I try to make the best of the travel. The other ‘to-do’ before I could begin the journey home was some dental work in nearby Chorley, where we had retained the relationship from our days of living there.

Having a new ‘crown’ requires extensive drilling, and I wasn’t looking forward to it, even though the modern anaesthetics are wonderful. A difficult day was going to end painfully.

On the way back to the car from the dentist, mouth numb and only able to mumble, I passed the parish church on the A6 road. The icy path sparkled in the light as it curved up to the silhouette of the old church, framed against the fading light and emerging stars. It was a moment of perfect beauty, and the image captured it well. The uphill struggle of the day seemed mirrored in nature’s frosting of the frozen water on the curved stone.

So, instead of a consideration of Covid’s wider implications, this was my day. We live to fight another. But not too many like this one, please…

Dedicated to all those looking after dementia sufferers, and all those caring for other people, everywhere.

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

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

Me and Minnie Mouse

My wife bought me an Apple Watch for Christmas. She’s had one since they were released, back in 2015, and loves it.

I had held off – I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to watches, I love the classical face of a ‘proper’ watch. But, month on month, I followed progress as the usefulness of her watch grew,… and finally decided I’d give it a go. I’m very happy with it. I like the way you can tailor its functions and add ‘complications’ to each face, giving you fast access to digital services such as reminders, alarms, weather and even phone calls on your wrist. Then there are the health ‘apps’; a whole world in themselves.

It’s also beautifully integrated with Apple’s laptop computers, and we’ve had those for decades. I no longer need to logon to my Apple technology, the watch does it for me.

It made me reflect on how far watches have come, and that took me back to a time in childhood when I got my first one…

The small watch with the battered black strap lay on the ‘repair’ table, illuminated by the diffuse light from my father’s old table lamp. The lamp had a tattered and bent pink shade that betrayed its bedroom origins. Its base was surrounded by the screwdrivers, long tweezers and strange clasps of my father’s favourite hobby – watch repairing and restoration.

He was quite good at it and it brought in a small, secondary income to supplement his pay as an engineer for a fire alarm company. He was better at fixing watches than televisions; a fact made evident by the many dusty TV sets to be found In the darker corners of our home, most of them in various states of part-repair. I remember many of the neighbours calling to ask exactly when their sets might be returned… He was not a man to be hurried, my dad.

He gave the child’s watch a final examination and passed it to me. It had been one of a bundle that a friend had given him for spares. In this case only the strap was broken, and he’d just finished adding a new one. As soon as I saw it, I badgered him for it to be mine. The fact that it actually worked was a major attraction, too.

“It’s not ideal…” he said, giving me a look I’d seldom seen. Later, I would recognise it as an adult running out of appropriate words. Back then, I just skipped off with my new watch, and its shiny new brown strap.

I was seven years old and about to return to the village primary school after the Christmas holidays. I think I ran all the way to school, despite the icy pavements. The Lancashire village of Ainsworth was on top of a hill and its roads and paths were seldom gritted. As I entered the playground, I made sure to wave my arm a lot, displaying my new possession, proudly.

Miss Crompton got us settled in for the new term. She was a good teacher, but like many spinster ladies of the time, was rather severe. It was the early 1960s after all, The world was a very different place, back then.

“Miss, miss!” Jennie Barlow cried, holding up her wrist. “I’ve got a new watch for Christmas.” This was followed by Amanda Johnson doing the same. “Mine’s a Minnie Mouse watch!” she cried, gleefully.

That was my cue. Proudly, I stuck up my left arm and said, “Miss, mine’s a Minnie Mouse watch, too..”

Miss Crompton gave me a passing version of my father’s strange look and said, “Don’t boys normally have a Mickey Mouse watch, Stephen?”

I was, of course crushed. It hadn’t occurred to me that boys had to have a male character watch. In that shamed moment, the meaning of my father’s enigmatic expression was made plain – as was his undoubted dilemma in letting me have this one. I turned to look into a sea of hooting boy faces.

“Tanham’s got a girl watch!” they laughed. Miss Crompton did not correct them. I never wore it again.

But there’s a final twist to the story.

Apple have thoughtfully provided a whole string of optional faces… one of which is a choice of Mickey or Minnie Mouse. So, when I want to brighten up a more serious moment or bring a smile to one of my monitored yoga or ‘walks with dog’ exercise periods, I flick the screen to my saved watch faces and me and the girl mouse smile at each other, conspiratorially.

They’re not laughing now!

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

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

Winter walks with camera (4) : cold sunsets

Winter is not generally associated with clear skies, not in Cumbria, at least! But when when a period of high-pressure brings clear air, and everything begins to freeze, there can be found the most beautiful of sunsets…

(300 words, a two-minute read)

Sue Vincent, one of my fellow Directors of the Silent Eye, along with Stuart France, the third in our trio, are both famous for admonishing those who travel with us on our ‘landscape adventures‘ with the words ‘Look up!‘ Taken in a wider context, it’s not the spire of a little-known church or a carved figure high on an ancient cathedral.

Sometimes, it’s just a cloud…

This one – unique in the depth of its colour – drew my eye so strongly, I put down my post-gardening coffee and ran inside to grab the camera – returning seconds before another cloud diluted the brightness that gave rise to the fabulous orange stratocumulus. Technically, it’s a terrible photo; phone cameras are as poor at telephoto shots as they are good at close-ups, but the image does convey the beauty of the skies at that moment, and therefore earned its keep.

This next one, above, is an example of ‘letting it be!’ Normally, before photographing, I see an image and go through an instant process of recording the emotions I feel. When I look at the image, usually back home, I will fine tune the colour and intensity mixers until I get the same result (or as close as possible) as the original feeling. Often, this involves taking out what I consider excess colour. With this photo, I simply let it be… I could not improve on what the camera had done with the sunset over the ridge.

The third photo involves one of my favourite themes – capturing the sun through the winter structures of trees. I was lucky to be at that place at that moment. Nature in winter can be so very beautiful!

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2020.

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

Love story…

From Sue…

The Silent Eye

"Where there is life, there is love" Ghandi “Where there is life, there is love” Ghandi

It has been a lazy day, lounging half asleep on the sofa, nursing a rotten cold. The mind wanders down odd paths at such times and  I have been thinking a lot about the whole idea of love. It is, after all, possibly the most important of human emotions and one that preoccupies us more than any other.

We seek it on many levels and in many ways, from the filial to the romantic, from the parental and the passionate to the divine. We call it by many names that may not at first be obvious, hiding it in plain sight as with so many other things of deep significance.

"Where there is no love, put love -- and you will find love." Juan de la Cruz “Where there is no love, put love — and you will find love.” Juan de la Cruz

Friendship is love, so is kindness, compassion, tenderness… the thoughtfulness that picks up the phone…

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Cats, Dogs and Christmas

As we approach the end of it, I wanted a recent photo to sum up this dreadful year; but one which had hope in it – and an element of fun, despite the deluge of bad news we seem to face daily.

This is not me trying to be heroic. It’s simply a photo taken on Sunday by my wife, Bernie, during a rain and hail storm near Lake Windermere. Within minutes, we could have been saturated, and hurrying the half mile back to the car. Fortunately, we were both well protected – essential for winter life in Cumbria – and able to find the whole thing funny. The humour was lost on Tess, our collie, who had a bit of a sulk, until we got the chucker and ball out of that bag around my shoulders, at which point the downpour didn’t seem to matter…

Hopefully, the photo has some of the elements that characterise us Brits under adversity – self imposed or not. We know how to shield ourselves from the vagaries of the climate. We know that what connects us to the earth can also be watery. We know how to smile at the ridiculous… it’s a good job, really.

Beyond all of this, there is an ability to endure, to hitch a ride on the vehicle of time, which does away with all things… including our youth.

I’ll be taking a holiday from blogging for a short while over Christmas. I look forward to rejoining the writing stream in January. Thank you to everyone who has supported these posts in 2020 – you’ve been wonderful.

I hope 2021 is a better year for us all.

Happy Christmas!

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Winter walks with camera (3) : the fire in trees

I find a nobility in winter trees. They endure the brutal weather, but show us, in that endurance, their purpose in revealed structure…

(140 words, a one-minute read)

The inner process of leaf-life to come is laid bare as the rain howls and the wind tests whether this year will be the last.

Below the ground, the vast spread of roots has a life of its own, keeping the inner fire of life safe from the killer frosts and seeping ice.

Black and white techniques can help portray the emotional encounter between photographer and subject, helping to convey the starkness of the form. But there is colour, too, if you seek out the contrasts…

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2020.

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

Deepest Night

We are creatures of cycles; the smaller fitting within the increasingly larger. We may have little conception of the very largest, but the effects of that level of creation trickle down to remind us of our true natures…

(750 words, a five-minute read)

We live in cycles within cycles. Every day, we wake up to a period of brightness which is essentially the same experience as the last. Yet we do not see this ‘endless’ stream of days as being without structure. Our days fit, seven at at time, into weeks. Weeks fit into months, whose length has been played with by powerful rulers over the course of our various societies and civilisations. The ability to manipulate such months is limited by the fact that there is, finally, a physical barrier – the year – to remind us that some things are not subject to our whims, but objective in their nature – that is, they have their own being, outside of our mind’s attributions.

The absolutes are very special, because they were here before we were; and they remind us that they had a hand in our creation.

It is of great importance for us to collide with objective things. It reminds us that we are creatures and beings that have been created by our environment. There may have been other forces involved in that creation – even in its nurturing – but we can clearly see that we are evolved creatures possessing a potentially high degree of intelligence.

We can define intelligence in many ways. My two favourites are that intelligence is the ability to abstract a problem. This goes hand in hand with the other: to play ‘what if’ in the mind. The ability to ‘run the tape’ to see what might happen if we stay on the present course of action is, literally, a life-saver.

The year can be said to summarise the forces working with us to further this intelligence. In the Northern and Southern Hemispheres of the Earth, there are four observable seasons, each with its different character and ability to generate the mysterious things we call emotions.

Emotions might be said to be a movement of energy within us, reminding us that we are not just cyclical biology and desires, we also are capable of experience related to invisible causes. With training, we can develop a certain control over the effects of emotions. We can use intelligence to question their effects, for example. They are often vivid, but sometimes destructive and weakening. We can learn, through our powers of self-observation and the intelligence of ‘what if’ to spot the good and bad patterns as they are arising, and before they overwhelm us and impel us to negative action.

The good emotions reflect their energy into our higher faculties. For example, they empower creativity. They are also used in gradual spiritual awakening, where the stale egoic cycles of experience are broken though…to find a fresh new world of the Self.

In all cycles there are peaks and troughs. We enjoy the green vitality of spring, before surrendering to the colourful decline of outward life known as the autumn. The rapidly declining light heralds the winter. Within this cycle, two days are of special importance. They are the Solstices – the longest and shortest days. In late June is the Summer Solstice. The 21st December 2020 marks the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day and the longest night.

But that longest night might just be the greatest gift of all, since it marks not only the switching of the light to increasing length and brightness, it also can also mark the emptying of our ordinary selves.

Perhaps you will joins us in the Silent Eye in taking your candle, unlit, into a real or imagined dark place and holding in your mind and heart an emptying of your self as the astronomical moment of the solstice arrives. Then light the candle and see that, although it is small in the darkness, its light travels out, unresisted, into the world.

Hold the thought that, because you have used this to empty yourself, you are now a vessel of consciousness which can be filled to its maximum potential.

With that, smile and go happily into your deepest night.

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

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

Sails in a upstairs window

There are sails in an upstairs window

Whose cloth never tasted the spray

Of an ocean long lost in memory

And a happier, faraway day

She sailed in his heart to the sunset

Where the end of their world fell from sight

At ninety degrees to his life-line.

And down to a watery night

He waits now, his captain’s badge polished

His blazer emblazoned with gold

For the tide that will take him night sailing

And allow the small sails to unfold.

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Winter wanderings with camera (2) Water: form and flow

It flows, seemingly singular… until something intrudes. Then, instead of resisting, it parts at the level of molecules, and recombines on the other side.

The bank is the end of one world and the beginning of another; a place of soft contrasts, where organic forms reach the limit of their existence, and begin to dissolve.

The water embraces them all. Its force and flow, its constant, gentle energy cannot be placed in time… only process. The photographer’s challenge is to follow that flow.

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

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