A laughing heart

The Silent Eye


Sent to me by Obi, a friend and Companion of the Silent Eye:

Let me Sue, tell you a traditional story on happiness from my people the Igbo of South east Nigeria as an example of how happiness can make one unable to do anything effectively.

A young man after the traditional marriage formalities took home his wife, with happiness, just as the young wife was happy too. The next morning as he was leaving for his farm for work, he left the young wife in the house and then brought out food for her to cook, so he could come home to a meal for the first time now in his own house and not his father’s.

When he returned, he heard a distant voice singing a traditional happiness tune, and he was thrilled by and happy at the melodious voice of his wife. She, meanwhile, was transported…

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Fragments of perception

The Silent Eye

Fragments of night rise from the road, scattering flecks of dawn on ebony wings. I watch the sun gild a horizon veiled in mist and see the earth blush at its touch. The morning song of birds drowns the sound of the engine as I drive through a green land that is waking to spring. It is only a few weeks since I last drove this road, yet it is a different place… the seasons have turned, the light has advanced… new life springs from old. It is beautiful and I know this road so well that I can give my attention to the land. I am struck, quite forcibly, by the realisation that no-one has ever seen quite what I am seeing…nor will they ever see quite this scene again.

And nor will I. This is the very last time I will see it. For a moment that thought…

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Agents of the Deluge



I should have known, I tell myself – as the torrential rain comes at me sideways and immediately drenches my black corduroy trousers, that it was going to be one of those days. Note to self: cords and heavy rain do not a happy camper make…

Not that I’m camping. It’s a normal, February, Saturday morning in South Lakeland and the rain has continued its assault on the inhabitants, as the above photo of the ‘unadopted’  lane that connects us with the main road through the village of Sedgwick shows.

Bernie and I have a deal on such mornings – when the shopping requires central Kendal and the dog (Tess) needs walking. She drives us the four miles to the edge of Kendal from where man and collie walk along the river while the warm car driver continues the journey. Two hours later we meet up at one of the few dog-friendly cafes in Kendal’s centre. Tess gets a good walk, regardless of the weather, and Bernie gets to shop in peace.

The only problem with this plan is that, regardless of the weather, I have to spend two hours outside in the raw, winter elements. No problem in summer, but in February… It can loosen one’s sanity, so to speak…


And that’s where I am, now, on the riverbank; the bank of a very full river Kent… and me a very wet human. I took a selfie to prove it – but looked so glum I’ve blurred the face!


Of late, I’ve noticed a few fellow bloggers doing things under the banner of ‘stream of consciousness’ prompts. Getting out of the warm car and into the deluge of that morning, I thought why don’t I photograph things as a stream of consciousness, and narrate it as presented? Give me something to focus on, other than my chattering teeth, and wet corduroy legs…

One positive thing about the selfie was it reminded me of the ‘still-suits’ that were used by the desert peoples in the book Dune, by Frank Herbert. In the series of wonderful novels that followed, the Fremen – the desert warriors – triumphed over the corrupt political empire that dominated the far-off solar system.

On Arrakis, also known as Dune, water is so precious that every drop is cherished.

Now, across the Lake District, everything is reversed: the threat to life is water. The continuous downpour is in danger of creating another flooded Kendal – only fifteen months after the devastation of 2015. But Cumbria isn’t just gushing water from every orifice, it’s also trying to wipe out local human life in a sea of mud… It’s a slight exaggeration, but good enough to propel my stream of consciousness morning…

As a child, when my weekly comic book was finished, I’d run out and be my favourite character. I’m sure we all did, in one form or another. That power of imagination, shared by all children, is a potent thing… So now, as an escape from the retelling of the misery of the following two hours, witness a change of space, time and eyes as we journey into Kendal in the present tense, stream-of-consciousness style…

We need some baddies – let’s call them the Agents of the Deluge!

Man and dog versus the Agents of the Deluge… It’s going to be tense…

While I’m framing our quest, Tess has been busy doing what dogs need to do at the start of a walk in the rain. Depositing the dog-poo in a nearby bin, I turn to collect her. She’s chasing the ducks. She knows I don’t like it but she’s been made to wear her winter coat, which she hates, so she waits till my back is turned and frightens the ducks back into the river. Butter wouldn’t melt, people say, when they see her… heh heh, sniggers dog, leaping off into the mud by the river… What a mess, and that’s just here! Just can’t wait for the park in Kendal, I think to myself, and ‘frisbee time’ in five inches of mud. Why do I feel bound by these promises?

We cross the main road using the underpass and arrive at the K Village – built on the site of the old K Shoes factory; long closed, asset-stripped and the bits moved to Somerset and the Far East.


The locals said it would never work, a bijoux mall of ‘designer outlets’ – too small and too restricted. Looks like they were right. We count only four shops surviving – the number seems to lessen each week. It’s too early for a coffee (08:45), so we walk around the closed shops and pretend to be interested in shoes and ski-jackets. It’s empty, but dry… There is a huge game of Connect4 on offer, but Tess isn’t up to speed on it, yet… I live in hope, but I know that, now and in the future, she’s going to prefer ducks…


The requisite fifteen minutes to opening time have passed. It’s 09:00. We head for the Costa Coffee, finding it ironic that the most signposted and visited ‘shop’ is on the outside of the complex… This retail malaise doesn’t affect all of Kendal. Shops in the centre of town are fine, but this liminal edge is just too far away to feel connected to the main people flow.


And suddenly, there is that sign that means warmth and coffee… and in summer, a gentle consideration of the river Kent’s flow… but it’s not Summer and there’s a dog in tow,so we flee, wind-driven but with our refreshments, back into the centre, where we have our biscuits and latté, but not necessarily both.


Frefreshed, we consider the remainder of the journey…

Mine… Collies can’t have currants! She does get her own biscuits on such occasions, though, and decaf coffee, of course.

Leaving the centre by the main entrance, we notice that the Agents of the Deluge have planted one of their men to watch us. Tess is not fooled…


Deep, breath… Now comes the extreme bit. We fight the driving rain across the old bridge and onto the riverside path.


I let Tess off the lead and she heads for her favourite bits of the grassland – but they’re all covered in water… and mud, of course. I shudder, knowing what lies just ahead.


The deal is this: when we get to the main quadrangle of the park’s centre, she gets twenty throws of the frisbee. It’s not really a frisbee, it’s an aerodynamic equivalent, with cut-aways that let it fly a long way and yet still be ‘tuggable’ when she retrieves it and wants me to fight to get it back.

She lives for these moments. Collies love chasing things…

For perhaps fifteen minutes, we throw and fetch across the edges of the park, taking care to avoid the newly-sprung marshland in the centre. Tess looks at me and I know she wants a really big chuck… If I can get it all the way across without it taking a dive..? I am quite good at this, having practised for most of her two years.


As I draw my arm back to hurl the aero-frisbee, backhand, right across the park, a voluble crow, perched high in a nearby tree, and clearly an Agent of the Deluge, caws, cartoon style, a noise that sounds distinctly like “You’ll be sooooorrry!”

But it’s too late… the lilac disc leaves my drawn-back right hand with an audible howl. Caught on the breeze, it winds itself into the sky at the beginning of a truly amazing journey.

As the Collie hits the new lake in the middle of the park, there is a hiss of rising water that reminds one of Donald Campbell’s Bluebird speed trials on nearby Lake Coniston. Tess, maintaining her speed, disappears into a curtain of rapidly vapourising brown and frothy liquid, from which she emerges, seconds later, barking her ecstatic triumph to collect the frisbee which is hanging from the lowest branch of a distant bush…

Return journeys must have their second leg… Without hesitating, she ploughs back into the turgid brown water, intent on returning the way she went. Then she’s back…


Standing before me, there is a slight pause, while she radiates love from those golden brown eyes, and then the shaking begins…

When she concludes, tail wagging, there remains a pebble-dash effect, covering a dog and a human to a remarkable degree.

Human plus dog nil, Agents of the Deluge one, I’d say…. We live, albeit muddily, to fight another day… The cafe owner is not amused. I talk about football to distract him. I don’t know anything about football, either…

©Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017.


The Devil’s Arse

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo


Queen Victoria may not have been amused by the local name for the cavern, but it seems a perfect description of the place in many ways. The vast cave mouth is the largest of its kind in Britain and is the entrance to a subterranean labyrinth of caves and passageways that snake deep beneath the limestone cliffs.  Local folklore says that the name refers to the flatulent sounds made by water receding through the tunnels cut by the underground streams. Whatever the truth of the matter, the name has been around for a very long time. In 1536, William Camden recorded in his Britannia:

…there is a cave or hole within the ground called, saving your reverence, The Devils Arse, that gapeth with a wide mouth and hath in it many turnings and retyring roomes, wherein, for sooth, Gervase of Tilbury, whether for want of knowing the truth, or…

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The Holes in the Boat -#Silenti


I remember my first journey into the world of being conscious of identification.

I had been particularly struck by its description in the book In Search of the Miraculous by P D Ouspensky – considered to be one of the key works in the exposition of Gurdjieff’s ‘4th Way’; a path of psychological and spiritual self-exploration that caused great interest in the first half of the last century.

The essence of the 4th Way’s teachings is that we have forgotten ourselves. At first, this sounds absurd; how can anyone say that when we, visibly, live with constant awareness of what we are doing, and need to be doing, at any point in our busy lives?

Our anxious state of busyness is the first clue to a door-opening discovery about our lives – if we can find some attentive time to examine it – because what we take for our ‘self’ in this relationship of self to world is in fact just the world… Or, more factually, our picture of it…

As our lives develop from infancy to self-conscious young person to adult, we coalesce our energies around those things that give us a return on our investment or which provide a natural pleasure. The former might be working for a promotion; the latter, good food from well-badged restaurants, nice cars or sex-as-achievement.

It’s an interesting exercise to sit down in quietness and write down what we have ‘achieved’ so far in our lives. Next to each of these note the objects: a good watch or jewellery, a better house than we started out with, regular holidays in the sun, etc.

Later, we find that more subtle things, like the way we look at groups of people with a certainty that they are bad, or not up to standard, or even really good, despite what others say, are parts of our perception of life that take up a large amount of our precious personal energy.

As we do this, we might dare to imagine each one of these things we identify with being ‘taken away’ and see if there’s anything left of ‘us’. There might come a feeling of being starved of oxygen if we are honest enough. So why should anyone go anywhere near this painful self-inquiry which clearly runs counter to the general view of success?

There are at least two parts to the answer. The first is that each one of these things has a potentially terrible hold over us, defining who we are by this process of identification. The second is that none of these things make for lasting inner happiness.

Happiness, in itself, appears ‘suspect’ to those who have spent some time considering what matters in their lives. Its fickle appearance and disappearance in our lives may not conform to any repeatable laws that we can control. No-one is suggesting that we should counter this by trying to be unhappy, but there is an ‘in-between’ space that we can wisely step into if we can self-observe at such times. This place of deeper awareness contains the certainty that the pendulum of happiness is a trap – a dependency built up over time, whose main secret agent is the process of identification.

These objects of identification are knitted together to form a ‘ship’ in which we sail ‘on’ our lives. Seeing their power is only half the problem. When we think that we might remove them or, more likely, lessen their importance, we are immediately confronted with a terror that we could sink, could cease to exist, unable to breathe.

This is a profound moment, for it reveals, in all its brutal power, that we live in a picture of self rather than our real self. We have all built a life conditioned by identification and it has robbed us of our real vitality.

That sense of panic, of not being able to breathe, is key to discovering what has this power over us. Humour is vitally important, too, in such a self-quest. We might decide that, somewhere deep within what we have made ourselves, there is a secret Organisation for the Numbing of the Conscious Mind. Let’s play with the letters and call it SONCOM.

For now, let’s just speculate that the opposition to our self-inquiry is so powerful that viewing it as an organised opposition is quite justified – if humourously so.

Any true unravelling of the power of identification requires companionship and a gentle approach. That’s the basis of the gentle, but nurturing methods we use in the Silent Eye.

Let’s park that and get back to our little boat. What happens if we are courageous enough to kick a few holes in our own hull? The water will come in, of course. But then we might just discover that we were really water creatures, after all…

More on SONCOM next week in #Silenti.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017

Keys to the House of Don…

Stuart France


…”I do have my reputation as an I.M.O.M to consider.”

“An I.M.O.M?”

“An International Man of Mystery. And there, if you only knew it, is the first key.”

“Which is?”

Don reaches ‘blind’ behind his head and extracts from the mahogany bookcase a slim, yellow covered, paperback. He opens the book and starts to read…

‘The key to understanding these tales is to ask yourself questions. If you are alone do not be afraid to address thin air. If you ask your self enough questions your soul eventually answers and before long you will no longer be talking to air you will be walking on it…’

– The Initiate

“I take it no one answered the question?”

“You can take it that no one even realised they were expected to.”

“The magic halter?”

“Cosmologically, the magic halter is the…”

“One step at a time!”

“Cows don’t wear halters. This…

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Unremarked, now…


Unremarked, now, I was the way

Beneath which water flowed

Too deep for market’s harvest

Too deep for children’s naked feet

Too deep to be the path

Unremarked, now, the truth

That ancient numbers wrought

In circle-cousins’ arc

Would span the deep

And bring the bridging way

And did, reflecting here

That only dense and sheer resistance

Of those dark materials

Harvests now my mossy sleep

Beneath these wind-blown truths.

Unremarked, now, enduring

My invisible point of being

Waits beneath the stone…

©Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017

Grand designs

The Silent Eye


No matter how I tried, the damaged camera would not focus on the tiny pyramid… which was a shame, because its structure was incredible. It is nothing unusual, just a crystal of sea-salt, but the precision with which it was formed for some reason struck me as mind-blowing.

It is a thing of beauty. Each line and angle ordered after some complex design we can only observe, not decipher. Billions of trillions of these amazing structures are formed  and consumed… and we barely notice them.

The cat, incurably curious, came to see what I was doing and I marvelled at her design… absolutely lithe and flexible, able to move in ways we would find impossible. I played with her, watching how she uses that litheness to become a dead weight. Cats are not heavy… yet she can chase and fight a piece of string whilst laying on the floor, utterly…

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In memory

The Silent Eye

There are some people who just light up a room, very quietly and without seeming to do more than simply be there. When you have met them, they do not slip from memory but leave behind a trace of beauty  that adds its grace to your own life, changing it for the better, in some indefinable way .

I met such a woman some years ago, at a magical gathering. She already seemed to know me somehow and drew me in to the circle of warmth that she radiated. That, I think, was part of her gift for life. She was interested in people. She wanted to know their stories, not through some vague curiosity but from an openness to life and those with whom she explored its pathways.

Over the years, she became a friend. She opened her heart and home to the monthly meetings of the Silent Eye, enlivening…

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