In a few short weeks it will be September. We (the Silent Eye) have been invited to speak at the Unitarian Society of Psychical Studies annual conference at the Nightingale Centre in Derbyshire.
We use this lovely place for our main annual event in April each year. We had our official ‘birth’ there in 2013. It is a very special place to us, and so we were delighted to be asked to be one of this year’s speakers. The Unitarians are an open-minded church and for their annual Psychical Research event they wanted to have someone give them an ‘esoteric view’ on their key topic… which is Life after Death.
It’s useful to spend some time establishing our own thoughts on this – and hence this blog. The Silent Eye does not have specific ‘death teachings’, but that’s only because each person needs to approach what should be life’s most spiritual event for themselves. Throughout our folk-history, tales have been told that it is only possible to accompany a dying person ‘so far down that valley’. After that, we must journey alone…
To have a clear mind on death, we need to hold a number of perspectives, and then try to synthesise them. They include the question of what life is, and how its is organised – biologically and psychologically. Then there is the very real idea of the self and the notion of the Self – the higher ‘self’, built during life by what the Buddhism calls ‘right action’, and driven by impulses that are not purely biological. This latter consideration brings with it the idea of the falling away of the boundaries of the body, but the potential of the retention of the essence of a person, albeit without the ability to ‘do’ any longer – at least in the world of the physical.
One thing is certain: to begin to understand death, we must have a deep understanding of life. They are often referred to as opposite sides of the same coin, but, as with many sayings, the over-familiarity of the metaphor takes away what should a trigger to a depth of thought. If death is the twin of life but different, then what’s the difference?
The most precious attributes I possess are my living vitality and my sense of self. The body is a precious gift from all the life that has gone before me on the living Earth. My body is made up of cells, each of which carries in its DNA the organic wisdom – or success story – of what has worked before. I am therefore the inheritor of literally billions of years of ‘what works’, passed through to me by the ones who loved me the most, by a planet which, in my beliefs, also has a composite intelligence and whose life is part of the Sun’s life, as a member of the solar system – the balancing ‘negative’ to the solar positive.
My immediate experience of life is that of my body, but layered over by my self. I’m likely to be far more concerned with the fact that I’ve just cut my face shaving, than with the inheritance of billions of years of biological continuation. I shouldn’t be, but that’s the truth. The self has inherited a complex response network, centred in the brain, that behaves as though the organic mechanisms are there for its entitled continuance and shouldn’t bother it – while it gets on with drinking that favourite red wine with a well cooked steak for dinner…
The self has likes and dislikes. Some of them are linked to survival and are very strong – like the reaction to being burned as a child, which drives my future relationship to flame or heat. This goes beyond preference (French mustard or not with my steak) and into the ‘keep me alive and healthy’ mechanisms. Only when the flow of my normal day is interrupted by, say, the arrival of the knowledge that I have a serious disease, do I begin to expand my sense of self to include all the worlds that are ‘me’. That’s not strictly true, of course. I can seek that expansion any time I want… but I’ll have to work; to put effort into something that is not normally part of my reward system.
In doing that, I might be considered to be ‘growing my soul’, my highest nature. There is a sense of permanence about what is produced when we invest in a higher purpose like this. That feeling of inner growth stays with us, like a the learning of a new language. Our organic nature has not changed, but our sense of self – of Self, possibly – has grown.
Religions are someone else’s idea of spirituality. The only one that should really matter to ‘me’ is my own, because my own will become my truth of dying, whether I like it or not… and most of us try to avoid that for as long as possible, because dying appears to be the end of everything we love, struggles and all.
Religions can create caring communities and have great value if seen like this; but they can also be prisons of someone else’s values. At the same time, the moral values of the west have seldom been under as much threat as they are at present, and we can clearly see how the ‘good’ is being tested in the face of a chaos driven by out of control egoic behaviour.
Wisdom is a hard thing to define, but essential for civilisation; and civilisation is our only hope of working in truth with our beautiful planet.
What am ‘I’, then?
‘I’ am a unique collection of cells made up, literally of the stuff of exploded suns from billions of years ago. In many important ways, my life as a ‘bubble’ seems to mirror that of the smallest cells of which I am composed, and which learned to work together to form what is now my body, hundreds of thousands of years ago.
There is a mirror of learning between the objective (the physics, chemistry, biology and what demonstrably is) and the evolving self – singularly and in society – civilisation. This process of learning is based upon a separation. I live within an ‘in-here’, believing that I am separate from the ‘out-there’. This experienced and very real division is necessary for me to strengthen a self that can describe and hold the essence of its relationship with what is my world. This living description is of great value – and not just to myself.
Many years ago as a Rosicrucian student, I read this sentiment: “Some would say that, in the reverse of what is normally believed, a person is an island of death in a sea of life.” I didn’t understand it at the time, but now, finally, I do… And what it means is the secret to the the end of all fear.
Some of the most powerful truths of what we are have come to us from the civilisation that gave us Yoga – as both inner and outer disciplines. ‘Discipline’ is important, for we must work to find and then strengthen what we ‘are’ – truly and not with self-illusion. The word ‘yoga’ means union.
In our own system of self-discovery the Silent Eye uses certain archetypes, found within a map of our lives called the Enneagram (above). Each person has a different map. Once these are discovered within us, they become friends on an inner journey; gradually revealing their deeper natures and showing us the keys to our own being. Over time, one of these will become a dominant figure, revealing our own driving characteristics, positive and negative.
In my own case, I am (to give it a self-deprecating title) the ‘salesman‘ of this inner pattern of the egoic self. I’m lots of other things, too, but that remains the pattern of my egoic nature, my personality… and this, with some of the dross burned away, has formed the toolset with which I now work to teach the directed evolution of the life-balance of outer and inner living. Each of us has this dominant (but different in each case) set of characteristics. Its refinement is empowering and involves a deep contact with the individual soul whose outer layers it is…
The system known as Yoga has also given the western world many gifts. A good example is the secret of looking at breathing differently. Put simply, each breath is a mirror of the whole of life. We take into our ‘selves’ what is not us. Breath belongs to a collective life that excludes none. When we breathe in, it lends itself and its life-sustaining force to this bubble of individualised life that is us. For that to be so, there must be a great importance – to Nature – about what happens inside that bubble, that ‘in-here’. The harvest of the higher, non-organic things inside that bubble is the justification of the great cost to Nature of sustaining that individual life…
At death, the individual life inside the bubble drops away, opening to the magnificence of the All-Being. There may still be important divisions in that realm, but they will not work as the brain works. The brain is gone, as is our personal memory. Reasoning from cause to effect is gone. Time will be a different thing. The Universe is Life and does what it wills, creating the new now, eternally, in a realm where everything is interlinked. Fear will be a distant and fading memory… but joy won’t.
I have resisted personal ‘pictures’ of what happens at death. But, in writing this, a great sense of both belonging and humour arose in me… and with it a picture. I must speak symbolically, and in the language of one of my favourite life-affirming cultures: ancient Egypt.
At my death, an Isis-like figure will undress me, discarding the layers of my physicality, like used bandages. Possibly with a bit of help , she will open my eyes and turn me to face the great father of the deep who will smile and ask me if I have a heavy or a light heart. If my heart is light with the joy of the life lived, he will ask me to tell him about my life, so that he may add my story to his vast collection of how the Creation looks from within. After that, there will only be his voice, with the dancing and eternal presence of my song as an added part of what he is… But the salesman’s story will have made a small but important difference… As will yours.
©Copyright Stephen Tanham
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.