Primal screen

Somewhere in the frontal cortex of our brains there’s a very special junction – a place where we learned to do something truly different with our minds… Let’s call it the Primal Screen…

Our spines can be considered the highway of our historical evolution: the inherited paths of form and energy that developed from single cells in oceans, through fish, lizards and apes. At the apex of this human ‘flower’ is the brain; in which the higher concepts, such as ‘self’ and moral values reside.

Those, like me, who felt uncomfortable with science’s cold and clinical view of life as a series of accidents aimed only at the mating chamber, can now take heart that the biological sciences, themselves, have, for the past twenty years, led the way in redefining the benign complexity of life and breaking us away from the genetic ‘evolution as everything’ model that dominated the life-sciences in the past.

The modern view of the human is a very complex thing, indeed – but wonderfully so. The innate complexity of sub-atomic matter is now matched with a new science – appropriately named ‘complexity theory’ – which studies and tries to understand how ‘dumb’ matter organises itself into increasingly complex forms, as though the whole of Life is experimenting with different ways to something mysterious.

Philosophers, long ago, named this ‘Teleological’; meaning it had a purpose. The modern picture is even more complex – or beautiful, depending on your perspective. Genes do work with survival and species as in the Darwinian model; but that’s not all they do. The new science of Epigenetics shows how genes also ‘express’ their complex proteins within a lifetime to alter the human: they are a living rather than a dead code…

The understand of consciousness has played a part in the cultures of our species for thousands of years, but the division of consciousness into reliable ‘organs’ is a success story of the last century, in the form of psychology.

We can argue that this ignores mystical philosophy, yoga, and Buddhism, each of which have been around for hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years… But the successes of psychology are real and provide a common basis for us to discuss the concept of ‘self’.

The breaking open of the greater life-sciences has changed everything, and there will come a time when all these journeys of the ‘self’ will be united with an advanced form of today’s biology; but possibly under a new and common language.

So, to return to our opening statement. What was this juncture in our evolution of ‘self’? The philosopher Gurdjieff made it one of the central tenets of his successful system of self-work. He called it Identification. It was the stage in our group evolution when we looked ‘out’ from our presumed separate bubble of ‘me’ and saw high-intensity things that were so interesting we decided they should be an extension of our selves.

Children do do this automatically. Their imagination is so vivid that the pile of rocks on that hill becomes a castle – and can stay so for many years until the maturing adult looks back one day and smiles at how he and his companions brought it to life as Castle Hilltop…

Imagination is not the only component of this extension of self. Identification involves emotions, too. That castle belonged to the boys and girls of the Hilltop Gang – and they defended it, fiercely… It not only belonged to them, it was them.

As we grow into adulthood, the identifications become stronger. Our job – that important place in society, is considered vital. Alternatively, we may develop a skill or craft that becomes our defining set of actions – an artist who locks herself away for weeks while a fine work is created is a positive example. The career-minded politician whose only goal is power, regardless of the cost is a more negative one. That shiny BMW in the top salesman’s drive might be considered a good example of the power that this kind of defining attraction holds.

Identification can be more complex and subtle, too. We can become identified with negative things, like our illnesses or states of depression; allowing them to define who we are. I am not trivialising the difficulty of working with these conditions, just pointing to the mechanism which has such a ‘locking’ power.

The core of what Gurdjieff said – and a big part of the Silent Eye’s first year course work – is to stand back from these ‘suits of armour’ and realise that we are not them. The ‘younger self’ beneath the defences and attachments is where we really live, but it takes a brave soul to begin that journey. Having begun, it actually gets easier, not harder. Each identified state has locked up a lot of the creative energy of our lives. Seeing them for what they are, with exercises to soothe the way, releases that energy… and gives it back to us as a gentle, creative warmth, which pools with its kin to empower a change in the whole being – in a remarkably short time.

Society and civilisation has its Primal Screens, too. We are in a period of global history where these are now threatening our future. As an older society we may see in others’ flag-waving an immature identification–but not be so good at acknowledging our own.

Beneath all of this is our true Self – and that kind, warm and sharing place has never changed, just been papered over like the interior of an old house. All mankind shares this house, and only a recognition of what we share, rather than our projected view of what we don’t, will enable us to free the collective healing energies to work with this beautiful planet.

At that wonderful stage in our collective lives, we may discover far more about ourselves than we thought possible. We might even discover an entirely new concept of purpose…

© 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.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Have you seen it, yet?

Do you see it all, sometimes?

Turn, doing something strange with your mind

Look back with different eyes

And see the path that led to you?

A moment of vast lucidity…

But there’s one thing you don’t see

The thing that can’t be seen

Have you seen it, yet?

©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.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The creature on the beach beyond thought

It lay there, head in the sky, gazing at the radiance. Its tail was still in the ocean of thought, the gentle waves urging it back where it belonged…

The gaps in the waves had always been there; they were the rhythm of life. But it had never thought to use them as a way through.

To where?

To beauty, certainly. The sights and sounds and smells of newness were all around it, the warm sand beneath. But it was a different newness. It lay there, laughing at the thought that newness could be new. The sea began to analyse this, pulling it, gently, back into its waves, but it pushed out its hands and grasped the glittering sand, and breathed deep the air that could only be new… and knew it was home.

Why had it never seen that, before?

Perhaps you had to be steered; gently guided into the shallows so the edge of the glittering sand became apparent. Behind it, the ocean of thought began to clamour for its attention, perhaps desperately seeing the last chance to put it back into the sleep of thought’s conditioning.

Conditioning: it was a hard word, and yet described the whole ocean; even the parts where it had tried to reason the way out of it. Life had conditioned it to love, to fear, to survive; and yet the very spark of life had not come from that sea of thought and reaction. The sea was only the cradle for that which could not be conditioned – did not react, because the real nature had a sheer power to be with the truth of anything, just being there was its truth, and all else bowed before it…

All else was its child.

The waves called to it in a different voice, now. They sang of love; of a role performed, of the golden drops of sun-kissed water flowing from the rapidly-changing body and finding their way back into the sea, where they shone – briefly – differently.

Stronger, surer by the second, he raised eyes that were new… to the Sun.

©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.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Death of a salesman

We need to understand death and not fear it

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.

The lovely Nightingale Centre, Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

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.

The Silent Eye’s enneagram is used as map of the journey from personality to soul, or expressed more accurately, from self to Self

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.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Five Faces of the Macbeth Human

Exploring the faces of the ‘human condition’ should be consuming our world at the moment. We might reasonably conclude that understanding the heights and depths of our shared experience, as we drain the planet of its living life, would be of interest to us.

But we don’t…

Instead, if we ask any questions at all, we spend months looking at things from a political perspective – from power; assuming against expectation, that somehow, the political process will throw up something good for our world.

Psychopaths are having a field-day. Across the globe, they are running things, some of them even showing us how deluded we are to worry about this; that it’s all nonsense…

The story of one of the most successful psychopaths in fictional history was set in northern Scotland. A hardy group of us are shortly to spend a day driving to the town of Grantown-on-Spey, in the northern Cairngorms, to work out our personal and mythical relationships to Macbeth – Shakespeare’s fabled warrior, who, assisted by his wife, Lady Macbeth, rose from glory to bloody dominance before being toppled by forces from within himself – and herself, if you widen the mystical interpretation of the story.

We will carry with us the means to construct our own ‘Guiding Star’ – a five pointed figure well known to everyone as the pentagram.

Throughout our history, scholars have questioned the source of the negative side of being human. Since ancient times, geometric figures have been used to explore and question human nature, often being viewed as somehow ‘magical’ when they were simply an aid to what we now call psychological understanding. The value of such figures – derived from the properties of the circle – is to show how forces that act upon us – psychologically – are related to each other, and do not act in isolation. That, alone, should give us food for thought.

Within the Silent Eye, we use another figure – the enneagram, which is ‘nine pointed’ – as the basis for our self-exploration. But the pentagram is older, and considers the inner and ‘magical’ nature of mankind within a mapping of five qualities: Air, Earth, Fire, Water and one other…

Mystically, these are called the Elements. Although they derive from an age in which modern science had not thrown its analytical light on the atomic and vibrational nature of matter and energy, the philosophers of that age did not see a valid division between the inner and outer worlds experienced by our consciousness.

Because of this, the four elements were seen to be both subjective and objective, coming together in a fifth – Spirit- which opened the door to mastery and harmony in which the created and the creator were re-united, within the creation; the world in which we live and breathe and have our being.

At a simple level, the element of Earth may be seen as our foundation of physicality. It is slow and cold in its operation. Without animation from others elements, it cannot evolve.

Air is what we breathe and also how we communicate. It provides one of three elements of what makes our biology work: the other elements being the intake of Water (also emotions) and the stability of the foundational Earth. Fire is something different and is closely aligned with energy and transformation; burning off the dross of the lower forms of mortality.

The sequential alignment of the self with each of these Elements is a key process in so-called ‘magic’. For magic, we should read self-transformation; a concept for which we now have deeper psychological understanding, though psychology still does not acknowledge the deeper implications of this approach.

The key is the sequence used, and the fundamental attraction generated with what turns out to be higher aspects of the self; known as the Self. Implicit in this approach is the presence of the famous golden ratio – an intrinsic property of the pentagram, and one of the basic dimensions of biological life.

In a triangle of landscapes between Grantown-on-Spey, the highland coast at Findhorn and the historic Macbeth castles near Inverness, we will explore these relationships and the potential for alignment with the Self, using prompts from Shakespeare’s famous play. The story of Macbeth, seen as an allegory, is the story of our own confrontation with materiality and the wrong kind of ambition.

Dean Powell, who is based in the north Cairngorms, runs a local esoteric group: Lodge Unicorn n’ha Alba. Dean will be leading our group through his adopted Highland landscape in an exciting journey of self-discovery shared by all.

The Silent Unicorn is the name of a workshop (14-16 June, 2019) which will bring together the work of Lodge Unicorn n’ha Alba and the Silent Eye into a weekend of physical and spiritual exploration in the setting of the Scottish Highlands.

If this blog has given you an appetite to join us, there are still a few places remaining. Send an email to rivingtide@gmail.com and we’ll provide more details.

©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.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The What of Life (2)

Luca original for WPress blogAA Sm

 

I want to like you, she thought, loudly.

Please don’t spoil it by picking on science in a stupid, fluffy way… but don’t stop challenging, either… find the villains…

She listened, intently, as he talked about the need to ‘see’ it all differently – Life, biological life, not separated from spirituality, but part of a bigger whole that encompassed them both…

“There is something in the human soul that formed and forms an angry and energetic response to reductionism: that the answers are to be found in the dissected, colourless and cold parts…”

He was right… so right. And biology had become the hidden champion of that. Late to the party, having spent a century emulating a physics-derived worldview from which physics was already trying to escape…

The problem was something called emergence. The beautiful patterns of a snowflake, seen under a microscope, were an example of emergence, but there were thousands more. Biologists were used to something ‘higher’ than the dissected bit emerging in front of their gazes. To the classical physicist, this was anathema. Everything, they said, could be solved by the bits… But even physics was changing, as the power of emergent forms began to grow in evidence and presence; but sadly not in time to prevent the widespread adoption of the ‘reductionist mindset’ in education, science in general and in life.

Seized upon by materialists, they used it to savage any example of the ‘mystical’ that dared say it was of the truth… And it took a hundred years before the ‘reductionist fundamentalists’ came to see that their own disciplines were, in this respect, crumbling beneath them. When that day came, the world of biological ‘form’ – the shapes and organisation that life takes, were seen to be a paramount example of how the whole was much greater than the sum of its parts… and this gave a new dimension to what was driving life along its mysterious road.

“Science’s models of how evolution works are incomplete,” said the speaker. “Or rather, the reductionist view of it – not the nonsense of Creationism – though, at the human level, we can understand the need for a compassionate view of our place in the universe, and the person who gives that away is a fool, for we – the human mind – invented that quest for understanding…..”

Dead right, she thought. Okay, I like you… Now, go where I haven’t … don’t blow it….

The session broke for coffee. She sat there, deep in thought, unaware that she was alone, until the woman in the red hat came over and gently touched her shoulder.


Darwin’s theory of evolution was and is brilliant, but it is only half of a ‘ruling dynamic’ that plays the music against which our slow dance of evolution proceeds. The powerful idea of ‘natural selection’ destroyed much of religious thought – but not completely. Within us all, there is a burning need to reinforce our sense of belonging with the natural world – teacher and exterminator that it is.

With ‘reductionist’ thought, which seeks answers by breaking things into their smallest parts, we have trees – but no forests… The reductionists found they had no language to describe them, so, metaphorically, they cut them down…

The ecosystem of the forest is as much a guiding principle as the tree. The huge advances in microbiology have shown the brilliance and the limitation of the reductionist view. So it is with the ‘natural selection’ model of evolution, which threw away any idea of a determining principle beyond random mutation of genes, resulting in a new creature that beat its competitors to the bed-chamber. Nature became a thrower of dice…

But then there were the gaps in the fossils, in the timeline, where entire species came into existence ‘overnight’. Eventually, these became impossible to ignore and it became apparent that something was working alongside selection to change life.

But, before we look at that something, we need to admire what microbiology found in the small, the ‘atomic’, the reduced. What it discovered was the cell, the glorious ‘bubble’ of organic life in which the entire blueprint of the organism was written. This inner code was the gene: both ‘plan’ and ‘means of delivering the plan’ – gene and expression of gene.

Deep in those life-cradling ocean vents, where the gradient of heat to cold was so intense that something that became organic life had the energy to come into being, we find that the core principle behind what became life was ‘born. That ‘living’ principle was persistence.

Life does nothing if it cannot persist. ‘We’ persist – and yet we change, constantly. Something within us – related to and harvesting our experience of the world – stays ‘me’. This is true at the organic level and at the psychological level. Some ‘pattern’ that is me moves forward in time, with persistence. Imagine waking up each day and thinking we were a new-born.

We are vastly more complex than the first containers of life. We have memory and therefore identity. Yet the same principles are seen to apply. In the oceanic depths, there were no cells, only chemicals: atoms and atoms grouped into molecules. The forerunners of cellular life were chemical chains of proteins that could self-replicate. With self-replication, they could persist .

The fundamental principle of life had been established, but this was just the beginning. Our self-replicating molecules were still part of their environment. To become more ‘complex’ – more organised, they had to begin to separate themselves from the world around them – yet still feed from it… Next week we will look at the birth of a world within a world; as mysticism calls it, a ‘microcosm within the macrocosm’. In terms of organisation and complexity, two of the building blocks of the new picture of life were about to come into existence…

Other parts of this series:

Part One,

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The What of Life (1)

Luca original for WPress blogAA Sm

She was sitting in the front row – the car, for the first time in its life, had failed to start, and she set off late, as though projecting her future to this point – the front row of a group of about twenty people, a collective warmth -she had to admit – within which she was a complete stranger.

They had sounded interesting. Not presumptuous, not critical, just warm and intelligent.

The speaker was talking; a man with kind eyes, who had the relaxed manner of someone who’d one this many times. He looked at her, smiled and asked the question, “What is Life?”

It was the end of a miserable event curve that had begun with the car’s idiocy. Now, she felt nineteen pairs of eyes and ears upon her as she wished herself away. Instead, she breathed, wishing to rise to this double challenge of being unknown and facing an question to which there was no entire answer – itself an unknown…

But he was shifting his attention. “We all need to ask ourselves that, for it is the basis of any spiritual exploration…”

His head turned towards the back of the room, where she could feel someone straining to answer. There’s always a resident swot, she thought, recalling her school days…

“I would say that….” rose the voice from the back. Then it paused.

It was the gap that did it, she would later reflect. The pause that spoke to her and said You can respond to this. Damn it! She had studied biology in some depth; had created a synthesis in her own head, mixing it with her belief in universal kindness at apparent war with a cold universe…

“It’s a mysterious continuity,” she said, firmly – filling the gap.

She didn’t need to see to know that all eyes were upon her. His eyes dancing with mirth at her interruption, smiling gently at the depth of her answer.

“Yes?” He said, inviting…

She would apologise to the interrupted man at the back, later… For now, she had something to say.

———–

What is life? It’s an obvious question that has taken us thousands of years to approach. Even philosophers have argued over the question, unable to frame the properties of ‘living’.

As a child, and keen on cheap horror films, we would go out into garden with old, water-filled milk bottles and create coloured mixtures of soil, bits of plants and various other substances like the dust of old cement from the builder’s yard next door; that sort of thing. We would jam our hands over the neck and shake the contents for all we were worth, eventually, and exhausted in arm, watching the swirling mass of usually dark liquid spin like its own speeded-up universe.

Did it live?

Of course not. But the broken fractures in the middle of the deep sea oceans, with their bubbling, muddy vents, powered by the intense heat from a gap in the Earth’s crust did live – according to the most likely theories on the origin of life – our life.

What lived there that contrasted with our dead but sincere shaken milk bottle stew? What was it that came into existence and sustained itself, miles from the surface of the sea, coaxed into life by the energy of the volcanic deep-sea trench?

The answer is fascinating and multi-faceted. One very good answer is that we did. We came into existence in that deep ocean trench, a billion years ago. The chain of life that began then resulted in us – a being that can actually look back, with some authority, on the history of life on Earth. But it doesn’t just look back; it asks whether this was a unique, freak event, or whether the universe is teaming with life…

The growing mind that resulted from that self-sustaining life form can still only describe what life is, not why. The ‘what’ is wonderful and mysterious, but the why is either ignored with disdain or avoided. Science is not good at sharing the ‘truth’ with anything not based on its rigorous, but limiting principles. There are good reasons for this. The ages before the birth of rational thinking were marked by sheer fantasy and religious dogma as to what life was. The resulting materialistic swing of science was a natural reaction to this – and a good one. Perhaps now – as the questions of consciousness pile higher – there will be a loosening of what has become its own dogma, and a much deeper sharing of what it means to be human.

Over the next few Thursday posts, we will take a journey from those ocean vents where life began, making the leap from chemical to organic – and watching it change its relationship with ‘the world’ forever.

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.