Two journeys, one destination

I remember listening to T. S. Eliot reading his poem The Four Quartets for the first time. The words held me spellbound:

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.”

My wife and I had first travelled to Inverness four years ago, we came by rail, en-route to Orkney. A long journey, but we love trains; and being away without the car has a certain ironic freedom…

We stopped at Inverness to change trains for our final destination of the port of Scrabster, the Orkney service harbour of the nearby town of Thurso. Sadly, we only had time for a quick lunch and a walk around the immediate area by the station. I remember looking down the stone-lined street that led deeper into the town and to the river Ness, and wondering what lay there. Then it was time to go, and we got back on the train, replete from lunch, and slept most of the way along the northern coast of the Moray Firth.

Yesterday, we returned to begin the Silent Eye’s first workshop of 2020; the rest having been cancelled due to Covid restrictions. Our party was much reduced, but we decided it was important to honour our earlier commitment and press ahead, mindful of the necessary restrictions.

From our B&B, Bernie and I were able to walk down some stone steps and see the centre of the town for the first time. It’s a beautiful place, and the setting along the river gives it a remarkable grace and peace. Our small party duly arrived and we decided that a quick pizza was in order for dinner – given the lateness of the hour.

(Above: riverside Inverness in all its beauty)

Two hours later, we waved goodnight to our companions, and turned to climb the long flights of stone steps back to the ‘plateau’ of streets in which our dwelling was located. Just then, I caught sight of the railway station, and realised that I was now standing in the very place where my eyes had come to rest on the previous trip. Suddenly there was a ‘linking of worlds’, a perfect joining up of events seen from different perspectives but centred on the same point – in this case, me, the observer, gazing out from the railway station.

Despite the apparent simplicity, the moment had a profound impact, with the street seeming to spin in both directions as I aligned memory with present in a wonderful fulfilment of that past moment.

“Through the unknown, remembered gate”

It got me thinking that there are many parallels of this kind of synchronicity in our lives. My second of inner growth in comprehension mirrors how we feel when, travelling in search of personal growth and understanding, we find ourselves looking back on events of a previous time, yet now see them from what we can only describe as a higher perspective. The marriage of past and present knits the outer world of our experience into more perfect garment, and the intensity tells us that though this may be symbolic, what it represents, spiritually, is much more than what is seen.

Eliot’s poem continues:

“When the last of earth left to discover

Is that which was the beginning;

At the source of the longest river

The voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for

But heard, half-heard, in the stillness

Between two waves of the sea.”

His words are richer, now. And I know that this observer has grown, through many perspectives on the same thing, to understand that pause between the two waves…

©Stephen Tanham, 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

Fear and Love in the High Peak – part one

It’s not the best of photo resolutions, but the above image says it all. Briony saluting the Derbyshire landscape in her own way at the end of three days of the Silent Eye’s Tideswell-based workshop: Sue and Stuart’s creation; and a wonderful experience for the group of souls who braved the provocative title for the weekend…

Rites of Passage: Seeing beyond Fear

…and decided that they would examine the roots of their own fears… and face them in the warmth of loving companionship and symbolic danger.

It’s a time-honoured formula for all mystical organisations; one that brings us all to a point where the day to day ‘fog’ of habitual perception is cut through by the vividness of landscape and experience. That’s what we hope to achieve on these weekends. This one worked well – and in different ways for each person, as it should, for we all have different stories that have brought us to our ‘now’.

Sometimes, especially in reviewing such things, it’s better to start at the end. The picture (above) of Briony is of her at the ‘peak’ of the weekend; the last act of the formal part of our physical, emotional and spiritual wanderings across the ancient and mysterious landscapes of Derbyshire.

A short time later, we would be laughing in one of the oddest, oldest and most wonderful pubs in England…

But that’s for the final chapter of this short series of blogs. For now, let’s drift backwards in time to the sunshine of the Saturday morning. A day of ‘Indian Summer’ as good as any we been blessed with over the years.

Baslow Ridge

We were up high in a place called Baslow Ridge. Looking down on a series of valleys that lead to places like Bakewell, and the glories of the Chatsworth Estate.

The Eagle Stone – a place of proof of maturity, and a precursor to local marriage

The Eagle Stone stands alone, an outlier from a distant time of glaciation. It dominates the landscape like the monolith did in Kubrick’s film of Arthur C. Clarke’s story 2001: A Space Odyssey. People are drawn to it from miles around. It even featured in the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as the place that Elizabeth Bennett visited and climbed… to get away from it all.

It is still used by local folk as a rite of passage. Those who seek the hand of marriage with the girls and ladies of the nearby town of Baslow are expected to demonstrate their suitability by climbing the stone unaided. It’s not a trivial ascent, as this second shot of the rock shows:

The Eagle Stone close-up shows how the higher layers overhang the lower; making an ascent difficult

The Eagle Stone is an example of a sacred folk-object at the centre of a local custom; a ritual, in this case. The ritual was a gateway into adulthood–and maturity. There would be real caution – if not fear- for anyone faced with the challenge. But, with some secret help from your friends, there was only an element of danger, rather than the certainty of death…

The Riley Graves

But many in the history of these parts have not been so lucky. Going back in time to our first visit of the weekend, we were brought face to face with personal fear and sadness of a degree that would be hard to envisage in modern life… and one of the most heart-rending sacrifices we could have encountered.

It’s 1666 in a small High Peak town, not far from Chatsworth. In the space of a single week, a lone woman buries all six of her children and then her husband. No-one will help her; no-one can help her. It is the most awful piece of personal history imaginable and yet the act which surrounds it is of the highest nobility.

Stuart… showing how it should be done

And so the story – the plot – of the weekend, moves from an historic example of fear and self-sacrifice – but seen through modern eyes, through the ancient stones set in the Derbyshire landscape and their cultural and symbolic use, to its finale in a rather foreboding place, high above a valley with a dark history…

Seen like this – backwards from the end, we can appreciate the careful construction of the weekend carried out by Sue and Stuart. Sue has begun its re-telling in her Silent Eye and personal blogs. She’s a great storyteller and there is little point in my replicating her excellent eye for detail.

Instead, I will pick certain moments of significance and focus on them – and hence this backwards-in-time introduction to set the scene.

It’s a long way from the Friday meeting place at Eyam to our final (small for drivers) glass of Dark Lurcher at the Three Stag’s Heads near ‘Hanging Rock’, but it’s a fascinating journey. The weekend demanded a degree of serious intent… but we had lot of fun, too.

In the end, on Sunday morning, everyone was alone for a moment on that dark peak… Very Carlos Castenada, really…. but that’s just my personal take on it.

Next time we meet, it will be August 1666 and, in this part of Derbyshire, something remarkable, unique and utterly selfless will be about to happen.

©Stephen Tanham 2020

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 way to dusty death?

We were in Ulverston, Dean and I. We’d just climbed the famous ‘Hoad’ – a tall monument on the top of a tall hill that looks like a lighthouse… but isn’t. There’s some important symbology in that, but we’ll return to it later.

Light and dark….a walk in Glenlivet…including a view from the stone circle at the Doune of Dalmore toward Drumin castle…both scenes of coming derring-do on Sunday. Photo: Dean Powell.

He was on his way back from Somerset to northern Scotland – the Glenlivet area of the North Cairngorms, where he and his loved ones have their home. Our house in Cumbria is en-route, so the door is always open to break his journey. After a night involving Bernie’s excellent cooking and a glass of red wine or two, we decided that a local (ish) walk would put some air into the bloodstream for his second leg and return to the far north.

Ulverston is one of our local favourites. It’s about a half-hour journey up the fast Barrow road. A coffee in Ford Park and then the short but taxing climb up ‘The Hoad’ to get to the famous lighthouse that isn’t. It can be seen all over the expanse of Morecambe Bay. It’s actually a monument to the famous engineer Sir John Barrow.

We’d got our breath back by the time we got to the monument. The Silent Eye had recently carried out the ‘Jewel in the Claw’ spring workshop at Great Hucklow – our annual biggie. We had used a Shakespearean theme, casting one of our Californian visitors as Queen Elizabeth – ruling over a giant chessboard which was the royal court; and upon which the players moved with great caution… under her watchful eye.

Dean and Alionora had played two of the central characters: Lord Mortido and Lady Libido – death and life in the fullest sense. They were superb. Leaving the tiny village Dean had reflected that there might be scope for doing something else ‘Shakespearean’, in the form of a journey around Macbeth Country, centred in Grantown-on-Spey, not far from where he and Gordon live.

Now, on top of the world and next to the faux lighthouse, we began to discuss it in earnest.

It would involve several kinds of journey. First, it was a long way to travel; but we had all driven down to Dorset the year before for the similar summer weekend, so we knew we’d get the support from our hardy regulars…

Second, there had to be a dual journey in terms of both spiritual discovery and visiting the landscape. The event was to take place in a triangle of land between Grantown, the Findhorn Coast and the Macbeth castles just south of Inverness. There would be no lack of scenery! Dean had already assembled a set of places with that ‘special feel’, including a mysterious old church and a stone circle. Within this combined landscape he proposed leading a journey of self-discovery using an ancient magical symbol. Macbeth’s ‘witches’ had to be honoured – they were a very real force in the time of James VI of Scotland – and subsequently the English king on the death of Elizabeth I. Dean has an intensely esoteric background and is a qualified NLP therapist and teacher as well as the local leader of Lodge Unicorn n’ha Alba. He has recently developed the idea of the ‘magical matrix’ and proposed to use this to accompany our journey in the highland landscape.

I hadn’t realised until he told me that the Unicorn is the national animal of Scotland. The event would mix his Scottish team and the Silent Eye, and we proposed it be called the Silent Unicorn.

Somewhat pleased with the plan, we took the long and winding path down from the Hoad to have a fruitful cafe lunch in Ulverston.

And now it is upon us. Like Macbeth we must earn our keep (sorry) and ‘strut and fret’ upon the magnificent stage of the highlands. Our weekend’s tower must be a true one and not false. Only with that intent – that something deeper is afoot, will we attract the intellectual and emotional harmony that so typifies these Silent Eye ‘landscape journeys’. By the time this is published, we will be leaving Cumbria, to join up with friends old and new from across the UK. We all face a long journey; but a very rewarding one.

For more information on joining us for one of the Silent Eye ‘discovery in the landscape’ weekends, click to see our forthcoming events, here.

The road to Inverness awaits….

©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 Stone and the Pilgrim (1)

Late Friday afternoon, 14th September. A group of travellers arrive in Bamburgh, Northumberland. Their intention is to invoke a landscape.

The meeting place is one of the hotels in the village of Bamburgh, but the first destination is that liminal place: the beach – and what a beautiful place it is…

The beach here sits between two worlds, yet is part of both. The huge and dominating presence of Bamburgh Castle to the west, and the pure white line of the sea’s breaking surf to the east. A shaded charcoal sky offsets the bright landscape, giving a perfect light for photography.

Close to the castle, the guide brings the group to a halt. To the north, just visible against the grey of the evening sky, is the rocky outcrop on top of which sits Lindisfarne Castle. The guide points…

“Our weekend will take us from this beach to that traditional and historic place of pilgrimage,” he says. “The blood we carry will hold the twin energies of breath, and food, to power our limbs. But we are to be pilgrims of both blood and stone.

He points to the castle…

“The stone is heavy, but our bodies will not be weighed down, because the stone we will carry will be of the mind… which is far heavier than any physical burden.”

The guide watches while the group absorb this sentiment. There is always a moment of transition between tourist and spiritual visitor. The liminal beach provides it – and everyone feels it. As though rising from the wet sand, a spirit of unity holds them, gently; a shared quest for the weekend embraced and accepted..

The guide walks them forward to draw level with the castle. As though adding a water blessing – quite common for these workshops – the sky darkens and the party are deluged. There is no going back, though, and the guide points to a dark aperture high in the castle ramparts; a portal through which they will pass, tomorrow.

“In your minds,” he says, against the force of the rain, imagine the castle is the whole of your egoic self – your personality – seen from an external point of view.” He pauses. The rain lashes down. “For one moment only, you may raise that gate and see yourself in a truly objective way…”

The others lift their wet heads and focus on the dark shape high in the walls. Each enters their own castle of stone, looking for a key… In the first of many pilgrim silences.

The lashing rain is test enough. The guide turns the group round and towards the sea, where they turn, again, to walk back as close to the waves as they wish, even barefoot within the waters…

The rain ceases as quickly as it came…

On the horizon the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne beckons… but that is to come. For now, the nature of stone and blood require deep thought.

He points out to sea. “Later, we will speak of ships, but first we need to consider the different natures of the castle’s stone and the ocean’s waves; both of the world of form but very different in their roles in our worlds.

It has begun well…

Later, arriving in the little port of Seahouses, two miles away, there is a double rainbow so bright it lights up the waves on the sea.

The new pilgrims are in good humour. A birthday is being celebrated. Each is warmed by a drink. Then Seahouses provides its famous fish and chips… and does not disappoint. Later, after a nightcap, it is time to retire, and to take the spirit of the beginning into what follows.

To be continued.

©Stephen Tanham.

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation providing low-cost, distance-learning courses with personal supervision.

Silent Eye Summer pre-Solstice Weekend 2016

 

 

St David's montage

Shake off the Winter blues – Anticipate the Summer ahead and book now for the Silent Eye’s 2016 pre-Solstice weekend, “Whispers of the West” to take place in the ancient landscapes of Pembrokeshire, West Wales,  June 17-19, 2016.

We will base ourselves in the ancient Celtic city of St David’s near to the cathedral, whose site dates back to the 6th century. St David’s will be the main focus of the Sunday morning walk and talk. The ancient city offers a good choice of hotels and well-priced guest houses as well as a choice of restaurants.

From the magical traces of the ancient Druids, through the splendour of St David’s Cathedral to the modern and unchanged landscape of Pembrokeshire, the weekend has much to offer.

We will be conducted by a local member of the Silent Eye School who knows the landscape and its history well.

Our outline itinerary is:

17-19 June, 2016

Friday Afternoon 17 June

Drive to Whitesands beach – ice cream

Walk to St David’s Head – hut circles – Coetan Arthur burial chamber

Dinner in St David’s

Saturday 18 June

Drive to Newport via Carreg Samson and Carreg Coetan Arthur burial chambers

Walk up Carn Ingli for magnificent view

Drive to Pentre Ifan – the most impressive chamber in Wales

Drive to Nevern church – Ogham stones – bleeding yews

Drive to Cwm Gwaun for a drink at Bessie’s pub

Drive to St Gwyndaf’s church at Llanwnda near Strumble Head

Dinner at The Sloop in Porthgain or St David’s

Sunday 19 June

Walk to St Non’s – new chapel – old chapel – well

Walk to Cathedral and Bishop’s palace

Lunch in the refectory

Walk along to the bridge and up Quickwell Hill

(If people want to stay into the afternoon there is a lovely boat trip round Ramsay Island)

The cost to attend the weekend is £50.00. Hotel and meals are not included in that figure and those attending need to make their own accommodation arrangements.

Register your interest via email to rivingtide@gmail.com

(Images from Wikipedia, used under Creative Commons license)

Below and Above – Souls on a Hillside

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Friday, 4th December, 2015. A group of companions, some old friends, some just introduced, all made very welcome, meet in the comfort of  a small hotel on the edge of a mysterious range of hills, the last outliers of the West Pennines.  A short distance from the old mill town of nearby Bolton, the hillside above them is very different in character from the urban landscape a few miles away.

Leverhulme's Tower Rivington

They unwind from their journeys over hot drinks, then are offered a short introduction to the landscape to be explored with mind and heart over the next two days. Dinner and wine have been arranged at the next door inn; good company and, perhaps a mellow nightcap see them to bed …

The winter morning of the 5th December dawns and our good companions take breakfast before wrapping up warm and putting on walking shoes to prepare them for the modest climb through the mysterious ancient gardens of Rivington, long abandoned by their creator. Perhaps a final coffee while the plans for the day are refreshed, then they set off for a journey of inner and outer exploration. As they climb, the landscape changes. The public parkland with its huge reservoirs gives way to smaller paths which snake up the hillside, revealing new and fascinating vistas, as though a great mind designed this as a journey of the soul, before moving on to other things, leaving it as mysterious legacy for others to contemplate.

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Without warning, an old stone bridge appears on the path ahead. Its arches are graceful, and its vaulting span seems to divide the entire hillside into the above and the below. What will each of the companions make of this, so soon in their journey? Examining the old bridge, it is found to be a footpath to the next level of a series of terraces, cut into the hillside, long ago. Before climbing further, one of the guides suggests they prepare themselves by a short detour to sit by the Lake of Reflection, hidden on this level, not far away. Some have brought texts and poems to read which seem to fit with this tranquil lake and the challenging bridge ahead.

Everyone listens, attentively, as inner voices reveal themselves. Soon, the readings are done and it is time to climb, again …

The party returns to the arching bridge and we enter the mysterious landscape beyond.  At the top of the next incline we are presented with a dark image–what looks like an old prison cell looks down on us as we climb. We stop to consider the positioning of this and the bridge – a symbol of hope and aspiration; followed by a test, perhaps? What could the creator have meant by this?

Leaving this question unresolved, we climb, gratefully, up the adjoining steps, bypassing the dark place to reach an expanse of gardens bordered by a wide stone path. From here, we can see the whole valley below us; and the view brings the thoughts of the approaching winter solstice. We stop at this level of the gardens to think about the inner meanings of the turning point: when the darkness reaches its deepest state, and mankind is challenged to find meaning at the point where nature, for a moment, stops …

We turn right to find yet another line of stone stairs leading upwards to a strange gateway of two halves. We consider the symbology: found versus designed? Given the nature of our thoughts during the climb, it is natural to look at this enigmatic gateway as representing the human brain, organ of the mind. Will we choose the way of logic or of the heart? How can both hemispheres be combined?

Ahead lies an expansive space at the edge of which there is the ruin of an old house, grand in its design and now seen only in the shapes of its ground floor and a few remaining tiles from an long-abandoned ballroom, whose black and white squares brings to mind the kind of flooring found in ancient temples. Being magical companions, this makes us think of how the fiery rites of winter often bring strength and endurance for the dark months that lie ahead. We begin to conjure with possibilities … dare we?

Nine Trees one

Our question is shortly answered as, beginning our walk to the fire-warmed Crofters Arms pub, which is expecting us for lunch, we pass a most mysterious and beautiful natural temple, set on the edge of a wood … maybe we could …?

Thus begins the Silent Eye’s 2015 Winter, pre-solstice weekend, running from Friday evening 4th December, to lunchtime Sunday 6th. The setting will be the wonderful landscapes of Rivington and Anglezarke.

The cost for the guided weekend is £50.00. Meals and accommodation are extra and left to the individual’s choice, though we expect to gather for group drinks and dinner on the Friday and Saturday nights at the Beehive Restaurant, Horwich, which is next door to the local Premier Inn. Please note this is a weekend and not just a single day as originally published.

Fancy a bit of mystery in an amazing landscape? The chance for the world of being to help guide our steps, and the most warm company?  Join us. The booking form can be found http://thesilenteye.co.uk/events/, or email us at rivingtide@gmail.com.

Silent Eye modern masterAA

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk

rivingtide@gmail.com