Summer Solstice 2020

They placed a test within the breast

Of humans, who go round and round

To gaze on fullness, once, and then

Descend, with scent and sigh

From gold on face to black

And back…

So little held, this joy of June’s

Delight and softest night with dawn

A moment’s slumber distant

Long grass between the fingers

Petals’ kiss, a fleeting bliss

A setting sun.

Son of the Sun whose outward star

Then cycles down, withhold the frown

And hide, with pride, regret.

For you alone can see the whole

And shepherd in and out without

Fragility, your true nobility.

©Stephen Tanham 12June2020

#ShortWrytz: Soma of Soft Skies

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been entranced by the soft skies of the warmer months – particularly those of late spring, which heralds their return.

Their beauty speaks for itself… but there is something else that haunts.

The word ‘soft’ is the key. Every one of our senses is touched in a silken way by the early mornings, long days and beautiful twilights. The air is not only warm, but fragrant with the perfumes of flowers, cut grass and the smell of the powerful sunlight bathing us all.

And beyond even this, if you listen deeply there is an emotional and voiceless voice:

“I have brought this to its fullness. Put away thoughts and drink it… Let it become part of you.. Take what you can from it; let its life be yours. It is fragile because it is perfect; it lives for an instant because it is timeless – but needs you for its completion; for it to say ‘I was there…’. But part of you, being creature, must move beyond completion in your life within these cycles.”

The ancient Vedic civilisation of India had the concept of ‘Soma’. Ostensibly a drink given to mankind by the gods, it renewed the vitality of the whole being, and connected us with the heavens. When I gaze upwards into soft blue skies, I think of Soma.

The Sufis spoke of wine as a divine metaphor with much the same properties. These are experiences waiting for us in body, mind and heart. The approach to the longest day is a powerful time to invoke them… When I gaze upwards into soft blue skies, I think of Sufi wine.

Later, as the summer wanes, like Alph the sacred river, we must pass through this beauty and down to a sunless sea on our way from Xanadu. (Coleridge – Kubla Khan)

The pre-solstice is a difficult time to capture and hold. The painter has a good chance; Van Gogh came close… The photographer can only render one aspect of it. The poet is, perhaps, best equipped… The words of Kahlil Gibran come to mind:

“One day you will ask me which is more important? My life or yours? I will say mine and you will walk away not knowing that you are my life.”

Each year, I like to make a silent resolution for the three weeks leading up the Summer Solstice. Each day, I will find a right moment to say, softly: ‘I walk slowly, I walk softly. The life around me is my life. I drink it now. Let it be like ancient Soma in bringing me more alive…’

1 June 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching organisation that provides home-based, mentored training in modern spiritual development.

Hissing Curve of Summer

A curve of summer hissing

A ripple in the eye

A bending line of space and time

A bluer kiss of sky

—-

A light that dances richly

A silken masquerade

So filled with longing long ago

So poignantly now fades

—-

In gaze that opened slowly

Upon creation’s art

Which only dies before our eyes

Remembered in the heart

—-

©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.

#ShortWrytz : Fractal Loving

(Above: Blue skies near Sizergh – April 2020)

I confess, I’m in love with the sky…

A strange opening to a blog post, I know, but, when I came to think about my photographic relationship with the sky, it was simply one of love.

“Look up!” The admonition was from Sue Vincent, one of my fellow Directors of the Silent Eye, when talking about churches and what lies above the normal eye-level. It’s a good watchword… and the same can be said about the sky. Ever new, like life, it’s as fascinating in winter as it is in spring or summer.

In winter it’s dramatic and you get those huge vistas that seem to go on forever above the Earth’s surface. In spring, you get the softness of the deep blues and the candy-floss whiteness of the clouds that deliver a feeling of sheer excitement that the infinitely-recharging energy of the deep summer is just around the corner.

I was delighted to read, many years ago, that Benoit Mandelbrot – a father of one of the many sciences that led to Chaos Theory, had taken the inspiration for his idea of ‘Fractals’ from clouds. He was looking for a way to describe the 3D structures of those carriers of moisture in the air; a way to convey the constancy of their type whilst still recognising that they are all unique; a bit like human beings – different but essentially the same. Much like the idea of the Platonic form.

The science of Fractals gave us an understanding of why coastlines are infinitely longer than we can ever measure, of why our lungs have a true inner space bigger than trees, of how impossible volumes can be fitted into any small space with the right ‘organic’ structure.

It’s old science now. Except when I look up… then that fluffy white on blue grabs me by the follicles and I stop doing anything else except the act of fractal loving.

©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.

#ShortWrytz : The Time-Capsule

(Above: The Saltpetre – a 19th century gunpowder store at the end of our garden!)

I’ve written about it, before. The Saltpetre is a gunpowder store that was used to house the produce of the local gunpowder factory by the river Kent. The ‘black powder’ as it used to be called, was brought up through the village, slowly, by horse and cart – the cart having dressed wheels to help prevent sparks. There were many deaths in the village from explosions, so everyone was deeply conscious of the danger.

Old (black) gunpowder was mixed in the following proportions (by weight): 75% potassium nitrate (saltpetre), 15% softwood charcoal, and 10% sulphur. Our quirky outbuilding was named after the component with the greater part by volume – 75%. We suspect that gunpowder was also generally known as ‘saltpeter’ in those days when the bargemen would collect it from the canal wharf that is now our garden and take it south.

The photo was taken from the lower part of the garden. It’s lower because it was the canal bed. The Saltpetre was constructed in about 1820, the year the local Quaker banker and gunpowder entrepreneur, the first John Wakefield, persuaded the canal trust to change their route and run as close to his works as possible.

The simple stone structure has been there ever since, enjoying many incarnations, but none as exciting as its original use. For the past decade, we have been filling it up with our ‘stuff’. It’s bigger than it looks and has taken a lot of filling! But, with the Covid-19 lockdown in place, it made sense to spend some of the time doing the long-promised clean out.

Right at the back were three shoe boxes, each one carefully taped closed so that not even dust could get in. I had packed them – several house-moves ago, but any knowledge of their contents had long vaporised.

Grubby from the day’s dusty excavations and disposal into a mountain of ‘black bags’, I reached for a my knife and sliced open the tape, feeling intrigued as to what was in there.

Much of it was instantly binable. But an inner ‘jiffy pack’ contained two items: a vintage pocket watch, bought on a business trip to The Hague, and a passport sized photo of me taken approximately 25 years ago. I had thought the watch was long lost, and was delighted to be reunited with an object I loved. It cost me the equivalent of £150 back then. Not a huge investment, but I found its slim and elegant lines very pleasing, and simply wanted to keep it.

The second item was more shocking. There’s nothing quite so sobering as seeing yourself as you were a quarter of a century ago… Ageing is inevitable, but such a brutal confrontation across the years requires a deep breath.

The day was ending in a lovely and still-warm sunset when, freshly showered, I brought the two objects to our patio table, where Bernie had made us each a long gin and tonic.

We sat in silence, gazing at the evening gold reflected in drink and watch, and laughing at the young man. Talk about a time capsule!

©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.

#ShortWrytz : Dreams of Trees

The river is just below. Close and beautiful, as always, but he’s photographed it a hundred times and the winter’s challenge is to find a new place; a place hidden in the old, hidden in the usual.

And then, as he turns to seek elsewhere, it’s there. Devoid of leaves, its tall structure is all there is, but its presence is magnificent and dark with enduring purpose against the cold March sky.

Unfolding Lilac

And then one day there will unfold

Before delighted gaze

A purple ring where thickest mud

Had tempered walks on winter days

⦿

Where sliding boots had struggled

To cross the sodden land

Our eyes now look with wonder

To gaze on colour’s gentle hand

⦿

Time and tide’s persistence

Their essence of ascent

From sodden bulb to flower’s joy

A hidden rite of innocence

⦿

Directed upwards, called to seek

The calling power’s face

As cheek by mote they flex and float

To form the softest carapace

⦿

Awake and break dark winter’s chains

Cast off the inner gloom

And breathe the air with lilac stare

Then give the light its living room

⦿

©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 cycle of life

The approach of the autumn always makes me reflect on the nature of life; in particular the way the mysterious essence of life takes form and shape, ‘living’ for a while, then giving up its life and surrendering the elements of that form back to the earth from which it arose.

We all feel the poignancy of life’s seasons, but it’s useful to align ourselves with the processes of the autumn and reflect more deeply on the ‘life lessons’ that nature lays before us… quite literally.

Soon, I will walk in my muddy boots, through crisp and cracking leaves; leaves that, a few short months ago, glowed with the mysterious and magical green of the spring. These days, I cannot help but feel a kind of kinship with their fate, as the inevitable process of attrition by the wind, rain…and my walking boots, crushes them into smaller and smaller particles of their former selves, ready for the chemical dissolution that will complete their natural recycling.

But is it just the leaves that are recycled in this way–or something else? The form is a container for the indefinable ‘aliveness’ of what is inside it: its essence. We never actually see this essence, but we feel it – and it glows with the joy of being alive within that spring green which heralds the return of collective outward life. This capacity to feel what we cannot see is an important part of being human – and is really another sense.

Spiritually, we can learn from each season. We can also use our feelings to see a whole greater than the sum of the parts.

The four seasons offer us the following parts of this whole:

In spring, we feel the freshness, the new light, the change of colours, the return of milder weather. We also feel a surge of new energy as the Earth extends itself – through nature – into all the inherited forms of life. Like the leaves, each of these forms is unique; no two of them are exactly the same and yet each follows a type. The type is inherited through nature’s coding of evolution, and makes us what we are – physically.

The spring contains joy, a fundamental characteristic of being. In the spring it is made manifest.

The summer that follows is a time of fulfilment. The promise of the spring is carried to fruition beneath the calm, blue and golden skies above us. There is a feeling of completeness, a deep sense of inner rightness. The fruits of nature’s beauty are there for us to consume, so that we, in turn, partake of the bounty of fullness. In summer, we have that feeling of going outwards into the world.

The autumn is a time for reflection. Winter is around the corner but not yet with us. It is a time for gathering-in; preparing our selves – and those who depend upon us – for the harshness ahead. Our feeling of openness is replaced with the poignancy of knowledge of what lies ahead and a saying goodbye to the forms of things which have shared the spring and summer with us, such as the leaves falling from the mighty and enduring trees. Winds begin to pick up, again, completing the process of outer reduction, and the shaking free of the old.

But the autumn is also a time of harvest. We ‘plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the ground’ as the harvest hymn goes. Animals scatter the seeds of life for the natural world, ensuring life’s best chance for continuation away from the ‘tree’ from which they fell.

Finally, winter ‘reaps’ that which is no longer fit to contain the invisible life. But the strong things remain. The starkness of the outlines of bare trees dominate the natural landscape… but we cease to see them after a while. Trees are wonderful structures. Ouspensky described them as ‘living four-dimensional patterns’ because they show all the stages of their personal evolution.

We each have a winter tree inside us. It is the pattern of logical and emotional learning in our minds. Like a physical tree it shows us the forking and branching that our life’s journey has taken. It is a friend, an inner book; and we can learn much from its contemplation.

Nature’s key processes in the winter are beneath the ground – within the roots of organic life. They cannot be seen or felt, except by contemplation of the innermost purpose, while the bare structures of the trees above endure the cold, rain, ice and snow.

There will come a time to lay down that personal tree – to offer it and our life’s history to the greater cycle of life. We will have reached a different point of completion in this winter journey, and what we really are – invisible and ineffable – will return to the state from which it can begin a new life, restored, recharged and refreshed. Our small tree of experience will merge with the universe’s story, adding a tiny but important contribution that truly belonged to us, but which now may be read by all life.

©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.