Never West

I’ve always loved maps…

I can remember, when a child, being bought a fold-out schematic of a town with streets, main roads, a river, a hill and a railway line. It was just a layout – a map – but I had lots of my own cars, a model train and some small figures of the right scale to populate the town with activity.

“Where are you?” my mother asked, shortly after I became joyfully lost in the richly-featured landscape on the carpet. I looked up, puzzled by the question. I picked up a plastic farmer and offered it to her.

“Are you there or here?” she asked. My mother was always good at making you think…

I can’t remember what my reply was – probably just to keep holding out the plastic farmer.

I grew up with a love of walking and cycling… and maps. I would spend my own pocket money to get a walkers’ map of my favourite places so I could pore over them, imagining, with increasing accuracy, what the landscape would look like. It never occurred to me to ask why north was at the top of the map. I knew from my spinning globe of the planet that the north-pole was at the top of the world, so, of course, all maps would be oriented with north as the top.

But it’s not always been so…

Understanding where we are in the world is fundamental to our survival.. and our sanity. It has psychological implications, too – most of them subconsciously acted on. Our brains are specially ‘wired’ to provide us with a continuously changing ‘map’ of where we are – usually relative to safety or ‘the known’.

Have you ever awoken from a disturbing dream and not known where you were for a second or two? It’s can be frightening; and gives us an insight into why our children cry when faced with the same or similar experiences. A dream has taken them out of the ‘familiar’ and they fear what is new, especially, as in the dream state, when rational thinking is unavailable.

The need for that ‘place of safety’ is hard-wired into our brain’s cognitive mechanisms. In so-called primitive mankind, the place of safety was a physical thing: a cave, or a dwelling in a sturdy tree, perhaps. It’s taken us thousands of years to become happy with the idea that we are somewhere safe (for example, staying in a hotel), rather than the actual location of the home.

Perhaps, seeing this, we become more sympathetic to those who lose their homes through economic or political upheaval. There are likely to be many more homeless people as the present Corvid-19 crisis works its way through our societies.

We are almost unique in trying to share the directions to home with others. The only other species with this is the honey bee. Insect species, like ants, leave chemical trails, but they don’t try to communicate through a language of place. Just us and the bees…

Humans have a long history of creating maps. The oldest examples discovered on cave walls are 14,000 years old. During that time, maps have been drawn, etched or scratched on stone, paper and, now, screened on computer devices – particularly portable ones, like phones and tablets.

(Above: This famous 1973 shot of the Earth, done by an astronaut who was upside down, was actually taken with south at the top. NASA decided to flip it to a normal north-up orientation before its release. Image NASA)

If we were to examine the Earth from space, we would immediately see how difficult it is to identity north. Unless you are long way from the Earth, there are no visual clues, apart from the point of a theoretically huge pencil around which the Earth rotates – the physical (geographic) ‘North Pole’. But this is not the same as the ‘north’ reading on that little pocket device the boy holding the plastic farmer would have got. The two would have been close, but not identical, as the vast and surging currents in the Earth’s iron core creates fluctuations in the magnetic field that swings the little needle on a magnetic compass.

The compass has been an essential part of the story of maps. It’s interesting that its inventors, the Han Dynasty in China (2nd century BCE to 1st century CE), used compasses that pointed to what we now view as south. South was the direction taken by the naturally occurring lodestone used in these early instruments. In ancient China, the ‘top’ of the map was therefore south.

Christian maps from the time of the Crusades were known as Mappa Mundi. East was at the top, towards the Garden of Eden and with Jerusalem in the centre – the geographic focus of their ‘holy wars’.

(Above: the Hereford Mappa Mundi, with Jerusalem and the east, at the top of the map, Source Wikipedia, Public Domain)

In ancient Egypt, the ‘top’ of the world was east – the position of the sunrise. The Islamic empire placed south at the top, like China. Most of the Islamic population lived north of Mecca, so it was natural to ‘look up’ to the south.

The west was left out of this history. The place to which humanity ‘looked up’ – the top of the map – was never west. So-called Pagan culture was and is closely aligned with all four cardinal directions, and the west is traditionally the point where the day ends, and mindful humans reflect and later sleep to renew. It also marks the end of the force of life (Solar), for that day, and by inference, eventually, the end of life.

It seems no-one wanted to ‘look up’ to the place where the Sun set.

Governments and their military forces have always been interested in maps. Battles are not always won with good maps, but they are certainly lost with bad ones. Google now dominates the world of computer maps, though there are alternatives. Google acquired a private company named Keyhole, who had US military backing to refine and develop the technology that became Google Maps. It’s a powerful product, and most of us have used it in one form or another. Google’s model with all its ‘Apps’ is to give them away and make revenue by selling your location and preferences to its advertisers. The financial cost is low, but it takes us into potentially murky waters. The average person knows little about what really happens with such data, nor who has access to it. Google recently fought a protracted revolt by its own employees, who considered its mapping developments were in danger of breaching the company’s famous ‘Do No Harm’ ethic…

Apple is the other big Tech player in this field. Apple’s business model is to charge more for premium devices but then guarantee to protect the user’s data. Apple did not back down on this – even when heavily pressured by the US government who wanted a ‘back-door’ into its primary security features for ‘anti-terrorism’ purposes. Many of my friends switched to Apple at that point and now view it as the only ‘safe haven’ for their information.

I use products from both sides of this divide. I like Google’s email and and spreadsheet products. But I use them only on Apple technology, then, at least, I have the tested integrity of its privacy promises. Google’s entire model is web-based, so their applications are not hosted in the device; only the browser is.

But the world is changing fast, as illustrated by Google and Apple now working together in the Covid-19 arena to provide a user-secure, distributed framework for ‘contact tracing’. Interestingly, the French government, one of the first to take this up, immediately demanded that the private user data be made available to their authorities. Both companies refused and the demand was eventually withdrawn. Even non-authoritarian societies struggle with these complex issues of privacy vs policing.

Science, like maps, doesn’t give us hard and fast answers. It provides a better-than-last-time fit of what might be happening, knowing that this iteration, too, isn’t perfect. For politicians to quote that they are being ‘led by the science’, as though that were a binary truth or falsehood, is a lie to an unknowing public.

Maps have become far more potent and powerful things. A map is a world. A map allows us to see a whole. A map invites us in… In many ways, it takes three ‘faces’ to make it work. The first is the nature of what is being mapped; the second is the style of representation, for example, figurative or actual.

We need to become the third face in the success of the map. We should enter into all these things, mindfully, knowing that commerce exploits without morals, that insular politics always leads to Fascism, and that the silent and caring voice of the majority cannot stay silent while our civilisation morally burns.

My mother, who now has dementia, wouldn’t understand the answer, but if she asked the boy-become-man studying the larger map of today’s political world the same question about where he was on that map, I might respond that he had to quickly outgrow the plastic farmer – the replica human – and become the fully empowered and fully responsible human by putting the small figure to one side, standing up and looking down at the whole map. If we don’t, then our star may set in the unsung west and humanity become a footnote in Great Nature’s experiments with Life.

That western horizon of our map is just around the corner… If we love the light, then we had better start running towards the ‘east’, and now.

(Opening picture: author-created overlay of two images from Pixabay. Originators: Skease and Philim1310)

©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.

Hollow Clown

He carried the box over to the old table and set it down. Despite its size, it was heavy. He reached for the Stanley knife and slit the old tape that held it together, then prized open the dusty lid, revealing the contents.

Immediately, he knew what it was: his old trophy box. He couldn’t believe it was still here? Surely he had thrown it away long ago. He had a half-memory of carrying it out to the recycling – five, maybe ten years ago… or had that just been a dream?

How many years had it languished, dusty and increasingly dirty, on one of the top shelves of the shed? The kind of shelf that you’d use for paint, or an expensive picture frame the wrong shape for any of the photos you had. He had been looking for a pair of snipe-nosed pliers; something you didn’t need every day, until the day you did. The top shelf in the shed was the last resort; the last chance to find a half-remembered tool.

Instead, he’d found the trophy box.

Wiping away the dust that had fallen into the box from the fragile lid, he let his fingers slide down the inside edge of the box, feeling into the layers like a geologist would dig down into layers of sedimentary rock. Four, five, six wooden frames came to life under his scrutiny. He knew what they were: wooden-backed achievement awards from the days of his corporate life. They were in reverse order. The one in front of him was gold.

“Someone else’s idea of gold,” he whispered, surprising himself with the depth of the observation…

The fingers dug deeper. The wooden frames gave way to paper. He smiled as the paper got older and crisper, remembering the earliest days of receiving praise and prize from people he respected, deeply – back then.

They were all part of the rich tapestry that is a life. Meaningless, now. Just layer upon layer of a dead past. Entirely valid back then, but without purpose now other than a set of steps that had got him here, in the old shed, looking in the wrong box…

The best of them had once hung on the walls of his office, in the way that people do when they want to impress visitors.

“Hollow,” he said, softly, watching the motes of dust spin and curl in the the air of his out-breath, in the golden light of the summer sunset.

His fingers had reached the bedrock of the base of the box. They curled, one last time, around the heavy upper rocks of the awards, ready to lift them all out and drop them into the waste-basket. Then stopped…

The card was smaller than the wooden frames; smaller than the letters of congratulation from the oldest of times.

“Zap!’ It read on the back. On the front was an image of a clown with a sad face, his lips curled down in the manner of circus performers. He never found out who sent it. Who had darkened his first day of real victory with a sour note. He looked at it again… The lips were curled down on the white and red face, though the eyes were warmer and kinder than he remembered. Perhaps the clown had grown old, too?

He let the layers of his life fall back into the dusty box, burying the mystery clown, forever.

“Enough!” He shouted, standing up and tucking the box under his arm. He opened the shed door and strode across the garden to the recycling bins at the back of house. As he turned the corner, a breeze blew dust in his eyes, and he had to put the box down to use a handkerchief to wipe them.

Straightening, he saw the smiling face of his wife coming out of the greenhouse with the first of their own tomatoes. She placed one in his mouth, laughing, and was about to turn when she pointed at the box by his feet. She reached down to pick up the lid that the breeze had blown from the top of the box.

“Who’s the laughing clown,” she asked.

Chewing the tiny tomato and shaking his head, he looked down to where she held the card of the clown. Above the striped red and white outfit were the bright eyes… but beneath the laughing eyes was a laughing mouth.

“Will you just hold that for a moment,” he said, wondering if all of this was a dream. The dream held while he took the box and dropped it in the refuse. It held while he walked back to his bewildered wife, and gently took the card from her confused fingers.

The clown was still smiling… He thanked and kissed his wife and dropped the card into his pocket. From now on, it would be all the trophy he needed.

©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.

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

Sowing seeds

From Sue…

The Silent Eye

The spiritual journey is simple, beautiful and full of Love,” read the meme. Perfectly true, but taken out of context it doesn’t actually tell you all that much, does it? Not really. Like so many of the quotes out there on the internet, usually displayed against the background of a sunset, dove or some other visual symbol of serenity, it simply drops a seed into the mind and allows it to grow… or not, as the case may be.

I remember studying the parable of the Sower and the Seed in Religious Education in school, long ago. It tells of how when the Sower sows the seed, it may fall upon stony, barren or fertile ground and where it falls will determine how the seed grows. It is a well-known story, easily understood in symbolic terms, though there are many deeper elements involved in the imagery than may…

View original post 710 more words

#ShortWrytz : Lucky

Sometimes, you just get lucky…

You’re standing there with a camera that will actually reach into the shot that you’ve just seen.

You know that the moment will last less than a second, so you don’t even breathe, you just press.

Sometimes, you get lucky. A second later, the glorious white flicker is gone… but left behind is the ghost it allowed you to keep.

©Stephen Tanham, 2020

Secret #writephoto : Wounded Angel

She’d never rescued an angel, before. Never seen one. Never drunk that dark red wine that she would never drink again…at the village dance she wasn’t supposed to go to.

But she had seen it! Had stared, soaked to the skin in the freezing summer storm; gazing up at dark clouds as the bright angel fought for its life against the attack of the orange demon, with its sickly glow.

She scanned the heavens as she waited, dripping at the door of the disused church within which she had placed his injured body, carried and dragged across muddy furrows from the place of battle over the old coppice. The dark sky was still swirling, malevolent with hate. Her eyes would not focus, half-blind with the angel’s brightness. Perhaps the demon had been injured, too? But she knew he was still up there… still waiting.

“He will come back for me,” the angel had said, before she laid him down in the old straw. “Get as far from here as you can!”

She had clutched the old key to her sodden breasts as she stroked his brow, creased with pain. “They will have to get past me,” she whispered, knowing how feeble it sounded. “I will lock you in.”

Despite the pain, he was smiling. He gazed into her crying eyes, then, and whispered back, “Then, perhaps there is a way…”. But he would say no more and fell into a deep stillness, looking beyond her, beyond the stone walls… beyond the world, but touching the key in her hand.

Now, standing with her back to the renewed storm, she turned the key in the old lock, shuddering with fear at what lay behind her, trembling that she was locking herself out of the protective walls within which her bright one rested. She looked down one last time at the key – then gasped. As her fumbling fingers withdrew it, the lock changed shape, becoming, first a black, then a glowing heart.

“Love versus evil, then,” she whispered, wiping tears and snot from her young skin, turning to face her death. Around her the air was suddenly bright – as bright as the angel had been. She realised she was holding up the key as a weapon.

But, as the ground fell away and she soared, sleek and deadly, into the black sky, she knew two things: that her sister, Mary Jane would never call her dull, again; and that it was no longer a key she held…

Written for Sue Vincent’s #WritePhoto

The Mysterious Self

(Above: The self: mysterious and changing… but what is it?)

One of the most wonderful elements of being Human is the sense of self; yet there is great confusion as to what the ‘self’ really is… even whether it exists at all.

Something harvests the experiences of each day yet declares itself separate from them. This accumulation is deemed to be a living entity – the ‘me’ – resplendent with a memory of having lived it, rather than the actuality of what was lived, and containing a trace of the story of that day, which, over time, is consolidated into ‘like’ experiences.

Language cements this relationship with experience. In western languages, we have the basic construct of ‘I do this’: subject, verb and object. Some older languages – often associated with highly spiritual societies – do not have this structure. Sanskrit, for example, the ancient language of India, would say “This is being done”.

It is memory that gives us this certainty of self. Its power of continuity becomes vital to our wellbeing. We take this completely for granted. We do this because we have no choice – it became our dominant perspective at a young age, typically before the age of seven. Because we ‘live in it’, we no longer see it – like so many aspects of our individual worlds.

Although wonderful, it is also a spiritually-deadly perspective, because it separates ‘us’ from the rest of our world.

Let’s consider the elements of this.

Having a sense of Self means that I separate out parts of my experience and call them ‘me’. This act, alone, is quite remarkable. On what basis did my young self determine which bits were me and which were something else?

Vividness of experience must have played a big part. What my attention is drawn to becomes that which I focus on. My attention is grabbed by immediacy and there is nothing as immediate as my body. Continued focus on my body dulls the attention given to the rest of ‘my’ world, even though it is still there with all the power it had when I was a new-born.

This sense of my body becomes, in many ways, my first self – and this will remain dominant for the rest of my life. Spirituality in all its forms, faces this as the first barrier to development. We have to come to see that the solid reality of our own cluster of matter – our bodies – is only one reality; and that the dominance of this in our consciousness is due to habit, rather than any superiority of existence.

The dominance of self as body has another consequence – it locks us into pain. When the body is in pain, so becomes our whole self, if it is focussed in this way. Pain in the body will always be real, but its effect on our overall aliveness is determined by our attention. This discipline is one of the tenets of Buddhism.

The founding psychologists of the early part of the last century worked hard to establish a structure of the Self, or Psyche, so that they could truly investigate its workings. This was a giant leap in mankind’s ability to analyse its own existence. Freud is somewhat dismissed these days, largely because of his singular focus on the sexual power as the dominant ‘drive’, but he gave us a lasting legacy and some major insights into how the self develops and sustains itself. These are of great service to the spiritual seeker.

His description of the structure of the self is of great use to those pursuing a spiritual path; and has echoes across traditions as varied as the Kabbalah and Sufism.

Freud proposed a three-layer hierarchy for the psyche. The first of these was what became known (in English) as the ‘Id’. The translation serves us badly, because the native German was much more instructive. This word, (Das Es) was, literally, the ‘It’.  Using the word ‘it’ distanced the observer of her own psyche from this ‘beast’. The sentiment being: “I may need it for my survival, but I don’t have to suffer its beastiality in my normal life.”

And yet, the beast of the Id contains all our energy . . . Coming to terms with it is really important, if we want to lead a vital life. The sad part of this rejection is that it also locks away our younger self, with all its innocence and its delight – because it had appetites for things the subsequent world found ‘antisocial’.

This act of staring at the Id generated a kind of second self, known, in English, as the ‘Ego’. The native German, again more helpful, was ‘The I,’ (Das Ich). The ego’s job became to manage the monster below, allowing us to fit into society without picking our noses all the time – feel free to substitute your own metaphor . . .

But the Ego borrows all its energy from the Id, which it then seeks to manage . . .

The final layer of the Freudian self is, in English, ‘the Superego’; in German, the Uber-Ich (the over I). This is largely concerned with the ‘should-dos’ of our lives – the development of morality; that which is handed down to ‘well brought-up children’. Again, the Supergo borrows all its energy from the Id, to give the final structure and management to the concept of the self.

So… we have a beast and a trapped child, not allowed to develop into an adult self because we have rubbed up against the edge of acceptable society. Above that we have a parentally-created pattern of authority, that lives with us all our lives until we decide to break that ice ceiling and see the sky . . .

None of these things have been created by bad people. They result from two things: the commonly accepted concept of Ego, which is really the Personality; and the nature of Society – which centres itself around consensus and power, and therefore cruelly robs the individual of full life. If mankind has a purpose, it is to reconcile these forces, for the good of the life that follows.

These elements of the greater Self can be ignored – in which case the patterns of ego-driven personality will return to haunt us all our lives, producing similar patterns of events as the years progress. The alternative is to embark on a journey into the self; spiritually, we would say to go in search of the Self.

There are many trials to such a quest, the biggest being the act of turning away from the chosen path when the going gets difficult. The ego, which, remember, is a mental and emotional construct and has no real existence, has an armoury of below-the-radar weapons against such a frontal assault on its (false) kingdom.

Enneagram Reflected copy

Techniques can help. One of the most powerful tools for providing us with a personal map of the journey is the Enneagram. Originally developed by Gurdjieff as a key to how the world ‘unfolded’ in its process (the spiritual ‘Word’), it was added to by deeply spiritual teachers, such as Ichazo, Naranjo, Alamass and Maitri, to become the basis of a way of understand the ‘whole in diversity’ in the sense of how the human personality obscures the greater part of the Soul, within.

The Silent Eye has combined this knowledge with the insight from a triad of mystical and magical pasts, to offer the student (we prefer Companion) a three year guided journey, taken by monthly correspondence course with personal supervision, where every aspect of the Self is encountered, deepening each year as the journey takes us to the realm of the soul-child and beyond.

Companionship is one of the keys. Schools like the Silent Eye offer this even more than they offer teaching. This is because the journey can only belong to the one taking it. In the real journey of the true Self, which brings us face to face, via the Soul-Child, with the Essence (Being) from which our Soul formed itself, we reach a point where no system or religion can have any power over us. We come, quite early on this path, to a place where we know that truth belongs to us, and only truth learned and experienced in this way has any value.

To stand alone and look out at that which we distanced ourselves from, when the founding layers of our personality separated us from the “Other”, is a moment that brings us to stand before reality – possibly for the first time. The new Self generated at that point is one of immense power . . . and intense humility.

10 June 2020

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Steve Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit, teaching organisation which delivers stages and mentored lessons via correspondence course. For more information contact us at rivingtide@gmail.com

Locked-down and Armed: one man’s struggle with entropy (1)

I am not a tidy person. My wife, Bernie, is much better than I am but even she admits that, as a couple, we have to work at it.

At the bottom of our garden is a large stone building called ‘The Saltpetre’. Built around 1820, this ‘expense magazine’ (and no, I haven’t just made that up) used to house gunpowder awaiting transportation the following morning via the canal that was once next to it. I’ve mentioned it before, but this post is nothing to do with the history of the village… other than the legacy of caring for something that old.

(Above: The ‘Saltpetre” – a former gunpowder store from 1820, known in those times as an ‘Expense Magazine’. Photo taken from what was the canal bed before we wove it into the garden)

The ‘Salty Pete’ as we’ve come to know it, is not a particularly pleasant place to inhabit. The old stone walls are unrendered and it’s cold and draughty in winter. If you wanted a classy man-cave, you wouldn’t start here.

(Above: the old walls are as originally constructed)

The floor still comprises the original cobbles, which are impossible to sweep clean. They are also the reason there isn’t a truly level surface in the whole edifice.

(Above: the Saltpetre’s old cobbled floor from 1820)

My study in the house is much more hospitable… but you can’t drill, saw and sing Meatloaf to yourself in a study. And, somewhere in the old ‘shed’ near the back wall, was a set of power tools my father bought me for assorted birthdays and Christmases… He used to sell them in what had been a converted fruit and veg shop, driven out of business by Morrison’s supermarket opening across the road. So there was some buried sentimental treasure in the dark stone interior of the Saltpetre… which may feature later in our story.

We’ve lived here for 10 years, and each year another layer of our stuff has been pushed into this cavernous storage space. I did have the decency to fund a new roof and door, and at the same time took advantage of somebody else’s building skills to have an interior loft installed, thereby increasing the already vast storage capabilities for yet more stuff…

Year on year, as it filled, the task of cleaning it out ballooned in my consciousness, as things do when put off for a decade…

Then came March’s virus lockdown… But that wasn’t an immediate problem, as there was a list of ‘unperformed other jobs’ that were actually much easier – like power washing the flags around the house. That took two days. Then we had the major task of tidying up the study (me) and the next door room (Bernie) that looks out, via a tiny balcony, over the garden, and which we always planned to use for a morning coffee on bright summer days… That took two weeks, but both rooms looked wonderful when we’d finished…. Which had the unfortunate consequence of giving us an appetite for getting things done. Hmmm, dangerous that!

An assortment of sweaty garden jobs in the hot sun followed, but finally, there was nothing left of the list but the Saltpetre. Bernie assured me that I would at least have a true man-cave at the end of the job. I saw through this shallow ploy, of course..

Desperately seeking reasons not to begin, I clutched at “But it will cost a fortune!” She just smiled at me – with that inmate skill that women have – and said, “Well, let’s make it a double challenge: don’t spend any money at all…”

She watched the cogs work… I do like challenges.

The day was ending. We had been successful in our work in the garden and opened a bottle of New Zealand white wine. We sat at the garden table, watching the sun descend behind the ash trees and discussing the feasibility of doing ‘Salty Pete’ at zero cost.

An hour and a bottle later, with Bernie agreeing to lead the charge by sorting out the gardening tools, we agreed that it would be fun to try.

It must have been the wine…

To be continued…

The Mouth in Red

There are colours so deep, so pure

They drop beneath the colour word

Into a hue of inner meaning

—-

There are some reds

That are not red, but blood

Not spilled, not end of life

But beginnings

—-

When the red that is not blood

Speaks through the blood that is not red

And spills our life upon the opened palms

Then it is wise to listen

—-

With a listening that is so deep

That red, alone, dares speak

Its name.

©Stephen Tanham