Alexandra had texted me to say that she was already at the coffee shop, if I was around . . . the message also said, “Anything that purports to be a Truth Machine is worthy of a little prep.”
Despite this, when I arrived it was just after 08:30, the car park machine having eaten my first lot of change without giving me back a ticket. It was one of life’s little happenings; the sort that could trigger useless anger – something I very much wanted us to talk about, given the stressful life that I knew Alexandra led.
I arrived to find her sitting at our usual table. Spread out before her was a new serviette, a blank CD, a small ruler and a pen. She had reconstructed our previous drawing with more accuracy than the totally freehand approach allowed, yet was still being true to our principle of the hand’s touch being important.
She fixed me with an amused stare. “Better?” she asked me, with a glint in her eye.
“That’s really quite professional looking . . .”
She passed me my coffee. I sipped it while she filled in the numbers ‘1’ and ‘2’; dividing the arc from ‘9’ to ‘3’ into three equal segments.
“Homework finished!” she said, truthfully. “Now why doesn’t ‘lying’ feature in the list of sins you gave me?”
It was a very acute observation, and no less than I expected. “So is ‘lying’ the only one missing?” I chuckled.
“I looked up a modern list,” she said with a smile, pleased to be one step ahead of me. “It was given as: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony – no lying!”
“Not even in it’s more generic description – ‘deceit?'” I asked, innocently.
continue reading 800 words
She must have been sitting there a while when I arrived for our regular Monday morning get-together. Her coffee was half finished. The one she had bought for me was full, but no longer hot.
“Keen, or am I late?” I asked, with what I hoped she’d see was a warm smile.
She was used to the power of words, to the polarity of debate. She was not about to let the early advantage slip away so easily. So she said nothing . . . the pale brown eyes looked at me calmly.
“Aha,” I said, not wanting to waste her precious half hour before the train, and conscious that, when working with anyone as competent as Alexandra, it’s important to know when to bend. “Okay . . .” I sat down, took a sip from my coffee cup and took my watch off, lying it in front of her. “I thought I was buying?” I said.
In reply, she took out the serviette on which she had done the hasty drawing the previous week.
The circle with the stabbed ‘9’ had faded a little in the pocket of the busy suit, but was quite recognisable. Alexandra rested the point of her pen on the numeral and fixed me with a cat-like stare.
“Stop playing bloody games, you know what I want to know.”
I was ready for the outburst. I leaned forward and whispered, “We can’t start with the ‘9’ signpost.”
“I did and I will, but we have to build back up to the nine or it won’t have as much power as it deserves . . .” Now I wasn’t playing, and she sensed the shift.
“Why are we whispering?” she asked.
“Because the nine and its meaning are part of the secret.”
“The wicked secret? The missing one of the nine that was eight that thinks it’s seven?”
“Yes, that one . . .”
She drank some coffee and looked less bullet-proof. “What can we start with, then?’
“Well, apart from the nine, they are all equally good start points.”
Alexandra sipped some thoughtful coffee, composing her next question. But I pre-empted her:
“What’s your favourite sin?”
“We’re not getting personal, I hope?”
“Not in the least, ‘favourite’ in terms of, perhaps, a fascination?”
When it came, I was proud of her answer. As a barrister, I wouldn’t have expected anything else.
“Lying . . .” she said, softly; suddenly looking very serious. “People lie all the time.”
“Just to others?” I coaxed.
“No,” she smiled, getting my drift. “To themselves, too . . . “
“And which does the most damage?”
I watched the importance of the realisation flicker across her face. “To themselves . . . ” It was one of those moments that tell you that you are most certainly not wasting your time.
“Yes, so draw the nine points on your circle and I’ll show you where lying lives.”
Her brow furrowed, “Nine points, just anywhere?”
“Now come on; why would ‘just anywhere’ not be a good idea?”
“No symmetry?” she replied. “And there’s something deep in the symmetry?”
“Quite . . .”
“But I’m not good at dividing the circumference of a circle into nine lengths of arc.”
I was proud of her verbal precision. “You don’t have to,” I said. “All you have to do is divide it into three and add in some twos”
“Into three is easier?” she was looking troubled.
“It is if you create a triangle, point up, with equal sides.”
She leapt on it. The pen flashed and before us appeared an extension of the wounded nine which had spawned two children, one lower left; the other lower right.
“Very good.” I said.
“I could do it better on the computer?”
“And we will–but for now, the pen is mightier . . .”
I nodded and took some more coffee. “And that’s important at this stage, if we are not to see it as ‘just another symbol’.”
“What is it, really, the ennea-thingy” she asked. Her eyes were giving me that soft look, again–the one that makes me want to tell it all, to satisfy that deep hunger, but I had to make each meeting count, they had said that . . .
“What is it really? I’ll tell you at the end.”
“The end of all these talks?” There was a sadness in her tone.
“No, the end of today’s coffee . . .”
Her face lit up, again. She leaned forward and said, “The home of ‘lying’ – you were going to tell me where it lived . . .”
“On the three.”
“Count clockwise from nine and remember you are missing three sets of two.”
She took a while to think about that, but her fierce intellect worked on it and, with confidence, she filled in the missing ‘one’ and ‘two’ as blue blobs, then labelled the ‘3’.
“There!” She said triumphantly, holding up the serviette, now with the word “Lying” written in lawyers’ block capitals next to the ‘three’.
“Keep on like this and you’ll have the whole schema in no time,” I said, draining the last of my coffee. “Mind you, that’s just the start, without emotions nothing will happen . . .”
She had seen me tap my watch. She folded the napkin diagram back into her pocket. I was proud of the reverence with which she did so. Then, she stood, slipped into her raincoat, and took hold of the handles of the expensive black leather bags, preparing to return to her weekday world; a city-centric world I had retired from, not long ago, to help people understand the ennea-thingy and other, related topics.
“It’s a signpost, don’t forget . . .” I said.
Her eyes were like small fires in their intensity.
“I know, but now that I have a start point, what does it point to?”
There was only time for the simplest of responses.
“To the place where ‘lying’ came from, of course; like a journey taken in reverse . . .”
I watched her wrestle to remember every nuance of my answer. She wasn’t trying to figure it out – not yet – there would be time for that on the train to London, it was the exactness of the memory that she sought, now.
“And the truth of the whole of the ennea-thingy?” She hadn’t forgotten. It was what made her such a delight to work with.
“The truth of it is that the ennea-thingy is really a Truth Machine.”
I waved and watched her carry it with her as she swept out into the wet March morning.
Through the briefly open door, I could see that the sun was trying its best to warm the dark waves of Morecambe Bay.
Nine Deady Sins with Coffee is usually published on Thursdays.
All images and text ©International copyright, The Silent Eye School of Consciousness, 2015.
Contact details and an outline description are on the other pages of this blog and via the website at www.thesilenteye.co.uk
“I read the brochure for the workshop,” she said, trying to look only partly interested.
“Ah, good,” I replied. It’s a long-practiced routine between us, this mutual act of mind-fishing.
She sipped her coffee, waiting for my silence to break . . . Nothing . . .
“. . . And I don’t understand the significance of that funny circle thingy,” she said, irritated that her half hour in the coffee shop was being eaten up by my exasperating ways.
“The ennea-thingy?” I asked, all innocence.
“Yes, dammit, the ennea-thingy!” she whooshed–yes whooshed.
“Would you like me to explain it?” I asked her; then added, looking slyly at my watch, “Well, as much of it as we can fit into the remaining fifteen minutes?”
“Yes . . .” The tone was flat, for fear of losing more time. “I’d like that.”
“From one very interesting perspective, it’s all about the nine deadly sins,” I said, looking earnestly into her hazel eyes and watching to see if she spotted the humour. She didn’t . . .
Instead, she asked, reasonably, “Aren’t there supposed to be seven?”
“There were originally eight,” I sipped my own latté, in no hurry at all. I wasn’t trying to be difficult, but with Alexandra, you have to be slow and deliberate or she would race off at a tangent. I wanted her to digest what I was saying, coming back for more rather than hurrying it.
I continued, “The original list was: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acidia, vainglory, and pride.” I could see her filing them away, her lips moving in silent repetition as her well-ordered mind did its recording.
The wind and rain pounded the seafront cafe’s windows. She glanced up at the streaming glass, frowning at the thought of her onward journey in the rain. She shook her head to clear away the unwelcome distraction.
“But you just said nine?”
“I did. The Desert Fathers, who invented them to protect the core of the teachings in the centuries after Christ, are said to have left out or concealed the hidden one.”
“A hidden sin?” she said, looking at me with snaky eyes. “This is not going to be quick, is it?”
“No,” I replied, “But it will be fun . . .”
“Fun as in a deadly sin?” her grin was wicked. She was returning to form.
“Fun as in the deadly sin as signpost.” I replied, knowing that she would not be able to resist the hint of adventure.
“Signpost . . .”
She drew a breath before saying, “So there were originally eight, but they missed one, so it’s really nine, but the world only recognises seven of them anyway–and all this is about that geometrical ennea-thingy?”
“Precisely!” I said, nodding my encouragement and driving her nuts.
“Where does the first signpost point?” She grasped at it, trying for something concrete she could file away as exhibit A. She was a barrister, after all. I watched her let the air escape from her lungs in a long sigh, calming herself. We had known each other for a long time. I tried to deliver what she needed from my odd and eclectic knowledge, but it wasn’t always what she wanted.
I held up a vertical finger. “Good question.” I said. “The answer depends on whether we start at midnight or not.”
I took off my watch. I had to start being more helpful and less infuriating or I would end up wearing her coffee cup. I placed the watch by her saucer, with the twelve position facing her. “What’s at the top of the watch?” I asked.
“Top . . . Oh I see, twelve!” she said, then added quickly, grasping the point, “As in how we look at it on our wrist–as in not one . . .”
“Just so. We see it every day, but the watch hand begins with the highest number, rather than the lowest–which in this case would be a one.”
“And the ennea-thingy?” she asked, beginning to get my point.
“Begins with its highest number, too . . .”
“As in nine!” she chortled, triumphantly. She grabbed a spare serviette, whipped her pen out of her suit pocket, drew a quick circle and stabbed the pen at the top, turning the wound into a figure nine.
“Just so,” I nodded my approval.
She smiled up at me from a very tigerish half crouch over the table. “So, where does the nine signpost point?”
I shook my head. “It would spoil all the fun,” I said unreasonably.
“Spoil my fun, you mean!” There was a slight flaring of the nostrils. Under other circumstances I would have been in trouble.
“No,” I protested. “Missing your train . . .” I pointed at my watch, still lying on the table near her.
“Sod it,” she grumbled, realising she would have to go or miss her train to London.
“Same time next week?” I offered, as olive branch.
“You’re buying the coffee,” she winked at me, pleased that her mock anger had achieved the desired result. “A week is . . .”
I stole the pause. “Too long, but it will be worth it . . .” I blew my friend a kiss and fastened the watch back on my wrist, smiling as she flew through the door, and out into the gale, bags in hand.
It would, indeed, be worth it . . .
If you’re of the same ‘Boomer’ generation as me you’ll probably remember Allan Sherman’s song from 1963 ‘Hello Mother, Hello Father’. The song only got as far as number 14 in the UK Hit Parade at the time, but has gone down in musical history since, as one of the classics.
If you don’t know it, or you’d like to revisit it, you can hear it free on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jjiWS__Mp0
For those who may not know it, it tells the tale of a young American boy sent off to ‘summer camp’ and hating every second of it. The words of the song are a letter being written to be sent home to his parents at the end of his first day at ‘Camp Granada’.
The opening lines give a flavour of what follows:
Hello Mother, hello father
Here I am at Camp Granada
Camp is very entertaining
And they say we’ll have some fun
If its stops raining
I went hiking with Joe Spidy
He developed poison ivy
You remember Leonard Skinner
He got coming toming poison last night after dinner
I am not at Camp Granada. I am sitting on the floor of our combined, open plan kitchen/living room surrounded by a circular pattern of muddy footprints – a living testimonial to my inability to wipe the new dog’s paws properly; and a warning to those contemplating the combination of dark tiled floors and dog . . . Beside me, strewn across the wooden floor is a small lake, vaguely resembling the shape of Windermere. The water bowl, her favourite toy, is missing . . . but the non-slip (ha!) ring from its base is lying in front of me, taunting.
The ‘puppy gate’ is lying in the hallway having been dislodged by a small but densely muscled collie puppy when she failed to slow an enthusiastic attempt at the world speed record on paw-slippery kitchen ceramic tiles.
The villain in question, Tess, our twelve week old collie. Is staring at me across the floor as if to say, “Well what did you expect, Father, another boring cat?”
“I went hiking with Joe Spidy, He developed poison ivy . . .”
The puppy’s “sister” Misti, our year old Rag Doll cat, is sitting on the edge of one of the sofas, staring at me as if to say, “Did you keep the receipt?”
“And they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining . . .”
Well, yes, we did have some fun – when I took her out this morning. We went for our first walk along the old canal path at the bottom of our garden, as the cover photo shows. The lady in the photo is not my wife, Bernie. The lady in the photo was one of no less than five kindly people I met in the course of half an hour, each of them with a dog or dogs of their own. I thought you might enjoy the shot of Great Dane and our small collie, kindly posed by Helen who held Tess still for a second.
You may have noticed that I am ‘alone’ in this narrative. My darling wife is thirty miles away at Horticultural College in Penrith. This is hot on the heels of me ‘wolf-minding’ for the whole of yesterday evening, while she joined the Silverdale literati for their monthly book club meeting.
This is not ‘my’ dog; though I am doing my best to help. This is Bernie’s dog . . .
In the meanwhile, I am trying write the fourth part of the Silent Eye’s Egyptian-themed mystical weekend which is looming large on the April horizon . . . and, as you can see, failing miserably!
We didn’t keep the receipt. The little darling can’t go back, and no, I don’t mean it. I really do love her to bits, honest . . . I think. It will get better . . . I’m reliably informed . . .
It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow, darling. I’d like a voucher for a long weekend of skiing and sauna style pampering somewhere high in the Swiss Alps, please . . . and a small red Italian sports car to get me there . . .
And woof to you, too . . .
A friend who had never been to one of our workshops asked me recently, “But what’s it really like doing that sort of stuff, is it just make-believe and good company or is there something deeper?”
Much deeper, I was thinking, but you have to say that gently; you have to paint a picture with words and gesture and listen to what’s being said through you, letting the inner speak for itself into that moment. It’s a learned thing, and one whose adoption can be cultured through such things as a gradual reduction in props over the course of year’s talks to the good people of Glastonbury!
“So, tell me again, what happens?” my friend asked, politely. She is the scientific type, though very fond of poetry. “You dress up in Egyptian costumes,” she winked. “I can see the attraction of that . . . and then you read from a script, playing a part for the whole weekend?”
We were talking about the Silent Eye’s forthcoming workshop, ‘The River of the Sun‘ to be held in the beautiful Derbyshire village of Great Hucklow, on the weekend of the 24-26 April this year. This will be the third such event we have run under our own banner, but two others of similar ilk preceded these in our former esoteric lives, both dedicated to the subject of Alchemy.
“Well, yes,” I replied to her well-intentioned question. “But what really happens is that a group of people begin to work together, and that work is very different from normal work. This work is about something that happens between those people as the invisible links between them begin to develop. Those links are intelligent in their own right, as though we are stepping behind a curtain on the stage we build to find that there is a whole inner cast of directors and producers feeding wonderful emotions and insights to the players . . . It’s hard to describe because it doesn’t belong to the realm of words – it’s a type of doing, of action, that doesn’t originate in the brain, and much of the supposed doing is simply stepping aside for something from another realm to have its say.”
“But, if it’s scripted, aren’t you taking away the chance for it to be spontaneous?”
It was an entirely reasonable question, and impossible to answer in a single go. How can you put across the sheer magic of a container designed with love and respect for the laws of manifestation being filled from a different world? But I had to try to give a flavour of that.
“It’s a bit like an engineer designing a system of pipes through which water will flow in a certain way,” I said, seeing her nod and sip her coffee, thoughtfully. “The script is the pipe, it has to be strong enough to hold the flow of water – which can be considerable, especially as the workshop comes to its emotionally tense point on the Saturday night.”
“And then you just leave it hanging?” She said it with a wicked grin. Some times I think people think I’m a touch devious.
“No,” I said, smiling back at her with the same smile. “Then we go to the pub next door . . .”
“Pub? Isn’t that the opposite of the sacred thing you’re trying to engender?”
“Not at all . . .” I sipped my own coffee, enjoying how much she was engaging with the idea of this. “The Silent Eye specifically values the fun side of life. We believe it’s essential to have both. You won’t find any zealots in our ranks – the red wine would kill them off!”
She liked that. I left the silence to flow between us. I could tell she was deep in a consideration of how it would feel to be a creative part of such a workshop – she was used to leading complex situations, particularly management ones.
She thought for a while before speaking again. She is not a dismissive person – skeptical, yes, but open to ideas. Then she asked, “But don’t you feel exposed? Isn’t there a dreadful fear that it might all fall flat on its face, the moment you are all costumed up and it begins?”
I thought carefully before answering that one. Way back, when we began doing these weekends, there had been a fear, an unknowing, but not now. It wasn’t that the fear had disappeared; and the unknowing we had learned to recognise as the presence of Being. All that was needed was to remove the power of the fear and step into the moment, the now.
I wanted to balance the picture she was building. “It’s only half ritual drama,” I said. “The other half is what we call exploration. We talk, and share our human experiences. Usually, these are led by a presentation, but increasingly, we just let the flow take it . . .” I smiled into her furrowed brow. She came, as I did, from the buttoned-up world of managing complex things. It’s a shock to discover that the best results come from utterly spontaneous moments – that inner certainty that the now has all the intelligence we could ever need to ‘deal’ with it. This begs a deeper question but I wasn’t going there. She was being deluged as it was. I wanted a sentiment to close on.
“Think of it like this,” I said. “Imagine you’re in a management meeting with a room full of well-intentioned folk, and you all want to solve the same problem but the words aren’t working and everyone is tired.”
“Yes,” she said thoughtfully, blowing her breath over just warm coffee that didn’t need it. “I’ve been in lots of those.”
“And you decided that you were just going to get them all in a huddle and have a great big hug . . .”
“It’s nice idea, but . . .”
“No buts. Imagine that, just for once, they laughed and genuinely wanted to do it, to remove themselves from the negativity and be in a new, shared space – and for something a million miles from the commercial.”
I could see her wishing that would actually happen more often. She said nothing but nodded.
“Well that’s what a Silent Eye workshop feels like,” I said.
“How much did you say the weekend costs?” she asked, smiling at my ‘close’.
“About the same as your company spends on a posh corporate lunch for four people . . .” I knew that would be true, but I knew that the contrast between a little over two hundred pounds spent that way with the effects of a whole weekend of magical and shared participation would get to her.
“And you take people new to all this?”
“We love having people new to all this, they bring their own freshness – and we’ve never had anyone leave disappointed . . .”
“What were the dates, again?” She asked, softly . . .
The Silent Eye’s 2015 esoteric weekend takes place on the weekend of 24-26 April. You can download a full pdf brochure, including booking form by clicking below:
It is strange how the apparently unconnected can suddenly link up to provide us with a glimpse of a dimension deeper than that in which we normally live. I suspect that, in the great scheme of things, humour does this, too.
It has been a reflective morning. I am mortally wounded – okay, I have a sprained ankle. This means I am ‘having’ to rest on the orders of my doctor – well, okay, my son, who is a doctor, albeit three hundred miles away in London. With the sort of selfless fortitude that so typifies the male of the species, I am carrying on, regardless, when needed.
For instance, this morning. Bernie had important business in Kendal, our local town on the edge of the Lake District. So ‘hopalong’ as, Dorothy of FaceBook has dubbed me, gallantly tapped out a very unequal footprint across the pavements of this ancient town as he supported his wife’s endeavours.
Had Kendal not been half demolished in the rush for modernisation that characterised the 1960s, it would now rank, according to many local historians, with the likes of York and Chester. Even as it stands it is a very pretty little town, full of steep and winding gradients, stone buildings, old and historic streets, snickets (local name for alleyways, often hidden, which defy space and distance to connect two places, much like ancient wormholes), and old-fashioned cafes. And all of this with not a straight line in sight – mainly because Kendal was predominantly shaped by the course of the river Kent, and rivers don’t flow in straight lines, either . . .
We had planned to begin the day with a coffee in the Artisan, which is the rather overstated name of a large cafe on the lower floor of the local Booths supermarket. We arrived a little late and Bernie had to leave on arrival to make her appointment in time. I would continue with the original plan and we were to meet up for breakfast, an hour later, in our favourite Kendal eatery – Baba Ganouche, which nestles at the lower end of one of the prettiest alleyways in the town.
The Artisan had only a few customers so I was served promptly. The young lady looking after me was pleasant and we had a short chat as she brought me my coffee. We had not met before and I could see her taking stock of this ‘new’ (to her) customer. Deep in the delights of the latté, I got out my laptop and began to type down some thoughts for the second ritual drama of the Silent Eye’s coming April workshop, having finished the first – and very dramatic one – the night before.
An hour and two coffees later, I left the Artisan and headed for our appointed meeting spot at Baba Ganouche. It was closed for refurbishment. . . I was now faced with a dilemma. There was no guarantee that Bernie had her phone with her; and if she had, it was unlikely she would hear it – she admits to being difficult to contact in this respect. So, I decided to locate myself in a place where she would practically fall over me on her way to the closed cafe.
The cover shot shows my location – another cafe in the main street whose outside seating (for smokers in winter and everyone in summertime) points to the alley containing Baba Ganouche. All very logical, except it was freezing cold and I didn’t dare move from the spot for fear of missing my wife, whose arrival time was uncertain. A steaming pot of tea was in order, I decided, and nipped into the warm interior to pay for one. It was duly brought out to the smoking area a minute later. I don’t smoke, so I was being regarded slightly strangely by the other occupants of the outside part of the cafe, but I didn’t mind, as I now had my hot tea and some comfort in the waiting process.
Twenty minutes later, I was getting desperate. The cold was gnawing at me, and the remains of my tea had long gone cold. Then two things happened. The young lady who had served me the original coffees in the Artisan swooped down the street at great speed to enter the cafe outside which I was shivering. As she approached I could see she had seen me and was trying to remember where she had last done so. As she got closer she stopped and stared at me intensely for a second. In that moment I could tell that she had concluded that I was a smoker and that I had left the warm and much more palatial Artisan to go and sit in the cold of the main street just to have a ciggie.
As I was registering this intelligent but entirely wrong conclusion, I look across the street to see the back of Bernie’s coat disappearing down the alleyway across, headed towards the closed Baba Ganouche. Too late to stop her, I had to wait until she reappeared and stood, gazing, confusedly, around the street, whereupon she finally spotted me.
“What are you doing there?” she asked.
“Fancy a ciggie?” I asked, feeling that it was appropriate to give in and join the general flow of madness and mayhem.
A moment later, and seeing that she was appropriately confused I abandoned the dregs of the cold tea and took her hand . . .
I am at an interesting stage in the writing of the Silent Eye’s April workshop. We are not up to production, yet. This early stage is about taking the initial ideas and coalescing them into a workable set of five dramas based on sacred temple principles. Each person attending the workshop plays a part; and the core themes are explored by (scripted) acting, forum discussions and personal exploration in the quiet of the lovely Derbyshire landscape.
One of my favourite themes, and one which always features in these workshops, is the notion of hazard. Our lives are full of hazard and yet we view it as a curse rather than a blessing. My eyes were opened to the constructive power of hazard many years ago, when I came across the works of John Bennett, one of the principle students of both Gurdjieff and Ouspensky in the middle years of the last century. Bennett spent the last twenty years of his life attempting to re-write the language in which the the ‘4th Way’ was couched. He said he did this as much for himself as for those who would follow, believing that time had moved on and that it was vital to encapsulate the vital essence of what Gurdjieff taught in a language that could be used for explanation with ‘modern’ people, from scientists to psychologists, but especially to the everyday women and men prepared to invest a little time in knowing why and how they had a large part to play in the creative flow of the universe and how the gates to that were opened by how they reacted to true hazard.
I was considering this, again, as I often do in January as the mental and emotional engine that powers the workshops needs to be cold-started. At the same time, I came across the use of the Greek word Ozymandias, the classical name for Rameses II, a figure that features in our workshop as the very driver of the ‘hazard’ that the participants need to live through.
The reference reminded me of the poem by the same name by Percy Shelley. I once learned this by heart for a presentation I was giving. The words are:
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
“December man looks through the snow to let eleven brothers know . . . that they’re all a little older.”
December is, finally, gone. There is a weariness about January. The comfort and festivities with which we brace ourselves against the oncoming winter have lost their potency – and, thankfully, their habitual power to affect our errant waistlines, for which we now have to atone . . . The tree and glitter are put away, and the howling and cold winds remind us that the spring is yet far away.
“The January man he goes around in woollen coat and boots of leather,” continues Christy Moore, singing on the music machine in the corner of the living room. It was recorded live at the eponymous Vicar Street in Dublin, and is one of our favourite albums, though it has not been played for a year or two.
Humming the tune, I look out on a garden turned to thin greens and muddy browns, and wonder, as I always do in the pale light of the year’s first month, about the sheer effort we have to make to transform this rather empty time of year into the purposeful soil that will bring a rich harvest of time well spent as the sun’s daytime arc overcomes the darkness and tips the fourfold scales of the seasons into the spring.
Aside from the usual family commitments, this time of year comprises the final three months before the Silent Eye’s Spring Workshop. This is our main annual event, held in April, which takes place in the lovely Derbyshire village of Great Hucklow. More than anything else, these weekend events define what the three of us – Sue, Stuart and myself – have both been and what we have become.
Been, because the elements of discussions, shared explorations and ritual drama are a very precise synthesis of where we came from, and what we learned from our past work, spanning many decades. We always honour those traditions in which we learned our craft. Although different, they gave us that breadth of experience which now constitutes the core of the Silent Eye School.
Become, because any attempt to establish a modern mystery school inevitably draws you into an alchemy – both personal and shared – in which you cannot be in the mix of the act of creation unless you are prepared to be changed by it – a sentiment pioneered by Carl Jung.
This year’s workshop, the River of the Sun, is based on a fictional but very spiritual tale, whose context is the real history of the period three generations after the death of the enigmatic ‘heretical’ pharaoh Akhenaten. The creation of such a workshop requires that we let go of last year’s model and reach deep for something new, something which will carry the spirit of the times. The importance of the ‘now’ and its creative flow, was one of the lessons brought home to us during our year-long series of talks given in Glastonbury in the twelve months just finished.
The actual effort to write the workshop – usually running to 150 pages of workbook scripts, plus five talks which reinforce the backbone of the School’s teaching – fills most of what will be the next three months. Five key elements of how the soul evolves will be illustrated by the ritual dramas. These reflect real life, in that certain characters are set up as adversaries. For this year’s plot, the enigmatic figure of Menascare, chief mage and spymaster to the incoming young pharaoh, Rameses II, represents the physical power which intercepts the initiatic life of the Isis temple on the Nile island of Philae. The chief priestess and priest of Isis are suspected of harbouring an inner thread of a different teaching, hidden and protected within the traditional worship of the goddess.
Staring out at the cold and sodden garden, I wonder at the process that will take us from here to there. In practice, we can only begin it. We bring the seed of an idea and plant it into the dark soil of January, trusting that the magic of the winter will nurture it within that subconscious land of Persephone. There, we find the most wonderful of processes at work. The seed of the first set of ideas produces a harvest of a second generation; this is examined and re-planted back in the soil of February.
“February man still shakes the snow from off his clothes and blows his hands,” continues Christy Moore.
The hands are indeed the key, as furious fingers home in on ideas that thaw from the raw stuff of potential, becoming fixed on the pages of the growing scripts.
“The man of March he sees the spring and wonders what the year will bring; and hopes for better weather.”
The process is repeated, producing a crop that is the nearly finished offering, towards the end of March, subject to the fine tuning that ensures that everyone attending has a (scripted) role that they will play for the whole weekend. Thus, their own, growing subjective experience becomes part of the unique alchemical mix.
The man of March has another role. He must make a judgement regarding the point at which the crop will be harvested, the ideas set down on the page, allowing time only for the final tuning and fitting to the confirmed attendees.
“through April rain the man goes down to watch the birds come in to share the summer.”
To share the summer, indeed – or at least the spring. The final group of people arrive in the tiny village of Great Hucklow, where the venue – the Nightingale Centre – is a two minute walk from the Queen Anne, a pub with a warm open fire and warmer welcome. If new, they are made very welcome; and introduced to those sharing the event. Any nerves give way to relaxation and enjoyment as the Silent Eye’s traditional welcoming spirit pervades the gathering.
The Friday night formal beginning to the weekend sees the introduction of each of the characters, as the fast boat of Rameses, carrying Menascare and a phalanx of elite soldiers, glides through the dark night to force an arrogant interruption to the Isis temple space in which the initiation of a young and very special priest is taking place . . .
By Saturday morning, everyone is living their roles, and the magic unfolds. Gone are the walls of the Nightingale Centre, replaced by the living presence of ancient Egypt, as the birds of the spirit emerge from the inner and judge the framework fitting for their purposes . . .
. . . becoming present.
With a sigh that last three months, I am back in the present where all this exists in potential, only. I look out at the sodden soil of the garden . . . But something has changed – there is a heartbeat, albeit a slow one, in the depths of that dark earth.
In the deep of winter and in the hearts and minds of the January ‘men’, something new has begun to germinate . . .
For anyone interested in last year’s workshop, the book “The Land of the Exiles” will give a good idea of what to expect from the Silent Eye’s April event. We look forward to making you very welcome.
You can barely see them, but if you look closely at the image below, you can discern a curved line of ‘orbs’ over the canal bridge in the darkness. These strange things don’t often appear in my camera’s visual harvest, but I’m always interested when they do – the last one of note was in a temple in Egypt.
I’m not at all fanciful about such things. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good scientific explanation for them; but mine always appear during some heightened experience . . .
We were staying at Whittle our old home town in Lancashire. A close friend was helping us put together an impromptu dinner, the sort of unscheduled meal we three have come to love: chuck in a few bits and pieces bought hastily, some cheese of, course, and whatever is left in the fridge to go with it. A few spicy sausages, bread, and that favourite ingredient – two bottles of red wine. We were not going to see our friend and former neighbour over the Christmas period, so this was it; our small, festive celebration of a long and very close friendship.
But that was later. The orbs in the darkness were related to something else – a walk in the “black”. I like to ‘walk in the black’. I’m sure it’s dangerous to go walking, alone on a canal footpath so dark that you can barely see your feet. But so far, my body has not been found floating the following morning.
There’s a treat in it, of course, but that comes later in our tale.
I had been in all day, minding Misti, our stray and now fully adopted cat, who had never stayed at Whittle before, and who was very nervous that she was about to be abandoned, again . . .
I was writing, too, of course. So, if you’ve wondered why my frequency of personal postings has dropped off, its because of the sad fact that I’ve been enjoying myself too much and the students (Companions) in the Silent Eye School have nearly caught me up with the lessons! So head-down time and try and get another lead on them to see us through all the work for the April workshop . . .
But I digress . . .
These ‘walks in the black’ are a good way of clearing the head, after a day’s intense writing; and the canal path at Whittle is one of the blackest places you can imagine – but then, that makes the few lights you see so very special.
I like taking photographs in the dark – throw away the rule book and point and hope. Usually, the exposure required means you have to have a tripod to catch anything of value, but sometimes that old canal post comes in handy . . .
Now, I seldom set off without a contingency plan in mind. I knew I had an hour before we got together for our dinner, and I knew, from many happy memories, that the dark canal path leads, up one of the longest flights of locks in Britain, to a very special pub. The Top Lock is one of those real-ale pubs that refuses to lie down on the tarmac of progress. It’s not exactly spit and sawdust, but it is basic -which doesn’t stop it serving wonderful beer and great nosh. I’m not a big beer drinker, but on a dark night, with the remaining quarter mile to go, those lights beckon in a rather festive way . . .
And so I sat, and thought of you, and then discovered the ‘orbs’ on the played back images, while I nursed down that pint – Cumbrian ale was the guest beer, ironically . . . and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps just to make sure I made it ‘home’.
The walk back crosses over the motorway, and it marks a vivid return to the light, the modern light, where events rush at us at light-speed, and there’s little time for reflection.
And, yes, that pint was worth all the darkness; and the creative solitude in the cold air was worth even more.
If I don’t get chance to say it, again . . . Happy Christmas, everyone.
And Misti sends a Christmas meow.
I’ve written about Ulverston before. This small town on the north-west reaches of Morecambe Bay, close to Barrow-in-Furness, has a special charm. It is not touristy in the normal sense of the word. It’s not even pretty, in a conventional way – but it is full of interest and charm. It helps that it sits to the immediate south of some of the most spectacular scenery in the Lakeland area, and many holidaymakers, fancying a change of scene, venture south into its fascinating streets. The town was also the birthplace of Stan Laurel, of Laurel and Hardy fame.
The history of Ulverston is a working one. It used to be part of Lancashire, but boundary meddling relocated it to the newly-created Cumbria, where it now lives. Its feel is very Lancashire; and the residents pride themselves on the independence of their history – much like the boundary towns between Lancashire and Yorkshire, many of which have had their county boundaries jostled over the past fifty years, causing heartache from folks from both counties.
Ulverston also boasts a proud industrial and brewing history, much of which, sadly, is now gone. It was the centre of the Hartley’s brewing company, and the historic (and listed) brewery buildings are still there, but abandoned, awaiting the right re-development.
Once a year, at the start of the Christmas season, Ulverston celebrates in style, becoming a Victorian market town, once again. A good number of the residents dress up in authentic garb and the whole of the town centre is turned over to the Dickens Fair to mark the start of the season. The length of Market Street – the cobbled main thoroughfare, is closed to traffic, as are many of the adjoining side streets. Stalls are erected in abundance – everything from locally made food, through wood turning to pottery.
As you can see from the photo above, by lunchtime the place is so busy that it is very difficult to move around. For this reason, when we visit, we aim to be there before ten in the morning and plan on leaving – against the tide of incoming visitors on park and ride buses – before one in the afternoon.
|A handsome number of tearooms provide the perfect breakfast for the early starter|
There must be well over a hundred stalls for the event, and the mind gets numbed with the sheer variety of things to see. Here are a few of the them:
One of our favourite tearooms – Gillams, shares the festival street with a local basket maker. The top quality baskets are hand-made and quite costly, but they last a lifetime. We have one, already, and bought another this time for a close friend’s Christmas present.
Many of the shops are period-styled, anyway, so little additional decor is needed
– but a vintage Santa or two helps.
What we have dubbed, the ‘Ingenious Eggs’ lady. These wonderful pottery ‘split eggs’ divide horizontally, into salt and pepper pots, in a pattern that simulates a boiled egg cut by a spoon.
At the top of Market Street is a double marquee which functions as a concert hall. The youngsters in this brass band are from local schools.
More pottery – with a well-dressed family of stall holders.
A wood-turner demonstrates his ancient craft – devoid of power tools.
Elegance of the period – beautifully recreated.
Helpful signage. It’s very easy to get lost, if you’re a first-time visitor.
Locally made fruit juices and cordials . . .
Cakes and bread in abundance . . .
Local cheeses from Cartmel.
And, of course, beer from one of the local micro-breweries.
The attractions are not restricted to the stalls. There are musical performances through the day, and special events are put on for children. What lingers in the memory is the sheer effort that the townsfolk go to to create the atmosphere.
Some very well-dressed Ulverstonians . . .
The old faithful steam truck, originally the property of Hartley’s the local brewery, which was absorbed into Robinson’s Brewery in Stockport, who closed it down.
A bag of sweets for the journey home?
One last look at the iconic clock tower – now part of a bank.