Tender is the Night

It’s a song by Blur and an iconic book by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The latter is autobiographical, and tells of the steady decline of his beloved wife, Zelda, as she descends into madness…

I don’t often write about dementia. But my mother’s own final years are proving to be a similar descent. She’s in a care home in Morecambe, on the seafront with beautiful views across to the Lake District where I can visit her with a short journey from Kendal… in normal times, that is…

The home is now in its third lockdown, following a mysterious and recurring outbreak on one of the upper floors; something that no-one, including the local health authority, seem to be able to get to the bottom of. People in care homes are subjected to far more screening that anyone else in the population, and yet they are the most mentally vulnerable.

The effects on the residents’ mental health have been devastating. My mother’s mental and physical wellbeing revolves around walks along the promenade into the centre of Morecambe. When Covid is not locking her up, she does this every morning, rain or shine. She’s nearly ninety-two and magnificent in her resolve to keep active; both mentally and physically. But the vascular dementia, diagnosed over fifteen years ago, is now approaching an advanced stage.

Because I have spent half my life teaching mysticism, I can see what is happening to her mind in a way that is easier to compartmentalise. From birth to the age of around seven years, we build our sense of ‘self’. Many people can remember the moment when they realised they had a self… and they stood on the edge of a changed and empowered world, full of a consolidated ‘me’ with all its hungers, fears and preferences.

This self strengthens until we mature into adults, then forms a stable layer of interaction with the world. All the ‘voluntary’ aspects of our nervous system are at its disposal. It’s truly captain of the ship, and has control of ‘the life’. It’s not the whole story, as mystical work reveals that there is a ‘higher self’ waiting to guide our lives… but that is for another post and speaks of a realm that requires the lower self to be fully functioning, too.

Part of that self-mechanism is responsible for checking itself. When we are young, we develop a tuned awareness of others’ opinion of what we do, achieve and when we disappoint. This is a conditioning that moulds our lives, and it’s central to how we feel about ourselves.

If mystical training is to be of use, this is the first thing that we need to learn to examine, checking that its values really represent the new and higher life we sense deep within us. Often they don’t; they were kindly imposed by a parental need for us to ‘fit in’ and have now become a prison. But the mechanism survives, albeit in diminished form.

The statistics tell us we are living longer, though given the levels of poverty one wonders why. On this basis, we will all face the slowing of memory and the mind’s logical workings. Are we able to equip our-selves to deal with this, not just for the care of others but also, in some small measure, for us? It’s a radical thought, and not one that psychology makes readily accessible.

Much of this is illustrated by some of my mother’s recent ‘behaviour’ – I hate that word, it makes you think she’s been ‘naughty’ in some way. It’s typical of how society shoves the elderly into a cupboard…

Typical dementia-related behaviour involves loss. Not just loss of memory, but loss of things – usually precious things, though the condition increases the sensitivity of the sufferer to the loss of anything. We’ll look at the reasons for this in a moment.

In Mum’s case, she has been losing things for years. When she was still independent, she would phone me in the middle of the night in a panic to say that ‘the thief’ had been in her house, again, and stolen her stoma supplies. She has a ‘bag’ following a near-death encounter with ulcerative colitis sixteen years ago. She rallied and has lived each day, fully, since then. But the importance of the stoma kit is deeply embedded, and often features in her panic.

Finding the stolen things was usually quite easy for me, my wife or my brother, but Mum’s mind was losing its ability to focus on problems. This is common with dementia, and shows how ‘problem solving’ is layered on top of ordinary thinking, and does not correspond with verbal logic, which usually remains high till near the end of life.

Following a fractured spine, when she fell out of bed while staying with us for a period of rest, we arranged, at her insistence, for her to go into a nearby home in Morecambe. It would take all her savings, but that was money well spent, and we weren’t worried about inheriting anything.

The first few months went well. She settled in, made a few good friends, and looked really healthy. Once Covid restrictions had lessened, the home was happy to let her walk along the prom each day, and she always came back, safely and on time. Her sense of direction – operating at a deeper level than the ability to find things, was (and is) intact.

But then the ‘thefts’ returned. And her fading mind told her that it was because none of the residents’ doors had locks… Item after item disappeared, until one day at the close of the latest partial lockdown, I was able to go in and find them hidden – by her – in her room; and action she had subsequently forgotten.

You could watch her mind working at that point – and what it was protecting was her self. She didn’t want to be ‘mad’. She wanted there to be a reason that she hadn’t been able to find the ‘stolen’ goods. The reason was that the thief was also sadistic and was putting the missing items into places where she wouldn’t be able to find them.

It’s part of the agony of having a loved parent with this condition that, no matter what you do, dementia will find a way of thwarting it. We discussed Mum’s fears with the home, who offered to install a lock in her door. For two weeks, she was gleefully happy, displaying the key on a string around her neck… until the thief returned, and something important went missing.

I walked with her along the seafront, and we discussed her new depression. She told me that she had worked out what was happening. There was a ‘skeleton key’ kept by the staff for safety, and the thief had somehow gained access to it… and continued to do so. At the time of writing, she is a depressed about this as before the introduction of the life-changing key. We are back where we started.

The sadness in watching each new thing we come up with fail is difficult to counter. Professional advice is simply to agree with them when they say something has been stolen. There is no way you can take them out of this perceived zone of peril and insecurity, because its the last thing protecting their sense of self…

When my time comes to face this decline – and I’m sure I will, given the genetics of both mother and grandfather, I want the night to be tender and for that night to know why I need to protect that most precious of possessions – my right to be the ‘me’ I’ve always known. I know that what I’ve been in this life – my personality – will die with the body. But the deeper Self will come to harvest the good of that lifetime, and learn the imbalance of the not so good. Then, we will move on, as the Cosmos constantly does… to new adventures, new learning, new development.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Crown of Leaves

There is within this ring of gold and green a voice

Not of the river rushing by in flood

Nor of the nearby street where cards of early Yule, like fallen leaves

Are themselves passed by, vapid and unloved

The old tree speaks an ancient tongue we recognise

The naked and the dressed are what is sung

The outer life stripped bare by winter, whereas we

Rush to clothe against the growing cold, feeling little

Perhaps our warmth is sign of greater being

A light revealed amidst the crying green?

Perhaps, unable to mature as race

We, as stories of old, will perish in the flood…

The old tree sheds its leaves

The ground around is lit with golden death

Take it, grow and glow, his ancient voice implores

My garments – lay them, wet upon your head

And make of them a wise one’s crown…

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

The Cat and the Executioner’s Block

It’s made of oak and is very heavy. Sir Gawain of the Round Table knelt at it to have his neck severed by the Green Man in ‘Leaf and Flame’, the Silent Eye’s 2016 workshop by Stuart France and Sue Vincent.

I know, I played the part of Sir Gawain, the knight who wanders in search of his death, a forfeit undertaken to protect the life of his beloved King Arthur. It’s a role I’ve played many times in my mystical life, and not through choice – he’s a complex and not always pleasant character.

Gawain doesn’t die, of course, though the huge axe is swung in earnest by his seeming oppressor, following the attempted seduction by his wife. But the blade, with ferocious accuracy, does nick his neck. The small flow of blood satisfies the honour for the act begun Arthur’s packed Christmas Court.

As objects go, it’s definitely mine…except it isn’t…

The small, furry object in the photo, above, is Misti, our exotic rescue cat. “I’ve been expecting you, Mr Bond” is the most frequent comment when people meet her, or even see a photo.

The problem is, for the five years since the workshop, ‘Gawain’s execution block’ as we have come to know it, has been living at the foot of the stairs next to Misti’s feeding table, which is raised to prevent Tess, the collie, from stealing her food. We only put it there out of expediency, but soon Misti was using it as a kind of high-speed runway to complete her frequent dashes around the house…ending, paws up, on her bowl.

If you have a cat, this manic behaviour might be familiar.

And so Gawain’s execution block stayed where it was. Until recently, when with the approach of the winter months, I decided it would be better restored to its original position by the door, thereby allowing us an easier position for tying the laces on our outdoor boots – essential equipment if you live in a muddy Cumbria.

The cat agrees. She can have much more fun by the door, she says, it’s a wooden block for heaven’s sake. Which just shows the power of the imagination. And cats…sigh.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Stepping back from the noise

Are we losing the spirit and purpose of quietness?

Quietness and privacy are intimately linked. We need that space inside us that can’t be intruded upon. It’s a place to go when we must make the most important decisions of our lives.

Are we are losing the art of privacy? Perhaps even losing the idea of a right to privacy? The result is that we are further enmeshed in the ‘machine of society’ that appears to be the world ‘out-there’; something that, from a spiritual point of view, is deadly, for it robs us of the only true source of knowledge about our real selves.

Much of this is fuelled by the digital age. Most people have far more digital connections than actual friends. Spending time with our digital friends is easy – we just sit down with our device and that cup of coffee, and message, share emails or even video-talk face to face… There is another sense of ‘needing to’ here. There is an expectation that, since we are part of this or that group, we need to spend time within it, to help keep it functioning.

It’s not the real thing, but it’s a significant part of the real thing. My son’s family live in Australia, just about as far away as you can get. We have visited, but not recently, due to Covid. The years are passing, and the joy of being face to face with our two young grandchildren is deeply missed. But at least we have the ability to make video calls, which maintains some semblance of connection. In this sense, the connectedness is a good thing. We are choosing to use the only link we have to connect. Privacy is not an issue.

But our relationship to social media is a much more complex thing. If we have achieved a stable adulthood we have the discrimination to know when to ‘pull back’ and live in the real world. But our children are growing up in a world where the expectations in digital space are just as powerful as we used to have in the school playground. There is, in the child’s mind, very little differentiation between a conversation in reality – with all its subtleties of non-verbal communication – and one carried out in cyberspace.

Recent allegations about social media have revealed an institution that is alleged to take a middle-ground opinion and steer it towards an extreme view; and this deliberately designed into the algorithms that govern what we see. To an adult this is dangerous – few of us have the time to really research a political situation, so we look for a ‘trusted’ source of condensed research. To a child, it’s deadly; forming early views that can become fanaticism: like the shooting of others in a college gardens… Once, again, the healthy mature mind is not in danger; but a mind nudged towards an extreme is.

With governments, the position of social media is even more scary. Good government is by consensus and encouragement, not the imposition by authority. The police, as tools of the state, walk a fine line between the democratic and the overbearing. With social media, we have the authoritarian’s perfect tool: a mechanism to sway opinion to a degree that will ensure a manipulation of democracy – with lies, of course; but lies wrapped up in memes that appear to make clarity of complex situations.

Life is complex. The patterns of the truth, like those of lies, must be arrived at with long consideration, for they will form the basis of how we make decisions that affect the rest of our lives.

We are not just sponges that absorb other people’s hatred. We are complex beings who take in information in a variety of subtle ways. The truth is part of that distilled information if we let it be so. If we are consumed by the prejudice inherent in whoever is paying the social media big bills, then we are not using what nature has provided us with – the ability to think, feel and decide for ourselves.

It may be that the digital age was always going to be a pathway to doom. But equally, it can be democratic and ‘info-cratic’. It need not reflect the lower part of our individual humanity – the base reactions and unthinking, inherited opinions. Most of us are not like that, anyway – except when we’re lazy and don’t take the time to value truth. Some don’t want the truth; they are happy with the sideswipes and sleaze of the ever-present gutter-press and the new gutter-bytes.

All the world’s a stage, Shakespeare wrote; now perhaps a loud concert. With the volume at max the chances of having a deep relationship with our own thoughts and true feelings is minimal. But we can ‘package’ that external noise into a single ‘thing’. And by seeing it like that and seeing that it is not ‘us’, we can push it away to a safe distance… and spend some time with the loving and deeply considering being we really are.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Pale sun into a hallows pool descends

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

The inner cat

I’m not fond of practical jokes. They’re usually performed by people – famous or next door – who you’d cross the street to avoid.

But there is a level of trickery that can be justified as long as one is prepared to face the consequences…and only as a matter of important principle.

My lovely wife, Bernie, would tell you that my most ‘celebrated’ example of this was during a holiday in Cyprus, many years ago. On the first morning, we awoke to find a parade of cats on the patio. Mindful that such places are full of hungry strays, we simply stared out of the patio doors at them.

Secure in the knowledge that they had our attention, most of them left; leaving an elegant ginger pair: father and son, to parade around our pool before junior was ceremoniously dumped on our doorstep as the ‘lion king’ went about his reproductive business elsewhere.

I’m a sucker for cats… this little fella gazed up at me as if to underline my duty for the next ten days: feeding him…

My blinking eyes accepted this miracle of causation, and I turned to my wife, who knew well my weaknesses.

“No!” She said “We are not feeding that kitten!”

I closed my mouth and let my brain engage the little used room in my mind labelled ‘necessary deceit’…

Through a union of loving gazes, we reached an understanding, little Oscar and I. He ‘agreed’ not to come into the villa, and I undertook to find a way of feeding him.

Bernie knew I loved tinned tuna, so she was not surprised when, on a trip to the local supermarket that afternoon, I bought six tins. “They will make a quick snack if we don’t want to cook,” I said, casually. From then on, I made sure to make no reference to the stack at the back of the larder. Had my wife picked them up, she would have discovered that the lower ones were remarkably light. Using them to feed little Oscar, I was gradually washing the tins – thoroughly, then returning them to the bottom of the stack.

My duplicity was not uncovered until the end of the holiday, when, having our last home-cooked meal on the patio, the original theatre troupe of cats re-appeared and took their places on the seats around the large table…

I’ve never taken drugs, but I would imagine this is the kind of thing you see if you do. My pathetic attempts at “Shooo!” Were met with derision, as one of the she-cats moved over to let little Oscar take his place.

Surreal doesn’t begin to describe it.

I turned to see my wife arriving with the main course. She placed it down and gave me ‘that look’; then poured herself a large glass of red wine.

“There’s a story here, and I have all night to watch this steak, baked potatoes and salad ruin,” she said.

My intra-family courage has seldom matched my ingenuity… I confessed all. She even applauded my motives amidst her laughter. The fact that little Oscar had kept his part of the bargain and not urinated in the villa, nor anywhere near the patio, must have swung it.

The expensive piece of gold jewellery purchased for her in the departure lounge, the following day, was over-reported, in my opinion….

Which brings us, rather obliquely, to today.

The present Mrs Tanham, as Terry Wogan used to say, referring to his one and only wife, was exhibiting a rare streak of what psychologists used to call ‘obsessive-compulsive’.

We were at the end of our weekly shop in Grange-over-Sands. I say shopping, but my job is to walk the collie while she dashes, in a very structured fashion, around the excellent local shops.

We’re a bit older than we were in the Cyprus years and have no doubt developed various annoying traits that are to be found in any successful marriage.

“The one with ‘V’ on it is yours,” she said, needlessly, returning to the car with two coffees in a cardboard papier-mâché tray. I like a shot of vanilla with my tall latté; and a coffee at the car has come to be the Covid- era treat that a snack used to be.

I settled Tess, our collie, down in the back and closed the tailgate.

“You need to get in the car so I can pass you the coffees.” Bernie said. “Yours is the one with the ‘V’ on the lid.” I said nothing. Seconds later, she passed me the tray of two coffees, one with a ‘V’ on it. As she closed the door and began to cross round the back of the car, I looked down at the two coffee cups and the two lids, one with a ‘V’ in it, resting on the centre console.

She slid into the drivers seat. I pushed the coffee tray slightly towards her. The protest was immediate: “I told you yours was the one with the ‘V’ on the lid!”

“I’m sure that one will suit you best,” I said.

Exasperated, she didn’t try to read the mirth in my eyes, but reached over and took the other coffee, She flicked the lid off and took a large sip…

“You switched the lids…” she whispered; but couldn’t suppress a small laugh.

“Cats and tuna tins,” she chuckled… taking another and larger drink of my coffee, a slow smile spreading over her face. “I could develop a liking for this…”

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Emerging from the Mist…

There’s a certain amount of ‘fighting back’ in this. The long period of Covid restrictions, followed by a summer in which we all got a taste of gentle freedom again; the sad death of the ‘third musketeer’, Sue Vincent, in March of this year; the inability to hold our regular workshops in the mystical landscapes of Britain…

But then there were positive things: learning – and continuing to learn – the techniques that make Zoom a powerful tool for holding get-togethers across the planet in a way that eliminates cost and distance – though not time; the emergence of new people, in particular a lady from Canada who we will be introducing as part of the team in the next few months. Caroline is already at work updating the three-year course with which we literally accompany those willing to work on themselves and their relationships to ‘the world’, in order to enter a new land of the mind and heart.

And finally, the sheer sense of determination and creative energy that we all feel, the flush of new ideas, and an absolute conviction that we need to not just carry on, but expand the work of the Silent Eye.

The first of these was the Healing Circle, a combination of group meditation and focus, and the mental and emotional creation of a place of working. We had the help of a lovely artist and friend, Giselle Bolotin, who lives in Australia, to paint a beautiful motif for the endeavour, reproduced below. Our own Barbara Walsh stands guard and guide as our high priestess of a beautiful and gentle place that does not physically exist in this realm, but is a solid reality in another – as many who have received its healing assistance will testify.

(Above: the Healing Circle motif, created by Giselle Bolotin for the Silent Eye)

And then Stuart returned from many years working in South Yorkshire to his native Lancashire, meaning that, with me just over the northern edge of that fine county, the two of us could meet on a much more regular basis, and perhaps over the odd glass of Guinness or two…

These more regular meetings have enabled us to focus on the immediate needs of the School, particularly in dovetailing what we do on our monthly Silent Eye Explorations evening, held over Zoom, on the third Saturday of each month. It’s a coming together of interested people – not all from the Silent Eye’s world – but people who understand the importance of such a gathering, regardless of time or place. It builds an ‘egregore of the mind and heart’ as an old mentor and friend once said… The Zoom meetings – Silent Eye Explorations (a Facebook Group) is open to all. We welcome new visitors.

The third is the return of the workshop. We cannot predict what the currently increasing Covid rates will do to restrictions in the coming winter, where Zoom meetings may again be the only way of meeting, but we can look forward to the spring and the potential for having a completely new style of workshop; one that does not rely on the use of a hall, or conference location. We dearly miss our visits to the heart of Derbyshire, and the Nightingale Centre, but Covid and understandable inability to travel has forced us to look at a different formula. That ‘old style’ of hands-on workshop may have become a luxury that few can take advantage of. It’s our duty to explore the alternatives.

Our landscape weekends, which did not rely on a certain number of attendees to play the dramatic roles we had scripted, have always been popular and financially viable. So, we thought, let’s combine the two ideas and have a big one, where people don’t take on dramatic personas but play… themselves. Our last Zoom meeting was inspired by the work of Joseph Campbell, who used the word ‘monomyth’ to show that the world’s myths and legends had a commons meta-story at their heart. This generic ‘journey of the hero’ will be the basis for next May’s journeys in the landscape in the northern Lake District. Each person will become their own hero, during several experiences over the weekend of 6-8 May 2022,

(Above: The Journey of the Hero – weekend of 6-8 May, 2022)

Viruses willing, we will emerge from next winter to a bright May morning where an international gathering of spiritually inclined people will follow a mysterious trail through lakes, mountains, waterfalls and, most of all, a silent language of ‘movements’, each one building on the previous until we culminate the power of this in a final visit to the magical stone circle of Castlerigg, high in a natural ring of mountains and surrounded by nature’s grandeur.

Our final project is in honour of our departed Director, Sue Vincent. The three of us often discussed the power of the traditional Tarot images to convey many of the deeper aspects of the mystical journey towards the deeper Self. We wondered if we had the capacity to create a set of ‘oracle cards’ for use by ourselves and our student/companions. The Silent Eye uses the enneagram, rather than the Kabbalistic Tree of Life as its teaching basis. Any such project would have to reflect the unique and circular basis of the enneagram, rather than the vertical down-up structure of the Tree of Life.

(Above: the Silent Eye’s Teaching Enneagram – the basis for the coming Oracle)

At the time, we parked it. Sue was uncertain that she had the artistic skills to do it, and we decided that we would be better equipped to scope it when we had a generation of companions who had made the three-year journey with us. We are in discussions with an artist of great skill, whose work has often been this type of vivid depiction. By the time of the spring workshop in the northern Lake District, we should be well on with the project and ready to give an update. Who knows, we might even be able to use some of the prototypes oracle cards for the weekend…

The mist is certainly clearing. It appears there is a lot to do… wish us luck!

The associated links are at the end of the post.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Links:

Contact points and web addresses for the Silent Eye’s work:

Click the link below to visit the Healing Circle meditation. Contact us on the link at the end of the page for more information or assistance.

The Silent Eye Healing Circle

Silent Eye monthly Zoom meetings

The monthly Silent Eye Explorations Zoom meetings are open to all. The documentation for this is on the Facebook Group ‘Silent Eye Explorations’. As Facebook is a closed environment, you will need to click the link requesting to join the group. We will then authorise you, and you will be able to see the previous meetings and join us in meetings to come. These are held on the third Saturday of the month at 8:00 pm.

For more information on any of the above, email us at rivingtide@gmail.com

Arnside and Autumn Pastels

(Above: Arnside at low tide)

At first glance, it has something of the ziggurat about it. In reality it’s the final bit of Arnside’s Victorian pier, taken from a short distance back in order to include part of the famous viaduct – nearly 1600 ft – that links Arnside with Grange-over-Sands.

Arnside has the kind of beaches that you’d rather photograph than paddle from. The sands around here share Morecambe Bay’s treacherous reputation. The danger comes from two directions: the estuary is the outflow of the rivers Kent and Bela. The Kent being so powerful that it has carved deep gorges in the limestone rock in its approach to the sea – this over rather a long time, admittedly…

The other is the strength of the incoming tide, which crosses Morecambe Bay with a speed faster than a galloping horse.

Frequent trains cross the Arnside viaduct, linking it, south, to Manchester and northwards to Barrow in Furness.

I love it, as you can probably tell… The whole landscape of estuary, cascading village, station and viaduct reminds me of an boy’s ideal model train set! Not that I’ve had one of those for a very long time…

It’s also a great source of good photographs – in particular sunsets, of which I must have hundreds in my iCloud online storage. Today, while taking the collie for her morning walk, the pastel colours of the October sky reflecting in the calm waters of low tide were the epitome of autumnal stillness.

(Above: a very calm Arnside)

Not that it’s always quiet… During daylight hours, the peace of Arnside village is disturbed by a series of very loud klaxon noises. These mark the turning of the tide – fed by the powerful currents in nearby Morecambe Bay. At very high tides, the klaxon is also used to signal the approach of the estuary’s own ‘bore’ – a single wave that travels inland, often for miles. It’s not as dramatic as that of the river Severn, but is a fascinating sight, and people travel to Arnside specially to see it.

(Above: The way to fine coffee…)

There is a safe place for the collie to chase her ball; it’s near the entrance to the village and forms a kind of wild park on the foreshore. When she’s exhausted with that, we walk though the town and along the shore path to a newly-opened tiny cafe set back in the rock in a steep path that takes you into the posh residential part of Arnside. It’s run by two young women who do their own baking. It offers some of the best coffee for miles around… and they sell home-made Cornish pasties… I admit it’s not your usual breakfast…but I always make sure I am hungry when we go.

The cafe is take-away only. It is too small to do much else. Clutching what we have come to call our ‘Arnside brekkie’, we walk a little way down the estuary to a favourite block of limestone which boasts an accidental cup-holder, and I spread out my walker’s padded mat to get a degree of comfort.

(Above: that Cornish Pasty moment…)

And then it’s back to the village with a wistful glance at the rapidly filling estuary. The drive home can wait a few more minutes while I finish the last of that coffee, and reminisce about the pasty…

(Above: the final few minutes of calm before the tide begins its race)

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

The tree and the bay

We walk from the car park in the centre of Grange-over-Sands to get to the ‘high corner’ that looks down to the park – the collie’s favourite grass area – and, beyond, the fabulous lone tree that shapes and defines the vastness of Morecambe bay, seen from the north, whereas most shots are from the south…

And the bay was shining. Literally shining, in a way that’s unusual in October. So I just flicked the iPhone out of my pocket and snapped a dozen shots off before the freak light died, knowing that I was way too far above the park for the photo to be crisp.

And I was right… however, some shots are amendable to post processing with a kind of ‘soft treatment’. Half an hour of experimenting and there it was. The glow protected – even enhanced – by the clever digital effects.

Nothing to do with me. I just pressed the right buttons in the right sequence. Sometimes, you get the breaks…

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Blood, gold and silver

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Web over Cumbria

It was late Friday afternoon – two days ago. I set off with Tess for our usual evening walk; now getting earlier each day to capture that last bit of, hopefully, sunlight.

Over the stone wall, something shimmered in the golden light. Something silver.

It took me back several hours. I hadn’t paid it much attention at the time. Two tradesmen loading their tools into the back of a transit van on Morecambe’s seafront. One had said: “Look, there’s snow on the mountains!”

I had smiled… the iPhone had earlier revealed it to be 19 degrees. Not likely there would be any snow on the Howgill Hills at which the man was pointing. But I looked, anyway.

He was certainly right to draw attention to it. The brightness reflecting off the far-away hills looked like exposed limestone; only I’d never seen such a reflection on the usually verdant Howgills, before. Strange…

I filed it away under ‘unsolved’ and we continued with our journey to collect Bernie’s sister. That had been several hours ago.

Our dog-walk takes us along the old canal path and out into a broad field that the 19th century boatmen described as offering the best view of the whole length of the Preston-Kendal waterway.

(Above: the shimmering fields)

The silver shimmering glimpsed over the fence was revealed to be an entire covering of what looked like a spider’s ‘sheet-web’.

(Above: Shimmering as far as the eye can see)
(Above: the surreal webs covering most of the meadow)

I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve researched it on the internet and the only match is a spider the size of a thumbnail called Darwin’s Bark Spider. It can shoot it’s web strands for up to 30 metres.

(Above: my web-encrusted walking boots)

Back home, I put the photos on FaceBook, and asked for advice on the origin of the webs. Most if my friends had never seen anything like them, either. Then someone suggested consulting a specialist ‘spider-Ident’ site, which I was able to join, immediately. Within tow hours, I had the answer…

The webs were ‘sheet-webs’ and created by thousands of tiny money-spiders. The season has been mild and so this is happening later than normal.

The spiders are so tiny, they are very difficult to see, which adds to the exotic mystery!

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Midnight Mask

I’m not a fan of horror films. Many are simply exploitative, and the genre in general has normalised extreme violence.

But once in a while I come across something that, to me, is exceptional, and only in the genre of ‘horror’ out of misunderstanding; or even better, because the ‘film’ has two layers of meaning… and if you stick with it, you get to the second, deeper one.

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, although sci-fi and not horror, was a case in point. It was really about the ultimate evolution of the human race – in the face of its imminent extinction, though that was much easier to ‘get’ if you’d read Arthur C. Clarke’s book – which came after the film, which was jointly produced by Kubrick and Clark. Many people who watched the film had no idea what was really going on…

We’ve recently finished watching the Netflix series of ‘Midnight Mass’, and, though this is classified as a horror/mystery film, it’s really something a lot deeper.

A charismatic young priest arrives on an island some miles off the coast of Maine on the eastern seaboard of the USA. The small Crockett Island is much diminished from its former days of being a fishing haven. Spillage from an oil tanker several years prior has reduced the standard of life to general poverty.

The Catholic Church on the island used to be the centre of its life, but is now sparsely populated. Drugs have found their way into the lives of the younger people; ‘pushed’ into their meagre existence by a couple of low-life types who masquerade as fishing boat mechanics.

As if that wasn’t enough, all the cats on the island are disappearing.

The film’s opening takes place in a quite different location: New York. We later find that the man siting in handcuffs on the pavement between his wrecked sports car and the police vehicle is the emigrated son of one of the fishermen on Crockett Island. Across the glass and metal strewn street, we see the dead body of the girl he’s just killed in the crash – caused by his being drunk. The image of the newly-dead girl, her face encrusted with fragments of shimmering glass, reflecting like jewels, is to haunt him for the rest of the film.

Later, we discover that he’s a successful investment banker on Wall Street… was a successful banker, because he’s sent to jail for several years for causing the death of the girl whose image now follows him.

We fast-forward to the day of his release from prison, when he arrives on Crockett Island on the mainland ferry, to return to life with his ‘only friends’ – his parents. His arrival coincides with that of the sudden appearance of a charismatic young priest, whose mission is to revitalise Crockett Island’s small church, and restore the once-vibrant spiritual life of the remote community.

The banker is now reduced to living with his family and being a poor fisherman, again. While the priest enjoys enjoys a rise to local fame – and a full church – with the aid of a series of miracles, although his health seems strangely suspect. As the congregation grows, we see the rise of the usual suspects – the zealot (a woman Deacon) who considers the rest are not holy enough; the town mayor, getting in on the act and asserting his temporal importance; the local violent drunk, whose only soft spot is for his beloved dog.

But the priest keeps ahead of this, and, each week, challenges the congregation to increase their efforts to ‘imitate Christ’. Soon, the church is full. Even the disgraced banker attends; at the behest of his father, though he will not take the communion wine.

Gradually, the entire life of the island gets drawn into this new pattern of life and worship; until, one morning after a storm, the beach is found to contain a long line of all the dead cats that had gone missing…

I’ll not spoil the story, whose plot is clever and surprising. But, throughout the film (series) you can feel what’s happening, even if you don’t understand it. The direction is subtle and sinister – while remaining deeply understated.

Sufficient to say its conclusion is shocking in the extreme, but not for the sake of it. It becomes the meeting and clash of two worlds: the vision of the priest for his flock versus the reality of what’s happening behind the scenes.

The dreadful confrontation between what’s been killing the cats and the full congregation is difficult to watch, but has a purpose way beyond violence. In that conflagration is shown all the best and worst of human nature and the crisis results in a condition where most of the island’s people are faced with possible death.

At the centre of this is the relationship between the disgraced banker and his former girlfriend, from when he lived on Crockett Island, There is a beautiful late-night scene where the two of them talk about their respective views on death and the afterlife – a motif repeated at the very end of the film, as the sun rises on the beach, where the remaining islanders are lined up to greet it…

The purpose of this blog is not, generally, to promote films, but the underlying wisdom of ‘Midnight Mass’ is beautifully and bravely crafted, and results in an ending filled with hope and wisdom, rather than the usual ‘vengeance’ aftermath of such scripts.

The film is also about ignorance, and those who follow what they want to hear, rather than seeking the reality – the truth.

You can’t describe it as a ‘feel good’ film, because it’s too shocking. But you can describe it as a brilliantly crafted story – filled with redemption, in the deepest sense.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

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