(Greek pottery image from: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Herakles/apples.html)
Over the weekend, one image from the Heracles myth had haunted me – that of the victorious hero wearing the lion skin – particularly the head. The picture of the two heads occupying the same space remained in my mind right up to the moment that I entered our cafe on the Monday morning.
John was there when I arrived; but he was sitting with his back to me, at our usual table, in what was normally my chair. Rose, the owner, nodded to me as I entered the cafe, following my gaze and looking warily at my uncle, as though wondering what madness he was to perform this week.
I advanced on the figure. “That’s my chair,” I said.
“How do you know?” the back said.
I thought about that carefully, looking over his shoulder at the two coffees. Like a sentry to pleasure he barred my way, but without violence.
“Are you going to stand there, forever?” he asked.
“Are you ever going to turn round?” I responded, in retaliation.
“But I’m facing you!”
I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. “No you’re not,” I chortled. “You’re facing nothing …”
“A harsh way to describe an empty chair …” he said. “Come and fill it.”
Something still barred my way – something in me. What was this? What essence of the now lay in this curious arrangement that was becoming more serious by the second, whispering look, look deeper, as I stood there, mute to his request.
“Turn around!” I said, unable to bear the tension any more.
“When you sit opposite me I shall be turned around,” he said, softly.
I heard myself shout, “No you won’t …” And then, in a burst of energy that was part anger and part emotional release, I reached to shake his chair, forcing him to stand and, now grinning, turn to face me – but backing into his usual place as he did so. The effect was surreal. He sat down without speaking, still smiling at me. There was no threat at all, and yet my hair felt like it was standing on end …
“It’s empty,” he said, gesturing to my seat, which had grown in importance to the point of being explosive. “But it’s not the same, is it?”
I sat down, clumsily; disliking this assault on my normality. My face had reddened and I must have appeared confused. I looked around, certain that everyone would be staring at me. As I scanned table after table, I could see that no-one was … except Rose, who held my gaze with an intense power and a deep smile which seemed to urge me on.
None of this was making any sense … and my heart was racing.
“Who are you, now?” he asked me, with nothing but warmth in his expression.
“Who …wha?” I whispered.
“Heracles and his labours …” John said, switching the topic as though he’d just finished chewing a biscuit. “At what point do you think they begin?” He was still moving backwards; becoming smaller as other things pressed into my now.
My lips were moving without words. My mind racing with images of court cases where I had been forced to reach deep into my mental and emotional reserves. One in particular loomed large in memory: a crook – a fraudster – trying to convince the jury that he had not wronged an honest man. His barrister had been so slick, so very clever, and they were winning the case …
“Both chairs were always there …” John’s voice in the background was saying. Be quiet, be quiet. My wordless lips framed the injunction, as the man on the witness stand looked across with confidence at his adviser, and I fixed him with eyes grown full with confidence … because I had seen the falseness of what he was saying; had seen the small hole in the armour they had welded him into …
“Their two-ness is necessary, but only one of them can drive the twin self,” the distant voice droned on. “And when that happens with intent, then the man …”
I was losing it. Things were rushing down a long tube, the end of which was bright – very bright. I opened my mouth to speak and the defendant opened his, forming the same words on his lying lips; his barrister rising to his feet in alarm at the turn of events; at the way the puppet had switched owners …
“Then the man can act from within …” the distant voice said.
The lying defendant spoke the truth, the vital word coming from his mouth, with his barrister screaming behind me and the judge banging his gavel to restore order …
“Then the man can act from within the lion’s mouth, because the man, who was never just a man, can reveal that he was always …”
“The sole responsible party,” said the defendant.
“The solar force,” said the man within the lion’s head.
“The soul,” said my lips; not to a cafe full of disinterested people, but to the far-away relative opposite, who was suddenly closer – so close that I could feel the warmth of his smile; and that of Rose who had come to stand behind me.
Soon after, I was gazing out at the sea. No-one was speaking. My coffee remained untouched. Instead, Rose had brought me a cup of tea, saying, “Hot sweet tea – can’t beat it after a shock like that, love.”
John’s voice was almost subvocal, “And so Heracles begins his labours at the point where he sees that he is …?”
“A soul incarnated in a necessary but devious body, rather than a body aspiring to be a soul …” I said, watching the judge leave the courtroom, shaking his head in amusement; and the guilty man’s barrister slamming his brief case onto the bench.
But the guilty man looked peaceful … more peaceful than I had ever seen him, before.
Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee is usually published on Thursdays.
Steve Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness; a place of companionship, sharing and the search for the real in life, using the loving techniques and insights of esoteric psychology. He retired from a life as an IT entrepreneur to establish the School in 2012, and, having persuaded Sue Vincent to . . .
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