The rotating blade of meaning (1)

 

helicopter-meaning blog - 1

You have probably never heard of him. He was an engineer by training. He was the primary inventor and developer of the Bell helicopter, which made the promise of point to point flight a reality – though it had been discussed for centuries beforehand. This inventor, engineer and scientist was from an age when a few scientists could still challenge the overall approach of modern science – with its focus on the smaller and smaller, and lack of vision of the ‘whole’. They are almost gone as a species, so, in this series of posts, I’d like to pay tribute to Arthur M. Young and explain in non-technical language how important his work was… and is.

He was also, and unusually for a scientist, a master astrologer…

Despite being skilled in engineering and mathematics, Arthur Young returned to university as an adult to study Quantum Physics, recognising that here was something that completely altered the way we should visualise the world. He was fascinated by the consciousness potential of the relationship between the ‘observer’ and the ‘observed’, something that science had tried to ignore for centuries. This dismissal was brought up, sharply, by Quantum Theory, which proved that only the presence of the observer allowed the presence of the object to be ‘measured’. In other words, proved it was there… but not alone.

Helicopters make people nervous. They are  heavy objects, oddly shaped and dangerous looking. When flying, they would plunge to the ground if the massive rotor, above, stopped working or broke. We can think of a plane as being safer because it has fixed wings that give it the theoretical capability of gliding back to Earth. Most of them don’t. For both planes and helicopters, the focus is on making sure that they are reliable and controllable in a failsafe way, and, for helicopters, that controllability is a very complex thing…

Given Arthur Young’s involvement in the development of the small, commercial helicopter, it’s not surprising that he was focussed on this central aspect of control. We will see, later, how this led to startling revelations that bridged physics and philosophy.

Consider the opening photograph. It shows an Art Deco style wall lamp, caught in a beautiful moment of rainbow colour coming into the living room from a clear winter’s day, outside. It has its own beauty, and that is what draws us to it. It has a complex shape that can be considered at differing levels of detail. Some of these details (properties) are objective – they can be measured by science and classified into such properties as material and shape.

Some of the properties are subjective – they only mean something to us – the observer. If I wanted to break down the ‘stages’ of knowing the wall-light lit by the rainbow, I might deliberately ignore the feeling of beauty and its minutely shifting colour, and examine only the overall form of the object. Its fundamental shape is an inverted triangle. I know enough about the delicate glass from which the ‘saucer-shaped’ leaves are made to be concerned that they are easily broken. With that small set of information, I feel I know the material content of the object; I could describe it to someone else and they would get a good picture in their minds.

The world of science is concerned only with this latter description: the inverted triangle – the form of the object, and the chemical material from which it is made. Arthur Young called this the formal description. Science is focussed on this level of knowing because is the only one that is objective: that is, not dependent on how we see something (bad mood, poor eyesight, colour-blindness, etc.) Using this formal description, science can categorise the object, and make it part of a common set of things – a very important process.

But the human, awakened to the form and beauty (or not) of the world around them, has a much richer experience. I understand the objective nature of the inverted triangle and the delicate chemical composition of the fragile leaves, but I’m staring in wonder at the texture of the glass and how it is reflecting the rainbow. I lean closer and find that the glass has a faint but definite smell to it. It’s clinical but not unpleasant.

These are subjective impressions. Science could never reproduce them because they belong to me, to you, to anyone with sense organs. We all experience these things differently, but we can try, with language, with photography,  writing, art or poetry to convey that this is not simply an inverted triangle made of fine glass; it is a rich experience and unique in the entire history of the universe… You could experience something similar, but the fine details would belong only to each of us, differently–and they would change the event. We seldom consider this power we have – be a unique observer of the universal beauty all around us. We, whose bodies are made from the atoms created by ancient exploding stars, must come close to our zenith when we find such beauty and stop our everyday consciousness to ‘be’ with such it.

Science is not deficient in its lack of concern for this; it’s simply that the full experience of the observer cannot be reduced to numbers… The collective mind that created numbers can never be subservient to them.

So far we have encountered the formal description of the object: the inverted triangle and the chemical properties of fine glass. We have also used our sense organs to experience the way the rainbow light shimmers on the petals of the lamp, and we have even smelled the glass. These sense impressions come from the object. They may be slightly different to each of us, but the properties from which they issue belong, also, to the object. Our object therefore possesses a formal description and specific sense impressions. The formal description could be shared, using shared language or mathematics, with anyone. The sense impressions could not, but could be likened to something else in our experience.

Step back and the experience of being an observer has two main aspects. There is a ‘me’ and an ‘it’. The experience of the wall lamp is deemed to be ‘out-there’, but the knowing resides ‘in-here’. I am helped, by the formal description, to recognise or locate the object, even if I’ve never been in that room.

Young said that, to realise the process and the power of knowing it is vital to (initially) separate our aspects of experience in this way. When we consider the received information and the sense data from the object, two more things happen in our perceptive mind. The first is that we place a value judgement on the experience – perhaps I am in awe of the beauty of the rainbow on the lamp. Without rationally considering it, I feel moved by an emotion, a kind of joy that this rare impression of living perfection is present.

The second ‘in-here’ aspect is the purpose of the object. In this case it’s not to show off rainbows, but to give light when evening comes. In other circumstances, my knowing of the lamp would have been part of the inventory of the capabilities of the room. Arthur Young named this the function. These two ‘in-here’ aspects belong to the observer, not to the object. We project them onto the experience based on our learning. Young called this kind of aspect projective, and the aspects belonging to the object, alone, he called objective. Where something in an aspect was specific, he used the term particular; where it had a shared nature, he named it general.

If we unravel the above example, there emerges a process of incremental perception which, conceptually, looks a lot like the opening of the famous Russian dolls:

  • Aspect one, which is an inverted triangle shape, made of a chemical structure of fragile glass.
  • Aspect two is the contents of the above plus the sense impressions belonging only to the objective nature of the inverted triangular shape (its colours, shades and smells)
  • Aspect three is the subjective experience of all the above plus the feeling of beauty and awe I have when my attention and perception is captured by the occasion.
  • Aspect four would be all the above plus the function of the wall-lamp, which, in this case, has been subverted by the unexpected rainbow… exactly what happens when we open ourselves to the possible in real life!

These four aspects therefore comprise: formal description, sense data, value and function. The first two are objective (‘out-there’), the second two (‘in-here’) are projective (subjective).

We can put these into a table for easier reference:

screenshot 2019-01-16 at 10.53.44

The creation of this was not a casual work. Arthur Young tested it against all the situations he knew of, in both a scientific and philosophical sense. He determined that it was a universal description, an ‘anatomy’ of how we perceive and how we ‘know’. These four stages – aspects – of knowing were at the heart of being human, they were not only the containers of what we learned, they were how we learned.

Four was an interesting number and features predominantly in the ancient mysteries. ‘Fourness’ is a key part of how mankind has conceived of the universal divisions of experience. Fourness is one of the keys to Astrology, in the form of the ‘Elements’ of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. For Arthur M. Young, an astrologer as well as a scientist, the notion of fourness at the centre of human experience was about to take him on a mind-expanding journey…

To be continued…

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

 

 

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Becoming Nothing

‘Become Nothing’

He didn’t use those exact words but that was the meaning of what he wrote. The words were suddenly there in the moment in my consciousness… and I knew they were right.

I had been reading a piece by Krishamurti – that fearless enemy of dogma, and proponent of the individual’s right to find their own spiritual path.

It does involve a certain amount of bravery – to contend with that feeling of ‘going against’ those of wisdom, those from whom we can learn, perhaps those of a tradition in which we were raised or trained. But that wasn’t Krishnamurti’s point; he didn’t deny anyone their well-found wisdom, rather, he urged each one of us to find our own… not second-hand knowledge. And to do that, the only way is to go out there and play with the universe; but play with a spirit of intent. And this is where it gets a little complex… until you see the whole of what he was saying…whereupon it gets very simple.

When you play with the universe, you do so in a way that stares in wonder at what you see. There’s a grown thing, covered in rust and tar and road rage; and it’s stuck onto our eyes, forming a film. This gritty, dirty, bitten lens imbues everything we try to see with its sticky waste. Staring in wonder at what you see is the cleaner that wipes the dirty grown thing from our eyes. For most, it happens in little stages, but there are some who ‘take the kingdom of heaven by storm’. They have a moment – a surging, brilliant moment that melts and washes what is keeping them from looking at the world, a universe that is alive and waiting to respond, personally, to their presence, their conversation, their love…

And when you find that relationship with what used to be ‘out there’ you will find that the primary desire of that sticky, dirty, bitten thing was always to change what was out there, because it wasn’t good enough – and having achieved that, to change it, again… and again….

The mind which knows only thought knows no rest.

‘Becoming nothing’ – what does it really mean? It is a mantra of power. It is a moment of revelation that alters our relationship to the whole of our lives. To reveal it via words would reduce the power of each of us being able to step through that mirror of self. It would rob the reader of the self-same experience. But this much can be said: that the word ‘nothing’ should not be the main focus until the rest is understood. What follows, then, is a journey of realisation that shifts who we are, and takes away its central power in our lives, leaving…

And you will have to fill in that space.

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

The Mind Tree

It’s little more than a hillock

A green slope, with mist

Until the sky rips open

And something unseen

Reaches down

To ink a drawing of

The possible

Then mind, seizing itself

Creates the living tree

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

The Modern Mysteries

The ‘mysteries’ have been with mankind as long as we have existed. They are a collection of paths that take us inwards; restoring a sense of self deeper than that which reacts, and showing us that mankind is much more than a biological animal – though animals, and their focus on the ‘now’ have much to teach us, too.

The reason these paths work is that we are more than we appear to be. The reactive nature of the self-in-the-world, the personality, fixes it into a certain relationship with its world. This is vital for survival but not so for our potential evolution. Mankind is not a finished project. Nature can only take us so far, beyond that point we have take responsibility for our own self-development, and the power for this comes from within. To begin this, we have to loosen the grip of the world on our reactive self. When this is done, a new space emerges within our mind and heart.; a quiet, creative place that feels wholly our own. Unlike the everyday world, our energy is not robbed in this place, in fact the former reactions, seen in their true perspective, actually feed the strength of this private chamber… there is a bubbling of laughter, a lightness of being.

Developments in psychology over the past hundred years have given teachers of the spiritual a powerful vocabulary to describe the nature of the reactive self, the self-in-the-world. We see that our essential self is not what has grown up, like layers of paint, around our experience of the world. For the first time, we see that what is truly ‘us’ is not only difficult to define, but also not the layers of painted self-consciousness that have developed, year on year, since we came into the world.

At this point we begin to sense the weight of the baggage we carry. As the time spent on self-study lengthens, we see that we can let go a lot of what we thought was us, and delight in the rush of powerful energy when the unnecessary is let go. As the reactive gravity is released, we begin to sense an entirely new relationship with the world in which we live – the outer world… or is it?

With the letting go of what we thought we were, we enter a new field of confidence. This confidence is reinforced when events in our lives seems to conspire to teach us each next step that we need to learn. We look up at the sky – inner and outer and ask, “Did that really just happen?” And it did, and it goes on happening as the door of perception opens onto true relationship and we come re-evaluate our whole lives.

There comes a point where we know enough to show others parts of it. We feel a honourable debt and a desire to do this. We experiment; finding what techniques work for us and which don’t. The personality is not done away with, rather it is realigned in the service of this inner relationship – spirit will do nicely as a word, but there are many more words that can serve us well. We may even change our vocabulary as we speak to different audiences. We need have no fear, for each challenge brings its own way of speaking and showing – if we remain true to the inner vibration, which, day by day, is becoming us.

These, then, are the mysteries. They are not, nor have ever been, bound up in a fixed set of teachings, They belong to all of us, they are our birthright. They are the new world we have always had. Only the self-in-the-world was ever in the way of this, and now it serves something higher and more noble as we reach for the sky.

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.


The Origin of Me

Out of a hidden fear, we seldom examine our personal origins – this sense of ‘me’. Yet, if we let go that fear, the journey can teach us so much, and leave us with an emotion of deep belonging.

We can explore this with a meditation, rather than the intellect; if you’d like a little journey?

Be quiet and become conscious that our everyday lives define us by how we react to the world. Feel all the things, now, that are defining you. Feel the tensions in your body, the worries and concerns about the day ahead. Feel the aspirations that you have; possibly today holds the chance of a furthering your ambitions? Or perhaps many of those have been defined by others… for you.

Feel how all these things resolve themselves into your body. Is the centre of your body in a knot? If so, relax it with kindness. It is only tense because you have let a state of non-consciousness make it habitual. See it, now, forgive it and free the tension. Let all the tension from whatever source become non-threatening; like a cloud you believed was solid, but which turns out to be only shaped water vapour… through which you can sink.

The real is below, and now comes into view as the tapestry of a landscape far beneath you. You are sinking, slowly, through the air towards it. Breathe gently as you sink. Let any residual tension be captured, magically, by your in-breath; and released to be part of the cloud above you as you breathe out. When this is complete, something still remains around us. We seem to have a thin layer of cloud that clings to us, shielding us from complete and open vision of our true world.

You look at the landscape coming slowly into focus below. You are a twin being: organic and something more than organic. Your purpose in life is to be present to that landscape below. You can choose what to look at, what to focus on. Now that the tensions have been turned into the cloud above you, we can choose, with complete freedom, what to become present to.

With a touch of our mind now calmed, we can revolve in this blue space and examine the world below… We see it is predominately green – the colour of life. The region of your heart resonates to this vivid colour and all that it supports…

This universal life is you, but this is not all you are… for you are conscious of it.

Hovering above the Earth in this perfectly clear air, we look at the more complex things below. As we sink, slowly, we take in the perfection of the trees in a forest. Their shapes are a representation of time, itself, showing us in three dimensions their journey of growth in four.

We see a wolf, running along a track deep in the forest. His furtive movement mirrors how we too have grown a body from the organic earth, a body that learned through intelligence, yet still has to live in state of caution and, sometimes, fear. And we are this, but this is not all we are…

A church is coming into view. Its spire dominates the little village, though it is something abstract – it has no useful organic function, unlike the other faces of life, below. And yet, in many ways, that abstraction represents a depth of thought not needed for simple survival….

The plants evolved to animals to humans. But humans are not content with simply being. They have to seek for deeper meaning, meaning that can be at odds with their organic natures. We look for meaning in our lives, but seldom examine our origins as a source of wisdom. What if we let go of who we are and become content to just ‘be’?

At the idea of this ‘merging’ there is a resistance, a not-wanting to lose this individual perspective that we are attached to; this centre of ‘me’ as it views the beautiful world. ‘I’ have collected my life, have stored and distilled its lessons, making this organic creature that I am stronger and smarter… or at least more resilient.

This Me is important. It is only through Me that things get done… As these thoughts and feelings crystallise in our minds, the thin envelope of vapour around us becomes more dense, and the landscape becomes less clear.

As though to counter this, we look down at the beautiful Earth below, we smile at how little the Me does, compared to the vast industry of nature which feeds us. Sinking slowly in the perfect air, we wonder how it would feel to lose the Me, to lose the history of Me… What would be left of the sense of Self, then?

With this, the construct of the self around us feels very fragile, like a thing that was meant to be temporary. The inner point of total awareness that has no history has become our new Self and is diamond bright, so bright that its rays crack and melt the thin layers of the cloud of self around us. In a moment of total clarity we see that we need not be defined by anything in our past – neither limitation nor identification. The view below is lost to us and we fall to Earth, struggling, as the two parts of our selves vie for our future direction. Our will to be deeper and more real prevails…

In that moment the last of the shell of self is rendered transparent and we find ourselves as newborn bird, in a nest, high in the oak tree we saw from above. Time, or rather, process, is not as before. There is a vast power at work in our transformation as the first few weeks of our new birth are condensed into eight heartbeats. By the ninth, our wings are full of power. The bright sun in the clear blue sky calls to us and we spread those strong wings, lifting ourselves off the nest and climbing into the sky.

The Earth has finished its job. The Sun of truth will teach us now.

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.


 

 

A chip off the old block? (part 1 of 2)

cube of space+wake you smaller

We have a phrase in English; that someone is a ‘chip off the old block’. Its meaning is that someone of merit is continuing the ‘family’ tradition. I suppose it could also refer in a wider context to someone in a group or organisation doing the same thing.

A group of scientists are promoting a ‘new’ theory: that of the ‘Block Universe’ or “Evolving Block Universe’. It’s not entirely new. The idea of a static universe where the only change is the evolution of the conscious inhabitants has been around for a while; and touches on some of the deepest ideas in philosophy and metaphysics.

Just think about that for a moment to grasp the sheer strangeness of the concept. Look around you and watch the shifting view, the tiny changes, the way you move your coffee mug, shift your position on the chair, drive the car through an autumnal landscape…. But you don’t do any of that, according to Block Theory. Instead what you are experiencing is your journey of consciousness along a hyper-road which maps and separates what is possible (with reference to where you started) to where you might choose to be next.

Only you change… and even then, only your consciousness; the hyper-globe in front of you reveals itself in an experience of movement – including your own body and organs. But… and it’s a big one… nothing out-there is really changing – we are just choosing what to see next amongst the possibilities. And, startlingly, this may be the ultimate purpose of the brain.

Within this world, the present has reality; the past has a lesser reality but is at least consistent; but the future does not exist. Reality belongs to where consciousness is. Conventional Block Theory conceives of a supremely thin wedge of passing time that is now… but philosophers dismissed this long ago as meaningless. There is not, nor can there ever be, a wedge of the ‘present’ small enough to contain the conscious now. In simple terms the observation may be in the present, and recorded in the brain; but the observer, by definition, isn’t… The observation becomes immediate history.

Those interested in metaphysics of any sort will recognise much of what is taught and experienced in their Work in this ‘new’ theory. We do not have a centre of consciousness, we are a centre of consciousness. In fact, within us there are two conscious centres: the first is a self that is grown in reaction to the world we experience – even though we are choosing it – The second is a deeper, super-conscious ‘presence’ which is not really a centre at all, it just retains an outer identity for the lifetime in which it is linked to the organic being and its personality.

Why is it called ‘Block Theory’? Here it gets interesting. There are two theories based on this idea of a three dimensional cube of length, breadth and height; where time is the expansion, but only via interaction with consciousness. The second, or derived theory is named ‘Evolving Block Theory’.

The use of  ‘Expanding’ suggests that this newly envisioned cosmos is actually growing… Mystics may recognise the idea that the universe or ‘God’ expands through the consciousness of its creation growing from within. It’s a staggering thought, that God is ‘not finished’, but evolves, too! Such a view has, of course, caused much controversy over the years.

Previous centuries have contained cosmological views that are very primitive in the light of modern science; but science is only now learning to value the presence of consciousness in the whole world-picture. Interestingly, some of the most ancient philosophies and religions were the very opposite and placed the development of consciousness, itself, at the centre of knowledge of the ‘world’.

The idea that the universe has past and present realities but no future except that which is unfolding in the now dovetails nicely with some of the better science fiction stories. One in particular that fits is the Hugo Award winning Hyperion series by Dan Simmons. In the story, Hyperion is a simple, colonised world to which a future civilisation sends an horrific artificial monster; a cyborg so dreadful that the whole of the Earth-derived space ‘Federation’ is drawn into a cataclysmic battle around its destiny. The cyborg – the Shrike – has been sent backwards in time to show the children of Earth the consequences of mindlessness, violence and lack of compassion. Although written in 1989, it is chillingly prescient about today’s society. The Shrike’s victims are impaled on a ‘tree of metallic thorns’ where their suffering is endless. I would imaging many abandoned souls on this Earth would describe their plight as similar…

From a mystical point of view – and in keeping with Block Theory – we may speculate that all that people of sufficient positioning and power within society would need to do would be to choose a different path, together. But then we may consider that we have no power nor right to change someone else’s path. We only have responsibility for our own. Mystics have taught for millennia that when we change our own thoughts, we change our own worlds.

This brings to mind the nature of real choice. most of the choices we make are as a result of our conditioning: they are automated responses based on pleasure and pain. This conditioning, and its resulting force – habit, is a necessary feature of our organic existence and as such is important for our survival. However, when faced with the idea of a voluntary higher evolution, we may choose to approach the nature of choice from a different perspective; especially in the light of theories such as the Block Universe. We will explore this further in the concluding part two.

From the point view of our choice of accelerated evolution, if Evolving Block Theory has any truth in it, then our personal possibilities have just expanded greatly. In fact, we only need make the right choices in order to radically change our lives.

On a chessboard a pawn may, with a few moves, gain the back row – the 8th rank, and transform itself into any of: Bishop, Rook, Knight or Queen of the same colour Only the King remains beyond this alchemy, though a Queen may mate with a King… We may reflect on this and wonder at how these deep and significant patterns are threaded through our history in ways that keep them in front of our unawakened gaze, like seeds awaiting their time in the sun… The important parallel is that to completely change our lives would take far fewer moves than we imagine.

If the block theories have merit, then we may be able to transform ourselves into personal ‘kings and queens’. As ‘royals’ in our own lives, we would have our own kingdom and would have no desire to control others and thereby restrict the freedom of those we should be helping along their own path.

To borrow from Isaac Newton: we may find our selves (our consciousness) crossing the paths belonging to Giants. Through the right choices: the Buddhist ‘right action’, for example, we may find ourselves ‘on the shoulders of giants’ in the sense of inheriting their wisdom – and choosing, with all our being, to follow it… Our journey through the Block of the intelligent universe as the fourth dimension may just have become a lot more lively!

To be continued…

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.


 

The Stone and the Pilgrim (6) final part

“It is what it is…”

I remember the evening Morgana said that to me, many years ago. We were in Glastonbury, doing the first of our year of bi-monthly talks.

The truth of it is profound. The sentiment behind the simple wisdom is how we resist what is…instead of embracing the new ‘world’ that has just revolved into view. The problem is like and dislike, of course, but that reaction is within us and nothing to do with the objective world that constantly reveals itself to the eye that watches from a different place…

It was the end of our weekend; Sunday morning – the last visit, and I wanted it to go well for all the Companions of the trip. Then the phone beeped. The text from Stuart said that half our party, travelling in the same car, were stuck on one of the roads leading to Lindisfarne, unable to overtake a large pack of cyclists who seemed unwilling to let traffic past.

“It is what it is…” I thought. Now what possibilities have just opened up?

We had a coffee, at a cafe that the others couldn’t miss on their way into the village, but, when it was going cold, gave up on Plan B and did some real-time adjustment. The issue with Lindisfarne is the tides… You only have so many hours to complete what you want to do before the sea returns and covers the causeway. There was a lot we wanted to do and only half a party. So, we did what anyone would do on a weekend named ‘Castles of the Mind’ – we went in search of our final one – castle, that is… We left a message with the others to meet up at the castle and set off…

From one perspective, I was dreading the first view of it. The last time I was here, and the time before, it was covered in scaffolding – the result of a complete refurbishment programme to weatherproof the exterior and restore the interior. As a result, once again, I had only been able to look at the workings, criss-crossed in its steel lattice.

But now, in the first of many wonderful surprises that the day was to contain, the castle that came into view as we emerged from the main street was wonderfully renewed…

And I started to smile, then laugh, as we made our way up the winding pathway to the high entrance… ‘Renewed’ – there it was: the key to the day, the gift to the symbolic Pilgrim, renewal at the end of a personal quest. What greater gift could there be?

The restoration work was a £3M project carried out by contractors on behalf of the National Trust. The castle has always been the main focus for visitors, though there are other very good reasons to visit this farthest part of the island. These include the headland itself – with an older and smaller mound nearer to the often wild sea; the lime kilns and the famous but often overlooked garden…

Visitors often assume that the whole history of the island is based on its religious past; but Lindisfarne’s intermediate history went far beyond its ancient holy status – though that religious link to a possibly more ‘vibrant’ and nature-facing Celtic Christianity is what attracts the thousand of pilgrims of all flavours who make their way to its shores. Monks don’t usually build castles – they build churches or monasteries. There was a monastery on Lindisfarne, too, and its ruins survive, today.

The history of Lindisfarne is written into the fabric of the castle, but we were not here to study history; but our own natures… It was therefore important to begin with what was there, now, before peeling back the layers of how it came to be so. In that, too, there was something symbolic to accompany our final footsteps.

The castle, with its restoration work complete, is a rather luxurious place – most unlike the typical castle. Thoughts of the previous day’s closing visit to the spartan Preston Pele Tower were fresh in our minds. There’s a good reason for this feeling of well-being: it was a luxury holiday home for a rich American publisher, Edward Hudson, from 1901 until the mid-1920s, and the restoration project has reinstated this look and feel. To accomplish this dramatic re-design of the building, Hudson used the services of a young architect and designer Edwin Lutyens, whose patron was the famous landscape gardener, Gertrude Jekyll. The latter contributed the planting scheme for the crags and added a small walled garden just North of the castle. Lutyens went on to become one of the most famous architects in British history.

The scheme for the work was to follow Lutyens’ plan to simplify the castle’s older structure by converting its interior into a great ’L’ shape. Rooms, doorways, fires and furniture were added, and a stream of well-heeled Edwardian visitors followed.

Sadly, the furniture is yet to be replaced and we were faced with a curious art installation, filling just about every room with wooden cubed frames, open on one side and – most of them – draped with coloured cloths. A poster explained that, as the furniture was still to be reinstated, the art ‘installation’ was deemed timely.

After much neglect, the castle was given to the National Trust by its third owner in 1944.

None of this is religious… To find the intersection between politics, power and religion, we need to go back to the time of Henry VIII, father of the future Queen Elizabeth I. Henry ‘dissolved’ the monastery of Lindisfarne in 1537. But such locations made useful coastal forts, particularly one so close to the troublesome Scots, and the last bastion of England – Berwick on Tweed. The result was that the island – and particularly the castle – became part of the Tudor military machine.

In 1543, France allied itself with Scotland. In response, King Henry mounted a military response designed to crush all such resistance to his rule. The military expedition was led by Edward Seymour, brother of Jane Seymour, one of Henry’s many wives. Seymour landed on Lindisfarne with ten ships and over 2,000 troops. This army set off from their temporary island base to punish the Scots… The campaign was brutal and achieved its goals. It was the last time that Lindisfarne was to play an important role in English military history, though Elizabeth I did order improvements and fortifications to the building. Coastal guns were deployed up to the 1880s, after which the castle was left to its decay until Edward Hudson found it and decided it would enhance his ‘English’ status…

But what about St Aidan, the man most associated with Lindisfarne – and the famous Lindisfarne illuminated Gospels. They belong to a much earlier time, a time when Celtic Christianity was spreading from Ireland via the Scottish Hebrides.

The man who would be St Aidan was born, on an unknown date, in Ireland. He is known as the apostle of Northumbria – the old name for the Kingdom of what is now Northumberland. Aidan was a monk on the island of Iona, in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland. King Oswald of Northumbria requested that a bishop be appointed to lead the conversion of his kingdom to Christianity (Celtic Christianity at that point) and Aidan was selected.

Aidan chose the island of Lindisfarne because of its proximity to the sea; the only way to travel, speedily, in an age where roads were tracks of rutted mud. Aidan was consecrated as Bishop of Lindisfarne in AD 635.

Aidan established his church and monastery within sight of our first location of the weekend – the royal castle of Bamburgh. Under Aidan’s direction, and that of his successors, particularly St Cuthbert, Lindisfarne flourished as a leading religious centre.

St Aidan died on 31st August 651, after a remarkable lifetime. It is ironic that Celtic (Ionan) Christianity travelled south and met Roman Christianity coming north. The latter was to win out at the Synod of Whitby, in AD 665, fourteen years after Aidan’s death.

Being next to the ocean had its downside, too, and in AD 793, the Vikings sacked the island, and the religious settlement was moved to Durham.

The story of St Aidan is well illustrated in the church of St Margaret, near the centre of Lindisfarne village.

We gathered here after a brief lunch, conscious that the tides were soon to encroach…

There is never enough time to see what Lindisfarne has to offer. Each time I go, I find new aspects to explore. We had to bring the Castles of the Mind weekend to a close. We were already running late and those attending had long journeys home.

Stuart knew of a small island, accessible at low to mid tide, which lay beyond the church. The simple wooden cross at its highest point marked the place of one of the original hermits. We picked our way across the wet beach and clambered up the rocks to see both cross and the view across to Bamburgh, our starting point.

It was perfect…

We conducted our last readings then held a silent meditation to mark the end of the weekend. Then we hugged and said our goodbyes.

Our journey as pilgrims was complete…


Interested in the next Silent Eye weekend?

Full Circle?  – Finding the way home…
Penrith, Cumbria
Friday 7th – Sunday 9th December, 2018


End of Castle of the Mind

©️Stephen Tanham

Other parts of this series:

Part One, Part Two,  Part Three, Part Four, Part Five.


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

The Stone and the Pilgrim (5)

We stumbled upon the Preston Pele Tower, fifteen miles south-west of Bamburgh, back in February, 2018. My wife and I had seen a reference to it on a noticeboard in a cafe some distance to the north. It’s quite hard to find; tucked away down a tiny country lane not far from the A1 – the main road through Northumberland to Edinburgh. We’d never heard of a Pele Tower, either… We got out of the car and stared at it, never having seen anything quite like it. Was it a castle – or the remains of one? The location suggested not. It looked purpose-built, yet somehow incomplete….

Right up to the time the Castles of the Mind group approached the building, I didn’t know what part of the ‘self’ we could use it to describe. I entered the (to me) familiar building and trusted that the answer would reveal itself. Either way, and even at the end of a long day of adventure, the Companions of the trip were not disappointed, and seemed to be having the same ‘look at that!’ experience that we had enjoyed in early February.

The famous architectural historian, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, described Preston Pele Tower as ‘amongst the most spectacular pieces of medieval masonry in England’. Its stone walls are seven feet thick and carry the same mason’s marks as those of the evocative Warkworth Castle twenty miles south. Sadly, we did not have enough time in our short weekend to visit the latter… another trip methinks!

It was never a castle, but it is incomplete; what you see in the top photo is only a half of what was built, originally. So, imagine that the two vertical towers are reflected back on themselves and you have it as it was created in 1392 (pic above): a four section Pele Tower.

How to pronounce Pele Tower? Probably because of the famous Brazilian footballer, it’s natural to call it a ‘Pel ay’ tower – and some of the locals we spoke to did just that. But Sue, who’s a fluent French speaker, says it’s probably derived from a French word and should be ‘Peel’ – that the final ‘e’ is there to turn the ‘eh’ in the middle to an ‘ee’.

It matters little; but there were a lot of them – nearly eighty, in fact. So they were rather important in this part of the world… The hand drawing from the Tower’s museum shows the location of the fortified dwellings in Northumberland, most of which were towers. The original of this chart was drawn up by Henry V, just prior to his departure for France and the victorious battle of Agincourt.

Many of the fortified towers were constructed during the frequent wars between England and Scotland, which ended with the Act of Union in 1603 – after James I came to the English throne.  In the sixteenth century, while the rest of England enjoyed relative peace, Northumberland – the eastern border county with Scotland – remained on a state of alert due to a scourge called the Border Reivers, and the towers saw a second lifetime as an essential way for the landed gentry to protect their people, servants and livestock.

Reivers were lawless gangs, both sides of the border, who would steal, murder and rape their way across whole swathes of an undefended Northumberland and its disputed border with Southern Scotland.

One of the Preston Tower’s celebrated features is a combined great bell and clock. The bell is approximately four feet in diameter and weighs 500 kg. The mechanism for the bell, which strikes on the hour, is linked to the twin clocks on both sides of the Tower faces. The power is provided by a set of two giant stone weights whose ropes run most of the height of the building.

The clock mechanism on the second floor drives the twin clock faces on the north and south faces of the tower, and is based on the same mechanical design that powers Big Ben in London. The clock was added in the nineteenth century, which shows that the Preston Tower continued to be a place of historical interest for a long time.

AAPele Clock Mech

As part of its function as a museum, Preston Pele Tower contains rooms which are furnished as they would have been at the time of its construction in the 14th century. The recreated interior spaces are sparse, and, to us, feel very basic. Being safe during a time of great insecurity was their central function.

AAPeleBedroom

The basic cooking facilities are shown in the second of the two rooms.

AAPelePot Room on Fire

The staircase is a simple wooden structure that runs all the way to the roof on the east side of the internal wall.

AApeleStaircase alone

Once on the roof, the view of the countryside around is commanding.

AAPele rooftop 1 to sea

Standing on the roof, in the last few minutes of our visit, the key I was looking for came to mind: Hope

The Pele Tower was not a basis for aggression; its purpose was to defend the home and hearth, the family and those who worked for them, including the animals.

An image came to mind: that of the householder standing watch under the stars, scanning the horizon for reivers. The dawn is beginning in the east, but the sky is still filled with the strange darkness of the pre-dawn. He nods his head towards the coming light, then opens the door to descend to the chambers in which his family are sleeping, safe within the thick stone walls.

He pauses by the thin window, a defensive structure so narrow that a man could not pass through it. The shutters have not been drawn on this single light and he stops to consider the pale light, one final time. In that moment, I catch his thoughts in a line of poetry, a gift from the now that places such as these are so good at bestowing…

Through these thin lights, now so forlorn

Will one day stream a different dawn

It will take another hundred years – a time during which the rest of Tudor England will undergo transformation to modernity. But in this liminal zone of Northumberland, the change will be slower, as borders and reivers are set to rights.

But that day will come… and that fervent hope in my ghostly host’s eyes will empower it… And there is something very spiritual about that…

We left the Pele Tower quietly. Others had felt its unique personality. We were all tired, and the dinner booked at a nearby pub was very welcome.

Our mental and emotional preparation was complete. We had been witness to the internal architecture of the self as seen in these vast and very different structures of stone.

The sun would rise on a day dedicated to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne… and its ancient mysteries; the Companion Pilgrims were coming home…

The Preston Pele Tower is a privately-owned museum. It charges a very reasonable £2.00 admission and has car parking and toilets on site.

To be continued.

©️Stephen Tanham

Other parts of this series:

Part One, Part Two,  Part Three, Part Four,


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

 

The Stone and the Pilgrim (4)

“It’s as though… there’s something wrong with the horizon…”

Barbara was speaking softly, giving voice to one of the defining thoughts of the day. Something wrong with the horizon, how true. Craster’s harbour was disappearing behind us, but the cut-up horizon was still far away. There is no other way to reach Dunstanburgh Castle than on foot; though, back in history, distinguished visitors could arrive by sea – into it’s private harbour – as well. You had to be very wealthy to build a castle with its own private harbour, and the Earl of Lancaster was very wealthy. He was cousin to the King, Henry II, but, more significantly, he was the nephew of a man he considered to have been a much greater king – Henry I.

The dark, jagged vision grows as we walk. Back in the winter, when Bernie and I had come this way to explore the possible sites for the weekend, I could find no words to express that distant starkness. Now, one of the Companions did: “It’s as though it was deliberately punished, in such a visible way that no-one could ever forget…” History shows that, actually, it wasn’t. The ravages of time, neglect and a life on a Northumbrian cliff did that. But, emotionally, it looks exactly like a ‘punished place’, and that serves our ‘psychological’ purpose, here. The nature of the illusion lies in the mystery of the shapes used in its architecture…

Emotions are important on this, Day 2 of the Castles of the Mind weekend. We are hunting them, and encouraging them when they arise, naturally, like on this long walk over the headland. Emotions may not be as reliable as the more mundane reason, but they manifest immediately, and, if we learn their language, and know when to combine them with the mind’s discrimination, we can get much closer to the ‘soul’ – the essence of ourselves, using their energy. The external natural essence we’re tapping into in the land at Dunstanburgh is a strange one… beauty and the beast, almost.

Here, we have to have a little history to appreciate what we’re looking at; for the jagged horizon takes us back to the later years of the Medieval era, a time of battle and romance – or so the popular view suggests. 1313 is the date on which work on Dunstanburgh Castle began – just one year after the unholy alliance of the French king and the Pope ‘dissolved’ the Knights Templar.

It is hard to imagine taking a landscape so beautiful and ending up with a place scarred in such a lasting way. Yet, Dunstanburgh Castle is just that – at least emotionally. And that was what swung it into the short list of places for our weekend; what could be visited in the few short days that a Silent Eye weekend has available to it. There’s nothing logical about declaring that we are ‘pilgrims of the heart and mind’ travelling between the splendour of Bamburgh and the noble simplicity of Lindisfarne – and then making a detour fifteen miles south…

But once we had seen it on that dark horizon, it had to be part of the itinerary. It had to follow Bamburgh Castle because a human existence energised and brought back to ‘life’ by examination and a restless dissatisfaction with ordinary living must face up to a critical stage before it can move on.

The spectre growing in the near distance was the best example we had ever met of the word ‘ruin’. You don’t need to see your life as a ruin to make life-enhancing changes to it. What has been hard-won in life can serve what follows without destruction, only the captain of the ship needs to change. Yet, as Shakespeare understood so well, to tell a story that involves ruin challenges us to examine ourselves; in ruin lies a compelling set of emotions; emotions that energise change.

‘There was a powerful man who had a favourite nephew’. It could be the opening to one of the Bard’s plays, but, instead, it’s our own history – part of the story of how the English came to be. The powerful man was King Edward I; the young nephew became Thomas, earl of Lancaster, and he built Dunstanburgh Castle. It may seem odd for the powerful house of Lancaster to have estates so far away from the north-west, but it was normal for the Lancaster and York houses to have far-flung estates, in places of military importance. Both were, essentially, southern-based houses of power and the Wars of the Roses were yet to start, though they were not far away in time.

The Earl of Lancaster seems to have been an accomplished but arrogant man. He inherited the barony of Embleton from his father; Edmund ‘Crouchback’, who was the younger brother of King Edward I. King Edward was a major castle-builder, and created many of the spectacular castles that we visit in Wales, today. Previous lords of Embleton included the famous rebel Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, on whose life Lancaster may well have modelled his own.

Another, and more negative force forged Thomas, earl of Lancaster’s life: he hated his cousin the King, Edward II.

King Edward II was homosexual. His outspoken lover, Piers Gaveston, was despised by the barons, who plotted to ambush and kill him. The picture, above, photographed from the English Heritage guide book, shows the presentation of his head to the earls of Warwick, Lancaster (centre) and Hereford in 1312.

Edward bided his time in exacting his revenge. Cooler-thinking that the hothead Lancaster, he initially pardoned the earls who had kidnapped and murdered his lover (on Lancaster land). But history showed he was awaiting his opportunity.

With an eye on his own future security, Thomas decided that he would do something with the property he had inherited near Embleton, and he began work on Dunstanburgh, work that included the construction of not only one of the most ambitious castles of its day, but freshwater lakes surrounding it, and a stone harbour that brought important visitors and guests face to face with the twin stone towers, modelled on those used in his uncle’s Welsh masterpieces – a style lacking in anything build by his cousin, the King.

I hadn’t noticed it on our preparatory visit, but, facing it now with the knowledge of why it was constructed, it was such an obvious statement of intent…

Thomas, earl of Lancaster, was beheaded by the sword in 1322, after mounting a further unsuccessful rebellion against his patient king. His retreat to the finished castle at Dunstanburgh – designed to withstand any siege – was cut off by a party of the King’s troops. Lancaster was later unofficially venerated as a victim of royal murder, like his namesake St Thomas Becket.

We were all strangely silent in the interior of Dunstanburgh. Lost, probably, in our own histories and their triumphs and disasters…

It had been a long day, already, but, prior to a well-earned dinner in a country pub, we had a final surprise in store for the Companion pilgrims…

To be continued.

©️Stephen Tanham

Other parts of this series:

Part One, Part Two,  Part Three,


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

The Stone and the Pilgrim (3)

“It’s all about tea-rooms, with you, isn’t it!”

It was said some years ago, and there was anger in it – just a bit – but she was right. We both collapsed in a heap of laughter on each other’s shoulder a second later.

There has to be humour in these weekends. They can be very intense – not by imposition, but by personal choice. When those attending, particularly for the first time, see the effect of a group of fellow adventurers working with the landscape, it can become infectious. We’re not just here as tourists, though that’s great fun and part of it, we’re here to experiment with consciousness – in a loving and lovely way. If that doesn’t harmonise a group, nothing will.

It is all about tea-rooms, but that’s a generic term… A charming gastropub on a rocky promontory just outside the harbour of one of the most charming of Northumberland’s seaside villages will do just as well… especially when one of their specialities is crab soup. It’s not a chowder (I love chowder). It’s better than that….

Saturday lunch time 15th September, 2018, the middle of the second day of the Silent Eye’s ‘Castles of the Mind’ workshop. Some of those attending are still quiet from the intensity of being in Bamburgh Castle with rather different motives than most tourists, though our respect for the place was not in doubt.

There is a degree of mystery about why we’re here, in the Jolly Fisherman, Craster. Everyone remembers the dramatic opening to the weekend on the beach, under a fabulous leaden sky. The guide pointing north across the white fringed, green-blue sea to the distant but clear image of Lindisfarne – our eventual destination, and the conditioning force behind us becoming pilgrims for these few days.

The line between Bamburgh and Lindisfarne does not include Craster; this tiny harbour village, famous for its picture-postcard harbour, smokery and one of Northumberland’s most famous coastal walks is some distance south.

The crab soup arrives, complete with a huge chunk of granary bread; the whole thing served on a wooden platter. I’m in heaven. The aroma, alone, tells me that my memory of the planning trip some months ago was accurate…it really is that good. I’m one of the drivers, so a weak lager shandy has to accompany it. It’s quite enough. We arrived in separate cars. One of the Companions suggest he had done an impromptu magical invocation on arrival at the over-full car park (the only one in Craster). It must have worked, because three cars left as we rounded, somewhat desperately, the last corner of the parking places. I think he’s serious…

We eat. Minds come back to the simple and connective process of the body’s food…and we begin to talk. Those present sense the exact nature of the location and its place in the planning of this rather intense day.

“We’re in search of something, aren’t we?” The car park magician asks.

We are, indeed…

Having examined, in the most perfect evening light I can remember, the splendour of Bamburgh Castle as seen from the beach; to venturing into its depths and its splendour in the morning just finished, we have begun a process of individual alchemy. We used the landscape to ‘cheat’ the ego from the beach, visualising the whole of it from the outside. The portcullis visualisation allowed us to ‘steal’ into that egoic lower self and seek (or at least request) the finding of an emotional ‘key’ – different for each of us. Entering the castle this morning allowed us to fulfil that part of the the quest: to venture inside the stone that we cast as hard and defensive shell of ourselves – grown in reaction to our lives, just as the castle grew in response to the need for organised defence of its existence.

Those within it become ‘royal’ in the process, just as our reactive self claims royalty over our lives. Tearing ourselves free of the castle’s comforts – because the call of the Pilgrim was greater – we find ourselves having crab soup and bread in a haven above a rocky and black shoreline…

What’s going on?

Well, the path outside that’s waiting for us is not just a journey along this savage but beautiful shoreline. Halfway to Embleton’s golden beach it passes something that haunts everyone who sees it…

The clock is ticking… That something, that ghost on the headland, and its significance in the Silent Eye’s weekend is where we’re going. And the soup is finished….

To be continued.

©️Stephen Tanham

Other parts of this series:

Part One, Part Two,


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.