Stagshaw Garden

The view of Lake Windermere from part way up the fellside

Stagshaw Garden is a sloping woodland garden of approximately eight acres. It is located on a steep slope named Skelghyll Fell on the north-eastern shores of Windermere, England’s largest lake. The area around Windermere is considered the centre of the Lake District. The word ‘Lakeland’ has become a normal way of referring, locally, to the Lake District.

Most of the Lake District is protected by the National Trust – a preservation organisation which was founded in 1897 and empowered by an Act of Parliament in the early years of the twentieth century. Beatrice Potter, the children’s author, was one of the founders of the National Trust. She lived in Lakeland and bequeathed her substantial local landholdings to the Trust at its formation.

Stagshaw Garden was created for the National Trust by Cubby Acland. The project was begun in 1959 and continued to his death in 1979.

Cubby Acland’s book ‘The Lake District’, one of his popular series in the 1950s

Acland was a local travel author and a Land Agent for the National Trust. He lived in one of the country houses on the edge of what became Stagshaw Garden and was intimately familiar with the layout of Skelghyll Fell – within which the present garden was created and landscaped. The entire Wansfell Estate passed into the hands of the National Trust in 1957.

We are lucky to live in Kendal; a half-hour’s drive from the shores of Lake Windermere. Many of our relatives like to visit… Easter is popular, as the ‘coming alive’ of the local landscape is very tangible at that time.

For this Easter weekend, we had my mother and Bernie’s sister staying with us. My mother is eighty-nine and has vascular dementia. Although she has a full life – and is still independent – her attention span is short, so we try to construct days out which compensate for this and give her the happiest family memories for as long as she can retain them…

We have learned from experience that getting out early in the day is the key to a successful trip; as is filling it with a number of relatively short activities. This gives her time to relax in the afternoons, back at our house, and not get too tired by the day.

Stagshaw Garden is an easy walk (following an initial short climb) and so was an ideal choice for our morning, which called for a first visit of about an hour. Having decided this, we wrestled everyone out early and arrived just after nine-thirty, enjoying the unusually light traffic for such a popular weekend…

The garden is steep, but accessible. It follows the ravine created over millennia by the descending stream.  It is famous for its shrubs, especially rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias.

From the rustic wooden gate, the path winds up to the right and begins to follow the stream valley that climbs the hill. This forms the core of the garden.

It was still before ten in the morning and the light had that special spring-like quality to it. Everything seemed extra bright, and the colours – particularly the greens – were vivid and sumptuous.

When Bernie and I retired from our former life in IT, she went back to college to qualify in horticulture – something she had always wanted to do – and now volunteers with Cumbria in Bloom, part of the RHS’ work of promoting gardens.

Neither of us had ever visited Stagshaw Garden, but it was on our list, largely because Bernie is fascinated by the kind of landscape design that moulds itself into a difficult landscape – such as a long gulley on the side of a Lakeland fell…

The trick, she explained, was to make it look completely natural; to take the visitor on a journey that looked as though its path has always been there, winding and climbing through the changing forest.

We were delighted to find a section of bluebells at the highest point of our climb. A deer also made an appearance but ran off too quickly to photograph. We had reached the limit of what Mum could cope with – but we had promised her bluebells… Their sudden appearance at this high-point made her morning.

From our partial ‘summit’, two paths led back down through the garden. The first was the way we had come. The second offered us an alternative descent which gave us an unexpected view of Cubby Acland’s former home.

Ahead lay a visit to Waterhead, a coffee and an unexpected scone with local jam and cream; followed by the ruin of a Roman Fort and a dog chasing a frisbee… but that’s probably enough for one post! A very happy but tired mother returned home by the early afternoon for her nap…

Lake Windermere and coffee… perhaps a scone with jam and cream!

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Advertisements

Angel of the Nought #writephoto

I am not The Angel of the North.

I am not the cross on which.

The teacher of the power of love died.

I am the way that divides.

The awakened from the sleeping.

I am old, but younger.

Than you….

© Stephen Tanham

In response to Sue Vincent’s challenge:

https://scvincent.com/2019/04/11/thursday-photo-prompt-decisions-writephoto/

Pen of the oyster-catcher

Portmahomack, a fishing village on the north shore of one of the fingers of land that jut out into the North Sea, thirty or so miles north of Inverness.

There is something perfect about it.

Somewhere close, our collie dog, Tess, is barking, playing with the waves. I follow the waterline, ensuring that only the thick soles of my boots get wet. It is March and that green-grey sea is icy, here on the Sutherland coast. We’re an hour’s drive from John o’ Groats, the most northerly point on the British mainland. Had it been May, I might have paddled…

I am here to write, not play on the beach; though the early mornings and evenings will be devoted to making sure that the collie has lots of exercise and that I don’t become dull by sitting too long at that old wooden desk in the hotel room; the one that smells deliciously of ancient wood and generations of preserving polish. It even has a hole where the inkwell used to be.

The Oyster Catcher will do nicely for the evening meal. A latté, by itself, for breakfast – the mild hunger helps me think – and, at this time of year there’s nothing better for lunch than a steaming bowl of fish chowder with a chunk of locally-baked bread. I’ll see if I can persuade the hotel to do it; perhaps swap them a glowing review on Trip Advisor… It’s worth a try.

But food is for later. For now, I just want to drink in where I am, a writing castaway in this quiet and relatively unvisited place – at least I judge it so, as we are, as far as I can see, practically alone in Portmahomack.

We each have our own writing triggers. For me it’s a combination of sky, landscape, beaches.. and some inspirational music. Sometimes, I find a place that combines them all… This is one such. I’m looking forward to meeting a few of its residents, but not too many. Maybe a couple of beers, or a glass or two of wine after the evening meal, then an early night with one of my current books – I’m studying how William Boyd writes such apparently simple novels, yet hooks you into the plot early in the first chapter. Try ‘Any Human Heart‘ if you want to sample his best.

It helps to fall to asleep reflecting on how great writers do it… and wake refreshed and determined to have a go…

I’ll set the alarm so that I wake about six. I will open the curtains and look out at that vista, listen to the sea and drink in the the sheer wonder of being here. The start of the day will see me making a rubbish cup of tea from the contents of the wooden tray in the wardrobe, before taking Tess onto the beach across the road. Then I’ll sit down to begin the writing, knowing, at the end of the first couple of hours’ creativity, that a delicious coffee awaits at the tiny cafe along the quay. Later on, someone might be making chowder with home-made bread in the Oyster Catcher.

Sky, landscape and beaches… You can see from the photos how lovely this part of Scotland is, but none of them convey the sheer size of the Scottish sky. We’re less than an hour north of Inverness on the east coast of Scotland, yet we could be in a different world and in a different time. Most of our previous trips have been to the western highlands, which are glorious; but this part of the highlands has been a revelation. We are told that there are far fewer midges here in the north-east of the country. Depending on the time of year, this can be a life-saver.

Across the waters lie the mountains of South Sutherland – which don’t appear to have a generic name – but that may just be my lack of knowledge. We are well north of the famous skiing region of the Cairngorms and the landscape is very different. Golden beaches seem to be everywhere; most of them empty. Good to walk on and Collie heaven…

It’s not so much a question of writing a book as finishing one. Several years ago, we ran a Silent Eye weekend workshop called ‘River of the Sun‘, a modern mystery play, told in five acts, and set against the backdrop of the 19th Dynasty in ancient Egypt. The man who would become Pharaoh Ramases II is sailing back up the Nile to be at the bedside of his dying father – the, arguably, greater Seti I.

Ramases knows his father has little time left, yet he seems in no hurry to return to the royal palace. Instead, he mounts a night-raid on one his father’s favourite temples on an island in the Nile, run by a high-priestess the son suspects of heresy… The audacity and spiritual violence has far-reaching consequences…

The workshop was a success. Several people commented that the plot would make a good novel. As a test I serialised the first part of the book as a series of blogs (see list at the end of this post), but time has passed and I have yet – and inexcusably – to complete it. Hence being here…

We have reached the quayside. It’s quite windy and the farther out along its length we go the more we get blown. We do not linger… but return to the shelter of the village streets. Other days will dawn and the wind will have abated.

From along the beach, my wife, Bernie, calls… Tess barks for our reunion. My wandering reverie is broken. With a sigh I turn the corner of the quay and begin my walk back to where she and the Collie are waiting by the car for us all to depart. In a second, my fantasy of a creative break in this newly-discovered haven vanishes. It is not that it is impossible, just that it will have to be another time, as we are staying in a cottage forty minutes south of Portmahomack, not here.

I take one last look at this idyllic fishing village and get into the car. Tess licks my face and Bernie smiles at my wistful expression.

“A writers’ paradise?” she asks.

How well she knows me… But I will be back, though some other writing room may witness the creative conclusion of The River of the Sun.

For now, there are other places to visit on this lovely winter tour of north-east Scotland. Who knows what other writer’s dens I may encounter in this magical land.

©Stephen Tanham

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

Index to opening chapters of River of the Sun:

Chapter One – Gifts From the River

Chapter Two – An Agony of Sunset

Chapter Three – The Dark Waters

Chapter Four – Touching the Sky

Chapter Five – The Fire Within

The light between the railway carriages

The light between the railway carriages…

It was one of the best analogies I ever had given to me; yet it took me years to grasp its fullness. Like any true seed of ‘spiritual’ insight, it was strong enough to lie on the rock till a little pocket of earth developed beneath – a receptive place into which it could extend its roots.

We all grow up thinking, without question, that ‘thought’ is continuous, and the basis for our ‘in-here’ existence. It may take a lifetime to see that the thought-machine that fronts our world is our own creation and coloured with our thinking and emotional history. This colouration paints ‘the’ world, making it our world, familiar in its likes and dislikes, fears and moments of courage – many of them unobserved, except by that mysterious watcher within us.

The world we inhabit is therefore the sum total of our reactions to everything that has happened to us. Many of these reactions protect us – like knowing not to put our hands onto something burningly hot; others fill us with prejudice against threats that are not present in our moment.

The ocean in which this history exists is the internal ‘field’ of our thoughts.

‘Look, there’s a cherry-blossom tree!’ We cry, imposing the history-carrying words over the raw and beautiful experience of the reality. Names are useful, but they also pre-program our seeing. Knowing this, we can work backwards if we choose, and repeatedly use the word so that it temporarily loses its meaning. We may then find ourselves on the edge of a kind of fear. Have we damaged our brain’s memory of what a cherry-blossom tree is?

Of course not… but staying within that uncertainty may teach us something.

Just seeing how the mind takes that defensive stance is instructive. If, instead of allowing that fear, we carry on with the exercise and spend a ‘mute’ few minutes next to the ever-changing perfection of the tree, we may experience the gap – the light – between the railway carriages of the train of consciousness thundering by on its eternal and dominating journey.

In those precious moments, we may see that there is a landscape beyond the noisy and flashing train, one that comes slowly into focus and reveals itself as a very different place, yet one to which we are, most certainly, closely related – since we and it are now still… gazing upon each other in a new way.

©Stephen Tanham

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

Dancing with the Ghost in the Machine

If you’ve ever been involved with anything of an ‘amateur dramatic’ nature, you will know that moment: the protagonist, hated until the final few moments (when the greater picture is revealed) shuffles off, in rags, to his doom; and the shared and questioning silence longs for the gentle and poignant soothing that only the right music can bring….

Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. .

Frantic sound of fingers fiddling.

Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. and then the final piece, a gentle Sufi melody cuts in… only it’s about twenty decibels too high in the flying fingers’ frantic search for sound… any sound.

The much maligned King Gilgamesh (who turns out to be only 99% schmuck) looks to the heavens in an unscripted gesture. Everyone is stunned… but for all the wrong reasons.

It didn’t happen, not yet… but it’s time to make sure it can’t…

Amateur actors – our annual workshop participants – such as the Silent Eye seems to be able to attract year on year, are wonderful people. They are enthusiastic, flexible and multi-tasking. They stand, clutching their scripts, in the middle of a space invested with spiritual emotion, power and purpose and give their all… to such an extent that, come the start of Sunday afternoon, no-one wants to leave and break up the intense camaraderie that these warm and mystical adventures generate.

There are no mistakes, just real-time variations in the script. Like Jazz, the best bits can be improvised, often with humour from above… Ask Barbara, who we once completely lost, Schrödinger-like, in the middle of Act Three in the centre of the room. To this day, no-one knows where she went.

Being the technician can be a difficult job. And, it’s near impossible to be one of the characters in the mystery play and the technician. So, the partial answer is to make the soundtrack as free-standing as possible.

The problem is the technology, or, rather, the combination of technology and the media – sound – that is required to be ‘piped’ through the technology. Most domestic music players are just not up to the job.

The epic stories of Gilgamesh the King are the oldest known legends on Earth. Using this as a basis, Stuart France has re-envisaged the story in five acts of ritual drama, where everyone attending plays their part, large or small. Stuart and Sue Vincent have crafted a workbook of nearly two hundred pages of beautifully laid out script.

I have been ‘volunteered’ to play the part of Gilgamesh, but since I have taken our technology forward, too, I’m taking no chances… These days I’d rather produce than be centre-stage.

Gone are the multiple CD machines, laid out at strategic points in the temple space of the mystery play; each one involving a lightning sprint from compass point to compass point. Gone, even, is the use of an uncooperative Apple iTunes with its incomplete staging of cues. Gone is any notion of carrying around the sound with a portable speaker – one of the past’s more heroic failures…

Instead of Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. or just plain silence, we have this on the iPad screen:

It’s a deck… a sound-deck in software. It’s what professionals use to control the music and lighting for stage shows, moving with consummate timing from event to event as the production progresses. If you were into William Gibson’s sci-fi (Burning Chrome etc) it’s what the pre-internet generation used to ‘jack into’ the ‘net and control the world with…

Tired of playing games that couldn’t really argue back, they began to design real software; masterpieces that really could kick-ass… but in a good way.

This scaled down masterpiece of software, called iMiX Pro, runs on an Apple iPad – mine. This is not to say that it does all the work for you. Oh, no… shoot, man, there’s a bucketload of stuff y’all need to do up frooont! (Sorry, that’s my inner Texan coming out). I’ve been sitting at this ‘deck’ for two days and only now… am I winning. And that’s the thing with these systems, you have to get the music into the machine before the ‘ghost’ that is the combination of producer and good software design come together in glorious expletives that do sound decidedly Texan.

In the beginning, there is the raw music, or other sound files; so, as before, you have to get them onto (in my case) your Mac and into… Hmmmm iTunes.

In the process, you have to re-name the tracks you want to use so that, when they re-appear in the iMiX software, they are recognisable. So, lovingly and carefully, you work out a naming scheme that shortens the track names in order to see something of their name in the individual panels on the iPad screen. The above first window is the result.

Next, you need to take the original files and convert them into one of Apple’s ‘Playlists’. These are just collections of songs. So it’s easy. You group all the original tracks and select ‘Add to Playlist’… and off she goes. You then have all your music in a second and more pliable container.

The use of a Playlist is essential because they have to be in this format to get the group of tracks across to the iPad. Along the way you get to put them in order – no mean feat with over twenty tracks. But, finally, they are ready to be beamed (okay, wired) across to their new portable home – a bit like the NASA lunar lander making a bid for freedom from the orbiter module. Once you’ve set off for the weekend, the iPad is on its own.

An hour later, you finally figure out how you did it last time and the transfer is complete… except the Apple transfer software has lost your carefully constructed sequencing and you’ve just got the order it decides you need on the iPad. They’re all in there, somewhere, you’ve just got to find each one again. So, you think about making paper list – or contact Sue, who recognises sleep-deprivation and provides one as a list of what should be happening in each act.

A small bottle of gin later, you realise that it doesn’t matter what the Apple software has done to your weekend’s sequence because the iMiX’s colossus of a DECK is about to rescue you!

Look back to the original diagram. Each of those vertical ‘pods’ is a beautifully programmed home for your hard-won music and sound tracks. And it offers you total control over how and when that track is played…. heaven.

You can control the volume; you can trim the clip regardless of what any other piece of software has done to it. You can select its unique fade-in and fade-out. The iPad ‘pencil’ is brilliant, and, for run-time, all you need to do is tap the track ‘pod’ and the magic beings.

And, throughout this, written up the side of the ‘pod’ is the full name of the track you so lovingly created… <cue Texan sounds…>

So, two days after I began, we have the Deck, fully programmed and ready to be operated on the weekend of 26-28 April, in lightning-fast real time, by our mega-techno dude who insists on being nameless.

But he’s related to one of the Directors…

The mighty iMiX Pro DECK…

And all of that fits into a single screen (above). There will be no ‘Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. or just plain silence’. So, while I won’t actually be operating the Deck, I’ll be the ghost in the machine…

Houston, we’re good to go.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to best play that ego-maniac, Gilgamesh…There are lots of ego-maniacs in the world at the moment. Very timely, that, Stuart…

Wish us luck… please. Even better, come and join us. We can fit in a few more people if you’d like to join this merry but sincere band. And we promise that you, too, won’t want to leave, come Sunday lunch…

©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.

The Faces of Shiva (3) The Colour of Kin

(Montage image by the author. See base of post for source of Shiva element)

We began this series by looking at how, at certain times in the life of civilisations, a ‘perfect storm’ of events overtakes and paralyses the forces of commonly perceived ‘good’ and cohesion; a state established over a long period of time.

We can consider that, in the case of America and the UK, this former consensus is in decline, and the shift of extreme wealth to the few produces a corruption which then erupts with society-changing force in varieties of violence, bringing the ‘age’ to an end… To people deprived of the the wealth and prosperity seen in those controlling the age, this is a good thing. To those of wealth it is a terrible prospect..

I am not a socialist. Having run a software business for over twenty years the aspiration-sapping dogma that often goes with it is not appealing. But the holding of more than ninety percent of a nation’s wealth by less than ten percent of its citizens is indefensible at the ‘state’ level.

No-one can blame an individual for being successful; it is what our commercial world is built on. But a society has to be something beyond this – and it has to be the home of our values. In my opinion, the living concept of society has been in decline since the time of Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the USA.

To the ancient Hindus – who gave us so many of our core ideas of philosophy, this destructive decline was, and is, inevitable. It had to happen before something of new vigour could be born and grow to a restoring maturity.

The world would never be the same, again, of course, but the ‘real’ in mankind had to be given new life, new expression, like the spring brings the new growth of the organic world.

The last living memories are leaving us, but WW1 was such an event. Between 1914 and 1919 the old ‘age’ of Victorian Britain – and its empire – was swept away, as the country gazed on the blood-bathed horror of trench-based mutual destruction across a front line of war.

The U-boats’ successful attacks on American merchant ships was the trigger for the USA to enter the war in April 1917, under President Woodrow Wilson. Faced with this, the German forces, having tried to negotiate directly with the USA, signed a humiliating agreement – the Armistice – in a railway carriage located in the french Forest of Compiègne.

Endings are important. The German diplomats knew they would be hated for their perceived ‘surrender’. They also knew that their country was dying under the strain of military expenditure. President Woodrow Wilson’s entry into the war had tipped the balance and signalled their defeat. Both sides were exhausted in a way that we can barely imagine in our comfortable western world.

The terms imposed upon Germany were savage and punitive. The currency collapsed and there was widespread starvation. We could say that ‘they’ deserved it – many in Britain did, and continued to hate anything German for decades to come.

To me, it is ironic that Germany rose to become the dominant and the most inclusive, politically, as the forerunner of the EU was established after the ruin of WW2.

Matthias Erzberger, the German politician who agreed the terms of the armistice – reluctantly, for he knew how it would end – was murdered three years later by ultra-nationalist thugs from his own country.

In the confines of that forest, on the day of the Armistice, a younger German officer had witnessed his country’s surrender. He took with him a cold determination from that moment of national humiliation.

His name was Adolph Hitler…

Winning is complex; and the hatred generated by winners can be the driving force behind the destruction of an age. In 1938, no-one in Europe could believe that the continent had forgotten the horror of WW1 so thoroughly that another war was looming. But it was, fuelled by the hatred of the defeat and humiliation imposed by the ‘victors’.

There were few victors in the years that followed, as new depths of the human spirit were plumbed. The Nazis focussed their hatred of a target minority (the Jews) into the creation of the concentration camps – their ‘final solution’. Psychopaths – children of hatred – were running Germany, while the millions of  ‘good Germans’ stood by in silent horror, terrified of speaking out but watching their country bring about what it hated, most.

Today we face a different war; one in which the natural and shared financial resources of the planet are centre-stage. We have reached the ‘finiteness’ of the Earth. Our intelligence has built machines that destroy as well as they create. The idea of ‘the good’ is paid lip-service, if not ridiculed by common expressions such as ‘do-gooders’.

Power breeds abuse. Abuse creates minorities who hate. Elements of the super-rich can harvest hatred as energy for their own purposes. Another name for this phase of ‘the Shiva cycle’ is fascism; where a minority with ‘differences’ is demonised for their skin colour or their ‘destructive’ religion. In the history of mankind it has been one of the most successful political philosophies.

As Edmund Burke – who was quite a right-wing figure – said: All it takes for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’.

Usually, it’s not enough – nor in time. Occasionally, the Shiva force is put back in its box…

Is there a spiritual dimension to this? The force that feeds this negativity is hate. As a parent might look at their fighting children and wish upon them the higher perspective of an adult, so we can look at ourselves enmeshed in this cycle and pull ourselves ‘above it’. Without this, there will never be healing.

Other parts in the Faces of Shiva series:

Part One   

Part Two


These are my personal views. I respect those of others who may not agree with them. If there is a way through these things we need to share opinions and ideas in a non-polemic way. Currently, hatred reigns. As Stephen Hawking said, “All we have to do it to keep talking”.

If we don’t there may not be a future…

Please free to add your own comments.

©️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.

Images: The opening montage is by the author. The underlying image of Shiva is from Wikipedia under the licence detailed below.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Shiva_cropped.jpg

Thejas Panarkandy from India – Murudeshwara Statue

The Faces of Shiva (2) Twisting Democracy

 

(Montage image by the author. See base of post for source of Shiva element)

The ‘perfect storm’ is a phrase that has entered our common vocabulary; that coming together of events to create a maelstrom of change and, often, terror – the terrorist attack of ‘9/11’ was a vivid example. These events change our world. We need a new word that describes the way we can look back at catastrophes and dissect them with great insight, yet seem unable to react in time to change them when they are happening.

The fact that our societies cannot fend off these ‘attacks’ in time to change them is part of a bundle of risk calculations made by the perpetrators.  They rely on the ‘attack’ being something new, something of a different order to what has gone before, and which therefore will escape the safety mechanisms already in place. By following this plan, they calculate that the plurality and slowness of the response (of democracy) will dilute any ability to frustrate what they are carrying out.

They also rely on poor education; the inability to see through over-simplification of important and life-changing decisions. Few things are black and white, but we have to work to distinguish things in colour…

Politically, we could dispense with the slow and measured response of democracy and instigate a small or very small group of controllers – this would be fascism. Fascism always seems to be attractive in the face of a crisis; that’s why generating a false crisis is usually the first move of the proto-fascist. Decisions with depth need the kind of thinking through that makes things slow, and depends upon the goodwill of the people and the maturity of the judiciary.

Fascism is not a political party. It’s a state of mind that preys upon the under-educated. It follows a well-tested curve to power; something I will write about in the final blog of this series. It is a mistake to think that the snake of fascism ever dies. Its mechanisms are always funded by the super-rich, who need to damage the power of ‘reasonableness’ in order to get the sweeping changes they need for yet more power. This is key: while a society’s centre of reasonableness holds, the extremists cannot gain traction.

The year 2016 saw two examples of a dynamic and decisive use of a new technology for the manipulation of political power: the US presidential elections, and what has become known as the ‘Brexit’ referendum in the UK- though, at the time, ‘Brexit’ was the name of the well-funded camp that wanted a second national referendum on the issue – the first was in 1975, which confirmed that the British nation wanted to stay in Europe.

I am not writing here about the results; the winners of the elections. The idea of democracy is that people vote for what they want. I am discussing the advanced methods by which democracy is manipulated; and the step-change in power of those who now control mass opinion. Historically, newspapers and television have done this, but the massive growth of social media has changed the playing field across the world – particularly the use of Facebook data, something acknowledged by Facebook itself.

During the start of the second UK referendum, I was first alerted to what was going on when a full-screen image appeared on my Mac over my morning coffee. There, in an exact match of the colours and fonts used by the UK’s Labour Party, was a political advert saying that Jeremy Corbin, the leader of the Labour Party, was against Britain staying in the European Union. The content of the Facebook ad was subtly worded, such that it was the right side of the law, but the inference: that Corbin had endorsed the ‘Brexit’ campaign, was entirely false. Subsequently, it was discovered that there were hundreds of variants of each advert, each specially tuned to the exact political parameters of the recipient. Ask any psychologist: people give a lot away about themselves when they fill in the boxes on fun surveys like ‘What kind of avenging princess are you?’

Surprisingly few people know the full story of how Facebook data was used during that period in the UK and in America. It was estimated that the personal social-political media profiles of over 50 million Americans were held by Facebook and legally (though deviously) extracted by an English firm – Cambridge Analytica – to be used in the election that brought Donald Trump to power. Exactly the same process was used to sway the million and a half voters needed to tip Britain into the present chaos of ‘Brexit’, as per my Labour Party example, above.

Cambridge Analytica ceased trading following the exposure of its methods by journalists not politicians. It was a runaway business success to that point. Only social pressure and the refusal of other companies to be seen to be customers drove it out of existence. In the end, much of that boils down to the pressure exerted by institutional shareholders, which points to one effective way of tacking such abuses.

It would be a mistake to assume that the methods developed by Cambridge Analytica have faded away in the aftermath. Facebook did nothing illegal, but – particularly in the US – is deeply fearful of new laws that would classify its screen-based output as ‘publishing’ and bring its content under the same legal and political scrutiny as conventional publishers. Such a move would dramatically affect the growth and share price of the ‘Tech’ giants in the social media world. Just as significantly, it would give them a task that they were, technically, not yet able to perform. The sheer volume of content means that even an army of human monitors could not deliver the control needed. Only advanced AI methods can do this – coupled with much faster follow-on response than they have shown previously.

The recent teen suicide scandal in the UK, where the Google subsidiary Instagram was seen to be hosting videos that promoted the practice, has highlighted the slow response to present crises, despite a stated willingness on the part of the Tech giants.

Personally, I think both Google and Facebook offer excellent products. But both face a barrage of ‘social responsibility’ issues, the response to which could bring them into a societal maturity they currently lack. But they have deep pockets… very deep pockets. We can hope that such money will be used in the development of automated ‘cleansing’ systems, rather than fighting off the need for society to protect itself – and the integrity of the political process of government.

All of what is happening may be inevitable. This ‘Face of Shiva’ may be characteristic of the destruction of a way of life that comes at the end of an age. The shift of power into the hands of very few people and corporations is a frightening thing. Plurality protects; the US lawmakers who are now looking at anti-trust legislation against their own companies face a difficult dilemma, but one that must be solved if we are to feel that the individual human has any value at all.

Is there a spiritual dimension to this? There is certainly one of consciousness. The most destructive forces at work are those creating the ‘polarity of hate’ across the western world. However much we feel ‘our side’ has been wronged, our only hope for the future is to re-discover the middle ground from which the extremists have pushed our collective centre of gravity- and that is a personal, not a political, action.

Other parts in the Faces of Shiva series:

Part One


These are my personal views. I respect those of others who may not agree with them. If there is a way through these things we need to share opinions and ideas in a non-polemic way. Currently, hatred reigns. As Stephen Hawking said, “All we have to do it to keep talking”.

If we don’t there may not be a future…

Please free to add your own comments.

©️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.

Images: The opening montage is by the author. The underlying image of Shiva is from Wikipedia under the licence detailed below.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Shiva_cropped.jpg

Thejas Panarkandy from India – Murudeshwara Statue

 

Reality TV?

 

It’s full of trivia and artificial things; things which have arisen in the name of entertainment. Everywhere you look there is a stream of mindless celebrities willing – some would say desperate –  to eat tropical bugs to give themselves a chance of being famous, again. It reminds me of a sad film I once saw called “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They”.

There are also some of the best and most informative documentary programmes we have ever seen. Such a mixture, and, as usual, it’s a matter of personal choice – and a bit of effort…

Television. It’s changed a lot since I was a boy… Perhaps not all for the better. But it’s not the purpose of this blog to complain about the ‘box’. We are all entitled to our leisure time and to choose how we spend it. To me, there is a sense here of a ‘race to the bottom’ about a whole layer of modern entertainment. This seems to go hand in hand with a view of life as a comic strip, where there must be good guys and bad guys and violent resolutions. Superhero movies don’t help. The truth is complex. Resolution of problems always involves compromise. There is no black and white.

How about considering the humble TV in a different way: as a reflection of the mind and human consciousness, it’s an experiment that opens up a set of parallels that are fascinating.

The TV shows us a flat screen that our minds have learned to convert back into our native 3D. With a well made drama programme that we can be ‘lost’ in, the experience is a good approximation of being there. Children can be traumatised by scary TV programmes. Adults sometimes forget the degree to which they cannot separate it from reality. Only later in life do we see that the ‘scare’ can be switched off inside ourselves, but only if we ‘pull back’ from the flat screen experience and deny it its imaginative power. My wife still can’t and hides her face behind a cushion with really scary films…

In ‘switching off’ what appears to be present lies a mystical parallel. Can the television teach us to do the same thing with life, itself?

I’m watching a bunch of gym-obsessed twenty-somethings flaunt themselves on an island in the sun. The women are blonde and beautiful; the men shaped like Greek gods… But their conversation could be from a junior school. The whole thing is entirely artificial. I mutter under my breath and switch it over. It’s a documentary about plastic waste and what we are doing to our oceans. I care about this, so I sit down and watch, clutching my cup of tea. This is real… and painful. I wish the perfect sun worshippers were watching this, too. We could us their energies…

Can we, in life, switch over channels? To do this we have to find the equivalent of us being on our comfy chair and watching the TV. This is entirely possible and is one of the basic techniques that we teach in the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

We need to, literally, push the world away from our eyeballs. Sound crazy? Well, the reason the world is painted on our eyeballs is that we identify with what we see. Like the child with the television, we can’t see the screen and ourselves at the same time. By developing this dual consciousness – which is the work of only a few months – we  can begin to watch our own life as though it were a screen. In fact it is a kind of screen, one on which we project much of our existence. We see this as happening to us, but, really, we are happening to ourselves. At least at the mundane levels of life.

Once we begin to penetrate the understand of the ‘world as television’ we can start to look for the truly real…. and that is a very different journey.

©️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.

 

 

 

The Faces of Shiva (1)

 

(Montage image by the author. See base of post for source of Shiva element)

Brahma creates the world. Vishnu sustains it so that it might achieve its potential. Shiva destroys it when its positive energy has been exhausted. The ‘world’ might be everything, or, for the initiate of old, it might just as well apply to anything created by the mind – large or small. In other words a system.

It should make us think…

The ancient Hindu triumvirate describes a deep and recurring motif in spirituality: that there must be a threefold process, which necessarily involves the sweeping away of that which has served its purpose; has ceased to support the structures it built to achieve its purposes; has ceased to draw upon the positive (expansive) energies that sustained its coming-into-maturity.

We could be forgiven for thinking that this ancient myth accurately describes what we are experiencing in the world economics, politics and technology.

At the heart of it is the question: does the ordinary human have any intrinsic value?

We take for granted that we have value – that human life has value. We are at the top of the food-chain. We are intelligent. We created machines that appear to think, at least well enough to solve problems. Yet we are surrounded by recent and powerful changes that are sweeping away the consensus of ‘human worth’ that have sustained our civilisations for centuries.

Even a decade ago, we could have counted on an unwritten agreement that human life had value among the powers that control. Now, I’m not so sure. On both sides of the Atlantic (and elsewhere) what was supposedly put to bed at the end of the age of Fascism (World War II and its surrounding periods) is being attacked by either ultra-rich or fanatical forces.

In Britain, we have a crumbling national identify, divided by the hatred generated by Brexit and the advancing power of the political ‘right’ whose vision sweeps away thirty years of social thinking. Thugs from the ultra-right have been empowered by Brexit’s implicit racism and feel justified in threatening and even killing members of parliament who promote social and inclusive agendas.

In America, there is a President who is adored or hated in seemingly equal measure; a head of state who openly rewards the super-rich – that one percent of the elite that owns ninety percent of the wealth.

This kind of approach is applauded by those who espouse the supposed ‘trickle-down’ effect of wealth at that top; yet detailed studies on both sides of the Atlantic have shown that the tricking down of such wealth is non-existent. Many of those who voted for Brexit admit they did it to ‘spoil the party’ of the better off.

On holiday, last November, we met and had dinner with an American couple from Arizona whose company we liked but whose values were very different to ours. The personal possession of guns was one of the issues, but we were able to discuss it in a friendly manner. I learned a lot – particularly from the man’s statement that the police were incapable of responding to armed burglary in time to do anything, and so anyone not armed was vulnerable… He was appalled when I said that, in the UK,  I would be committing a serious criminal offence if was caught with a pistol in public. I won’t be – I don’t like guns, but it pays to listen to other people’s views…

We did not fall out. Both sides of the table listened, and we continued to understand each other in more depth. Most telling was what the husband of the couple said to me as we were preparing to leave. He said that we should not believe this ‘bullshit’ that the average American middle-class family was prosperous. In his view this entire layer of American society had become substantially poorer over the past twenty years – the period that the super rich had hoovered up the available wealth – particularly after each financial crash.

The same is true in Britain, where the supposed ‘middle-class’ has seen its prosperity whittled away by the politics of ‘austerity’ since the financial crash of 2007.  As a close friend of mine – a very working class man – said, “None of the ****ing bankers were put in prison, yet we’re all a lot poorer through having to bail them out… and the rich seem to be a lot richer, despite this.” In our case, this rage came home to roost with Brexit – changing the face of Britain, possibly forever, and destroying an economic coalition of European countries that had prevailed since the end of WWII.

When I worked in IT (for a Californian company) it was often said to me, in confidence, that the Europoean Union was ‘too successful at international law and too principled…’ Food for thought.

Recently, I watched a documentary in which an American billionaire from Silicon Valley was interviewed on this subject. His opinion runs counter to most of his super-rich friends. He argued that the very wealthy had only to share a little of their wealth to make the whole economic carousel continue in its revolutions; but that they didn’t see it that way, and therefore it was likely doomed…

Everywhere we look there is destruction of the old and formerly stable way of looking at things.

Back to our ‘value of the human’ consideration. I used to think that we could only fix things if we addressed the following:

  1. There has to be a ‘society’. Former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher famously said that ‘there was no such thing as society’ – prompting outrage at the time. Collectively, perhaps, we need to re-learn where society comes from and how its values stay strong. The Scandinavian countries seem the best at doing this, and they willingly pay the higher taxes needed to sustain it.
  2. We have to believe that politics both works and matters. To have politics we  have to have real choices. If, say, a victory for either side in a two-party state actually results in a the same economy-controlled decisions, then that is not a choice – it’s a fake choice. Following WWII, Britain voted out an astonished Winston Churchill in favour of a radical Labour Party that proceeded to carry out an exhaustive and effective overhaul of British social provisions. That was only possible because there was belief that change could be achieved.
  3. There has to be education about the issues. Brexit is a case in point. Even hardline pro-Brexit voters now admit they had no comprehension of the complexity of what they were voting for. They may not want to change their minds, but they agree they were misled.
  4. Technology – particularly social media –  needs to be brought under a unified regulatory structure, even if it means extending the present laws to accommodate the uniques. The abuse of this mechanism was widespread in the Brexit referendum – and in the last US election. An English software company – Cambridge Analytica (about which I wrote at the time) – was chased to ground and had to ceased trading, but that’s proving to have been the tip of the iceberg. The origin of some of the vast sums spent with the social media companies on these campaigns remains shadowy.

Today, I’m not sure that list is comprehensive. Much of what follows in these posts is about the gaps…

Our world is complex and it is international. Any attempt to turn the clock back to simpler days, like ‘little Englanders’ do,  is doomed to swift and painful failure. The degree to which people’s prosperity is inextricably linked with the state of the rest of the world is a terrifying thing – unless you see it as part of an evolution of the human race; an evolution in which we are brought face to face with the real conditions prevailing in the rest of the planet – unable to ‘turn off the TV’.

Is the face of Shiva upon us? The speed with which these changes occurred, and is occurring; and the success of some of the most destructive forces suggests that, whatever you call it, something whose time has come is active across the planet. This may be a test of the present stage of humanity, or it may simply be an age of destruction. It’s happened before, but few learn from history.

In the next few posts, I will be writing about some of the most pressing topics around the subject of global power, economics and technology. Beginning with the degree to which western democracies are wide open to active and politically-sponsored online interference from hostile forces.

These are my personal views. I respect those of others who may not agree with them. If there is a way through these things we need to share views and talk a lot. If we don’t there may not be a future…

Please free to add your own comments.

©️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.

Images: The opening montage is by the author. The underlying image of Shiva is from Wikipedia under the licence detailed below.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Shiva_cropped.jpg

Thejas Panarkandy from India – Murudeshwara Statue

©️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.

 

The rotating blade of meaning (3)

arthur young fence four sm

For this series of posts to make sense – and be spiritually useful in our lives – it must challenge the way we see and therefore ascribe meaning to situations. That challenge must also apply to what we are, as well, since how we used to see, in innocence and wonder, lies, now, below the surface of our active adult consciousness, yet comprises its foundations. Everything we perceive has a human process of perception to it, shared by us all, but differently configured within our individual psychologies. This happens so fast and so automatically that we are not aware of it, but the child is still within us.

There were four of us in the small conference room, high in the executive suite of one of the corporate buildings belonging to the giant telecommunications (telco) company. We were a small but important supplier of complex management software to the giant company.

And we’d had enough…

The four people around the table were present to discuss the legal case that was brought by ourselves and due to enter its court stages in a few days’ time. We were not bluffing. We never had been. As the principle of the business, I was there to demonstrate this stance; and that we were not being intimidated by their size. My opposite number was a senior sector head and a very decent man. The legal crisis had been passed to him to resolve. As always, it was sad that the proceedings had taken so long to get to the attention of a reasonable person, but that’s often how it goes. We knew we were burning our bridges and we knew that we would never work with that Telco, again. It was, potentially, as confrontational as it gets…

The two people with us were lawyers. One of our own and the other acting for the Telco. Our lawyer sat to my right around the small table. The Telco lawyer was at the side of the corporate exec. Together, we formed a cross, just like in our previous post.

basic cross map for arthur young

If we grow up in a commercial world, we come to expect that our ‘betters’ will sit across that desk or table when they are ‘dealing’ with us. The face to face, 180 degrees position is one we learn very early in our lives. We do it because it is only face to face that we get the full range of signals that tell us what we need to survive, to communicate and to love… It has always been said that love is close to its opposite…

The lawyers were there to advise, they were not able to affect the primary axis between me and the Telco manager, but they could suggest mediation.

young compass diag

If we consider another, and familiar example of a ‘four’ diagram, we can immediately relate to another aspect of this fourness. In the above diagram, we recognise the compass directions from typical map, or even – these days – a smart phone. We know from our reading of maps that we can move along the north-south axis without changing where we are in the East-West direction. The one does not affect the other, yet has great potential to mediate. If it is late and we are hiking to our safe destination, the other axis will play a crucial role.

solomon

One of the finest examples – given by Arthur Young, himself, is that of the story of the wise King Solomon mediating between the two wives over the ownership of a baby. We all know the story of how the king asked whose baby it was; and both women replied it was theirs. This is represented by the vertical axis of ‘Possession’ – they were each pulling to get the child. One of them was lying but Solomon could not know which without invoking the other axis, which, in this case, was Love. So, he did so, and deliberately suggested that he cut the infant in two, so that each wife could have half. The real mother was horrified at the proposed loss of life of her son and offered to let the other woman have the child rather than see it killed. The movement along the other axis, Love, resolved the situation, and the cleverness of the solution has come down to us through legend.

Or did the story always contain a pointer to the architecture of real meaning?

Arthur Young’s passion was to unite the worlds of science and mysticism. In this research, he was beginning to see way to do it. In the next part, we will consider how he invoked the different aspects of space and time to assist him.

Part One,

Part Two 

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.