Gilgamesh descending (2)

I enter the temple at the head of the twin columns of the Dancers of Fate. Those of the kingdom enter behind their King in silent reverence as we pass the Guardian and bow our respects.

Alone, but knowing they follow, I cross the centre of the exotic floor and move towards the east of the temple. The gold-draped chair is waiting. I turn and stand, watching the precise formation of Fate Dancers peel away left and right, to literally flow down the circumference of the large circle that is the enneagram; the heart of this temple of the mysteries.

All wait for the King. I take a deep breath before beginning. He is waiting in the space around the golden chair… The familiar feel of an autocratic king from thousands of years ago.

I realise that I am the break in his continuity. Settling into the seated vessel, once more, this ancient king breaks with tradition and gazes across to look at the woman who is half human, half goddess – Ninsun, his mother. The memory is still fresh in his mind: the dream of the rock that fell from the sky to the ground, the way it was adored – the way he hugged and loved it! His strong body curls with the strangeness of it; the embarrassment of how he knelt before her as in a trance, asking her to tell him what it meant…

A friend, Ninsun had said. Even a man capable of being a brother! He was to come into my life… I can feel the King’s astonishment, even though I know he is cuniform words in clay from nearly three thousand years ago. And then the separation leaves us… and there is just Gilgamesh the King on his large throne, whose arms curl up into two wooden hands that hold his beloved sword. He is calm… purposeful. But the most powerful man in the world knows that world is changing.

He was beloved of the Gods, he knew. Why else had the world fallen at his feet? Surely, he had nothing to fear.

Now, there is no more time to indulge the mystery. The women are dancing again and he must watch, captivated. The women known as the Fate Dancers had devised these movements for his pleasure, though he divined the hidden hand of the gods in the way it stroked his heart, like a lyre whose music was not heard, but felt.

Everyone in the royal palace loved the hypnotic flow of the Fates’ dance. Shamhat had even petitioned him to let them make its gliding patterns permanent in the floor of the royal chamber. And he had agreed; at a great cost to the royal purse… for the dancers, but most of all for her. For Shamhat.

But that had been before she refused his advances, saying she had served her time and no longer answered to him but to the Divine Council, alone. His fingers grip the blade of his sword. No other circumstance in the world could have frustrated him like this! The Fate Dancers dance on… unperturbed.

“Shamhat!” He spits out the word. The High Priestess’s name etches a bitter taste on his tongue… Before him, like flickers of half-seen light, the Fate Dancers maintain the perfection of their movements; but Gilgamesh, with his hawk-like vision, sees their eyes flicker, before, smiling, his fingertips bid them continue.

Shamhat! He would make her pay for her public refusal to share her bed with the God King. But it would have to be subtle. Like him, she was partly God, partly human… and clever.

He looks down from his throne at the elegant and beautiful movements across the glistening white floor of his chamber. The Fate Dancers’ feet follow a pattern of lines that intersect the large circle at nine points. Three of them are formed into a triangle bounded by golden stars set into the white crystals. The other six lines intersect like the ghostly pattern of a gemstone and their intersections with the circle are marked with stars of dark blue lapis lazuli.

All this had been created for Shamhat, working – he now saw – to aid in this strange contest of the mind and body with which she saw fit to challenge his authority. But he loved the movements of the dancers. So much so that he could feel his world shifting each time they began to flow across the magical glyph before him.

There would be time to fix this, he thought to himself, settling back into his throne and reaching for his golden cup of mead.

He must have dozed off… Before him, the floor design glitters in the flickering light of the tallow candles. A rough man dressed in furs kneels at the edge of the court and he could sense another behind him. Gilgamesh reaches for his sword, but the vizier’s hand stops him, gently.

“My apologies, King Gilgamesh, I sought not to disturb your rest. There is no threat.”

Gilgamesh lets go the grip on his sword. “That is a dangerous place to stand, even for a royal vizier!”

The vizier bows and points at the kneeling supplicant. “He has news we felt you would wish to know, especially in these… uncertain times.”

Gilgamesh can taste the dawning of the new in the air all around him.

“Speak, man!” he shouts at the trapper. “If what you say is true, let us have no ceremony. What is it you have seen?”

“Why, I have seen a giant, my king!”

The king laughs, refreshed, relaxed and alert. He is amused. Good-naturedly, he tells the trapper that he has been listening to tavern stories. The man protests and the king is about to dismiss him as a fool when he realises that the description of the powerful and fleet wild man is remarkably close to how he, the king, would be described by a stranger, had he lived from the land.

“There is truth in your voice,” Gilgamesh concludes. Reluctantly, he asks the trapper why this has such importance that he risks his life coming to the royal palace to report it.

“My Lord,” says the trembling man, “he could be your very twin.”

Gilgamesh takes a breath and gazes upwards, letting it out slowly. No-one can see his smile.

Time passes. The royal chamber is empty, apart from the king. The tallow candles have burned low. They are making sputtering noises in their flickering death. Gilgamesh follows the spirals of soot high into the dimness of the chamber.

He is pleased with himself. The trapper has been despatched to find the high priestess, who will be told that she is to use her divine arts to seduce and civilise the wild twin. He knows that this action will open up a new sea of possibilities, but he does not care.

All that matters is that he will have vengeance on the woman he used to love…

Other parts in this series:

Part One,

©Stephen Tanham

Lord of the Deep, the Silent Eye’s 2019 April workshop, was created by Stuart France, assisted by Sue Vincent.

This narrative is a personal journey through that ritual drama in the persona of Gilgamesh.

Header image by Sue Vincent, copyright the Silent Eye.

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.

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Gilgamesh descending (1)

Julius Caesar, speaking after winning an important battle in Asia Minor, is quoted as saying ‘I came, I saw, I conquered…’

The same cannot be said for Gilgamesh the King – one of Julius Caesar’s mighty empire-building forebears, who ruled the land of Sumer from the city of Uruk in the southernmost region of Mesopotamia. The story of King Gilgamesh may or may not be based upon fact. Its importance to our lives – and probably survival – is due to it being an unusual kind of story: one that contains the power to initiate inner change in the human mind and heart.

The epic of Gilgamesh was written down in fragments, beginning 2,500 years ago. It is a mysterious tale, and was seen as ideal for adaptation to the Silent Eye’s purposes by the writing team of Stuart France and Sue Vincent (France and Vincent).

Planes, trains and automobiles. Friday, April 26th finally arrives and an excited group assembles at the Nightingale Centre in the tiny village of Great Hucklow – a gem within the Derbyshire hills. Stuart had chosen the epic of Gilgamesh two years prior as the basis for the 2019 Silent Eye workshop. A great deal of work had been put in by he and Sue to bring it to life. Now, we were costumed, breathing deeply, silent and lined up for entry into what would become our emotional and spiritual home for the next two and a half days…. The word ‘intense’ is appropriate, but not sufficient.

Where Caesar enjoyed conquest, the Silent Eye’s retelling of the story of Gilgamesh begins with failure – the failure of the King to persuade his former lover to sleep with him. She is Shamhat – the magical and sexually skilled high-priestess of Uruk; Uruk the city of gold and tall walls, rebuilt by the purposeful hands of the King, himself – rebuilt so that what is within can be safe… The children sleep safely in their beds, but…

Within a mystical play of this nature, the key words always have meanings beyond their obvious ones…. both must fit the story and, ultimately, carry us through into a new perspective. When that transformation is done within a group understanding, the voyage across the emotional ocean is to a new reality.

One reading of the original texts of the legend of Gilgamesh will show that the modern world did not invent graphic sex. The potency of sexual force was known and deeply explored by that ancient society – as it was across so much of the ancient world in a time before the censoring authority of Christianity began to bend the original meaning of the word ‘evil’. The cost of this crushing of the predominantly feminine power was that we lost the living presence of the divine feminine and our priestesses – and the world was a poorer and less compassionate place.

Shamhat was the priestess of that ancient place – and, allegorically, would call upon her sexual force within the play to great effect. But, she begins our story by denying it to Gilgamesh, an act that demonstrates to those present that there is something very wrong with their iconic relationship…

Gilgamesh has laboured hard to make Uruk safe.

But, in Stuart’s words laid before us in the script, the children of Uruk are not entirely safe… They ‘cry themselves to sleep at night’. Their vulnerability is not sexual, though; it is of the soul.

Their mighty king has conquered all, beginning with restoring his own place to the throne, lost after the premature death of his great father – a man he barely knew.

Gilgamesh can and does have everything he needs, including his pick of the first night of lovemaking with every bride on her wedding night. In our own, Norman-derived history we know it as the ‘droit de seigneur’; and it was an enduring statement of the abuse of feudal male power for thousands of years after Gilgamesh strode the walls of Uruk in his lonely anguish.

This man, this king, has nothing to fear. The whole world bows before him… except Shamhat, who thus becomes the ‘thing’ he wants the most.

This was the backdrop for Silent Eye’s annual workshop: Lord of the Deep. Possibly the most intense three days I have ever lived through – and not by choice. Despite many attempts on my part (and Stuart’s, once he realised I was serious) to find another to take it on, I ended up playing the role of this doomed king. Gilgamesh is descending in the title of this series of blogs – borrowed from its use in astrology – because his life is about to descend into a private hell on earth.

Those familiar with the spiritual and psychological work done in a ‘temple of the mysteries’ will know the intensity that builds, as each stage of the working is brought from idea to breath to reality.

Gilgamesh, mighty and all-powerful ruler of the fabled city of Uruk was angry. The children were not sleeping peacefully in their beds, and the forces of chaos were about to (metaphorically) clash with the quiet peace of that Derbyshire village. To enter into these workings is to be changed… there is no escaping that result.

It had begun… and none of us really knew where it was going to end. A script is only a part of what actually happens on these occasions. It was not a question of being surrounded by ill-wishers – quite the opposite. It was a matter of knowing what lay ahead as the emotional journey began. I would need those friends around me, even though Gilgamesh the character appeared to have few of them.

When you undertake such a role, you have to give yourself over to it; letting its nature emerge and giving it a real home. Effectively, each player becomes a vessel for the inner story. Once that inner story is begun there is no let up – not if you want to do justice to the transformative nature of the weekend.

So, now – reliving that Friday – we shift to the living present… and pick up the bound scripts or digital tablets within which the two-hundred pages of our immediate future are inscribed. There begins music that pulls at the heart, then the courtiers pass the palace Guardian and file into the temple room behind their revered King Gilgamesh. A breath; a final glance at the opening words. Gilgamesh is angry… I breathe even more deeply; I have no idea why this emotion is so intense. But his existential lava flows into my own soul the minute I begin speaking… and my voice changes, all by itself.

Run, children, run.

©Stephen Tanham

Header image by Sue Vincent, copyright the Silent Eye.

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.

“The best day, ever” in Eden

They were watching me from the side of a steep bank that frames the inner edge of a huge surface of concrete which will soon be Eden North, replicating – but with differences – the internationally famous Eden Project in Cornwall.

The space used to be Bubbles swimming pool and, before that, was the renowned Super Swimming Stadium, the centre of so many children’s holidays before their parents discovered you could get more reliable sunshine than Morecambe’s on a suddenly affordable Spanish Costa Brava.

They all died a kind of death, then, the Victorian seaside towns… But some of us keep the faith, if only for that steaming mug of a ‘milky coffee’ in the depths of freezing winter, when we’ve finished the dog-walk.

The two young girls. I had seen them arrive a few minutes, before – with their mother. She looked the very picture of care-worn but caring. It’s a look you see a lot in poor seaside towns… Morecambe has been a long time in the doldrums, but there is a light on the horizon; one begun by Urban Splash’s refurbishment of the Midland Hotel – a surviving Art Deco masterpiece.

We had the first night of our honeymoon there, in 2010, a year after its opening. Bernie is from Morecambe… well, actually, Heysham, its sister town a few miles to the south. It’s pronounced Hee-sham, not Hay-sham. She’s very particular about that, so I thought I’d better include it! We both love Art Deco, and had followed the hotel’s rebirth with a great deal of pleasure.

The new Eden North promises to make a great difference to this once-proud resort. It can’t happen soon, enough. The Eden people know what we have never forgotten; that across the vastness of Morecambe Bay lies the whole vista of the Lake District…

It takes a seed of something to bring true life back to a place or a person who has become sad… in body, spirit, career, in their home, in their life… Sometimes, you don’t know you have the power to do this until you find yourself equipped – often in the most unexpected way.

I looked at the frustrated collie and I threw the cheap frisbee again. The wind was behind me and defeated what little aerodynamic soundness it had. You don’t get much from the seafront beach stop for three quid. It had been two, but I decided to add another two ‘tennis’ balls to the bag so that we had a spare in case Tess (the collie) lost one. Her frustration with Dad had begun when we got to North Beach for her usual ball or frisbee session of sandy madness and discovered that the ball and chucker were still in the back of the departing Toyota, now too far away towards Sainsbury’s and shopping to call back. “Perhaps a stone or two?” I had said, weakly, into the betrayed hazel eyes, knowing the result…

Now, twenty minutes and five hundred yards further south, the cheap frisbee was suddenly seized by the wind and carried along the vast concrete expanse in a motion that I can only describe as ‘skittering’. Round and round it turned, whilst travelling at increasing speed towards the grassy boundary – within sight of the Midland Hotel.

The collie’s interest was renewed by this magical motion and, howling, she sped after it, only to snap her strong jaws over its momentarily upended motion and break it in two.

You don’t get much from the beach shop for two quid.

The two young girls were now only yards away from me – and squealing with delight at Tess’s antics. I turned to look at their joyous faces – full of simple happiness – and asked if they’d like to have a go… but I could see the disappointment as they gazed on the distant plastic ruin, now in two bits and still being blown onto the distant grass.

The tennis balls! I had forgotten those…

“Would you like a go with Tess and a tennis ball?” I asked, looking up at an anxious Mum still on the promenade. I smiled and waved, showing her that her lovely kids were in safe hands.

“Could we?” asked the eldest girl.

“Of course,” I said, delving into the bag and extracting a new tennis ball. It was offered and taken.

“We’re on holiday,” said the eldest girl.

“I’m on holiday, too,” added her younger sister, looking very proud of the fact that they were in this adventure together.

“How about you take turns,” I said, gently.

The eldest bobbed her head. The youngest almost bowed hers. Tess trotted up to her new friends, tail wagging, mightily. Things were looking up… The girls stared adoringly at the collie.

When both girls had taken a turn, the eldest offered me back the ball.

“You can have a few more goes if you like?” I said.

And that’s when it happened… The elder sister looked across at her mum and turned back to me, saying, as she danced a step, “This is the best day ever…”

I can only say that I was broken at that moment; and fought to suppress the tears that formed, not wanting to spoil their fun. That such a simple act of kindness could have brought them so much joy was so very… unexpected.

I pretended to fumble with the ball and composed myself.

“How about we have one go each and three rounds of it all?” I asked.

“That would be nine chucks!” said the elder girl, laughing at the chance to show off her arithmetic.

Nine chucks later they looked up at their mother, who was moving slowly along the prom and waving at them. She looked happy with the turn of events, though she had kept her distance.

The youngest gave me back our ball. “Thank you!’ she beamed. “We’re off to the beach, now.”

I could see the excitement on their faces at this further delight. And then I remembered the small carrier bag by my ankles.

“Do you have your beach tennis balls?” I asked, conspiratorially.

Two earnest little heads shook, negatively.

“Better take these, then,” I winked, passing them the little white bag, with its two new balls. “Go now! Your mum is waiting!”

They danced off, but the eldest turned to wave, one final time, before they took their mother’s hands.

My own young grandchildren – two girls – live in Australia. One day when they visit, I hope to bring them to see the new Eden North Project; and point down to where the barren concrete was; on the best day, ever…

©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.

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.

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