Conversation in the Mead Hall – week one
Sunday 23 October: opening session
Everyone was asked why they had come. “I came because it is the beginning of something, the best place to contemplate the starting place with a beginner’s mind,” was one response. Amongst what emerged from the other responses and ensuing discussion was the special place of Service - it is this that sets Beshara apart, Bulent had said. Who are we in service to? How can we cultivate receptivity? Perhaps the time together will allow us not so much to find answers as to ask better questions. Two ways of thinking about the Starting Place were mentioned: indeed the spirit that inspired the establishing of Chisholme and also the ‘pre-eternal’ starting place of each of us.
Monday 24 October morning session
The session began by reading the words of Ibn ‘Arabi:
We empty our hearts of reflective thinking, and we sit together with God (al-Haqq) on the carpet of adab and spiritual attentiveness (muraqaba) and presence and readiness to receive whatever comes to us from Him – so that it is God who takes care of teaching us by means of unveiling and spiritual realisation.
So when they have focused their hearts and their spiritual aspirations (himam) on God and have truly taken refuge with Him – giving up any reliance on the claims of reflection and investigation and intellectual results – then their hearts are purified and open.
Once they have this inner receptivity, God manifests Himself to them, teaching them and informing them through the direct vision of the inner meaning of those words and reports, in a single instant.
A theme that emerged was confusion. Mention was made of the relativisation of truth in the postmodern world and the exploitation of narrative by the powerful to blind us to truth (eg as portrayed in Adam Curtis’ documentaries, Bitter Lake and Hyper Normalisation). On the personal level full understanding seems elusive: there seems always to be a gap between what we come to understand and the actual state of affairs. The resolution which was offered was to go back to basics: to return to the spirit of the starting place, to concern oneself with very Being and not concern oneself with one’s own narrative. A key to this is to ask oneself ‘What is my passion?’ and then in the Spirit of the Starting Place to listen.
Towards the end of the session a new topic emerged. In thinking about the young, youth close to the starting place, and contrasting them with those in the room two qualities important in bringing anything about were recognised: energy and wisdom. Both are esteemed. At the Starting Place there is much energy, the return brings with it wisdom.
Monday 24 October afternoon session
It had been suggested that the afternoon sessions dwell more on practical issues and this is how this session turned out.
Following on from mention of the young at the end of the morning session, it was noted (and not for the last time) that Chisholme is attracting young people as wwoofers and volunteers. As at Swyre, people (perhaps particularly young people) should be able to ‘just come’.
We need a ‘wide gate’ someone suggested, so consider a broader range of courses such as meditation courses or chair making. Is this a dilution? After all, what is the education? Is it just Rumi or is it only Him? This is what we have been asked to hold on to. There is real contemplation and education in chair making.
Another form of education in service could be in working with Colin Tudge’s College for Real Food and Farming. Tudge is clear that the proper approach to food and farming rests on a real understanding of the metaphysics of reality. A recent visit to Peelham, an organic farm by some of those present had been inspirational. The farmers there are clearly in service to the land; their aim is to produce food, not commodities. And seeing how they care for the landscape (eg areas set aside to encourage birdlife) it is clear that there is just one Being.
Courses on Building work could also be integrated into the education. There is a correlation between land, buildings, nourishment and feeding souls. Finally, based on his experiences in the village in which he had grown up in Turkey, Etlas suggested that a course in making such a humble object as a wooden spoon could be linked to knowing the importance of community and the joy to be found in small things.
Tuesday 25 October morning session
The session began with further reflection on the title of these conversations. The spirit is the spirit of revivification. Take on the spirit of the spirit not that of the container.
‘Return’ implies being away. How? By being born. Initially, at the starting place, we had no attachments, no colours. This introduced what was to prove to be the morning’s main subject: attachments.
Attachments can be good because they almost necessarily lead to learning when they (inevitably) cause or reveal problems. However, more generally they are something to be guarded against. They are linked to ideas of ownership and lordship. We are attached to attachments. Giving them up is difficult. They involve loss. Further, in attaching to something you give it life and it will endeavour to hold on to this life. Freed of attachments encounters are always new. The words of Peter Young were recalled: meet someone with no recriminations, no regrets and no nostalgia. ‘Do not stop the inflow and the outflow by your presence,’ we were reminded.
Outside the Mead Hall sunshine illuminated the trees in their full autumn glory. It seemed strange that the leaves were at their most beautiful at their point of death. Jili recalled how she had witnessed her mother’s wrinkles disappearing as she lay dying and so her beauty had also returned at the end of her life.
Tuesday 25 October afternoon session
In inviting it is important to distinguish form and meaning. The latter is immutable, the former can change.
What is immutable? Study of the Fusus. ‘Make it available to those who thirst.’ : this is the only instruction; this is the covenant made by those who have studied here.
Three stages to union, here as an example: (1) ‘Hearing about honey’; (2) ‘Getting the taste of honey’; and finally (3) ‘Becoming honey’. There are many ways of letting people hear about honey. For example, many and various ancient texts point to the possibility of union. But in practice - what to do?
Leave it to God. We should not worry. But is there a danger that leaving it to God results in passivity? Not if we ‘tether our camel to God’. We should aim to be inviting and attractive.
Do forms need to change at the taste stage? For example, the previous generation got their information by reading whereas the current one uses the internet, so is a change to the way courses are organised necessary? This concern was countered by noting that today the 29 Pages is read more easily: receptivity has changed - it is greater. Does this mean that the six-month course could be done in three months?
The FNI course was mentioned (Foundations of Natural Intelligence: a course which takes place on the Chisholme Estate during the summer). These courses are greatly appreciated by those participating in them. The form they take are different, but the content is profound and connects deeply with Beshara.
Nevertheless, things have changed. Out in the world, people once flocked to listen to talks (as they still do in Russia apparently); now it is easier for people to tune in to a TED talk. Colet House in London was mentioned; it is struggling to attract a good audience.
At the end of the session, Wendy Falvey (Kalima) spoke her farewell after two months at Chisholme; she is returning to Australia. She urged us to appreciate the place and to guard against over-familiarity.
Wednesday 26 October morning session
Thoreau’s line was quoted, “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.” Chisholme provides the possibility of finding an answer to despair. It is the desire to find the truth that provokes the need to come here. Truth, as remarked earlier, is problematic today. A new phenomenon is the work of google and Facebook algorithms which, based on our earlier searches, direct us to sites and pages which reinforce our ‘truths’. Against this, can we advertise that here real truth can be found?
We can present the place as ready to receive and advertise the sweetness to be found here. All we can do is announce - which raises questions of how to do so.
Have we been too shy in talking about the spiritual nature of the education? The young are concerned about environmental issues - but many are surely aware of a spiritual dimension and see the connection. The God word may be misunderstood, however, and so alienate. Announcement should be for all ages and welcoming.
Who do we want to invite? Has attention been over focussed on ‘the South’. It is a long way to come from southern England to Chisholme for a weekend. Should therefore more week-long introductory courses be offered? Alternatively, should more attention be given to Northern England and Southern Scotland? Should we be thinking about what groups to invite, such as those seeking meditation or mindfulness courses?
With staffing low, could we invite people to give a course and take responsibility for finding the necessary support staff for the week.
Conversation switched when a point was brought up, received via email,sent by someone who had booked to come on the course, but then at the last minute had been unable to attend. The letter spoke about people feeling excluded from Chisholme. What does this mean? Since Chisholme excludes no-one, what is meant must surely be self-exclusion. Why would anyone do this? Perhaps because of perceived division. Division itself is not per se wrong. For example, there is a division between intellect and intuition. This division becomes destructive only if one becomes dominant, lord over the other. Division between what something is and what it is not makes it possible to distinguish that thing. The division between the inner and outer worlds is real.
In the Mead Hall there can be no division. However, it is important not to be simply in agreement; leaving it all to God is not enough. We have a role in bridging division and seeing the whole with Single Vision.
Returning to the earlier conversation as the session drew to a close, we were urged to share knowledge while acknowledging that people live differently today from 40 years ago. The words of Mother Teresa were read to us:
“Get out there and give real help! Get out there and love! Get out there and testify! Get out there and create whatever you can to inspire people to claim their divine being and origin. This is what has to be done now.” (extract from The Way of Passion)
Wednesday 26 October afternoon session
This session was mainly taken up with seeking the ways to announce. What needs to be said? What distinguishes what Chisholme offers from all the other courses and programmes advertised in Kindred Spirit, for example?
First answer was that Chisholme announces the universality of the human potential.
Secondly it is a school without teachers. This is not unique - mention was made of a new IT College in San Francisco named 42 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/42_(school) which has no teachers. Students teach one another and learn best from someone who has just learned themselves. There is also a school for children in Russia run by children apparently.
The focus on Service is another special feature of Chisholme. Some thought mentioning this could conjure negative associations (eg Prison service; domestic service) but others pointed out that young people are up for service - witness the wwoofers and volunteers.
Very essential is that what is offered is not invented but is according to the requirement for universal sainthood and the completion of the era. Can this feature be translated into contemporary accessible language?
This led to discussion of how to present the invitation. What appears on the website, for example, should be readily understandable. It is important to know one’s audience and write for them. When writing remember the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and the guidelines implicit in the FOG index, a way of measuring how easy a text is to read http://gunning-fog-index.com : use short words and sentences.
Would this mean dumbing down? No. The principle being used in (re-) writing text for the web is that the home page should be very easy to read (low Fog index) , free of jargon - though depending largely on images to convey invitation. However, as one went deeper into the website then topics could become more text driven and complex. Social Media should be used to direct people to the website. Poetry could be used to convey the quality of the education and do so better than prose. For example “My heart is capable of every form…”
Finally, though not unique, Chisholme should be presented as a place for retreat.
Thursday 27 October 2016 morning session
The question was asked: What is single vision? Exploring this question remains the focal point for the whole morning.
One response, from someone who had recently become a grandparent, was to ask, what does a new-born baby see at their starting place? He told us of the video the had received of his grandchild just three minutes old, looking into the world for the very first time… This story prompted another person to sing this beautiful song called ‘When I was born…’ The words are by the poet Douglas Traherne Harding. She sings to her infant grand-daughter:
When I was born I had no head
My eye was single and my body was filled with light
And the light that I was, was the light that I saw by
And the light that I saw by, was the light that I was
And many's the time that I've passed by the river
And saw no tollman and needed no ferryman to cross
And I enjoyed the world aright
For the sea itself floweth
And warm I was and crowned.
But one day walking by the river
I met a tollman with an angry face
And many's the time I passed through his tollgate
And paid no silver and paid no fee
But rather I did hide my sheep and goats under the bags of oatmeal
And cold I was, no crown did I wear
But if you're walking down the street
Why don't you look down to the basement
And sitting very quietly there is a man who has no head
His eye is single and his whole body also is filled with light
And the streets are his and all the people
And even the temples and the whole world
And many's the time he walks to the river
And seeing the ferryman and seeing the tollman
The light within him leaps to greet them
For he sees that their faces are none but his own
One light, the light that is one though the lamps be many
You never enjoy the world aright
"Till the sea itself floweth
In your vein and you are clothed
With the heavens and crowned with the stars"
That vision of the starting place is always present. And we grow up and have to learn things. …hunger, longing for the return.
An observation: we sit opposite each other here in this room, which has windows on three sides, and what we each see looking out of the window facing us, is completely different. We each see a tree, but it is not the same tree. We each have a particular point of view. Why do we so often have the desire or even compulsion, to persuade someone else of our point of view?
Or we can change story: we both look at the same thing, but from different places, so we see the same thing, but differently. Can we acknowledge that each of our views is partial? And each view is rich and meaningful?
Someone quotes ‘The man of wisdom will never limit himself to one form of belief, because he is wise unto himself.’ This is a great perspective. There cannot be conflict here; you listen and accept everyone’s point of view. Then you discuss – this is the essence of conflict resolution. Are we given to see the beauty of this world because we are meant to look after it? Have stewardship of it? We see what we see in order to obtain knowledge and give it its most beautiful expression. This kind of seeing is only possible from our heart.
Can I be grateful for my vision?
Our role is not to cover up our light; it is there; if you can’t find it, then look for it. It is ok to have opposite views. The difficulty arises when they become oppositional… If we take me and you out of my view (quoting Idries Shah) – what we are looking for is what is looking.
Two meanings of ‘vision’: Are we looking for a vision of the future, which is good and healthy, or are we looking to be given vision, i.e. the ability to see (and the physical faculty is just one of the faculties of vision)?
Here we have come together to ask for vision. What is His vision? The individuations are His individuations. Dying (this can be conscious dying to the self) will remove that division brought about by the little self.
Sometimes, if I am given an insight to reality, what I will see is my self. If the self is burned away, then the divine plan will unfold from within me naturally and without resistance. Such a person is the perfect servant. I can’t pretend to be such a person. I feel my passion, and it runs in a particular way, and there might be conflict with another man’s passion.
Chisholme is dedicated to Truth. It is a very strong mirror. One of its jobs is to ‘bring out’, according to divine vision. When we come together in this room, we are coming to be informed. We can speak according to what we see, and we can listen, and something might emerge from this and become evident. Something might be given. It’s like having to take steps into ‘nothing’. Someone remembers Bulent saying to a student: ‘Well, why don’t you jump? Dive in!’
This is why we are here in this room. We don’t know. We don’t know the outcome, but we know that the outcome is for something real. Someone mentions the Fusus; the wisdom contained in the Fusus is for all of humanity.
Someone mentions Rumi: ‘Beyond right doing and wrong doing there is a field, I meet you there’; …for me, this is the place of single vision’, she says.
Someone remembers the line from the Six-month course lecture: ‘We are not here to find God, we are here to see God’s vision of Himself’.
God reveals Himself in the image of us, as us, and also as Himself. It is necessary to honour one’s own diginity and reality.
Thursday 27 October 2016 afternoon session
This afternoon’s session was devoted to a presentation on the Institute’s finances and the General Action Plan.
N.B. For those unable to attend this week: the directors are happy to arrange for the detailed presentation of Chisholme finances and general plan to be given in other places for anyone who is interested. Contact the directors to arrange on: email@example.com
Finances: In the last five years costs and income have generally balanced. The detail of how this happens being different each year - with major projects funded by appeals for donation - or loans covering the outlay set against future savings, eg the wood boiler and the grid - or, in the case of development, investment in the future. As a charity, donations and grants are the larger part of how activities are sustained with even HMRC contributing in the form of gift aid. Course fees and accommodation contributions are about 35-40% of income. The remainder is donations, which includes: covenants, some small grants and income from estate.
There has been a decline in income in the last three years. A corresponding reduction in costs and more recently use of cash reserves from timber sales have helped with this but it is not a sustainable situation or necessarily a best use of reserves.
The current year’s projected budget predicts a possible deficit of £18,000 for the year. In June we anticipated a larger deficit, but with unexpected donations, further economy, friends staying and more take up of the later summer courses the picture improved. A strong response to events over the winter would change this further.
Covenants remain the strongest source and a wide base of financial support. Year by year they provide a dependable income, and have stayed the same, at around £34,000, for many years. There are also a number of funds dedicated to particular aspects, such as a Student Bursary Fund, or the Volunteer or Development Fund
For the future major building refurbishment works could be grant aided and some research has been done. It is a lot of work to applying for grants and there are no people at Chisholme available to do this. There are also proposals for new build and more preparation for this is required however with current numbers the need is not immediate.
General action and five-year plan:
The headings of the plan were shown, namely: Courses; Buildings; Vehicles; Health and Safety; IT; publicity; Finance; Volunteers; Administration; HR; and LETSGRO. An additional subject was added – Governance. It is an unfolding plan with some needs obvious and some needing more focus and wider consultation. It was also suggested that the Estate be treated as a category separate from Buildings.
A brief summary of what is being done under each heading was then presented. There was confidence expressed in the light of following the purpose for Chisholme under the single vision and the trust in its coming about. At the same time there is an awareness that something particular is required from us, for Chisholme to be what it is meant to be.
There was little time for detailed discussion but what there was included consideration of the summer programme.
The point was made that courses initiated from outside, where Chisholme has something of a host role, can put a strain on staff. In the future either these courses should be structured to enable their participants to offer work or extra, volunteer help would need to be recruited. There was welcome for the idea of arranging craft- or skill-based courses, such as cookery or chair-making. These can be contemplative. The possibility of working with Colin Tudge’s College for Real Food and Farming was also well received while noting that the form of cooperation would have to be clarified. The value of the FNI courses was emphasized.
Major events, such as a Rumi Festival needed a long lead-time. Mention was made of hopes for new buildings. More immediately thoughts were raised of erecting small huts to complement the yurts. Someone suggested building a wooden pavilion.
Friday 28 October 2016 morning session
Like every morning, we started by reading from Ibn ‘Arabi: ‘We empty our hearts of reflective thinking, and we sit together with God (al-Haqq) on the carpet of adab (tact) and spiritual attentiveness…’
On addressing again the question of the spirit of the starting place, someone told the story of how it had all begun for Bulent: (Bulent Rauf, consultant to the school at the Chisholme Institute until his death in 1987)
...how he had been in Turkey, and someone had sent him to England.
He never said much about that, but it is clear that Bulent had had connections, both through his family and due to his own inclination and interest, with people, teachers, men and women of wisdom, who had taken care of, and nourished the teaching of One-ness which had flourished in Turkey over many centuries. When Turkey became a secular state under Ataturk, Sufi orders and such were forbidden by the state, and had to go underground.
Bulent did not know what exactly he was meant to do in the UK, and he had only minimal resources or support.
He had to ask for help, and ask and ask and ask.
Was he meant to do this? Or that? To get involved with these people or follow that kind of teaching?
There came a moment when he knew: ‘None of them – let it be only for Him!’
That was the moment when Ibn ‘Arabi appeared to him and said in English: 'At last!’
...and the fact that Ibn ‘Arabi had addressed him in English seemed significant, given that Bulent knew Arabic well!
This was the beginning of what we now call ‘Beshara’.
A direct way, without intermediary, without a teacher.
Chisholme came about from this intention. It is for this.
It is called a school, but there are no teachers here.
One could say, the place is the teacher.
Trust is a very strong component here. It is a very strong mirror; everyone who has spent time at Chisholme knows this. But, unlike a human teacher, it doesn’t put itself in between; there is nothing between one’s self and one’s aspiration, just one’s own intention and longing.
It, the place and all it entails, is simply a very strong support.
Someone suggests that Bulent didn’t put himself in between, but we tried to put him there, and maybe at times we did.
…someone remembers: ‘Once, I asked him to be my teacher…I said it would be so much easier for me; I would know what to do…
Bulent said ‘yes, this is true for now, but later it will be much harder… so you might as well do the hard bit now!’ ‘
The inherent action in the ‘return to the spirit of the starting place’ is to do with asking: strong asking and iron vision.
Someone mentioned about the way Chisholme was bought and is now owned: it came, first of all, essentially as a gift (just the house and garden, in its derelict state) and later, with the participation of many, many people, it was possible to restore the house and buy back all the land which had been part of the original estate, and Chisholme became everyone’s and no-one’s – it is God’s house.
We talk about ‘us’. We say what can ‘we do’ etc.
Instead, why don’t we ask ‘what does God want now?’
You can’t enter your heart with ‘existence’.
Chisholme is a place where, initially at least, we come to continue our own self-directed learning.
Maybe the word ‘mentor’ is appropriate for Chisholme.
There is a big difference between being a teacher or being a mentor.
What is a good mentor? He/she has wisdom, is a good listener; kind, has knowledge, the ability to debate, seeing opposing sides, respects the integrity of the person for whom they may be mentor.
Someone says: ‘I never met Bulent in the physical manner. …but I know that there was physical pleasure and relaxation about him.
Last night (recalling the previous evening’s supper) I tasted what was probably the most delicious pilaf I had ever tasted. It was so delicate, I could taste in it the quality of relaxation and pleasure. …and it hit me, that this matter here which we are talking about all week, it is to do with pleasure. If you don’t love it, what is the point?
I think the pilaf was delicious because it tasted as pilaf is supposed to taste. I remember, the first time I came here to Chisholme, I tasted bread, and it was that same understanding; I suddenly realized what bread is meant to taste like.
The person who made that bread made it according to how it is meant to be made.
It’s not according to a rule. It is simple.
Just how it is meant to be – we recognize it when it is according to how it is meant to be.
This winter can be a time of requesting and asking. When I first heard that there wouldn’t be a long course, that seemed a bit depressing. But thinking about this time of requesting, that could be very positive and uplifting. A space has opened and that is a positive thing.
Can we see this as a time for being with each other in the proper way?
According to this taste?’
Someone else continues – each of us is far more than the ingredients for making bread – think of the potential inherent in a human being; can we become what we are meant to be?
One cannot teach good taste, but it can be learned.
We study here, and it is not enough to read the books – it needs us to be together, to bring out the meanings – or is it actually that in being here together we are brought alive, through these meanings?
The place has an active quality about it. The essential facing that is possible, comes from the place. This is not provable – we put ourselves in the place of being a student – only God!
Someone remembers the particular quality of ease, during his second long retreat course: Bulent used to say ‘…my pleasure is to talk of Him’, and this did not exclude anything, including watching silly stuff on the TV, and cheating at a game of cards; all this was seamless with the conversation in the Meadhall.
There was an un-hurriedness, and things got done. No hurry and no stress.
The place is an active mirror. Sometime it first needs the desperation, but actually this may even expose awakening in us. People come here when they have to make a big decisions. They trust the guidance that invariably comes.
‘Bring me close with the closeness of those who know.’
Someone mentions the story of what happened when the renowned judge of Bursa, Mahmud Hudai Effendi, met the man who called himself Uftade (the one brought low) for the first time.
‘The judge arrived on foot beneath the tekke to find Uftade, an old cloak upon his back, hoeing in the field. Beholding Uftade, the judge Hüdai mumbled: 'We used to think we were in control of the land, but in whose care is it really? Uftade glanced at the judge and understood everything. 'It is a pity, Judge Efendi,' he said 'You knocked on the wrong door. Here is the door of non-existence. We are the slaves of the gate of non-existence. As for you, you are a person of the door of existence. We two would not be able to get along together. You have knowledge and learning, fame and honour, wealth and property – yours is a prosperous life. Slaves such as us do not have anything at all other than God.' Click here for the whole story…
In relation to ‘the spirit of the starting place’ someone else mentions the Chapter on Jesus from the Fusus, where the double nature of Jesus, both spirit and man, is explained in great detail; all the big things he did were from God – he did not do them. There is great subtlety in the explanation of where the action comes from and who the actor is. Action is God’s. This is the case with all actions. It is the case with each breath – we are breathed.
So who are we?
Someone else mentions the second coming of Christ. There is a relationship in this, to Beshara and Chisholme. The education offered here is in the nature of preparation, and of the requirement for this era and for the necessity of the bringing out this knowledge of one-ness.
‘Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of God’ - whether you see it or not. ‘…and there is not with Him a thing.’
Friday October 28, afternoon session:
The afternoon is spent looking at more practical things, and turns into a kind of brainstorming session, of all the many possibilities open for Chisholme.
There is a full winter programme in place; the programme for the summer still needs to be put together. There is an intention for a Second Course – it might be shorter, it could happen next winter.
The Development Office is in abeyance and needs to be re-formed.
There was a suggestion for the facilitators of DU courses all over the country to come together and work on further developing this course. The ‘Establishing Unity’ course currently running in Gloucestershire was mentioned, and a chair making course in Edinburgh, which was surprisingly integrated.
We could try to apply for grants to develop the paths, and add some meditative quotes and benches so as to make the walks into a feature. Or days of silence and meditation and walks.
A Rumi study week had happened last summer with Alan Williams and Rokus de Groot, a Dutch professor of music. One student could get credit points for her course in the US.
However, if Chisholme was to try and collaborate with a University in order get academic accreditation for its courses, the demands on infrastructure to set up such a recognized collaboration would be huge, and also very expensive. There is no capacity for something like this at the moment.
However, we could contact the local college in Galashiels to work on a project here. For example, the carpentry section of the college is in Hawick. Could we offer them a maintenance project such as the greenhouse restoration? Another suggestion was to give the place over to the younger generation for a week or two, to do whatever they wish.
Q: This is God’s house. We don’t know what should happen here. We can propose almost anything, but we cannot make it happen...
More suggestions followed. Why are we not listed on Tripadvisor? Could there be Retreat Days for people living locally? Could we liase with Volunteer Bureaus?
When seeking help, people are more likely to respond if approached personally, so try to arrange for people to be phoned.
Saturday 29 October 2016, morning session
Conversation was extended on this final morning. We continued to midday, again starting with the ‘spirit of the starting place’. Remembering the song: When I was young I had no head etc… It points to the single vision belonging to the single being, and it is a matter of coming into alignment with this.
Re-turning to the starting point, what does this mean? When we grow up, in the first instance we seem blown away by the exterior. As we come into the exterior, we make the interior into something separate – we might call it God, the spiritual dimension or it is our religion. What is required is to consciously return to where the exterior and interior are not separate. The awareness of this is like a deepening into our being. The return is not a single action, but a deepening and deepening. It is a remembering, until we fully remember.
This is work. Unifying the heart means detaching from everything but the essential. It is the same as facing the unknown, and the action is prayer.
Someone says that for her these weeks are about finding the next step, because the work here is about following. We are now at the end of the first week. Can we see a next step? What are we actually shown here, right now? Chisholme has been stripped of anything but the most essential. No development office, no cook, no secretary… Shane (Wakil), who had lived at Chisholme for many years and knows it better than most, had spoken earlier in the week. He had said that Chisholme is fine. That it is completely beautiful and ok. Someone remembers how a visitor once arrived by taxi and there was no one to greet her, and she saw how beautiful the place is, and the door was wide open, and she felt welcomed and amazed. It was the place itself which welcomed her. Yes, it is true that the place is ok; but are we ok?
The next hour was spent in very open and frank discussion, regarding the current situation. What was expressed showed that there is both great care, love and concern, and also great frustration.
Is there is different way of managing the place? Ease is the basis of a good working situation. Someone offered an example from his own professional life. He remembers a re-structuring of his then work place. All the people working there were put into groups, and each group had to state their aim. And the group he was part of decided that their aim would be to enjoy themselves. And they picked as team leader an calm, intelligent person, not the Alpha male type, but kind and well-liked and capable. Everyone agreed to take responsibility, and they exceeded their set targets every time.
In 1975, at the very beginning, there were only five people here, through that first winter. All took responsibility. It needs to be the same now; we are all responsible.
When there is a course running, like a first six month course, then there needs to be a structure, timetable and rules. On the second course the only rule was to come to meals on time; everything else was done by working together; we each were considered completely responsible. The same is true now. A course structure does not need to be in place outside a course situation. Ease is the most important thing.
Responsibility and Control: There is a fine line between them, and it needs the greatest self-vigilance to distinguish between these two, in one’s self. If I have been given responsibility for something, and I know it is something I am good at, it is very easy to fall into control, without even noticing. But if I take control, I squash the love, the joy of my fellow student to do what he/she feels responsible for. Here at Chisholme, only God should be in control. …and we are allowed to make mistakes, how else can we learn…it is a very delicate matter to do with tact, and respect for each other, and trusting each other.
Someone says: look at the garden; it is just as big now as it was many years ago when I was here with some 20 or 30 other students. What is the expectation today? It is too big for what is actually happening here. Let’s use only as much as we need. The same is true for the house. Let go of quantity and value the quality.
What we absolutely must not do is feel guilty for all the things that can’t be done.
Someone reminds us: we need to treat this house as our home. When I come to visit, I can make my own bed, and actually, I feel slightly insulted that I am made to feel that everything should be done for me. If we are so busy maintaining an artificial standard, which we don’t have the capacity to encompass, then were is the joy in being here? There is a story in the bible, about the servants who keep the house in order, for when the Lord might come. That is a matter for the heart. And if He appears, there needs to be someone ready to make a cup of tea.
People come here and work for almost nothing, and when they leave they have nothing, and they do it out of love. If you feel you are always failing because you cannot meet an imaginary standard, this can enfeeble you, and you no longer feel happy being here.
It is different if you have paid £6000 for a six month course and have come to be here under education; then yes, you can be given a demanding structure, on every level, because that’s what you have agreed to, and it is what you need.
But this is not my agreement when I have come here simply to work, out of love.
Job descriptions: Please, who-ever does these, consider that they are probably un-realistic, under the present circumstances with only a small number of people here.
Trust is so important; we must communicate with each other. When there is a difficulty, say so! There needs to be the trust to be able to do this. We used to have a counsellor here. Someone who is really skilled at listening.
It feels really essential that as many as possible come and participate in this open enquiry this winter. It is for all of us. Costs for participation will from now be just by donation, both for residents and non-residents. Give according to your own means.
Tue 22nd September 2020
What is it to be human? And, inseparable from this, what is real?
Thu 1st October 2020
Tue 10th November 2020 20:00
An immersive residential retreat offering the conditions for real self-knowledge in the light of the unity of being.
Thu 1st October 2020
Deepening the understanding and experience of Unity through meditation, contemplative conversation and embodied inquiry over seven weeks
Thu 15th October 2020
Developed by the Oxford University Mindfulness Centre, offering a training in self-knowledge which many students of the Unity of Existence may find useful.
Wed 25th November 2020
Wed 3rd March 2021 20:00
A follow-on residential course which takes Ibn 'Arabi's Wisdom of the Prophets as its core text
Sat 17th July 2021
Sat 24th July 2021 14:00
7-day retreat without electricity, phone reception, and contact with the outside world – living in yurts in the forest.