Chisholme Blog

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February conversation 2019: week 4
Colin Bingham and Robin Thomson | Thursday, 28th February, 2019

Notes from the final week of the February conversation


Last week (the third week of the month) one of our friends passed away and was then interred at Chisholme. No conversations were held during that week. Below are notes from the final (fourth) week from 25 February.


Monday 25 February

As part of the practice of the conversation this month, breakfast for Chisholme residents has been held in silence. This enabled many of us to be more aware of a wide range of emotional states than we would normally, and also to sense a real pleasure in being with others, which goes unnoticed when there is smalltalk, which is in the mode of ‘doing’.

Moreover, the passing of one of our friends last week left many of us speechless in one way or another, and in this the silence was a mercy.

Silence, then, is not merely the absence of talk. Rather, it opens up a space for communication with ourselves, to hear the various voices within us. There is a clarity that contrasts with the noise usually present in the mind, in which we are often disorientated and matters are not brought to completion. As a result, they accumulate as unresolved ‘stuff’. Silence, on the other hand, can engender an unfoldment of what is going on in ourselves.

This month we have wanted to discover what the School is really for. The universe approaches us constantly to explain itself. Yet all we can do is to recognise that our receptivity is covered with lots of stuff. The quality of silence has been valuable in seeing what is important and knowing where we need to direct our attention.


Tuesday 26 February

The conversation began with news that one of our friends is in hospital for heart monitoring. This, together with the burial at Chisholme last week of another friend, brought up thoughts about the fragility of life and the need to really engage with life. We need to look closely at things while we have the opportunity. Along with this is a requirement that we avoid ‘spiritual bypassing’ – a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds and unfinished developmental tasks. On what we take to be a spiritual path, there is a danger of erring toward the transcendent and ignoring what is immanent.

It is important that we can come to agree with the self, by recognising the wounds we carry and not trying to pretend they don’t exist. And this is pertinent for Chisholme as well: support is needed for the fabric of the place, some of which is in a stressed state at the moment. It has long been said that an ‘honest appraisal of the self’ is required for progress, yet how does one go about this when there may be wounds that we are not even aware of? We are all reflections of divine names, some of which are frightening. The starting point is to request help from our deepest reality and to face this completely.

An important observation is that we are receptacles: that is, we are receptivity itself. We are both the receptacle and the thing received in it. Our task is to uncover that receptivity, which all too easily gets covered over by secondary considerations. We have a tendency to hold on to what is received at each moment, allowing them to accumulate into an edifice that is fixed and lifeless. Yet it is an aspect of our essential nature that we never tire of hearing ‘news’ from the divine. So how can we uncover this fundamental receptivity? One way is to develop skills – for example, as a trainee psychotherapist can develop skills of deep listening.

Receptivity is already here and it is the uncovering of this that needs to happen. All that comes to us is from the Real. This ties in with the sense of an honest appraisal, and our willingness for this is crucial.


Wednesday 27 February

Sometimes it is hard to remember what is sometimes called the ‘first pill’ – that of being certain that there is only one absolute. So how do we proceed when we can’t keep this in mind?

So far as we are creatures, our bodies are constant remembrance of their reality, which is that one absolute. What is it then that doesn’t remember? The always-busy mind. We have spoken many times about practicing presence in the mind. Yet real certainty is always there deep in us, beyond the states that we know, that go up and down.

We may also be given occasional flashes of insight. If this happens, our work is to remember them and live in that knowledge. Ibn ‘Arabi was given complete realisation while a young man, and his life’s work was to unpack and detail what he had been shown. The Real wants to be known in this universe because of this detailing, where it is possible for all of its ‘names’ to be expressed. And we as humans are like a hologram of the total.

The practice of discrimination is an active approach to such remembrance. Discrimination is tantamount to remembering the One in every instant, albeit in ever-different ways, because the configuration changes constantly. Similarly the yoga sutras (‘yoga’ means ‘union’) speak of discrimination between the Being and everything else – all that gives It name and form, or the real Being and Its appearance.

It was said earlier this month that ‘devotion is discrimination’. Here is the aspect of commitment: find a means of devotion, and it is remembered in an incremental sense until one is fully committed to the Real. This can also be called love. Those who are committed are not put off by anything, their certainty can be leant on. Being devoted means to have completely given yourself. The story of Abraham was recalled. He was asked to sacrifice his son, although he had been told that a great nation would result from him. It was not his faith that was being tested here but his knowledge. At the last minute he was told by the angel that he could sacrifice a ram instead. The ram was a symbol of himself, thus, of giving himself up completely.


Thursday 28 February

The final morning of February and of its conversation practice did not bring a sense of finality or completion, but rather of more questions. Various themes have arisen over the course of the month, many of them familiar as ideas but ever new in the experiencing: silence, awareness, being present, devotion, discrimination, the importance of questions, announcement, language, embodiment, receptivity and listening; these, again, are not answers so much as continuing questions.

There was an admission by many that this month of conversation had not been easy. Older students have a tendency to surround themselves with what can become a personal religion, which then does not have freshness for newer comers. There can be a false familiarity in these sessions if they are not kept very fresh. Some of the more recent students felt that there were too many old certainties and a degree of self-indulgence, so that although much of benefit was spoken of, the full potential for conversation was not reached.

One of the students on the recent Forty-Day course expressed interest in helping to form the future of Chisholme, and a suggestion was made that the wider group of 40-day students could be consulted as a body for whatever vision they might have.

Concern was expressed at what continues to be an onerous experience for people living and working at Chisholme. The work is demanding and the hours are long, and – not for the first time – there are questions about how it could be different. People need to feel cared for and nourished. Admittedly, each of us as individuals must take responsibility for our state and what we bring here; but the environment must still be genuinely supportive.

There is a sense of the importance of continuing to gather in a spirit of enquiry now that the month of February is over. This might take the form of a day of deep practice, held from time to time, open to both long-standing and recent students, and could allow engagement and conversation without slipping back into old familiar language. What form could this take? How would it go ahead?

The session ended before the detail was resolved, and so the month ended as it had begun, with a question.

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February conversation 2019: week 2
Robin Thomson | Monday, 11th February, 2019

Notes from the second week of conversation held throughout February


Monday 11 February

Being embodied beings, living in a world of relativity that is illusory, we are prone to believing in that illusion. When something occurs that knocks us out of that illusion, into a sense of the underlying reality, this is an awakening. We then desire not to be in thrall to the illusion, but to see it for what it is – illusory, yet also not other than the expression of the Real.

But how can we be freed of the pervasive (somebody said ‘formidable’) nature of this all-encompassing illusion, and the conjectures we make under its effects? A good start is to return to our essential non-existence. You and I have no existence of our own; the existence we have is lent by the only real Being. When we re-remember this, the illusion – both as unreal and as real – falls into place. And we have the choice, breath by breath, of staying with (and serving) that vision or not.

A useful guide here is to distinguish between our ideas of awareness, and ideas of what happens to us when we are aware, and the direct experience of awareness itself. Awareness in itself is unnamed and quiet by nature (whatever its contents); but our thoughts about it seem always to try to punctuate it, to grasp it, to own it, to describe it, name it, formulate it, delimit it. Therein lies the difference, and that difference is a guide for us.

Another aspect of awareness is witnessing. The relative world has been described as ‘the universe of witnessing’. A witness in a court case has the task of observing without conjecture. Bearing witness appears in the formulations of religious creeds. Awareness is the faculty by which things can be witnessed – that is, seen as they are, without colouring or conjecture or misappropriation. It may be said that real witnessing is the real purpose of humanity: to bear witness to the expressions of the Real in all its modes.

The cultivation of awareness, the wakefulness that keeps us from being taken by the illusory – these are signs that a person is evolving. To evolve, then, is… what? Perhaps to recognise that for the single being there is a singular vision, and that we have the potential to see that vision. We, with our own, partial vision, accept that it is partial, and prefer the total. To abide by this preference and to serve it, through witnessing and awareness, is our way to evolve. And perhaps by cultivating our intimate relationship with our reality. The Real loves to be engaged with. The soul longs for its homeland, the ancient, the uncreated. So the work of the soul to dwell there is the work of one who is evolving.


Tuesday 12 February

Inanimate objects, such as cups and plates, have been said to embody their purpose in existence perfectly, in that they do not express a will of their own. They submit entirely to the wishes of those who use them without protesting; they cannot move by themselves but can only be moved. As such they serve as teachers: so can we find, or cultivate, a similar level of submission and servanthood to the one Being? If one speaks of a divine will, can we respond to that rather than to what appears as our own will?

Yet what seemed at first to be a straightforward distinction between ‘divine will’ and ‘self-will’ turns out not to be so clear. We cannot know the divine will except where it indicates itself. As for our so-called own will, this is not a thing in itself but the result of an intersection between divine will and the particular circumstances in which we appear as selves. Thought cannot resolve the two, and we only experience disquiet if we try. Even attempting to distinguish between the ‘level of the divine’ and the ‘level of the creature’ becomes indistinct.

Perhaps this is because the human stands with feet on the ground and head in the air, joining and separating above and below, the infinite of what is above and the knowable underneath. Perhaps yet we who think we are standing on a river bank and watching the water flowing at our feet are in fact submerged, are part of the river, and in reality not abstracted from it at all.


Wednesday 13 February

Certain spiritual adepts, such as Ibn ‘Arabi, used to spend time in graveyards, communing with the dead – who, he said, were the truly alive, unlike the apparently living who were for the most part asleep. Few of us know this as a faculty ourselves; but news of it points to the eternal nature of our reality. Death is not an end in any sheer sense, and what remains after death is the spirit of the person, or their light, with which, in some cases, a knower in this life can communicate.

This present lifetime, meanwhile, is the chance each of us has to wake up to our reality, to that of us which is ancient and eternal, and to establish a condition of service to that reality. This life is for that purpose – and perhaps it consists in the witnessing that was spoken of yesterday. Yet the condition of being a living being in a body makes this both possible and also difficult. Embodied life brings veils with it, such as the ego self. The body itself, however, is not only a veil; it is also an instrument of sentience, wisdom, presence and intelligence. It is the instrument we are given to achieve the task set for us.

And although we may not be able consciously to ‘communicate with the dead’, there is yet connection with the world of spirit going on at all times, perhaps most evidently when we go to sleep and many of the veils of what we call wakefulness fall away.

The term himma describes a spiritual power established for certain people who died after achieving what is known as union at a high degree. This is an energy that gives help, and is quite personal – from the specific ‘secret’ of one person to the specific aid of another. It is perhaps recognisable in other cultures in which there is a revering of ancestors or past saints, but as it is spoke of here, it is in a perfect, transparent form, universal and esoteric, not tied to a tradition. As students we often find difficulty communicating about the ineffable and inexpressible. Perhaps the vehicle for conveying such matters is himma, transmitted as direct effect rather than by way of a description, so that it is experienced directly by the organ capable of receiving it.

………………………….

Later in the conversation a question arose about… questions. The conversation generally begins from a question, to open it, not necessarily to provide an answer in a limiting sense, and perhaps to reveal further questions. These questions are clearly not ordinary questions for the provision of information, but are from the heart, from the recipient of revelation. So what is a question, we asked? Once we were told that each of us is a question. Maybe each of us in our relationship and approach to our reality, our ‘affair’, is a question, as it is a quest; so it is that which moves us forward and constantly changes, though has a recognisable thread at all times. Such questions are not satisfied by paltry answers. They themselves engender more questions. And questions are a sign of being alive.


Thursday 14 February

Contrasting the modern scientific mind with, say, the mystical mindset of the educated person of the Middle Ages, is like contrasting ‘how’ with ‘why’. Is one of these superior to the other? Does one exclude the other? Certainly we see today what appears to be an imbalance towards the scientific, with verifiable evidence demanded for any claim, and a mistrust of inherited belief or even of intuition. Yet there is beauty in both these approaches to truth, and both respond to beauty.

A true scientist is prepared to admit when he or she is wrong. Their pursuit is the truth, and not their own success or failure. This is so in the best cases, even if much scientific research is funded for commercial purposes and there is pressure for a successful ‘outcome’.

The nineteenth-century Algerian ‘Abd al-Qader (Abdalkader), who led a resistance movement against the French and was later honoured by his captors, and who was present at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, found himself bridging a deeply traditional culture in his homeland and a rapidly modernising scientific culture in Europe. Realising what was required, he wrote that if the modern scientific thinker did not consider who was really in charge, he would become no more than a consumer, whereas if the Islamic traditional community did not embrace the scientific mindset, it would remain ossified and unchanging. So each requires the other for completeness.

It has been said at Chisholme at various times that life in the world is subject to ‘three souls’ – spirituality, science and finance. Of these, finance is obvious to all in its current corrupted state of imbalance of wealth. Finance has its real purpose in movement and flow, and can express compassion when people give freely after a disaster. It finds its place in relation to science as man’s enquiry about his world, and spirituality, that is, the matrix of religious and other spiritual experience and aspiration for the human soul. Here then is an answer of sorts – that not only science and the spiritual go together in our understanding of the external world, but that the world of economics is equally an integral part.


Friday 15 February

One of the body of students at the school will be leaving shortly and asked what he could tell others about his time here, beyond his own immediate experiences. We found it not easy to come up with any kind of formulaic response. It would depend clearly on the situation and the condition of the person asking as to what one could say. For this is not a religious institution with a fixed creed and symbols; it is transparent and largely hidden, the ‘creed’ only that being is one and that the human being has an exceptional potential for realising his or her own being within that oneness.

As for dealing with the injustices and atrocities of the world, gathered and concentrated for us as they are by the media, we can respond only that the underlying mercy that enables all things to be what they are includes the possibility for them to be asleep and in ignorance. This is something we must bear in mind when out and about. And yet, for the human, there is always a further, more specific quality of mercy that can draw him back to his origin and perhaps realise something of the height of the complete person.

The ambiguity evident in our attempts to communicate the school to others – if this is what is required – is reflected in an ongoing discussion about the Islamic calligraphies that are displayed in most if not all of the rooms of the school. For a student who has been steeped in the education of the place for decades, these calligraphies represent at best the height of meaning, and at worst, are a familiar comfort. For a newcomer with a 21st-century mind, however, they are likely to set alarm bells ringing. Is this a cult? Do Islamists come here? Or is it rather a case of cultural appropriation? It is important that the people working and staying here long-term know enough about the various pieces of calligraphy that they can provide an answer that will be met by the visitor. The deeper meanings that become evident over time are private, perhaps, and cannot easily be conveyed, at least not at first, but there is a basic faculty of representation that we seek to acquire with some urgency.


Saturday 16 February

The school at Chisholme has a specific function, which is to announce ‘news’ to the heart of anybody who is able to hear it. This news is good news, and is about who we really are, of our reality as none other than the one and only Being – and that this is something we can approach and know for ourselves, through ourselves and through the world in which we find ourselves.

Yet, as we have asked ourselves practically every day this month in one way or another, how does one go about announcing this? Attempts in the past to explain something, or to have ‘some thing’ to offer, have invariably fallen flat. This news, and the education that arises from it, cannot be made into a quantifiable thing, nor into a ‘brand’ of any kind. (Thank goodness!)

Perhaps the point is that this education does not act on the material plane, nor on a rational mind, but rather, it addresses the innermost heart. It is the action of spirit on the receptor of spirit, which is also spirit. Attempts to define or explain it are bound to fail. Perhaps, then we are advised to refrain from these attempts at explanation. Rather, the school’s task, so far as we see it at the moment, is simply to offer courses that help students to receive the ‘news’ for themselves about their humanity, in a practical manner without pretensions.

Along with this, we can but engage in our own practice, while trusting that what is required will come about as it must. Another name for this is surrender (or submission). Such words are contentious in general parlance today, particularly in the case of women who have been forced to ‘submit’ to male dominance, and this provoked some impassioned discussion in our conversation. Yet real surrender is not an act of weakness or resignation or helplessness. It is an active, conscious choice, and is made from a place of strength. The example was cited of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, in which the angel Gabriel appeared to her in the form of a man. Staying close to her devotions, Mary turned away at first, seeking certainty from God that this was genuinely wanted, after which she was able to accept his ‘breathing into her’ from a position of certainty and strength.

This condition of surrender opens vast interior vistas and can bring about much change. We might also see that in the face of submission to the Real, both masculine and feminine principles must surrender, that is, are in this respect feminine. It is a strong indication and points a way forward for the place and the people who come here.

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February Conversation 2019: Week 1
Robin Thomson | Monday, 4th February, 2019

Our daily blog from the conversation being held every weekday this February.


Monday 4 February

The first morning of the February conversation began with a sense of being invited by what is real in us, to what is real in us, and to a broad field of possibility. And a sense that when we set an intention for a real action, there is a response from the unseen. Perhaps, further, the nature of this invitation is a call or exhortation to strength of heart, or courage. That we find courage in ourselves, that a strong heart be in our quest.

Reporting back on the last few months at Chisholme, one participant mentioned a concern with suicide and mental illness, and the fact that these seem to be on the increase in general terms. So what antidote can there be to despair? Again the response was courage: the nourishing and eliciting of the courage that is inherent in each of us as a quality of the single being. While it remains the case that most or all of us must undergo a dark night of our own soul, the quality (or faculty) of courage is what would make this possible to bear. Surely the education here can offer and establish en-courage-ment, the nourishing of the heart by its own reality, so that the quality of courage is known and can be called upon when needed.

We reported on the last few months at Chisholme, with a quiet winter period since the forty-day course that ended in November, a genuinely joyful Christmas and New Year, and the anticipation of this conversation as the threshold for what is to come in 2019.

As for the conversation, it has no predetermined theme or ‘space’. Just as we ourselves are complex, both private individuals with our unique situations and yet also participants in a shared or global situation (be that Chisholme or the world in general), so also our conversation is bound to be interdimensional. Perhaps when we ask for ‘news’, it is more fruitful to give news from ourselves, from where we find ourselves in the moment, without censorship or conditioning. That is where being is most truthfully found.

Above all, there are heartfelt requests that this conversation be not ‘the same as before’ but fresh, honest and unedited. Only with courage, and by bypassing our assumptions about ourselves and one another, and about what is acceptable in conversation, can an authentic voice be spoken and heard and replied to. And we need help for this, to hold it, and to demand that help. Here the raw material for conversation, and a refining of it, is to be found.


Tuesday 5 February

Being ourselves – that is, being authentic to what is real in us – seems easier when we are with strangers than when we are with people we know (or think we know). Where there is a sense of familiarity, we are more likely to slip into ‘familiar’ states and avoid what is real, and may avoid real conversation.

So how can we stay present with one another? We have talked in the past about an intention to see each other in a fresh light; like many resolutions, however, this has proved impossible as a long-term aim. On the other hand, what does seem to make us present is a situation of real encounter – which is a kind of boundary or frontier state, one that places us in both the interior and the exterior of ourselves and makes a mirror of the other person.

Essential education likewise places us at a door between two worlds – be these the interior and exterior of our own experience, or self and the world, or oneness and manyness, or worldliness and retreat. Again it is a question of encounter between them, and it seems vital that the school offer structures that build this condition in its students. For example, it is healthy for students to come from the world to spend time at the school, and then to return to the world. For those of us living here long-term, it is important that we do not stay here indefinitely but also move in and out of the so-called outside world.

This situation does not call for ‘spiritual’ language; it is a reality that speaks of itself. We have long been hobbled by what seems like an obsolete lexis, rooted in some of the textual material we study and unable to break free of it. Kathleen Raine spoke of the need for a vernacular or common language when talking of the ineffable. Yet this cannot be simply a modernising of old wording. The vernacular is perhaps that which seems to be emerging at the moment, a new presence, something not yet fully formed. Perhaps even, the vernacular is the people of the present time. When we are fully ourselves and place ourselves at the door, the frontier, then what happens is that the vernacular is spoken – and perhaps heard.

We were reminded that this does not require us to ‘do’ anything, for all our compulsions to act. All we have to do is to allow the essential love that is inherent in us to flow and be known. Beyond this is nothing to do, save what the real educator itself informs us.


Wednesday 6 February

The conversation focused on what it is that attracts people to Chisholme and what it needs to offer in order to attract. Yesterday we spoke of encounter. But what it all begins with is love – the love in the human heart that is present in all of us, whether it is ‘fluent’ and known or not – which senses its object here and is attracted. Chisholme, because of its purpose, is a highly attractive place.

Yet this situation is not static. The current conditions are insecure. An analogy might be to be walking around inside a burning house, closing doors and picking up favourite things, when the building is in danger of imminent collapse and one has to get out fast! A sign of this instability is the economic situation for people living and working here. Gone are the days of easy-come, easy-go employment; many of us today have to work outside Chisholme to make ends meet. This is sure to impact on the quality of our presence here – though may also be an important element of our education.

As for the events and courses to offer, how can we know reliably what is wanted here at the moment? Surely the most primal means is to be still and present in the moment and to listen; where there is intention to be informed, informing can take place. We can’t force the door to open. There is however also a case for making a plan for, say, three years, to begin in six months or even a year’s time. Can these two approaches be held simultaneously?

Maybe we are also too concerned with ‘keeping Chisholme running’; what about simple, unconditional action in the world, such as feeding the hungry? Akong Rinpoche vowed to help remedy hunger after surviving near-starvation while crossing the Himalaya. His reason for feeding the hungry was that a person cannot hope to meditate or be aware while hungry. He spoke of the act of feeding the hungry as a practice, the opportunity ‘to observe the Buddha nature in everybody who comes’. And if those who receive food then ask, one can explain the reasoning.

Maybe there is also a place for taking care of one another, former and present students, as they age and need support. Not in a formalised way, perhaps, but as part of our own practice.


Thursday 7 February

The quality of being alive is keenly felt today, with the possibility of witnessing the beauty of existence. What is this condition of sentience? And life itself, as a quality, is hidden – yet its effects are visible in all that is alive. Perhaps one of the special qualities of the school at Chisholme is that the education here is not merely theoretical but is integrated, through work and practices, into the warp and weft of life and is not separate from life. And this in turn may be the value in a wisdom being given, exceptionally, together with a physical place and not merely in abstraction.

But what we do here does not concern only life, but above all, love. The world ‘outside’ – when seen as different – appears broken and loveless; while here, love is encountered at every step. Those of us whose hearts get broken in the world can find respite here. Though a broken heart can be opened up and made receptive in a way that a ‘well’ heart may not realise. Moreover, it is the broken state of the world that prompts us to seek another way of living and knowing ourselves. Darkness is perhaps a part of this process, like the constriction that accompanies a seed when it is sown.

What is really under consideration here is beyond form and norm. During the war, say, compassion rarely appeared as tenderness; it had to be urgent and robust. Meanwhile, today we question our identity, even our gender. What is a man, a woman? What of each is known in each of us and what is the prototype beyond gender?

In our time, seen particularly in Brexit-era politics, is an inability to listen, and extreme views and deep division. We forget how important it is to really listen and what it is to be really heard. So many people today feel unlistened to. And surely part of our work at Chisholme is real listening. We recognise it: when we are listened to deeply, we feel loved.

Our endeavour (self-knowledge in all its aspects) can be regarded as a creative act. We seek the creative condition as well as the products of others’ creativity. Then we can let go of old certainties and allow in the new. This requires courage. The creativity discussed includes encounter and making connections, two threads from recent days.

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Happy Birthday, lovely table!
Charles Verey | Saturday, 8th December, 2018

The fabulous dining-room table at Chisholme is 40 years old this winter. Charles Verey tells its story.


The fabulous dining-room table at Chisholme is 40 years old this winter. It can seat up to 26 people and was custom-made to fit the room, by Charles Verey. He was a novice carpenter at the time, and – as he recounts below – had never made a piece of furniture before in his life…

Charles writes: It was made in 1978, in the workshops on the lower ground floor at Sherborne House in Gloucestershire, in response to a specific request for a dining-table for Chisholme. It was delivered to Chisholme 40 years ago, in or around the second week of December.

I had been a student on the first Beshara 6-month course held at Sherborne from Michaelmas 1976. My only experience of joinery came later from a 6-month government-funded retraining course in Carpentry and Joinery. I had lived in Radnorshire for several years and was eligible to do this course in Wales: and in the event I signed in at Wrexham in Clwyd in the winter of 1977-78.

While I was doing this carpentry course I took a room in a boarding house in Ruabon and drove down every week-end to the original Beshara Centre at Swyre Farm. It must have been around this time that a company called Beshara Crafts Ltd was set up, because when the Wrexham course ended in April 1978, I was given access to the large but rather dark workshop at Sherborne and started to work as Beshara Crafts Woodworking Division. I invested in two machines, a heavy mortice machine and a well-engineered German-made multipurpose woodworking machine with planer/thicknesser, saw bench and a spindle attachment. At the time however I had no experience in making furniture.

Chisholme House had been painstakingly restored by volunteers after the first 6-month course held there in 1975-76. In the summer of 1978 I was asked to make a dining table that would be suitable for the first advanced ‘second-course’ planned by Bulent Rauf, who at the time was consultant to the school. I was told that it would be needed in October. In the event it was delivered in time for Christmas.

Shape, size and style were specified by Bulent and the specification was passed on to me by John Boyd-Brent on a simple descriptive pencil drawing. It was to be 18 feet long by six wide and it was to be made using a felled Yew tree from the grounds at Sherborne House.

The yew had not been planked, but it was clear that it would need to be cut through into thicknesses that would suit the cutting lists for the table. It was also clear to me that it would be too difficult to make a flat surface of the required size of the table-top out of solid timber. In any case there was nothing like enough yew to even consider it as an option. I decided to make the top in three sections and to use the best quality ply-wood. In principle the table would be made in ply-wood and beech and the structure would be hidden under applied pieces of cut and shaped yew. The twelve legs are the only solid yew pieces.

So before we took the trunk to the Sherborne Estate wood-mill, plan and elevation scale-drawings were needed, as well as a good calculator and a lot of rough paper. Experiments had also to be made to find out how wide a board could be cut back to three-millimetre-thick fillets on the table-saw. The final width of the yew boards that are laid down onto the ply-wood tops would initially be dictated by the capacity of the multi-purpose machine: but in the event when we came to planking the yew-tree trunk it was clear that although I could calculate optimum thicknesses for each plank, the width of boards would be dictated by the markings, knots and irregularities of the timber.

Finally after many hours’ work, I had help from Judy Kearns and others, away from the dusty workshop in the great hall at Sherborne House, to clean the surface in order to take the finishing oil. The long hours of wood-working had come and gone: in spite of lack of experience and the narrowest of margins between the amount of yew required and the potential of the timber that was given for the work, the process had progressed with a sense of ease.

Some concern has recently been expressed about the fading from the morning sunlight and from heat marking. The surface however has its own natural mellowness. I am not however the right person to advise on any treatment that might help its further natural aging: a good antiques restorer would surely give better advice.

The dining-table, like every act of recognition that Chisholme has inspired both in its interior facing and in its exterior face, is held without any possibility of doubt under a single order of hearing and taste. For this there is only gratitude to the unknowable author of the mysteries of absoluteness.

Charles Verey 5th December 2018

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What Is Private About the Private Face?
Rachel Gordin | Friday, 12th October, 2018

It was in 1989 that I first came to the school at Chisholme House. In the exterior, it was an invitation to a wedding celebration... writes Rachel Gordin


It was in 1989 that I first came to the school at Chisholme House. In the exterior, it was an invitation to a wedding celebration of a friend which served as an excuse for my visit. Interiorly, it was in response to a poem by Ibn 'Arabi included in that letter of invitation, and which I perceived as a wild call of my heart to be known and recognised. It was written as a love letter from God, and said:

"Dearly beloved, I have called you so often and you have not heard me. I have shown myself to you so often and you have not seen me... Why do you not see me? Why do you not hear me? Why? Why? Why?... I am nearer to you than yourself, than your soul, than your breath..."

Ever since then my relationship with the school has had this unique taste of an almost paradoxical combination between the most vast impersonal perspective, and the most intimate secret, sweet as well as piercing, whispered to the heart. On the one hand - the metaphysics of Ibn 'Arabi, telling us that there is only One Unique Being, and that coming under this truth, and letting it be realized in us, can define a new space of unfathomable possibilities; and on the other hand - this secret invitation, as if special to you, that no one else can understand or touch. And "your life" is suddenly perceived as a Moebius Ring, in which the Exterior and the Interior constantly change places. And you yourself seem to be a puzzle in which time is of no consequence and things that happened years ago are seen in a completely new light in the most unexpected way.

Love takes so many forms! There is love for that which is unknowable, unimaginable and entirely other than you; that which is completely pure and cannot be contaminated by my "selfness". Ibn 'Arabi writes about this sort of love: " Wild she is. None can make her his friend". There is love which derives from similarity to anything human. Meister Eckhart writes that he wakes up to pray at night like a mother hearing her baby calling her. There is love that takes shelter under the wing of a Divine Name, which serves a more or less specific quality, like giving praise, or serving beauty or subtlety. This can be private and personal according to the Names each of us is destined to serve, according to our taste and capacity. But there is also the mysterious possibility that Ibn 'Arabi calls "the Private Face of God", which seems to be not private at all. Or, maybe more correctly, it's privacy is not ours but God's. And it is not according to our capacity or value. The Private Face of God seems to be entirely the work of the Wahab - that aspect of God which is of pure Opulence and Richness-Beyond-Need; Which grants gifts because it's in its nature. That aspect which Ibn 'Arabi was advised to take as his sole companion on the Way. The Private Face is not personal, yet it is most unique. There is nothing like it, and apparently no one ever experiences it in the same way. This is apparently what is hinted at when we say about a saint: "Let God sanctify his secret".

It is said that Beshara, or the school at Chisholme House, is not offering a way. The way, says Ibn 'Arabi, is created by the feet that tread it. The only function of the school is to clear the obstacles that might prevent advance. And the invitation to us, as students, is to love the Real as deeply and sincerely as we can, and receive with gratitude whatever comes. Let It find Its unique way into our heart. I have trod, and am still treading, my own path: There are times of pure magic, when that which is given abundantly is almost too much to bear, and there are times of helplessly being exposed to myself (and others) as false and pretending. But all extremes are engulfed by the love and compassion that cover the whole issue. Paraphrasing Simon Veil: 'Thank you, God, for exposing all my faults. Not necessarily in the aim of correcting them, but so that I'll be in the presence of Truth.'

In speaking about the intimacy of the Private Face one can easily fall into pretence, thinking that something was gained, deserved and owned. But love (for truth or beauty) is not like that. I've lately read about a Japanese poetess who is over ninety years old and she writes that when she is sad - she cups in her hands the sunlight that creeps under the door and dips her face in it. As for me, at the present stage of "my life" (closer to the end than the beginning) I pay attention to what it is that people lean on as the meaning of their life, and I feel extremely grateful for what was given to find as meaning by Ibn 'Arabi and the school. And I ask for no better than to be able to say, in the words of my dear friend and companion on the way, shortly before she died (said in a heavy Lancashire accent): "Gee-e-e, We are such ordinary people, all of us, and yet we were given to see a glimpse of our potential".

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In Memoriam: Graham Ghaffar Falvey
John Hill | Monday, 17th September, 2018

‘If you want something done with excellence, ask Ghaffar, he doesn’t know otherwise.’ Bulent Rauf


Obituary for Graham Ghaffar Falvey

d.12 June 2018, Hanoi, Vietnam

‘If you want something done with excellence, ask Ghaffar, he doesn’t know otherwise.’ Bulent Rauf

Graham was a great man, a real friend, of not so many words but of strong purposeful action.

He was a devoted friend of Chisholme, running the Estate and Garden for ten years (1985-1995). He kept the garden immaculately, while looking after the woodlands during the winter. He set the standard for growing vegetables and flowers at Chisholme, with a keen understanding of the seasons and their needs. He took great pleasure in the process.

Soon after he arrived, the ring of shelter-belt woodland around Chisholme was acquired, largely with Graham’s help and involvement. He set to with a will in the replanting of these big areas of ground. This began with the wind-blasted Front Clearfell, which he planted nearly single-handedly. He successfully navigated the grant application process with the Forestry Commission, which set the scene for the larger forestry plantings with the Millenium Forest for Scotland some years later.

Under Bulent’s guidance he established the beginnings of a wildfowl and domestic fowl collection on the lake, which became a great passion for him.

He worked very, very hard. He enjoyed it. Great gratitude to him.

But Graham’s life was not just work. At Chisholme he met, fell in love and married Wendy, and they spent several happy years together.

During the end of his time at Chisholme, following a visit to Chisholme by Alan Ereira, and the showing of Alan’s film ‘From the Heart of the World’, Graham became passionately interested in the Kogi peoples of Colombia, and their message to humanity. This led him to work as administrator for the Tairona Trust, a small charity to help the Kogi. He made two trips to meet the Kogi in their villages high in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. He clearly felt immensely privileged to make these extraordinary journeys. In Graham’s words: ‘I spent that evening swinging in a hammock in the ‘nuhue’ or ‘world house’ listening to the ‘mamas’ give us messages of greetings and being given our news in return. It was a meeting with a truly dignified and courageous people and I cherish that meeting and another meeting in 1994.’

These journeys and more travels through America and Australia, where he spent time immersed in indigenous cultures, led him, after much soul-searching to plunge Into three years of academia. He read Anthropology and Religious Studies at the University of Wales in Lampeter, taking a first class degree in 1999. He was invited to continue in this academic world, but though he felt he had learnt much and valued his tutors and lectures many of whom became good friends, he felt the academic approach constrictive and took to the road again.

He travelled more in Australia, but returning to the UK, again took up horticulture, spending three summers looking after the gloriously remote gardens of Oransay Priory. This is the only garden on the island of Oronsay. In fact it belongs to the only inhabited house on the island that can only be reached by walking at low tide across a mile of sand from neighbouring Colonsay. A typically remote spot for Graham, but populated with a wealth of wildlife which he loved, and an ancient spiritual history reaching back to Saint Columba, which he much revered.

Graham was always moving into new territory, and during these winter months which he spent in the Borders, he developed an interest in IT which had started with his Tairona Trust work. He became skilled in website design and developed a number of sites for friends and colleagues.

In typical fashion he moved seemlessly on. In 2003, he trained in teaching English as a foreign language, gaining a TESOL certificate, giving him an additional passport to travel where his heart led.

The next thing we knew, he was living and teaching in Hanoi, a situation that seemed to suit him down to the ground. There he finally put down roots and made a career that suited his roving spirit, which he loved, and in which he was much loved in return. He met and very happily married Hop and set up home in Hanoi. Since then we have been treated to the occasional visit to the UK. He twice brought Hop to visit Chisholme and local friends. Though living in the Far East, he hasn’t seemed so far away. The wonderful article that he recently wrote ‘A Thing of Beauty...’ published on line in the Beshara Magazine, shows his depth of vision, and somehow kept him close as a friend.

Graham was a man of great humility and integrity. He came from an RAF background and grew up on the move. Moving was his way of finding a still point. He travelled lightly, while maintaining a consistent and un-erodible commitment to a real spiritual life. He was a faithful friend and a great, great wit.

I met him first in the summer of 1975. He was living in a tiny tent in a cherry orchard in Kent, where he was one of very few who would dare to pick off the gigantic 60ft ladders that reached high into the highest trees. He took that in his singular stride, humbly but with strength. He was always like that. He will be remembered in many sweet ways, and sorely missed. But we can be confident that he will walk this last journey as properly as he did every journey on which he embarked during his life.

John Hill
Sherborne Glos. 2018

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Beauties of the night, and of the day…
Frances Ryan | Tuesday, 17th July, 2018

A walk on the wild side with the Scottish Wildlife Trust, around the Chisholme Estate


Beauties of the night, and of the day…

In early July the Scottish Wildlife Trust arranged a walk around the Chisholme Estate.

We were fortunate enough to have as our guides Alison Smith, Malcolm Lindsay and Sarah Eno, all extremely well versed in things to do with nature. Malcolm, who knows a lot about moths, suggested setting traps the night before. The day could then start with a look at what the traps had to offer, followed by a tour of the estate, ending with a hike up to Chapel Hill and back down for afternoon tea at Chisholme. Would that be enough to fill a day, we wondered?

Saturday morning arrived, and more than 30 people assembled from all corners of the Borders; for many this was their first visit to Chisholme.

Malcolm had set two traps – one near the house and one at the top of Whitrig Wood. There is a good variety of deciduous trees around the house, and an abundance of birch in Whitrig which would attract different kinds of night-flying insects. Once in the trap, moths tend to crawl into shelters made up of egg-boxes, where they can safely stay until daytime, and after inspection be released unharmed.

Everyone collected near the garden table on the front lawn and Malcolm opened the traps. Taking the greatest possible care he gently prised out the egg-boxes one by one, to see what the previous night might have yielded.

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You may be forgiven to think that of all the lovely things the Chisholme Estate has to offer, moths would be somewhere very low down on a list of priorities….but for those of us present on that Saturday morning, there was a very pleasant surprise!

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Starting top right and going clockwise:
Poplar Hawk Moth; Green Carpet; Lt Emerald & Burnished Brass & Dark Marbled Carpet; Beautiful Golden-Y; Brimstone moth; 2 Mottled Beauty (above and below) then from the left Lesser Swallow Prominent, Green Carpet, Lempke’s Gold Spot, Pebble Prominent

Just two traps in one night in July produced over 65 different species of moth – each with a beautiful and poetic name, doing justice to their delicate and subtle differences – such as Common Lutestring, Angel Shades, True Lovers Knot, Smoky Wainscot, Burnished Brass, Mottled Beauty… We spent a spellbinding hour delighted by these lovely creatures, who gave us a glimpse into just one tiny facet of that extraordinary world of the night, of which most of us are usually quite unaware.

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Lesser Swallow Prominent; Lempke's Gold Spot; Garden Tiger and Peppered Moth; Elephant Hawk Moth

We then moved to Jili’s beautiful woodland garden, overflowing with foxgloves and other woodland flowers, to look for red squirrels, admired the swan family on the lake, and proceeded down the drive to enter Whitrig Wood.

Whitrig Wood, or the Wild Woods, as many call them, is indeed a wild and wonderful place. The woods had been partly clear-felled in the early 1980s and then left virtually untouched to re-generate of their own accord. For unknown reasons, a few trees, including oak, rowan and Caledonian pines, had been left standing and these have now matured into magnificent trees of great character. They stand between the half-rotten trunks of old windfalls and thickets of young birch, adding a touch of magic and mystery to these woods and providing food and shelter to a myriad of creatures, from fungi and lichen to orchids, woodpecker, deer, fox and buzzard.

We spent hours in the woods, being shown countless details large and small, in particular by Sarah Eno, who is a very experienced botanist. Here are some of the things she pointed out: the easily visible woodland plants at that time year are typical ferns like Male Fern, Broad Buckler Fern and very fine scrambling Bedstraws - Marsh Bedstraw especially. Many flowering plants like Marsh Avens had finished flowering and were left with their little spiky seed burrs like a bad hair day. There was a beautiful 'Melancholy Thistle' in flower in the lower part of the woods; it is named so because apparently it was used to treat melancholy; certainly when in flower it does! There were several Heath Spotted Orchids, which flower slightly later than other orchids, and up on the moor there was the very bright yellow of the iris family plant, Bog Aspodel. It is known also as Bonebreaker (Narthecium ossifragum) because it was thought that lambs feeding on it got brittle bones, but the truth is, that it was calcium deficiency in the pasture. However a known side-effect of eating the plant is apparently that it increases the sensitivity of lambs skin (esp. ears) to sunburn, if they eat the plant.

Once we reached the top of the hill, there was only time for a quick sortie to the moorland, and then it was time to return to the house.

Colin, Julie, Hiroko, Lucy and the many volunteers at Chisholme House had prepared a magnificent afternoon tea for us, with poppy seed cake and banoffi pie, and we all left happy, well fed and deeply nourished by the beauty of the day.

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Read and download the full moth survey

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News this month– February (8)
Frances Ryan | Thursday, 1st March, 2018

February was devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests were invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning in which 'being' precedes 'doing'. Here are the notes for the last day of enquiry.


February was devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests are invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning of what is to be next for the place and our place in it.
Here below is a short report for the last day of this enquiry, put together by Robin Thomson.
To start at the beginning of the notes, please click here...

Wednesday, 28 February

Swathed in white snow comes the last day of this month of ablution and conversation. People were asked to share any insights or other experiences gained during this period. The ablution of the house is a metaphor for abluting ourselves, shedding light on parts of ourselves we would rather avoid, and creating a clear space that can then be receptive. A strong sense emerged that the school must be based not on an idea but on sustained practice, covering every aspect of life and work here, including our very companionship.

Minutes before we gathered for this last conversation an e-mail was received at Chisholme, with perfect timing for the last day. Written by a young student who has previously undertaken the six-month course, it expresses concern that Chisholme may have abandoned its traditions and roots in a misguided attempt to appeal to new, primarily younger people. Yet what is really needed is that the school abide by and adhere to its root and thereby provide a rigorous grounding. This, writes the author, is what young people really need and increasingly know they want.

Surely this letter appeals to the very spirit that has guided this month now ending: to reaffirm the core education of the school, to ablute away our accretions and to request guidance so that the conditions for the Essential education can be sustained here. Cosmetic alterations based on conjecture are folly. Abandoning the spirit and essence of the wisdom offered here would be catastrophic. We therefore find a situation in which the essential is to be reaffirmed and we beg to be held in it, while requesting that any change that is necessary arises from the Real itself, out of Its own new configurations for the time, and not out of any artistry of our own.

We have to beware that unless there is at least a hint of taste or vision awake in us, this may be hard to see, and we may succumb to the temptation to rely on what we think we know. The writer of the letter had experienced the six-month course and had had a taste of the education, and now was writing, seemingly, with longing for that taste from somewhere that seemed far away.

Moreover, any order or tradition exists solely to serve the possibility of vision. It is the scaffold by which, as described in the Four Pills, one can ‘build in’, in order to then reach. Tradition has no other purpose and no sake of its own. The body of wisdom offered at Chisholme serves this possibility superbly and solely, and it does not constitute a badge or identity, far less a religion. But to throw it away would be to kick away the ladder one stands on and to attempt to reach vision from nothing.

The conversation was animated and sometimes heated as it came to its end. This dramatic finish poses the question over again of what we have received this month and how we can best conform to what is required and offered here. We ask and beg for help.

And all gratitude for what has been given this month.

Join the conversation from where you are.
Send your thoughts and contributions to info@chisholme.org.
Please use the subject line 'February Conversation' – many thanks!

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News this month (7)
Frances Ryan | Thursday, 1st March, 2018

February is devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests are invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning in which 'being' precedes 'doing'.


Conversation Notes for February 26 - 27

February is devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests are invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning of what is to be next for the place and our place in it.
Here below you can read short reports on each day, put together by Robin Thomson, and updated every day or two.
To start at the beginning of the notes, please click here...

Monday 26 February

Question: How is the governance of Chisholme to be in future? Its directors are ageing and nobody is replacing them; the finances are precarious; meanwhile there seems little opportunity for the people here to have a ‘say’ in the running of the place.

Various responses: Practical questions of this kind must have a real basis and not come from conjecture. The school here is for the Real alone and not for each person to bring their opinions. Rather, perhaps, if we all enter our studentship and agree to the real matter, necessarily leaving the ‘space’ to the Real, a truer space for our speaking will come about. There is also a sense in which being ‘on the brink’ – financially and in other senses such as staffing – is in the nature of the place.

The forms of what is to happen here are not defined. It is a school, and its primary function is education, though the courses it offers may vary to suit the situation. And other things can take place here in principle than courses alone. What is important, however, for all who come here is that we leave our ‘baggage’ at the gate – our beliefs, narratives, histories, opinions – so that we can be open to being educated. The only thing we possess is submission, and if we accept this, everything will flow from it.

Sometimes people come here and feel they are not listened to; or that they have been judged; yet this place is a strong mirror and it may be that the objection is in themselves rather than in those around them.

The ‘four pills’ offer clarity in our dealings with one another here.
– Accept the singular vision and build into it;
– keep everything clean;
– be helpful to each other;
– do not harm anybody.

These are very simple instructions. We can try and be true to them, in our own life, and here at Chisholme.

Tuesday 27 February

If you could see the ugliest leper with the eyes of Love, His beauty would out-dazzle in your eyes the starlit sea. If one drop of the Wine of Vision could rinse your eyes, Wherever you looked you would weep with wonder.

(Rumi, from Light upon Light, trans. Andrew Harvey, sent from Holland as a contribution to the on-going enquiry)

What then is beauty? How is it that some things appear more beautiful than others, and is this just conditioning on our part? Can we achieve the vision described in this poem?

There is the natural beauty of all things – of weeds as well as flowers. Things have intrinsic beauty, and then there is the beauty of order, of relationship, of things being in their proper place. But the origin is the Beauty of the Real – and that it is Beautiful is perhaps the only description of the Real available to us. That Beauty pervades all things and is the quality present in the one who sees beauty. That Beauty is the hidden treasure and is what gives rise to love and the love to be known; and the ‘eyes of Love’ in the poem above are the eyes of the vision of the perfect gnostic. Such a gnostic sees the beauty of all things and of their relationships.

As was said a few days ago, however, we do not have the vision of the gnostic, and our guide is in the discrimination of degrees, expressing preference for that which has more light over that which has less light. This is an inner compass for us. It is not equivalent to saying that ‘some things are more beautiful than others’, for all things point to beauty whatever their degree, but it is to align ourselves with Beauty for Its sake and not to judge the things.

Confronted with the extreme diversity of experience in the world – from great beauty to disasters and hideous atrocities – we rely on this guidance and the remembrance that all this is for vision alone. Someone mentioned the compassion shown by the Dalai Lama towards the Chinese, in the face of the latter's persecution of the Tibetans – he said ‘…that they too want stability, but are ‘just going about it the wrong way’. This is an extraordinary example of a way of containing one’s reactions and creating the possibility for compassion to flow in one’s self, and perhaps for vision to arise in spite of the extreme nature of what is being witnessed.

We have the opportunity today to witness both beauty and ugliness on a scale not previously known. This offers the choice to be moved and to be educated. We can see ourselves in all such situations and all parts of them. We can see ourselves in the rescuer and the rescued, in the person who acts bravely on impulse and the crowd who watch in fear and hope for someone else to act, in those who kill and those who are killed and those who grieve and those who seek justice. Here as an example Akong Rinpoche was mentioned, who had endured terrible hardship and starvation during his escape from Tibet. When he meets people who suffer, who are starving, he knows how they feel.

Can I see myself and the world as one self?

Is it that when we are witnessing, we can respond choicelessly, guided directly by the heart?
Can we be moved to act like the hero, who knows how and when to act and is not held back by personal considerations? ...and likewise to know when we cannot act?
And can we see that all these considerations are in relation to beauty?

For the final notes for this month, click here...

Join the conversation from where you are.
Send your thoughts and contributions to info@chisholme.org.
Please use the subject line 'February Conversation' – many thanks!

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News this month (6)
Frances Ryan | Sunday, 25th February, 2018

February is devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests are invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning in which 'being' precedes 'doing'.


Conversation Notes for February 23-25th

February is devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests are invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning of what is to be next for the place and our place in it.
Here below you can read short reports on each day, put together by Robin Thomson, and updated every day or two.
To start at the beginning of the notes, please click here...

Friday, 23 February

We sometimes talk about tests, such as ‘Sufi tests’.
What is the reality of such testing?

Traditional Sufi orders would arrange tests to highlight specific states or requirements in students. But here, where there is no sheikh or other authority to devise such tests, it is primarily an interior matter. Perhaps it arises naturally in response to an undertaking or an aspiration in the person concerned, as a kind of quality control – ‘am I doing this right?’ ‘what are my limits in this?’

We are tested in our desire for closeness and have then to respond and to work. Just as the sick who came to the Asklepion at Miletus had to make their own way along the road before being granted healing, we have to respond to the trials that confront us.

These are like mirrors to us and test our response, our allegiance, our level of education. And in this life of trial and testing, the knowledge that trial and testing are part of its very nature, is a mercy.

What is in fact being tested?
In the situations that we recognise as trials, we may try every possible remedy without success until we make the change of heart or alignment that it was actually calling for, at which point the external situation is likely to change too. Perhaps we are being tested in what we agreed to in pre-eternity, to the being of the Real as our being. In this temporal world this is asked of us again and again, in each moment, and when resistance or ambiguity arises we experience it as a trial, until it is dissolved through our conscious submission, returning authority to the Real. There may also be trials arising from our inability to remember the original pact and therefore not knowing who we are.

No matter how long it takes us to respond to the test by making the necessary change, there is no blame in it. ‘It’s all for you!’ There is no need to speak of regret, of ‘how I should have been long ago’, or how ‘I have wasted time’. This time, this moment now is the time for testing, and it is rightly so.

Is there a testing going on right now, with us here, all who feel a closeness to Chisholme?
Many would say yes, this seems to be what is happening.
There is a sense that the test is for bringing about a movement in the heart. This is something each of us has to do ourselves. And if this movement happens in us, then it can happen collectively.

Saturday 24 February

The end of this February month is approaching.
Can anything be said about what has arisen from our conversation and practice in this time?

While the actions and effects cannot be listed in any linear sense and are perhaps not known, some indications have been clear, such as those described in these notes for each day. We have learnt that our task is to keep the ‘place’ clean and ask for help; to request receptivity itself, rather than specific outcomes; to beware our assumptions and to allow what is to flow unimpeded; that our proper manner of approach is as students and not as teachers, holders of positions or knowers. Indeed the idea of fixed positions within the staff can be dangerous as it can crystallise into a limited arena of ‘doing’. Perhaps we are here as volunteers, or as ‘caretakers’, but in all cases we are here first and foremost as students.

When a student comes here, they are in a sense the teacher. The supervisor here becomes a student and listens. Thus the apparent situation is reversed in the interior. Moreover, education can be given without a teacher; or teaching can come through a person without making them a teacher.

This place – the school at Chisholme – has a special purpose and real establishment. It is universal, beyond forms of religion or culture, and is of extraordinary height. Yet we are not to assume an exclusivity because of this but to draw out the universal in it and to keep the place clear so that the universal flow is not interrupted. It is both a school of the Mohammedian taste and a place for all lovers of learning without fixity.

It is probable that we have limited the potential of what can be given here, through self-narratives and fixing, and the ablution now in progress is a request that this fixing be lifted. Recently two long-standing students met after forty years apart, and what was sensed in their greeting, alongside the historical elements, was the original meeting, in salam – perhaps a meeting or knowledge that had been known before time. Here is a hint of the source of the education and the reality of our relationships with one another.

Sunday 25 February

We received news last night of the death of our friend and co-student Mhairi Macmillan. In the conversation we honoured her with memories and recalled her qualities, notably her veracity and her ability to listen deeply, which found expression in her profession of psychotherapist. She had arranged to come and stay at Chisholme at exactly this time, to participate in the intention for February, then cancelled on the day she was due to arrive because she was feeling unwell; hours later she passed away.

We recalled the Qur’anic text on one of the gravestones of another student buried here: ‘O confident soul, return to your Lord, agreeing and agreed to; enter among My servants and enter My paradise.’ The confidence indicated here stands out: freed of conjecture and doubt, including self-doubt and regret, and fear of death, the soul hears its call and returns with certainty. This is the reality of death, for sure, and it is also the reality of life in each moment: compassion flows from the Real in every instant, otherwise the world would not be, and we can be confident in this.

Another sense of ‘O confident soul, return to your Lord’ is the invitation to be truly oneself and to refrain from imitating others or conjecturing how we ‘ought’ to be. All beings are in service at all times, and for humanity this consists in being our real selves. Being oneself and thus in service is something we can learn from our own body, which is always present and in service and does not succumb to conjecture or doubt.

To read the next notes, click here...

Fresh notes will be posted regularly.

Join the conversation from where you are.
Send your thoughts and contributions to info@chisholme.org.
Please use the subject line 'February Conversation' – many thanks!

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News this month (5)
Frances Ryan | Saturday, 24th February, 2018

February is devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests are invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning in which 'being' precedes 'doing'. Conversation Notes for February 21-22nd


Conversation Notes for February 21-22nd

February is devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests are invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning of what is to be next for the place and our place in it.
Here below you can read short reports on each day, put together by Robin Thomson, and updated every day or two.

To start at the beginning of the notes, please click here...

Wednesday, 21 February

Perhaps studentship consists in uncovering what is already and inherent in us – finding our real voice, our real being, and inhabiting it and speaking from it.

Each of us has a particular aspect, and it behoves to respect this and draw it out. At the same time we are each an iteration of the One Self, the singular image, and our own self is incomplete, provisional, until it achieves completion in that singular.

When we are with others we are almost certain to make conjectures: who the other is, what they are like, whether we like them and so on. (This also goes for countries, ideas, political movements and so on, and the conjecture can be collective as well as individual.) While we may not be able to stop this natural occurrence, we can practice awareness of it and try to listen for the real expression of the person and their voice; otherwise the conjecture will become the basis of our observations. Consider a portrait painter: the art of seeing not only the form but the qualities inherent in the subject. When the walls of conjecture are pulled down, we see the beauty and inherent expression of the things we regard; their beauty seems to increase. ‘Were it not for you, I would not have created the universes’.

Our service to one another is in mirroring each other – that is, reflecting the real ‘voice’ of each other back to them while being informed of ourselves by their reflecting at the same time. We become the place of the seer and we become the place of the seen. Our relationships are unequal – not in the sense of superiority and inferiority, but of uniqueness – just as three and five are unequal but neither is better than the other.

Thursday, 22 February

Who do we find ourselves to be, today?
Different experiences open: in one case in the sense of the arrival of a stranger, and in another, of being closer to my real self, such that habits have lost their claim and have fallen away.

So who are we in fact?
We have been told in our studies, but do we actually know? This knowledge is not ours; it is beyond our ken, beyond our limit.

And yet it is known who we are. That is a lodestone by which we can navigate. Our way meanwhile, not knowing, is that of the seeker on the way, who discriminates between the degrees – ‘not this, not that’ – not denying the reality in every thing, yet preferring those things that hold more light.
Maybe not yet the vision of the perfect gnostic, who sees the beauty in all the degrees.
But by discriminating we can come to see that all things are unique and not equal to one another.
Oneness is not that all things are the same; rather, they differ in their level and nature, but by virtue of oneness they are all of one reality.

As for knowledge, real knowledge belongs to the Real and is lent when the ‘place’ is receptive. But we do not attempt to accumulate or own knowledge, and cannot; all we can do is to be places in which it can flow.

One of the factors that creates this condition is the presence of questions. Answers, on the other hand, tend to block the flow.
It was emphasised that mystical knowledge is of a different order to intellectual results; ‘you can’t get there from here’.

For the next notes, please see here...

Fresh notes will be posted regularly.

Join the conversation from where you are.
Send your thoughts and contributions to info@chisholme.org.
Please use the subject line 'February Conversation' – many thanks!

Link to post


Snowdrops.jpg

News this month (4)
Frances Ryan | Wednesday, 21st February, 2018

February is devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests are invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning in which 'being' precedes 'doing'.


Conversation Notes, February 19-20

February is devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests are invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning of what is to be next for the place and our place in it.
Here below you can read short reports on each day, put together by Robin Thomson, and updated every day or two.

To start at the beginning of the notes, please click here...

Monday, 19 February

Intimacy and familiarity: can we discriminate between them? When we admit that we do not know each other, but are facing the Real together, true intimacy can arise between us; contrast this with the seeming familiarity and conjecture that goes with personal histories of friendship (or lack of) with one another. Can we let go of the habitual and familiar and allow the freshness of intimacy to be known instead?

Jili (Jill Flowers) told us of her father’s funeral, which she had attended last week. Her father had been in active service during the Second World War, and distinguished himself in battle in Italy. His regiment of the Grenadier Guards had sent two soldiers to the funeral. Neither had known her father. She gave us this image, of the two soldiers, one old, one young, standing at attention over the grave of their deceased comrade: despite not having known him, their dignity and respect was total, in honouring him here, at the graveside. After receiving this story, we looked at ourselves: what we had just heard seemed in sharp contrast to the almost Pavlovian conditioning that some of us sense, on returning to Chisholme – so familiar to us, often so full of very familiar friends that we stop seeing what/who is really there.

The ongoing governance of the place is also compromised when we act according to habit or are too close or familiar with each other. It is like a weight that covers the reality of the place. Intimacy, by contrast, which can arise even when we don’t know each other, when we have no pre-conceived ideas of each other, other than that we share in our common origin, is what fundamentally belongs to Man (the word insan, man/human, derives from uns, intimacy). It is fresh and freshly informed, not stale.

Being shown how helpful it would be to let go of the familiar, and how there is a very real possibility of intimacy arising from not-knowing, this is a mercy and a gift and something to work with. It is of course vital if we are to be of service to students coming here. Meanwhile that which is good and real in our ‘historical’ relationships will not be lost.

Tuesday 20th February

What is the meaning of the collectivity and collective vision? It cannot be an ideology or a construct. It is surely the result of individual hearts that have agreed to gather together. There is however a reality in that collectivity, when it is like that, when it is not blocked by constructs about it. In the Message from the Hopi we are enjoined to enter the fast-flowing river, let go of the bank – and see who is in there with us.

Who am I really?
This question suggests a real process of letting go of our own self-constructs and personal narratives. And yet something had to be constructed first. A child needs a sense of who they are, the ground she or he stands on, so that it can be shed in maturity. And so it is with the education itself – one must undertake something, study and imbibe something, ‘build in and then reach’, but afterwards, once established, there must be a letting go. The ephemeral (which was the scaffolding and construction to bring one to this point) passes away, so that what is real and established can be known.

Again, perhaps it is the same situation for the school. What is the school, in fact? Can we let go of our constructs that constrict it – perhaps we need to shut down completely for a period and just stop? Then what is informing us could perhaps be heard above the cacophony of ‘busy-ness’…

To read the next set of notes, please see here...

Fresh notes will be posted regularly.

Join the conversation from where you are.
Send your thoughts and contributions to info@chisholme.org.
Please use the subject line 'February Conversation' – many thanks!

Link to post


WoodRoad.jpg

News this month (3)
Frances Ryan | Sunday, 18th February, 2018

Notes for 16-18 Feb: The whole month of February is devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests are invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning in which 'being' precedes 'doing'.


Conversation Notes for February 16-18th

February is devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests are invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning of what is to be next for the place and our place in it.

Notes on the daily conversation, in the form of short reports, are made by Robin Thomson and updates appear here most days.

To start at the beginning of the notes please click here...

Friday, 16 Februaryb
How do we communicate what takes place in these conversations to our friends and the wider world?

What happens here is particular to the time and the people present.
And yet it has real effect and can thus be effective more widely, particularly given that the recent newsletter invited readers to agree with our intentions for February and for this year. If the effect is real, it will be effective whether one is informed of the detail or not. Meanwhile how is meaning conveyed at all? You yourself are the meaning.

The website, though virtual rather than face-to-face, can play a valuable part in announcement, and this can be explored further. Can we meanwhile allow the site to be used for reports and communication more spontaneously, without protracted editing and official approval?

But what is really needed is face-to-face encounter?
The human collectivity and the human singularity, the global human being that has so many manifestations.

We may be inspired in ourselves to come here by reading something, but Chisholme is to support the global evolution of mankind, not personal enlightenment. We invite people here for self-knowledge, but the kind of knowledge – and the kind of self – that they realise is not what they first expected. So, the self we think we want to know is not what we think it is. Yet we have been invited to ourselves and invited to extend the invitation.

Sat 17 February
Does or can Chisholme have a ‘mission statement’ – to make it clear to people what the place is for?

The articles of association give a loose indication, but the true purpose of the school seems difficult to communicate directly. The education here is by taste, and it has to be tasted to be recognised. The words on the website read differently after one has experienced Chisholme directly.

So how do we announce in mere words?
When the time is right, perhaps, people will find the invitation arising in them of itself; for now, it remains our task to announce in whatever ways present themselves.

And what is our task here, holding this physical place – the house and estate of Chisholme?
It is not that we can offer visions of Unity; that is for the Real alone to accomplish. Our task is simply to maintain and care for the buildings and the land, keep them and ourselves clean, so that what the Real desires can take place when it will. Meanwhile this work of maintenance and upkeep is itself nourishing and educational for those involved in it.

The estate could be worked more intensively so that we grow more of our own produce. This could be intended as a devotional act and as a demonstration of the nourishment of the Nourisher. This approach is commendable for its sentiment of commitment and engagement; but it should still be the case that all this is for the Real alone and not a ‘thing in itself’; an ephemeral form and not the unchanging essential vision.

In any case the intention for a school remains, and the place has been established in a real sense. The spiritual governs the material, so that what needs to happen will happen in a prepared place. Meanwhile our work is to hold the place, keep it clean, pay the bills, maintain it as an estate and a charity, and be present ourselves.

Sun 18 February
A larger group today, asking what has come up so far this month.
In summary, we mentioned ablution, clearing the spaces, letting go of old narratives and old accumulations.
And asking what now for the school?

How does the Real educate and invite?

For taste to educate, it has to be strong in oneself. Our own progress is our objective, each of us, and it is that which will draw others. The need for ablution, and the intention which we can sense within it, is surely to discriminate between what is fresh and of the spirit, from what is old, tired and received. The latter includes both our personal histories with one another and the system of beliefs we have constructed here as a cosy habitat.

Biological evolution has brought us here, and our own form, our body, has brought us together today for education.
Who in fact am I?
Who in fact has come into the room and sat down?

In order to receive the fresh, the ‘gifts of the spirit’, ablution is the primary requirement.
We have to be empty, clean – have no being of our own.
There is work in this for us, who are students and who yearn for closeness; this keeping clean, this letting go of histories and narratives and clinging is an ongoing effort.
‘We’ have to keep our relationships with each other clean – who in any case is this ‘we’? Is there a ‘we’, an easily assumed community, in fact? Another easy assumption is an exceptionalism (that ‘we’ are in some way extra special), the effect of which can be dangerous.

This conversation can become sharp, even confrontational, where real need for clarity is felt. Can we learn to speak to each other directly, within the strong intention for it?

Click here for the next set of notes...

Join the conversation from where you are.
Send your thoughts and contributions to info@chisholme.org.
Please use the subject line 'February Conversation' – many thanks!

Link to post


Attic.jpg

News this month (2)
Frances Ryan | Sunday, 18th February, 2018

February is devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests are invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning in which 'being' precedes 'doing'.


Conversation Notes for February 5-13th

February is devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests are invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning of what is to be next for the place and our place in it.
Notes on the daily conversation, in the form of short reports are made by Robin Thomson, and updated here most days.
To start at the beginning of the notes please click here...

Monday 5 February
How does Reality educate and how does Reality announce Itself?

How is the education at the School to be presented today?

Do we hold on to old forms because of the orders they once represented, or can we discriminate between order and form, so that the orders (which are realities and do not change) can be pointed to by new forms (that are ephemeral and subject to the era)?

Can we allow ourselves to be informed of this from a clear and empty place and refrain from conjecturing or hurrying to fill the space?

Tuesday 6 February How does the Real invite to Itself?

What is it in the invitation letter that draws people to participate in this month at Chisholme?

Perhaps that the concerns set out in the invitation are close to the concerns in our hearts? So, can the school offer a real invitation that will reach the concerns of people in the present time and likewise elicit in us a desire to respond?

If there is only the Real, the invitation is from the Real to the Real. The response will match the aptitude of each individual perfectly. This is the principle of the situation. It requires receptivity on the part of the one invited. We strive to hold the conditions in which this can take place, with presence and by ‘keeping everything clean’.

The mode of expression of the present era is fast-changing and new forms of communication may be required. Yet the vision itself, and its meanings, are unchanging, and are as essential to new generations as they were to all humans throughout history.

Wednesday 7 February Evidence of our presence in vision is the quality of our hospitality. The hospitality of Abraham towards the three strangers exemplifies the hospitality of vision (or of aspiration to vision), in which we see (or accept ‘as if we saw’) that every person is a face of the Real, a divine Name, and thus an aspect of the real collectivity and a revelation to inform our studentship.

Thursday 8 February
We were given the image of a person standing before a curtain, and wanting to draw it back, but unable to reach out to move it. This came with a sense of facing an unknown and a profound sense of incapacity and inability.

Friday 9 February
Out of our incapacity to know the Unknown comes the invitation to be taken ‘beyond the curtain’ by that which can carry us there. The self-revelation of the Unknown to Itself is the divine Love Affair. The world is ever in becoming, and our place as the lover is to enter the intimacy of the Beloved.

In this a merciful action takes place. The ‘tension’ of not knowing and wanting to know is released by the realisation that there is only the Real, and that the Real includes the time and manner of release. Then comes the possibility of vision, and the desire for this is from the Real even more than it is from the student. One can relax, trusting that what needs to happen will be given when the time is right.

Saturday 10 February
Back to incapacity as our starting point and place of refuge. We are invited to invite the Real to be our ‘Trustee’ – the one who takes care of our affairs. In this action of appointing arises the possibility of prayer.

So, if our way is not a religion, what is prayer?

We come to a situation in which we request of the Real because this is the Real’s request of us. Request, gratitude and praise form three strands of a rope that binds to Truth. Equally, prayer is an act of praise in which the praiser, praised and praise are one. The mystery of servanthood is in the participating in this situation. And the realised servant requests that the distinction between servant and lord be maintained so that this situation of requesting can continue.

Sunday 11 February
Since the beginning of the month, Janice McAllister has been working in the attic of the main house. She came from the US specifically with this purpose in her heart, to clear it and clean it and paint it, so that light can enter every corner of it. In the last two weeks, the attic has seen a remarkable transformation – see image at the top of the page.

We spoke of the value of this work being done. Not only is there a symbolic and energetic significance particularly to beginning at the top; the scale and rigour of this clearing out is such that all of us are under its effect.

So what is ablution?

Mere ‘cleaning’ is more than meets the eye. The one who cleans feels benefit, regardless of their level of awareness – it has an obvious, tangible effect and goes far beyond the physical.

It is an ongoing practice, like prayer, and like prayer, it becomes a condition in which we can abide. Like prayer, it is an approach to awareness and the constancy of awareness. So perhaps all the practices and actions envisaged in the School’s courses point to this same objective of maintaining awareness of the Real at all times.

Does all real action in this world directs us to that objective…?

Monday 12 February
T.S. Eliot spoke of the possibility of being ‘at the still point of the turning world… Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is… Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…. In the dance, at the still point, is pure being, and being is joy.’

By being present to ourselves we become more present to each other, so that, together, we are present to the One Who is present to us.

‘The greatest beshara is that God is the Ipseity (selfness) of all things.’
(Fusus al Hikam ch. of Hud)

Tuesday 13 February
Movement loomed large today, arising from an offer of chi gong sessions. Movement can be understood in various ways. Meanwhile the body needs integration with the mind, and chi gong does this effectively. The body is the receptacle of real experience; in mindfulness practice the body is often a primary focus; the chapter on Moses speaks of the body as the ark in which knowledge resides.

Link to post


IMG_4822.jpg

News this month (1)
Frances Ryan | Friday, 16th February, 2018

February is devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests are invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning in which 'being' precedes 'doing'.


February is devoted to a time of ‘stopping’, in which residents and guests are invited to enter into a spirit of shared enquiry and deep questioning of what is to be next for the place and our place in it; and establish a culture in which 'being' precedes 'doing', so that all activity and work undertaken here be approached in a contemplative spirit. Then what is necessary can flow from an awareness of the real situation, rather than our attempting to act on the basis of conjecture in a purely doing mode.

Simply to agree to this movement constitutes acceptance of the invitation. It is surely our collective will and intention, wherever we may be, that can create the receptivity required.

Intrinsic in this request to be shown the best way forward for this school is ablution (in the sense of cleaning, clearing and decluttering, inside and out). Five objectives emerged to inform us of the purpose and quality of the ablution we have proposed to undertake:

  1. For the Real alone
  2. For a clear space
  3. To let go of attachments
  4. To lighten and elevate
  5. To be ready to receive

We have learned that 'First He prepares the place.' It naturally follows then, that ablution must precede the request in order to prepare the place to receive and be informed from the Real.

For how can we be ready to receive help if the place is cluttered with the accretion of stuff both interior and exterior?

The month of February marks the start of this intention and this request.
An important part of this intention is also to spend time every morning in conversation.
Conversation in this context is a devotional practice, particular to the time it occurs and to the people present. What appears below is no more than a summary of some of the salient points that have come up, put together by Robin Thomson.
We will keep this page updated as the month progresses.

One common factor in the conversations has been a restating, a sense of renewal perhaps, of key aspects of service to the Real and proper studentship, i.e. incapacity, presence, cleanliness, and our position in the ‘love affair’ as the basis of esoteric lore. Much of what follows may seem familiar to many of us, yet it has emerged with the quality of news.

Feb 1-4th
The month began with a request that we pray together Ibn ‘Arabi’s prayer, the Hisb al Wiqaya or Prayer for Spiritual Elevation and Protection, to set the intention and to request elevation and protection for the School and those entrusted with its care.
It is traditionally read before travelling or in times of difficulty.

Beginning from a recognition of our incapacity, the question arose of asking how the invitation to education at Chisholme, that is the ‘Beshara’ – the Announcement of Joy' - is to be made?

An indication is given in the prayer mentioned above ‘Admit me, O You who are the First and the Last, to the hidden domain of the unknowable secret and encompassing treasure of 'As God wills! There is no power save in God.’ We were further reminded of the need to be collected as one in the request: ‘Hold fast to the bond of God all together and do not scatter’.

How do we as seemingly disparate individuals, hold together in a unitive vision?

Clearly there has to be agreement from all sides, and that agreement has to come from a real place. Or one can speak of harmony – the science of beauty when multiple tones are sounded together.

How can we be harmonious together?

We begin with our own efforts but quickly discover that these are futile by themselves. For a vision to be unitive, it must come from Unity itself. We cannot reach it, nor recognise it, from our limited perspectives. So it is our task to request vision and clear the ‘space’ in ourselves – which is helped when we clear the space in our physical surroundings.

Monday 5 February
How does Reality educate and how does Reality announce Itself?

How is the education at the School to be presented today?

Do we hold on to old forms because of the orders they once represented, or can we discriminate between order and form, so that the orders (which are realities and do not change) can be pointed to by new forms (that are ephemeral and subject to the era)?

Can we allow ourselves to be informed of this from a clear and empty place and refrain from conjecturing or hurrying to fill the space?

Tuesday 6 February
How does the Real invite to Itself?

What is it in the invitation letter that draws people to participate in this month at Chisholme?

Perhaps that the concerns set out in the invitation are close to the concerns in our hearts? So, can the school offer a real invitation that will reach the concerns of people in the present time and likewise elicit in us a desire to respond?

If there is only the Real, the invitation is from the Real to the Real. The response will match the aptitude of each individual perfectly. This is the principle of the situation. It requires receptivity on the part of the one invited. We strive to hold the conditions in which this can take place, with presence and by ‘keeping everything clean’.

The mode of expression of the present era is fast-changing and new forms of communication may be required. Yet the vision itself, and its meanings, are unchanging, and are as essential to new generations as they were to all humans throughout history.

Wednesday 7 February
Evidence of our presence in vision is the quality of our hospitality. The hospitality of Abraham towards the three strangers exemplifies the hospitality of vision (or of aspiration to vision), in which we see (or accept ‘as if we saw’) that every person is a face of the Real, a divine Name, and thus an aspect of the real collectivity and a revelation to inform our studentship.

Thursday 8 February
We were given the image of a person standing before a curtain, and wanting to draw it back, but unable to reach out to move it. This came with a sense of facing an unknown and a profound sense of incapacity and inability.

Friday 9 February
Out of our incapacity to know the Unknown comes the invitation to be taken ‘beyond the curtain’ by that which can carry us there. The self-revelation of the Unknown to Itself is the divine Love Affair. The world is ever in becoming, and our place as the lover is to enter the intimacy of the Beloved.

In this a merciful action takes place. The ‘tension’ of not knowing and wanting to know is released by the realisation that there is only the Real, and that the Real includes the time and manner of release. Then comes the possibility of vision, and the desire for this is from the Real even more than it is from the student. One can relax, trusting that what needs to happen will be given when the time is right.

Saturday 10 February
Back to incapacity as our starting point and place of refuge. We are invited to invite the Real to be our ‘Trustee’ – the one who takes care of our affairs. In this action of appointing arises the possibility of prayer.

So, if our way is not a religion, what is prayer?

We come to a situation in which we request of the Real because this is the Real’s request of us. Request, gratitude and praise form three strands of a rope that binds to Truth. Equally, prayer is an act of praise in which the praiser, praised and praise are one. The mystery of servanthood is in the participating in this situation. And the realised servant requests that the distinction between servant and lord be maintained so that this situation of requesting can continue.

Sunday 11 February
Since the beginning of the month, Janice McAllister has been working in the attic of the main house. She came from the US specifically with this purpose in her heart, to clear it, clean and paint it so that light can enter as much as possible every corner of it. We spoke of the value of this work being done. Not only is there a symbolic and energetic significance particularly to beginning at the top; the scale and rigour of this clearing out is such that all of us are under its effect.

So what is ablution?

Mere ‘cleaning’ is more than meets the eye. The one who cleans feels benefit, regardless of their level of awareness – it has an obvious, tangible effect and goes far beyond the physical.

It is an ongoing practice, like prayer, and like prayer, it becomes a condition in which we can abide. Like prayer, it is an approach to awareness and the constancy of awareness. So perhaps all the practices and actions envisaged in the School’s courses point to this same objective of maintaining awareness of the Real at all times.

Does all real action in this world directs us to that objective…?

{CGSmartImage src='uploads/images/news-images/Attic.jpg' class='img-responsive'}

Monday 12 February
T.S. Eliot spoke of the possibility of being ‘at the still point of the turning world… Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is… Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…. In the dance, at the still point, is pure being, and being is joy.’

By being present to ourselves we become more present to each other, so that, together, we are present to the One Who is present to us.

‘The greatest beshara is that God is the Ipseity (selfness) of all things.’
(Fusus al Hikam ch. of Hud)

Tuesday 13 February
Movement loomed large today, arising from an offer of chi gong sessions. Movement can be understood in various ways. Meanwhile the body needs integration with the mind, and chi gong does this effectively. The body is the receptacle of real experience; in mindfulness practice the body is often a primary focus; the chapter on Moses speaks of the body as the ark in which knowledge resides.

No notes for Wednesday and Thursday

Friday 16 February
How do we communicate what takes place in these conversations to our friends and the wider world?

What happens here is particular to the time and the people present. And yet it has real effect and can thus be effective more widely, particularly given that the recent newsletter invited readers to agree with our intentions for February and for this year. If the effect is real, it will be effective whether one is informed of the detail or not. Meanwhile how is meaning conveyed at all? You yourself are the meaning.

The website, though virtual rather than face-to-face, can play a valuable part in announcement, and this can be explored further. Can we meanwhile allow the site to be used for reports and communication more spontaneously, without protracted editing and official approval?

But what is really needed is face-to-face encounter. The human collectivity and the human singularity, the global human being that has so many manifestations.

We may be inspired in ourselves to come here by reading something, but Chisholme is to support the global evolution of mankind, not personal enlightenment. We invite people here for self-knowledge, but the kind of knowledge – and the kind of self – that they realise is not what they first expected. So, the self we think we want to know is not what we think it is. Yet we have been invited to ourselves and invited to extend the invitation.

Saturday 17 February
Does or can Chisholme have a ‘mission statement’ – to make it clear to people what the place is for? The articles of association give a loose indication, but the true purpose of the school seems difficult to communicate directly. The education here is by taste, and it has to be tasted to be recognised. The words on the website read differently after one has experienced Chisholme directly. So how do we announce in mere words? When the time is right, perhaps, people will find the invitation arising in them of itself; for now, it remains our task to announce in whatever ways present themselves.

And what is our task here, holding this physical place – the house and estate of Chisholme?

It is not that we can offer visions of Unity; that is for the Real alone to accomplish. Our task is simply to maintain and care for the buildings and the land, keep them and ourselves clean, so that what the Real desires can take place when it will. Meanwhile this work of maintenance and upkeep is itself nourishing and educational for those involved in it.

The estate could be worked more intensively so that we grow more of our own produce. This could be intended as a devotional act and as a demonstration of the nourishment of the Nourisher. This approach is commendable for its sentiment of commitment and engagement; but it should still be the case that all this is for the Real alone and not a ‘thing in itself’; an ephemeral form and not the unchanging essential vision.

In any case the intention for a school remains, and the place has been established in a real sense. The spiritual governs the material, so that what needs to happen will happen in a prepared place. Meanwhile our work is to hold the place, keep it clean, pay the bills, maintain its place in the worldly order and be present ourselves.

Sunday 18 February
A larger group today, asking what has come up so far this month. The responses: ablution, clearing the spaces, letting go of old narratives and old accumulations.

And asking what now for the school: how does the Real educate and invite?

The quality of presence and conversation has been strong and affirming.

For taste to educate, it has to be strong in oneself. Our own progress is our objective, each of us, and it is that which will draw others. The need for ablution, and the intention which we can sense within it, is surely to discriminate between what is fresh and of the spirit, from what is old, tired and received. The latter includes both our personal histories with one another and the system of beliefs we have constructed here as a cosy habitat.

Biological evolution has brought us here, and our own form, our body, has brought us together today for education.
Who in fact am I?
Who in fact has come into the room and sat down?

In order to receive the fresh, the ‘gifts of the spirit’, ablution is the primary requirement.
We have to be empty, clean – have no being of our own. There is work in this for us, who are students and who yearn for closeness; this keeping clean, this letting go of histories and narratives and clinging is an ongoing effort.
‘We’ have to keep our relationships with each other clean – who in any case is this ‘we’? Is there a ‘we’, an easily assumed community, in fact?
Another easy assumption is an exceptionalism (that ‘we’ are in some way extra special), the effect of which can be dangerous.

This conversation can become sharp, even confrontational, where real need for clarity is felt. Can we learn to speak to each other directly, within the strong intention for it?

Click here for the next set of notes...

Join the conversation from where you are.
Send your thoughts and contributions to info@chisholme.org.
Please use the subject line 'February Conversation' – many thanks!

Link to post


Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 15.11.11.png

Building Peace: with Scilla Elworthy
Frances Ryan | Saturday, 13th May, 2017

Sunday 28 May: How can we be useful? A workshop with Scilla Elworthy


Many people feel powerless in the face of what they see on TV or read in the news - a world in crisis, with wars and violence erupting across the globe.

Chisholme is delighted to be hosting a one-day workshop on Sunday 28 May, for all those who want to step out of helplessness.

Come and apply your own personal skills to do something about the challenges now facing us.
We’ll spend time responding to the question“what can I do about all this?”
We’ll investigate not only the myriad opportunities for service opening up, but also look into the skills we all need if we are to be effective in our chosen actions.

Scilla Elworthy PhD has been three times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She is founder of Peace Direct, which works with local peace-builders in conflict areas, and was adviser to Peter Gabriel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Sir Richard Branson in setting up ‘The Elders’. She co-founded Rising Women Rising World in 2014, and teaches self knowledge to young social entrepreneurs.

We need individuals like Dr Elworthy to start the work of preventing war…This has been my personal dream for many years.” His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Find out more...

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...leaving all the space to God
Frances Ryan | Friday, 13th January, 2017

What is the intimate inner work of a person aspiring to live life in complete awareness?


Osman Fazli, one of the great Ottoman saints of the 17th century, lived in interesting times. His response to the needs of his particular era, informed as it was by his education in the Unity of Existence, may illuminate our own, no less interesting, times. He brought himself to mind and heart during the current ‘Single Vision’ conversation week at Chisholme.

Man does not possess anything else but his sensibilities
as his real organ of intelligence
and without Divine action man cannot even use his memory
which is his sacred treasury of experience acquired long ago. The initiate, the saint, the insani kamil, is he who possesses
the faculty of being able to recognise the true non-existence of his faculties of thought
and his own impotence in putting them in motion. It is he who leaves all the 'space' to God
and who passes all his life in controlling his intimate faithfulness,
in actions, 'thought' or in the acts that materialise them. It is he who prays constantly to God,
even if it be only by a breath or by a movement of the heart,
when he perceives the natural and constant phenomena of thought. Osman Fazlı

To read an account of Osman Fazli's life and times, see here...

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Visiting
Chisholme Blog | Tuesday, 18th October, 2016

A poem from Shane Jagger, our resident poet


Visiting

soon they visit some hearts
though they won’t find them
except by singular
intention and concentration
on the giver of all hearts

here they will be found
in the love of an open mind
free of worry
and clean of all clutter

here they will be waiting
knowing they are to be found
and accepted
like an old memory
of long before

These hearts are blessed
with eternity
and extraordinary happenings
will subtly occur

December 3, 2015

An excerpt from the review by author Roger Norman:

'This little book of poems arrived out of the blue one morning, at a postal address where nothing ever comes except gas bills. I read the first poems to see what was afoot and was caught by these lines: ‘Soon they visit some hearts / though they won’t find them / except by singular / intention and concentration on the giver of hearts’. There was no mistaking the weight of singular intention and concentration, as the seven ‘n’s sounded their gong-like chimes. By the end of the poem, we still don’t know who are ‘they’ of the first line, but we suspect that it might be ourselves – the uncertain ones, the seekers. Probably it is of us that the ‘singular intention’ is required.'

Read more...

You can still order copies of the first edition of the book here

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Where is home?
Chisholme Blog | Monday, 17th October, 2016

Hannah Dalgleish speaks of her experience of Chisholme for Ignite London


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September Newsletter
Chisholme Blog | Friday, 23rd September, 2016

We prepare for winter and look back on the highlights of the summer


Winter is coming

If the sun did not always shine on Chisholme this summer, there was never any shortage of warmth and light here. We have been able to put on a great variety of courses and all the feedback from those on them has been as good as could be wished. Along with satisfied students, there has been a steady stream of visitors and youthful volunteers, and their appreciation of this place has been very real. But now summer is nearly over and the winter period approaches.

Regrettably this winter will not feature the 40-day retreat and the other elements which together replaced the traditional six-month course (i.e., no Turkey trip, no 99-day retreat). Though a number of people showed very real interest there were too few to allow the courses to run. Instead a programme of weekend and week events is being put together.

The first of these will be a conversation week starting on 23 October. With the fee kept very low,we hope many of you will be able to come. More details of this week and other events will be posted on the website shortly.

The 40-day retreat itself will be offered again next winter and also in the early summer – probably starting around mid-May. But before thinking about summer 2017 there are still a couple of events to round off this very memorable one.

Richard Gault
principal@chisholme.org

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Looking ahead

The major event this month comes right at its end - the conversation with Colin Tudge about the future of food and farming. For humanity there is no future without food and there’ll be no food without farming. Right now there are real doubts about the way we farm and feed ourselves. Exploring ways of bringing about change is vital. Chisholme can serve this future in three ways. Firstly, we do indeed offer an ideal venue for conversation. In fact ‘ideal’ is too much of a cliché to do Chisholme justice. This is a very special place. We offer a space for conversation that cannot be found anywhere else. Here those who normally might never easily and freely talk with another, such as organic farmers and representatives of major food processing companies, can do so and find support in doing so. Secondly Colin argues that right food and farming practices can only emerge out of proper understanding of humanity’s relationship with reality. This school enables the search for this understanding. Thirdly, on a more practical level, Chisholme can offer examples of good practice. Ambitious aims perhaps but this is a time to be ambitious.

The Future of food and farming: deepening the conversation
30 September–2 October

Colin Tudge joins a weekend conversation that examines how the future of food and farming can be shaped to lead to a happier future for everyone on the planet. We are delighted that Chris and Denise Walton from Peelham Farm will be joining us, and they have kindly invited participants to visit their organic farm on the Monday.

Winter Wood Week, 8-15 October
Winter is coming – and we need to prepare for it. Would you like to help as a volunteer? The Winter Wood week will be a week spent gathering winter fuel. There’ll be sessions in the wood yard splitting logs for the boiler or chopping hard wood for the wood-fired stoves, such as the one in the Mead Hall. You will also go out on the estate helping gather wind-blown wood. In addition to healthy, outdoor activity there will be opportunities for study, informal conversation and, of course, you will enjoy fine meals. We will also be happy to accept help in the kitchen and house during the week. The usual financial contribution is requested: £10 per day or £6 student concession.

Single vision: the spirit of the starting place, 23–30 October
This will be the first of a series of conversation weeks to be held over the winter. Forty years on and the world has changed. But what are the truly significant changes? What do these changes mean for us? Are we being asked to serve in new ways? How do we do so while remaining ever true to the unchanging starting vision? More details on the website soon. To enable as many people to come as possible, the fee has been set at just £150 (£100 non-residential). Course fees are always charged at less than their actual cost and are subsidised thanks to the generosity of covenanters and donors. If you can afford more than the £150 fee please think of adding a little more if you can. This can help others come to Chisholme in the future.

Devotional Practice Retreat, Saturday 4–Sunday 19 February 2017
A two-week Retreat Course, led by Peter Young
This intensive retreat is for those with some prior experience of reading Ibn 'Arabi and who have an ongoing spiritual practice. Applications are invited both from those who have done this form of retreat (Wazifa retreat) in the past and from those who are new to it. Week 1: Intensive week of study of selections from Ibn ‘Arabi’s Tarjuman al-Ashwaq and the Lawa’ih of Jami, together with daily practice and group conversation. Week 2: A week of private seclusion engaging full-time in devotional practices, as prescribed by Ibn ‘Arabi for his students. These practices are undertaken for the completion of the various levels of the self through the realisation of their unity with the One Absolute Self. The retreat will be limited to ten participants. If you would like to take part please apply to secretary@chisholme.org Cost: £700 fully residential with single room.

And further ahead...

Summer 2017
Missing from this summer’s programme were any specifically family-friendly events. Children should be welcome here. We hope to offer something special for families next year beginning perhaps over the May Bank Holiday weekend.

And looking back: recent courses and events

Discovering Unity Seven-day Retreat: Service and Freedom, 13–20 August
A new course which will probably be offered again. It also suggests similarly structured thematic courses. “Fantastic! At times overwhelming, at times reassuring.” (L)

Discovering Unity, Introductory weekend 19-21 August
“I have had a weekend of true communication.” (O)

Ibn ‘Arabi Study Retreat week 27 August–3 September
Peter Coates led study of the 29 Pages and the chapter on Jonah from Ibn ‘Arabi’s Fusus al Hikam. Students from Australia, Egypt, the USA as well as the UK greatly enjoyed this course which benefited from the experience of Peter Coates. ”An enlightening experience, an affirmation of the value that study provides.” (E)

Retreat in the Woods: Foundations of Natural Intelligence, 27 August–3 September
Chisholme staff were privileged to be invited to coffee in the yurt camp kitchen at the end of this FNI week. On arriving it was immediately clear that the participants had shared a really special experience. This is an extraordinary course. “It was so much more than I could ever imagine or explain.” (V)

Rememoration, Sunday 4 and Monday 5 September
The annual Rememoration for Bulent Rauf took place early this month. Zikr on the Sunday evening was followed by conversation the next morning and a delicious celebratory lunch of roast lamb. Conversation flowed. A question was posed which all were invited to reflect upon: “What is your passion? Theophanic prayer and the revelation of God to man was also mentioned. Importantly, we have been reminded again recently that Bulent never veered from the premise that union with God was the sole purpose for the existence of man and this certainty coloured all that was accomplished through him. Read more>>

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Youth weekend meet-up, Friday 9th to Sunday 11th September
Over the weekend a good number of young people came together for conversation. Along with talking there was walking, wood-oven baked pizzas in (of course) the woods and more. A fuller report next month.

Come to stay or to work

Working at Chisholme
Hannes, our development officer, left a few days ago and our secretary will go at the end of October. Can you fill their shoes? Learn more about working at Chisholme: here http://www.chisholme.org/jobs.html or email info@chisholme.org to find out more.

Weekly programme
Visitors and guests are welcome to join our morning meditation at 7am daily and come for zikr on Thursday evenings at 9.30pm. There is a Fusus reading most Saturday evenings after supper (8.30pm) and another study session on Thursday mornings at 8.30 am. A walk is usually organised after lunch on Sundays.
Please email info@chisholme.org or phone 01450 880 215 to confirm.

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We look forward to welcoming you and to hearing from you

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What can I say?
Chisholme Blog | Friday, 9th September, 2016

A tale of the unexpected


Posted by Andrew Forsythe

Hello. What can I say? I am from the Scottish Borders. I was expelled from school at fifteen and spent most of my youth in and out of jail. I finally straighten out and worked as a painter and decorator for some years. A change in my career took me to working on estates as a gamekeeper and in estate maintenance in different parts of Scotland.

Somewhat disillutioned with the UK I moved to Canada, and there I worked painting skyscrapers in Toronto. I then moved to rural Ontario where I won a bar on the flip of a coin. Tails... I won!!!

After a few hard slogging years at that I sold the business and went to live on a Native Indian Reservation with the Mohawk warriors. There I did seasonal work on an apple orchard, then being involved in the growing of marijuana which was a great insight.

I returned to Hawick in 2009 and never really settled down. I was a volunteer at Artbeat Studios for five years, which is a grassroots group helping people with physical or mental difficulties. I really enjoy helping people or just being there for them. After squatting in a property in town for four years I was evicted and on the streets again.

A friend told me about Chisholme House and I went there as a volunteer, and then I was fortunate enough to do a six-month course there. Doing the course was an amazing journey into my truer self. I now work there maintaining the lawns, splitting wood, and looking after the chickens. Its a great place to work and I really enjoy the study sessions.

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Bulent Rauf: a personal account
Chisholme Blog | Sunday, 4th September, 2016

In a very personal account written in 2012, John Brass pays tribute to this remarkable man.


A man of wisdom, scholar, guide and dear friend to so many, without whose vision and foresight the school at Chisholme would never have come about.

In a very personal account written in 2012, John Brass pays tribute to this remarkable man.

Read the full article here

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RELATED LINKS

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The Red Sail
Katharine Tiernan writes about St Cuthbert's years
in retreat, for Beshara Magazine


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The Twenty-Nine Pages
An Introduction to Ibn 'Arabi's Metaphysics of Unity
is available from Beshara Publications