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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please use the subject line 'February Conversation' – many thanks!
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The Red Sail
Katharine Tiernan writes about St Cuthbert's years
in retreat, for Beshara Magazine
The Twenty-Nine Pages
An Introduction to Ibn 'Arabi's Metaphysics of Unity
is available from Beshara Publications