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A wet week looks like having us confined mostly to barracks. Since the youngest flew the nest, last year, I have acquired a study. It has a view of the garden, and beyond, to a once grand ash tree, now beginning to die back. We resist the obvious metaphor, focus instead on the stripes of the lawn, and the remaining splashes of colour among the heleniums.

I’m thinking about something that happened a long time ago. It was a moment of transcendence, I think, one in which there was no difference between who I was, and what I was looking at. That I happened to be looking at Scope End, a shapely cone of a mountain in the Newlands Valley, made this a very grand experience indeed. And whether it was a genuine taste of oneness, as the Buddhists would have it, or just a bit of a funny do, is largely irrelevant at this stage. I’m inclined towards the former, since it has remained fresh in memory all these years, and has driven a lot of creative efforts in mystical directions, though I readily accept the possibility of the latter.

It’s hard to imagine everything we see as being made of atoms: the lawn, the heleniums, and the old ash tree. We know it to be so, thanks to the elementary science we learned at school, but we still tend not to think of things that way. To do so would lend the world a layer of complication we can manage perfectly well without, day to day. Atoms are mostly space, yet the world looks solid. Go down another level, and atoms are made of smaller particles. Then again, these smaller particles are made from even smaller particles, none of which are actually particles, but more like twists of energy, vibrating in what is called the Unified Field. The field is a thing beyond which there is nothing, because it is nothing, yet it gives rise to the world, to the universe of appearances.

It’s also here, while conducting science at this subatomic level, the consciousness of the observer has an effect on what manifests, on that which is observed, which leads to speculation that the unified field – if not in itself actually aware – is the ground from which even consciousness arises. All of this is simply to say that when I am looking at the ash tree, my relationship to it is more complicated than surface appearances, and certainly more complicated than I am ordinarily aware.

All of this, the last hundred years or so of scientific thinking finds itself converging on the Vedic tradition, which speaks also of a fundamental ground of being, an emptiness, a nothingness, a formlessness, timeless and infinite, from which all things arise. And the tradition holds that this state can be experienced directly, either by diligence in the practice of meditation, or you can even sometimes fall into it by accident.

In my case, the accident occurred at the tail end of a long and very beautiful walk in the mountains, some time around the millennium. It probably lasted only the length of time it takes for the raising of a foot, as I walked, and the placing of it down again, but, internally, the experience was much more expansive, and timeless. It posed many questions, of course, and the subsequent search for answers became a considerable part of my leisure time thinking, thereafter, a search for which one feels poorly equipped, bound as one is by the nine to five-ness of ordinary, suburban circumstances.

Scope End, June 2005

Although I have speculated on it before, a firmer link between Vedic – also to some degree Buddhist – philosophy and the Unified Field of contemporary physics came to me only recently while revisiting some old notes on Transcendentalism – Transcendent meaning a direct experience of the ground of being, or the divine, or however you want to put it. I first heard the term, long ago, when a work’s doctor was interviewing me, after I’d fainted. I was a manufacturing apprentice, and my mate had injured his finger on a machine. He swore, and I fainted. I came round in a sweat, the doc pronounced me fit, told me to get back out on the shop and then, as if he had peered into my soul, added that I’d probably benefit from some form of Transcendental Meditation. It was perhaps the single most sage piece of advice I was ever given, but I ignored it.

And just as well I did, because the “official” Transcendental Meditation (TM) would have been beyond my means. Even if I’d found a teacher, TM costs you serious money, and I’d a long way to go before I was ready, or desperate enough to take any form of meditation seriously, but especially one where they asked you for money. Now, I’ve no reason to doubt TM is as effective as they say it is – even though most of those saying it are celebrities who can well afford it – but there are plenty of other forms you can learn from books, or from inexpensive church hall classes, if you want to give it a go.

As for TM in particular, it’s a technique defined by the use of a mantra, a meaningless word that has a certain resonance in the mind as it is silently repeated. In the official TM that mantra is a secret – specific to you – given to you by your teacher and never to be shared. Naturally, this raises some sceptical eyebrows. Personally, I think you could find your own mantra, and that will do just as well.

I’ve used meditation – though not TM – as a means of controlling stress and anxiety, mostly work related, and found it effective, but it never took me back to that moment in the mountains. Then again, I don’t meditate very often these days, and I’m not sure I want, or need, to go back to that moment anyway, because it raised more questions than I can ever answer, at least in this lifetime. But I’m grateful for the glimpse behind the curtain, so to speak, if indeed that’s what it was. It’s certainly gifted me plenty of speculative avenues to explore over the years, and the mind has enjoyed toying with them in my various fictional writings.

It’s deeply strange to look at a mountain and have one’s consciousness expand until one is both oneself, and the mountain. That’s too clumsy a way of putting it. Perhaps a better way is to say the unified field contains both the manifestation of the mountain, and one’s own consciousness, and that, for a moment, one attains a glimpse of both, from some higher perspective.

Of course the ego resists even this one small concession, that while it might be possible this is the way it really is, Ego denies any certainty of belief, that beyond granting the world is indeed a beautiful place, and at times hauntingly so, it would sooner take anchor in a materiality we know full well to be a serious simplification of the way things truly are.

And now, after all of that, the sun is shining, so we’ll slip out for a walk, while the going is good, and I’ll leave you in the company of David Lynch (Lost Highway, Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive) who I think explains it very well.

Thanks for listening

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henry cordier

When browsing second hand bookshops, one occasionally comes across old hand-written diaries. Now, unless the author was famous, it’s hard to put a value on such a thing. As an historical curiosity they’re clearly worth something, though often contain only self conscious ramblings. So, when I discovered the diary of Thomas Marston at a flea market, I wasn’t expecting much. It’s a thick Quarto sized journal dating from 1870 to 1873 – a lot of spidery ink and faded pencil, pages stained and torn, the cover battered and half missing. Its condition alone suggested a hard life and an epic journey. I was intrigued by it. It cost me ¬£10, and it turned out to be money well spent.

Marston was a captain in the Queen’s Highland Light Infantry, posted to the northern Indian province of Himachal Pradesh. The early part of the diary recounts the minutia of military life on the frontier of Empire, which is interesting enough, but where it gets more¬†interesting is when he describes a hunting trip he made while on leave in the summer of 1873. Since, as far as I’m aware, this diary was never published in print form, the information Captain Marston came into possession of during that trip is now known only to me, and in a moment I’ll be passing it on to you.

Travelling with an Afghan cook and an Indian manservant, Marston spent several weeks working his way up into the Himalayas, along tracks that are now well known to backpackers ascending the peaks and glacial valleys towards Tibet. The hunting was poor, and Marston berates both the weather and the incompetence of his cook. By no means a genial chap, he comes across, at least in the earlier part of his narrative, as a both a racist bigot and an upper class prick.

Eventually, wearied beyond cheering he begs shelter in a remote monastery. Here, a mixture of boredom and curiosity at the “superstitions” of heathen natives leads Marston to observe and describe the meditation techniques of the monks. Though hampered by language difficulties, he is able to make a good accounting of it and, presumably having little else to do, because of the still atrocious weather, tries out the practice himself. At this point the narrative takes on an almost psychedelic tone, as if Marston were suddenly imbibing opium, as he describes the peculiar psychical effects he experiences. What’s also interesting here is the change in Marston’s attitude, as reflected in his narrative – becoming more introspective, and humane, as if we are witnessing the elevation of his consciousness to a more sagely plane.

Marston spent six weeks at the monastery – rather a grand term for what he elsewhere describes as: an unfortunate congregation of mud and stone buildings clinging precariously to an unstable mountainside. He was there from August 23rd, and departed in late September, which suggests either his leave entitlement from the British Army was incredibly generous, or we’re not getting at the whole of the truth here and Marston was in fact some kind of spy. Although this sounds like something from a Kipling novel, it’s not beyond possibility, nor is what happened next.

Marston and his party climbed from the monastery to a ridge overlooking the valley, from where they intended turning West and heading to Kashmir. As they do so, weeks of incessant rain releases a catastrophic mudslide which engulfs the valley below, swallowing the monastery and everyone in it. Marston’s party were lucky to escape with their lives.

From this point Marston seems at pains to detail the meditation method, as if aware now he might be the last man alive who knows anything about it. As a method, it’s very similar to Transcendental Meditation, which aims to still the mind and open the gates to “transcendence” by the repetition of a word or a mantra. In the latterly “trade-marked” Transcendental Meditation, the mantra is considered personal and is passed on to the adept after a period of paid study by the “teacher”, but in Marston’s method, the mantra is derived by taking measurements of the lines on the palm of the hand. The angles between the lines are then reduced by a simple formula into a series of notes or tones that are hummed or even just imagined under the breath. Since everyone’s hand is different, this will yield a different musical “key” to enlightenment for each person.

To the uninitiated, it sounds like an improbable mixture of palmistry and numerology. However, although sceptical at first, I have been practising the method now for several weeks and the results are astonishing. Within the first few sessions I experienced a powerful sense of oneness and transcendence, an experience that has been repeatable and, quite honestly, mind blowing. I could, and probably will write volumes on the potential of this technique, but for now my aim is to bring it to the attention of a wider audience.

Listen up then, all you have to do is this:

Send me a scanned print of your hand, and non-refundable payment (by Paypal only please) of ¬£5000. Then I’ll send you by return your personal mantra as a set of musical notes. I cannot guarantee success of course, as for all I know you may be tone deaf or simply doing it wrong. In the near future I shall also be organising a workshop, by invitation only, to a select group of the most attractive celebrities with whom I plan to share the method for deriving this mantra, since ordinary people are unlikely to possess the qualities necessary for this subtle aspect of the work.

Now, even after swallowing hard at that hefty price tag, I know you really want this method to be true, in spite of your natural born cynicism and the overripe smell coming from the rather cheesy fiction by which I claim to have discovered it. If you’ve not rumbled me yet, then let me say now I have, of course, made the whole thing up, and by doing so hope to have cast a light on our acquisitive natures, and on the all pervading belief that a thing is worthless unless we’ve paid a lot of money for it, also that there has to be a secret special key that will instantly and easily transform what we imagine to be the untidy imperfection of our lives into the solid gold of something infinitely better.

But the good news is you can learn everything you need to know about meditation for nothing. There are thousands of methods to choose from and none worth their salt will carry the label “secret” or a hefty price tag. Simply Google “Meditation Methods”. Explore them, and adopt the ones that appeal to you. Or you can follow my own (again free and fully detailed) method here.

The bad news is there are no short cuts to what we seek, no magic formula. We sit, and we practice, and though we do feel better for it in all sorts of ways, it’s counter-productive to expect transcendence, enlightenment, or any other peculiar psychic happenings, no matter how much we’ve paid our teacher. So, please, to be absolutely certain, don’t send me your hand print, I was being ironic. As for the price tag, there have been bigger scams than that, and always someone desperate enough to pay. So again, just in case: Michael Graeme doesn’t want your money, because, like Captain Thomas Marston, Michael Graeme does not exist, and neither does his secret method to transcendence.

Remember people sometimes might just be telling stories.

So hey,

Lets be careful out there.

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