‘What a gift, what a great human!’, writes Richard Twinch in his obituary for Mansura Brenda Thomas, who passed away on July 7th 2017.
‘What a gift, what a great human!’, writes Richard Twinch in his obituary of Mansura Brenda Thomas, who passed away on July 7th 2017.
She was indeed a gift – a remarkable woman and dear friend, who witnessed and participated in the very beginnings of Beshara, Swyre Farm and the early courses at Chisholme.
Her documentation of the Further Intensive Course at Chisholme House (1979-80) provides a unique testament to the workings of this esoteric school and the wisdom insights of the school’s consultant Bulent Rauf.
Mansura was born soon after the First World War and remained Brenda to her largely conventional middle-class family all her life. She studied pianoforte at the Royal Academy of Music during World War II, but felt that this was not in the spirit of the war effort so gave up her studies to become a secretary at the BBC. She married and had one daughter, Gina, and completed her musical studies. The marriage failed and Brenda later married David Thomas. She became a grandmother to three bright boys, who later came to live with her and David. Eventually she became a great grandmother and enjoyed the company of yet another new generation. David died in 2012, after suffering from Alzheimer’s, and Brenda died peacefully, surrounded by her family, at 10.00 pm on Friday 7th July 2017. All-in-all a normal life, lived well.
However, Mansura was not an ordinary person and lived an extra-ordinary parallel life of self-knowledge, inner discovery and service to the One Reality. Her name comes from the Arabic and means ‘helped by God’ - she shares the name with the great Baghdadi mystic Mansur al-Hallaj who was famously beheaded for his ecstatic utterances which went beyond acceptable ‘form’. Mansura, though occasionally subject to ecstasy, which I witnessed only once near the end of her long life, remained outwardly sober and always tactful. She was also very strong inwardly and was able to steer a middle way whilst things were falling apart around her.
In 1963, these qualities brought her together with a group in Cambridge known as the Epiphany Philosophers with whom she continued her love of music, studying sounds and energy patterns. Their number included the scientist Rupert Sheldrake and Brian & Elizabeth Dupré with whom she formed a deep friendship - their homes in Milton and Landbeach (where Brian was the Rector) being close together a few miles north of Cambridge. Mansura died exactly (7/7/17) on the 40th anniversary of Brian’s death on 7/7/77.
Around 1967-68, Mansura met Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, whose father Hazrat Inayat Khan was a famous musician from the Chisti family and founder of the Sufi Order of the West. Both Mansura and her husband David were drawn to him and he in turn saw their special qualities and invited them to be in charge of a study group in Cambridge - which included myself, my soon-to-be wife Cecilia, Brian’s son Adam , Adam’s sister Charlotte and her boyfriend Bob Turner . Mansura had also came across the work of Ibn Arabi, through Henry Corbin’s book ‘Creative Imagination’ , whilst at a conference held by Pir Vilayat in Suresnes, near Paris, and was much taken with the ideas.
This was a time of great change and some turmoil, and before long Mansura had met with Sir George Trevelyan of the Wrekin Trust, Reshad Feild (late of the Springfields pop group) and the Rev. Peter Dewey. They were all involved in the foundation of the community at Swyre Farm in the Cotswolds which became known as Beshara, where Mansura and David were to live for several months – ‘dedicated but not particularly happy’ as Mansura later describes.
Subsequently, Mansura met Bulent Rauf whose manner, advice and translation of Ibn Arabi’s ‘Fusus al-Hikam’ was to remain by her side for the next 40 years. It was while staying in Turkey with Bulent that she became witness to the departure of Reshad Feild from Beshara – and again she was able to convey the importance of the continuation of Beshara without its charismatic ‘frontman’.
Mansura has written all about this in her Beshara Memories which includes fascinating insights into the events of the time and the process of self-knowledge that ensued. Like others before him, Bulent Rauf also recognised Mansura’s special qualities and her position as a generational intermediary and calming influence upon a somewhat rebellious youth culture of which I was part!
After dedicated work establishing a Beshara Centre in Cambridge, misunderstood by both her family, some of whom disowned her, and our generation who lacked experience, Mansura continued to hold to the Real as her source of guidance and her recognition that in Bulent Rauf she had found somebody of real worth, and in Ibn Arabi a source of deep wisdom.
It became Mansura’s turn to respond to the invitation to attend the course at the Beshara School of Intensive Esoteric Education held at Sherborne House in 1978, leaving behind David to ‘mind the shop’ and an infirm father, who alone amongst her original family supported her spiritual quest. Mansura was invited soon after to attend the second Beshara School Advanced Course, again without David, being held at Chisholme House. Unusually, Mansura was given permission to write notes from the course in the shorthand she had learnt during her National Service – the notes coming to light in a trunk during the course of writing her memoirs. This is indeed a treasure-trove and includes the final talk she gave to all her co-students, including Bulent.
After the course at Chisholme life changed yet again: she had to attend to her father, who was soon to die, and to the needs of her daughter and grandsons who had become marital refugees. Mansura was never one to hang on to places and forms – the antique business that had been her mainstay was no longer seen as appropriate and she was one of the first to study aromatherapy seriously, through which she was useful to many people for the rest of her life. Her husband retired and wanted to go back to his native North Wales, so they moved to Porthmadog, at the edge of the Snowdonia National Park. They stayed for many years until David’s health and the needs of the family brought them back to Cambridgeshire.
We were not much in contact during her Welsh days as we lived on the other side of the country and were busy with a young family, so it was interesting to read of Mansura’s account of the people she met who again recognised her special qualities as she did theirs. Mansura was deeply empathetic in an age before the term became popular!
David died peacefully in 2012 and Mansura continued to live at their last home in Haddenham. By this time she was quite deaf (helped by hearing aids of various qualities), poor sighted and largely immobile – but the indomitable Mansura denied that she was in ‘failing health’ and took to conversing with the world through an iPad and shared numerous beautiful images of flowers and trees, some from her own garden. She also wrote many emails and revived old friendships. Her daughter Gina came to live with her and she helped Gina as much as Gina helped her – they were like two bookends that held a great deal of knowledge, experience and wisdom between them.
It was thus that Mansura was asked, agreed and wrote her Beshara Memories that will remain a legacy, I hope, both to what she witnessed, what she knew and who she remains.
Of Bulent Rauf, she wrote at the end of her Memories
Bulent was able to turn words like Reality and phrases like Unity of Existence into one intimate word HIM". "Go straight to Him!", and then to make the ordinary extra-ordinary. He used the word "sheer" to take everything beyond what can be imagined. Unbelievably simple and enlightening. What a gift, what a great Man!
All I can add of Mansura is ‘What a gift, what a great human!’
Tevfik/Richard Twinch Oxford July 2017
If anybody wants to read the Beshara Memories this is possible on-line. Please send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org. In due course it may be published.
Photograph by Lawrence Ball
"Perhaps it’s time to (re)read Jung." writes Gwendolen Dupré for The European Strategist, an internet publication and research circle.
"Perhaps it's time to (re)read Jung", writes Gwendolen Dupré.
We’ve just had the second very successful Poetics of Science (PoS) weekend.
Gwendolen Dupre was the opening speaker and she set the tone for the whole weekend. She spoke on the metaphysics underlying different religions.
Gwendolen also spoke at the first PoS in April. Her talk then has now been published in the European Strategist an internet publication and research circle that seeks answers for European society in postmodern times.
In it she contrasts two fundamental theories of the mind: that of Freud and that of his younger contemporary, Jung. Freud’s is a materialist approach whereas Jung believed in the real significance of images and symbols. As she says, while ”Freud offers a cynical account of human life... Jung’s ideas... present a more positive image of human potentiality.”
Gwendolen’s article is very well worth reading – it’s a short and easy introduction to the importance of Jung. It offers real food for thought. We look forward to more reflections from Gwendolen and others on Jungian philosophy.
The next Poetics of Science seminar is September 15–17.
Read more and book here
A great and much-loved man has left us. Shane Wakil Jagger passed away on 14 June having lived at Chisholme for 34 years.
A great and much-loved man has left us. Shane Wakil Jagger passed away on 14 June having lived at Chisholme for 34 years. He touched so many who passed through Chisholme over this long time including Willa Shiel, a young American who volunteered here last Autumn. When Willa learned of Shane’s passing she wrote to us. You can read her words and a new poem by Wakil below.
Wakil: a tribute
I was asked before I left Chisholme in November to try to put into words what made the place so special to me and all those who pass through. I couldn’t find the words at the time, but it seems very simple now: people filled to the brim with love. Every Chisholme heart is warm. Wakil’s was one of the biggest hearts I’ve had the blessing to come into contact with in my life.
Pinned to the headboard of my bed is a poem he wrote on my last night at Chisholme, when pain kept him awake. I still read it most nights, and it takes on a new meaning today as Wakil finds painless rest.
In the cloudy
hours of the night
we wait for
the clear light
dawn is not
as gentle rain
to be said
my head on pillow
wake me later
with a gentle
call to prayer
Sending my love to the people of Chisholme, who I know are holding each other close and lifting each other up today and every day, and of course my love to Wakil, who helped make me feel like I'd found a home when I found myself so very far from home.
With love and gratitude,
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
The Nescio Ensemble from Holland at Chisholme, 28 April 2017
The Nescio Ensemble at Chisholme, 28 April 2017
Posted by Richard Gault
The email came out of the blue and with an unusual request: could we put up 12 young musicians for a night or two? In return they’d play for us. Perhaps because the musicians were Dutch (I have a Dutch wife) and the writer’s name meant wisdom, or perhaps simply because it seemed such a lovely idea, I immediately said yes.
Back in December the visit seemed far away. But as time went on and the April date drew nearer I did begin to wonder if not worry. Coming from Holland and including someone called Sophie was no guarantee that they would be good. And no matter how good they were, would anyone come to hear them? They called themselves Nescio - which means ‘I don’t know’ and I truly didn’t know. Had I been a bit hasty in committing ourselves to this event and adding to our workload?
I had not. The arrangement turned out to be perfect.
The Nescio Ensemble came; they played (to a full house: extra chairs had to be put out); and they conquered their audience’s hearts. It was a fabulous evening, the wonder of it heightened by the special ambience the beautifully decorated pavilion offered.
We were all dazzled. Nescio’s performance was a celebration and affirmation of the human potential both in the music they played and the way in which they played it. This was virtuosity and passion made manifest. Particularly stunning was Ana Termeulen's rendition of Ysaye's Ballade for Violin Solo. Equally impressive were the haunting sounds which Nescio produced in performing the String Quartet by the contemporary Turkish composer Fazil Say. This latter piece featured the violin of Burcu Ramazanoğlu – herself a Turk from Fazil Say’s home city of Ankara.
Burcu felt an immediate affinity with Chisholme and left hoping to return in the summer. We would love to welcome not just her but all of the other musicians of Nescio back. They have left us with an unforgettable memory and an appetite for more.
You can get a glimpse of their talent with this clip from their concert the previous evening at Cornucopia, Unit Four in Hawick – an excerpt from the third movement of Bartok's Divertimento for Strings.
Main photo by Sanne Gault
Alastair Redpath traces the estate's history for The Hawick Paper's, April 14 edition.
Huge thanks to Alastair Redpath and The Hawick Paper for his excellent article published on 14 April, giving the history of the estate and bringing readers up to date with this month's Poetics of Science seminar weekend.
Full text below
Chisholme House is set on a beautiful estate in the hills beyond Roberton, an hour and a half from Edinburgh, Newcastle and Carlisle. The main house looks out over glorious landscaped grounds and woods of native trees – once the seat of the southern branch of Clan Chisholme. Chisholme offers a range of courses throughout the year and welcomes volunteers to work in the house, grounds and its organic walled gardens. This year’s highlight is undoubtedly a series of three seminar weekends exploring the Poetics of Science, to demonstrate the many ways in which science shapes and is shaped by literature, music and other inspirations.
Chisholme House was built in 1752 on historic lands formerly held by the Douglases of Drumlanrig and Scotts of Buccleuch. In the 18th century it passed into the hands of Sir William Douglas of Drumlanrig, then to Lord Hume. When the owner fell from royal favour, the estate was ceded to the Crown. In about 1826, William Chisholme, a member of the Selkirk branch of the family who made a fortune in Jamaica, bought back the estate and it remained in his lineage until 1871. At the end of the 19th century it was bought by a Mr Henderson, who added a wing, modernised the estate cottages, installed a new water system (including a hydraulic ram for supplying water), and built the approach road and bridge at Woodburn.
Following his death in the 1930s, the estate was bought by a Mr Bruce before being put on the market by his nephew two decades later. This led to large areas of the estate such as Parkhill and Woodburn Farms being auctioned off. Due to complicated property exchanges, deaths, and bankruptcies during the decade, Chisholme House was left without a resident owner and gradually fell into decay. Historic Scotland moved to list the site in March 1971. The house, open to the sky, became a shelter for sheep - the garden wall crumbled and the grounds and woods reverted to wilderness.
Chisholme’s fortunes changed for the better in 1973 when it was taken on by an English educational charity, The Beshara Trust, to become a school and retreat centre. In the true pioneering spirit of that time, a group of intrepid young people embarked on a renovation project, despite a total lack of funds and most basic facilities such as electricity, hot water, or even glass for the windows. Parts of the main house were made serviceable and the farm steading was transformed into student accommodation so that a six-month residential retreat could take place there in 1975.
In 1978 an independent Scottish charity, the Chisholme Institute, was set up with the specific aim of maintaining and developing the educational facility at Chisholme. The Institute maintains close links with The Beshara Trust to this day and collaborates with it in certain projects. By 1986, most of the land belonging to the original Chisholme estate had been re-purchased. Today the Chisholme Institute's focus is to provide education in the art of self-discovery to students from all over the world, and to promote an increased awareness of the real value of our connection to the world and each other.
The Poetics of Science: Inspiration seminar weekend offers a rich programme of interactive presentations and workshops, with speakers from diverse backgrounds including Buddhism, literature, psychology, art, the greater ecumenism, as well as films and music nights.
The compelling idea that inspired these seminars is inspiration itself. Speakers will include, among others: Edie Irwin, a trustee and director of the Tara Trust in Edinburgh who studied under the guidance of Dr. R.D. Laing and Akong Rinpoche from Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Centre; local author and filmmaker Dorothy Alexander, a proponent of visual poetry and former tutor of Creative Writing for the University of Strathclyde; Narda Azaria Dalgleish, a Hawick-based Israeli-British designer, contemplative poet and moving image and installation artist.
The seminar weekend begins on Friday, April 21 and continues through to Sunday, April 23. For more information, email email@example.com, telephone 01450 880215. Discounts are available for students, under 25s, and Chisholme volunteers participating in the Gardening Fortnight preceding the seminar weekend.