Chisholme Blog

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To stand in life is not to take sides, but to take heart
Chisholme Blog | Saturday, 20th January, 2018

Christopher Ryan considers our responses to ‘Terrorism’ and ‘The War on Terror’ following the bombs that killed 200 people, and wounded over 1500 in Madrid back in March 2004 – sentiments that still ring very true today.


Christopher Ryan considers our responses to ‘Terrorism’ and ‘The War on Terror’ following the bombs that killed 200 people, and wounded over 1500 in Madrid back in March 2004 – sentiments that still ring very true today.

“This threat is given the name terrorism. The basis of terror, the raison d’etre which is its fuel, and without which its combustive destruction could not take hold, is fear. Fear for one’s existence, fear for one’s life, or fear for ‘our way of life’ which we must ‘fight to defend’. But fear is due to ignorance, a lack of knowing the true situation. In this case, the ignorance is of the reality of our life, of our existence. So, could there be something missing in ‘our way of life’?

This threat, which manifests on the outside as a destructive force, is not allied to any body of people according to race or religion, social status, creed or system of political belief. It attaches itself to wherever there appears the vacuum of ignorance. It is simply the embodiment of qualities of lack, negativity and non-existence, and it places its weapon, fear, into our own hands. So who are we going to fight? Are we going to move into a dark age of fear, where we suspect everyone, our neighbour, the person sitting next to us on the bus, the ‘Islamic-looking’ person, the person with the funny accent, an age where we all become spies on each other as happened in East Germany during the period of division. This downward spiral is the real result of terrorism, and it brings about the destruction of the soul, the soul which loves its life, thus destroying the creative movement of beauty in Man.

Whichever way we look at it, we need to change the terms on which this war is being fought, if we are to progress as human beings. This means complete and deep questioning of this sacred cow which has been termed, ‘our way of life’. We need to be prepared for changes, not simply to the exterior forms of our life (although in respect of the properly exterior threat of climate change due to global warming, this may also be necessary), but the basis on which we claim our right to call ourselves human. We have to question first, what is this life, which we claim to possess a way with? Where does it come from? Why do we suffer when this life is taken from those human forms? And as we hold it so dear, what is it that gives it its real value? What is it that dies? Where does life go?

And we must ask this question, what does it mean to be human? Not just in our lacks and imperfections, dwelling exclusively on which only separates us further from each other and from ourselves until we risk drowing in a mire of negativity. Better we must examine those things which bring us together beyond our differences, the things that complete us and our hopes, those things which give us strength, the strength which overcomes the fears. Such things as love, and the certainty love brings to the human heart.

Love, and all that its wide cloak encompasses, is the first and last of our needs. Just as a child finds complete security in the love its parent brings, we must seek the breadth and depth of a love that is all-inclusive, a love which fills the lacks and perfects the imperfections. A love that informs the ignorances with knowledge from a deep well of knowledge which is the heart itself. For this our sense of heart needs expanding, if we are to find its true boundlessness. So, we need to pay attention to the heart and come under its sway, the true core of our existence, attention which some perhaps would have us give to ‘our way of life’. Perhaps what is the problem here is this ‘our way of life’. Perhaps we are in danger of defending a castle made of sand.

Politicians, because they believe vehemently that their particular system is in the best interests of their voters, are not necessarily correct in their beliefs, however much they may seem corroborated in the wishes of the voters. ‘Your old road is rapidly ageing’, sang the bard from Minnesota, and ‘the wheel’s still in spin’. It would be foolish to try and combat the forces that are now in play, because the world is truly changing. The so-called war on terror will undoubtedly continue, but terror will not be defeated from the outside.

But there is real recourse in changing our way of life from the inside, so that it be in conformity with life itself. To stand in life is not to take sides, but to take heart. It seems that what we have been given to effect this change is love itself, with all its ramifications. So, if life, the universe and everything means anything at all to us, rather than fight to defend, perhaps we should start by surrendering to the force of love, giving our life to that, letting its power act in us, not as some glorified latter day crusader in an emotion-driven battle of good versus evil, but simply, with complete humility, as if already dead to the ways of this world, come alive by life itself.

Transposing Christ’s words, the poet Wilfred Owen wrote:

‘The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.’

In the same spirit of surrender, perhaps we can also live a greater life."

Christopher Ryan
Hawick, 2004

A shorter version of this piece was first published by The Sothern Reporter in March 2004.

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Humans as purely materialist individuals?
Chisholme Blog | Saturday, 1st July, 2017

"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.

Read the article here

The next Poetics of Science seminar is September 15–17.
Read more and book here

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Chisholme Then and Now
Chisholme Blog | Sunday, 16th April, 2017

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.

Download the article pdf

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 info@chisholme.org, telephone 01450 880215. Discounts are available for students, under 25s, and Chisholme volunteers participating in the Gardening Fortnight preceding the seminar weekend.

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Distance does not exist in what we aim...
Frances Ryan | Thursday, 9th March, 2017

Notes from a conversation in January


The series of conversation weeks for this winter, under the heading 'Single Vision', has now concluded.

From the Notes of the January conversation; Chisholme House, 7-14 January 2017
A week of open conversation and enquiry

The questions for the week were:
“What on earth is happening in the world today?
And how are we with it?
How does the education at Chisholme connect with the unfolding of this unsettling yet hope-filled era?”

We sat in the presence of these questions, feeling urgency, with Chisholme as an extra-ordinary clear, profound and infinitely merciful mirror and needless to say – in this place dedicated to ‘His vision of Himself’ there was response and education.

What is happening in the world today?
...and the 'happening' came right into the room: the pain, the destitution, self-interest gone mad, corporate greed, false truth, environmental destruction, racial abuse, and much more. Not by people saying: "I've heard this, I've read an article and isn't it terrible, etc." No, these things arrived in the room as lived experience:
‘I've been racially abused’,
‘I am suffering’,
‘I’ve been homeless’,
‘I have witnessed the destruction of my beautiful environment’,
‘I feel alienated’, and so on and so on.
With the stories came the anger, frustration, sorrow, constriction, anguish, and more anger... This did not make for comfortable sitting and listening. One could not transcend this, talk it away or smooth it over.

So how are we with it?
There was no choice but to sit and to listen, or sit and speak from our own experience. When someone looks you in the eye and says they are in pain, when you feel your own anger or frustration rise up - you cannot turn away. Some of us in the room listened better than others, some found what seemed like honest words to express, or respond to, and that was good to witness. But essentially we all knew we were in the same boat: We don't know. We don't know the why or how of it, or what to do about it. The 'not knowing', and knowing that I don’t know, and seeing that from myself alone I have nothing to give, was made very, very real.

It was recognised early in the week that the problems found in the world are exterior effects of something happening in the interior, the Unseen. If ‘every day He is in a new configuration’, then change is inevitable – and change in the interior results in shifts in the exterior. If there is resistance to change, the exterior effects become more drastic. Yet there is such resistance.
In most cases, it appears to be caused by fear and self-interest, and it is this resistance that perpetuates suffering. Self-interest, however, relates to things of the exterior, and takes the form of greed for resources that are inherently limited. In the exterior this leads to misery and global degradation and probably will lead to our own destruction.
It seems that there is a view that more is better.
It isn't true.
Outside, in the world, the right amount is best.
In our interior there are things which are infinite.
Compassion, vision, love are given without limit.
There, more is better.
We are asked to be increased in knowledge. ‘Give me more real wealth!’
It's good to be greedy in the interior, in that sense.

A very simple choice; what is required is a switch in consciousness.
A shift from self-interest to interest in the self
And one of the roles of this place, Chisholme, is to investigate this switch, joining the worlds of the exterior and the interior.
Something is going to happen, and we need to be in a real place to meet it.
Our real place is 'sitting on the carpet of ‘Adab’ – ‘tact, good form', listening in humility for the Truth.

How does the education in Chisholme connect with the unfolding of this unsettling yet hope-filled era?
Given that what we are seeing are external effects, it was quickly recognised that the natural knee-jerk reaction of ‘But what can we do about it?’ is not an adequate tool for understanding and still less for attempting to remedy the situations we see. Trying to remedy an effect at the level of effects is likely merely to cause more accidents of a similar kind. If the world situation is the exterior effect of an interior happening, one must turn to the interior to gain a sense of the cause. Only from such an interior perspective can vision be received, from which the most appropriate action can follow. The proper response of persons or groups who wish to understand and respond to the situation is therefore primarily contemplative in nature.
What came up in the conversation on this is that a distinction can be made between the ‘way of the world’ and the ‘way of the heart’ as two different approaches to life and to understanding, in which the former is response to effects at the level of effects and tends to be based on counting and rules, while the way of the heart comes from the heart, relies on receptivity and rests in sentiment and meanings.

The education at Chisholme is to do with the interface between what is happening in the world and the knowledge, which is accessible here. What is this interface?
We are the interface.
Our heart is the interface.
It is simple.
But the heart has to be ready to receive.

This conversation (and all the weeks of conversation this winter) is a request to be given to see clearly, to see from a place of single-ness.
There is a place in oneself where help can arrive and flow through. Unless we stay with it, it will be just another week where we 'talked about things' - and nothing will have happened.
Real receptivity is needed, before any necessary action can be known. Such receptivity cannot be established by our own efforts alone; it is conferred from the interior itself. It requires the sincere request to ‘Show me things as they are, clearly’, and the constant effort to remain empty, letting go of what we think we know, including what we think we have learned here at Chisholme.

It has often been said that the saint or gnostic is ‘…in the world but not of it’. This must surely be the condition inhabited by Man (the completed human being). He or she lives fully in the world, – but his/her nature is not of the world. In aspiring to the human potential, we might strive to practice knowing what it is to be in the world but not of it – (living fully in the world but not identifying with its apparent effects). This is the task of a spiritual warrior – and not, we laughed, of a ‘spiritual worrier’!

One might further describe this condition as ‘resting in awareness’. The word ‘resting’ is not accidental: it is key to the notion of non-doing, as spoken of by Lao Tzu in the Tao te Ching: …the sage does nothing – and yet all things are done. This is wholly in contrast to any sense of action or achieving by oneself. When the sage, the one in constant awareness, knows from vision that action is required, action flows from them but it is not their own. In the face of the state of the world and the grim news stories we hear constantly, our service can be simply to receive these situations without judgement or reaction, without rushing to remedy them, and simply accept what is indicated by them. We considered the necessity to ‘agree to’ what happens, whether or not we ‘agree with’ it. This is already the mark of one who is in the world but not of it. We need to consider what to do with our opinions. While it is deemed a weakness to ‘have no opinion’ according to the way of the world, those who seek to understand from the Real are advised to step back from their opinions so that the situation or thing can speak from itself. However well-intentioned or well-founded, opinions are incomplete knowledges and they blind us to the whole truth of the matter; further, acting on opinions is to assert lordship where none belongs.

Could action ever be taken before clarity and understanding is granted, rather as a cook learns to cook by undertaking to cook? Such a question, asked in the abstract, remains speculative until one is really in submission and has given up one’s own capacities in favour of the reality of all capacity. Only then can one be the sage who does nothing and yet everything is done. So meanwhile we (and the sage) refrain out of tact from actions that are not indicated to us clearly.
The mind can’t grasp this.
It does not mean sitting idly in a corner until some grand revelation happens, but rather continuing and enquiring into our lives with presence, engaging with what is in front of us, with constant questioning, vigilance and readiness to be informed.
This work is so deep and radical in our interior that we cannot do it on our own; we can only request to be ‘given up’ - and long for this - it has the taste of non-existence. This longing becomes an embodied sense and something we can ask for, moment by moment.

‘This gathering has a huge potential, but it has its conditions.’
‘You can't be a knower to go through that door.’
‘It is a real matter, and the realness of it is so attractive!’
‘Have I taken this on?’
‘How can I be here without trying to control things, control this place, even in some really subtle way?’
‘It's very difficult to ‘not know’ what I know.’
‘We've talked about listening, really listening to people. There is a tremendous challenge in practicing receptivity. It requires an altogether different manner!’

Towards the end of the week mention was made of the 18th-century Ottoman sheikh Osman Fazli. The following extract from his writings was read and had an immediacy with regard to what has come up this week – the quality of the encounter was astonishing for many of us. Here is part of the extract:

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 … 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.

The name Fazli means 'plenty', or better: 'super-abundance of grace'

It was said many times that the way of this school is the way of non-existence. What does it really mean? It seems true that we need to take a step, and it's a step out of the belief that holds us in what we think we are. Something very different might be asked of us now. The only thing to hold on to is the ever-present beneficence.

The miracle is that even when we’re ‘right in the thick of it’ we can be open to receiving that help, aware of the origin of the source, sometimes apparently from ‘another’ …and sometimes it is apparently from me, or you, or her, or him.

The conversation week was rounded off with thanks and with the following extract from a letter written by Bulent:

“So, God be with you in all you are doing. Distance does not exist in what we aim. Sweet company remains not through distance only, but also through aeons of time. May the Himma (spiritual will, help) arrive upon us from whichever channel it may take, but definitely from the source of all Himma, the Memed al Himmam” (the source of all help)

Thanks to all the people present for the week. And thanks to Robin Thomson and Frances Ryan for taking notes, and Rachel Gordin for her help with editing these.

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Single Vision: week two
Chisholme Blog | Saturday, 12th November, 2016

Join us for our second week of conversation and take in Lloyd Ridgeon's talk on Awhad al-Din Kirmani on Sunday November 20th.


Conversation week: Saturday November 19 to Saturday November 26

Following the first in-depth conversation week dedicated to serving what Chisholme can offer for the future, you are invited to a further week of open enquiry. You can also attend Dr Lloyd Ridgeon's talk on the life and times of Awhad al-Din Kirmani on the morning of Sunday 20th.

This is a wonderful opportunity to hear a speaker of this calibre in the intimate, contemplative setting of Chisholme, and to engage with Dr Ridgeon on what he has uncovered. Read more about the talk here

Come for the whole conversation week, or for as long as you are able.

It feels really essential that as many as possible come and participate in this open enquiry. It is for all of us.
Costs for participation will be just by donation, both for residents and non-residents.
Give according to your own means. To book please email secretary@chisholme.org, Tel 01450 880 215.

Read the full report on the first week of conversation here
The report is long, covering the entire week, but don't be deterred by this. Many valuable insights are being uncovered.

If you are not able to attend in person, but would still like to join the conversation please email Richard Gault principal@chisholme.org with your contributions. These will be shared during the conversation in the Mead Hall.

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Early days
Chisholme Blog | Sunday, 30th October, 2016

A Single Vision: returning to the spirit of the starting place. Week one: the conversation in the Mead Hall


A Single Vision: returning to the spirit of the starting place

Week one: the conversation in the Mead Hall

To quote from the September newsletter:
'Forty years on and the world has changed. Are we being asked to serve in new ways? How do we do so while remaining ever true to the unchanging starting vision?'

Can we look at these questions together over the coming months?

Read the report here

Photograph by Chris Ryan

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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