Ironfoot Jack –The Trickster of Soho
‘A Man Who Knows How To Get By is what they call seventy-year-old Ironfoot Jack Neave in the clubs and cafes of London's Soho. For years I have seen him limping around, brief-case under his arm, leaning heavily on a stick—a tired-looking old man in a velvet jacket. Never have I detected any evidence of prosperity in his appearance. Yet he is pointed out as a man who has successfully lived on his wits for fifty years.’ So said a journalist in The People newspaper, 1952. But, as he also reports, Ironfoot Jack’s own assumed title was that of ‘The King of the Bohemians’. What are we to make of this mixture of grandeur and poverty?
During the time the Group members were roaming Soho, Jack was also prowling around the area. He was a well-known figure on the scene, and proud of his Bohemian status, even if he was succumbing to age and infirmity. He wasn’t a member or associate of the group; he had leanings towards the Occult, but more in the manner of a fairground fortune-teller, using a little knowledge and a lot of talk to make a quick shilling or two. (It’s doubtful, though, whether he had the psychic ability of many such traditional fortune-tellers.) To be fair, he loved books in a haphazard and self-taught manner and – if his own account is to be believed –had a handle on basic numerology and astrology (he supplied ‘orrerscopes’), as well as dipping a grubby toe into the waters of philosophy, spirituality and cosmology. More of that later.
Jack Neave was born in Australia in about 1881, but came to Britain with his mother as a child. The adventures he recounted of his life before arriving in Bohemian London were hugely exaggerated - his famous ‘ironfoot’ was needed, he says, after a shark bite, whereas general opinion was that the damage was caused by an accident with machinery. Apparently, when he got drunk, the metal dragged along the road and struck sparks.  How are we to define Ironfoot Jack? To some he was a joke, to others a petty crook or a charlatan, but I suggest he was a significant figure in the ‘super-tramp’ line. And, as I’ll attempt to show, he was a reflection, albeit a distorted one, of the esoteric life of the time. Overall, he was a wanderer in the same vein as the Welsh poet W. H. Davies, who wrote The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp in 1908, which kicked off excitement among the liberal literati of the day. Being a tramp became fashionable for a while. Jack could speak ‘polari’, the showman’s language , liked to consort with gypsies, and had much of the mountebank, the card-sharper, the junk dealer and (with a capital letter) the Trickster in his make-up. He roamed, camped, begged, scavenged, and traded all over the UK, but was most at home in London, where he could blend happily both into Bohemia and the ranks of itinerant street traders.
What we know about Ironfoot Jack has recently been greatly enlarged by the publication of his memoir, The Surrender of Silence. This manuscript was found among Colin Wilson’s papers by Colin Stanley, his bibliographer, and had been transcribed from a recording. Jack had dictated his recollections and had them typed up in the hope that his famous author friend Colin would find a way to publish it. Long after his death, this has now come to pass.
How does the life of Ironfoot Jack relate to the Soho Group? He was a familiar figure to them, but not a member, and probably not someone who even sat in on the café discussions – Jack thought he knew everything already! But Jack’s manner of life chimed in – sometimes in curious ways – with what the group members themselves did, and the philosophy they lived by at the time.
For a start, there’s the way in which Jack ‘got by’ – as per the appellation in The People newspaper. He learnt to live like a king (again, as he called himself) on very little, on the scraps which no one else valued. He would go to Covent Garden, where ‘if you found vegetables in the gutter…they were yours’ And for fourpence, a butcher would sell you ‘little bits of odd meat’ known as ‘block ornaments’. He relates that: ‘All these little secrets it was necessary to know, and with this you could make a stew to keep four people – as much as they could eat – for two days.’ (He has a few more tips to offer, involving stale cakes and fish heads!) This resonated with the way that some of the group members chose to live. They often took casual jobs, scraping together just enough money to rent a bedsit or small flat, and to provide just enough food for everyday sustenance. This then gave them a kind of freedom, awarding them time and flexibility, and releasing them from consumer pressures. When Keith Barnes and Glyn Davies lived together, for instance, they too would go first to Covent Garden to glean vegetables, then on to Smithfield to scrounge a bone ‘for the dog’. According to Keith, Glyn always had a pot on the go, into which he would throw the bone and the veg. ‘Very tasty!’
The Group philosophy was also about stripping away old habits, and discovering how to earn and take only what was necessary. This wasn’t a principle of austerity, but of learning to rely on providence while still making an active effort; the old saying, ‘God will provide, but first lay your own knife and fork’ was bandied about. Glyn once told me how he decided to live entirely from ‘necessity’ for a while. He ate and slept according to what came his way; one night, peering into a waste bin on the street, he saw a beautiful newly-baked loaf of rye bread lying there, delivered just in time for his evening supper after he had resigned himself to going hungry. This way of life also resonates with the principles of alchemy, which are about taking ‘what others have rejected’ as the base material which can be transformed into precious gold.
Fiddling for a living
Then there were Jack’s ways of making a living from selling this and that, known in his day as ‘fiddling’, but without the connotations of trickery as in modern usage. Take, for instance, his method of buying up lots of ‘clutter’ very cheaply, usually old jewellery and coins which he would turn out onto his sales board as if they were a pile of old rubbish. Indeed they were for the most part, but Jack added his own special twist. He would gild a few of the coins beforehand so that they gleamed like gold. Then the customers thought him an old fool who didn’t know the value of what he had, and were quick to snap up handfuls of his offerings for sixpence or a shilling. Jack, however, knew exactly what he was doing, and profited handsomely. No one was robbed, but he took advantage of people’s natural greed. Does this perhaps remind us of the philosopher-sage Gurdjieff’s trick of dying sparrows yellow and selling them as ‘American canaries’? This he recounts in his semi-autobiographical book Meetings with Remarkable Men , adding that he was able to sell more than eighty of these exotic birds to the canary-loving natives of the city of Samarkand. Gurdjieff’s teachings formed a background to the Kabbalistic studies of the Group, some of which filtered in via the study material supplied by the School of Economic Science. (see the blog post ‘The Soho Group – how did it work? 18th Feb 2020)
The 'School of Wisdom'
A third aspect of Ironfoot Jack’s activities is the way he could conjure up a scene to stimulate people’s interest, and engage them. Some of this was not out of keeping with basic magical ritual techniques – also studied in the Group - where using ‘props’, and sound, scent, and colour, can help to evoke a special atmosphere, which in turn can lead to a state of heightened awareness. Ironfoot Jack was mainly out for his own amusement and enrichment however, and it’s important to emphasise that the Soho group and its descendants aimed never to take advantage of people in an unethical way. Nothing better illustrates Jack’s prowess in this respect than his description of setting up his own teaching school, in the pre-war period. First, he was offered premises on New Oxford Street at fifteen shillings a week:
‘I soon collected a few of the poor artists and between us we put some fantastic murals on the wall, and got some orange boxes and covered them with lino and then made cushions out of rags, drew some weird pentagrams and designs on the wall, and put the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac on the ceiling. Then I contacted friends who had a little bit of influence and drew up a pamphlet. And this is what the pamphlet said: ‘A Leaflet Announcing The Opening Of A School Of Wisdom’.
It worked. And, to do Ironfoot Jack justice, it thrived on lectures and discussions. ‘There were even lectures that you couldn’t hear in Hyde Park; you certainly couldn’t hear the peculiar theories that were discussed at any political meeting.’ ‘Peculiar’ is probably right…
Is this a kind of grotesque distorting mirror, held up to the more genuine lines of wisdom teaching on offer then and now? Or were Ironfoot Jack’s enterprises more at the Trickster end of the spectrum? Perhaps, though, in the end Jack was tricking himself more than anyone else as he did seem to believe in the grandiose abilities that he claimed. However, it’s said that the Fool can hold up a mirror in which we can see truth, as well as folly.  One of Jack’s favourite activities was to don a robe, spout a few solemn quotes from the tomes he had read, and convince people that he was a Master. The illusion didn’t generally last long, and his carefree attitude seems to have been that if they were enjoying themselves and getting something from it, then why not? Although this attitude did land him in prison, after he set up a somewhat unsavoury nightclub known as ‘The Caravan’.
The Bohemian Philosophy
Finally, one external value of Ironfoot Jack’s memoir is the light that it sheds on the Bohemian element that was thriving in Soho before the war. Bohemianism was the prelude to the Soho Group, and even indeed to the 1960s ‘New Age’. Jack describes it thus: ‘The main basis of the Bohemian philosophy was that Creation came first, then the problem of existence, survival to live and avoid all misery as much as possible – to live to live.’ Life as also there to be shared with others and ‘harmony was the thing.’ Although this was Ironfoot Jack’s definition, in support of his lifestyle, it does clarify something of Bohemianism, its reliance on the moment and spontaneity, and it sets a tone for the later beatnik and hippy philosophies.
Jack’s memoir also helps to chronicle some of the earlier esoteric and spiritual lines operating in London in the 1930s: ‘Many characters were studying Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, the Druids, the Rosicrucians, and there were many little Occult groups who were not practising the Occult in the orthodox way, but were researching into it, trying to find out all they could about it.’ This enables us to understand what bridged the gap between the 1950s stirrings of interest in Kabbalah, and the earlier era of the Golden Dawn, spiritualism, and the prominence of the Theosophical Society.
So, Ironfoot Jack may have provoked a chuckle or two among the Soho group members, but he somehow echoed, albeit in a crude and distorted way, the more serious aspirations of the group itself. If you read his memoir, it’s easy to chuckle too, and to end up with a certain fondness for the old rogue.
Polari is a form of cant slang used in Britain by some actors, circus and fairground showmen, professional wrestlers, merchant navy sailors, criminals, prostitutes, and the gay subculture. There is some debate about its origins but it can be traced back to at least the 19th century and possibly as far as the 16th century. There is a long-standing connection with Punch and Judy street puppet performers, who traditionally used Polari to converse. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polari
 The Surrender of Silence p.87
 Described by Gurdjieff in his semi-autobiographical book, Meetings with Remarkable Men
 The Surrender of Silence p.61
 See Cherry Gilchrist, Tarot Triumphs, (Weiser Books, 2016) Chapter Five
Author Colin Wilson first made his reputation as an “Angry Young Man” in 1950s London where he spent time in the British Museum reading room and the cafés of Soho. Members of the group remember him being around although he wasn’t involved in the group itself. Alan Bain recalls meeting him in the Gyre and Gimble – “we met just the once, but it was a memorable occasion, as a fight broke out while we musicians - about five of us that night - were playing at the other end to my usual spot. Colin managed to stand aloof and out of it.”
In Colin Wilson’s second and most autobiographical novel, Adrift in Soho, he introduces several characters involved in the esoteric life. One such is Major Noyes (a pun on major noise?), a rather bombastic book dealer with “the best collection of occult books in London.” He offers the hero a glass of mandrake wine, and asks him if he is a student of the occult:
‘Not exactly. It interests me…’
Adrift in Soho (New London Edition, 2011) p. 53
(MacGregor Mathers was a British occultist, one of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and author of The Kabbalah Unveiled).
Another fascinating character is the beggarly Welshman Danvers Reed. The hero first meets Danvers at the house of Major Noyes, where Danvers is negotiating the purchase of a book written in Hebrew. “Still living in that lavatory?” Major Noyes ask him.
“Everybody lusts after self-approval. Everybody wants to be admired and envied by his fellows. So what use is all the talk about salvation? Nobody wants to be saved. Everybody wants to feel important. So I made a vow that I’d try to save myself from lusting after the approval of fools. I never wash. I never change my clothes. [...] This makes people hate me. So I’m never tempted to think well of my fellow men.”
Adrift in Soho (New London Edition, 2011) p. 171
Danvers turns out to be a follower of the Ancient Greek Cynic philosopher, Crates of Thebes.
Other characters in the book include a lady expert on the cult of Mithras (who also seemed to hold strong ideas on the wickedness of Buddhism), Ironfoot Jack, the uncrowned king of the bohemians, Theosophists and Hindus, and a Yoga practitioner on a circle line train.
Adrift in Soho is well worth a read for a flavour of the times.
You can also watch a new film adaptation of the novel directed by Pablo Behrens. For more information visit the Adrift in Soho Facebook Page.
From the coffee bar to private groups
The gatherings of budding Cabalists in Soho cafes were only the outer face of ‘the Group’, in the late 1950s. Those who showed a serious interest in pursuing it further would be invited to a private meeting, in someone’s flat or a rented room.
Keith Barnes recalls: ‘Everything was kept very quiet, and it was very hard to find out anything. Even the existence of the group was hidden.’ Then, one day in the coffee bar, someone slipped him a piece of paper with date, time and address on it: ‘Turn up if you want to know more.’ He did – the meeting was at the flat where Walter Lassally lived, and who he already knew, and to his surprise there were several other familiar faces there from the Soho scene, plus leaders Glyn Davies and Alan Bain. Lionel Bowen adds: ‘I believe the Group met in Walter’s flat before I joined but we juniors were kept separate from the others until we were judged to be ready.’
The main tasks were to work on the Tree of Life, and, correspondingly, on one’s inner being. The group studied Kabbalistic attributes, including numerology, astrology, Tarot, and the colours associated with Sephiroth on the tree. The ‘text book’ used was Dion Fortune’s Mystical Qabalah, but whereas this provided a good point of reference, the emphasis was always on personal experience and observation.
In the earliest period, members were also assigned to ‘grades’, corresponding to the level of the Tree which you had attained or had awoken in yourself. Under Alan Bain’s tuition, the aim was often stated more generally as ‘to pass through the Veil’. It was a combination of the mystical and the practical. Walter Lassally recalled that ‘Group sessions were very practical, but they were intended to push you up the tree and get you through the veil. And I remember very distinctly an occasion when Alan considered that I had passed through, after about two or three years of study. It’s a spiritual journey, with realisations on the way.’
As Walter pointed out, the formation of the Tree itself helps this process: ‘If you associate Netzach with emotion, and Hod with intellect, this is very helpful, and shows you that intellect should balance emotion, but it shouldn’t control emotion.’ Walter also ran groups of his own after a few years, under the aegis of the Society of the Common Life. This taking on of responsibility has been a feature of the tradition; many of us who joined in the 1970s and 80s were soon encouraged to set up groups, rather than waiting decades to become recognised teachers. ‘The spirit of knowledge’ – or even ‘the Common Life’ as a symbol of the mind of humanity - is considered to be the guiding principle of the group, so that a group has a leader rather than a guru. Numbers were kept small – the old saying is that it takes seven to create a group with its own soul and dynamic, but again Walter recalled that ‘the whole thing was very small, very private. There was no sort of proselytising.’ No more than ten people was the norm. Teachers and group leaders never took money for running the groups, though expenses were covered by donations, as can be seen in pages from Walter’s logbook of the time (1962-3).
Norman Martin also remembers some of the practical procedures. A group would start by talking about the tree and its correspondences. Then members would be put into grades corresponding to the Sephiroth, and people would progress from one to the next. Generally speaking the progression wasn’t by ritual but by simple acknowledgement. However, sometimes there were more ritualistic, even dramatic occasions set up to propel the seeker across the threshold. Norman’s own initiation into the group was made rather mysterious. He was told that he had to meet ‘the Goat’ on the London Embankment in the middle of the night. The Goat turned out to be Alan Bain, by dint of his being a Capricorn, and together they walked and talked until Alan eventually declared that the moment of initiation had come. He raised his hand, and that moment, by synchronicity, (or perhaps by careful timing!), Big Ben chimed. Norman was in!
Not everyone was happy about stepping higher up the tree – a tale is told about a young French lad who pleaded to be allowed to progress to Netzach, but when granted his wish burst into tears and asked to be taken back to Hod.
Keeping a sense of humour was important, and there were all sorts of sayings bandied about, such as ‘Funny how it works!’ ‘You’re quite bright, you work it out!’ and ‘From the sublime to the gorblimey.’But although entertaining incidents are recounted with a chuckle, looking after the welfare of the group was also a priority, and in general, people weren’t pushed further than they wanted to go.
There were two other main sources of study for group members. Getting a reader’s ticket to the British Museum Library was a must for some, including Glyn Davies and Alan Bain. The iconic, circular reading room in the British Museum (now replaced by the separate British Library) was a magical place in its own right. You had to apply with a reference from a serious scholar – being a registered student or just an interested member of the public wasn’t enough. Alan Bain managed to get his reference from Geoffrey Watkins, son of the founder of Watkins Bookshop. (a very good history of Watkins, which played such a part in the education of many Kabbalists, is given here). In Alan’s memoir, (see here) there is an excellent account of what it was like to penetrate the holy of holies, and to summon up books from the hidden depths of the library. As Alan affirms, this was a place to find real classics of esoteric literature, including works by past masters such as John Dee and Robert Fludd. However, the aim was not so much to lose yourself in old magical tomes but to ‘get yourself an education’, not perhaps in the conventional sense, but to develop a sense of how the river of knowledge had flowed down through the centuries. The training helped people to look beneath the trappings to the message or understanding conveyed in earlier writings.
The other input came directly from the School of Economic Science and the Study Society. Glyn Davies and a few others were members of these organisations as well as ‘the Group’, and through Glyn’s connections, SES agreed to offer a programme of study which could be followed in the group. SES training emphasised intellectual and philosophical approaches, and introducing this material into the group was probably aimed at strengthening these abilities. It would round out the training, so that members could operate in a more detached way if necessary, and not rely solely on intuition and psychic experiences. Although SES gave this permission, rumour had it that they had also planted ‘a spy’ in the group in the form of Richard Henwood! Richard, although liked by everyone who knew him, eventually found the pressure of this combined approach too much and had to leave, although he remained affectionately in touch with various group members until the end of his life.
Note: Richard Henwood wrote an unpublished novel based largely upon his experiences in the Group. Despite searching, and despite several contacts having seen this novel, we cannot find a copy, but would very much like to see it if anyone can supply this.
Eventually, the Soho days came to an end. Eventually too the ‘Group’ was replaced by other developments – Alan Bain left London, and later took his work into the arena of the Independent Catholic Church and the Theosophical Society. Tony Potter began his own line of teaching in North London, under the name of ‘The Society of the Hidden Life’, with particular emphasis on the ‘stop exercise’, which he developed as a key practice. Walter Lassally became too busy with his work as a travelling cinematographer to run groups regularly, although he continued to work with Cabala and the I-Ching to the end of his life; Robin Amis developed his own type of teaching known as ‘The Society of the Inner Life’ in the context of the Orthodox Church, and Glyn Davies convened astrology and Kabbalah groups from the late 60s onwards, which eventually evolved into Saros. It’s easy to forget, given the seriousness of purpose, and the long-lasting effects of the Group, just how young these leaders were in the Soho days. Most were still in their twenties, and so as careers developed, families grew, and life challenges faced them, some took other routes. However, all those to whom we’ve spoken have deeply-embedded memories of the era of ‘the Group’, and a strong sense of what it meant to them.
With thanks to our principal informants on the workings of ‘the Group’: Keith Barnes, Lionel Bowen, Norman Martin, and to Walter Lassally and Robin Amis in memoriam.
A battered copy of Glyn’s novel Circum lies in one of my study drawers. The loose foolscap pages are yellowed by tobacco smoke, and worn thin and ragged at the edges from frequent handling. It is typed, but here and there amended by hand. Some of the pages are scrawled over with notes and diagrams, most probably the first thing that came to hand when Glyn had to jot down an idea in a hurry, or wanted to explain something to a visitor who’d come with serious questions.
My connection with Circum goes back to the early ‘70s, when Glyn thrust a copy at me to read, and then to type up for him, as a paid task. It went through several incarnations, with several typists, the final version as a dot-matrix print-out , probably in the early ‘90s.
Glyn was by his own admission a ‘jack of all trades’ or ‘generalist’ who could and did attempt almost anything. He was variously a jeweller, an accountant, a salesman of babywear, a book dealer and a radar fitter, to name some of his occupations. He also decided to be a writer – not as a literary author, but as an exponent of ideas and a generator of stories with a mythical flavour. Circum was his one and only novel, written in the late 1960s. In one sense, it’s a traditional boy-meets-girl, then-meets-another-girl kind of story. In another, it’s an account of entering a spiritual path. And thirdly, it’s a fascinating snapshot of life in post-war Britain. According to Glyn, it was partly (but only partly) autobiographical. And according to one of the early group members (Norman Martin, who trained Glyn in jewellery-making), Glyn went on a kind of self-imposed retreat to write the book. He rented a tumbledown cottage for a few months in the Mendips. ‘It was just a pile of stones…,’ Norman recalls. Glyn used his time in the Mendips to try out caving, something that features in the novel. He liked to experience what he was going to write about.
The novel has twenty-two chapters, and Glyn told me that each one is based on a Tarot card (there are twenty-two cards in the Major Arcana of the Tarot). But which is which? Ah, that’s left to the reader to discover! And my guess is as good as yours, except for one chapter which Glyn did tell me represents the Empress.
After Glyn’s death, I decided that it was worth getting Circum into print. Other books of Glyn’s had been published, but not this one. With the permission and help of his family, I prepared a print-on-demand edition. And editing it was quite a task! Glyn did not bother with the finer points of punctuation or consistency, even though he was a good wordsmith. I found myself having to decide whether the hero was really heading for the docks at Liverpool, as first stated, or Southampton, as on the next page. But it was a rewarding task, and the resulting copies were ordered by well over a hundred of his acquaintances.
Now plans are being considered to produce an electronic version, which could be made much more widely available.
Towards the end of Circum, Charles Hawton, the hero, begins to forge a proper relationship with Fenella, a girl from the East End of London. Fenella is a chirpy Cockney sparrow, sometimes frivolous, but the reality of the understanding they have at a deeper level begins to emerge. Read on.....the extract follows below...
‘And there’s me. When I was a little girl, I used to dream of knowing everything, and I still just want to know. Mum says I’m a bookworm, but I’m not really. Sometimes I like books, even books on astrology.’ She laughed out loud.
I remembered John Britten’s shop, and then I was laughing too, a little ruefully I must admit.
‘Anyway,’ said Fenella, ‘I always wanted to talk proper, and I used to mimic the teachers and the radio-announcer and the Methodist Minister. Mum wasn’t religious - she used to send us to Sunday school because, she said, “Some of it’s just good common sense.” She’d ask us what we’d been told there. Dad was a Mason, I think, though I’ve never seen any of his paraphernalia. At school I did well at art, and went to art college, but I didn’t think I’d ever be any good, so I took a secretarial course. The rest you know.’
What did this matter? Here was reality. The trappings were not important. She tended to seek out well-known people, and her culture was a little stiff and pompous. She dressed very fashionably and could become cockney shrewish, but she herself left me feeling easy. The layers over the essential Fenella just did not matter. It is curious that where there is love, there is no need to forgive foibles and habits. They just don’t really intrude. I tried to say something of this to her.
She grew thoughtful. ‘Sounds silly, doesn’t it, but I feel as though I wear many skins, like an onion. Oh I dart around, and talk of clothes and I gossip, but that’s not me you know.’
This caused me to smile. I of all people should surely know this.
‘Do you think that you are anything particular?’ I asked.
‘No, the “me” doesn’t change. The things about me do - my clothes, accent, how I react - but me, I’m still the same as I was as a little girl, playing in the back yard and climbing on the wall to wave to the trains. Or even meeting you for the first time.’
My mind flashed back to the bookshop which I saw with a strangely familiar clarity, as if it would be that way for always. She stood there, looking at me. I was sitting behind a roll-top desk covered with books. Behind me were shelves with valuable stock, dusty volumes, leather bound and embossed, and with that slightly acrid smell, that probably comes from fish glue and animal hide.
The shop door opened and this smiling small waif stood there and tentatively asked, ‘Do you stock books on astrology?’
I just gestured to her, and went on reading.
Then some gateway opened, and my own memories began to surface. Standing in open-mouthed astonishment because the little bird I held in my hand, which was caught by my grandfather in his netting trap, was pecking me furiously. Drawing and colouring an apple, a glorious red shot with green and fat like bursting, when I was only four. A new suit I didn’t want to wear. My parents upset because I wanted to do everything for myself. Guiltily selling a pet jackdaw so that I could buy a model train that worked. It was brass, with a space for a real fire which could get the steam up. Sitting in the dust by the roadside, making imaginary castles while people in clogs and supply carts passed me, coming in from the country. My feeling of frustration because I never asked the right questions or, if I did, people didn’t understand me. The eternal moments when I stood on a bridge and watched the fishes swim. And then, behind these memories, another place where I lived a different life. I think that children really do live in another world, next door to this world but maybe only half an inch away, where they make kings and oceans, ships and savages.
I told Fenella what I thought.
She said delightedly, ‘Yes, yes, and you used to make little worlds and big worlds and have all your own stars. You didn’t have to believe in any of them - they were just there, and when you finished, you could put them away and bring them out again, like toys from the cupboard.
‘I used to have a friend; he was an eagle. He came from a high, high mountain far away, and he could fetch me anything I liked. We talked together before I could talk to Mum and Dad. But he went away one day, and I began to grow up.’
(Circum pps 135-7)
From the early days of groups, meditation has always been a key element of individual practice. The first type of meditation practised by most early group members was TM, or Transcendental Meditation, which came from a direct involvement with the School of Economic Science, who hosted the Maharishi on his first visits to London in the early 1960s. Over the years, however, the pattern changed, and the main forms of meditation practised by individual group members have included Buddhist, Christian, and Kabbalistic practices. Many group members have come to consider meditation as the central pivot of their spiritual path. In her recent memoir about developing her own spiritual understanding under the teaching of Glyn Davies, Lucy Oliver describes meditation thus:
‘As Glyn presented it, the essence of meditation is the engagement and holding of a mental object, which can be a sound, image, or movement like walking. As the mind stays with this object it gradually magnetises all the mental movements, flurries of thought and feelings, associative chattering etc. towards a single vector, rather like iron filings turning in one direction. And so random thought activity tends to die down, and settle, not so much around, as near the object, which itself gets finer and finer as does the breath. The seed-object can disappear, or hover on the edge of awareness, and pure consciousness rest within itself “like fine wine upon its lees.”’ Tessellations, Lucy Oliver, p.51
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