Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

Sherlock and I


I was pleasantly surprised recently to discover that my first book shared a publisher with Sherlock Holmes (ie Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

George Newnes also published Tit-Bits (don’t go there!) whose occasional contributor, Alfred Harmsworth, founded The Daily Mail. It’s amazing what you turn up when you start digging.

My book — stifle that yawn — was on technical writing and was the first thing I did after university. Like most hopelessly dedicated writers I find I can scribble some thousands of words on any subject that I know nothing about, say, botulism.

Of course, one prefers the topics closest to one’s heart, in my case, psychology and mysticism. So why write a book on technical writing, which I didn’t even know existed as a separate subject? It was a bit of a misunderstanding actually, a pattern that was to repeat itself in later years… often to my considerable advantage.

The first job I did was advertised as “Writer Wanted”. Great, I thought, just up my street.

At the interview the first question I was asked was “Do you know Atlas?”

I replied, “Yes, I’ve got one at home.”

“You clearly don’t then! Never mind, we’ll soon teach you. It’s only got a thousand words and they are all in the Oxford dictionary.”

It was explained that Atlas was a drastically cut down version of English comprising mainly technical terms strung together with the bare minimum of connecting tissue. Shakespeare it is not.

I was intrigued, so accepted the offer. The work itself was so boring, I decided to write a book in the intervals, of which there were many. Hence my first published title was Technical Writing, which was commissioned by Newnes. Hi Sherlock!

I couldn’t resist adding some purple passages to the book which must have confused the engineers trying to make sense of it. The section on style of writing quite perplexed a few of them. Here’s part of it:

There exists a considerable body of opinion which believes that technical English is a subset of the language with only a tenuous dependence on the real thing. The idea is that such texts as are written would be immune from misinterpretation and could convey technical descriptions in man- or machine-readable form. … It remains a strange phenomenon that technological man, with all his complex artefacts, should look to the future in terms of the palaeolithic past.

Despite that, they have made impressive strides lately among those who believe that technology and its implementation is enough to guarantee human happiness. They have certainly struck a chord with the stereotypical engineer who is “a whizz with wires and things” despite his semi-illiteracy. The reply to this tendency lies in a statement by the French historian, Renan: “La verite consiste dans les nuances” — “Truth consists in shades of meaning”.

It went down a treat and I was soon looking for a new job. Life just isn’t fair sometimes. But at least I was now a published author.

PS: And, yes, I know the title should be “Sherlock and me”, but “I” sounds a lot grander, even if grammatically incorrect. Grammar isn’t everything!

John Evans

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Stop Press: Devon and Cornwall Online for sale


Anyone loving or living in, the West Country of England might like the following rare opportunity of claiming a stake in online Devon and Cornwall.

Owing to a major change of direction, I am putting our admired West Country website, Devon & Cornwall Online up for sale:

The site was designed by world-famous Swedish web designer, Thord Daniel Hedengren and has huge potential.

This is a unique opportunity and would suit web savvy writers, authors or just would-be online journalists.

If you’re interested, email:

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Midweek Mysticism: The world as it is beneath the cloak of the physical

Ramana Maharshi
Ramana Maharshi at his ashram in India

It is all too easy to take mysticism less than literally, to imagine that it’s “only psychological,” by implication sub-reality.

Following after the Divine Light experience, described earlier, the next episode is usually Seeing into the nature of Reality, an out-of-body view of your immediate surroundings.

This extraordinary experience occurs suddenly and, if you are not expecting it, can be a little disorienting: “What happened? Why was I floating above my body? Am I dead?”

The answer is most emphatically No! You have been chosen to be at the cutting edge of humanity’s exploration of the real world — not the physical one given to us by science.

While you are in this state, the body and senses continue doing what they were doing in complete ignorance of the event taking place beyond them. The subject “sees” but not with human eyes, which are seeing the normal world. It is a completely separate faculty which remains totally in the background in our normal lives, but which may explain many types of extrasensory perception.

And, yet, the mystic — which is what he now is — remembers what happened during the encounter, while the bodily thoughts and emotions fail to register it, having been left behind during the experience.

We spend much of our lives sunk deep into our thoughts and feelings, mostly unaware that there is a realm beyond them which watches over us and gives us a glimpse of our immortality. We get to know that realm through direct experience and the growth of our human potential.

To understand this better, let’s take a brief look at the life of one of the 20th century’s greatest sages, Ramana Maharshi.

That there is “nothing but [God]” is the central premise from which Advaita Vedanta takes its source. All else flows from this austere statement. Vedanta’s greatest modern exponent, Ramana Maharshi, (1879 – 1950) continually emphasised the point to visitors at his ashram in Southern India.

“That silent Self alone is God; Self alone is the individual soul. Self alone is this ancient world.” The mind is only a collection of thoughts, a pale reflection of God’s; and the mind distorts the light of God into the appearance of the world.

It is as if a piece of ornamental glass, irregular and multi-coloured, had been inserted between us and the pure, white light of the force that made us. The kaleidoscopic dazzle of hues refracted through it make up our world. The glass is the mind and the ego (the “I” sense) which gives rise to it.

It is the role of mystics, and religion at its best, to convince us of this reality and direct our efforts along the simplest path for achieving our own experience of it.

The admittance of other matters, or complications, for example: rituals, multiple deities, institutional hierarchies or the working of wonders, are the result of ego activity and lead us away from the goal not towards it.

By this definition of religion: non-dual, simple and direct, Ramana’s life was exemplary.

John Evans

Author of: The Eternal Quest for Immortality
Coming soon: Practical Mysticism: A different way of looking at the world

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Saturday Ramble: Hilarity is dangerous; Cam fights back … sort of

LionsManic comedian Russell Brand has an interesting observation in The Guardian. Referring to the death of fellow funny man Robin Williams he writes of “the all-encompassing sadness of the world.”

It’s undoubtedly a law of life or, at the very least, a truism, that too much of anything, whether it be mood or activity, triggers its opposite in the human mind.

Nature has an instinct towards balance, compensating for any excess by reaching for the contrary. Thus an endless diet of comedy shows on television is sure to reduce us to misery in the end.

I only have to listen to a minute or two of the raucous canned laughter that often accompanies them to sink into a welcome gloom.

We are not built for too much of anything, however compelling or interesting at first. Nothing induces laughter more than several back-to-back renditions of Pagliacci’s despairing aria.

The long face of the clown is not a stereotype for nothing.

It follows that Russell Brand’s “all-encompassing sadness of the world” will, in time, reappear as hilarity.

And sure enough …

* * * * *

I’ve just had an email from David Cameron. Well … not precisely from the PM, but Conservative Central Office promoting the Tory party.

I’m sure you are terribly interested so here’s how it begins:

I’m passionate about the United Kingdom.

Working together, our family of nations has achieved so much over the years. Our armed forces have defeated dictators and defended freedom, our inventions have shaped the modern world, and our businesses export to every corner of the globe while creating jobs at home. And if we keep working together, even brighter days lie ahead for all of us.

Dear oh dear, who writes this stuff?

It is, of course, a plea for Scotland not to vote for independence.

But, hold on! If it’s so viscerally important, why did he grant a referendum in the first place? I must say, the decision left me speechless.

The Scots are nothing if not rebellious. Give them half a chance at biffing the English and the conclusion is foregone.

There’s only one consolation in a Yes vote. We could at last ditch that unspeakably awful name, “United Kingdom” (Youkay) and return to the glories of “Great Britain”.

You know, it might be worth encouraging our northern neighbours to think positive and vote Yes!

John Evans

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Midweek Mysticism: What is the Universe?


“Look up at the sky at night,” you might reply, “there is our bit of the Universe.”

Fair enough, that’s reasonably logical and easy to understand, but does it answer the question? I don’t think it gets anywhere close.

The Universe is certainly impressive. To call it “big” is somewhat underwhelming given the scale of it. There are plenty of scientists on TV screens at the moment asking questions like: “What brought the building blocks of life to Earth to enable human life to evolve?”

Ask yourself, why would it need something from somewhere else to do the job? Is our little corner so limited as to require extra-terrestrial forces to create it? This planet is teeming with life.

If you drill down into solid matter to atomic level, hardly anything physical seems to exist. Even atoms break down into vast empty spaces with the occasional tiny dot to represent matter, and you can be sure that the dots disappear at some point. Solid matter is clearly nothing of the sort.

Nevertheless, comets are the flavour of the moment as the prime movers of life, especially with a European spacecraft latching onto one after a 10-year journey across the Solar System. Naturally, there are high hopes that all will be revealed in due course.

Now, I don’t want to be a spoilsport, especially as the voyage cost vast amounts of our money, but doesn’t anyone think these days?

What is the governing factor of all life — wherever it emerges? Consciousness, of course. That is the magic ingredient. Without consciousness, nothing could exist at all. Consciousness is not just the heart of life, it’s the essence of it. … Don’t worry! I’m not going to get all religious on you. This is logical.

So let’s begin with consciousness itself. Another word for it is “awareness.” To be aware is to be conscious. And awareness is the main signifier of life … and living.

That is so obvious it’s hardly worth saying, but is rarely articulated. We take it for granted as if it hardly exists. Awareness/consciousness is the real miracle of life. Without it, there would be nothing at all. No us, no universe, no anything. A profound Zero!

So what actually created this universe, assuming that it needed creating at all? We have many words for it, mostly magical and mystical to hide our desperate ignorance.

Let us simply say that without consciousness there would be nothing. Awareness is both the creator and the thing itself. Is there any need to go further than that?

Probably not, but that’s not our human way. Most of us want to know who owns this awareness and why it exists.

Now that’s the biggest mystery of all.

John Evans

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