Enlightenment

Trautmann Transfiguration“Enlightenment does exist. It is possible to awaken. Unbounded freedom and joy, oneness with the Divine, awakening into a state of timeless grace – these experiences are more common than you know, and not far away. There is one further truth, however: They don’t last. Our realizations and awakenings show us the reality of the world, and they bring transformation, but they pass. … We all know that after the honeymoon comes the marriage. After the election comes the hard task of governance. In spiritual life it is the same: After the ecstasy comes the laundry.”

-Jack Kornfield,  After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

Seeing the title in the quote, I wonder if there is any point in buying the book. This quote from One Spirit winds me up the wrong way. It postulates Enlightenment as a feeling of Joy, freedom, timeless grace, oneness with the divine, in some way different from quotidian getting and spending. Ecstasy and laundry.

I should tease out my understanding of the concept from my reaction to the individual words. It is possible to have the feeling of being Present, when joyful, for example walking under the trees towards Greenbelt recently. Rather than “Chaos of thought and passion all confused” all seems integrated, with perception, emotion, thought and purpose all pointing the same way. It lasts a moment. Or, I get stressed and I get relaxed, and relaxation feels nice but is not necessarily Enlightenment. Similarly, Presence in washing up. I turn my attention to the task in hand, and it becomes beautiful. I delight in the sensations of the light on wet plates.

I would like to be more relaxed in the stressful situations. It seems to me that in those Presence moments my emotions are acceptable, and I do not spend energy suppressing them.

Raffaello, transfigurationOh, Christ. Even joy can be dangerous. An evening with my parents in Inverneill stands out, when we were relaxed and happy together and it seemed a moment of eternity, a Discovery. We all felt it. Dad proposed going out to the pub, to make the moment linger. Mum demurred, knowing it would not. After attempts at happiness through following conventional recipes, we had found it by accident. I did not know what my feelings were because none of them were acceptable, in my teens, but that evening I did, though it would have been hard to put into words.

I feel fear or anger when these things are appropriate, and I fear my fear and anger, because expressing them has been dangerous to me. I have said this here before. The situation is far worse from my Wrong feeling than from anything external. I know that if I feel fear like this I will die, so learning to flow with the fear is difficult. That would be the freedom and timeless grace. The Divine would be me inside, and ego-conscious me accepting not resisting it.

I have learned to accept joy. I can learn to accept fear and anger too. Ecstasy, an intense discovery, becomes quotidian, a continual process of learning and falling away. It is not that we build tents for Moses and Elijah, but that we see them walking with us.

The blue marble

Apollo 13- view of EarthImagine that the World was only a few feet in diameter, floating above a field. People would come from afar to wonder at its waters and its creatures, and they would protect it and care for it as it is unique. The poem is over-optimistic: someone would charge admission.

It is true, of course. The world is unique and beautiful- but we have to make a living out of it. At best we use it, and sometimes we use it up. If we use it all up, we take from our descendants, but sometimes we transform it, and the wealth we create gives us leisure to care for it. And sometimes the dash for economic “growth” defecates in our living room.

You see I am in two minds. In the Quaker meeting we had to decide how we meet together, and we barely reached consensus after some bruising expressions: our experimental way had all these insuperable objections, one “felt very strongly” our usual way is just so much better, and the other was just bad. I felt we reached consensus by surrendering to stupid objections, which is less than we are supposed to do. If you say it is bad, it sounds better if you say why, so “Of course” there should be a break in the middle, and if it is not we Cannot Possibly do that again. It was worse that people from one meeting strongly objected to our experimental way, and people from the three other meetings all supported it.

I incorporated the objections into the experimental way, in my view making it worse, and we sort of agreed. It did not feel like loving unity in the Spirit. At the end, Derrick stood up, and talked of a Friend forty years ago who said that he often thought of resigning his membership. Julia, who had been attending as Elder, felt better about it, and after phoning her I felt better too. We move towards a better way of being in AM. It is my way to want Success Now, or I feel a failure, but life is all being and becoming.

When we spoke on The Environment, by contrast, we all felt a Sustain liferosy glow. We could all agree. We stated our concerns, and felt upheld by the others’ concerns. Some produced pretty phrases, which I incorporated in the minute. I should not disrespect this, it is worthwhile, but it is so much easier when we agree.

Someone speaks more forcefully if s/he feels s/he is not being heard. I try to persuade- some might call this winsome, some manipulative- with questions and suggestions. Inarticulate feelings should be just as valuable. Discussing the Swarthmore lecture, the task was to write a message from our meeting in ten years’ time.

 There are people you don't know
     and will
          and will love
There are people you know 
     changed in ways you could not imagine
          yet will see are Right
There is the Room, the building, the garden.
There are issues to concern us,
     but yours don't, now, they are all right.
LOVE
upholds us.
Love unites us
Love transforms us
Love ennobles us.
Everything is alright. 
I believe; help thou my unbelief.

Prospect

Idyll, MordilloBefore breaking the plastic wrapper, I brace myself to have my conscience pricked. I see a sad but strong, beautiful brown boy. It is a wonderful photograph, artfully focused and lit, with a riddle: “What is worse than losing a son?” Oh God. Oh, OK- turn the page- what is worse than losing a son? “Losing his brother too.” There’s also the Crisis at Christmas menu, surprisingly upbeat: Desserts are “New skills”- meet our Employment team- and “New hope”.

There are also adverts for The Great Courses- DVDs of lectures on “A history of European Art” or “Practising mindfulness” for £45- the last time I looked, there were lectures for free on the Internet, you paid if you wanted a marked examination. Also Slightly Foxed magazine, slogan “Falling leaves, falling spirits?”

On to the magazine. It quotes Foreign Affairs: Between 1901 and 1960 every independent country had a coup d’etat except Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US. The first thing I turn to is the Stephen Collins cartoon, whose website Colillo refers to the wonderful Mordillo, then the puzzle, which takes a few minutes.

Prospect is moving to the right. The editor writes that Ed Miliband’s speech was “rightly called one of the worst political speeches of modern times” and “The Conservatives have been more honest”, then a Tory MP gloats that he suggested Scots MPs should not vote on English matters in 2005, and was sacked for it.

Where else would I read about Chinese medical care, more ruthless than the American system? “For many, falling ill is a death sentence”. Fine particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter are most dangerous to health. Mordillo loveThe WHO guideline is that over ten micrograms per cubic metre of air is hazardous to health. The rate in Washington is 10.6mcg/m³; in Xingtai it is 155.2, and the Chinese government calls any rate under 150 “moderate”.

The enlarged quote caught my eye- Dylan Thomas once summed up Welsh nationalism in three words, two of which were “Welsh nationalism”- above a cartoon skewering middle-class insincerity: a woman tells a charity collector I’d love to help but I really don’t want to help”.

The culture pages. Lionel Shriver reviews Tim Parks’ collection of essays. In “The Chattering mind” he notes “how obsessively the mind seeks to construct self-narrative, how ready it is to take interest in its own pain, to congratulate itself on the fertility of its reflection.” Parks catches a particular kind of autobiography: At least I’ve understood and brilliantly dramatised the futility of my brilliant exploration of my utter impotence”. This is too close to what I do here for my comfort.

At the end, extracts from letters and memoirs, this month on “Bitterness“. Jorge Luis Borges said, “Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition; since I was born they have been not granting it to me”. RB Kitaj, his Tate retrospective bruisingly reviewed, said Never ever believe an artist if he says he doesn’t care about what the critics write about him. Every artist cares. Those reviews of my show were by pathetic, sick, meagre hacks. They were about small lives and lousy marriages.

It’s always interesting to see what the educated middle classes are reading: Prospect had the slogan “The National Conversation” for a time. On putting it down today, I do not feel cheered up.

The art of accompaniment II

Matisse, painted blue nudeI cannot encounter another human being without being open. Any preconceptions I have of them, and especially any demands I might make of them, get in the way. I am not properly encountering, now, of course: I do not walk my talk because I am in conscious incompetence; but I see the possibility, and sometimes try it.

What the Pope says is beautiful- approach the other with sandals off, as on holy ground- and helps me see that conservative Catholicism is completely worthless. It is a set of moral rules, and frightened, hectoring demands that we all keep them. It is not even of use as ascetic discipline, because the demands are made on others, and the demands one emphasises are those one may accomplish easily, from inclination or circumstance. It might give a fragile sense of community, all people believing the same way until one has to be Cast Out for Sin, but at the cost of preventing any meaningful encounter with another, or any understanding of oneself.

Liberal Catholicism sees the failure of conservative Catholicism, but is hardly better in the Pope’s definition, which states the “objective evil” of the other’s acts, even if not culpable for particular reasons. Thomas Aquinas adapted Aristotle for mediaeval Christians, and is now a “Doctor” of the church, one of only 33 (three of whom are women). His explanation is the orthodox belief, though superseded by newer philosophy. In the same way, contraception is seen as always wrong, though experience shows the evolved human baby-making drives are quite strong enough to overcome a person’s rational commitment to contraception.

So the Liberal Catholic seeks to encounter the other, with a set of preconceptions. When this other is healthy and oriented towards God, s/he will behave in the correct Catholic way, eschewing contraception, celibate if gay. That prevents the encounter, prevents the Liberal Catholic from seeing the value in the other’s ways of being. The Catholic is trapped into thinking only her/his way can be good. Even for the liberal, there comes a moment where the other who sees the world differently must be excluded, because that other is incorrigible. In trying to remove the speck from the other’s eye, the Liberal whacks her over the head with the log in his own. At best, the liberal will tolerate church attendance of the Bad person, but not any teaching position or participation in the Eucharist. There are the Good people, who eat the bread, and the Bad people, who may receive a blessing or not as they choose.

When Francis said “Who am I to judge?” he went on The problem isn’t this (homosexual) orientation — we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby. He would welcome us in, and insist on his rules.

The Quaker way is to encounter the other without demands. Of course I make assumptions about how another is. I want things from people, and am perturbed or angry when they do not do as I wish. I project that as judgment on the other. This is contrary to the commands of Jesus. It excludes me from the Kingdom of Heaven. Seeing it, I have a chance of alleviating it.

Curtain twitching

Anne Ryan, no. 650Should I open the window? “No, officer, I am not eavesdropping on you, it’s the terrible Summer heat the cooking smells in here.” Alternatively, I could go out and ask them to move their cars from my parking space. There is a police van and car outside. When they move from outside my window, I open it to hear more, but only catch the odd word. It is the tone of voice I get, the professional policeman telling the truth to the scrote who is not listening well enough. No sign of a forced entry.

Other police stand under the overhang, out of the rain. There are five of them, in their yellow jackets, looking bored. An ambulance appears, with a brief sound on the siren, but sits outside.

Stubborn woman, your Mum, Brandon, says Ben’s voice.

Finished up going to St Mary’s for about a week, says a woman. Something about “Crisis team”.

Steph walks into the ambulance. Will they section her, I wonder. There was something about “if this happened outside on the street…” I saw her this morning, and we wondered if it was going to rain, and was my washing safe on the line? Steph was drying hers on the radiators. Odd, though, that she looked out the door as soon as I opened mine, as if she wanted that chat. Brandon walks into the ambulance but walks out immediately and the doors are shut from within.

The police van leaves, with two men, as if they had expected bother but it did not happen.

I came over about two hours ago, says Ben. A bottle and a half…? She had a couple of glasses, and she lost the plot. Lost the plot.

“She’ll probably want a fryup in a minute.” But Steph’s mum gets into the ambulance, and it drives off with Steph.

It’s my own problems I should be worried about, I suppose, but it’s not just grim fascination. I feel some sympathy.

The Art of Accompaniment

Francis Bacon, Head IWhat did the Pope mean? Accompanying others, to encourage growth in the Christian life? Angry as some conservative catholics have been, I could give a conservative interpretation: the Catholic church still believes it has morality cornered, sorted, specified, and the Christian should be nice in encouraging the other to see it his way. This is more effective than angry denunciation, but the result remains the Catholic one size fits all: gay BAD, contraception BAD, etc.

I hear the words on accompanying as a Quaker, and they are lovely. As a Quaker, I would say we are continually learning, and I have to be as open to learning from the other as I expect her/him to be from me. Someone who wants to teach me is interesting as a specimen, but the content of the teaching is probably worth little. I have met too many bores, know alls and closed minds- if you spent just an hour in their company, they think, and paid attention, you would have the world as sorted as they.

It is not worth doing this accompanying with everybody, says Francis. It has to be a pilgrimage with Christ to God: those who seek to avoid God are self-absorbed, and accompanying would entrench that. (Oops. I don’t think this is me, but it is a wee bit close to the bone.) The accompanier must protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock. Bacon, three studies for a self-portrait, leftThere is one Catholic moral view, and the opposition is a deadly threat, rather than an alternative way of seeing, or a worthwhile attempt at what is Right and true. To the Quaker, there are no wolves.

Bacon, three studies for a self-portrait, rightThe Gospel tells us to correct others and to help them to grow on the basis of a recognition of the objective evil of their actions (cf. Mt 18:15), but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). Someone good at such accompaniment does not give in to frustrations or fears. He or she invites others to let themselves be healed, to take up centretheir mat, embrace the cross, leave all behind and go forth ever anew to proclaim the Gospel. One truth, one perception.

One might find Francis a conservative with a concern for PR, rather than a liberal. One can see chinks of light: every believer must study the Bible (p175) and in it will see the contradictions, lines of growth, and Love. You cannot be a conservative once you start to think.

The heart of [the Gospel] message will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ (p11). God constantly renews his faithful ones. I want to see hope here, that Francis might want his flock Christian, rather than merely Catholic- but the more I study his words, the more I see that is a leap of faith.

To celebrate having one thousand followers, I include these two polls. I would love to know how many of that thousand actually read this.

Hormone history

Pissarro, still life painting with apples and pitcher I cannot see how the advice I was given about hormones, or the decisions I took, could have been better; yet with hindsight I wish they had been otherwise.

When I decided to transition, it seemed possible to me that I would revert within five years; yet the only way I could get to the point of committing to presenting male was trying the alternative. If I never tried transition, it would always be the siren path. I have not reverted, and have no desire to, twelve years on. I started taking Ovran, which has now been discontinued, the sort of dose of oestradiol that women take as HRT, and Oestrogel, absorbed through the skin. Soon after I started taking spironolactone, a testosterone suppressant, prescribed by my private psychiatrist Russel Reid. I heard on Radio 4 that some men are so concerned about hair loss that they take this, illegally sourced. It can cause irreversible damage to the testicles, and breast development.

Pissarro, still life with peoniesI asked my GP to refer me to a local endocrinologist. He had seen my trans friend, and without expertise in trans issues had read up a bit. He tripled my hormone dose, and gave me gosarelin implants, which suppress testosterone more comfortably. They are given to sufferers from prostate cancer. The tripling was to stimulate breast growth, which did not impress me much, and I stayed on that dose until it was suddenly cut to zero. My feelings went wild: though I had had periods of emotional lability before, it was then that I became completely self-conscious of them. I went back on 2mg, then 4mg, then 6mg, and my lability continued.

Eventually I got referred to Charing Cross, and though I have not seen their specialist endocrinologist, he has looked at blood tests. He has halved my dose of oestradiol and put me on Elleste duet, which includes a synthetic progesterone- norethisterone acetate. My oestrogen levels are “normal”. Progesterone might make me feel a bit more energetic and motivated, was the thought. I take it twelve days in 28, and notice that my breasts are slightly tender then.

Well, what’s normal, and how does it matter? Normal for a woman after menopause: contraceptive pills have far higher doses of hormone. If your blood sugar is not “normal”, you can develop diabetic retinopathy- go blind- or follow the path unconsciousness- coma- death. “Normal” oestrogen levels seem less important than that, but- I don’t know. As for energy levels and motivation, some people do what I do plus a full time job. Rationally I see it would be better to be doing more, but I am reasonably content with watching TV and reading a bit, blogging a bit. Perhaps, if I had a partner supporting me, I would be looking for other excuses reasons for my lassitude, such as chronic fatigue syndrome. I manage not to be emotionally labile by excluding everything from my life, and hiding at home. I have not been meditating. I knelt, just now, and rather than concentrating on my breath my mind went wild, thinking of an experience yesterday with exasperation and sadness. Should I try once again to pass through the lability?

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