Symbols v Reality

Through the crucible of crisis, we enter the heart of Contemplation. I desire freedom, in two senses: flourishing, where my gifts and humanity are best utilised, in a role which fits me; and choices so I can best use those gifts, to be fulfilled. I want to be able to like myself, and fear this may be a luxury I cannot afford.

At Charney Manor I had experiences where I might not even trust myself. On Saturday evening I laid out a hand of fan patience, and stared furiously at it, wanting to see the way ahead to win it. I explained it to others sitting nearby. I played a few hands, and as we were supposed to gather I was so frustrated by being blocked that I stayed alone, wanting to get one out. We noted that playing patience on computer is far more addictive, with the pretty patterns cards moving to the correct place made, and the little instant ping of dopamine, which is diffused when one has the physical sensations of handling the cards. I have not played it for years, and still the compulsion grabbed me, to stop me going to Epilogue. I could easily fritter a morning with it now: in my mind, one voice says “fritter” and another portrays the idea far more winsomely.

At the end, we wanted a group photo: but who would take it? I said “Does anyone’s camera have a timer?” Silence. “Would you like me to get my camera from Andrew’s car?” No objections, so I ran off- jogged off, at least- to get it. I set the timer ten times for ten photos, and said “just one more” as people were getting restive. I know this, because my camera had ten photos on it, and in one case people said, “it isn’t flashing”, meaning I had not set the timer properly. And I only remember doing it three times.

I worried that I had made too much of a fuss, going to get the camera. Were people irritated by the time-wasting? No, said Anne, and I am grateful: absolution sought and given. C is also prone to beat herself up like this: I suggested to her that we speak on the phone, as each would be far kinder to the other than to herself, so we could get a better perspective on our actions.

In the last discussion session, before worship, lots of people expressed thanks to organisers, which irritated me: we had not finished yet, this is preparing for going when we still have worship and lunch. And also it seemed to be creating a reassuring narrative about the weekend- wasn’t it lovely- which it was, but there was other stuff, it was more rich and strange than narratives allow. What I remember saying in the worship sharing, though, was “All this gratitude!”- sarcastically, unpleasantly, without explaining what my objections were. Though having misremembered taking photographs, I might not remember what I said.

Liz was too moved to read that poem, so I read it for her, delighting her. It is a good amateur poem. It shows its author. I was so pleased to serve in that way.

The Quaker ideal of Simplicity confuses me. I pit virtue against eudaemonia, or flourishing. I think of Virtue as “Being good”, an ideal of morality I reject, following social rules. Eudaemonia is about fulfilment, which may mean breaking conventions. Simplicity is not merely “decluttering”. It is certainly not asceticism, or at least not that kind of asceticism which tots up the virtue-points and claims superiority. I think of asceticism like that, as a kind of collection-mania, acquiring things-I-avoid.

I abhor virtue in the sense of Being Good. I do good things, follow the rules, with the intention of thereby making myself safe, accepted within society. But you can’t please everyone.

I scrawled “Symbols v Reality” on a piece of paper. Simplicity is part of facing reality in an aware way. Rather than being distracted by symbols- either ascetic avoidance of self-indulgence, or acquisition of things to show Success- one decides what one finds important, and seeks it. So simple clothes means not being distracted by fashions, but also not choosing clothes for any appearance- of virtue, of asceticism, of an artful carelessness, anything. One might want to give any sort of impression- of seriousness, attractiveness- and that is OK.

You see I contradict myself. I am unsure.

Being undistracted. Giving the clothes, appearance, presentation, just the amount of attention it needs and no more.

Being non-dual: escaping self-consciousness into simple being, united in integrity. Just as I lift a weight with my qi, so I use it to get dressed.

The great gift of Charney is to see that clarity is possible, though I have not attained it. There is a link to mindfulness, if I can manage that.

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