I want to know The Truth of myself. Will I find it in James Baldwin? In Notes of a Native Son, he fights to realise himself, recognising that there is a choice: dive into the void that is the unknown self, or accept what society makes of you. He was a friend of existentialists. A human being is “something resolutely indefinable, unpredictable. In overlooking, denying, evading his complexity- which is nothing more than the disquieting complexity of ourselves- we are diminished and we perish; only within this web of ambiguity, paradox, this hunger, danger, darkness, can we find at once ourselves and the power that will free us from ourselves.”
Aged 60, he wrote that society limits him, but “my birthright was vast, connecting me to all that lives, and to everyone, forever”. Wow. Everything that is possible for a human being is possible for me. To believe that would be a great responsibility.
Or would I find it among Quakers? There is an inner light, which is so strange and wonderful we call it that of God. But it might just be a seed thrown among weeds which choke it. I thought I had found it. I was speaking from the Heart, and the proof was my voice being a higher pitch. Well, it made sense at the time.
Then that part of me said, “Do to me as you wish”. That is a brave prayer to make to God, but utterly foolhardy to a human being. I imagined myself saying it to someone, then thought, how can that be speaking from the inner light, if it is so slutty? It could be the heart’s desire. It is hard to piece together what I want, but I want that. Then I said, also from the “heart”, “I need to protect myself”.
Then I started judging the “heart” because of that particular desire. Sometimes something seems to work in a person like the Inner Light, but it deludes them. Like her. And him. Is there an “inner light” below this heart? I need a sane ego, which will protect me, rather than the ego I produced, which was the shell, imprisoning me because I was so hurt and afraid. I would need it to be my counsellor, not my prison guard; a male self to protect my feminine self. All my gifts are in both selves.
Or, perhaps, if I speak from the Inner Light, it is a lot more playful, creative and joyful, not sensible as the world sees it. I said to another my Light is more playful than I had thought, and she loved that idea. I could get authority for it from St Paul: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength”. Or, “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong”. I have a vague idea that Paul said “In my weakness is my strength”, and so did Katharine Oliver and others, but I cannot find it in any particular translation.
Why should I seek authority? Make it my own. “The wisdom of God is foolishness to man,” and live by that.
Someone quoted Rumi, The Guest House. Yes, it is a metaphor, but I cannot differentiate the house, the feelings- joy or momentary awareness, depression, meanness, a violent crowd of sorrows, a dark thought, shame or malice- and the “me” that invites them in. I am one human being, the feeling and the I which would resist it. Do not resist pain or confusion. Welcome them, says the poet, and it is my experience at least that resistance does no good.
In The Good Ally, I read of people taking action to manage their own feelings or how they appear to others, rather than to achieve a result in the world. At a Quaker peace zoom, we discuss people taking action to feel better about themselves rather than as led. It is so good to know it is not just me.
Michael Leunig imagined people with their opinions, concerns, memories, anxieties, secrets, ambitions, causes, grievances, regrets, theories, reputation, style, lies, pains, charms, tricks, vendettas, powers and obsessions, and a man who lets go of all that. “He’s had enough and just wants to connect.”
A child of dysfunctional parents on a twelve step programme for such people talked of “emotional sobriety”. It means being comfortable with the full panoply of feelings, but not hijacked by them; having healthy boundaries for self and others; not being subsumed in others, or engulfed. One might get joy from another person because there is no dependency. Just appreciate them. One ceases to be addicted to drama.
Worth a try, perhaps.