I love my featured photograph, but it is definitely wintry, and it is time for a Spring header. Which do you like best?
I glory in my imperfection, because it is freedom. When do you repent? When you realise you have something to repent of! All that time I was stating repentance weekly- the remembrance of [sins] is grievous unto us; the burden of them is intolerable- I had no particular consciousness of doing anything wrong.
It’s a glorious, sunny Christmas day, well above freezing. It is a Spring day in wintertime. Peter is doing the homeless charity’s Christmas dinner, so drives me to Meeting. I walk from there to the Meeting house, wishing a man and a small girl Merry Christmas. In Meeting, I am moved to minister. I feel Joy. I walked here from the Sunlight centre, and felt Joy. I was tempted to overreach my leading, preaching a little homily, but that was it, so I sit.
The acoustic’s dreadful in here. K is moved to respond to my ministry, but he heard the word “dry” not “joy”. He speaks of Patriarchy: oppressive expectations and coercive control of women and girls, but inability to be really themselves for men and boys too. (Well, it is a man talking.) He is talking at school of patriarchy, which makes Western civilisation dry. I really want to correct him. I said “Joy”, the happy union of delight and contentment, not “dry”. However, that is against the rules. You do not speak more than once in a meeting. I have to allow it. No real damage is done.
I said “I am selfish,” and that delighted me. It was terrifying, then it became alright. It is liberating. I am not worthless when I am not perfect, I am human, and in between.
I am generous
I am courageous
I am perceptive
I am creative
I am truthful
I am cursed
and I am selfish
and I am cowardly
and I am cloddish
except when I am not
and I dissimulate
and I am blessed
Have I no control? That is bearable, because it has to be. Anyway having control, like a child playing with a train set, might pall. Real human beings are far more interesting. I do bad things, including where I cannot say sorry or be forgiven, and scarce know how bad they are: Did that hurt you? Does the fact that I did not realise make it OK, or make it worse?
I mean well. Normally that is enough, sometimes it isn’t, and anyway in the long run we’re all dead. Life is tragic, a matter of loss after loss, and beautiful, with finite discrete moments of joy.
Some people this driven, who must always be perfect, have the talent to manage it; but faced with evidence of my imperfection I have fled and hid. No-one could be as good as I wanted to be. So. Metanoia. You change when you realise you have to, and that it is possible. I will not drive myself so harshly: I will accept my imperfections. Only then can I see them clearly, and bear them; and keep buggering on, and mitigate them.
Another opposite: I had been overweeningly arrogant, seeing myself as the centre of the universe, and self-abasing, seeing myself as worthless. Neither of these views were accurate. Self-acceptance might bring self-knowledge, and a just appraisal of my capacities. Though I will always get things wrong- the world, and all the life in it, is too complex a puzzle for me, to puzzle it out.
I hold myself in contempt because I let myself down. I did not keep myself safe. Though that was not my job, in the cradle. “I am the one whom I hold in contempt”- this is reassuring because I am conscious of being that person, and not ashamed of it, so no longer in denial.
This does not make everything easy, but it is moving forward.
I had the feeling of being sad, and later of being content, and these feelings did not seem bad, terrifying or desirable- they just were. They seemed to fit. Then I read this, in André’s book: We put our head down and keep going, one step at a time. We can act and go forward even when we can’t be sure there is any point. Even when nothing is certain, we can still disobey the orders to be powerless that come at us in waves. We can feel those old reflexes rising up from the past and trying to control us. And still we keep going.
His picture is Christina’s World:
Reading that out to Tina I feel such guilt. I do: I make myself powerless, I retreat, I stop moving. I am stuck. I hated it, when I read it last night.
Am I merely shut away, not moving? I could rationalise a case either way- yet the Prosecution and Defence would be missing the point. I felt intense pain reading that. I acknowledged and did not suppress it. Whether I am guilty or not does not matter, does not affect where I am or my circumstances, changes nothing.
Do you want to change? Am I “shut away”?
I am in that moment aware and accepting of my Being. What do I want to do next? I want to go where I have feared to go, into my feelings desires and judgments, bringing them to consciousness. I want further to integrate myself.
The tears communicate to me how strong my feelings are.
Do you see these as equivalent:
Calm = in control
Emotional = impulsive
Mmm. Not sure. What do I fear? Sabotaging myself. Being impulsive, I will foul things up.
-No, a certainty.
When the lid’s off, I will be hurt. Yet now what hurts me are my own internal controls. “I would like to appear calm, my feelings not apparent,” I say, and instantly see it is not true: I can see that both calm and impulsive can have advantages in particular situations (intellectually, rationalising now) and that holding my feelings down for a semblance of calm- or restraint, which is powerless if arising from fear- is self harming. Sometimes calm, sometimes expressiveness, is appropriate, and people get it wrong all the time- it does not matter as much as I fear it does. It feels like a matter of life and death.
Christina really would have been better using crutches, or a wheelchair, or even a trolley like Porgy.
I am pulling myself forward. I strive to live authentically. Unlike hers, my legs may get stronger.
A man wants to make yet another short film about Quakers, and I fancy taking part. What is my work? Excavating, empowering, expressing this authentic feeling. I strive to live authentically.
What could I say on film to show my work has value?
-By valuing it yourself.
I do not submit to his judgment of me, but I would like to be part of this.
What is trauma? When the being fears dissolution, because it loses trust in its ability to save itself, or faces an unbearable threat from outside.
I start with Tina by talking of things which please me. I was proud of that AM. Without my contribution over three years it would not have been as beautiful as it was. And then I was-
I know the word. It is in my mind, and I started the sentence knowing that was what I would say, but I cannot say it. My inner critic shuts me down. I pull together the ability, and eventually say it-
Now I have to say what was “brave”. That exposes me to Tina’s judgment, and the inner critic projects on her that it will be unfavourable. And the inner critic has to have its cake and eat it: that I imagine the situation might be difficult shows that I am worthless, but even though I am so worthless as to find it difficult, facing it shows no bravery.
“It was an awkward situation,” she says. Yes. Certainly awkward, so I could face it or hide from it. If “brave” is too strong, the word “awkward” will do.
Much of my anger and fear comes from old stuff, and I have been pleased recently by moments that emotion seemed to flow healthily, a reasonable response to current circumstances. That past emotion does me no good now.
-It is judged- by the inner critic?
By me, actually. It does not serve me. It blocks my actions. It stops me meditating.
Do I need to name the trauma? No, she says, but I need to resolve it for my younger self. The younger self is still judged, and that prevents my integration- for I am that child as well as this adult.
And then it strikes me. I judged those feelings at their origin- I was not enabled to accept my anger and fear, because they were wrong. This is toddler or pre-toddler response. Then I suppressed my anger. It curdled, and it still sits in me. That small child remains angry and fearful. And I still judge the anger and fear, because it is relates to old stuff and it gets in my way- that is true, but unhelpful. If I could cease to judge it-
The memories might be so distant that you could not resolve the trauma or say why it is traumatic. A man she worked with brought it into awareness through lucid dreaming, not to relive it but to be with his younger self. He found he had not had a wholesome childhood, played unselfconsciously, or been happy- so he made one. He took the younger self on outings where it was not judged.
Trauma is about self-worth. (I am not worthless, but do not entirely believe that.) All parents give you all the faults they had. They say “Don’t be silly” and you believe that reaction silly, ever after.
After our last meeting, I felt I was not so much going in circles as turning on the spot. This feels much better. Much to do, but some chance of progress. It is not so that I can go back to work, or so that I can make a contribution, but-
so that I might be more effectual in achieving things I find worthwhile.
Oh, and that. I am pleased with that decision. I can frame it in words which judge it. I should not go back on my word. Well, no, I should not. And, I do not run away from things but face problems squarely– again, a virtue of the person of integrity- but these words don’t seem to fit the real situation. Seeing I can accomplish nothing I find of value, I withdraw. That seems to fit much better.
There is lots of value in Western Buddhist stuff. “Non-reactive presence” is just what I am working on at the moment, to be aware of a situation and my emotional response without succumbing to impulsive reactions, but to respond in Love and creativity. I read the term, shorn of any Sanskrit mysticising, and recognise it immediately. It is “foundational”, I read, and want to read more.
The very movement of trauma resolution is from disempowered collapse into an empowered, self-protective response. There’s a worthwhile goal. Meditative interventions which are helpful for a person with a nervous system which has not been impacted by trauma might be counterproductive or even harmful to a person with a trauma history. Ah. Mmm.
I have not been meditating. I have been scared of it. I kneel, I become aware of emotion, I get hurt. I have recently been aware of emotion which felt good, like a healthy reaction to current circumstances, and I want more access to that- so, meditate- Good, even though “painful”, “difficult”, even “bad”, being fear, anger, shame, confusion- Good, because appropriate. Fitting. Responding to how the world is now, not my past.
Awareness of emotion is good. Meditation is good. What kind of “meditative intervention” might have value for one traumatised?
Googling “Meditation after trauma” finds Tara Brach. I hate her. She writes of Radical Acceptance as if it is her trademarked jargon term, a particular wisdom you can buy from her. (I am enjoying my unfairness to her.) She writes of “learning to be her own best friend” and how when she was around twenty she had a harsh inner critic- but not usefully indicating to me how I might do that apart from buying her Wisdom from her. She goes on to the story of her psychotherapy client “Rosalie”, who was severely sexually abused as a child, and beaten when she put up any resistance. She describes some of that abuse, and how it affected Rosalie in her thirties- anorexic and unable to form sexual relationships.
The beating gets to me. The sexual abuse is horrible, but the beating worse, that brings home to me the child’s complete powerlessness which affects me most of all. Now, I think of that powerlessness and feel horror, bewilderment, misery. Pain. It is not simply empathetic. It is mine.
I did not find the article easy to read. And I compare myself- that abuse! I repeat to myself- I may take it in some time- even if anything I have suffered would be nothing to any person with the most minimal resilience, it matters to me.
I “experienced nothing like that”? Well, I am where I am.
Under the utterly brilliant wise psychotherapy of Tara, Rosalie plumbs the depths of her problem and quickly becomes well-adjusted, wise and happy. My mental image of me kicking both of them in the guts and neck repeatedly changes into another of me as a baby on the floor, crying, while they ignore me. Of course I am pretending. There is nothing wrong with me really. I am such a drama queen! There is a brief paragraph in Tara’s account where she acknowledges the rest of her meditation class could benefit: It opened up the possibility of forgiving themselves for not facing their own deep wounds, and it helped them understand that it was natural to seek relief by hiding and defending in the face of unbearable pain. Ah, the therapist’s mantra- Everyone’s screwed, so everyone needs therapy! She quotes Carl Rogers, The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.
Whether this is Tara’s intention or not, I have such an emotional response to this article that I can barely take from it any useful gen on how to improve, myself. I will go back to it.
I get a lot more from Manuel Manotas. For one thing he does not describe what “Roger”‘s trauma was- he was raped repeatedly, he stubbed his toe once, whatever. I feel less judged. And this makes sense to me: Part of doing inner work consists of discovering the right balance between challenging and supporting ourselves; when trauma is present, this point tends to be skewed toward either too much challenge or complete avoidance of the situation that triggers the trauma. Neither approach will help you metabolize and transform traumatic psychological imprints. This is why having someone to help you traverse this difficult territory is key. Manotas’ concept of “titration” makes sense- plunging into trauma retraumatises; controlled bearable exposure, as with titrating reactive substances, helps me control the reaction, metabolise the pain, and heal. My avoidance structures have value. Here, I confront; then I watch telly for hours.
Staying with our experience without trying to change it is at the core of mindfulness meditation practice. Mmm. Yeah. Definitely a good thing, and more than I would really like I have to run away.
The comments are good, too.
A Trump supporter leant me his coat once. I was cold and unprepared, and am grateful. In my almost monochrome Facebook bubble of despondency his elation, increased by the successful bet he laid on the outcome, is a contrast.
I did not sleep well so was awake around 4.30 to hear the Florida result, and as I type the Republicans have taken the Senate, the House and the Electoral College decisively even though not all results were declared. So they will take the Supreme Court, perhaps more partisanly than before. This is worse than being awake to hear Nigel Farage’s first snarl of triumph in June.
Leadership matters. An organisation takes its culture from its leaders: do they inspire creativity, trust, and joyful working together, or do they have security search warehouse workers in case they have stolen goods during their shift? Hearing Mr Trump’s rhetoric for four years will embolden those who speak and write coarsely in imitation of it; and, worse, his demonisation of out-groups will prevent many from growing beyond that false view of the world, when they believe some enemy is the cause of their privation so cannot address their real difficulties. In Britain, I am one of those demonised already, as Mrs May sneers at “Liberal metropolitan elites” who voted against Brexit. I am comfortable enough on my income, but doubt many calling me “elite” would be.
And people’s desire for a leader as saviour will be tested to destruction. Already it has: President Obama did not close Guantanamo, his drones are still killing, and we still need the Black Lives Matter campaign, in England as well as the US. There will be no growth in purchasing power for Mr Trump’s rural and rust-belt supporters from his policies, no reduction in violence against them, no real hope.
The ozone hole is healing, but our dependence on chloro-fluoro-carbons was far less intense than that on hydrocarbons, for fuel warming our planet and for plastics in particles from microscopic to huge, non-biodegradable, polluting the web of interdependent life. The Anthropocene threatens the biosphere, including us, and English-speaking political leaders have concerns, such as economic growth, that they deem more important than mitigating it. Mr Trump’s world view is one of Winners and Losers, a zero-sum game where he may use nuclear weapons.
And- we are human, capable of love and self-sacrifice as well as blind obedience and cruelty, finding joy in compassion and togetherness, our mirror-neurons forcing most of us into empathy. We are made in the image of God, and so are loving, creative, powerful and beautiful. Without a leader as saviour we are thrown on our own resources, to build communities of trust and co-operation in the face of exploitation and oppression. Truthful, compassionate people can show the frightened a better way, for we are alive, and living beings all strive towards health and wholeness, and we are a social species, fulfilled when brought together. A man I did not know well leant me a coat, because we were in a social group together.
A transgenderist and two transsexuals took a canal boat holiday. No, that’s not how we describe people now, but it was how they would have described themselves, then. They were on a lock, water flowing sedately through, boat rising slowly, unhurriably, and people on the tow-path were staring at them. The TSs were getting more and more uncomfortable. So eventually Janett just stared back, and turned her wig around.
Passing through the speed of light-
I said, “I met this hurting woman. I so want to absolve her!”
Well, they would stare. Women on a boat like that would not be wearing skirts, probably not make-up.
-certainly not matching shoes and bags.
I found when in the supermarket in a ball gown I wasn’t stared at, generally.
-Perhaps they were frightened!
You said you were a feminine man. What do you want?
(Oh buggrit, let’s not talk of reverting.) I kindof think my current compromise is OK. I am readably trans.
People stare, people don’t stare. The stare can be a threat, of mockery or violence. Mockery is a threat if it raises echoes inside me, if I think I am laughable, ridiculous or disgusting. It could just be curiosity. We are curious creatures.
I want to be stared at, as actress-provocateur. I could not make sense of this…
I am never enough, I never see in time
What do you want? Where do you want to be in five years’ time? What do you want to have or be or do?
If I don’t feel safe, it is reasonable to want safety. You see I am absolving myself. I have always done my best. If I feel a failure, if it has always
seemed been too difficult for me-
You said, Readably trans. How does that work for you?
Well, it’s where I feel capable of being myself. I don’t shock and provoke. My presentation and people’s first impressions of me do the work I want them to do.
Does that not depend on their level of understanding?
Well, the authoritarian won’t like me as a feminine man, a trans woman, anything. As best he can he perceives who I am. The Liberal will accept, but not be surprised.
I was read in Bewiched as lower class. I was looking at the Guardian, and someone offered me the Express. I said, “I’m left-wing”.
The curious stare bothers us because we fear the other will see what we don’t want them to see because we don’t want to be like that.
This is who I am…
Stop fighting it…
So. Absolution. Stop fighting it. This is who I am, I have always done my best, if I am where I am it is because it has not been as easy as I hoped. “Passing through the speed of light” means stopping fighting it, deciding what I must do now to escape and forcing myself to do it against all my lack of motivation and even revulsion and just accepting. This is where I am. I might then find something I wanted to do, and do it, and I might not. I can’t want it from this side of absolution.
I read this morning in the NYT about procrastination, exactly as I had seen it- the procrastinator is smitten by the perfect picture of that which is yet to be born; he falls under the spell of all that purity and splendor [but]… is fully aware that all that has to go… [He must] be the one who defaces the ideal and brings into the world a precarious copy. Non-inclusive language. Possibly I should not link to something that writes like that, but the writer expresses it as I had. So my attitude changed: No, if I do it, it will just be wrong. Everyone will judge it and find it wanting. However simple it ought to be.
I judge myself harshly.
So stop wanting to do anything. Hello. This is me. Where I am.
Self-acceptance is world-acceptance. What I cannot bear in myself, I cannot bear in the World.
I am a human being who could not see how I really am- like so many; who wanted to be other than I am; who saw how I really am as weakness and wrong. My route to self-acceptance was through transition. It needed all the work I did: hundreds of hours of electrolysis, all that seeking out treatment, including the operation. I now read of Mark, who is “trans non-binary, feminine with a beard”. I can’t say their way has been easier, nor that it is over.
It was my way, where I was. It was the way I took, worked out from who I am and where I had been. It was as it was. It is as it is. I am as I am. I know how much I wanted transition, including the operation. I wanted it more than anything else in the world. So I took it.
It was the way I knew that I could be myself. I don’t know in a world without prescribed gender roles whether it would ever have occurred to me. I can’t say it couldn’t have, and I want it to be open to people if they choose it. And I want people able to transition without needing to risk sterilisation.
Someone who “walks their talk” is not learning or growing, because first we see how we should be, including talking that, which perhaps this is, and then we practise it, and it grows in us, and it is fixed and real and we walk it. Or we walk it but do not know it, and feel fightings and fears within, without. And still walk it. I have been loving and generous. I am glad of it.
As when I became conscious of Spiritual Growth, I still want- not to feel uncomfortable emotions, to have certainty, to have control. I cannot have these things, though I just might fight myself less.
Oh, can I say this?
It is as it is.
I so want to say that. It seems right and behovely. It is hard for you to kick against the goads! Human unhappiness comes from resisting what is; which is not to refuse to change it, but to work with what is, rather than rejecting it, for what is not. To keep trying. To see things as they are, not as they are not.
I think of two poems:
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
What is, is not. You must love
And let loose of the World.
I haven’t gone a swing in years. I never really mastered it. I needed pushed, and did not know how to work it up by myself other than by kicking the ground. I had not until today realised what good exercise it is, kicking forward and leaning back. I almost but not quite got to look over the top bar.
Strange days in London. I came down on Monday to see Art. Walking through the church yard at the East end of St Paul’s I look at the trees and am centred. I am here. A woman in a black dress sits looking round herself looking cynical, yet interested and engaged. A woman in a wedding dress poses amid lights and long-lensed cameras.
I want a book, to swot for Francis Bacon tomorrow, and the Turbine Hall bookseller sends me to the Switch House. I cross the hall to The Tanks, and am overwhelmed- these great columns, the curving staircase, the bare, smooth, naturally-coloured concrete change my way of being in them. They could be oppressive but are liberating: I walk taller. Here are video installations in a dark room with cushions scattered on the floor. The first has confused running and shouting like a demonstration gone wrong. Another room has huge works, possibly musical instruments.
In the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition I see a woman in a pink top hat with Steampunk goggles, pink tights, multicoloured top and electric wheelchair. I tell her how beautifully she is dressed, and she compliments me. We get chatting. Efrat, from Israel, has to dash off to get a train to Lancaster for a conference, but fbfnds me. So we stare at our phones for a bit.
Then a brief time with Bhupen Khakar, gay Indian painter reminiscent of the brightness of Henri Rousseau. In the story of Yayati the winged one and the old man embrace tenderly, their erections straining towards each other. It’s beautiful.
I go to the Members’ room for tea, feeling a bit mind-blown. I chat to the staff member on the door who loves Bhupen Khakar. From there, I see this art work:
I am dreading going into Bank tube station at 6pm. Indeed, I was pressed against the other people in the Central line coach. But before then, going into Cheapside, I have a thought which becomes a haiku:
In every moment
there is a right way to be.
I choose it. Always.
This is a radical rejection of my habit of judging and second-guessing how I respond, which does no-one any good.
On Tuesday I went to Liverpool with H to the Francis Bacon exhibition, and on Wednesday morning walked with her along Regent’s Canal to work. I am at a loose end in the plaza between Kings Cross and St Pancras stations with an hour before my train. Behind me is a geodesic dome in which the European Lung Foundation is giving free lung tests. In front of me is a tall structure like a bird cage, with a swing in it. A security guard has a go on the swing, while his colleague videos him, and I watch how he kicks forward powerfully to work the swing up. He leaps off, laughing. I am second-guessing what I should have said to Sîan this morning, and how the various options might make me appear. These spiritual growth lessons never just take. They all need practice.
I go for my free lung test but am suspicious. I have to exhale into a machine, and do so as it bleeps, trying to get it to bleep one- last- time… I am suspicious, even though they have not asked for my name or email address. I am “normal”: I want to hear more. I want to be normal for a 30 year old man. I interrogate Kersten who is in charge, and outside recruiting, what happens to the data. It is not scientific, she says, because there is no proper sample selection. They are testing in various parts of London, and could record variations. They are offering a FEV test because most people do not have one until they are concerned and ask their doctor.
I sit, and finish off the book Accidental Saints. A woman holds her tiny child on her lap as she swings gently, another pushes her older daughter. A young man swings, all the while taking selfies. So I go to swing. I have been watching, tempted, all this time. I love it, it is exhilarating. After, Kersten asks me how I enjoyed it, and we get chatting. (I am looking round, in case her job requires her; someone else hands out the questionnaires.) It is beautiful. It is a lovely connection. I tell her my haiku, and she says “Of course”. And we second-guess and judge. I tell her there was a young man swinging, but when I say he was taking selfies she comes out with the standard judgment of screen-obsession. Where are you from? I tell her of the beauties of Swanston, including the extension on Bewiched and she imagines the building would be spoiled, though she is delighted when I tell her how lovely it is.
It is a beautiful connection, and she is a lovely positive person, and we are still judging and second-guessing. The adjectives I have for the concrete in the tanks imply ugliness or incompleteness, yet they are as they are intended to be and are beautiful.
My veteran feminist friend had an acid phrase- her first husband had a “colossal sense of entitlement”. He had had no right- an accident of birth had put him very close to a large inheritance, but another had put someone else even closer. It is pointless to resent such things. Naked we come into this world- Bible? Shakespeare? I Timothy, actually- and he has no more right to that inheritance than I have, though it might be galling to be so close. We have no right, but it’s hard to get your head round that sometimes.
I have no right to anything but what I create for myself, and not even that, because I can only create it being part of culture and civilisation. (There’s the argument for taxing the rich in a nutshell: spread the benefits of our culture.) A sense of entitlement is laughable, really: to be under a cloud because of an accident of birth only hurts him. Pitiable. Disgusting, even.
I have huge resentment about where I am and what I possess, and that is no better. I feel I was entitled to more, which is not true, and this only hurts me; at best I rail against the difficulty of the world, which is, well, difficult. So the resentment puts me under a cloud, and my sober realisation that I have only myself to blame and nothing to resent really makes it worse.
Count your blessings, name them one by one…
I wonder if I could picture it as grief. You suffer a loss, and you grieve, and it is a healing process. Eventually you face the world again. We do not berate people for grieving loss, even though we could mock someone for pointless resentment. In this case I would be grieving unconditional love from my mother, and grieving her inability to give it: perhaps if there had been no Second World War, then a great Spiritual Awakening around 1950 we would have been OK. She was hurting too.
In a weekend of rituals, I stood on a chair and the others there enacted my ancestors- 2, 4, 8, 16… 32 born in the mid 19th century, all including my mother with their hurly-burly done (All the quotes today!) all now willing me well. It did not really take. Yet they are all willing me well, in my imagination or mitochondria or the survivals of their thought resonating through the ether, wanting their descendants to do well. They would not want me to feel bad. Grieving lost possibility, I might heal. Seeing myself as grieving rather than resenting, I might judge myself less. The judging only does good if it motivates me.
I had a powerful post-stage high from Greenbelt, and the downer has taken until today; so I may just be seeing things bleakly. Say the affirmation again:
I am Abigail
and I am beautiful, physically and spiritually.
I am gifted, intelligent, articulate, with wit and eloquence
and I use these gifts to bless myself and others.
I do. So I have changed it.