Opposites

I have two desires: to hide away and not be noticed, and to let my Effulgence shine forth that I may be admired. My former friend noticed this years ago, remarking that I wanted to blend into the background in the most eye-catching way possible, and his remarking on it helped me see it. The contradictoriness of it befuddled me, and both desires seemed ridiculous or reprehensible, as there is nothing I need hide from (I lectured myself sternly) and I have nothing particular worth showing off. George- Don’t do that.

If I dislike these desires, I am uncomfortable whether I achieve both or neither. I have been so uncomfortable in my own skin, second-guessing every desire and every act. I am wasting my life, hiding like this; showing off when I have so little to show off appears foolish. And yet both are necessary, to protect myself as I see fit, and to take risks and give service. I could hardly believe it: I value being inconsistent, but how could I be so contradictory? So I half-understood what I wanted, condemned it, and was paralysed.

It felt, with my friend on Saturday, saying it so bluntly, admitting both desires coexist, that this was new. I have both desires, and that they were opposite ceased to be a barrier to seeing them. Either might be fitting, in different circumstances. The self-concept is a particular steady, reasonable human being with particular admirable, consistent qualities- obviously a myth. The organismic self is mercurial, ad hoc, inconsistent, unpredictable.

How on Earth did we evolve the capacity to be conflicted?

This is my spiritual journey- finding who I am, and coming to accept it. I am finding it hard work. It takes my intellect, love and good will. I am reading Etty Hillesum’s diary, and have just read the fabulous entry from 3 July 1942.

I must admit a new insight into my life and find a place for it: what is at stake is our impending destruction and annihilation, we can have no more illusions about that. They are out to destroy us completely, we must accept that and go on from there. She writes of the Nuremberg laws, of the blisters on her feet because she cannot use trams and must walk, how she cannot go out of the city, use any patch of grass which are all labelled as parks; go to non-Jews’ houses, though she broke that law; go to greengrocers, so that she would queue for permitted shops and get nothing. It is ghastly. The long entry ends with a German soldier. I shall have to pray for this German soldier. Out of all those uniforms one has been given a face now. There will be other faces too, in which we shall be able to read something we understand: that German soldiers suffer as well. There are no frontiers between suffering people, and we must pray for them all. Goodnight.

I find life difficult, and have particular sorrows. I do not envy hers. We looked at a couple having coffee together, two men. I wondered if it was a first or second date. He thought it might be a pre-date, the two of them “meeting as friends” but there is so much going on under the surface, now clearly surfacing. Mmm. Gay male couples can be so direct and immediate. Two women can dance around each other, getting no closer, for ages. He wondered if a straight man would notice. Some would, some wouldn’t, I suppose. There are some allies. Around lunchtime, one went to get another coffee, and the other wondered if he might have wine. I restrained the impulse to encourage him.

Etty accepts the fact of her own death, and is enabled to Live: I accept it all as one mighty whole.

Yes, we carry everything within us, God and Heaven and Hell and Earth and Life and Death and all of history. The externals are simply so many props; everything we need is within us. And we have to take everything that comes: the bad with the good, which does not mean we cannot devote our life to curing the bad. But we must know what motives inspire our struggle, and we must begin with ourselves, every day anew.

Wow. It is stunning stuff. I am embracing my own contradictoriness. Both desires are acceptable. I might pursue either and delight in it, escaping being conflicted. Brains are plastic after all. How can I cease to resist myself? I have this spiritual path, and I must follow it.

Consciousness and awareness

Consciousness is overrated. Not because it’s no better than stupor, but because most of my decisions and perceptions are unconscious: not just controlling breathing, digestion and heart rate, but much of how I relate to other people. I wandered round the lakes in November, wondering if there was still any ripe blackberry, but all were shrivelled. A mile or two further on, suddenly my conscious attention zoomed in on a single ripe blackberry, as if I had programmed myself to notice it. Had I consciously inspected all the bushes, I would have taken far longer to find it. I have no idea if it was the only ripe blackberry within my field of vision that morning. Food is a priority for any living creature- but I saw it unconsciously, in a way I cannot imagine doing consciously.

So consciousness might be of those things which unconscious processes bring to it, for a particular kind of attention. I did not pluck or eat the blackberry without conscious awareness, though I find myself picking up a glass to sip at it as others I am talking to do. We are aligned. I don’t think about the right moment to pick up the glass. Desire and action seem one, to my conscious self: the decision is unconscious, consciousness simply notes it. After an encounter, I have thought “I was flirting” when at the time I thought I was “only being friendly”. That incorrect perception might aid me to lie to another. “I was only being friendly,” I would say, wide-eyed, winningly, consciously believing that.

Much of the ways we relate to each other is unconscious. Someone told me he always thought about what he was going to say. I find myself saying things, believing them, wanting to say them, without being conscious of them beforehand. That would seem cold and calculating. We do not know others’ experience. Or, especially in counselling, I know what I want to say but feel inhibited from saying it. I know it is true, and helps understanding, but I can’t get the words out. Consciously, I am conflicted.

Then there is a reverie, when my attention wanders off into nothing, and consciously I am “ruminating”, thinking thoughts I have often thought before. This goes with depression: it is a normal human thing, but depressed, tired or mourning people may do it more. I think something is going on unconsciously at the time, but not clear what it is. I could be simply resting, unaware of anything worth doing or considering. I could be nursing the unacknowledged feelings which depress me.

“Awareness” feels different. I started entering it as a specific state, in spiritual or religious contexts. The monkey mind quietens. If I start thinking about something, it may be new thought rather than the same old recordings. “The world in a grain of sand, or heaven in a wild flower” fits my experience: the shape of individual leaves catches my attention, and everything seems beautiful. I am in a state of delight. At first, I felt mind-blown; then I needed shocked into it; now I can adopt it, though often don’t.

What is that, the choice to be conscious of what is around me, and how does it relate to unconsciousness? It feels close to the idea of “unconscious competence”, as when I drive without thinking about where to put my feet or hands. I just reach down for the gear stick at the right time. I can consider whether my gear is correct, consciously, or allow other brain processes to judge while I hold a conversation.

Yet if I am conscious of a feeling, it is different from suppressing it from consciousness, and sometimes I will be unconscious of an emotion which others can see in me. Mindfulness, directed attention with the intent of finding my own feelings seems worthwhile. If I am not conflicted, then I move in integrity. Or a feeling bursts into consciousness as I burst out crying: it will not be suppressed any more. Or I might be able to acknowledge a feeling, so that it shows no visible sign in my face or body-language.

I feel I am sometimes able to pursue goals unconsciously, without the need for conscious thought. If I act, my neurons and dendrites are working away whether I “think” about it or not. There is just one person within my skin, one animal process.

That psychiatrist said I had a “fragile sense of self”, which may be linked to consciousness or unconsciousness. So I had a desperate need to believe I was “manly” though I did not believe it, and had not seen my dogged persistence, which is a manly characteristic (though one admirable in women too). Fragile, perhaps, because what I wanted to believe of myself did not really fit.

Thinking about Carl Rogers’ ideas of the self-concept and the organismic self, they are entirely different. The self-concept is an idea of self, a coherent set of characteristics one imagines one has. The organismic self, in contrast, is protean, mercurial, able to change and give different responses in different situations; dogged persistence in one, graceful concession in another- if it is not restricted by the need to preserve the self-concept. All this may emerge into consciousness, or not.

The unconscious is my muse. A poem- or Ministry- may come to me almost full formed, though who knows how long it has been forming in parts of the brain I do not perceive working?

It is not a matter of “spiritual states”. I sit in meditation or worship, and pay attention to what I am feeling, or what is around me; and that might not be more “spiritual” than a reverie. I had thought of calling this post “Consciousness v Awareness” but I mature as consciousness, unconsciousness and the attention I “pay” become more in harmony, working together.

Ego-strength

Much of the spiritual literature I read condemns the ego. It seems close to the “Petty-man” that Confucius condemns. For example, on facebook someone quoted John Butler: self-willed but imaginary ego causes all our trouble, [and] ignoring it deprives it of its power. I am reading Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, who gives the ego a kicking:

Only great love and great suffering are strong enough to take away our imperial ego’s protections and open us to authentic experiences of transcendence.

To move beyond our small-minded uniformity, we have to extend ourselves outward, which our egos always find a threat, because it means giving up our separation, superiority, and control.

For Jung, wholeness was not to be confused with any kind of supposed moral perfection, because such moralism is too tied up with ego and denial of the inner weakness that all of us must accept.

So Ego, here, is illusion, possibly akin to the Self-concept of Carl Rogers. The self-concept is the illusory belief in who one is. One of my main drives is to preserve my illusion to myself. It matters less what others think as long as I can affirm it, and the cognitive dissonance from everything that contradicts it can be denied.

Yes, I have read the Analects, but at University. Possibly 2,500 year old Chinese wisdom is too far from my own concepts for me to usefully interpret it. The Superior Man is all-embracing and not partial. The inferior man is partial and not all-embracing. I bring together Rohr, Confucius and Rogers in confusion rather than synthesis.

I am interested to see the phrase ego-strength as a good thing: it promotes resilience. The challenge… for individuals in crisis is to figure out which parts of their identities are already functioning well and which parts are no longer working and need changing. The strong, valuable ego is well-attuned to the World, and flexible enough to stay so.

As far as I understand it, the spiritual path for Rohr is to strip away the illusions and be ones natural self. That is part of community and the biosphere. All that is is Christ’s body, and without ego-illusion we can all be our true part of that body. Ego is only illusion, only fraudulent separateness, the falsity which I cannot convince others of, or even myself, so my terror increases. But there may be people with positive beliefs about themselves, which are affirmed by others, where ego helps them navigate their world.

I was going to write “people whose beliefs about themselves are affirmed by others”, but that is the Law of Attraction, that everyone’s beliefs about themselves are read and believed by others, and affirmed. I have negative beliefs.

I read that one purpose of the beliefs was to help us to lie convincingly. “Of course I’ll help you,” I cry, warmly, and you believe me. Then I am surprised to find myself not helping, or that my “help” does not help- or perhaps I don’t notice.

I met a psychiatrist, and chatted socially of meditation. I talked of old people in care homes, sitting in a room, doing nothing. “They don’t seem unhappy,” he said. Possibly they are resigned. They are kept alive. They might have to dress themselves, or only to co-operate while they are dressed by others. I would rather do things, have greater aims than my continued subsistence. Here am I, writing and thinking. (Analects: To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.)

Would that we could know about these things. Wanting to know is part of my self-concept, perhaps; or it could be real self-

I want to bring the truth into consciousness, and observe what gives me pleasure, what repels me, how I cope with difficulty, how I relate to others, are not necessarily what I thought. On Deutschland 86 I have just seen Tina Fischer who left East Germany because she cannot bear the damage done by its illusions broken by arrest, interrogation, humiliation, false hope, and now being separated from her children at which she breaks down. I felt her break, and felt intense pleasure. The darkness is that dark.

That “consultant psychotherapist” said I had a “fragile sense of self” as if that were a bad thing. Perhaps he meant that my self-belief needed a lot of protection, because it was erroneous, perhaps he meant something I still cannot understand.

Ego as strength, and ego as what holds you back from Life in Christ. Beliefs useful, truthful, or even perhaps both! I may eventually understand, or I may eventually find beliefs I can live with. I find a rigid dichotomy between Consciousness and Awareness, which I may write about.

God, Spirituality, Atheism

Much as I would love either to confirm or deny that God exists, I cannot. I want a winsome Quakerism reaching out to theists and non-theists, and solidarity with both, saying “Look, how beautiful what we have is!” I want to know, express and affirm The Truth. These split me between affirming and denying God.

It seemed to me that I talked of God purely because of my history. I was brought up Episcopalian, so had a child’s belief in God, and a communitarian habit: I went to church because that was what my family and friends did. I recited the creed and sang hymns in a crowd, all together. I was ashamed when I did not speak up against expressed atheism, and sometimes I did. When my partner strongly asserted that Quakers should be Christian, and a Friend in my Meeting said she was non-theist, I felt a long, slow withdrawal of belief over about six months: against my own interests and inclination, I no longer believe in God. Then, the day after the Hoffman Process, when one is open and off-balance, I went into a church and felt forced to my knees by the holiness of the place.

I thought, it is a separation between my rational and emotional selves. Rationally, I assent to Professor Brian Cox’s idea: if “spirit” affected baryonic matter, it would have been detected by CERN. (A wicked and corrupt generation has asked for a sign- we cannot demand proofs of God). Emotionally, I am a primate, an animal in a social species, incapable of independence and needing relationship. But my “rational self” is emotional, and my “emotional self” is rational. And, can I use the word “God” if I wish to be truthful, not deluding Theists into imagining I believed what they believed?

So I wondered, was it a maturing understanding of God? From a literal belief in a God like that of the Sistine Chapel, in his pink shirt, I had a young-adult assertion of an idea of God, outside the Universe and its creator. “Before the Big Bang God lit the blue touchpaper, and advanced”, I wrote. God with us. Utterly distressed by life, I prayed “What the Fuck are you playing at?” So God meant different things at different times, in theology of knowing, positive assertions about God and unknowing, negative ones; in the prayer for a parking space when I was late and the wordless being together in worship.

Opposites: God the Creator and Sustainer of the World, dying on a cross.

God is, and God is not.

I want to make sense, to have a coherent understanding of Reality, and I cannot. And I want to communicate in words. There is the silent being with another, where we might share our Humanity, and that is only Now. So I want control, and safety, and attain it through understanding with words. In words, we may agree, saying the Creed together as we do each week, or coming to a joint understanding which I know we both hold and will hold. So I know I will be safe.

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast brought forth praise.
Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

Or, should I simply assert atheism? If I believe Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins and Bertrand Russell, there is no more a God than a teapot orbiting Jupiter. When I use words in a rational orderly way- rather than in poetry or paradox- I am defenceless against them.

And I wonder if using the word God is cowardice (as I am always quick to judge my motives): I seek to blend in, not cause offence. I believe in God, I say, to groups where that will be winsome, and anyway I am not lying as the words have so many different meanings- even “belief” may mean trust or faith or relationship rather than an Enlightenment concept of a quasi-scientific theory. Perhaps it is just that I am hopelessly eirenic, wanting to smooth away conflict with everyone even when they are irreconcilable, like Bunyan’s Pliable.

Or I could take refuge in “Spirituality”: a series of activities, such as meditation, aware presence, Meeting for Worship including Meeting for Church Affairs, which more or less work. One may believe in the practice without believing in the theory, and we multiply words, the inner light, that of God, and for me as atheist the Unconscious.

Richard Rohr says complete wholeness is “the coincidence of opposites”. God is, and God is not. I decided I was opposites around the time of transition, male and female, but also Scots and English, loving countryside and conurbation, rational at home in statutory interpretation and relational with clients. Still I want certainty, and use words as a crutch, to weave a web of understanding around an uncertain world.

Sitting wordlessly in relationship with a God I cannot understand or manipulate, knowing I will die repeatedly as I have already died, can I cast away that crutch?

Aphantasia: having no mind’s eye

I have no mind’s eye. I can’t visualise things in memory or imagination.  This blog is about the experience of being trans, where some people find me viscerally disgusting and others are fomenting fear and anger against people like me. And still, it is alienating to hear people talk about how strange people like that (aphantasiac) are. It is a good thing that All in the Mind on Radio 4 should report on it, to help people understand others’ differences, but I now feel frustrated and sad- while also delighted to hear the voices of people who share this. I am here! Hominem scias!

On the programme someone commented It’s “only been known about for four years”. Well, I have known about it all my life. I have had to imagine what a mind’s eye is like, which I think is a greater leap of- the word is image-ination, but I can imagine, I assure you. I have told people about it, and they have not understood. I hate the word “Aphantasia”- I googled “phantasia meaning” and find the Greek word is usually translated “imagination”.

I have always avoided painting and drawing as much as possible, because I cannot imagine an image before committing it to paper. Instead I write verse: here I do not conjure up images, but sensuous experience. Does it do anything for you? My family as animals together, I wrote: you might create a picture, but for me it is a sense of togetherness unmediated by words, like a hug.

Unmediated by words-

I am good with words. Dysphasia is as frightening to me as blindness. On Radio 4 people like me at a conference reported my own experiences. One reads novels. Her friend said that was like a movie playing in his head, and she thought that sounded really cool, but for her it is just the words. Like an audiobook, the words play in my head. I don’t know if an audiobook conjures images for you, but for me it is just the sound of the words. Yet I know Dorothea Brooke and Elizabeth Bennett like real people- I have no idea what they look like, but know what they feel and desire. I had that conversation with my father as a child. He knew how many novels I read, but still could not understand how I could experience them without visualisation, and my impression now is of him finding this weird and sad.

So, letting words go, in meditation and immediate experience, is a way of touching emotion directly, inner experience as well as outer perception. I have done lots of guided visualisations too, and can use them to access the unconscious, just not in pictures.

On the radio, they said it is hard to come up with measurements so “we can only really ask people what their experience is”. Um. When I close my eyes, I see dark- or bright light shining through my eyelids. It makes sense to me that there might be gradations of this experience, or levels of skill in visualisation. Brain activity does not necessarily correlate to conscious experience. I do not know my unconscious experience, without hard work in excavation, or it just coming to mind.

And I have tried to visualise something: on the radio a CGI artist was asked to visualise a sphere, I tried a beach, the sea, the sky- two straightish lines, three colours. Like him I tried it for a week without success.

This experience blew my mind at the time, and is still intensely memorable. As it means so much to me, it might delude a researcher into thinking my usual experience different. I was driving home through the city, and I thought I could go — or I could go — . Not by Manchester Road or Featherstall Road, but-

I was thinking without words, and that was utterly strange to me. I only thought in words. I fantasised, planned, remembered in words. It wasn’t like seeing, really, but when I read of blind-sight, not seeing an image but knowing what is there, when someone has a healthy eye and optic nerve but brain damage causing blindness, it seemed it was like that. I know what’s there. I don’t see it. In dreams, I know what’s there- I don’t remember seeing anything, though I suppose I might. A nightmare must be more terrifying if like a movie. I know how the bookshelves are arranged in the living room. I know the colour of my Oware board, and its curve.

I have a good mind’s ear. Elgar could look at a score and hear an orchestra in his head. I can hear an orchestra playing a piece I know, and sight-sing a short, single-line phrase. I tried to imagine something I had not heard- a solo violin playing the National Anthem- and found this difficult, though having done it I can repeat the exercise. Like as if I have laid down a memory and can replay it.

On All in the Mind Claudia Hammond, who I am sure is more empathetic than that, played the presenter’s game of being the ordinary person, saying this is all a bit strange isn’t it. Her guest Catherine Loveday, a cognitive neuroscientist from Uni of Westminster, explained rather well:

For most of us, remembering is so wrapped up in the visual experience that it’s hard to imagine how someone can remember if they’re not visualising something but obviously people can, we know that congenitally blind people can still have memories, and if I think back to my holiday in Wales I can still have lots of other memories other than the visual thing, I can think about what I was smelling, what I was thinking about, what I was hearing and saying all of that comes back so we can still have memories without visual elements to them but about a third of people who have aphantasia also have significant memory problems.

And still it’s from the point of view of the Normal person. That Normal person may understand, though feel vaguely pitying. I was really excited to hear the programme trailed- at last! The experience of people like me! I still feel that delight, in hearing my fellow aphantasiacs, though I wish it did not need mediated through the perspective of the Normals- people who are Normal in that way, at least.

I would like a mind’s eye. It would be great to play a movie in my head. I am sure I would still retain all the ways of thinking, imagining and remembering that I have now. Possibly I have developed them because of the lack, but possibly I would have developed them anyway.

Hominem scias, I wrote, as if you would understand it, in order to alienate you if you don’t, so you may get something of the feeling I had listening. It is from the motto of the Royal Life Saving Society, Quemcumque miserum videris, hominem scias: whomsoever you see in distress, recognise in him (sic) a fellow man (sic). Educated people may do a bit of Latin, but I would not expect anyone to read the phrase if they did not know it, as I could not myself.

Trauma in Meeting

How can we accommodate deep hurt in Meeting? My Friend’s question on a facebook thread cuts to the heart of who we are and what we do, as Quakers, in our worship and in our communities.

The heart of who we are is our worship together. We sit together, opened up to God and turned towards the Light. “When two or three are gathered together I am with them.” Someone may be moved to speak, which we hope is the leading of the Spirit, but recognise may be partly from ego. It may immediately strike a chord with another worshipper, or they may need to work with it to find that of God in it. Vibrant conversation may go on after Meeting, teasing out the meaning of ministry and reconciling differing views.

We recognise that we are all growing in God. We are called, justified, glorified. We talk of spiritual growth, or spiritual journeys, though the lessons we learn on them are in a different order for each person. Some people drawn to us will be newly conscious of the journey, and some in our Meetings have a life-long experience of growing in God, living out the Love of God in their actions and relationships. We all have blind spots, hurts, scars, and moments of tiredness when we do what we might regret. We are all made in the image of God, loving, creative, powerful and beautiful.

We appoint elders to take care of the Worship, to foster helpful vocal ministry and sometimes restrain unsuitable ministry, and to uphold the Meeting, though all present are responsible for the meeting.

And we get it wrong. Accepting what is involves sloughing off a great deal of expectation. I find myself going back to my old habits of expectation continually. Words fail: there is only the situation, and me in the situation, and when with words I seek to classify possibilities I only approximate them; and it seems they are two sides of the same coin, to be irritated by what is and to see a way of improving it, or at least something worth trying. Serenity, courage, wisdom is always a difficult balance. Love and forgiveness are continually necessary.

Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another.

Here we find sorrow and joy, difficulty and overcoming, creativity and achievement. If the encounter with God affects us, our petty ego self, self-concept, pretence, gets stripped away, and there is the full human being, God within shining through, Glorified.

I don’t know about you, but I have good days and bad days. We each need the love, support and help of the whole Meeting.

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So what happens with trauma? We are all hurt, but someone comes with deep hurt to the Meeting, which we find hard to-

Everyone needs support from the meeting, and generally once we work out what support is needed we are happy to give it. A baby screaming is something else, but a baby chuntering and gurgling is beautiful in a meeting. We do not expect the child to be quiet and are delighted to support the parents and have them among us- if we have flowers on our table, how much lovelier are babies! We build ramps, and install hearing loops.

Sometimes it is more difficult. A Friend found it helped to centre down to knit. The movement of the hands quiets the mind. And others thought this was inappropriate for Meeting. And then there is a discomfort, which needs to be handled. If the Friend who objects to the knitting tolerates it, but is still irritated, they might, out of a belief in their own Spiritual Maturity, suppress the irritation and imagine they were in Acceptance; or they might live with their distress, not wanting to express it and show their own vulnerability and need; then they can hold it no longer, and burst out in anger. Or someone knits, and others whisper together about it.

I have had to leave the Meeting occasionally. I have needed a glass of water to calm a coughing fit. Or I have felt great distress and needed to pace it out in the garden. We are one context where quaking is seen as a sign of healthy humanity, rather than mental illness, but there are limits. My neighbour offered me her hand, and I clutched at it, then regained calm. We are dealing with deep matters. It is all blessing, but sometimes it does not immediately feel that way. There is unknowing, when something is taking time to work out rather than being quickly resolved.

Someone cries quietly in the Meeting. This can be disturbing. The human instinct is to give some consolation, but to expect that will stop the crying.

These are matters of Inclusion and diversity. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Our weaknesses need support so our strengths can flourish and serve.

...

With trauma, a little consolation will not assuage it. The hurt is too deep. Someone might bring pain and anger to Meeting, week after week. What can a Friend do?

Don’t try to bear another’s burdens on your own. It’s not possible unless you are a bodhisattva. Anger must be acceptable in Meeting, or the whole human being is not acceptable. We become trapped in our petty selves, trying to appear acceptable. I feel we need a space for anger and pain to be expressed and heard, not necessarily during worship.

Recognise and state your own needs. Speak them before they become unbearable. Ask the help of the traumatised person. This is a radical statement of Equality, of each person having responsibility for the meeting. There is a problem. How may we deal with it, together? Vulnerability is difficult- the petty-self cannot bear it.

Some may feel a need for rules, and boundaries. I don’t like them. I don’t believe in freeloaders. I became aware that I was on a spiritual path, and one of my first lessons in that awesome month was that all people are doing our best, in difficult circumstances. (If you disagree, talking about it would be our way of showing respect to each other’s insight, trust in the process, and belief we might come to a better understanding together.) Rules are a shortcut when we cannot do any better, a quick way of assigning blame. But we are human beings, in infinitely varied situations, which do not fit words, or rules, closely enough.

What I might want to say to Elders

I want to be valued. My gifts, service and essential worth deserve to be valued.

I know it is not good to boast, or speak as a fool, and three times at Greenbelt I organised a valuable outreach event which now, apparently, you can’t. As clerk I opened the space for the group to come to decisions all could accept, after the previous clerk resigned membership having tried to force his own decisions through. I am good with words, as demonstrated by my articles in the Friend and my ministry affecting YM minutes. So I have made a valuable contribution at gatherings of Quakers, on Outreach, on Quaker Life, on LGBT, and on Inclusion.

I want your good, and I dare to imagine that local and area Quaker meetings would be better with me in them. I would like a reconciliation process, involving Friends from outside the AM, to see if I might be enabled to contribute to my meeting with my presence, my Love, articulacy, expressiveness, intellect and other gifts.

So I have to address the difficulties with including me. Some have been explained to me, and some have not. I might do that better face to face than in a letter. The word “dangerous” applied to me shows the strength of feeling, and I do not want to deny that feeling. Nor do I demand that it be articulated and justified; but I feel that our human relationships might be healed, so that the feeling was less strong. The Spirit helps us in our weakness. Andrew does not think anyone fears physical violence from me; possibly it is that you find me doctrinaire or overbearing. Possibly it is discomfiting that I present female and people understand courtesy, or something, to require that I be seen as such, while I behave in such mannish ways. Does my poverty affect how you see me?

Andrew wrote, after reading this, “I was speaking on my own account and not presuming the feelings of others”.

There are diversity and inclusion issues around my exclusion. The YM is considering Inclusion, and this process could be a valuable part of that.

I feel that seeing each other more clearly and admitting our discomfiture deepens community. So a process with the possible outcome of including me again might be good, in many different ways.

I might also be seen as a problem because of the depth of my distress and damage. That is for me to deal with. My meetings have given me a great deal of support, and considering how to be with such distress may be creative and healing. I feel I can contribute to the consideration. How can we be with each others’ pain? How can we be with the whole human being, gift and pain, discernment and blind spots, strength and vulnerability?

Part of the difficulty of committing to such a process, for you, could be concern that you had to justify your decision to exclude me. So perhaps I should justify it. After other incidents, and warnings, I had shouted angrily at your Friend, whom you value. You have the responsibility to work for the good of the meeting, which you sought when you made the decision. However you reassured me that the decision did not immediately affect my membership of the AM, so the question arises, what to do next. I would like to be part of the process of decision. You asked me not to attend, but did not state how long that might apply. These are issues which could fruitfully be addressed.

You might wonder if I fully understand the gravity of my wrongful conduct over the last eight years, how it has affected others, or how problematic that makes my attending meeting. Perhaps I don’t, and that would have to be considered during the process. I doubt I could convince you that I did, by enumerating incidents in a letter. What can I say? I know all that stuff matters. I might not understand quite how much. I may have learned from it, though too slowly. Quakers say, In worship together we can find the assurance of God’s love and the strength to go on with renewed courage. I would like to try that with you.

This is heavy and difficult. I don’t want to minimise the difficulty when I express my desire to engage with it. I want to be valued, and that is for me to address. I am hurt deeply, and it is for me to heal myself. I don’t want vindication, but community. I feel we might bless ourselves and others in a reconciliation process.

Being discombobulated

The doctor makes me feel ill.

Like the battle between trans and terf, the battle between biblical literalists and atheist rationalists continues on the blogs. I blog to get things clear in my mind, and having dismissed creationism to my satisfaction I have moved on. You can’t win against them: they seem happy to continue asserting their rubbish, backed by their tight communities of Evangelicals. They twist and distort. So the truth-teller comments, and they respond in an arrogant way, a beautiful example being the assertion that trilobite fossils offer at least as much proof for the creation/flood scenario as the old age earth cosmology.

I remain proud of this comment: The more I interact with you, Tim, the more I see how pitiable you are. How much more beautiful my world is! I hear words like biostratigraphy or palaeothermometry, and learn what they mean, and think- How wonderful! How beautiful! People are finding these things out! And you think, They must be wrong. It is all rubbish. Here is a dispute and there is an inconsistency, and all scientists are FOOLS!

How much more beautiful my Bible is! My Bible has story, and metaphor, and poetry, and poetic imagery, and allusion. Your Bible has a series of propositions, more or less ridiculous, which you have to Believe. My Bible leads me to God, and your Bible mires you in lies.

And my Christian argument against creationism: God created people in God’s image, loving, creative, powerful, beautiful, and scientists seek understanding, assessing the evidence. From presuppositions of a young Earth and a Flood, geologists in the 18th century established evidence of an old Earth, and how the Flood could not have created the strata visible all over the world. They seek the truth. That academic science, involving millions of people, should have produced such a detailed account of the Earth’s history, continually being refined, is one of the wonders of God’s creation. They do so based on evidence in the Earth’s rocks, as astronomers observe electromagnetic radiation falling on the Earth and its satellites, and geneticists, genomes. A God who created all this evidence to delude God’s people would be a monster, creating a stumbling block that uses our good qualities, curiosity and commitment to truth, against us. Alternatively, a God who allowed Satan to deceive us in that way would not deserve my worship. My God does not send ane to Heaven and ten to Hell.

This towering achievement of humanity is airily dismissed. Here that doctor uses the diversity in the oldest evidence of the Cambrian explosion to argue for creation. Schizochroal eyes are indeed complex. But earlier life has been found, in the Ediacaran biota, too soft to create fossils without exceptional conditions. As life began to move on legs and fins, and detect light and sound, an evolutionary arms race began between predators and prey creating the Cambrian explosion. Richard Dawkins explains the evolution of eyes. Isaiah quoted by Matthew describes the person who would dismiss that explanation.

And yet this Emergency Room physician dismisses all this evidence, all this analysis, as “Arrogant, prideful and foolish”. He turns his back on the truth. Challenge him, and he will answer you. Anyone wanting to find the truth, or deal with argument fairly, has an impossible disadvantage- for I want to show him the wonders of God’s creation. Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself. Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes. He is a blind guide.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.

The cascade of wicked falsity makes me feel ill. He is a physician! He writes in grammatical sentences. I dare to hope that Christians can seek truth together, in love, and his torrent of gibberish, told with a straight face, belies that. I get stronger, though. Yes, people are trapped in delusion, and try to delude others, but also some seek truth, and we can approach it if we are committed to it. When starting this blog I wanted to analyse why I find an arrogant series of assertions, stated as if the speaker believed them but clearly untrue, was so disorientating to me. It is like motion sickness. And I can’t. Why do I find it so unpleasant? I just do.

One of my exercises is the Agreement Challenge: what can you value in something you disagree with? Violet introduced me to his blog, this post. So I was glad to be introduced to this article on how the value of scientific evidence is a philosophical question rather than a scientific one. Indeed. I like Violet’s prescriptions for education, and am sad I even considered anything that physician said.

There is a limit to the value of pointing out the foolishness of fools. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, the way is to promote birth control and education on human relationships and consent. US Republicans oppose this. We like to think rationality will prevail, but they’re not listening!

I am less discombobulated than I was by such vileness. Yesterday, at a conference I was discombobulated in a completely different way: I glimpsed that if I could better understand what these speakers were saying, perhaps reading the paper rather than hearing it, my understanding of the World would be enriched. Good advice: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. I will spend less time worried about wicked rubbish!

What I probably don’t want to write to elders

The question is, can you trust me. The answer may be No.

If I had wanted to be on time for this meeting I would not have stopped at the parish church to spend some time with God. One likes to talk to ones equals occasionally. I was kneeling at the altar rail, looking at the symbols of death, a plain wooden cross, and power. About one in four of the floor tiles around the communion table have little heraldic lions.

I probably don’t want to talk of quantum superposition, but even if I don’t understand it my idea of it makes a good metaphor. Until you measure them, electrons have several different positions, momentums, and spins, at the same time. Only when they are measured do they have one particular position. The idea of an atom like a solar system with electrons orbiting a nucleus is inaccurate.

In the same way, we look at each other, and evaluate. I look a bit rueful. Can you trust me? It could go either way. If we use words too soon, Continue reading

Expressing emotions, as a trans woman

If you transition male to female, and take hormones, the sensation of your emotions becomes more immediate, more demanding. They impinge on you.

I was not actually crying, but thinking that if I do start to cry I won’t fight it, I’ll just let myself cry. Fighting it is the problem. Then I thought, if they asked, “Is there anything you need, Clare?” I would say, I might start to cry, and if I do don’t worry about it. I get emotional. It’s not a bad thing.

She told me, You have a remarkably calm presence most of the time. You are one of the few serene people I have ever encountered. And there’s a very sharp contrast.

I answered the bit about “serenity”. It’s the acceptance, isn’t it. I practise acceptance. I’m getting quite good at it.

-The majority of human beings are profoundly afraid of distress.

Elders told me my distress was a problem, and I thought, how can I not be distressed? (But perhaps I could prevent it from being visible.)

-It’s that we’re British.

What I’m saying is quite Hippy, really, hippy commune kind of stuff. Let it all hang out, I said: and then she just shut me down, started talking about a TV programme she liked, it had a hippy in it but really was not relevant. But- you’re a counsellor! You are supposed to work with this kind of thing! Hello! I’m Clare! I am emotional! That is, I have emotions like any human being.

All women have this problem. We talk about pre-menstrual tension. It starts in the teens. And to be taken seriously, in Britain at least, they have to appear calm. Perhaps also in US cities: being demonstrative or emotional makes a woman appear unserious, so that her ideas are not heard. Or simply being perceived as a woman therefore emotional, so that she has to cultivate that “serious” demeanour. Hannah Bardell could not come out as lesbian until her thirties, about six years ago.

Men can get rowdy when drunk, and alcohol weakens inhibitions. I don’t like men drunk.

How can I deal with my feelings in society? She had an Italian neighbour who was demonstrative: the energy, the effervescence, the sheer whirliness of that person was there, all the time. High, low, angry, you know, everything was marvellous or everything was shit, she was very angry or she was very upset, just constant.

-You have this calm, serene peace, and then it highlights your distress or passion in sharp relief, and that is what people perceive as “dangerous”. The trouble with this is, she has expressed the matter very positively, and if you call someone “dangerous” you might express it less positively.

Actually I think the dangerous part is the repression. I shove my feelings down below consciousness, and when they erupt (what a dangerous-sounding word) they have all the energy of that repression behind them, like a Jack-in-the-box.

I am dealing with my repression. On Monday I was sitting out in the gorgeous sunshine. The air was a bit chilly but there was almost no cloud. I was meditating for about half an hour, conscious of the birds, and what I was feeling came into my consciousness through allusion, through stories. I found myself thinking about X, and then thought, Oh! I am sad. As the feeling was acknowledged the story changed, and I found another feeling.

You transition, you start taking hormones, and your emotions become sharper and more demanding, yet it is not acceptable to express them and you have to deal with it.

For me, this is the heart of my spiritual growth at the moment, being conscious of my own feelings, my own inner guide, so that I perceive where I am and can respond to it rather than using failed responses designed to keep up appearances. That means reducing the repression. It is a tricky tightrope. I have been appearing calm by repressing feeling. I want to feel the feeling, which can mean appearing emotional, so that I get comfortable with feeling and can appear calm again.

I also want to appear intense. My intensity can feel threatening to some people. Intensity is liberating. Do not hide your light under a bushel. You have to be careful with it, though.

I was sitting in that office thinking of offices I have known. Katie mentioned “hot-desking” and I was back in the chaos of July 2006, not enough desks or computers, and the rest of that chaos. I was back in my terror. I have been broken, repeatedly, so I withdrew, and now I want to rejoin the human race.

And with Tina, she was always shutting me down. I say I want to be emotional, and she says it’s not British. I say I want to be intense, to dance like everyone’s watching, and inspire them to do the same. She says people perceive it as out of control.

-Control’s unbearable! I can’t do control! The control is why I broke! I value myself too much to control myself now. Possibly I might come out the other end and be more aware of when I am shining, but shining is Good! It’s me! Honest, truthful, living my integrity! My parents could not stand my intensity, and that is why it is still a problem. And Repression is the problem, a child’s way of dealing with the intensity or a low status way of dealing with it, don’t come to the alpha-male’s attention. Women got called “hysterical” and still are punished for being “emotional”. That’s what you wanted, right? To be treated as a woman?

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