Motivation II

I continue to get to know myself as I might get to know another, by observing myself. I know lots of sensible stuff-

-Strike when the iron’s hot
-A stitch in time saves nine

I would tell you that it is good to start a task plenty of time before it needs to be completed. This is obvious. I would brook no argument. Except when it comes to it, often I don’t. This morning, I knew I had to do something, and thought, ah, I will cycle to Swanston for a food shop first. Then I thought, if I do that I will be too tired in the afternoon, and put it off until the evening; then I will be too tired in the evening, and put it off until the following day. And I also have leaflets to deliver for Beth Miller, the plucky Labour candidate standing against the nasty Nationalist, liar and destroyer of the public services. I will do all I can against the Tories. I got the leaflets yesterday.

There is never a great deal on my to-do list, but I still manage to not do it. Even, my teeth feel a bit yuck, but I do not clean them. I observe dirt on the pad when I cleanse, but do not cleanse. My living room is untidy. (I leafleted for the local elections last week, and went round to the candidate’s house. We chatted in her yard, but she did not want me to come in as her house was a mess. It may be fairly common, people tidying for ten minutes before someone else arrives, except in my case where the place is too untidy for ten minutes to do.)

There is that task which I must complete even though it may not do any good. I am terrified. Homelessness is not completely impossible. I have not started it. I thought, ten days ago, that buying the CPAG Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook might be a good idea, and today I phoned them to order it, a week after I could have done. I am glad I did it today. The sense of foreboding is fended off a little by doing something about the threat.

I thought also of speaking to the GP. Am I in any sense “ill”? I lack motivation, I am happy enough watching TV all afternoon, I cannot see a better way of looking after myself than what I do. Do I lack energy, am I traumatised, should I take anti-depressants or counselling? I thought of it but have not arranged it.

And, on Sunday, I thought of taking a photograph to advertise the Quaker meeting for the Greenbelt festival. I did it without any care, because- well, better not say in public. Even though x will make it almost unusable, I could still have taken more care over it to make it less bad. I took ten and looked at them and thought they are all dreadful, worse because I did not y.

Or, I was so unhappy at x I stopped caring or thinking of it. Well, that one is probably the best.

I know how I respond; how I do not do something because I must do something else first, except the something else never gets done. Well, this time I sent the email about Greenbelt before going off to Swanston. I just did. I know the wisdom, and I know myself, and I defied my own expectation and did the sensible thing. I do sometimes. Or, I might be getting better. There may be hope for me yet.

St Mary the Virgin, Burton Latimer

The church has a “Church Open” sign as I cycle past, so I pop in, and find the 13th century wall paintings. There was a cult of St Catherine here then.

Catherine challenged the pagan emperor Maxentius for his persecution of Christians. He brought the best philosophers to argue with her, but she refuted them all. He proposed marriage, but she declared herself espoused to Christ. Then he killed her. Angels carried her body to Mount Sinai, where her hair still grew and healing oil flowed from her body.

These pictures were covered in layers of limewash. It is amazing they have survived. They were restored in the 1970s. There has been a church here since the middle ages.

I have light conversation- mostly things we can agree on- with the woman who staffs the church on Sunday afternoons when it is open. We don’t know much about church architecture, but we know those arches further from the altar are Romanesque, those Gothic. We tend to like the altar brought forward West of the choir, so that the priest celebrates facing the congregation. She likes the 1662 rite, loving the richness and familiarity of the language she grew up with. You don’t have to try to understand what the prayer is saying, just dwell on aspects of it.

The Twelve Tribes of Israel date from 1600. I am surprised that the church would be so high as to have that decoration then. This was such a wealthy area, with so much to spend adorning its churches.

There is a tiny face in the bottom corner of one of the St Catherine paintings. Is it later? It is in Mediaeval form, but very clear.

The Abolition of Man

As spending too much time on social media, or worse, clicking back and forth between sites for an elusive dopamine hit- has anyone liked my comment in The Guardian?- makes presence, stillness or spiritual awareness less likely, yesterday I decided to put my computer away all afternoon, and almost succeeded. Hanging out my washing, I got chatting with the lad from upstairs. He has been at the Outdoor Centre for over six years. In the winter, they concentrate on personal development, and he went whitewater rafting in Scotland, but now the centre is getting busy, and the teenagers have a bit of fun on our river, which meanders through a broad valley of lakes and ponds. He has always analysed his options for pros and cons, he tells me. We talked of Heaven and Hell. He believes in both, and is strongly Evangelical: he has a literal belief in the Day of Judgment after Death. “We will all face judgment,” he said, earnestly. I find him quite non-judgmental of my trans status: though I was wigless, just to do housework, I did not feel judged, and so felt reassured and comfortable. We looked up at the red kites circling overhead.

I suggested he read “The Great Divorce”, CS Lewis’s account of people from Hell taking a day-trip to Heaven. Most of them prefer their illusions, and go back down. He thinks Divorce a strange word for Lewis to use, and I explain it is a reference to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. I lend him my large single volume of several of Lewis’s works, which has sat unread on my bookshelves for years. He is not a great reader, he says, but his parents liked The Screwtape Letters. My spirituality has changed since I read a lot of Lewis. I decided to read The Abolition of Man, which I have in paperback, to re-evaluate him. I would read it to try and find something I valued in it.

It comes with strong recommendation. A quote on the back says if he were to suggest a book which everyone should read apart from the Bible, Walter Hooper would say The Abolition of Man. He writes, If any book is able to save us from future excesses of folly or evil, it is this book. I would read it to seek value in it.

I disagree with the first of three lectures, Men without Chests, in which Lewis criticises an English textbook. Coleridge heard two tourists at a waterfall, and endorsed the first’s judgment of it as “sublime” but rejected the second’s, “pretty”. The textbook says both are not a judgment about the waterfall, only the speaker’s feelings. I would agree. Everything is sublime, separate from me and the human world, simply and only of itself- a waterfall, a star, a pebble, Blake’s clod of clay. It is valuable to cultivate a sense of the sublime, though, and the most impressive things- such as the waterfall- are a good start. If something has the grandeur to remind me of sublimity, this concerns internal mental states, from cultural associations, my past experiences, my understanding and my emotional responses. And the waterfall is pretty: spray may create rainbows, or the water may glisten in the sun. It seems to me Lewis is attacking phenomenology, mocking what he does not understand; at least, he makes no attempt to explain it, merely attacking an attempt to explain some part of its insights to children.

Lewis quotes Aristotle: the aim of education is to make the youth like and dislike what he ought. Lewis’ example is Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, which in my own English class I learned to call that old lie. Lewis was writing 25 years after Owen’s poem. Sending men to die or kill is monstrous, especially in the first world war. He takes a conservative position that there might be some agreement on what men should value; I say that if we allow people to love what we love, society benefits. At least I agree that it is a good thing to see the waterfall as sublime, but Lewis and I praise and disparage different things, and I am tempted to say I know better than he, or at least that my concept of diverse systems of value better describes real life, and has more value, than his single, allegedly objective, system. Rather than a common understanding of what is good and valuable, I advocate a continuous ferment of discussion, learning better what to value. Lewis’ common understanding would justify colonialism, the White Man’s Burden of civilising lesser races.

So I was surprised that the book is still in print, and there is a book of essays about it, Contemporary Perspectives. I must not simply dismiss the book, but find value in it if I may- for then Lewis and I can communicate from our different positions, conservative or progressive. I claim to be the one who values understanding of other perspectives.

 

I know

I know I am a person of integrity.

This came to me this morning. With a minute or two before I want to leave for the Quaker meeting, I felt moved to go into the living room, then to affirm myself before the mirror. I like myself. Then, I know myself.

Then

I – know
I know

I know
I know.
I know.
I know.
I am a person of integrity.

This is lovely. I can tell the truth. I can know things in two ways, it seems, in words, for I have a great gift in the precise use of words, and by feeling- by knowledge of the heart in silence. This unites the two: what I know in my heart, I put into words; and that is Ministry.

I have a lovely ride there, with light following winds and occasional hazy sunshine, and I am a person of integrity running in my mind. I get to meeting early, chat for a bit, then settle into worship. This is a good place, and I am nervous, and self-protecting, and that is alright; and it is in my mind there, too- I am a person of integrity.

We are still discussing Quaker Faith and Practice, chapter 22 this week. What difference do we make in the world? Did you have a dream of doing some great healing work? My healing work is simply and entirely on myself, right now, I say.

(Oh, shall I say it? Saying it is frightening. I close my eyes so I cannot see them, and unprompted my voice goes softer and very high-

I am a person of integrity.

Someone I don’t think I met before looks at me- appreciatively? Evaluatingly?- and says, “How wonderful, to know that and be able to say it!” I hold her gaze for a moment, then say, laughing, “How cool is that?” And I am in self-protection mode, again, not realising others will accept what I say, trying to find a way to chivvy them along- and it does not work on her, I feel, and she still finds my statement wonderful. I note that others, who may have accomplished more than I, express uncertainty or even perhaps dissatisfaction with the good they have accomplished, it is only a little, and I am glad to be proud of my own achievement here. It is a real achievement.

I am a person of integrity.

not knowing

He recognised the anger and angst that Abigail suffered and fervently hoped that she would be able to love herself. Perhaps he will pray for me. I experienced him, despite his protestations, as hostile, but it is bracing to see oursels as ithers see us.

His career has been successful, and it seems to me our gifts are opposite: he is not terribly bright, though good-hearted, and has been enabled to prosper by self-belief arising from a privileged upbringing. Actually, I make progress on loving myself. I see, intellectually, that I am lovable, and though I more often am frustrated with myself I see the point of nurturing myself, and seek better ways of doing that. Sometimes I even accept emotionally that I am lovable.

Anger and Angst. I thought, Wangst– there I go, pointlessly harsh on myself- but yes, anger, anger is my ground bass. I am sitting in the Quaker meeting thinking of various instances when someone has said, wonderingly, “You’re so angry!” to me. Like that time with the council careers service, keeping me standing outside their door where colleagues passing on their way to work round the corner would see me, rather than letting me in for my appointment. Some irritation was appropriate, possibly not the anger she discerned. The anger I discerned is against myself, mostly, and out of proportion too.

I have been on the edge of deciding that transition is a complete con, that having tried to make a man of myself and failed that trying to make a woman of myself is just the pendulum swinging, as distant as ever from being my natural self, that no-one should transition. And it came to me in meeting that I could not possibly know, because I judge my own decisions so harshly. This was what I wanted more than anything else in the world, and possibly it was just me groping in the dark- from wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit moves- and possibly I could trust my own decision more. I don’t know if it was the best decision. I can’t. Either I am committed to it, as it has involved such an investment of effort and energy, so I can’t admit to myself it could be wrong, or I despise myself so completely that I cannot admit to myself it could be right. I want to know, I want to understand, I want a world map with which I can navigate my world and make decisions based on accurate prognostication, so it is tempting to plump for one of those opposite positions- worst ever decision or moving forward into fulfilment- to have a position on the question.

I can’t know. I am not equipped to judge, certainly not rationally, and as for how I feel about it, that changes under the influence of other things. Therefore I can’t know I was completely, self-destructively wrong.

I told the person sitting next to me I had had a blessing in meeting, and they said they knew. Not something to minister about, though, just for myself.

Disrupting the Quaker meeting

Lack of trust disrupts Quaker worship.

Meetings are not agreeable events, when we hide from the world into a nice period of quietness. They are meetings with something…encounters….times of vulnerabilities…events of the soul….times when we discover our common humanity, wrote Harvey Gillman on facebook.

It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. You should not attend the Quaker meeting unless you are willing to be profoundly changed by it. We become relaxed, alert, aware together. We wait for God. We may receive a message from the Spirit for ourself or the Meeting, and may be moved to speak it in words which seem unlike our usual ways of speaking.

Surroundings help. We can meet anywhere. My meeting is close to the war memorial, and so every November we hear bugles, drums, and even amplified speech. We anticipate this. I have worshipped outside, with the beauty of trees and plants, with personnel from the US military base (called by a legal fiction an “RAF” base) calling derisively “Praise the LORD!” We know we will face this challenge, so may enter the silence. But in a meeting house, it is better that the place is clean and beautiful, without too much noise from outside.

Some people find knitting helps them still their minds for contemplation. Others find someone knitting distracts them. How you describe this affects how you react: she should be sitting still, in contemplation, not spending time knitting; or, with her mental health issues she finds knitting calming, so that she is less distracted. When I practised the piano a lot, I could read a book while playing scales. You might think you know the rules- No knitting! Approaching with openness and willingness to listen makes resolution easier.

When I was on the cusp between enquirer and attender, I went to another meeting where a man read out, Bear witness to the humanity of all people, including those who break society’s conventions or its laws. Just transitioning, that was me. I burst into tears. I was obviously moved by the Ministry, which spoke to me, and people welcome that. Yet I have cried quietly in meeting, and this was experienced as disruptive. At that time, there were tensions in the Meeting which we were not dealing with, and anything I had done might be disruptive. They felt I had let them down by my needy behaviour, and I felt they had let me down by not recognising my Friend’s need.

I like to go to other meetings, and in one I found a woman with a broad smile handing out pieces of plasticene. I had not known that day was their All-age worship. She explained what to do with the plasticene, and I can see that moulding it might help the unconscious to communicate to the conscious, non-verbally, and so be a way in to understanding Quaker worship; but it was not what I wanted, and people showing off their models was not the ministry I desired. I had felt Quaker worship would enfold me, and was disappointed.

I expected cosy reassurance. That is not on offer. Reality is on offer. We are not separated from the “Real world”. Cosy expectations might be disrupted by the spirit, disrupted in a good way, and sometimes the disruption is too great for the worshipper to process it; rather than nudging me forward, it pushes me back. I need to be outside my comfort zone, but being too far out makes me rush back to the core of comfort.

I have expressed anger in the Meeting, and that was experienced as disruptive. I would like space for anger. Anger is sad’s bodyguard. Sadness is more acceptable if it may be comforted: bottomless, unquenchable sadness is frightening. And when I had attended for a time, a man came in to our Meeting and preached at us from his conservative Evangelical understanding of the Bible. I interrupted him, expressed distress and dashed out. Two Friends followed me, sat close to me and held my hands as I ranted my distress, and I was calmed.

It is better to be able to calm myself, not to ask from a meeting more than it can give. Everyone can be needy. Meeting is not perfect. Getting to know each other, building our community, our trust and acceptance of each other, helps us to meet each other’s needs.

Lisbon Cathedral

I really want you to look at my header photo. I have not seen a beggar like that in Britain. At least the Cathedral chapter allow her to be there, unlike St Paul’s Cathedral.

There are more decorative churches in Lisbon than its cathedral. Its facade is almost bare, its columns unadorned.

lisbon-cathedrallisbon-cathedral-from-the-galleryThe guide book said it was not worth seeing, with just “a couple of tombs”, but it has grandeur. I was glad to be there, after the great difficulty we had getting there. With few tourists it has a more peaceful, even holy, atmosphere than Jheronymus.

Here are the tombs. I love the dogs, and the thought of reading and contemplating while awaiting the Resurrection.

lisbon-cathedral-doglisbon-cathedral-readerThe West window is easily interpreted? Twelve apostles and Christ at the centre, smaller than they, for some reason.

lisbon-cathedral-west-window-1 lisbon-cathedral-west-windowI paid to go into the cloisters, which are being excavated. Some of the buildings uncovered are Roman, some Moorish, and there is a Roman sewer.

lisbon-cathedral-cloister-excavationsOutside, the trams shake and judder up the steep hill. They are a tourist attraction, he went to ride one while I was in Belem. Notice the English. I had not realised how quickly my camera battery would run down, and took the rest of my photographs on the phone.

lisbon-cathedral-tramThat beggar, again. Leaving, I handed her a 20c coin. She kissed it. I did not, as the Pope advises, look her in the eye and touch her hands, wishing her “Bom dia”- I looked away, embarrassed.

lisbon-cathedral-beggar

Fatima

I hate Fatima. 

I was only half joking when I said I might have a religious experience and go all pious at Fatima. The place is designed to evoke that, most people are up for that, and I am suggestible. I had the opposite reaction. 

We had lunch in a caff, then approached from the South. There is a great deal of Catholic tat. 

Here is the new church, consecrated in 2007. 

I loathe it with a passion. It enraged me and I  needed to express that, forcefully. It is a windowless bunker. It is bearable inside, with all the light controlled:

It feels fascist to me. It is designed to make the individual worshipper feel insignificant. Jesus called me his sister, and every one of the hairs on my head is numbered, but here I am just one of the huge crowd. They have to cater for thousands of pilgrims but there must be better ways of doing it. 

We walked out the North side, and saw the other church, from 1957. Those things look like insect legs, or pincers. 

Christ is a gaunt insect, too. 

The other church is intimidating too, though a little less so. All those steps are unnecessary. Penitents go towards it on their knees: there are signs requesting we do not photograph them. 

Mass proceeds outside as we walk in. The stained glass is pretty. But all the art is the Stations of the Cross- an appearance of the Virgin should be a festival: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. 

I cross myself from the holy water stoup. The shock of cold water enlivens my senses to the present moment, and accepting the priest’s gift makes me more connected to the place.

Here is the tomb of a Little Shepherd, where people pray, or take photographs. I did both. Some leave gifts.  

Here is the totalitarian I blame for its totalitarian feel, especially shocking as it goes on about the fall of Communism.

The children photographed by him love him. 

The collonade is reminiscent of St. Peter’s plaza. 

Belem

To the cultural quarter. Tristão e Isolda is next week, alas. We miss it. The overcast sky is not ideal for photos, but the Centro Cultural is beautiful, clad in rose stone. I walk a wide stone passageway up to the Berardo Collection, alone in the off-season, and it feels empowering and liberating, not at all like the stark concrete ravine west of the National Theatre in London.

The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos is worth photographing in any light, even a phone snap which I cannot edit.

All the cloisters are intricately carved.

People are doing selfies, which I find difficult:

The refectory has stories in pictures, which I do not like.

The church from the gallery.

It is a tourist hubbub even now, so I say I want to pray, and go into a quieter side chapel. A woman presses her forehead to an altar below a statue of the Virgin.

There are so many artists in the Berardo overview of the twentieth century! I will not comment as I fear sounding Pooterish. Here is the church from the water garden.

A spiritual leader

Spiritual growth is important to me, and my sources are eclectic, including New Age, Buddhism, Christianity, a bit of psychology. How does the world work? What are human beings like? Who am I, and how may I flourish? These questions matter to everyone. You might see them as matters of maturity, or the wisdom of middle age, and perhaps I see them as “spiritual” because of accidents of upbringing and personality.

I wanted spiritual growth, and became aware that I wanted it to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions such as anger and fear. Now I know that fleeing my fear or seeking to suppress it is the problem, and I learn to accept and feel the fear. Fighting it only empowers it. My friend Yvonne Spence shared Robert Masters‘ post on this: “Spiritual bypassing” is an attempt to use spirituality to avoid feeling. The spiritual work is difficult: far easier to lie to yourself you have done it already.

Spiritual bypassing is a very persistent shadow of spirituality, manifesting in many ways, often without being acknowledged as such. Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one’s negativity or shadow elements, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.

I’ve been there. I am not sure it is entirely delusional, or that my spiritual growth has gone nowhere. I feel wiser than I was, and feel that what I saw as growth was a foundation for where I am now. I imagined that all I needed to do to learn a spiritual lesson was to see that it was necessary, without the work to put it into practice. This may be why I felt all spiritual at weekends away with other seekers, seeming to see much better than when in what we all call “The real world”. But I did see more clearly, and I put the lessons into practice eventually.

Yvonne also found Lissa Rankin. She is a medical doctor whose spiritual growth book is “a journey from the head to the heart and a prescription for finding your life’s purpose.” I found her post repellant, and wanted to work out why. “How to fully feel what hurts without going insane”- what a goal!

So I was repelled, and over the next few hours came up with reasons why that might be so. She is the queen of the cool kids, and advises whom they should no longer admit to their circles- energy vampires, pessimists, and people stuck in their victim story; co-dependents; all who criticize, belittle, shame you, or even attack you for being “needy”; even someone [who] is always meeting your needs but you’re never meeting theirs. Quite a list. “Those who can’t ask for help commit suicide,” she says, and I wonder if this is sweeping condemnation of all suicides. I think it is more complex than that; I wanted to die because I did not feel worthy of life.

Jesus came to mind. “A smouldering wick he will not quench, and a bruised reed he will not break”. I wonder if she has, in moving from head to heart, cast out so many friends. I tend to feel friendships are more complex than that.

Friendships serve a purpose. Possibly Lissa had a great purge of all the energy vampires, etc., and replaced them all with “healthy people”, who appreciate the intimacy that comes with the vulnerability of seeking support. My friends are like me, in the world, with needs, vulnerabilities, strengths and blind spots. All are healthy in a way. Possibly a friendship meets a need in me. I will grow out of co-dependency eventually. Possibly, a friend is the best I can get. Lissa also is clear about the need for good boundaries, yet we spiritual, emotional, intuitive, empathetic types can have difficulty with boundaries. Boundaries and winnowing your friends seems like belt and braces to me. She is assuming my needs are the same as hers.

Her tips jar, too. “Come into right relationship with uncertainty”. Yeah. Wonderful. How? If I don’t know something, there may be ways to find out. “The wisdom to know the difference”- that line of the serenity prayer is too glib. I come to know the difference between what I can change and what I can’t after a lot of trial and error, and may have a period of mourning before finding grudging serenity. Right now, I recognise the importance of being able to bear uncertainty. It is continual practice.

I am sure her book sells well, and her fans love her: “Oh, Lissa…. oh, oh, Sis-Star Lissa….. ” gushes Precious. If only it were so easy as reading her tips, chucking out all the Bad People from your life, and Living Spiritually. It is a tall order. Far easier to lie to yourself that you have done that, that this friend who has annoyed you is an “energy vampire” so a Bad Person, and you are now Spiritual. That is the “spiritual bypassing” Lissa warns of.

Ah. What is touching a nerve in me? Certainly the feeling of being excluded: I can never read about “people to excise from your life” without fearing it means me. There is a lot of good sense here. Pure envy: I want to write spiritual stuff for spiritual people, especially if I can get paid for it. But I want to build community, where all are included.

olga-boznanska-portrait-of-a-woman

That’s enough Olga Boznanska portraits, I think. These five knowing, watchful women. They are moving subtly through a hard world, and I wish them well, but do not like them much.