Quakers and God

Do British Quakers believe in God? What might that mean?

Ours is an experiential faith. We have spiritual experiences which we share. They start as peak experiences, a moment of wonder, and become integrated into our daily lives. We develop language to communicate them to each other, and it appears they are similar for each person. They include a sense of presence in the moment when all the senses are heightened; a sense of the unity of all that is, and of being my own part of it; and a sense of being suffused by love, which some might call the love of God.

Then there are the spiritual experiences we have together. We know of the gathered meeting, where we are together in our spiritual experience, and of unity, where we come together to know what is right, what some call God’s loving purposes. Our worship is not meditation, but a common endeavour. It’s not like sitting in a waiting room. We know we may sometimes feel “angry, depressed, tired or spiritually cold”, but the effort of- whatever it is that we do, in worship- is worthwhile.

If you attend Quaker Quest meetings, you will have heard the phrase “for me”, for Quakers have all sorts of opinions, and a wide range of disagreement, and I have the temerity here to speak “for us”. We share practices with quite complex rules, and experiences. Then we ask what is behind them, and disagree wildly.

Some of us believe in God almost as in the creed, or in the Christian concept of the trinity, or different ideas of God. Some of us, like me, are materialists. I believe I am an evolved creature in a random universe. I don’t know how life could come to be through non-living chemical processes but I believe that is in principle knowable. I don’t think consciousness is in itself spiritual, but a manifestation of the mammalian brain.

Our understandings of God are not hypotheses in the scientific sense, capable of making predictions or being proved wrong by evidence, but stories. They are stories created by some of the finest human minds, addressing common spiritual experiences, progressing from a God who demanded Abraham’s son as a sacrifice to a God who offered God’s own son to die for us.

It is my perception that British Quakers squabble less than we did over these beliefs. Some of us argued it was ridiculous for someone who did not believe in God to belong to a Religious Society. My Friend answered that: “The question is not why we join a religious society, but why we stay”. Now we find language to share the spiritual experiences, and I feel the explanations behind them- God, psychology, or Don’t Know, seem less important.

I was baptised Anglican, grew up reciting the creed without a qualm, and around 2009 slowly realised I no longer believed in that way. It felt like a great loss, and I was in slowly reducing denial for months. Just after I admitted to myself I do not believe in God I was broken open by a residential personal growth course. I went into a church as a tourist, to see the art, and a sense of its holiness brought me to my knees.

This was a difficult experience to fit into my understanding. I say: “I am inconsistent. I could only be consistent if I were inerrant”. I say, “I am rationally atheist and emotionally theist. I have a strong emotional relationship with the God I do not believe in.” I read philosophical ideas of how well humans might see the world as it really is- not well, it seems.

I know that unconscious processes in me can form poetry, so that it seems to come to me by inspiration. My being, this process taking in food, water, oxygen and ideas, is capable of more than I consciously understand, and it is tempting to call all that is greater than my own consciousness God. Or I should abandon the word, because it means such different things to different people. Or I could use the word “God” honestly to talk with someone who believes in the Trinity, because we both mean things we cannot know.

In Quaker worship you may see the Living God. Insofar as those words can have meaning, I know they are true.

Sun sonnet

If he can persuade the mist to rise
The Sun will blaze today, in startling blue.
The clouds caress the Earth with softest dew,
yet can’t resist the Sun, so strong and wise.
Three hundred thousand times the Earth’s mass flies
a ball of plasma we still misconstrue.
The ancient Greeks (Oh! Could it still be true?)
called it a God, amongst us in disguise.
Assigned a character, desires, and thought,
it’s something I relate to. Humans do.
It proceeds round our spinning galaxy,
an accident. To it, our lives are naught.
it gives us life, and stories all anew:
A God, a star, a metaphor, all three.

Some thoughts on Truth

If my beliefs are the opposite of what they once were, have I ever been truthful? Realising how untruthful I am, I worked out my main reasons for lying. The first was, I lie to myself because I want to see myself as a good person. Now, I lie to myself if the truth is too uncomfortable. Many people do: one of the BYM Queries is “What unpalatable truths might you be evading?” At some level, I know the truth that I deny- call it conscience or God- so avoidance involves shutting down perception. Evading the truth takes effort.

If “the truth shall set you free” it is free from ego-imaginings that I am who I imagine I ought to be. That denial of reality is a great deal of effort for no benefit. I don’t fool anyone else; so I expend all that effort to fool myself, in order to make me feel safer. Except it doesn’t really. So I am confused and hurting, wanting to be what I am not, until I accept who I am. I want the world to be other than it is, but you have to accept it before you can change it.

My parents were as queer as I am. The most important thing in my family was to appear normal, which meant hiding away. I had to appear to be a man, and lied to myself, as well as the world. This was intensely damaging. My work now is to recover, and truth is my tool: I seek it out and cling to it, as if drowning.

My inner critic, or inner persecutor, tells me that all my motivations are cowardly and self-serving in the most ridiculous, self-defeating, short termist way. That inner voice does not know or cannot admit the truth. It also tells me that things should be easy, so I am surprised and angry when they take time or effort.

In some circumstances, I would lie, for my own gain, to deceive others. This bothers me more in the sense of “will I get caught” rather than the pangs of my conscience telling me I do wrong.

People whom I value, whose judgment I respect, think I am an appalling person. I think they are wrong. Another friend tells me I am particularly truthful, and I am grateful. Possibly I am: when someone does not think she has a particular good moral characteristic and wants it, she works particularly hard at it.

I am a critical realist: I believe there is a real world, but it is too complex to know. Humans might see some aspect of truth. A community which accepts difference will know the truth better than any individual, but too often to fit in to their community people have to accept the community’s common view.

Psychological research observes that trans people rearrange our life story and our understanding of ourselves to convince ourselves that we are “really” trans. I simply know that transition is what I want more than anything else in the world, and I did it despite the difficulties it causes me, so I must be trans.

I know trans is a wrong way to be, I should not be like this. This is called “internalised transphobia”. It is one of my deepest truths. I also know that is false, which seems like a more intellectual knowing.

“Why did you do that?” is an impossible question. Humans rationalise motives. Many things motivate us, some seeming more reasonable or acceptable than others: to others or to ourselves, so I might not know my motivation. If things pop out of my mouth which I immediately regret, this is because I am more complex than I understand. And, I can come together and speak from my integrity, a truth that I know. It feels like ministry.

A lawyer recognises that there is only evidence, which includes what people say; that “proof” is in the mind of the judge of fact, who does not know absolutely either; that there are opposing, contradictory views; that people see the same event differently; that some people lie for gain, as I just said I would.

Being able to live with not knowing is a great blessing. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t.

Blake was right: “Everything that is, is holy”. You see things more clearly if you see them with respect, worship or love. The attention necessary for this is hard work, impossible if you spend your energy lying to yourself.

This iconic painting is out of copyright. How thin the people are!

Following the Spirit

My wise Friend, who has a wonderfully rich intellectual and spiritual life, asked,

How strong or weak is your faith?
Are there times when letting yourself be “led by the Spirit” seems unrealistic, naive, or wrong?
When, if ever, have you been surprised by what faith can do?

Jonah knew he had a call from God, with precise instructions, and he ran away from it. I, being materialist and not conceiving Spirit as separate from myself, don’t see how I could know. Spirit in the human is a useful metaphor, rather than a discrete part. In May 2000 I could not face transition, because it frightened me too much. Only in November did I decide I had to do it. Internalised transphobia makes it hard for me to think of this as a leading of the spirit.

Sometimes, I have a sense of what I must do, and do it. Thinking back, I delight in these moments, when I believe I was acting according to my best nature. Examples:

I was working for an advice agency, helping claimants challenge refusal of welfare benefits. Dr Patel was an “Examining medical practitioner”, doing reports for Disability Living Allowance. The second part of the EMP form was his assessment of the claimant’s condition, but in the first he was supposed to take a statement from the claimant, saying what the claimant said they could do. The less they could do for themselves, the more money they would get. Dr Patel filled in the statement as if the claimant had said they had no particular difficulty with anything that would get them DLA. “I didn’t say that,” said my client.

Then in the tribunal waiting room I heard someone else talking about the same problem. Dr Patel had done their examination, and again had written the statement as if they had said they had no problem. “Sign here,” he had said, and of course they did, because he was a doctor and they could not read his handwriting. I had great difficulty with it, spending ages transcribing his reports. I began to check whether the EMP report was Patel’s and if so what the “claimant statement” was like.

We had strong evidence of what the claimants said they could not do, because they had completed the DLA claim form, but tribunals still did not believe them. Unsurprisingly, the tribunal took the doctor’s word over the benefit claimant’s. Eventually I found seventeen such claimants each with the same complaint. I argued to the tribunal that the “similar fact” rule of evidence applied, and they produced a six page legal argument that it did not. I argued to Patel’s employer that everyone saying the same thing made Patel’s denials incredible, and they argued that I had told my clients what to say. After months of work, with the help of the local MP I got him dismissed from his role as EMP.

As I type this, I am feeling my resentment at my integrity being impugned, my anger at Patel’s arrogance, dishonesty, and contempt for the people he examined, my determination and my pride at finally succeeding. It was above my pay grade. I could just have said to the claimants, well, sorry, the tribunals treat EMP reports as strong evidence, I can’t help you any further. I went in to the office in evenings and weekends to pursue this case.

It was me being me. While not universal human characteristics, anger at injustice and empathy with people one is working with are fairly common. I think it “Good”. In one sense of the word it is “spirited”. I had the energy and devoted myself to the task. The next EMP I thought was lying on the forms, I just gave up, it was too much for me.

Then there is me having breakfast at Woodbrooke. I take a moment to consider what I want. No, I do not want a fry-up, just fruit and cereal. Someone said this is “good” of me. It is “self-indulgent” to eat the fatty foods. I felt it was using my autonomic understanding, physical perception of need, to decide separately from cultural understandings what I should eat. The whole human, acting with integrity, does what the whole human needs to do. Yes it is a trivial example, but it is what I understand being “led by the spirit” to be: the sensory inputs are analysed, and the human being pursues its course, without any internal conflict.

That phrase, “the human being pursuing its course”, might apply to Donald Trump winning the 2016 election.

I am retreated from the world, seeking my healing. I wish I were other than I am, stronger than I am, that I could accomplish more, and I have moments of healing and understanding that warm and bless me. This is where my me-ness is directed now. My inner critic calls it laziness, possibly other humans might agree, and I can only know this is my leading because this is where I am following, now. I may be wrong.

There is the idea of Light within, which can guide a human being, “That of God in every one” which we might follow or suppress, obey or disobey. How could I possibly know? Sometimes instant gratification is wrong, as deferred gratification is a wiser as well as nobler aim. You feel sexual attraction but do not act upon it because you have an obligation to your partner.

Sometimes Quakers make decisions which seem to our rational understanding to be right, and there is no life or energy in them. The Outreach Committee has to do something so it sets up a stall in a place no-one visits. In that job I thought much of the action I could take was hopeless. It was like staring at a solid wall. I would find the cracks in that wall, and devote all my energy to bursting through there.

Insofar as I do not follow leadings of Spirit, it is because I do not see them. Some conventional morality I have picked up, which does not fit the case, makes me imagine a “light” which came from God or was good would not do that. But I would never see that is what I was doing, I would imagine I was doing the right thing, and indeed would be as far as I was able. Loving community may correct that.

The Quaker case against trans inclusion

Why would Quakers oppose trans inclusion? Liz Truss, say, might oppose it as an authoritarian, wanting conformity, as a nationalist, seeking out enemies, and as a Conservative tactician, desiring to sow dissention on the Left, but these motives do not apply to the Quaker anti-trans campaigners I know.

The Quaker case against trans inclusion is founded in love and human need. As a trans woman who disagrees, I may be the best person to put it. If we are to reach unity on this matter, that case needs heard and addressed. A Friend complained that Friends seeking trans exclusion based their case on apparently rational argument, rather than feeling. If the feeling were expressed she might be able to sympathise; but it is too much to ask people to express their feeling, at least in a meeting for worship.

The case against trans inclusion is based in experience, and accounts are readily available on line. Everyone knows some of it. We all know women who have had violent, abusive partners or sons. A Quaker told me her Quaker husband hit her, and other Quaker women, talking quietly and privately, have told me they know of cases too.

There is the experience of women afflicted by gender stereotypes, girls brought up not to be too forward, to be caring of others’ feelings, not to put their wants first. At puberty men want sex from them, and won’t take no for an answer. Experience varies. I have hints of it- after transitioning aged 35, when I was not read as trans men might abuse me as a “whore” or a “slut” when I did not do as they wanted, touch my bottom, come on to me, call out to me in the street. One woman told me of not being given any tools to deal with sexual demands, of men grudgingly accepting the excuse “I already have a boyfriend”- that is, not that she objected but that another man might. There are experiences of assault and rape.

There is deep hurt and anger at being devalued as human beings. Such hurt may be too great to express in a business meeting, too great a threat to self-respect. It is one thing to express ones hurt in order to win others over, and achieve a result, and quite another to express hurt, and gain nothing, for it to be judged insufficient. Take care what humiliation you ask of Friends. I express my hurt to Friends if I know I will receive sympathy, understanding, and the help I want. I do not want to express hurt so others may experience my emotion vicariously and still speak against me. Expressing anger is more fraught, as it may provoke opposition.

And then there is delight, of coming home to our tribes. We talk of “Coming Home to Friends”, finding people amongst whom we perfectly fit. I first had that feeling around 1990 with Mensa, when I highly valued my intellect and devalued or ignored my emotional intelligence. Then I had the same feeling with the Sibyls, a Christian spirituality group for transgender people, when I was considering transition. Other Friends have this feeling in feminist circles. There is a sense of being free: with no men, the long ingrained habit of deferring to men falls away and you can speak up. Women “listen each other into existence”, blossoming as they value each other, finding their voices as they are heard. There is solidarity around sharing a female reproductive system, with its pain, delight, taboos and vulnerability.

There is the sense that trans women are men, and that men in these spaces diminish that sense of support and solidarity. There is revulsion at trans men’s medical treatment, and fear that these are teenage girls, rejecting oppressive femininity and having womanhood stolen from them.

After the feelings, come the logical arguments. Women need single-sex spaces for reasons of privacy and vulnerability, and just as men should not be in those spaces neither should trans women, because trans women are men. They may resist the term “trans women”, preferring “trans-identified male”. The Woman’s Place UK Manifesto talks of “sex-based” rights and “single-sex” spaces without once mentioning trans people.

I think my needs should be taken into account too, because I could no more not be trans, not be a trans woman, than these women could not be cis women. However, that is disputed, in the long, rational arguments that people hone amongst themselves.

It is my feeling that those women who do not tolerate trans women in women’s spaces are particularly far from the feminine gender stereotypes. This is disputed: they might say that feminine gender stereotypes are merely oppressive, and fit no-one. Whatever, my own perception of their gender variance is at the heart of my sympathy for their need. They might object to my language, talking not of “trans exclusion” but “the need for single-sex spaces”- for them, treating trans women with respect and dignity and giving us equal rights does not mean admitting us to women’s spaces; however changing my language in that way is a step I cannot take, because I too have needs and value.

Others can express their need better than I can; but I don’t think they should be required to. God is Love, requiring that all of us are valued.

Practically, the only question for Quakers is around a few room hires. However, for some women, trans women in women’s spaces become a symbol of sexism, patriarchy and oppression, of their needs and desires being discounted. It becomes personal, linked to experience of violence and trauma, even the single most important feminist issue. The British government is moving against all work for equality, and opposing trans rights for them is a way of putting the Left in disarray.

Quakers are seeing that the testimony to equality requires us to become more aware of privilege- white privilege, male privilege, class privilege and cis privilege among others. I don’t think my needs should be discounted either, because trans people are vulnerable too. Ceasing to meet in person, the difficult issue of trans rights is off the British Quaker agenda, but Quakers should be standing up for trans rights, which requires addressing these issues.

Joy in the World

My calling is to manifest joy. That is a Truth about myself that I know. It fits my experience. What does it mean?

I have chronic depression, with little energy to tackle tasks (most of it channelled in this blog). Depression is not a matter of sadness but of motivation. I know I should, for example, clean my house, because it would be more hygienic and pleasanter to live in. At some level I might say I want to clean it; and yet I don’t, for weeks. I am not sure I can distinguish energy and motivation. Depression is different from anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure, which I do not have. I bit into a ripe pear this morning, and felt delight.

Joy may be linked to the state of being aware in the present moment. I find that a heightened state, which gives me pleasure. There is the monkey-mind, ruminating all sorts of old stuff, mostly fantasy rather than reality, and I drop out of that into Presence.

Joy is linked to positivity, to seeing possibilities and opportunities, movement, growth. Denial, the refusal to face uncomfortable truths, is anathema to it, because you never succeed in denying, you are always aware of the Problem on some level. Bracketing can be useful- I know the unpleasant Fact exists, and I will deal with it later but must deal with this first. Avoidance, picking anything to deal with rather than the Problem, is harmful.

There is joy in action towards a goal. “There is no ‘try’,” as Yoda said, that’s avoidance too, faking an attempt at doing something because you don’t believe you can achieve it. Joy in action is linked to exhilaration in movement.

Humanity is being, doing, knowing, and there is joy in our simple existence. It is filled with possibilities.

My niece, when she was a toddler, at one time had a practice of going up to her significant adults and saying “I love you”. “I love you, Uncle Stephen,” she would say to me, and I was at a loss how to respond. Eventually I said “That is what you are for”. That is the child’s value. Love will grow into action in time. Only love is real. She grew up, perceptive, with compassion and a strong sense of integrity. Now her daughter is three, and my nephew reports she too is very smart, loving and generous. They played a game together where you throw beanbags at targets, and when he missed she put his beanbag where the target was. Competition is all very well, but that was the common goal.

If my calling is manifesting joy, is this unique to me? Possibly stronger in me than in others. It is my fundamental nature. Someone ministered that our certainties are stripped away, and insofar as they come from outside us, from the culture, our certainties about ourselves may need to be (though it is possible that somewhere there is someone who is “normal”). Humans have different gifts.

I said in my revelation that my calling is manifesting joy, and communicating it. If I am simply myself, that may bring joy to others. If something makes me joyful and I show that others may see the delightfulness of that thing.

This is something I want to grow into, this year. The revelation is like a gift. I will explore it more deeply, and come to know it. I end with Edwin Muir’s description of a wise man, not elsewhere on line, from Collected Poems p288:

I think the shrewdest sweetest man
I ever saw, modest and yet a king
among his harvests, with a harvester’s eye
that had forgotten to wonder why
at this or that, knowing his natural span,
and spoke of evil as “the other thing”,
Judging a virtue as he judged the weather
Endured, accepted all, the equal brother
Of men and chance, the good and the bad day.

That is something to aspire to.

Manifesting joy

My essence is joy, and my calling is to manifest joy in the world, and communicate it.

That was my revelation at a Zoom group, where we share deeply. I am on four such groups, and it is the great blessing of 2020 for me. On Tuesday 22d, the question was, “What is your testimony?” “Let your life speak,” say British Quakers. What value or purpose has my life? My work, at the moment, is self-discovery, and I talked of phoning seven Samaritans. I took twenty minutes, saying things I could not have said last year, and my voice did not shake. When God is with us, I say things which surprise me, and I ended saying something like, “God’s leading for me is to bring more joy into the world &… I’m working on it”. It touched a Friend’s heart, and she wanted to know exactly what I had said.

On Wednesday, I felt and communicated darkness. There was the long drawn out teasing around whether there would be an EU-UK trade agreement. There were chaotic queues of lorries in Kent, with the ports barred because of the new, more infectious Covid variant, and the supermarkets were airfreighting fresh veg. There was Liz Truss’s scheme to inflame prejudice against trans people. Possibly I was most affected by the darkness of the day, with constant rain. At Pendle Hill worship I asked prayers for England under these threats, and expressed my misery.

I shared there, and was consoled that it is not personal, but it feels personal. Truss incites attacks on trans people, and the Tory damage from Brexit and their incompetent response to covid may affect me personally. A woman who worships there sent me a Christmas present of cash, saying “We wanted you to know that you are loved”. That warmed me.

Manifesting joy does not mean suppressing uncomfortable feelings. I think it means accepting the hard feelings, processing and digesting them, and the news at the start of this week was hard to stomach. I am doing my best against the causes of my fear, and still have reason to fear. Dealing with the uncomfortable feelings is something about unflinching truthfulness, facing the darkness and death, always acknowledging the light and life. The full range of blessing and horror in the world, and the breadth of my reactions to it, are hard to hold all at once. I am working on it. I will die, and always there will be light and love, and when all is gone it will be beautiful because it will have been. Dante went through Hell to get to Heaven.

“Underneath it all, you are a joyful, playful child.” That compliment speaks to me, raises deep echoes in me. There is joy and playfulness at the heart of my nature, and I want it to shine through, because it will bless others. It is my vocation. The work, now, is unpicking my history and internal conflicts. More and more the truth of my joy will shine, and the darkness will not overcome it. I said communicating joy was my vocation, on Jamie’s Lovely Gathering, and someone said “You definitely did that!”

One thinks of a vocation as the basis of a career, and I do not see how that could be, now. So where this “vocation” might lead me is unclear. Yet I am certain of it, and I will work on it. I think of the infectious giggles of the Dalai Lama or Desmond Tutu, and see joy can be spiritual. With Quakers on Sunday 27th I repeated to myself, “My calling is to manifest and communicate joy,” and it felt like acceptance and recognition, solidifying as I worshipped.

Honesty

I introduced myself in a 12 step programme way. My name is Clare, and I am-

The purpose is to strip back the ego. It may affect what others think of me, but for me, what I think of me is far more important. Of course, that’s just weird and wrong to me, like everything else about me is, but this is the sense of it. Keeping my expressed emotion on an even keel is important to me because that stops others noticing me. I don’t want to be seen. This is an inherited trait.

I don’t want people to think of me at all. If they do, that’s a fail. So, suppressing my feeling is success. So, what I think and feel about myself is far more important to me than what others do.

And, I am angry about this. Anger is my underlying, everlasting emotion. And, taking oestrogen and especially progesterone made my emotions more volatile. It all makes keeping emotions level difficult, and I am paralysed with the effort.

At the Pendle Hill worship sharing on nonviolence on Wednesday 2d, I said my difficulty is my sense of my own worthlessness. Ruth, a spiritual director, had not realised that self-rejection, violence to self, is a root of violence directed at others. Self-love is the foundation of nonviolence. She proposed this mantra:

I love myself unconditionally
I forgive myself unconditionally
I feel myself loving myself unconditionally
I feel myself forgiving myself unconditionally

My self-improvement side thought I should practise listening. Attempting that, I wrote,

The more I see of each of us, the richer my experience is.
The more of each that can be present, the more powerful we are.

Then there was the Friday group where A invited me, then said everyone should introduce themselves. He is A, who has a life which seems in that moment to me to be so much better than my own. So I went all twelve-step. I have chosen this life. My voice barely shook as I said it. That was the end of the introductions.

This is for my good. The working theory is that it suppresses the ego and puts me more in direct contact with reality.

Ministry at Pendle Hill seemed important. I wrote,

Is it possible to be a self- undefined and unaffected by others? No.
Could there be a boundary I could make, around those parts which will maim me to be redefined?

People said,

Trouble means that you are alive
To live with hope is to live on the divine bank account
Living with winter and summer, sickness and health- the meaning is in accepting it all

I could barely hear a woman, and heard her as saying, in a baleful way,

… You think that you folks in the north with all of your wealth are somehow protected from human pain?

But others had difficulty hearing, and someone explained that as people in poor countries thinking we in the North are protected.

Then there was this Atlantic article, on measuring α by adding a single photon, with a laser, to caesium or rubidium atoms to put them in a state of quantum superposition, and measuring their velocity. This involves calculating gravity at the precise point where the experiment takes place, to eleven or more significant figures, and may confirm or refute the Standard Model of elementary particles. I find this amazing and beautiful, but the comment of Saïda Guellati-Khélifa, leader of the team in Paris doing the work, struck me most: “You have to be rigorous, passionate, and honest with yourself”.

On Sunday 6th I cycled to Aldi. As the shadow moved, putting the grass in sunlight, the frost on it began to turn, but was pure white in the shade. I have been thinking of that Anna Akhmatova poem. Why then do we not despair? Because I have not been paying enough attention? I read the Observer editorial on Keira Bell, a harsh anti-trans polemic, which hurt and frightened me.

With these stimuli, I looked at my Friends’ zoom-faces. The intense concentration on some, cogitating, putting the pieces together. The beautiful loving smile of another. I feel my pain, give thanks for the beauty of my Friends, and of the world- and feel intense joy. I would like the joy to leak out and infect others. I would like to minister on this, but it seems for me alone at the moment.

That joy and darkness- to contain it all at once! I want my dishonesty to make me feel better about myself and fool others, but it doesn’t, not really. Through me the gale of life blows high, so- let it fill my sails!

---

On Tuesday 8th, I had a fight with my inner persecutor, which denies anything good about me. Imagine me, if you will, curled into the foetal position, weeping, shaking, and fighting to gasp out a few words.

The words were, “I am passionate about injustice, and I fight it to the end when I see how I can”.

The persecutor does not like me saying anything good about myself, and demands evidence. I have evidence. I come away having won the ability to say that for myself. I was sort-of aware of it before, but not really able to say it, bewitched by the persecutor’s doubts. This is a win. I came out delighted, in an emotionally labile state, again wanting my joy to burst out of me and infect everyone and fearful they might object to my vehemence or even [gasp!] not understand. It did, a bit, in M’s zoom group. Some caught it, and liked it.

Here are some more good words and true: “I love at least some of my enemies.”

I was also wrestling with what it would mean to find the light within. It is, to be a whole and integrated human being, and the bits missing will be different in each case. I am aware of the inner driver, that part of me that wants me to work hard at self-improvement, and the inner protector, that protects me from the worst of the driver’s goads. I am not really aware of what I want, other than wanting desperately to be safe, and feeling so unsafe that this manifests in wanting not to be seen, not to be noticed by other people (in the most attention-seeking way. I’m confused too.)

Knowing “What one wants” is clearly not the problem for, say, Donald Trump. The part of ourselves we do not know will be different in each case. For many people, it will be multiple suppressed parts of their personality. The Light, union with Christ in God, God in us, is the part we do not know.

Resilience

Keeping going is what humans do. “KBO”, said Churchill, Keep Buggering On. Now, with Covid, people keep going, put up with the ordinary things which were bugging them last year, as well as the restrictions now, the lesser social life, and worry about covid. It’s lovely to zoom socially, then I hear someone’s relative is in hospital with it. Brexit is coming: I am stocking up my larder anticipating the snarl-up in the ports in January. Will we have fresh food in the supermarkets?

So we keep our heads down, and KBO. I kept going until I stopped, and I wonder if I am still in keeping going mode, part of me trying to grimly press on even though it doesn’t reach the controls any more. I remain desperate for self-improvement. That is the point of all these churning speculations here. How could I keep going better? How can I improve myself?

This long period of not working could be relaxation and replenishment, and I still feel stressed and tired. Is it that I am not truly relaxing? I am stopped, sitting watching TV, but resenting it. I think I am getting close to an idea but not fully there yet. In some way I am not relaxing, but instead trying to press on with something which is not supporting myself but is meeting some needs.

The need is to be better, or at least see myself as striving to be better. That is the way to cope with the shame of never being enough. So I KBO, cycling or reading for self-improvement, and beat myself up because it is never enough- so I am still stressed.

When we put our heads down and get on with it, we benefit by achieving what we want to achieve. Human beings die, mostly within a century of their birth, and spend ourselves, whatever we do. So a lone parent struggling to support their children, keep them well fed, get them educated, may have little time to relax but the spending is worthwhile.

One thought I had was that to KBO you have to numb yourself to the pain of it. KBO is simply what you have to do, even if it shortens your life. Some unconscious part of your brain wants to resist, and some other part has to stop you hearing it. But the part stopping you hearing or feeling does not only numb the pain but other things too. To have a full emotional life you have to feel the pain.

This internal conflict does me no good. So I wondered, could I do anything I do because I know I want to do it? It is not, I ought to do this, but this is behovely. That however means accepting all the sadness I feel at my current predicament and the way I have got here. What I did, the self-improvement by reading thinking writing or cycling might be much the same, but the internal conflict, and so the effort of it, would be less.

Being in touch with my full emotional range might increase my power. Menis Yousry said to me, “Speak from your heart and you will touch others’ hearts”.

It also seems that it might increase resilience. I am so fragile, I have such difficulty in KBO, because I have so much to suppress.

Then I read this Atlantic article about a man whose mother kicked him out of the house when he came out, and what has happened since. It made me weep, not because I am a prodigy of empathy feeling his pain, but because of my own.

I ministered at Pendle Hill. In childhood I learned the most important thing was to deny my femininity, because it must on no account be seen. Now I am learning to value myself, “every part hearty and clean” as Walt Whitman says, and that work is worthwhile. I feel a lot of shame, including at not working for money now, not being resilient enough, and now I assert that work is worth all my time, right now.

Of course I saved the chat. People loved what I said, and said so. And Ken Jacobsen shared his prayer:

oh men,
setting out again with your rifles
this hunting season,
what is it you are trying to kill,
is it some hurt, some fear you are trying to kill?

oh men,
what if the fear does not go away?
how will you heal your hearts now?

I love these paintings by Jean-Claude Bonnefond: the pictures are still yet full of tension, potential, life and change. What will happen next?

Mental states

How could one not be “present in the moment”? I have no time machine. Humans cannot simply “be”- we are always doing something, even if only breathing and taking in sense-perceptions. When we sleep our brains are making connections. It seems there is a “spiritual state” I would call “present in the moment”, which makes me think there are other states, somehow less than that. Moulded or traumatised, I live in such sub-optimal states; or, well-adjusted, I flit between states, choosing the one appropriate to my surroundings or task.

My ideal, now, is to “flow like water”, as the Tao Te Ching has it. In that state I am doing something without consciously controlling it.

I read that spirituality is not about “states”, but of course it is. An analogy: having learned the piano I can play scales in 24 keys, but there was a time I could only play a few, and had to learn the others.

Presence is not simply immediate experience without language. I know what a “table” is, can recognise or use it, because of the word. I cannot divorce experience from language, but there does seem to be a time when I am classifying and assessing verbally, and a time when I am relating. Relating seems better to me.

Colouring in these pictures was called “a quiet mindful moment in the spirit of self-care”, where I would call it a sensual activity undertaken simply for its own sake. Such activities are a way of not doing what one has to do. They may be recreational, in which case, choose the recreation which most delights you, or addictive, in that you use them to avoid pressing duties. Cleaning your house can be self-care, showing that you deserve it.

There is rumination. Like a cow, I return to old thoughts, and chew them over again. I tend to feel there is always some progression when I return to old thoughts, but then cows ruminate to digest grass. Things recede into the past.

There is paying attention. I look at an art work or listen to music and it occupies my conscious mind. There is worship, when I pay attention to the situation I am in. Sometimes, then, the ministry which is only for me comes to mind, a new realisation, which is unconscious processes making connections.

Or I just keep clicking through the same websites for dopamine, and the less dopamine I get the more desperately I click. I don’t know why I would rather read articles than books. I want to know.

Sometimes a physical need overwhelms me, and sometimes I am conscious of it, I pause to do something else, and the need gives me an extra kick to get my obedience. Different parts of the brain seek different activity, and strive for dominance.

I pause for a moment to check what I feel. One feeling recently seemed to deserve its very own German compound word- anticipation of delight, where the anticipation was so strong it was painful. Freudeangst.

There are things going on in my brain and body of which I am not conscious. I so want it always optimised. I never trust it is. I do so little because I rarely believe it will be safe.