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.

Trans v Ultra-Orthodox

A judge has ordered that a trans woman should never see her children, because their Orthodox Jewish “community” would ostracise them.

The fact that made the judge refuse contact for the trans father with her children may be that J, the father, still wants her children to be brought up as ultra-orthodox. The judge recognises all the reasons why it would be good for the children to see their father, and the list is heartbreaking. They have an irreplaceable relationship, a right to family life, they want it and not having it will be deeply distressing causing a deep sense of loss; the children will resent the injustice that their community deprived them of contact, and that deprivation is discrimination on the grounds of gender reassignment; the children’s sense of identity and self worth will be affected if their father is treated as a sinner, unworthy to see them; they won’t know if J is well or ill; they will not get to know or understand J, as the “community” will denigrate her; depriving her of contact is similar to adoption, cutting her out of their lives; if they have contact now, they might get some experience of the outside world, some chance at being able to make their own choices; they may never be able to choose to see their father, even as adults; contact now means that professional help is available; the court has ordered that the father send four letters a year, but the community may prevent even that. It is an appalling list.

Against the father having contact, the court counts the extreme pressure she has been under, which may make her upset in front of the children. That is Kafkaesque. If they saw her upset, they might see how transition helped her, and how she overcame her difficulties. However the judge says that indicates caution but would not by itself prevent contact.

The father’s lawyers argued that the schools should obey the law. If they did so, teaching tolerance and respect, attitudes might change. The judge disapproves of the schools, and will send the judgment to the Department for Education. I hope some attempt may be made to enforce the law on them.

The judge had hoped that a “warm, supportive” community would support children’s need to see their father. When he pointed out that the evidence had dire warnings of ostracism but no examples, the mother’s lawyers produced statements showing that child victims of sexual abuse had been ostracised. He told them he did not think they could be that monstrous, and they desperately scrambled to prove that yes, they were.

Even though he heard evidence that Jewish law could tolerate trans people, he accepted that this particular community could not. The community is proved to disregard justice, and the welfare of the children. The community all say they will continue their discrimination and victimisation. The father accepts the community is like that, but hope it can be made to change, but even educated people are unyielding and there is no evidence anyone in authority in the community wishes it to change.

The judge recognises that sexuality and gender are not a matter of choice. Trans folk have a right to be recognised and respected as such. “Sin” is irrelevant to law. The children could adapt to their father’s change, but the adults involved could not. The children would be taught in the community that their father was a sinner, and in the outside world that she was an acceptable person. They could never speak of their father to their friends. It would put too much pressure on them. It is too wide a gulf for them to bridge. They would have no support: everyone would take the community line. They might be ejected.

The judge says, I have reached the unwelcome conclusion that the likelihood of the children and their mother being marginalised or excluded by the ultra‐Orthodox community is so real, and the consequences so great, that this one factor, despite its many disadvantages, must prevail over the many advantages of contactThis outcome is not a failure to uphold transgender rights, still less a “win” for the community, but the upholding of the rights of the children to have the least harmful outcome in a situation not of their making.

Orthodox Judaism and trans

You have heard of trans women not being able to see their children. With the difficulty of transition, some of us cannot take on that additional fight. One I knew killed herself after being told her wife would not let her see her children, and at the funeral was erased: she was referred to only by her former name, as if a man had died. Now the English courts have ruled that a trans woman should not see her children, because they would be ostracised by their Orthodox Jewish community if she did. She can write four letters a year to each child.

To write this post, I have read the detailed statement of evidence and law by the judge, but not his own assessment and conclusion. It is clear to me that any child brought up in such a “community” will suffer significant harm.

People in this community are not responsible for their own lives. “Personal decision making is minimal, with all major concerns being discussed with one’s rabbi” [see paragraph 85 of the judgment]. J, the father who has transitioned, [58] knew at the age of six that she was different. She could not speak to anyone, and prayed to God to make it go away. Children in less controlling circumstances feel the same: I did not speak to anyone until aged 18. After fathering five children and twice attempting suicide by taking pills, she began to speak to a therapist outside the community. Broken Rainbow, the LGBT domestic violence charity, gave her confidence to leave. It has now closed down.

The community sees transition as “a defection from core values, and expressive of hostility and disrespect” [106]. The community cannot accept how badly it hurts its members, so blames those who leave.

The court-appointed Guardian accepted that within the community, the children could not make their own decisions about seeing their father [136]. Exposure to the outside world is seen as dangerous to the children, who are taught to see it as hostile to the Jewish community. The mother does not speak of J at all.

Children exposed to “outside influences” may be ostracised. The judgment gives examples of other divorced couples. One mother could not get her child into the school she wanted. “The school would not risk the influences the father’s contact with the child might have on the rest of the student body.” This, note, is the case of a straight parent. In J’s case, her son A’s head teacher said that if A met J he feared A’s religious commitment could be compromised.

In a case where a child was sexually abused within her family and the wider community from age 11-14, she was fostered through secular social services. She was not allowed to talk to friends, whose parents said they could not risk their children hearing about “things”.

J could not bear the thought that her son, aged 12, would be faced with her unexplained disappearance, so she told him fifteen months before that she could not carry on with the marriage, and that she was leaving five days before she did. This is held against her. The pain she has suffered, in being unable to be herself, attempting to conform, finding conformity impossible even though she knew how much it would cost her to transition, and now in transitioning and suffering all that loss, is used against her to show that she should not have access. Telling her son was seen as very bad indeed. Her own needs overwhelm her [120], she cannot prioritise the emotional needs of the children, which militates against contact.

Their interpretation of the Torah is completely against transition. Deuteronomy 22:5 forbids dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex, and Leviticus 22:24 forbids castration. For all religious purposes J will be considered male, will be required to give a Get, or religious divorce, to her wife [93], and as most social activities as sexually segregated would not be allowed to join either the women or the men.

The community fought viciously against J. Having so let her down, they project all their wrongdoing onto her. They threatened violence [61]. They refused to consult her about anything to do with the children, and would not accept maintenance payments from her. They rebuffed all her attempts at contact [25]. They made allegations that she had sexually abused her son aged 4, though the judge says “There is no credible evidence that J has behaved in a sexual manner towards D or any of the other children” [32].

The schools responded particularly badly. Minutes of a “Team around the children” meeting show their priority was to protect the community and enforce its “cultural norms around gender and sexual identity” [33]. The schools’ duty was to “uphold the religious ethos”. Other parents would “protect” their children from information shared by J’s children.

Fortunately, schools are restricted in England from so betraying their pupils. I am horrified that any still persist, but at least one has been shut down. It is unlawful for a school to discriminate against a pupil because of their association with someone transitioning gender [48]. The education regulations include a curriculum obligation to encourage respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the 2010 Act [50]. The school was forbidden to enroll new pupils because it did not enable pupils to learn of the existence of trans people. It must encourage respect of us, and other groups which suffer discrimination. Why the Department for Education is not shutting down other such schools, I do not know.

The law supports contact for parents. It is to be presumed that contact furthers the child’s welfare [38]. Children are entitled to the “love and society” of both parents. Court of Appeal cases on trans parents say children should have professional help to learn of their father’s transition so they can adjust to the change [41]. However the Guardian noted that required “a solid structure of support” for the children, wider than the nuclear family [129]. And yet J cannot see her children.

The eldest son is angry with his father. He blames J. “If he cares, he will leave me alone” [139]. He said his father had done him damage. The child cannot recognise that the damage comes from the Community failing to accept how human beings are, and imposing such terrible control.

You can download the judgment from this page.

Annunciations

Mary was a woman
born on this Earth
conceived by human beings
and Assumptioned by herself
When fornicators, outcast, died
the fornicating child
ceases to deny the signs
admits the truth and cries,

All generations will call me blessed

There is an angel
there is an angel
there is an angel
the angel is you

So when you’re sick and tired of defending your heart
when your wretched life seems cursed from the start
the night is too bright yet you’re scared of the dark
the next step’s too far you feel fucked, irked and narked cry

All generations will call me Blessed

There is an angel
There is an angel
There is an angel
the angel is
you

It’s a song. I did the tune, but someone else did the chords and I don’t know one, in particular, which he picked which was better than the one I could find.

It is a pain to write a poem and find someone painted it five hundred years earlier.

antonello-da-messina-annunciata

Annunciations usually have Gabriel decending in power and glory, but here we only see Mary. Suddenly, she gets it.

 

Spiritual Research

You can choose a ready guide from some celestial voice. There is a great deal of spiritual stuff out there. Here is the Spiritual Research Foundation, spreading wisdom through webinars.

It is not right about everything. The main reason behind the gay orientation of some men is that they are possessed by female ghosts. It is the female ghost in them that is attracted to other men… The ghost’s consciousness overpowers the person’s normal behaviour to produce the homosexual attraction. Not in every case, though, 10% is by conversion: having a gay experience as a teenager can make you gay. Fortunately, homosexuality can be cured by chanting ‘Om Rudraya namaha’ 108 times each in the morning, afternoon and evening- though the site does not say how many years one must do this.

About 30% of the world’s population is possessed by ghosts, which also cause reduced intellectual output, poor work, and oily skin. Ah, my skin is dry: I’m obviously OK, then.

This is a site which claims over six hundred articles in English, which is more than it has in Gujerati, and seventeen other languages. It claims great insight: A normal court of law does not have the tools nor the subtle vision to be able to see the various subtleties when deciding the punishment for murder, but it does.

The many wars and natural disasters around the world will culminate in World War III, or Armageddon, in 2023. Things will really begin to degenerate in 2018. Fortunately, the site has a World War III survival guide. There will be a complete breakdown of law and order and most of the world’s cities will be destroyed. The guide recommends fire fighting, natural disaster management, flower remedies and Agnihotra, which is a fire ritual to be performed at sunrise and sunset. You burn a few grains of rice coated in ghee, while chanting two simple vedic mantras. The chanting of the mantras helps create and develop the spiritual emotion of total surrender within one’s mind. Chant the mantra in such a way that its sound resonates in the whole home. The pronunciation should be clear and rhythmic. The Names ‘Surya’, ‘Agni’ and ‘Prajapati’ in the mantras are synonyms for the Almighty. The feeling of total surrender is developed through the utterance of these mantras.

Amid the dross, we find some sense. Total surrender may be worth cultivating.

Every week, SSRF conducts free interactive spiritual workshops, or Satsangs, by Skype. Nine languages are available. You will move through four levels of Satsang, to grow spiritually.

Everyone is affected by ghosts or demons to an extent.

before-salt-water-remedy

To expel the ghosts, place your feet in a bucket of salty water for fifteen minutes, while praying to God to take the negative energy away, chanting the name of God, then expressing sincere gratitude to God. You must do this daily. If a witch is causing excessive sexual thoughts, the witch will move away from the salt water and her black energy will be pulled into the water. The drawing is created by ESP, which can look into the deeper regions of Hell or the higher positive regions of Heaven and beyond. Through spiritual practice, the five senses, mind and intellect begin to dissolve and the soul shines through.

If you study hard enough with the SSRF, you may come to recognise saints! There are a thousand in the world, right now, and 130 of these are actively spreading spirituality. So, despite all the spiritual threat of ghosts and demons, you can be OK- practice all these rituals, listen to SSRF, and there will be an upsurge of saints after World War III. So that’s alright then.

Meditation after trauma

There is lots of value in Western Buddhist stuff. “Non-reactive presence” is just what I am working on at the moment, to be aware of a situation and my emotional response without succumbing to impulsive reactions, but to respond in Love and creativity. I read the term, shorn of any Sanskrit mysticising, and recognise it immediately. It is “foundational”, I read, and want to read more.

The very movement of trauma resolution is from disempowered collapse into an empowered, self-protective response. There’s a worthwhile goal. Meditative interventions which are helpful for a person with a nervous system which has not been impacted by trauma might be counterproductive or even harmful to a person with a trauma history. Ah. Mmm.

I have not been meditating. I have been scared of it. I kneel, I become aware of emotion, I get hurt. I have recently been aware of emotion which felt good, like a healthy reaction to current circumstances, and I want more access to that- so, meditate- Good, even though “painful”, “difficult”, even “bad”, being fear, anger, shame, confusion- Good, because appropriate. Fitting. Responding to how the world is now, not my past.

Awareness of emotion is good. Meditation is good. What kind of “meditative intervention” might have value for one traumatised?

Googling “Meditation after trauma” finds Tara Brach. I hate her. She writes of Radical Acceptance as if it is her trademarked jargon term, a particular wisdom you can buy from her. (I am enjoying my unfairness to her.) She writes of “learning to be her own best friend” and how when she was around twenty she had a harsh inner critic- but not usefully indicating to me how I might do that apart from buying her Wisdom from her. She goes on to the story of her psychotherapy client “Rosalie”, who was severely sexually abused as a child, and beaten when she put up any resistance. She describes some of that abuse, and how it affected Rosalie in her thirties- anorexic and unable to form sexual relationships.

The beating gets to me. The sexual abuse is horrible, but the beating worse, that brings home to me the child’s complete powerlessness which affects me most of all. Now, I think of that powerlessness and feel horror, bewilderment, misery. Pain. It is not simply empathetic. It is mine.

I did not find the article easy to read. And I compare myself- that abuse! I repeat to myself- I may take it in some time- even if anything I have suffered would be nothing to any person with the most minimal resilience, it matters to me.

I “experienced nothing like that”? Well, I am where I am.

Under the utterly brilliant wise psychotherapy of Tara, Rosalie plumbs the depths of her problem and quickly becomes well-adjusted, wise and happy. My mental image of me kicking both of them in the guts and neck repeatedly changes into another of me as a baby on the floor, crying, while they ignore me. Of course I am pretending. There is nothing wrong with me really. I am such a drama queen! There is a brief paragraph in Tara’s account where she acknowledges the rest of her meditation class could benefit: It opened up the possibility of forgiving themselves for not facing their own deep wounds, and it helped them understand that it was natural to seek relief by hiding and defending in the face of unbearable pain. Ah, the therapist’s mantra- Everyone’s screwed, so everyone needs therapy! She quotes Carl Rogers, The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.

Whether this is Tara’s intention or not, I have such an emotional response to this article that I can barely take from it any useful gen on how to improve, myself. I will go back to it.

Buddhism without Sanskrit! Yay!
Tara Brach.

 ♥♥♥

I get a lot more from Manuel Manotas. For one thing he does not describe what “Roger”‘s trauma was- he was raped repeatedly, he stubbed his toe once, whatever. I feel less judged. And this makes sense to me: Part of doing inner work consists of discovering the right balance between challenging and supporting ourselves; when trauma is present, this point tends to be skewed toward either too much challenge or complete avoidance of the situation that triggers the trauma. Neither approach will help you metabolize and transform traumatic psychological imprints. This is why having someone to help you traverse this difficult territory is key. Manotas’ concept of “titration” makes sense- plunging into trauma retraumatises; controlled bearable exposure, as with titrating reactive substances, helps me control the reaction, metabolise the pain, and heal. My avoidance structures have value. Here, I confront; then I watch telly for hours.

Staying with our experience without trying to change it is at the core of mindfulness meditation practice. Mmm. Yeah. Definitely a good thing, and more than I would really like I have to run away.

The comments are good, too.

Owls

This is my prayer, this my worship:

Hello.

At the Lakes, there is a display of owls: shown on wooden perches and happy enough to be stroked on the tummy. Children crowd round, at first shy, but seeing others stroke are emboldened to try too. It seems exploitative to me. “Owls to behold” rescues and rehomes birds. They are tame, so releasing them perhaps would be cruel, and the petting zoo funds their care; and the fact that I am disturbed does not stop me wanting photographs. He also sells owl pendants and tea-towels.

owl-balancing-act

Could you ask her to spread her wings? I asked. He lifts her from the perch, and explains that they do that in order to balance. He moves his arm to get her to spread again. “Did you get one?” I did.

owl-that-plays-with-finger

This one, when I stroke her tummy, “plays with” my finger. It is not a nip: the beak goes right round the finger rather than pinching flesh. It is playful, exerting a tiny part of the force that back-breaking, flesh-tearing beak could.

Beautiful plumage.

owl-settling-the-feathers

This one fluffs out her feathers before settling them again, I hope more comfortably.

It was an unexpected pleasure to find the owls. I was here to meet C., who has just discovered my Quaker meeting. We talked deeply of our lives and of politics, and then walked around the park. She asked of my trans experience. And I found that I was closing off discussion: she would say something deep, and I would say, “Look! An Iron Age hut!”

The hide is beautiful. That door is self-consciously rustic, with metal binding its edges even a bit steampunk. At its back, a wooden awning juts out like a prow, supported by a pillar. I have had a lovely conversation.

Thinking on the fifth circle of hell. Depressives, lying under the muddy stagnant water in marshes by the Styx, turning anger in on themselves- such a psychological insight for a Renaissance poet! Yes, I am there; and also open to new encounters, and new views. After, I walk home and have some of the last of the blackberries: lots are shrivelled but some are still ripe and round. Worship and prayer is where I, simply myself, unadorned, unpretending, look out and pay complete attention to- something other than myself, a person, or a blackberry, or an owl.

Hello.

Shrine co-ordinator

In the coffee shop, as we are leaving, S gets chatting to a woman she knew in the prison. Donna is a shrine co-ordinator. Oh, what’s that then? A great deal of work and difficulty she says. I press her.

She tells me of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. In 1531, the BVM appeared to Juan Diego, a poor man whose clothes were woven from cactus fibres. She told him to start a shrine to her, but the bishop said no. So she told him to go to the top of a hill, and pick flowers there. It was December, but he found Castilian roses, native to Spain rather than Mexico. As instructed he wrapped them in cactus cloth, and took them to the bishop. When they unwrapped the flowers, there was this image on the cloth.

our-lady-of-guadelupe

The image is miraculous. There are no brush strokes visible, and no identifiable pigment. It has been analysed by NASA. Cactus cloth would normally break down in fifty years, but nearly five centuries later it is pristine. In 1910 there was a bomb taken into the chapel where it is kept, in a bunch of flowers (Mexican revolution, I presume) which blew out the windows but did not hurt anyone or damage the relic at all. In 1979 the Pope ordered two hundred digital copies, one for each country in the world. They are- I am not sure of the technical term she used, something like “effective relics”- looking on the copy gives the same blessing as looking on the original. She hands me a small piece of card with the image on it. They also have prayer cards and banners. She could send me one.

The small piece of card is enough for me, I say. I am not into devotional objects. My Angels at Mamre icon is quite enough. I find the card, on my side-table as I type, disturbing.

Her friend talks of the nuns at Nupton: they ran a care home, but have just been disbanded and sent to other communities all over the country. She shows a photo on her phone of the Bishop in full garb standing in front of a group of nuns at their last mass together. She then was guided to the death-bed of a woman, who was able to reach out from under the covers and take her hand. Anyone would find this moving, but she finds it Providential. She has just been to Medjugorge, where the BVM appeared in 1981, prophesying a terrible war.

I say I know S from the Quaker meeting, but have no interest in devotional objects, and a Richard Dawkins objection to talk of miracles. This shuts her down, and is too strong- I am interested in people’s beliefs, and can see that the relic may give someone reassurance or consolation- but is a measure of how disturbing I find talk of such things, as if they were true.

Her absolute certainty of the miraculous provenance of the relic is like the absolute certainty some Catholics have of the wrongness of LGBT. I hear the certainty of the relic, and wonder at its spiritual value for her; but such certainty can be poison.

Christian Science

I thoughtChristian Science was about Christianity for scientists, then I heard it was much nuttier than that. It has to get over beliefs like this- Has it? Can it?

The Founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, The rich in spirit help the poor in one grand brotherhood, all having the same Principle, or Father; and blessed is that man who seeth his brother’s need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another’s good. She wrote Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures in 1875 that sickness is an illusion that can be cured by faith alone. Such can be deduced from certain Bible verses, such as “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect” and “God created humankind in his image”. If we are perfect, in the image of God, we cannot be sick. People tried to convince themselves that they were not sick.

I hear the anger this belief still engenders sixty years after my friend ceased to believe it, aged 12. Her father had migraines, and tried to believe they were not there. Her parents read Eddy’s book, understanding the Bible through it.

How is it Science? Because God is understood to be unchanging Love—the infinite Principle that is constant, universal, inclusive, eternal, the only true power and source of all good. It explains the spiritual laws of Love that enabled Jesus to heal sickness and sin. This divine Science also answers our fundamental questions about evil, reality, and eternal life. And as the word science implies, it is reliable, consistent, and provable, bringing healing to individuals and humanity through a deeper understanding of God. It isn’t, in other words: the term sounded good. Mary Baker Eddy turned wholeheartedly to God when she experienced a critical injury in 1866. As she read accounts of Jesus’ swift, powerful healings, a new sense of God, Spirit, as the only reality flooded her thought and healed her. Impelled to understand the Principle behind this experience, she continued to search for and find in the Bible the underlying laws of God that would form the basis of her teaching and practice of Christian Science. One coincidence or delusion for one charismatic, persuasive woman, and people throw out real medicine. Children have died and parents been convicted of neglect because of it.

It would be so lovely, if only it were true.

Our true nature is spiritual, Eddy decided. No. We are animals, physical creatures. If I am tired I need to sleep. They still teach that if we accept and believe Jesus’ promises, follow his teachings and understand his spiritual laws (as explained by Ms Eddy) we will be healed- so if we are ill, it is our fault.

Qi Gong

Perhaps I should not cycle to an exercise group…

To the Meeting house, in sweltering September sunshine, for the Qi Gong group. This is exercise for the middle aged, and we have four middle aged women plus Simon, our leader. Could we have it outside? It is mostly performed outside in China, but the wind might be a distraction. Though it is better with your feet on the ground than on floorboards, as the energy (his preferred word) flows through the Earth.

We start simply by breathing. Stand with feet apart at shoulder width, knees not bent exactly, just enough to be not locked straight, pelvis held in the middle, not tilted forward or back for a straight rather than rounded or over-curved spine (you know which is which) and breathing with the stomach moving in and out rather than the chest rising and falling. This is not how I am used to breathing. I feel it in the diaphragm. Simon says that breathing when standing chest out tummy in, as in the army, is a submissive posture designed to promote unquestioning obedience. I thought it was a sign of manhood to intimidate outsiders, but he says his stance is the powerful one. These things are cultural.

Nor am I used to breathing so slowly. We are taking it easy, to start with. I move my right hand from thigh level to above the head, while the left hand does the reverse, and breathe in all that time- but I am not used to taking so long to breathe in, and am full early, or to breathe out, and want to breathe in.

Breathing, at the start, men’s hands are over the belly left over right, women’s right over left. Or the other way round. Whichever, this is a momentary discomfort and consciousness for me.

After simply breathing, we do light loosening exercises, rotating ankles, knees, hips and neck, and shoulders, letting the relaxed arms swing round and hit the kidneys. More hitting, tapping up and down the arms, legs, torso and head. Tapping the head reduces tension and can cure headaches he says. Tap round the pineal gland, where the energy comes in.

It seems to me that he is not a true believer. The Energy is a metaphor, or even a story which he tells without belief, a part of his constant patter- or, he has no interest in persuading or teaching us, he simply says these things matter-of-factly. I find him difficult. He is talking about spiritual matters, more personal than even our feelings, yet perhaps because of this he seems closed off, behind boundaries or walls.

The exercise I find most difficult is standing with my arms in front of me, hands slightly apart, as if cuddling a beach ball. We are standing like this longer than I find pleasant, and I have been pulling on my handlebars or putting my weight on my arms, cycling. If I were to practise I would do this, and also consciously breathing more slowly.

It is a boring, dull, and slightly unpleasant hour, but I will go back to try it again rather than judging it on one go.