I can be present, and when I am it feels like I am conscious and the rest of the time I am asleep. That is the ubiquitous metaphor: Wake up! various groups shout at other groups, spiritual leaders at their willing audiences, people of strong political views from all parts of the spectrum at everyone else. And it really feels like that. I am asleep. This morning in the Quaker meeting I felt I was there, present, conscious, open to myself and the world, Continue reading
It seems my choices are to take Oestradiol only, and completely lack energy so that if I do my washing in the morning I just want to slump in the afternoon, or to take synthetic progesterone, and have febrile energy manifesting in highs I don’t fully trust- I seem rational, but its my Norethisterone brain doing the judging- and crushing lows.
I phoned the Samaritans, wanting to explore this low, quite how bad everything is. I would go into the darkness, and start by saying “I am not suicidal” to reassure Helen (or me). Thinking of how to express that I realised, “I want to die”. I don’t trust myself to look after myself.
The low is deep but I know it will end. That is an improvement. The high on Tuesday was really good. Even low, I feel more energy and purpose. Georgia O’Keeffe wrote, I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do. Well, I have mostly suppressed my terror below consciousness, and it has stopped me doing things, or even knowing what I want to do. Her way is better. I don’t trust my rationality, but having more energy may be worth that cost. Feelings pass.
As a benefits adviser I dealt with a man who cared for his mentally ill sister. She would do things like wander off at 2am without shoes on, and he would try to keep her safe, that is, well-managed. She was getting DLA high care low mobility, the most she could get, but he wrote to the benefits office asking if she could get more. Rather than telling him “No” they sent him a review form, and decided she should get less. He was distressed by this. She was calm, well enough fed, irked by his control as walking off in the night is fairly harmless, really. He was constantly stressed.
We did the tribunal, he was stressed, picking up various bags and papers, shaking, and she whispered to me, “Help him, Mr Maxwell”. So I helped him with his bags, and she was quietly caring for him.
It feels I have a carer, looking after the Inner Child, because I do not trust that spontaneous being. I trust the carer to understand the world, but the carer understands no better, is as insane as it imagines the Child is, and does no better than the Child would. The Carer’s first ambition is to avoid the Child having painful feelings, rather than to keep me safe, and it does not manage that, just anticipating painful feelings and worrying about them, and avoiding action. It falsely imagines that is “keeping me safe”. The Catholic Meditations are on getting rid of the Carer, an emptying of all the contents of the ego-consciousness to become a void in which the light of God or the glory of God, the full radiation of the infinite reality of His Being and Love [or, perhaps, the Child] are manifested. It quotes Matthew 10.39, He who loses his life shall find it.
Before today’s low, I discussed all this with Tina. I could lose my income, yet then was sanguine. All I could do was monitor the situation: no point in worrying. Life is bearable, with the occasional pleasing sensation. It is only not bearable if I imagine that I cannot stand this, there is too much unpleasant emotion. I might think that my current existence, at home most of the time, is not enough. I can get more pleasing sensation by noticing more: if I go into that state of awareness of my surroundings, particularly outside, there is a great deal of beauty and the state itself feels lively and energised.
I don’t know if I want more experience. I judge that I ought to. I find what I want when I see what I do. I do what I do. I feel dissatisfaction. I do not want to put plans into practice, as the Carer anticipates defeat.
I see a need for Advance into Greater Spiritual Maturity, and I am working on that. I am coming to appreciate my own good qualities.
I don’t trust the benefits system. It claims to pay a very low income to people unfit for work, but does not keep that promise. If some people in a wheelchair might not qualify for ESA, its criteria are far too strict. And I think I have identified the Gotcha moment, the moment where I could not have known but she seems, now, to have decided I did not score particular points. I am frightened.
Tina asks, are there any human systems which don’t make promises and fail to live up to them? Well, in 1948 the benefits system was more honest. Now there are deliberate cuts, and intended holes in the safety net. And we never manage perfection, just imagine it- each person differently. What we achieve is good enough.
-What do you hope for?
-You might get it then.
That is a good question, and I shall go away and consider it.
I have now been blogging for six years.
Walking down to the town in the sunshine, with the wind, vegetation, clouds, birds, I am not in any sort of spiritual “state”, but I am aware of my surroundings far more than I would be most of the time indoors. Previously, feeling this awareness or presence has felt like a spiritual state. A mere leaf could produce in me a sense of wonder. It felt completely different from ordinary life, and felt like something I wanted to cultivate.
It is worth cultivating, I have cultivated it and if it feels more routine and less exalted that is because it is a quotidian skill not a rare blessing for me. Now I am merely pleased not overwhelmed with delight, like the person who after walking across a desert carrying strictly rationed water returns to Britain where water flows abundantly from taps- and remembers drinking less than she might want. It is a state it is good to be in, in the Quaker meeting, but as a means to the end of sensing leadings within rather than an end in itself. And still I can recognise that it felt spiritual, simply for itself, close to the feeling of being aware of this wondrous universe and my part in it. It’s not quite feeling one with the universe, but is close.
I met Angela, who felt the need to explain her coat and thick fleece in the sun. There is a slight sheen of moisture on her forehead. She explained that she did not know it was this warm. She likes being outside, she said.
I noted that the sense of joyous awareness applies just as much to the shape of that roan pipe or the colour of the asphalt on the roads as it does to a roadside flower. The joy is in my awareness not what I am aware of. It’s not that everything is beautiful, but that really looking at something is a joyful experience. I remember feeling bored on the train if I could not read. Now, I can sit with equanimity noticing what is around me or in a reverie, and wonder if this is me increasing in wisdom, or merely changing desires and responses as I age.
The reverie, though. Sometimes I think through something for the first time, and more often I think something I have thought before. The sense of awareness of surroundings is less important in the civilised world. As I sit with my computer in the dark, I know exactly what is behind me- printer, hi-fi, wi-fi, piano, chaise longue- I do not need my senses alive to perceive changes. Outside, so much more is going on. There could be a balance between awareness of outside and cogitating on problems; we ruminate because we do not need so much to be aware of sensation.
I walked from Tate Modern to the Royal Festival Hall to meet H for dinner. The tide is high, and I loved the sound of the water slapping against the wood and stone of the banks, the steps, the piers. I looked over the rolling swell and loved the light brokenly reflected from its fractured, constantly changing surface. There is a busker. Here, the delight is in the things perceived as well as the heightened perception. I have found art galleries have been able to put me into my state of heightened perception, presence, awareness, whatever, and it takes less and less effort. In Awareness, I have wanted that “state” to persist when I am involved in a task, but my concentration on our conversation, with some attention left for the food, is close enough. As I speak I cogitate, but listen to her rather than plotting what I might say.
The concert at the Royal Festival Hall was Bach arr. Schönberg, Hindemith, Parsifal put into a symphonic suite by Stokowski, and the Four Last Songs. I found the singer’s voice ravishing, and the third song moved me to helpless tears. H puts her arm around me to console me. I am “in a state”, and my state pleases me.
This whole recording is worth listening to, and at 15.15 it introduces Lauren Marks, who after an aneurysm lost her internal monologue. She was simply aware of her surroundings, not chattering to herself about anything.
The small child desperately wants to cry, but does not, because she knows that one peep out of her will make everything ten times worse. The young woman has had a terrible disappointment, and could cry, but will not give her enemies the satisfaction. Not crying is a good lesson to learn, but there are two ways to learn it.
One is, to see the impulse to cry as a problem to be controlled, even an enemy to be resisted. But the enemy I punish is myself. Suppressing feeling is a valuable skill, but only in grave necessity, when the feeling cannot be indulged at all, and not for a moment longer than necessary- as if you have to hold your breath, but then can sigh with relief, and breathe again. I came to loathe and fear my feelings.
Then I must use so much energy to suppress the feeling. It is like a toddler, who will not be denied. You ignore it, it thinks you can’t hear, it shouts louder. I spent my time battling myself. And it is there, anyway, affecting my behaviour- I manage to block it from my own consciousness, but possibly not from anyone else’s.
It seemed to me that when I cry I was communicating with myself. I read somewhere consciousness was like a mahout on a large elephant which was the unconscious processes beneath. The elephant needs to let the mahout know, and it can. That overwhelming pressure to cry- it is Sadness. I take a moment to feel it. A sharp exhalation, it is painful.
It is there. It is me.
It is my feeling, my reaction to my circumstances. It fits; it is that reaction which fits me, my desires, my character, my ability. It is good, right, beautiful. It is not my enemy to be crushed, but my wise counsellor to move me. I accept it, and do not need to cry. It is an advantage not to, sometimes, even though crying can be a sweet release, a movement from despair to acceptance, feeling the feeling intensely then washing it away.
Observe a 4-year-old child going through her daily life. You will not find the slightest bit of irony in her behavior… She likes what she likes and declares it without dissimulation. She is not particularly conscious of the scrutiny of others. She does not hide behind indirect language. The most pure nonironic models in life, however, are to be found in nature: animals and plants are exempt from irony, which exists only where the human dwells.
I am self-conscious, a consummate hypocrite. I grow out of it. Now, I am very sad. It is time to meditate. I am wary of it, being alone with myself, without barriers to protect my idea of myself from my real self. To prepare, I intone
I accept- All of me. All of me.
I kneel, and find- frustration. Ah. Feelings are not predictable, they can have more surprising combinations than that, they just are.
Not knowing yourself does not mean you can escape yourself. You are still you, even if you think you are somehow other. Other people may see you better than you see yourself. That woman, and how I was with her: I have been thinking of her and her father. He was a man old before his time with a mild, ingratiating manner, a white beard, and a very soft, low voice. She was in her twenties but appearing much younger, very quiet and timid before me. I asked her if her husband hit her, and she replied, “Only occasionally”.
“You were so gentle with her,” said Beate, wonderingly. She once asked me why I always used horrible, dismissive words for people.
I saw her several times over several years, to try to get her benefits, usually sickness benefits. I was gentle with her. I spoke softly and explained clearly, with an attempt to demonstrate respect- inabilities which might make you entitled to benefits may seem shameful to some but are not.
I don’t know. I- took a lead from her in how to conduct the interview. Or I found a way to work with different responses: with people who were angry I would be practical, model a practical approach to the problem, and with people who were scared I would be gentle, to try and make them no more scared, to let them open up.
When she was single, she invited me to eat with her family. I took people up on such offers sometimes but not her. It seemed to me that she desired me as a partner, which I may have projected onto her though I did not think such a partnership would work for me.
I could be soft and gentle with a client. I could be as much that feminine self before transition.
I said to Moira, “I am quite resilient”. She said, “Actually, I think you are very easily hurt”. Resilient was the manly way I wanted for myself.
And at another time, it felt like when presenting male I was in a defensive posture all the time, tense, expecting attack. That tension is ineffectual as defence as it is not responsive.
Here am I debating. Was I fooled? Is transition just a con, as you can be the Real You without all this faff? It did not feel I could be. Sometimes I was. Sometimes I wasn’t. It felt better, expressing myself female, and so it is not just a con, there is some basis in reality. Transition may not be the perfect solution, but it is close enough to be tempting. There may be no perfect solution even in some radical feminist utopia. Where women could be like men without contrary expectations, would anyone be feminine, or would it be more disrespected than now?
In meeting it seemed that the state of awareness is a sensual pleasure. I get to a state where I am present in the moment, and my senses are precise- I can pay great attention to a knot in the wood of that bookcase, and it seems I am seeing beauty in the thing, but perhaps it is that I am delighting in being in that state of sensual awareness. Calm your mind and be present in the moment. It is pleasureable.
It could just have been a good day with that woman- she is receptive to a way of dealing with clients which I am good at, and like, so I enjoy it, the melting feminine Mes Larmes me fits that particular situation. There are a range of human responses, and perhaps telling myself that I particularly like one or two makes me less competent with the others. Yet- my friend deprecates herself, and I immediately respond gently- it delights me, and is a good response.
Be of good cheer. Let cheerfulness become a climate that surrounds you, day in, day out … a constant undercurrent. On the surface you may be doing anything, but deep down there should be a singing heart. Unless you can remain cheerful, life is bound to become heavier everyday … the only thing that can keep you flowing is cheerfulness. So don’t miss an opportunity; whenever you can, laugh, smile, dance, sing … Then a miracle happens one day: you become so full of light that you can go into darkness and the darkness disappears. You become so cheerful that you can go into sadness and the sadness starts laughing.
On Sunday 21st I was in a state of misery and terror. I felt not grounded: not knowing anything, not able to know anything, my not knowing a threat to my well-being so that I could not care for myself. I thought, these feelings will pass, and answered myself- only because I blot them out! They are the rational response to the situation!
What brought it on? I knew my friend was just not that interested in me. We would have gone for a drink but she had no time. Then I phoned G for a chat and found they had been together. Possibly something around not-knowing:
there are these feminist arguments for or against innate differences between the sexes, and I would like to argue for differences- but feel unable. I would face too much hostility. I argued against. It seemed clear to me. Then I read evidence for- and am just confused. So much on the web is people so certain, and I can’t be. Cis people are arguing about me, and trans folk butting in face such hostility! I should ignore it, but it is on places I go. So the ungroundedness.
I was read as lower class. I was in the coffee shop, dressed for cycling, and picked up The Guardian. “Would you like this?” said a man, offering me The Express. No, I like papers with a higher reading-comprehension level. “No thanks, I’m left wing,” I said. I phoned the Samaritans, and he said “You’re clearly highly educated and intelligent” early in the call, just after
-Is there a name I can call you?
and I felt his surprise, and conscious readjustment
Or, it’s small child again. The monster will get me. Imminent death.
I wasn’t in the terror when I phoned. The worst had passed, and I felt tired and fragile. Seeing it like weather helps some people- don’t go out when it’s raining too hard. It isn’t always raining. I felt I would always have to battle through the rain.
I am so lonely. Contact on the net is no substitute. I want to feel useful- but then, in work I did not always either, I was following procedures rather than doing anything worthwhile. Walking in the park, I feel moments of delight in beauty- but am unsure I like the experience of the whole walk. Or, sometimes, biting into a peach-
I am aware of the mindfulness theory, that such moments are available continuously. I want them to be. Is it my judgment, accepting or resisting in the moment, rather than the thing itself?
I want to blend into the background in the most eye-catching way possible.
So Philip told me, referring to what I was wearing- ugly, dull, unusual. I now take this phrase as symbolising yet another of my incompatible desires. Loving totally different things is liberating when they are compatible, as I love the country and the city, and sometimes debilitating, as when I wanted to express myself female and wanted to make a man of myself, which I could only eventually reconcile by deciding to transition.
He might not have meant this, but it still fits what I want- to stand before an audience with a microphone, and to hide away from sight, at home. To blog my most personal feelings and hide behind a screen. The high from the microphone made re-entry after painful, especially when I did not know what it was. Knowing it, I might deal with it. And I can do both.
I wonder if one of these is more a reaction to circumstances, and the other in some way my state resisting those influences. Both would be “Real me”- real me is a phantasm. I have to live amid those circumstances and influences. But the time when I am most susceptible to such influence is as a child, and I might hide away my propensities under a censure which is now only in my own mind, and not in my society.
Writing on 30 January: I will live with this, and see if other understandings come to me.
Wanting attention could be primeval, the baby wanting mother’s attention. Hiding was my mother’s way, and also H’s: she told me almost no-one knew her as well as I do, except her wife. It seems cowardly, inadequate, wrong- so wanting attention could be over-compensating. Does either fit who I am, now?
31 January: Why would children act up for attention, even hostile attention? Because humans interact, and they need to learn how, and test themselves against adults.
22 February: Now, after my terror yesterday, I am fully in hiding from the world mode, which feels depressive and boring and uncreative, yet right now is what I want. No particular new understanding has come to me this month, just awareness of conflicting desires and dissatisfaction.
23 February: I am “a bit depressed, actually”- that is, depressed. From here, it feels going on stage, or even just interacting, is risky; childish attention-seeking, in which I miss the point, and make an idiot of myself. I must remember the warm applause of a hundred people at Greenbelt.
When I am thirsty, I drink. Except I don’t.
I was unemployed and went back to my parents. I drank at the conventional times we all drank: tea with breakfast, morning coffee, tea after lunch, afternoon tea, a glass of water with dinner and hot chocolate with two ginger biscuits to dunk in it, before bed. I still do: a pint or more of tea with breakfast, same with lunch, and hot chocolate before bed- three ginger biscuits now, take three from the packet in the kitchen and take them to the sitting room rather than taking the biscuit tin. Tea when I meet him, coffee when I meet her. Rarely, I feel thirsty at other times and have something to drink. Or not: people take water when hill-walking, but some do not, perhaps from a self-image of ruggedness. None of this namby-pamby for them.
I have this mechanism to keep me hydrated, and I bypass it. Now, I need to pee, and resist: I want to develop capacity. It is useful pelvic floor exercise. And sometimes very drunk people fall over, and their over-full bladder bursts, a serious, life-changing injury.
Sweet dreams are made of this, sang Annie Lennox. So much is unconscious. So much of what I do is unconsciously to placate my parents, learned when small. I still want to please them, perhaps to feel safe.
I delight in feeling present in the moment, with beauty around me. One answer to what do you want? is, what pleases me. The experience of being present with beauty, in a gallery, with a book; or with a thing to see and appreciate, which can be concrete or an empty tin can as well as a flower.
Yesterday I went to see a friend. I used her as a counsellor- she does not seem to mind- and that starts with “How are you?” I could not answer. I was stuck in some conventional mode of interaction, where the answer is “Well, thank you,” because I wanted to move into that present awareness, but was aware that if I did my distress would overwhelm me. I said, “Let me get present”, and she gave me the time, and we talked of less affecting things. Actually it did not overwhelm me: I was conscious of it, and exhibited it, but could proceed while feeling that.
What I want to avoid is so important; yet it is OK. I need not avoid conscious feeling, or even expression of it.
I feel there is something I might want which I might have to work for, something more than the instant experience, something in the future- “Where do you want to be in five years’ time?”
Two days ago I wrote, We get told what we ought to want, what is good to want, and we get told it so hard that our other wants become unconscious and we think we want what we ought to want but there is no fire in that, no love, no delight or true desire. Find what you want- it is harder than you are told it is. Find what fires you and follow that. I will too when I work out how. But then “what fires you” is also a conventional understanding of vocation. Conventional understanding gets in the way of knowing. Krishnamurti: We eventually learn that spirituality is not about leaving life’s problems behind, but about continually confronting them with honesty and courage. It is about ending our feelings of separation from others by healing our relationships with our parents, co-workers, and friends. It is about bringing heightened awareness and compassion to our family life, careers, and community service.
Er, actually, that bladder thing? It’s the kind of thing you remember. Yet other googling shows it is rare.
On a rare cold day this warm not-winter, my fingertips were painfully cold cycling, so I went into the outdoor shop for warmer gloves. I don’t like the thick, black things- but the shop assistant brought these, with that embroidered detail. It is pretty. Those were the ones I wanted. I looked at unappealing thick socks for inside walking boots, and she brought the women’s ones: pink, baby-blue and grey. The first I choose to wear are the pink ones.
I might have found these appealing when I was presenting male, though I could never have worn them; and still I resent my strong preference, as without it, it would be so much easier to fit in; and this feminist attacks me: every step forward where you embrace your femininity and consider being a woman needs a certain image leaves me moving one step backwards. I really do see how the pink would be offensive to a woman who wants another image and feels constrained into feminine, or judged for being unfeminine, yet I want the pink ones even though I wish I did not.
What would it be like to be a shepherd?
We are discussing her trip to the Lake District. She saw a sheepdog expertly divide a flock of sheep and put one half of it onto a trailer. A local with a sheepdog said how he could never tire of the beauty of the landscape, because it is always changing: the cloud might come down and simply obscure the hillside.
She thought, it’s not the beauty of it all, a small patch of grass is sufficient. Yes. Or this wooden plank, on the table in the coffee-shop.
I remember when I noticed this, walking home from work, in Oldham- decrepit post-industrial streets, narrow terraced two up two downs- and was bewitched by the beauty of a patch of grass two yards long. Suddenly you see, on one particular blessed day. Such moments, to start with, feel like a spiritual experience. They are a huge shock, causing delight. And now, they are available at any moment: I pause, and am aware of beauty. It might be in any thing, natural or artificial.
I have learned to see this beauty. I have been taught by art: by photographs of things thought mean, or ugly, or not worthy of attention, taken to show beauty in unexpected places. And this concept of beauty in the every-day so delights me that I have practised pausing to pay full attention, before which anything may be beautiful. Separately, I have been shocked by sudden perception which feels so much more real, more clear than seeing while I worry about something else- I called it “Presence in the Moment”- and now do not have such shocks, because while meditating, or on the bus, or in moments when I have nothing, particular, to think about I can drop into that mode. And then I am more conscious of what I feel.
So imagining that simpler life, being a shepherd in the 19th century. I imagine it would be practical, and one might conserve energy for those moments where effort is necessary. I have no idea whether that person would find joy in the beauty of his surroundings. If so, whether he might have that sudden shock of joy, or always be aware of it. I think there would be joy in the work, and the life, but do not know how it would manifest. Perhaps I should go back to Thomas Hardy, before him few novelists took an interest in the speech of the base mechanicals.
The landscape is not beautiful, it is sublime, said the Philosopher- in the Lake District, last week, to my friend. You learn what is “beautiful”, what is sublime simply is.
This is a strange mood.
I might think it despair, exhaustion, inanition.
It might be Acceptance:
seeing the real, and accepting it
though if I thought that would be a pleasant feeling I was mistaken.
Where ignorant armies clash by night,
I am like a weanèd child.
By the river I saw two women from the Outdoor centre, lifting kayaks, wearing T shirts marked “Who do you trust?”
-That’s a good question.
-Who do you trust? she asked.
-I trust in the general benevolence of the Universe, I said. Who do you trust?
-I trust in God, she said definitely: I thought she would, as the business is overtly Christian.
Did we disagree- or rather, since we were announcing what we trust in, do we trust in substantially different things?
If so, does it matter?
I was delighted to receive your email. My immediate response might be considered servile-
but it was the response my heart wished to make.
I communicated with a snake once. It had its coil round the back of my neck, so it had a firm grip but avoided things like my carotid artery which I do not want squeezed. I felt it could hold on to slightly more of my neck, and somehow it understood, shifted slightly, and held on to slightly more of my neck. I was still safe, with this tame snake.
With R, I have such a sweet negotiation. I am concerned to communicate what I want, but more concerned that he will be comfortable with the outcome. I feel that he has a complementary feeling.