Truth and beauty in London

This man has found what he loves, and can devote time to it. His t-shirt has the words “eat, sleep, practise” written on musical staves, and he is playing a Rachmaninov prelude on the St Pancras piano. I stop to listen which discomposes him, and he gets the chords wrong. He stops on a tonic chord, and apologises in a slight foreign accent that he has not been able to play for ten days. I reassure him that though he lost the line of the piece, he managed to create a musical ending. He went on to Mozart.

I can pay either my electricity bill or my Tate membership renewal, so this may be my last trip into London for a while. And it is so lovely I may spend the money I cannot afford. I cycled to the station in warm sunshine, and got to Meeting just in time. I am surprised to find an all-age worship. I have a leaf made of card to write or draw on for the central tree. I sit beside my gay friend, and notice “And Tango makes three” on the mat in front of me. I read it. It is beautiful. After we agree there is nothing anyone could object to in it. Yet people do. Also there is this lovely cushion:

In Meeting, children play with stickers and glue in the centre, which has no table today. I sit aware of the beauty of the children and their absorption. People read what they have written on their leaves, and I feel able to say daffodil ministry- “he has found what he loves”. One says the words spoke to her.

Then they have a shared lunch before AM. One tells me of the spiritual practice of being part of where she is. She is bounded by her skin, and her awareness extends beyond into the world. So does her action, fitting the moment, the real not imagined world, participating not resisting. It makes her come alive. I feel alive hearing her. I feel we are both finding our way into such a way of being: we see the possibility. For me it is a matter of letting go.

I stuff myself. I am not passing up a free lunch.

Thence to Tate Britain for the William Blake exhibition. In the Tube, which is terribly hot, I sit opposite a slim, tall, beautiful woman. The man beside me has tattoos all down his left arm, and a rose on the back of his hand.

With my mantra I am here. This is. I am I am bowled over by the beauty of the sun through the trees on John Islip street. How can I just stop coming here? It refreshes my soul! Yet I hope it is the practice rather than the place which renews me. I can find other sources of loveliness. See Heaven in a wild flower, as Blake said. Everything that lives is holy.

It is crowded, of course. I love a picture of Christ offering to redeem mankind. God, a man broad of chest and thigh, seems sunk in grief. Satan flies below, satisfied, awaiting his due. And Christ seems overjoyed. His arms are beautiful, spread out as if on the Cross yet as if for a hug, expressing joy. I love the theology of it, the grace of his body.

To the bookshop. No, I can’t afford books either. I still get one, of extracts from Proust using paintings to describe a scene, illustrated by the paintings. I wanted a reminder of Proust, and reading one paragraph on the goodnight kiss, on how his unexpectedly merciful father looked like a picture of Abraham, fits.

I am here. This is. I am. I am saying goodbye to it for a time, perhaps, and I take in the full delight looking over the Thames from the front steps. I stop and turn round to take in the view from the entrance to Pimlico station.

This is Life!

I hope the joy is in the practice of awareness, though it may also be in treating myself, going to a place that I love.

I chatted to a Filipina woman in the grounds of the gallery. She is here for a job, has an American accent, and was taking a selfie with the gallery as background. A woman held the handlebars of a child’s bicycle for a moment, then let go and the child wavered off, unsupported. I am now on the train, pausing to look out the window. I should get home before sunset.

I  had a kickabout with my neighbour in the back yard yesterday, my first this century, the first perhaps I have ever done for fun. She compliments me on my skills- “you must play!” Perhaps she thinks I am a cis woman. My skills are nothing for a man. I watch her keepy-uppy.

Being where I am without resistance, in aware presence, brings joy.

I hope.

Notes on creating a spiritual experience

My mantra is

I am here.
This is.
I am.

My aim is to sustain mindful, present awareness through a walk I have done hundreds of times.

It is a warm, sunny day. As I walk down the road I notice a pain in the Achilles tendon. Should I go back for a prophylactic ankle support? No, I will not work it too hard. I will take care of my body. It is worthy of care.

I am here. This is. I am.

With the wisdom of my Friend, I seek to combat my own ressentiment. I complained of overheating in exercise, probably exacerbated by oestrogen. She said I heated, not overheated. It just is. Deal with it. Certain parts of the walk are rough underfoot. These are not difficulties, they are just parts of the walk, easily passed with care, more difficult than a metalled road but no real problem. My feeling that difficulties should not exist is the problem. One applies a lesson narrowly then more widely.

I am here. This is. I am.

I am blogging and writing as I walk. I think of what I might say here. I want a record of it. I use words to describe my direct experience: it does not detract, not really.

I am here. This is. I am.

Nettles lean over the path. I might be stung. There is the river.

I am here. This is. I am.

It is beautiful, but more, it simply is. I want to go beyond suddenly noticing beauties and being shocked into awareness of my surroundings, to a steady awareness. It is all beautiful. I am here. This is. As I am trans, often I walk along not really aware of my surroundings, in case someone is reading me and is derisive. All is OK.

I am here. This is. I am.

And then, where the path had been overgrown with nettles and thistles and rough underfoot, a wide swath has been mown down. I did not expect this. I am grateful. It is pure pleasure.

I am here. This is. I am.

The school holiday has not started, but a whole class has been brought here. Some swing on the tyres, some are supervised on the zip wire. One wants to do it by herself. I enjoy their noisily expressed delight.

There is so much sensory experience! There is the sound of the children, and the birds; the warmth of the sun on my skin (with sun tan lotion); the sight of the broad track, the river, butterflies, trees; a feeling-

slight discomfort- I am always nervous- over a feeling that all is well.

I am here. This is. I am.

There are times in shade, even when trees meet overhead, and times when the vista broadens and I am in sunshine.

After about an hour I lose concentration. I am thinking, rather than paying attention to my surroundings. The first time it is about an email I might write, but after that about old resentments, ruminating as I have ruminated before. I use my mantra:

I am here. This is. I am.

Another moral lesson to broaden out: I do not forgive my mother as that would be impertinent or patronising. It would not be treating her as an equal. She always did her best and loved me as she could. Judge not, that ye be not judged. In the same way, the road is near and the traffic noise loud. It is impertinent to resent it as a loud, mechanical noise, or decide to love it as the sound of my civilisation, powerfully pursuing its goals. It simply is.

I am here. This is. I am.

The grass is as soft as the breast of doves,
And shivering sweet to the touch, I think to myself, reaching out. Oops, not those immature seeds. Possibly the poet meant a different species. That leaf is. I pause to look at a red fly, with an orange abdomen. It is a centimetre long, and hovers.

I am here, again! I have gone round the circle, and am back on the tail of my walk, going back up the hill. And it is different, this time. There is some metal barrier-fencing, by the side of the path and I strum on it, enjoying the reverberations. Then I pick up a flattened can to strum on it louder. Then I cut myself on the can.

If Monet had painted the colour of that wheat, I would have thought he was exaggerating.

I am just walking, now. Climbing the hill is an effort. And the practice of holding concentration pleases me. I was there, and aware of it. This is a spiritual experience, and the deliberate attempt to create it is called worship. I stopped several times to contemplate the beauty.

A prayer of surrender

I had to rewrite the prayer Richard Rohr quoted, of surrender to God, as I am not sure I believe God exists separate from human beings. I am clear that the ego, the petty-self, produces little people, and there is a real self, a core within, which can liberate itself in the great struggle for maturity in mid-life- or younger, if the person is blessed. This is the way to do- not-do with the Tao, to flow like water.

Rohr quoted Joseph Campbell- Where you stumble, there lies your treasure- and the Prayer of Abandonment, by Charles de Foucauld:

Father,
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me
and in all your creatures—
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

I rewrote it. I am not sure I am able to pray this. The second stanza may be the real self responding, or the conscious mind’s best perception of that real self:

Inner light
You are my truth and my will
without you I can do nothing
yet I block you because I judge you
as stupid or wicked.
I believe: help thou my unbelief.
I need to surrender, and my fear is terrible.
This is the perfect human
whom God created.
Help me let go.

I am worthy of life.
I am soft, gentle, peaceful.
I am alive already in my own acts
I am beautiful, if only I saw it.
I am wise, if only I trusted it
I am perceptive, and my fear is a blindfold

Rohr’s summary of the Word of God, God’s message for humanity, is beautiful:

Listen to your body.
Live in the Now.
Love all that is.

He also says “Slow down”, which I don’t think quite captures it: lose the frenetic, but be capable of swift decisive action in the right moment. That anxiety and stress gets in the way when you need to act. Shed the anxiety- chill out- to be capable of action.

There is the spiritual reality, the created Beauty of the human being, and there is the difficulty of acting in the world, amongst other human beings. More on this tomorrow.

Action without resistance.

There is what you feel
then there is what you feel about what you feel.

Eckhart Tolle shows this in the woman he healed. He said to her, Can you see that your unhappiness about being unhappy is just another layer of unhappiness?… Find out if it’s possible to allow those feelings to be there.

And she said, This is weird. I am still unhappy, but now there is space around it. It seems to matter less.

I realised how I feared my fear. Before, I feared my fear and anger so much that I was not conscious of it. Then I was conscious of the fear and anger and I still feared it. Now, my feelings disappoint or irk me. They are proof of my inappropriate response to everything. I, that is the I of consciousness and language, call that part that feels the “Real Me” even the “Inner Light” and disdain it.

It seems to me that defence mechanism could be useful. It is a flatness of affect, consciously being in the intellect. Underneath it (while I fail to defend myself from myself) I tie myself in knots. If I could be in that place while accepting and allowing my feelings to flow, being conscious of them, it would be a good place to be. I am only overwhelmed by my feelings when I resist them.

Resistance and action are not the same.

I want the world to be other than it is. So I resist it. In doing that I resist myself.

There is a flow, where the creature, the whole-I, acts in its own interests (which are loving and creative) to achieve what whole-I wants to achieve. And there is resistance, questioning, “What will people think?”, fear of myself, confusion. I “think” about what I should do instead of doing it, and so become divided. My thinking produce decisions which resist how the world is and how whole-I is.

There is the action needed in the moment. My friend, threatened with redundancy, can look for jobs. I can read a book, or meditate. Some of this action I resist less, as I have consciously accepted it- it seems so much of my fast thinking is resistance that I need to draw this up into consciousness and slow-think myself into acceptance. Or I need to meditate more.

And I resist Tolle. His idea of the “Pain-body”- well, I believe I am created in the image of God, so that my feeling self is good. It could just be a slight difference of conception. When I express anger, it is disproportionate, and it gets in my way. And I am very angry. Most of it is at myself, and a lot of it is at the world.

The wise soul does without doing

That’s Ursula LeGuin’s rendition of Tao te ching, poem 2. She comments, Over and over Lao Tzu says wei wu wei: Do not do. Doing not-doing. To act without acting. Action by inaction. You do nothing yet it gets done. . . . It’s not a statement susceptible to logical interpretation, or even to a syntactical translation into English; but it’s a concept that transforms thought radically, that changes minds. The whole book is both an explanation and a demonstration of it.

One of these mornings
you gonna rise up singin
Then you’ll spread your wings
and take the sky

My Quaker belief

In his last book, Stephen Hawking addresses the question, “Is there a God?” I would say no- or rather, that’s not a useful question.

My belief and my understanding come from my history: what I have read or been told, what people important to me have believed, what experiences I have had- and that I call some of them “spiritual experiences” is a product of my understanding. After some particularly wonderful spiritual experiences I reformulate what I believe, for myself as well as for you.

I was baptised a member of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and taken to worship weekly throughout childhood. I left home and continued worshipping weekly. When at University I went to St Andrews Cathedral, Aberdeen, and served at the altar, and was also in the Christian Union so exposed to Evangelicalism. I read the whole Bible with commentaries, repeatedly, over a period of about ten years. I said the creed weekly without any sense of being untruthful, though I doubted the virgin birth.

In 2001 I told my Anglican vicar I could no longer bear to worship God disguised as a man, and he was so negative about that I decided to leave his church. I had been introduced to Quakers by two friends, so knew I would be welcomed as a woman in a Quaker meeting; and had found value in the silence of Quaker worship. I continued worshipping just about weekly, with Quakers rather than with Anglicans.

I was aware that there were “non-theist” Quakers, and I rather disapproved. With my then partner, who took the point very seriously, I would have asked “Why should anyone who does not believe in God join a Religious society?” Then a Friend said, “It’s not why we join: it’s why we remain” and I understood, with my heart. From verbally challenging her membership (not directly about her but saying things which implicitly included her) I went to passionately desiring her to remain.

In 2009, I realised that I did not believe in God. It was a long, painful process. It was a change to my identity as Christian, a challenge to my relationship, possibly a breach with my Meeting, (though it included non-theists) which was the place I experienced acceptance as a trans woman rather than toleration. In February 2010 I accepted that I do not believe in God, finally. A day or so later I was touristing along the south coast, and went into a church: and was brought to my knees by a sense of holiness.

Being good at producing clever phrases, I said “I am rationally atheist and emotionally theist. I have a strong personal relationship with the God I do not believe in”. More than thirteen billion years ago there was a big bang, and the universe will not end but in trillions of years particles at absolute zero will drift apart, too far apart to influence each other, in cold blackness forever. We have evolved, over billions of years, over about 55m years as primates. So now my beliefs about God relate to my beliefs about myself as a human. I am an organism that, just as it takes in food, takes in sense-perceptions and ideas and moulds them into an understanding of the world; and I am a social being, incapable of survival without my social group, moulded by them. So I thought, God is Reality: when I worship, I relate to something greater than myself, which is human society, the biosphere, the entire world. And, being a social animal, I conceive of that as a matter of relationship. I am a tricksy soul. I love paradox.

After some rather wonderful spiritual experiences this month, I adjust what I think, returning to Little Gidding:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Shall be to return to where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Because I am a primate, I have a primate understanding of all-that-is, all that I could know or perceive. It is pre-lingual. I access it in the spiritual state called “mindfulness” or “awareness” where my words fall away and I know immediately rather than mediated through words.

And, so that I can communicate with other people, but also so that I can get the kind of grasp of an idea that makes me feel more comfortable, I put these things into words. I am a writer. Words are important to me.

My verbal and non-verbal (which, by a series of accidents, I call “spiritual”) understandings dance around one another, leading each other on. Eliot’s “Where we started” is the non-verbal understanding, always influencing our conscious belief. And, merely because by accident I have read Carl Rogers- “On Becoming a Person” and other books, and books about him and his ideas- I call that verbal understanding of myself my “self-concept” and underlying it my “organismic self” responds to its surroundings like an organism does.

That dancing may be as in “The darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing”.

Occasionally I am inspired to write poetry, by YHWH, Erato, or my unconscious mind, and around 2005 I wrote,

It hurt so much and it’s stopped.
Who I am is who I ought to be.

I kept rejecting who I am. It is my way. And last week that changed from poetry to prose for me. I would say it as a thing I believe, around thirteen years after it was given to me.

With that immediate, direct perception, not mediated by words, an understanding which feels ghostly when I am with my words and True when I am present as a perceiving animal everything seems more real and more alive. When I see clearly without trying to impose words and explanation, everything is more real. It is imbued with- magic? Or, perhaps, God. It’s not “There is a God” but “There is God”. God may be the One that is greater than all things or merely a metaphor.

I shall not cease from exploration, and my words will change; and I shall know fully as I am fully known.

Pride, shame, honour, desire

Everyone must understand trans pride- queer pride- for themselves.

Shame relates to who you are, guilt to what you do. I feel guilt about particular actions, shame about what they reveal about me. And queer people are systematically shamed, made to believe who we are is shameful. You look inside yourself and find effeminacy when you should be masculine, when you can only be valued if you are properly masculine, and you feel shame. And I thought, my shame is overwhelming, like an over-exposed photograph, all white. If I am ashamed of everything, I cannot see what to change. I am simply shameful, entirely.

Shame is a tool. It has been used against me, and I can still use it to my own advantage, by claiming it as mine, by seeing what is another’s choice of what I should be ashamed of, and substituting pride.

I am who I am. Who I am is a good thing to be.

I keep going round in circles. I wrote, more than ten years ago,

It hurt so much, and it’s stopped.
Who I am is who I ought to be.
I can be me.
I can be free.

But that was in a poem, and I find things through poetry before I find them through prose.

Shame then becomes a tool, for my use and not for others to impose upon me. If I value myself and have a sense of my own worth, my own dignity, shame becomes a feeling I feel occasionally, for something indicating a departure from what I value, some course correction needed. So, where I was shamed for not being sufficiently masculine, now I feel shame where I attempt to put on a masculine persona, rather than being myself unmasked.

I tried to make a man of myself, in the past. I am not ashamed of that. It was the best I could do at the time.

Pride is called a deadly sin. We know it has value, an appropriate self-regard protecting us from shameful acts, and the word “Pride”, claiming what is a sin, shocks those who ought to be shocked, rubs in their faces that they cannot shame us with false shame any more. But generally I prefer honour. Pride is a sin in that it holds me above others, devalues them. So, honour, as a noun and a verb: I have honour, and I honour others. I will accord myself, and others, their proper value, according to my own honour. “I-it” relationships devalue me as well as the other.

Honour and shame become tools for achieving what I desire, actualising my humanity. I came to this conscious realisation through meditation, but it has been sitting inside me for a long time. I knelt in my ritual space, and it came to me. Shame and desire are my tools not my oppressors’: I must want things for myself, not just to fit to the rules of others. I need to find better treats than checking blog stats on my laptop. What I have wanted is just to withdraw. Unrequited desire continues to hurt. So far, this is all about seeing myself, being myself: being this in relationship with other humans is much more complex.

I may be the most screwed-up person you will meet, outside a prison or mental hospital. I am the human curled in a ball, traumatised, and the human reaching out a sympathetic hand- and I am also the whip, the human seeking to drive myself onwards for things I did not desire and were not proper to me as I truly am. The internalised parent, perhaps. I am the hurt, the carer, the drive; the traumatised being, the angel, the whip; these three parts dance around each other, coalesce and divide, at some times are two, others three. All are in me. I will value and integrate them. I will bring myself to birth.

Reading, writing, understanding

“It was Heidegger who rendered phenomenology hermeneutical.” Are you still here, Jim? Jim wrote here, once, “I adore Heidegger”. I just about understand that sentence, have some understanding of what phenomenology is, or hermeneutics, though I am unclear about how one could be the other. And then a shaft of light: Heidegger describes understanding as the human’s fundamental way of being-in-the-world… the basis of human knowing in general.

Afraid to go out, afraid to go in- I have not been meditating, because I fear it, and then yesterday felt moved to, so did. And this morning I felt moved to so did and found my pain and sadness, at the heart of me, it just hurts. Being with it, being conscious of it, was what I had feared and why I had avoided meditation, and why I may avoid meditation in the future. And yet just sitting with this pain the emotional accretions to it cease to matter. There is the pain and sadness, and there is the terror and sense of incomprehension and powerlessness which they evoke in me, but if I sit with the pain the terror disappears. Perhaps I am still powerless, I don’t know. Perhaps, I am not. Perhaps, I will meditate.

Become blind during contemplative prayer and cut yourself off from needing to know things. Knowledge hinders, not helps you in contemplation. Be content feeling moved in a delightful, loving way by something mysterious and unknown, leaving you focused entirely on God, with no other thought than of [God] alone. Let your naked desire rest there. . . .

I have been reading. I love the idea of the Oxford “Very Short Introductions”, books about 120 pages long on all sorts of topics. The one on Existentialism has required my concentration, reading slowly, re-reading paragraphs and chapters, and that concentration seems a worthwhile practice to me as I sit at home. Maybe I should take notes. It seems a less frittery way of spending time than others open to me. I wish they were slightly easier, but there are concepts new to me which may be as lucid as possible. It fits this section, on how an inkling may grow to an understanding, how it might be aided by others, shaped by words. I have experienced such learning before.

She may be there this weekend. I hope so, hope not. I have spoken at her twice, both times imbecilically. (If you’re reading this, I don’t mean you.) She is utterly alien to me, beyond my comprehension, of fabulous intellect which I intuit may create loneliness in crowds like there will be. If she is there it will be her gift to us. If I dare approach her, not for absolution for my past idiocies but to say

Hello

as a gift not a request or a pawing attempt at robbery- an attempt at I-thou-

could it possibly result in communication I could bear? Though my communications so far, impertinent though they were, have elicited reactions so that I have seen her slightly better. What is the best that I want?

That intellect should win respect from all, but merely being female exposed her to insult and contempt, over and over again, probably still does.

Another person will be there, also alien to me but with whom I have communed, in Tate Modern, making the art we contemplated together dance and sing and give up mysteries. (If you’re reading this, you know who you are.) I so desperately want to commune.

Faced with the possibilities of Bad Faith or Authenticity, explained by Sartre as mediated by Thomas R. Flynn, I will occasionally make progress, slower than I would like, wanting instant communication and finding attempts failing over and over again. But then in meditation this morning, fleetingly, I managed to communicate with myself.

Mindful anguish

Richard Rohr’s daily meditations suggested that entering a sense of mindfulness, or presence in the moment, produces a sense of gratitude. So I stopped reading them. BrenĂ© Brown says Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose, or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path. That seems better to me.

I will go back to Rohr, though when he attacks the attitude of Christians who want rules-based religion, a fixed set of rules and judgment, rather than openness to what is paradoxically he is reinforcing my understanding of the world and its people- rules-based religion bad, so I’m one of the good people. “We preferred a stable notion of God as an old white man, sitting on a throne”- this is a caricature. Though even under Francis rather than Maledict, I sense his fear of the institutional church and his careful argument that he is orthodox really.

I sense my avoidance as I write.

Then I searched his archives and found no recent use of the word, so perhaps I misread, but what I took from one of these meditations is that moving into a sense of mindfulness feels good, where for me it feels intense. It is a plunge into icy water. I need to go there, out of petty feelgoods like facebook likes and record page-views into reality, but I did and felt anguish.

Don’t tell us what to avoid, but what to seek. The thing to avoid will become irrelevant and uninteresting, when we see clearly what to seek. This passage from Rohr’s meditations is positive: For a nanosecond, there’s no “you” and no God. No experience and no experiencer. There’s simply a direct, undivided, sensate awareness of a single, unified field of being perceived from a far deeper place of aliveness. And what is first tasted in a nanosecond can indeed become a stable and integrated state.

I felt anguish, intensity, ice. Vulnerability, as Dr Brown says.

I am still avoiding: I read in the Guardian of a man who cured his depression by cycling, or something- when cycling he is simply aware. And I used that article to judge myself, for judging myself when cycling. For I am not immediately responding to a situation or simply enjoying the World Perceived, but judging- I should be able to go up this hill in a higher gear. No, listen to your thighs. (Yes, I judge myself for judging).

Mindfulness is easier outside than inside, with nature and all strangeness rather than the familiar regular objects. I could really look at that sandal, and see its detail, but it is not the same as a living thing in the wind. I would like delight, gratitude, wonder, from mindfulness, they make it a state to seek out. I am writing! Analysing mindfulness! It is what I do. Not merely avoiding…

I felt anguish. I connected to my feelings and felt anguish, and I wanted it to stop. Far better to stick with ego reassuring itself that rationality and analysis gives it control. I feel anguish because I am denying and avoiding (judge me bad) or because I have suffered (judge me victim). I am in a particular situation I do not like, having to find a source of income and not liking the available options. Cycling, there is exhileration cycling very slightly downhill with the wind behind me- that road, there- and other sensations. Always there is the analysing mind, which makes progress as well as ruminating. Feelgoods, ways of avoiding with a brief dopamine hit, well, people do that.

Mindfulness is. It is everything. It is worthwhile. It is difficult and challenging. It is-

I sat in Meeting, wrestling, anguished, confused.

Quaker Life

On the train, I sat down as usual without particularly considering the other people in the nearby seats. It was crowded. Then I noticed the woman opposite me is trans. She has her own hair, but the makeup, nail varnish, clothes and way of being is instantly recognisable, to me, as trans. Hair on the backs of her hands is the final confirmation. I wish we could acknowledge each other, as you might seeing an English person in Kentucky, say- but the Rules say no.

Deborah joined me, and asked how H was. I have no idea. I have not spoken to her for years. Our friendship was broken, really. I heard from Helen that she was unwell, and even more isolated. It’s an overused word, but that is tragic. I sat near someone famous, and asked an impertinent question: “Why would you be invited to the Queen’s funeral?” She had been discussing buying a hat for it, just in case; she would not get much notice. She answered stating her position rather than her achievements, and I realised my question had been impertinent. In the week since, I have thought of how I might have smoothed over my faux pas, just as more normally one thinks of witty ripostes. A few days later I saw a meme of her face on Facebook.

I had seen another name on the attendance list, and wanted to meet her. No, it’s not the famous one, she spells her surname differently. I am disappointed, but we chatted away like normal people. Another woman met me in Loughborough in 2003, when I was again making myself noticeable: that week I saw the second opinion psychiatrist about the operation. She remembered me, I did not remember her. It is a pain not remembering faces or names.

I was thinking, I must justify my presence here. I must make a sufficient contribution, though my own learning and recreation is a worthwhile benefit of my attendance too. I think I have, enough. I said that to Alan and he recognised the feeling, either having it himself or having heard others state it, or even being empathetic enough to understand immediately. I was discomposed and feeling dislocated, uncomfortable, at war inside myself, inauthentic, something. We gathered in a small group, and I thought I need to be here.

I am here.

And I was, just like that, until we left.

The way into presence in Woodbrooke is to go into the garden. I went outside, and stood with a tree, watching its leaves shiver in a light breeze. I was I, and it was it. There is so much beauty there. I turn a few degrees, and then look at what is in front of me. And Iain wound me up talking of trans issues. I may have worked that out. Anyway, I went to stand under the copper beech- the trunk is a yard in diameter with a notice saying “Copper beech”, I would not have recognised it- isolated from the rest of the garden by hanging branches and watching the leaves fall, a few every minute. So I regained my equanimity just before the sessions started again. I consulted within myself to see if I should walk out or even request help calming down, and found I could manage. He came over after to ask if he had been right to let me go or should have followed, and I was wound up again. I am still quite labile. Yes, I said, he chose correctly.

I spoke to a gay man who does ballroom dancing, and has high heels so he can see what it feels like to be led. Then he went to a workshop on women leading, and spoke to an apparent woman, no sign of transition, in sweater and jeans. He asked if she would experience leading and she/they said “I don’t identify as a woman”. That is the way ahead. We are all human.

Presence II

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