I am I

Why would valuing my gentleness be a bad thing? It might- give me a false view of myself, so I suppress anger, which emerges in passive-aggression- it is hypocritical. And: it is part of me, which is beautiful. It is part of “non-reactive presence”. Respond, rather than reacting; but that includes presence to self.

Gentleness is definitely a good thing. It is naturally me, and I like it. And so is fear. Steven Moffat made The Doctor say, Right now, you can run faster and you can fight harder, you can jump higher than ever in your life. And you are so alert, it’s like you can slow down time. What’s wrong with scared? Scared is a super power. Yet fear does not make me like that, but like the rabbit in the headlights, crouching, still, hoping the threat will go away. Not fight or flight- freeze.

Freezing is only a good option if fight and flight can’t possibly work, must be worse.

Hiding has always been my way. Try to fit in. I remember half-learned ways not working with other groups. You can please none of the people any of the time, especially if you worry about it and emphasise the negative.

It seemed when I cry talking to the Samaritans, it is to communicate my sadness to myself. If I can recognise it and allow it I cry less.

So, I have this hurt, frightened, creature to care for. It does not find it easy to see light in the gloom or worthwhile prospects. It appears to have little energy, and a liking for hiding away. It finds honesty difficult- it seeks safety in denial, and in seeing things in a particular way.

It remains angry about childhood. I know the lesson that my parents did their best for me is a good one, but the anger needs accepted and acknowledged not treated as a problem. Treating my feelings as a problem is the problem.

I don’t like it much. And you are thinking- I really hope this is me projecting, though surely it can’t be- how ridiculous! Self-indulgent, mean-spirited, boring, obsessive, repetitive, missing the point-

And I have to care for it, for it is the source of all my joy and every authentic experience.

And I still distance myself from it. This is a rational, sensible being writing, which has lots of good qualities. Lots.

Ah. Yes. That is what I must do- integrate, or admit it. I am one human being, really. I am the hurt, frightened creature. I am that which I most despise. I am I.


Control II

Sunlight through trees dapples the road. I go down into the dip as fast as I can then stride up the slope on the other side (it’s rolling, rather than hilly, countryside) in top gear. Cycling Highs! I did nine miles, which is an hour’s pleasant, mild exercise rather than a serious effort.

I wanted to cycle as the weather was perfect for it. I have put my seat higher: this will mean cycling more efficiently as I use my calves, but at first it might mean soreness at unaccustomed muscle use. Actually I found I was still pedalling on the instep rather than the ball of the foot, and wiggling my bottom from side to side over the seat. Would that strain the back?

I was sure I wanted to cycle, but I was writing my post from yesterday, wrestling with gender essentialism, analysing. Where is integrity and freedom? What do I want, and why? Who am I? I want to know. Knowing is control. Not knowing can be just too frightening. From what I actually do, it appears I want to write, instead, and not submit that for publication elsewhere than my blog.

I am sick, objectively disordered, wanting to stay in my living room rather than going out. Here I am in control. Yet the sickness is the pain which I am healing: the desire to remain indoors is beautiful and healthy, because it is my way to healing.

I question everything. I don’t do what feels comfortable, I do what feels frightening but less frightening than the other thing. Or do what I have been used to doing, suppressing my pain fear and anger until I cannot. From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit moves-

There were three people ahead of me in the queue in the Marsby post office, and when I entered the woman in front of me stepped two yards to the side, as far as she could get from the others. Another conferred briefly with her, then they left. It looks like an exercise to me: go to the post office, a testing, stressful but hopefully manageable task one could complete if conditions were propitious. She is in control sufficiently to abort the mission. I drifted outside and looked after them, wondering if I could reassure her I was no threat, or in some way show her my great-hearted Love as an antidote to her pain, but had no idea how to communicate, and it was not my problem anyway. Not theirs, either, perhaps.

I sat outside in the sun, in a recliner with a cheap, lumpy cushion, my head resting on the metal bar. It would be more lucrative to argue successfully before the Court of Appeal, but this is what I want, now, looking up at those birds. This is where my love and beauty, the love of God and the beauty of the World have brought me, now. I let go of what shall I do next. What shall I do, now? Meditating, cycling, writing here, analysing, sunbathing- appears to be what I want, from what I actually do. Perhaps it is alright. I went for another cushion for my head.

Part of 1000 voices speak for compassion.


Convictions and Compassion

Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

-Rick Warren

“Lifestyle” is code for LGBT, though could be expanded to other things Warren disapproves of. This is the Rick Warren who inspired the Ugandan anti-homosexuality legislation. He claims to have compassion for gays even while comparing our love to “punching a guy on the nose”. Delight in Truth finds him a backslider but they imagine the World is utterly depraved.

Saying what he thinks about gay people, that our desires are wrong, and campaigning against equal marriage, he still imagines he is compassionate. He knows better than we, after all. He desires our highest good. I would say, “Please! Go and love someone else!”

I know Steph’s alcoholism is bad for her. I saw she had lost her teeth to it. Her mouth is a sorry sight, and she finds her false teeth painful. But I would not stop her drinking. It is her escape from her pain. If I could show her a more healthy or fulfilling escape, I would, and there is my difficulty: Warren believes that leading a gay person to faith in his strange Christ of sterile commandments is liberating rather than enslaving.

I have to acknowledge Warren imagines he is compassionate: his arrogance blinds him to all the contrary evidence.

Another line: if Warren said that he shall not allow his convictions to get in the way of his compassion, a statement of intent, it would be less bad. There would be a chance that he would listen to us. Instead he says he does not, a claim about his conduct, so that however vicious it is he believes himself loving. Confident he is right, he refuses all evidence to the contrary. That is not respectful, even if he intends compassion. Stopping drinking is so difficult that the person must want for themself to change, must see something better is possible. Telling them that it is without persuading them merely antagonises them.

Warren is a homophobe despite his protestations. He has taken into himself generations of hatred and oppression of gay people.

Hogarth Rake's Progress 8- In the madhouse

Compassion III

I know that when another’s compassion touches me, it can change my life, letting me see things in a new way, giving me hope and new energy to act as I could not before. I know that my compassion can warm others, and when it does it delights me.

I know that compassion, when not life-changing, can change my day: when another driver lets me pull out, I find myself behaving more courteously to others, and imagine a chain reaction of courtesy spreading across the city’s roads. When tempted to react to another driver’s discourtesy, compassion saves me from that: he is rushing, and perhaps his wife’s waters have broken; he is slow, and does not know where he is, and needs to take care to find the way.

I know that these small experiences and understandings of a moment’s compassion can help me give and receive compassion better. I take them into my heart, they warm me and help me value myself. I learn from them, and improve my practice, and see it benefits me.

I know that when I work with another compassion between us oils the wheels so that we work together more happily and more productively.

I know that when I behave altruistically, I gain joy.

I know that I feel compassion when I hear of people suffering on another continent, then may feel powerless. It is too much. There is nothing I can do, so I must take comfort from the acts I can perform in my own community. And I know that so many of us feel that same compassion, and that some blessed individuals can channel and direct this compassion so that it changes others’ lives: with that leadership we can act together and improve the conditions of clothing workers in Bangladesh or chickens laying eggs in barns.

I know that every thought or act of compassion, however small, has value for giver and receiver.

I know that people are naturally compassionate. We have mirror neurons in our brains which make us feel what another feels. I know that this is a great gift, because it binds us together and helps us to work together and when we are together we are so powerful.

I know that perfect love drives out all fear. I know God Who is Love.

I am delighted to be part of 1000 voices speak for compassion. This page introduces it. Here is the link to all the posts. Join us!

The love of God

When I was still afar off, my father saw me. He ran and embraced me and kissed me. I started to say “I have sinned against you” but he would not let me finish; and he celebrated me, with me.

God is Love. God is infinite love. We can betray God, mock God- nothing we can do can put us beyond the bounds of God’s love.

Be perfect, as your father in heaven is perfect- that is, be perfectly and idiosyncratically yourself, as God knitted you together in your mother’s womb. God saw what God had made, and it was very good.

Rumi saw it: You suppose that you’re the trouble, But you’re really the cure. You suppose that you’re the lock on the door, But really you’re the key that opens it. It’s too bad that you want to be someone else. You don’t see your own face, your own beauty. Yet, no one’s face is more beautiful than yours.

It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I love this prayer from the Church of England:

Father of all,
we give you thanks and praise,
that when we were still far off
you met us in your Son and brought us home.
Dying and living, he declared your love,
gave us grace, and opened the gate of glory.
May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life;
we who drink his cup bring life to others;
we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.
Keep us firm in the hope you have set before us,
so we and all your children shall be free,
and the whole earth live to praise your name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jawlensky, the young Christ

Compassion for evil

I cannot bear to consider a real example of this, so give you a fictional one.

In The Fall, a senior police officer visits a paedophile priest in prison, hoping for background on a suspect. The paedophile refuses it, though he would answer the questions if the Catholic police officer addressed him as “Father”. The Church had defrocked the paedophile, but he refuses to accept that this is effective; he claims to remain a priest. He says that the boys in his care desired what he did to them, and that they benefited from it, and that it was a proper discharge of his priestly functions in the care of the boys. He is resentful that his service to the community is not properly recognised, and at his imprisonment, thinking it wrongful. He speaks throughout with certainty.

What would that be like? Can we feel with such a person?

I imagine his feelings would be overwhelming anger and resentment, with a sense of his own integrity and rightness, that is, the self-acceptance which is such a boon for the rest of us. I wonder what it would be like to believe that the child-victim wanted, or deserved, the sexual attention, or alternatively that the child-victim had no value, so could be used for the man’s gratification. A man like that could destroy so many lives beyond hope of repair: his direct victims, and all their loved ones. Yet compassion is the only response, to understand the man, or to respond to him.

After all, the world is full of people with equally deluded beliefs, harmful to others- young earth creationists, holocaust deniers, climate change deniers. There are psychopaths who see no value in others. There are those who see war as the only way to defend what they value, and arms dealers, wicked souls who make profits from making and selling tools to kill people and destroy things, which are sometimes used to threaten and coerce.

The paedophile who cannot accept that following his urges is wrong, or who cannot control his urges, must be locked up until he is no longer a threat to the rest of us. The arms-dealer hob-nobs with the rest of the super-rich, and dies old and happy.

Compassion is not just a way of getting warm feelings when we contemplate those less fortunate than ourselves, but a tool for understanding the World.

Bruegel, massacre of the innocentsmassacre detail

Other people II

“The world does not revolve around you.”

That surprised me, actually, because I had not thought it had. In my disappointment, I had sent what I thought was a positive, exciting, winsome email, and got that back. I decided she is just wrong and thinking of ways of getting at me.

Then I wanted someone to cease to undertake a particular role. I told her that it was because I did not think asking her to undertake that role showed proper respect to the other work that she does. She would not accept that reason, though she would leave if I thought she could not do the job. That really upset me. No! I am not being passive-aggressive, or manipulative! This is my genuine reason! I am being positive and loving, and you demand that I be horrible!

Though if she wants the role, and I want her out of it, I am indeed being horrible.

In case she will not go quietly, I emailed her formally setting out my objections to her continuing, and was proud of my decisive action. I would have been far more anxious about it a month ago.

Should I go to meet with you this (Sunday) afternoon? I could, actually. I am capable; but it would be difficulty and expense I could do without, and I had requested you to meet by videolink. I had not heard back. I started my paranoid fantasy- “If you can’t attend a meeting then I can’t trust you and I can’t work with you”- but no, it would never be a reason for ceasing to work with me, even if it could conceivably be an excuse.

Then I talked to someone who knows you, and you ceased to be this powerful being who alone could grant or withhold my dearest wish, and became a human being. Though I was still stressing wildly about how could I get what I want from you. Liz said I should sit with it in the Quaker meeting.

You see I can come out with words which have the appearance of Wisdom. “What does Love require of you?” A wonderfully wise basis for action. I could construct an argument from it to do anything. I sat in Meeting. I could write you a letter- “Loving”; winsome, again; and still attempting manipulation.

It is important to start Metta with myself. In 2012 I stopped, because I found it too difficult: I could not think that well of myself. I have found it easier recently. I looked around at the others present, a number of attractive people each with their own concerns. Gosh, people are complex. I wish I understood them better- so I could manipulate them successfully, of course.

It has seemed that I made a shift in that Quaker meeting, or at least seen that a better way is possible. My attempts to manipulate come from my sense of my worthlessness, thinking I can get what I want by giving you what I imagine you want.

Someone ministers that it is Holocaust Memorial Day.

I minister that

all I have done has come from love.

It has done, sometimes sacrificially. But I have not been realistic, I have been caught in illusion- and I still may be, I am not safe from it yet- and I have been trying to get what I want by manipulation.

I am capable of more Love.

We know it has been a deep meeting.

Mirror, Mirror

Compassion in action

Compassion is not just feeling with someone, but seeking to change the situation. Frequently people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action!

Quote from Psychology today, hat tip to Melissa.

When I was a volunteer just starting doing benefits tribunals, some of us met up in Edinburgh to discuss our cases. Each would start by describing the client’s situation, and each time a woman would drawl, “How Ahful! AHful!” I did not know who she was, she made no other contribution that I could see, and I hated her: we were taking practical action, and she seemed to be enjoying the feelings we evoked, even getting a mild high.

Compassion is seeking to change the situation, but it starts with the feeling. Only the feeling would motivate me to action.

I was driving home from a dance, and heard on the midnight news that Rwandan troops had attacked a Hutu refugee camp, which I later heard had been thought to harbour the Interahamwe. I screamed. News can be horrible, more likely producing a depressive apathetic withdrawal, but sometimes it gets under my skin. There was nothing I could do: I was doing good in the world elsewhere, and had to be satisfied with that.

I saw a beggar yesterday, who asked for money for food, and I refused her. I feel a similar depressive reaction, cutting off feeling from action.

Swanston does not have a homeless shelter, but when the temperature is forecast to drop below freezing three nights in a row a temporary shelter opens in the churches. Liz volunteers there. Three people came in, and after they closed their doors at 10pm the police brought in a Romanian man who had been working on building sites and had been attacked and injured while homeless. He is entitled to nothing. Later, the police called: they had stopped someone from jumping from a great height, and they wondered if the shelter could take him in. The volunteers discussed it, and decided they did not have the necessary mental health skills. There was nowhere else for the police to send him. We do what we can.

I feel more than I feel able to do.

El Greco, the agony in the garden

Compassion in hurt

I felt good in that woollen Karl Lagerfeld suit- it is always worth going to the charity shops in the posher areas- as I walked from Canal St, the gay area, towards the Bridgewater Hall. If I was going to transition, I had to be able to be myself among the straights, and a concert of the BBC Philharmonic was a good place to practise: the middle classes do not make a scene. I had taken great care of make-up. I turned onto Oxford St., and a man shouted,
“It’s a fucking bloke!”

And I felt crushed.

I had been transitioned at work for five years, and I was walking from one office to the other through the near-deserted shopping mall, not all of its shops yet let. A man was rushing in the other direction, and as he passed me, he hissed,
“Fucking nonce.”

“Weirdo” I can accept, even feel proud of- search for the weirdo inside yourself- but nonce, meaning sex-offender, is too far. I wondered at the hatred he could feel at a person he had never met before. It was rare, by then, for me to be insulted in the street, and I have not been since, but I remain one of a group which inspires such unreasoning hatred from a small part of the population.

I am a safe target for such hatred, a cat to kick. If a man- it was always a man, women with them would protect me from them- is overwhelmed at work, angry at his situation, however powerless and inferior he feels there is always someone he can look down on, the fucking queers, the trannies. His boss shouts at him and he cannot shout back, but if I offend his amour propre, he can give his contempt and derision full rein.

This hurt and bewildered me; it depressed me, so that I could not be bothered going out, and would stew at home for days; and my way through that was compassion. Their hurt is nothing to do with me. They are so wound up that they will lash out at anything. Theirs is a pitiable state.

If my response to that outburst is compassion, then it cannot hurt me. The man gains temporary relief. I feel different about the politicians who inflame and direct such hatred for their own ends, against immigrants and benefit claimants, perhaps, but the poor benighted haters need Love. Nothing else can cure them.

El Greco, the Last Supper

Joy in Compassion

It was never my job to be a counsellor, but I did it anyway.

People came to me at my office, seeking help with concrete problems, and my job was to advise on that. They had been found not entitled to benefits, mostly incapacity benefit and disability living allowance (now both abolished, and replaced with other benefits which are far harder to get and so not paid to those incapable of work, or disabled, who would have got IB or DLA).

And they came with the emotional fallout of that. They had physical difficulties, to which they had often not adjusted, so that a man after a heart attack would say that sitting down he felt fine, and so would go to get up as he would have before, and be breathless with chest pain before he was standing. Their physical health problems distressed them, and then the benefits office did not believe them, and their income was disrupted, producing uncertainty and further distress.

It seemed to me that while I made them feel better by proposing a course of action and offering help with it, I also relieved distress simply by listening, and accepting what they had to say. I felt I could earth their distress, which passed through me and out into the void. I could leave their problems behind: I rarely felt bad about them for long, though sometimes I had consciously to let go of a particular issue.

I did a course in person-centred counselling, and learned the theory of Carl Rogers. To him, counsellors benefit clients by showing congruence, that is, being themselves; empathy, showing that they understand the feelings communicated; and unconditional positive regard- perhaps better called Love. Acceptance without judgment allows the person to know and accept themself. Seeing person-centred counsellors, I found this worked for me: I unpacked and discovered truth about myself, enabled to recognise and accept it by the acceptance and empathy of my counsellor.

The thought that I was benefiting people in this way warmed me. Seeing myself as worthless, I valued myself for what I could achieve, and this was a big part of that.

Later, the funders decided we should work more efficiently, and strictly limited the time we could spend on each case. Of course- they want the best result for their money, and my expertise was legal not emotional- and yet often the clients seemed to want acceptance, and would not answer my questions on relevant facts according to the rules before they had felt their distress was heard.

I exercised empathy. I felt, alongside another human being. This reduced their distress, and gave me a sense of self-worth.

Rossetti, The BridePart of 1000 voices speak for compassion.