Writing out of the Silence

The world has depth. The world is magical. There is infinite complexity and beauty beyond the surfaces we impose and the concepts we use to manipulate the world. We need the concepts to get what we want.

The world is huge. There is God in all of it: all the people and all the things. I want to bring treasure back, for the delight of Friends. I find it within. I shall find the beauty and truth in myself, and use it to bless others.

Imperfection is only in our minds. I don’t want to say “All I need is freely available” facilely, but I have usually had what I needed- except at the trauma. I don’t want to say “Flow like water” facilely, as conscious incompetence is good too: but that is also Flow, as its desire is not divided, like mine is- for appearances, what I ought to want, propitiating my inner Idol. Out of many desires, I will make one, by submitting to God within.

God, Love, is who I am. I am who I am. I am waiting for what I want to happen, or I am maturing, changing like a chrysalis, reordering within. I do not know what that would look like. False ideas of God get in the way of the reality of God. What must I let go?

I submit, to God, or to a great lie that is my enemy, an illusion that promises little and gives nothing. If I am struggling, the struggle is unconscious. I could not bear my fear and sadness if I were conscious of them, but sometimes I become conscious of them and the world comes alive.

I am never safe. The way I seek safety is barren. Only love is real.

Trauma and the Idol

There is something of God in every human. Therefore God suffers. We need to cherish God.

God is in my reaction to life and events. Something hurts me, and God feels that hurt. This God is crushed beneath the weight of ego. Ego is concerned about how I appear to others and myself, and has taken into itself false ideas about safety, which are an idol: much of my effort goes to propitiating its ideas of safety. This involves denying my own, God’s, reactions, which threaten my sense of safety.

I am still dwelling on that incident in 2003. I will continue to dwell on it until I have extracted all the wisdom I can from it. I faced an injustice. I tried to fight it, but it was too much for me. This made me miserable.

I could not face that misery, because it felt like a threat to me. The false idol of my delusions of safety was threatened by it. Why?

Because if I can overcome even such injustice as that, then I am powerful, and so can keep myself safe. If I am not, I feel unsafe.

Because if I make such a contribution, then I have value. If I cannot, then I feel worthless, which makes me feel unsafe.

These feelings of unsafety come from trauma, the imminent fear of death. With Winston Smith I scream “Do it to Julia”. The terror is so great I will do anything to avoid it. It completely distorts my perceptions and desires.

I carry the weight of an increasing burden of distress, all the accumulated evidence that God in me does not fit my terror’s need for its omnipotence. Only omnipotence could have saved me. The threat receded, by luck not my actions, and I made myths about how I could avoid it in the future: I created the idol.

The burden got so great that I collapsed under it.

God is loving, creative, powerful, beautiful. That Love is in us. Cherish it, and it grows in us and guides us. My feeling- that distress- is a guide for me, telling me of the World. If I deny it, I block out all the positives too.

Someone wrote that I am “calm, sometimes passionate, always mindfully considerate, equipped with a fine sense of humor”. Zoom chat is a rich seam that I mine for appreciation of me, and will, until I take it into myself. When I can process the misery I will be able to process the delight.

My Friend who does good works, and never thinks they are enough, sent me her article on Dorothy Day, who did great works. I felt crushing judgment, and projected it onto her: I imagined she was judging me, but it was my Idol. I should be doing worthwhile things too.

Then I realise, I don’t want to save the world. Not at the moment anyway. That would be an ego desire, to prove that I am powerful and worthwhile so could keep myself safe, but I can never prove that to the Idol’s satisfaction.

My task now is to cherish God, that God’s love may grow in me, and nurse the idol gently until its screaming demands for tribute are lulled away. The trauma was unbearable, but, look around through God’s eyes.

I am as safe as I can be, for the moment. I am safe enough.

I keep going back to this. Each time, the Idol says, “Oh Goodie! The spiritual work is done, now you can go back to feeding my fantasies of invulnerability invincibility inviolability.” Each time, I go deeper.

This post is suffused with Advices and Queries paragraph 2.

The theology of Advices and Queries

Can we find a Quaker understanding of God in Advices and Queries?

Advices and Queries are guidance for life, rather than a creed. They are practical guidance on how to relate to God and each other. And in their repeated references to God we find an understanding of how God is thought to act on us, and who God is.

As well as 43 references to God throughout, there are references to “the divine” (3), the “spirit of Christ” (2), the Holy Spirit (3), the Light (5) and the spirit of God (7). I am not clear that these phrases mean anything different, here, from the word “God”, but Advices and Queries are closer to poetry than to statute, and different phrases may evoke different understandings as we grow in our relationship with God.

God is in us (2), and in everyone (17). Does God have an existence beyond humanity? Several references seem to indicate that: the phrase “the splendour of God’s continuing creation” could be a claim that God is in all that is, or in some way eternal and beyond it (42). When we worship, it appears that we have one communal experience of God: we can be aware of “God’s presence among us” (12). We can be aware of God at any time (7), but when we come together in worship we find “God’s love drawing us together” (8). And a visitor to our homes, who might not have direct experience of God in them, might “find the peace and refreshment of God’s presence” there (26).

God is vulnerable, and needs to be cherished (2). We can be distracted and disturbed (12), or turn to God; we can open ourselves to God, but God is at work in us even when we are not aware of God (7). Our proper attitude is reverence for God (9) and for life (42). Jesus’ relationship with God (4) is our example, to challenge and inspire us.

God is intimately involved with us: there are references to God’s love, guidance, presence, gifts, word (in vocal ministry, 12), forgiveness, help, purposes, and God’s will (36) for individuals or divine guidance (14) for the community.

God is in everyone, and may be working in them though we cannot see it (17). I cannot judge what God wants for any other person, 19 says: I might think that I know more than a child, but must learn from them, “leaving them free”- God leads them as God wills. We have a responsibility to nurture children, not to constrain them. Our “wishes and prejudices” (36) should not get in the way, and we can still help them discern God’s will for them.

We have responsibilities to God, including our standard of integrity (38), which should be “strict” (37).

Some of this fits my experience of God, and some challenges my ideas. I am a materialist. I do not believe in a divine creator: I can see “that of God in each person” has a useful meaning, and relates to human psychology in a useful way, but find “God’s continuing creation” more difficult. This cuts to the heart of disputes around nontheism in the Society: will we be religious, if atheists can expunge all references to God that they do not like?

When I contemplate all that is, I know that I do not understand it all, and that wonder, awe and reverence are valuable attitudes to it. So seeing God in everything may have value as a metaphor, reminding me of that. And calling the part of me which seems to best fit this conception of Light or Spirit “God” helps me balance my value with the value of other Quakers, other people, and wider reality. Spiritual language can only approach reality, not convey it like a scientific text hopes to.

When I first started attending, contemplating Advices and Queries helped me commit to the Society. I use them in outreach. I recommended them to American Friends, and one wrote that he “was so profoundly touched and inspired by the freshness and the vitality of these advices and queries that I wanted to share them more widely”, including to non-Quaker friends. Expunging any suggestion in them that there is a God beyond the brains of humans should not be done lightly; what do love and integrity require of us?

As an atheist, I would not want a lowest common denominator, when the word “God” was used only when everyone could agree on it. 17:

When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you.

Instead, I notice the word, and see what meaning I find in it.

Hope, beauty, and God Within

I need a source of hope, and wondered if I might find it in beauty.

I have slept in the same bed every night since January 2020. I have not gone on a bus since about March 2020. I see people almost every day on Zoom, and often can be heard on it, saying what I believe, showing who I am, and being affirmed for that. Perhaps this is why I value the blog so much, as I am heard there. I want to be seen. I want to be heard.

If I know I am valued, it has to be by myself. I noticed when I transitioned that I got a lot of love and acceptance from colleagues and the Quaker meeting, and yet when someone was rude in the street it affected me for days. I realised that the rejection of some random stranger meant more to me because it was echoed in myself. I had to create my own self-acceptance before that of others meant anything to me. This may be ABdP Johnson’s superpower: an invincible sense of his own worth, which survives all the condemnation of others, and all the damage he does.

My hope was that I could come wholly into the present moment through perception, with feelings through my fingertips as I touched whatever I could, in the beauty of the park, its trees and birds. I would simply be me in my perception, relating directly to the world. Relating to beauty and feeling delight I would gain a sense of self. This is who I am, the being that loves this.

On Friday 4th I met J, who told me some of the bad management and bullying of the office she is leaving. Even Paul, the most equable and self-effacing of men, had made a complaint. This brought to mind my troubles in various offices over ten years, which though they ended ten years ago feel as alive, as I type, as they did then. Further psychotherapy is a possibility.

On Monday 30th, in worship, it seemed to me that I had to let go of any desire for an outcome from the Yearly Meeting on gender. What was required of me was Love, including for “gender-critical” Quakers; and faith, trust in the process of worshipful discernment. This seemed like spiritual preparation, and letting go seemed like being better attuned to reality. Perhaps they were.

On Tuesday evening in worship I felt rage and terror, my old emotions. The thought came to me,

I have a right to exist.

I felt that “the iron enters into my soul”. That is from the 1662 prayer book rendering of Psalm 105:18, and is not the usual translation. I find it evocative, as a double meaning- iron cutting the soul, or infusing and strengthening it.

While the anti-trans campaigners have a rigid refusal of sympathy to trans women- women’s needs, reality and bodies should not be subordinated to “men’s feelings”, they say- my feelings matter.

If it is a matter of my feelings, it is the difference between expressing who I am freely and being forced into a mask, a pretence, an act, a falsehood, and the desolation I would feel at that falsehood.

I have blogged a lot. My fascination with blog statistics comes from my hunger to be seen and heard. And I grow sick of it, indeed of all social media. Of twenty posts in May, Google lists only seven of them: if you search for a direct quote from the others, Google will draw a blank. It is not a way to be seen. And, the anti-trans campaigning is fierce. If I check a trans facebook group, I am likely to see rigid, hateful articles by transphobes shared, to show how commonplace and orthodox anti-trans arguments are in Britain, and defiant, angry, or miserable comments after. It makes me ill. If that transphobe wins her case at the Employment Appeal Tribunal, I would have critiqued the judgment, but feel no appetite to. Though, if she wins, it will advance the Equality Act, protecting beliefs even if they are disgusting and irrational. The question of how acting on belief might be protected would remain open.

So I may not blog so much. Advices and Queries tells me that if I “cherish that of God within” me, “the healing power of God’s love” will “grow in [me] and guide” me. This is my working theory on what “that of God in me” might mean, and what might get in the way of me hearing it.

What stops me hearing it is my judgment of what it ought to say, based on introjects and learned morality. That of God in me is that which I locked away and silenced, which began to emerge in February 1999, my feminine self that feels rage and terror at assertions that I should present male. It is that in me which is burned out by work, so that I could no more go into my old office and attempt a PIP or UC appeal than I could call myself John again.

The closest thing to ego in me is denial that I am burned out at all, and a belief that I could go back to work if I had to, sustained by as rigid a denial as that which I needed to present male. It is that which drives me on to work harder than I can at exercise, and creates misery at my judgment on my own inadequacy.

I could not see God in me, for how can I see what I think of as wholly inadequate and call it God? I am delighted today to come across the concept of Theopaschism, belief in a God who suffers, indeed a God who suffers for me. I must dive to the depths of the suffering in order to fully experience the delight.

So, this month. Less blogging, probably. Time spent consciously seeking out delight in beauty. Acknowledging the misery, weakness, anguish, rage and terror. I am still seeking out health, power, strength, effectiveness, as always, but seeking them through what I have seen as weakness, for in my weakness is my strength.

Quakers and God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know that unconscious processes in me can form poetry, so that it seems to come to me by inspiration. My being, this process taking in food, water, oxygen and ideas, is capable of more than I consciously understand, and it is tempting to call all that is greater than my own consciousness God. Quakers have talked of “that of God” in each person since the 1650s. Or I should abandon the word, because it means such different things to different people. Or I could use the word “God” honestly to talk with someone who believes in the Trinity, because we both mean things we cannot know.

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

Let your God love all of you

Let your God love you means Let your God love all of you. I am ready.

I wrote, Anxiety is congealed fear. Sorrow is congealed sadness. Resentment is congealed anger. Underneath them is failure, repeated and complete, and self-blame. These are hard things to love. How can I love the daggers that I turn on myself? By understanding them. By slow, patient work. By allowing myself to be conscious of the hurt.

There are tempting views. This is not failure, but success: the life-journey which has brought me to the point of self-acceptance or self-love, which involves stripping away the denial of my nature that was my real problem. Or that Love makes me better able to achieve the goals my ego set: God’s love is that ego’s power, bringing it to the ego’s concept of success.

The failure is failure. I failed because I sought introjected goals, ego goals, not the goals of my true self, which I fled in terror, which set up a war within me. I must see the failure. I let God love me, and the love warms me, allows me to accept myself. Then I must love the world, because that is the only way to see the world clearly. Too often I hate the World, and resist it- ineffectually, as it just rolls over me.

Let your God love you, and here am I talking of what I will do to deserve it or make it real, or achieve-

There is only Love. Only Love has meaning. God’s love, my love- love for the whole world, all of it, and judging it as bad is meaningless. Judge not. God’s love for me, all of me, including the bits I judge.

Only love is real.

Love and healing are processes. We move on, not back.

Fear, sadness, and anger congeal because I denied them. I made myself small, by hiding parts of myself- this is the concept of the shadow. They were too frightening to be acknowledged. God’s love helps me process the anger.

As I write during worship, one speaks in Ministry. “Know, Friends, know that a million people are praying for you today.” She means it literally- on a prayer schedule, she prayed for “those who worship over the internet”. Mine is a lonely struggle, and there are others I can speak with, who help me.

And one whom I respect shared her songs:

The Elements of Love

The water of love will ease us through our grieving
The rock of love will hold us fast as we let fear go
The fire of love will purify our anger
And we will breathe the air of love
As we sing new songs of joy and we lead new lives of peace.
We will sing new songs of joy. We will lead new lives of peace.

If I only could open up my hands, feel these heavy stones and let them go.
If I only would open up my heart the the rose within would start to grow.
Now I find that I can open up my mouth and a fountain of song begins to flow.
Oh please help me to open all my self and let the breath of your love within me blow.
Now I find I can open up my hands, I feel the touch of your hands and now I know,
that I truly can open all my life and will go any way you bid me go.

I am on the path.

James Baldwin wrote in 1963, “Now if I were a teacher in this school, or any Negro school, and I was dealing with Negro children, I would try to teach them- I would try to make them know- that those streets, those houses, those dangers, those agonies by which they are surrounded, are criminal.” It is clear in his case, though many then would deny it; and some now would concede it in 1963 but deny it now. I have the feeling that my being crushed, and my mother’s before me, and hers before her, is also criminal, though fear I could never persuade anyone of that. So I resent. These are hard things to swallow, to love the resentment and the crushing. So I do the work with God’s help, offering up parts of myself I can hardly bear to look upon, to be Loved.

Let your God love you

The phrase “Let your God love you” continues to reverberate in me, for my healing and the world’s good. It is my mantra for the week: I pause, say it, and savour it, seeing how it might help. “Let your God love you.”

I noticed how I resisted it, and now I seek to let it in.

So yesterday I cycled thirteen miles, and I considered doing the same today. The sun was out, the wind was light, it may be the best day for it until March, and I did not. I thought of cycling yesterday, of the inner conflict of the slave driver and the self-protector, and thought, it would not be so hard if I did not need to get it absolutely right all the time, without [so much] effort. The perfectionist is the problem.

Let your God love you.

I have noticed the perfectionist in me, and seen it as the problem, and much of the time it is unconscious so that I do what I do in desperate misery until I stop doing anything to avoid that hurt. I am depressed today, lacking energy, seeing things bleakly. I notice the perfectionism, judge it, hate it.

Let your God love you. That means all of you. That means my perfectionism, everything that appears to be a stumbling block within me. Look at it with the eyes of love. It tries to protect me, to keep me safe. Where did it come from, how did it become like this?

Let your God love you, means, when I notice a part of myself which I deprecate, or which I rarely notice, I should look at it with the eyes of love- with no judgment, accepting it, caring for it, seeking its good. That love might make it less desperate, less hurt, make it relax a bit, make it happier, make it more positive for me.

I feel tense. I rarely relax.

I spoke on this at Jamie’s gathering, several times repeating “Let your God love you” because that is the thing to remember, that is what I must remember, the Love is there, I just need to permit it to flow. When it flows it warms and heals me. Let your God love you. Let the love in. It is what I want you to remember too, if you remember nothing else from this post. Let your God love you. It gets easier. Let your God love you. Let the love flow.

I did something good this morning. I connected to people. I shared a healing message, which warmed people, and did them good, and that makes me happy. I hunger for such experiences. I treasure their responses:

-Hairs up on the back of my neck!
-so wise, thank you for that gift ❤️🤗❤️
-Listening to you has let me hear something in myself amongst chaos.
-Just breathtaking!

It is in all of us. It is strong and healing.

I helped people by sharing. I hunger for such experiences. I want to spread Love. I consider this desire, which I might have judged as giving me trouble- Let your God love you, including the desire. I got what I wanted- it makes me happy- savour the happiness. That was a lovely experience.

Let your God love you.

Would I cycle this afternoon? It turned out I did not, though the day was so lovely. I am looking at the wafer-thin lead in Georgia. With a four million vote lead nationwide, it is repugnant that that one thousand vote lead in Georgia should matter so much. This matters to all the world- as Trump damages the world, our environment, our economy, our decency. I am glad to spend time in worship with Pendle Hill. The possibility of a better presidency becomes clearer, and this is a threshold moment, especially as there remains some doubt. A Trump win would indeed make this “lib” cry. I would be spectacularly Owned. This is a thing I care passionately about and cannot affect, and ministry was about God’s love. I feel the meeting needed reminded of it. Yesterday I joined a small group of Quakers discussing the liminal. And I feel in a liminal state myself. I have been penetrated by

❤️🤗❤️ Let your God love you ❤️🤗❤️

and it works its healing within me. May it heal you too.

God within, and Thomas Merton

God is in all Believers. Jesus said, “The glory that you have given me I have given them [the people who will believe as taught by his followers], so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you [God} in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” -John 17:22-23.

Thomas Merton put it this way:

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely … I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.

I got that from Richard Rohr. Rohr changes “His” to “God’s”, an inclusive language change which improves it, but changing Merton’s “sonship” to “birthright” as Rohr does takes away the allusion to Christ’s teaching, that we are His brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God.

How does that “point of nothingness” relate to what I call the “Real me”?

Possibly, mystic theory gets in the way. If that at the heart of the human being is God, it must be good and pure. Yet I feel the Sociopath may have a clearer understanding of that human essence, less mask or ego, than most people. I am not sure. I feel in me, it is pro-social, but not that it is, of necessity, in all people. Jesus’, John’s and Merton’s idea of God within mean that part is without sin.

In contrast are “the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will”. Merton did not fully identify with that “point of pure truth”, but with his mind and will, or perhaps ego. The point of truth is beneath that, needing discerned, not clearly seen. However having found the “pearl of great price” we must “sell all we have to buy it”, for it is “the Kingdom of Heaven”. So we get rid of mind, will and ego and operate from the Pearl, or the Treasure found in a field, the Light or the point of pure truth. Merton had a conversion experience in Louisville on 18th March 1958, wrote this in 1965, and may have come closer to that “pure glory of God” later.

For Merton it is a point of “nothingness and poverty”, which may be a rejection of worldly values- the “boasted pomp and show of the worldling’s fading pleasure”- or admitting that the ego is simply and merely wrong, all its devices and desires meaningless and worthless.

It is without illusion. It sees everything I am too frightened to admit.

And- it is God. “To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees,” wrote Paul Valéry. No better name than “God” is available, because the word is capacious enough to include everything any human has ever used it for. The light within is indescribable in that it is illimitable, undefinable, not proper to be restricted to a concept or understanding of what it is. It is simply itself.

---

Merton’s understanding of the false self is moulded by his life. In New Seeds of Contemplation, in 1961, he wrote (again quoted by Rohr)

My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love- outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion... All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.

That could fit my Born Again colleague’s experience of conversion, from sexual promiscuity and drunkenness to an ordered life following the rules and beliefs of her church, including in Adam and Jonah as real people, but Merton’s acceptance of Catholicism was twenty years before his “conversion”.

Merton was born in 1915 in France, the son of an artist, and baptised Anglican. His mother, a Quaker, died when he was six, and he never accepted his father’s new lover. He was sent to various boarding schools, and dropped out of Cambridge University where he “drank to excess and indulged in sexual licence” according to wikipedia. He may have fathered a child there. He took a degree at Columbia University, and stayed as a postgraduate. He chose Catholicism, had a second baptism in 1938, and became a monk in 1940.

My false self was moulded entirely differently. I wanted to fit in. I was completely controlled, and in my thirties decided “It is time to rebel against my parents”- my understanding of life was taken from them, so out of date when I was born. I drank to excess a few times at university, but fell in with a few men who did not, served at the altar of the Episcopal cathedral, and enjoyed folk dancing.

I have not wanted “experiences, power, honour, knowledge and love” but to fit in, not be noticed, and to survive quietly. I thought myself worthless, only of value for what I could achieve. I had to pretend to be the notional worthwhile human being inculcated into me, miserable and stressed because I never managed it.

I find the false self better understood through Carl Rogers. It is the self-concept, the understanding of who I am, formed initially by the parents’ or parental figures’ conditional positive regard, then either by conformity or rebellion as the child grows. Rebellion is as unfree as conformity. Merton, from a comfortably wealthy family yet insecure after his mother’s death, would form a particular false self. Our false selves are idiosyncratic, dependent on circumstances, and whether we ever shed them may depend on luck.

My conversion experience was 14 February 1999. During 1998 I became aware of a “vulnerable bit” of myself and in February 1999 realised it was the “Real me”. I have spoken from that part of me, which I now call God, and now want it to control my life entirely. Yet still, much of the time, my consciousness is thinking from the false self or ego. Distress may shock me into Real Self. Entering the Now, being present to the present moment, I can only be in the Real Self.

Merton’s understanding in that paragraph that Rohr quotes may also be moulded by Christian understandings of those outside the church, in “the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Possibly, with a sufficiently blessed upbringing, one might never form a false self at all. Whatever, many people do.

I feel that my real self has been caring for my false self, as in the “footprints” story where when there is only one set of footprints, Jesus carries the man. It maintains the false self’s amour propre. It is where my motivation resides, so if I have maintained the false self’s illusions it has been the action of the real self, to help preserve my feeling of safety, which does not keep me safe.

This is my mantra:

I am here
This is
I Am

I change it to “We Are” in Meeting. It brings me back to God within.