A Ritual

East is the direction of Sunrise, the Spring, the Origin, the new child. It is the Lordly direction. Its colour is Purple. South is the direction (in the Northern hemisphere) of the sun at noon, the heat, oppressive or invigorating, of Summer. Its colour is shining white. West is the direction of sunset, the place of the Elder, of Autumn and fruitfulness, of letting go, of acceptance and loss. Its colour is green. North is the direction of silence, ice, clarity, mystery, ancestors, timelessness and eternity. Its colour is Black.

East is the place of birth and family. South is the place of entering adulthood and community. West is the place of the Elder, achieving individuality. North is the place of the Spirits. The Wheel is many cycles, of the whole life, of the calendar year, of movement and growth within a life, of a vanishing distraction while meditating.

This is not the usual type of course at Woodbrooke, the Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham. Someone on the Archbishop’s Council on Education, staying here for one night, objected to our display of figures, saying they were like “voodoo dolls”, and we had to clear them away from the Cadbury Room where we worshipped together. We had to use electric candles, shaped and glazed to look like wax, bulbs made to imitate flickering flames, because of the smoke detectors.

Caitlin Matthews’ ritual, with two supporters, one representing my own Strength, one my Ancestors, is simple. We start in the place we are now on the wheel of life. We then move as appropriate. I had the idea, beforehand, of moving from North to East, moving from a place of contemplation to a place of new life and new activity. That would be reassuring for me.

However, Pat, whom I had met on the Being an Overseer course in 2006, recognised me, and as we went for morning coffee asked how my experience of being an Overseer had been. I could have said something non-specific and non-committal, and asked her of hers; instead I told her, how I had felt led by the Spirit and done my best and the conflict that had unfolded from 2006 to this month, and I wept. Oh, and there is that, and that experience of work, and stuff arising from childhood, and hurt still from my transsexuality, and, oh, I am emotionally labile at the moment.

I think the emotional lability, which probably comes from the hormones, is a good thing in this sort of situation, and a good thing for me. I have been at times not in touch with my emotions, and that is certainly not the case now. I want to be open to how I am moved.

The coffee break being over, Angela asked if I wanted to participate. Yes, actually. So, with Pat and Anne, I stood North of my circle, ready to begin. Instead of stepping forward, into the East, I knelt in the North, and placed my forehead on the floor, not happy, but content.

I have been divided. While I might have claimed to be suspicious of myself telling myself that I was germinating, that this is the necessary stillness for the healing work, that the growth may come and I am making the necessary internal changes for it, the fact remains that I have done nothing to find paid work since November. Telling myself to buck up and get on with it is not now working. After that ritual, I feel a lot happier. I feel absolved- I have reasons why I am here, and I think I am gaining self-knowledge, and whatever may come of it I can feel happy here now. In the stillness. Pat’s question seems a synchronicity for me.

Oddly enough, when Gilly asked that evening where in an ideal world I would be in a year’s time, it was working and earning, and engaged in training in some healing practice. Previously I have not been able to answer such a question- er, dunno, more or less where I am now…

Allison Grayhurst articulated my worry:

never sure…
 if my sedentary position
is really a bird in my hand
or a dream I cannot force.

I cannot be sure, but I feel sure enough.

Hafiz/ Ladinsky:

Just sit there right now.
Don’t do anything.
Just rest.

For your separation from God
is the hardest work in this world.

Learning through Joy

Thoughts provoked by Wisdom Pigeon, who quotes Aeschylus:

He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despite, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.

So I asked, can one learn through Joy? And Wisdom Pigeon comments on learning through pain: joy is the reward after.

Liz asked if I would like some toast, so I put it under the grill myself because of her physical difficulties. I burnt it, because I was distracted, then I burnt the second lot; then she pressed me to do a third, and I demurred. I really did not want to. I would make do with the burnt lot. She pressed me, and eventually I accepted, and did not burn these.

At the Children’s centre Lucy the manager was listening to my moaning, and she said she would make me a cup of tea. I refused, I should make my own cup of tea: and she was surprised by my vehemence, and insisted, and made me tea.

These two small acts of kindness last March, when I was finding life difficult, did not produce so much an immediate sense of joy as a niggling doubt, a strangeness- the world is not as bad as I then saw it. This was part of my movement towards my greatest learning of last year, moving from negative to positive, glass empty to glass full. So I think one can learn through joy, through glimpses of beauty.

As Wisdom Pigeon says, though the lesson is painful, having learned it is joyous. Much of my pain comes from demanding that the world be other than it is, and there is relief in the moment when I stop.


I commented on the blog of a woman afflicted by suicide, and she valued it, saying, “That should be in the books.” So I offer to you what I said to her:

The suicide was not the most important thing in your father-in-law’s life. It is not the one thing through which you should see him.

I am tempted to write further about suicide, but that is my sole pretence to originality, so I will stop.


British politicians say we are having a hard time at the moment, and appeal to the votes of the “Squeezed Middle” through our resentment, avarice, and fear. Hafiz saw how we are in Abundance, though so many do not see it. Daniel Ladinsky, again:

Dear ones
why let your winsome body act
As if it is living against a tyrant’s knife?

Why pretend your expansive existence,
Your Imperial Nature

Have all been squeezed
into a tiny red hot skillet

That is being kicked by a camel’s hoof
Over the dry sand?

For your friend Hafiz
So clearly sees we are all immersed
In the Soft Brilliance.

Give each other light

Men and women who are married
And men and men who are lovers
And women and women
who give each other

Hafiz, again, by Ladinsky. That wonderful rule of three crescendo to climax. There is sweetness in “married”, it means being one flesh; then “lovers” is more solely Wonderful; but “give each other light” goes so much further, expressing the spiritual aspect of carnal love.

Somewhat dispirited by my debate with one of those Christians who thinks that condemnation of homosexuality is the touchstone of Christianity- if you do not condemn it, you are not a proper Christian- I was delighted to read this. I find myself wondering, what would a literal translation say? Though other cultures do not condemn homosexuality nearly as much as these obsessive Evangelicals do, would Hafiz really have written this? Or would he have had a “spiritual” interpretation, nothing to do with sex at all? Actually, it does not matter. I read the English words now, and delight in them. I give light spiritually at the moment, but it is lovely to think that I am capable of giving light carnally.

Bad things happen to good people

Things at the moment are not as I might have hoped, and my friend Anne said, things happen which seem bad at the time, and then after you have a good experience, and you realise that that good experience would not have happened but for the experience you called bad. And I find this view ridiculous, repellant, a tempting falsehood.

Good things happen, good things happen all the time. Who is to say that, had I not had this unpleasing experience, I might not have had a string of far more wonderful experiences following on each other? After this experience, I think my situation is worse. So I think Anne’s view is a false way of finding blessing in a bad situation. The bad experience has not caused the good experience, and might have prevented better experiences.

I am all for finding the Blessing in every situation. What I think of as a bad experience may lead me to find strengths within myself which I had not previously called upon, or see opportunities which I would not otherwise have taken. But I do not want to sugar the pill by claiming a blessing where none is. 

Even if every hair on my head is numbered, that does not mean that everything which happens to me is part of a divine plan, blessing, test, correction or encouragement. I think the lesson is, I have been floored before, and have survived it. So I have found a way through, and I hope I may this time too. But, Now, I want to see clearly where I am, and consider my options, not seek out any consolation unless I can clearly and confidently pronounce it to be True.

And then, I read this Hafiz/ Ladinsky poem:

This place where you are right now
God circled on a map for you.

Wherever your eyes and arms and heart can move
Against the earth and sky
The Beloved has bowed there-

Our Beloved has bowed there knowing
you were coming.


Every child has known God…
The God who only knows four words,
and keeps repeating them, saying,
Come, dance with me
Come, dance.

This was the first Hafiz poem I heard, and I loved it, and wanted to hear more. It is rendered into English poetry by Daniel Ladinsky. Compare and contrast

For our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
and urge the mind to aftersight and foresight

This comes from the second movement of Little Gidding. The monkey mind’s continual searching of past and future rather than being in Now might be thought of as a search for “Aftersight and foresight”.

I see these artists as naming here two equal ways of being, yin and yang. I had a rationalist phase, when I thought anything might be explained and understood, and then mysticism began to appeal to me, began to seem more than woo-woo gibberish, and I began to value being without words, stilling the mind, being in the moment.

And now I seek to get the full benefit which words and arguments can give me. They can take me to the verge of Unknowing, into which I can just jump off. But they just might protect me from that which might fool my mystic side, might have the appearance of truth. There is a constant I, that part within my skin that Wants; and what it wants is fulfilment, whatever that might mean; life in all its fulness, love and truth. Connection with others. And this I journeys on using better the tools in me to find these things, tools of rational judging and evaluating with words, and tools of spontaneous relating and responding. Rational analysis can see things which spontaneous relating cannot. Spontaneous relating can see things which rational analysis cannot. Behind all is the drive of desire.

Movement and repose

If they ask you, “What is the evidence of your father in you?” say to them, “It is movement and repose”

– Gospel of Thomas saying 50, part 3. Mmmm. Action when action is needed, rest at other times. Still the mind, the ego and the worry. Movement and repose together as one.

Here is something from Hafiz, interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky:

When your truth forsakes its shyness,
When your fears surrender to your strengths,

I find this so beautiful that almost the consequence is unnecessary, the “When”, not “if” in those two lines and their promise is enough. But here is what happens:

You will begin to experience

That all existence
Is a teeming sea of infinite life.

While I am sitting here, thumbing through my Kindle, here are the first two lines of Burton and Watson’s Tao Te Ching translation:

Tao called Tao is not Tao.
Names can name no lasting name.

So much wisdom from the millennia, just– there, just- everywhere I look, just- ready for me to take it into my heart and my life. Wisdom, and beauty, knocking on my door all the time, importunate, demanding, only needing for me to notice. Wisdom, and beauty, and Love.

She bangs on the door importunately, and will not be denied,
She bangs on the door, and cries,
“OPEN UP! OPEN UP! My Darling!”

Go well.