Live your best life!

How can I live my best life?

In The Amber Spyglass, the harpies in the land of the dead know all the wrong every shade has done, and use it to torture them. Salmakia agrees with them that they will guide the shades out of Hades to dissolution, but

We have the right to refuse to guide them if they lie, or if they hold anything back, or if they have nothing to tell us. If they live in the world, they should see and touch and hear and love and learn things. We shall make an exception for infants who have not had time to learn anything, but otherwise, if they come down here bringing nothing, we shall not guide them out.

The Harpies make me think of the inner critic or persecutor. Mine makes everything I do seem base, or at least inadequate. Life is difficult: sometimes I make sense to myself if I think of myself as a man, sometimes if I think of myself as a woman, often I do not make sense at all.

I made an observation that makes Quakers laugh, and got over a hundred reactions on facebook. Have you ever seen a man stand to minister, and an expression passes fleetingly over his wife’s face, an “Oh no not again” expression? Most Liked response was, “I have seen that expression on the faces of a whole meeting”. So, there. I have done something good this week, I have made people laugh, or smile in recognition.

After Pendle Hill worship, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, we go into small groups for worship sharing or discussion. In one meeting I had ministered: if you are considering people without your privilege, don’t be considering what you can do for us, necessarily. It keeps you in your privileged position. Consider what we can do for you: how we can use our gifts in the service of the community. That promotes equality. This is counter-intuitive- how can you promote equality by accepting gifts? It honours someone. In the small group after someone said, “The goodness shone out of you”. Well, I was glowing after that. The comment delighted me.

In another Pendle Hill small group we discussed our lives, and I said I had no job, but my work was to resolve my inner conflicts, see past my blind spots and unravel my confusion. For example in the office I had been acting as if I was anxious and confused, and thought, perhaps I am anxious and confused. I had not thought of myself as an anxious person, though clearly I am. It struck me like a revelation. I would like to write about such experiences. And a woman said, oh, she works out her feelings from her behaviour.

I felt a bit irked, and on Wednesday 13th I was not up in time to go to the Pendle Hill worship. I thought, oh, its time to get up and did not. And I did not go. I did not connect this to that remark until after. I had only been aware of feeling hurt in a way I thought proportionate to the remark, ie, not much, but just did not get up.

It would be better to be aware of these things. How I was, was affected by this woman, who did not intend the effect she produced.

If I cannot imagine a harpy being interested in my stories, finding them worth telling, it is my own judgment I face. I go from where I am.

I have the feeling that perfectionism is designed to keep me safe. If I am perfect, if I have a perfect understanding and respond perfectly, then I am safe. But I am in doubt. Perfection is impossible, safety is impossible. It is part of the curse of intelligence, the idea that I can work this all out and be safe.


They’ve wanted to buy humour
but he just wouldn’t be bought!
They’ve wanted to kill humour
but humour gave them the finger.
Fighting him’s a tough job.
They’ve never stopped executing him.
His chopped off head
was stuck on a soldier’s pike.
But as soon as the clown’s pipes
struck up their tune
he screeched out ‘I’m here!’
and broke into a jaunty dance.

From Humour, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, set for bass soloist and male voice choir in Shostakovich’s thirteenth symphony. Where the rulers are the enemy, the only weapon of the ruled against them is mockery. Where the rulers are the enemy, it is a fight to the death.

The Barcelona Series by Joan Miro shows monstrous creatures with sharp teeth: Franco and the Fascists. Yet: what is this? There is such uncertainty in these distorted eyes. Cupidity, of course, lust, violence and destructiveness- but also fear. You need to guard yourself from these monsters, but the proper attitude to them includes pity. There is sympathy in the pictures, an attempt to understand what it is like to be these creatures. The act of drawing includes sympathy: Alasdair Gray says that you cannot paint or draw an expression which you cannot wear on your own face.

Possibly I am reading too much into the Barcelona Series (I have not quite accepted Derrida). Yet it is something I want to see in the pictures, because it is my own attitude: What is it like to be this person? always has to be a useful question. Where is our common ground?

Solzhenitsyn says,

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.

So I treat mockery with great care. It creates barriers. It makes conciliation less likely.