The poor will be with you always

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/97/William_Holman_Hunt_-_Isabella_and_the_Pot_of_Basil.jpg/363px-William_Holman_Hunt_-_Isabella_and_the_Pot_of_Basil.jpg-So we needn’t bother trying to help?

At the house of Simon the Leper, or Lazarus, at Bethany, an unnamed woman, or Mary, who was Jesus’ friend and Lazarus’ sister, pours pure nard, an expensive perfume, on Jesus’ head. The disciples, some of those present, or Judas Iscariot object, saying the perfume could have been sold for a large amount, and the money given to the poor. Jesus said,

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. In Mark, he adds, and you can help them any time you want. The perfume was for his burial. Matthew and Mark then tell of Judas agreeing to betray Jesus. John says Judas was a thief, who would have taken that money.

Footnotes refer us to Deuteronomy 15:11: There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed towards your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

Work like you don’t need the money.
Love like you’ve never been hurt.
Dance like nobody’s watching.
Sing like it’s Heaven on Earth

We may always give to the Poor, but this could only be done now. It is a Sign of beautiful, extravagant Love, or a Sign that Jesus will die.

Menis Yousry told us to listen to the cabin crew when next we fly: when the oxygen masks drop down, put your own on first, or you will be unable to help anyone else with theirs. I thought of GJ, the Wise Woman in Top of the Lake, who speaks so contemptuously of her followers- first they look for love, and can’t find it, so they look for Enlightenment, and they don’t find that either.

So you’re on your knees? Good. Now die to yourself. To your idea of yourself. Everything you think you are, you’re not. What’s left? Find out.

Stop. Stop thinking. –What are these crazy bitches doing? Meditating? You’ve got to work. No-one will pay you for closing your eyes.

You people all want to help someone. That one wants to help Africa. Help yourself first.

Why should I tell you when you don’t listen? All you hear are your own crazy thoughts, like a river of shit, on and on. See your thoughts for what they are. Stop your helping. Stop your planning. Give up. There’s no way out. Not for others, not for you. We are living out here at the end of the road, in a place called paradise. How’s it going? Perfect? No. You are madder than ever. You are tired? So lie down right here. Be like a cat. Heal yourself. There is no match for the tremendous intelligence of the body. Rest.

I copy it out, because I am thinking about Enlightenment.

Metta meditation II

Probably, S would not think of herself as a bitch.

Nor do I, really. That one sentence, taking my entirely understandable action and making something mean out of it: it got to me, though I managed not to scream and shout swear words until after the phone call was ended. I admire her, I would like to be friends, and when she is around stuff happens and I can see that it might be interpreted in a colder light than I would like it interpreted. This is not entirely projecting.

It is the situation which makes us unfriends. There is nothing I can do about that, though I could try not to make it worse. When D, whom I also have some reason to dislike, suggested by passing on a chain email that I spend a moment of metta meditation on people I dislike, I felt some irritation.

On Christmas day at 12 miday to take a moment to think of just two people who have been a challenge in your life (currently or in the past) and fill their AURA with the rose magenta of love and mentally wish them well and then let them go.
 
This can be done while the lunch is cooking and will take no time at all really. If you care to join me a number of things will happen 1. If enough people join in there will be an outpouring of love across the whole world. 2.You will be letting go negative stuff you may have been carrying around for years. 3. you will be actively aligning yourself with positive forces that can only be beneficial to you at all levels, mentally, emotionally and of course physically.

It bears repeating. It is a prayer for good.

May I be safe and protected

May I be peaceful and happy

May I be healthy and strong

May I have ease of wellbeing

First of onesself, then a benefactor, then a friend, then someone one dislikes, then of everyone in the World, perhaps All Things, perhaps in stages, in groups. But I find it difficult, I cannot always pray that for myself, and have difficulty moving on to others.  So the suggestion that one just do it for a moment and feel the Love, and increase the Love in the world, seemed facile. I had already meditated Metta for S, because it seemed essential that we get on, for the next week at least.

I suppose I could forget things which happened years ago, even see them from her point of view. I might not have understood anyway. I find it hard to trust her after that, and I am not sure what harm she could do me. Generally, she is simply coldly correct with me, and mocking only occasionally. And it seems essential to my good that I see her in the best light I can, and respond generously.

I have had some lovely moments this Christmas season. I spent some time with H’s granddaughter, placing hundreds of tiny coloured cylinders to make Disney fairies. It’s the Joy of Six!

Practice

You would think, hitting someone, that “throwing” a punch would make it stronger. The shoulder goes forward, the body goes forward so that there is a straight line through the arm, shoulder, torso, leg, back foot, rooting the punch in the ground. But no. As I punch, I keep my torso vertical to keep in control and able to move in whatever direction I wish. Tempted to put my shoulder forward, as I would pushing open a stuck door, I learn that this is weaker, twisting the torso: instead I keep it straight, shoulders parallel with hips, and move my hips. This brings the power of hip, thigh and calf into the punch. The jargon: hips off, one hip toward the opponent; as I punch I bring “hips on”, my whole front facing the opponent, my fist at his stomach or face or side.

This morning we were feinting with the left to the face, and as the opponent’s blocking left knocks that out of the way we punch the right to the unprotected side. So, instantly after blocking above we must block below. As it is an exercise, we match the punches and blocks together beautifully. The blocker then comes forward with a stomach level punch. I was with the beautiful Alex, 6′ and 16 with floppy curly hair, who floats like a butterfly in sparring. We were practising that as well, launching forward off the back foot to punch then pulling back out of range. I have skinned my big toe, landing on it. Aiming, keeping torso vertical, leaping in and out, it is too much to bring in hips off hips ON as well.

It is a spiritual thing. We seek no-mind, the relaxed state where the body uses the muscles necessary for the move without tension, and responds to the opening or the blow without conscious thought. And, we have rules and techniques to learn, and others to do it with.

Centering prayer, on the other hand, my mind goes all over the place. I would like an understanding. I want to do it right, and while I realise that it will take practice, I do not want to spend half an hour at a time if I am not Getting Somewhere with it. So I asked Facebook: You meditate. Your attention wanders, and you draw it back to your breath, the Mystery at the heart of the Universe, whatever.
Are the thoughts merely distractions, or are they ever Useful?

One response which I love is that, of course thoughts are useful. But they are a tool,  and one can get into unhelpful thought patterns: so it helps to have the life-skill, developed through meditation, of stepping back from the thought, realising it is only a thought, and choosing how I wish to think. “It helps to not get annoyed with the phenomenon and stay compassionate to onesself”.

So, I may enjoy the practice, if I become conscious of my breath, and luxuriate in appreciation of my wonderful body and its functioning. I also love the idea in meditation of, when realising I have been thinking rather than appreciating the Breath, of thanking the thought, which has done its job, rather than getting irritated with myself because I have been thinking, I have not done it right. I am assured, though, that meditating without thought is possible.

Allow, accept, appreciate. I may enjoy my breath. I may accept the thoughts, appreciate them, and see them, and then I may enjoy them. Rather than fighting to keep my attention on my breath which does not interest or motivate me, hungry for moments of enjoyment, judging all my “failures”, I can just do it, so enjoy it all. I may even get “better” at it, if “better” has any meaning.

Next day I am stiff all down the legs, so that I waddle rather than walking, and have skinned my big toe painfully- I should land on the ball of the foot, not the toe. It is good to learn and improve. In the Quaker meeting, I find myself thinking on an old sore, so I leave the meeting room, lie on the floor and cry. That is what I had meant by the thought being useful- it came up in a safe space, and was healing. And- while out of the meeting room, I put on the kettles so the water is boiled for tea.

I have improved the look of my site, with parent pages and sub-pages, which means I can have more pages: Polemic on arguments, and Photography organising the pictures. Have a look at my new page, “Gorgeous“. I had lots of portraits of me before deciding to transition. They reassured me that I could appear female. Alas the HTML which allowed me to emphasise some words with the font Pristina is not currently working.

A choice of practices

Anders Zorn - Le tubWhat can I get from spiritual practices? What do I want? (Yes, I am still goal-oriented. There is a lot of conditioning there, and it may be primæval.)

I heard Valerie Brown’s guided meditation on paying attention to the breath. It was richer than I had imagined, the breath flows through the entire body, the breath is rich and varied, the breath is like waves, the breath is Life and Spirit. The effect it produces is calm and consciousness, presence in the moment. And- I can enter that state. I can have that appreciation of things, and of my own body. I can be in a task- cleaning my teeth and washing dishes do it for me- or present in a place, the park or the supermarket. She says how Meeting for Worship may be the only time in the week the busy Quaker gets to sit down in quietness- well, that may be true of a busy attorney, who even makes time to write Pendle Hill pamphlets- but it is not true of me.

In her book, she also describes the Christian practice of centering prayer. Rather than calling attention back to the breath, one calls it back with a particular word. I thought, what if that simply gets me into the same state of Presence- I have read that the Way is not about seeking “states” but that is where I am, it seems a useful apprenticeship for my eventual Union with God, or whatever.

My practices of metta meditation for me, and channelling Qi for me, are practices of self-care, because self-care and self-valuing are what I need. And- my link to God is at the core of my being, and I want to find and express that Real Me beneath the layers of conditioning and scarring. Will it help me journey There?

What about using as the focus word, rather than “Jesus” or “God” or whatever, the word “I”?

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FĂ©lix Vallotton Baigneuse penchĂ©e Ă  droiteI boasted that I can attain Presence any time, cleaning my teeth, so “Prove it” said Johanna my inner critic. Here I am, cleaning my teeth with an electric toothbrush, in the morning, before showering. I close my eyes to reduce the sensory input, which might otherwise overwhelm. I feel the vibrations, the liquid in my mouth, the movement on gums and the inside of my cheek. I hear the motor, and a car outside. My attention moves to my fingertips in the air, and my feet on the floor. I do the task.

Presence showering is more difficult. With cleaning teeth, I start the task and continue it, I will not break off half way through. Showering, turn the  taps, get the  right temperature, soap, rinse- so many opportunities for breaking off into reverie, and indeed imagining writing this. I feel the water. I see the familiar decorative tiles, with fish, anemones and a sea-horse. I break off into reverie. In presence with a task, now, my task has to be simple.

I see the value of this state, being less involved in repetitive thoughts of past and future, which get in the way of feeling, seeing, being- look up, there is the lily, petals, stamens, stigma, fallen petals round the vase- as a thing to practise at any moment of any day, and for extended periods with breath. If I look to the horizon- “I lift up mine eyes unto the hills“- I can get that sense, in this rural area, of being one with my environment.

It felt a breakthrough, and I recorded it on facebook:

 success is illusory

failure is illusory

Then my friend wrote, Illusions are illusory. Bummer. I wrote back, the line between profundity and platitude
is illusory. Jings crivvens, profound, eh? Whom shall you follow, Lao Tzu or Clare Flourish?

Goals

Rufus Jones, one of the Religious Society of Friends’ greatest mystics, spoke in meeting, beginning “I was thinking”. After, a Friend commented that he was sorry to hear what Jones had said, you should not be thinking in meeting. All Quakers are aware of this story, and it relieves me to be absolved again by Valerie Brown, because in Meeting I think.

I may merely be ruminating, thinking unproductively, or I may be thinking as yesterday, being led to insight. By their fruits shall ye know them. The latter is good. I may never stop ruminating entirely, and attain Perfect Centering- it helps to be aware of and dwell on the moments where I do get it right,

She says I should let go of goals in my meditation, and this creates resistance in me. Of course I have goals. They may be unspecific, such as “improvement”, and I may need to be open to refining them with greater understanding- use the word as a Springboard, not a box- but of course I have goals.

One of my spiritual practices is having a bath, like this morning: I bathed for two hours, initially in water as hot as I can bear, reading and musing. And I saw that all I am capable of now is No- No, for example, to the goal that I should be supporting myself, for it comes from outside me. And- I am patiently and unconsciously turning my No around, from a No to my deepest self, my reality and my desires, to a No to things outside which I have found inimical. Even my conscious goals might have inhibited that.

My locus of control is internal, and so deep I am only conscious of it afterwards. Like Moses in the Wilderness, Exodus 33:20-23. The Lord said,

I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But, you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live. There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.

I thought that story was Elijah, and needed my Concordance to find it. Ha! Take that, Bible-haters! A story which is gibberish if taken literally, and holds spiritual truth.

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Valerie Brown describes various spiritual practices: centering down, centering prayer, and meditation on the Breath. As for concentrating on the Breath, I have not done this a great deal. Valerie describes it in a way which makes it far richer than I had imagined: do listen. And hearing her voice is so much more intense than reading the words.

The picture is of my meditation bear, who sits in my ritual space all the time, holding the silence. Sometimes I meditate beside her, and sometimes in the ritual space I cuddle her and weep.

Spiritual practices

Albert von Keller: BurgfräuleinI have done physical spiritual practices recently: healing, karate, biodanza, clowning, all involving body-consciousness and minimising the critical mind. And this morning I returned to the Quaker meeting, and our particular spiritual way.

I have borrowed “Living from the Center”, a Pendle Hill pamphlet by Valerie Brown, which I sat to read before meeting started, and I got to thinking how different this spiritual experience is: most of us have degrees, a lot of us are academics, we are good with words, and when we minister in meeting we produce well-constructed paragraphs. And I want to bring the physical, body spirituality here.

Then I realise I can. Here is that flower on the table- I always sit close to the table, where I may look at the flower(s), and even the grain on the bench is beautiful. And I am projecting onto Friends: I want to unite these aspects of spirituality in Me, not in the Religious Society. And I can unite my intellect in my body work too: making that karate move, or dancing, while it is inappropriate for the conscious mind to seek to control or judge it, my intellect may appreciate it.

So it was a joyous meeting for me, of appreciation, integration and unity. It felt like a Leading. I thought of speaking it in ministry: but I felt no leading to that, why should I preach at my friends? It was a message just for me. Also, I thought of two recent facebook shares:

For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.- Cynthia Occelli.
The truth will set you free- but first it will piss you off.

File:Gauguin - Betende Bretonin - 1894.jpgBeing broken in order to grow is such a common topic in spiritual writing, and a common spiritual experience. It is a way I have appreciated certain hurts, which have appeared strongly linked to my conscious growth moments- and I thought this morning that it is a way to accept and appreciate and value all my hurts, all my history. There was a light, joyous feeling in the room at the end of meeting, others noticed it too, not just me. We can come to feel together, though we sit in the same place, not touching, not speaking.

And- it was nice, sitting in the meeting room before meeting, when that couple walked in. All queers together- just, nice.

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I have two spiritual practices in my ritual space at the moment. I perform metta meditation:

May I be safe and protected

May I be peaceful and happy

May I be healthy and strong

May I have ease of wellbeing

Just for me, and not for others, at the moment. I am sufficiently socialised, perhaps being too socialised is part of the problem; and I am hurt, and need to value myself. The pther practice is to feel the flow of Qi in my chakras, to invoke it, perhaps to bring it to myself. I intend to consider other options for spiritual practices. So I am grateful for the words of others, leading me towards the centre.

Monday: I kneel in my ritual space, my bear beside me. My friend gave him to me to console me in hospital, so I received him in Love, and now he sits in my ritual space, holding the silence, meditating whether I am there or not. Also I have a timer, for fifteen minutes’ meditation. I will not look at the timer, I will rise refreshed after my fifteen minutes. So “Not looking at the timer” becomes an illustration of my ego’s inadequacy, in its inability to achieve an unnecessary aim. I hurt and I fear, and I struggle.

The Opposite of meditation

“Don’t give up- fall down,” said a Sensei: that is, do not just stop, carry on until you cannot go further. The messenger from Marathon died as he told of victory. I hold back for a number of reasons. My procrastination comes from a desire to hold onto a fantasy of perfection: if I never perform the task, I do not need to compare my actual result to that fantasy. Possibly also I hold back because I do not want to hurt anyone.

Andy has the skill to block my blows. Therefore, I want to let go of my control completely, and try to hit him as hard as I can. What I desire is to put all my effort into that simple aim of hurting him and knocking him out of my way. I imagine that this experience will be good for me.

 ♣♦♥♠

A man I met, in his late twenties, spent all his time playing video games. He was on the sick, getting ÂŁ90 a week to live on, and his rent paid. He did not go out. He was very good at it. Recently, I played a hundred games of solitaire in 24 hours, with a poor success rate.

This is the opposite of meditation. Rather than letting my mind go blank and being aware, I block out awareness and concentrate on the screen. I have a little “Oooh” of pleasure each time I turn one of the cards in the spread over. The way I learned was less restricted: unless the stock had a number divisible by three, one could access the whole stock by working through it three times. The restriction on my computer makes it more unlikely to succeed, without increasing the challenge. Actually, I can see little skill in it at all. Unless I set myself to memorising the cards, and so working out what was face down in the spread, I cannot see how I can see more than one move ahead. As I have not learned the necessary memory tricks, the skills to succeed (as far as I can) in this game are trivial. And yet I play it over and over again, missing lunch, late with dinner, and sit up to 1.30 am. When I look at the clock, I despise myself, I must go to bed. Hours are chewed up by this pointless, repetitive, obsessive activity, learning nothing, with far more frustration than pleasure, and all the pleasure over in an instant, a hit and it is gone. I am the laboratory rat who presses a lever rigged up to stimulate the pleasure centres of my brain, rather than a lever to produce food on the other side of the cage, and so starves myself to death.

Oh, I need to meditate! It is common enough, I hear similar complaints from others. I know I need to meditate, yet never get round to it. It  is like cleansing a wound with an alcohol swab: it will do good, I know, and yet in the moment of starting it will be painful, and I put off that moment of starting.

If you know how to make the game properly skillful, please let me know. Though the pictures are pretty:

Explosion

File:US Navy 020712-N-5471P-010 EOD teams detonate expired ordnance in the Kuwaiti desert.jpg

There are at least four types of explosions that a — let’s call it a healthy person for the time being– must be able to experience. These are: anger, joy, grief and orgasm….Now these explosions in themselves are not the meaning of life or existence. They are a kind of energy that bursts, so to say, a dam, and links up with the authentic person. So that the feeling, the ability to participate, to be emotionally involved, becomes possible. Once you’re through the explosive layer, the authentic person, the real person comes through.

~ From Gestalt therapy verbatim by Fritz Perls- hat tip.

This seems to match my experience: when I have a little weep, afterwards I often feel purified, and more Present. And yet I am not sure it is true.

File:Explosive Ordnance Disposal of a bus.jpg

If I am upset, and not aware of it, then I am not entirely present with myself and in the World. I am distracted, and not fully aware. It may be necessary for me to numb the distress out of consciousness for a bit, but that has a cost. Then if I become aware of the distress, it appears to come out of nowhere, and be overwhelming- that “explosive layer”- and then I am aware of it, and indeed I do feel more present after.

Or if I have an itch while meditating, if I try not to think of it it fills my consciousness. I think of it like a small child, tugging desperately at Mummy’s hem. If I pay it due attention, and notice it, it becomes less persistent. The emotional component of the pain has changed. So, if I use my energy to suppress the feeling, the feeling is pressing one way, my suppression the other, I am tying up my energy in the suppression.

So when I let myself become aware of it, I feel more alive. I feel authentic and present.

The alternative is to bracket the feeling. I am conscious of it, yet I choose not to show it on my face or in my bearing. This may be more appropriate when angry with a situation separate from the person I am with, especially if the person might think me angry with her. It is as if I hold the feeling in my heart. I can let it out later, when I am out of the situation.

Possibly, this is the general way of being. We suppress feelings because that was the habit in childhood, and bracketing is a different skill to learn. There is a different feeling if one suddenly stops suppressing- an explosion- from the sudden onset of feeling and being instantly aware of it.

Aged 20, I was generally not conscious of my feelings, because they were a threat to me. Now, I practise being with them, as this is liberating. In the hormonal state, I am quickly aware of them.

Five degrees

These two changes, if I may practise them and make them my own practice, may be liberating. If I can accept my own feelings and not be angry and fearful that I am feeling them, then I may be fully aware of them without nearly so much pain. And if I can forgive myself for arriving in the place where I find myself, then I am freed to mourn for it. If I am upset that I am stuck in my own room, and blame myself for it, that just loads more guilt on myself. If I am upset that I am stuck in my room and I forgive myself, then I can express how unhappy I am being in this position in life, and mourn for it, and work through that pain. It is all liberating. I hope.

I look at the world slightly differently, as if I have just turned my head five degrees, and my perspective is utterly changed.

Ever since my operation, I have suffered slight stress incontinence, just the odd dribble, and the pelvic floor exercises were slow to work. And on Thursday I did not have a pad, so went without. I have gone without pads since. You can imagine how I feel: intensely self-conscious, worried that I will leak, and smell, and have visible damp patches- and increasing delight, scarcely able to believe it, that I am OK. The physical cause for that shame seeming to have left, I feel able to mourn how painful it has been for me. While I had the problem, I had to endure it, and could not mourn.

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I love P’s meditation technique. He becomes aware of his physical sensations, first in his feet: what is under his feet, whether grass, carpet, socks, whatever. Then his legs, and slowly up the rest of his body. Then what he tastes and smells. Then what he hears, first the nearby, loudest sounds, then sounds further away, and then beyond them the silence. Then he opens his eyes and becomes aware of what he sees, which can be an intense experience. He then repeats the process. He can do this anywhere: in this field, under the Skylark-

The Skylark! I had not heard one before, and found it amazing, flying so high, singing louder than a smart-phone-

or on the Tube. He goes through the procedure twice: the first time might take twenty minutes, the second is much shorter. Some people say that is not proper meditation, he should be keeping his mind still, or paying attention to his breath, but he likes it. Sounds proper enough to me.

File:Alauda arvensis 2.jpg

Presence

So, what is this Presence thing?
What is it not?
What goes with it, and need not?
What prevents it, and what enables it?

It is not Self-consciousness, that “What will people think?” feeling which always gets them wrong- no one thinks of me that much, or so maliciously. That brake, block, barrier, which always holds me back, is not there.

It is seeing the world as it is. It is Consciousness, accepting all the things I have denied because I have been frightened. Is it the same as that feeling of Heightened consciousness, each sense more alive- you could hear a pin drop? I think, not necessarily, but it may go with that. Consciously seeking to get into that state, for example by rubbing my fingertips on a surface and concentrating on the feeling, may get me into the state of Presence.

Meditation

may enable it, though I am not always in it when meditating: I can be either beside my thoughts, noticing them, or in my thoughts, absorbed by them.

Habit and habitual ways of being, people and places where I fall into old habits, may knock me out of Presence, but I can stay there- if I am aware of this. Something to notice, something to practise.

Can I think things through in a state of Presence? Can I make plans? Actually, I think that is the only state in which I think things through, though it feels different. My “thinking” when I imagine my flashing, passing thoughts are Me so often is just moving round the same old tracks. To realise something new, it certainly helps to be Present in the moment.