My Quaker belief

In his last book, Stephen Hawking addresses the question, “Is there a God?” I would say no- or rather, that’s not a useful question.

My belief and my understanding come from my history: what I have read or been told, what people important to me have believed, what experiences I have had- and that I call some of them “spiritual experiences” is a product of my understanding. After some particularly wonderful spiritual experiences I reformulate what I believe, for myself as well as for you.

I was baptised a member of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and taken to worship weekly throughout childhood. I left home and continued worshipping weekly. When at University I went to St Andrews Cathedral, Aberdeen, and served at the altar, and was also in the Christian Union so exposed to Evangelicalism. I read the whole Bible with commentaries, repeatedly, over a period of about ten years. I said the creed weekly without any sense of being untruthful, though I doubted the virgin birth.

In 2001 I told my Anglican vicar I could no longer bear to worship God disguised as a man, and he was so negative about that I decided to leave his church. I had been introduced to Quakers by two friends, so knew I would be welcomed as a woman in a Quaker meeting; and had found value in the silence of Quaker worship. I continued worshipping just about weekly, with Quakers rather than with Anglicans.

I was aware that there were “non-theist” Quakers, and I rather disapproved. With my then partner, who took the point very seriously, I would have asked “Why should anyone who does not believe in God join a Religious society?” Then a Friend said, “It’s not why we join: it’s why we remain” and I understood, with my heart. From verbally challenging her membership (not directly about her but saying things which implicitly included her) I went to passionately desiring her to remain.

In 2009, I realised that I did not believe in God. It was a long, painful process. It was a change to my identity as Christian, a challenge to my relationship, possibly a breach with my Meeting, (though it included non-theists) which was the place I experienced acceptance as a trans woman rather than toleration. In February 2010 I accepted that I do not believe in God, finally. A day or so later I was touristing along the south coast, and went into a church: and was brought to my knees by a sense of holiness.

Being good at producing clever phrases, I said “I am rationally atheist and emotionally theist. I have a strong personal relationship with the God I do not believe in”. More than thirteen billion years ago there was a big bang, and the universe will not end but in trillions of years particles at absolute zero will drift apart, too far apart to influence each other, in cold blackness forever. We have evolved, over billions of years, over about 55m years as primates. So now my beliefs about God relate to my beliefs about myself as a human. I am an organism that, just as it takes in food, takes in sense-perceptions and ideas and moulds them into an understanding of the world; and I am a social being, incapable of survival without my social group, moulded by them. So I thought, God is Reality: when I worship, I relate to something greater than myself, which is human society, the biosphere, the entire world. And, being a social animal, I conceive of that as a matter of relationship. I am a tricksy soul. I love paradox.

After some rather wonderful spiritual experiences this month, I adjust what I think, returning to Little Gidding:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Shall be to return to where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Because I am a primate, I have a primate understanding of all-that-is, all that I could know or perceive. It is pre-lingual. I access it in the spiritual state called “mindfulness” or “awareness” where my words fall away and I know immediately rather than mediated through words.

And, so that I can communicate with other people, but also so that I can get the kind of grasp of an idea that makes me feel more comfortable, I put these things into words. I am a writer. Words are important to me.

My verbal and non-verbal (which, by a series of accidents, I call “spiritual”) understandings dance around one another, leading each other on. Eliot’s “Where we started” is the non-verbal understanding, always influencing our conscious belief. And, merely because by accident I have read Carl Rogers- “On Becoming a Person” and other books, and books about him and his ideas- I call that verbal understanding of myself my “self-concept” and underlying it my “organismic self” responds to its surroundings like an organism does.

That dancing may be as in “The darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing”.

Occasionally I am inspired to write poetry, by YHWH, Erato, or my unconscious mind, and around 2005 I wrote,

It hurt so much and it’s stopped.
Who I am is who I ought to be.

I kept rejecting who I am. It is my way. And last week that changed from poetry to prose for me. I would say it as a thing I believe, around thirteen years after it was given to me.

With that immediate, direct perception, not mediated by words, an understanding which feels ghostly when I am with my words and True when I am present as a perceiving animal everything seems more real and more alive. When I see clearly without trying to impose words and explanation, everything is more real. It is imbued with- magic? Or, perhaps, God. It’s not “There is a God” but “There is God”. God may be the One that is greater than all things or merely a metaphor.

I shall not cease from exploration, and my words will change; and I shall know fully as I am fully known.

The Real Self and the Inner Light

Quakers have the concept of the Inner Light which comes from God and which shows us the Way, which we then follow. For example early Quakers had a thrawn determination not to admit anyone as their superiors, just because the authorities called them such: removing their hats in court would have been showing respect to the judge, and Quakers were imprisoned for refusing to do so. Most people then would have removed their hats before a judge without thinking about it. It was just what everyone did, the societal expectation unconsciously obeyed. The Quaker refusal could be called monstrous egotism, asserting onesself over society. Alternatively, it is selfless, because it involves considerable personal risk and suffering in prison, and righteous, a stand against false authority coming from power rather than consent.

I can create a selfish and a selfless explanation of it. And the selfish explanation does not necessarily make it bad- though here I am analysing a corporately discerned campaign of many Quakers, so biased to see it as worthwhile rather than as, say, subversive of social cohesion and threatening a new civil war.

The analysing gets in the way: words make judging the rightness of the action more difficult. From a Quaker perspective, “hat honour” is clearly from our inner Light, the Spirit, God, because it was discerned by so many and carried out for so long. Most people do not wear hats now, and we have different ways of showing respect or a sense of equality.

Identity is a series of constructs dependent on specific circumstances. My friend said that is a quote from Patrick Marber- perhaps he paraphased it. After I committed to transition, the things I would have said about my identity changed. If I say I am “Scots”, what I mean by that depends on circumstances.

Jacques Lacan, a psychoanalyst, may help explain. The role of the analyst is to hear the voice of the unconscious, which makes itself audible through the censorship of consciousness in riddles, allusions, elisions and omissions, explains Caroline Belsey in Poststructuralism aVSI. In the same way, Quakers sit in silence listening to the inner light. I write poetry, sometimes: writing prose I seek to make sense, which involves using the meanings my society has adopted for words having their common use. That common use guides my thought, making some ideas unthinkable, like George Orwell’s Newspeak: The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. That works with English, too. Audre Lorde:

The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

So we create new words, to name new concepts. “Slut-shaming”, for example: it is no longer just the way of the world that single men and women who have sex are treated differently. We can point it out, argue and protest, assert different values.

Speaking in order to make sense to others within my community, I am trapped by my community’s unspoken assumptions. It is a continual struggle to escape those assumptions. I do not even see them, for they appear to be mere reality, the way things are/should be. In the same way my self-concept is bound up in words, ideas of how I should be or am, which get in the way of seeing my true nature.

Winston Smith escaped stultifying convention in sex with Julia, where the brain escapes its linguistic analysis in the moment of release.

The organismic self, spontaneously relating to its surroundings, responding to stimuli, is restrained by convention. Thinking differently is a huge struggle. Quaker practice can break those bonds. We sit in silence, attentive to the inner light. We speak from that light. Together, we can decide to go against the culture, led by something so powerful we call it God.

The language-animal, classifying and conceptualising with words learned from others, will fear that light. The light is unbearable to it.

Other people’s anger

I don’t really like “gay panic” killings to be part of entertainment. Two TV dramas I have seen this month included a gay panic killing- one might even have been a trans panic, as the murder victim was female in Virtual reality but male in real life. Yes, I know they exist, and there was no sympathy for the murderer in either, but someone I could identify with was bludgeoned to death. Women complain about the number of women murdered in such dramas- it always begins with the death of a ‘girl’…

Why should a gay pass be such a provocation, anyway? Both dramas showed it raising uncomfortable echoes in the murderer. The organismic self, feeling attraction, comes up against the self-concept, furiously asserting “I’m not gay”. All the rage and terror that elicits is projected outwards, onto the nearest possible victim. If that gay man is disgusting, then the murderer can ignore his disgust for himself. And he makes his disgust and anger indisputable- surely he cannot be gay, when he feels so strongly.

Such cognitive dissonance, the conflict between who I am and who I ought to be, is painful. Turning the anger outwards may reduce the pain, but cannot address the problem. Neither can my instinctive method, which is to turn the anger inwards. I beat myself up for not living up to who I ought to be. Well, I am not that person, and so the anger only hurts me; but turning it inwards has the advantage, for me, that it does not manifest in conduct which others may find objectionable, until it means I have no motivation to do anything at all.

So now, having drained away my motivation and my self-respect, the anger still turns inwards. I beat myself up pointlessly. It’s other people’s anger, which I feel because I have taken it into myself from them: so as not to suffer it from others, perhaps. So as to fit in. It may be old anger, from my parents’ generation or even before, which no-one would feel now except me.

Who I am is who I ought to be.

The problem is changing my self-concept, so that it matches my organismic self.

The gay panic comes not just from the murderer’s homophobia, but from society’s. His self-concept would not be straight but for homophobic messages from the wider society, or from his upbringing, that straight is better than gay. Concepts of how people ought to be get in the way of anyone seeing who they really are, even the people themselves.

I hope my explaining who I am, here, may help anyone who shares my characteristics. If it brings out a strong emotional reaction- even one of revulsion- it has something to tell you.

The anger is merely destructive. Not all anger is- we get angry against injustice, and that may give energy to end it- but this anger either turns on an other who has innocently drawn the angry man’s attention to a characteristic he must deny, or on the angry person themself. His anger at the other does not change his organismic self, only allows him to deny its reality. It blocks him from seeing himself clearly, and prevents self-acceptance. My anger hurts me, and changes my perception of my real attributes from gifts to weakness.

Perhaps I could consider the anger. Why was I angry? What characteristic am I angry at? How could I see it differently? Self-acceptance is my work. How can I see something in myself, which is so frightening I use anger to prevent me seeing it?

Hate and love

My thought that someone was more intelligent than I provoked amazed disbelief. So you’re very very very intelligent and she’s- pause to count the veries- very very very very intelligent? Yet I got a 2:2. I did not want to do the work. Or I wasn’t clever enough, or not engaged and interested, or had other desires, or-

it is important to see these things clearly-

“Have mercy on yourself!” said Menis, and “You are very hard on yourself” said Andy. I judge myself harshly. I did less and less voluntary work and job-seeking until I withdrew, and still half of me was kicking the other half in the kidneys shouting “Get up Get up DO SOMETHING!” Now I am still frightened of the future, frightened of possible homelessness, yet with little motivation.

I have no partner, children, house, job, savings, pension. I am alone and vulnerable.

I have been so ashamed of who I am. I was Worthless, only of value for what I could achieve, yet wanting to hide away because anyone seeing my Shadow (most of me) would be revolted. In Carl Rogers’ terms, my self-concept and organismic self felt separate. Then I found my Vulnerable Bit, soon renamed Real Self, and more recently as I come to accept my shadow, I feel ashamed of denying it for so long, and ashamed of hiding away now. Shame is my Iron Maiden.

And I am beautiful. All this in me which I have denied and repressed is beautiful. Because I have repressed it, I have no partner, children, etc…

So from hating and despising myself for not being other than I am, more intelligent, with more energy and motivation, I could move to hate my parents for screwing me up quite this badly, except that they always did their best, and I have first “forgiven” them then Accepted them, delighted in their struggles and strength.

And I could move to hate the World. It has Oppressed me! All those evangelical Christians, and the unthinking despising of Queers and anything not Normal, which came from Victorian times and lasts, in pockets, even now; those Evangelical “Christians” or Catholics who write that LGBT is “intrinsically disordered” or Against God’s Will, the Tories wanting to repeal the Human Rights Act…

I have met people more intelligent than me before, but two men stick in my mind- the one who came to CAB about his pension, had read the regulations and tried to explain them to me repeating incessantly “Are you wi’ me, are you wi’ me?” I wasn’t, but did not realise that until later, I wanted to be the one explaining. And, more tragically, a big man in a thick black coat, stinking of- probably urine- a mass of anger almost unable to speak, radiating

Resentment

An anti-role model. A place I might yet not avoid.

I want to transmute it into love. As with my parents I see their strength and struggles, so with the World: to see all its beauty, all the support I get- for while my life has never seemed easy, it really has been- all the progress, Good, Healing.

If I see the World as it is
there is nothing I can do but

LOVE

Renoir, Patineurs au bois de Boulogne

Free will III

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3e/Allan_Ramsay_002.jpgSebastian, a young, high flying executive, is going to a meeting crucial to the next great leap forward in his career. He sees a woman getting mugged, and her handbag stolen. If he stops to help he will miss his meeting. What does he do?

Robert Kane, Professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, says that his choice in that moment is a “Self-Forming Action” or SFA. Kane is a defender of free will, and I bring him to you through the summary of Richard Oerton, a determinist. The SFA is a decision in an instant where “we are torn between competing visions of what we should do or become”. Kane’s example is a choice between pro-social and selfish, and clearly it may affect Sebastian deeply, whether he runs for his meeting but, disturbed by what he saw, performs badly and loses his job soon after; or he intervenes and, delighted by the success of his heroism, joins a charity removing land mines from conflict zones.

How is this free will? The sight stirs up chaos in Sebastian’s brain and sensitises it to “quantum disturbances at the neuronal level” opening “a window of opportunity that temporarily screens off complete determination by influences of the past”. There are hypotheses of parallel universes, and there might be separate “places” where each possible action he could perform has happened, and each possible set of consequences: though whichever we see as the “right” response to me it seems no more https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6d/Allan_Ramsay_-_Portrait_of_Lady_Susanna_Campbell%2C_n%C3%A9e_Bernard_%28d._1751%29_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgblameworthy than any other choice; and whether to go for a run or spend another half hour in bed, three weeks earlier, may also have far-reaching consequences for his character: it, too, is a decision made in an instant which might be finely balanced.

I went to Dr Dalrymple with logical arguments why I was transsexual, and he refuted each of them, leaving me only how I felt and what I wanted. This was intensely painful, and it freed me to value my feelings more, and seek rational justification less. Had I waited longer for such a change it might have been more painful, and I doubt it could come about in a less shocking or painful manner.

That was July 2001, and from February 1999 I have been conscious of changing my understanding of the world and responses to it, as a process of growth or healing, getting closer to an organismic self or real me. Part of this is in accidental encounters with the world- as in the film Sliding Doors, in one reality Sebastian caught the earlier tube, and did not see the mugging.

Even if there are different Sebastians in different worlds, earning different amounts, doing different things, with different levels of health, we cannot blame any of them. And- as living is better than not-living, and I want to take in more ideas and experiences, I choose to believe that this living being is capable of further growth and healing.

A tranny paradox

“I had my balls cut off, so I could be attractive to women.”

I wanted to chat to S, the naval officer, simply because he was one of the few there I had not met before. He asked some probing questions about my trans status, and I told him first that I am attracted to women, and then that. As we were saying goodbye he came over and said how difficult he found that, so I looked him in the eye and repeated it.

“Does not compute,” he said. No, it does not make sense, I agreed. But if you still have Stuff or Baggage to deal with, that will not make sense to you either. If it did, you would have dealt with it by now.

Everyone has difficulties with self-acceptance. One of the blessings of transsexuality is that our inculcated self-concept is so different from our organismic self that we simply have to do the work of self-acceptance and self-discovery. I cannot have a partner unless I am true to myself, because I could not have let her know me.

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I have just been to the HAI community weekend, and it was lovely. I got there at six, more and more people arrived, we cooked over the barbecue and I was in cocktail-party mode: you know, chatting away socially, making connection at a fairly shallow level but pleasantly.

And then we started the evening exercise, and suddenly I was Present. In that state, all my defences are down. I trust that in the moment I can deal with any attack: and my defensiveness is not useful at defending, and does a lot of damage. In that state I can make a true heart-connection.

That evening, two people referred to me with male pronouns, and that created a distance from them in me. I hate it. In quest of authenticity, I take my wig off, and I sing baritone because that voice is richer and holds the note better than my counter-tenor; and I still want to be seen as female. After all, I am female.

HAI has the concept of a Withhold. We say it in this way.

A: I have a withhold with you. Are you ready to hear it?
B accepts or declines
A: I perceived you as [being or doing] and that created a distance from you in me.
B: Thank you.

The idea of this is to surmount barriers to authentic connection. My withhold is that barrier which I feel. B can respond to it immediately, though it may be better to let it settle within before responding.

My general withhold is that if I hear you referring to me as male, I am hurt, and I withdraw. And I want to hear the withhold from others: if you cannot accept me as female, I do not want that to be an insurmountable barrier between us.

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“Either Jesus rose from the dead, or he didn’t”- heard in the night on a programme on the Catholic Church. So the whole Catholic Church has to believe that he did, physically. But why not both? Hold both possibilities in the mind. How could each view enrich your understanding of God?

Resentment

In my twenties, often I would not know what my feelings were, however strong, and in the late nineties when I discovered my feelings I found they were anger, frustration, resentment and fear. Resentment is one of the ground bass notes of this blog, obvious in my recent London post. Here, I state it to show that I am not ashamed of it, in the hope that I might pass through the other side.

So. I resent concepts of Normal or Manliness or Effeminacy which restricted me. I resent the bullying and suppression of gay and queer people, in my schools and the wider society. I resent every single person who laughed at or insulted me. I resent those who still pretend that Christianity condemns gay sex. I resent the fact that I have been afraid.

I resent that in my society which made us not touch each other: after my mother died, my father, thinking me male, was embarrassed to hug me, we shook hands when I left until I forced a hug, and then he was self-conscious. I resent that which exalted intellectual analysis over intuition, mocked and belittled as “Women’s intuition”. I resent kyriarchy. I resent all those who by their action or inaction perpetuated these injustices, this waste of talent and potential. I resent those who use religion to control and constrain, where “The Truth shall set you Free”.

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Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.

Your resentment is delicious.

Rather than seeing resentment as a negative thing, I glory in it. Picture me in the mid-nineties, still stuck in my old Daily Mail morality, imagining that those ideals of Manliness are indeed the proper thing for me to emulate. Consciously, I have bought into Kyriarchy entirely, I am the agent of my own oppression. And underneath, just ready to explode into consciousness, is my Resentment, knowing that all this is Wrong and that I deserve better. My Resentment is a way in which my Organismic Self gets through to my self-concept.

I Resent the concept of negative or bad emotions, of the Shadow. I Resented, and feared my own resentment, and suppressed it from consciousness, as one of those bad emotions which it is bad to feel, and which have to be restrained and controlled. Whereas Resentment is a way I have of seeing that things are not as they ought to be, which might give me the energy to change them. How wonderful that when I did not consciously realise that there was anything wrong except in me, my unconscious, shadow, Organismic Self knew there was Wrong, and resented it.

Take the necessary steps to make things Better, and never doubt your right to take them.

Being and seeing

I was thinking of calling this post “enlightened consciousness, wakened awareness and the unmasked Self” but thought that just a wee bit pretentious. I have three concepts of me as a mature human being, which I glimpse through a glass darkly, and may experience from time to time. My question is, how are they connected and how useful are they?

The first is my organismic self, me behind the mask. Through late 1998 I had the idea of a “vulnerable bit” of me, hidden away, and at a counselling class in February 1999 I had a clear sense of being just that in that moment, without the masks. Then I thought of that part of me as the Real Me rather than the vulnerable bit. A poem came to me in which that part was Female, though that did not mean that transitioning to expressing myself female was the way to liberate her entirely. It was just the necessary first step. And at the time I found transitioning ridiculous and terrifying, so just got angry with the thought and suppressed it again.

The second is me in the moment, that heightened sensibility when I can really see Heaven in a wild flower. With practice and desire, I can drop into this mode quite easily. Perhaps a sensory input, running my fingertips along a surface and being aware of that feeling, being aware of the physical sensations of my torso and limbs, will bring it on.

The third is that feeling of being connected with the whole of Existence, of being my part in the pattern, which I sometimes get in the Quaker meeting. Oh, and being without my illusions and those desires not to feel fear or anger which get in my way.

It seems to me that I am stripping away Civilisation. First those restrictions on being myself because it is dangerous, and then the replacement ways of being and doing, created by convention and cobbled together and worried over.

Miriam Louisa quotes UG Krishnamurti. Do look at the whole thing, because he also names errors one can make in the search for authenticity. He ends,

What you are looking for does not exist.
You would rather tread an enchanted ground
with beatific visions of a radical transformation
of that non-existent self of yours
into a state of being which is conjured up
by some bewitching phrases.

That takes you away from your natural state
– it is a movement away from yourself.

To be yourself requires extraordinary intelligence.

You are ‘blessed’ with that intelligence;
nobody need give it to you,
nobody can take it away from you.

He who lets that express itself in its own way is a natural man.

 And my question is, if I can attain this in contemplative mood, can I be like that while actually doing stuff?

This is post number 200.

Getting to know myself

I saw two swans flying. This is rare, because they can normally get where they want to go, by swimming. They aid each other, one flying in the other’s slip stream. As I watched, they changed places.

As the laws of attack govern those of riposte, to avoid being harmed by the asperities of my character, all my servants adopted in their own the same withdrawal tactics, and always at the same point; in compensation for this, they took advantage of the gaps in my defences to gain ground there. Of these gaps I knew nothing, any more than of the ground gained in the spaces they left, precisely because they were gaps. But my servants, as their faults became gradually more apparent, taught me of their existence. It was in the defects which they invariably acquired that I learned of my own natural, invariable defects, and their character presented me with a sort of negative proof of my own.

-Proust, The Guermantes Way

How can I get to know the bits of myself which I deny? The first step was realising that such bits exist in the first place. When I first saw Johari’s Window in the 1990s, it did not really speak to me. It was a great revelation to realise, in about 2000, that I lie to myself because I want to see myself as a Good person. One thing I sought to do then was find other motivations I might have to lie to myself.

A strange thing about this lie is that it still applies, though my principles have moved from a Daily Mailish morality to ideals around personal growth and spiritual maturity, it is still easier to tell myself I have done some healing or growth than actually to do it.

Another task was to find out what I really wanted, and to compare my belief of my wants to my acts. If I really want something, I should be motivated to achieve it. In come the lies again: I want to protect myself, and wear a mask when I interact with other people, so I do, but do not realise it. I tell myself I want the things I have learned I ought to want, but don’t. So I seek them out, and wonder at my lack of motivation and energy.

Also, at some deep unconscious level I wanted my own survival and healing, towards a self-actualisation that, consciously, I could not have understood, or might fear and hate. These factors have brought me Here, to a place where I might do that healing.