The heart’s desire

I want to know The Truth of myself. Will I find it in James Baldwin? In Notes of a Native Son, he fights to realise himself, recognising that there is a choice: dive into the void that is the unknown self, or accept what society makes of you. He was a friend of existentialists. A human being is “something resolutely indefinable, unpredictable. In overlooking, denying, evading his complexity- which is nothing more than the disquieting complexity of ourselves- we are diminished and we perish; only within this web of ambiguity, paradox, this hunger, danger, darkness, can we find at once ourselves and the power that will free us from ourselves.”

Aged 60, he wrote that society limits him, but “my birthright was vast, connecting me to all that lives, and to everyone, forever”. Wow. Everything that is possible for a human being is possible for me. To believe that would be a great responsibility.

Or would I find it among Quakers? There is an inner light, which is so strange and wonderful we call it that of God. But it might just be a seed thrown among weeds which choke it. I thought I had found it. I was speaking from the Heart, and the proof was my voice being a higher pitch. Well, it made sense at the time.

Then that part of me said, “Do to me as you wish”. That is a brave prayer to make to God, but utterly foolhardy to a human being. I imagined myself saying it to someone, then thought, how can that be speaking from the inner light, if it is so slutty? It could be the heart’s desire. It is hard to piece together what I want, but I want that. Then I said, also from the “heart”, “I need to protect myself”.

Then I started judging the “heart” because of that particular desire. Sometimes something seems to work in a person like the Inner Light, but it deludes them. Like her. And him. Is there an “inner light” below this heart? I need a sane ego, which will protect me, rather than the ego I produced, which was the shell, imprisoning me because I was so hurt and afraid. I would need it to be my counsellor, not my prison guard; a male self to protect my feminine self. All my gifts are in both selves.

Or, perhaps, if I speak from the Inner Light, it is a lot more playful, creative and joyful, not sensible as the world sees it. I said to another my Light is more playful than I had thought, and she loved that idea. I could get authority for it from St Paul: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength”. Or, “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong”. I have a vague idea that Paul said “In my weakness is my strength”, and so did Katharine Oliver and others, but I cannot find it in any particular translation.

Why should I seek authority? Make it my own. “The wisdom of God is foolishness to man,” and live by that.

Someone quoted Rumi, The Guest House. Yes, it is a metaphor, but I cannot differentiate the house, the feelings- joy or momentary awareness, depression, meanness, a violent crowd of sorrows, a dark thought, shame or malice- and the “me” that invites them in. I am one human being, the feeling and the I which would resist it. Do not resist pain or confusion. Welcome them, says the poet, and it is my experience at least that resistance does no good.

In The Good Ally, I read of people taking action to manage their own feelings or how they appear to others, rather than to achieve a result in the world. At a Quaker peace zoom, we discuss people taking action to feel better about themselves rather than as led. It is so good to know it is not just me.

Michael Leunig imagined people with their opinions, concerns, memories, anxieties, secrets, ambitions, causes, grievances, regrets, theories, reputation, style, lies, pains, charms, tricks, vendettas, powers and obsessions, and a man who lets go of all that. “He’s had enough and just wants to connect.”

A child of dysfunctional parents on a twelve step programme for such people talked of “emotional sobriety”. It means being comfortable with the full panoply of feelings, but not hijacked by them; having healthy boundaries for self and others; not being subsumed in others, or engulfed. One might get joy from another person because there is no dependency. Just appreciate them. One ceases to be addicted to drama.

Worth a try, perhaps.

Sitting with the mystery

Human beings are unknowable, even to ourselves.

In Meeting, I sit with my hurt, fear and lack of control as in a twelve-step programme. Some say that being present in the Now creates a feeling of joy, and sometimes it does for me. At other times, the pain is as much as I can bear, but shutting it out I blind myself. Suddenly perceiving the depth and complexity of feeling is like a symphony with too many instruments. I might surf it, if only I resist the temptation to understand it. But understanding has been the way I have sought safety for so long.

I take refuge in writing. Almost until I would have been too late for meeting, I was playing on the Guardian comment threads. I put a brilliant argument that people with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, and the external genitalia of women, are called “women” by a social convention. There is no simple definition of “woman” that includes CAIS women but not trans women, and no moral reason to define the word that way. That comment disappeared when a comment up-thread, “Keir Starmer should dial back the woke nonsense”, was removed by a moderator. I wrote another comment and got a “Guardian Pick” which got hundreds of up-votes. I care about this stuff, so I give you the details.

Last week, I learned Richard Dawkins will be speaking at Greenbelt, and I started thinking about what I would say if I got the microphone from the floor during his session. A paragraph has repeated in my mind as I test variations. I judge myself: I should not be thinking about this so much.

Living in the present moment, or sitting in Meeting, should I not be thinking? Well, if I were jamming a twelve bar blues, I might be better to count the bars until I felt them. Thinking has its place. I do not want to shut down any part of myself.

I started this blog post a week ago, and it was all about her. We exchanged several texts a day for months and had hours of video calls, and she was going to come to my house- and then at the end of March she withdrew, and I was wondering, why? I thought she ceased contact because she had coldly and calculatingly sought to subjugate me, and when I baulked, she withdrew. So I shamed her publicly. Afterwards, I wondered if she had been scared of me. From an earlier draft:

So many people have feared violence from me. There’s the normalised phobia of “biological men”, and there have been claims I might personally be violent. I have so much anger in me, all directed inwards. I let it go, slowly. My violent acts have been self-destructive rather than aimed at others, and I have several times been the victim of violence I could not resist. That others might fear me is a threat to my safety, and it distances me from other people.

You told me of a time you might reasonably have feared that man, and you have to be cautious in your line of work. You were under great pressure at the time.

Was it because you feared that you sought to impose complete control? I must serve you, my will subsumed in yours. I was obsessed with you, thinking of you all the time. Then I said I would not do those things, and you dropped me. I did not imagine that you feared me. I thought you had consciously, calculatingly, made me obsessed with you in order to control and negate me. That seems cruel. I would rather imagine you frightened or cautious than cruel.

This omits that after she withdrew I lashed out, attempting to shame her before fifty people. I could say, well, that was exceptional. It is not who I am really. But it was who I was in the moment that matters. I cannot say “I lost control”- there was no part of me that stopped me acting, at the time. I am one human being. If “being pushed beyond endurance” is an excuse for me, it is for others too.

I thought of asking her, but it would be ridiculous. “Were you cold and calculating, or fearful, or cautious? Was there something else?” I could not answer a question like that. What narrative has she in her mind, or would she want in mine? There is a time to create a narrative, and sometimes I just have to let the mystery be.

There is something chilling about her. She is not a nice bourgeois woman who would do nothing objectionable. Neither am I. I miss the contact, but you can’t separate bits out of a human being, missing one part but not another. Each of us is one. I see her enthusiasm, energy and intelligence- these are perceptions, not narrative- and for her I may be just another sub. I thought I would rather think of her as frightened rather than cruel, but, why? I will do her the honour of believing she can be “mad, bad and dangerous to know”.

The thought crosses my mind- “I love ‘The Ancestor’s Tale’.” And I am back writing. I decide to spend the last ten minutes of Meeting with  these people, here. How are they? How is the worship? In meeting, it behoves me to foster order, reverence, harmony, and Love.

I shall spend some time this month ruminating about her- her and that man, her and her subs, her and me. Eventually I will stop, though for now I remain open to contact from her, however unlikely. The narrative I need is that I sought as best I could publicly to shame her.

I write blog posts and comments, rather than the more sustained work of publishable articles or even a book. Writing is my skill, which gives me pleasure. Confusion and desperation recede from consciousness as I do what I am good at. Then I obsessively check for views and upvotes, as a substitute for human contact.

Away with the Quakers

She leaned closer, and I noticed her eyes flicking from side to side, looking into mine. She put her arm along the back of my chair, and lightly touched the skin above my scooped neckline. Inhibited, I froze, rather than relaxing against her side, my head on her shoulder. Still, I am delighted with the flirting.

A yoga teacher asked if I would like her to correct my posture, and told me to feel the bones in my bottom on which my weight should go. My spine should curve above those bones, balanced, so there is no strain. I should pull my shoulders back and my shoulder blades inwards. Then I should pull my head back while keeping my gaze level, so that the skull balances on top of the spine. Bowing it forward, we overdevelop the trapezius muscle. Similarly, standing I should have my weight on my heels then bear it equally between heels and the balls of the feet. I have been practising this, queueing for the tills in Aldi. Pull the belly in slightly and the chest up.

I have been away with the Quakers, and seen that we are going to disappear in Britain and probably deserve to, but that our gift could liberate the world. A Friend said that it is so nice to dress simply, and be with others whose values make them dress the same way. This didn’t just irritate me because I was in a different pretty dress, and make-up, and while most women there wore trousers a few were in skirts. It’s that it produces far too narrow an understanding of who Quakers might be, and what openness to the Spirit might produce in a person. It does not make us all look alike. The spiritual discipline is living with people who are different.

We had an animator in to help with the children, and she spent some time with adults too. So I used a free app to help make a film. She provided an iPad suspended over a backing sheet, the idea, and letters cut from coloured paper, and I made the letters of the word “community” move onto the backing sheet and dance round a bit, for ten seconds at twelve frames a second. Then I had my own idea, and pulled fragments off a pine cone, which, when the film was reversed, marched towards the pine cone and reconstituted it. I heard she commented to someone about how seriously I had taken the exercise. Well, I do. When I commit to something I give it my all. People liked watching the letters dance and spin.

I played ball with a little girl, who was just learning to catch one, in the sunshine. The bits I find most memorable in the weekend, two days later, were about play. Saturday evening, we entertained ourselves. I read my sonnets, and a man asked for copies. Did I do dramatic readings elsewhere?

I cycled 28 miles there with Google maps. I should have looked at the route beforehand. I kept making mistakes, as the phone perceived me as a few feet off to the side of the path. When I returned, it was almost all off road through woods, but going I went on some nasty road. At the end, the app sent me through a research station, which had a gate blocking the way.

A man told me I could not get through, and told me I had to go back round several miles to get on the road. I just stared stupidly at him. Eventually he told me he knew the combination, and drove ahead of me to let me through. I was tired. So anticipating going back, I was worried.

On Sunday morning, in free discussion, I addressed the group: we sit in a circle, we speak when moved, we do what we are called to. That’s it. Anything more comes from the evil one. Then in worship I wanted to say anything to reassure and encourage these people, but I had already spoken. But, this is what I want to say to Quakers:

Speak when moved. Don’t speak when not moved.
Act when led. Don’t act when not led.

We sit in silence for an hour a week, and talk incessantly the rest of the time. Much of that talk is mere intellectualising. I believe we act for other motivations than being led: we want to appear good to ourselves, or it seems like a good idea. Only in leadings is there life. And, we are good enough already, filled with the love of God. If we act from the Love in us, it is enough.

When the yoga teacher told me to bring my chest out, saying I am filled with feeling, I started to wail. The pain and uncertainty is too much for me. A lovely woman came over to console me. All morning, I had managed to hold my pain and sadness without particularly expressing it.

As a complete contrast to John William Godward, here is Walter Sickert.

A Quaker testimony to community

The American term SPICES lists six testimonies: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Stewardship. Four overlap with the list in Quaker Faith and Practice: Truth, Equality, Simplicity, Peace. The BYM website adds Justice, and many Quakers speak of a testimony to sustainability. Sustainability proceeds naturally from living from the Spirit in the love of God.

Rather than Truth, SPICES names Integrity. A mnemonic is useful as far as it goes. Truth goes beyond what we speak, to how we are in the world, being our true selves without pretence or self-delusion. That is, integrity. Even Quakers evade unpalatable truths, or we would not need counselled against that. Illusion seems comforting when reality is too hard to face. Truth is also about how we see the world, as far as possible as it is, which requires commitment and may require Love.

British Quakers have a testimony to Community though we do not name it. We practice Quaker spirituality, worship and life as part of a Quaker community. Those who do the work paid ministers do in other churches, and the work of organising, do it for a limited time. Many of us serve the wider community, building community, bringing people together, meeting need.

Leadership is a service. Decisions have to be taken, and it makes sense to delegate some to specific people. Sometimes leadership is a gift, absolving others of the need to make a decision, if not of responsibility. Anyone can offer leadership, by making a suggestion. Others will follow if they agree to.

We are a society of people with equal value but differing gifts.

We make decisions together, seeking God’s loving purposes. We seek to do what is right. Ideally, our business is conducted in a spirit of worship, and anything spoken is inspired ministry, though people can disagree. Sometimes, someone will propose a new approach and there is a feeling of the meeting coming together behind that.

Part of the discipline and practice of Quakerism is being in the meeting community, where there are the usual conflicts and stresses. Someone told me of feeling their local meeting was cliquey, so they stopped going. We can appear homogenous, almost as if people were not expressing their full variety, and those who could not fit simply left, or never came. Diversity of belief is welcomed, but other ways of being diverse may make people uncomfortable.

At our worst, we imagine that we are Peaceful so deny conflict until it explodes. The advice is to “make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome”.

Wholly Zoom meetings avoid much of the tension. We can have the discipline of sitting in silence, and I like to mutter to myself, sometimes, words, mantras or longer thoughts, while muted. I can switch my camera off, arrive late or leave early. There is no need to walk into a building where you know no-one. The spiritual practice of sitting in silence with others becomes open to far more people. And, we might know each other less well.

So Britain YM would benefit from specifically declaring we have a testimony to community, as it is so important to our religious life together.

Numbing out

I am becoming aware of how much vulnerability scares me. I can’t avoid it, but I go to great lengths to avoid feeling vulnerable. My life is so quiet. Much of the time I watch television, or just go through the same websites, over and over again, in case there is anything new.

It is hard to be positive about this, and my blog started with a pledge to be positive, and an overoptimistic first sentence. So I will sing in praise of numbing out: it keeps me safe from my vulnerability, and gives me the space to explore that vulnerability as far as I can bear.

Numbing out passes the time in my days after I have done whatever I can do with them- a little housework, a blog post, some reading, and occasionally a glancing encounter with reality. It keeps me amused. Almost every day I have a time when I can share, deeply, with wise spiritual people over Zoom. I like my life. It gives me all the challenge and experience I want. Perhaps I may want more later, and perhaps not.

I think I am clearer, now. Before, I would have said I watch television, and what a waste of time that is. Now, I would say I am numbing out, and that is self-protecting. I am nurturing myself as best I can. Numbing out, though easy to deride or despise, especially for me, is good for me.

In 2012 I did a ritual, and found I was firmly in Winter. Winter is the place where it seems the world sleeps, but seeds are germinating under the soil. Soon new shoots may grow. It is a place to be, if I can have faith the seeds really are germinating.

On Saturday night (theirs) and Sunday morning (mine, 12.30am) I read three poems about Love to American Quakers, and someone wrote in the chat, “my heart has never been touched in that way. beautiful”. I have told people this. I said I was boasting, and one said, no, you are sharing your joy.

I have no idea how good those poems are, and how I read them had some part of it. And, I know I am beautiful, and worth looking after. I have not always known that.

On Monday 21st I worshipped with Pendle Hill, and had a glimpse of the depth of my anxiety, confusion and sadness. It felt like a revelation. This is as much as I can bear, and I can bear more than before. After, sharing joys and sorrows, I shared that I have a joy I cannot articulate. Later, I thought that I am growing and healing.

On Monday evening we agreed how hard it is to warm oneself with one’s own love.

My hope, now, is that it is Spring, and to symbolise that I am wearing my daffodil earrings. It may be as illusory as the idea of pupating. But I know life develops, in the tuber under the soil. I have taken one more brick from the towering edifice of my self-hatred and contempt, and carried it towards the fragile construction of my self-respect.

Loving my vulnerability

I loved how you used the word “observatory” as an adjective. Standard English would be “observational”, but you added root and suffix together in a way I instantly understood. I admire it like my nephew, as a toddler, using “goed” for “went”. Your command of the language is excellent, but the word you use would be called an error: I would celebrate your skill, but fear others might mock your usage. I love your drive.

He is right to say, spiritual growth should not be a great fight. We work hard at it, because we value it, but that hard work does not always produce the growth. I do not traumatise myself in the name of growth. Rather, old traumas came to me.

I sat in Meeting on Wednesday and Steve ministered on our silent waiting in Love for the word of God. But I was in the depths of my trauma, thinking of how my inner gaslighter had bullied me as worthless, except for what I could achieve, and useless, unable to match its impossible standards. Those implacable, impossible demands broke me into my current inactivity, which is the best evidence I have of my worthlessness and uselessness. Now Steve’s ministry, heard as “This is what proper Quakers should be doing” made me more miserable. It was more grist for the inner judge. It was so hard to bring the judge into consciousness: when unconscious, its judgments had seemed simply reality. So it made me suicidal.

So I spoke that I was wrestling with my trauma. After, one prayed for me, my Friend who is psychotic and my Friend who is sectioned, and I thought, I am in good company. Another admired my ability to be open and vulnerable. One reminded me of God’s love for me.

When I was in work, I was trapped by that inner judge. This was unbearable and traumatic for me. So I fled it and numb the pain, and facing the pain, admitting the pain of it, is part of my healing. My path to healing is through the old trauma, admitting how it still affects me.

Then I shared about this on Saturday. I thought of my share for an hour before. I thought I would project the judge’s judgment onto the group; and thinking this, realised they might have a multitude of reactions, but not the complete contempt of the judge. I thought of what I might say. I was heard and acknowledged: not by everyone, perhaps, but by enough.

Then in Meeting on Sunday I sat with a blissful sense of being loved and accepted- by my own inner light, and perhaps by other people too. Friends ministered their sources of joy. One read a poem about joy. Neil, of Jewish heritage, ministered on the light of the Menorah in the temple being produced by crushing olives for oil: through trauma comes light.

I see how the drive for perfection can make people achieve great things. Mine broke me because it was set too high, but I love it in others. I wanted to be perfect because I wanted to be invulnerable, but now my vulnerability, which I feel in cool chakras on my wrists, delights me. Through vulnerability I open and receive. And I can see and delight in another’s penetrating drive.

The dance and the game

As she looked at me, I felt my softness being valued. In her regard, my delicate flower stood tall. She said it was beautiful to look at me. I have to accept my sadness completely, in order to appreciate my delight. We are present to each other.

This is how I want to be, and I enjoy it, then analyse it. What am I doing, now? I take off my masks. I speak from the Real Me. Or, I show my vulnerable, feminine self. Three ways of seeing it each casting light from a different direction, each illuminating parts other images leave in shadow, none complete. The mask seems welded on, and to be seen without it is liberation, my only desire.

Burnt Norton: In the still point of the turning world, there is only the dance. There is who I am and what I do in the moment, and how I imagine it looks or want it to appear falls away. In almost all my actions there is care for appearances, more to myself than to others, and self-consciousness, and here I might flow naturally, unconstrained.

Nirvana is nonbeing. There is no I. There is only the dance. Possibly I should only do this with a lover (not with her) or possibly it could expand to all of life. This is paradise everyone old has dreamed of all their lives: the deep blue air that shows nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless, behind high windows Larkin could only look through, hoping that couple of kids were free to fly, like birds.

As a potential partner I have a great deal of beauty but fear I have little use. My earning potential is minimum wage at best. So I unfankle all the mess, the masks and pretence, the desire for appearance rather than reality, the impossible falsehoods. “I” is the whole animal process dancing with the world, changing it as I am changed, and “I” is the illusion that blocks the flow, the demands not to feel that were branded in me.

Mind-blown, I went to the Quaker group. With adolescent certainty I told them where they were going wrong. There is the dance, and then there is the game, which has rules. The business meeting is on the second Sunday of the month, and members should send agenda items to the clerk by the first Sunday so that the agenda may be circulated in good time.

But—but—

The DANCE!!!

If only I could put it into words. But those words would become dust as soon as they were spoken, not even a finger pointing at the moon. Human kind cannot bear very much reality.

If only we could trust the wisdom we know. If only we could sit in silent worship in the business meeting. You only speak once, so you gather what you must say. You seek the good of all, and not appearances. You listen to Friends, and see their unmasked beauty. It is not a committee meeting where we talk over each other.

Nirvana is possible, and ungraspable. I fall away from it into habit. The words cast light and shadows. And I dismiss the rules, for they only permit a game, which is less than the dance. But there is wisdom which might let us dance freely. And I delight in my adolescence: I have been stunted, welded in, and adolescence is growth and life.

Dominant women

I have been doing some research….

Lady Sas, or Saskia, says that the Domme should simply be calm and assertive: the loud, aggressive Mistress is outdated. She should issue commands, expecting obedience. D/s is a game, and at other times Domme and sub meet as equals. The aspirant Domme might feel nervous, so Lady Sas suggests the Silence challenge. The sub kneels, naked, in a room, and the Domme merely need walk around him, slowly, feeling how she relaxes as she realises she is in control. The game should be “safe, sane and consensual”.

Lucy Fairbourne writes for the “caring mistress”. The self-assured male craves the vulnerability of complete surrender. The woman is surprised, but soon finds the pleasurable possibilities. She does not fulfil a sub’s fantasies, who demands she commands him to kneel, or ties him up, but instead she decides what to do, for her pleasure.

The mistress shouting her contempt for the slave was the clichéd image of fem-dom I had internalised, so I googled “submissive worm”. A site tells me the “worm archetype”, wanting to be dominated by everyone, still exists. A worm might be not allowed to use the furniture. I think, yuck. Is he allowed to use cutlery? “Allowed” by whom? I read of a woman who was better educated than her partner. He objected to her using words he did not understand. He enforced control, and by the time she left him she was only using words of one syllable. That is coercive control. It is criminal.

I read of FLR, the Female-Led Relationship, and TPE, Total Power Exchange, where the sub is submissive at all times, not just in well-boundaried games. The equipment could be a way of creating the boundary: when the woman is dominant, they use particular clothes and tools which are put away afterwards.

I do not see the motivation for the games for either, and particularly the thought of dominating. Yet when Miss Dark Waters sends me a picture of her handcuffs, glinting in the sun, dangling from her well-manicured fingers, it fascinates me. She entangled and intoxicated me.

I am submissive. I had a nervous, difficult Quaker meeting, thinking of this, resenting it, and especially my propensity for imprinting on strong women. I thought that ceasing to fight it, coming to know and accept it, I might live better, and I still resented and struggled. By the end, I felt acceptance. This is who I am. It fits with other qualities in me, such as humility, which I find easier to value. At the discussion zoom after a Quaker said she had rarely heard someone’s voice sound so peaceful. I typed an affirmation:

I am Submissive. Nervous. Kind. Appreciative. Vulnerable. Open. All of me is beautiful. I will love and cherish all of me. Sweet. Gentle. Thoughtful. Caring. Analytical. Feeling. These are not in conflict, but so many different beautiful facets.
I love myself.
I love myself.
I love myself.
I am perfect as I am created.
Appreciating the parts I find difficult lets me appreciate my good qualities, for they are part of one whole.

The question was, what is essential to you in spiritual community. I interpreted it as asking my essence. So I read that out, and a man asked me to read it again.

A Friend said, spiritual community requires total acceptance of the person in front of you. People project so much how they think others should be, but we need to meet people where they are. I need to accept myself first: if there are parts in me that I deny, I cannot accept them in others.

Quakers and belief

What does it mean to believe?

I believe the Earth goes round the Sun. I believe in Milanković cycles, regular changes in the Earth’s orbit which affect its climate. Such rational, scientific belief involves trust in my community, in scientists who calculate such things in ways I do not know. It can be wrong, as Newton was wrong about gravity. Trying to distort religious belief to be like scientific belief leads people astray: the Flood did not cause the Grand Canyon.

I do not believe in Astrology, but observe that a magazine astrology column can give a little pleasure or something to think about. An empathetic practitioner, with a vast range of ideas related to planets, signs and sesquiquadrates, could see what spoke to their client and possibly give insight into character.

I believe in Hamlet, though the play is not historical: it portrays lifelike humans.

I have moral beliefs, which I have learned through instruction, example, experience, study and discussion. This year I intend to keep my promises better, having disliked breaking an undertaking. I also intend to promise, or not, more thoughtfully.

What does it mean to learn, and what do I need to know? As a member of a social species I need to know how to interact with other people, and how to be a member of the society that meets my needs. Much of that knowledge may be innate: babies recognise the patterns of a face. I understand others because we have things in common: I feel joy in service, and observe others do so too.

I learn through art. I contemplate images, my feelings resonating with them, so come to understand situations I have not experienced.

I learn the tradition of Christianity by reading and listening, then hone my understanding by talking about it. There is a rigid creed with nothing between Jesus’ birth and his passion, and gospels giving differing accounts of his life and afterlife. Jesus tells fictional parables, some disturbingly amoral, such as the Unjust Steward. I contemplate the mad Gadarene (or Gerasene), clothed and in his right mind after an encounter with Jesus, which may also be fictional. I find value in the Bible, Christian tradition and Christian writings, for learning how to live.

Then I learn spirituality by sitting in Quaker stillness for an hour most weeks over twenty years. I encounter unconscious processes and unravel the inner conflicts created by old trauma. I experience being given spoken ministry, and also speaking when I might have been wiser to stay seated. I know love for these people, sitting with me. I believe that meeting for worship and the business method have value. Quakers report doing different things during meeting: behind the still faces, a person might be praying, or counting breaths, or hearing God within them speak.

It is not true to say that you can believe anything and be a Quaker, even a Quaker in Britain Yearly Meeting. I believe meeting for worship has value, and that there is a wide range of appropriate things to do in the hour. Others have narrower understandings- “Thee should not have been thinking”.

Then Quakers have different metaphysical understandings of what underpins our experiences, In the Letter to the Governor of Barbados George Fox describes fairly conventional Protestant beliefs, including that Christ’s death was the propitiation for the sins of the world. We are rooted in Christianity, and many British Quakers have a radical Christian understanding of “that of God” in us. It is the Holy Spirit, which other Christians believe comes into us in Baptism and Confirmation, and we believe needs no ritual, because it is in everyone.

I might try to put into words my spiritual experience, for example, all my senses come alive, I see “Heaven in a wild flower”, usually there is a feeling of Joy with this experience, I am in the present moment not ruminating of past or future. That comes from my own experience. It feels distinct, now, from how I am at different times. My experience is evidence for my account of it, but not evidence for the metaphysical belief in God or Spirit. To say that Spirit causes such experiences goes beyond the experience itself. The experience feels like a blessing, but I could not say that Something blessed me.

I don’t believe in an Eternal Creator. I believe I am an evolved animal in a material universe, and there is no separate spiritual reality beyond baryonic matter. But the word “God” signifying particular experiences which I see in others or I share has value and meaning to me.

I would hope Quaker metaphysical beliefs would enhance our community and our practice of worship. We have a shared practice and way of life, not a shared belief system. Possibly the only belief required of someone joining us for the first time is that our practice may benefit them. Rather than asking what they believe, I would ask whether they are oriented towards growing in love in the community.

Might we have to expel someone for their belief? Only if we discerned that the belief was harming the community unbearably, perhaps because it was dogmatically held, and the person thought others should agree. We do not expel a Friend lightly.

My commitment to the community and the worship ranks, for me, above my atheist materialist beliefs. Therefore I hope that even if the Christian revelation of the Eternal Creator is true, I will not harm the worshipping community with my beliefs.

If Quakers honestly attempt to conform their beliefs to their experience, and are open to changing them, I hope those attracted to our spiritual practices will not believe anything that the community would discern to be harmful. Spiritual experience is beyond words, so I cannot produce a description in words precisely fitting my own experiences, though it is worthwhile trying to. When I do, I find similarities to others’ experiences.

We have some shared moral beliefs. We are pacifist. But we have a variety of understandings of that, and some Quakers joined the armed forces in the second world war. We have not yet reached agreement on assisted dying, and perhaps do not need to. Our moral beliefs change: when some Quakers owned and traded slaves, others began to say this was wrong.

In Meeting, I was contemplating Thomas Cranmer’s “Prayer of Humble Access”, which I said routinely as a child. It gained new meaning for me. “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table” alludes to Matthew 15:21-28. Then we ask to eat Christ’s flesh so that it will make us clean, “and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us”. That mix of unworthiness and access, humility and gratitude for the blessing I find in Meeting spoke to me. I grow in understanding, whatever I believe, or however I put it in words.

The joyful, playful child

“Forgive me,” said Anna, “but you seem confused”. Well, yes. I have had a striking week. I wrote my love poem, which enabled me to say the words “I love you” to someone. Wednesday 5th I would read it in public.

Unfortunately, before that I was discussing my psychotic friend. He comes to Quaker zooms to rave. One of his delusions is how the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra is the perfect society. I wish he’d go to one of their concerts, proclaim his gospel, and get sectioned again. I wish he would realise he was ill and consent to the depot injections, but he believes he has unique spiritual truth to change the World, just like Licia did. He accepts he is hypomanic, and when he is less so he can have an initial appearance of profundity from all the Buddhist texts he quotes.

Then there was the BBC, explaining laboriously yet disingenuously that my complaints were without merit and Justin Webb did nothing wrong.

I read my poem in the Lovely Gathering. Jamie needled me a bit, and my barriers collapsed. I do not mind appearing ridiculous. That ship has sailed, I said- I have appeared ridiculous to some people since transition. But not like this. He asked if I wanted him as celebrant, and I asked if he could do the registration too. I would not want to have to go to the registry office as well. But, the barriers- I had not wanted to make claims about another, or potentially embarrass her. Jamie did not need a jemmy. He put an exploratory fingernail under my covers, and they exploded off. I felt exposed.

She wrote to me of my ethereal beauty, my blooming heart. I am grateful for the expressions of love from her deep integrity. And Thursday afternoon I spent some time wailing wordlessly and some time being listened to by my wise friend, who recommended howling.

I had given up hope that my sexuality might attract me to, leave alone unite me with, another human being and I am grateful that I now believe in the possibility. Friday afternoon I zoomed with a woman who has overcome huge challenges. She does herself down, and still I saw her humility is beautiful. She wrote to me of my generosity, receptivity, sensitivity, spirituality, thoughtfulness, beauty and desire to spread encouragement and love, and called me

a human daring to stand.

Tuesday at Morning Communion, which I experience at 1pm because of time differences, was striking. I was just feeling the feels. People would say something changing my view of what was being discussed, and my feelings changed with them. In order to hold these mercurial feelings, be present and conscious with them, I found my body flexing and stretching, tensing in different places. It was almost as much as I could bear. I thought I might look a bit weird but no-one said. I was pleased with this. I want to feel the feels and accept them, then I feel I will stop fighting myself and stand in my power.

I have been thinking of my honour, and one thing I want to do is keep any obligations into which I enter freely. So Friends asked me to do something, and I said yes, and I did not do it. I just did not respond when my fellow Friend involved contacted me. I did nothing for six months, and facing the prospect that the work was not done someone else was appointed. Then they asked me to do something else and I did not respond to the first email, or the phone message. I need to be able to say “No”, and I need my word to mean something. When directly asked I said “No”.

Another thing I want, passionately, is not to have my feelings just explode on show as they did on Wednesday evening. It makes me feel unbearably vulnerable and stupid. After, I hate myself for it. I need control.

I had an hour and 45 minutes with Anna the Samaritan on Friday morning. They did not seem particularly busy, and I had a long healing cry. Then I talked from my misery when I can only articulate words in a high wail. Then I talked from my Real Self, or whatever it is, when my voice goes higher than usual, I am fulfilling my needs telling my best understanding of truth and I feel frightened and vulnerable. I told of chasing Ulrika like a lost puppy, and how she used me to keep Luke on his toes, then chucked him away like a used tissue. I told of Jude’s girlfriend wanting him to make a man of himself, and how when they split up he was so much more relaxed. By the end I was more explaining to her than working things out for myself, so I stopped, and I have not felt the need to cry since.

F, to whom I said “I love you”, has been in touch and caring in a way making me feel cared for. I spoke at the Zoom Quaker meeting, when someone heard humility in my ministry and that felt true and fitting to me. Then there was the afternoon Quaker zoom where we addressed the question, “Who in your life enhances/encourages your connection with God, and how?”

I said I felt that God in me is when all of me is integrated and working together, and anything can either lead me towards that or drive me from it, and my attitude to it matters. So I welcome unravelling on Wednesday, making a fool of myself. I will learn from it.

I told the story of the grey corridor with doors to overwhelming light and colour. Jeannine had a new angle on it: the corridor more constrains me as I outgrow it. Ruth suggested I could open the door for a look, keeping in the corridor for safety.

So I began the lovely gathering with Emotion Detector.
Illusions are painfully shattered
Right where discovery starts
In the secret wells of emotion
Buried deep in our hearts.

What I wanted, more than anything, was to become that sane, well-boundaried person, who does not lose control like I did on Wednesday. And now, five hours later, I don’t.

The next Quaker question was, How do you hold people in the light? How do you believe that works? Well, it changes me. I think of another with love, and it enhances my capacity to love them.

Then I said words new to me, which felt true. I find loving important, and am good at it: the price is not knowing I am good at it, so striving to be better. Seeing Friends assent helps me believe this.

So now I know. The lesson I wish I had learned as a toddler, which my parents could not teach me, was that losing control was not the end of the world.

I would rather be in touch with my feelings and in control. And loss of control is not ideal, but OK. Outside the corridor becomes less terrifying.