A joyful, playful child

The compliment I treasure as much as any other is, “You can seem serious, but underneath you are just a joyful, playful child”.

On the bus, my attention is wholly on my phone, narrowed to the glowing rectangle. I am safe, scrolling down through facebook or site stats- Ooh, another page view!

A couple in their sixties get on. He walks quickly down the aisle then stands waiting for her. She progresses in a stately manner. “Will you move over please thank you very much” she says to a young man in an aisle seat. He does. “Sit there,” she commands her companion, waving at the seat. He complies. She sits across the aisle from him.

Watching is better. Later, I walk along Nupton Road, beside a park. There are mature trees growing through the pavement. There is so much beauty in this town, but from the bus I was beguiled by buildings- ordinary buildings, you might say, and I enjoyed their colours and sudden shapes as we moved past.

I sit erect, trusting, sufficient. I have dignity. I am safe in my society, even the malicious cannot easily hurt me, and I am rarely even mildly discomposed. What crush and constrain me are fearful fantasies.

At the bus stop a woman glanced over. Her “celebrity” magazine article is about Piers Morgan, and she wears bright Azalea-red lipstick. Did she show surprise at my voice? Who cares, really. Well, I do. As Lucy said and I repeat to my Aspie friend, those of us who are different should not have all the work of keeping the more normal ones comfortable. Or, we need greatly to expand “normal”, to include everyone. It could have been interest. I imagine disapproval. It may just be in my head.

Two policemen in Kevlar with sub-machineguns patrol the shopping mall. I am glad I had heard of Mr Corbyn’s rally, they would have freaked me a bit otherwise.

I reach out to caress the rough bark of the tree.

On the bus, a man in a wheelchair and his partner get on. Both are very tired. He can hardly speak, only make very quiet noises. They miss their stop, because she did not see it and he could not get her attention. The bus driver says he will drive to the end of the line then take them back, and I am surprised at how good his hearing is.

“You had a button,” she says, and he lifts his arm to show there is no button on that handrail. I see one on the other handrail, but perhaps he cannot push it with that left arm. I am a bit sorry, as I am facing him. I thought of moving so she could face him, but did not do so before she sat on the other seat.

I have just had a vile, humiliating experience. I have abased myself, and may not have done enough to avoid being wronged.

Here’s Jamie Catto. I think my dignified child needs looking after. She is not wise to the ways of the world. She will show herself off to be Not Normal, and get squished. She does not anticipate what will happen but is just enjoying the rough bark of the tree and the sudden shapes of quite ordinary buildings, on a slovenly street. Or seeking refuge in her phone. He says the thing I trust to look after her is insane and also fails to anticipate the future, simply believing wild guesses and fantasies.

The child knows what is going on and what she must do, and she is afraid and angry. Or something is afraid and angry, these feelings are inside me. Part of my brain may assert control and I am not sure which bit is best, even if the child is the bit I love, and love being.

Richard Rohr says all breathing is sacred breathing, and our true life is love without ego, which I identify with Jamie’s sane part. Wake up. Rohr, a Franciscan, is as happy with religious and spiritual language as I am.

I touch the rough bark of the tree. I am cracked open. At Yearly Meeting Gathering I walked to the Friday session in delight, loving the profusion of seeds, so many in one bundle, so many bundles in the sycamore. There are also conkers. Approaching the Arts Centre, I started to skip, because I anticipated beauty in the Quaker business meeting, and someone told me after how she had been- not sure what, now, moved pleased delighted happy- to see me skip. Others like the child.

When I became a man I put away childish things. But then, I am not a man.

Rohr gave the exercise, Sitting at a table with a pencil and a piece of blank, unlined paper, look at a nearby object (for example, a vase of flowers, a chair, a tree outside). Turn your attention to the empty or “negative” space surrounding the object. Rather than focus on the object’s contours, look at the lines and curves of the space butting up against the object, the places in between and around the thing itself. Breathe deeply and begin to draw these nooks and crannies of air and emptiness. Keep your focus on the “negative” space as you draw. And I thought, something impossible the Teacher demands and the students attempt with diligence, because they want Enlightenment. Cycling to Meeting yesterday I was a soldier, thinking of my thighs- I saw the moon and trees, some of the time, but much of the time my attention narrowed to the road, and other road users. Only one car passed terrifyingly close, most were far enough away. And I thought, there is no gap. There is always thing, even the light refracted through the atmosphere or that light marbling of almost-not-cloud in the blue. Aha! A Spiritual Lesson!

Anger rage frustration and fear, and an inability to care for herself due to being very very young indeed, and I am almost resigned to the fact that the Child really might be my best option: best for seeing reality, best for seeing people, best for deciding, best for acting.

Abraham Maslow wrote, The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy. Yes. A ripe peach! The bark of a tree!

Mental Health in our Meetings

When I told a friend of that road-rage incident, she commented that I had done well to hold myself together through the Meeting for worship I went to immediately afterwards. After a strongly emotional experience, I find a measure of calm, then find the feeling welling up in me again, as with my fantasy of that man attacking me, and me thumping him. I anticipated that so was not shocked by it. The fact that he was actually unable to harm me makes me feel safe, and that feeling came to me in Meeting too. It felt like the Ministry which was for me alone. In Meeting I had sat mostly still, though not unmoving, and almost entirely quiet.

I may lose my income on Monday, and if so I am not sure what I will do. I imagined myself standing in Meeting and saying “They want to take away my fucking money. I need my fucking money.” The fantasised meeting is not the real meeting, but I wondered if that would be seen as disruptive, assuming I did not resist an impulse to share my terror. Abigail has to be managed. The meeting must not be disrupted.

I am aware that it behoves us to be silent in Meeting, and test the spirit of a prompting to speak- be accepting of other’s ministry, and questioning our own. But it seems to me that I can endanger the Meeting- I would go into my head, into that small child who knows the rules and seeks safety in obeying them, and I would merely be silent for an hour, as in a waiting room. That could enervate a Meeting. Instead, I seek to be my whole self. Rather than suppressing feeling, I seek to permit it, to allow it to flow through me. This carries the risk that it may overwhelm me. My goal is to trust it completely, so that I do not block it, because I feel the blocks cause the problems; I learn to let go of the blocks, but a block might make me- quake, is the best word I can think of for it. I would show a physical sign of the emotion within. If Friends are distracted, I may distract them further.

I don’t want the Meeting to become the Abigail Maxwell Support Group, a sort of Circle of Support and more support, rather than accountability. I would be the cuckoo in the nest, diverting the energies of the Meeting from its service to God in the world. Most of the responsibility of managing my distress is my own. And I want to take the risk of being overcome, even of appearing disruptive, because otherwise I cannot take the risk of meeting God. If we need the meeting to be comfortable, then it cannot be alive.

Privilege is not an absolute. If it were, the epitome of white, male, straight cis privilege would be Donald J Trump, and he would not be the tiny, blustering man that he is without having been repeatedly traumatised. Yet it has some meaning. My friend showed courage in admitting one of his favourite psalms is 137, Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock! I love it because when I became conscious of my feelings, in my thirties, I found they were anger, frustration, resentment and fear. I have never wanted to take a baby by the ankle and smash its head open, but I am glad of that level of anger being in the Bible, because it has helped me realise I might be acceptable to God. Then again I understand that most women and the vast majority of men, like me, have fantasised about murder at some time in their lives. He and I may both like it because we are both LGBT. Not everyone understands our love for it. My lack of privilege includes an intimate acquaintance with impotent anger, and a default fear of people, even of Quakers.

I am glad that Wanstead Quakers want it to be known that our Local Meeting is a place where all are welcomed and nurtured, including people who are transgender and non-binary. It will not be true unless my high level of anger and emotional lability, arising from my trans nature and past circumstances, is welcomed. I bear most of the responsibility of looking after myself, but if I get no help from my meeting there is no point in going. Jesus take me as I am- I can come no other way. I give help, too, when I can. I dare to hope that the value of what I give exceeds that of what I take.

On the first full day of Yearly Meeting Gathering George Lakey spoke at length of his experience of the death of his son- hearing of it, travelling home, meeting family, the wake, the funeral, his feelings (though very little of his son, and only one positive fact about him). I am glad he did, as it cracked me open, but a friend commented that anywhere else there would be trigger warnings, and organised support offered “If you have been affected by the issues raised”. I blundered off, and proceeded to disrupt a discussion group by suppressed but still audible sarcastic laughter when the man leading the group shared deep, spiritual things. A woman left the group with me and spent two hours hearing my anguish.

“I am here to take,” I told her. “Sometimes I need to take.” And then when she fell on the stairs I stood and looked at her rather than going to help her up. I am not proud of this, but it is where I was at the time. I saw her later and expressed gratitude for her support and regret that I had disrupted the group. She could pass that on to the group leader, who was from her Meeting. I also feel her listening, when she held me while I plunged into my own darkness, freed to take a full, positive part in the Yearly Meeting. Many people thanked me for my ministry to the main session, which seemed to move them, from which I judge that it was worthwhile.

In fifteen years as a Quaker, I have found many shoulders offered to me to cry on, and have often taken full advantage. In a discussion group on Listening, a woman shared that sometimes she does this, and takes on pain from the other, but the other’s distress seems accentuated rather than relieved by the process. (I have also listened to others and sensed this in them, a bottomless pit of hurt which can never be dredged.) She compared such people to vampires, sucking her energy. I like to think I am not merely a vampire. Yet, from my side of the exchange, it can seem that people are very keen to provide shoulders to cry on. It makes them feel valued and valuable. It is an exchange, not a gift- we both know we will enjoy it, and sometimes we go at it for the good feeling rather than for any lasting good it will do. Don’t offer support in order to feel valued, because the outcome may make you feel insulted and wronged.

I put that too strongly when I first published this post. Being heard is unburdening for me, a huge relief. My inner critic bullies me as I unburden- I am being self-indulgent, this is not real, I should be tougher. The next day from publishing, I am not sure. Sometimes it can go wrong. I have listened, and felt I am earthing pain, like an electric charge passing through and out of me, but I have to let it go. I could do this, consciously, and move on. Once, after hearing a schizophrenic woman, the process of letting go took me two hours and involved seeking the help of a friend: that woman’s distress had evoked my own.

As this angry, labile, vulnerable, benefit-claiming, moderately depressed Quaker I want to be welcome all the time, not just when I pass as a quirky, middle-class, spiritual, highly educated and intelligent Normal-person. Please do not be self-sacrificial. Maintain your boundaries, and care for yourselves. So, tell me when you think I am pushing it, taking more support than I really need or that the meeting can offer, before Something Bad happens, and you exclude me in anger and blame me. People so often leave things unspoken, or assumed, but it might help to discuss the boundaries, to bring them into the open.

I have so much to offer you!

The public trans woman

I stood and spoke to a thousand people. I had seen you, entering late and walking deliberately round the back of the opposite balcony: you always catch my eye. I shared the ardour of my heart, for my ardour is strong and beautiful, and (wonderful as these people are) my words could add to their life and health. I am here. I have things to say. Listen to me. I delight in what I said, and how I said it, and at the same time I want the good of the whole group. I want to serve. Perhaps I cannot judge: I can only be myself, show myself, and that will have the effect it will. What I said was loving and generous, for I am loving and generous.

I am very pleased by this paragraph, too. There is the tincture of self-doubt and criticism in it, but I feel it is appreciative and truthful not a self-aggrandising over-reaction.

I sat, and was strongly moved by the experience. The woman next to me offered her hand, which I held as I recovered, then returned to her with thanks.

In the afternoon, I was sitting outside the Arts Centre with new friends when a woman came up to me. A relative of hers had transitioned, and she wanted to know how to treat her, and how to think about her. She asked if I was willing to talk, and I was, because I want to help her and her relative. And there are problems with this. I am not at all the representative trans woman who will tell you how all trans women think: the understanding of trans you get from me will get in the way unless you are willing to discard immediately any part of it which conflicts with how her unique individuality interacts with her unique experience of transgender. Possibly it is better to hear from a stranger than your relative the basics of pronoun use and dead-naming, it is wearing to have to keep explaining that, but even there her relative and I may disagree.

Even here, in the blessed space of Yearly Meeting Gathering, among Friends, where deep connection is possible in a moment’s meeting, there is something slightly off in her approaching me like this. She asked. I consented. I want to help. But it is my Life, burden, perplexity, truth, not a public property for others to learn of a social phenomenon, even though I chose to stand and talk about it in front of a thousand people.

In the evening was the Ceilidh, and I sat near a doctor. She told me how she had gone with a trans man to educate a group of doctors about transition, how ignorant they had been, and how amazed: they thought the man was a male actor, they had not known a trans man could pass so well. It is a way of starting a conversation. I had sat at her table. It is her interest, she is an ally, she had something valuable to share; and it is my life. I told her I do not think transition is the final answer, and certainly not the operations which sometimes go with it- they are part of the doctors’ desire to create a Solution, clear definite and apparently Scientific, and laypeople’s demand of that from doctors. That ended our conversation. Because it is her professional interest, and my life, and it does not respect me for you to bring up my most sensitive part, even when I have talked about it publicly, however strong your goodwill towards me. She may not have noticed her presumption, only my curtness.

This is the North-East chapel of Coventry Cathedral. The inscription on the plinth says, “I am among you as one that serves”. I love the light in here, the crown of thorns which could tear flesh, and the way the congregation is a circle round the altar, one body of equals.

Spirit of Life

Am I safe? Yes- until I am not.
Am I good? Yes- until I am not.
I am powerful, until I am powerless.

I am not sure I fully agree with Paul, but what he says makes some psychological sense. What does he mean? I do the very thing I hate. I agree that the law is good. I will what is right, but I cannot do it. When I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. Who will rescue me from this body of death?

What is the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus [that] has set [me] free from the law of sin and death? What is that law of sin? It seems to me, wrestling with the passage in Meeting, that the law of sin is an external standard of Right- not just the 630 commandments of the Torah, but every external standard, every set of rules for conduct no matter how well-intentioned, every attempt to keep safe by telling others what to do. Every standard imposed from outside, even if I accept it and think it is a good standard and want to live by it.

The spirit of life in Christ has set me free. If I walk according to the spirit of life within me, I will do Good- for I am Love as God is Love. Any other Rule is impossible to obey. And yet we feel unsafe, and we feel threatened by the Others, so Christianity since Paul is filled with these sets of rules. A trans man I met had been subjected to “Heavy Shepherding”, where his church did not believe in his ability to make correct decisions for himself, so his pastor had to vet each one. That comes from Hell not Heaven. I am not safe, and no-one is safe from me. Or, I am safe and good, until I am not. Yet we are children of God, brothers and sisters, so we will act in love.

One ministered on decluttering- not just stuff, but relationships, ideas and memories. Why keep a memory and worry at it like poking a bruise? I said to her after, because it still has something to teach me. My mother’s lack of understanding had so wounded me from the age of nine to 44, when I accepted it. I recounted the memory. She had experience as a teacher, of parents driving their children to achievements they never realised. That’s close enough. I had accepted my mother’s lack of understanding, but today I accepted my powerlessness and inability to communicate my own feeling, which was a lack of confidence. I wanted to be confident.

I am powerful until I am not. Sometimes I am not as powerful as I would have wished. IT FEELS LIKE DEATH! IT SCARES ME! But it isn’t death, not really. I am still alive, even well-situated and happy. If only I could recognise that.

In the afternoon, in the Quaker business meeting, we considered whether we should become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation or remain Unincorporated when we register as a charity. This is fairly dry and technical. What makes it beautiful is the way we deal with it, in discussion before and in the moment of the Meeting. I am open to persuasion, and I am not going just to give in. So I talk to the former managing director of a company with factories in several countries, and feel somewhat abashed, the queer benefit claimant. He could seek to dominate, and I would defy him; instead, we respond in Loving equality.

accidental good

I’ve been listening to some Ariana Grande.

A little less conversation and a little more touch my body

It is not aimed at me, but I see good in it. In the videos, the singer dances around in her underwear, but is clearly singing for female fans. “Dangerous woman” might even have a slight lesbian vibe. She sings that her boyfriend better shape up his ideas and consider her wants and needs. I am all for Millennial empowerment. This seemed a proper response to the Manchester bombing, to hear what the dead had gathered to hear, to spend time with what they loved.

Ministry this morning had a perfect shape. One spoke of Manchester coming together. I spoke of racial tensions: the picture is more complex than the stories we tell. Thesis- Antithesis: the synthesis was beautiful.

I lift up my eyes to the hills
from where will my help come?

He says the hills were the dangerous places, where there were bandits and lions. You might die. I had not thought of the psalm, whose words I know well, that way before. Ah. Complexity, darkness, comfort- in the Meeting.

I can’t remember what she said because I was interested in how, rather than what, she communicated. “It’s —— 4 ——-, written —– 4 ——” and she gestures in the air, writing the first word, the 4, then the second word. She repeats the gesture. “Oh, —– 4 ——” says the other, gesturing. They emphasise the 4 in their gestures. But both write from left to right as they would see it, in the air- so from the other’s point of view it is less comprehensible, seen right to left. I watch, intrigued. I would always, gesturing like that, use mirror-writing to be more comprehensible, and expect to get my meaning over immediately. You could say “The 4’s a digit”. We ended up absolutely clear, except that I do not remember what it was 4 what.

It’s worth listening to Ariana to understand how Millennials think. After all, when I am eighty they will be running the country, and I would like to not be completely confused. And, try to find something good in it. That is like in education, she says: however poor the student’s attempt, you should start with praise. No, actually, a teacher should encourage students, but this is different: you should find good in it because that is a better way to understanding it. If you are simply dismissive you don’t see it.

I share my joke. I am disappointed with it, because it works beautifully from a linguistic standpoint- the last word changes the idea round completely- but the concept is too horrible. So it does not work as a joke. Here it is:

I scatter lots of bird seed on my lawn. I do love to feed the cats.

One laughs, one does not. I hurry to explain that I don’t think it works, and that is the first time I have shared it.

The “Gifts reserved for age” in Little Gidding have haunted me since I first read them. In Meeting, a pastiche came to me, which I wrote down after to ensure I could remember it:

Things done right, and accidental Good
to show your “thoughtless bumblings” are virtue

Sometimes you can go into things in too much depth. We tell ourselves stories about reality, we have words and concepts, because understanding everything is impossible. Trying to understand too well may paralyse action. Know just enough to make the next step good enough. I am a good person really. Totally failed at life? From an absolute standpoint, possibly I have- no family, no job, no savings etc- but from a relative standpoint perhaps I have done alright- I am still alive!

Empathy III

I hate common sense. Here we are, pontificating about giving. You have to do it sensibly, or you can do harm, he says. For example, if you give to a beggar, you enable them to continue in that lifestyle. Charity can produce dependency- in Africa, people from the village say “That pump you gave us broke down. Fix it.”

This produces nods and noises of assent round the room. Am I the only one disagreeing? What makes you think those Africans are dependent? They might have any number of ways of dealing with a broken pump, but demanding that the NGO do something is surely something worth trying. And- You are not my tribe, if you want to feel you are Good by doing Good for me, you should at least do me some good rather than giving me a pump that breaks down.

And- giving may enable the beggar, but not giving does not incentivise them to become independent. If they could see a better way open to them, they would take it. Spurning them reinforces their worthlessness. That is why Francis says you should give generously, look them in the eye and smile. Benefits sanctions are not the kick up the arse which someone needs to get on, but the kick in the teeth which will crush them.

I hate common sense because you can make these Rational Arguments, making you feel good about not giving- for, what is the purpose of Rational Argument if not to make you feel good?- and not fit the actual thing happening now. Rules never do. Love does.

Though I have only ever dealt with individual cases. If you deal in policy, you have to consider the bigger picture.

I don’t know why Quakers talk so much. Maybe we should not be talking before going into meeting. It does not aid centring down. Isn’t it lovely to see all these people? That man has the look of a man who is Looked After. His jaunty straw hat is someone’s way of protecting his pate from sunburn, I feel. It’s his way of looking down at the floor, or something about his face- it’s a feeling I get from lots of stuff, some of which might be unconscious, and it may be mistaken. I hope he is comfortable here. If he is embarrassed about being dependent, I hope he is not made to feel that.

One reason for talking is to increase understanding of each other, but this morning we produce more heat than light. It is not true that no Quaker can be a Tory, but there are not that many of them. I have been leafleting for Labour, I say.

“You’re not saying you want Jeremy Corbyn negotiating Brexit?” he asks, as if Jez and Donald Tusk would arm wrestle then Britain would be sunk. Trained negotiators we do not have and cannot afford do the negotiation.

“I want a Brexit for all the people, not a Brexit for Billionaires” I say sententiously. This adds nothing. It is a sound bite. It will not bring us together, it is a way of shutting down communication. Would a Tory Government trample on all rights of workers, consumers and the environment as I suggest? I can articulate arguments. He says if people do not vote for strike action, they should not strike. I say 40% of those eligible voting for strike action is an impossible target. A 50% turnout is unusual. We were unclear about the rules, so I have just looked them up. All we are doing, here, is stating the arguments of our own side, even in words which are other people’s.

I say I need ESA, and F. tells me of being dumped on her own resources in her teens. The iron entered her soul and she realised how capable she is. I hear this as a judgment. I do not trust myself, or the World. Bad things will happen, and I will be incapable. I am delighted that she bounced back, but that is not relevant to me. “Do you have any relatives?” she asks. I say my sister refused to let me see her children after I transitioned in 2002. We are not in contact. She tells me how her brother spurned her generosity, and how she is going to try to see him again. He accused her of rubbing his nose in the fact that she was better off than him when she gave him a gift. “I’m no taking that!”

I can empathise with him. It’s not a constructive position, but I see where he’s coming from. And that does no good at all. Then she tells me how she hates the Nationalism and Catholic/Protestant sectarianism in Glasgow. She wore a green coat and someone spat at her.

Being the Good person

I am cycling on the road slightly downhill with the wind behind me, and someone is cycling out of the park on my left, into my path. Surely he will stay on the pavement? I look, worriedly, at the back of his head and hope he will look round. I cannot evade him because of the oncoming car. I can’t stop, so I scream; he looks round and brakes.

I pedal on, and from far behind me I hear his aggrieved exclamation: The fxxk! Scream like that? And now, I am so envious of him: that reflexive self-righteousness, he resents me and my wronging him. He is the good person here. Whereas I am analysing the situation and after much thought, have decided that my conduct passes muster, though I wonder if I should have reacted sooner.

There are advantages to the worried assessment- “Am I good enough? Did I wrong him?” which seems a more feminine response. The cars I notice waiting behind me for a safe, courteous time to overtake are driven by women, the cars which breenge past far too fast and close are driven by men. The advantage is that you probably won’t be in the wrong, and won’t have a collision. It means I need approval from others, though. There are advantages to the reflexive self-righteousness: you never need to think about second-guessing yourself, and nothing bad usually happens because other people manage to clear up your messes or take evasive action before you smash into them.

I used to see S every week or so, but have not for ages; but she has been to Woodbrooke and wanted to tell me about it. At one point I state something passionately, then half-apologise for it: “That was vehement,” I say, feeling her out. Oh, she says, that’s just the normal way of speaking, for her and her family. It is not for me. My passion is usually behind a diffident manner, which can be painful for me: I am restrained by my own fears. “Like an elephant with a-” I am miming a shackle round my ankle, but do not need to, because she got the allusion immediately.

“We need to be with others to know ourselves, because we see ourselves reflected in them,” she says. Yes. Of course. I am learning, now, from my interactions. I judge myself. I always ask, “How am I wrong?” I know this from interaction, but I am a recluse because for so long I judged myself reflexively and unconsciously, so I was always wrong, all the time, and when I was hurt too much by interactions and could take it no longer I needed to hide away. Right now, I am having the interactions I can bear.

From facebook: To state that zazen has a definite and particular form, and to cling to that position leads to one kind of trouble, while stating that zazen has no particular form sends one off in another confused direction. There is no logical resolution to this problem. And it is this illogical paradox with which a true practitioner of Zen must ‘sit’ both literally and spiritually. Yes. I reacted to that: it is seeking safety in rules- like I do. I am more or less happy cycling because I think I know the rules of the road, and what I am entitled to- it’s a formalised interaction. If I said, “Non-theists are not Quakers” it is an attempt to find safety in rules. In this future situation, I will act in this way, and I will be right. S said, “That’s why Quakers talk all the time”- because human situations are so complex, so making rules is difficult. She said this not because she had seen that in facebook, but a propos of something else. Perhaps I am in a computer simulation, where the same lesson comes to me repeatedly, or perhaps I am just open to it now.

Also on facebook, someone wrote,  Anyone who was abused in their formative years is likely to feel they are ‘a lesser being’ than all others and may live in fear of rejection and abuse; so they will continually seek and need the approval of others. And on-going approval will also help dispel their fears of engendering further abuse. I felt myself completely worthless, so I do need approval: developing my own grudging acceptance, just-about approval for myself is difficult. Here is David Brooks on another aspect of needing the approval of others.

Other people III

The argument that it is likely we are in a computer simulation is that they would be so useful. There is one real existence, and perhaps billions of life forms creating simulations to test how things would work out in particular situations. Our chance of being in reality is slim. We might be in a simulation, in a simulation, like the central Matryoshka doll.

How can I emerge into reality? asked H determinedly, delighting me. But the simulation might be better: imagine if the Big Crunch will be in less than a thousand years, bringing all to an end, but in our simulation time goes more quickly and this universe has billions of years to go. Our simulation feels real: why should living a life or affecting others’ lives be more meaningful, outside it?

Maybe it’s just that I forgot my pill last night and took it this morning, but feelings are heightened today. I wanted to go into the garden and read, but instead am arrested by the beauty of the leaves on that tree. I am in Presence, which I decided was not a “spiritual state”– but it is, you know. It is not Enlightenment, but it is Heavenly. I find the garden-bird, and the squirrel, entrancing. As I left the Meeting house, a woman arrived on an electric scooter. “Oh, hello” I said as I walked out. Now the scooter turns, and she scoots away. Someone chases after her: “Do you want me to open [the other door with the ramp]?” she asks. No, apparently. “But I would like to talk to you!” I feel a pang. Did I insult her by not attending to her need to enter by a ramp? How horrible that would be! Even though I am a visitor and did not consider I might be needed to let her in, I feel worried remorse.

Then I notice a plastic toy on the bench, a brightly-coloured rotor on a launcher with a spring. There is a loop to go round a tiny wrist. I try it. I try it again. It is delightful!

In the meeting I am in delight looking at the other people here. I love them for what I know of them, and their complexities and wonders I do not know. And I am abashed at how I do not know them. One ministers on “Post-truth”. I minister:

I was glad when they said unto me, let us go unto the house of the Lord. There is a streak of reckless generosity in our religion, heedless of the future or common sense: when the woman poured perfume on Jesus, someone said “it could have been sold, and the money given to the poor”. In the gospel those words are placed in the mouth of Judas, because he wanted to steal it. I am delighted being with these people, and Mr Trump tells people what they want to hear, reassuring them they are good, and the Outsiders are bad.

Another ministers all truth is provisional- scientific theories are the best explanation.

Over lunch, I want to show off the issue of Quaker Voices, with the photograph I took on its cover. I want to show off, and be petted, rather than to see others and know them better. And I showed it to Peter, then forgot that he wanted to show me how well he could park, such a small distance from the barrier! Oh well. It is how I am.

In Area Meeting, the Men’s Refuge comes up. The need for a Women’s refuge is far greater, she says. I wonder how we might make this not a zero sum game, men v women, two sides in the Meeting. The voices here are for a Men’s refuge. We will proceed with it. What if there is no call for a men’s refuge, and it falls through? Will those who have given money be happy to have a house for some undefined charitable purpose, and do they want a voice in deciding that purpose? If residents can claim housing benefit or Universal Credit, or if they can’t, do we want an income from Women’s Aid managing it? So much unresolved- yet we will go ahead with it.

This friendship delights me. After, in the sunshine, we hug; before, she touched my bare arm, making me shiver.

I know

I know I am a person of integrity.

This came to me this morning. With a minute or two before I want to leave for the Quaker meeting, I felt moved to go into the living room, then to affirm myself before the mirror. I like myself. Then, I know myself.

Then

I – know
I know

I know
I know.
I know.
I know.
I am a person of integrity.

This is lovely. I can tell the truth. I can know things in two ways, it seems, in words, for I have a great gift in the precise use of words, and by feeling- by knowledge of the heart in silence. This unites the two: what I know in my heart, I put into words; and that is Ministry.

I have a lovely ride there, with light following winds and occasional hazy sunshine, and I am a person of integrity running in my mind. I get to meeting early, chat for a bit, then settle into worship. This is a good place, and I am nervous, and self-protecting, and that is alright; and it is in my mind there, too- I am a person of integrity.

We are still discussing Quaker Faith and Practice, chapter 22 this week. What difference do we make in the world? Did you have a dream of doing some great healing work? My healing work is simply and entirely on myself, right now, I say.

(Oh, shall I say it? Saying it is frightening. I close my eyes so I cannot see them, and unprompted my voice goes softer and very high-

I am a person of integrity.

Someone I don’t think I met before looks at me- appreciatively? Evaluatingly?- and says, “How wonderful, to know that and be able to say it!” I hold her gaze for a moment, then say, laughing, “How cool is that?” And I am in self-protection mode, again, not realising others will accept what I say, trying to find a way to chivvy them along- and it does not work on her, I feel, and she still finds my statement wonderful. I note that others, who may have accomplished more than I, express uncertainty or even perhaps dissatisfaction with the good they have accomplished, it is only a little, and I am glad to be proud of my own achievement here. It is a real achievement.

I am a person of integrity.

Being Human II

There is a phenomenon which moves through forces generated within itself, which continually takes in and expels matter. When that matter becomes part of “it”, or whether the 2-3 kg of symbiotic bacteria living on or inside it is part of “it”, is a question making it even more difficult to state what “it” is. Similarly it continually takes in ideas and sense-impressions, which it processes. Increasingly, “I” do not feel that the word “I” relates to any particular part of this phenomenon. It is greater than I know. Specifically, it is greater than anything I could identify as my conscious self, and I don’t know what consciousness is.

Just as my brain will form patterns from what I see, which leads to optical illusions, so possibly consciousness is an illusion, a set of sensations or processes within the phenomenon imagined to be one continuous discrete phenomenon. But memories pop into consciousness from somewhere, “the unconscious”, or words can elude me- “It’s on the tip of my tongue”- so the conscious self is continually affected by the unconscious.

I know there is no homunculus living inside my skull and looking out- I know this because I am aware of where my toes are, right now (in “toe separators” so that I can apply “superGel” candy pink colour, actually. The things we do for beauty.) “I” am the whole phenomenon, unconscious and conscious. I know that the conscious part is not the decision making part: where subjects were told to move one of their hands, and to choose which one to move, brain scanning equipment showed a choice made within the brain before the subject was aware of it. So my conscious may be of benefit to the phenomenon to explain its decisions, to rationalise rather than to decide.

I can tell you without consciousness of lying what I would do in a particular situation, then find myself in that situation and do something else entirely. So, consciousness may have the effect and benefit for me of fooling others. I would say that if I were sexually assaulted I would resist, but for the fact that when I was sexually assaulted in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester, in the late 1990s I did not. I don’t know what I would do. I hope I would resist.

I know I am not “rational”, if by that you mean doing what is clearly in my interests, rationally calculated. I have desires which are irrational, and depending on how important it is to me to appear rational I am conflicted. I have desires which conflict in any case. “I hope I would resist” shows conflicting, unknown desires.

Sometimes I am aware of what I am feeling, and sometimes I am not. Sometimes feeling overwhelms me, and it seems like if I try to suppress it the unconscious part of me will not be ignored, and makes me cry or shout to make me conscious of it; or I can simply feel it without external sign. Sometimes there is external sign without me being conscious of the feeling.

I can remember the process when it was younger, when most of the atoms and cells of which it is made up, and most of its ideas, were different, and in some way it seems to make sense to call that earlier process “me”. Perhaps this is simply because the culture suggests we do.

I feel “leadings” in the Quaker manner. I feel “moved”. It seems to me these things emerge from my unconscious rather than from some supernatural power; but in my experiences religious practices such as the Quaker meeting have value.