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.

Words for atheist spirituality

I use spiritual practices as part of my good life. Through sitting in silence I bring the unconscious to consciousness, and improve my mental health. I am materialist. I believe humans evolved by natural selection in a Godless universe, and that “spirituality” is a misleading word. It implies that there is something beyond the human animal, a holy spirit, spiritual beings such as angels, demons and a God, when I believe there is none. Our afterlife is in the memories of those who knew us and in the effect we have on people’s lives, not in some other dimension of spirit.

I am not merely a humanist, as humanism does not require those spiritual practices. Possibly humanists would be more drawn to them if they did not associate them with religious beliefs.

Biblical Greek and Hebrew words for spirit- pneuma, ruach- relate to breath. A humanist might accept that “breath work” has value. We sit in silence, paying attention to our breath. We might count breaths. Being aware of breath, I begin to be aware of the unconscious processes of my body. I am more in my senses, aware of what is going on around me now. I draw my attention away from what Buddhists call the “Monkey-mind”, ruminating on old hurts and fantasies. We talk of “awareness”.

Quakers talk of “silent waiting”. Not waiting on the Spirit of the Creator, I wait on my unconscious. Growing up, I learned that aspects of my personality were not OK, and I suppressed them below consciousness. This happens in the most sane, loving families. Now, as I take time to collect myself in silence, the fear and judgment which made me suppress them fall away, and they become conscious again. Nonreligious wisdom teachers talk of “shadow work”, and other practices are available.

I hesitate to use the word “collective unconscious” as I do not know what Jung intended to convey with it, and we have a vast amount of knowledge, some of it innate, about what it means to be human in community. We do not keep it in the front of our minds but recall it when necessary. If I minister, I am bringing unconscious skills of observation and this knowledge to consciousness, to verbalise something which is for the whole meeting. Our practice is that ministry is spoken in love to build us up and bring us together.

Much Quaker language works for a materialist. Meetings can be gathered. This comes from “When two or three are gathered together I am with them,” but that does not mean that some spirit related to a man who lived two thousand years ago floats, half seen. Rather, the Christ-consciousness which was in Jesus is in us.

Wider spiritual language works too. I seek mindfulness. I am in the moment, practising so that I grow more aware of what my senses perceive is around me. I seek nonduality. The duality which is less than the best possible for me is not between mind and spirit but between consciousness and unconsciousness. I have not attained the perfect free flow of thought between conscious and unconscious. I retain blocks and introjects inhibiting it. Slowly, gently, I salve those blocks away.

While others have those blocks, one might do this work on consciousness in order to gain power to manipulate or control them. So at the centre of all true religion we enthrone Love, to build up. We will not quench a smouldering wick or break a bruised reed.

I still do not have one all-encompassing word for these things to replace “spirituality”. “Mysticism” might do. I chase the mystery at the heart of humanity and of each human, which can be known to us, so that we know and are fully known. But mysticism is replete with negative connotations, for many meaning folderol unrelated to real life.

I do not want to talk of spirituality. I am a materialist. I do not believe in spirit. All of this is consciousness work. I seek the liberation of human consciousness, in Love.

A better life in 2022

How may I improve my life next year? I see the fragility of how I have organised my life, and have to see the blessings of it as it is. What do I desire, and how may I achieve it?

A velleity is a desire too weak to act on. I found the idea amusing. I have always had a velleity to try the various human approximations of flying- hang gliding, paragliding, parachuting- but never have, and now think the reduced elasticity of middle age means I never will. And, well, so what? I have other sources of excitement, joy and beauty. I can imagine the terror and exultation.

Now velleity feels like a threat because I do not recognise when something is a desire, and I will act on it, or a velleity, and I will not. I lack motivation. Velleity seems like genuine desire. I shock and disappoint myself. I find what I want when I see what I do, or avoid.

I did not know what I wanted, because of my upbringing. I was taught to find my desires and feelings shameful and threatening, and they became unconscious. I have only named my desire to hide away and not be seen in the past decade, in a process of self-discovery and self-acceptance I journal here. I hid first in a myth of conventionality which better fitted my parents, who were forty years older and conservative, than my generation. Then I hid literally. I go out as little as possible.

Over my suppressed desires I constructed a fantasy of who I ought to be, and what I ought to want. I believed that was who I was, and what I wanted. Hence the difficulty of spotting what is velleity. I wondered if I could construct rules about obligations helping me to motivate myself to, say, reply to that email. I would be adopting rules others live by and recommend, but it would be my choice to adopt them, and then I should stick to them. They would be my guide.

I want community and connection, and a chance of contributing. In one Quaker group, possibly another, I do. In my local meeting Friends have given to me generously, and I have mostly just received. I might use moral argument with myself. So they asked me to do something, and I did nothing about it, to my Friend’s surprise and measurable loss. They asked me something else, and I have not replied. I could name stinginess and hypocrisy in me, or think of exculpation, and the words don’t help. Conscious me contemplates unconscious me, wanting to understand.

I also want to know my capacity. If I cycle thirteen miles in the morning, I might not want to do much else but read or watch TV for the rest of the day. As well as motivation issues I have problems around the amount of energy I have. I usually have a sleep in the afternoon. I want to cycle because I want to keep physically fit. I came to accept how I enjoyed aspects of it, and found other aspects unpleasant, so I might lie in bed thinking I want to cycle and then get up at lunchtime, not having cycled. I found my conflict between an inner slavedriver and an inner protector, cycling.

I don’t know I am exhausted until I conk out. Again, this is from my upbringing.

How to get to know these things- how am I, in the moment? What do I want? What should/could/will I do? I find sitting in silence helps, though finding out has to cut through so much, it is a slow process. I built up such a forest of self-protective illusions through sustained trauma that my desires remain elusive to my conscious self- even as I act on them, and even achieve them.

I have found a way to explore my desire for submission, which I could not have named before I was forty. I am beginning to explore things most people explore pretty thoroughly in their teens and twenties, and I have not. So I am reacting like a giddy teenager. Through my parents’ shame, through shaming in the culture which treats my kind as a laughing stock, and through deep internalised repression something which has only caused me misery is finally bringing pleasure, and I have intense mercurial feeling, delight at finding it, rage at missing it, so that I have been crying thinking of writing this. And I am contemplating another human being in amazed delight and thinking, who is she? What will nurture her?

Nontheist words for God within

I am a Quaker, at least a liberal, unprogrammed Quaker. I know that sitting in silence has value. I know that a business meeting seeking “God’s loving purposes,” and together agreeing a minute, has value.

I believe I am an evolved animal in a material universe. My cosmology has no room for a creator spirit outside time, in some way inspiring Ministry. Consciousness and inspiration are manifestations of brain tissue.

I believe in common humanity. Just as cats have an instinct to hunt, so we have instincts which mould the way we form communities, which are innate though affected by culture. If a lion could speak we could not understand it, but we can learn to understand any human being.

I know the experience of being moved to speak, of words coming from my unconscious, and see why they seem divine. I see others having similar experiences, and value what they say. I accept Carl Rogers’ concepts of the organismic self, a life form fulfilling its needs as a social being, and a self-concept, an understanding of self which is less than the whole.

What speaks when I minister? I muddle along with Quaker words from when people believed in the Creator- the inner light, God within. I am influenced by the idea of critical realism. We have senses and brains attuned to meet our needs, not to know objective truth about the real world. So there is a real world, but it is unknowable. We only guess about it. I cannot know the truth about the world or myself, but with application I can approach it more closely.

I am a human being with conscious, conventional ideas about who I am, what I ought to like, what I ought to be, and underneath an unconscious which needs society to survive and is strongly communitarian. Sitting in the silence, the unconscious becomes conscious.

Spiritual Quaker concepts of “inner light” mould my understanding. I believe the conventional, conscious self-concept is an untrustworthy guide, and that beneath, in my unconscious, is a loving, beautiful- something. If I let the Something guide me, I will live better. I desire eudaimonia.

I am trans, and so have a particular experience of “god within”. Like many trans women, I fought hard to make a man of myself, always feeling myself inadequate. When I first perceived God within, she was feminine, and so terrifying, tearing down my fake manliness. She did not fit my self-concept at all. So I have more contempt for the conventional, conscious self-understanding than someone whose self-concept fits their real self better. But self-concepts rarely entirely fit the whole human. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said: “When you undress without being ashamed and take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample on them, then you will see the son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid.” The self-concept is filthy rags which do not cover our nakedness, a cracked cistern which holds no water, an idol.

Behind the rightness or wrongness of things, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

My sexuality also seems relevant. I have a need to surrender, to open up like a flower to the right, complementary person. It seems to me that a God within a human who is fulfilled by surrender would be different to a God within a human blessed with complementary qualities.

Rhiannon Grant says the term “inner light” is problematic in a society dominated by white privilege, and calls on nontheist “poets and prophets” to create new language to express our perspectives. Here are the words I have used to myself, in attempting to understand that which is within.

The Something

There is “Something inside so strong”, but my conscious mind, with its conventional ideas, cannot know it. And I do not fully trust it. 1 John 4:1 tells us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God”, and Quakers test our concerns in meeting. I need the help of my Friends to know my leading is right, though sometimes I will go with my leading though no Friend supports me. It is- Something. I do not always want to bind it by referring to its attributes, which I do not fully understand. A more precise word might mislead me. This fits apophatic theology, approaching a God too great for me to know.

The Vulnerable bit

That was what I called it when I first perceived it. “I”- here, the word means my conscious self. That conscious self thought it was the whole of me, the whole of this physical being or process, and then it perceived something more, something apparently vulnerable, hurting, crushed, which nevertheless had the strength to come to light, like seedlings, apparently so small, soft and weak, “take hold on the loam, acquire the air”. The “seed” is Isaac Penington’s metaphor.

Vulnerable, feminine, despised by my self-concept of manhood. It is a trans experience; but the idea of the “self-concept” differing from the organismic self shows that none of us completely match our Seed, and have crushed it below consciousness. Yet it makes itself heard.

The Real me.

Behind convention and introjected ideas of who I ought to be, there is a Real me. Again, trans ideas influence this: I am really female despite my male appearance. Psychologists find humans malleable, able to fit their circumstances and able to rationalise fitting, so as to be comfortable with it.

I know I can speak from my integrity, which is hard-won. I have written of my recent experience of revealing God within.

Given that we are organic evolved beings, the world is unknowable, unpredictable and weird. So why not personify it? I am toying with the idea of using the word God for the consequences of human actions. We warm the planet. Lytton in British Columbia reaches the hottest temperature recorded in Canada, and the next day is incinerated by God’s wrath. The oceans absorb CO2 from the air, by God’s mercy. We are God’s hands.

Words which speak truth to people will be adopted.

Forgiveness

Love, anger, forgiveness and pain dance together.

Our first experience of forgiveness is one child told to say they are sorry, another child told to forgive, by a carer or school-teacher who needs to maintain control and hopes random humiliation will help. It is not a good model. Occasionally I have thought, what I did was wrong, and written an apology. A proper apology should be without excuse or reservation. I particularly hate the non-apology, “I’m sorry you feel that way”.

Other people’s anger works differently, but for me the feeling that I ought to forgive is paralysing. It stops me acknowledging my feelings or moving on. My mother damaged me, and the moment I accepted her complex humanity, saw her difficulties as well as my pain, was thirteen years after she died.

With my mother, the idea of “forgiving” as in being wronged, but being gracious, is irrelevant. She did her best for me, as herself, a human being in her circumstances with her gifts and experiences. I pause to think about that. The worst mother I can imagine, the mother who does not consider her child’s needs at all, only her own- well, it is true even of her. My mother could not see she was harming me.

But I had to reach this realisation myself. I was 44, feeling all the misery I felt aged seven or eight, telling a story of my mother and ending wailing “She didn’t understand!” I had the idea that this was ridiculous, that I should just move on, which meant that I had not processed my own feelings. I had to keep telling the story to others. They reflected my perplexity and stuckness back to me, or they held me in love and compassion, and I moved through my feelings with such help as they were able to give. I chose whom I told that story with as much care as I could.

Writing this, it is self-forgiveness too. This is who I am. That was the best I could do.

The child’s anger, frustration and fear at my mother was not held or accepted, so I had to contain it myself. I was too young to contain my feelings like that, so I turned them inwards on myself and suppressed them out of consciousness. Whenever I did not conform to impossible standards, I raged at myself. I was doing it a little, just now, judging the 44 year old me, wailing, and the 55 year old me, still processing this here. “I should not be like this. This should not trouble me.”

There is no perfect relationship, broken by a wrong, healed by forgiveness, as in the nursery school example. There are messy human relationships where we get along as best we can despite old hurts imperfectly healed. My rage turned inwards coexisted with my love of my mother.

Rage turned inwards paralysed me. My mother feared our family being seen as abnormal. We had to hide it. I thought I could rage at myself, trudge on carrying that burden, or rage at my dead parents, which I thought futile, or rage at the world which would reflect back my rage and hurt me. My rage had nowhere to go.

I know this is the spiritual lesson. My temptation with any spiritual lesson is to imagine that just because I see what I must do, I can do it, that I am changed and freed. Often, I put the lesson into words and understand it better, which feels like a great leap forward, but then afterwards see signs I knew it, really, in my life before, and am the same person.

I must hold my own rage and sadness, and digest it. From that comes compassion for others. From that comes the ability to accept the feelings I have now, relating to what is going on for me now, and respond to the world with my feelings as my guide, rather than a burden to fight. This is a skill. It is difficult, because my feelings are so deep and mercurial that I am often in heaven and hell at once. I develop the skill.

I could call that skill “forgiveness”, as well as acceptance. Rather than raging at the world because it is not as I think it ought to be, I see it with love, and act to make it better. Not nearly as much as I want, with far less energy and effectiveness than I want- so the process of forgiveness and acceptance, of myself and the world, continues.

One hears of prodigies of forgiveness, such as Marian Partington. She has spent her life coming to terms with a great wrong. She will not have a human relationship with the woman she forgives, who might not accept her forgiveness. Rather, she has healed a wound some might never heal. Humans have great capacity for healing.

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“Some people are trans. Get over it,” Stonewall says. Some people can’t. And for me, “getting over” my pain and hurt is terribly important. After writing this on forgiveness, I sat feeling pain, of having that burden to bear, ten years ago. I was unable to get over the pain of my child self, symbolised by that one story. And I thought, this is like living through a stressful situation, and you cannot admit to how stressful it was; but when it is over then you can feel the stress fully. In September 2009, I just felt relief; and now, I was feeling pain.

It is a sign of healing, and I am in pain now.

I was volatile for the zoom discussion group, and when one said in Meeting we notice the stray thoughts, and turn our attention back to the Light I moaned in anguish. I don’t. I plunge into whatever my mind is doing, and sometimes it’s great. I bring shadow fully into consciousness, and integrate it. And I judge myself for it.

This pain:
I want to analyse it, so I can announce to my own satisfaction that I have dealt with it.
I want to feel it fully, so it will pass and I will have dealt with it.
I want to feel it fully, as it is my feeling, with no plan or purpose behind permitting my feeling.
I want not to be moaning in anguish during a zoom discussion group.

I shared on facebook, and someone asked, “Can you sit with it without necessarily having to heal it?” Yes. And, I realised, getting over “it”- “It,” in general, “It”, meaning everything, is very important to me. It is all part of the suppression of feeling.

That comes from my childhood too. Eventually I can’t get over it, all I can do is sit with it. My desperation to get over it makes that harder, and take longer.

An online Quaker meeting

What could an ongoing Quaker community which met online look like?

Since March 2020 I have been meeting for worship online. The Pendle Hill daily worship allowed me to maintain a daily discipline of “set[ting] aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit”. It introduced me to two long-lasting weekly discussion groups, Friends for LGBTQ Concerns, and people I consider friends with both Fs. I find the Woodbrooke zoom worship deep, and also warm and friendly, often with chatting afterwards. I like zoom worship with my local meeting. Not everyone does. Some find blended meetings more difficult than wholly online meetings.

Each area meeting and local meeting will have to make a decision about whether to continue with blended meetings. I hope the risks of Covid will lessen so that it is not a reason for people to stay away from meetings in person. I know meeting for worship for business is possible online, and feel it is second best to meeting in person.

Reasons besides covid for wanting to worship online would continue. Perhaps someone is far from their nearest meeting, or sick, or frail. There are lots of reasons why someone might have an hour for worship but not want to travel- a single Quaker in a family, someone with a baby. Someone might want a daily time of quiet with other Quakers, and few LMs have even one midweek meeting for worship.

I want a group of Friends committed to offering online meeting for worship daily for whoever wishes to attend. Now, Woodbrooke provides this, together with FWCC. Woodbrooke is an educational charity, and has financial and legal considerations affecting how it runs these meetings. I want a meeting with a business meeting I can attend. I want to be part of making decisions for the meeting, and to take responsibility for it.

I want this recognised by Britain Yearly Meeting, which would require Friends with a concern to request minutes to be sent to Meeting for Sufferings.

I envisage such a meeting having a small core of committed Quakers, and a ministry of welcome. We would welcome Friends from all over the UK who might for any reason want an online meeting for worship, on Sunday or any other day. We could provide access to unprogrammed worship in English for the whole English-speaking world. I have already worshipped online with Friends from the US, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, France and Germany.

We would have a strong commitment to outreach and online visibility. We would hold regular discussion groups for people new to Quakers, and for Quakers generally.

We could be a Friend’s main meeting, or a place to drop in as needed. We would offer pastoral support.

Would we admit people to membership of BYM? I consider membership is a muddle. Some people want membership soon after committing to Quakers, some are not members after years serving in pastoral care. Some want to retain membership though they no longer worship with us. I would want the online meeting not to be able to decide formal membership to begin with, and for this to be reconsidered later if people sought membership with us and could not attend a local meeting. I am pleased if people consider themselves Quaker, or tell others about Quakers, which does not require membership.

Taking responsibility for safeguarding would need consideration. What risks would we have, which an in-person meeting would not?

God is in everyone. Quaker worship is one way to meet God within, but far more people are seeking God than are in Quakers. It is much easier to click on a zoom link and keep your camera off than to walk into a meeting-house. The silence has blessed me so much I want to share that blessing.

Practicing stillness

I am not the person I thought I was. I get to know myself. I am not the thoughts in my conscious mind. I make decisions then work out rationalisations after, designed to show I am a rational, good-hearted person.

I suffer internal conflict. St Paul wrote, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

I am a mystery to my conscious self.

So I practice silent contemplation, with Quakers, seeking to bring the unconscious into consciousness.

I also do walking meditations. When my mind starts wandering I use the mantra, “I am here. This is. I am.” I am a being in the world, and I focus my senses on my immediate surroundings. I see their beauty and strangeness. I escape the repetitive thoughts. There is something else underneath those thoughts, something I do not consciously know, something it is worth getting to know, something so important Quakers call it the Light, the Seed, or That of God.

In a Quaker meeting, when I was filled with anger and fear over what I had just read on facebook, it seemed that there was the I plunged into that trivial conflict with all the emotions it raised, and there was a greater I, holding it, observing it, not drawn into those feelings.

In the Quaker meeting on Sunday, I sought to be that greater I, and it was more difficult. My neighbour considers that a flat is a good place to practice a drum kit. There are my Friends, visible on the screen. There are various other thoughts and feelings.

There is my attention: can I hold these things in my attention at the same time, without being wholly involved in one of them (probably that insistent drumming and my resentment of it).

The problem with wanting to change is that my preconceptions of what change will look like get in the way. Just as a five year old cannot know what it is like to be six, so I do not know how I will be next year.

(perhaps I am a fool, and you all, mature human beings, have no need of such practices.)

There is the moment when I know all of me comes together and I speak from my integrity. Gabrielle Roth talked of a moment when she is being danced- the movement comes from something spontaneous, unconscious, liberating- powerful.

I want that unconscious self to become conscious, to unite my whole self. The tool I use to develop this skill is Quaker worship.

Omicron

Should I refuse my booster vaccination, as a protest against the failure to vaccinate most of the world?

Covid news moved quickly last week. There was a variant which might be of concern, which South Africa reported to WHO on Wednesday 24th, as B.1.1.529. Then there were news media referring to it as Mu or Nu. Then on Friday WHO classified it as Omicron. They said the earliest known case in South Africa was sequenced from a sample collected on 9 November. So flights from South Africa were suddenly banned, but too late. With minimal prescience I thought, it’s here already. On Saturday afternoon, the first British cases were reported.

Dr Ayoade Alakija expressed coruscating anger, eloquently expressing what I feel. Omicron, reportedly with reinfection rate 2, has many mutations affecting its spike protein. The spike is the basis of many vaccines. So Omicron is more likely to defeat the vaccines than Delta. Rich countries could have reduced the risk of variants reaching us by vaccinating poor countries. But we didn’t.

The UK has delivered only 11% of the vaccines it promised to the global vaccine distribution agency.

A certain level of covid appears to be found acceptable. In Britain testing has found around 30,000 cases a day since July. Not all positive tests may be reported. There have been over a hundred deaths a day since August, but the figures seem fairly stable. The UK total deaths is now over 143,000. Since August, around 800 a day have been admitted to hospital– some to be put on oxygen, some to be put on ventilators.

The world cumulative death toll, with all the data-gathering problems that has, was given as 5.2m as I typed.

I am convinced that the vaccine substantially reduces my chances of infection, of serious illness, and of passing on Delta. I think it probable that a booster would also reduce the risks of these things with Omicron. I fear there will be sufficient data available soon to test that hypothesis. If not, there may be work on other vaccines. Whatever doubt there is that the booster would affect Omicron, there are currently high rates of Delta infection in Britain, and taking the booster is the action I can take to reduce risk to myself and others.

A hunger strike is only a risk to the individual concerned. Refusing vaccination causes risk to others. I have an obligation to those I might infect. A protest has limited effect. I would inform my MP, but it would not by itself make our Nationalist government take vaccination of other countries seriously.

Separate from what effect any action might have, I might try to consider whether it was right to refuse vaccination.

Saturday, I went to an organ recital by a friend. Some were masked in the church, some were not. In “For the fallen”, Elgar arr. Harrison Oxley, he took us on a profound emotional journey. In carol preludes by Noel Rawsthorne he filled me with joy. After, a group of us went for coffee. There was a small sign on the table about masking when away from tables, and noting our presence with our phones, but I did not have my phone and don’t know if anyone did. As I type, there were further restrictions predicted, but I have no idea what “Let the corpses pile high” Johnson might countenance to reduce spread.

I would want to distinguish any depressive lack of motivation to arrange the booster, now I have had my invitation letter, from a principled desire to protest.

Then on the news on Saturday evening I heard that Omicron symptoms might be less severe than Delta. However, even if Omicron is not a serious threat, Delta is, and the same arguments about not getting a booster apply.

I don’t know. What do you think?

My experiences of being trans

Quakers ask me, again, to share my personal experiences. I feel judged. Are these stories enough? Would they convince anyone that I am trans, and can be no other?

I woke at 4am, which is never a good time to make a decision, thinking of my colleague Vicky. She had rapidly progressing MS, and had gone from being asymptomatic to needing a wheelchair in two years. I envied her. I would have swapped lives with her, because no-one would doubt that she was female. So I thought, I have to transition as soon as possible.

I don’t understand it. I could appear to be a perfectly normal man. I wanted transition, which I thought would mean I would get sacked, more than anything else in the world. And my friend said, “It’s as if you’re acting when you’re Stephen, and when you’re Clare you’re just you”.

I have told these stories so often I use the same words. I feel judged. Is that enough for you? O ye wha are sae good yersel, sae pious and sae holy. “The acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends”, Quakers said.

I am Clare. I am a woman. It makes no sense beyond, it just is. There have always been trans people. Deuteronomy would not forbid it if it hadn’t existed then. What experience will be enough?

In 2002, when I transitioned, before the Gender Recognition Act or the Equality Act, I got a driving licence and passport indicating I am female, and a credit card with the title “Miss”. I have used women’s loos and shop changing rooms ever since without a problem. The Equality Act allows trans women to use women’s services unless there is a good reason to exclude us. The fuss, whereby to judge from the number of articles in The Times trans is a greater threat to humanity than the climate crisis, only really got going around 2017.

These are the stories I can tell. I will not convince everyone. Is my fear and desperation unassuageable?

I want to step into my grace.

I cannot convince the whole world. All I can do, when others say I am a man, is calm the echoes their comments arise in myself. Having convinced myself, I do not have to convince anyone else. Here is the difference between speaking in ministry, saying what needs to be heard, and speaking “hot from the world”, where I am het up and feel moved by all the emotions.

This is how it is, and I am not resisting it- not the world, nor my own feelings. Then I can flow like water, act as I need. That’s the theory, anyway. The small step forward today is to replace the word “power” with “grace”.

The theory is also that I am projecting my own judgment onto others. Man tells story: people thought he was gay. Yeah, yeah, projecting, I think. Then he said someone asked him. Not just projecting, then. He’s straight, it’s just he had a very close male friend who is bi. It’s a different situation. There were people with a belief about him that wasn’t true, and about which some have moral judgments- being gay is less than being straight, not really a “real man”, pitiable. About me, I really am trans, and others’ moral judgments on that really matter to me, because they raise echoes in me, and fear of judgment and loss. When they don’t raise echoes in me, I will know how I feel about them then.

What else would I say? There’s that thing about using the most up-to-date Woke language, and I learned two words new to me yesterday. They are trixic and toric. Think “Aviatrix”, a word I thought hadn’t really been used since Amelia Earhart, until I googled it. Trixic means nonbinary loving women, toric means nonbinary loving men. Possibly “transbian”, a trans woman attracted to women, and “gynephile” meaning attracted to women but not specifying the sex or gender of the one attracted, are outdated.

There’s that thing about the EHRC in January 2022 telling theatres and shops how they can exclude trans women from women’s loos and changing rooms. I only heard about that on Thursday 21st, and I find it scary.

Part of the problem here is I don’t want to address the question of “including those who have needs around bodies with penises etc”, I just want to mess about. Or, I want to be playful, winsome and loveable, so that no-one would be unkind to me. This is a small child response.

On “needs around bodies with penises”, one option is to exclude all trans women, and all trans men who have had chest surgery and hormones so they have facial hair, from women’s loos etc. It’s the obvious option if you ignore or minimise the needs of trans people. That’s why the excluders don’t mention us.

Why can’t they just admit they are men, anyway? What’s the difference between “trans women” and feminine men? Possibly nothing but life experiences and their understanding of the options, I replied. I am so tempted to discount my overwhelming desire. (Added: at 6am on 24 October I am dwelling on that, how I remain ashamed of not resisting. Such overwhelming shame stopped me, at that moment, from saying- what? “This is who I am, I can be no other.”)

I have thought so much about an hour’s conversation with probably fewer than ten people, given it so much mental energy, wept and raged. It will be over tomorrow, until the next time.

Varieties of spiritual journey

What? You talk of “nonduality” as one or two peak experiences for a moment, in your entire lives, years ago? Ha! I am nondual all the time!

One of my judgments is that it is wrong to boast of spiritual growth, but as I spoke to Friends of God in me, and the judgment or thought that second-guesses God and stops God from speaking, the words “melts away” formed in my mind. I had intense judgment against that, the claim to wisdom or spirituality, and yet-

In me there is that of God, and what else? Judgments, ego, introjects, something I do not fully understand but attempt to, using whatever language I have and concepts from philosophy or psychology. In that moment, speaking to Friends, the “whatever else” seemed to melt away, and I felt extreme joy. I do not want to boast, and I want everyone to experience that joy.

I experience inner conflict between that of God and the something else, and experienced it in that moment- the insistent words “melts away” and the horror at claiming something I do not know to be true, and the self-doubt- and then it melted away, and I spoke the words. Anguish gave way to acceptance and wonder.

Heaven is human integrity, where that of God within shines out through that person’s thoughts, words and deeds, and there is no alloy or admixture of anything else: that person is nondual.

I felt shame this week, does not matter what for, and it was clear to me that it was my own rather than some introjected shame- a feeling to help me reach my goals and best self, rather than anyone else’s demands. Instead of being my enemy it was my friend. That felt new, and delightful.

Part of the way I might help others experience that joy, and understand humans or humanity, is to describe my own experiences. How much this has value depends. Is the inner God of other people like mine, or does it vary as human character and personality varies? What else is there, and is the something else in each person different? How does the spiritual journey differ- there is an unveiling of God Within, until it stands fully visible, in all its beauty, but does the way the unveiling proceeds differ between people?

I saw God, and so God Within, as “powerful,” and letting go of that concept has helped me see God in me so much more clearly. Yet it seems to me that God in others might be powerful, or that at least the concept would not get in the way of others seeing their inner God as it did for me. Words are at best a way to approach reality.

Are there people who grew up in ideal conditions, such that their inner God was nurtured and cherished and there was never much in the way of veil to begin with? Quakers aim for such nurture, “leaving [children] free to develop as the Spirit of God may lead them”.

If I call the something else “ego”, there is the word “egotistical”, meaning self-aggrandising, but my inner judgments called me worthless. Carl Rogers pictured the self-concept and organismic self overlapping, and in my moment of becoming conscious of the spiritual journey, when my understanding of the world seemed completely contrary to how the world is, mine seemed to be entirely separate. My conversion might be like a Road to Damascus moment, but not everyone’s need be. Possibly, some might be unable to bear such an experience.

And there is common humanity. Because our eyes have cones and rods in similar formation, our experience of colour is similar, and different from a dog’s. While I cannot know my experience is like anyone else’s, we have a number of words for emotions which have a similar understanding in each of us to be useful, and we can look at another person and guess or sense what they are feeling. We are programmed to recognise faces- the youngest infants will respond to them- and who knows what else is programmed? We are eukaryotes, mammals, apes.

Some people may simply be nondual. Others may approach that. It is my way to worry and question, and also to use my analytic mind soberly to assess what is true. It is my aim to see God in myself and others more clearly which will mean loving God more dearly, and to help others do the same, and I will grow in my ability to do that.