Meeting for Stillness

Does the term “Meeting for Worship” put off people who are “Spiritual, but not religious”? Jan Arriens in The Friend suggested “Meeting for Stillness”, and Peter Jarman dismissed worship as “what happens in other churches”.

As an Anglican I believed in God the Eternal Father, Whom I worshipped. Just before I came to Quakers I found Matthew Fox’s explanation of Panentheism, God suffusing all that is, and later William Blake’s statement “Everything that is, is holy”. Rather than worshipping, I was communing- with the Mystery, with that which is greater than myself.

I took a combative line as a Christian against the non-theists: it’s a Meeting for Worship, we must be worshipping something, and was referred to Old English: weorþscipe, meaning worth or dignity: noun, not verb. But I still think Quakers have always used the term as a transitive verb. We worship God. What of those who reject God, as refugees from the Churches, or consider God a superstition? Meeting as a spiritual practice has value, and does not depend on belief.

Some might come to us having meditated, as a Buddhist or even non-religious practice. We tell them our meeting for worship is not meditation, as it is something we do together. Well, Buddhists meditate together, but in Meeting someone may feel moved to speak in love for the others gathered there, and for the World.

Jan referred to David L. Saunders’ article saying stillness is so much more than silence, which is merely the absence of speech or noise: it is about Presence. Be still and cool in thy own mind. In stillness, Saunders says, we seek the place of being, encounter, power.

There is no silence outside an anechoic chamber. Friends can worship at a noisy demonstration. There will always be distraction: I try not to be distracted, and sometimes the distraction inspires me.

Stillness is also a deceptively simple concept, the absence of motion. I sit in stillness for what happens in stillness to my perceptions, of my surroundings, the others with me now, and my accumulated experience of life in the world.

In a “Meeting for Worship” I still think you must be worshipping something. I turn outward to the mystery of all that is outwith myself, and inward to what is within me but beyond my ordinary conscious experience. What do I worship? If forced to put it in a simple phrase, I would say the “Mystery of being”, but the phrase does not satisfy me. I want a phrase which is immediately understandable- like, “Meeting for Stillness”- but which leads the enquirer attender or member into new depths. If I said I worshipped God, I would mislead some, and deter others. I am not a theist.

I do not like the word “Meeting for Worship”. I thought of “Meeting for Contemplation”. Meeting needs our concentrated attention, and diligent practice.

Another alternative is simply “Meeting”. At the moment it is shorthand- we go to Meeting, we say. It could be the whole term. Meeting what? Each other, or- something else, perhaps.

I thought of “Holy Meeting” or “Sacred Meeting”- a time set apart from worldly concerns- but these words remind me of the Christianity which at least since Constantine has been used to oppress people and maintain worldly control, and I support the seeker’s rebellion against that.

Meeting. Or, Meeting for Stillness. A practice of Love which helps human beings reach our full potential as individuals in community.

Quakers in Britain have a similar issue having rejected the word “Overseer”, meaning, roughly, pastoral carer, but not agreed on a single preferable term yet. We should check the terms we use periodically: might they mislead, or put off, someone who might otherwise join us? Are they accurate descriptions of the things they refer to?

Joy in the World

My calling is to manifest joy. That is a Truth about myself that I know. It fits my experience. What does it mean?

I have chronic depression, with little energy to tackle tasks (most of it channelled in this blog). Depression is not a matter of sadness but of motivation. I know I should, for example, clean my house, because it would be more hygienic and pleasanter to live in. At some level I might say I want to clean it; and yet I don’t, for weeks. I am not sure I can distinguish energy and motivation. Depression is different from anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure, which I do not have. I bit into a ripe pear this morning, and felt delight.

Joy may be linked to the state of being aware in the present moment. I find that a heightened state, which gives me pleasure. There is the monkey-mind, ruminating all sorts of old stuff, mostly fantasy rather than reality, and I drop out of that into Presence.

Joy is linked to positivity, to seeing possibilities and opportunities, movement, growth. Denial, the refusal to face uncomfortable truths, is anathema to it, because you never succeed in denying, you are always aware of the Problem on some level. Bracketing can be useful- I know the unpleasant Fact exists, and I will deal with it later but must deal with this first. Avoidance, picking anything to deal with rather than the Problem, is harmful.

There is joy in action towards a goal. “There is no ‘try’,” as Yoda said, that’s avoidance too, faking an attempt at doing something because you don’t believe you can achieve it. Joy in action is linked to exhilaration in movement.

Humanity is being, doing, knowing, and there is joy in our simple existence. It is filled with possibilities.

My niece, when she was a toddler, at one time had a practice of going up to her significant adults and saying “I love you”. “I love you, Uncle Stephen,” she would say to me, and I was at a loss how to respond. Eventually I said “That is what you are for”. That is the child’s value. Love will grow into action in time. Only love is real. She grew up, perceptive, with compassion and a strong sense of integrity. Now her daughter is three, and my nephew reports she too is very smart, loving and generous. They played a game together where you throw beanbags at targets, and when he missed she put his beanbag where the target was. Competition is all very well, but that was the common goal.

If my calling is manifesting joy, is this unique to me? Possibly stronger in me than in others. It is my fundamental nature. Someone ministered that our certainties are stripped away, and insofar as they come from outside us, from the culture, our certainties about ourselves may need to be (though it is possible that somewhere there is someone who is “normal”). Humans have different gifts.

I said in my revelation that my calling is manifesting joy, and communicating it. If I am simply myself, that may bring joy to others. If something makes me joyful and I show that others may see the delightfulness of that thing.

This is something I want to grow into, this year. The revelation is like a gift. I will explore it more deeply, and come to know it. I end with Edwin Muir’s description of a wise man, not elsewhere on line, from Collected Poems p288:

I think the shrewdest sweetest man
I ever saw, modest and yet a king
among his harvests, with a harvester’s eye
that had forgotten to wonder why
at this or that, knowing his natural span,
and spoke of evil as “the other thing”,
Judging a virtue as he judged the weather
Endured, accepted all, the equal brother
Of men and chance, the good and the bad day.

That is something to aspire to.

Mental states

How could one not be “present in the moment”? I have no time machine. Humans cannot simply “be”- we are always doing something, even if only breathing and taking in sense-perceptions. When we sleep our brains are making connections. It seems there is a “spiritual state” I would call “present in the moment”, which makes me think there are other states, somehow less than that. Moulded or traumatised, I live in such sub-optimal states; or, well-adjusted, I flit between states, choosing the one appropriate to my surroundings or task.

My ideal, now, is to “flow like water”, as the Tao Te Ching has it. In that state I am doing something without consciously controlling it.

I read that spirituality is not about “states”, but of course it is. An analogy: having learned the piano I can play scales in 24 keys, but there was a time I could only play a few, and had to learn the others.

Presence is not simply immediate experience without language. I know what a “table” is, can recognise or use it, because of the word. I cannot divorce experience from language, but there does seem to be a time when I am classifying and assessing verbally, and a time when I am relating. Relating seems better to me.

Colouring in these pictures was called “a quiet mindful moment in the spirit of self-care”, where I would call it a sensual activity undertaken simply for its own sake. Such activities are a way of not doing what one has to do. They may be recreational, in which case, choose the recreation which most delights you, or addictive, in that you use them to avoid pressing duties. Cleaning your house can be self-care, showing that you deserve it.

There is rumination. Like a cow, I return to old thoughts, and chew them over again. I tend to feel there is always some progression when I return to old thoughts, but then cows ruminate to digest grass. Things recede into the past.

There is paying attention. I look at an art work or listen to music and it occupies my conscious mind. There is worship, when I pay attention to the situation I am in. Sometimes, then, the ministry which is only for me comes to mind, a new realisation, which is unconscious processes making connections.

Or I just keep clicking through the same websites for dopamine, and the less dopamine I get the more desperately I click. I don’t know why I would rather read articles than books. I want to know.

Sometimes a physical need overwhelms me, and sometimes I am conscious of it, I pause to do something else, and the need gives me an extra kick to get my obedience. Different parts of the brain seek different activity, and strive for dominance.

I pause for a moment to check what I feel. One feeling recently seemed to deserve its very own German compound word- anticipation of delight, where the anticipation was so strong it was painful. Freudeangst.

There are things going on in my brain and body of which I am not conscious. I so want it always optimised. I never trust it is. I do so little because I rarely believe it will be safe.

Loving yourself

What would it mean to love yourself?

“Let your God love you,” she said. I don’t believe in God. I believe in a mystic observation, of love, light and guidance within, which human beings can access. It would be better, obviously, to have a theory including what this whateveritis actually is, to pin it down, to describe it in prose rather than that irritating poetry, but the bare observation of how people feel and what they do, and what they say about it, shows the whatsit, this “Light”, this “Spirit”

(note the anger, my loathing of my incomprehension, my frustration, my inability to use positive words unqualified, because “Light within” is a huge thing)

this Light within

No, I don’t believe in it. Such a thing could not be in me. Yet “Let your God love you,” shared in the zoom Quaker meeting as the Americans there enter their election day, hit me over the head. I may still be giddy from it.

Now, I know the poetry becomes prose, literal and merely descriptive. For example, “The disordered society is full of loyal patriots” (Tao Te Ching, 18) is merely true. What else are we to call the loyal patriots but what they call themselves? “Be broken to be whole. Twist to be straight” may eventually prove to be prose too.

I am grasping after prose. There is something I do not know.

This light within that people call God

Tomorrow I will cycle thirteen miles (I hope) and the difficulty of it will be admitting it is difficult, because it should not be difficult, it should not trouble me at all. There I was at war, between the part of me driving myself on and the part telling the driver it was too much, miserable, trying to suppress my feeling of misery below my own consciousness even though it makes me depressed and stops me doing anything. That’s the root of the depression.

Then there’s the “inner light Which Is god”

scare quotes again

which could be the primary feeling which I fear and seek to suppress, because I should not find any difficulty. That protean, mercurial, changeable, reactive thing within me, could it be the Light? And the problem with it is all those unpleasant feelings, the fact that when there is something I cannot allow myself to admit I find difficult it feels the difficulty.

And it seems so completely in the moment in the worst possible way, in that it seeks short term comfort. Be comfortable for a minute because I won’t be, within an hour.

For twenty years I’ve been on this

“Spiritual Journey”

and the point of it, I realised early, was not to feel angry and scared any more, and I realised that was what I wanted from it, and I realised that was full of shit even as I admitted it was what I wanted and I still wanted it. And I still want it. To stop feeling angry and afraid. To stop the world going on at its dizzying pace (here the world is, waiting for the result of the US elections, a lot of people feeling angry and afraid right now, loyal patriots terrified of each other)

I am on a spiritual journey

And then at worship someone shares a poem by Edwina Gateley finishing with the line “Let your God love you”. And I want that in prose. There’s the emotional being, within, feeling angry and hurt or frightened

when it is appropriate to feel angry, hurt, or frightened

and beneath it, perhaps, there is God, an inner light which I have never met, the bit I am supposed to have been seeking for nineteen years in various Quaker meetings, I may have been both wasting my time and disrupting every one else who has this Light, active and accessible.

God loves the emotional being. God, within me, loves the slave-driving part of me that cannot admit anything is difficult, because it is scared, and the resisting bit which is also scared and cannot bear the slave-drivinng bit. But both are complete shit, utterly worthless and bad, because they are scared. Who could love that but God?

“Hell is rejecting the love of God,” says prosaic Christian apology. That must be in CS Lewis somewhere.

How could I possibly? “Let your God love you.” Is there a God in me which loves all of me?

Just be, permit, and be loved, for c’est son metier. And then go out, not knowing who will be President (depending when you’re reading this) or cycling and being at war within, doing what you have to do.

There is a light within which loves me and loves the World and everyone in it. It is an emotional being looking at all of life and eternity. It is the Light of humanity.

Let your God love you.

Yeah.

Accepting the unruly self

Writing here, I only need persuade myself. Others get something from it: if a post has 27,000 views it appeals to people, but I can write a post if I like that might just get thirty, to clarify something for myself. And, I want to explain this to people, because I think it valuable. I tried, and met resistance, because it is counter-intuitive. So now I try again:

Moderately depressed, I can stay in bed until midday, and I have done so, periodically thinking, I ought to get up. I have to do X. X might be going to the supermarket, or doing some housework. I have to get up! I think to myself, panicking a bit, berating myself, then I go back to scrolling facebook. Then at midday I think, oh well, I am not going to do that today, I’ll spend the afternoon with the telly. And I do. This is not a way to endear myself to human society.

Mindful presence is part of it. Put down the laptop, it is just a distraction. I want dopamine, but facebook is a bad way of getting it. Put down the laptop, and I am alone with my thoughts and feelings, that shame, misery and desperation that I will not just GET UP! and do what I have to do. These are not pleasant feelings to face. Yet there are other feelings, not just about my inaction but about the desired action itself.

For a time in the Summer when I found this, I simply needed to acknowledge that I do not want to get up! And that, for me, was enough to get me up. There was some desire, some motivation, to get up and do the thing. Acknowledging the feelings stopping me, valuing and accepting that part of my inner conflict, was enough to make those feelings less insistent. “I do not want to get up!” I would say to myself, joyfully, and get up. The feelings affect me whether I am conscious of them or not, to the extent that I find consciousness overrated. I am not, primarily, a conscious being but an animal being. Somewhere else I have seen the simile consciousness is like a mahout on an elephant, and it’s not entirely clear whether the reins the mahout holds actually do anything.

Now I find I might make a better decision if I ask what, precisely, am I feeling about the X that I “ought” to do. That is, fully and completely acknowledging why I do not want to do it, or at any rate do not want to do it now. Unacknowledged, the feelings are too strong for me, demanding to be heard. Acknowledging them pacifies them. Therefore the counterintuitive suggestion, ask yourself all the reasons why you don’t want to go, what you feel and why you might feel like that, begins to make sense.

Now, I have no idea whether this is a common idea, which community psychiatric nurses routinely suggest to their patients, a more out there idea which has been the subject of an obscure TEDx talk, or completely original. That I have not heard of it is little evidence. Had I a name for it I might google it, but someone might have a different name. A name helps to get an idea accepted. It’s something like radical self-acceptance in the moment. I’ve just come up with the title for this post, thinking as I write, but there may be a better term for the technique. It’s a way of allowing feelings about the medium or long term take precedence. Feelings about Right Now are more insistent, and if I do not know what they are I have no tools for making decisions beyond the present moment. My post title says what I do, but a name expressing pithily what that achieves might be worthwhile.

I bring together the committee of the self, including the bits I don’t like, so they can decide together what to do.

I suggested this to someone, and she dismissed it out of hand, without even the need to explain why it was so wrong because that was obvious. Why would you think about why you don’t want to do something? That only makes you less likely to do it! Well, because those reasons or feelings are in fact stopping you from taking action, and examining them might help you address them. That the idea is hard to explain might show that it is less widespread.

Sixteen years ago a counsellor told me that “ought” is very poor motivation to do something. That is part of this idea.

God within, and Thomas Merton

God is in all Believers. Jesus said, “The glory that you have given me I have given them [the people who will believe as taught by his followers], so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you [God} in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” -John 17:22-23.

Thomas Merton put it this way:

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely … I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.

I got that from Richard Rohr. Rohr changes “His” to “God’s”, an inclusive language change which improves it, but changing Merton’s “sonship” to “birthright” as Rohr does takes away the allusion to Christ’s teaching, that we are His brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God.

How does that “point of nothingness” relate to what I call the “Real me”?

Possibly, mystic theory gets in the way. If that at the heart of the human being is God, it must be good and pure. Yet I feel the Sociopath may have a clearer understanding of that human essence, less mask or ego, than most people. I am not sure. I feel in me, it is pro-social, but not that it is, of necessity, in all people. Jesus’, John’s and Merton’s idea of God within mean that part is without sin.

In contrast are “the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will”. Merton did not fully identify with that “point of pure truth”, but with his mind and will, or perhaps ego. The point of truth is beneath that, needing discerned, not clearly seen. However having found the “pearl of great price” we must “sell all we have to buy it”, for it is “the Kingdom of Heaven”. So we get rid of mind, will and ego and operate from the Pearl, or the Treasure found in a field, the Light or the point of pure truth. Merton had a conversion experience in Louisville on 18th March 1958, wrote this in 1965, and may have come closer to that “pure glory of God” later.

For Merton it is a point of “nothingness and poverty”, which may be a rejection of worldly values- the “boasted pomp and show of the worldling’s fading pleasure”- or admitting that the ego is simply and merely wrong, all its devices and desires meaningless and worthless.

It is without illusion. It sees everything I am too frightened to admit.

And- it is God. “To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees,” wrote Paul ValĂ©ry. No better name than “God” is available, because the word is capacious enough to include everything any human has ever used it for. The light within is indescribable in that it is illimitable, undefinable, not proper to be restricted to a concept or understanding of what it is. It is simply itself.

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Merton’s understanding of the false self is moulded by his life. In New Seeds of Contemplation, in 1961, he wrote (again quoted by Rohr)

My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love- outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion... All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.

That could fit my Born Again colleague’s experience of conversion, from sexual promiscuity and drunkenness to an ordered life following the rules and beliefs of her church, including in Adam and Jonah as real people, but Merton’s acceptance of Catholicism was twenty years before his “conversion”.

Merton was born in 1915 in France, the son of an artist, and baptised Anglican. His mother, a Quaker, died when he was six, and he never accepted his father’s new lover. He was sent to various boarding schools, and dropped out of Cambridge University where he “drank to excess and indulged in sexual licence” according to wikipedia. He may have fathered a child there. He took a degree at Columbia University, and stayed as a postgraduate. He chose Catholicism, had a second baptism in 1938, and became a monk in 1940.

My false self was moulded entirely differently. I wanted to fit in. I was completely controlled, and in my thirties decided “It is time to rebel against my parents”- my understanding of life was taken from them, so out of date when I was born. I drank to excess a few times at university, but fell in with a few men who did not, served at the altar of the Episcopal cathedral, and enjoyed folk dancing.

I have not wanted “experiences, power, honour, knowledge and love” but to fit in, not be noticed, and to survive quietly. I thought myself worthless, only of value for what I could achieve. I had to pretend to be the notional worthwhile human being inculcated into me, miserable and stressed because I never managed it.

I find the false self better understood through Carl Rogers. It is the self-concept, the understanding of who I am, formed initially by the parents’ or parental figures’ conditional positive regard, then either by conformity or rebellion as the child grows. Rebellion is as unfree as conformity. Merton, from a comfortably wealthy family yet insecure after his mother’s death, would form a particular false self. Our false selves are idiosyncratic, dependent on circumstances, and whether we ever shed them may depend on luck.

My conversion experience was 14 February 1999. During 1998 I became aware of a “vulnerable bit” of myself and in February 1999 realised it was the “Real me”. I have spoken from that part of me, which I now call God, and now want it to control my life entirely. Yet still, much of the time, my consciousness is thinking from the false self or ego. Distress may shock me into Real Self. Entering the Now, being present to the present moment, I can only be in the Real Self.

Merton’s understanding in that paragraph that Rohr quotes may also be moulded by Christian understandings of those outside the church, in “the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Possibly, with a sufficiently blessed upbringing, one might never form a false self at all. Whatever, many people do.

I feel that my real self has been caring for my false self, as in the “footprints” story where when there is only one set of footprints, Jesus carries the man. It maintains the false self’s amour propre. It is where my motivation resides, so if I have maintained the false self’s illusions it has been the action of the real self, to help preserve my feeling of safety, which does not keep me safe.

This is my mantra:

I am here
This is
I Am

I change it to “We Are” in Meeting. It brings me back to God within.

Now and not-now, Real Self and mask

There is “Being in the Now”. I am aware of sensory input now. I listen to what people say. I see their body language. I am aware of what I feel now, and it flows without overflowing. I speak what I need to say, now. And there is “Being in past and future”, thinking of what I will say rather than hearing the other, being with worries and ruminations, walking and barely seeing where I am because I am treading the old cognitive paths. Continue reading

God and The Monster

I faced the Monster, which frightens me more than anything. It did not kill me.

In psychotherapy, I said how I had felt after last week- tired and upset at first, but then really wonderful, loose, delighting in my body, happy, on Sunday after rising at six to go cycling and miss the 30° midday heat. Let us go at it. There is that “joyful, playful child” which I give strongly positive names, such as “Real me,” and which seems to hold almost all of my power of self-motivation, even if it can only resist things my rational self thinks I ought to do. It feels feminine. There is a more masculine protector whose way of protection is to suppress: to get her to be quiet and sensible. I feel that Real me might be useful in life situations. For example in the Employment Tribunal, in cross examination, I feel she could be useful if I found an opening to eviscerate and humiliate someone.

We agree to bring her out to play. I do not play long. She is charming, winsome I think, but that is only her most oft-shown face. There is hurt here. And I lean forward, ready to play, to create, to explore together but can’t say something.

It’s like Emo Philips’ joke. My parents told me never to go near the cellar door, but when I was six I was alone, the door was unlocked, and I opened it. I saw wonderous things! Trees, grass, the sky!

The masculine protector wants to shut the cellar door on the Child. It is the only way to be safe. The masculine protector will be good, obey the rules, and be safe. This is an immature technique I use in adulthood: find out the rules, follow the rules, because it gives me a sense of safety.

In fact it’s like a trapdoor. The Child wants to be charming, I promise I’ll be good, because otherwise the protector will shut the trapdoor which is the only source of light in my cellar, or bottle-dungeon, and just be good, quiet, watchful, himself.

Then comes the judgment.

I had a perfectly ordinary childhood!

What are you making up now?

So I shout it at Linda, quite out of control, enraged. There’s another reason why doing this by video is safer: I can show my full rage.

I pause to write this down. “Judgment- PERfectly ordinary childhood.

Half way through I decide to minimise it. It is the Elephant and the Woodlouse- imagine an elephant carrying a generator and two vast loudspeakers, and the judgment is deafening. Now imagine a woodlouse, with proportionately smaller speakers. It also walks towards me, and I notice this strange high pitched noise. I lean in to hear what it might be, interested. The malice is the same, but it is less powerful.

The malice is directed at myself. How can I be suppressing my true self, when my childhood was caring and nourishing, enabling me to be fully normal? That’s its main idea. Stop whining! Stop pretending! Stop fantasising!

Oh, I would like to terrify people! I would like my anger to be effective, usefully directed outwards, not just inwards at myself. I would like to know that Child was safe to enter the world, and be herself in the world.

I thought a long time ago, whether I have gone through something no human could go through without being crushed, or whether I just stubbed my toe once, I am where I am. It becomes clearer to me that I have gone through traumatic experiences, some while too young to remember them, and the Monster is lying to me. I would like the Child and the masculine protector to reconcile, and even the Monster, to tame Kerberos so he eats out of my hand, and only barks at others when I tell him to.

More than ten years ago I thought The Monster will get me, and I now see the monster more clearly.

There is something in my room, and I write a poem to it.

I hate you as much as I have ever hated anyone.
I want you dead.
Your touch makes my skin crawl.
Your noise is worse than tinnitus.
Your constant motion baffles and immiserates me.
I want you to feed the birds,
yet one of you drives me to distraction.

I surprised myself today (Tuesday). Previously the Real Me has been only sweet and lovely, playful and joyful. Today she showed her teeth. If that is to be my main self, it cannot be without dark emotion.

On Tuesday evening, with Canada Yearly Meeting annual sessions, which I joined by Zoom, I named the Real Self and the protector slamming the trapdoor. This is a childish self-protection mechanism, I said. When I became an adult, I shall put away childish things.

On Wednesday 12th, I was reading Mysticism and Resistance by Dorothee Sölle. The “Resistance” in the title refers to political action; I am only on the second chapter, on mysticism, on stepping out of the ego or petty self into God. I could not read it. Where is God in this scheme, the real me, the masculine protector, the monster? With Pendle Hill worship sharing, the question was, “Are you ready to respond to any concern God may lay upon you, large or small?” How could I respond? No, my hands are full at the moment?

First, I thought, this is my Concern, that I am working on. Then I identified the Real Me as the inner light. The more I speak from God and act from God, the more confident I become in so speaking and acting.

This is the end of my mysticism, to become fully that real me. A Friend wrote, “I hear you opening yourself to let God think through you, and see through you, and also, I sense, feel through you, as you lay your ego aside in worship.”

Wednesday afternoon I joined Canada Yearly Meeting annual sessions, online. I was part of a worship sharing group on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the second question we addressed was, “How has the spirit been with thee since last we met?” I feel abashed. I know the depth of the claim I am making, that I can speak directly from God or Spirit in conversation as well as ministry, and I want to make it. I remember Liz saying a better translation is “I Am is the way, the truth and the life.” The ego, which seeks to guard me and make sure I appear well is like filthy rags which do not cover me or keep me warm, like Isaiah’s dry, cracked cisterns without water. Ego is worthless. God speaks and acts through me, as an atheist materialist.

One says she is Spirit until she stops and distances herself from it. Being nondual, we allow the unfolding and are part of it. We join in the dance.

Christ is Risen

Queuing for the supermarket
is like walking a labyrinth.
Every few moments, some mindful steps.
Ribbons wind the path, and we turn in sunshine.
Blossom and birdsong are beautiful.
Over the fence,
a path curves into the woods,
in cool green light.

“Wonderful,” said a friend. “You woman of so many talents. I’d lose the last sentence…” Well. I wanted to share the idea, of walking in the queue being like in a labyrinth, but for me it evokes a specific place. The police are telling people not to buy inessential items or sunbathe in parks, and they have the power to impose on the spot fines, so if you want to enjoy sunshine, doing nothing at all, a supermarket queue is a permitted place. This one has trees, so even if a carpark is not beautiful there is beauty there worth my attention. And across a steel fence of sharp uprights a few inches apart, there is the Greenway, with the contrast of light through a scrap of mature woodland. There is a contrast in the last three lines, in the lowered intensity of words matching the difference of the vision. So there.

There is no afterlife. If “He descended into Hell”, as the Apostle’s Creed says, it is here, in this life on Earth, and if Jesus saved people from Hell as apocryphal Gospels state and the Orthodox Church celebrates in icons it is now, and how better when people are afraid of a pandemic?

I remember my first labyrinth. The path was marked in different coloured square tiles, and was square so that repeatedly one turned a 90° corner, facing a different vista, bushes, trees, grass, and angle of sunlight. I did it slowly, barefoot in March, in about 2007. It did the job, bringing me into the moment, contemplating the beauty, out of Hell. From that place one can begin to see what needs to be done in the moment now. I probably didn’t have covid two weeks ago, but I don’t know if I picked it up yesterday; and the sun is so hot in my back yard that I sit in the shade. A siren. Is it a police car come for someone who bought something inessential, or an ambulance taking away a sufferer? Someone tells me her child brought it home from school and they all had it, and were fine after a week. Someone has died. A neighbour shouts at his daughter for eating chocolate before tea.

Here is an icon of “The Harrowing of Hell”. Christ breaks the walls to rescue the imprisoned, while angels hold Satan down.

Western European art tended to go more for Last Judgment scenes, with sinners falling unequivocally and finally into torment, but there are some examples. In this by a follower of Bosch, the devils resist, and only some people take notice. Click for a larger version.

In this Cezanne, Christ saves individually and personally.

Another follower of Bosch. Most of the people are untrusting. The woman covering her nakedness makes me think of Eve.

I went to the supermarket
and came home with a poem.
Would the police deem it essential?

Evolutionary spirituality

How could spiritual experience evolve? Blake’s lines

The world in a grain of sand
and Heaven in a wild flower

refer to it. My senses feel more alive, more immediate and intense, and this changes from being a peak experience to an everyday one which I can enter or even sustain through disciplined effort. It seems worth the effort.

I was writing song lyrics seeking to evoke a standard spiritual experience, even hint at it to those who do not have it, and that led me to imagine what it was and think of early experiences of it.

I had the experience without connecting it to Blake the first time I sat in a circle with the instruction “Speak when moved”, not with Quakers. After, I would have said “I could hear a pin drop”.

Then at the Five Rhythms dance camp, the facilitator sought to induce it- we had our right hands on the shoulder of the person in front with the instruction to place your foot in the footprint just left. This is impossible and pointless. Some gave up. He led us in circles in the woods, then abruptly out into a field in bright sunshine- the perfect metaphor for spiritual experience as well as a real experience of it, doing ridiculous things in darkness then emerging into Light. My senses were alive. This delighted me.

After, I had such an experience at the Greenbelt festival: a tree impinged on my consciousness suddenly, and each leaf was separate, I saw it in such detail. Then I decided to evoke such experience, for example by paying full attention to chores like washing up, seeing the gleam of light on wet plates, enjoying the motion of wiping them.

A deer, feeding, will suddenly lift its head to scan its surroundings. So might our primate ancestors. We are suddenly moved to look around. There may be a predator, or prey. There is no predator in civilised society apart from other humans, whose threat civilisation often seeks to blind us to and deny, but basic brain processes may nevertheless take over from the monkey mind, the endless stream of words flowing through consciousness, most of them repeated many times before.

We escape words into conscious attention. Rather than stereotyping classifying and dismissing current experience through words which simplify it, I pay attention.

The words come between us and experience. Sometimes this is a good thing- I can communicate complex information, think abstractly, read a book- and sometimes bad, stopping me really seeing. As I look at the woods more, I see all the different greens. That is not just a “bird”, even a “red kite”, but a miracle of adaptation, a slight movement of one wingtip feather holding it perfectly in the thermal.

New words delight, old words stultify, even becoming the psychiatric symptom of rumination. When I enter into the moment of immediate experience I might act as needed now rather than by habit, from seeing rather than stereotyping.

Wake up!  cried Anthony di Mello. Liberation is another metaphor. I become my potential. It is an animal response, perhaps older than backbones or bilaterians.