What are your values? Acceptance, Adventure, Assertiveness? Safety, Sensuality, Skilfulness? A choice of 58 with helpful explanations of each might help self-knowledge.

Authenticity: to be genuine, real, true to myself. That fits. Ploughing my own way, now, seems the most important thing in my life. And yet, Conformity: to be respectful and obedient of rules and obligations fits too. Only when under pressure, I think. I use fitting in as a way of seeking safety. Safety: to secure or protect myself or others. I seek that a great deal. Can I claim Courage:to persist in the face of fear, threat or difficulty? Sometimes I have shown courage, sometimes I have run and hidden.

I feel Conformity and Safety are introjected values, I would show more Courage if less badly hurt. Courage calls to courage everywhere– odd, I remembered it as Courage speaks to courage, that is, courage recognises courage in others. “Calls” could have different, valuable meanings. I have shown courage and dedication. I don’t feel courageous, now.

Beauty: to appreciate, create, nurture or cultivate beauty in myself, others, the environment etc. Definitely. It makes my heart sing. I devote time and effort to it. Freedom: to choose how I live and behave, and help others do likewise. No question. These are what I observe in my actions, and feel in my desires.

Humility: to be modest, let my achievements speak for themselves. Hmm. Sometimes I am, sometimes the opposite- not Boastfulness necessarily. “Let your light so shine before men” does not sound modest. I don’t know if either is a Value I would claim, or if there is any consistency. Self-regard, knowing ones value and achievements, might just be arguable as a value.

Honesty? Um. If it were not so important to me I might not hate and notice so much when I lie.

Flexibility. I would like more of that, perhaps just to get me out of problems. I imagine I could have been OK, with hindsight, had I been “flexible”. Possibly that is a mirage.

Mindfulness: to be conscious of, open to, and curious about my here and now experience. Yes, I think, of course, and then reconsider Self-awareness, to be aware of my own thoughts feelings and actions and wonder whether I am so ignorant of the former I confuse it with the latter, so internally focused that the Outside seems illusory. With my mantra I am here. This is. I am I am turning outwards.

Spirituality: to connect with things bigger than myself. Being materialist, I think my Inner Light is myself, though a greater self than the ego or monkey-mind. And Spirituality is Here, This life, focused. I am Spiritual.

Open mindedness: to think things through, to see things from others’ points of view, and weigh evidence fairly. Definitely. I am certain of some things, yet eager to understand more, to see more clearly. This blog records growth in understanding.

Which on the list are not importantly to me? Adventure. Fun. Excitement. I get excitement from ideas, but am not seeking new experiences other than new encounters with different people. Equality. Fairness. Reciprocity. I am not now seeking equality. Do I value myself sufficiently? From seeing myself as worthless I come to value myself. These may be values I have not articulated to myself, or recognised, working unconsciously within.

Not Power: taking charge, leading, organising either. I know that proposing a decision can be a service, relieving others of responsibility, but I don’t want my way. Or perhaps I do, just don’t see attempting to take power as the way to get it. I don’t perceive myself as ambitious.

Not Skilfulness: to practise and improve, and apply myself fully when using them. I like to write. Yet my revision is only of the odd sentence, not rewriting the whole structure of a piece to improve it. I am not developing. So, not really, as it happens. I devote my energy elsewhere. I don’t play the piano any more.

Do any of these values speak to you?

Character, aptitude, value

I am not worthless, useless and hopeless, however much it seems that way to me. Embrace the evidence to the contrary!

Awesome,” she said, and I explained laboriously how only the bridge was my contribution. “Awesome bridge,” she said. People build me up, and I see how much I need it. That woman denied she was creative, and I sought to persuade her otherwise. I might say, you have had problems in your life: have you ever found solutions? Does that emerge as an insight which amazes and delights you, or leaves you quietly satisfied?

With a range of people from, say, Ranjana Srivastava, seeking to improve life and alleviate suffering, and Jeffrey Epstein happy to destroy people for his momentary gratification or to increase his power, I am at the right end of that range.

I am creative. I can be persuasive. I speak well. I write well. I make up stories of possibility. If I were to go back to the Turbine Hall I might take down the top of one of those towers for a source of bricks and either build a series of wee houses two bricks high or a wall across the table. Or I might be inspired by other work to do something else.

I am caring and supportive. I can be a good listener and find ways to build others’ confidence.

When I devote myself to a task I devote myself entirely. I spend myself- we spend ourselves, accepting damage or deterioration in the service of what we most want, as a woman may be incontinent of urine after pregnancy.

These manifestations of who I am delight me. I am most myself, being myself, acting as befits me. It is fitting and right. It is affirming and powerful.

I can be anxious, making mistakes in a hurry, or I can be composed and thoughtful, taking steps in order, making connections and understanding, inhabiting my power.

I am damaged. I do not know what I feel, often. That mantra helps:

I am here. This is. I am.

I take time to appreciate my surroundings, their beauty, solidity, value, fittingness which is bringing me into an appreciation of my own. If I notice I am behaving as if I am confused or anxious, that may indicate that I am confused or anxious. How have I been behaving? The feeling, brought into consciousness, may help me reassess my desires and actions. The feeling suppressed below consciousness makes me make mistakes, judge myself harshly, and be more stressed and inclined to withdraw, or be obnoxious.

My tactic of suppressing feeling helped me survive but in my adult self is weakness. The practice of mindfulness may bring me into my strength. It is liberating.

The self-concept, the imagined figure of who I imagine I ought to be, and the judgment, the idea that I am merely inadequate for not fitting it, are stripped away as I see who I really am now, respending in the moment to the actual situation.

This is particularly hard for a trans woman. We are fed an ideal of masculinity we cannot yet must fit, and seeing and valuing who we really are is a difficult task.

I am


of this. How can you recognise your blind spots, what you cannot see, behind your illusions, what is not real? The illusion touches my perception as reality would. It is hard work, climbing out of Plato’s cave.

This sentence could only be in a Russian novel (in this case, Life and Fate) Her soul filled with the sense of life that is humanity’s only joy and most terrible pain. Or possibly Intensity- reality feels intense, far more so than illusion.

That image again, of coming out of a dark, cramped corridor, steadily getting darker and smaller, into overwhelming light and colour which I could not bear. I thought of it as coming out of my withdrawing from the world, or out of my shrinking into expressing my charisma, and just now of turning from illusion to reality and sensing my feelings. It is all of these. I have always known I must learn to bear the brightness or die.

Howard Thurman

If I never feel confused, is confusion that terrifying emotion which I must always suppress below conscious awareness? If the distance between how things are and how they ought to be is so great that I cannot see how things are, being just confused, how can I do what I need to do? If my anger is always directed at myself- do better, try harder, keep going- how can I survive a world unless it is designed to fit me and support me? When do I realise that it isn’t?

I am wary of using Black experience as a way into my own as their oppression is greater than mine, except that mine matters too. I am a trans woman, conveniently available for anyone to punch down at, relieve their feelings on, use as a scapegoat or ridicule. We get screamed at, assaulted, killed by casual acquaintances or strangers, and painted as perverts or predators when any need is felt to justify that though often it isn’t.

So I read extracts from Howard Thurman, Black mystic and spiritual adviser to Martin Luther King.

“The stirring of the will of man to action, the dream of humanity, developed and free… is God.”

God speaks through my survival instinct and the occasional, fleeting desire I have to be equal, not to be that whipping-girl. I will not wrong others, and I will survive.

God lives in each person, we are each the outworking of God’s love, power, creativity and beauty, each hair on our head is numbered and God wills our flourishing- yes, even trans women.

The Black man, used by whites for the most menial work, lynched- murdered- by whites to keep all Blacks in a state of terror and subjection and satisfy those whites of their own righteous superiority, finds that in religious experience “I hear His Voice in my own tongue and in accordance with the grain in my own wood. In that glorious and transcendent moment, it may easily seem to me that all there is, is God.”

God is a real me, more real than I can conceive. This is not a matter of dogma but immediate experience, to be captured in feeling not prose or theory, perhaps to be glimpsed in poetry. Then I am my full glory as my part in God’s outworking of creation.

Thurman’s God and mine is transcendent, eternal, all-encompassing, and personal and intimate, caring for me like God’s child in self-sacrificing, motherly love. So, I will show myself the love God shows I am worthy of.

Christianity is an ideology of empire, for security and respectability for the strong and powerful, giving grudging “charity”, sometimes, to deserving outsiders but teaching us our obligations to our betters. This makes those betters feel good about themselves. No, God requires that we are brothers and sisters, equals. I claim my equal worth. God in me seeks not to serve or dominate but to hear and communicate.

Why do I call myself Christian when Christianity oppressed me? To create it anew!

I am a human being among human beings, not for anyone to categorise or judge as “a trans woman”, for no-one’s stereotypes classifications or perceived understanding- even my own. That is love of self in my incomprehensible beauty, a love worthy of loving others with. I am my part of Life, as you are. Each Christian encountering another Christian as an equal, a beloved fellow child of the loving Mother would be an example to all other people. “See how they love each other!” We would win souls for Christ.

Gender is as oppressive as race and we who do not fit gender stereotypes or are not served by them must come together. So I take Richard Rohr’s questions and apply them to gender:

Where in your life do you feel numb, shut down, dismembered, disrespected, or disconnected? What is your earliest memory of feeling this way? What events or circumstances do you believe gave birth to these experiences? What do you believe such feelings keep you from knowing?

What gender identities or stereotypes have shaped how you have come to know yourself as a person?

What views did your ancestors, elders, parents, or caretakers have about gender? How did their views impact you? In what ways were/are your views similar or different?

This is what to do with my anger, whether directed inward or outward- transmute it into a sense of self-worth: which becomes understanding, then love.

Notes on creating a spiritual experience

My mantra is

I am here.
This is.
I am.

My aim is to sustain mindful, present awareness through a walk I have done hundreds of times.

It is a warm, sunny day. As I walk down the road I notice a pain in the Achilles tendon. Should I go back for a prophylactic ankle support? No, I will not work it too hard. I will take care of my body. It is worthy of care.

I am here. This is. I am.

With the wisdom of my Friend, I seek to combat my own ressentiment. I complained of overheating in exercise, probably exacerbated by oestrogen. She said I heated, not overheated. It just is. Deal with it. Certain parts of the walk are rough underfoot. These are not difficulties, they are just parts of the walk, easily passed with care, more difficult than a metalled road but no real problem. My feeling that difficulties should not exist is the problem. One applies a lesson narrowly then more widely.

I am here. This is. I am.

I am blogging and writing as I walk. I think of what I might say here. I want a record of it. I use words to describe my direct experience: it does not detract, not really.

I am here. This is. I am.

Nettles lean over the path. I might be stung. There is the river.

I am here. This is. I am.

It is beautiful, but more, it simply is. I want to go beyond suddenly noticing beauties and being shocked into awareness of my surroundings, to a steady awareness. It is all beautiful. I am here. This is. As I am trans, often I walk along not really aware of my surroundings, in case someone is reading me and is derisive. All is OK.

I am here. This is. I am.

And then, where the path had been overgrown with nettles and thistles and rough underfoot, a wide swath has been mown down. I did not expect this. I am grateful. It is pure pleasure.

I am here. This is. I am.

The school holiday has not started, but a whole class has been brought here. Some swing on the tyres, some are supervised on the zip wire. One wants to do it by herself. I enjoy their noisily expressed delight.

There is so much sensory experience! There is the sound of the children, and the birds; the warmth of the sun on my skin (with sun tan lotion); the sight of the broad track, the river, butterflies, trees; a feeling-

slight discomfort- I am always nervous- over a feeling that all is well.

I am here. This is. I am.

There are times in shade, even when trees meet overhead, and times when the vista broadens and I am in sunshine.

After about an hour I lose concentration. I am thinking, rather than paying attention to my surroundings. The first time it is about an email I might write, but after that about old resentments, ruminating as I have ruminated before. I use my mantra:

I am here. This is. I am.

Another moral lesson to broaden out: I do not forgive my mother as that would be impertinent or patronising. It would not be treating her as an equal. She always did her best and loved me as she could. Judge not, that ye be not judged. In the same way, the road is near and the traffic noise loud. It is impertinent to resent it as a loud, mechanical noise, or decide to love it as the sound of my civilisation, powerfully pursuing its goals. It simply is.

I am here. This is. I am.

The grass is as soft as the breast of doves,
And shivering sweet to the touch, I think to myself, reaching out. Oops, not those immature seeds. Possibly the poet meant a different species. That leaf is. I pause to look at a red fly, with an orange abdomen. It is a centimetre long, and hovers.

I am here, again! I have gone round the circle, and am back on the tail of my walk, going back up the hill. And it is different, this time. There is some metal barrier-fencing, by the side of the path and I strum on it, enjoying the reverberations. Then I pick up a flattened can to strum on it louder. Then I cut myself on the can.

If Monet had painted the colour of that wheat, I would have thought he was exaggerating.

I am just walking, now. Climbing the hill is an effort. And the practice of holding concentration pleases me. I was there, and aware of it. This is a spiritual experience, and the deliberate attempt to create it is called worship. I stopped several times to contemplate the beauty.

God within

In very real ways, soul, consciousness, love, and the Holy Spirit are one and the same. Each of these point to something that is larger than the individual, shlarger than the individual, shared with God, ubiquitous, and even eternal—and then revealed through us!

Richard Rohr

When I say I am a materialist, I am doubting that. There is something at the heart of each human being, which Quakers call “That of God” or “The inner light” which I believe is in me, because I respect the experience and observations of mystics and their ability to put their experience into words; and also the ability of the Society of Friends to winnow those words, retaining and distilling the best of them. But, as a materialist I see it as part of the evolved human being, part of me, so I doubt its goodness or even its value.

I have no idea what the writer of Isaiah 53:3 meant, but it could be read in this way:

He was despised and rejected by others; [or the ego, or the introjects]
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one who hides his face from us
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

If there is that which is called That of God within me, I do not see it properly because I imagine it to be other than it is, or do not see its worth, or cannot imagine its reality. Yet it is there whether or not I am conscious of it, and my spiritual task is to become conscious of it and cede control to it.

This morning before worship I went for a walk, thinking of it as a walking meditation. And I was looking at the ground underfoot, or in a reverie. And sometimes I was captivated by the beauty around me, on a walk I have done hundreds of times. Once I was brought to a halt. Hockney’s Woldgate Woods helps me to see the variation. Yet it is only a preparation, openness to outward experience as a training for openness to inner experience. Possibly I could remain with it if I walked more slowly.

Then in worship, with the swifts circling overhead, and a red kite, I was aware of the beauty, of the wind and birdsong when I had my eyes closed. I thought of my meeting, how loveable they are, and at the end ministered to myself, that thought of being open to the Light. Possibly I see it now, fleetingly; and I will be led to pray continually.

And it seems to me that if I speak from it my voice is naturally above the break, in my feminine register, and I can only speak from it in that female voice. So I could be my real self, my inner light and more feminine, if only I were brave enough.


And, after, I say it to be it.

I am.

When I say it I speak above the break, and notice my shoulders and neck relax, and I stand taller. I say,

I need no protection. I want a junior counsellor, a different view sometimes, but I am braver than he.

Trans and me

Transcending difficulties…

Trans is rarely the issue in any of my problems, but it adds difficulty to almost all of them.

Trans is simply who I am. To resent it is to wish I did not exist, and that someone entirely different was in my place. Trans is how some people are, so if it is despised and rejected that is a fault within society, and the resentment should be against the social norms producing that rejection, as with the social model of disability. I could just accept it rather than deconstructing it. I am writing this in part because the last time I tried it I wrote a lot about my sexuality.

Or, trans is an interaction of who I am with society. To state what I think now about being trans, and of trans as a thing, I have to consider all of society and all of myself, and in particular my sexuality, my desires and how they change over time, our gendered society from a feminist perspective of patriarchy and sexism and also what it means to be a man, my other character and circumstances. Trans is the most important thing in my life, still. I have to distinguish being trans from transitioning, or I might imagine that transition has caused all my problems. Given that I am trans, transition may be the best thing I could have done.

There is no trans community, I said, and she agreed. She was at a conference of mostly trans people, who were suddenly plunged into a “more woke than thou, more oppressed than thou” fight. The speaker talked of “transgenders” meaning “trans women” and someone said, we don’t use that language, it is considered offensive. Then others piled on her in righteous indignation: in different cultures language is different, you should accept her language, this is post-colonial oppression. The lecture hall is an example of patriarchal pedagogy. I am more oppressed than you because I am autistic and bipolar as well as trans. There were calls to ignore the programme of papers and panel discussion and thrash this debate out there and then (which would be impossible). People were talking while others were giving papers. Leave the Hall! It’s totally disrespectful!

I like to think I can see when someone means to be offensive. When they just don’t understand, seeing whether they are trying hard enough to is more difficult: that depends on how patient I am feeling at the time. And today I cycled past a group of teenagers and one of them said, in a tone to project to the Gods, “Is that a man or a woman?” How?

We must try to avoid playing the white saviour, I said. I note I find it hard to see my good qualities. Am I taking an interest in white privilege as an analogue to my own issues, which I don’t name directly? Of course that’s part of it. Yet there is good, in what I say about white privilege and in standing up against my own oppression. I would have sought, at that conference, to find calm and a common way forward. Or shut up because I couldn’t make it better. I hope, I think-

You said something about trans women being like teenage girls. And, that’s just one thread in a whole tapestry of challenges and struggles. It’s not wholly accurate but it is a convenient way of seeing it, for ordinary people but for trans people too. It’s humanity under a microscope. We are scrutinised and analysed and described. It’s like that for all human diversity, our differences pored over, judged. But is not everyone like a teenage girl? We all have emotions. It’s just people don’t tolerate some people’s expression of them.

I got very emotional, years ago. For example someone said to me, how’s the jobsearch going? And I burst into tears. I don’t deflect the question, turn it into small talk, mutter things to make my position look better than it is, or take it as an opportunity to explain my woes, I just burst into tears.

I was on the phone, and I wanted to say, “I am completely isolated”. I wanted to explain. And this distresses me, and I could feel the distress rising. Saying it apparently almost calmly, rather than bursting out with it, involved

thinking the words that I wanted to say
Feeling what that felt like.
Savouring it, digesting it
and then saying the words.

This is ongoing practice. It was something I knew, rather than an idea new to me, so being present, mindfulness as a means of regulating emotion, worked. I am making progress. Suppressing the feeling does not work, it just bursts out.

What are the background emotions? Perplexity and resentment are two of my ground bass. Letting them show isn’t a good thing, so I was taught not to admit them to myself. I wonder how many people feel that way. It’s not- a trans woman thing- it’s how I am, and how perhaps many people are. It is a lot to digest, particularly under the microscope. This is who I am, so that has to be acceptable, at least to me. I am getting there.

Consciousness and awareness

Consciousness is overrated. Not because it’s no better than stupor, but because most of my decisions and perceptions are unconscious: not just controlling breathing, digestion and heart rate, but much of how I relate to other people. I wandered round the lakes in November, wondering if there was still any ripe blackberry, but all were shrivelled. A mile or two further on, suddenly my conscious attention zoomed in on a single ripe blackberry, as if I had programmed myself to notice it. Had I consciously inspected all the bushes, I would have taken far longer to find it. I have no idea if it was the only ripe blackberry within my field of vision that morning. Food is a priority for any living creature- but I saw it unconsciously, in a way I cannot imagine doing consciously.

So consciousness might be of those things which unconscious processes bring to it, for a particular kind of attention. I did not pluck or eat the blackberry without conscious awareness, though I find myself picking up a glass to sip at it as others I am talking to do. We are aligned. I don’t think about the right moment to pick up the glass. Desire and action seem one, to my conscious self: the decision is unconscious, consciousness simply notes it. After an encounter, I have thought “I was flirting” when at the time I thought I was “only being friendly”. That incorrect perception might aid me to lie to another. “I was only being friendly,” I would say, wide-eyed, winningly, consciously believing that.

Much of the ways we relate to each other is unconscious. Someone told me he always thought about what he was going to say. I find myself saying things, believing them, wanting to say them, without being conscious of them beforehand. That would seem cold and calculating. We do not know others’ experience. Or, especially in counselling, I know what I want to say but feel inhibited from saying it. I know it is true, and helps understanding, but I can’t get the words out. Consciously, I am conflicted.

Then there is a reverie, when my attention wanders off into nothing, and consciously I am “ruminating”, thinking thoughts I have often thought before. This goes with depression: it is a normal human thing, but depressed, tired or mourning people may do it more. I think something is going on unconsciously at the time, but not clear what it is. I could be simply resting, unaware of anything worth doing or considering. I could be nursing the unacknowledged feelings which depress me.

“Awareness” feels different. I started entering it as a specific state, in spiritual or religious contexts. The monkey mind quietens. If I start thinking about something, it may be new thought rather than the same old recordings. “The world in a grain of sand, or heaven in a wild flower” fits my experience: the shape of individual leaves catches my attention, and everything seems beautiful. I am in a state of delight. At first, I felt mind-blown; then I needed shocked into it; now I can adopt it, though often don’t.

What is that, the choice to be conscious of what is around me, and how does it relate to unconsciousness? It feels close to the idea of “unconscious competence”, as when I drive without thinking about where to put my feet or hands. I just reach down for the gear stick at the right time. I can consider whether my gear is correct, consciously, or allow other brain processes to judge while I hold a conversation.

Yet if I am conscious of a feeling, it is different from suppressing it from consciousness, and sometimes I will be unconscious of an emotion which others can see in me. Mindfulness, directed attention with the intent of finding my own feelings seems worthwhile. If I am not conflicted, then I move in integrity. Or a feeling bursts into consciousness as I burst out crying: it will not be suppressed any more. Or I might be able to acknowledge a feeling, so that it shows no visible sign in my face or body-language.

I feel I am sometimes able to pursue goals unconsciously, without the need for conscious thought. If I act, my neurons and dendrites are working away whether I “think” about it or not. There is just one person within my skin, one animal process.

That psychiatrist said I had a “fragile sense of self”, which may be linked to consciousness or unconsciousness. So I had a desperate need to believe I was “manly” though I did not believe it, and had not seen my dogged persistence, which is a manly characteristic (though one admirable in women too). Fragile, perhaps, because what I wanted to believe of myself did not really fit.

Thinking about Carl Rogers’ ideas of the self-concept and the organismic self, they are entirely different. The self-concept is an idea of self, a coherent set of characteristics one imagines one has. The organismic self, in contrast, is protean, mercurial, able to change and give different responses in different situations; dogged persistence in one, graceful concession in another- if it is not restricted by the need to preserve the self-concept. All this may emerge into consciousness, or not.

The unconscious is my muse. A poem- or Ministry- may come to me almost full formed, though who knows how long it has been forming in parts of the brain I do not perceive working?

It is not a matter of “spiritual states”. I sit in meditation or worship, and pay attention to what I am feeling, or what is around me; and that might not be more “spiritual” than a reverie. I had thought of calling this post “Consciousness v Awareness” but I mature as consciousness, unconsciousness and the attention I “pay” become more in harmony, working together.

God, Spirituality, Atheism

Much as I would love either to confirm or deny that God exists, I cannot. I want a winsome Quakerism reaching out to theists and non-theists, and solidarity with both, saying “Look, how beautiful what we have is!” I want to know, express and affirm The Truth. These split me between affirming and denying God.

It seemed to me that I talked of God purely because of my history. I was brought up Episcopalian, so had a child’s belief in God, and a communitarian habit: I went to church because that was what my family and friends did. I recited the creed and sang hymns in a crowd, all together. I was ashamed when I did not speak up against expressed atheism, and sometimes I did. When my partner strongly asserted that Quakers should be Christian, and a Friend in my Meeting said she was non-theist, I felt a long, slow withdrawal of belief over about six months: against my own interests and inclination, I no longer believe in God. Then, the day after the Hoffman Process, when one is open and off-balance, I went into a church and felt forced to my knees by the holiness of the place.

I thought, it is a separation between my rational and emotional selves. Rationally, I assent to Professor Brian Cox’s idea: if “spirit” affected baryonic matter, it would have been detected by CERN. (A wicked and corrupt generation has asked for a sign- we cannot demand proofs of God). Emotionally, I am a primate, an animal in a social species, incapable of independence and needing relationship. But my “rational self” is emotional, and my “emotional self” is rational. And, can I use the word “God” if I wish to be truthful, not deluding Theists into imagining I believed what they believed?

So I wondered, was it a maturing understanding of God? From a literal belief in a God like that of the Sistine Chapel, in his pink shirt, I had a young-adult assertion of an idea of God, outside the Universe and its creator. “Before the Big Bang God lit the blue touchpaper, and advanced”, I wrote. God with us. Utterly distressed by life, I prayed “What the Fuck are you playing at?” So God meant different things at different times, in theology of knowing, positive assertions about God and unknowing, negative ones; in the prayer for a parking space when I was late and the wordless being together in worship.

Opposites: God the Creator and Sustainer of the World, dying on a cross.

God is, and God is not.

I want to make sense, to have a coherent understanding of Reality, and I cannot. And I want to communicate in words. There is the silent being with another, where we might share our Humanity, and that is only Now. So I want control, and safety, and attain it through understanding with words. In words, we may agree, saying the Creed together as we do each week, or coming to a joint understanding which I know we both hold and will hold. So I know I will be safe.

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast brought forth praise.
Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

Or, should I simply assert atheism? If I believe Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins and Bertrand Russell, there is no more a God than a teapot orbiting Jupiter. When I use words in a rational orderly way- rather than in poetry or paradox- I am defenceless against them.

And I wonder if using the word God is cowardice (as I am always quick to judge my motives): I seek to blend in, not cause offence. I believe in God, I say, to groups where that will be winsome, and anyway I am not lying as the words have so many different meanings- even “belief” may mean trust or faith or relationship rather than an Enlightenment concept of a quasi-scientific theory. Perhaps it is just that I am hopelessly eirenic, wanting to smooth away conflict with everyone even when they are irreconcilable, like Bunyan’s Pliable.

Or I could take refuge in “Spirituality”: a series of activities, such as meditation, aware presence, Meeting for Worship including Meeting for Church Affairs, which more or less work. One may believe in the practice without believing in the theory, and we multiply words, the inner light, that of God, and for me as atheist the Unconscious.

Richard Rohr says complete wholeness is “the coincidence of opposites”. God is, and God is not. I decided I was opposites around the time of transition, male and female, but also Scots and English, loving countryside and conurbation, rational at home in statutory interpretation and relational with clients. Still I want certainty, and use words as a crutch, to weave a web of understanding around an uncertain world.

Sitting wordlessly in relationship with a God I cannot understand or manipulate, knowing I will die repeatedly as I have already died, can I cast away that crutch?

Aphantasia: having no mind’s eye

I have no mind’s eye. I can’t visualise things in memory or imagination.  This blog is about the experience of being trans, where some people find me viscerally disgusting and others are fomenting fear and anger against people like me. And still, it is alienating to hear people talk about how strange people like that (aphantasiac) are. It is a good thing that All in the Mind on Radio 4 should report on it, to help people understand others’ differences, but I now feel frustrated and sad- while also delighted to hear the voices of people who share this. I am here! Hominem scias!

On the programme someone commented It’s “only been known about for four years”. Well, I have known about it all my life. I have had to imagine what a mind’s eye is like, which I think is a greater leap of- the word is image-ination, but I can imagine, I assure you. I have told people about it, and they have not understood. I hate the word “Aphantasia”- I googled “phantasia meaning” and find the Greek word is usually translated “imagination”.

I have always avoided painting and drawing as much as possible, because I cannot imagine an image before committing it to paper. Instead I write verse: here I do not conjure up images, but sensuous experience. Does it do anything for you? My family as animals together, I wrote: you might create a picture, but for me it is a sense of togetherness unmediated by words, like a hug.

Unmediated by words-

I am good with words. Dysphasia is as frightening to me as blindness. On Radio 4 people like me at a conference reported my own experiences. One reads novels. Her friend said that was like a movie playing in his head, and she thought that sounded really cool, but for her it is just the words. Like an audiobook, the words play in my head. I don’t know if an audiobook conjures images for you, but for me it is just the sound of the words. Yet I know Dorothea Brooke and Elizabeth Bennett like real people- I have no idea what they look like, but know what they feel and desire. I had that conversation with my father as a child. He knew how many novels I read, but still could not understand how I could experience them without visualisation, and my impression now is of him finding this weird and sad.

So, letting words go, in meditation and immediate experience, is a way of touching emotion directly, inner experience as well as outer perception. I have done lots of guided visualisations too, and can use them to access the unconscious, just not in pictures.

On the radio, they said it is hard to come up with measurements so “we can only really ask people what their experience is”. Um. When I close my eyes, I see dark- or bright light shining through my eyelids. It makes sense to me that there might be gradations of this experience, or levels of skill in visualisation. Brain activity does not necessarily correlate to conscious experience. I do not know my unconscious experience, without hard work in excavation, or it just coming to mind.

And I have tried to visualise something: on the radio a CGI artist was asked to visualise a sphere, I tried a beach, the sea, the sky- two straightish lines, three colours. Like him I tried it for a week without success.

This experience blew my mind at the time, and is still intensely memorable. As it means so much to me, it might delude a researcher into thinking my usual experience different. I was driving home through the city, and I thought I could go — or I could go — . Not by Manchester Road or Featherstall Road, but-

I was thinking without words, and that was utterly strange to me. I only thought in words. I fantasised, planned, remembered in words. It wasn’t like seeing, really, but when I read of blind-sight, not seeing an image but knowing what is there, when someone has a healthy eye and optic nerve but brain damage causing blindness, it seemed it was like that. I know what’s there. I don’t see it. In dreams, I know what’s there- I don’t remember seeing anything, though I suppose I might. A nightmare must be more terrifying if like a movie. I know how the bookshelves are arranged in the living room. I know the colour of my Oware board, and its curve.

I have a good mind’s ear. Elgar could look at a score and hear an orchestra in his head. I can hear an orchestra playing a piece I know, and sight-sing a short, single-line phrase. I tried to imagine something I had not heard- a solo violin playing the National Anthem- and found this difficult, though having done it I can repeat the exercise. Like as if I have laid down a memory and can replay it.

On All in the Mind Claudia Hammond, who I am sure is more empathetic than that, played the presenter’s game of being the ordinary person, saying this is all a bit strange isn’t it. Her guest Catherine Loveday, a cognitive neuroscientist from Uni of Westminster, explained rather well:

For most of us, remembering is so wrapped up in the visual experience that it’s hard to imagine how someone can remember if they’re not visualising something but obviously people can, we know that congenitally blind people can still have memories, and if I think back to my holiday in Wales I can still have lots of other memories other than the visual thing, I can think about what I was smelling, what I was thinking about, what I was hearing and saying all of that comes back so we can still have memories without visual elements to them but about a third of people who have aphantasia also have significant memory problems.

And still it’s from the point of view of the Normal person. That Normal person may understand, though feel vaguely pitying. I was really excited to hear the programme trailed- at last! The experience of people like me! I still feel that delight, in hearing my fellow aphantasiacs, though I wish it did not need mediated through the perspective of the Normals- people who are Normal in that way, at least.

I would like a mind’s eye. It would be great to play a movie in my head. I am sure I would still retain all the ways of thinking, imagining and remembering that I have now. Possibly I have developed them because of the lack, but possibly I would have developed them anyway.

Hominem scias, I wrote, as if you would understand it, in order to alienate you if you don’t, so you may get something of the feeling I had listening. It is from the motto of the Royal Life Saving Society, Quemcumque miserum videris, hominem scias: whomsoever you see in distress, recognise in him (sic) a fellow man (sic). Educated people may do a bit of Latin, but I would not expect anyone to read the phrase if they did not know it, as I could not myself.

I learned another name for something that happens to me. Bright light makes me sneeze. People either say, Oh! Yes! Me too! if it happens to them, or express incredulity if it doesn’t, because it sounds ridiculous to them.

It’s called a “photic sneeeze”, or an Autosomal Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst.

There’s a village in Argyll called Ardrishaig, with the emphasis on the second syllable, to which the only possible response is “Bless you”.


Then an experience that perhaps no good man can ever have in our world came over him- a torrent of perfectly unmixed and lawful anger. The energy of anger, never before felt without some guilt, without some dim knowledge that he was failing fully to distinguish the sinner from the sin, rose into his arms and legs till he felt that they were pillars of burning blood… This filled Ransom not with horror but with a kind of joy. The joy came from finding at last what anger was made for… He rejoiced in the perfect congruity between his emotion and its object.

-CS Lewis, Perelandra. When I looked it up, I found he had said “hatred” rather than anger, but I feel it still works.

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil…Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice. Ephesians 4:26-27,31.

I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. Matthew 5:22

Jesus looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. Mark 3:22

In that context, Lewis’s interpretation of if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also works: “In so far as you are simply an angry man who has been hurt, mortify your anger and do not hit back- [but] in so far as you are a magistrate struck by a private person, a parent struck by a child, a teacher by a scholar, a sane man by a lunatic, or a soldier by the public enemy, your duties may be very different, different because they may be then other motives than egoistic retaliation for hitting back.”

Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. James 1:19-20

Those who worship the beast and its image… will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger. Revelation 14:9-10.

I bear a great burden of anger. It seemed I was taken back to my cot under a tree before I could walk, and I felt the child’s anger. I was not conscious of my feelings, then I became aware of them and they were anger, frustration, resentment and fear; then it seemed they were rage and terror. Sometimes now I cannot admit my own anger to consciousness.

I controlled it by suppression. I held it down. I was not conscious of it. I was an obedient child, following my mother’s desires. Then I was an adult, in the world of adults, not really feeling adult, nor understanding other apparent adults. I decided my suppression was the problem, that the tension in me comes from “nursing unacted desires”, and that I would be better to be conscious of the anger and sublimate it.

Yesterday, the woman in the supermarket queue had three problems, each of which caused delay. One such problem is rare. I treated it as an exercise of patience. Sensing my anger, I could acknowledge it, accept it, see there was nothing I could do to hurry her, and let it go. Suppressing it would make it a hurt for the rest of the day.

I am in pain, and I want to reduce it. I am in tension, and it is too much effort for me. I have an idea that single-minded integrity with all my emotions, drives and desires working together is possible (though long-term and short-term goals may need reconciliation) and that my need to manage feelings out of consciousness prevents that. An immediate feeling of threat may need managed, and the threat faced, but if I cannot admit to myself the sense of threat, and my inner parent screams at me “Get on with it! What are you fussing about!” then I just give up. As I have done.

The suppressed feeling has ways of coming into consciousness. I can think of a time when I felt that way in the past, and it is as if I am still dealing with that past event- then I rebuke myself, because I should have got over it by now. But no- it is a way of showing that I feel like that now, from something happening now. Or I tense up, or shake, as if in pain, and I rebuke myself, because I should not show signs of my feeling (it would upset my mother, who is dead, whose house I left 35 years ago).

I imagine a state of calm aware acceptance, of all the feelings, of all the surroundings; of anger at actual injustices and wrongs, rather than the mere inconvenience of the supermarket queue where no-one wronged me, and instead find a sensory overwhelm, painful and terrifying, so I flee it to the place where my emotions can be managed, either by minimising my interactions with the outside world or by scrolling social media for a brain-fog of vicarious momentary emotions, dulling my sense of what is real. I avoid kneeling in meditation because it will be painful, even though it will get me in touch with my inner guide.

Of course I want to deny reality! Reality’s horrible!

Yet it will get even more horrible as I turn my face from it.

Of course I am not dangerous. I am gentle and caring- I know this from my experience of how I act and respond. Suppressing my anger inhibits me, yet I do not want to bring it to consciousness so that I lash out, but so that I can respond better.