Advices and Queries

The Advices and Queries are among the greatest treasures of the Quakers. Initially a way of enforcing good behaviour, one can trace their development over the 19th and 20th centuries to a summary of our wisdom about the Good Life. The person who introduced me to Quakers gave me a copy, and I keep a few in my flat, now, to give out. Meditating on these 42 paragraphs in turn brought me to my Quaker meeting. I particularly love paragraph 33:

Are you alert to practices here and throughout the world which discriminate against people on the basis of who or what they are or because of their beliefs? Bear witness to the humanity of all people, including those who break society’s conventions or its laws. Try to discern new growing points in social and economic life. Seek to understand the causes of injustice, social unrest and fear. Are you working to bring about a just and compassionate society which allows everyone to develop their capacities and fosters the desire to serve?

Shortly after transition, I visited the meeting in Chester, and this was read at the start of worship, as it is the custom to read one of these paragraphs in worship in many meetings. I broke down in tears, and was consoled. It is the mutual respect and cherishing in our life together at its best, and imbuing the whole document, which fits us to live up to paragraph 27:

Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak.

Paragraph 27 continues,

When decisions have to be made, are you ready to join with others in seeking clearness, asking for God’s guidance and offering counsel to one another?

We are enjoined to make decisions together, each of us seeking not our own interest or our own way, but the good of all, and where relevant the good of the wider community.

Different Yearly Meetings have different versions of A&Q.

Rejoice always

 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians chapter five. One of the earliest documents in the New Testament, universally thought to have been written by Paul (unlike the letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon which are disputed) it prefigures the power of positive thinking, and with “pray continually”, being in the moment.

More positive thinking from Paul in Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

Charles Wesley:

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

-Charles Wesley, from “Hymns for Those that Seek and Those That Have Re­demp­tion in the Blood of Je­sus Christ”, 1747. Christians say that every baptised person has something of God in them, and Quakers believe that of Everyone. In my meeting, we sang this recently because the tune is so good, though some demurred over that last verse. Quakers are not particularly interested in afterlife- but then I interpret the hymn to mean that Charles Wesley was also writing of the new creation, here on Earth. As was St Paul in Gal 5 22-23:

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Experiencing and creating Heaven, here.

When I look around

A hadith of Isa Masih: “The world is a bridge, so pass over it and do not inhabit it.” This is close to the Gospel of Thomas, saying 42: “Jesus said, ‘be passers-by'”. The Gospel of Thomas was lost from the fourth century AD until 1948 when the Nag Hammadi Codex was unearthed. I quoted saying 42 to a friend, who said, “What about the Good Samaritan?” 

There is a similar idea in Matthew 8:20: “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” That could sound a bit threatening, though. I prefer “Be passersby”. I have no home, and that has to be alright. It has been so far, with my own capacities and the Love that has surrounded me.

Ani de Franco, “As is”:

When I look around
I think this, this is good enough
and I try to laugh at whatever life brings
Cos when I look down
I just miss all the good stuff
When I look up
I just trip over things

The Hoffman process

The Hoffman Process is wonderful and liberating, because it gives a whole week of catharsis after catharsis, and tools to access the subconscious and its wisdom.

The image is a symbol of the human being as “quadrinity”. The circle is the body, encompassing the whole. The large rhombus is the spiritual self, and the other rhombuses the emotional being and the intellect, all interlocking. The process gave me another view of different aspects of the person in dialogue, sometimes in dispute, and so validated that perception in me.

My disagreement with the Hoffman process is that it demonises the “dark side” as an enemy, where I see it as an “inner critic” which may be made a friend. However they are certainly right that the inner critic must be dethroned from dominance before it may be a useful member of the committee of the self.

And, since doing the Process, I have spent a number of evenings in the houses of other spiritual seekers, sharing our growth and process. It is a powerful tool in shedding habitual, inherited patterns of behaviour, and gaining choices over how to be in the World.

There is a lot on personal growth stuff here. If you are interested in Hoffman, you may also be interested in the Human Awareness Institute.

Understanding

Every child has known God…
The God who only knows four words,
and keeps repeating them, saying,
Come, dance with me
Come, dance.

This was the first Hafiz poem I heard, and I loved it, and wanted to hear more. It is rendered into English poetry by Daniel Ladinsky. Compare and contrast

For our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
and urge the mind to aftersight and foresight

This comes from the second movement of Little Gidding. The monkey mind’s continual searching of past and future rather than being in Now might be thought of as a search for “Aftersight and foresight”.

I see these artists as naming here two equal ways of being, yin and yang. I had a rationalist phase, when I thought anything might be explained and understood, and then mysticism began to appeal to me, began to seem more than woo-woo gibberish, and I began to value being without words, stilling the mind, being in the moment.

And now I seek to get the full benefit which words and arguments can give me. They can take me to the verge of Unknowing, into which I can just jump off. But they just might protect me from that which might fool my mystic side, might have the appearance of truth. There is a constant I, that part within my skin that Wants; and what it wants is fulfilment, whatever that might mean; life in all its fulness, love and truth. Connection with others. And this I journeys on using better the tools in me to find these things, tools of rational judging and evaluating with words, and tools of spontaneous relating and responding. Rational analysis can see things which spontaneous relating cannot. Spontaneous relating can see things which rational analysis cannot. Behind all is the drive of desire.

Movement and repose

If they ask you, “What is the evidence of your father in you?” say to them, “It is movement and repose”

– Gospel of Thomas saying 50, part 3. Mmmm. Action when action is needed, rest at other times. Still the mind, the ego and the worry. Movement and repose together as one.

Here is something from Hafiz, interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky:

When your truth forsakes its shyness,
When your fears surrender to your strengths,

I find this so beautiful that almost the consequence is unnecessary, the “When”, not “if” in those two lines and their promise is enough. But here is what happens:

You will begin to experience

That all existence
Is a teeming sea of infinite life.

While I am sitting here, thumbing through my Kindle, here are the first two lines of Burton and Watson’s Tao Te Ching translation:

Tao called Tao is not Tao.
Names can name no lasting name.

So much wisdom from the millennia, just– there, just- everywhere I look, just- ready for me to take it into my heart and my life. Wisdom, and beauty, knocking on my door all the time, importunate, demanding, only needing for me to notice. Wisdom, and beauty, and Love.

She bangs on the door importunately, and will not be denied,
She bangs on the door, and cries,
“OPEN UP! OPEN UP! My Darling!”

Go well.

Projecting

My heart is full after the Human Awareness Institute weekend, and I wish to share about it. Not about the people, apart from the fact that they are wonderful, because of confidentiality; not about the exercises, because they are entitled to their copyrights, though I can say we built trust and love and affirmation through stroking of faces and hands. I want to share part of the blessing I received.

I became aware of how, though I have discovered that being transsexual really is a blessing, I still resent it. It has been so painful and difficult. Why me? And so I have judged and condemned myself for being transsexual. I have then projected this onto other people, onto tout le monde, imagining their judgment on me for being trans. And this has prevented me seeing how they really react. Some of them, it seems, have some difficulty with my way of being, though I think very few judge me for it, and those poor souls will have enough else to think about so that they will rarely be thinking of me. I intend to be freed from this projection, and to see other people more clearly as they are rather than my imagining of them. I feel more able to love myself, accept myself, and be kind to myself.

It is tempting but untrue to say, the HAI weekend has changed my relationship with x. What it has done is show me that so much more is possible in my relationship with x, more delight and joy and love and authenticity and honesty, and so given me the possibility of changing and improving that relationship myself.

Yoga

I am really enjoying doing Yoga badly. Alice puts one arm round something and through something else, and miraculously her hands meet. My hands are a yard apart still, and that is quite alright. Put your head on the mat- use a block if you need to- oh well, three blocks. “Don’t fight the pose” is a useful tip, rather than straining to go further with muscular control, just relax into it, go further. So I get better. My PE teacher said that if we practised, we could do the splits after about ten weeks. That was thirty years ago, but I am sure the principle still holds. I will get better, I will go further, if I do this. It is beautiful, and its beauty will increase for me.

The hall where I do it is in a village which seems Mediaeval: manor house at one end, church at the other, street of houses in between with one cross-street by the church. No pedlars, as far as I am aware. It is in the Domesday Book.

I am enjoying doing it badly, because I still get harsh on myself for doing things badly, and then next time stop trying. Yes, that is childish. Yes, I have noticed and am finding myself able to avoid that.

I will make no undertakings or promises about the future, because I get all insh-Allah-y about such things, but I notice that I want grace in my carriage and deportment, and notice that yoga may help with this aim. Such Edwardian words- grace in deportment! Out of fashion because they were made a chore, the concept seems to me a joy.

What Jesus said

Jesus and his disciples came across a dead dog in the street. They said, “How it stinks!” He said, “See how beautifully white and sharp its teeth are!”

The internet has added a new layer to attribution difficulties. I have read that this comes from an apocryphal gospel, then from a Hadith. I like the challenge in the saying, the different perspective (whether or not that is a behovely perspective). So it does not matter whether it happened, only whether it is True.

Though when Legalist (ie, fear based totalitarian) thoughts are attributed to Confucius, it is good to see that they are not his thoughts.

Gospel of Thomas saying 37:

His disciples said: “When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?”

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.”

When I first read this, I thought an apocryphal gospel was less reliable than a Biblical gospel. That allowed me to distrust its sayings, and at first I thought this one was just gibberish. And then it made sense to me, and I found it wonderful. And now I do not want to interpret it for anyone, lest my interpretation limit it. Now I can play with a Jesus saying: what might it mean? What might it mean for me, now?

Naming and shaming

My friend John, who has experience of living in Community, calls Bicester spirit sapping and full of chavs, after I make clear that I find the word “chav” as offensive as the word “poof”, and then complains about name calling. Honestly, you would not squabble if I introduced you in my living room, so why squabble here?

The offensive word creates limits. It limits the user’s perception of the other, he just cannot see the good qualities in the other. It limits the person named, he lives down to expectations. It creates a barrier between people. And we do live below our potential, and yet with any light we may grow and heal.

John does not want the word Community devalued, yet while a weekend together with a facilitator can give us all a rosy glow of togetherness, and sometimes some real insight into self and world, actual communities often live in a state of unresolved conflict. And towns can be filled with people living below their potential, without connection; and so they need people capable of seeing the worth in others and inspiring them. Like a probation officer I met once (in a professional capacity, not as her client) whose sweetness, steel, integrity and clear-sighted care made a deep impression on me. So I build community one encounter at a time.

A US marine explained that you can train men to kill with hatred- the Vietnamese are gooks, sub-human, kill them- but this ruins their mental health. To save the soldier’s mental health, the US marines now train people to kill by convincing them that they are protecting something worth killing to protect. I would rather they did not kill anyone- but I see that this is an improvement. I can be the pebble, shining in the stream, building heaven in hell’s despair.