The Real Self and the Inner Light

Quakers have the concept of the Inner Light which comes from God and which shows us the Way, which we then follow. For example early Quakers had a thrawn determination not to admit anyone as their superiors, just because the authorities called them such: removing their hats in court would have been showing respect to the judge, and Quakers were imprisoned for refusing to do so. Most people then would have removed their hats before a judge without thinking about it. It was just what everyone did, the societal expectation unconsciously obeyed. The Quaker refusal could be called monstrous egotism, asserting onesself over society. Alternatively, it is selfless, because it involves considerable personal risk and suffering in prison, and righteous, a stand against false authority coming from power rather than consent.

I can create a selfish and a selfless explanation of it. And the selfish explanation does not necessarily make it bad- though here I am analysing a corporately discerned campaign of many Quakers, so biased to see it as worthwhile rather than as, say, subversive of social cohesion and threatening a new civil war.

The analysing gets in the way: words make judging the rightness of the action more difficult. From a Quaker perspective, “hat honour” is clearly from our inner Light, the Spirit, God, because it was discerned by so many and carried out for so long. Most people do not wear hats now, and we have different ways of showing respect or a sense of equality.

Identity is a series of constructs dependent on specific circumstances. My friend said that is a quote from Patrick Marber- perhaps he paraphased it. After I committed to transition, the things I would have said about my identity changed. If I say I am “Scots”, what I mean by that depends on circumstances.

Jacques Lacan, a psychoanalyst, may help explain. The role of the analyst is to hear the voice of the unconscious, which makes itself audible through the censorship of consciousness in riddles, allusions, elisions and omissions, explains Caroline Belsey in Poststructuralism aVSI. In the same way, Quakers sit in silence listening to the inner light. I write poetry, sometimes: writing prose I seek to make sense, which involves using the meanings my society has adopted for words having their common use. That common use guides my thought, making some ideas unthinkable, like George Orwell’s Newspeak: The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. That works with English, too. Audre Lorde:

The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

So we create new words, to name new concepts. “Slut-shaming”, for example: it is no longer just the way of the world that single men and women who have sex are treated differently. We can point it out, argue and protest, assert different values.

Speaking in order to make sense to others within my community, I am trapped by my community’s unspoken assumptions. It is a continual struggle to escape those assumptions. I do not even see them, for they appear to be mere reality, the way things are/should be. In the same way my self-concept is bound up in words, ideas of how I should be or am, which get in the way of seeing my true nature.

Winston Smith escaped stultifying convention in sex with Julia, where the brain escapes its linguistic analysis in the moment of release.

The organismic self, spontaneously relating to its surroundings, responding to stimuli, is restrained by convention. Thinking differently is a huge struggle. Quaker practice can break those bonds. We sit in silence, attentive to the inner light. We speak from that light. Together, we can decide to go against the culture, led by something so powerful we call it God.

The language-animal, classifying and conceptualising with words learned from others, will fear that light. The light is unbearable to it.

Masks III

The greates reason for transition is that you can be your true self. Of course, you can never not be your true self, or anything other than You, but you will admit it, and be happy with it, and freed from that dreadful act of pretending to Be a Man. (Or a woman in the case of trans men- I never want to exclude anyone, but as gender is so important to us inclusive language is cumbersome. And the experience is analogous, but different.)

It might seem that the Man is a mask, a painful one like the Iron Mask which could not be removed, and when its rivets are finally broken there will be only freedom.

Yet the Real Self is elusive. It is important to maintain a professional attitude, including professional detachment. We have a job to do in whatever place of work, it is usually defined by others- unless you are an Artist, and extremely fortunate- and the part of you you express is that professional person. I wondered whether you might be your real self with a partner. Not before transition, in my experience, possibly as I approached it. But then even in those Spiritual Growth workshops where I am told to look into the eyes of another, and hold their gaze, I know the rules of the situation, I follow the rules, my face is calm, the time passes. Whether there is any real contact or communication I don’t know.

Though I judge myself harshly, and do not want to claim anything which may not be true.

Possibly we can be ourselves when we escape words. Words might trap us in our masks, words to explain ourselves to ourselves or to others, words to reach a common Understanding, words to define what we must do in this moment. Then again words are how we are with each other, and I found myself forming a connection even as I spoke to someone. I was aware of the subtext later. The words may have some part in that.

Can you be yourself by yourself? We are made real by others. Possibly when outside, where there is life and unpredictability. There is the moment of the task, which is using yourself to some end, and the moment of perception, which is receiving rather than being.

Or, we are not made real by others, we have been forced into masks through childhood with continuing reinforcement so that a human face is an impossibility, there are only masks.

I said,
I am this person
This individual
Myself, and no other
and felt I was looking out of my own eyes. It is a particular state. I can ease myself into it, then I go to sleep again.

You put your arm round me, and I reacted in an instant, I felt and knew what I felt, I could see myself and be seen without a mask. There was a moment when one aspect of The Real Me was visible to me, and possibly you- No! Not a habitual response! You put your arm round me and I relaxed into your shoulder, and felt intense misery. I hate my sexuality. I am ashamed of it. It merely humiliates me, it distances me from others rather than bringing me together with anyone, it is weakness, I do not know what to do with it. It would not be so hard for a woman- as vulnerable, as fearful, but not as ridiculous, or Impermissible. So I lay back on your shoulder, needing the contact, a few drops of water in the desert. And on stage a woman conducted a woman’s piece, Missy Mazzoli’s Sinfonia. She was professional, as an artist perhaps her true self, sufficiently in control of the orchestra. One of those white shirts in the audience is mine, but I can’t quite be certain which.

Labels

At first, you just are. You are immediately aware of your needs, and state them. You are made happy when your needs are met. You express your feelings when you feel them.

Then you are moulded and socialised. Some things are not OK, and are restricted with labels, or names- “bad” or “good”, and more specific words. “Stupid”. “Lazy”. We need to be socialised. We are part of a society and cannot live well on our own.

We pick up labels from our parents then the wider society. Labels can be used best for the good of all including us. Other labels are used for the good of the dominant individuals, or for the group but not for the individual labeled. Ostracism is the most terrible punishment. A label like “awkward teenager” might goad a person into trying harder. You seek to fit in. With practice, you actually do. You find you like it.

Or, it is too much and you find a label to free you from that coercion. I am an “introvert”, you say: not bad, not less than others, but with different desires and gifts. You do not need to crave the label “party animal” which always seems out of reach. Labels can liberate. I am “introvert”, so it is OK for me to feel or behave this way. I am an “introvert”, so behaving that way will be genuinely difficult for me. It is not “my fault” and it does not mean I am less than others. I will find difficulty, and still it may be worth my while practising behaving that way.

Labels control, goad, punish. Sometimes they get someone to behave in a different way, and sometimes they simply immiserate them- incorrigible, incapable, I hide away. And labels liberate. Saying I am “transsexual” allowed me to do and feel as trans women do.

Labels can help me learn to navigate society. I am socialised in a particular way, coerced and constrained by labels, and other labels permitted me to be. Feeling that is OK because I am X. Wanting that is OK because I am Y. Others are not like that, so feel and desire differently.

Labels which liberate can still constrain: my understanding of “introvert” can make me imagine myself differently from my true nature. At best, I can understand myself without words, and then create the words to understand better. The words are a scaffolding to build understanding, yet for freedom I must be willing to build higher.

Possibly I have no “true nature”, I am a creature of words, in society, moulded by others and by the ideas I take in through words. Possibly I have an essence or being in some things and not others; but possibly I cannot know. That in me which others have most desired and enforced might be the part of me which I most cling on to, terrified of their sanctions. Of course it is Real Me!

Sometimes the words fall away, and like in infancy I simply am. Aware of my needs, desires and feelings, I do what I do without conscious analysis, flowing like water, following the Tao.

Yet still I use words, to communicate with people on the other side of the world. People here I can communicate with more directly, and yet still use words to communicate as I have learned to. More learning is possible.

Sometimes I choose a picture particularly for a post, sometimes I just go through a series of pictures with little relevance to a post, and sometimes going through my series I happen upon a picture which fits perfectly. Here’s one:

Narratives

Truth [is] what we cannot change; metaphorically, it is the ground on which we stand and the sky that stretches above us.

And yet, the totality of facts and events is unascertainable. Who says what is always tells a story, and in this story the particular facts lose their contingency and acquire some humanly comprehensible meaningSorrow, joy and bliss become bearable and meaningful for men only when they can talk about them and tell them as a story.

I tell stories about my life. So do you. Possibly, with Krishnamurti I should just forget them. Why am I happy now? Because of X. Ah. That gives me an understanding, I can file it away. I know what is going on. I can remember that happiness later: it was caused by X. And if X also caused that misery, possibly the learning was worthwhile, possibly it is time to cease pursuing X.

Decisions are emotional not rational. It is like jars filling up with cumulative water droplets, and eventually one overflows and I must do X. Then I can tell a story about it. X was obviously the only thing I could ever have done, for these reasons. The story helps me accept what I have chosen, pacifies and calms my remaining resistance.

It is an end to thinking of the matter. I have thought enough. Or it is an attempt to end thinking; unconsciously, my resentment grows.

What we cannot change- so, what ought to be is meaningless and impossible and worthless. Ought is a damaging fantasy, because though you cannot make is from ought, it can make you disbelieve or resent what is. But what is includes what might be, what is possible, all the changes I can make.

I have read Truth and Politics by Hannah Arendt, and consider her thought that feelings become bearable when part of a narrative relates only to the conscious mind, thinking in language. The feeling of terror feels overwhelming until I accept and welcome it. What is overwhelming is its demand to be recognised, not the feeling itself. It fits Now. And then, it does not fit Now, so it goes away, unless I cling on to it, perhaps by questioning it or saying I ought not to have been terrified. Or I tell stories about it.

I can gain an understanding of feelings, at the price of them always being with me. Telling stories about my past might pacify my feelings- it’s alright, my honey, love, it’s alright, my poppet- but distances me from them; and they lurk, underneath, always liable to burst out, which is the constant failure. No game is enough to control my feelings.

Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it.

And- X may happen again! I will be terrified, again!

Words are so useful. Speech impels us… to urge the mind to aftersight and foresight. I think of what might be though probably won’t, because it will never be that bad again. I imagine the fear I would feel. Then I am afraid of fear, afraid of feeling fear and being powerless.

Yet normally I am not powerless; and powerlessness has to be bearable.

olga-boznanska-self-portrait

Words II

Thought is the past living in the present, modifying itself and the present… only when the mind is uncluttered can the new come into being, and for this reason we say that thought must be still, operating only when it has to- objectively, efficiently.

-Krishnamurti

I have quoted that before.

I leave yesterday’s post as a worthwhile attempt, and now wanted to get closer. I quoted David:

We are all born in sin, everyone’s inclination is to sin. People are tempted in different ways. Homosexuals happen to be tempted with the sin of homosexuality. All of this is sin and can be redeemed by Christ. So were they born that way? Sure, because we are all born into sin.

He has a neat framework for the World. Part of it is that he is a Biblical Christian, and therefore Good, and that Gay people unless they try very very hard to avoid appearing even a little bit gay are Bad. He has brought together two ideas from the framework of words people have created, to make himself even more certain that gayness is Bad.

His framework is a barrier to understanding. He may still meet a gay person, and in the encounter learn to value the whole of that person, but his framework makes that less likely.

Last year there was some excitement when it appeared that BICEP 2 had observed patterns in the cosmic microwave background confirming the theory of Inflation; but the Planck satellite failed to confirm the observations. BICEP 3 continues the search. The observations themselves are described in precise words exchanged between those equipped to assess the evidence. This is “thought operating only when it has to” as Krishnamurti says.

Perhaps David’s expression, though it distances him from other humans, is also such thought. That framework protects him from challenge, which might be too much for him to bear.

However, as I passionately desire an encounter with a human being whom I already know to be Other, thought may get in the way. Is she like that archetype, or that character in a novel? I could decide that she was, and jump to a conclusion which was very slightly different from the Truth. There is a person, in the moment, so even my memories of her may not show me who she is now. If I try to translate them into words, they drag me even further from true perception. There is only Now.

Yet I try to get my thoughts clear, and create verbal frameworks for understanding, because they reassure me.

David, the death of Socrates

Words

I move away from reliance on words. This is hard, for a writer.

My ideal is to respond to a whole situation as I perceive it in the moment. I think of this as a continual meditative state. I don’t thereby assert that those assessed by Myers-Briggs as judging rather than perceiving are wrong, but that I wish to develop other ways.

This is counter-cultural. School-children write essays about what Shakespeare plays mean: crushing an art work into an understanding of it. There is only the art work. There is only reality. The map or understanding is always less. Understandings are a way of stopping thinking and excluding difficult facts, or troublesome people. I love the cleverness of this comment, a verbal trick to justify hate:

We are all born in sin, everyone’s inclination is to sin. People are tempted in different ways. Homosexuals happen to be tempted with the sin of homosexuality. All of this is sin and can be redeemed by Christ. So were they born that way? Sure, because we are all born into sin.

So clear! So logical! No need for equal marriage, because it panders to sin. God save me from people who have the Answers. Whereas those who find LGBT merely sinful might have felt a need to deny that we are “born that way”, this formulation neatly avoids that. So it seems to me to defend the homophobic position against the complexity of real life.

I was fascinated by this article on Genesis 1-2. Sometimes there are common-sense readings of Bible verses, but the writer observes there seem to be several items in the creation narrative for which the plain sense meaning does not make common sense. Amazingly, rather than seeking a different sense as the popular saying would suggest, people often choose to add to or modify the Scripture, forcing it to make common sense. Here are some examples of such items.

So, if there was a “morning” before the Sun was created, some would say it was because of the light of God’s presence, adding to Scripture, and some would not. Some pursue clarity and understanding, some pursue acceptance of strangeness and understanding. I find the latter way better, because it leaves me open to greater understanding as I mature.

That second writer calls verses which anthropomorphize God “figurative”. God became man in Christ Jesus. Comparing God to a human being is a way for me to grope towards understanding, knowing that my understanding- even the Biblical verse- is not sufficient in itself.

To be fair to Words, I give a scientific example: the separate orders of trilobite need a precise classification. The artist’s words can create a human being entire, such as Hamlet or Shylock.

Peace passes all understanding.

Oh, I can’t end this post so I will just stop.

David, the intervention of the Sabine women

Thesaurus

Tamagotchi v4The first new edition for ten years has been updated with thousands of new words and phrases- reflecting the changing lifestyle and culture of the 1990s and looking forward to the new millennium. These words and phrases include:

scratch card, euro, sun-dried tomatoes, line dancing, feng shui, tartan tax, traffic calming, focus group, sandwich generation, website, babe, care in the community and cyberpet.

I decided to update my thesaurus from my father’s 1962 edition reprinted in 1980, which I had pinched for University. The 1998 edition was 25p in the library. Those words!

Cyberpet. Yes, I remember tamagochi: they are still available on Amazon, and the free iphone app says it will get the nostalgia burning for all those who cared for a virtual pet back in the 1990s when they were at the height of their popularity. It is hard to think of a synonym for it, and the book places it under 365n “animal”, among the pets. How dated a self-consciously modern view from the 1990s is.

website. I got my first email address in 2001, and round about then the Oldham art gallery had computers

linked up to the Internet!!!

their monitors projected onto the wall so that people could see what you were “surfing”. I loved it. Now that I spend most of my internet time on four websites- wikipedia, yahoo mail, wordpress and facebook- I can get all a-shark-inside-a-sharknostalgic about the heady excitement of “surfing” the “Web”. Again, there are no useful synonyms, though 524n information includes “telematics”, the branch of information technology which deals with the long-distance transmission of computerised information (SOED 1993).

2226687-dalek_by_paranoia_blueTartan tax was the Scottish Parliament’s right to vary income tax by 3p in the pound, so little valued that Mr Salmond’s government allowed it to lapse. No Scottish government would have higher income tax than England, which might drive people and business away, or lower income tax which would reduce its public spending. No-one talks of it now, and that shows how much we are tied to English circumstances and action whether or not we vote for “independence”. “Sandwich generation” comes under “middle age” and means people looking after their ageing parents while supporting their children through university.

sun-dried tomatoes. Oh, the long, long trek of the British towards Culinary Sophistication! I remember the dangerously cosmopolitan Andrzej Migdalski, local dentist, inviting my family to dinner where his wife cooked pizza. We had never had it before. He took me scuba-diving a few times. Sun-dried tomatoes comes in 301n food: eating and drinking sub.nom. vegetable. In 301n I find

feasting, eating and drinking, gourmandizing, guzzling, swilling; banqueting, eating out, dining out, having a meal out; regalement; orgy, bacchanalia (What!?) Lucullan banquet… The Free Online Dictionary tells me Lucius Licinius Lucullus was known for his lavish banquets.

That last shows the value of this reference book for the fun of browsing. The current edition, from 2004, is much shorter, 848 pages rather than 1381.

Americanisms

I have been playing among the variations in our common language.

Fall/ Autumn is fascinating. Wikipedia says Fall was, originally, the English word in England, and “Autumn” superseded it. It is the time the leaves fall from the trees. “Autumn” is clearly related to the French “automne”, so our linguistic nationalism may be misdirected: we have abandoned our Anglo-Saxon heritage. But The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (SOED) dates “Autumn” to late middle English, before 1500, and “fall” in this sense to the middle 16th century. So, perhaps, the US stuck with its linguistic nationalism, but the English reverted to our beautiful French word. Why should we not decorate our language with French? There is no shame in it, now, because we are no longer forced to.

Pavement/ Sidewalk. “Sidewalk”, the place where you walk down the side of the street, is etymologically more sensible. The “pavement” was that part of the street at the side paved with stone, or concrete, or tarmac, different from the middle of the street, which was bare mud for the carts. Now the whole road is “paved”. But our word preserves the link to the past, and no-one has difficulty understanding it.

Fortnight. 14 days, a useful word rarely used in the US. Like “Septante” in Français canadien rather than soixante-dix. We could learn from each other.

Elevator/ Lift. But, you know what a lift is- don’t you? More serious for failure of communication is the difference between the ground floor and the first floor, which may or may not be the same thing.

Butt, Ass/ Bum, Arse, the more embarrassing something is the more euphemisms and dysphemisms we create for it. Both butt and bum are late middle English- used here first; ass and arse are both Old English, before 1066. Being linguistically nationalist- oh, yes- I cling to “arse” and “bum” and would deride and object to someoneFile:Andrew Stevovich oil painting, Bus Stop, 2001, 24" x 24" .jpg here using the alternative. And “Fanny” is something else entirely, talking of a man’s fanny is just weird. But for this word, the Army Rumour Service might have a different name.

Durex- in the US, a roll of cellophane and adhesive, like Sellotape; in the UK, a brand of condom. Leave a comment if you knew that. Still, better to keep repeating it, to avoid embarrassment.

Bangs/ fringe. I heard the word “bangs” and had no idea what it meant. Fall/ Autumn everyone knows, “bangs” is a word which may fail to communicate meaning. That is a problem.

On the trains, I understand Americans go to “track 1” rather than “platform 1”. I would not want to wait for a train on the track, I might get run over.

Period/ full stop. This was one of the fifty most objectionable to the British, according to the BBC. Either might fail to communicate on the other side of the pond, but why “Objectionable”? Time magazine says Americans could not care less. Or could care less. Or something. Objectionable, because we feel weaker, and we wish to maintain our independence. Indeed. Some of the objectionable words seem to be neologisms rather than Americanisms- “the old is better”, people say. Er, why?

What is the best word? The word which communicates an idea most clearly and elegantly. It is probably better to avoid using an americanism if it will cause apoplexy in the hearer and divert the discussion to the proper manner of communicating rather than the idea expressed, or if it will be misunderstood- which is a shame, if it really is the most expressive word.

Second picture copyright Andrew Stevovich.