In therapy

In therapy I experienced a state of complete vulnerability and terror, which I carry around in myself, in a safe setting. If

  • I am affected in my daily life by this terror, though I am unconscious of it
  • I can bring it to consciousness in therapy, and
  • bringing it to consciousness helps reduce its power over me, so that I function better

then therapy has value and I should continue with it. That seems likely. It is possible that bringing it to consciousness will just make me feel tired and wretched, as I do now, without any positive effects, but on that I trust to the psychotherapist to steer me away from-

At this my pitiless judge speaks up, and names it “pointless navel-gazing which only makes me even more useless and incompetent and non-functioning than I am now.” One advantage of having this level of judgment is I can think, well, that really is unlikely.

Another example of the judgment. I think, My femininity must be in my innate real self, as my upbringing valued making me a Man, a Christian gentleman, a good man, a solid and dependable masculine being. And my judgment says,

no.

Rather my parents expected me to be weak and soft, they just wanted me to pretend to be male.

It ascribes to me the meanest motives, not even self-serving in a useful way, and utter worthlessness. It is not true. Yet it has power over me.

Last week, as I spoke from a feminine real self and a masculine protector wanting her not to be so open and truthful- the real self unmasked, and another saying the mask was necessary for safety, and the judgment judging both as completely wrong, both worthless and stupid and self-serving, I got more and more tongue-tied, and at the end I imagined that IB client and his mother. At the end of our interview, I gave my reassuring speech that yes this was worrying but I would be there to help, and she repeated it to him, stripping out all the respect and care. “Mr Languish knows you will be stressed but try not to worry too much” as in don’t make a fuss or be even more useless. A memory may be my unconscious’ way to communicate with my conscious mind what I am feeling.

I wondered if this were transference, and if it would be useful to speak to her as if she were my mother. She wondered if the therapy was useful, and if it were worthwhile continuing after six sessions. I said that I appeared to be functioning better though that could be down to daily worship with Pendle Hill, and there must be some value to six sessions or it would be unethical to offer them and we should try to get the most out of what we had. Though I am unhappy with the length of time I took to express that I am happy with the thoughts expressed. The second one may have come from her, last week: I am suggestible.

How have I benefited from therapy in the past?

Well, I feel I have had certain steps forward. I realised that I was afraid of my fear and anger being visible, so when I felt fear or anger I resisted them and the resistance, like an isometric exercise, made them unbearable. Then in October 2018 I was moved to meditate, and it felt like I was swimming in my pain, aware and not resisting, and it was bearable. Though on Monday with Pendle Hill, I found I was judging the ministry as uninspired, then rebuking myself “Receive spoken ministry in a tender and creative spirit”, then judging the next: setting up a resistance, which stopped me hearing the ministry, rather than noticing the judgment and still hearing the ministry. Resistance is still possible, it just happens less. Permitting all my feelings when they seemed so dangerous is difficult.

And in September 2009 I could have told you a story of my mother, of weeping uncontrollably, and ended it with all the emotion of myself aged nine wailing

She didn’t understand!

And in 2009, I thought, oh right. She didn’t understand. (That is, she was human.) I would have said it was a moment of forgiveness, reconciliation, and understanding- until this morning when it seemed there was unresolved pain from it- unmet expectations of my mother I still thought reasonable, or anger at the World.

Now it seems to me that was about the last of a series of battles of will, and the only one I remember. I am a baby, on my back, utterly vulnerable and terrified, with my mother judging. And so in the past I have had days when I felt a complete lack of trust in myself, my feelings, perceptions and beliefs, I could not even trust them to be reliably wrong, just stopped clocks whose rightness was random. This is a destabilising feeling. In the past it has happened rarely, and the feeling has ebbed over the following days. The last time I had such an extreme attack is over a year ago.

This morning, it seemed- this was the last of a series of battles of will, most of which occurred very early. It was a freak of nature. My will had been subsumed under hers as a toddler, and this aged nine was an assertion of my own judgment which never happened at any other time. For a moment, part of me had protruded out from under her thumb, and was squeezed back. Then in my thirties I thought “It is time to rebel against my parents”- time to become my own person- and I now have my own moral and aesthetic sense, though not clearly my own desires.

Are you safe, she asks again. Yes. I have suffered extremes of distress before, and I live through them. I can be distressed here, and I will survive. In fact I am safer doing this by video, because when it ends I do not face the labour of getting myself home when desperately tired.

I hope this is not pointless and painful navel-gazing, that it creates understanding and resilience.

Self-acceptance, social feelings, and my own feelings

Self-acceptance is liberation. If you can accept yourself, you are free.

Something put me into a state of complete terror today. It was so frightening that I don’t want to allude to what it is. Then I saw I had made a mistake, and felt relief. I wept like a child. I wanted someone to hear me. I would share about it on social media. Or I would phone the Samaritans, to say this had happened, and I felt terror. Then I realised I did not need to. I could accept the feeling myself. I was terrified, and I understood that I was terrified, accepted that terror was completely the right reaction, and felt the terror. As a result I did not need to tell anyone. I am only telling you now to show how self-acceptance makes feelings so much more bearable and useful, not to process the terror. I don’t know how I would be if my initial impression, which terrified me so, had been correct.

Had I been unable to accept the feeling in myself I would have needed validation from someone else. “Yes,” she would say. “I can see why that might make someone feel like that. I would have been terrified too.” And I would feel validated. This might cause problems if she was bored with validating me, and did not want to, or even worse was controlling me and using intermittent validation as a way of maintaining control. It might have been different if the terror could have been used, in fight or flight, but as so often it could not. I envy my friend, who reports that for her anger is usually an instant thing. She responds to the provocation and the anger ends, its job done.

I am glad to discuss these things. When you agree with me I trust my perception better. It seemed to me that I am not properly alone with my computer. I scroll through social media or news media, and feel the appropriate thing, which society dictates. I read about masks, and I feel resentment of those bad people who refuse to wear them. Or I read about Brexit and feel fear. There are socially acceptable feelings. I am plugged into society, and feel those feelings.

In worship it is completely different. I sit in silence, and whatever comes up comes up. Then I am with my own bespoke feeling, as it is, not some off-the-peg feeling I “ought to feel”. I do not want to be alone with myself. Difficult feelings may come up. I far prefer to plug myself into the television or computer and feel feelings which are safe, because they are prescribed.

It had seemed to me that when fear is not accepted or processed, it remains, and curdles into anxiety. Anxiety is fear from the past, and it makes up horrible things which might happen, but won’t, to explain why I feel fear when I ought to feel safe. (That ought may be introjected.) Then it seemed that sorrow is curdled sadness. What was curdled anger? A conversation with a friend revealed it is Resentment.

anxiety is congealed fear
sorrow is congealed sadness
resentment is congealed anger

With time, courage and acceptance, these ancient feelings may be processed. Anger and sadness are two sides of the same coin- anger is appropriate when a quick flash of action will correct the problem, sadness when it will not. With practice, perhaps a balance of anger and sadness would help with the conundrum of the serenity prayer- “knowing the difference” is difficult.

As so often, Artemisia takes the standard female subject and makes her a woman with power and agency. Here is St Lucy with the palm of martyrdom and two eyes in a goblet.

in the silence

I don’t believe in one “inner light”. Rather, the light one accesses is what one has suppressed, so that it can only be heard with concentrated attention. This will be different for each individual. So it is like the Shadow, unconscious, feared parts of the human being, until it is brought to consciousness, healed, matured and integrated. Then one acts as one whole human being, in the light which is from the whole human being, and there is no more shadow.

In worship I do not find one Inner Light. I find something which I do not trust. I have only been clear about a concern in retrospect: when it is complete I recognise I passionately wanted to do it, did it, and it was Good.

Humans understand in words by creating stories, and we understand immediately without words, and I found that direct perception painful, untrustworthy and difficult. I was badly damaged as a child, cut off from my feelings and desires so I did not know what I felt or wanted. In my early thirties I found my feelings were anger, resentment, frustration and fear. I wrote in my diary that it is time to rebel against my parents. Since then, I have been doing teenage. Then I found Quakers.

Still for me my feelings were that shadowy inner light, things that seemed wrong or threatening or not properly deferring gratification so not adult. In this culture we refer to an “inner child”, denigrating it: my inner child is as old as I am. Or praising it: we become like a child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Usually I simply suppressed my feelings. Then in 1999 I found a suppressed vulnerable part within me which I could suppress no longer. As it surfaced the conscious part of me identified it as the Real Me. I saw it as feminine, and have expressed it in part through my transsexual transition.

And I feared my feelings. I would feel anger or fear, and fear that the feeling would overwhelm me. You will have had the experience of fighting back tears- it’s like that. It was paralysis.

Or a feeling was impossible for me. I could not be confused, I was highly intelligent and should see what is going on. Recently I saw I was acting as if anxious and confused, and thought, perhaps I am anxious and confused. Confusion is easier for me to see in myself, now.

So much was unconscious. I was blind to it, and excavating it has been difficult, painful, rewarding work. I realised I saw myself as absolutely worthless, and seeing that, then observing myself, I have been able to discern good qualities in myself.

I had the idea one should sit still in worship. Some Friends shifted in their seat occasionally, some sat in the same posture throughout, feet flat on the floor, hands folded in lap. Wherever I am I want to fit in, not make a fuss, follow the rules, so I wanted to sit still. I was concerned to find myself adopting closed body language, arms crossed, legs crossed, and perturbed that I was shifting in my seat. I resisted it.

What you resist persists. I thought about it more. Living with it during worship, I gradually permitted the moving. I began to see it as self-protection. Open body language signified openness. I would be open to the space and the people. Then I would curl up, and close off, when I needed to retreat. Recovered, I would open again. If I ministered, it was from the open position.

Over a period of years, I moved from resisting closing off, through accepting it, then valuing it, seeing what it achieved for me, then needing to do it less. Around Autumn 2016 I had mostly stopped.

In 2017 I was seeking to be aware of the flow of my feelings in worship. I resisted this, too, at first. I have an inner light, I thought, my link to God, pure good and truthful, and this is nothing like that. It is mercurial, painful, incomprehensible, often ridiculous. I am quite clear now that seeking to know my feelings was my way to find that inner light, but at the time it felt selfish, a misuse of Meeting.

One thing stopping me hearing the inner light, or the integrated human, is my conception of what it is and what it would say, my inability to conceive it saying that. So I ignore it until it convinces me it is in fact saying that. Behold I stand at the door and knock.

Also a Friend was quite sure of the complete separation of spirituality from “mere” emotional states, from her own experience and her wide reading. That might be true, for a person fully in touch with her emotions.

I became more aware of feelings. I would find myself thinking during worship of something that had made me angry years before, and chide myself- surely that is not still bothering me? Then it seemed that the feeling was real, and the thought of the past event was a way to bring a current feeling into consciousness.

This was a painful process. I resisted and feared my feelings. I would rock, cry, occasionally gasp, twist tense and contort my body, and be in discomfort. And it was a blessing. I was finding myself and growing to value myself- two entwined processes.

In October 2018 I received a blessing. I meditate by myself at home, irregularly. I had been avoiding meditating because I feared I would be conscious of all my pain, and it would crush me; all my trauma would retraumatise me, and I would be only the pain. Then after weeks I suddenly and spontaneously knelt to meditate. I felt all my pain, and felt no fear or resistance to it. I was with my pain, and I could bear it.

People seeing me worship since will see me rocking or contorting less. I might even sit still for a whole meeting!

I am profoundly grateful for the time in worship doing this. Often, at the start of worship, I would look round the people there and think of what I knew of them that was honourable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy, and now I might spend a meeting dwelling on Love; but this was a healing process for me, bringing me closer to Light, and I am grateful for it.

I knew it might bother other worshippers but had no idea how much. One described me as a ticking time bomb preventing her from centring down, such that she ceased attending. I am desolate that that happened, and not solely responsible. I want you to see the benefit of that stage in my worship for me. It was what I needed to do, and in times of confusion or growth in the future I may be back there again: I think the process is mostly complete, not totally. Had I known I might have done something different; or possibly explained, so that I was not so distracting. We should speak our tensions before they explode.

I was blaming myself, though. Then a Friend wrote, the woman who left should own  her actions. So I feel a bit better.

I am more integrated than I was. I am more able to discern my inner light. Worship has profited me. I would work hard to help it profit others, whenever I see the opportunity.

Emptiness

In Meeting, I empty myself of the desire that the world be other than it is, and see it more clearly. “How it is” includes its potential and possibilities; and includes how I really am, rather than how I imagine myself to be. If I worship something greater than myself, it is Reality.

The unpalatable truths I am evading are part of that reality. I fantasize of impossibility and of moral requirements others do not recognise because they make me feel safe, but they also stop me acting to make things better. Hence the slogan In stillness our faith becomes action: rather than resist uncomfortable reality, I accept it, and am enabled to flow like water in it. The comfort is a false comfort. The action realises possibility once I turn from fantasy.

This could be called “Repentance”, an unpopular word with Quakers. We prefer the Greek metanoia, amendment of life. (“Amendment of life”) is a quote from Cranmer.)

Shedding the false comfort is painful. The filthy rags of my false self which I draw about me to hide my nakedness fall away (others can see through them anyway, better than I can) and I am not ashamed.

This emptying, and seeing clearly, involves my subconscious self leading my conscious self. I saw, but did not see. There are truths I know and cannot consciously admit. What I know unconsciously, in the silence comes to consciousness. There is an inner light which knows the truth and reveals it to me in the silence. My Friends stand witness to me, and I to them.

This sounds like a painful cleansing. As the prophet says, But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.

What I feared to look at:
If I look at it unwaveringly
I see it is beautiful.

There is also joy here, beauty that I could not see consciously. The Light reveals it to me.

If we accept what is and allow it to change us the light brings us together in love as a community, knowing each other and fully known.

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.

Thinking in meeting

“Thou should not have been thinking in meeting.” We all know the quote; I am pretty sure Rufus Jones told the story, saying he had been the speaker so rebuked, but I can’t find where. What else is possible? Waiting, knowing one might be moved to give a message to the people gathered; contemplation, of the Presence of God in our midst; awareness of feelings deep in my heart; “Sighs too deep for words”, addressed to God. Some might sit in calm awareness of the meeting as a whole, its worship and its people, and that might be appropriate for elders and overseers.

And, often, I think. Sometimes this seems clearly wrong, such as going through my shopping list for the supermarket after, yet even that could be something I am worried about, and I pay it a little attention to stop it nagging at me throughout meeting. Or I find myself “writing”, as another Friend put it: trying different permutations of a sentence to see which would be most forceful, or expressive, or seeking out the perfect word. Possibly, then, I am merely in reverie, but under the surface things are moving.

The Unconscious will always be unconscious, and consciousness makes little sense. Like the podcast I use to go to sleep with: it seems when it ends that I have heard all of it, yet I have dozed and wakened throughout, and my brain forms the bits I have heard into a pattern. So thoughts pop into consciousness and submerge again, and the stream of consciousness is cacophony.

And the unconscious is not all Light: the inner critic comes from there, and other things which hurt me. Test the Spirits, says Paul: some of it has value now, some has not.

And yet the Word of God may come up from the unconscious, and the Meeting is a situation fitted for the unconscious to become conscious. I have spoken in Ministry words I have never thought before standing that day, and I start with an idea which I was thinking before I stood. I am enjoined to ask, Is it for everyone, or just for me? I recently heard another question: Is it for now, or some other time? There is so much wisdom designed to stop us speaking and distracting others, and sometimes what is actually said speaks to another.

A thought may move through me for the hour and be full-formed at its end. The words move in my mind, they feel guided, they are a thought moving in words to greater clarity and understanding. Our divinity is our humanity emerged for me from Meeting on Sunday, and I have shared it since. The humanity and divinity of Jesus are mixed like wine and water, inextricably, not like oil floating on water separately.

A thought may emerge from the unconscious allusively, like a dream; the relevance takes time to become apparent. It feels this year that there has been a shape to my worship, a development, increasing blessing and healing.

A blessing

I had a good day, yesterday. I went into London to Friends House, and met some wonderful people. I might help arrange something worthwhile. Then I went to Tate Modern, and saw the exhibition Shape of Light: it is of abstract photography. Things which I would not consider beautiful became part of beautiful images. My photographs are of things, which I might seek to frame in an interesting way; just now I watched a video, and found myself noticing the light and dark in it more, I think, than I would have. I may change my photography, to consider the light more. I even find myself noticing the light around me more: the best exhibitions change the way I see. I cycled to the station, leaving home at 8.15 and returning after nine; it was a good day, a full day, quite tiring.

What we do in worship came up. I said I am dealing with emotional pain, finding a way of holding it and accepting it, experiencing it and healing it. The healing may be slow. The feeling is teaching me things I did not know, and will continue until I have learned them.

“The meeting can uphold people who need the silence for something else,” said someone. I felt patronised. I said I am aware of the others, and the communal activity. This is my way to communion with the light within, and it may take some time.

This morning I cycled to worship, still coughing after a virus which hit two weeks ago, thinking of that group. John, who is ninety, is particularly beautiful. I am not sure what I can contribute. In meeting, I thought of when I joined Quakers. I needed a place I could feel I belonged, and was not nearly ready for it.

There’s the anger. How could I be so blind, so stupid, never making the connections? I hurt, and so I berate myself. I am enraged at myself, that I could let myself be hurt. That was the start of the meeting. I had failed to bring the bicycle lock, and might have left my helmet lying on the ground outside. I feel stupid as well as tired.

Near the end, I saw it.

I must break the connection between pain and blame.

When I hurt, I feel such anger against myself! It could be my mother’s anger. This is part of it: allowing the pain to be, not blaming myself for it. The blame stops me going out.

Rather, I need gratitude and appreciation for all the blessings. I was in need, and I was showered with

kindness

There is always kindness. No-one judges me as harshly as I do. I wept at the pain of feeling that anger, at myself, of blaming myself. I am loosening my bonds.

Worship is relationship

I was taken to church weekly as a child. Reciting the creed was part of life, and believing it was part of my identity. I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible… So when in 2010 I no longer believed, that was painful as my identity was remade against my will. It felt that I still believed, sometimes. Yet when in February 2011 I was touristing around the south coast having admitted to myself that I did not believe in an Eternal God, creator, outside time but in some way a Person, I went into a church to admire the building and was forced to my knees by the holiness of it. My heart had been opened by the Hoffman Process and I was in a strange place, open to remaking my identity, new and greater understanding, accepting feelings which had not fitted my world view or self-image before.

The world is not as I thought it is. Perhaps you have had such experiences, or will have, or else have a smoother, less painful, way of learning and integrating learning.

The field where Greenbelt is held each year is eldritch at all times, and magical during the festival. I don’t know where the tree was, only that I was unaware of it until a broad leaf almost hit my face, and I jerked my head away, looking at it in shock- and then I was fully aware of it, the beauty of that leaf, and I was in relationship with the tree, I-thou with it, seeing, appreciating, loving. There are spirits, naiads and dryads, within feet of you at all thymes you are outside.

Slowly, the utterly magical spiritual experience, where I am aware of my surroundings or at one with them, merged with my quotidian experience, where I could move into awareness by touching a surface then appreciating it, entering fully into my sensation of it. Then my awareness expanded to my other sensations. — talked of repeatedly waking up: he would be walking along the street, then he would awaken into awareness and realise he had not been awake for a week. There was the dullness of going through the motions and ruminating on fantasy, then the quick sharp awareness of reality like fresh clear air among smog. And yesterday there was the millennium bridge, the fried nuts seller, the pigeon, those tourists, the River. The Cathedral. I was, there, in that space, at that moment.

(My judgment kicks in. Was it like that, really? That was how I saw the church at the time; and the tree was an intense experience, though only for an instant. And I am a story-teller, and these are my stories for you now.)

Freed from the idea of a God in some way separate from all things visible and invisible I have moved towards the idea of worship as relationship, which seems more valuable. I turn outwards. There is Me and everything else, or Not-me, and I contemplate it. Me and Not-me, or me in Not-me, something greater than myself, inexplicable, inexorable, with Love Wrath and Indifference mixed. “Before the Big Bang God lit the blue touch-paper, and advanced.” God is in everything. Rationally I am non-theist, emotionally I am theist: I cannot believe in a creator of this Universe which fits the Christian ideas I learned, yet being in relationship with Not-me fits how I am made.

God is that which is Not-me. God is in me. God is our relationship. This organism, being and growing, perceiving, relating, and also second-guessing, doubting, ruminating, has moments relating to the world and seeing itself. That is worship, a time devoted to truth.

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Stillness

Blake, the wise and foolish virginsBen Pink Dandelion, in the Swarthmore lecture, writes of worship, We come together to nurture and enhance that sense of connection that spreads from us to the Divine and back again, and between all of us who are part of this power and this Life. We do not journey alone, but find in the silence and stillness the joy of that connection.Quaker worship gives us a communal intentionality and internal space to feel together the life of the Spirit that is with us all the time. It allows us to feel that inward communion one with another, and this experience binds our community all the more strongly… ideally we enter into the silence and stillness of worship and experience an encounter with the Divine which feeds and directs our ministry, whether it is vocal within the meeting, or in terms of our life beyond the meeting house. 

We find the spiritual at the heart of the stillness, the garden of God’s love and wisdom brought to life inwardly as a place to partake in the life of the Spirit. We find joy and wisdom and guidance and love all present, and can feel the binding of that encounter between us. In meeting for worship for business, we can still feel Blake, the wise and foolish virgins, wiseled by the spirit into new and unimagined places. It is a wondrous gift, and we are changed by bringing our daily concerns into that space.

My self-monitoring and aware presence are supplemented by a third state, the communal stillness. I need to be self-aware, and have autonomic brain processes for this, or I would be unable to walk, but that conscious egoist self-judgment- “What will people think of me?”- is inexpert and often counter-productive. The highest treason: to do the right thing for the wrong reason. I sit attentively, my body language aiding my attention, or I sit in the same posture thinking how good it looks, or even that it should help my attention.

Beyond the conscious self-judgment, and aware presence, I bring the Unconscious to consciousness, and at the end of that is my connection to God. I have known the gathered meeting, and I have known meetings which were not gathered, which are in the majority perhaps.

It seems to me that I am not Convinced, in the Quaker language, converted to the sense of God’s guidance animating Quakers in all of life, not just in the Sunday hour. I have been aware of the possibility for years.