What to take away from Yearly Meeting

I have been really thinking about what I take away from the YMG.  I wanted to state nice and clearly what I found useful, what I didn’t  and what I need to do with it.

Firstly, let’s get the negatives out of the way. 

  • I didn’t do all I wanted to do, partly due to tiredness, partly because of health issues.  I felt that I was letting my Meeting down by not being able to report on everything.
  • I found being so far out of the campus a problem, and there were problems with the accommodation itself.
  • I felt lonely – or more properly I was expecting to feel more lonely as the week went on.  I was aware that most people would be as busy as I was and I did not see that they would have time or the inclinations to spend time with me.
  • I was very worried about what I would do about money.
  • I did not have the internet access that I expected.
  • At the start of the week the home group sessions were not very good (though they improved with time).

What I found useful or fun

  • I reaffirmed my faith
  • I reaffirmed my belief in Quaker business methods
  • I saw Quakers take a brave and right decision, and saw how lovingly we treated those who were not with us
  • I felt the Spirit move us several times
  • I spent some very enjoyable time on a narrow-boat with new friends
  • I enjoyed the company of Friends old and new
  • I found about about Friends from all over the World
  • I found out what Friends House does in our name

  • I learnt some very interesting facts, heard about new ideas and found a couple of techniques.
  • I saw a brilliant film (The age of stupid)
  • I enjoyed a concert produced by Friends
  • I learnt a few new songs
  • If I go with the flow (as we eventually did in our Home group) things usually work out 

What I will take from the Gathering

  • Firstly I think that I must be more disciplined about my silent times.
  • I think I should have more confidence in my ‘belonging’.  I am no longer a ‘newbie’ in Friends.  I have sufficient knowledge and experience to start seeing myself as a ‘proper’ Quaker.  I should be more open, perhaps, about my leadings, as it says in one of the A&Qs that has never held much significance to me:

Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.

  • I need to fill in my yellow form and stop waiting for someone to suggest what I might be good at.  I have something to offer, and I know what I am interested in.
  • I need to ask for help when I need it.
  • I need to get over my negativity around the Bible – I heard some things at YMG which inspired me.  I don’t need to accept all of it, but to take what inspires.
  • I need to get back on my diet – I am not sure if some of the joint pain might be because I changed my diet to an unhealthy one.  I certainly feel more awake and better physically since I got some fruit, vegetables and fish inside me!  I haven’t dared to weigh myself since I got home, but I need to do so.
  • I was blessed to be part of YMG and I now need to share that blessing with my Local and Area Meeting.  I need to be inspiring!

Exploring the Testimonies – Equality

This was the third session of the series. I had unfortunately missed the second, so was keen not to miss this even though it was on my Beloved’s birthday.

There were less people there this time, which was a shame, but since the time we had to discuss the issue was so little, perhaps it was as well. My main problem with these sessions is the lack of time we can devote to the ‘business’ of them. I spend more time travelling to them than I do in the session. Personally I would like to see them start earlier and finish a little later, but I imagine that I am pretty much in the minority here.

The substance of the session was interesting. Now this is where my honesty trips me up and makes me a fool. As part of my teaching practice I had had to teach ‘equal opportunities’ and ‘equality’ and ‘anti-discriminatory practice’ to health and social care students up to advanced level. Frankly I thought I knew the subject pretty well. The thing is that this was not about legality, and ‘work practices’ but about how we, as Quakers, live the testimonies, and it comes from a different place. I was not that knowledgeable about this side of the coin, and I learnt a lot.

One of the key concepts last nights was ‘othering’ which I found useful. Why do we see certain people or groups of people as others? The next concept was ‘negative attributes’ and that it is when we attach negative attributes to ‘othered’ people that we use our power to oppress them.

I have always said that I treat everyone as an individual, but actually I don’t. I am as subject to stereotypes as the next person, but I do try to question them whenever I can. My main problem is that there are several groups of people that I rarely mix with and this means that I do not have a chance to knock down those prejudices. I rarely meet millionaires. I think I know only two extremely rich people and neither is obsessed by money in the way that I have always assumed that they are, but the fact that I know (slightly) these two people has allowed me to re-write my stereotypes of people from this ‘othered’ group.

The problems I have is mainly with those I have met who live up (or down) to my internalised stereotypes. I have attached negative attributes to those ‘othered’ people, and then find that they confirm, by their behaviour or language, those attributes. I have a list, of course, which is not a nice thing to admit. I long to meet or get to know one person from each of those groups that will allow me to attach a more positive attitude to that group.

Of course that is fairly abstract, but here is a concrete example: for years I had only negative attributes for those ‘others’ who were white South Africans. I had met only one, a relative of a friend, who told me (in all honesty as far as she was concerned) that ‘the blecks were all illiterate and so stupid that they could never be allowed to vote.’ She was entirely sure that this was due to the laziness and stupidity of the oppressed group and was nothing to do with the policies of the White government of the time.. Her attitude was that Black people were fundamentally, genetically inferior, and that *because of this* that they should have no rights. They needed looking after like pet animals.

This woman, and those white South Africans that I saw on TV, allowed me to build up a picture of these ‘others’, characterised by the way they spoke and where they lived. I attributed them with entirely negative attributes.

Then one day I went from Keighley to London on a train to a job interview at the BBC. (I just had to put that in – I was so proud to have any excuse to go to Boadcasting house!)

On the train I met a charming lady, and we spent most of the journey from Leeds to London in conversation. Our conversation ranged through many topics and we had a great deal in common. She had an accent that led me, because I am useless at these things, to assume that she was from Australia or new Zealand. When she told me she was South African she must have seen my face drop and she very politely told me that not everything that we had heard about white South African’s was true. We talked for a while afterwards about the situation there, but the closeness was gone and I was very annoyed at myself for allowing myself to believe that one could assume anything about a person’s personality from the land that they came from.

The Internet is a wonderful thing, but there are some very nasty people out there as well as some lovely, genuine people and it is all too easy, I feel, for the Internet to bring out the worst in people. There are those who Troll, who try to manipulate good sites and forums (fora?) to their own ends. I have seen over the years a lovely website community (with whom I used to meet up with regularly at monthly meets all over the country) turn into a dating agency and prostitution ring.

What has this to do with the rest of my post? Well, recently I have joined a community where several people wearing a certain ‘othering’ badge have made me aware of some of my own negative attitudes about certain ‘others’. I have never really met any of this group of ‘others’.

Up until recently I held positive attributes about this group, but some people I know and to whom I listen to have some negativity about the group that these few ‘others’ belong to. Whilst generally my friends are open to Light wherever it comes from, they are highly suspicious of this sub-group of ‘others’ rather than the whole group of ‘others’. (Is this making sense – I am being careful here, but perhaps too careful?).

The problem is that a couple of members of a subgroup of ‘others’ are living down to those negative attitudes that I now hold.

I desperately need to meet, preferably in real life, some more that share that ‘other’ badge and find out that most people in that group are not like this sub-group of people with hate-filled views.

I am sorry if this is very opaque. I do not want to give details, really. I might have to re-write this.

Another thought on Peace.

I used to think that we needed to step back from anger, but rather we need to take a tiny step forward to peace.

Stepping back is almost an instinctive reaction; an unthinking ‘running away’. Taking a step towards peace is a deliberate and definite move. It requires us to take action.

One of those actions might be to say sorry, to accept that we may have been wrong. Sometimes it might be to accept that though you are not wrong, but that the other person may be right too. Step forward and look at the issue another way.

Anger and Peace

I have been, as I mentioned in an earlier post, thinking about my responses to the Testimonies.  I am trying to keep a log of anything which I feel is relevant but I am a little worried about what I find.

I have found this week particularly trying as far as the peace testimony is concerned.  I am tetchy and irritable and I can think of any number of reasons for it generally and for specific ‘spikes’ of irritation or even anger. 

Generally I think that part of it might be that I am dieting, so at times I am not able to ‘swallow’ my anger with food, which I think I quite often do.  I am also under the influence of hormones, which should wear off in a day or two anyway. 

Several things happened at work to make me look as if I was not doing my job properly. One of the them was down to me not checking my diary so I was late for an appointment – no excuses.  Then I was  was accused of not recording something which I was almost certain that I had, and when I got to a PC I was able to reassure myself that I had indeed sent an email.  My colleague who had not got round to acting on the email apologised, but by that time  the damage to my reputation had already been done. 

Following that another colleague told our manager  he had asked me for a very important piece of information that he had not received, and this was the cause of his inaction.  When I was asked I explained that I had sent an email  to the service department which is the correct procedure, and  which I had copied him into.  In hindsight, I realised that  it might have been better to put his name in the ‘to’ list.  In response the colleague said that he had not seen it (though the read receipt said otherwise).  It would have been exceedingly petty to have gone back to my manager half an hour later to say, “Here is the read receipt, he *did* read it!  He lied!”  Unfortunately this colleague is not the only one who will resort to such tactics.  I am always shocked by lying by colleagues.

I feel my reputation has been besmirched and I do not feel happy about it, and I think this has made me feel less ‘at peace with the world’.  My job is very important to me, and I do strive to be efficient at it.  I have not always been so efficient, and it took a long time to live down the ‘ good trainer, but a bit sloppy about the paperwork’ tag.  Now I am in danger of losing all the gains I have made and it is so annoying that mostly it is not my fault.  It is leaving me with a background level of dis-ease.

I have had quite a lot of rushing around recently and I find that this makes me tetchy.  When I am hungry, or am lost, or have lost something, or am late I am prone to un-Quakerly anger.   So after all this happening at work, a visit to the Chinese State Circus (which was excellent, btw) was heralded by a great deal of rushing around and a missed meal.  Added to the excitement of the performance; a hormone balance at 45 degrees and  the nervousness of having a former ‘back seat driver’ in the car, I suppose it was inevitable that the slightest comment that could possibly be construed as negative would unleash a tide of  self-righteous anger.

I feel out of touch with Peace.  When I have been having a quiet moment, when I have been trying to be peaceful, I have been finding it hard to find that peace.

How do I explain this to my fellow Quakers?  I imagine one or two of then will say ‘darn’ occassionally.  Some might even go as far as banging their fists on a table.  I shouted.  I was not, in any shape or form, fair.  I am not proud of this.

Someone at the group last week asked if we should log our thoughts on the lines of , “I met Peace” or even “I met Anger.” 

I didn’t so much meet Anger as sat down and had a three course meal with him. 

Where is Peace when you need him?

Physioterrorism and physiopacifism

OK, so forgive the title – I am trying to be too clever by half this morning!

My colleague at work has a partner who is a physiotherapist and it was he who introduced me to the term physioterrorist, it is apparently borne of long painful ‘torture’ sessions.

Yesterday I couldn’t see the reason, today I can.  I had my first session with him yesterday in which he put me through the mill – asked me to perform all sorts of weird actions.  I felt great at the time but after a few hours I started to ache.  I now feel as if I had been kicked by several mules.

I have been given a load of exercises, all but one printed out for me.  The thought of them, yesterday was exciting – today it fills me with dread as I am already in pain. The difficult part will be getting onto the floor and then after all these exercises getting up.

Now to the spiritual part in all this.  I have often commented that my body is no temple, more like a carpet discount centre that was once a church.

However about a month, ago we had a Quaker fellowship day in which there was a ‘movement’ section, in which the woman running the session introduced a yoga-based series of movements.  Now years ago I used to go along to a yoga class with my boyfriend and his friend (reader I married him, the friend that is) but I don’t remember Yoga being so spiritual.  Suddenly, at that Quaker gathering, I saw the point of it.  I saw exercise could be part of worship.

So I have decided that in my new exercise I will try to take that mindfulness, that meditative process, that concentration on listening to God to the new exercises.

So that the physioterrorims becomes the exact opposit -physio-peacefullness.

Inability to read

Not written much recently so I going to do several posts in one day. This one is about spiritual stuff so if you are not interested, hey I tagged it as such.

For as long as I have been involved in my search for Spiritual meaning in my life (as an adult), I have been unable to read one book on spirituality.

Now just to put that into context I love reading.  I am a big Pratchett fan, I love to read about history, about different places, times.  I am a bit of a geek, so I read sometimes about computers.  I did a degree in Social policy/Sociology which meant I read a fair few books.  I read web pages and whole websites.

When it comes to spirituality, though, I cannot read.  I might get through a chapter or a poem, but I seem(ed) to have a block.  I managed to read a book once: a children’s story about a young girl who was a Quaker and was living in London in the time of the plague.

This caused me a lot of problems.  I have never read the Bible, and whilst I can dip into Quaker Faith and Practice (http://www.quakerweb.org.uk/qfp/ ) and Advices and Queries and get something out of it, I cannot read a whole book, or understand and retain it.

For some time I have passed this off as being the fault of the book I was attempting to read – there are always some books it is hard to get into. I never managed to read The Lord of the Rings; I got half way through book one and gave up.  I was incredulous when my son told me at 7 years old that he wanted the second book in the trilogy.  He had managed to get through, understand and love a book I was not able to read.  It is not my style of book: I don’t like ‘questy’ books.   For that matter I am not much into thrillers or war books.  Maybe, I thought, Spiritual books are just not my style.

I would borrow books from the various Meeting libraries and take them back unread.  It surely couldn’t just be that every author wrote in a style I didn’t like.  I was very worried by the fact that I seemed to literally have a block between reading and retaining it.  I thought maybe I was being lazy, reading fiction instead of what I ought to be reading.  It was becoming a burden.  I would talk at the end of  Meeting about my experience,  and would Minister in Meeting, but I had no theoretical background to base anything on.  I couldn’t read George Fox and quote him, or Penn.  When people spoke about the various virtues of different Quakers I would feel ashamed.

Recently I went on a course about Spiritual friendship, because I really wanted to learn how to find a friend with whom I could discuss Spiritual matters.  At the end there were books on display.  I didn’t bother looking, because I know they would lie, along with the other books that I had not been able to read, in a pile in the bedroom.  This course did fuel me into realising that I had actually already had a person who could act as a spiritual friend.

This lovely lady, called Anne, is a person I very much admire.  She was, until recently, the clerk of our Meeting and knows so much.  She is a highly literate woman, a poet and librarian.  On my bookshelf (in pride of place) is the start of her autobiography; a fascinating book all about her childhood and early life in Blackpool and Rochdale. It only goes up to a certain point in her life, and she says she will never continue it whilst the other ‘actors’ in her life are alive, which means it will never be finished.

Anyway I digress; during a session with her I told her about this.  It was the first time that I had ever spoken to anyone about this block.  We discussed why and this is what I told her.

For years I have felt that knowledge was vital to my own personality.  My sister had the looks and I had the brains.  We knew that our parents held this view right from being tiny.  Actually my sister and I looked very alike, especially when forced into identikit (but different sized) clothes.  The main difference is that my sister did not wear glasses and was not covered in eczema (or bandages to hide it).  I remember my mother making matching dresses for both my sister and me, and making my brother wear a matching blazer (ours were red, his was blue).  Oh yes we had a family uniform.  She would knit us all cardigans to match.  Even my dad and mum would have the same design of Arran cardigan.   My sister is not unintelligent either, she has ammassed a huge load of knowledge on farming and catering, and is about to start her own company.  She always had brains! (digression again).

So it became my pride.  I had brains, but then I was too lazy to use them: I hated writing, but retain knowledge like a sieve.  I always did really well in exams, but coursework was an absolute pain. So when it came to school leaving time I was told, quite clearly, that my parents did not have the money to keep me going to college.  I had to get a job.

Even at work I was the clever one; always had my nose in a book; always knew about the processes in whatever job I did, because I read up on it.  When I got made redundant I ended up going to University.  I was the first member of my family to graduate.  I don’t know anyone in my family (even distantly) who graduated.  So again I was proud.

Knowledge, though, is not important to be a spiritual person.  You could go through the full academic route without ever knowing God; never experiencing that most wonderful feeling of being in touch with the Spirit.  It is most important to feel, to experience, the wonder of it all.  Knowledge is not the same as faith.  Faith is……… another blog

I liken it to gardening, I could read up on how to plant a rose, could go through all the motions, could grow the perfect rose, but never feel the absolute bliss of smelling the perfume and appreciating the perfection of the colour and beauty of that perfect rose.  I do this with my parsnips, I grow them and appreciate the growth; I feel such excitement when I see the first green tips coming through the soil and then the joy of pulling them up when they are grown.  I love the smell of them, and then the utter ecstasy of tasting the soup which my beloved so carefully cooks.

There is no way that this could be  captured in a book. I can tell you but you could not feel it, except as an image, a pale ghost of that joy.

(Ah, we are made in the image of God – now there is a blog)

I think that is why I had that block.  Some part of me knew that my own pride would come in the way of reaching the experience of the Divine, so I put up a block. I would not start on with the knowledge until I realised that it would not lead me to the Divine.  I also needed to know that though I aspired to be like those other Quakers and people of faith,  I wouldn’t get there just through reading about it.  It was a lesson I had to learn.

Having discussed it with Anne, I thought long and hard about it.  I also explained it to my husband who had often handed me books that he found insightful and felt dismissed when i did not read them.  I now needed to get over that block.  I have to temper that reading, that knowledge, with prayer, meditation, communion with the Spirit and also in discussion with others.

Out of love and respect for my husband I decided to first try and read one of the books which he found really important.  I thought that my best tack was to take a pencil and underline the important bits and re-read as many time as it took to get through my head.  After the first few chapters I found this is not necessary.  I am two thirds of the way through and I will finish it – not because I am forcing myself but because I have found it interesting and insightful.  Oh, I can disagree with some of it,  some of it I would argue very strongly with, but it is fascinating and I want to read all three of the trilogy.

I seem to have broken the block, and look forward to reading all those books stacked in the bedroom.

Which leads me to the point of this whole blog.  Genesis, the tree of knowledge and all that.

Someone on a posting on the TOGs website mentioned the tree of knowledge and all the sudden I saw it as directly related to my own experience.  What she said was:

I know I’m digressing a bit, but I’ve often pondered about the account in Genesis that describes Eve and then Adam’s sin of eating from the banned tree of knowledge (of good and evil). I don’t understand what the metaphor is getting at – yes the sin was defying God’s instruction, but why should knowledge in all of it’s forms (or even just having a conscience about good and evil), have been banned in the first place?

I think that the reason that the fruits of the tree of knowledge were forbidden is that knowledge can become the sole reason for itself.  It can get in the way of the expeirience of the ultimate joy.  I think it is saying, in metaphor, right at the beginning of theis sacred text, “just don’t read this and think that is all you have to do”.   The serpent is the very attractive idea that knowledge is the key to everything, instead of experiencing the blissful innocence of our natural selves, loving all that is around us, we use our knowledge to take ourselves away from the garden.  We make rules about what we should wear, and how we should love.  There is  nothing wrong with having knowledge (the tree is always there to be admired) but don’t consume (be consumed) by the attainment of knowledge at the expense of doing.