“…be peaceable yourselves…” a.k.a. ‘why I’m not for Peace’

Being-Peace

http://www.thichnhathanhcalligraphy.org/newyork/exhibit-notes/

I’m not for peace. I’m not hoping to bring about peace, that’s not what I’m working for. I do not believe we will, on some glorious day, achieve world peace.
I don’t want you to try for peace either. Please don’t go looking for it in formulas or  ideologies nor go to sleep tonight dreaming of a day when peace will come.

If I could bid you do anything it would be to stop, sit down and abide a while in silence.

From within that silence, see yourself. Where are you? In the busy life you’re living, all the places you’ve been and destinations you’re trying for, where are you situated amid the busyness? Meet yourself in that silence. Don’t be coy, bowing your head and staring at specks upon the floor. Look at you for all you are, as a loving other might see you. Be unafraid.
What do you see? Does it make you smile? Or are you a little awkward, not sure if you are liking all you see there? Are you what you’d imagined you’d be?

There are plenty of truths we all avoid facing and our ‘self truths’ are perhaps the ones we tend to bury deepest. They come to us in moments when we’re challenged, when our spirit is eroded by tiredness or criticism. After a time we find way to naturally excuse ourselves of our misgivings.
Even those of us who proudly claim vigilance, routinely sweeping clean under our metaphorical rugs, checking our closets carefully for skeletons, we too embolden ourselves with ‘little white lies’. Have you never told yourself ‘I am capable and I can do this’, choosing confidence, pushing out whispers of doubt, even though you know full well you’re flying blind with no prior experience? It is also human to occasionally cower from all we cannot face, saying those self-destructive words that devour our well being,  ‘I’m terrible”, or confessing  “I can’t cope’. What we really mean to convey is “I’m scared, help me”, a vulnerable truth we hide. We fear the burden of further hurt. [My next blogpost, already in the works, will be entitled ‘Peace, a process and Love, the harder path‘ about the benefits of unlocking our vulnerability, for positive outcomes and stronger bonds.]

We exist at surface layer where emotion and complexity runs riot, informing our day to day lives. We are sentient, we feel, therefore we are reactive. Defining ourselves through opinion an (re)action often feels right, we become accustomed to reactivity. Yet most of these traits we identify with are mutable and shift across our lifetimes. So is what we say who we really are?

It’s not.

Stay in the silence. Keep looking.

Have you found that you yet? I hope so. If you have you won’t be seeing gender, a hair colour, a style of clothing or hundreds of neatly curated identity labels stuck about your person. You may not see anything at all, and this may feel unsettling, perhaps alarming, Where did you go?
Deep down below the mundane murmurations of living is another us.Enduring quietly beneath it all is our true self, invariably at peace.  It can take a while to accept this version of our selves for it is a presence, plain and still.  This is your core self, you are a presence, awake in a stream of existence.
Your own personal beliefs colour what you belief this self to be; a soul, a manifestation of God, a burst of energy, a biological fact of life and nothing more, a mere current pulsing through animate beings… Whatever your convictions your naked self is free from the anxieties of this great big world. At this level of awareness you are safe, untouched by the falling debris and jagged projectiles of living.  It’s calm deep down there, far beyond the storm.

Let’s take a step back, to where I described humans as reactive beings of sentience who strive to thrive, dodging as much damage as we can. I want to ask, how many of us withdraw affection when threatened?  If our hearts are on the line, if we sense our love and goodwill is not welcome, do not most of us step back and hide our love for fear of being hurt? If our lives are on the line is it not safer to step up and defend everything we have with everything we have? Instead of communicating we leap to protect ourselves. We feel vulnerable but instead of showing our belly, we bare our teeth. Is this really the way to go?
Here’s a story about how well it can work the other way
http://en.newsner.com/attacker-pulls-knife-on-officer-his-response-has-the-world-amazed/about/family
The knifeman threatens the officer. The officer sits down, relaxed body language and engages with his attacker. Moments later the knife is voluntarily surrendered and the officer approaches his assailant with big arms open wide. Both men show each other vulnerability instead of violence. Read the story and you’ll learn it just keeps getting more lovely from that point onwards, its inspiring.

We feel good when our daily lives accord with that core self, our naked self. It’s a powerful feeling.
We feel lost and disconnected when we forget our naked self, cycling through ineffective strategies to make things right again. We act to defend, regret how we act, we blame and harm and yearn bitterly for better times.
There is a strong case for working in harmony with our Peace.

I have stood in riots and disarmed protesters and policemen of their anger. Its easy to blame the rioter for their violence or the policemen for undue force when retaliating. Blame does not bring resolve. If we analyse instead what they have in common we see just a lot of scared people, defending themselves, needing to feel safe. A friendly voice, unafraid and willing to cradle their anger and pain, can help reconnect them to that deeper, still person they fundamentally are. That is where its safe. This is our Peace and it’s where we want to be. Rage may envelop us, obfuscating that desire, but rage is nothing more than flailing, when we cannot see the way back to safety.
Its exhilarating to take a person’s hand and unburden them of the chaos that’s disturbing them, their hate, their fear, and guide them back to their rational place of peace.

It wasn’t always apparent to me I had this peace within me. If someone had suggested it to my teenage self, my ego would no doubt have raised two fingers up at they very idea. Was I not a bruised and battered being, cracked at the very core? It felt that way at the time but it was a tempest, striking my surface, nothing more.
In my formative years I stood between two poles, a bewildering torrent of anger and violence on one side,  a steady flow of compassion on the other. I was lucky. The bizarre dichotomy of my domestic situation showed me just how illogical it is to reach out with fists and screams and how very rational it is to reach out with arms wide open.
The furious party was entrenched in misery of their own creation. They desired love above all else but the brutality of their actions marred any hope of experiencing the happiness of it. Their daily battle tore at the fabric of all they’d worked for, they became feared and despised.
The compassionate side knew only how to love. They did no harm, they did only what they could to engage and support the casualties of this turmoil. They empathised with the pain but remained pleasant and peaceable, they knew no other way to be. Their world did not fall down, their love increased.

For me, scraping away the damage took years. Little by little I began to catch fleeting glimpses of my naked self until there I stood, on the plateaux of my being, staring squarely at it, no will to argue or defend. I found my peace.

So here it is, my suggestion that Peace is not the small acts of kindness, not the forgiving nor the refusing to be touched by the flames of fury.  All this happens when we live realising we already have Peace, when we recognise and uphold that same Peace in another. Peace is our fundamental state, its where we thrive and survive.

The error we make is chasing after Peace as if it were an unknown beast we’d like to catch and examine, to know it better. We fight for it, campaign for it, work for it, rarely stopping to ask, well what is this Peace thing all about anyway?
Most of the time we’re already living it. In Better Angels of Our Nature author Steven Pinker makes a clear case, we have existed consistently in a state of peace across our evolutionary time scale. Co-operation has been our advantage more often than conflict, which tends to deplete our resources and halt our development. We incline towards peace as a desirable state, peace being a scenario where our outer world is congruent with our core state of inner Peace. All evidence suggests we are not inherently vicious nor violent, these are just stories we tell ourselves, a mask to wear when we fear. In the process of protecting ourselves we become awestruck by the horrors of war and we keep wearing the mask, hiding our true selves , we live restricted. Little white lies we tell ourselves, defence mechanisms which isolate us when we push others away, our mishandling of vulnerability.

My hope is this species, the human race, can realise Peace. I hope we can see how we hold one another at arm’s length for fear of being hurt, all the while hurting because we dearly wish we didn’t ‘have’ to. We hold up Peace as an ideal, it isn’t. We are projecting our free selves as an ideal, because it feels good because it’s what we want.Most of the time its ourselves and our ingrained fears we are fighting, preventing us from making that connection to what we already own. We already possess Peace.
Peace is us.
The question is, do we choose to be Peace?
It is a choice. If we prefer we can keep telling stories, react with fist thumping and justifying our regrettable ‘protective attacks’, justifying it with claims of ‘security’. Many societies learn to live this way, whole industries have developed, profiting from our fears, working for our security. What of the accompanying fear? The anxiety? When we believe we are being attacked we are not free, we are not living with an awareness of our innate Peace.

Life can be more wonderful.

We exist constantly in conflict, like a swimmer in a tidal pool of jellyfish, our surroundings are loaded with potential to disrupt our sense of well being. It’s how we handle these conflicts that makes all the difference.
One strategy is to charge straight through the centre, bludgeoning the jellies with our fists as we, frantic and fearful, front-crawl our way to shore. In this instance we experience a sense of survival, going all out to save ourselves from harm. Yet our impulse to act comes with the accompanying risk of being repeatedly stung, damaged so badly we may not make it. The jellyfish are likely to suffer casualties too.
Another strategy is to calmly glide through the spaces in-between, proceeding with care. We risk a light brush, a sting here and there, but in taking the time and operating from our place of Peace we stand more chance of making it out unharmed. In the process we expose ourselves to the beauty and shape of these ocean drifters, we can appreciate their presence, experience the thrill of coexisting in that same body of water.
A deadly encounter can also be a life affirming adventure, if we choose it.

As terrifying as it may sometimes be, opting for vulnerability makes us stronger and more effective as people. Our capacity for Peace is great and is constant within us, we can unlock it and operate from that place any time we choose.
The world will always crowd in, with its stories of danger and the urgency of acting now. It is not easy to connect to our Peace in all places, in all situations, it take practice. In this we can support one another, we’re social beings (most of us, even only a little bit.)
Committing to Peace is a way, we must stay steady on our course, knowing we are not working for an abstract goal. We are Peace, right here, right now, in every step and with every heartbeat. We must live it and be it.

deeds not creeds; not a form of words but a way of living” – QF&P, 24.1, London Yearly Meeting, 1993

 

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Housekeeping Notice

Last year I initiated a project to post on Quaker Advices and Queries.

It didn’t get a whole lot further than the first post. The enthusiasm was there, the momentum failed to materialise.

Some friends may be aware I have been in the final year of my degree, researching a dissertation on Notions of Peace in the English Civil War, amongst other things. I guess I am not naturally inclined to blog anyway, so it has fallen down the wayside, the back of the sofa or into shadow… whichever metaphor tickles you most.

I have decided to lay down the A&Q idea for a while. Instead I’ll focus on making a determined effort to enter into the blog habit with a little more regularity.

I am going to focus writing more generally on topics of personal witness and related to Quaker testimonies of Peace, Truth, Equality, Simplicity  and Sustainability.  I am also an NVC practitioner and may share the learnings of that journey with you all from time to time too.

Thank you to anybody who chooses to read my little blogs, this or the other (https://wordpress.com/post/thatallmightsimplylive.wordpress.com/271)

If you’d like to chat anytime about blog topics or similar you can find me over on Twitter, or Facebook. I warmly welcome kind conversation and curious wonderings of any kind, I’d be happy to hear from you.

@LindseyIlsley

Walk cheerfully 🙂

The Advices & Queries project

    The book of Quaker discipline, ‘the red book’, known as Quaker Faith & Practice, begins with a modern interpretation of words handed to the Religious Society of Friends in the form of an Epistle from the meeting of Elders at Balby, in 1656.
These twenty Advices are guidances for Friends to consider regarding their conduct and condition.
In this blog I plan to look at each Advice closely, interpreting what it means for me personally and what it means in a broader contemporary  Quaker context.

But First, a word about Quakerism for the curious and uninitiated: 
Quakerism, although rooted in Christianity, has no central scripture or doctrine. Friends believe themselves to be guided by ‘Light’ which informs all aspects of their living. The Quaker faith is experience-based and evolves with every new generation of Friends and with the passing of time and circumstance. We seek to recognise every person’s journey, which may be vastly different from our own and we speak to that diversity, that we can learn together and through one another.
We meet in Silent worship, as friends, to share our experience of the ‘Light’, to wait expectantly and to uphold one another. When ‘led’ or ‘prompted’ to minister a Friend will stand and speak.This prompting comes from within and is a response arising from the worship.Quakers in Britain have no programmed services and no paid ministers, We are the ministers, we speak in our Meetings and through our lives as we live them. This isn’t nearly as strange in practice as it tends to sound in theory.
It can be somewhat confusing for newcomers to understand the corpus that comprises Quakerism as its a thing of diffusive parts.
Having been Quaker for more than a decade I’ve lately discovered a concise way to explain to the confused exactly what Quakerism is.
Take a look at the image heading this blog. This is a panel from the Quaker Tapestry, a history of the Religious Society of Friends made by Friends and on display at Kendal Meeting House. It represents a prism, the Light enters in and travels through the material body producing a spectrum of colour. The Light is changed by passing through the prism.
Every Quaker possesses a personal understanding of ‘God’, of concepts such as ‘Light’. Our experiences of living and the work we do while we’re here are unique to us alone. We work through the light and together become the spectrum of colour.
So while we have no central creed or scripture to inform our faith we do have a common understanding that we are working in the ‘Light’, we also have ‘Quaker ways’ which mark us out and give us away such as plain speech, simple living, a Peace testimony, a Truth testimony and an Equality testimony. Within our Society we have quite specific ways of worshipfully conducting our business in the hope we can stand alongside these ideals bringing all to accord through these principle aims.
The ‘red book’, Quaker Faith & Practice, lays out Quaker business method and procedure as set out by Yearly Meeting, the body undertaking Quaker work on behalf of all Quakers in this country. More than that ‘QF&P’ is a trove of wisdom, the testimony and witness of Friends who have walked this path before us. Committees sit to review and update the ‘red book’ to keep it current with our faith as we know it and relevant to the time we presently live in.
Lastly, Quakers have, over the centuries, developed their own little vocabulary of commonly used words which are uncommonly heard elsewhere. As well as ‘Light’, ‘Truth’ and ‘Simplicity’ you’ll hear words such as ‘discern’, ‘condition’, ‘worship’, ‘leadings’, ‘concern’ and similar terms used in a very specific context.
During the course of this blog project I anticipate  further explanation will inevitably arise. If you’re reading this and find yourself desperately confused, or keen for immediate clarity, I am always glad to answer questions of any kind. Ask away.

 

For this first Advices & Queries blog post I am just going to leave for your consideration the Introduction, which I feel speaks quite neatly for itself.

Introduction

1.01
As Friends we commit ourselves to a way of worship which allows God to teach and transform us. We have found corporately that the Spirit, if rightly followed, will lead us into truth, unity and love: all our testimonies grow from this leading.

Although the corporate use of advices and queries is governed by more flexible regulations (1.051.07) than in the past, they should continue to be a challenge and inspiration to Friends in their personal lives and in their life as a religious community which knows the guidance of the universal spirit of Christ, witnessed to in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

Advices and queries are not a call to increased activity by each individual Friend but a reminder of the insights of the Society. Within the community there is a diversity of gifts. We are all therefore asked to consider how far the advices and queries affect us personally and where our own service lies. There will also be diversity of experience, of belief and of language. Friends maintain that expressions of faith must be related to personal experience. Some find traditional Christian language full of meaning; some do not. Our understanding of our own religious tradition may sometimes be enhanced by insights of other faiths. The deeper realities of our faith are beyond precise verbal formulation and our way of worship based on silent waiting testifies to this.

Our diversity invites us both to speak what we know to be true in our lives and to learn from others. Friends are encouraged to listen to each other in humility and understanding, trusting in the Spirit that goes beyond our human effort and comprehension. So it is for the comfort and discomfort of Friends that these advices and queries are offered, with the hope that we may all be more faithful and find deeper joy in God’s service.

Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all, with the measure of light which is pure and holy, may be guided; and so in the light walking and abiding, these may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not from the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.

Postscript to an epistle to ‘the brethren in the north’ issued by a meeting of elders at Balby, 1656

Relinquish and rewrite.

Every stage of our lives offers fresh opportunities…Discern the right time to undertake or relinquish responsibilities without undue pride or guilt…” 1:28

New year is the celebration that follows a  post feasting time of reflection. We’ve had a few days to digest our social interactions and indulgences, we feel sated and believe ourselves all the wiser for it.
When December 31st arrives  we’ve stuffed our bags with all the get-go we need and we brace ourselves to begin anew.
At least some of us do.
New Year has its naysayers, those who rightly proclaim change can be implemented at anytime. Letting go can be hard, there are plenty of people who’d rather not mark this annual shift of time at all.
Neither inclination is wrong, what works best for one may not fit well for another, such is the wonder and diversity of life.

I am one such person who welcomes it. New Year for me is a wholly positive point in time.
One of the fondest memories I have of running a marathon was realising I had run four miles in perfect syncopation with a large group of others. Had I been running alone I’d have stopped and started, switched music tracks fifty times and restlessly wished the exercise would be over. We were all in it together, a stream of people flocking the streets moved by one sole purpose. There was a strength in it, that spirit urged onwards for another twenty five miles.
So it is with the New Year. We all stand on the brink of possibility and away we go, pursuing new goals and thinking of good things to come. At least I hope so.
We can change and be changed at any pointing our lives. We just require a spark, a realisation, then we can begin the task of untying the knots and setting ourselves free. Celebrating the commencement of a new calendar year is one such spark and it’s communal. Just like my marathon experience we are all in it together. Some will fall by the wayside, abandon their goals through lack of will or injury, some will be overwhelmed by the enormity and difficulty, others will keep strong to the finish. For just that one moment before the race begins all runners are united, no matter their ability all stand poised behind the starting line waiting for their cue.

When I think of New Year I think of some wizened father time up on a distant hill, I imagine us all trudging up the snowy incline towards where his leathery boot stand planted at the pinnacle, waiting. The great staff of Yew he bears is raised aloft and thrust into the ground and the way forward dawns before us. As we cross the threshold and pass into tomorrow we leave behind the heavy baggage that weighed us down on the upward climb , we know the hopeful  relief of what can now be as we speed downhill with excitable anticipation.

As we begin marking out boundaries, between the old and the new, we have an opportunity to decide what we take with us and what we leave behind, up on that hill at the feet of father time.

My long journey is coming to an end this year. Only because I have decided this is the moment.
In the past behind me, spanning many new years, there has been sadness. I have been a victim and also a sufferer, I let experiences define me. This was fine for a while, in making sense of  certain traumas and outcomes this was required. The time has come to relinquish my history, to announce to the wind ‘this is not me’ and be the human being I was born to be, before life’s hands snatched at me and carried me to destinations unimagined.
I am not responsible for the formative experiences that shaped me, not all of them, but I stand at the helm now, the ship is in my command and I am responsible for navigating from hereon in.

That is my first promise, to relinquish. I do it for myself.
The second promise is an undertaking, it is for everyone else.

Have spent the past year in reverie over the art of listening and being attentive to others. How can we be attentive and appropriately loving, not just to those in need but to all we encounter? Gratitude is a large component of  happiness and when we communicate it through deed  we go a long way towards expressing love and willingness through appreciation.

Eulogies are written for funerals and  adopt a voice we seldom use to express gratitude at any other time. A eulogy is a a sermon testifying unto the  wondrous life of a beloved  sadly lost. Can we realistically imagine what would be said of us? Would we believe such kindness and praise were we told it as we lived?

I feel strongly that life is where we should let our loved ones know. Standing on a podium or lamenting at a wake is too late to celebrate the lives that enrich our living.

This year I plan to speak more plainly but to do so in love. If someone has always delivered our post carefully and we have appreciated it and their smile cheers our morning merrily along then now is the time to say so.  Has that friend always surprised you with their insight and thoughtful words? Now is the hour to let it be known. Is there a background someone who goes unnoticed but who manages to bind a room of people together just by being present? Speak it and have them feel their worth.

This is a good time for positive change. The dawn of every new day comes fresh to us burgeoning  with hope but just for tonight we will all be trudging up that hill towards father time together. Whatever we do or don’t leave behind, whether we skip and roll down the other side of the new year or look back with regret and woe wishing we’d never passed that way at all , I wish for you all a tender, loving year ahead. Go gently, may you know great happiness.

A call to the duty of listening (who to talk to when there is no-one to talk to and how to listen, to ourselves and others.)

In silence which is active, the Inner Light begins to glow – a tiny spark. For the flame to be kindled and to grow, subtle argument and the clamour of our emotions must be stilled. It is by an attention full of love that we enable the Inner Light to blaze and illuminate our dwelling and to make of our whole being a source from which this Light may shine out.

Words must be purified in a redemptive silence if they are to bear the message of peace. The right to speak is a call to the duty of listening. Speech has no meaning unless there are attentive minds and silent hearts. Silence is the welcoming acceptance of the other. The word born of silence must be received in silence.

Pierre Lacout, 1969

Speaking out takes a certain courage. There is a risk to sharing our fears, hopes and concerns. How it will go cannot be guaranteed and although we’re told it is preferable to ‘get things out in the open’ and not ‘bottle up’ we’ve all experienced times when speaking our truth has gone disastrously wrong.

Cheerful sunbeam people are openly loved and immensely popular,  lifting spirits and inspiring hope that feels divine. When we are consumed with worry it can be a preoccupation that our burden will weigh down whomsoever we choose to share it with. We become the opposite of optimistic and this is ultimately undesirable,  talking about problems has an associated guilt therefore and it can be hard to shake off.

We all experience this phenomenon once in a while. We all find ourselves desperately in need of  someone to talk to but stuck because we’re not sure whether we can or should.

Step one, we must first wait with our woes a while. When the urge to share feels strongest silent stillness is a wise guide. There is a realm we can create for ourselves where inner conflicts can safely be sifted through. Emotions can be destructive, distorting circumstances  and leading us to accuse and blame in anger . When we sit with ourselves a while we begin to question our expectations. Maybe we have asked too much, perhaps we have not been as fair as we thought. Fear can urge us to push away those we’d rather hold close…  With clarity we see our responsibilities, where they begin and end, where we or others have overstepped boundaries or failed to step up as required.
There is so much to learn when we settle our minds and observe the chatter within. If we simply react to the world around us we are  reacting to feelings arising from this chatter, we are easily led towards being hurt and mistaken. There is a deeper more constant truth, we know it through stillness, it is there we find reason and a great source of inner strength.

Arguments are the product of reaction,  in the throes of argument asserting the feelings we have and defending them seems of prime importance. Protestation after protestation cycles around and around until, through weariness and guilt, we must concede and forgive. This external upset can be avoided by first listening to ourselves, only then can we hope to sensibly be heard by others.

And what of others? When we are ready to be heard and need a listener, who do we turn to? And when others come to us how should we be?

I read an article a few weeks ago about comforting the bereaved, what to say and what not to say. One of the recommendations was to abandon the phrase “I’m here for you” as it is subtly dissociative and instead say ” I am there with you”.
This struck me as sound advice, it reminded me of the many times I hear “I’m here if you want to talk”.  Rarely do I take people up on an offer like that, it feels like I’ve been told they’re around and probably busy but will make time for me if I need it. Different story when I hear  “do you feel able to tell me about it?”  This is a statement of direct concern and interest, one that’s hard to step away from.

Here’s the line I like best from the quote heading this post
the right to speak is a call to the duty of listening.
As it rightly continues to tell us,
Speech has no meaning unless there are attentive minds and silent hearts.

We need calm listeners who will receive our words. When we speak we are in turn entering into an unwritten contract, that you will be listened and accepted and then you too must listen and accept.  It is a peaceful exchange we can exercise, it facilitates thoughtful and meaningful communication and helps avoid argument.
There is no need to be laden with dilemma to make use of this wisdom. Out in the world just taking a moment to talk to a cashier, entering into conversation with a stranger at a bus stop or attending to the cries of a restless child… When we listen and gratefully receive  we too can be heard. Then we have made soulful contact, even if only in a small way. It uplifts and gives meaning to our individual existences.

We can listen too by silence, embracing the contributions of others with dutiful mindfulness. We must be attentive and not just attended to.

Silence is the welcoming acceptance of the other.

Am prompted to share this quote because December has been challenging. Often I have been in need and have borne my troubles with hidden guilt and regret. In reaching out I’ve felt refused and have found myself sat in loneliness wondering why.
Through enforced silence I had little choice, I had to revise my stance. What  beleaguered me, after a time, transformed into enlightenment. What caused me to retreat later  caused me to become emboldened. Am more sensible for my solitude, it illuminated something within.

As something of a caveat I must note, it takes a wellness of mind and a determination of spirit to fortify oneself in this way. Mental illness and severe distress can create an internal chaos, in such circumstances reaching out is necessary and introspection dangerous.

Additionally we are all obliged to one another, we all should ideally come forth and listen with love when called upon and ask if we can be of service ,giving our attention as routine and standard.

For me, and many others, there isn’t always someone to talk to. Often the people you want to talk to most of all aren’t available or are tuned out and unable to attend and listen. There is always one person invariably on hand, waiting in that quiet central space, where we can all go to meet and tend to ourselves.

” It is by an attention full of love that we enable the Inner Light to blaze and illuminate our dwelling and to make of our whole being a source from which this Light may shine out. “

Love, an inevitable duty?

“True love is proven when the loved one begins to be not only the mysterious beckoner of destiny, but becomes also the occasion of dull indubitable duty. At a frontier of life when one partner begins to say to him or herself: ‘How can I love any longer? But I must love’, then sometimes steadfastness and faith have power to nurse into existence the new being needed as companion and lover. What a triumph when old love is transformed into a deeper surer new love which can accept more fully what each has, and the pair find a rebirth together in those things which are eternal, and through this a renewal of their everyday living.”
Have just seen a post on social media site Facebook, elegantly written and honest, where a man confessed he once had a beautiful love that brought him happiness. Alas every day he did not “choose” his love. He noted that she silently sensed his not ‘choosing’ her and over time he began to imagine love elsewhere, with some other. Inevitably he abandoned her, causing hurt. And so he lamented how never again will he fail to “choose” in love.

Perhaps this is wisdom. It is not a school of thought I understand for it seems to lack something. What do we consider love to be? Do we not choose when we commit to love?

Bertrand Russell writes, in his chapter on marriage in Marriage and Morals (1929),
Love can only flourish if it is free and spontaneous; it tends to be killed by the thought that it is a duty. To say that it is your duty to love so-and- so is the surest way to cause you to hate him or her.”

A fine philosopher he may have been but on matters of the heart Russell was no master, he suffered for want of love. Taking into account the tepid affections of his lonely childhood psychologists today might read his theories as typical case study presentations of ‘attachment disorder’.
His first marriage to, Quaker Alys Pearsall Smith, was a partnership  highly admired by contemporaries for being the very modern model of mutual respect and loving independence.
Russell found himself gradually inured to the merits of such a plain companionship, desiring a more passionate kind of unity, thus commencing a lifetime of affairs and romances.
The great heights of intimacy, easily discovered in love’s beginnings , may have been his solace but these infatuations predictably fade. Unsurprisingly his personal experiences of love and longing brought about a belief, widely explicated in his published discourses, that human beings have little potential to be simultaneously contented and monogamous. He describes a successful society as one where certain ‘freedoms’ within relationships were wholly acceptable.

Indeed moments of salicity do connect us to one another but for how long? What worth is intimacy if not rooted in perdurable affection? Spontaneity is a thrilling thing but does love thrive under such conditions?  Does a flourish of infatuation bring satisfaction equal to the comforts of  enduring love?

My Christian schooling taught us constancy, through God’s everlasting love and the sweet abiding example of Jesus. We were shown the gentle art of caring and were encouraged to exercise it regularly,  that we might naturally incline towards it.
I cannot profess to have maintained any belief in God, not the deity I was offered as a child. Rationality crept in and dismissed bible stories as nothing but whispers, mere parables handed down across the ages, a collection of sage advices.
Although I lost my firm commitment to God I sustained a healthy fondness for duty.

Duty is a word free spirited souls recoil from. It conjures impression of onerousness and demeaning servitude. Of course it is true that blind sacrifice or performing under duress is never healthy nor desirable. We should also avoid circumstances which seed resentment for to begrudgingly give is a dishonesty, a subtle deceit which decays integrity.
Duty is to assume responsibility, it is performance through loyalty and there is perhaps no nobler cause requiring obedience of this kind than Love.

Love is no light thing. It may make the heart flutter when first it takes to the air with eager wings but confessions of love without commitment to duty are no more than empty desires. Love without action is only intention. To help, to support or to fulfil some lustful fantasy, whatever the object of our longing it is only through application Love can be set in motion.
We are the conduits and instruments through which love can flow. At first in great gushes until the surge eases, then we must learn the ways of its steady nourishment. If we choose to dutifully maintain and tend to Love it increases within us all that is whole and wonderful.
There is no commitment finer than daily electing Love and serving it with gratitude.

However we may try, serving as best we can, in personal relationships Love can run cold. There will be times of distance, of staunched flow and poor connection. Finding the way back to each other is the work of the faithful. To Love and be loving is not eternally easy nor is it reliably rewarding.  As a house needs rendering and its bricks require repointing Love wears around the edges. It is our duty and commitment to undertake the work required that brings it joyfully back to life.The constancy of having chosen time and time again to labour holds rewards beyond measure.

As the quote, from Quaker Faith and Practice, at the start of this post describes

“…What a triumph when old love is transformed into a deeper surer new love which can accept more fully what each has, and the pair find a rebirth together in those things which are eternal, and through this a renewal of their everyday living.”

If we are human we crave love. Flighty impatience can make us impetuous, unforgiving, weary. We can look elsewhere and see possibilities for happier things, beauty in the unknown, wonder in the new. For how long though? At what point will we tire of such sense filled pleasures and seek again? And what drives this longing for intimacy and how can we fulfil it if we do not take heed of the love and truth in our hearts, a calling to a more gentle resting place?

Bertrand Russell was not without hope. In concluding his chapter on marriage, having excavated all evils he says

“A companionship which has lasted for many years and through many deeply felt events has a richness of content which cannot belong to the first days of love, however delightful these may be. And any person who can appreciate what time can do will not lightly throw away such companionship for the sake of new love… ”

My thoughts, in summary, are that Love is inevitable. We can resist duty, fearing all it represents, or we can embrace togetherness, extending our hands out to another when we feel most alone and Loveless, warming the cold and discovering unimagined pleasures in the passing of time.
What is tangible delights but the laws of this Universe dictate all things must pass, all that is palpable will not last long and bring enduring satisfaction. If we are wise and wish to invest, if we wish to bring meaning to our short time spent here on Earth, we require kinship, companionship. There is only one force mutable enough to bind us together, Love. It is something we can choose for ourselves and uphold in one another.

    

Living is the art of loneliness.

“There is a part of us which from childhood is absolutely alone.
When we fall in love we imagine we have found an ultimate assuagement of loneliness.
This is not so. In a true marriage or a near friendship what in fact is found is a companion in loneliness.”

Damaris Parker-Rhodes, 1977

Few things induce sad eyes and sympathy more than the words ‘I feel lonely.’
Sitting down with my trusty notebook late yesterday afternoon I sketched an outline resembling my own figure and pencilled in the hollow white centre, ‘I am lonely’.
For a fleeting moment sadness pooled at my core. I wished to connect and there was nothing, just me sat in my chair with nobody to turn over the events of the day with.
Applying a weighty hammer of logic to the emotion I demanded to know why, for my weekend has not been an isolated act of existence. A friend has been visiting and every night my head has hit the pillow gladdened by messages sent by loved ones keen to see me smiling. On Sunday I sat in a room  of Friends I adore,  joyfully sharing silent worship. I left the Meeting house filled to the bubbling brim with Love.
Then I came home, stared out of the window down the long rainy street and felt nothing but alone.

Being torn from social immersion I felt lost, momentarily.
Although it is true I would enjoy being in a rough and tumble family of constant co-operative exchanges I also enjoy solitary sessions alone in my chair, reading, writing and easing into stillness.
The more I thought about it, the more thankful I became. There were plenty of sound reasons to not feel lonely I just needed to shake hands with solitude to see them.

Maybe, just maybe, loneliness is not always a mournful state of mind. Perhaps it is a battle stage where we confront reflections from the mirror others hold up to us.
I sat before my notebook thinking of contented couples journeying into the evening together, I considered how nice it is to have somewhere to belong, someone to hark to, an emotional resting place where all is well and at ease.
Rogue thoughts invaded, demanding to know ‘why I am here feeling low? why do I not have such companionship in the here and now?’  and I watched families flock like bonded birds along the pavement, human hands intertwined.

As divine as such a union sounds we each carry within us a great propensity for loneliness even within the parameters of a loving relationship. This is a happy sign that each of us is unique. We can search the world over for an ideal, a soul mate, a true confidante and kindred being but we will never be able to totally replicate our selves. The sum of our experiences, feelings and preferences single us out and in life we travel alone. We can hope only for fellow travellers to join us and share the views, then we can warmly reminisce and build for futures.

Maintaining close relationships requires attentiveness and an ongoing will to care. Life being a blizzard of unknowns all we’ve come to know as concrete and dependable can shatter into chaos. Relationships  can be terrifying and unsettling as well as being blissful and comforting. They carry within them their own brand of loneliness, one where fears and failures nag and our hopes and expectations are called into question.

Parents feel too tired to connect with children and each other, children can’t understand scolding and reprimand, even the faithful family dog saunters behind sometimes, low ranking and out of the pack.

Loneliness finds us wherever we go, that’s okay.

There is no shame in feeling lonely. Loneliness can be useful, helping us to define clearly what it is we want, framing the nature of our needs. Gratitude grows when all we yearn for is absent. Bitterness must be weeded out and love’s strength tested. In the space where others aren’t, where no-one runs to meet us, we find ourselves standing alone and wondering. This is the best time to reach out and embrace ourselves, to accept and welcome who we are.

Loneliness is our chance to recalibrate.
Living is finding ways to allay solitude and appreciate it in equal measure, developing gratitude for together times and knowing contentment in stillness.

One last presiding wisdom on the nature of loneliness as said by Caroline E Stephen in 1908,

“The amount of solitude which is attainable or would be wholesome in the case of any individual life is a matter which each of us must judge for himself… A due proportion of solitude is one of the most important conditions of mental health. Therefore if it be our lot to stand apart from those close natural ties by which life is for most people shaped and filled, let us not be in haste to fill the gap; let us not carelessly or rashly throw away the opportunity of entering into that deeper and more continual acquaintance with the unseen and eternal things which is the natural and great compensation for the loss of easier joys. The loneliness which we rightly dread is not the absence of human faces and voices – it is the absence of love… Our wisdom therefore must lie in learning not to shrink from anything that may be in store for us, but so to grasp the master key of life as to be able to turn everything to good and fruitful account.”