Thursday, 7 November 2019

The Boss meets Q once more

The Boss meets Q once more
- Hi Boss.
- Hi Q.
They shake hands and the Boss sits in his usual chair in Q’s study.
- So what brings you here today?
- Hmm… as you know I have two in-laws with Dementia and also two good mates with degenerative illnesses and my best friend needs major surgery….
- Hm.
- And I find it tough to be at peace with this ongoing chronic suffering by these people that I love. I feel so useless and it seems so unfair. (The Boss buries his head in his hands.)
- Hmm, sighs Q.
- And please, please don’t tell me ‘All things will be well.’….or that “enlightenment is to be found in suffering”.
- I wont… I promise.
- Good, but it does raise personal theological issues for me.
- Which are?
- Why does God design us this way and allow this suffering to continue? I can accept short term acute suffering and the pain of bereavement, but this chronic pain as people I love slowly deteriorate and lose it, well-
- Well?
- Well I have no choice but to be with them.
- Hmm.
- Don’t hmm me!
- OK (Q holds up his hands in submission and then goes on to say) You are choosing to stay in touch with your ill family members and friends.
- Of course… What else could I do?
- You could walk away. And some do.
- I can’t. Indeed I wont.
- You wont?
- No I bloody well will not!
- OK then… You are choosing to stay in contact.
- I am!
- That’s grand.
- It is?
- It is. Who knows what will come out of this.
- Oh.
- For any and everyone involved.
- Oh.
- Oh indeed.

They settle down into silence.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Rise! Rise!

Some years ago I felt that all the working relationships I was in - with clients, groups, supervisees, academic supervision of dissertations and theses - that I was doing the same thing. Loving (agape I reckon) people, being with them and seeing what arose in me in response to them and choosing whether and how to share this.
 I haven't worked as an individual therapist since 2001 when my sister died and I took time off temporarily. I always assumed that when I (kind of) retired that I would work as a therapist again. But no says the voice inside even though I feel guilty (I know, I know but...) But stuff is still happening with me around people I met. It is stunning what a smile can do. So this apparently not doing much maybe being more(?) and the impact of small things on us seems to be the thing to me.
And now an old friend of mine is suffering from a degenerative disease and more. After speaking on the phone to him I felt a bit useless afterwards and how unfair life and God is. Then in the silent section of the Unitarian Service this morning I was, as I often do, saying the Lord’s Prayer to myself. Suddenly another voice told me ‘Rise, Rise!’. I knew what it meant. Often in the silence my body stretches upwards and sometimes thoughts and energies turn up. On this occasion it was all clear to me: to be present to my friend despite feeling useless!

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Interesting days

Interesting days! Last Saturday whilst facilitating a group tutorial at the University of Chester I noticed some coloured auras around some of the students. It had been a deep sharing including a mention of shamanism(!) but it was my first time in years that I had seen these colours.

Later that same day I went to see the Elton John film and found myself weeping through most it. Some of this was about remembering my own 1950s childhood and the struggle to be who I was and express it through my work. But also I was moved by Elton’s facing up to his addictions and how his life changed for the better afterwards.

Then Monday I am in London being videod by Confer for an online module by about therapy and spirituality and in the warm up to this I am reflecting on my 1970s life in Notting Hill and my earliest spiritual experiences and my time between 1968 and 1990 when I had no faith group to belong to.

After videoing they book me an Uber taxi back to my B & B; the first one does not show – some electronic hassle or other. The second one is a Tesla car, so smooth, which is driven by an actor. We get talking and it turns out he is starring in a film out this Autumn about an Afghan Army vet who has PTSD. He then tells me that he has recently been in the rain forest with his wife and they has done some life changing shamanic practices there as which sent her coeliac condition into remission, and which was life changing for him. I was gob smacked as a young member of my extended family has recently been diagnosed as coeliac and I have been musing about this and related illnesses recently.

It seems to me that we are perhaps seeing more people suffering from hard to diagnose conditions that really impact on their lives. I am wondering why. It could be pollution is a factor or that there is some other reason why what we get ill with changes over time.

Thursday, 21 March 2019



1)      During the month of December I became very aware of the suffering in my extended families and close friends. It seemed so unfair and raised important issues for me about what is Life about and some of these touched on my spiritual faith. I felt like that I got my ideas about human existence all wrong. It was in a Unitarian Service in early January and during the final hymn a thought came to me that left me speechless and unable to sing. It was ‘We are meant to be broken because we are not angels’. Then I thought further about how being broken lets the light in. And I thought about Wilhelm Reich saying you can’t straighten a bent tree. And then I realised that I needed to see the beauty in the bent tree and in nature as whole, and some plants die quickly maybe after a late flowering and some die slowly. And then the seeds they leave behind germinate and fresh life appears.

2)      The problem with being (semi) retired is that I think a lot about my past or rather memories just turn up. I wince at how I have treated people on occasions. I have some real regrets - things I have done or not done. I can try and make amends where appropriate and possible and vow to not make the same mistake again. However, I am not perfect. Thinking about this in the Unitarian service at Cross Street Chapel this morning (March 2019), these words came, "I am not perfect, because I am not an angel" Somehow that feels a bit better!



Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Encountering Jamie

Encountering Jamie

 On the way to my Roundelay Choir rehearsal this evening I called in on a local Sainsburys for a packet of Lockets. Outside the door was homeless man. I already decided, for some reason, to give him a quid when I came out. He assumed that my lack of response to him on the way in was negative but he said something pleasant to me anyway.

I came out and gave him a quid. He thanked me and said that he now had enough money to go to the hostel that night and began to gather up his meagre belongings. For some reason I lingered. He told me he was 50 and I said he didn’t look it. He then said he would die soon. I queried this and he replied that if you haven’t achieved things by the time you are 50… I challenged this and said that people with a few months to live could still achieve things. He thanked me for this and offered a handshake which I accepted and told me his name was Jamie. We then said goodbye. There was something about this that I found moving and I think he did too.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

On stumbling across Unitarians

On stumbling across Unitarians
(I wrote this piece on a work trip to Malta last July.)

Nearly 4 years ago just before my ‘retirement’ I found myself in hospital for 13 days after surgery on a broken leg following a bicycle accident. During those days and nights I had plenty of time to think and to stare out of the window. Some of my planned retirement plans that I had held for a number of years were dropped. One in particular was to be more involved with Quakers. I had been a member for over 20 years during the busiest time of my life. It suddenly became crystal clear to me that being a Quaker no longer fitted for me.
So what next? Once mobile again I decided to check out my local Christian churches in South Manchester. Over the next 18 months or so I visited 8 such churches – 3 C of E, 1 Baptist, URC, joint Baptist-URC, Methodist, and Metropolitan. I could almost have drawn up a trip adviser table of my reactions to these churches or perhaps it was more like Goldilocks! I found myself enjoying singing hymns again, enjoying the ritual of communion and some parts of some of the sermons I heard. I was made welcome in all situations. I found myself attending 2 of the churches fairly regularly for a while but not feeling totally happy with either.  

I was more of less reconciled to this situation when I was at someone’s graduation meal one year ago and a stranger mentioned that she went to a meditation class held at my local Chorlton Unitarian chapel.  ‘Hmm’ I thought, ‘why have I not tried them out?’ Curiously I had visited a Bridge club held there and also had been at a rehearsal of the choir I belong to in Cross Street Chapel.
My first Unitarian service in Chorlton was life changing! We were sat in a horse shoe formation so I could see everyone and a chalice was passed round. There were readings, prayers and hymns/songs from a range of religious and spiritual perspectives many of which resonated with me. One of the biggest surprises for me was to hear transpersonal language and ideas used in the service which was lead in an engaging way by Laura Dobson. I had never experienced transpersonal ideas in a religious setting before.

 As a young man I had started to have experiences of loving connectedness with nature which I later realised was a form of mystical or spiritual experience. It was hard for me to locate such experiences within Christianity in the late 1960s but by the 1990s I was able to find a home in Quakers who were seemingly mystics but I was still reluctant to voice these experiences especially when they involved swirling colours. In my experience people hardly ever discussed what had happened to them in the silence of the Quaker Meeting. Thus hearing transpersonal language used in my first ever Unitarian service was so welcoming.

In the end it was Cross Street that did it for me. There were a number of synchronous events. For example one Sunday walking to the service I found myself thinking of the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich – ‘All will be well’ and then in his sermon Cody Coyne refers to Julian and this same quote. Then on another Sunday on the way to Cross Street I was thinking of the Serenity prayer and Cody quoted it that morning. Another time in another sermon I am hearing an implicit mention of the philosopher Martin Buber, a favourite of mine and Cody confirmed yes he was thinking of Buber.
Somehow I managed to get over my habitual shyness and respond to the warmth of the welcome I received. It was helpful that in the service Cody usually invited any of us who wished to come forward and lit a candle to celebrate an event in our lives or to commemorate something more painful. This put me in touch with the realities of the lives of my fellow attenders. It led people to ask me about events in my life that I mentioned.  It also helped that we all sat at one table so I did not have to make an awkward choice of which table to sit at. Curiously volunteering one Sunday to serve tea and coffee also helped to break the ice – a great way to strike up casual conversations.
Later I came to realise that Unitarians have a range of experiences, beliefs and words to describe how they understand spirituality and that there is no pressure on me to fit in or accept other people views; more the delight in swapping experiences, ideas, meanings. And of course Unitarians seem a great place to discern my way forward and to deal with the spiritual uncertainties raised by my ‘retirement’.