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Archive for the ‘Autobiographical’ Category

Much has been happening this year to give me cause to reflect, whether I wanted to or not, on the meaning of life.

‘Judging by your blog posts, you do this anyway,’ I can almost hear you comment.

Yes, that’s true but only up to point, it seems.

I accept that I have explored at possibly excruciating length the importance of reflection, and kept coming back relentlessly to the issues of the afterlife, and the nature of the mind/brain relationship. I have banged on endlessly about the impact of my sister’s death before I was born and how grappling with my parents’ grief shaped my childhood.

The same kind of preoccupations persist, of course.

Time-Torn

Recently, when I was in Birmingham, I bought a book that I already owned. This is only the second time I’ve done so. It was the greeny-blue paperback edition of Claire Tomalin’s Thomas Hardy: the Time-torn Man. I knew I owned one book about his life but it didn’t look like this one, so I bought it, partly motivated by the BBC’s recent screening of a new version of Far from the Madding Crowd.

It took me a while to find the one I’d got. I combed my re-arranged shelves (we’ve been de-cluttering again), and was almost on the point of putting my name on the flyleaf of my new acquisition, when I spotted a cream coloured hard-back.

‘Found it!’ my mind shrieked.

I managed to get my money back from Waterstones and, afterwards, decided to check whether I’d read the book. My de-cluttering and reorganisation process is based partly on examining books to see when I bought them and if I’ve even looked at them. I’m operating a 10 year rule. If I’ve had it 10 years and not read it, I should consider taking it to the Oxfam shop.

This book surprised me. I’d bought it in 2006, but there was no evidence I’d ever read it, though I thought I had.

Next test: ‘Read the opening pages.’

I did.

There was no way this was going to charity.

Memories came flooding back, even more than had been triggered by the film, which linked only with the other novels. The biography brought back the poems, because they were the focus of the prologue, including a particularly haunting one, written after the death of his wife, from whom he had become increasingly estranged over the years, though they continued to live in the same house:

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?

Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.

Tomalin doesn’t quote the whole poem, only the first and last verses, but my mind (or was it my heart?) filled in much of the rest.

I am now almost at the end of her engaging account of his life. The debt I owe to Hardy, who helped me place my family’s grief and suffering in a wider context as I grew up through adolescence to something closer to maturity, is very great indeed. It’s good to be reminded of that, even though I had much further to go than he could take me.

But even describing this, and mentioning the next book on my list, Night Falls Fast by Kay Redfield Jamison (another one rediscovered unread) which deals with suicide, doesn’t quite convey where I find I’m up to now.

Recent Experiences

To do that I need to touch briefly on some events of the last few months.

First, there was the series of colds that left me with a cough I couldn’t shake off, and a deep sense of fatigue. This overlapped with a health MOT that flagged up a highly elevated blood pressure, which I thought might have been triggered by the series of  infections.

Antibiotics, which cleared the cough, and Amlodipine, which brought down my blood pressure, levelled things off for a while. Even so something had shifted in my consciousness.

Maybe it was the evident panic of the nurses at the sight of a systolic BP in excess of 200, and the manic sequence of blood tests that followed to check out the state of my major organs, that changed my sense of my own body. Whereas before my body was something that I identified with so closely that I barely noticed it if it did not hurt, tingle or display some similarly intense experience, now I was aware of it plodding along most of the time.

But, and this is an important ‘but’, I do not feel I am my body. I have a body obviously, and depend upon it to get me around and carry my consciousness.

Somehow, though, the hand I write with and the feet I walk with, no longer feel part of who I really am. They are instruments I use, and I catch myself watching them as I write or walk, but they are not me. I need them, and as my body gets tired faster than it used to, I get impatient with them and frustrated by them more often. Yeats’ expression of feeling ‘fastened to a dying animal’ is taking on new meanings for me.

More recently, and literally the day before I was due to travel to Scotland to run a workshop on unity, I found myself needing to go to the doctor’s again, unable to drive myself because I was suddenly seeing two of everything. My GP couldn’t explain why it had suddenly occurred, though he knew the name for it: diplopia.

He referred me to the hospital and they confirmed my diagnosis but had no real idea either what might have caused it. They gave me a prism patch to place on the left lens of my spectacles. It deflects the light and corrects my double vision. I’ll need to wear it till the damaged nerve is repaired, which could take months.

This diplopia, perhaps predictably, redoubled the problem.

Not only was I feeling different about my body now, but the world had changed its appearance and was reinforcing the sense, which I have had for as long as I can remember, that all I have is a simulation of reality. When your simulation breaks down further, and doesn’t even fulfil its evolutionary purpose too well, there’s no get out.

Not only am I not my body, it feels, but I don’t even know what the world is really like anymore, if I ever did.

Reaffirmations

This has led me to reaffirm even more strongly the importance of reflection, stepping back from my identifications with the contents of my consciousness, and consultation, comparing simulations as dispassionately as possible with others in order to get closer to the truth. Learning to act reflectively has come to seem even more crucial.

Following on from that reminder, I added in my journal:

This needs to be held in mind along with my metaphor of the bees of reflection gathering the pollen of wisdom and the honey of love from the flowers of experience, and with my dream metaphor of the hearth (see link for a full description) with its associations of earth, heart, art, ear and hear, plus the peat that burns within the structure of the grate to provide light and warmth.

It was only as I re-read those words this morning that I realised another level of interpretation of that dream.

This was the dream:

I am sitting on a rag rug, the kind where you drag bits of cloth through a coarse fabric backing to build up a warm thick rug.  The rags used in this case were all dark browns, greys and blacks. It is the rug, made by my spinster aunt, that was in the family home where I grew up. I’m in the living room, facing the hearth with its chimney breast and its cast-iron grate and what would have been a coal fire burning brightly. I am at the left hand corner of the rug furthest from the fire. To my right are one or two other people, probably Bahá’ís, but I’m not sure who they are. We are praying. I am chewing gum. I suddenly realise that Bahá’u’lláh is behind my left shoulder. I absolutely know it. I am devastated to be ‘caught’ chewing gum during prayers but can see no way of getting rid of the gum unobserved.

My interpretation of ‘peat,’ as written down several years after, was that ‘the essence of my being – peat – is to fuel’ the process of’ ‘giving warmth to the mansion of being.’

Peat was perhaps not simply, as I had originally thought, a pun on my name that related to the idea of sacrificing an innate spiritual deeper self for a higher purpose (light/warmth): it now seemed to be pointing towards something more complex.

This is partly because there are implications concerning the time scales involved. The Wikipedia article explains: ‘In natural peatlands, the “annual rate of biomass production is greater than the rate of decomposition”, but it takes “thousands of years for peatlands to develop the deposits of 1.5 to 2.3 m [4.9 to 7.5 ft], which is the average depth of the boreal [northern] peatlands”.’

If I translate that into personal terms, peat, although derived from the earth, becomes to some degree at least an attribute painstakingly acquired, something that takes long periods of time to create or evolve. It is not already available nor can it be created impatiently, in a rush. Yes, it is the fuel which gives the energy to bring light (wisdom?) and warmth (love?) into the world of being but it needs work to bring it into existence.

In short, I am not burning something that is already there fully formed from birth, as it were, ‘the Soul that rises with’ me, as Wordsworth put it, but something that I have had to devote time to creating. It is almost certainly related to my soul and to spirit, but it is also involves something which I have a responsibility to develop, create, bring into being.

Perhaps I had only partly understood my dream all this time, glibly oversimplifying it. Why doesn’t what surprise me?

What had seemed like separate aspects of experience suddenly have come to seem connected.

Reflection requires patience. Long periods of practice are required to even begin to get the hang of it. Using it entails slowing down. Periods of silence, as quiet as the deep ground that holds the formation of peat, are essential prerequisites to reflection and the ultimate creation of its fruits.

I am still in the process of digesting these insights and refining them. I can’t yet articulate them clearly or exactly.

What it means for this blog is that I will only publish when I feel I really have something to say, not at the dictates of a calendar deadline. I am still not even sure exactly which direction my writing will now take.

There will be more silence and fewer words. Be patient with me. It may prove worth it.

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Déjà Vu

Given yesterday’s health check poem, it seems reasonable to revisit poem.

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I woke up on Tuesday to find my world looking something like this

While all my adult life I have aspired towards some kind of utopia, and striven to avoid creating a dystopia, I never expected to live in a diplopia!

It came on slowly. The Saturday before last I noticed that my vision seemed slightly odd but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It changed so subtly at first it is hard to describe. Things just seemed slightly out of focus. It wasn’t until I woke with full double-vision four days later that I knew something was really not right.

Always one to blame big pharma if I can, I checked my medication and read that double vision is a rare side effect so I stopped taking the tablets to see if that eased the problem. It didn’t: the following morning it was worse.

The unacceptable thrust itself upon me. Perhaps there was something wrong with me!

I went to the GP. No, I didn’t drive. Do you think I’m crazy or what? My wife drove me to the doctor’s as I couldn’t have done so safely myself. As I sat in the passenger seat I had the weird experience of seeing cars, which were really on the opposite side of the road, seeming to come straight at us.

My GP, after watching me try to follow his finger circling about in front of my eyes, felt that he couldn’t be sure what the source of the problem was, though he was clear there was a muscle weakness. So, he gave me a letter to take to the Emergency Department for the attention of the Ophthalmologist.

He advised that it was best to get there at about 13.30 to be at the head of the afternoon queue so I followed his advice. Even so I didn’t escape till about 4 p.m. I saw three different people at least half-an-hour apart. Thank goodness for the NHS – it’s brilliant even under pressure.

The first person I saw did some basic tests similar to those an optician would do, asking me to read rows of letters using a device that could block either eye.

The second person did some experiments to determine how much my vision was displaced before putting a prism patch on my left lens, which corrects the angle of the light so I don’t see double with my glasses on.

The closest picture I could find to what I had to scan: it just lack the circular nodes.

Then she took me to another room for an elaborate mirror test. Not exactly fun. I was given a long stick with tiny ring at the end. With my nose up against the glass of a slanted mirror I had to point at the circular nodes of a grid system. It was like a kind of demented Go patience test.

Too often, when she switched on a light to show how close I’d got with the eye in question, I was shocked to see I was about a centimetre off track.

Basically, after a series of tests including the last one done by her to check the retina, the consultant, whom I saw last of all, concluded it was the result of a micro-vascular incident (i.e. blood starvation) that had affected the 6th ocular nerve and consequently the eye muscles, so they’re not working in synch. The medication was not the culprit and I needed to carry on taking it. Bang went the silver lining!

She feels it will right itself over time and added what happened is not unusual for someone of my age but may be a warning call. There will be more appointments down the line.

Still, I live a pleasant life overall. Why complain that I am getting it twice over?

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Last year I played with the idea of a community of inner selves in a sequence of posts I called My Parliament of Selves. I’ve also dealt with this idea in less personal terms.

I called into question the idea of an automatically unified and integrated self. A vast body of theory, clinical practice and research has accumulated which calls this assumption gravely into question. Split brain research and resulting theories, clinical experiences with multiple personalities and auditory hallucinations, as well as psychoanalytic theory (Freud and Jung especially) and its offspring are all useful starting points in revising a simplistic view.

For instance, Berne, the founding father of Transactional Analysis, saw us as beings organised into at least three different semi-autonomous and incompletely conscious subselves. These he called the Parent, the Adult and the Child. The extent to which these subselves are in harmonious cooperation is one of the determinants of well-being.

A model of therapy often used in coordination with Transactional Analysis is the Gestalt Therapy of Fritz Perls whose most fundamental tenet is that we are divided beings seeking to become whole. His therapy is a form of consultation between conflicting aspects of the person.

I am also aware of the literature which deals with not just dissociated multiple personalities but also mediumship.

None of that prepared me for the shock I felt on revisiting a diary entry of mine from early 2000, which recorded some dream work I had done. I was looking for some notes I took at about that time on the subject of near-death experiences. This was something altogether different.

One way of working a dream, as I have described elsewhere, is the Gestalt technique of assuming the role of a dream element, whether that be a person or a thing and speaking in its voice. In the dream the night before the entry was made I had seen myself reflected in a mirror as a woman, so, when I woke, I worked on the dream by stepping into her presence and speaking her thoughts.

The Dragon of Smoke Escaping from Mt Fuji (for source of image see link)

‘So you have found me at last,” she says out of her mirror. “Do you like what you see? Will you turn away from me again? My delicacy looks vulnerable and you do not trust me in your world. You do not trust me to be your guide. You think I’ll come to harm. I am not so delicate as you think. Or you fear I’ll bring you to harm. Look at my eyes – a deep deep black. I am in a way your soul. I am the unacknowledged strivings of your truest self. I am beauty. I am truth. I am life. I am love. I am your connection with the infinite. Through me you can know what lies out of your reach otherwise. I know what feeds your spirit and what does not. I am the repository of all the rich experiences you have ever known. Who do you think listens to this Chopin you are playing right now? Who responds to the views of Mount Fuji? Why do you never give me the time truly to savour those wonders? Why do you always wrench me away into the arid distractions of your daily unlife? Why when you usually write this journal do you never wait for me to have my say? Why do you fill it will the froth that floats on top of your mind? Is my path too steep for you? Do you fear your being will not bear the strain of it? Do you fear that paying attention to my concerns will make you careless of your responsibilities in the world? That is not true. Working in the world from my perspective will be richer and more telling.

‘When I look back over your day I can explain why you were so silent for so much of it. Do you remember your thoughts about suffering? All the people that you encountered [she names them but it is best I do not for reasons of confidentiality] – they all speak to the same issue. Suffering is not what we think it is. Its fire turns the clay of our imperfections to flawless china; suffering perfects the soul and enables it to rise to its highest destiny.

‘You do not believe that. I can feel the writhing of your disbelief. You revolt against the idea of bearing such sorrows and such pains in this world. You feel you could not ever do so. You want to evade such pain. That may be your good fortune – to avoid it — but it should not blind you to the purpose of suffering in others. Even those who bear it badly will see how they were blessed when they discard their body and ascend. Even if you had been able to think what I am saying you could not have shared it and what you did think was so negative and bleak there was no point in saying it. So you stayed silent and felt sad. If you have truly learned your lesson from this – which I doubt – you will not turn your back on me again. Try what this life is like – the life lived in full consciousness of me.’

The power of this took my breath away. What’s more I was stunned to realise that I had forgotten the whole encounter entirely, even though I wrote it down so fully at the time and added: ‘I would like to pledge that I will explore the world from this perspective to the best of my ability. But can I do so?’

My doubts were clearly well-founded.

There are many ways of interpreting this persona or sub-personality. Jung’s idea of the anima is perhaps the first to spring to mind. One website defines the anima as follows:

The anima is both a personal complex and an archetypal image of woman in the male psyche. It is an unconscious factor incarnated anew in every male child, and is responsible for the mechanism of projection. Initially identified with the personal mother, the anima is later experienced not only in other women but as a pervasive influence in a man’s life.

Jung did not see this as the soul in the way my sub-self forcefully asserted herself to be.

The anima is not the soul in the dogmatic sense, not an anima rationalis, which is a philosophical conception, but a natural archetype that satisfactorily sums up all the statements of the unconscious, of the primitive mind, of the history of language and religion. … It is always the a priori element in [a man’s] moods, reactions, impulses, and whatever else is spontaneous in psychic life.[“Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i, par. 57.]

And the depth and power of the spiritual insights my mirror-self articulates, especially concerning suffering, seem at odds with all that is written about the anima.

The link with suffering might be giving me a clue to where some of the passion of the persona derives from. I have explored at length how my parent’s grief over my sister’s death four years before I was born scorched my early years.

In addition, the rebukes she spits out about my not devoting time to immersing myself in deep experiences resonates with my work over the years on improving my powers of reflection (see diagram at the foot of this post for my latest perspective on this).

None of this though quite accounts for the sense of a whole personality expressing itself in this outburst – a personality to whom I have denied expression, something I have failed to integrate. I have consigned her to fulminating under the surface most of the time. The anger is searing.

It is possible that the persona was not in fact the anima at all, but rather something more akin to another concept Jung explores in his essay on the mana-personality (Collected Works, Volume 7, page 236). It is something around which the ego unconsciously revolves rather as the earth circles round the sun. He writes:

I call this centre the self.… It might equally well be called the ‘God within us.’ The beginnings of our whole psychic life seem to be inextricably rooted in this point, and all out highest and ultimate purposes seem to be striving towards it.

The Society of Friends refers to ‘that of God within us.’ Bahá’u’lláh Himself writes (AHW: 13):

Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.

In The Seven Valleys He quotes ‘Alí, the Successor to Muhammad, as saying:

Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form
When within thee the universe is folded?

1: Lower Unconscious 2: Middle Unconscious 3: Higher Unconscious 4: Field of Consciousness 5: Conscious Self or “I” 6: Higher Self 7: Collective Unconscious (For the source of the image see link.)

There is at least one fully articulated model of therapy that incorporates a sense of a higher self and seeks to help us connect with it: this is Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis, which I have explored in various places on this blog. A coloured adaptation of his basic diagram illustrates this perspective clearly enough for now.

Clearly I need to take great care before jumping to the conclusion that this passionate dream element was definitely my Higher Self summoning me to better things. Even so, I also need to think hard before yet again dismissing this experience irretrievably to an  archive shelf somewhere deep in my memory store.

Perhaps a bit of reflection would help?

There is one other theory that might conceivably apply but which has much that feels dubious about it. I will take a look at that hopefully next week. The explanation is a strange mixture of ideas that resonate with and idiosyncrasies that repel me. I want to dig a bit deeper at least in terms of the best bits.

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In the wake of the post on Thursday on David Jones, I thought it appropriate to republish this poem. Because my father fought in the first world war, even though he never spoke of his experience its shadow hung over my childhood, mostly through my mother’s anxious ruminations about its impact on her life.

Mary poem

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In the wake of the post yesterday on David Jones, I thought it appropriate to republish this poem. Because my father fought in the first world war, even though he never spoke of his experience its shadow hung over my childhood, mostly through my mother’s anxious ruminations about its impact on her life. The book I remember discovering as a child was a collection of black and white photographs of the ‘Great War.’

Unfinished Business

For source of image see link

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snow

As I am dealing at the moment with my attitude to psychiatry it seemed worth re-publishing this from 2013, whose section on Journals Revisited describes the kind of disillusioning encounter that reinforced my scepticism about psychiatry as a complete and satisfying explanation of mental health problems. I had always felt the context of such problems was always more complex than unsupported speculations about brains and genes.  

I was recently at a national Bahá’í meeting. Within two hours of getting there, three people at least had asked me had I done my story for the Histories Project website yet. My first response was that the story of my becoming a Bahá’í – well, it was more of a declaration of intent, meaning that I intended to work at treading the Bahá’í path as effectively as I could – was basically fairly boring.

That didn’t seem to convince anyone so I stopped trying to explain that as a bookworm I didn’t have a dramatic encounter with a charismatic speaker, a life-changing mystical experience or participate in a totally mind-blowing meeting. I just read a book, then bought some more books and read them double quick, met a few warm and accepting people to ask questions of, then decided it made sense and joined the Bahá’í community. Something like that. It’s why I’ve never blogged about it in detail really. Anyway when I got back from the meeting I set about writing my story (eventually, if I pass it on, you’ll find it on the UK Baha’i histories site).

Journals Revisited

In doing so, I had to go back through my journals of that time and check out some dates. Shades of Becket’s Krapp’s Last Tape again (see earlier post). Becket’s monologue situation is that ‘It is Krapp’s 69th birthday and he hauls out his old tape recorder, reviews one of the earlier years – the recording he made when he was 39 – and makes a new recording commenting on the last 12 months.’ I’m just a year late this time.

As I read, I was amazed that I had got one key date wrong – I was still doing clinical placements until the end of September 1982 – I thought the course was all over by July, but that was only the academic bit.

The journal is full to the brim of desultory ruminations on the work I was doing on placement:

2nd September 1982: It has been a wonderful day – ploughed brown earth under the warmth of a mellow sun against a background of subdued green. However, not even such a day can remove the oppressive feel of the mental hospital to me. It is not an oppression that resides in any obvious way in the buildings or the layout even, unprepossessing as those are. Ugliness is not necessarily oppressive. Somehow the spirit exuded by the place as a whole is one of immutable and dehumanising tradition.

Today’s ward round, which I attended as a guest, was an emblem of that. Dr X., who is lugubrious and yet admirably meticulous, was on leave. In his stead was Dr Y, short, greying, shrewd and abrupt, with a slightly disarming affectation of bumbledom to mask the steel of his prompt authority. With him in the driving seat, and Dr W., the Registrar, and Mr Z., a nurse, in attendance, the ward round was steered into oppressive backwaters of psychiatric practice.

Dr W: We can’t give her medication on a 25. It’s illegal.

Mr Z: Since when is it illegal, doctor, to give a patient medication?

Dr W: We can’t on a 25.

Mr Z: If we did only what ’twas legal there’d be few people helped, to my way of thinking.

Dr Y: Should it be a 26 she’s on, d’you think doctor?

Dr W: Yes, I do. She needs medication.

25 and 26 refer to parts of the Mental Health Act at the time. Section 26 allowed you to force someone to take medication, but only if a certain level of risk was reached: Section 25 did not. The patient in question had just been ushered out of conference after delivering a loud long uninterruptible and paranoid harangue. She was clearly not going to agree to take medication voluntarily. What was disturbing was that there was no evidence to indicate that she was a danger to herself and/or others.

I think my somewhat self-righteous anti-psychiatry stance at the time, which had been rooted in my former socialist perspective and shaped by my experience of People Not Psychiatry, may have blinded me to the possible teasing irony of the nurse’s comments in the face of a doctor’s somewhat abrupt and prissy manner. The final point probably still stands though and raises the question of whether I should have brought it up myself at the time – the pros and cons of which it doesn’t appeared to have occurred to me to mention in my account.

This slight distortion of dates was bad enough, but even more surprising was the fact that the journal contained no mention whatsoever of the earlier moment I remember so well.

The Winter of my Discontent

Much of the second year of my Clinical MSc, from late 1981 onwards, was a very testing time. I was undergoing significant upheavals in my personal life and, perhaps as a result of the distress I was feeling, had also made at least one very poor decision, which impacted adversely on others as well as on myself. I was extremely distressed by all this, particularly because I had brought most of this on myself and could also see how others were suffering too. By Christmas, I knew I needed help to sort the situation out and rectify what I could in terms of damage done, but I couldn’t see where to turn.

To my astonishment, in early January 1982, I found myself alone in a snow-bound cottage in the middle of Sussex, a complete unbeliever as I thought, on my knees in tears saying, ‘God, if you exist, please help me now.’ It was a short prayer, if prayer it really was, but it was undoubtedly intensely felt. I was on my knees a lot longer than it took to say those improbable words. Interestingly, I was writing lots and lots of poems at the same time – some of them the best I’ve ever written. The poems don’t mention the prayer either but they were undoubtedly influenced by the weather.

My poetry lacks bravery.
Sunlight on snow
Says everything I need,
But when I go
None will know how,
Under my frost,
Songs were silenced.

Harvest Time

Not a word about the prayer anywhere at all! Very strange! I don’t doubt that it happened but it seemed as though I had devoted acres of paper to recording far less important facts about my life and neglected some really critical moments.

ScruttonPerhaps most surprisingly of all, though I have a huge number of memories about the period of this life-changing decision, most of which I have included in my draft of my story, none of them are in my journal. There is a short two paragraph entry there on 20 December 1982. It reads:

On 25 November 1982 I borrowed Scrutton’s book on the Bahá’í Faith from the library. On Friday 26 November I went down to the Bahá’í centre because, so closely did what was described correspond to my ideal, that I could not believe it. I bought half a dozen books, talked to several people, and soaked up an atmosphere of love more intoxicating than any wine I have ever tasted before.

On 2 December, I declared as a Bahá’í and I’m still utterly convinced I did the right thing. . . . . . [People] feel it could be another one of my transient and embarrassing enthusiasms and can’t understand my need for a religion in the first place. I feel that I will still be a Baha’i in 20 years time. Time will tell.

And, it seems, I am still working at it – after more than 30 years.

Summoning up Remembrance

The absence of evidence in the journal, when considered in the light of how treacherous I have found my memory to be, may indicate that the whole process has been heavily embroidered in my mind. Its treachery came home to me as a result of a conflict between my journal and my memory which I have blogged about before and which I will be republishing shortly.

Friern corridor

The corridor at Friern Barnet (not the hospital referred to in the post though I did work there later). For the picture’s source see link.

When anyone has asked me tell them about situations where my declaration as a Bahá’í brought me into conflict with the assumptions of my profession as a psychologist I was prone to boasting of the time I went for an informal interview for a clinical post soon after I qualified. I was walking with the neuropsychologist, I said, down towards her office. She was dressed in a white coat so she looked like a doctor from the back. The only thing missing was a stethoscope.

As we walked she cast a sideways glance at me and said: ‘Thank goodness Blackmore has finally put paid to the idea of God, don’t you agree?’

‘Not really,’ I distinctly remember saying,’I have an idea about God that I believe in.’

She glared at me and we walked the rest of the short way to her office in silence.

I come out of that version of events reasonably well and believed, until late last month, that this was exactly what happened. Until, that is, I read my journal of that period looking for the page reference. Imagine my feelings when I discovered, in my own hand-writing, an almost completely different version of events. First of all it happened in September. I didn’t hear about the Baha’i Faith until November. First hole below the waterline. I wrote:

She wore a white coat [at least I got that right] with her name written on a badge. My revulsion against psychologists who wish to masquerade as doctors was barely containable. And when I heard her mouthing with obvious contempt such things as ‘. . . .people who don’t realise that the mind is separate from the brain’ I did not know what to say. . . . .

All I could say was ‘I haven’t thought about it a lot.’

‘I’m very sorry to hear that . . . very sorry . . . I’m very sorry to hear that indeed.’

Quite why I couldn’t fight back I don’t know. Perhaps my feelings were running too high – they were certainly strong by this time. I just wanted to get out, I think.

According to my journal I mumbled some jargon strewn with impressive names but basically ducked the point. I believed the mind was not reducible to the brain but couldn’t say so.

The accounts, though they have a kernel of common truth, couldn’t be more different. When I had become a Baha’i I did speak out but definitely not then and not in the way I convinced myself it had happened. I clearly didn’t want to remember my craven evasion so I backdated my eventual moral courage and believed my own propaganda.

This might have been another reason why I have been so reluctant to go public with the story of my joining the Bahá’í community. How much of what I thought I remembered was, in fact, accurate?

To my relief, my memory of the basic details I quoted above was correct, which is encouraging.

Less Surprising than I thought?

What was still surprising, and which I had also forgotten, was how preoccupied with spiritual issues I had been in the months between my conditional prayer and my decision to join the Bahá’í community. I wrote copiously on the topic and it would be tedious in the extreme to quote everything but it’s worth sharing a taster, I think. At the end of August that year I wrote (emphasis in the original):

I have a burning desire to wipe the slate of my life and mind completely clean – and begin again differently – to polish my mind until it shines smooth and clear, revealing the true grain of its essential nature to the world and reflecting the world in the clarity of its shine.

The closeness which which this resembles quotations from Bahá’í Scripture feels slightly uncanny:

O My Brother! A pure heart is as a mirror; cleanse it with the burnish of love and severance from all save God, that the true sun may shine within it and the eternal morning dawn. Then wilt thou clearly see the meaning of “Neither doth My earth nor My heaven contain Me, but the heart of My faithful servant containeth Me.

(The Seven Valleys: page 21)

Not exactly the same, obviously, but strangely parallel. Revisiting journals is an oddly unsettling but also somewhat reassuring experience. I think on the whole the surprises it triggers make it worthwhile – at least now and again. I’m not sure I would want to do it too often!

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