I sometimes look at unorthodox ideas of the finer points of life in the New Age tendency. I think a lot of it is bollocks, but I do discern some things that are a good idea for those of us who are sensitive and easily overwhelmed by the world around us. We are above all bombarded by toxic news about politics, wars in the world, the horrors of Sunni Islam and the general degradation we see around us.
Probably most of those who read my blog wonder what the fuss is all about and enjoy the cut-and-thrust of the modern world and its reflection in mainstream churches (since this blog is mostly occupied with religious topics). On the other hand, my approach is so different that some come looking for something else, as I find when I read my comments that appear day after day. Like the New Age people, I do believe that something is happening imperceptibly in the world among a certain number of eccentric and different souls. A psychotherapist in Switzerland once related to me the story of the bombing of Dresden by the Allies, that the intensity of the bombing was such that it was more or less equivalent to a nuclear bomb. Some of the bombs fell on the outside wall of the psychiatric hospital (which is odd considering that the Nazis killed people suffering from mental illnesses), but to continue the story, some of the patients got out and began to “become normal” when they helped people in the bombed and burning buildings. On completing their rescue work, their various illnesses resumed.
I have read some very fascinating accounts about the spiritual awareness of many institutionalised mental patients with issues like paranoia and schizophrenia. The tradition of the Shaman often goes through a person whose reality is not the same as that of most people. I would recommend the reading of The Shamanic View of Mental Illness.
I think there are many things we can do to improve our lives, though there are others that some will recommend that do not appeal to me – like for example working out at the gym and competitive sports. This is what I recommend in particular and what goes well with my own particularities.
The first is our relationship with sound and noise. Most people have become so insensitive that they need noise and the organised noise known as “music” according to various contemporary sub-cultures. Most households have the TV on from morning to evening with the volume turned up, whether they are watching it or not. Life in cities is unbearable with human and mechanical sounds. It is difficult to know what to advise sensitive souls who live in cities for reasons of work, family or others. Wearing earplugs is a possibility as is listening to music with a Walkman.
Music: I discovered “classical” music as a small boy, on being given an old 1930’s gramophone and some 78 rpm records. I also has a radio from about 9 or 10 years of age, and discovered various BBC stations that gave classical or British light music. From 8 I began piano lessons and progressed to the organ at 13, and that led to singing in the choir. Most of my life has been taken with the love of music. I greatly admire the British radio initiative of Classic FM, which has done a lot to introduce people to classical music in a light disk-jockey style.
For the uninitiated, I recommend Mozart and most of the German composers of the Romantic era like Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schubert. Brahms is a little more challenging in terms of chromatic harmony. Bach is also more challenging by his very dense harmonic progressions and chromaticism. I see Brahms as almost taking up Bach where he left off – but the eras and style are very different whilst sharing the same essentially German philosophy of “pure music”. Then, you discover other eras going back to the Middle-Ages, Gregorian chant – and then to the more challenging twentieth-century music of Vaughan-Williams, Holst and others (if you are English), or Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland if you are American. There are no outer barriers, but in my reckoning, the limits are the eternal laws of harmony, counterpoint and rhythm.
Silence can be ordered sound like music or the absence of sound. My own sister reminded me about a notion of silence that corresponds with that of Benedictine monasticism. Get rid of the clutter in your mind: echoed words from other people, films, political figures, whatever. We need to find peace by telling all the clutter to go away and be quiet, so that we can find our real selves, that spark of divinity that brings us to participate in the things of God.
Chapter 6 of the Rule says:
Let us do what the Prophet says: “I said, ‘I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue. I have set a guard to my mouth.’ I was mute and was humbled, and kept silence even from good things” (Ps. 38:2-3). Here the Prophet shows that if the spirit of silence ought to lead us at times to refrain even from good speech, so much the more ought the punishment for sin make us avoid evil words.
Therefore, since the spirit of silence is so important, permission to speak should rarely be granted even to perfect disciples, even though it be for good, holy edifying conversation; for it is written, “In much speaking you will not escape sin” (Prov. 10:19), and in another place, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21).
For speaking and teaching belong to the mistress; the disciple’s part is to be silent and to listen. And for that reason if anything has to be asked of the Superior, it should be asked with all the humility and submission inspired by reverence.
But as for coarse jests and idle words or words that move to laughter, these we condemn everywhere with a perpetual ban, and for such conversation we do not permit a disciple to open her mouth.
It is partly a precaution against sinning by careless speech, especially detraction and calumny. However it is also a way to learn to listen, to have confidence in other people known to be trustworthy and good. Aspergers people often have an inappropriate sense of humour and attempts to tell jokes fall flat. This is the case with me. Some things are funny and laughter is a human emotion. It would be silly to forbid it completely, but it does need to be kept under reasonable control – moderation in all things. The Scriptures have many examples of raucous guffawing laughter being something very degrading among lewd and crude people, and hurtful to the butts of the jokes. This is part of silence and the peace God asks us to find in our souls.
Culture vs entertainment: I have noticed something about many “normal” people, their thirst for entertainment. Again, what people like should not be banned, but people need to rediscover books and literature, decrease the time they spend on “social” internet and smartphones and in front of the TV. I have been surprised that my love of cinema has changed over the past few years, and that I am much less motivated to watch films. I still do watch some, but I am more attracted to reading and writing. For me, the internet is a public library and the computer a glorified typewriter.
Music is capital, but so is literature and appreciation of art. I have also been fascinated by the sciences, especially biology and physics, but my study of them ceased at a young age as other things took priority.
Stay away from conflict: I think neurotypical people too need to discover life away from crowds and extreme stimulus. Another thing that can happen is the small group where people talk at the same time and shout each other down. My wife does this all the time, and I suppose I do too in a different way because I can’t understand all the signals for participating in the group. This happened in my in-law family on Christmas Day (there are some very good sites about teaching aspies how to survive a family Christmas). I quietly got up and went to have a siesta on someone’s bed upstairs away from it all. Other people’s anger has an extremely negative effect. My wife had a very violent (verbally) dispute with her sister about old family issues. It was probably the greatest provocation of my own extreme anxiety since about mid November. I don’t think my wife gets it yet, but I won’t be able to help her until I sort out my own difficulties or come to terms with them. The time will come to bring it in the open with someone to douse the flames!
Smells: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Especially since I stopped smoking just over ten years ago, I discovered an extremely sensitive sense of smell. Animals like dogs and cats are much more sensitive to smell than any other sense. It is a part of their quest for food and their self-defence mechanism. For us humans, it is much more complex, because we have emotional associations with smells, especially the smell in someone’s house, which can be pleasant or unpleasant, or similar to the smell of a house I knew in my childhood, perhaps where I lived. I find a lot of emotions in smells of old wood and freshly washed cotton.
I do think it is a mistake to want to cover up all smells with chemical perfumes. I always thought that fresh flowers belong in the garden, not in the house. Most women have to have the house looking like a garden! Then the flowers wane and start rotting, and it isn’t easy to decide on the right moment for getting rid of them into the compost heap. A moderate use of essence oils can be good. I have quite a nice one, just a couple of small squirts into the air, which helps me get over my recent chest virus, cough and laryngitis.
Keep the artificial smells to the minimum, and it will have a positive effect on our cooking, and our use of fresh vegetables, herbs and spices. Here in France, we use a lot of garlic and herbes de Provence. In my forays on the internet, I have discovered some fine medieval recipes. They used a lot of cinnamon in those days, still used for making hot wine in France for cold winter days like right now.
It is important to open the windows and let in the fresh air when it isn’t perishing cold, and enjoy the ozone smell as the outside air takes the place of the stale gases that filled our house. That extremely subtle smell has a big effect on me! It is well worth the effort to keep the house clean and at least vacuum the dust out of the carpets. I really do look forward to the first spring days so that I can get a really good spring clean done. The result is sensual and deeply satisfying.
The bed is very important, and it is probably where I am most quirky. I would love to have silk sheets, but they are very expensive. Perhaps one day, but cotton satin is not a bad substitute. Polyester feels good but it doesn’t breathe. It can’t be used in the summer. My wife and I have slept separately for several years, but we still have moments of intimacy outside the periods of crisis. I am attracted to the idea of a box bed like in Brittany and some other places. The old ones were like ornate cupboards and closets, but they can be made more simply and built into the room. They can be very cosy. My office / study / box bed is a project I am thinking about for this year if I can keep costs down and rearrange my old office for my wife, so that she can have somewhere for her books and files. The real issue is getting rid of the unnecessary clobber, which is a real problem here!
Touch and sensuality: I have already written about sensuality, which may seem to go against traditional Christian ascetic discipline, but it needs to be rediscovered and distinguished from sexual fetishes.
As I left my father last week, I hugged him in a very awkward way, and I still cringe about it. Perhaps he is awkward with physical contact and I failed to respect his space. We do have to be careful. I am more physical than my father, brought up in the old English way, but also a private and contemplative soul. A handshake would have been sufficient (don’t grab too hard) and perhaps a light touch on the shoulder to show something more than the formal method of greeting. These things are not obvious to aspies!
Disciplines: No one gets anywhere in life without making resolutions and sticking at them. Goals have to be realistic and attainable – baby steps – one at a time. We are not going to get anywhere all at once. For a priest, the essential is daily Mass and Office, plus a time of solitude and prayer. If that goes, everything goes.
The orthodox Christian disciplines need to be expanded by others from elsewhere. Yoga is a possibility, and I find Éiriú Eolas, an old Celtic way, very intriguing. It begins with breathing exercises to master the vagus nerve, with very beneficial effects on our physical, psychological and spiritual health. There are also some extremely interesting ideas about diet including the ketogenic plan which cuts down severely on carbohydrates and sugar whilst maintaining the input from animal fat – anathema to doctors a few years ago, but butter and animal fat are again becoming acceptable. I need to study it carefully to do it properly and I need to lose weight! It will also have to be goodbye to junk food and easy stuff to save kitchen time. Gluten is very harmful to some people. I don’t know what it’s doing to me, but I have never been a big bread eater, to the surprise of French people who can’t eat anything without the piece of bread in the left hand.
Above all, I am happy and proud to be addiction-free. I can spend days without any alcohol and not miss it. I saw the back of nicotine ten years ago, though I still enjoy the smell of very old cigarette smoke impregnated into curtains and furniture. I’ll accept what the doctor really judges to be necessary against a particular problem, but I have religiously avoided anti-depressants and tranquillizers. They might bring relief, but they have side effects, and some anti-depressants can be very dangerous for some people. I won’t touch them, but I do need to learn to relax and be quiet when the black dog gets too near or I start panicking. I have written already about addictions and given my views on Damian Thompson’s writings, especially The Fix. The subject is controversial between the medical profession and such points of view. Read it critically. If we have addictions, it is absolutely essential to get rid of them – go to the doctor and get help. That’s what I did to kick cigarettes.
Home: I have discovered that I need a home within a home. I will have to work this out carefully with my wife, but I’m sure that she will find out that she needs as much. The idea of the nest is a part of stabilitas loci, the Benedictine and Oratorian concept of finding peace and grace in the place where we belong. Many things need to be worked out, and the real work has yet to begin. It’s just holding at present and we are nice to each other and quiet. My home within my home will be the attic room where I am now writing on a temporary table and sitting on my bed. With the box bed, I’ll have more room for my bookshelves, archive spaces and my desk – but it has to wait for the moment. The timing is not yet right. Home is very important to any of us.
Religion and spirituality: Many of us need a really good overhaul. Many of my internet contacts are quite uptight about things like the “one true church” and which bishops are letting go on moral standards and orthodox doctrine. I find many of the polemics around Pope Francis, from both sides, quite toxic – not unlike the American presidential election and the upcoming Inauguration.
My own journey has brought me out of some of the more rigid certitudes of my RC traditionalist days, without forgetting that there are limits of compatibility with Continuing Anglicanism. My approach is contemplative rather than political, involving polemics over moral teaching, apologetics and doctrine. I relate well to the ACC because we are a small Church and we resist any temptation to shout each other down. It might have happened in the past, but I am very attached to my Bishop and fellow clergy. I have found a place I would never find in Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy, or in the Church of England for that matter. Like our home where we live and sleep, I think it is essential to have our spiritual home. I am not a Franciscan, even though I admire those who are called to that way of life – which was recommended by Christ himself.
Sometimes, we need to give the Church a gentle push-away (not too far) so that we can catch up with our own spiritual longing. We mustn’t be too intense about those either, whether it’s best to go with one Church Father or another or use this or that method or prayer. Stick to simple things, and above all what is quiet, private and sincere – nothing ostentatious. You can use a rosary or prayer rope, but you don’t have to. We have to be free and detached from the idea that only such or such a thing will “save the world”. I have never had time for Marian apparitions that some people go head over heels about. That’s not to say that I disbelieve them in their essential apocalyptic or prophetic messages, but we need to be free and enlightened, not imprisoned in systems.
Get outdoors: It’s not so easy just now in January in the freezing cold, but if we can’t sail, we can walk or get the bicycle out. Most aspies hate competitive sports like football or running, but we can find things we like doing to be outdoors and in communion with nature. I have never had anxiety problems when sailing! That is unless I was under pressure from strong wind and a heavy sea that provide a challenge. But that is a different kind of concern. Hobbies are also great – making things, doing the garden, getting some long overdue maintenance work done. That also gets us outdoors.
Be yourself: This is something I appreciated from Quentin Crisp’s The Naked Civil Servant. There are things I could not stand about that man, but he had as much right to be his effeminate self as I have to have long hair. For all his wild eccentricity and outrageous high-camp, his message was “be yourself” whatever persecution that brings you from convention, society and other people – just as long as you are not hurting anyone else.
If our eccentricities are our real selves, then we need them. But be warned that society will always find fault. We are challenging the Orwellian totalitarian dystopia where everyone has to be controlled and all come out of the same mould like products in a factory. A lot of psychiatry is in this perspective, seeking to make us all normal through the use of drugs and the assumption that the problem is a chemical imbalance in the brain, since we have no souls (so they believe in their crass materialism). People take far too many drugs and get addicted to them, and some can even cause suicidal thoughts. Sometimes, medication is really necessary, but perhaps only in hospital coupled with good surveillance and care.
Education of children is another problem, and I am unqualified to write about it. I have read about children being made to do everything corporately, not individually. That sounds really unhealthy to me. I wrote about corporate management some time ago – don’t get me started!
Are big things happening to humanity? It’s too difficult to tell. I suspected there were big changes in politics and a reaction against the toxic system of the global elites. Trump doesn’t look good to me, but he seems independent in his manifesto and a great improvement over Obama and the Bush dynasty. I’m not an American, but America affects the rest of us in the world. Their atomic bombs would kill us as much as the Russians! Perhaps we should all die – but is that what we really want?
Perhaps, as the New Age people say, some of us find enlightenment in our differences from the mainstream. Some of us seem to be called to be channels or shamans, wisdom from great suffering and testing, from pain and an initiation involving death and rebirth like our Baptism. We need to set the example, and for the first time, a genetic anomaly becomes something highly compatible with the priesthood and contemplative life, against vocations directors and seminary rectors seeking complete neurotypicality and conformity in their selection criteria. Priests can be Christian shamans as well as dynamic and charismatic community leaders. That idea needs to develop.
I don’t have any grandiose ideas. Don’t come to me to have your palm read or fortune told. I might have a talk with you and have an impression, but it’s more likely to be wrong than anything else! People with special gifts often pay for them very dearly. I’m better at writing than being face to face, except with people I know and trust like my family, my Bishop and my friends. This is where my pastoral ministry as a priest is. If anyone asks me to go and visit a sick or housebound soul, I will go at the drop of a hat with the Holy Oils and the Blessed Sacrament. But it just doesn’t happen. If someone asks me questions about faith and religion, I’ll answer as best as I can, respecting their freedom – but it just doesn’t happen here. But it does on the blog and in some of my e-mails.
I would like to hope that the world is being enlightened rather than darkened, and that knowledge (γνῶσις) will bring man back to God and his true self. This is the purpose of my blog, whether I talk about liturgy, sailing or these profound transformations I live through. I give conventional society a kick in the teeth, and it doesn’t like it one little bit! That looks and sounds very 1960’s, but it is as essential as when Oscar Wilde dared to defy Victorian respectability and hypocrisy, even if he was a fool to trust untrustworthy persons. Aren’t we all?
If we are ourselves, then we can examine and analyse advice from others to correct and improve our faulty judgement. I’ll be a better priest for it and a better human soul.