Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Footsteps On My Mind

I’m not a person who feels down if things don’t go as intended. Melancholy is doesn’t seem to be part of my DNA. About the only time I feel “out of sorts” is during a prolonged migraine episodes when it feels like my “get up and go” has “got up and gone”.

Although I don’t consider I have reached my “twilight” years, I’m definitely in my “late afternoon” years. Despite being a chronic migraine sufferer, and living for sixty years not knowing I was autistic, but feeling like I was a square peg being forced through a round hole I view my life as being a wonderful experience. I can’t imagine an alternative life being any better.

Mostly, I recall the good things that have happened in my life, and whether or not it’s good to do so, I tend to sweep memories of negative experiences under the carpet. One reason for this state of affairs is due to having alexithymia, often referred to as “emotional blindness”. I suck at reading the emotions of others, but I’m even worse at reading my own. I know happiness and contentment are pleasurable experiences and I know deep sadness is is not. Most others I’m oblivious to, and it’s only since discovering I am autistic have I learnt to recognise some emotions by carefully thinking about the physical manifestations that frequently accompany emotions.

If it feels like my blood is about to bool it means I’m angry (or wearing to many clothes or in the early stage of another migraine). If I feel a churning motion in my stomach, it means I’m nervous (or some food has disagreed with me or Im hungry or I’m in the early stage of another migraine attack). If my face feels hot, it means I’m embarrassed (or I need to remove a layer of clothing or I’m in the early stage of another migraine attack). If I find my hands or jaw is clenched then I’m most likely very stressed out (or I could be in a state of rising anger or I’m in the early stage of another migraine attack). If people ask me to repeat something I’ve said then it might be because I feel down and am talking too quietly (or I’m in the early stage of another migraine attack and I’m slurring my speech, or we could be in a noisy environment). And so the list goes on.

Learning to recognise emotions this way is quite confusing. For example, If I feel my eyes start to water (and there’s no irritant present) does it mean I’m happy, or sad, or both or something else? If I feel a lump in my throat is this really nostalgia tinged with sadness? What else can it mean? And is it something else if I experience both the lump and the water? I really have no idea.

Over recent weeks I’ve been having moments where I recall my thoughts from my teen years many decades ago when I was beginning to understand that I was in some way different from everyone else and very different from my peers. I don’t recall having any feelings one way or the other as it dawned on me that everyone had a group of friends and I had none; that others seemed to revel in loud and noisy events where everyone talked very loudly, but I was unable to make out a single word and I’d be physically ill within five minutes of arriving; That I had no clue about the topics fellow teenagers were talking about and none of them seemed interested in why the Ab class locomotive was so ubiquitous in NZ or the nature of black holes or what technology driverless cars might employ in the future.

While I was very comfortable in my own company, I realised that having conversations with myself was not very profitable. I don’t recall feeling sad or angry or disappointed about my situation. I simply accepted that that was the way it was. But now when I look back at those moments when I began to realise that I was in some way very different from everyone else and would never fit into their world, I do feel a discomfort somewhere just below my diaphram. I’m not able to distinguish between mild indigestion and hunger, and I rarely have either sensation, but this sensation is something like that. If I’m sitting or lying I have to get up and do something, but I have no idea what or why.

I’m guessing the flashbacks and the uneasy feeling are associated but how and why? I’m confident I understand my teen self better now than I did back then. So are the sensations due to a reliving of emotions of the past that I wasn’t aware of at the time, or are they new emotions created out of hindsight and in the full knowledge of what was to come. Either way, what does this sensation represent? Regret? nostalgia? Sadness? Disappointment? Loss? Something else? I’m assuming it’s negative because it’s unpleasant.

I doubt very much that it’s happiness due to knowing how my life has turned out. For the most part I think I’ve been blessed: a best friend companion and lover for almost 50 years; two wonderful children and three amazing grandkids. What more could I desire? While there’s always a possibility that the discomfort and the flashbacks are unrelated and purely coincidental, I don’t think so. And that’s because after hearing a particular song this morning, the hunger or indigestion was much stronger and still lingers.

Popular songs have always been about the hopes and disappointments of romance, but scattered among them are a few that deal with the hopes, dreams and disappointments of every aspect of life. I find song lyrics fascinating because it is often very difficult to know what a song is really about. The song I heard this morning was one of my favourites at round the time I left school or perhaps shortly after and was about the time I realised that I was not a typical teenager by any stretch of the imagination and never would be.

As I listened to the track, I suddenly felt the discomfort rise as these words were sung:

People all around, they never seem to notice me
Maybe because my mind's behind a cloud that no-one sees the wood for trees
What's wrong with me?

Did those words speak to me then but I didn’t realise it, or are those words speaking to me now reminding me how much my life would have been different if I was not autistic? I don’t know. What I am sure of is that I’m unlikely to get a good night’s sleep thinking about it. Bugger emotions! (Is that frustration, irritation, anger, regret or something else?) They’re so confusing. It’s at moments like these that I wish I hadn’t had any mindfulness training, and I’d remain blissfully unaware of the connection between emotions and bodily sensations.

For anyone interested in hearing the source of my discomfort, here it is. I was into psychedelic music at that time which is why I might have found this piece attractive Perhaps all I’m feeling is nothing more than nostalgia for a music era that no longer exists. Oh I give up!.

Music Convention – Footsteps On My Mind


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Changing perspectives

It still comes as a surprise to me to realise my perspective on many aspects of life have changed over the years. I’m also reminded that much of what I comprehend about the society in which I live is viewed differently by others. Some nuances are so subtle that it is only now in hindsight and because they are topics of debate today that I realise I did not understand let alone appreciate some social norms I grew up with.

One of these is gender roles. I completely failed to recognise that society had different expectations of men and women. It even baffled me why certain types of attire were considered appropriate for one gender but not the other. But it was the more subtle expectations for both men and women that I failed to pick up on and was oblivious of their existence.

I grew up in an era where most families could live in moderate comfort on a single income and virtually every household had a stay at home parent while there were children in their care. It never occurred to me that the reason most households had a stay at home mother and not a stay at home father was primarily due to social expectations and not a matter of choice negotiated between the parents.

Prior to my teen years, I adopted whatever behaviour and role I felt suited me, and being unaware of social expectations, I simply took on aspects that today would be viewed as gender nonconforming or nonbinary. Starting in my early teens I had most of this adaptation knocked out of me as I became aware of the negative views many held about me, and especially by acts of violence that I thought I had provoked merely by being different from the norm. I wasn’t fully cognisant of the disapproval being gender biased. Instead I had an understanding that it was not acceptable for me, as an individual, to exhibit such behaviour without understanding why.

It wasn’t until my mid twenties when it dawned on me that there were oh so subtle ways that societies place different expectations on men an women. The first occurred on my honeymoon when my new mate prostrated herself in front of me promising to be a good and obedient wife. To say that I was surprised is an understatement. I was shocked and appalled. I made it very clear that I was expecting an equal partner, not a servant. I later learnt that she was just as shocked at my response, but pleasantly so. Admittedly her culture had (and still has) more clearly defined gender roles, but it’s only a matter of degree, not that it was absent in my own culture.

The second occurred after I grew a beard in the mid 1970s when they were far less common than now, but more often worn by men of privilege. I didn’t grow it as a sign of masculinity or as a fashion statement, but because I loathed shaving and having very wavy hair, ingrown hairs were an all too often painful fact of life. Overnight the way both men and women responded to me changed – especially those who did not know me personally. It was quite an eye opener.

Both genders tended to be more polite to me but in different ways. Men tended to treat me as an equal or as someone slightly more “knowledgeable” than themselves. I was also assumed to be older than I was. Women on the other hand tended to display a sightly more subservient role in my presence as if somehow the beard gave me more authority. I felt even more uncomfortable in the company of others than ever before – both men and women.

The reason I was prompted to write this post was that I heard a song this morning that was a favourite of mine in the late 1960s. It has always brought a lump to my throat and a little water to the eye. It reminded me so much of the relationship between my parents who had so much respect and love for each other, although rarely expressed in the presence of others. I’ve always viewed the words as an expression of love by an equal partner, but when I now hear the answer to “what should I want from life?” in the last verse, the answer makes me somewhat uneasy. There’s an implication that one’s worth as a woman is measured by having a loving spouse. Or am I reading too much into the lyrics?

Allison Durbin – I have loved me a man (1968)
I have loved me a man, like my momma did
I have loved me a man.
Tall and tender, his hands like my daddy's were
With a mind that understands

And the arms that held me when I would cry
The lips that kissed away my tears
They're a part of the man that my momma loved
And I have loved me a man

I have wed me a man, like my momma did
I have wed me a man
I can still feel the warmth of the words he said
He held my heart tied in his hands

And in the morning I would wake by his side
And wonder what I could have done
To be loved by a man like my momma loved
And I have loved me a man

I would bear him a child, like my momma did
I would bear him a child
She'd be gentle and sweet, like my momma was
I'd watch her grow and in a while

She'd ask me momma what should I want from life
And I would tell her with a smile
Just be loved by a man like your momma loved
And I have loved me a man

And I have loved me a man


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Seeing is believing

Like everyone else on this planet (perhaps with the exception of the previous POTUS) I am not perfect, nor was I born that way. Today I want to focus on some imperfections I was born with. I’m using “imperfections” here in two different ways.

  • Those traits and characteristics that society deems as flaws disabilities, unacceptable or a nuisance to deal with
  • Those traits and characteristics that one feels about oneself that are flaws, disabilities, unacceptable or a nuisance to deal with.

Often times, what one perceives as an imperfection may not be deemed so by society, and of course the opposite is true – what society deems as an imperfection may not be deemed so by oneself.

In my own case an obvious example is autism. Almost certainly, no one in any profession would have considered I was autistic until perhaps the 1990s and the condition became better understood. I wasn’t diagnosed as such until 2010. My family had always been very accepting of my “quirkiness”, but the rest of society wasn’t. I was cajoled, teased, bullied, reprimanded, punished and violently assaulted for being “different”.

I perceive the world differently at many levels compared to non-autistic people, and I may post more on how growing up as an undiagnosed autistic affected my life at another time, but today I want to concentrate on the imperfections of my eyesight and vision, and how those have been perceived by myself and others.

I was born with both myopia and astigmatism although neither myself, family, friends or school teachers realised it. It was finally my music teacher who realised I was unable to read music notation in advance of where I was playing that lead to my first “real” eye examination when I was 12 years old.

Sure, for the previous seven years, I had passed the usual eye test at school where one reads an eye chart at a prescribed distance.

Tests were carried out on the entire class by putting all the students in a line and then taking the student at the front of line through the test. Not being particularly assertive, I usually found myself near the back end of the line. Alternatively, we sat at out desks and were called up in alphabetical order by family name. Either way I was always in the last quartile of the class to be tested.

I don’t recall how far through the chart we were required to go, but I think it was only as far as the line for 20/20 vision. I always passed the test with flying colours. I could rattle off the letters as fast as the best of the class.

The problem was that I couldn’t read the chart apart from the very top letter, and even that was very marginal. So how could I pass every time? By the time it was my turn to read the chart, twenty or more children had already read it in my presence. First with one eye and then with the other. I had heard the chart called out 40 or more times at varying speeds. More than enough repetitions for me to have memorised it.

I don’t recall whether the memorisation was intentional or not, but I do recall that the class consensus was that “failing” wasn’t a desirable outcome, just like failing any other test wasn’t. So everyone including myself did our best to get a “good” pass. I felt good when the adult conducting the test would say something like “Very good, well done Barry”. It was praise I seldom received from anyone other than my parents.

If I had understood how bad my eyesight was, what I was missing and how corrective lenses could change my perception of the world around me, I would have had no qualms about failing the test. Such is life. It took a rather crabby and domineering music teacher to recognise my disability.

Strange as it may seem now, I had no idea that my eyesight was so poor. In fact I had the perception that it was rather good, and I wasn’t the only one. This came about because whenever we travelled along the highways I was able to recognise roadside hoardings/billboards well before either the driver or my fellow passengers. In hindsight, the explanation is simple. I had learnt to recognise all the signs not by the wording or images but by the combination and pattern of colours, which in those long forgotten days (the 1950s) tended to be consistently the same year on year.

As a humorous aside, it wasn’t until after I had my first set of glasses that I discovered that the name of one of the most ubiquitous signs at that time had been been assigned an “alternative” name by the family – an in joke I didn’t discover until I could read the wording myself: Cough Cough and Hammer was actually Gough Gough and Hamer.

I recall the sudden panic, almost terror that I experienced the first time I walked out of the optometrist’s shop wearing my new glasses. As the shop door was closing behind me and I looked ahead, I suddenly and simultaneously took a step backwards into the door and ducked. It literally felt like the world was being thrown at my face. The clarity of the detail of the shop fronts on the opposite of the road felt like they were a mere 6 inches (the NZ switch to metric measurements was still decades away) in front of my face.

It was perhaps the most disorienting experience of my life at that time. I was frozen to the spot. I don’t know how long I stood in that doorway ducking pedestrians and cars that seemed to be inches away, but were in fact yards away.

It seems rather odd now that it never occurred to me that the very obvious solution to my situation was to remove my glasses. An optometrist employee recognised my dilemma and pulled me back inside the shop and removed the glasses. After some quick instructions not to put on my glasses until I was in a small room that I was familiar with and to work up to bigger spaces from there, I was sent on my way.

As much as I wish my new glasses improved my life, they didn’t.

A characteristic of many people on the autism spectrum is the inability to subconsciously filter information arriving via the senses. For example in a crowded room where several conversations are taking place, most people are able to ignore conversations they are not participating in. Other conversations will only reach their conscious awareness when there’s a noticeable change such as in volume, pitch or body language – for example when an argument starts.

Most people have the ability to ignore conversation threads they are not participating in. I can’t. A simple analogy might be the example of being in a group conversation when all participants start addressing you all at the same time, at the same volume but all on different topics. I think the resultant confusion will cause most people to put their hands up and demand that the participants speak one at a time. That’s the situation I face all the time. ALL.THE.TIME!

It turns out that my ability to filter out visual stimuli as that same as my ability to filter out aural stimuli. I can’t. I found the bombardment of new visual information overwhelming and exhausting. Previously trees were largely blurry blobs of green. I could distinguish individual leave only at relatively close distances, so perhaps no more than a hundred or so leaves at any one time. Suddenly I was seeing thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of leaves all at once – every one a slightly different size, shape and colour, and all moving independently in the breeze. I didn’t know how to process all this new information.

Suddenly telephone poles and power poles had distinguishable cross arms, insulators of various colours but seemingly on no particular order or pattern. I could see the wires and the patterns they wove overhead. I could actually make out birds sitting on the wires or on rooftops, and even identify the species – something I had previously only been able to do from the pages of a book.

And speaking of books, whereas previously there was only a small area around the word I was reading where the shape of individual words could be distinguished easily (I recognise words by their shape as much as I do by the letters within them), suddenly every letter on the page became individually identifiable, every one of them yelling in unison “Read me NOW!”

Wallpaper patterns now continued right around the room instead of being discernible only in near proximity. On large buildings, all the individual windows could be seen. What’s more they formed regular patterns, and any break to that pattern became a distraction I couldn’t avoid being aware of. The same with pathways. Joins formed patterns that extended into the distance and any spot where the pattern was disturbed jumped out at me. I couldn’t help but notice it.

Never before in my life had been in a situation where I could distinguish the facial features of more than five or six people at one time. Now I could see all the features of everyone in the classroom ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Just too much information to handle. It didn’t help me with facial recognition, but it did allow me to apply the rules I used for identifying individuals at greater distances than previously. Crowds became a confusing collection of

Tiled roofs became a collection of thousands of individual tiles, many of which had individual characteristics I couldn’t help noticing. I could see the corrugations on corrugated iron roofs, and the rows of nails holding them down. Disturbances in the rows (a nail missing, irregularly spaced or out of alignment) shouted out “Look at me!”

Sixty years on and and the same distractions still occur. What I have learnt is how to consciously push them into the background. Over the years I have got better at doing it and it probably takes less effort to do so. There are still times, especially leading up to and during a migraine where I find all the visual information overwhelming. It’s nice to be able to remove my glasses and move into a visually gentler and less harshly chaotic world where I’m not assaulted by detail.

While I mostly appreciate the details I seem to notice when no one else does, there are times when I wish I could simply not notice them in the first place – just like everyone else.


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A covid free (Kiwi) Christmas

We might not be able to join with overseas relatives this Christmas, but the authorities have put in place measures to ensure that Santa will be able to visit Aotearoa New Zealand. He will not need to quarantine for fourteen days as do other visitors. As the interview with the Prime Minister illustrates, this country has pulled out all the stops to make sure Santa’s delivery run is as safe and Covid free as possible. Not sure if the same is true in other jurisdictions…


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Dixie’s gone, thanks to the Chicks

So, the Dixie Chicks are no more. They are now officially known as The Chicks. In the current political and social climate in the USA, I’m not surprised that the trio would want to change their name.

Caution: nostalgia follows

But they will never by my Chicks. You see, The Chicks was a household name in Aotearoa New Zealand in the 1960s, belonging to the pop duo sisters Judy and Suzanne Donaldson. They were among the few singers and groups that I idolised as a teenager growing up in provincial Whanganui.

The elder sister, Judy is around a year older than I am, while Suzanne is around 2 years younger than me, and would have been around 13 or 14 when the duo grabbed my attention. A year or two later, they were the prime motivation for me to not to miss C’MON, shown every Saturday evening on the only TV channel available at that time, as they were regular stars on the show. You could say that I had a teenage crush, particularly on Suzanne.

Here’s a black & white Youtube clip of the duo from around 1967 – colour TV broadcasting didn’t commence in NZ until 1972.

The group formerly known as the Dixie Chicks, have been granted permission by Judy and Suzanne to share the name The Chicks with them.

Kiwi band The Chicks on sharing name with The Dixie Chicks – NZ hearald


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Māori Action songs

Way back in the 1950s, learning, and participating in aspects of Māori culture and history was part of the curriculum of the primary school I attended. At that time, this was not so common, so I feel blessed that from an early age I understood that Māori culture was a rich part of the cultural heritage of Aotearoa New Zealand instead of something belonging to a pre-European stone age people that no longer had any relevance.

Unfortunately, even today, we find some Kiwis of non-Māori descent who see no value in the indigenous culture of this land, and object to Te Reo (the Māori language) being part of the education curriculum, and Māori culture as something outside what they consider “New Zealand culture”. In other words it has no place in a modern society. I hope I am correct in observing a decline in this type of thinking.

As some 95% of my reader are not from Aotearoa New Zealand, I want to occasionally blog about the indigenous culture that makes this country special, and is having an increasing influence within our society. I have posted a few articles relating to aspects of Māori culture and values in the past, particularly where they have some influence on myself or the wider population, including:
I am a mono-linguist (12 September 2018)
A Creation Myth (17 March 2018)
River gains personhood (24 July, 2017)
Treaty of Waitangi 101 (20 October 2015)
Animism is the established religion of Aotearoa New Zealand. Really? (15 October, 2015)
Our new flag? (1 September 2015)
Farewell Haka (6 August 2015)
Songs that move me (20 March 2015)

Until a back injury forced a early retirement, my father was a physical education adviser for what was then the Department of Education. One of his roles was “on the job” physical education training for primary school teachers, which meant we often saw him only on weekends. He was very passionate about developing a love for activity that challenged both the mind and body. With this in mind, he encouraged both folk dancing and Māori action songs alongside team sports, swimming, athletics and playground games that did not require direct adult supervision.

Māori action songs were traditionally an art form and used to improve various skills. For example, poi action songs improved strength and suppleness of the wrists. For women, this improved skills in weaving and basket making, while for men, it improved their skills in wielding weapons used in hand to hand combat. Rākau games and action songs improved hand/eye coordination.

Rākau are wooden sticks, typically between 40 cm and 60 cm in length ( approximately1.5 ft to 2 ft), while a poi is a weight attached to a string that is then swung in rhythmic patterns. Traditionally poi were made from harakeke (flax) and raupō (bulrush), but today can be made of almost any material.

As a performing art today, both poi and rākau are performed mostly by women. In play, many schools encourage rākau games for both genders and for both Māori and Pākehā alike. To a large extent, my father was responsible for their popularity in the Taranaki and Whanganui regions during the second half of the 20th century.

As a child, I had less coordination than most of my peers, probably related to my undiagnosed autism, and while I found the poi and rākau challenging, I found them enjoyable. I’m convinced that I am not as clumsy as I would have been had it not been for these and similar activities.

Although the video clip below is relatively recent, the chaos is similar to how I remember the activity as a child. Notice the use of rolled up magazines instead of wooden sticks. When learning, they are less painful ! The second video clip illustrates a somewhat more polished performance, followed by the poi.

There are two forms of the poi: the long and the short. The string on the long poi is the distance from finger tip to shoulder, and for the short poi it’s the distance from finger tip to wrist. They are both just as difficult to master, and I never did get the hang of twirling contra-rotating long poi in one hand. The next clips illustrate the short and long forms respectively. Enjoy


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Safe landing

When I was about ten or eleven years old, I joined into the tail end of a conversation about what humans can and cannot do. One of the older boys in the group claimed that it is impossible for humans to land on two feet and not bend the knees. He said that even if you try to keep your legs straight, you can’t as bending the knees is instinctive and you cannot override it.

A few of the kids decided to test this theory by jumping off a chair. Not one of them managed to land and keep the legs completely straight. Their knees bent to some degree, and the group decided that indeed it was impossible to land without bending the knees. I wasn’t convinced, as I observed that none of the children locked their legs straight during the descent. So I decided to demonstrate that it was possible to land without bending the knees.

There was a reason I had been dubbed the little professor. A well as being a mine of (mostly irrelevant) knowledge, I liked to experiment. I clambered onto the chair, launched myself into the air and locked my knees absolutely straight, and held that pose during the descent. And I proved it is possible to land without bending the knees.

What I didn’t prove is that you can do it safely.

I saw stars and flashing lights. I heard a roaring sound like a freight train rushing past. I felt and heard a grinding sensation in my neck. Then there was blackness. I don’t know if I actually passed out, but moments latter when the roaring, lights and darkness abated, I found myself standing upright with flashes of pain going off along my neck and spine. The boy who had made the claim, shrugged his shoulders, said “Oops I was wrong”, then turned his back on me and walked off.

It never occurred to me at the time that I might have been set up. That possibility didn’t occur to me until a decade later, by which time I had lost all contact with the group. If it was a set up, I’m grateful that they chose a chair to jump from and not the garage roof.

The first migraine attack that I remember having was  when I was around ten or eleven, although they didn’t become a regular feature of my life until I was twelve of thirteen. I wonder if there’s a connection…


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Am I religious?

I have always thought of myself as religious and have no hesitation in saying so. As a young boy I accepted the existence of a God that in some respects resembled a loving and caring but absent father or grandfather. Perhaps this is understandable as in hindsight this God resembled my father (not in appearance, but as loving, caring and frequently absent).

Although a belief in the existence of God was was fairly widespread in Aotearoa New Zealand in the mid 1950s, I was not aware of any specific doctrine. I did attend Sunday School for a while when I was around seven or eight, and I enjoyed the stories we were told, in much the same way as I enjoyed stories such as Winnie-the-Pooh or Wind in the Willows or those of Hans Christian Andersen. In other words I understood they were stories, not factual accounts of real events.

At that time we lived in a small town of around 4,000 inhabitants and up to the time we left when I was fourteen I had never heard religious doctrine or beliefs discussed. The few times I attended a church service I’d hear a sermon, but I don’t recall hearing mention of Satan, hell, eternal salvation/damnation nor a requirement to believe in a literal resurrection of Jesus. Much of what I heard I would be equally valid for non-theists in that it essentially was all about the golden rule and, more importantly, how to apply it in difficult situations.

I was always suspicious that there were some things about God that were kept from children I was curious what that might be, but accepted that I would find out in due course. My belief that adults knew more about God was realised by the shocking story I heard during religious studies when I was around seven or eight. You can read about it in The day God spoke to me.

The incident didn’t change my understanding of God but it did lead me to understand that others perceived God differently. This was confirmed shortly after when I began to read the Bible. Not knowing any other way I started at the beginning – Genesis. I’ve told this story in Secret Bible reading.

Perhaps this is where I differ somewhat from others who have reached a similar conclusion. I didn’t abandon my belief in God. I abandoned any belief in the Bible. Perhaps it was because that vision/delusion I experienced earlier was, and  still is so real to me. Over the next few years I developed a belief closer to pantheism

I had no further contact with religion until the beginning of my teens. A Chapel opened a short distance from our home, and my mother encouraged me to attend Bible class there in Wednesday evenings. I believe this was primarily as a means of improving my socialisation rather than to progress religious education.

From what I remember, the discussions concentrated almost elusively on Jesus’ teachings and once again on how to apply the Golden Rule in our lives. The best part of Bible class was that every Saturday evening we would go to an event in the city, about 30 minutes drive away. Sometimes the events were religious rallies, which I felt were emotional nonsense, but often the events were things that typical teenagers would attend. Three, four or five cars would make the Journey to New Plymouth each weekend and I always made sure I sat next to a rather shy, but in my eyes very beautiful girl.

I continued to attend Bible class for about a year and then gave up. I told my parents that is was because they were teaching things I disagreed with (which was true), but if I am to be totally honest, I stopped attending because that girl had stopped attending.

Towards the end of my time at Bible class, some of the topics were getting rather deep into Christian theology. Topics such as the divinity of Jesus, the Resurrection, and substitutionary atonement had been introduced. There was considerable leeway in what was considered acceptable understanding. If I recall correctly many  of the stories in the Old Testament could be understood in a non-literal sense, as could some aspects of Jesus’ life such as the virgin birth. However it was clear that we were being steered towards a physical resurrection of Jesus and the concept of substitutionary atonement. The former I thought of as nonsense, the latter as an abomination.

That was my last exposure to the study of theology. Although I continued to have a view of God that wavered between pantheism and panentheism, that old comfortable image of God as a father figure would to pop up from time to time. This bothered me as my rational understanding of God didn’t match what I experienced. I was working in a vacuum as I felt I had no-one I was able to share my beliefs with. Even after I married, this was one topic I never raised with my wife.

My wife, like most Japanese are not particularly devout, and can slip comfortably between Shintoism and Buddhism as appropriate for any given occasion. I found this fascinating, but she was unable to explain to my satisfaction how one could hold two apparently contradictory beliefs at the same time. This was 20 or more years before the arrival of the Internet, and with a limited budget, the local library was my only source of information. It’s resources on religion of any type was extremely limited and on Shintoism non-existent.

I don’t recall any of the books or authors after all this time, but I do recall coming to the conclusion that was the genesis of what I believe today: God is unknowable, and if unknowable, there’s no certainty that he/she/it exists at all. From time to time I get flashes of insight similar to the one that occurred when God spoke to me in religious studies. But are they really something from outside (a supernatural force), a natural phenomenon that might be explained under pantheism, or something that is internal: part of being human? Just because they feel divine doesn’t mean that they are.

I decided that if God is unknowable then any understanding of a God we do experience is one we unconsciously construct ourselves from our culture, history and personal experience. If God exists, there’s no certainty that what we create is a reflection of that God.

So there we are. I doubt very much that there’s a deity, even more so one named Yahweh. Yet I experience what  Quakers call The Light, the small still voice that prods my conscience but feels separate from it. My beliefs are entirely compatible with with Quakerism as it’s practiced in NZ, and it’s where I feel most at home in a religious context.

In an ongoing discussion  on a post I made a few days ago, I was pointed to the Non-Belief in America Research Website where the typology of non-belief is summarised. It lists six types and I can identify myself in two of the types: Ritual Atheist/Agnostic and Seeker-Agnostic, yet I still consider myself religious and feel uncomfortable identifying as agnostic or atheist

While I’m comfortable with religious, I know many with whom I have had discussions on the Internet, jump to the wrong conclusion. If I say I’m religious or listen for the will of God, then it’s assumed I’m a Bible believing Christian. Inevitably the discussion is hijacked by those wanting to know what I believe or don’t believe about the Resurrection, or the nature of God or the infallibility of the Bible or why does God condone genocide, none of which are relevant to the discussion at hand.

I have considered using the term spiritual, but that seems to be associated with the occult and here in NZ with traditional Maori beliefs, so that’s just as likely to be misunderstood as religious.

I could identify myself as a liberal Quaker, but my concern with that is others will conclude all Quakers hold similar beliefs to my own. As Quakerism is a non-creedal faith, the last thing I want to do is give the impression that any other Quaker holds the same beliefs as I do. It can get rather tedious qualifying that my belief is not necessarily held by other Quakers. And again, identifying as part of a specific religious group risks a discussion being diverted to one about that religious group, especially if it’s as poorly understood as Quakerism. For most discussions it’s not necessary to identify with a specific faith group.

So dear reader, while I like the term religious, is it more unhelpful than it is helpful. If the former, what do you suggest instead? Please don’t offer confused or Weird. I’ve already considered and rejected them.


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Secret Bible reading

This post is part four of a series on the development of my religious beliefs from childhood in the 1950s and 1960s to the present day. Previous posts:

  1. Worship and other secrets
  2. The day God spoke to me
  3. The Aftermath

I was about eight years old when I started to secretly read the Bible. My aim was to discover what I was sure adults knew but kept secret from children. Being ignorant of any scholarly practice, I started at the beginning – Genesis. I already understood that the creation story was a myth, just like the Maori creation myths, and wasn’t supposed to be taken literally.

To my surprise there were two creation myths. This puzzled me. I knew that there had to be a reason for this and each was supposed to have a specific meaning, but I was at a loss to know what those meanings were supposed to be. As I continued to read, it became evident to me that there appeared to be two different Gods. The first was loving and cared very much for his creation. The second was into insistence on man’s blind obedience, and cruel punishment for any disobedience. The second God also interfered not just in the lives of individuals, but also manipulated entire groups of people, often to their detriment.

I compared this to how my parents treated and respected their children and the world around them to the parents of some of my peers, whose parents controlled them with an iron fist, and meted out harsh and inconsistent punishment, and seemed to have little regard for anyone or anything beyond themselves.

A little background: I was brought up in a family where punishment of any sort was virtually unknown, and then it was in the form of restitution or compensation. No matter what our trespass was, we were drawn into a conversation where we learnt why a particular action (or inaction) wasn’t appropriate. Often, this was in a series of questions where we were encouraged to work out for ourselves what it was we did wrong, and what better alternatives we could have taken.

This method of handling transgressions worked, even for one of my siblings who had a tendency to test my parents’ patience whenever he could. In contrast, some of my peers, might learn that something they did was “bad” due to the punishment they received, but might not understand why they were bad. They often had to construct elaborate rules of behaviour to keep on the right side of the parents. Some thought they were intrinsically bad, because that notion was repeatedly reinforced by being told they were bad children. The parallels with some forms of Biblical teachings should be obvious.

Back to the story: I persevered with reading the Bible, on and off, for over a year, always looking for the meaning behind the stories, but generally failing to do so. In hindsight, it’s not surprising that an eight and nine year old boy would fail to comprehend an ancient text full of metaphor, allegories and myth.

What I did gain from the effort was that the only way to reconcile the apparent two natures of God, was to abandon the idea that God was an anthropomorphic being. Looking back on it now, I guess that my understanding of God during the next few years would waver between panentheism and pantheism. I was able to reconcile the experience I had in The day God spoke to me by reasoning that God would appear in a form I could comprehend.

In the next instalment, I’ll cover the period as I entered my teenage years.


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Last meal

I’ve just had my last meal – well until Tuesday evening anyway.

On that day I am due for a colonoscopy, so from this evening I can not consume any food apart from some liquids until after the procedure is completed. I’ve been on a restricted diet for a few days which has limited my diet to rice, products made with white flour, egg, potatoes, fish and chicken. Absolutely no red meat, fruit, vegetables or nuts. Kind of takes the fun out of eating.

Hospitals are stress producing. I seem to end up there once or twice every year. I dislike hospitals due the noise, bright lights, constant activity and the lack a fresh cool breeze. Not the best place for someone hypersensitive to external stimuli. If I don’t have a migraine when I enter hospital, you can guarantee I’ll have have one by the time I leave.

The colonoscopy is causing some emotional stress. Not because of what the results might be, but the thought of what happens during the procedure itself has brought back a very unpleasant memory from way back last century – 1963 to be precise.

As a thirteen year old going on fourteen, I was somewhat of a loner. I had only one school friend, who also did not mix socially with our peers. I didn’t much like contact sports and couldn’t throw a ball as well as the girls, let alone any of the boys. Up until I was eleven, I often spent time talking with the girls at school, but once puberty kicked in, I found it even more difficult socialising with the girls than I did with the boys.

Somewhere about that time, rumours started to spread about my sexuality. I was mostly unaware of this, but it seems there was some controversy amongst my peers as to whether I was a “queer” or a “queen”. I suppose my social awkwardness was the catalyst behind the rumours. At that time Aspergers Syndrome wasn’t recognised and people like me were simply considered antisocial, unsocial, or just odd.

On a somewhat cold autumn day, I was invited to join a game of bullrush. Being invited to join in games was a rare event for me, so even though it is quite physical, I was happy to take part. I had no idea who the boy was, but I guess he was at least two years older than I was.

The game was to take place on a rugby field on the far side of the school grounds, so I followed a group of some twenty or thirty boys to our destination. It never occurred to me that most of the boys were considerably older than I was. The game started, and as was usual. I was never called to make the solo run. What was odd in hindsight that I was never caught during the bullrushes, and eventually I was the only player not “in”.

An unwritten rule of the game was that the more people who were “in” the higher the requirement for being caught. Early in the game, being tagged was all that was necessary, but as the game neared the end, it was necessary to have the runner pinned to the ground.

So, my name was called and I started to make my run, knowing full well that there was no way I could make the 25 yard dash through a group of boys large enough to form two rugby teams. But I was determined not to make it easy for them. Instead of being tackled as I expected, the others were gabbing at my clothes, at first I didn’t realise their intent, but after my jersey was pulled off and they started pulling on my school shorts, I began to realise they might have other plans for me.

I won’t go into full details as to what happened next, suffice to say that I was eventually stripped naked, my lips and cheeks smeared with lipstick. The same lipstick was then used to write sexually derogatory slogans on my chest, and then on my back while I was anally penetrated by several objects.

I don’t know how long the assault lasted, but eventually the school bell rang indicating classes were about to recommence, and I found myself alone and naked. I don’t recall where or how I found my clothes, but I remember creeping into the adjacent reserve of native bush and attempting to remove the lipstick from my face using grass and my underwear. I stayed hidden in the reserve until after school ended and finally when it was almost empty, I found the courage to make my way to the bicycle racks to collect my bike and make my way home.

I never told anyone about the incident. I was too embarrassed and wouldn’t have been able to face the scrutiny that would have occurred if I reported it. I wouldn’t have been able to identify any of my assailants as my facial recognition skills were almost non-existent. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I was finally able to talk to a counsellor about the assault, and even then I left out the most humiliating parts.

It’s an event that I have mostly been able to suppress the memory of, but the forthcoming colonoscopy has brought it flooding back. Quite irrational I know. A few medical staff in a hospital facility is so very different from a pack of savage youths at the back of a school field. But as the same same piece of anatomy is involved in both, the two are becoming interwoven in my mind as the day of the examination approaches.


For those who don’t know the game of bullrush:

How to play:

One person is “in” and stands in the middle of the field and calls out a name.
The person named has to try to run to the other side of the field without getting tackled.
If they get tackled they are in and another person’s name is called.
If they get to the other side they yell “Bullrush”, and everyone runs.
The game continues until everyone is in.
The last person “in” is the winner.