There have been two major threads that formed the essence of the quest of my life; gender and spirituality. Gender only exists in our social world; it’s a primal form of identity, which creates relationships, then our entire social world. Spirituality lies behind the world we live in, it’s the world of the intangible, the spirit, feelings, awareness, which is all the invisible hand in the glove that creates our lives.

I have now been a meditator for almost fifty years and have come to value the awareness, the insight, sense of being that this has brought. It is my conviction that to experience who and what we are in our hidden depths some form of spiritual practice is essential. It’s also necessary to have a guide, someone who has walked the tricky paths of self awareness before us and can guide us along our own camino, our own way.

In this episode I am quoting from the Karmapa, the head of one of the great traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, because his wise, concise words from his book The Heart is Noble, precisely match my own experience, with a special quality of humility and humanity that make them truly noble.

I then comment on what he has said from my own specific gendered experience, to share my own insights that parallel the Karmapa’s.

The image on this post, by the way, is of a sculpture that greeted me as I entered De Tropen, the cafe in the Tropenmuseum – the museum of the tropics – in Amsterdam just a few days ago. I find this high art sculpture entitled ‘Rhinoceros, father and son’ to be extraordinarily beautiful and powerful; it magically brings together the spirit of the animal and the human into our shared essence, full of love, beyond gender or species. The artist was from Zimbabwe, which has a magnificent tradition of sculpture. I am searching for their name right now.

Just before I started to publish this podcast, The Masks of Gender, I thought it might be useful to begin with me talking to someone who knew me well, asking me about my intentions, my inspirations, my hopes and dreams, what I value, what are my ways of seeing, and so on.

Fortune favoured me; Claire Doran agreed to be that person who held the conversation with me that inspired me to tell it all, or as much as I knew at the time. She works for the RSA, the Royal Society of Arts, of which I am a fellow, and she supports this podcast both personally and professionally, which I feel privileged to receive.

For reasons I’m unsure of, I didn’t put it up first, even though in the beginning of the recording I lead with a welcome to the whole series. Perhaps I wondered if I had to create some conversations before I really knew what I was doing. In fact, when I listened to it again, and although I’ve definitely learned a lot about my podcast game, the content holds up well, and I think it’s a good time to post it.

Claire really is a wonder; clear, open, sharp, with a wonderful background to bring her own particular insights into identity, gender and more. She agreed to be the contributor to her own episode, it’s in the recording, and I am going to chase her to talk to us all soon.

I don’t have the right picture of Claire as yet. When I do I’ll insert it. The image shown is of a small part of a garden sculpture I made some years ago, when I was a garden designer and maker. Another identity which has come and gone, as they do. Podcaster; there’s another.

My book The Choice is a kind of summation of what I learned over the decades of my spiritual practices, meditation, study and self examination, twenty five compassionately short chapters to fit in between stations on the commuter train, or fill in time in the bathroom during the release after breakfast.

As the tricky and profound matters of gender and identity was also an underlying theme of my life – and still is – my spiritual practice gave insights into my gendered conundrums.

First the Stomach is, I think, the most personal and direct chapter of the book. It’s about truth and loss, revelation, compassion (which comes up time and again) and what we are when all of what we think we are is stripped away. Who are we when our gendered tales are removed? What am I without all what I think is me? When I have no gender, what am I?

When I sat and listened to the recording of the conversation I had with Molly, in the library of the RSA in London, I thought: what a privilege to spend such an intimate and profound time of the heart with such a woman as this. In fact, this podcast project is a great way to do what I love; sharing a space of intimacy and heart with remarkable people, then sharing it with you.

Molly was introduced to me as she is the mother of a trans child, also a feminist, a lawyer and musician. Seems to me that she lives and expresses these diverset aspects of herself in a fine balance, to me a rare attainment in our world.

This is one of the longer conversations, and I didn’t want to miss a moment of it so cut nothing out at all. Her straightforward honesty, her eloquence, her recognition of the masculine in the deep identity of her dear child, and with that the encouragement for him to flourish, made me wish all trans kids have such a mother as this. Or maybe simply all kids; after all, every one of us needs recognition and the nourishment of love to become all we are and can be.

I’ve been thinking about masks, image and reality for many years. Shifting identity from the masculine which was assigned to me, and considered to be real, to the embodiment of my inner feminine being opened my eyes to the power and significance of masks, the presentation of our being we light up for the world.

The Eye in the Mask is a chapter of my book The Choice. It comes from my understanding that there is always a single choice to be made in our lives; to come from the mind and all its illusions, or to come from the Centre, the core of our being, the mind-free Self.

This chapter neatly states what the Masks of Gender is all about, or at least the principle behind it. I decided to insert some readings of my own words, mostly from The Choice, to give added depth and spice to the lovely conversations with remarkable people.