Saturday, February 6, 2016

But What if God Isn't Enough?

In the last post (click here), I wrote a response to a popular article circulating on social media. It presented two options:

A - I will force my children to go to church because it's good for them. (It was implied that children would not desire church naturally.)

B - I won't force my children to go to church. I will do nothing actively to persuade them. I will let them choose. (It was implied this wouldn't work well, and I believe the author is right--doing nothing is not the option I promote.)

I spoke of a third option C - We all have the godseed within us and it is a good seed. If a child is given a loving, wholesome environment of Light, is taught correct principles, and their agency is left unfettered (no force, coercion, manipulation, expectations to follow social norms), then the "seed" will grow--they will seek their God.  I also spoke of a parent's efforts being best spent shaping the environment their "seeds" grow in; of persuading them to know their Savior by example.

I quickly wrote the post and published it. Since then, I've had a lot of positive feedback from many who felt option C resonated with them. Yet, I also had some feedback to remind me many still doubt that option. For them, I have further thoughts I would like to share.

Perhaps you may still be asking: 

"What if I give them a choice and they don't choose what I know is best? Not all children are as naturally faithful as some children. Some children have competing influences at play: one of their parents or friends may be actively persuading them not to believe in God or to choose time with them over church attendance." 

What I hear, is in essence: What if God isn't enough? 

If this is your view, I would gently ask you to consider coming to know God better.

And I would say three things more:


The Parable of the Sower (found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, or Luke 8). This is in essence what those doubting option C are communicating: what if the soil isn't prepared? What if the seeds of the word of God go by the wayside, fall on stony ground, or are choked by thorns?

If such is the case, the answer is still not to force the child to God or to church. In the parable, the seeds were good. There was no need to worry if the seeds would grow if they were planted in good soil. That is what option C focuses on: preparing the soil. The godseed within each of us will grow in the right environment. Perhaps, yes, some seeds are stronger than others, some will yield larger fruit or a more hardy plant, but the best chance for any seed is the right environment. Forcing the seed without thought (or action) for the environment having influence upon its growth, is like applying silk leaves, flowers or attaching plastic fruit when poor environments yield no natural growth.

A parents work is the soil, not the seed. Trust the seed to God. Focus on the soil.


I think we miss some important lessons if we are afraid to acknowledge the human weaknesses of prophets and leaders, especially those whose lives and experiences are canonized in the scriptures. Yes, our Savior has the power to turn our weaknesses into strengths if we come unto Him, but I think in the mean time, he also has the wisdom and power to strengthen the world (at least our world of influence) BY our weaknesses until they are made strong. That is the beauty of how God works. For me, it strengthens my testimony that God is at the helm; when I open my eyes to see how he accomplishes a great and marvelous work DESPITE the weaknesses of his disciples and leaders.

For example, I think Lehi would have us learn from his weaknesses and strengthen our worlds of influence in the process. In the record of 1 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, Laman and Lemuel do not freely choose to leave Jerusalem when their father receives a vision that the city will be destroyed. What discussions occurred between father and his sons while they resided in Jerusalem we can only guess, but it is apparent Laman and Lemuel felt coerced into joining their family on the wilderness trip.

Lehi didn't want them to be destroyed by staying in Jerusalem. He thought he knew best. In fact, he was right, they would have been destroyed. Yet what good came of them being forced to come? What if Nephi and Sam were the only ones to come--the ones who had freely chosen and who had received a witness that what their father taught was true?

How would the entire story of the Book of Mormon have been different if Laman and Lemuel were told by their father, "I love you. I understand you aren't sure of what I speak. I fear I will lose you and that I will never see you again if I let you stay in Jerusalem, but I will not force you to come. You may stay if that is what you choose."

It's a compelling question. The Book of Mormon is a tragedy. It doesn't end well, and the tragedy is rooted in the conflict that arises because the descendants of Laman (and Lemuel) felt something had been stolen from them. Perhaps it wasn't birthrights or swords of Laban or records so much as their agency?


Let us contrast this example of agency with the 2000 stripling warriors. These "sons of Helaman" were volunteer soldiers, stepping forward so their father's wouldn't have to break an oath they had sworn to never take up the sword again. These young soldiers survived many battles without one life being lost. Not one of the 2000.


I believe they qualified for greater protection because they made greater use of their agency. They freely chose and they chose well. How many of the other Nephite soldiers (who did not have the same protection from harm as the 2000 sons of Helaman) fought for lesser reasons? Was their agency restricted and not as free? Were they compelled to fight because the Nephite government required them to? Was it for the primary reason to feed their family and it was just a job? Was it because everyone else their age was joining the army and they felt compelled by social pressure but didn't want to? We don't know. The record doesn't say. But it does show us the protection and power of the soldiers we know freely chose to go to war, yet would have been allowed not to fight.

With the right soil (enriched and surrounded by the things of God and protected, while young, from the winds and weeds of the world); with the greatest allowance of agency (nothing blocking the seed from sprouting on its own, nothing shading it from God's Light), the godseed in each of us will grow on its own power. I believe this. I have experienced this. The best chance for us all is to follow God's way. 

I'll finish with inspired words that describe what I believe is God's way. Many of you have read these words before, but read them again with the discussion here in mind. They don't only apply to those they were originally spoken to, they apply to parents and all men everywhere. 

(Added comments per this discussion, are included in brackets):

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority [as a parent or leader], as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.  Hence many are called, but few are chosen.  
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood [simply because you have authority], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.  
Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly [including the virtues of our children and friends]; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. 
The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.
D&C 121:39-46

Monday, February 1, 2016

I Won't Force My Kids to Go to Church - A Response

I hopped on facebook this morning to wish a friend happy birthday and got a little distracted by a post I read. It was an article called "I Won't Force My Kids to Go to Church" that you can read by clicking on that link. The article begins quite cleverly and compares the arguments of why some Christian parents choose not to force their children to go to church with the logic of a parent declaring they will stop forcing their child to eat three times a day, a parent stating they will stop forcing their child not to play in the street, or a parent deciding not to force their child to go to school if they feel their teachers are uninspiring and the children mean, for "Who wants to waste their time going somewhere they aren’t being fulfilled?" 

While this article has, at heart, a great purpose (to bring more people to Christ), it feeds a falsehood that I had to say something about--and I'll try to do so with only twenty minutes to write, so forgive the rough post. 

The falsehood is the assumption that at their core, every person is inherently lazy or desires what is not good, or what is not good for them. It strikes at an argument that has been going on a long time (here's a quick version of some of the ideas of Plato, Plotinus (Plato's follower), Augustine, and the Manicheans came up with that I found interesting and makes me want to learn more about how these minds grappled with such questions at the heart of this article).  

The author of "I Won't Force My Kids to Go to Church" presents two options: either I force my children to go to church, or I do nothing and let them choose what they want to do. It becomes clear that the author believes giving children a choice means that most youth will choose not to go to church.

I disagree. It isn't a choice of A or B. It's C. There is a third alternative. 

My faith and experiences teach me that at their core, every human being is a son and daughter of God with the potential to become like him. Because of this godseed within us, we are not inherently evil because of our body, we are here to shape and love and nourish the natural potential of our body--to train our dragon.  

We are not here because the earth was broken by Adam and Eve's choice. Adam and Eve triumphantly chose to leave a realm of bliss to experience a mortal world of opposition in their journey of eternal progression AND SO HAVE WE. 

Our Savior is not a victim willing to pay for our mistakes, he is the Prince of Peace, the Good Shepherd, the Anointed Son of God. He chooses to at-one with each of us individually, to get in the yoke with us, to pull with us when we are weak, to heal us from this world's woes, to guide us through the mists of darkness, to bless us with his enabling grace. Yes, he pays for our mistakes, but it is not because we are always messing up and he's willing to foot the bill, it is because it is ESSENTIAL to experience the bad if we are to know the good. And we cannot be forced in that journey, so he allows us our agency and the experience of opposition and makes it possible for all those mistakes to work toward our good--a glorious good. THAT IS WHY WE ARE HERE.   


Maybe our specific eternal journey doesn't always look like the perfect plan according to temporal wisdom, but I firmly believe that if left free to choose, and given exposure to eternal things, the godseed within us will guide us along the path of progression (not digression). As surely as a sunflower chooses to follow the sun, we will come to Christ and experience the gravity of His love.

The article in question is flawed. No child would naturally follow the Light of Christ to walk out into a busy street if taught the dangers (let's speak of children over the age of eight to simplify things). 

No child would choose (forever) to sit at home and eat bonbons all day and learn absolutely nothing if they weren't in a formal school building being forced to learn (you can't force real learning anyway, that's why God doesn't).

And what child refuses to eat? Only a child that needs healing of some other kind that forcing them to eat won't fix. 

It has been my experience with my siblings growing up, and with most of my children now half grown to adulthood, that when we are taught correct principles, and our agency is left unfettered, we choose things of Light--things that nourish the Godseed within us. 

It is when we are forced, coerced, or manipulated, that we rebel or do things that invite darkness (and seem to give evidence to others that we need to be forced to do good things). 

If we aren't making good choices, maybe we just need time to heal from our agency being restricted? From observing and imitating others acting according to incorrect principles? Maybe we need to be taught true principles. Maybe we are learning necessary lessons about darkness so we can more fully embrace the light? Maybe seeing our loved ones more diligently following truth and light would inspire us to act likewise sooner rather than later? 

Maybe we need our parents to trust us to God's care; to feel trusted to live and act as agents, not as servants being forced to measure up to false traditional norms. Maybe our children would find greater truths than we have with such an upbringing and we could learn from new truths they discover! 
However, if we always control and coerce them into following only what we know to be true (breaking correct principles ourselves), they will not progress further than us. Likely, they will wilt and diminish.  

This I know. I will not force my children to go to church. I will not force them to learn. I will focus my efforts and attention on nourishing the seed of godhood within them and protecting the environment they are planted in. I will trust God to guide me in that work. Then, I will trust their seed to the Master Gardner; I will trust that the seed will grow. For it is a good seed.   

Click here for part 2 of this discussion, "But What if God Isn't Enough?" 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Small Offering

Let us Liken: 

 "... seek learning even by study and also by faith." (D&C 109:7)

I do not believe we learn some things by study and other things by faith. I believe true learning--the kind that changes us and is part of our becoming--is both. The connecting word in the scripture is "also" not "or."

When we say we have faith, we are really speaking of faith in Christ. It helps me, therefore, to think of learning by faith as learning by Christ. It is centering the compass of our mind in him. It is qualifying and inviting Him to become our mentor (through the Holy Ghost) in a personal, individualized, intimate way.

When I feel moments of curiosity it is like I'm feeling a question being asked of me by the Spirit. Just as any good teacher might ask leading questions, all these little curiosities are not separate subjects, but are often linked to deeper questions that come ever closer to the "point" the Spirit of Christ eventually teaches me.

I take those curiosities, like puzzle pieces, and save and gather them. Then, by study, I analyze, weigh, and consider how such pieces of revelation fit together to make a complete and whole understanding. Each puzzle that is completed changes me. By faith I gather, by study I connect. But it is all made possible because of Christ. 

And beyond all our discoveries in his words and being, there lie depths within depths of truth that we cannot understand, and yet shall be ever going on to understand. Yea, even now sometimes we seem to have dim glimpses into regions from which we receive no word to bring away... Our advance from our former ignorance can measure but a small portion of the distance that lies, and must ever lie, between our childishness and his manhood, between our love and his love, between our dimness and his mighty vision. 
~ George MacDonald, "It Shall Not Be Forgiven," Unspoken Sermons, p.36

Beyond this small thought, two offerings--treasures I've discovered this week. "Liken" them if you like.


Socrates: ... Consider, then, what being released from their bonds and cured of their ignorance would naturally be like... When one of them was freed and suddenly compelled to stand up, turn his head, walk, and look up toward the light, he'd be pained and dazzled and unable to see the things whose shadows he'd seen before. 
... anyone with any understanding would remember that the eyes may be confused in two ways and from two causes, namely, when they've come from the light into the darkness and when they've come from the darkness into light. Realizing that the same applies to the soul, when someone sees a soul disturbed and unable to see something, he won't laugh mindlessly, but he'll take into consideration whether it has come from a brighter life and is dimmed through not having yet become accustomed to the dark or whether it has come from greater ignorance into greater light and is dazzled by the increased brilliance... If that's true, then here's what we must think about these matters:
Education isn't what some people declare it to be, namely, putting knowledge into souls that lack it, like putting sight into blind eyes... But our present discussion, on the other hand, shows that the power to learn is present in everyone's soul and that the instrument with which each learns is like an eye that cannot be turned around from darkness to light without turning the whole body... 
Then education is the craft concerned with doing this very thing, this turning around, and with how the soul can most easily and effectively be made to do it. It isn't the craft of putting sight into the soul. Education takes for granted that sight is there but that it isn't turned the right way or looking where it ought to look, and it tries to redirect it appropriately.  
~ from Plato, Allegory of the Cave


God is forgiving us every day—sending from between him and us our sins and their fogs and darkness. Witness the shining of his sun and the falling of his rain, the filling of their hearts with food and gladness, that he loves them that love him not.  
When some sin that we have committed has clouded all our horizon, and hidden him from our eyes, he, forgiving us, ere we are, and that we may be, forgiven, sweeps away a path for this his forgiveness to reach our hearts, that it may by causing our repentance destroy the wrong, and make us able even to forgive ourselves. For some are too proud to forgive themselves, till the forgiveness of God has had its way with them, has drowned their pride in the tears of repentance, and made their heart come again like the heart of a little child.  
But, looking upon forgiveness, then, as the perfecting of a work ever going on, as the contact of God’s heart and ours, in spite and in destruction of the intervening wrong, we may say that God’s love is ever in front of his forgiveness. God’s love is the prime mover, ever seeking to perfect his forgiveness, which latter needs the human condition for its consummation. The love is perfect, working out the forgiveness. 
God loves where he cannot yet forgive—where forgiveness in the full sense is as yet simply impossible, because no contact of hearts is possible, because that which lies between has not even begun to yield to the besom of his holy destruction.  
... When a man’s evil is thus fading out of him, and he is growing better and better, that is the forgiveness coming into him more and more. Perfect in God’s will, it is having its perfect work in the mind of the man. When the man hath, with his whole nature, cast away his sin, there is no room for forgiveness any more, for God dwells in him, and he in God.

... It may be an infinitely less evil to murder a man than to refuse to forgive him. The former may be the act of a moment of passion: the latter is the heart’s choice. It is spiritual murder, the worst, to hate, to brood over the feeling that excludes, that, in our microcosm, kills the image, the idea of the hated.  
... as far as we can, we quench the relations of life between us; we close up the passages of possible return. This is to shut out God, the Life, the One. For how are we to receive the forgiving presence while we shut out our brother from our portion of the universal forgiveness, the final restoration, thus refusing to let God be All in all? 
~ George MacDonald,“It Shall Not Be Forgiven,” Unspoken Sermons p.30-32

Monday, December 14, 2015

Why Would You Let Your Mind Get Like That - Part 2

In part one of this post, I shared some of the words that had moved me to try an experiment applying three things each day for a week. This post, as promised, contains excerpts from the notes I wrote as I applied the following: 
1. I will use a silent mantram (or mantra) to still my mind and focus it in the present moment. It is to be spoken silently with true purpose and intent. (My intent was to use the mantram to center myself more fully in Christ. I chose a short phrase drawn from John 15:4.)  
2. I will Focus on one thing at a time throughout the day.  
3. I will give full attention to each chosen focus and use the mantram to re-center in the present moment when tempted to think about/regret things in the past or worry about/yearn for things in the future.

The timing of this idea was fitting as my schedule was perfectly crammed with plenty to be stressed about being able to accomplish; many opportunities to think outside the present moment abounded... 

A couple things before reading the record of what happened: 

First, taking the time to quickly write in my phone the observations and questions that came during what I have come to call my "meditation in motion" practice has been key--it always is with any personal application focus. The more consistently I record what happens and my thoughts about a chosen application, the more powerful the experience. For obvious reasons, I'm just giving a sample here of three days writing.

Second, like other forms of dissection, I have found that examining recorded thoughts--a kind of mental dissection--is a way to "lift the lid" on God's designs in our life. I testify his hand is in each our lives. He wants to show us His work and His love for us--no matter how small we feel or how ordinary our daily routine is. 

Lastly, I found the simplest moments had the greatest power to teach me--so please forgive the mundane actions often described. I have tried to edit the notes in such a way that emphasizes the macro lessons applicable to all and focuses less on the details specific to my experience. In preparing this, I'm in awe of the way the Lord works; how He uses the small and simple things of our life to teach us great lessons. I'm grateful for the experiences of this week. I am also grateful for what I continue to learn as I have spent time pondering and editing the week's notes for this post. 

Day One:

Today, after coming home from the gym and the 40 minute drive to get Elise to school and back, I began my usual habit of rushing to accomplish several things at once, hurriedly addressing my kids needs before we run to work. I created a mental list: shower, get dressed, dry my hair, put makeup on, sort dirty laundry, clean dirty laundry, fold clean laundry, straighten the main gathering area (a.k.a. my room), finish a load of dishes (so we'd have something to eat dinner with--I really need to buy more bowls!), nudge the children to do their chores and to help me make lunch. 

And there is only an hour and a half before work! Hurry! 

Five minutes in, I remembered my commitment for the week. 

Ok. Here goes. Choose one task to give my full attention to. And somehow, this "mantram" thing will help redirect my mind when (not if :-) I realize my focus has widened again. (Clue to self: if I am tempted to feel overwhelmed or rushed then I'm in the past or the future--stay in the present moment.) 


This is harder than I thought! I chose to take a shower first. While I let the cold water heat up, I started taking off my bedding to wash, then started going into "hurry mode" picking up odds and ends around my room as I grabbed a towel to shower. Not until I returned with the towel and went to grab stray items from my desk to put away did I stop myself...

I'm doing more than one thing at a time again! Is that really a bad thing in this case though? Do I really want to try this one-thing-at-a-time focus? I'm being productive, right? Yet... that way would be what I always do. I'm suppose to be trying something different hoping to get a different result. Fine. I'll stick to the rules. 

Abide in me, and I in you. 

I put things back on my desk and stepped into the shower and gave full focus to getting ready for the day, setting aside the rest on my to-do list. 


While dressing, Nathan [my son] knocked on the door. He wanted to ask about a debt he owes me. It's a little routine in our family: I lock the door to shower and dress and my kids come knocking over and over again while I ignore them, thinking this must be the day they finally realize I'm not answering or coming to the door because I can't.  They keep knocking until I finally yell from my closet, "The door is locked for a reason--I'll talk to you when I'm done!" 

With my focus-on-one-thing-at-a-time commitment today, I had an added excuse to ignore the child at the door until I was done, but something interesting happened instead--reflecting on it now, I realize it's one of the benefits of this "meditation in motion" practice:

Only half dressed, I responded quickly, came out of my closet and spoke with Nathan through the door. I found inside (not just on the outside) I was more patient than I usually am with these negotiations of his. I consciously gave our conversation my full attention (I consciously made sure there was no other task I was aware of in that moment, just his question). Ideas came as we talked. The matter was easily resolved to both our satisfaction and I went back to getting ready. 

In writing this down, I realize: because I had one focus, not ten tasks I was trying to accomplish at once, the "weight" of my mind was light and easy to shift.


Laundry was next. Practicing full attention on one thing, I was quickly aware that I had many thoughts that began to seep into my mind. I stopped my musings and checked myself. 

Wait. What if my chosen focus is something mundane like this and so my mind turns to pondering things other than the task at hand? Does this practice demand I think of soap and clothing color only?  Is there harm in thinking of other things while putting towels into a washer? 

No. It does no harm to my peace, or to my task, but I realized: it does harm to such thoughts. I cannot give the thoughts my full attention, capture them, record them, or ponder them. They become hanging chads in my consciousness; unresolved, lost. That disrupts my peace and the present moments going forward. So I stopped what I was doing and came to write all this in my phone.

I'm learning... there are priorities I must set for this "meditation in motion": 

1. I must allow certain things to change or redirect my full attention. Sticking to the task until it's done isn't the point or where the power is. Giving full attention is where the power is. 

2. So a decision: if the thoughts feel important and worth capturing, I will stop what I'm doing, and write them down in my phone (or somewhere). If I'm driving or can't write, I will dictate them into my phone. Then I will go back to what I was doing before. 

3. However, If the thoughts are not inspired or guiding, but are negative, distracting, or Light-zapping, I will silently repeat my mantram, re-center in the present, and reconnect to my Power Source. 

Also, Nathan has taught me a fourth point:

4. If my children or another person ask for my attention, I will shift my focus to them, or invite them to help me with my task, if needed. People and relationships before tasks. ALWAYS. 

Just sorting that out right now brings more peace to my mind and soul.

(Later that night) 

I was at work easily focusing on all-consuming bookkeeping tasks for my dad while the kids were upstairs doing school with my mom when it struck me--I had forgotten about the girls gymnastics classes! I was planning on picking up my oldest daughter at a play practice 45 minutes away, but forgot my little girl's classes until my phone alerted me. How would I get them there in time when they didn't have their gym leotards with them? I did not think of my mantra but I was surprisingly calm, having practiced a peaceful mind all day. 

Ok. What is the first thing I should focus on? Get the kids downstairs and in the car. 

Focusing on just that one thing helped me stay calm while I explained the situation to my children. We got in the car, and instead of thinking of the whole problem, I chose to only decide what the next focus should be. A solution came clearly in that present moment: 

Call Adam. 

He was at home finishing work and could meet us at the gym with their leotards and take the other kids while I drove to the next valley to pick up Elise. Adam answered the phone quickly. Norah took the phone and guided him to where their clothes were that they would need while I drove. This time I eagerly used the mantram as it was very tempting to think beyond the present moment and worry...

Abide in me, and I in you. 

It struck me how it was an expression of trust to do that. I trusted that my little drama--inconsequential as it was in the eternal scheme--was still something Christ (and those that act in his name) was interested in helping me navigate. All I had to do was center myself in Him and trust the promptings that would come, one at a time. [I read this now and a scripture comes to mind in Isaiah 28:9-10]: 
Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: For with... another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.
Adam and I both arrived at the same time to the gym. That was cool. The girls weren't late and Nathan was happy about how this way he didn't have to sit in the car with me for 1 1/2 to get Ellie because he could go home with dad. 

What next? My attention fell on the car's dashboard: the fuel light was on. I looked at the clock. It was rush hour. 

I will be at least 20 minutes late picking up Elise. She doesn't have her phone with her. It is dark outside and they lock up the school after the play practice. Would she be waiting in the cold? Wait. Stop. 

Abide in me, and I in you. 

Just get fuel first. Focus on that. 

There weren't any gas stations I knew of on the way to the freeway from the gym. I'd have to go far afield of the freeway. What was the quickest way? I didn't have any idea. 

Abide in me, and I in you.

It's hard to put certain things into words. Yet everyone has experienced it, I imagine: It isn't clear words that come, or an image. It's instruction through impressions and peaceful assurances. I knew there weren't easily accessible stations near the next two onramps so I felt to travel on the frontage road to the third freeway entrance. I didn't remember if there was a gas station there, but I felt assured I'd find one; that I'd have enough gas to get there. 

Sure enough, there was a gas station at the corner of the last freeway entrance, and I also noticed from afar that I missed heavy freeway traffic by taking this route. I fueled up the car and was able to get right on the freeway without waiting at more than one light. 

But I would still be late. 

Again, I chose to use my mantra to center in The Vine instead of disconnecting through my worries. I chose to leave it to God. I thought of Julian [of Norwich] and what she would say: "All is well and all will be well." 

Abide in me, and I in you.

The next 30 minutes (of rush hour traffic) were a beautiful experience in abiding and trusting My Guide. I arrived at the school calm and peaceful. I found my daughter just finishing up as the practice had gone late. She wasn't even ready to come out to the car yet. 


I reread this tonight and see new meaning after my first day of practice with "meditation in motion." 
When attention stays in the present, worry actually evaporates, releasing a flood of vitality that we can use to face a problem and deal with it instead of fretting. "The moments of our daily life may appear commonplace," said one of Mahatma Gandhi's closest colleagues, Vinoba Bhave, "but they carry enormous significance." He added that when we look upon every moment as sacred, a new energy flows into our lives.… When we look upon each moment as the result of every other moment of our lives, we can sieze it as an opportunity to change our thinking and therefore our action. It is a thrilling thought. (P. 62-63)

Day 2

Tonight while washing the dishes and making dinner, the focus of doing one thing at a time had an efficiency to it I never imagined. It's better than any multi-tasking I've ever tried. Instead of thinking of the whole dinner and running around "getting it all done," I focused on cutting the onions. Then I focused on chopping carrots. While the vegetables boiled I focused on the dishes. 

I didn't think of all that had to be done--cook dinner, clean the kitchen--plus feel a victim because my children weren't helping etc. 

I  j u s t  c h o p p e d   o n i o n s. 

Then an idea came to give one child one simple task to focus on. They quickly agreed and started helping because it wasn't a big looming, "Please help me with dinner?" Just, "Can you peel this carrot?" 

I am loving this. I find my mind is more free to receive and capture quiet thoughts that come; I am more able to shift and heed each nudge. I have a single focus and not a mind overwhelmed with many larger tasks all demanding to be done at once. I feel empowered. I have more choice over what I do. There is not an overwhelming list of mommy things to accomplish. There is a choice of what is most important right now. And even a feeling of help to decide. 

Once I choose, that is my focus. I trust the rest will work out, that the rest will have its turn. But in the moment I choose one thing, the other things leave my consciousness. When the next thing is needful, it gently nudges me and I realize through my now decluttered mind that it is time to shift. So I do. 

It is like a dance. There is something thrilling about it. From the outside I must act and look the same as I always have but on the inside my peace is abiding. I am enjoying the dance. What I am doing fulfills me because each small seemingly insignificant task – chopping carrots, dicing onions, boiling water--is now a small lesson in dancing with a higher mind; a nobler guide.

Tonight, I reread parts I highlighted in the Bhagavad Gita last month. Again, I begin to grasp meaning in what was mostly hazy or felt too "out there" to understand when I first read them: 

(From a preface to chapter two of the Gita) 

This chapter establishes the various definitions of yoga taught in the Gita. Here the word does not refer to the physical postures and exercises (hatha yoga) it connotes in the West; it refers primarily to disciplining the mind. “Yoga is evenness of mind”: detachment from the dualities of pain and pleasure, success and failure. Therefore “yoga is skill in action,” because this kind of detachment is required if one is to act in freedom, rather than merely react to events compelled by conditioning. Krishna is not trying to persuade Arjuna to lead a different kind of life and renounce the world as would a monk or recluse. He tells Arjuna that if he can establish himself in yoga –in unshakable equanimity, profound peace of mind–he will be more effective in the realm of action. His judgment will be better and his vision clear if he is not emotionally entangled in the outcome of what he does.

These past two days I have tasted a bit of what the editor is speaking of, I've felt what that focus brings: peace of mind. I've learned how this focused peace increases my judgment (the nudges and guidance I am now better able to recognize). By using the short language phrase (mantram) to keep me centered, to help me shun distracting thoughts, I am finding myself "more effective in the realm of action."

Day 4 

This morning it fell apart a bit. Yesterday was a breeze with teaching 6am-6pm with two little breaks and Adam having the kids. I had one student at a time to focus on. It's my passion. I love it. Easy. 

But I think it got me out of the habit of consciously doing my "meditation in motion." This morning I was so focused I couldn't shift. I woke up feeling the weight of all I had to do and forgot my practice. Deadlines and demands were too heavy to break away from when my little girls came to talk to me--what did they say? 

I hurriedly replied to texts that I feel now should have been given more attention.  I was distracted in my replies to my oldest daughter's needs. I fulfilled them hurriedly and curtly. She quietly submitted to my quick-jerk braiding, my terse reminders not to use her phone during class, my unkind tone. 

It kept coming to my consciousness to practice focusing on one thing, to use my phrase to re-center, but I pushed the thoughts away. 

It's past noon, I have barely eaten. I'm half ready for the day, but I ignored these things and chose to hunker down and work in my old habitual ways... "getting things done."

... Until I walked into the kitchen to find my son washing the dishes. My son. Washing. Dishes. 

That's my chore, not his. Has he ever done that? No one asked him to. Am I still on the earth that I know? 

He even had classical music playing. It broke my negative cycle. My heart is full to bursting with love for this beautiful soul. I went to him to squash and kiss. He was focused and just sort of smiled and mildly complained, as usual, about the cheek kisses. I sat down at my computer on the kitchen table to "get more done" but instead, I just sit here with tears  in my eyes, watching him, fingering notes into my phone so I don't forget what I've learned from my mistakes today; what I've learned from the gracious acts of my children. 

Boy I'm in need of lots of practice. God grant me time and grace sufficient to become more than I "get done" in this life? Then perhaps I can look back and find real, eternal things were accomplished--and that I was on the side helping, not one of those holding things back. 

The world in which we live is similar to the potter’s spinning wheel, and the speed of that wheel is increasing. Like the clay on the potter’s wheel, we must be centered as well. Our core, the center of our lives, must be Jesus Christ and His gospel. Living a Christ-centered life means we learn about Jesus Christ and His gospel and then we follow His example... The ancient prophet Isaiah stated, “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” 
If our lives are centered in Jesus Christ, He can successfully mold us into who we need to be... The joy we experience in this life will be in direct proportion to how well our lives are centered on the teachings, example, and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. 
     ~ "The Joy of Living a Christ-Centered Life" By Elder Richard J. Maynes

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Why Would You Let Your Mind Get Like That?

Last week, I read something that has revolutionized my thinking. Literally. I decided to "liken" some ideas to my life that I had come across in my studies. I kept a record as I did that I will share here. But first, the words that moved me.

It began with a passage like this one I read in a book my dear friend gave me:

Our main concern here in these chapters is understanding and identifying within ourselves the thought-world of the ego because it distorts our mind through a variety of ways... It must continually have an opinion, or be approving or disapproving of events, people or things--creating a narrow mental world... While one labors in the inner chaos of the ego, he remains in a sort of spiritual unconsciousness or spiritual sleep so as not to see the truth about what he is doing... the objective of the practice is to awaken inner awareness... The task then is to recognize the ego at work and practice to transcend and replace the common human failings that are inherent in its structure... the Lord's way is to re-educate our awareness while at the same time we pursue a practice that uncovers our true self and cultivates the goodness of the God seed... Our spiritual practice trains us to be centered and nourished in His presence, a state of peace, rest, and self-acceptance, rather than in the quests for love, approval, appreciation, power, or self-esteem that run the world and keep us in confusion and anxiety. The ego's forms of self-fulfillment can become completely empty to us. (Godseedpg.142-143)

It was such an interesting and new approach to use the language she did with an LDS perspective.  So much of what she spoke of therefore felt hidden from me. It wasn't common language to the culture I am immersed in. I knew what she must be describing, but it felt like something important was hidden from me. I was missing any experience with much of what she described. That became more and more clear. Many curious passages intrigued me. I mulled the ideas over in my mind and my curiosity and desire to more fully understand her point of view grew. 

What is this "inner awareness" she speaks of? Do I have it? How can I know? What kind of spiritual practice is she speaking of? It feels like she means something more than study of holy texts or prayer. The unfamiliar ways she describes these things made me curious. What does "ego" really identify? What does it mean to "re-educate our awareness"? 

Later, I came to this passage:

Dr. Daniel Brown, a psychologist and researcher at the Harvard Medical School... and a group of psychologists came to interview the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet. One of the Americans asked the Dalai Lama, through the translator, how Buddhists deal with the issue of negative self-talk, talk like "I'm not good enough." The translator and [the Dalai Lama] then began a long discussion in their language. The American psychologists, sitting there, began to wonder what was going wrong. Finally they learned that these Easterners did not understand the idea of negative self-talk. [the Dalai Lama] turned to the psychologist who'd asked the question and said, "Why would you ever let your mind get like that?" (Godseedpg.198)

Really? Is negative self-talk such a foreign idea to people of that culture? He implies a control over the mind I'm not sure I can imagine. 

I realized when I read that, that I had viewed the mind as something like a lung or a heart. Mostly it just is and I have no control over it. But here the Dalai Lama spoke of the mind as if it were a muscle that could be shaped and trained, strengthened, or allowed to weaken. I guess I have believed that all along, but this reply by the Dalai Lama implied a whole new level of control unfamiliar to me. 

Likely because of exposure to these ideas, another book caught my eye as I made my way to the cash register weeks later at a book store. I took it home. This passage in the opening chapter lingered in my mind for weeks and still affects me:
       As an LDS boy, I had heard numerous testimonies proclaiming, "I know this Church is true." I never doubted this; I maintain my boyhood faith to this day, but I think I assumed when I heard or said these words that truth was one, and it was ours. It took a good measure of spiritual maturity for me to realize that the great question of mortality was not really to find the one true church among all the false ones; rather it was to discover where truth and goodness and beauty had reached their most mature form and plant my fixed foot there. That is the critical starting point: Where will we place the fixed foot of our life's compass? There can be no true or complete circle without a center. Having studied most religions, philosophies, and approaches to life, I believe and I affirm that truth and goodness and beauty in their most mature form are found in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth... Furthermore, I believe that the Restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith is the best lens with which to understand, apply, and internalize our Savior's life, teachings and mercy--and the most secure pathway to happiness. Here I will place the fixed foot of my compass... 
[But] we have another foot to consider--what will we do with the searching foot?... Truth is too grand to be found in such small dimensions. It is scattered around the world, God distributing his wonders as widely as the sower throwing grain. God would have the harvest cover the whole field. Light is given not only in the scriptures or through prophetic inspiration, but in multiple ways. Our Father in Heaven is a light-giving God and dispenses it as widely as the stars... I have learned that there is a tremendous amount of truth we can circumscribe if we reach out with the searching foot. Is this not as important as planting the fixed foot? We need to get them in the right order, of course... 
... In our own religious faith we are told to control our thoughts. Benjamin acknowledged that it is critical to "watch yourselves, and your thoughts" (Mosiah 4:30). Jesus warned that to lust after a woman was to commit adultery already in our thoughts. Isaiah has the Lord teaching, "My thoughts are not your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8), with the understanding that one must change his or her thoughts and bring them in line with the Lord's. The Doctrine and Covenants tells us we must "cast away [our] idle thoughts" (D&C 88:69) and "study it out in your mind" (D&c 9:8)... the point is that controlling our thoughts is an important part of our mortal stewardship, but once we've been impressed with the importance and the magnitude of the mind and the necessity of controlling it, we leave each individual to his own strategy. We speak of pondering, but there are no essential religious practices in our faith that specifically deal with focusing and controlling our minds. Usually when we speak of our thoughts needing restraint we focus on specific negative thoughts, including avoiding excessive anger, covetousness, or dwelling on improper sexual images. These negative thoughts, we are sometimes told, can be cleansed from the mind by singing hymns, or otherwise replacing the bad thought with a good one. 
This is good counsel, but we are not masters of dealing with the mind. Our faith's focus lies more in behavior, in service, and in active participation in goodness. However, Eastern religions--Buddhism in particular--teach one how to deeply control mental processes, not only to remove unwanted thoughts, but also to instill positive, compassionate, empathetic ones. One learns to quiet the mental busyness, the darting, egocentric, racing mind, and open up the calmer, more serene, and joyful one. This is the state that invites insight and, in our terminology, revelation. The mind is a wonderful instrument. In this particular area Eastern religious practice has achieved a higher maturity than we have... 
I can recognize God moving in their lives to the benefit of myriads of people.... God has many voices. I believe he desires to get as much goodness, beauty, and truth as he can into the lives and hearts and minds of the people of this world... "Know ye not that there are more nations than one?" the Lord asked (2 Nephi 29:7). Let us answer, "Yea Lord, we know. We have reached! We have searched! We have found thy divine footprint among the nations and in the lives of humanity! All of the world's beautiful truths reverberate in our souls." (S. Michael Wilcox p. 2-3, 9-11) 
As I pondered this passage it was like a door opened to new paths of exploration I had not been conscious of before. I browsed on Kindle and bought the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi. While reading that it made me want to read the Bhagavad Gita. Wow. The Gita was nothing like I thought it would be. With my fixed foot centered in a belief in Christ as my savior, I saw him everywhere in the Gita. So much about mastering the mind, and about focusing on the Lord as the path to salvation. It gave a whole new dimension to the words in the sacrament prayer to "always remember him."  But there was also so much that was foreign to me. I appreciated the help of the prefaces to each chapter written by the editor of the translation I had purchased. After reading the Gita I found myself curious to look up more books by the editor, Eknath Easwaran. 

In the end, following rabbit trails like these led me to three ideas Easwaran advised in a book discussing meditation. There are more I have yet to read, but I didn't feel I could go further in the book until I tried these three. I've come to think of this practice as my "meditation in motion." To paraphrase, the three principles I chose to practice are:

1. The use of a mantram (or mantra) to still the mind and focus on the present moment and center in Christ (at least that is my interpretation with my "fixed foot" where it is, and for my application purposes, I used a short phrase drawn from John 15:4).

2. The choice to focus on one thing at a time throughout the day.

3. The practice of giving your full attention to that one thing with continued use of the mantram to recenter you in the present when other thoughts distract or pull you into thinking about/regretting things in the past or worrying about/yearning for things in the future.

I have to say, my interest was so peaked from the things I had read before encountering these practice suggestions that even though I was hesitant and doubted the wisdom of these suggestions (or the possibility of finding any value in them--one must multitask eventually, right??), I decided in the end that I would devote a week to such a practice. After all, a belief that has proven powerful in my life is that you must plant a seed to know if what grows from it produces good fruit or not. Plus, I just couldn't shake the feeling to give it a try. I've learned to trust those feelings.
Before the first day was over, I was in awe of how quickly putting these things into practice changed my perspective on all I had read before. What seemed a bit convoluted or hidden from me now began to make sense and have merit. I had actual experience to draw understanding from. I became aware of deficits that lay in shadow before. It has been humbling and immensely helpful. Most importantly, I see how such a practice has already and will continue to increase my awareness of God's guidance in my daily life.  

Throughout each day, I dictated or fingered into my phone the ideas, questions and answers that came and the things that happened. But as this post is getting too long, I had better leave that for part two. 

To be continued...