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...

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Delivery: Exquisite "Oneings"

My humanities class this semester required a creativity project. The teacher wanted us to create using a medium we aren't used to using. Poetry is a new medium I've used only twice and with no formal training, so I chose that. I felt to put more thought into the structure and words of the poem shared here in July and completely reworked it. (I'll post the new version below.) As I've spent more time with the poem, I've realized:

On a micro level this poem relates a personal experience unique to my life, but on a macro level I see it now as a symbol of our universal struggle of shedding the ego--even a form of ego as seemingly innocuous as wanting what we think God wants for us (to do or be). A favorite essay by CS Lewis, Weight of Glory, states with powerful imagery: 
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak... like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
This shedding of the ego and trusting God's ways and goals is often referred to as a rebirth; giving our life to God, being changed by God. Through the experience related in the following poem, my perspective of what spiritual rebirth must feel like or look like has changed. It is no longer a culminating event that ends a process. It is many moments of delivery--exquisite and costly threads--that God weaves together, changing the fabric of our lives thread by thread. 

I no longer see delivery as getting what we want, or being delivered from what we don't want. I see it as engaging in a journey where we become a child--a child who struggles through the narrow mazes and trials of life seeking their God (like a baby's journey through the birth canal seeking it's source of life).
When we emerge, we find our lonely desert has become the garden of the Lord (Isaiah 51:3). It is like the moment of birth when a mother's agony is turned to joy (John 16:21), or perhaps more accurately, as a baby must feel after such a journey of struggle and sorrow that quickly turns exquisitely sweet because of the embrace from those hands "stretched out still" that have "caught us" as we emerge, embraced us, at-oned with us. 

I've quoted it here before, but it deserves a repeat, at least in part: 
We are aware that all our mothers give us birth only to pain and dying; and what is it but that our true Mother Jesus, He--all love--gives us birth to joy and to endless life. Blessed may He be! Thus He carries us within Himself in love, and labors until full term so that He could suffer the sharpest throes and the hardest birth pains that ever were or ever shall be, and die at the last. And when He had finished, and so given us birth to bliss, not even all this could satisfy His wondrous love.

Again, I am learning that rebirth appears to be moments of struggle, sometimes as intense as child birth, followed by equally exquisite "oneings" with the Lord. And I imagine the supreme goal of existence as an eternity of that at-one-ment with God; that fullness of joy in their presence. 

The atonement is not a commodity. It is not an event long ago that somehow affects us now. It is a divine being; our Savior, full of infinite love and wisdom whose actions and love make it possible to have a relationship with him. A relationship which, if we choose to nourish, will slowly align us and change us to become more and more like him. And the reason? Not so we can achieve some commodity (eternal life of riches, power etc.). He loves us into the kind of person he is so that he can be with us for eternity in a celestial glory full of celestial beings who don't have to hold anything back. They can give us all of their self without such intense Light and Glory harming us because of how Christ’s love has prepared us and slowly recreated us to be like them. I believe thats what is meant by John when he says, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)

Before I paste the poem below, I'm going to be lazy and not remove the numbers in parentheses. To give the poem some unity and structure, I decided to use a kind of numeric symbolism in the lines and stanzas. This being titled "Labor and Delivery," the number nine is significant. So is seven, as a number of creation. So is four as a number symbolizing strength and truth. So are ascending and descending numbers (and the numbers they start and end with). I put the numbers into the poem for the paper I had to write about the creativity process for my class. I imagine it might be helpful for some to leave them here. 

Lastly, I would leave you with one more thought. When we wonder why God has not yet given us desires we consider to be righteous or that we believe are according to his will, perhaps we should consider what C.S. Lewis suggests: our desires are "too weak." To have a husband or wife, a good job, children or more children, to be healed, to have others see us truthfully, to be at peace--all these desires pale in comparison, or are actually encapsulated and fulfilled in what the Lord wants to give us: at-one-ment with Himself. So he works gradually, knowing "as the poet recognized, sometimes, God’s grace, like light, “must dazzle gradually, or every eye be blind.'" (Emily Dickinson, quoted here) 

Labor and Delivery


Severing pain asks a sacrifice. (9)
Needles, tubes, sterile sheets, monitors: (9)
breathless upon the altar, I writhe.  (9)

For me, there is no ram in (7)
the thicket. No angel (6)
stops the knife that stabs (5)
three times and steals (4)
the soul—all (3)
labors: (2)
lost. (1)

Eyes are open, heart raw, but beating. (9)
Salty tears flow too freely for a (9)
disconnected womb--oh! Dear Father! (9)

Why lead me by miracles (7)
to the Red Sea shore’s edge (6)
and part the waters (5)
as I walk through (4)
only to (3)
let hope (2)
drown? (1)

Bitter. Left at the foot of dead ends, (9)
anger opens in this closing heart. (9)
I cannot choose: a false god; no God. (9)

There is a God— (4)
I've heard Him weep. (4)
I know His pow’r: (4)
enabling grace. (4)
By Light we live, (4)
By Him we're changed. (4)

Impossible maze! I cannot choose: (9)
an indifferent God; a cruel God. (9)

He called to me; (4)
Woke me; asked me: (4)
“Open the door.” (4)
He provided, (4)
assured, sustained; (4)
soothed each loss… (4)

Yet now life’s open door must (7)
sever from its hinges? (6)
Now, He let’s life stray— (5)
lets life bulge, bleed, (4)
burst—‘till they (3)
stitch it (2)
shut? (1)

Then call me Mara, for today I (9)
choose to see the bitter hand dealt me. (9)

While friends and family choose (7)
to call me blessed... and oh! (7)

The words they send, (4)
the meals they bring, (4)
the gifts that come: (4)
prints to color, (4)
Boxes to hit, (4)
Roses, posies, (4)
daisies, lilies, (4)
books, texts, posts, hugs. (4)

What was emptied, (4)
they seek to fill. (4)

lights off
eyes shut
head down
heavy sleep
let me sleep
in sleep
no dreams
to think
no thoughts
of life

while… (1)
without, (2)
children live; (3)
by my side their (4)
voices call and hands (5)
caress, lips kiss, hearts care, (6)
and all their eyes are watching. (7)

And so I wake (4)
my mind’s desire (4)
to understand— (4)
write what I know, (4)
ask all I don’t (4)
And oh! The Light (4)
rushes in with (4)
a choice revealed: (4)

It was not a loss. 
It was a birth:
of sorrow and pain,
grief and anguish
now remembered no more...


... for joy that the impossible maze (9)
widens and opens as a child (8)
sobs into the Light caught by (7)
Hands stretched out still embraced (6)
by Love and nourished (5)
by unspoken (4)
Words of Life. (3)

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Study in Light and Love

"And then our Lord opened my spiritual eye and showed me my soul in the midst of my inner self. I saw my soul as large as if it were an endless world and as if is were a blessed kingdom; and by the circumstances I saw in it I understood that it is an honorable City. In the midst of that City sits our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man... And in this He showed the delight that He has in the creating of man's soul... And thus I understood truly that our soul can never have rest in things that are beneath itself [in the earth]... The highest light and the brightest shining of the City is the glorious love of our Lord as I see it." ~ Julian of Norwich (The Complete Julian, Chapter 67)

"And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you..." (D&C 50:23-25)

"As we learn in these scriptures, the fundamental purposes for the gift of agency were to love one another and to choose God. Thus we become God’s chosen and invite His tender mercies as we use our agency to choose God." ~ David A. Bednar, LDS General Conference, April 2005. 

 "So was I taught to choose Jesus for my heaven, whom I saw only in pain at that time. I desired no other heaven than Jesus, who shall be my bliss when I come there. And this has ever been a comfort to me: that I chose Jesus for my heaven, by His grace, in all this time of suffering and sorrow. And that had been a learning for me that I should evermore do so, choosing only Jesus for my heaven in well and woe." ~ Julian of Norwich (Chpt. 19)

"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.... As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
... If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." ~ John 15:4-5, 9-12

"And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things,which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things. 
...He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him,and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever." ~ D&C 88:11-13, 41

Love is a conduit of light. The greater the love, the greater impartation of light, the greater capacitating power to absorb truth and grow in spiritual intelligence; the greater increase in glory. 

God's love is the sun by which we grow into our divine potential. His truth is the living water. This earth with the dunging, digging, and pruning we experience is the soil and garden we have been lovingly planted in to grow and progress. 

"And He gave me knowledge truthfully that it was He who showed me everything before... and said most sweetly: 'Be well aware that it was no raving that thou sawest today, but accept it, and believe it, and keep thyself in it, and comfort thyself with it, and trust thyself to it, and thou shalt not be overcome.'  
"These last words were said to teach true certainty that it is our Lord Jesus who showed me everything. ... And all this teaching and this true comfort is universal for all my fellow Christians as was said before--and this is God's will... 
"He said not, 'Thou shalt not be tempted; thou shalt not be troubled; thou shalt not be distressed,' but He said, 'Thou shalt not be overcome.' God wills that we take heed to these words, and that we be very strong in certain trust, in well and in woe, for as He loves and delights in us, so He wills that we love Him and delight in Him and strongly trust in Him; and all shall be well."  
 ~ Julian of Norwich (Chpt. 68)