Tag Archive | agency

3 Mormon-ish Principles Anyone Can Use to Change Their Life

"The Thinker" by Adam Fagen

“The Thinker” by Adam Fagen

Our minds are always working, whether we notice or not. We are constantly making decisions, analyzing our surroundings, planning, creating, etc. Sometimes we are aware of these processes, sometimes we aren’t.

There will always be times when we are not aware of our thoughts, because the circumstances we find ourselves in require our concentration. What we do during those times depends almost entirely on the mental habits we have formed prior to those situations. These moments of habitual response are an insight into our character. If you don’t like how you respond sometimes, you can change your habits with what I am calling “thought training.”

Here are 3 principles of thought training that will help you become a better you.

  1. Be Aware of Your Thoughts
  2. Be Responsible for Your Thoughts
  3. Be Completely Honest with Yourself

I am a Mormon. I’ve grown up with a lot of these concepts and principles phrased in religious terminology. It’s all a part of our “eternal progression,” etc. However, these principles are universal and most people understand them already to one degree or another. My goal in pulling them together and labeling them in this way is to both make them more accessible and to provide terminology that will facilitate discussions that will  help us all help each other in doing this more effectively. So, here is what I mean by “thought training.”

1 – Be Aware of Your Thoughts
The more activities and objects we have vying for our attention, the less capable we are of being aware of our own thoughts. Audio and visual stimulation, in particular, tend to be most intrusive for many people. Eliminate distractions, simplify your life, and find time for yourself. Prayer and meditation are great, but you don’t necessarily have to be doing nothing to listen to your thoughts. I do some of my best thinking in the shower. Yoga and other exercise can be good times to think. Crafting, driving, waiting for the bus, etc. All of these are opportunities for you to be aware of what is going through your mind.

I have also found that breaking out of a habit for a day or even an instant sometimes forces me to be more conscious of what I am doing and more aware of my thoughts as I figure out what to do without that habit.

What works for you? #ThoughtAwareness

2 – Be Responsible for Your Thoughts
By “responsible,” I mean both accepting of consequences and intentional. Our thoughts are a reflection of who we are. That reflection may be something we hide from the world or we may constantly speak our minds. Either way, they are what we have to work with. We cannot change ourselves, our lives or our situations without changing our thoughts. The good news is that our potential for improvement here is limitless – literally. We can choose the kind of person we want to become and work toward being that person.

Changing our actions can help us change our thoughts if you want to think of people more charitably, try acting more charitable towards people, and bring your thoughts along for the ride. When you are aware of a negative thought associated with what you feel is a good action, find a more positive thought to replace it.

Another extremely helpful tool in this arena is a mantra. Find a mantra that helps you break out of bad thought habits. I often choose scriptures or concepts from scriptures as a mantra. It can be something you strongly believe, something you desire, or something you know you need to believe – as long as it is helpful to you to guide your thoughts in the direction you want them to go. Here are a few that people I know have found helpful, and some I have used myself.

  • “I am a good person.”
  • “I am beautiful.”
  • “God loves me.”
  • “I am a child of God.”
  • “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.”  (D&C 121:45) This is the one that lead to the train of thought that prompted this post.
  • etc. #MyMantra

3 – Be Completely Honest with Yourself
Thought training is not about deceiving yourself. A mantra isn’t designed to trick your brain into believing something is true that isn’t. Thought training is a process for using your agency (free will) to live intentionally and overcome the natural Darwinian human instincts. A mantra reminds us of what we have chosen to value.

We are not defined by our occupation, or our family, or our possessions, or our appearance. We are defined by the thoughts we allow to control our lives. Change these thoughts, and you change everything. You can decide who you want to be in terms of your character. This does not change your capabilities or your talents, but it can motivate you to do so. However, in order to make significant change, you need to understand the discrepancy between who you are and who you want to become. This requires regular honest introspection.

It is important to note that we have full control of who we want to be as a person, but much less control over what our role is in society. As people, we have character and values, goals and dreams, and those cannot be given or taken by external forces. Our roles in society are often a matter of circumstance and chance. Do not confuse one with the other when deciding what will make you happy. Happiness comes from contentment with who you are, not what you are and what you have. #ThisIsWhoIAm

 

As I said, I did not invent these principles, I’m just lumping them together and giving them a name. I expect that re-framing them in this way will be helpful to people. I’d love your help in promoting better thought habits. Please use the hashtags defined in here along with #ThoughtTraining to help us all work together.

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The Plan of Salvation Part III: Mortality

(For those picking up here, you may want to read the overview first.)

The LDS view of mortality is not nearly as unique as our teachings on our existence prior to and following it, but is, perhaps, more clearly defined than most other religions’ teachings in terms of purpose.

As I noted in the previous post on the pre-mortal existence, the long-view purpose of mortality is to gain a physical body, and to learn how to independently use our agency. Inasmuch as we learn to do these things in ways that are in harmony with God and His plan of happiness, God will help us. He has provided a way for us to return to His presence.

Many of the events traditional Christianity consider tragedies of God’s plan having been derailed by people, we consider to have been part of His plan all along. From the Fall of Adam & Eve to the Crucifixion of Christ to the Martyrdom of the prophets, we see God using the agency of people to provide conditions that He could not directly produce as they would be contrary to His nature. Though the Fall and Crucifixion were central to the plan, the various martyrs throughout the Bible were necessary to testify of the Gospel and were allowed because His plan was really more about agency than anything else. To punish or prevent wickedness overtly would have been to diminish agency. His justice is delayed to allow us to make our own mistakes in order to learn from them.

These major events in Christianity were central in making his plan work, but the plan is ultimately meant to be applied individually. Each of us is responsible for our own salvation. We must all choose to follow the path Christ provided for us. We can and should try to help others come to Christ, but we cannot force them. We are responsible for our positive and negative influences on others, but only as this is part of our individual responsibility for our own actions given our individual circumstances.

Inasmuch as God wants us to become like him, and becoming like Him will bring joy and happiness to our lives, He has provided teachings and ordinances to guide and help us. As we follow the teachings, we develop attributes that bring us closer to God. It is the development of our character to be in harmony with God that is the true purpose of this life and is also what brings us the greatest joy.

This is made difficult both by temptation and by what Mormons refer to as the “natural man.” “The natural man is an enemy to God.” (Mosiah 3:19) To develop godlike attributes usually means overcoming our natural tendencies and instinctive desires. It is not easy to follow God’s teachings, and it is not enough to be better than someone else, or good at only one thing. We must improve ourselves constantly. This is at the core of what the Church calls “eternal progression”. We are instructed to be perfect (Matt. 5:48), which is ultimately impossible in this life, but, used as the goal, provides the target for our daily improvement.

Humility is an essential attribute as we strive to become closer to our Savior. Through it, not only do we recognize our need for our Redeemer’s assistance, but we also increase our compassion for others. Recognizing our own mistakes and character flaws is not always as easy as it perhaps should be. Sometimes it is easier to see these things others. However, when we truly have a desire to become better, and to repent of our mistakes and imperfections, we begin not only to become better through that process, but are also able to understand the illusion of perfection — that is at once unattainable and required by so much of our society — and gain an appreciation of the difficulties others go through in reconciling behavior to that standard.

Another trait that is essential in finding peace and happiness in this life is gratitude. The modern world runs on generating discontent for the purposes of enticing people to buy things in an attempt to satisfy that discontent. By design, this does not work. The only way to find contentment is to choose it. When we are grateful for the things we have to the extent that we do not feel the need for anything else, we are by definition, content. Gratitude is a matter of discipline. To increase our gratitude, all we need to do is consider the things we have that we appreciate. Our discipline can become powerful enough that we can even be substantially content when real needs (food, shelter, safety) are not met.

Above all, the attribute most important to our progression is love. Not just the love of a partner or within a family, but the true love of Christ, or as the scriptures call it, charity. It is a love that extends to every living thing: our friends, colleagues, strangers, enemies, even animals and plants. It is manifested in respect, compassion, care-taking, courtesy, honesty, responsibility, gratitude, acceptance, forgiveness, sharing, service, and kindness. It is through love that we will find the greatest happiness in this life. Without love, we will never find true happiness.

Though those attributes are the most important in terms of what to develop, through faith we can learn how to develop these characteristics. It’s our faith in Christ that keeps us going and motivates our progress. It is so very easy to get discouraged and become cynical. Faith helps us maintain our optimism about both the future and our own capabilities. It motivates us to develop Christlike attributes, and gives us access to His help to do that.

Through our faith we are able to access the power of the atonement. This is what changes us to the core. When we have truly experienced the change of heart associated with a conversion to follow Jesus Christ, “we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2) This does not mean that we are perfect or that we do not make mistakes, it just means that we truly and deeply desire to do what God would have us do. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily a permanent state. As Mormons, we do not believe that people so converted are “saved” in the same sense that many other Evangelical churches teach. We believe that after conversion we must also “endure to the end.”

Further Reading:

Yes, “Pro-Choice” Can be Consistent with “Mormon”

Let me start out by saying this is an unpleasant topic. It saddens me to think of all of the legitimate reasons women might choose to end a pregnancy. However, because of the current political climate and the lack of real analysis happening within the Church, I feel compelled to write this in order to provoke thought among my fellow members.

Most Mormons consider themselves to be Pro-Life. This is probably due to the Church’s very clear stance on abortion; it is permitted in cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life or health is threatened. Naturally, being otherwise against abortion, we want to prevent it in other cases. Hence, the vast majority of Pro-Life Mormons.

If this was a rule that could easily be enforced without causing women who have been abused any additional pain or stress, I might agree that more strict Pro-Life laws were a good idea. However, this is not the case. In fact, determining whether any of those three criteria might apply in a certain scenario is more likely to cause contention than not.

Let’s take the medical scenario first. Who is to decide whether the mother’s life is threatened? Hopefully her doctor is making that call and not the government or an insurance company. What if her doctor is particularly pro-life or pro-choice? Could the woman seek out a second opinion, or a third? What percent chance of death should be considered enough of a threat to allow an abortion? You can be sure that no matter how the law was written to enforce a policy, some women wanting abortions would die from this, and some with little risk of death would be able to get a legal abortion despite the rules.

In the case of incest, what are you going to require from a young woman who has been abused by someone who should have been protecting her to do to prove that it was incest? The earliest a paternity test can be performed is at about 9 weeks. Even at that point, there are risks of causing miscarriage. Would such tests be outlawed for the risk to the fetus? How long would she have to carry the baby in order to prove the charge? What if the test comes back inconclusive? Or even worse, what if the girl has no family members to support her charge, and she is afraid to charge her father with a crime? No crime filed, no abortion?

As for rape, who gets to decide what constitutes rape? Surely we wouldn’t leave this up to a group of men who have publicly stated their opposition to any abortion in any form. There are a number of states where husbands are allowed to essentially rape their wives under full legal protection. Non-consensual sex is not rape if the people are married. Do we really want to force mothers to bear children into a home where domestic violence is already rampant? What about date rape? Rape under the influence? Does the rapist have to be convicted before the abortion is granted? What if it takes 7 months for the trial to even get to court?

This is all ugly, messy stuff. I don’t believe government is capable of legislating reasonable rules, let alone of regulating or enforcing them. When you add in the challenges of local authorities and corruption, you begin to see how hopeless a clean distinction is.

Particularly painfully, there are the women whose beloved children die before they see their faces. Those mothers, too, are affected by these well-meaning laws. Mothers with miscarriages today are read to from scripts designed to produce guilt in those seeking an abortion, when they should be receiving counsel and comfort. Some have even been taken to court in states with “Personhood” laws, so that the courts can legally determine whether or not the miscarriage was of natural causes. These offenses would only increase with stricter laws.

Our church believes strongly in the principle of agency. There is no freedom more important than the freedom to make your own choices. Some would argue that we can choose to break the law, so restricting abortion rights does not diminish agency. I would suggest that if it is possible make an ethical choice and still break the law, the agency of those who choose to obey the law is diminished, as is the law itself.

Hopefully, we pro-agency Mormons will grow in numbers as the ramifications of legislating this kind of morality becomes more apparent.

Reconciling the Creation, part 2

So, in part 1, I started it off explaining how I believe in the Creation, but not quite literally as outlined in the scriptures. I was just getting started explaining how the story of the Creation might apply to how the Earth was actually formed.

I don’t believe the Creation started from nothing. In describing the Earth as “without form and void,” (Genesis 1:2) why should we assume the void of space? I’m not an etymologist, but I’m pretty sure the term “void” has not meant a vacuum until fairly recently, historically speaking. I interpret it, therefore as “empty” or “without purpose.” Without form, I interpret as being in a state of raw materials. So, in my opinion, the earliest the Creation would have started in terms of the “days” was well after the formation of the planet.

I should probably also say that the “days” are a pretty arbitrary construct. In the LDS Church, they are sometimes referred to as the “creative periods.” It is also my understanding that the original Hebrew word does not translate directly into “day” and also supports the “period” interpretation. So, with these assumptions changed, we’re suddenly looking at a scenario that can be reconciled with science; the Earth was formed from raw materials over a (really long) period of time.

The first thing God does is the creation of light and the separation of it from the darkness. What does this mean? If we take “light” and “darkness” as symbols, meaning jumps out. He separated the good from the bad. He was an engineer and this was the design phase of the project. He defined the purpose, created a plan and organized his resources.

Following on the same train of thought, on the second and fourth “days” He created the foundation and infrastructure for the project. There is a lot here that I don’t understand. Why does he have to create Heaven? What do the waters symbolize? How could plants have possibly come before the sun and moon? I suspect that all of this is symbolic more than literal, still. I’d love to hear ideas on this.

The first living things created are plants. This makes sense, of course given that all energy for life has to come from the sun and plants are how that light energy is converted to chemical energy, thereby making it available to other organisms in the food chain.

The next life created is in the seas and the birds. I’m also not a paleontologist, so I don’t know when birds came along in the evolutionary chain of events relative to land animals.. It could be their mention here is more symbolic, placing them “below” the land animals. Or perhaps it’s just for narrative convenience in order to leave the sixth day for land creatures.

In any event, the sequence of things is similar enough to the evolution that occurred according to the current understanding of the history of life on this world that I do not feel any contradiction of the scientific understanding of things, including the theory of evolution. It certainly does not imply evolution, nor does evolution support the exact narrative supplied, but when we are looking at this from a less literal perspective, the apparent conflict turns into harmony. It is my belief that God used his knowledge and power to cause evolution.

I would also point out that believing that God guided evolution makes evolution itself a stronger theory. According to the second law of thermodynamics, all closed systems gradually decay into a state of the lowest possible energy, in other words, into their most disorganized state. Evolution from random amino acids to single-celled life to human is in direct opposition to this law. Evolutionists will typically tell you this is because the Earth is not a closed system – the sun provides energy for this transformation. Yes, it is true that if you build a solar oven, and put cake batter in it, you can bake a cake. However, if you leave the batter in the sun indefinitely, it won’t turn into cake, it will dry out, and turn into dust. The solar oven and knowledge of when the cake is done is a critical element. Random changes to genomes is far more likely to result in a species’ extinction than its survival. Without God guiding it, evolution does not make sense.

So, the Creation story all leads up to the creation of the human being, and similarly, the most evolutionarily advanced species on the Earth is the human being. Humans are the supreme product of both processes. Of all the species on this planet, only people have the capacity to significantly and willfully alter our environment. Many will tell you this a trait that evolved in us. I, obviously, believe it was it God-given.

I would further argue that it makes more logical sense to believe that our difference from other species is due to our relationship to God, than it is attribute it to evolution. Scientists have studied this a great deal, and have had many theories as to what sets Homo sapien apart from other animals. They once believed it was opposable thumbs which allowed the use of tools. Many other animals have since been documented to use tools. Others postulate that language is the key differentiator. However, many modern studies have shown many animals have a significant ability to use language. There have been other theories, too, but none have achieved broad general acceptance.

On the other hand, if you accept that God made us above the animals you have a new set of possible hypotheses. I’ve heard that some Christian faiths believes Humans are the only life forms with a soul or spirit. The LDS Church teaches that all living things have a spirit, so we can’t rely on that. You could also theorize that it is because God is our Father. That answers the question, but is not terribly specific. I would assert that the difference is that of free will, or as the Church calls it, agency. We are the only living things with the power to make our own decisions and decide our own fate. Animals are bound by their instinct, training and environment.

To sum up, God had a plan. He organized the world in order to create human beings. He guided and controlled natural processes in his creation. It is no less miraculous thus explained, just more real.

So, this gets us through the literal creation. What do you think? I think I’m going to stop here for now and take on the symbolism in yet a 3rd part.