The Lord Is With Us

Matt has kindly invited me to continue guest posting at will. And I’m glad, because my mind is spinning this week with thoughts I’d like to dump on you guys. I’m going to start with a long preamble: this sacrament meeting talk that was assigned to me a few months ago. More to follow tomorrow.

We don’t call this earth life “the lone and dreary world” for nothing. We are strangers here, homesick for our heavenly parents, our heavenly home. In our mortal bodies we are subject to all kinds of difficulties and infirmities, both mental and physical and emotional. Our spirits struggle too. We are tempted, we make mistakes, we sin. And we are also subject to the mistakes and sins of others. All too often, it’s all too easy to feel that we are far, far away from the Lord, from his goodness and comfort, his peace and his joy.

There have been many days that I’ve felt this way. On one such day I was struggling with deep feelings of discouragement and even despair. Nothing was really wrong in my life, it was just a normal day, but I felt so down, so lonely. It seemed that no matter how hard I worked, I was always behind. Every time I accomplished a task there were ten more that had piled up in the meantime. Every time I repented of something, it seemed to be just a drop in the bucket. There was so much that my family wanted and needed from me, and so little I felt I had available to give them. At one point I felt so weighed down by discouragement that I sank into my rocking chair and wasn’t sure when I’d be able to stand up again. I was overwhelmed by the thoughts and feelings swirling around within me. I said to myself, It feels like I’m in the middle of a thick, dark cloud.

I grabbed my Book of Mormon. You know all those open-the-scriptures-to-a-random-page stories we hear about? How people just happen to open their books to a passage that holds powerful message for them? Well, that’s what happened to me. I opened the Book of Mormon and I found myself in Helaman 5. This is the part where the prophets Alma and Amulek are in prison with about 300 ungodly people, both Lamanites and Nephites. Guards come to kill Alma and Amulek, but aren’t able to lay hold on them because Alma and Amulek are “encircled about as if by fire.”

Hel. 5: 26 And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi did stand forth and began to speak unto them, saying: Fear not, for behold, it is God that has shown unto you this marvelous thing, in the which is shown unto you that ye cannot lay your hands on us to slay us.

Then the walls of the prison shake. And then the inmates and guards become overshadowed by–surprise–a cloud of darkness. As you can imagine, I was a bit freaked out to find myself reading a passage that quoted my very thoughts. The story goes on to recount how the prisoners see Alma and Amulek lifting their faces towards heaven and speaking, as if they’re having a conversation. The prisoners wonder what’s going on. One of the Nephite prisoners, Aminadab, explains that Alma and Amulek are talking with angels of God. Since he seems to know so much, the prisoners ask him another question: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?

41 And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.
42 And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed.
43 And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.
44 And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
45 And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.
46 And it came to pass that there came a voice unto them, yea, a pleasant voice, as if it were a whisper, saying:
47 Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world.
48 And now, when they heard this they cast up their eyes as if to behold from whence the voice came; and behold, they saw the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them.

Now, what impressed me most about this passage, as I sat in my rocking chair, so excited to finally be having my very own random-scripture experience, was the fact that there were two manifestations of spiritual fire in the story. There was the spirit/fire that came down from heaven after the people repented; it filled their hearts. And there was the spirit/fire that encircled them. They were surrounded and they were filled by God’s presence. (And by presence I mean his spirit, his influence, his power and awareness. His very consciousness.)

I read the passage again. When I hit finished verse 43 it struck me that this encircling fire didn’t show up when the prisoners repented. It had been there all along, behind that cloud of darkness that overshadowed them. They just couldn’t see it.

I sat and thought about that. There was a cloud of darkness overshadowing me, but there was something marvelous–the spirit of the Lord–behind it. How could I get rid of the cloud and feel the love and peace that the Lord’s presence brings? I thought about Aminadab’s answer: repent, and cry unto the Lord. The crying part was easy enough–I can cry with the best of them–but repent? Was I guilty of something?

As I thought about this I remembered a snippet from an essay by Elder Henry B. Eyring, where he explained that the word translated as repentance in the scriptures means to turn the mind. (And for those of you who enjoy this kind of thing, I’ll report the specifics here: the Hebrew word translated as repentance is shub, meaning “to turn from.” The Greek word is metanoeo, which means a change of mind, thought, or thinking so powerful that it changes one’s very way of life.)

This concept resonated with me. When I feel separated from the Lord–namely, whenever I feel an absence of his peace and his love–I need to turn myself towards him. Repentance of sin is a big part of this. Confessing, apologizing, and trying to do better is a daily, even hourly exercise for me. But sin is not the only thing that causes me to feel lonely and discouraged. Many times, I am simply stuck in the dark cloud of this fallen world.

Five times in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord says:

D&C 10: 58 I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.

The Lord is all around us and even within us. He speaks these words repeatedly in the scriptures: I am with you. I am in your midst. But in order to cast away the shadows of the fallen world and recognize him, I often need to change my state of mind, my state of being.

I’ve been practicing this mind-turning for some time now. I’m not especially good at it, but I have found some practices that work well for me that I’d like to share. They all have to do with prayer.

Pray with his promises in mind.
When I pray I often ask the Lord to be with me. But he’s already promised that he is with me. What if, instead, I thanked him for being with me and instead asked him to open my understanding so I can recognize him? It might help if I took a minute or two to remember what the Lord has promised about his availability to me. Sometimes those promises might feel hollow and I may need to ask the Lord to help me believe them. I might need to “cry unto the Lord until I have faith.” That’s okay. The very fact that I’m asking is evidence of faith, and gives me hope that my faith can increase.

Sister Hatton told a story in one of our Relief Society lessons a while back that perfectly captures this idea. She told us about the basement bedroom she had as a youth. This room was very dark, being below ground, and only had one light fixture–a ceiling bulb that was turned on by pulling the string that hung from it. But she could not see the string when she entered the room. She had to walk forward, with her arm stretched out, and her hand reaching, until her fingers felt the string. Then she could pull on it, and the light would fill the room.

We need to approach the Lord with confidence that we’ll find him, even if the room is dark. If we don’t feel confident, we can ask for confidence as we start walking.

Pray without words.
My favorite way to pray is to reach out to the Lord with my mind and heart. Instead of saying in my mind “bless so and so” I picture that person. I summon up my feelings for that person, my yearnings and hopes and fears. I offer those images and sensations to the Lord. It’s hard to describe the process exactly, but to me it feels like I’m stretching my soul outward and upward, and connecting with the Lord.

This kind of praying is especially powerful when we’re in holy places, like the temple. In the celestial room the veil can be very thin, and when we reach out for the Lord we may touch him more easily than at other times. But we don’t need to make prayer a formal occasion. In fact, my most frequent way of praying is just to reach out from within myself, in the midst of whatever I’m doing, to touch base with the Lord. Like a child who suddenly feels alone, and goes calling for her mother, just to make sure she can find her.

Even when I do use words this seeking, stretching motion within me is essential if I really want to feel like I’m connecting with the Lord. If I just use words, without feelings, I am not praying with “real intent.” At the end of the prayer I feel like my words haven’t gotten anywhere–they’re just floating around the room.

Pray for a remembrance of blessings.
In a General Conference talk Elder Henry B. Eyring encouraged us to have prayers of gratitude. He said, “Begin a private prayer with thanks. Start to count your blessings, and then pause for a moment. If you exercise faith, and with the gift of the Holy Ghost, you will find that memories of other blessings will flood into your mind.”

If I am feeling separated from the Lord, remembering his blessings is one of the easiest ways to feel reassured that he is, was, and will always be with me. The trickiest thing about this is opening myself to receive the memories of blessings. I have to want to feel better. If I insist on feeling sorry for myself, this technique fails miserably.

Matt. 6: 22-23
22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

D&C 88: 67 And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light ccomprehendeth all things.

When I’m focused on God’s glory I begin to see it everywhere. I see it in the events of my life, and I see it in the faces of the people around me. I even see it in my own face.

Use meditation as a form of prayer.

President David O. McKay once said, “In our worship there are two elements: One is the spiritual communion arising from our own meditation; the other, instruction from others. . . . Of the two, the more profitable . . . is the meditation. Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord.”

We don’t talk about meditation much in our church meetings. Perhaps we are scared off by its associations with Eastern religions. Or perhaps for the life of us, we could never bend ourself into a lotus pose. But basic meditation is very simple. We still our body, by sitting or lying down comfortably. We let our thoughts keep parading through our heads, but we politely ignore them. We focus instead on just being. The point is this:

Ps. 46: 10 Be still, and know that I am God.

Being still can be a challenge. The body can be restless and the mind is even more so. That parade of thoughts keeps trying to engage us. So to help keep our minds focused away from our thoughts, we pay attention to our breathing. This is a marvelous way to connect with the presence of God within us.

Mosiah 2: 21 [The Lord] is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even support[s] you from one moment to another.

Something very interesting happens when we manage to keep our minds centered on our miraculous breathing. We realize that we are not our thoughts. We are only the audience. It’s like we’re in a movie theatre watching a very engaging film–it keeps making us laugh and cry. But we are not the film, only the audience. And if we are very still, we will notice that we are not alone in the theatre. There’s another consciousness, another “I am,” sitting next to us. God is also watching the movie. He is with us.

This kind of experience is one way the Lord’s promise can be fulfilled. He says,
3 Ne. 12: 8 And blessed are all the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

When we are still, we can let all the layers of mortal life slip away. We can allow the dark cloud to disperse and we can tap into our truest selves, our pure and simple eternal selves that have always lived and will always live. It is here that we find God.

If all of this sounds a wee bit too mystical for you, or even if it doesn’t, there are many other ways to connect with God’s presence in and around us. Simply noticing that we are alive is one way. We could not be alive if the Lord was not with us.

D&C 88: 50 I am the true light that is in you, and you are in me; otherwise ye could not abound.

This verse reminds us again that the Lord is within us, and all around us. He is in us, and we are in him. The fire is in our hearts and encircling us. We can feel this when we step outside and see all the other living things. Everything we see is evidence that the Lord is with us. The whole earth and the heavens surrounding it exist on life support, connected to God’s power.

Isa. 6: 3 Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

D&C 88:

7[Christ] is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.
8 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made;
9 As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made;
10 And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.
11 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;
12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space–
13 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.

Just noticing these things can help us feel close to God. If we take a moment to reach out for him, to stretch our souls out in prayer, and connect with the marvelous power that fills the earth and all living things, including ourselves, we can know without doubt that the Lord is with us.

Now, if we do these things, if we pray in faith and pray with real intent, and pray for an awareness of the Lord’s influence on us, and pray in stillness, seeking to feel the presence of God within us, does that mean we can keep ourselves from ever feeling sad or lonely or discouraged again? Can we cast away the darkness whenever we so choose?

No. While we may be successful most of the time, there are times that no matter how diligent we are, no matter how sincere in our efforts, we just can’t seem to break through the gloom. We may walk and walk in the dark with our arms outstretched, waiting to feel that string against our palms, and begin to think we will never find it. Or we might pull the string, and realize the bulb seems to be burned out. Why?

Sometimes the Lord is simply allowing us to see what we’re made of.

Mosiah 23: 21 [T]he Lord seeth fit to chasten [or teach] his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.

Brigham Young once counseled us to be faithful even circumstances are “darker than 10,000 midnights.” Being faithful means we do not curse God for withholding his presence. We trust that he knows what he’s doing, and that the separation is temporary.

In times like these we would do well to double-check our status before the Lord. Sometimes there are sins standing in our way, perhaps sins we aren’t aware of. We may need to ask the Lord to bring our sins to our remembrance so that we can repent of them. We can ask for his assurance that we are in good standing with him, so that we do not despair while we wait out the darkness.

But if darkness is a consistent pattern in our lives, as it has been in mine at times, we may need to seek help. We can prayerfully seek help from our bishop and from professionals. There are many different options for treatment; we will be able to find one, or a combination, that work for us.

I spent many months in darkness last year. None of the usual things worked. I’d kneel down and feel nothing. I’d read scripture, and I might as well have been reading the back of a cereal box. The only way I could maintain the barest sense that the Lord was with me was to notice that I was alive. That I was breathing. I couldn’t feel his presence, but I knew it was there. It took a long time, and professional help, for me to begin to feel better, to feel the Lord with me again. But I did get better.

We are in the lone and dreary world, but we are not alone. We do not have to wait for the millennium, or for the eternities that follow, to be with the Lord again. He is with us. When we are stuck in the darkness of this world, we cannot see him. But through his grace, and through our effort and patience and faith, everything that hides him from us can be removed. Like the prisoners, we can feel his presence within us and around us, that “joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.” Like Alma and Amulek, if we are turned toward the Lord, his power will prevent our enemies from slaying us, even when our enemy is our own weak, discouraged self.

D&C 61: 36 And now, verily I say unto you, and what I say unto one I say unto all, be of good cheer, little children; for I am in your midst, and I have not forsaken you;

D&C 100: 12 Therefore, continue your journey and let your hearts rejoice; for behold, and lo, I am with you even unto the end.

40 comments for “The Lord Is With Us

  1. Are you sure that meditation as you define it–We still our body, by sitting or lying down comfortably. We let our thoughts keep parading through our heads, but we politely ignore them. We focus instead on just being. . . . So to help keep our minds focused away from our thoughts, we pay attention to our breathing–is what President McKay meant by meditation? I’m betting he meant something like deep reflection, which would be the antithesis of disregarding one’s thoughts.

    Excellent talk. Our prayer lives do not appear to intersect at many points, but excellent talk.

  2. Thnaks, Adam. I’m pretty sure Pres. McKay wasn’t referring to Eastern-style meditation. But the point still applies: concentration on things divine increases awareness of the Lord’s reality/presence. What I wanted to point out is that many of us haven’t yet discovered the Lord’s residence within us, and the kind of meditation that focuses our attention away from our thoughts can be a catalyst to this discovery. But certainly, deep thinking (about truths in scriptures, etc) is another way to access the spirit.

  3. Certainly forgetting oneself in service, or contemplating eternity instead of contemplating oneself can be vehicles to communing with Him, but I don’t think these are the same as what you are talking about. I will take your word for it that it works.

  4. Kyle, that’s a generous compliment. Thank you.

    Adam, I think you’ve missed the point of Eastern meditation–the purpose is not to contemplate one’s self, but to transcend one’s self. To dissolve the boundaries of ego and discover one’s union with God. It’s the exact opposite of self-centered contemplation.

  5. #5 Your more than welcome. Your post has really made my day.

    Regarding eastern meditation, it may be worth noting that the “God” with which one discovers one’s union in trancending the boundaries of the ego is not quite the same as what we usually mean by “God” in western Christianity. In this transcendence there are simply endless envelopes – or illusory “borders” – of “it”, everything, the infinitely interchangeable stuff of Being. In this tradition, getting beyond one’s Self does not mean union in the larger Self of God because this “God” is either itself Self-less or identical with one’s own Self Envelope to all practical intents and purposes.

  6. Kyle, thank you for clarifying. I was just about to add similar info. My purpose in meditating is to enjoy union with Jesus Christ, but that’s not the traditional purpose of meditation.

    Keri, thank you.

  7. Adam, I think you’ve missed the point of Eastern meditation–the purpose is not to contemplate one’s self, but to transcend one’s self. To dissolve the boundaries of ego and discover one’s union with God. It’s the exact opposite of self-centered contemplation.

    What you think I said is not what I meant. Let me have at it one more time:

    The gospel teaches that knowing God will sometimes require forgetting oneself and contemplating God rather than oneself. Experiencing Him directly rather than thinking about Him propositionally. I don’t think these are exactly the same thing as dissolving the boundaries of ego, transcending self, trying to be without thinking, and so forth. Certainly the ideological superstructure is different, as Kyle R. points out.

  8. Thank you for this post. It’s a ray of sunshine on an otherwise cloudy, dark day (both metaphorically and in reality).

  9. #8 Hm, yes. Meditating on the love and hope represented by Jesus might often be a better tonic for black clouds than disappearing into the “nothingness of being” in traditional meditation.

  10. Kathryn, Thank you. I know quite a few people who need to read this. I am copying it and sending it to them ASAP. Know that you will have touched more lives than you anticipated when you wrote it.

  11. Kathryn S., are you familiar with the ancient monastic meditative practices? I believe that some of the Latin monastic orders had some traditional practices along those lines, but the only one I know anything about is the hesychast tradition among the Byzantines. The idea was that through repetition of certain prayers, usually the Jesus prayer (Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner) and through controlled breathing (breathing was thought to have spiritual implications because spirit=the breath of life), one could commune with or experience the Uncreated Light that emanated from God.

  12. Kathryn, thanks. I’ve been struggling with these same kinds of things, and your words really helped me.

  13. Thanks Kathryn, I enjoyed reading your post very much. And congrats on joining the offical ranks of T&S! I’m a word-obsessed gal who often finds her best prayers in the absence of language as well; words are nifty little things, but sometimes the signified lacks an adequate signifier and you have to try something else. I’m a fan of using sight as prayer–taking a walk and trying to communicate with heaven via the appreciation I feel for whispering aspens, funny people walking their dogs, whatever.

    A few years ago a good friend of mine who grew up LDS but who now studies with a Swami and takes courses at theological seminaries and generally is the poster girl for nondenominational spiritual polymathy came to Relief Society and taught us traditional Eastern meditation. It was fantastic because she framed the exercises in an LDS context and then broadened that context to include something to help us augment our spirituality. She spent some time teaching us how to focus on simply being present with God, without trying to communicate requests or even gratitude. I’d never really prayed with unity as a goal, but the meditation seems to have become that sort of prayer and I love it!

    I also really like what you said regarding light behind the darkness. Spirituality seems often to be a big ol’ exercise in chiaroscuro, yes?

  14. Kathryn, you thought you were gone, and then we pulled you back in. (grins) It filled me with glee to see you posting here again.

    Anyway, it seems to me that for most members in the church, when they hear the cousel for us to meditate, they associate it with the temple. Sometimes with the sacrament, too, but more often with the temple. If we include the sacrament as a time to meditate (ie, ponder and focus on our relationship with Christ) then members of the church do more meditating than they realize. If you point it out that way, there isn’t as much resistance to the idea as being to “Eastern”.

    And not too many of us fleixibly-challenged folk like to think of yoga poses, so I appreciated your sit-on-the-couch-and-breathe view of meditation. Not to get too gross here, but my best pondering/meditating moments happen in the shower. Yeah, it stinks when you can’t remember if you washed your hair or not, but you do have a few moments that you are left alone with your thoughts (well, sometimes, depending on your family). Granted, it’s not the best time to completely ignore your thoughts, but you might be surprised at the inspiration that can hit you there.

  15. “Pray without words.”

    My favorite prayer scripture: Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Romans 8:26

    Per meditation. In moments of anxiety, it is only through consciously stilling my body and mind that I can reopen myself to the comfort of the divine.

  16. Xena, know you’re not alone.

    simply being present with God, without trying to communicate requests or even gratitude

    Exactly. Wish I could’ve been at that RS activity!

    Thank you. Perfect.

    Yes, the temple is a prime place for some kinds of meditation. So is the meetinghouse chapel, if you don’t have a pack of kids crawling on and off you. And yes, I’m continually surprised by “shower revelations.” I keep a water-splattered notebook on my bathroom counter so I don’t lose them.

    And let it be known: I have never sat in full lotus. My teenage daughter, however, can perform the “locked lotus,” which entails putting ankles on thighs, crossing arms behind your back, and grabbing your toes.


  17. Kathryn,

    I loved your talk. Thanks. It reminds me that the experience of God always beggars my imagined conceptions of God. Setting aside my thoughts of God is not setting aside God, but only my limited contrivances.

    (And not to derail, but for those who consider yoga but forego it because they lack flexibility — that’s rather like foregoing food because one is hungry…)

  18. The notion of meditative/eastern-style contact with the Divine may not fit comfortably in typical LDS culture or understanding.

    For example, the Eleventh Step in Alcoholics Anonymous is “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

    In the Church-approved version of the Eleventh Step for its Addiction Recovery Program, the reference to “improv[ing] our conscious contact with God” is entirely removed. The official Church approved Eleventh Step reads, instead: “Seek through prayer and meditation to know the Lord’s will and to have the power to carry it out.”

    I do not know why either the committee of recovering addicts who originally drafted the Guide, or the correlation committee who reviewed and revised it, removed the reference to “conscious contact with God.”

    Perhaps it was concern that the idea or terminology of “conscious contact with God” is so foreign to LDS culture that LDS addicts (or their priesthood leaders) would be put off by the term and avoid attending (or suggesting that LDS addicts attend) LDS addiction recovery meetings. Or perhaps there is something in LDS teachings, of which I am unaware, that declares or strongly implies that “conscious contact with God” is inappropriate, impossible, or restricted to only certain individuals.

  19. I think it helps to remember that the Holy Spirit is also God. Is a God. It seems to me that it is by the influence of the Spirirt, and perhaps other agents acting is His behalf, that the Lord is in our midst. That happens all the time, and I found several of K’s suggestions wonderful in that direction.

    But, it seems to me, and this may speak to Adam’s anxiety, that we do not commune with Christ in this life, most of us, in this same way. To enjoy the actual presence of Jesus is something else again. Joseph says:

    “After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God … When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards … then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints … Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; …when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face …”

    Also, Kathryn, I have on a couple occasions opened a talk or lesson with exactly this sentence: “We don’t call this earth life “the lone and dreary world” for nothing. ” Made me happy to see it.


  20. #13 “…the Jesus prayer (Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner) and through controlled breathing (breathing was thought to have spiritual implications because spirit=the breath of life)…”

    #22 re: meditation and addiction

    Kathryn, I hope you won’t mind me inserting a personal experience in this thread, since I feel it’s pertinent to the issues in your post.

    I used to be a terrible smoker. (I’m not LDS.) A cigarette and coffee were necessary for me to even confront consciousness when waking up in the morning, on the way to work, on the way to meetings, and all evening long. When my wife became pregnant with our daughter she immediately gave up her comparatively modest several cigarettes a day, but, although I no longer smoked in the flat or anywhere near her where she might breathe it, I still smoked a lot otherwise.

    I was keen to give up before my daughter was born. But it was an impossible struggle. I tried will-power, and was horrified to discover the addiction had more will than I did. I tried joining a quitting group at the local hospital, but it was a bit too ‘group therapy’ for my liking. I read Alan Carr’s famous book on quitting but it just irritated me. I tried nicotine chewing gum. This got me to the 3 week mark. But then one evening when out with friends, who were smoking, I found myself – incredibly – putting the nicotine gum absentmindedly to my lips and trying to light it. It was straight back to the habit after that. By this stage my wife was 5 months pregnant and it seemed I was trotting out into the garden every half hour for a cigarette in the evenings.

    Basically, it seemed hopeless. Then one day I decided to sit and – in a way – ‘meditate’ on the problem. I just sat there and carefully thought through all the elements of the act of smoking. The anticipation. The ritual of rolling the tobacco and filter tip in the paper. The flick of the lighter. The inhalation. The sudden calming of that addictive need.

    I started to mimic each of these aspects of the act of smoking until I got to the inhalation. I took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds, then released it. And felt a strange calm.

    So I did it again. Then again. A deep intake of breath, held for 4 or 5 seconds, then released. This was so calming and pleasant that I got quite lost in it. I’m not even sure what I was thinking, other than that I really needed to quit and I didn’t want my daughter to have a dad with ciggies hanging out his mouth. I didn’t want her to have before her an example of slavery, an example of giving in to a false need, a false happiness. I don’t know if ‘prayer’ would be the correct word but there was certainly a sense of needing to reach outside of myself for the strength to quit.

    There was a strange feeling of comfort that came to me that evening, as I continued the breathing exercise, and somehow not feeling alone with the problem. I continued with this deep breathing method together with the nicotine gum for a while but then gave up the gum and continued with only the deep intakes of breathe, whenever the desire for a cigarette came. It mimiced the inhalation of a cigarette but completely banished the need for for a real one. And on I went with this for months until it actually dawned on me that I’d managed to give the filthy habit up. I now can’t believe I ever really was that dependent on tobacco and giving it up had a marvelous effect not only on me physically but mentally.

    I’m now convinced of two things.

    1) That the ‘breathing’ aspect of the smoking addiction is an important but rarely discussed one. In the act of inhalation the smoker welds together the inhalation of the smoke and the “breath of life”.

    2) That the meditative moment when we let ourselves feel the union between ourselves and all that is greater than ourselves, is indeed a kind of prayer as Kathryn indicates. There is – ironically a suprising personal strength that can come to our Self when we let our Self go. I think the prayerful meditation, the union with the Greater however we define it, allows our deepest, truest Self to rise up and overcome the illusory needs or bad habits of our surface, shallow Self.

    For me I suppose my wish to give up the smoking for my daughter’s sake if not my own was a kind of prayer, and in that meditative moment, deeply breathing, the form of the prayer turned out, ironically, to also be the answer to the prayer.

    (Again, thanks for the wonderful post Kathryn.)

  21. greenfrog and Kristine, thank you.

    David H–very interesting. I do think there’s a cultural hesitancy towards things that smack of mysticism. Which is unfortunate, given the fact that the D&C is loaded with scriptures that focus on Christ’s presence “in and through all things” and our unfortunate blindness to that reality.

    Thomas–you’ve brought up some interesting points. There’s a lot of confusion in LDS circles about the Holy Spirit vs. the spirit vs. the Holy Ghost (and I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers). I think a separate post is needed for that discussion. But I will say briefly that my understanding is this: the Holy Ghost (the God-personage) uses the holy spirit (power/influence/goodness/awareness of Jesus Christ) to administer his gifts and privileges. So when we’re feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost we’re being administered to by an actual God, and also enjoying the indirect presence of another God–Jesus Christ. I have a McConkie quote to this effect. And no matter what one’s feelings about McConkie might be, I think it’s safe to say that he was a man not given to promoting things mystical. So I think his views in this regard are especially meaningful.

    Receiving the second comforter is, indeed, something different than communing with the consciousness of Christ. But I believe it’s a matter of degree. I believe that those who receive the second comforter will be prepared for that experience by enjoying Christ’s invisible presence to a greater and greater extent, until the veil is rent.

    Kyle: Thank you for sharing this amazing experience. What a gift to us. I was struck by the breathing-smoking connection you brought up. I’ve never thought of it that way.

    You said:

    I think the prayerful meditation, the union with the Greater however we define it, allows our deepest, truest Self to rise up and overcome the illusory needs or bad habits of our surface, shallow Self.

    And to that I give my heartiest amen. So happy you found success in your effort. Thanks again.

  22. Kyle, I am going to share your story with the High Councilor in our stake who oversees the addiction recovery program. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  23. Kristine, Kathryn, Ray. Thanks for your appreciations. I neglected to mention that my wife’s encouragement was also very helpful.

    Ray, please feel free to share my story with the church counsellor, or anyone you know who is trying to quit smoking. It may be that the breathing method could work for them as well.

  24. So when we’re feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost we’re being administered to by an actual God, and also enjoying the indirect presence of another God–Jesus Christ. I have a McConkie quote to this effect

    Could you share the quote, please? The doctrinal pill you’ve peddled is getting stuck in my throat but maybe all it lacks is a smooth, tasty coating of McConkie.

  25. Kyle, that was a beautiful story, but I have the feeling the breathing method won’t work as well with the habit of pornography, particularly the bit about “mimicing the aspects of the act”. That will probably get that person into worse trouble. But, you never know . . .

  26. Jacob, big points for laughs. You also got me thinking about breathing and … never mind.

    Adam, I’m not trying to peddle. I’m sharing my understanding, which mayl certainly be different from the understanding of others. What part of what I’ve said are you balking at?

    Here’s the quote, which is actually a combination of snippets from MD:

    The Spirit of Christ, or the Spirit of the Lord, or the Light of truth, or the light of Christ . . . are synonymous.

    Christ is the light of life. Life exists in and through and because of the light of Christ. Without this light of life, the planets would not stay in their orbits, vegetation would not grow, men and animals would be devoid of the “breath of life” and life would cease to exist.

    The light of Christ is the agency or power used by the Holy Ghost in administering his affairs and in sending forth his gifts.

    The Spirit [meaning the Holy Ghost] will not come to a man unless and until he is prepared by personal righteousness to have the companionship of that member of the godhead.

    The Holy Ghost as a personage of Spirit can no more be omnipresent in person than can the Father or the Son, but by his intelligence, his knowledge, his power and influence, over and through the laws of nature, he is and can be omnipresent throughout all the works of God. It is not the Holy Ghost who in person lighteth every man who is born into the world, but it is the light of Christ, the Spirit of truth . . . you may call it the Spirit of God, you may call it the influence of God’s intelligence, you may call it the substance of his power . . . this Spirit or influence which emanates from God may be said to constitute man’s consciousness.

    Christ says “I am the true light that is in you, and you are in me. My opinion is: the light/spirit of Christ which permeates all things is the vehicle through which Christ is aware of all his creations. In other words, it’s not an impersonal force. It is his extended consciousness. It emanates from him and is connected to him. This is what I mean when I say we enjoy the indirect presence of Christ through the ministrations of the Holy Ghost. And clearly, even those who do not have the gift of the Holy Ghost can enjoy communion with the spirit of Christ, to a lesser degree. The gift of the Holy Ghost brings the privileges of greater manifestations/degrees of the spirit of Christ. But the literal presence of Christ–the visible visitation–is, as I said before, something different, although not unconnected, to this preparatory communion we enjoy.

    Here’s another McKay quote that pertains to my view of the connection between meditation, communion with God, and transcendence of self:

    Spirituality is the consciousness of victory over self, and of communion with the Infinite.

    I believe the two are inseparably intertwined.

  27. I’ll have to do some thinking, since I don’t understand everything you’re saying, but its possible you and I are poles apart. That’s OK.

  28. Adam, if my antennae have been reading accurately, your version of religious practice is much more pragmatic than mine, although no less sincere. So, “poles apart” might be an apt description. But like you said, that’s OK.

  29. Kathryn,
    Thank you for this. I love breakthrough moments and insights. I need them often.

  30. In some ways its less pragmatic, KLS. You do X and you feel contact with the divine, and you’re satisfied.

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