March Book Madness! Day 8, The Bhagavad Gita, Translated By Eknath Easwaran

Book Details

Philosophy and Religion

The Bhagavad Gita is the most famous poem in all of Hindu literature and part of the Mahabharata, the ancient Indian epic masterpiece. The Gita (in Sanskrit, “Song of the Lord”) consists of a dialogue between Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna on the morning of a climactic battle. Krishna provides Arjuna with the spiritual means to understand his own nature so that he can take action and prevail. However, the larger canvas painted in the poem is that of the moral universe of Hinduism. As translator Eknath Easwaran, one of the world’s premier teachers of meditation and spirituality, notes “The Gita does not present a system of philosophy. It offers something to every seeker after God, of whatever temperament, by whatever path. The reason for this universal appeal is that it is basically practical: it is a handbook for self-realization and a guide to action.

Goodreads Overview

Discerning, Insightful, and Well Translated

Two of my favorite classes in college were Eastern Philosophies and Meditation and A History Of India. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for fictional and nonfictional books based in India, but it wasn’t until college I understood why. It all became clear once I read Easwaran’s translation of The Bhagavad Gita from the Mahabharata. I realized many of the teachings expounded by the figure Krishna mirror many of my Christian beliefs. This cemented in my mind with particular clarity all people in the world have more in common than they think. 

The Narrative

Easwaran separated his book in two parts.

  • An explanation of core teachings in the epic poem along with special clarification on the Gita’s history
  • An easy to follow translation of the Gita

I especially enjoyed reading Easwaran’s descriptions and explanations of Hindu beliefs illustrated by Arjuna’s conversation with Krishna. Because I studied historical research in college, I ate up this first section and made many written connections between Christian and Hindu beliefs. I wondered about the ancient history behind the Mahabharata and how its teachings evolved over time. It was almost as if there were echoes of an older religion, forgotten and lost over a millennia.

Teachings Which I Found Most Intriguing

  • Atman, or the divine core of personality. Practicing yoga daily reminds me that I am a divine and eternal being. In the Bhagavad Gita so much of one’s choices hinge on how clearly they see their Atman. If one understands they are divine, their actions change and they strive to live a more balanced life. I’ve been taught this all my life, so seeing it written and explained in this book gave me such joy!
  • Karma, every event is a cause and an effect. I am a firm believer that what each person does has consequences, especially concerning matters of marriage, love, and education. I’ve often pondered how God, who honors man’s freedom to choose, must feel watching his children fall victim to poor decisions. I’m not a mother yet but I often think how I will teach my children this principle.
  • Tamas, Rajas, and Sattva, Non-Activity, Unbridled Activity and Balanced Activity. This principle is a little more complicated. Actions influenced by Tamas are made without awareness but with ignorance. There is no desire to grow. It is living life wallowing through a cold river. There is no passion. Rajas are the exact opposite. It is like making decisions, fast-paced with no thought to any damage it can have on others. It is like running at full speed and spreading fire through every step. Sattva is mindful decision-making through balanced evaluation and thought of people. Studying these three principles helped me understand how to balance my actions and make a bigger difference in the world.

Who is this book for?

If there is anyone who loves to do yoga and study deeper ways to grow in their practice, I would recommend reading this book. Lovers of Indian History will also appreciate Easwaran’s clear explanations and translation. I loved reading this book because I felt better connected to different religions around the world. I like to believe each religion carries snippets of truth that can benefit the world. Our job is to look and find them.

I won’t rate this book because it is a historical and religious work.

Favorite Quotes

No one who does good work will ever come to a bad end, either here or in the world to come.

The peace of God is with them whose mind and soul are in harmony, who are free from desire and wrath, who know their own soul.

He who has let go of hatred
who treats all beings with kindness
and compassion, who is always serene,
unmoved by pain or pleasure,

free of the “I” and “mine,”
self-controlled, firm and patient,
his whole mind focused on me —
that is the man I love best.

Lord Krishna

We are not cabin-dwellers, born to a life cramped and confined; we are meant to explore, to seek, to push the limits of our potential as human beings. The world of the senses is just a base camp: we are meant to be as much at home in consciousness as in the world of physical reality.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow!

March Book Madness! Day 7, Charlie N. Holmberg’s Followed By Frost (2015) 4/5

March Book Madness! Day 9, Tag Tuesday: Top 5 Books I Wish I Had Read When I Was Younger

February Yoga challenge: Day 24, How Do You Face Your Fears?

Artwork featured in A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd,

Life circumstances today reminded me there are still things in this world I fear. I know others besides myself suffer at times from PTSD. These feelings are rooted in fear and are triggered randomly.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by the Mayo Clinic Staff

I don’t like viewing my reoccurring symptoms as a disorder. The word ‘disorder’ puts my Obsessive Compulsion into overdrive. It makes me want to rid myself of any feelings of fear in order to avoid shameful judgment. Seeing it that way causes me unnecessary stress and anxiety. I view these feelings as they are, naturally occurring feelings I face and overcome sometimes. There is no shame in feeling fear or being sensitive to our trauma.

Sometimes it feels like these emotions and thoughts are me. But one of the benefits of studying yoga is separating who we are from our thoughts, feelings, and other elusive human characteristics. I love how Caroline McHugh talks about identity in her TED talk The Art of Being Yourself.

You are not your thoughts because you think them. And you can’t be your feelings because otherwise who’s the you that feels them? You are not what you have. You are not what you do. You are not even who you love or who loves you. There has to be something underneath all that.

Caroline McHugh

I featured artwork from Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls to illustrate how giving our fears and traumas a name helps overcome them. Just as Connor needed to speak his truth about what he feared most, we all need to face our monsters. But just like Connor, our monsters take on different forms based on our experiences. As real and frightening as our fears are to us we can overcome them.

There are important truths I remind myself of to help me endure my mental pain and trauma.

My personal worth doesn’t hinge on my experiences. Individual worth is inherent. That is what yoga is for, so we can se our true, glorious selves.

I am not alone. I have friends, family, and other kindred spirits who I can turn to. Most importantly, no matter where I am I can turn to God in prayer.

I grow beyond my fears. I’ve overcome fears before and I can do it again.

Though this may not seem like a yoga post, I really believe facing and seeing these parts of ourselves reflects how we practice and teach others. I hope my thoughts and feelings came across well enough.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

I am a Perfectionist and I’m Okay With It: Day 15

Being a perfectionist tends to have a negative connotation in our society nowadays. When we picture a stereotypical perfectionist we see perfectly cleaned rooms with perfectly organized shelves and perfectly ironed cloths. The Oxford dictionary says perfectionism is “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” Meaning a perfectionist is “a person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection.”

In my mind, when I hear these definitions I think of Monk from the TV show and sort of shudder thinking of any being like that. At least I do when its meaning pushes this image of perfection. It is like Elder Cecil O. Samuelson said. “These good people suffer from exaggerating their minor mistakes, weaknesses, or shortcomings to the point that they may become dysfunctional.”

It is so ironic that we most often associate the word perfectionism with dysfunctional. That a perfectionist, who is trying to have such a high standard for themselves, is slightly broken.

This was how I pictured perfectionism until my church mission in Russia. I remember talking to the counselor in Moscow about certain problems with Obsessive Compulsive Thinking I seemed to have. She then asked me a very pointed question: “Aubrey, do you think you are a perfectionist?” I was taken aback. There was no way I could POSSIBLY be. I mean, I was no Monk. But then, after reading some articles she sent me, everything from my life started clicking together.

From the article “The Imperfectionism of Perfectionism

I looked at the signs of may be perfectionists and surprisingly saw myself (Refer to this article for more information.)

  1. All or Nothing Thinking, where anything less then perfect isn’t good enough. Yep. Throughout my schooling I always had very high expectations for myself in regards to grades, reading and how much I knew. If I did not meet my intended vision, what I did wasn’t good enough.
  2. Critical Eye, being very critical of themselves and others. I see every aspect of my weaknesses and I remember them. I have an uncanny memory for my mistakes and weaknesses. I also am very observant of others’ shortcomings.
  3. Push vs. Pull, to be pushed toward their goals by a fear of not reaching them and see anything less than a perfectly met goal as a failure. I was not one to pull myself up to meet goals. I tended to be pushed by this ever present fear of failure.
  4. Unrealistic Standards, having unreasonable self standards. The best example I can think for this in my life is when I started learning Russian. I wanted to know the entire language in 8 weeks. A feat which usually takes 8 years. I set a bizarre standard on my self and consequently, I was miserable most of those 8 weeks.
  5. Focus on Results, seeing nothing but the goal and hardly any of the journey to get there. This manifested most profoundly in my writing. I had to either write the entire paper perfectly in one go, or it was no good. I barely ever used outlines or drafts.
  6. Depressed by Unmet Goals, being unable to bounce back or be positive about failure. Failure has always, always been hard for me. I remember each failure years later. “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.” is a phrase I have therefore struggled with for a long time.
  7. Fear of Failure, so much is stake in the results, the fear of failing is overwhelming. I have many times been frozen in place mentally because I am so afraid of failing. Example, I tried to do handstands in my B3 yoga class several years ago. As I watched everyone so much farther along than me physically, I faced the wall and immediately laid down. The thought of me be unable to succeed was almost unbearable.
  8. Procrastination, “fearing failure as they do, perfectionists will sometimes worry so much about doing something imperfectly that they become immobilized and fail to do anything at all.” Such a mindset has often possessed me. Like from my aforementioned example, it manifests most in yoga. I oftentimes freeze while trying to do hard poses because I know in my heart I can’t do them perfectly yet and I don’t want anyone to witness my shortcomings.
  9. Defensiveness, taking constructive criticism is hard. When I am at my lowest, I do everything in my power to never have to receive criticism of any kind because I do become defensive and unable to think clearly beyond the weaknesses they have pointed out.
  10. Low Self-Esteem, because they have such high standards, it manifests as low self-esteem. I see this most in myself in my physical health. I have had to fight hard to gain a love for myself and how I look.

Looking at this list is very daunting. I see all these signs in myself and wonder how I have been able to achieve anything.

I have to wonder if have these tendencies are necessarily a bad thing. Though I sometimes find myself falling into a pit of fear or even self-criticism, I have come along way from the small third grade self who lamented not getting hundreds on her multiplication tests.

It’s all about perspective!

So I re-looked at the list and found my strengths resting nestled among my weaknesses. I have also found ways to overcome the greater challenges I mentioned in the list before.

  1. All or Nothing Thinking. Because I have high expectations for myself, it has helped me avoid unnecessary debt, addictions, and self destructive behavior. The all doesn’t have to come now. I’ve learned to slowly, over time, take small steps towards self improvement.
  2. . Critical Eye. To be critical is not necessarily a negative thing. The definition of critical can also mean, ” expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work of literature, music, or art.” Because I am very observant of faults and failures it means I am ALSO very observant of masterful or beautiful things. I created for me a love of reading, watching and observing the wonders of this world and really analyzing them. All to bring to my life a greater understanding of the world.
  3. Push vs. Pull. I’ve found as time has gone forward I have switched more to a push and pull mindset. I know my goal, feel the internal push toward it and then methodically take smaller steps to reach it. I’ve learned to use such a vice as a spring board towards higher achievements.
  4. Unrealistic Standards. Tricky as this one is I’ve learned that unrealistic standards can also be interpreted as “high aspirations”. I’ve also learned to shift my focus from myself to others. For example: “I have to learn Russian in 8 weeks” vs. “I want to learn Russian as fast as I can so I can really speak to the Russian people.” Truly this mindset would have really helped me on my mission. But I needed to grow into it.
  5. Focus on Results. Again, this is not really a bad thing unless the end goal completely overwhelms me. I keep in the forefront mind what I expect from myself and work hard to achieve it.
  6. Depressed by Unmet Goals. This has been one of the hardest for me. The best I can say is, I try my hardest to look past the failure and the opportunities still before me. I keep in my mind Walt Disney’s phrase, “Keep Moving Forward.”
  7. Fear of Failure. This trick is to push through the fear and see it for what it is. Once I see it for what it is I take a step back, breathe and envision puling myself up if I do fail. I think, I will be alright. There is always one more try than the one before to get it right.
  8. Procrastination. Catch it. Then move on. This is no longer a vice which plagues me.
  9. Defensiveness. I have to tell myself if ever I receive criticism that it has nothing to do with my worth as a person. I have also learned to embrace the phrase, “I don’t know.” There is such relief in not having to know everything. If I can do these two things, I find I become less and less defensive when being corrected.
  10. Low Self-Esteem. I have learned to turn my low self esteem into humility. But also I’ve tried over the years to take care of and love my body the best that I can. It is hard to hate one’s self if one tries their best to take care of themselves physically, mentally and spiritually.

There you have it. Even though there are times where I wonder about my imperfections and feel frozen by fear, I’ve felt such relief over the years as these aspects of my character no longer seem like a burden.

“Hear Him”

I can’t take complete credit for myself for these breakthroughs in my life. Honestly, the greatest joy I’ve found is in creating a relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. These relationships have helped me the most.

I’ve had so many experiences on and since my mission where I have simply sat, meditated, and felt God’s love for me. The best changes in my life have come not through my merit of character but when I stopped to feel and know how much God loves me. It has meant so much to know him and want to change. At the root of my change isn’t an overshadowing feeling of guilt but a firm desire to become like Christ.

It is hard to feel love such as Heavenly Father’s and not want to change for the better.

“Feed My Sheep”- David Koch

I believe most perfectionists fail to know they are not alone on life’s journey. That is why they are stuck. True relief comes in knowing and living with god day to day.

“The difficulties of life do not have to be unbearable. It is the way we look at them – through faith or unbelief – that makes them seem so. We must be convinced that our Father is full of love for us and that He only permits trials to come our way for our own good.

Let us occupy ourselves entirely in knowing God. The more we know Him, the more we will desire to know Him. As love increases with knowledge, the more we know God, the more we will truly love Him. We will learn to love Him equally in times of distress or in times of great joy.”

 Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

Being a perfectionist is not a bad thing unless we let our imperfections and fear take over us. We must strive towards better goals and seek the divine.

Thank you for reading!

We Must Believe and Expect the Best of Ourselves: Day 12

Recently, my friend asked me a very jarring question. She asked, “If your parents weren’t so strong in their religion and marriage, do you think you would still be active in your religion?”

This is what I call a “What if. . . ” type of question. It has no right or wrong answer and it lies within the philosophical world of impossibility. This question did cause me to reflect deeply on the decisions which brought me where I am now.

I really am lucky. I have had hardships in my life, but one of the greatest blessings I have is my childhood with my parents and siblings. For those who don’t know, I have six siblings. We all have our fair share of stubborn habits and mindsets, but I believe we are all firmly set as good people. We had the greatest privilege to witness for ourselves what happens when parents love each other and nurture each of their children.

Now, my parents aren’t perfect. But they are loving and they helped me know what I want for myself.

So, thinking on my parents and all they gave me, it is hard for me to know what I would be like without them or my home life. But a loving home and good examples are not enough to define the character of an individual soul.

I can think of many instances where I had the opportunity to turn away from all I believe.

There were the turbulent years between the age of 10 and 13, when my family faced a great personal challenge I can’t readily discuss. Suffice it to say, I felt my whole world would crumble away because of the confusion and pain we all felt.

When I was in middle school, my classmates, especially the boys, bullied me mercilessly and it took years for me to really believe I was beautiful. Many of them went to church with me.

When I first started college, I was in an apartment with roommates who did not make smart or moral decisions concerning dating and other things.

There were multiple lost loves, lonely days, mental and emotional struggles, and crushed hopes which in retrospect could have turned me onto a different life course. But that didn’t happen.

I don’t think it was necessarily because of in the moment dramatic declarations of belief. It came from the small every day decisions. It reminds me of an analogy I heard at my sister Amanda’s graduation. Though I don’t know the course, I remember its principle.

The speaker stated in summary, “Imprison a man behind a wall of opposition and he will do all he can to escape from it. But may that same man draw a circle about himself of moral principles and never dare cross it.” This touched me deeply when I heard it. I wondered if I had done the same thing for myself. In that moment, I knew I had.

Having this in my mind, I told my friend who asked me the aforementioned question, “I have always believed in God and His commandments. It is second nature to me. Since I was young I decided I would be obedient and so I was. It was what I wanted to do.”

I remember being eight years old and being baptized. I was so excited and knew as young as I was the decision I made was right. I remember forgiving my brother and realizing with gratitude I had a spiritual gift of forgiveness. I remember so many small precious moments where I prayed and knew God heard me. The thing about these times is it is so hard for me to adequately express their impact in my life.

In order to understand them, I have taken time in my life to sit still and reflect on how I felt in these moments. I know I am where I am now because I believed in myself and in God’s promises. I can see it in how I treat others and myself. I can see it in my hopes for the future. I can see it in how I view my past self.

Now we come to the title of my post. I have a firm belief every person is capable of great good and evil. Before the fact, we must firmly set in our minds the image of our success against evil. It isn’t a matter of “what if. . . ” as it is “I will. . . “. If we give in to hardship or evil it will not be because we did not have to ability to fight and conquer, but because we had not predetermined the worth and strength of our soul. Especially when enhanced by our love for and belief in God and the Savior.

Before we face the inevitable temptations and trials of life, whether it is divorce, wayward children, disease, death, natural disaster or peer pressure to give in to contemporary ideas, we must believe we will be strong enough to withstand it.

We must believe the best of ourselves. We must expect our souls are bright enough to withstand anything. The truth is we are strong enough. Only we decide the limits on our eternal potential.

Thanks for reading.

“I Know (God) Loveth his Children, nevertheless I don’t know the I do not know the meaning of all things.” : My thoughts on the protests at BYU

Dan wilson

As many of you know, there are currently protests being held at BYU concerning its standing on its Honor Code, specifically for those who identity as LGBTQ. I learned about what had happened a few weeks ago when the changes to the Honor code first came about. Basically, in order to correct a misunderstanding, BYU reaffirmed its stance on Homosexual and other behaviors for its students. Elder Paul V. Johnson stated in his letter, “Same-sex romantic behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles in the honor code.” 

Later, the church issued this statement in response to rallies happening on temple square. “The teachings of the church and the policies of our universities are consistent with eternal principles, and seek to encourage and strengthen relationships that lead to eternal covenants made with God . . . The church and its leaders continue to teach that though there may be disagreement on an issue or policy, we should treat one another with love, respect and kindness.”

This has been so hard for me because I know there are many people, leaders and students combined who are suffering right now. There are so many voices pushing and pulling us in so many directions. These policies, in light of social reforms we now face seem very unfair, biased and cruel. So many ask, “Why don’t we have the right to express our feelings?” I have many friends who have petitioned for me to join with them in gaining support for their LGBTQ friends who are protesting.

I have pondered this very deeply and have come to a very concrete conclusion. We must support our leaders in their decisions and continue forward in faith. I feel very strongly the adversary is trying his absolute hardest to discredit our leaders and make us believe they are not inspired in their decisions, decisions which have come with much prayer and faith.

I talked to my father about this very issue several days ago. He told me, “Things are going to get worse before they get better, but God’s laws and commandments will not change even as society does. It is up to us individually to choose whose side we are on. There are not as many fence sitters now as there used to be.”

I would recommend several talks/speeches which have come out recently. First, President Nelson’s BYU Speech “The Love and Laws of God“. Second, President Dallin H. Oaks talk “Two Great Commandments“. Lastly, Elder Cook’s BYU-Hawaii address “The Eternal Importance of Righteous Choices“. I will pull from all three of these as I continue. I wish to emphasize these basic truths.

President Nelson at General Coonference

I. “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38): When our leaders speak on matters of doctrine, God speaks

When we question the decisions our leaders make based on doctrine set by the church we essentially question God’s decisions. President Nelson said in his BYU speech from last year, “Truth is based upon the laws God has established for the dependability, protection, and nurturing of His children. Eternal laws operate in and affect each of our lives, whether we believe them or not.”

Our leaders have established these truths on Celestial Marriage out of love, not hate.

I think it is very easy to feel victimized when our opinions are put in opposition to the words of those in authority. History is ripe with examples of unrighteous dominion. The reality though in our day is this. Those who are our leaders are imperfect people trying to do the best they can. These imperfect people, make critical decisions which affect all of us. Bishops have to daily hold interviews with those who have made wrong decisions. For BYU church leaders, they must make decisions in compliance to educational policies and the Lord’s policies. For President Nelson and the Apostles they must regularly speak on God’s standards and commandments.

They do this because they love us. God himself said, “For this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) In order for God’s plan of happiness to go forth, he appoints leaders to speak for him to establish very plainly what we as a people must do. This at times is very hard to accept and must be taken and followed by faith. President Nelson said,

In doing so, sometimes we are accused of being uncaring as we teach the Father’s requirements for exaltation in the celestial kingdom. But wouldn’t it be far more uncaring for us not to tell the truth—not to teach what God has revealed?

President Nelson, The Love and Laws of God

The real answer is they can’t. If they did make decisions contrary to the laws which God has set they would lose their position and God would call others to take their place. For it is as President Nelson said, “Thus our commission as apostles is to teach nothing but truth. That commission does not give us the authority to modify divine law.”

We all have something we struggle with and try to understand. That is why we have leaders to guide us.

2. President Nelson and other church leaders have made it very clear what God’s standard is.

Here is what President Nelson recently said not six months ago.

In recent years, many countries, including the United States, have legalized same-sex marriage. As members of the Church, we respect the laws of the land and abide by them, including civil marriage. The truth is, however, that in the beginning—in the beginning—marriage was ordained by God! And to this day it is defined by Him as being between a man and a woman. God has not changed His definition of marriage.

I don’t know everything. I don”t understand why so many struggle with different sexual attractions or other matters of identity. But I trust our church leaders and believe Christ is at the head.

3. God has set his standard out of love and to protect us from eternal consequences.

I believe there are issues and consequences hidden within these behaviors which are of eternal significance. Just because it is not readily apparent doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Now is the time to really think about WHAT we believe, especially concerning the nature of eternal families and personal salvation. It s as President Nelson said,

My dear brothers and sisters, divine laws are God’s gifts to His children. Just as our family’s rules kept our children safe as they grew to adulthood, just as divine laws governing the heart and the flight of airplanes keep you safe on an operating table or while traveling, abiding by God’s laws will keep you safe as you progress toward eventual exaltation. Let me say it as succinctly as I can: As you abide by God’s laws, you are progressing toward exaltation.

-President Russell M. Nelson, The Love and Laws of God

Perhaps we as of yet do not fully understand the true principle of eternal marriage beyond what we see. I think it becomes easier as time moves on, we grow in maturity and see for ourselves the fruits of living a righteous life.

I loved the quote from Harry Emerson Fosdick Elder cook shared in his speech entitled “The Eternal Importance of Righteous Choices.

“The tragic evils of our life are so commonly unintentional. We did not start out for that poor, cheap goal. That aim was not in our minds at all. … That is why the road to hell is always paved with good intentions, and that is why I am not celebrating high ideals, lofty aims, fine purposes, grand resolutions, but am saying instead that one of the most dangerous things in the world is to accept them and think you believe in them and then neglect the day-by-day means that lead to them. Ah, my soul, look to the road you are walking on! He who picks up one end of a stick picks up the other. He who chooses the beginning of a road chooses the place it leads to. It is the means that determines the end.”

Harry Emerson Fodsick, Living Under Tension (1941)

I hope we can all choose to continue forward in faith and not choose the more dangerous path. Sometimes harmful behavior is composed as a cry for allowing man his innate freedoms. Sometimes great evil is painted as the greater good for all mankind. But evil works lead to immediate gratification and satisfaction. Righteousness builds brick by brick the eternal and consequential.

“Loud Voices” Pete Wills

4. It is hard not to give in to pressures to accept new social reforms, but we must stand firm with what God has told us.

I am grateful we understand LGBTQ matters better and turn more and more towards those involved with love and understanding rather than apathy and shame. But I have learned especially lately how it is hard to support individuals in their trials and not be forced to conform to their beliefs so they can feel more comfortable. Peer pressure lately to give in and let go of old ideas on marriage and love has been so strong.

I love what President Oaks said last General Conference, “This means we are commanded to love everyone, since Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan teaches that everyone is our neighbor. But our zeal to keep this second commandment must not cause us to forget the first, to love god with all our heart, soul and mind.”

This means if God tells us his standards for Celestial Marriage we must not forget them in light of sometimes louder voices pushing us to accept the opposite. But this doesn’t mean we become hateful, rude or toxic in how we talk about other people. No matter what they choose to do.

5.. We must choose to believe and move forward with faith even if we don’t understand all aspects of God’s laws.

Sometimes people call obedience “following blindly”. In my mind, I can think of no better being to follow blindly then God and the leaders he has chosen. But it is difficult to do so when one is so directly and negatively affected by God’s standards.

I speak from experience. For the longest time I have struggled with the principle of polygamy and why the Lord established it among his people. I have read countless articles, talks and other materials on the matter. But still in my heart it is something which has bothered me since I was old enough to understand. The root of my fear lies in difficult thoughts on what it would mean for me if I were asked to live it.

Through many prayers, tears and councils with my father and leaders I have put my feelings on the matter aside. Does it mean I understand polygamy, especially as a principle of mercy and love? No. But I know God loves his children and I am okay not fully understanding everything yet.

6. Lastly, if we want to know the truth of these things, we must seek out answers for ourselves.

I want to echo what President Nelson said again. He says it so much better then I do.

My dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to seek earnestly a confirmation from the Spirit that what I have told you is true and is from the Lord. He has declared that we may seek knowledge from heaven and expect to receive it: “If thou shalt ask,” the Lord promised, “thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge.”13

Ask your Heavenly Father if we truly are the Lord’s apostles and prophets. Ask if we have received revelation on this and other matters. Ask if these five truths are, in fact, true.

President Nelson

I am very sorry I cannot support many of you at this time. But I have made my decision. I really hope all of us can find peace amidst all of this and feel God’s love despite the confusion and sorrow.

Com Follow Me: February 10-16

This has been an interesting week for me. There are a lot of changes coming very soon in my life and I have been pondering a lot on what I can do as I face them. This week’s chapters in 2 Nephi floored me when I thought one very important thought. When the Lord talks about gathering Israel and remembering his people it has EVERYTHING to do with me. His covenants to bring the gospel to all who will hear, to bind families together eternally, and to bring peace into the hearts of men isn’t just for those in Israel. He is speaking to all of us.

Therefore, I learned some very important lessons this week while studying.

Vintage engraving from the 1870 of a scene from the Old Testament by Gustave Dore showing Isaiah. He lived approximately 2700 years ago and was a prophet in the 8th-century BC Kingdom of Judah

I. God will never forget us because he loves us

I love reading passages of the Book of Isaiah because they remind me of two important things. First, God is well aware of where his people are and has prepared a way for them to be found again. For as it says in Isaiah,

21 ¶ Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.

Isaiah 44:21

We as people do not love long enough to think of or remember every soul on this Earth. People die, move away and cut ties with one another. Times moves the human family away from each other and it seems impossible to be connected again. There are uncountable souls on this Earth for one man to comprehend.

But God is different. He sees us, knows us and is aware of our individual lives. He knows where we came from, who we are now, and what is to become of us in years to come. The second beautiful truth given in Isaiah and throughout the scriptures is God sent Jesus Christ to save us. I love the scriptures in 2 Nephi which talk about his plans to gather Israel.

11 Wherefore, after they are driven to and fro, for thus saith the angel, many shall be afflicted in the flesh, and shall not be suffered to perish, because of the prayers of the faithful; they shall be scattered, and smitten, and hated; nevertheless, the Lord will be merciful unto them, that when they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer, they shall be gathered together again to the lands of their inheritance.
12 And blessed are the Gentiles, they of whom the prophet has written; for behold, if it so be that they shall repent and fight not against Zion, and do not unite themselves to that great and abominable church, they shall be saved; for the Lord God will fulfil his covenants which he has made unto his children; and for this cause the prophet has written these things. 2 Nephi 6:11-12

It fills me with such wonder to think how much love God has for us. To think he after thousands of years still strives to save us from ourselves. To bring us home.

Art by Annie Henri Nader

II. To show our love for God, we must choose to follow Christ

That being said, knowledge of God’s love is not enough for us to find the happiness and peace we need. True love isn’t just a feeling. True love motivates us towards acting on those feelings. I have always loved Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast (1991) because it reminds me of this very principle. In my review of the movie I noted,

What exactly makes this movie and story so captivating? I think it is the idea that love has an overwhelming transformative and liberating power. This idea is so simple, yet, incredibly beautiful. How many times have books and movies depicted a hard, course man altering his character for love? As it says in Cocteau’s film, “Love can turn a man into a beast. . . (and also) make an ugly man beautiful.”

– My review of Beauty and the Beast

I believe it is the same for all of us. There will always come a moment when we feel the weight of things we have done. And in that moment there comes a choice. When we learn of Christ will we choose to accept his love and follow His example towards eternal happiness or continue on a destructive path towards misery.

III. For our safety and happiness, God gave us commandments

I will always remember two distinct videos I watched when I was younger. The first was “Spiritual Crocodiles” from President Boyd K. Packer’s talk by the same name. He described them thus. “These spiritual crocodiles can kill or mutilate your souls. They can destroy your peace of mind and the peace of mind of those who love you.”

I have thought so much lately of dangerous ideas which are in our media. It seems like every year more and more immoral behaviors and scarring ideas make our way into our movies, TV shows and books. Lately, I have lamented how children’s shows and movies are now subject to these ideas. There are fewer safe places to avoid these things.

Sometimes there is very little we can do against seeing or hearing these things. Pornography is cleverly disguised in shows like Game of Thrones and foul language ignored more and more in present day critically acclaimed movies like Knives Out (2019).

This is where the second video from my childhood comes to mind. It was called “The Test” based on a fireside given by Robert Habertson. Honestly, the part I remember the clearest is when a young man is bitten by a rattle snake he saved from the top of a mountain. The snake had promised the young man he was “special” and no harm would come to him if he saved the snake from certain death. When the young man berated the snake and asked why it had bitten him the snake replied, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.”

This line, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.” has followed me throughout my life. I think of it as I choose what to watch or read. I think of it as I observe those around me choose to not follow God’s commandments. I have ultimate power in how I choose to live my life.

The media can make sin a very enticing thing, and omit certain truths for the benefit of money or popularity. But it cannot change the consequences which come inevitably when we do wrong.

I’ve seen many of my friends through small and seemingly harmless decisions which lead to very unhappy results. These decisions have led to divorce, cycles of self abuse, addiction to shows and drugs, and terrible guilt in regards to others they involved in their decisions.

But I have also seen the results of what happens when we choose Christ and put him at the head of our lives. I think of my parents, grandparents, siblings and church leaders I have seen. I think of those I taught on my mission in Russia and my heart swells knowing how beautiful life can be as we choose to follow Christ and ignore harmful ideas and behaviors. I loved reading in 2 Nephi,

14 Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.

2 Nephi 9:14

Art by Walter Rane

IV. God always keeps his promises

This was a principle I really needed to learn this week. I will be moving soon and with such a big change there also comes terrible uncertainty. I’ve thought back on other major changes in my life and promises I am still waiting to be fulfilled.

As I have pondered this, I came across another scripture in 2 Nephi.

17 For I will fulfill my promises which I have made unto the children of men, that I will do unto them while they are in the flesh.

-2 Nephi 10-17

My mother has often told me, “God always keeps his promises.” Sometimes it just takes moments like this for me to understand what that means. I am grateful God is good. I am grateful for his Plan of Salvation, and I am grateful knowing he sent Christ to be our Savior, to lead us on a path of safety and joy.

Come Follow Me: Jan 26 – Feb 1

Photo I took in Provo, UT

This week in studying for Come Follow Me I had so much on my mind concerning my future. Sometimes even when we find a direction there is still shadows of doubt and uncertainty which come. I also have thought so much about entertainment value and the media’s powerful influence in my life.

Throughout this week there were several principles which stuck out to me.

I. If we keep the commandments, God will nourish us, strengthen us and provide means to follow those commandments

Artist depiction of Bilbo Baggins,

I have begun to see all of God’s commandments as an invitation. But it is the kind of invitation which brings about change, oftentimes through much trial and sorrow. Take for example Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit. Concerning this infamous character, Dieter F. Uchdorf commented in last General Conference,

However, when Bilbo is presented with the prospect of a grand adventure, something surges deep within his heart. He understands from the outset that the journey will be challenging. Even dangerous. There is even a possibility he might not return.

And yet, the call to adventure has reached deep into his heart. And so, this unremarkable hobbit leaves comfort behind and enters the path to a great adventure that will take him all the way to “there and back again.”2

-Dieter F. Uchdorf, “Your Grand Adventure” October 2019

Curiously enough, Bilbo could have chosen to stay home, enjoy life’s comforts and not have to face the sorrows and death threatening experiences ahead of him. But he does leave. And he was never the same.

He wasn’t the same because he had seen the world, that it was wide, beautiful and full of promising experiences and precious knowledge. He made meaningful relationships with great elves, dwarves and people. He conquered evil and faced temptation and overcame its deception. He also grieved at the death of his friends.

Though he faced so much, Bilbo changed and was grateful for it. Life is simple Hobbiton never seemed the same because of everything he had witnessed and experienced.

The same could be said of Lehi and his family. He and Nephi could have done a lot of good in Jerusalem, yet the Lord called them another way to raise up a righteous people.

What do these stores have to do with us? I’d same EVERYTHING. Just like Bilbo and Lehi’s family we accept the invitation to follow Christ. This takes courage, but when we follow Christ we gain the greatest, kindest, and most loving care taker we can ever have. He gives us trials and asks us to leave the comforts of an easy life, but never without the promise he will “prepare a way for (us) to accomplish the thing which he commandeth (us).” (1 Nephi 3:7)

Lehi said in 2 Nephi 1:15. “The Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell: I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.’ It is the same for all of us who have chosen the path of discipleship. We don’t just face hardship. We find God and come to know of his love for us. And THAT is worth any trial we could ever face in this life.

II. The difference between righteous and unrighteous dominion

Depiction of 1 Nephi 18

When I watched the video showing Lehi and his family crossing the ocean I paid special attention to Nephi and his older brothers. In this story, Nephi sees his brothers being disrespectful and rude towards God. The moment he goes to them to ask them to stop, they tie him to the mast in terrible anger.

At the head of this terrible misfortune was Lamen, the eldest son. There are several things Lamen can’t overcome. First, how he had to leave behind their land and inheritance. Staying in Jerusalem would have provided Lamen a rich life as the eldest son. Even after reaching the Promised land he couldn’t let it go. He also couldn’t shake the feeling Nephi wanted to become ruler over them.

In tying Nephi to the mast, Lamen established unrighteous dominion over his family. In his anger, pride and foolishness he cut his whole family off from the Lord’s influence. A storm came and threatened them. Yet for over three days Lamen, followed by Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael, kept their families in the midst of a tempest. They caused so much suffering but couldn’t see beyond their pride.

Lehi, the patriarch of the family couldn’t sway them. Nephi’s wife and children’s tears couldn’t change them. It wasn’t until “they could see the judgments of God were upon them, and that they must perish save that they should repent” that they freed Nephi.

In his exhaustion, Nephi prayed to God and led his family from their impending destruction. I would say this destruction was both physical and spiritual. This example shows very profoundly what happens when men in anger and pride rule over others. They become past feeling and will sacrifice almost anything to be right.

In contrast, Nephi did not give in to anger, but humbled himself before God, steering, with God’s help, his family away from danger. When faced with trial he chose faith over fear. He chose to seek knowledge, to look forward and to honor his parents. He became a righteous leader out of example, not because of misplaced ambition.

What intrigues me is this idea. Lamen could have been like Nephi. He was faced with the same tests, saw an angel, heard his father’s visions and had access to the scriptures. But when faced with trial he couldn’t see beyond a future he had left behind. This does not make him evil. It makes him obstinate and because of his pride an influence of harmful behaviors.

III. The things of greatest value we must hold onto with faith

Art by Walter Rane

One of the strongest messages from this reading concerned how I stand fast in the truths I know. Be cautious of giving your heart or time to sources which lead you very subtly away from God and the light of his gospel.

This becomes increasingly hard as the world shifts farther and farther away from God and his gospel truths. Sometimes it feels easier to give n or even pretend we don’t see the wrong around us.

But giving in does not change the infinite, eternal value of our knowledge of Jesus Christ and God’s plan of happiness. We can’t find enlightenment in accepting easy answers of the day. Uchdorf also said,

The third thing we strive to master in this journey is to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ and not be ashamed of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.

We do not hide our faith.

We do not bury it.

To the contrary, we talk about our journey with others in normal and natural ways. That’s what friends do—they talk about things that are important to them. Things that are close to their heart and make a difference to them.

. . . Sometimes your stories make people laugh. Sometimes they bring them to tears. Sometimes they will help people to continue in patience, resilience, and courage to face another hour, another day and come a little closer to God.

-Dieter F. Uchdorf, “Your Great Adventure”, October 2019

My favorite scriptures from this week is in 1 Nephi 19.

For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at anaught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men btrample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and chearken not to the voice of his counsels.

And behold he acometh, according to the words of the angel, in bsix hundred years from the time my father left Jerusalem.

And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they aspit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving bkindness and his clong-suffering towards the children of men.

– 1 Nephi 19:8-9. The Book of Mormon

Though sometimes it feels like we are drowning in a sea of knowledge, music, noise and facts, we still have the gift of the Holy Ghost. We can, if we look and hear beyond all these things, feel God’s love. My life goal is not to let toxic ideas shift my focus from what I know is right. I pray to remember Christ, that he did all “because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.” (1 Nephi 19:9)

Come Follow Me: Jan 13-19

I’ve decided to start recording my notes for this Come Follow Me Program this year, emphasis on the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. When I write here on my blog, I feel somewhat like a teacher but I also learn so much more as I organize my thoughts. For those who do not know, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints. If you like, you can read through these notes.

Usually I write reviews on movies, books or shows but lately I have been feeling very introspective. Mostly I have thought of how important it is to add my voice to the many others who talk about Jesus Christ, his love and gospel with confidence. As the years pass by, the more I notice people turning away from religion onto other paths. Much of this is happening I feel because we aren’t speaking about what we know and believe.

Lehi’s Dream, Steven Lloyd Neal

Lehi’s Vision of the Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is God’s Love, its fruit is his love manifested through the coming of Jesus Christ and his infinite Atonement. Leading to the Tree is the Iron Rod, or word of God along a strait and narrow path. Surrounding this path are the mists of darkness, or Satan’s temptations, the Large and Spacious Building, or the Pride of the World and the River, the filthiness of the world.

For this week’s initiative, we are studying 1 Nephi 8-10. So many thoughts and memories have passed through my mind as I have studied this week. Specifically, where I am on the path of discipleship. The major themes to my study have included, I. Where I am on the path of discipleship, II. The different groups heading to the tree, III. God’s infinite love in giving us commandments and a way back to Him and IV. How I can listen to the Holy Ghost amidst other louder voices.

I. Where I am on the Path of Discipleship

In the Come follow Me manual, there was a specific phrase which really struck me. It stated, “Lehi’s vision offers an invitation to reflect on where you are—and where you are going—in your personal journey to know the Savior and feel His love. President.” (Pg. 10, Para 1)

I thought a lot on my decisions thus far in life. I grew up much of my time alone amidst my peers. I went through much of school set to sea so to say among many differing ideas and fads. I wondered how I was able to stay so faithful despite such opposition. It is too easy to say I just knew. But reflecting back, I now know I had a habit of reading the Book of Mormon from a young age.

In reading and pondering I found an anchor in Christ. As an adult I feel a need to continue forward and find new ways to strengthen my faith the Savior. It is more then just reading sometimes or going to church once a week. It is immersing ourselves in God’s love. For “Perfect love casteth out all fear” (Moroni 8:16) and leads us to find eternal happiness with a being who loves us in such a Godly manner.

To love God is not foolishness it is enlightenment.

Edward Eric, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

It is as Arakawa stated in Fullmetal Alchemist, “A lesson without pain is meaningless. That’s because no one can gain without sacrificing something. But by enduring that pain and overcoming it, he shall obtain a powerful, unmatched heart. A fullmetal heart.” I think of Christ when I hear this statement because he gave the ultimate sacrifice to save us all. I think of myself as I face life’s challenges and carry my own personal trials. I also think of who I am meant to become by choosing this life of faith.

II. The Different Groups Heading to the Tree

There were three groups going to the tree. The first did not take hold of the Iron Rod, or word of God and fell away, swallowed by the mists of darkness. The second clung to the Rod, partake of the Fruit but then fell into the river or onto forbidden paths because of those who mocked them in the great and spacious building. The Last, held continually to the Rod and humbly fell and partook of the fruit, ignoring the mockery of others.

I actually thought of a principle I learned in yoga a few months ago. The idea, whenever we do the physical part of yoga or the mental exercises also involved, the level of our experience depends on our commitment to doing what is asked of us. Regular practice is infinitely better in the end then random, uncertain, or occasional participation.

I also felt such a strong desire to help all those going to the Tree. I thought so many times, “There must be a way to save everyone”. In a talk I heard this last week how Heavenly Father and Christ will do everything within their power to save everyone according to the laws of justice. They also will do nothing which will impede our freedom to choose for ourselves the path we want. It is hard for me to imagine not turning to God or purposefully breaking his Commandments, given in love to keep us spiritually safe. But all people have their own lives and must choose for themselves.

I actually had several dreams this week with different situations where I tried, most of the time in vain, to help those around me who were in danger. I could see it, yet I couldn’t force anyone else to listen. I talked to my mother about it and she said I worry because I cannot help everyone. But when I thought deeper I realized it wasn’t my burden to carry. It is Christ’s. Though I wish I could fix so much happening in the world around me, my primary responsibility is to see to it I find my way back to Him. Miracles happen as we simply live a Christ centered life.

III. God’s Infinite Love

I recently listened to the late President Monson’s talk entitled “Keep the Commandments“, as I pondered the reasons behind commandments and also how to discern God’s voice. One particular statement he said really touched me. He said, “He who created us and who loves us perfectly knows just how we need to live in order to obtain the greatest happiness.”

We hear so often how God loves us, I wonder if we know what it truly means. I know for myself, it is like hearing your parents tell you they love you. I hear their words, but I don’t see their happiness when I was born, or their worry as I became ill. I can’t see the years in which they watched me, nor can I understand what it is like to see me grow from a child into an adult.

But I can understand a small fraction of what it means to have God’s love when I hear, ““God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16 God loves us so much he sent His Son to save us from a desolate life, wandering, lost and spiritually cut off. He loves us so much that he gave us this life to grow and choose for ourselves to find him again.

IV. How I can Listen to the Holy Ghost

Again, I pondered a lot as I listened to President Monson’s talk on the commandments. When speaking to men in the church he boldly stated,

We are surrounded by persuasive voices, beguiling voices, belittling voices, sophisticated voices, and confusing voices. I might add that these are loud voices. I admonish you to turn the volume down and to be influenced instead by that still, small voice which will guide you to safety. Remember that one with authority placed his hands on your head after you were baptized, confirming you a member of the Church and saying, “Receive the Holy Ghost.”5 Open your hearts, even your very souls, to the sound of that special voice which testifies of truth. As the prophet Isaiah promised, “Thine ears shall hear a word … , saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.”6 May we ever be in tune, that we might hear this comforting, guiding voice which will keep us safe.

-Thomas S. Monson, Keep the COmmandments 2015

In church today, one of the speakers said, “Without the Spirit we don’t have Christ.” I thought about this and realized how much I knew is and will always be based on my willingness to seek God’s guidance and hear his voice. This is so hard at time because it really does become so loud.

I paired this with the last part of my reading from 1 Nephi 10. In it, not only does Lehi expound further on their people in Israel and Christ’s role as Savior but his son Nephi, not understanding all his father said, desired to learn more. He said,

17 . . . I, Nephi, was ddesirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the eHoly Ghost, which is the fgift of God unto gall those who diligently seek him, as well in times of hold as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.

18 For he is the asame yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him.

19 For he that diligently aseeketh shall find; and the bmysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the cHoly Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the dcourse of the Lord is one eternal round.”

I wondered what it is like to diligently seek and receive such answers. Then I remembered times in my life where I had deep questions about where I should go or what I should do. Sometimes I received direct answers. But that was usually only after I had undergone a severe trial or learned a profound truth. Usually, I get small promptings in the small, quiet moments in my day.

As it says in Moroni 10:5 “. . . by the power of the Holy Ghost (we) may know the truth of all things.” But the key lies in our desires and our intent. If we earnestly seek God, he will always manifest himself to us.

Conclusion

I am so grateful for God’s love and how infinite it is. I listened to a song recently that really maybe ponder my place in this world. It also made me wonder how in all his love he created such a beautiful world for each of us. He also gave us the chance to choose him of our own volition, knowing we would grow and become like him. I leave with the lyrics of the song “Saturn” by Sleeping at Last and hope any who read this have a wonderful week!

You taught me the courage of stars before you left
How light carries on endlessly, even after death
With shortness of breath, you explained the infinite
How rare and beautiful it is to even exist I couldn’t help but ask
For you to say it all again
I tried to write it down
But I could never find a pen
I’d give anything to hear
You say it one more time
That the universe was made
Just to be seen by my eyes
-Sleeping at Last, “Saturn”

How We Become: Four Levels of Personal Evaluation

It has been interesting these last few weeks to see how many people read my reviews for movies and other media. Little secret, my inner critic has been severely pacified over these last few years. Therefore, I have barely written any reviews. But I miss writing them and learning so much about how things are made.

I don’t want to be negative and I don’t believe there are very many things which truly deserve to be judged so harshly. So I have come up with a compromise. Rather than criticize things I watch and read, I want to reflect and write about my overall experiences with them using a system I’ve adopted over the years.

I do this because I no longer feel it is enlightening to simply criticize what I find. Rather, I want to explore better my experiences and thoughts. In the long run, what really matters isn’t how good or bad I “think” these things are, but how I changed because of them.

The name of this post comes from a Humanities class I had while attending college. It helped change my entire way of judging and finding new media and books. In this class, we discussed the four levels of experiencing music. Depending on which music we listen to, it can either encourage or discourage higher levels of thinking.

Based on research composers like Aaron Copland have done, to truly gage what we gain from our music we must reflect on how it affects us as people emotionally, physically and mentally. I would also add spiritually.

Basically, these levels were to help us as students understand the value of the music we listened to based on what manner it encouraged us to change. In my mind this method did not only apply to music but also to books, movies, theater and art. I believe it is up to us individually to evaluate what we surround ourselves with and to consciously decide what we allow to influence and change us.

Now you are probably wondering what these four levels are.

Level 1: The carnal, or that which steals away our souls into dark, forbidden paths.

I don’t like to dwell on this level very long. The reason being, there is nothing to gain from participating in this level of experience. Level one is where anything and everything beautiful and true is twisted and uglied into counterfeits . These counterfeits are designed to manipulate and turn our hearts and minds to addictive behaviors. It steals away our time, destroys our minds and stunts our potential.

The question to ask, if I feel I might have stumbled onto anything which damages my soul in such a manner is this: What is it taking from me?

Pornography and gratuitous sex lies in this level. It destroys families and love within ourselves. Graphic violence destroys our vision of the sanctity of life and our connection with humanity. The list could go on. . . but I would rather not think about it.

This level should be avoided at all cost. Participating in this level is blind enslavement. It also means abandoning or yielding our freedom to choose for the sake of entertainment and carnal pleasure. It is the dwelling place of darkness, self hatred and confusion.

Level 2: The fun, or that which steals our time.

Rather than stealing us away, this is the level where we let things wash over us. We find ourselves here more often than not when we are tired, upset or anxious and when we want to forget or check out for a little while.

This is also a level of complacency. We become comfortable with what we know and repeatedly immerse ourselves in sources which entertain, but rarely enlighten or encourage higher learning. This and level 1 are intricately connected because both are incredibly enticing and hard to resist at times. More often than not, people eventually fall back into level 1 because of their involvement here.

I am always careful to look for cleverly inserted dangerous ideas or imagery. They often disguise themselves through intriguing stories, comedies and romances.

These things in and of themselves aren’t bad. But they are very often created to shift human opinion and moral standing. Beware of anything which treats sacred things casually or callously. Sensual comedy, lustful romance, drama, and gratuitous violence numbs us and lulls us into allowing immoral principles and damaging ideas into our souls.

These lies will tell us a person is redemptive merely for the suffering they’ve endured. Or that their acts of evil are justified by their sorrow. They also tell us the loss of chastity is freedom, acts of lust are love and life is not sacred. Some will insist a man’s charisma justifies stealing and sometimes even killing. And so it goes on.

One of the greatest examples of this is the story of Fantine from Les Miserable. Though it doesn’t go into heavy detail in the musical, she and her friends became involved with a group of rich young students in Paris with very loose morals. She fell in love with a young man and started an affair with him. One day, he abandoned her with nothing but a note, leaving her with their unborn child Cosette.

Slowly but surely, forces beyond her control pushed her into extreme poverty and prostitution. As she states in her song, “I dreamed a Dream” “But the tigers come at night, with their voices soft as thunder, as they tear your hope apart as they turn your dreams to shame. He slept a summer by my side, He filled my days with endless wonder, He took my childhood in his stride But he was gone when autumn came”

The tragedy in this story is not that she was a sinner receiving divine punishment or that she was not deserving of love because of her mistake. It was where she placed her trust. Had she remained faithful to the principles she knew were true she would not have faced the consequences which come from loving wholeheartedly someone who did not value her as a human being. She was abandoned by love’s counterfeit.

We can distract ourselves to death if we are not careful. We all know how easy it is to limit our interactions and minds with things which are of little or no worth. It is like being satisfied with a meal of bread and water in a gray room while being offered a luxurious feast under the stars.

My mother’s favorite quote comes from the movie Mame. It is this. “Life is a banquet, and most poor fools are starving to death.”

All in all, this is the doldrums of human experience and not worth as much time we usually give it.

Level 3: The intellectual, or that which enlightens our minds

Now we come to a level of progression. Level 3 is the great realm of understanding the world around us and its people. This is where we begin to acquire knowledge which inspires deeper thinking. Just as levels 1 and 2 are intricately connected, so are levels 3 and 4. It takes great courage to engage ourselves in higher learning. To seek the unknown. But it is definitely worth it. It also takes hard work and TIME.

We begin our exploration traversing classic literature, history from a myriad of perspectives, Broadway musicals, opera, astronomy, classic films, poetry, sculpture, art and ethics.

The great books, artworks and musical compositions of this world are in fact born from man’s innate capacity to become like God through small and simple means. This is because they are on the brink of reaching for godly horizons. They were more often than not inspired by God himself. Exploring these things take us one step at a time, towards a brighter, bigger world.

As Dr. Suess said in his children’s book, O the Places You’ll Go, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

This level teaches us many things about science, books and showcases the great works of many wonderful people. But it isn’t the paragon. What is missing? The answer lies within ourselves. Our hearts in creating or studying these things are the deciding factors.

It is very simple. In this level people are concerned more with being artistic then in inspiring the soul. It is knowledge which teaches but does not encourage change in ourselves. Ultimately, it removes God from the picture.

When it comes to inspirational moments or life lessons, it focuses on the do and is, but doesn’t explain the why. For example, a character may be faced with a situation where they are taught not to steal. They either go against it, or follow the advice. But as to the why stealing is wrong, there usually isn’t any clear explanation as to why it is wrong.

Science becomes an empty collection of ever changing laws, diagrams and theories. Man’s origin is no longer divine but a simple matter of genetics, animalistic tendencies and is the product of millennia of natural selection.

Philosophy becomes a flurry of ideas and theories which ever argue on what truth is but can never find it. This is because many revel in the journey and not in attaining truth.

Art, music and often literature becomes a pursuit of rebellion against constrictive, old ideas that wish to break from the confines of the past. They seek for the next exotic or bold idea, moving from the conservative in search for further enlightenment. This often leads to the loss of integrity and virtue in order to engage new sensations.

Pride is the ultimate inhibitor in this level of intellectuals. It is just like Dr. Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s famous novel, who believed he could become a God himself by stealing from God’s own creations to make a new, evolved man. In the end, Frankenstein’s pride created a truly tragic creature he himself refused to love, ending in the destruction of everything he cared for.

This is not to say, the knowledge we gain through these things is not valuable. We are meant to learn of these things to prepare us for greater things to come. But it is very limiting to ignore greater things which enlighten the soul for the sake of being knowledgeable or simple teaching a good lesson. It is because knowledge without love is a very empty thing. It is because to be truly human is to seek ways to change and become better.

Level 4: The divine, or that which enlightens the soul.

I open this final level with one of my favorite quotes from Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre “We know that God is everywhere; but certainly we feel His presence most when His works are on the grandest scale spread before us; and it is in the unclouded night-sky, where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude, His omnipotence, His omnipresence.”

To seek God is to see his hand in our world. For spiritual experiences are to see true humanity. This level promotes family, the beauty of life and true love. It encourages sacrifice, forgiveness, honesty and virtue. It shows humans as they really are: imperfect but beautiful.

To participate and recognize the value of this level, we ourselves must choose to seek for it. In essence, to seek God and beautiful things.

Slowly but surely, as we seek God our vision changes. Art becomes a reflection of God’s creations. Science becomes a glimpse into God’s creative knowledge. Philosophy and literature are a doorway into man’s desire to understand and interpret life.

Level 4 is one of enlightenment, to hear and feel as musicians, to see as artists, to understand as scientists, to envision as writers and ultimately to create as God wishes us to do. We become like God himself. And to do any of these things we look to, and follow Jesus Christ. To know of Christ and to pattern our lives after him is the greatest and most irreplaceable experience we can have.

Here, in the level of the divine we choose whom we serve and with that mindset we seek him in every aspect of our lives, especially in our pursuit of knowledge and entertainment. We honestly cannot seek God in and through things which go contrary to his laws and truths. But there are enough beautiful, captivating things in this world to fill us infinitely.

Our devotion to higher learning is akin to falling in love with the light of knowledge which surrounds us. Another of my favorite quotes comes from the Young Adult novel, East by Edith Pattou “It was the difference between walking with a stranger and walking with your heartmate. It was the difference between working for duty and working for love.”

We find these things in reading classic literature and poetry, in studying scientific law, listening to the compositions of the masters and in stepping outside and viewing nature. It takes time and patience to learn with God, to allow his influencing spirit to guide us to enlightenment and beautiful things. But it is worth everything.

In Uchtdorf’s recent BYU devotional “Can you Hear the Music” he stated, “What we love determines what we seek, what we seek determines what we think and what we do. What we think and do determines who we are and become.”

Conclusion: I’d like to make a change

Thinking on myself, I am somewhat ashamed with how I treated some of my past reviews. Not because I think I was wrong, but because I gave so little back through those reviews. I talked a lot about what was right or wrong, but it was only sometimes I stopped and reflected on my true experiences.

That is the true tragedy. We connect best with other human beings when we catch a glimpse of their life and heart. We all find things which truly enlighten us and matter to us.

Our individual opinions matter but they are not always the definite rule or point of view. They are a piece.

These pieces are truly precious as we try to understand ourselves and our place in this world. I hope from this point on, I may learn more and in turn give back in small portions to any who may read these posts.

Thank you for reading.

What Happens When We Stop Being Angry?: A small message for my family Day 12

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This is a message for myself, about myself and I believe it matters. Because of recent events involving many in my immediate family, I have contemplated what I could possibly say to reach everyone in question.

The title of this post is a direct result of my pondering and my feelings. It also stems from my impressions after seeing the new movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019). The movie in question is based partially on the works of Fred Rogers, who created the show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968-2001). The movie was phenomenal and I recommend everyone go see it. But I am not here to write a review. I am here because there are many in my family who need to know how I feel and my thoughts concerning our struggles.

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In the movie, Mister Rogers showcases the life of a man name Lloyd, who is very angry and in extension very scared. These feelings came because of his father Jerry, who left Lloyd, his sister and his wife for another woman during his wife’s illness and death. Throughout the film, Lloyd faces these emotions and learns to deal with these feelings in a positive way. I’ve never seen Fred Rogers’ show but I believe this idea was the premise of his life’s work: to face our feelings and major issues in a positive way.

This is not to say one’s feelings do not matter or that there are not consequences for harmful behavior. It simply means we find ways to face these emotions so as not to harm others or OURSELVES.

Part of me wishes I could have seen this show when I was young. From the time I was ten to thirteen, I carried a lot of pain, sorrow and anger. I bottled these emotions up to the point I would suddenly burst in a fit of rage. I kicked a hole in our laundry room wall, I broke several keys on the piano, and I shattered a brush I threw down our hallway. I faced bullies at school the best way I knew how, by reading myself into a stupor. I couldn’t face my parents with my feelings, because it meant I was weak. It meant I had to admit being angry. It meant being vulnerable and exposed.

I couldn’t afford to be any of those things. In my young mind I needed to hold my family together. I prayed and longed for us to be a family again. When we were all together once more against all odds I was very careful not to do anything which I thought would break us. I never told my elder brother how much I longed to be his best friend, even though I knew he was not. I never told my elder sister how much I envied her for being thin and smart, while I struggled with feelings of inferiority because of my weight and timidity. I never told my younger sister how sorry I was for not being a better friend to her my senior year of high school.

And I did not know their thoughts and feelings. We never reached a point where we could. Life moved on. We left home on missions, to college and to be married.

Now I am older and I understand those feelings and longings and regrets mattered. But I now also understand they were too much for a child to bear. In fact they are too much for ANYONE to bear.

Which brings us to the present moment. My dear family, what happens when we stop being angry? What do we see? I know for a fact we all have burdens we carry. Let me tell you what I see. For some, it is like our families are being torn apart. Some feel incredible mental anguish and fear for our children. Others must face the consequences of their mistakes and shame for what they have done. Some have felt so alone, even ostracized for years, not knowing how to be part of our family again. Some are married, others are not. Some of you don’t believe you are worth saving. Others suffer from depression and are tortured by anxiety.
Through our suffering we have common ground.

So I say this. I know we are hurting. I know some of us are so angry. In many ways we are all scared. We are scared of losing each other because we love one another. We regret things we have done and said in our pain and rage.

We must believe in one another. That is why God gave us families. It is because he knew this life is not easy. He knew there would be suffering and trials. Who better to face life and the evils which lie there than we, an eternal family? We have been through worse than this. As this world comes against us, we have each other.

I love all my siblings, my parents, and my new sister and brother in-laws. I love my grandparents, aunts, uncles alive and on the other side of the veil. I DON’T WANT TO LOSE ANY OF YOU.

In the movie I saw today, Mr. Rogers asks Lloyd to share a minute of silence to think of all those who have “loved him into being”. While they sat in silence I did as well. I thought of all of my family and I cried because you are all so precious to me. It grieves me to see you in pain. I feel helpless because I can’t take your sorrow away.

I can tell you how I felt yesterday. I was angry. Angry, bitter and ashamed. Most of all, I was grief-stricken. I wanted to go back to being that child who kicked holes in walls and screamed because the world is not fair. There were times I bitterly sat with myself thinking, “You took my family away from me, destroyed us and beat us. What did we wrong? Why can’t we go back? What do I have to do to make it right again?”

Those questions torment me again.

But yesterday, in the heat of my sorrow and harsh feelings my institute teacher after writing a myriad difficult questions on a board asked us his own question. What do each of these questions have to do with Jesus Christ? With this perspective, I know better. It is because I have seen God’s hand in healing our family time and time again. Remember Jesus Christ. Picture him in your mind. He will heal us, he will bring us together again. His message is Heavenly Father’s message. Families can be together forever.

Mom has told us this quote from President Gordon B. Hinckley many times.

“It isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is. It all works out. Don’t worry. I say that to myself every morning. If you do your best, it will all work out. Put your trust in God, and move forward with faith and confidence in the future. The Lord will not forsake us.”

If some of you need time to heal, take that time. If some of you need to be away, stay where you are. But please, don’t act in anger. Anger leads us to say and do things which cause terrible damage to others and OURSELVES. Let us remember to be kind and compassionate.

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(For context, this is from the movie Princess Mononoke (1998) where a God became so consumed by rage and hatred it burned its way through him, turning him into a demon of destruction and death. The antithesis to his being.)

Acting out because of hatred and anger will make monsters of us all if we do not temper our emotions and turn to God.

Remember what Viktor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

I say this for myself as well. I am tired of being angry. I am tired of the ugly feelings and being fearful of a future which has not happened yet. I want to look toward our future with faith. I believe our family will be whole again. I believe in all of us.

Please ponder, for any in or out of my family who read this,

Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like “struggle.” To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.- Mister Rogers.