Monday, 12 December 2016

Religion offers you salvation to a problem that didn't exist until it created it.

I heard these ideas in a podcast and they struck a chord.

It was not clear how much of his suffering was due to genuine stuff that people go through that you have no control over and how much was imposed by his own guilt.

There is a vicious cycle where you feel guilt & shame because of the doctrine of the church and then you feel you can't get over the guilt except with the doctrine of the church. So now the church becomes your saviour when the church actually created the problem in the first place.

Religion offers you salvation to a problem that didn't exist until it created it.

An illustration of this is simply illustrated with this Book of Mormon teaching that creates both the problem and the solution in a single verse:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

Mosiah 3:19

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There's a religious perspectives that says: this life is miserable, everything is out there to tear you down it does nothing for us. I remember having my eyes so set on heaven, that things around me did seem really bad here. I think that was creating itself. I had this vision that perfection looks a certain way, so anything less than it would look inadequate. When I let that go, life looked a lot nicer.

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Saturday, 8 October 2016

Where will you go...?

M. Russell Ballard asked a series of questions last weekend. I've decided to offer an answer of where I’ve gone, since leaving Mormonism.

Some of you might ask, if I’m so happy out of the church, why am I even aware of what was said last weekend? You might be inclined to share the old saying, “you can leave the church, but you can’t leave it alone.”

Even though I rarely make any posts or comments about Mormonism in the public arena, I’ll try to explain why I’m still culturally connected to Mormonism by using an illustration of national identity:

I was born in the UK. I have been raised in its culture, its language, and its traditions for over 30 years. Imagine if I decided to immigrate to Australia. Perhaps the political climate in UK or the plans to leave Europe was the key influence. Suppose I contemplated staying in UK to influence change, but decided, all things considered, it would be better for me and my family to move away. Imagine that after several years, I gave up my UK passport and took on Australian citizenship. My family and I might develop local accents, traditions and my grandkids might consider themselves entirely Australian and be unaware of anything more than a distant historical connection to the UK. Over time, I might eventually feel entirely Australian.

In that scenario, would it be reasonable for me to continue being interested in events back in the UK? Given friends and family were still there, would it be fair if I kept an eye and ear on the latest British news and perhaps even passed comment on some positive or negative event occasionally? If I did so, would people tell me that I “could leave the UK, but I couldn’t leave it alone?” Or would they understand that I still felt a cultural link to something that was a part of my life for so long and that was still of interest to me, given the role it had in some of my friends’ and family’s lives?

That’s the scale of the decision, when considering the question: “where will you go.” It’s daunting and sometimes troubling to make a transition that is so significant. Leaving Mormonism was a bigger decision for me than any emigration would be. Mormonism felt as inherently a part of who I was as my Britishness. The difference about my Britishness is that the scope to campaign for change from within is far greater. I disagree with the current leadership of Britain and the direction they are taking the country. If I campaign for change in UK culture and direction, that is seen as a reasonable course of action. No-one would call me an unfaithful Brit if I did that. But given Mormonism’s leaders are considered god’s mouthpiece, instead of the voice of the people, there is no room for a “loyal opposition.”

Russel Ballard asked, “If you choose to leave… the church… where will go? What will you do?”

Where have I gone? What have I done? I’ve taken myself to a place of personal independence. I’ve connected with my local community. I’ve joined groups that provide the opportunity to serve, uplift and develop talents but without any religious agenda or dogma. I’ve found delight in developing talents through drama and choir. I’ve made more time for my family. We go out together and have adventures and discoveries together. We enjoy life’s simple things and each other’s company.

I have joined a council group which gives me deep, thought provoking and peace-inducing experiences. It’s a group where there is openness, honesty and support; a group that shows deference for nature, our surroundings and our ancestors. All this without the need to have perspectives shaped and directed by the cultural preferences of a group of men who call themselves prophets.

Russell Ballard warns that the decision to “walk no more” with church leaders “…will have a long-term impact that cannot always be seen right now.” I agree with the statement, but not his intended meaning. It has taken time to start seeing the impact of walking “no more” in the path they define. After over two years on this new path, I am seeing the positive long-term impact of doing so. I’m embracing life. I’m finding peace and happiness that is deep and genuine. When faced with questions about morality and societal change, I’m glad to be able to ask myself: what do I think about that, instead of aligning with the church’s stance is on it. I’m even more pleased to be able to support my children in allowing them to consider the same questions and reach their own conclusions.

I have never pushed my reasons for reaching the conclusions I hold about Mormonism on others and don’t intend to here. You’re always welcome to ask. Suffice it to say that over the course of several years of study and contemplation, I reached the conclusion that Mormonism’s leaders are not what I believed them to be. I consider them to be no more god’s mouthpiece than the pope, the Dalai Lama or you or I.

I’ve briefly met Russell Ballard; I consider him to be a good man. I believe he is sincere in his questions and doesn’t intend to use fear or emotional manipulation. I can understand why he would ask. When I was fully engaged in the church I couldn’t contemplate anything other than Mormonism as the way to live. I probably asked people similar kinds of questions and know that I asked them with integrity and sincerity. For those still sailing through life’s waters under the Mormon flag of the “old ship Zion,” I celebrate and appreciate the good that it does for you and your families, even if I sometimes oppose some of the leadership's views and priorities. Having explored a wide range of the world’s geographies, spiritualties, philosophies and societies I’ve reached the conclusion that the answer to “where will you go” is far more exciting and fulfilling than he warns. “Spiritual emigration” is not the abandonment of safety, nor is it spiritually destructive. It’s the start of a new and fulfilling adventure on the same seas of life, but under a different banner.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Baby and bath water

I saw a question posted online recently, asking whether Mormonism could ever change enough to entice me back. 

My answer was no, nothing at all. I've spent 4 years working out what was "baby" and what was "bath water."

The church is entirely bath water. I've thrown all of it out. I realised a while ago that anything good found in Mormonism is not unique and most of what is unique about Mormonism is not particularly good. 

I've found new communities; I've found new ways of giving service; I've found new friends; I've even found new ways and environments to be be emotionally and mentally uplifted.

I recognise I'll probably never live to see it happen, but I already celebrate the day, some time in the future, when Mormonism is nothing more than a footnote in the history of the world's curiosities.  

Saturday, 20 August 2016

The was an old owl who lived in an oak...

While on holiday in July I reread parts of the neuroscience book on how meditative or religious-type experience effects your brain.

Meditating on a specific central idea or concept is good for brain health. There is a specific neurological circuit in the brain, the anterior cingulate, that is connected to empathy, compassion and peacefulness. Brain scanning has shown that the anterior cingulate can strengthened and activated by contemplative practices. This also quietens activity in the "fight or flight" (limbic) parts of the brain.

Last time, I described how a topic on fathers and fatherhood had initially triggered a negative emotional reaction. A trigger of negativity and initial anger. I had described how the group experience made it feel like the listening and sharing had made room for compassion and empathy. Having reminded myself of the neuroscience tenets, that's literally what's happening.

I have reflected on why the circle counsel has been so effective. I suppose, in my nervousness of religious practice and reluctance to move from a mormon "frying pan" to a new ageism "fire," I've been cautious about letting my guard down.

Reading the book gave me the reassurance that I could rationalise a science to the experience.

There are many aspects to why it works. We start the group with a form of meditation. Smudging, for some in the group, holds deeper spiritual significance. For me, I allow it to be the mental curtain between the day and the moment. I let the incense represent a sweeping away of any work or personal concerns. I clear my mind and allow it to relax. Although called a counsel, 80-90% of the evening is spent listening. By listening from the heart, but with no thought or intent to respond, the mind is again in a resting, contemplative state.

Usually, when we're in a group discussion, like a family gathering or group of people at a social event, there's a tendency to "listen to respond" or even "listen to debate/interupt/contradict." Instead of listening for the simple sake of listening.

I think that by trying hard to not think about response or to prepare my own answer, the conscious mind is able to by in a meditative state, but still subconsciously process and respond to the topics and thoughts of the others in the room. It feels like an active form of meditation on a topic.

This week, the subject was around the topic of work and finances. One person had requested the topic, with a specific concern around uncertainty of financial stability and how work becomes a defining aspect ones identity.

I felt full of admiration for the way that others in the group had turned their passions into employment. As one person put it: "I want to do work that will make my heart sing." When I spoke, I shared the former drive to by financially successful. I sought validation in my earning power. I shared the experience of being mentally ill in 2014, largely through work (though religious transition also played a part). I reflected on the week of sick leave I had taken and the decision to look for work that would give me a different life-pace.

I decided that from then on, when asked "what do you do," that I wanted the answer to be full of hobbies and family experiences. What do I do? I write! I sing! I enjoy football with one son, book games or astronomy with the other, drama with my daughter. I enjoy exploring world culture and heritage with my wife and children. Oh... you mean my job? My job is the financial facilitator that enables what I passionately do.

I felt a renewed peace with that focus. I am incredibly fortunate to have a job that is well-paid, reasonably satisfying and also not too demanding in hours and emotional attention.

One person commented that, in his work choices, he followed his heart and trusted that "the universe provides." Whatever the influence or role of the universe in where I am, I'm grateful that I've been able to follow that aspect of my heart... (or, in reality, frontal cortex!!)

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Articulating pain frees up space in the mind or soul for gentler, kinder, more positive perspectives

It might sound a little clich├ęd that a men's council group got onto talking about fathers and fatherhood within the first few gatherings, but the experience and shared stories created a deeper sense of trust and connection.

I have felt a lighter, persistent positivity in the last four weeks since joining the circle council. I feel like my mind is clearer, like I'm able to engage with greater delight in tasks, experiences and relationships.

With that in mind, I felt sudden a rattle of agitation when our council leader, after we'd checked in, invited us to share our pain or joy of father relationships. As is consistent with council circle, we were to share our own story and avoid comment on each others. He also reminded us to listen from the heart to each other and speak spontaneously when our opportunity came.

I had to work had to apply these principles during the other members first few experiences because I felt a weight of the pain that I've tended to avoid acknowledging. The pain of the past is usually dealt with through attempted ambivalence and shelving frustrations. I pushed them from my mind to give attention to the other narratives, which were a mixture of positives and negatives.

The talking stone felt a little heavier than usual as I hefted it in my hand after it had been passed to me. I spoke in a passionate rush of frustration, disappointment and distance. I shed tears and spoke vehemently.

After an emotional few minutes of tirade and anxiety that I might cause the same hurt to my own children, I finished and listened to the other stories of both proximity and distance.

After each sharing our truth, we held hands in silence, eyes closed, acknowledging each others openness and honesty. A member of the group then offered a blessing of appreciation for our fathers, and in particular a recognition that we were loved by them; that despite our disillusion, that our fathers had acted with the best of intentions and that they had done their best with the abilities and limitations they brought with them.

As I'd been listening to the stories that came after mine I had felt a space open in my mind. As people spoke of the small acts, habits and characteristics of their fathers that they appreciated, I felt myself willing to be kinder, more generous.

We are taught to avoid the word "but" in our stories. When we express a perspective or experience and then say "but" to segue into the next section, we diminish or undermine that which has been said previous to it.

Instead, we say "and..."

After our moment of unity and acknowledgment, I took the opportunity to speak further and said:

"I am a fan of the saying, 'writing crystallises thought.' Perhaps speaking spontaneously, leanly and emotionally, to a trusted ear does the same thing. Everything that I said remains a reality and a definite experience. As I articulated my pain and allowed to bubble up out of me, it felt like I was freeing a space in my mind or spirit or soul... whatever you consider that consciousness to be. As I spoke my pain, I realised how emotional space it was occupying. Sharing it released it, or at least reduced it and freed up space for compassion and appreciation and a more positive perspective.

What I shared earlier is a truth... and... expressing them has made room to notice others. Who I am and what I appreciate about myself are, in part, things I can also take time to see and appreciate in my father.

He is, in ways, not self-conscious and doesn't worry what people think of him, a characteristic I deeply appreciate in myself.
He is willing to say sorry, an act I also value and can do comfortably.
I love to entertain an audience, a delight I also see in my father.
I have an appreciate for people, for diversity of cultures, for the earth, for nature, for art... which are all perspectives that I recognise in my father too."

As with previous weeks, I feel a deep and abiding peace.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Anger is a reaction to a deeper, potentially useful, feeling

The messy EU referendum results and political bickering in its wake has left me unsettled and angry. I've spent almost a week sniping and griping at any opportunity.

Yesterday, at circle council, I welcomed peace back into my mind and body. I woke this morning with that calming sense of well-being.

There was considerable talk last night about the referendum. A lot of us, myself included, expressed our anger at the result. We were angry, we felt divided from friends, family and fellow inhabitants who had voted Leave.

The campaigning has been ugly. The reaction to the vote, from some corners of society, uglier still. This wasn't about "losing" - I'm English, I'm used to losing - this was about a deeper sense of frustration.

As we took turns to listen deeply and with intent, I was reminded of a lesson I learned several years ago as I had been exploring my anger at other challenges. Anger is a reaction. We say "I feel angry" when we really mean "I am filled with anger" or "I am reacting with anger."

Instead of being the root of our emotion, anger is usually the reaction. Often we don't know what to do with anger, other than point it at other people. We're filled with anger, so we point it at others and try to empty ourselves of it. Unfortunately, the more we pour anger out on others, the more it seems to replenish and fill us.

As we spoke I questioned what this anger, this reaction, was being prompted by. In doing so, I identified a series of feelings:

Indignation. I'm indignant at what I perceive to be an injustice. I feel the wrong result was collectively reached by the UK. I feel indignant that people were duped into voting for something that was based on distortions and unrealistic promises. I feel indignant that certain individuals in leadership appear to have put their personal ambitions above the best interests of the people they serve.

Defensive. I'm feeling defensive of the many people who are being hurt by this decision. The fuse of racial segregation seems to have been lit. The "out" vote seems to have mobilised an ugly underbelly of racism. I want to protect those who are on the receiving end of it.

Confused. I'm confused at how so many millions of people could have reached a conclusion that seems so counter-intuitive. Given the vast volumes who voted leave, I'm sure there must be some among those voters who did so for deep, carefully-considered, well-intentioned motives. I'm sure there must be some... I just can't see them. So I'm confused at how so many could make such a wrong decision.

Having articulated those in the group, I felt a calming change of emotion. I didn't feel so angry any more. Instead I felt motivated. I don't know anything constructively to do with anger, but I do know what to do with the deeper feelings.

If I feel confused, I can seek understanding.
If I feel defensive, I can reach out and defend and protect.
If I feel indignant at injustice, I can work to right a wrong.

Rather than get stuck in a cycle of nonconstructive anger, I can channel the deeper feelings into "being the change" I hope for.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Finding peace in a new chapter in council

This has been a quiet blog for the two years since I stopped attending Mormon services.

Thursday this week, 16th, marked exactly two years since I wrote to family and my religious leader informing them of my decision to stop going.

In the two years since, I've found joy and delight in getting involved in community groups like a amateur drama group, a choir and helping at my son's football training. I've delighted in these experiences. They've been healing and invigorating.

In the midst of all that, I've continued feeling a sense of longing, a lack of peace, place and purpose. I've found myself questioning what the point of it all is. Life has felt meaningless.

Not only was Thursday exactly two years since breaking a spiritual connection, it was also perhaps the first day of starting a new one.

A friend at choir had invited me to join a "men's group." I accepted, in part out of curiosity, but more so because the invite he forwarded from the organiser spoke of something of substance and depth. This wasn't going to be idle chit-chat around a pint at the pub.

Despite my expectation of something of significance, I was unprepared for the evening. It was, initially, a little unnerving to experience something very different but, eventually, strangely familiar.

A council circle, I have since learned, has roots in Native American traditions. It has been lifted and adapted by, what I grew up calling, "new age hippies." In that sense, I felt like I was among friends, given my parents, along with some friends and nearby aunt and uncle were products of that culture.

A council circle in the UK seems to take inspiration from the Native American custom, but builds in other elements of old customs of the british isles such as old folk culture and paganism as well as hints of eastern philosophy.

Paganism (tan, tan, taaaaaaan) is a term, similar to "heathen," created by Abrahamic religions to act as a catch-all pejorative of "others." The Vikings were called pagans, the celts were too. In essence, it tends to mean pre-christian and usually has roots in ecological appreciation and connection with nature.

Anyway... I digress.

As human's we are naturally unsettled by new experiences. The brain has evolved to find safety in familiarity. For me, this was initially emotionally unsettling. I struggle meeting new people at the best of times, but the addition of an alien set of cultural icons, rituals and symbols was initially disconcerting.

I won't go into a lot of detail about what was said or done, because one of the foundations of council is confidentiality. It's also the sort of experience that has value in the Instead, I might use this blog from time to time to document how I feel and think in response to the experience.

And what I have felt, since Thursday, more than anything else, and for what feels the first time since 2014... is deep and calming peace.