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Chapter 10: Expanding
Keeping the familiar, exploring the new
If you cannot include and integrate the wisdom of the first half of life, I doubt if you have moved to the second…People who know how to creatively break the rules also know why the rules were there in the first place. - Richard Rohr1
Many of the LDS church buildings in the United States have the same architectural style. Red brick, white trim, one steeple, manicured grounds, glass doors. When I’m visiting another city and follow the GPS to find the local Mormon chapel, I know exactly what I’m looking for. I walk in and feel right at home. The interior is much the same. In the chapel: cushioned wood pews, the pulpit, organ, piano, and the sacrament table. A floral patterned couch in the foyer.
The same goes with the routine of the meetings, all very similar and predictable. For sacrament meeting: Opening hymn, prayer, announcements, sacrament hymn, blessing and passing of the sacrament, talks, a closing hymn and a closing prayer. Add in the sound of the organ, babies fussing, and kids munching on crackers, you have a typical Mormon sacrament meeting. The Sunday School, Primary lessons and auxiliary meetings have correlated lessons, with some variety depending on the teachers’ insight, local culture and whether or not the tv system on the rolling cart is working.
There is security in having that familiarity.
Around 2016, the familiar church pattern of meetings, hymns and lessons started to grow stale to me. I don’t mean that in a stuck up way. It actually kind of alarmed me, because I had always been nourished by everything at church. I thought I needed to repent and focus, and put into church what I want out of it, as we are taught. Also, my heavy fatigue made it a battle to stay alert in church meetings, and I’m not talking about how high councilmen nod off. It was so hard to focus at church, and still is. I felt the need to expand my personal spiritual practice.
My soul was yearning for something more, in addition to the security and spirit at my regular church meetings. I was cautiously ready to go beyond the surface of the familiar and the safe, both spiritually and mentally.
So I began to search and explore other ways of connecting with God.
I’m not sure how or when, but as a youth, I got it in my head that spiritual practices like meditation, yoga, chanting, and drums were wrong. Or witchcraft. Or not the true way of connecting with God. It was a big step for me to challenge that ridiculous internalized belief. I started to trust that the Spirit would lead me to nourishing things.
I began learning about sacred geometry and the infinite patterns of nature and divinity. I drew mandalas as a calming practice. I set up a sand tray with rocks and shells for our credenza, for creating calming labyrinths or mandalas.
I searched for new religious music. I grew up listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Janice Kapp Perry and the church hymns. I still love that music to this day, but I wanted to listen to something different, too. I added a variety to my spiritual music playlist: gospel songs, African-American spirituals, sacred chants, the calm voices of Hawaiian musicians and Aretha Franklin’s album Amazing Grace (1972).
I looked for books and resources about meditation. I found a CD from Jon Kabat-Zinn, with guided meditations in his gentle voice. I read a book called Christ-Centered Meditation by Pam Blackwell2. I came across Phil McLemore’s writings on Mormon mantras and meditation. The first time I followed his guided meditation, I felt a beautiful, sweet connection to God and Jesus Christ. I set up my first meditation space with mala beads, candles and incense.
I purchased a book/journal called Rituals for Transformation, by Dragontree.3 When I read this sentence in the introduction I knew this was going to be helpful for me: “The lessons are designed to help you release limiting beliefs, change detrimental habits, open to new ideas, love and forgive yourself and others, access a higher consciousness and know yourself better.” The lessons in each chapter took me deeper into things I wanted to work on.
I read teachings by Adyashanti, an American spiritual teacher and author. In the Impact of Awakening, he writes:
“All of your life you have been taught to strive, to effort. You have been sold a self-improvement plan. You have been conditioned to believe that you are the body and the mind. All of this is reflective of ignorance.
The truth of your being is Openness. It needs no practice, technique or manipulation to realize who you are is free, now! …Stop doing and be still.”4
This spiritual exploration was fascinating, nourishing, and expanding. I learned different names for God: Universe, Love, Nature, Consciousness, Inner Being, Mother. Words and phrases like guidance of the Universe, hear what speaks to our hearts, energy, expansion and transformation resonated with me.
With all of my spiritual unrest and diving deeper into my issues, I needed mental health support. I found a new therapist. I started going to Patricia (name changed) in December of 2017. She was wonderful. At my second visit, I went in with a list of things I wanted to talk about and figure out, including: living with a chronic health disorder, body image, how to set boundaries and of course, my issues with the church.
I also attended a group therapy class that Patricia facilitated called the Body Sense Group. There were about 5 ladies that regularly attended, all different ages and backgrounds, all struggling with heavy anxiety. Each session started with standing and stretching, looking out the large windows at the leafy trees, breathing into our bodies.
Patricia taught us about body gratitude and being compassionate with ourselves. I learned that I could actually pay attention to what my body was telling me and that my body wasn’t the enemy. I could learn to trust my body and my soul.
These ideas of being compassionate with myself, trusting myself, were very different from what I was taught in church: Beware of your carnal self. We are all inherently devilish. Watch yourselves. You can’t trust yourself, you can only trust the top 15. Focusing on yourself too much leads to pride and your downfall.
That wasn’t working for me anymore. I was crumbling under years of shame, fear, trying to be perfectly obedient and second-guessing myself all the time.
I continued my spiritual expansion while also studying the scriptures, listening to conference talks, praying and serving in the Primary presidency. All of it together was nudging me towards a new perspective and a deeper relationship with God, which would be vital in helping me get through the next few years.
One cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie. - Carl Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche.5
Rohr, Richard. “Introduction.” Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life; Jossey-Bass 2011; pp xxvii-xxix.
Blackwell, Pam. Christ-Centered Meditation. Brigham Distributing, 2011.
Borten, Dr. Peter & Briana. Rituals for Transformation: 108 Day Journey to Your Sacred Life; The Dragontree 2017.
Adyashanti. The Impact of Awakening; Open Gate Sangha; 3rd Edition, 2013.
Jung, Carl. The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. Princeton University Press, 1969.