Fractionated Truth Is The Root Of All Sin – The Inner And Outer Self

In the last post, Part 1 of this series, we laid the foundation for recognizing true love in contrast to counterfeit love.  True love will manifest itself as love of self and love of others simultaneously due to the nature of the light being the same in both.  Counterfeit love is good at mimicking love of self or love of others, but typically finds it difficult to mimic both.  In this post we are going to explore why that is to really help us discern which actions are born of the pure love of Christ and which only pretend to be.

Since true love of self and others comes from light within the same individual, this can be framed as the proper growth and appropriate balance of the two major categorical aspects of our identity – the inner self and the outer self. 

Inner Self and Outer Self

The inner self is the part of our identity that exists independent of our outer relationships.  The outer self is the part of our identity that is defined by our relationships to the outer world around us and through which our inner selves can appropriately connect one to another. In other words there is a truth of the self that rests independent of others, and there is a truth of the self that is inextricably linked with the groups we belong to and our relationship to them (marriage – spouse; family – sibling, parent, child; community – local, national; other groups – religious faith, gender, race, sexuality, etc.). 

In recent years I have become a big fan of Carl Jung, brilliant psychological theorist and the father of modern analytical psychology. In Jungian psychology, our personality and brain can more accurately be viewed as a network of many different varieties of personalities that can act independent of one another, and in fact will act independent of one another unless and until we gradually grow through a maturation process and integrate these personalities with one another into the conscious whole.  This integration process is what our higher order thinking is capable of doing, and may even be viewed as the primary function of our consciousness.

But left disintegrated, when that portion of the brain is activated (like the alcoholic part of the brain in someone addicted to alcohol) that personality will come out regardless of whether it has been integrated with the whole or not, and not integrated will act as if it has its own will, agenda, and desires.  Or said another way, left disintegrated the personality will act out impulsively and only in consideration of itself.  This selfishness is synonymous with hatred or sin.

The Fracture of Truth is also a Fracture of Self – As We Are Truth 

Sin, hatred, or evil can be defined as that which in a limited perspective looks desirable, but from the perspective of the whole is in reality detrimental.  Most of the time it is even detrimental in the long run to the very aspect of the self that viewed it as desirable in the first place since the narrowed viewpoint often only considers the desirability in the short term. From a Jungian perspective, we can call this a failure of integrating the personalities.  This failure to integrate the various personalities of the self disallows the whole truth of the self to be seen in appropriate harmony and balance, and therefore does not act in concert with the totality of the self.

Another way to look at this is that sin is a lie calculated to indulge a particular fractured or disintegrated part of truth at the expense of the whole.  By fracturing a portion of the truth off and focusing in on it in a way that masks the remainder of reality, you can then live out the delusion that the indulgence is desirable and preferable and see it as “good” or even loving which delusion serves to justify and mask the actual hatred of the thing sought after.

A Musical Aside

You can get a sense of this when considering music.  Music arises primarily out of inspiration as we are typically unconscious of the mathematical truths being communicated, rather we simply feel the communication.

And this is true of all human behaviors, we always begin by acting out things we intuitively understand well before we start observing what we do, and sometimes at the highest level after observation we reach the point of finally consciously articulating why we are doing the behavior we are doing and only then really comprehending it.  It starts out because it just feels right, and it is the artists world to explore the behaviors and truths of this unarticulated world that we as yet do not fully comprehend. 

As a species, as far as music goes we are mostly just in the behavior stage, it’s an art rather than a science at this point, but let me delve a little into observation and an attempted articulation. Although we mostly don’t consciously recognize it, formulated and encoded in the patterns of music are objective and specific real messages or truths being communicated. 

When you hear music that comes of darkness, or has some element of darkness in it, you can notice that it happens through fractionation if you compare it to similar but uplifting music.  The message communicated through melody, percussion, harmony, and rhythm matches the same “spirit” of the sin itself, that seeks to indulge one aspect of truth while intentionally masking the whole to create an enticing delusion where the indulgence and impulsive behavior feels justified.  Beware if you feel comfortable in the spirit that promotes these delusions, it tells you something about where you really are, and how blind or not you are to the deception, how desirous you are to entertain the false indulgences.  (And for that music that points to and acts in a harmonious whole of truth, that which opens and enlightens the mind by its communication, if your impulse is to resist or hate the feeling you likewise might want to consider what it is exposing that you so desperately want to keep hidden from yourself). 

The more hateful the sound being communicated, the more fractionated it becomes.  I’m speaking at the edges of my knowledge, but it is something I intuited 15 years ago and am only now beginning to articulate what I can feel and see.  Pay attention next time you listen to a variety of music, and I think you will see what I am getting at.

Modeling A Fracture Of Self

That was a long aside, let’s get back to behaviors and the fractionation of self.  In the broadest sense, and for the purpose of this series, all of these personalities could more simply be categorized into the two primary personalities of the self – the inner self and the outer self as displayed in the original zen image above.

Yet there is another way to diagram this inner and outer self that I think is more helpful in seeing the natural interaction between the two.  That is by diagraming a utopian neighborhood, each house with a yard and fence representing a single person. 

Now in a perfect utopian ideal where everyone is perfect matured, integrated, and therefore always acting in harmony of the whole, everything remains pristine.  Each home represents a harmonious integrated and perfectly loving individual.  As such the inner and outer selves are integrated into a single person. 

When they are in their home, they are acting on those truths of the inner self or personality.  Their yard can be considered the transition from the inner self to the outer self that of course would be incomplete without a utopian white picket fence that sets appropriate healthy boundaries between you and the outer world, letting people in when appropriate and keeping them out when appropriate, also allowing you to venture into the outer world.  And when outside of the fence the individual is acting on those truths of outer self or personality, connecting with others in all varieties of relationships and groups.

But the reality is we are not in a utopia, and we are not yet perfectly loving beings.  Instead we are not perfectly integrated and balanced and remain fractured to some degree.  So instead of the appropriate white picket fence in some places, in its place is a stone or brick wall fracturing the inner and outer self. So now at times instead of acting as one unified personality, we have a split, one person or part of our self sits inside the home while the other lives outside the wall as represented in the image below (photoshop is not my specialty).

The Results Of Fracture

Now fractured with two parts of yourself separated by a wall, what is the fundamental truth that each personality is barred from seeing correctly?  It is this – unable to see the whole, they cannot truly see the complete eternal and infinite value of self and others

The result of this inability to see true value, the result of being fractured, is that people’s value will only be seen in a limited sense and disproportionately so according to the particular blind spots of the fracture. This inevitably leads to seeing people in a hierarchy of value, and from there, as a consequence, placing yourself somewhere in that hierarchy.

And finally, due to this a person will be inclined to act from a place of inferiority or superiority on that principle. And due to the nature of the wall they will simultaneously be inclined to act from a place of unhealthy or dysfunctional boundaries being unable to naturally honor the full truth of the inner and outer selves simultaneously – in which they act either overly walled-off or boundary-less depending on which side of the wall they are acting from.

In Part 3, we will discuss the interplay of these two realities, and see how it can literally map and account for all sin that has and ever will exist. That truly this split, represented by the wall, is the root of all sin and hatred.  And when you can detect the root causes and motivations for all sin, true love or those actions which are motivated by the integrated balance of self, can also be seen for what it really is. And being able to see this reality is half the battle.

What Is Love? – Discernment In A Day Of Divisiveness

When we speak of love, we are usually referring to one of two things:
1) Charity, a thing which can be internally possess
-or-
2) The utilization of that thing in action, or to love

The first I have spoken of – it is those strings of light that can be organized within us, also known as truth.  We have also touched on the second, for when we play those strings, or put that love into action, the melodies and harmonies of lived truth are the cause of true joy, happiness, and meaning.

But how can we know this love in action and recognize it from the many ways humans are also capable of acting under the guise of love, when in actuality it is partially or sometimes entirely motivated by selfishness?  How can we detect it in our own actions so that we are not caught in pretend love or perpetual self-deception, robbing ourselves of true happiness and meaning?  Or in other words, how can we detect true love from counterfeit love? 

The Spirit of Discernment

As Joseph Smith pointed out, “nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God.”  We could likewise rephrase our question in more biblically language – how is it that we can try the spirits and know what is truly the Spirit of God, and what comes of darkness?  For we have been warned in the last days that deception will become so rampant and convincing, that even the very elect (or spiritually attuned) can be deceived.  It follows that this spirit of discernment will prove an important if not altogether necessary tool in this prophesied time.

At the close of General Conference this past week, I received a distinct impression that I immediately tried to ignore because it was uncomfortable,  but I have come to realize over time that this impulse to ignore means there is something difficult for my mind to handle and the truth is therefore something important for me to pay attention to.  As I paid attention my heart started to sink. 

I really dislike apocalyptic or doomsday-like claims, they usually just seem too short-sighted or overdramatic. Typically things work out and rarely is there a deep conspiracy beyond the obvious blundering naïveté and selfishness characteristic of mortal weakness.  But despite my desires and resistance, when I was and am honest with myself I see the groundwork paved for something that is troubling me on a deeper level.

Why Must We Learn to Detect Love?

The last few years have becomes increasingly divisive in the church and I’d say generally across the broader western culture, but the impression that came to me is that it is only the initial rumbling preceding an inevitable clash and seismic shift that is about to occur, and who knows how long the night of these clashes can last before sunrise of truth prevails?  My sense is that this is coming due to underlying ideologies being adopted at an increasing rate that on the surface appear totally adequate, but that are ultimately irreconcilable with the narrative of the Church.

Adding fuel to the fire, and giving the devil his due, there are real problems causing real suffering that currently have no theologically revealed solution, problems these ideologies are addressing where the church is not, and so in many ways filling the void in the midst of real suffering with ideologies that claim to provide answers is very compelling, and perhaps this was inevitable.  Holes in knowledge will eventually be exposed by truth or exploited by hatred given enough time.

But are the answers people are increasingly accepting, truth?  Are they born of love?  Or will they prove a dead end that will cause destruction and heartache for those who fall prey to the enticement of easy answers?  It’s complicated, and that’s the real issue, and why I think a battle for the heart preceded by increasing tension is coming, significant enough that I think it will try the faith of some of the best among us.

It is in that spirit that I have decided to create this series, I wish to share some insights that I have had on this topic of true love versus counterfeit love, to provide my family and friends with tools that I believe will help in navigating and discerning the spirit of truth and love in a time of confusion and division.

Light Shining on Darkness

A Starting Key

I want to start this off at a high level, and share with you something that I learned in prayer, a principle and key that has been invaluable for me in detecting truth and love.  What I learned and subsequently observed over and over again since that time is that love is motivated by light cleaving to light, or truth to truth.  The light we are drawn to, the spark of the divine that others possess is the very same light we also possess at our deepest level, which as discussed last post is the inherent and unchangeable source of our infinite value. 

And because of this, here is the grand key – true love of self or true love of others will inherently and simultaneously manifest itself as love of both because the light in one cannot be loved without loving the light in the other. As it is the nature of light, which we are, it can be no other way. 

Counterfeit love on the other hand, as we will explore more in subsequent posts, is really good and mimicking one or the other, but will find a very difficult time acting as both.  If you can remember only one thing, I hope you will remember this key, because I think it can change your outlook and ability to discern truth in the midst of contention and the loud competing voices that threaten to drown out peace and hope. 

What I would like to do is build upon this principle to create more nuanced models of reality that I believe can hone in and magnify our ability to recognize true love from counterfeit love, and then explore some specific examples to make the principle more concrete. Stated another way this can arm us with the ability to detect whether the influences we feel are coming from the Spirit of God or of a devil masked as angel of light.  And I believe these principles can not only help us improve our discernment as we navigate our faith and religion, but can extend to our navigation in the world generally and to all our interpersonal relationships – for all good things are founded on truth. 

Some of the modeling may take some time to really absorb properly, but ultimately I think you will see a simplicity to it and find it worth the effort.  After building the foundations up, we will use what we have learned to illuminate and detect love in couple common areas of life we are likely all familiar with – male and female pair-bonding relationships as well as conservative and liberal political beliefs, which pattern can then be used with religious principles and beliefs, or any other principle of truth.

In Part 2 we will begin developing and exploring some of these models.

The Eternal Worth of Man/Woman

It seems by nature I have always been a very private person.  This blog is making that truth stare at me in the face, I have written roughly four more posts, all of which I haven’t felt comfortable enough sharing.  The post as a tribute to my brother, I just did not feel ready to go there publicly, the others I am still trying to understand if the timing did not feel right, other things in my life took precedence, or perhaps there is something in me that is just not up to the task quite yet.

But what keeps me motivated, the reason I want to continue is that I continue to see pain and suffering around me, and in some measure I feel I can do something about that.  The light that has distilled upon my soul over the past few years has made a much needed difference, how can I sit and hide that light when people I care about might benefit?  Our manifested talents have a lot of variation, is there truly love if we cannot share these with each other?  I speak mostly to myself, I hope to be stronger.

Worth of the Soul

One of the subjects that has been pressing upon my mind is concerning the worth of the soul.  It is interesting, while I always trusted the worth of each soul and individual was immense and perhaps even incomprehensible, this idea floated around that value is intrinsic while sounding nice, didn’t ultimately make sense to me.

Or if I accepted it as intrinsic, I interpreted that to mean that our complex and large souls within us at their varying degrees of growth had immense value and even greater potential.  But to say my worth measured up to God’s for example, made no sense to me.  Clearly what God is capable of and has done for the universe is orders upon orders of magnitude greater in value to the universe and all mankind than the value I personally have to offer, even if from the eyes of God that is still considered great and precious.

That is simply how I viewed worth, and it didn’t seem reasonable to my mind to view it in any other way.   This idea that your worth cannot change did not resonate with me, and I really didn’t give it much thought, because the alternative felt non-sensical to me from the outset.

Dependent Worth

That all started to change when I consciously began to recognize that the natural conclusion that I was accepting, was that my worth was ultimately based on the true abilities I have or develop.  And as I noticed this, I began to recognize motives in me that aligned with this belief, and actions in my own life that followed.

In following these actions what I realized is that it gave me this sort of intrinsic ‘need’ to achieve.  One part of me believed I was a strong and capable human being, and it seemed people close around me seemed to believe that about me too, or at least that’s the message I internalized, and yet there was another part of me that wondered, “Is it really true, am I really as capable as I want to believe? Have I really done anything in life that shows it is true?”  Or in other words to my mind, “am I really worth as much as I want to believe?”

I had several good motives for many of the significant choices I was making in my life, yet now looking back I can see that some other motives at times aligned with the good motives allowing them to be masked behind goodness.

When I reflected on this seeming need for achievement, I began to see the many times I had allowed it to blind me from truth.  How a drive for a goal became at times too important to fail and therefore I could and would let other in reality more important things lay to the side. And on occasion I made seemingly irrational or haphazard decisions to push for ultimate success in the way I envisioned, despite the real risks and truth before me that could have pointed to a more appropriate pivoting and greater chance at long-term success and the things that mattered most to me.

Because, I ‘needed’ to get to that achievement, and I needed it sooner than later, and then ‘phew’, then I could really breath.  The anxiety could rest, because I could show to myself that I was indeed what I wanted to believe all along.  I was good enough, I was what I thought I was worth all along.

Facing My Motives

Recognizing this motive in me was painful, but even more-so surprising.  I had convinced myself that I was fully secure, and here I was finding out that I was not as secure as I had supposed.  What did it say of my beliefs?

I had always thought it was silly to base one’s worth on other people’s opinions of you – such a fleeting and ever changing source, how could it be viable?

Basing worth on material things, that seemed all the more irrational to my mind, what does some external possession have to do with you – I could have all the money in the world, and it would mean nothing to me (other than I would really enjoy the time it bought me).

And then there were the people who seemed to base their worth on who they knew, who they were associated with, and again I thought how silly to base worth on something that is not you.

In all of these 3 instances I could see the beam and flaw in others’ beliefs and reasoning and yet now as I looked at my own belief – that worth was based on ability (and perhaps achievement that revealed that ability) – was it not doing the same thing in my own life that these other beliefs were doing to other people?

Was it not a drive that was filling a void of insecurity, that blinds a person to truth, and makes them behave in unloving ways? I concluded it must be a different manifestation of the same deception.

Where Does Worth Come From?

And so I wondered what could be the truth?  And for the first time in my life I really considered the proposition that value and worth are intrinsic and permanent.

“Do people recognize how bold of a proposition that is?”, I wondered to myself as I tried to internalize the belief.  It led my mind to thoughts like, “That would mean Hitler has as much value as Jesus, and ultimately God.  Could that really be true?”  I had strong doubts, but pondering on it, there was something to it that began to resonate.  And clearly my life experiences, the seeds of my previous beliefs, had grown and borne some bad fruit.

There had to be a better way.  Was this really it?  It began to feel right, but how could it be?  I did not know, but I began to accept it on faith, experiment upon this new word.  And for the time being I shelved away the question and getting an answer to, “how could it be so, how could worth be totally intrinsic?”.

Strings of Light

More than a year passed, and now I sat in vision perceiving the strings of light I shared in an earlier post.  There are some elements to that experience that I did not share.  One of the most profound aspects for me was the following.

As I looked upon the whole of it – the strings that represented the mind of man/woman – I perceived that all truth was there.  And not only was it all there, I then perceived that the same applied to all minds in existence.  Or in other words, all intelligent beings already possess all strings of light, at the basest level.  On a higher level, the differences that we see between intelligent beings is that these strings of light are in various states of organization or disorganization.

Therefore as I witnessed the process in which we gather truth and light within us, I saw that it is not so much an obtaining of light and truth as much as it is a discovery and manifestation of the true nature that lies within us.  And my mind and soul were immediately filled with joy and gratitude.  Here before me I saw displayed the infinite, immutable, and eternal worth and love of man/woman.  My question was answered, the seed had borne fruit, this was how it could be.  The feeling of joy in this understanding persisted with me for weeks.

Us, In a New Light

So much of the way I view the world, people around me, and myself has fundamentally changed because of this experience.

For example, there was a part of me that could be very competitive, and at rarer times even jealous when I saw the great achievements of other people, particularly if I had failed at the same.  It felt like it challenged what I was, or although I might not have seen it that way at the time – what I was worth, my value.

That world view has been burst into a thousand pieces.  My heart now sings when I see greatness and goodness manifested by my fellow man.

For my own talents, it used to be I would often feel embarrassed or a need to downplay good that I had done, because I didn’t want to feel or give a feeling that such a talent made me better than another person in some way.  But now, I no longer feel the need to hide my positive traits.

Because the fundamental truth that I have learned is –  that the greatness and goodness displayed by our self, fellow friends, family, and all of humanity is a manifestation of the true and internal nature of all of us.  Whether that manifestation is athletic, artistic, strong, physically beautiful, smart, insightful, kind, or loving – it is great cause for celebration, and really a celebration together, because it is a manifestation of  what is in all of us.

Co-Equal With God Himself

Joseph Smith was recorded as saying in the King Follet Sermon nearing the end of his own life in Nauvoo, “The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal with God himself”, which Joseph Fielding Smith in compiling The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith thought must have been recorded in error.

But I have learned and witnessed for myself that it is a true teaching.  No amount of achievement, no amount of praise, no amount or degree of relationship or personal connection, no amount of material gain, and even no amount of righteousness or sin – can ever change the innate, eternal, and glorious worth of man/woman.

And lastly I will say, this is something my younger brother Curtis seemed to inherently know through his life.  My family cannot remember him speaking an ill word against anyone, how remarkable is that? He was ever the champion of both the seeming weakest and strongest among us; he was everyone’s biggest fan. I think that will stand as his legacy on this side of the veil, and so I wish to proudly add my testimony that he gave and displayed with his life that the worth of each individual, including ourselves, is truly great, eternal, and worthy of our love, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

You Do Not Owe God Anything – Part II

As I reflected on all of this, it suddenly became clear what my paradigm had violated.  It stood incompatible with this fundamental truth – that love is a gift, always.

Love Is A Gift

For if love is truly seen as a gift, gratitude would always follow, no matter the degree of love – big or small. Therefore the existence of a baseline, a certain threshold of decency and expectation, could not righteously exist in a relationship.  It was a fallacy.  It infringed on one another’s agency.

And how so?  By expecting a certain level of goodness, no matter how small, that pressure robs the other person the opportunity to show they would do it of their own free will and choice without the existence of that pressure, to show that it is in fact a choice of love, that it is a gift.  What right do you have to rob them of that opportunity?

And furthermore it robs the receiver the ability to see the truth of the act, that it is indeed a gift and not something owed, which robs the person of the joy and appreciation they could otherwise have in these acts of love in their behalf, no matter how small.

Removing Expectation

The removal of such a threshold, or to say that a loving relationship cannot rightly include any degree of expectation, conversely requires you to honor the full extent of another person’s agency.  And this feels right.  They are free to choose good or evil, love or hatred, and it is their fundamental right to be able to choose those with equal validity.

When they choose hatred, you would not therefore feel cheated, because you did not feel entitled to the opposite choice in the first place.  Do you see on the other hand how this allows you to see the true nature of the gift that goodness really is when it is given?  That love is truly a gift?  Because you had no expectation that it would be given.  It allows you to appreciate the true nature of goodness, and to experience the full joy that it entails.

This is not to say that if your partner, child, parent, or sibling chooses hatred that you would feel happy about it.  No, you can see hatred for what hatred is, it is simply that you recognize that they have the right to choose it.  What you get to choose is how to respond.

Perhaps further boundaries are necessary to build with consistent patterns of hateful behavior, or ultimately you may have to break off that relationship entirely if they have no intention or apparent ability to build something of goodness with you.  Yet if they do choose good, and you also choose good, wow, what a rare a special thing to be celebrated, whether those elements of love are big or even something smaller.

Feeling Owed – A Comforting Delusion, An Act of Hatred

Seeing this, I could now understand the motivation that perpetuates this type of behavior, the incentive or advantage that comes from feeling owed a degree of goodness from one another, despite its negative consequences.  In practice ‘allowing’ another person full space and freedom, recognizing their inherent right to choose evil and do evil against you, is a very vulnerable place to put yourself.  It does not feel safe.  It’s a hard pill to swallow to say I choose this relationship with you, knowing that you have equal right to choose hatred and evil toward me if that is what you want.

Instead I think in our weakness, it is very human to want to believe we have some level of control in our relationships, that there is some measure of safety or protection against evil and wrongdoing.  If the other person owes us basic decency, or owes a certain degree of goodness because of their commitment to us, then we can therefore rightly pressure and demand that it be given to us.

It is a comforting delusion to believe we have any real control over what a person will or will not choose toward us in the first place.  It might feel safe, but it is certainly not a loving way to treat another person, to essentially want to hold their will hostage for your own personal assurance and anxiety reduction.

While it may be an understandable impulse, it is definitely a self-serving impulse at the expense of the other person.  In other words, to feel owed and hold expectations for particular behaviors in any relationship is inherently hateful.

The Truth of Agency

The truth of agency is this – that no person owes another person anything.  I was speaking to a friend about this concept, and that the expectation of common decency from one another is a fallacy.  Thinking through the concept, in a flippant way he said something to the effect, “There have to be certain lines, surely I don’t have to sit here and be grateful that you are not killing me right now, or locking me in a prison.”

In the context of the conversation it was a light-hearted and funny comment, but then I replied, “Why not?” continuing, “It hasn’t always been that way in the history of the world, maybe that is something to be grateful for.”

Let’s take this back to God.  We’re coming full circle, if you have made it this far I applaud you!  If you have checked out a little bit, go ahead and take a quick mental pause, and prepare your mind to be at a little higher state, I think this principle could make a difference in improving your quality of life, or at least it has for me.

Does God Feel Owed?

I believe God understands and lives by this same principle – that if He were to feel owed or hold expectations it would likewise be hateful, infringe upon our agency, and God would cease to be God.  So let us go straight to the heart of it, the Atonement performed by Christ in our behalf. For surely if there is anything that we can be indebted to in our existence, it would be this.

Do we owe God or Christ our goodness, our loyalty, because of the great sacrifice made in our behalf?  I am arguing that in fact no, we do not owe God or Christ anything, despite any type of sacrifice made in our behalf, or even despite the gift of creation and life that allows us to make choices and express our will in the first place. Why?

It would be unrighteous of God to expect anything for it.  And this seems right, for wouldn’t it cheapen the gift being offered if it came with strings attached?  Such an idea feels so ungodly to me.

I believe the reality is that Christ is beyond just a grown man, but has reached the stature of the fullness of God.  And as such He made His own choice, an informed choice, a choice of His own free will and doing. In other words, as an act of love, it truly was a sacrifice that He freely gave – no strings attached.  We do not owe Him anything in return.

Yes, it might not be loving to ignore it, it might be terribly ungrateful, and even hateful depending on your understanding of the gift being offered. But then again, that’s your right, equally valid to choose hate and evil as it is to choose good.

God Wants Us To Be Free

Accepting the gift of the atonement, being grateful for it, and loving God back is not something God feels “owed” in return.  Therefore if you do choose to accept God’s gifts, that too is an act of love (even if small in comparison), not a requirement, and therefore something God appreciates and something you can be proud of for choosing.

I believe God wants us to be free, free to be whatever we want to be. The music that you will play in your life with the strings you have organized is entirely your prerogative.   There is something deeply sweet to me and refreshing about this idea.  In the next post I’d like to explore this in more depth – and the implications it has on how we approach obedience.

If we do not owe even God, what are the implications in our human relationships – friends, spouses, siblings, child to parent, parent to child?  Understanding this truth, if you answered yes to any of the questions at the beginning of Part I, how might you approach those situations better now?

The Difference In My Life

For me, coming to this realization, I gained a desire to truly honor the agency of everyone around me by not feeling owed any degree of goodness – and honoring their right to choose good or evil toward me as they desired.

Surprisingly, it moments of hatred toward me, I have felt much more free to call it out – because acknowledging the behavior that in my view was hateful did not imply I thought they should or were required to change that behavior if they didn’t want to, I simply expressed how I viewed it and asserted my right to choose how to respond.

And it moments of love, my gratitude has grown in orders of magnitude and my happiness in the same measure, and without a self-constructed and artificial threshold of expectation I have found great joy and gratitude in small things that I never knew there was joy to be had in.

Unexpected Results

By viewing and treating others this way, something unexpected happened, I began to see something change in me unintentionally.  Suddenly I began to see the good that I chose in a new light – I began to appreciate the things that I did good, or the times that I showed love to others.  I didn’t have to do that, I don’t owe the world my best, I don’t owe the world anything.

I began to have far more compassion on myself in my weaknesses, more patience for myself for when I might reach the better place I want to be at one day.  Because I don’t owe anybody my progress either – to have to be a certain type of person.

And wow, I can’t tell you the massive weight this lifted off my shoulders, a heavy burden that I didn’t even realize I was carrying for most of my life.  I have so much more joy in who I am, and what I am doing in life.  I can appreciate the here and now and bask in the music that I am able to play now without any type of pressure to run somewhere else faster than I have strength.  And that has been wonderful.

You Do Not Owe God Anything

I’m not sure about you, but to my old mindset, that is a very bold claim – maybe even provocative.  But I don’t mean it to be so, I don’t mean it as an empty or exaggerated claim, I truly now believe that you and I do not owe God anything.  And this understanding has had major implications in my relationships with other people and with myself and how I approach life. Many positive fruits have resulted.

Let me begin by posing a few questions that I think are relevant to this idea:

  • Have you ever felt pressure or a need to live up to a parent’s, mentor’s, or even an organization’s expectations of you?
  • Have you ever felt let down to the point of feeling cheated in a relationship because your efforts and investment in that relationship were not returned in kind? (such as feeling a spouse ought to start ‘pulling their weight’, or a child should be willing to do better given all the effort, and/or birthing, you have put in on their behalf?)
  • Have you ever felt people around you owe you common decency, or feel entitled to basic decency if you’re not receiving it?
  • Do you find it hard to forgive yourself, for the times you have hurt others whom you should have loved (perhaps a certain damaging way you parented your children, or the harmful way your treated a sibling when you were younger)?
  • Have you ever felt like you have failed and/or lack worth, if you have not lived up to a particular worldly or spiritual standard?

I know I have experienced many of these in a significant way, if you said yes to any of the above then perhaps this post may also be of value to you.  You may also have been accepting a world view that at its core infringes upon free agency.

Feeling Indebted to God

For most of my life I accepted and believed that I was indebted to God in the real sense of the word.  Because I had been blessed with so many privileges, gifts, and opportunities – being born into the LDS faith, born in the wealthiest country in the world with a higher standard of living the 99% of all humans who had ever lived, and having a family I loved with good parents who believed in and sought goodness – I felt very lucky and grateful (and still do).

Yet at the same time I simultaneously accepted the belief that because I had been given much, I too must give – that when it came down to it I owed both God and the world my very best, otherwise I would be letting them down. And wouldn’t I be so ungrateful not to?  Surely it was my duty, for how could I fail other people by not living up to those gifts I had been given? It would seem not very fair to those who had not been given.  To whom much is given, much is required, right?  And didn’t King Benjamin teach that I am forever indebted to God[1], an ever unprofitable servant?

I think this is a reasonable interpretation of the scriptures taken at face value, and I think might even be the prevalent interpretation that is taught.  I have now learned for myself that such interpretations and beliefs are not true. And I’d like to tell you why.

In practice, internalizing these beliefs that people can rightly owe each other anything ended up harming me and contributed to hurting others around me. I now believe that there is no such thing as a righteous framework in which any person can owe another being, including God, anything.  It is fundamentally incompatible with agency[2].

Which is to say, in any relationship between intelligent beings, human to human, human to God, God to human, human to community, etc., a righteous framework is necessarily founded on the right and freedom to choose good or to choose evil as equally valid choices.  From a righteous or loving perspective in a given relationship, it therefore follows that hate and selfishness is just as valid of a choice as is love and goodness, and to pressure or hold an expectation otherwise unrighteously infringes upon that fundamental principle.

Believing People Can Owe Each Other Is Harmful

Let me give you an example from my marriage – the way I approached conflict and conflict resolution.  I believed that because we were married and therefore committed to one another, that it was a given that we would ultimately want and try to do right by one another, even if at times we fell short of that goal.  That we should therefore give an honest attempt at being our best selves toward one another, knowing that we will not be perfect, but that we should try.  And in this frame of mind if a conflict arose, we could appeal to what the right thing was, what the truth was in the situation as best as we could understand it, and then try to come to an agreement on what the ‘right’ thing to do is.

If we agreed on what was ‘right’ for us, we should therefore go and do it, or at least give an honest attempt towards working to do so.  In other words, if something is decided to be right – I believed you therefore go and do it, or at least try, because it’s right and you have made a commitment to your partner to make a meaningful and lasting relationship with them. You do what’s right, because it’s right.  That was the underlying assumption in my mind.

Do you see the error/s in my approach yet? I wouldn’t have been able to.  I was raised with the belief that yes there are blessings associated with doing good, yes there is happiness in goodness, but ultimately you should do the right thing – because it’s the right thing to do.  Does that sound like an innocent approach to you?  I would have thought so.  I would have even called it an honorable approach.  And yet there was something that was breaking down, something that was causing tension and even pain in this approach.  Was it just the natural tension of growth? Or was there something more at play?

It was very difficult for me to see the flaw in this approach, but once I saw through it, I could never unsee it.  It all started when I really began to reflect on gratitude.  I noticed that when I, or more often than not when I felt my spouse was not living up to what we agreed was ‘right’, I would internally react a particular way.  Specifically, if a little effort had been made still far from what was the person genuinely believed was the right thing to do – how did I feel about that little effort? I’ll create a hypothetical exaggerated example to illustrate.

A Hypothetical Example

Let’s say my spouse has dirty clothes all over our bedroom floor, loose papers and notes across our dressers and desks and multiple dirty bowls and cups that have gathered from weeks of eating in the bedroom.  On my side, let’s say I had done nothing for the week in terms of childcare, hadn’t even changed a single diaper.  We discuss it and agree both of us have created some problems, and I agree to step up in childcare duties and she agrees to cleanup her things in our bedroom.

The upcoming week I make an extra effort and do the majority of the childcare, and as the days go by I notice that our bedroom isn’t getting any cleaner yet, and possibly even dirtier. Getting close to the end of the week, feeling frustrated now I might say, “Hey, are you still planning on doing something about this.”  A few more days go by, and I notice a few of the bowls and a cup have been removed and presumably washed (although I see that there is at least one new bowl in its place and another cup on the other side of the room).  At the end of such a hypothetical week, how did I feel?  Pretty frustrated.  And what did I think about those few dishes that had been taken care of?

If I am honest, my attitude would have been something like, “Wow, what happened, it seems you did pretty much nothing you said you were going to do, did you even try?  Didn’t you see the effort I put into my part.  This can’t possibly be trying.”  Was I grateful for the effort that had been made and those few dishes that were taken care? Compared to everything that wasn’t actually addressed or attempted to be addressed, absolutely not!  Especially since I felt I had ‘done my part’.

While hypothetical, it’s pretty representative of actual attitudes I held when I felt minimal effort had been made toward something we had agreed was right and best for our relationship.  Was I grateful for small efforts comparatively speaking?  I wasn’t.

Why Did I Not Feel Gratitude?

What was going on here?  Why did I not feel grateful when efforts had been made, whether big or small?  Whether it was realistic or not, what was clear was that I was holding a certain threshold of what ‘at least trying’ was in my mind, and since I felt like I had set that bar pretty low, if that bar wasn’t met, that simply felt unacceptable.  I believed a commitment entailed a certain degree of ‘at least trying’ when we agreed to something.

Anything beneath that bar was simply what we should do for each other, not something either she or I would necessarily feel grateful for – it was a baseline.  I felt we owed each other that much.  In short, I felt owed a degree of goodness. Could this be right? When viewed in this new light it felt very wrong.

Part II

[1] I think King Benjamin actually makes a really good argument for why a paradigm of feeling indebted and trying to make up for that debt is foundationally flawed, and ultimately a useless endeavor.

[2] Supporting this idea, a friend pointed out to me that the dictionary definition of to ‘owe’ is “to be under obligation”.  The definition of ‘obligation’ is “something by which a person is bound”.  And to be ‘bound’ is fundamentally at odds with free agency.

Peace and Happiness

It was April 2016 General Conference weekend, a little over a year and a half since the world as I knew it ruptured and collapsed.  It had been an uphill battle to this point, climbing and fighting to put the pieces back together in both my inner and outer worlds trying to establish a life the best I knew how.  God had never forsaken me, and in my greatest moments of need when in a very real way it seemed all was lost, a path was placed before me.  I didn’t always have the faith that it would happen, but it did.  I felt deeply grateful, and yet still stunned, still processing.  It had now been about a month since my divorce had been finalized, something I had never considered a real option much less a possibility in my own life.

I felt great peace as I sat on my couch watching and listening, like I was able to breathe fresh crisp air again after a long period of breathing smog.  And while I heard a thought here or there from the speaker, it felt as if the Spirit sat with me like an old friend guiding my thoughts where I needed to go, aiding me in processing and learning.  It went on like this at various levels of tiredness and alertness for the next two days.

Nearing the close of the conference, as I was reflecting upon what I heard and all that I had been experiencing, my mind was suddenly caught up and I had a very strong visual pressed upon my mind.  In this visual I saw what appeared like organized strings of light, and as I thought on them I understood that these strings collectively represented the spirit or mind of man/woman.  As I looked on them further and contemplated their meaning, I then understood that each string of light represented an element of love or truth.  Or in other words a string was a portion of love, that accorded with a particular principle of truth, that an individual had organized within themselves.  The more strings organized within a person, the greater love they had obtained. 

As I continued to look upon it, I realized that it was like an instrument – not that it appeared so much like an instrument as much as that I understood that it was comparable to an instrument.  And as I looked closer I saw that these strings had a natural vibration to them.  I then perceived that this natural vibration of the strings is the cause of what we call peace.  It was state of being.

I then looked more broadly, and I saw while these strings had a natural resting state/vibration, it was also possible that these strings could be ‘played’.  I saw that the strings could be played by acting upon or living these principles of love – and by doing so music was played.  I perceived that this music was the sensation or experience we call joy or happiness, the melodies and harmonies of lived truth.

In this frame of mind this realization was amazing to me, I felt a sense of awe, for I had always supposed that happiness was something we get to, something that is reached.  But here I understood a big distinction, peace was a state of being from the love within, the peace of love,  but happiness was something that you do.  Or in other words joy is an active experience – a way of life.  As soon as you stop doing, peace or who you are does not cease, but happiness does.  Continue with the music, and you are living happiness again.

I then could see that salvation likewise is not so much a place we reach or even a station we attain; salvation is largely a way of life.  By living/playing love that person is experiencing happiness and is  therefore “in salvation”.  On the opposite hand, if an individual ‘plays’ principles of hate and discord, the music they experience is the feeling of misery and they therefore do not have salvation. And whether in this world or the world to come, it is the same.  In other words living/playing hate or selfishness is misery.  Living/playing love is happiness.  It gave new meaning to the old question, “Are you saved?”

Eventually the experience ended.  I’ve reflected a lot on that experience since.  It wasn’t the very beginning of the paradigm shift that I’ve had, nor the end of it either, but I feel like in many ways it sits at the heart and center of the changes I’ve experienced. And for that reason I wanted to share it with you.

In future posts, I look forward to speaking more practically to how these ideas and others branching out from them have changed my outlook and approach to life, that has made such a difference for me.  I would love to hear your thoughts, I appreciate all of you who are in my life, and look forward to next time!

Introduction

Hi, my name is Steve. I am a dad to two amazing children who keep me laughing and constantly on my toes. I am an entrepreneur at heart and have a deep love of life and learning. Some of my passions include music, soccer, and trying to understand quite literally how everything works.  We live in Chicago and are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which lies at core of who I am.

The last few years of my life have been a period of refinement.  Those close to me know that a lot has changed in my world during this time – a tapestry of grief, loss, hope, despair, pain, growth and love.  But despite the many outward changes, perhaps from a long-term view one of the most significant changes that has taken place during this process of refinement has been a major paradigm shift in the way I view life itself.  The pains and beauty of life have simultaneously become more pronounced, I feel them more acutely, and I have found my capacity for love and joy have both increased.  What I want in life, what I want from life, and how I approach life have all been fundamentally changed, and I believe changed for the better.

I have created this blog because I believe some of these insights and some of the continuing insights that come from this paradigm shift could be valuable to my family and friends as we continue in this shared journey of mortal life.  And I consider anyone seeking or desiring to seek goodness, a friend.  In the same way I also enjoy learning and find value in the insights other people bring to the table through their experiences, and hope this can be a two way street.

I think there are many things that we could and will want to discuss here. As I reflected on it I believe the center and essence of those conversations will be love and joy – the two great purposes of life. What is love? What is joy? How do I obtain love? How can I experience joy? Why does it matter? Why does life matter?

To that end, in the upcoming and first non-introductory post I would like to share an experience with you that gets to the heart of these questions, and that has provided me a simple and yet very meaningful model for understanding the experiential phenomena we call love and joy.  My hope is that this model might provide a foundation and framework to introduce you to the paradigm shift I’ve had in the way I view and approach life, a shift that has brought greater love and joy into my own life.

And whether this blog ends up being a few posts or many posts, whether it is read by a few close friends or more, I believe it will be a journey worth taking and look forward to doing so together.