Category: My Continuing Journey


Offerings

My priorities in life continue to evolve, subtly shuffling now as I progress along my path. My views on the pursuit of personal happiness remain unchanged, but have taken on greater clarity wherein they fit into the larger whole of family, community and society in general. Finding the courage to question everything arose from my emerging ability to detach my personal identity from my beliefs, instilled by religion, family and my own limited social group from within Mormonism. Realizing that I exist outside the beliefs and culture of Mormonism freed me to explore who I really was. Loving myself as I am honors myself beyond the benefit of following any doctrine, or the hollow promises of “what is to come”. Loving myself now, gives me the freedom to be myself, to question, grow, and evolve. I put no external hope or meaning on being authentically me. I simply have learned to value the moment. I no longer live under the pall of regret or with the forward gaze of what is to come. I simply live in the moment, and have discovered this is the secret of happiness, true freedom.

Understanding myself, accepting and loving myself, and allowing myself to continue being me, has laid the groundwork for my evolving ideas of how my philosophy and myself, for that matter, fit into the larger scale of family and society. As a child, my family traveled quite a bit by plane. I remember watching the stewardess go through the familiar routine of emergency procedure instruction. Her spiel included the harsh instruction to parents to secure their own oxygen mask before seeking to aid their children with securing their oxygen masks. I found the instruction curious as an 8 year old child, and felt somewhat betrayed by the glossy stewardess. It wasn’t until I was a few years older, that I fully understood the wisdom behind the instruction. In order to benefit anyone else, we first need to make sure that we are ok. Before we can be a strength, or any true value to another person, we need to proactively take responsibility for our own well-being. In other words, our greatest benevolence is to ourselves. Only then, are we any value to another.

A popular belief, and one that has been loudly expressed to me, is that “when one loses religion, one loses the ability or desire to do good in the world”. I have found the opposite to be true. As I have exited the culture of Mormonism, I have done a lot of introspection as well as objective observation of the world around me. I came to know myself outside the definitions provided by a strict Mormon upbringing. I have learned to honor myself. Once afraid of never knowing community or family again, I’ve found myself surrounded by the best friends of my life. I’ve found a community of like-minded, loving, thinking, questioning, adventurous, and authentic friends. My family has reformed. My children are individual thinkers, each unique and colorful! They bow to no one. They conform to no one. They are finding their own paths in understanding, accepting, and allowing themselves to be: to be whomever they are, right now. I could not be more proud. I offer my children the greatest gift I have to offer: unconditional love and acceptance of who they are. I have found peace in letting go of my parent’s and sibling’s reactive emotion and behavior to my choices. I have learned to let go of things that do not work for me and hold onto all that honors me, such as authentic, loving and open friends. Honoring myself has attracted a wealth of healthy relationships into my life. The only thing that changed was me, and I’ve never been happier.

One lesson from my days as a Mormon that continues to ring true: Do what is right, and everything WILL work out. Not in some imaginary far off place in the future, though, right here. Right now.

So, I offer the world my authenticity and personal responsibility for happiness. I do not seek it in religion or in the store. I do not seek it in family, work, or any substance. I have found it within myself. I have found it in the moment. Imagine a world where everyone did this. Imagine how that would look and feel. No entitlement. No blaming. No judgement. It would be a very good foundation to build a new society. I offer my enlightenment, and the light that is carried forward as I connect with other enlightened people. I offer letting go. I offer healing. I offer love.

Knowing Oneself

I’ve written a bit about knowing oneself, as a big part of my journey has been getting to know myself and being true to myself. As I’ve gone along, the process has seemed ever more simple, and actually less of a “process” and more of an “awareness”.

I wrote a post last Fall on “True Happiness”, for which I’ve received a considerable amount of feedback, both positive and negative. My own journey has given me greater clarity on the subject. Rather than expounding or amending the previous post to address all of the emails and my own evolution, I chose to just create another post on the subject: Knowing Oneself.

What does that mean: Knowing Oneself? I am no expert on the matter, by any means, but I will share what I’ve found to be true for myself. See my opinion, just as that: an opinion. Only you can find what resonates as truth for yourself.  One helpful thing I’ve learned is not to necessarily “seek truth”, but to let go of the importance that I assign to the opinions of others. Letting go of my “thinking” has allowed my true self to emerge.

As I go along (or life goes along), I’m finding that knowing myself and being true to myself involves giving up roles that define me. It also involves giving up finding peace in “the doing”. I’ve discovered that peace exists in “the being”, not “the doing”. Peace is in being fully present in the now. Life is in the now, not the past or the future. Now is life. Being aware of who I am now, not back then or later on, has been key for me. This is also an awareness of who I am independent of others feelings and opinions.  Becoming aware of where I am in the moment has helped set me free from the external pressures from others and my own mind. I’ve gained a greater sense of who I am as I’ve become more aware of the separation of who I am as a consciousness (true self) vs who I am as thinking brain (motivated by the external). I have shifted from thinking and being entangled in the reality of others, to separation, letting go, and becoming aware of my own consciousness in the moment.

As a young artist, I learned that the secret to my talent was in the seeing rather than the creating. When I ceased to see the subject as a familiar form and simply became objectively aware of light, shadow, and emotion, my talent was unleashed. Identification with form, however familiar and meaningful, can hold our inner peace hostage. Objective awareness is essential to gaining true peace and unleashing the beauty of our true self.

I am right-brained. I am artistic and very creative. Although I’ve been labeled “ADHD”, my IQ has tested as very high. I feel connected to others in a way that others might find unusual. I have a keen sense of foresight. I am extremely sensitive, both a blessing and a curse. I am spiritually sensitive.

Peeling back the illusion of self, has enabled me to see these parts of me, especially as a whole, more clearly. I am just beginning to understand, explore, and fully accept the uniqueness of me. For most of my life, these elements of myself have caused discomfort in others. My uniqueness has never really fit into any of the molds of expectation from others. This misfit has been labeled as me having problems with authority.

I feel as though I’m finally on the path of self-acceptance and self-love. Who knows what doors this will open for my own personal growth. Exciting!

It’s been nearly 4 years since I resigned my membership in the LDS church. Life is so much simpler. As I’ve let go of so much, I’ve found myself coming to know myself better. This has involved, at times, being painfully honest with myself. It has also involved some discomfort as I’ve looked at my life without the idealistic glasses of culture and religion. As a result, I’m casting off the old illusion of self and truly growing to know myself. I’m becoming more in tune with what I need and want to be happy. I’ve learned to listen to myself, to understand myself, and to accept and allow myself to be me, including my imperfections. I am me, and the me I’m coming to know is far more beautiful without being seen through the lens of religion and dysfunctional social pressures. I love me. For the first time in my life, I feel that I have something genuine to offer myself and others: the real me, a me that is whole and secure.

My feelings about “God” have also changed. As a product of religion and culture, I’ve always viewed God as an outsider, a being separate and distant from myself. Interestingly, as I’ve let go of these influences and become more in-tune with myself, I’ve felt more one with God. Now, I feel that God is less of an individual and more an energy that is a part of all things. This new epiphany has given me an alternate insight into Christ’s words when he referred to his oneness with the Father. I’ve come to see the divine differently. I feel one with the divine and see it as being at the center of my intuition and knowing. This new wholeness of self has helped me to continue to “let go”. I’m seeing myself let go of unhealthy relationships, expectations on myself and others, and the physical world, in other words, stuff in general. I find myself caring a lot less about the external: home, car, finances, the future and the past. Rather, I am finding that I am more present in the moment, and more appreciative of the now. Life is good.

True Happiness

True happiness comes from within. Its origins cannot be found in others. Try as we might, lasting happiness will never be found in anything outside ourselves. Fleeting happiness may be found in external sources, but can be nothing more than a temporary fix, a metaphorical band-aid on our soul. I have discovered so much about myself since I left the LDS church three years ago, and the greatest gem I’ve uncovered is my path to true and lasting happiness. Of all the searching for truth that I’ve done, the one universal truth that I stand by unequivocally is that true happiness only comes when:

  1. we genuinely know ourselves
  2. we are true to ourselves (no matter what opposition we face)
  3. we let go of any hope of an outside force (person, place or thing) providing happiness/peace for us

It may sound simple, but the more my eyes are opened to the world and the people in it, the more I see just how elusive this truth can be. I can only speak from my own experience, so I will share how my journey has brought me to this knowledge. Every one’s journey is different, but I believe that all journeys to true and lasting happiness will end in similar wisdom.

1- Genuinely Knowing Ourselves

My journey to know myself, like all humans, began at birth. And like all humans, I was immediately effected by the culture and society into which I was born. Most of the societal influences were harmless upon my emerging self and did little to hamper my growth. But, over time, certain pressures, teachings and influences (many of which came from my parents and the LDS church) came to distance me from my own self. For example, I was taught the extreme importance of unquestioning obedience by both the church and my parents. I was taught that adherence to a rigid code of conduct and checklist of works were necessary to win God’s love and eternal salvation. To some personalities, these influences might not be so rough, but for me, a questioner, a thinker, and a highly intelligent being, they were stifling. As I tried to shut down my own personality in order to comply with the expectations of my family and church, I became increasingly estranged from my own self. As an adult, this felt like a vague sense of dissatisfaction in my life, underlying frustration and a noticeable split between my private self and my public self. I found myself giving more and more energy to word choice and self-censoring.

A disassociation with oneself begins with a misfit between one’s true self and the expectations from others whom we see as meaningful in our lives. For some it may stem from a feeling of not living up to career expectations from parents or issues with being born homosexual into a family who is less than understanding.

Three years ago, I did not fully understand my dissatisfaction with life. The key to beginning the path to knowing oneself is to recognize the symptoms of living a life that is out of harmony with our innate selves. The symptoms can be depression, anxiety, dread, or anger. In extreme cases, symptoms can also look like acting-out behavior such as drug abuse, self-harm, and other risky behavior. Sometimes this disassociation can manifest as lying, bragging, or exaggerating.

Once we recognize the symptoms within, we can begin to take steps toward being true to ourselves. Even if we feel blind in the beginning, with every step of throwing off the chains which bind us, we will come closer to knowing ourselves. With this knowledge, we can cultivate a loyalty to ourselves that will result in true and lasting happiness.

2. Being True to Ourselves (no matter what opposition we face)

The first step in my journey involved throwing off one chain that had kept me in bondage for decades. That chain was a belief taught to me by the LDS church and strongly reinforced by my LDS family and friends. It was the belief that questioning church doctrine was evil.

I’d always been taught that God would not allow our prophets or other church leaders to lead us astray.  I was taught that Joseph Smith, and all the church leaders which came after him, were God’s mouthpieces. In other words, even the desire to question doctrine, could only derive from one source: the devil. This belief caused me guilt and agnst when I felt doubts about Joseph Smith, the book of Mormon, and other issues with the church surface. I’d prayed, studied, and even faked my way along for many years. I just didn’t feel that burning in my bosom that so many Mormons in my life talked about. I just couldn’t bring myself to publicly declare a testimony of these things. As my activity in the church became more active and broad in scope, I found myself increasingly dancing around certain doctrinal points, many of which were central to the church.

Hand in hand with the cultural norm of infallibility of church leaders, was the strict admonition to avoid any non-church sanctioned publication or source for information. Yes, it is taught and widely accepted in the church that it is only appropriate to seek information regarding church doctrine and history from the church, itself.

One day, I threw off this chain and began my process of questioning church doctrine. It began with buying a book (which was NOT a church sanctioned publication), and quickly exploded into a full-on investigation involving many books and internet sources. My journey brought my  doubts into the light. Since that time, I have learned not to stifle my doubts. I enjoy operating on all cylinders, so to speak. I no longer conform to any cultural norm which requires me to curtail my thinking or put on any type of mask (be fake, in other words).

I have faced opposition in the form of scorn and judgement from LDS family and friends. I have paid a price, but it is one I’d gladly pay again and again for the deep and gratifying peace that has come from being true to myself. There is much to be said, too, for learning to limit ones vulnerability to attempts to inflict pain, guilt or manipulation by those who disagree with our chosen path to peace. I’m still in the process of mastering this area of my life.

3- Letting Go of Any Hope of an Outside Force (person, place or thing) Providing Happiness/Peace

The only person I can control is me. Efforts to control another only end in frustration and in destruction of healthy relations. No matter how deep a love, peace and happiness can only come from within. When we know ourselves and are true to ourselves, then we are in a position of being ready for a healthy relationship with another. Only then, can our happiness stand on it’s own, independent of any outside influence. When we are true to ourselves, we will naturally gravitate to healthy relationships.

Happiness has to come from within to be of any real or lasting value. Listen to yourself. Know yourself and be true to yourself. When you do this, letting go of outside influences on your happiness will come naturally.

A common belief among Mormons is that good comes to those who are righteous, and bad ultimately comes to those who are wicked. This belief applies as much to this life as to the life to come. It is one of those subjective ‘truths’ that a devout Mormon uses to reinforce their own good standing in God’s eyes and their beliefs regarding the plight of those who sin against God. It is a belief system in which I, myself, was indoctrinated as a Mormon youth. Never mind all those bad things that happen to good people. Such events are often over-looked or brushed away as trials sent by God to strengthen one’s faith and character. But, when bad things happen to one who is a known sinner, well… that’s testament of God’s wrath raining down what one deserves.

As you might guess, bad things are happening in the life of this particular ex-Mormon, and, yes, all of the devout Mormons in my life are quick to point out that I’m ‘just getting what I had coming’. With the perspective of nearly 3 years out of the church, I can plainly see where this line of thinking is coming from and it simultaneously saddens and amuses me. The source of amusement, I would think, to any outsider, would be obvious. The sadness stems from the fact that this type of piety really gets in the way of compassion, mainly compassion from those who mean the most to me.

The fact is that bad and good things just happen. They happen to everyone, regardless of religion, politics, race or gender. Sometimes our choices bring on good or bad; sometimes they don’t.

Another fact is that I am better equipped now to handle anything life throws me than at any other time in my life, especially when I was a Mormon. You see, as a Mormon, I was constantly in a state of interpreting life events as reflecting my own worthiness in the sight of God. I continually asked myself, “Is this a sign from God? Am I being punished? Does this mean I’m on the right track?”. Now, I realize, crap just happens. How we deal with it is what matters. How we deal with it defines our path in life and the character with which we define ourselves.

Regardless of events that transpire in my own life outside of my control, I believe that God loves me unconditionally. He loves me the same as my Mormon counterparts, and the same as all other living beings upon this planet. He shows no favoritism. Likewise, I have learned to love myself without limits, without conditions. I have been freed from my previous pious beliefs and can now love others without favoritism and without conditions. How better prepared could I be to encounter the obstacles of mortality? Despite the hardships that I am facing at this time, I know greater peace than at any other time in my life. Sure, I feel sad at times. I cry. I am human. But when the dust settles, I am secure in the love that engulfs me from the inside out. Nothing can touch that.

Nothing is more beautiful than unconditional love. Nothing is more beautiful than compassion. Conversely, nothing is more ugly than piety.

 
As I continue my journey, I’m coming to peace with ‘not knowing’. I am beginning to realize that I know more about what I don’t believe than what I do believe.

Mormons reading this will most likely scoff and sneer… because Mormonism provides ‘all the answers’. You see, this is part of the attraction to Mormonism for many followers: having the answers. Never mind that the answers were created out of thin air by a power-hungry, imaginative, over-sexualized man (Joseph Smith); they are answers.

As I progress in this life, I am realizing that it is ok not to have all the answers. In fact, there is a wisdom in accepting the fact that we neither have nor require having all the answers. I have been expanding my studies outside of the parameters of religion and venturing into the world of science. I have always had an instinctual belief that God and science were one.

In my studies, I’ve found that there are many parallels between God and science. Recent research into the field of quantum physics has shed new light on the fundamental properties of matter. It has been theorized that the most fundamental properties of matter involve consciousness, a state of existence that is all-knowing, having always existed and unchangeable. Sound familiar? In the bible, God has been similarly described.

As my studies continue, I continue to find myself in a place of letting go: letting go not just of Mormon theology, but also of cultural ‘norms’ regarding religion. I feel as though I am peeling back the layers of a Mormon upbringing as well as cultural indoctrination regarding God and coming to a place of increasing simplicity.

I have been asked, “So, what do you believe?”

I believe in God: a God who is all knowing, unchangeable, a God who is our creator according to the laws of science which he also created, a God who loves us in a perfect way (so perfect it is far beyond what many can even comprehend). I believe God loves us unconditionally regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.

Man has so complicated life through religion. Mormonism is an extreme example of how complicated life can become through religion. Religion is man’s creation, not God’s. Wars have been fought over religion. In the name of religion, humankind has judged, condemned, hated, and murdered. Families have been ripped apart in the name of religion. All of this is contrary to God’s purposes.

I believe God exists whether there is a religion out there to box Him in or not. His way is simple. His way is one of love and letting go.

Family Relations

One of the common challenges that seem to plague Mormons exiting the church is that of family. Fortunately, I’m married to a spouse who has never been a Mormon and has remained pleasantly neutral throughout not only my membership in the church, but in my questioning and exit processes as well. My children have been amazingly open-minded through the process as well and have all exited the church in my footsteps. On the contrary, my parents and one sibling have had a very difficult time with my journey.

Over the last 2 years, my parents seem to have come around to a place of  acceptance with where I am. Although they clearly disagree with me, they’ve had the tact not to show much hostility toward me or my family. I feel like we’ve come to a place of agreeing to disagree. We get together but never discuss religion. On the whole, I’m pleased with how things have evolved with my parents. I hope things continue on this positive path.

My sibling, however, is an entirely different story. She has hardly spoken to me in the last 2 years. She refuses to come to my home and shows obvious discomfort in my presence. Although expressing (through my father) that she is “done” with me forever, I hold onto a glimmer of hope that things will also improve with time with her.

Although pained in the beginning by her animosity toward me, I’ve come to a place of peace and understanding. With the objectivity of 2 years out of the church, I can more clearly see that my sister (and parents to a lesser degree) are simply products of Mormon culture. Their reaction to my questioning and leaving the church has only reinforced my understanding of some of the destructive elements of Mormon doctrine and culture. Among these destructive elements are:

1-     a paranoia of anything which is “anti-Mormon”
2-      the belief that apostates (those who leave the church) are to be shunned
3-     the belief that leaving the church (apostasy) is the worst of all sins and is unpardonable
4-     the belief that family bonds are of ultimate value, can only be preserved through temple sealing, and are surely shattered when a member leaves the church.
5-      the belief that we are saved through our performance and adherence to commandments/rules (such as the word of wisdom, temple rituals, obeying the sabbath, etc)
6-     the belief that men (us mere mortals) can be ordained by God to sit in judgment on one another
7-      the belief that God loves us conditionally (Mormons in turn love themselves and others conditionally)
8-      the belief that the LDS church is the only true church and that all other denominations are “an abomination in the sight of God” (words of Joseph Smith).
9-      the belief that the best angle to investigate the church is from the church, itself (to me, this is akin to asking a homeowner to do his/her own home inspection for a home buyer – no one in their right mind would do this due to obvious bias)
10-  the belief that drinking a cup of coffee or having a glass of wine are indicators by which you judge character.

There are many others, but these are the ones that come to mind now. The list above is ample excuse for the TBM (True Believing Mormon) to sit in judgment on a former member of the church and shun them. The church not only emboldens members to avoid ex-Mormons, it expects them to (refer to temple worthiness interview questions). These beliefs give the member ample reason to resent, fear, avoid, withhold love, and judge not only those who leave the church, but also those who do not strictly adhere to the Mormon party line.

Does this sound like a church of God? I don’t think so.

 
As I celebrate my 2 year anniversary of my resignation from the LDS church, I find myself increasingly in a place of peace with myself, the world around me and God. Looking back, I can see now how God prepared me for the transition that I went through 2 years ago. Being placed in a calling which I believed held great responsibility in my Stake was a catalyst not only for me to strengthen my own testimony, but to humble myself before God and to go to a deeper level of honesty within myself.

Before opening my mind to investigate my own shelved doubts and the church, I had spent many months in prayer, turning myself completely over to God. I placed myself completely in his hands and trusted him to deliver me into a closer relationship with Him. At the time, I fully expected my testimony of the LDS church to deepen, and it came as quite an unexpected surprise to uncover the errors of LDS theology. I had expected to come out of the process with greater commitment to obey all of God’s commandments (according to LDS theology). As was my spiritual progression up to that point, I fully expected this next step to take me into a deeper, more complex and more stringent understanding and adherence to the gospel.

What happened was quite the opposite. My position of humility and reaching out to God, instead took me to a place of simplicity: a place of communion with God. I came to understand the true meaning of Grace. I came to understand that salvation was simply a matter of releasing all that I’d been taught to cling to and to accept Christ’s unconditional gift of salvation.

More than anything, my journey has led me to a place of letting go. Fortunately, nearly at the same moment of my de-conversion from Mormonism, I was converted to a full understanding of God’s love for me. It was an amazing process which is still difficult for me to put into words. At that moment 2 years ago, I was filled with the love of God. It filled me up like an unquenchable fire. The most amazing thing is: it still burns just as brightly within me today as it did that day 2 years ago. I never dreamed that I could feel like this.

As time goes on, I feel increasingly disaffected from the world. I still see and feel what goes on around me, but my focus is so different now. I feel completely loved and accepted by God. Nothing can take that away from me. Bad stuff happens in the world. Relationships can cause us distress, but nothing compares to my perfect relationship with God. In this state, I no longer feel the need to judge myself or others. I finally understand what unconditional love is all about. I feel it from God. I feel it for myself and I feel it for others. It is a joyous freedom I never glimpsed as a Mormon. The fire that burns within me now drives me to reach out to others: to meet their reaching and help them as they investigate the church. I find great joy in this.

As a Mormon, I never really felt like I was enough. Never enough to be completely loved by God or anyone, for that matter. I think many Mormons struggle with feelings of inadequacy. Why? I believe that the more legalism that is involved in a religion, or rules and compliance expected of  followers, the more difficult it is to feel as if one has ‘arrived’. Salvation is always out of reach. One’s job is never complete. Even at death, as taught in Mormonism, we only enter into a new life of further work and earning of our salvation. Inherently, the culture instills a sense of futility and unworthiness. Reaching perfection is something often spoken of, but forever out of reach.

My views of institutionalized religion have evolved over the last 2 years. At first, I felt the need to ‘belong’ to another church. I searched high and low for a church where I felt comfortable and a church which was as basic a Christian church as I could find. I did find one, and I still attend occasionally. However, I no longer feel compelled to attend. As the remnants of Mormon belief have worked their way out of my system, I’ve come to focus less on my actions and more on my relationship with God. I believe it is good to assemble together with other believers. I enjoy it very much, but I do not feel that doing so is necessary for my salvation.

In a nutshell, I believe that relationship with God is a personal thing, not anything a religion can give you. I think that God’s truth is simple and the more man is involved (religion), the more complicated and distant from God’s purposes we tend to get. Mormonism was founded by a man, complicated by more men, and I believe, has taken its follows far from a relationship with God.

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