We know it’s been an eventful, and uncertain, and even scary couple of weeks for everybody. We’ve been grappling with our “new normal,” just like everyone else, and have been feeling the anxiety, uncertainty, and isolation that we know a lot of people are.
We asked Thomas McConkie to come on the podcast and share the way he’s thinking about what’s been happening; Thomas always seems to have an ability to find the calm in the middle of a storm, and we think everyone that takes a moment to listen will really benefit from what he shares. As we spoke with him, he really helped us gain some insights that we think are transcendent but also practical.
Thomas is continuing his community mindfulness practice at Lower Lights School of Wisdom, which normally meets in person but has moved online — you can see the upcoming event dates at lowerlightswisdom.org.
He’ll also be starting the upcoming season of his podcast, Mindfulness+, a bit early in light of our current situation, and is anticipating releasing his first episode on Wednesday, April 1, so make sure to go subscribe if you’re interested in hearing more insights from Thomas.
Lower Lights: https://lowerlightswisdom.org/
Aubrey Chaves: Hi, everybody, this is Aubrey Chaves from Faith Matters. We know it’s been an eventful and uncertain and even scary couple of weeks for everybody. We’ve been grappling with our new normal just like everybody else and I’ve been feeling the anxiety and isolation that we know a lot of people are. We asked Thomas McConkie to come on the podcast and share the way that he’s been thinking about what’s happening.
Thomas always seems to have an ability to find calm in the middle of a storm and we think that everybody that takes a moment to listen will really benefit from what he shares. As we spoke with him, he really helped us gain some insights that we think are transcendent but also practical.
We also wanted to highlight that Thomas is continuing his community mindfulness practice at Lower Lights School of Wisdom which normally meets in person but has moved online. You can see the upcoming event dates at lowerlightswisdom.org.
He’ll also be starting the upcoming season of his podcast Mindfulness+ a bit early in light of our current situation and is anticipating releasing his first episode on Wednesday, April 1, so make sure to go subscribe if you’re interested in hearing more insights from Thomas. We hope you enjoy this episode.
Tim Chaves: Thomas, thank you so much for joining us today. I think this is timely. I know that in the world right now as we’re experiencing it, there is a lot of a lot of anxiety, a lot of worry, even fear. People are dealing with feelings of isolation and in our experiences with you, we’ve always found you to be able to offer great insights that, at least in our case, have been able to bring us a certain amount of peace and even the direct meditation practices that we’ve done with you had a very calming effect. We felt like it would be great to bring you back on the podcast today and just talk through some of the things that we are feeling and we think are being felt broadly. Thank you so much as always for being here.
Thomas McConkie: Yeah, happy to be here. Thanks for having me back on both of you, of course.
Aubrey Chaves: Thanks. It occurred to me this morning… Actually, I was thinking about this conversation and I remembered hearing you talk about the metaphor of an alembic and I was like, “Oh, man, that is our life right now.” I remember hearing that before and feeling like that really resonated with me and the random daily stresses that would pop up. But now I feel that heat and that pressure and I thought maybe that would be a good place to start this conversation if you could just introduce the listeners to the alembic for anyone who’s never heard of that before.
Thomas McConkie: We’re off to a good start. I love any conversation that involves alembic. Alembic, it’s an Arabic word, but it’s used in the Western hermetic tradition specifically related to alchemy. In pre-modern times, especially people related to alchemy is a literal science of transmuting lead into gold. Fewer people relate to alchemy that way in modern and postmodern times. But if you mine the tradition for wisdom and you look at the patterns and the revelations, if you will, that flow through that particular tradition. Thinkers like Carl Jung, for instance, they recognize, “Wait a minute. There’s something subtle happening here. There’s a metaphorical transmutation of lead into gold.”
The new relationship to alembic, we could say, in modern times is what is the crucible of life within which we live and how does the tremendous heat and pressure lead to our own transmutation or in an LDS context, it would be our divinization, our celestialization, and so on, sanctification.
We have words for it, but it’s a beautiful metaphor to make. It’s so visceral especially love in the time of COVID-19. We just feel like we’re in a pressure cooker. There’s something really vivid about the metaphor of an alembic mixing all of these elements, adding heat, and smelting out the impurities.
I’d say since you teed us up, which I’m happy you did, the question becomes how can we use this alembic? How can we get our cook on in a way that smelts out our own impurities? That’s a painful question often asked, but here we are by necessity asking.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. I think that especially resonates with me now because I have this idea, the anxiety and uncertainty is bad, that it’s inherently bad. I want to resist that and find assurances that the worst won’t happen. This metaphor of the alembic feels like it’s turning that totally upside down. It’s this idea that’s actually what I need that it’s good like I can sit with the uncertainty and those base metals will be transmuted to gold. It changes everything. It makes it feel like I can sit with the pressure a little longer because it’s not actually going to kill me.
Thomas McConkie: Beautiful. If I were to imagine Christ on the cross… This is my own imagination so take it with a grain of salt and see what relates to you, but if I were to imagine Christ on the cross in His glory but also in His humanity, I personally imagine he had an awareness, maybe even a gratitude for the pain he was feeling in that moment. Because to an awakened mind and heart such as Christ, there’s a recognition that pain is not just meaningless happening to random beings in a random universe, but pain actually makes something deeper possible. We see that in Christ’s life.
The expression through the Christian tradition of, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” The deep willingness that comes from the depths of Christ’s spirit and soul when he says that. To me, it’s a bit of a blueprint to how we can relate to pain and discomfort in our lives. Anxiety, depression, everything else, you name that we haven’t named. These are modern examples of pain that we’re asked to endure and I noticed when I relate to anxiety in a way like, “Oh, I’m anxious. How do I do something to get unanxious?” That leads down a particular path and we can talk more about it. It’s not a bad path. But if it’s the only path I have, every time I feel anxious, I have to scramble to not feel anxious.
We realized that we’re in a particular kind of hell and the way T. S. Eliot describes it in The Waste Land, I won’t quote the whole line that’s maybe too literary, but he describes how it was a place where we can neither stand nor lie nor sit. No matter what we do, it’s not okay. That is the wasteland of humanity that is samsara of Buddhism, that is the fallen world of Christianity. We know it well and we’re learning it. We’re exposed to it in this situation in a new way where we used to have 100 tricks to not feel whatever we’re feeling and now maybe we have three or four. Even those tricks are kind of wearing on us and not even those are working. There’s an alembic cooking us here, metaphorically.
If we can tap into our own willingness to experience the experience God offers us to live, through that willingness, what I find is we naturally fall into a gratitude of what this pain and discomfort are making possible.
Tim Chaves: When I hear you talk about this, I’m imagining a diverging path and this part of the path, in the first part before it’s diverged, to me, is the portion that has been thrust upon us, the challenges that we’ve been presented with and then something is going to cause us to either go down one side where it does end up being a force for transmutation or divinization or whatever you want to call it.
And then the other path is one that you could very easily go down, I think, that leads to more just embitterment or resentment, those kinds of things. What would you say lies at that intersection? What’s the hinge that gets… You’ve talked a little bit about this, but is it just words like willingness and acceptance and awareness that they get you on that path that we’d like to be on?
Thomas McConkie: It’s a beautiful question. These days, for better or for worse, I find the most honest answer is usually I don’t know. In this moment, it happened. Actually, I don’t know what allows it. But what’s in my heart, when you ask it, is faith. When you were describing that fork in the road, what came up in my response spontaneously was faith. What that means to me is a faith in the way things are, a faith in the fundamental goodness of God and life, and if we live in faith, we live as an expression of faith.
In a given moment, we feel really anxious or we feel like we’re crawling up the walls because the kids are all on top of us and… How long is it this quarantine? Is it a week more? Is it a year more? But if we fall back into a profound faith and like, “Oh, this anxiety is purifying. This anxiety I’m feeling right now is sanctifying.” That’s a real leap of faith because it would be just as reasonable to say like, “I’m going to pull my hair out and I’m going to go crazy, and I can’t make it.” That would be a reasonable thing to say. That exercise of faith and the goodness of every last thing we’re feeling and the faith that these experiences are consecrated for our good, if you heard that line. That’s a good line.
Aubrey Chaves: One of my favorite lines from Navigating a Mormon Faith Crisis is a totally different context, a different type of anxiety that you’re talking about, but you wrote something about what can this current disorienting dilemma point to, what kind of new faith does this point to, and what in me is dying and what in me is being resurrected, and that’s played over and over. Why this hurts? Because something in me is dying. Those things that I’m attached to are falling away and that’s a really painful experience, but it’s not bad for me. I need to let those things go.
Thomas McConkie: Yeah, absolutely. It’s how we grow and it’s how we transform. The most transformative experiences not always but are often the most painful ones in my experience. Joy is transformative in its own right and there’s something about pain that’s a sacrament in human life.
Aubrey Chaves: I’m curious… For those living in the Salt Lake area, we had an earthquake in the middle of all of this COVID-19 on the 18th of March and I remember I talked to my sister that day and she lives a little closer to the epicenter and she said, “I was shaking. I was shaking until like 2:00 in the afternoon.” I wonder if you could talk about what you do when… I think a lot of people are experiencing these really acute feelings of anxiety.
There’s this general collective uneasiness but then I think a lot of people are going to have these experiences where very suddenly something goes wrong. You find out that you’re being laid off or you find out that you’re sick or someone you love is sick, or there’s an earthquake. Could you give us some really practical ideas for how to feel peace when it is in your body, when you’re not very aware and you could just feel your whole self succumbing to this feeling of being out of control and being anxious and it’s the hell you described. There’s nothing you could do. When you’re just in there, how do you pull yourself back and remember it’s okay to feel afraid and uncertain and get back into that place of finding peace somehow in the discomfort?
Thomas McConkie: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a great question. It so happens that I don’t know is not the response that’s coming up right now actually. Hopefully, an intelligent response to that. I don’t know what kind of podcast this seemed to you. I don’t know. Good luck with that anxiety.
First, I want to pick up a passage from a book. This is a book by Kabir Helminski. He’s regarded as a master in the Sufi tradition from Islam. He writes something that’s really important here and then I’ll get into a more direct answer or response to your question.
In this passage, Helminski is a lovely writer and a lovely person. He’s talking about how essentially ideas can’t save us. Ideas can help us open up to new possibilities. True principles and ideas can help us perceive the world and ourselves more as they are. But an idea isn’t enough. Something deep has to transform in us. I guess to drop down into the body and the very heart of who we are. That’s the context here.
He says, “Ideas are really helpful and they can open us up to new perception but they’re not enough.” And he goes on to say, “Eventually those ideas that support the experience of unity and presence.” In unity and presence think when Christ says, “I and the Father are one.” That’s a classical Christian statement in scripture on unity. We are the light and through all things. We’re made up of the same stuff as the eternal God.
These ideas that support the perception of unity, they can deepen and refine our capacity for that perception over time. But the ideas aren’t enough. And then this is what he writes that really struck me. It felt like a very beautiful and humble thing to write. He says, “Imagine if these words of Jesus were to become a reality. Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” That’s Matthew 6.
But that sentence leading into the scripture, he says, “Imagine if these words of Jesus were to become our reality.” I’m struck by that humility. This is a Sufi master who tens of thousands of people look to for wisdom and it doesn’t feel like a false humility when he writes what if this were our reality acknowledging that this is not my reality. There are times when I’m pulled into anxious mind, seeking mind, into doubt, into despair, but what if this were our reality.
I love this because Helminski is just acknowledging as a human being like ourselves that we all have been exposed to beautiful truths and beautiful ideas. Is it our moment to moment reality? When my house felt like it was going to fall over at 7:09 AM on March 18, my first thought was not, “Heavenly Father loves me.” That was not my reality. My reality was some expletive that I’m not going to say on the podcast. It was like, “Oh, quarantine, and I’m going to be homeless in five minutes.” It was full body panic. What does that mean to be in quarantine and homeless and it’s cold outside? I had 100 thoughts in five seconds. That was my lived reality.
To just help all of us, the three of us talking right now, but those of us listening in the conversation should just cut ourselves a break and acknowledge that, “Yeah, we know beautiful truths through revelation, through scripture, through the guidance of our Prophet and leaders and so forth, the wisdom of our grandmothers. We haven’t lived into those truths yet. We haven’t.”
Back to the alembic, this cook that’s happening right now… In my experience, this is the way God prepares human beings for eternity. God’s got to cook it out of us. Everything that’s not divine and transfigured, God’s got to cook it out of us. I actually find a tremendous amount of comfort and peace in that like, “Oh, it’s okay that I’m still human and I still freak out.” I’m a mindfulness teacher and I freaked out when the earthquake came. It’s a relief that we can still be human but it also points us to this reality that something, in my experience, often deeply graceful and merciful is also happening. That’s the framework. That’s the setup to the question.
Tim, I don’t know if you had something but then I got a little exercise for us.
Aubrey Chaves: Oh, let’s do it.
Tim Chaves: [crosstalk 00:18:26].
Thomas McConkie: I won’t forget it. Don’t worry.
Tim Chaves: No. I was going to ask… There’s this idea that we can suffer and that suffering is an important part of the mortal experience and it’s something that regardless of how mindful we may become is always going to be part of our experience.
Richard Rohr likes to say that great suffering leads to great love and he sees it as this transformative experience. There are many different frameworks. I know you’re familiar and even professionally work with certain adult development frameworks, but are there some specific frameworks that come to mind that say in some way that a great amount of suffering… Are we saying maybe it’s just this general difficulty that we’re going through? Maybe it is more acute for some people. What do those traditions or frameworks have to say about where this really could lead?
Thomas McConkie: I want to really understand your question. So let me feed it back to you. I hear you asking whatever tradition we’re drawing from, whatever meaning we’re making of it, is there something they point to in terms of the opportunity to work with suffering in a way that’s transformative? Is that…
Tim Chaves: Exactly.
Thomas McConkie: Yeah, for sure. In Richard Rohr’s statement, I feel that implicitly maybe in the longer passage that that quote is drawn from. It says this explicitly but I imagine somewhere in there is an intention for conscious suffering. There’s suffering which we all do. Not all of us suffer consciously or the way I phrased it a moment ago suffer with a sense of deep face, like this suffering is consecrated. It’s a sacrament that I’m offered to take this into me fully.
What I’m really struck by… I have studied deeply in the Buddhist tradition for years and I’m really struck at how resonant the insight in Buddhism is to Christianity. We talked about Christ’s willingness to take on the form of a slave and suffer in Christianity. In Buddhism, it’s phrased as a kind of not willingness, but an equanimity and openness to the rising and passing of experience. I could talk more about it, but they’re remarkably similar.
In response to your question, my sense is that the wisdom traditions, they’ve noted in their own way, that suffering exists and that it’s not the quantity of suffering that matters so much as our attitude, our relationship to the suffering that can be spiritually transformative and catalytic.
That’s really good news. It means it depends on us. It means like, “Yeah, I was relieved that the earthquake didn’t bring my house down. But had it brought my house down and it still could.” We’re still in after quake land here in Salt Lake then I have an opportunity. I have a choice of how I’m going to relate to that. If it’s like a contraction and a despair and a rage, “Why me?” that’s a particular quality of suffering and if it’s a quality of this too is consecrated for my goods, there’s that path.
Whatever words we use to describe the path, I sense there’s something deeply common in our humanity and we know from our own experience what it’s like to open up to the grace of change and what it’s like to shake our fists and beat our chests and rend our garments and all that biblical stuff. We know what that feels like too.
In that spirit, I’d love to just offer like a 1,2,3,4 and hopefully you find this exercise really helpful. I know I have over the years and you can come back to it often as the heat turns up in the alembic as the quarantine draws on.
Let’s start with just acknowledging how much anxiety and uncertainty we feel. Just to evoke the spirit of that, let’s start with we don’t know how long we’re going to be quarantined. We don’t know how many people are going to die even after the first wave of this virus. We don’t know if there’s a COVID-20 around the corner that’s even more lethal. This is starting to get intense already. I’m about to stop with my… I don’t know because I’m [inaudible 00:23:40] but maybe just for good measure, we don’t know how profoundly this global health crisis is going to affect our finances. We don’t know if the people closest to us are going to make it out.
A lot of things we don’t know right now and I don’t know is the recipe for anxiety in a human being. If we look at ourselves from a biological point of view, the body wants to be comfortable and the mind wants answers and whenever the body is not comfortable, it’s cold, it’s hungry, it’s in a strange place, anxiety. And whenever the mind is confused and its normal reference points are stripped away from it, anxiety.
Anxiety is a powerful thing. It’s a gift you could say of our humanity because it mobilizes energy towards solution. There are times when it’s very skillful to being anxious and that anxiety mobilizes us to move towards a better situation. “I’m anxious about being hungry, I’m going to go find food.” that energy is going to keep me vigilant and on task and [inaudible 00:24:50] and I can relax. There are times it’s profoundly skillful.
And then I would say there are times like, let’s go back to the earthquake Tuesday morning. Was it Tuesday? It was the 18th. I think it was a Tuesday, March 18, at 7:15, no, it was still skillful to worry then because Glo and I, my wife and I, we started throwing together an emergency preparedness kit, packing day bags, throwing it in the trunk. We scrambled for a while.
Okay, we read up online, “There’s a 5% chance in the next seven days there’s going to be an even bigger earthquake.” That’s way too high for comfort. There’s a 17% chance there’s going to be another earthquake that size. We got informed. We made preparations as best we could and then by 3:00 in the afternoon, now we hurry up and wait. But I’m still feeling really, really anxious.
This is the cues where the practice starts and I’ll invite us into it momentarily. At that point, when we’ve done everything, reading the news again and scouring the internet and obsessing about, “Did I get every last thing…” Watching my walls to see if they’re shaking. That’s corrosive to me. That anxiety is going to eat a hole in my body and it’s going to rob me of any peace, of any faith in the way things are. I’m in that hell realm where I’m just not okay, no matter what happens, I’m not okay.
We have to learn to really differentiate between anxiety that signals danger and anxiety that doesn’t signal danger because our bodies are wired to feel anxious no matter what and that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a clear indicator that, “Yeah, I’ve got to do something or not.” Does that make sense?
Tim Chaves: Yeah.
Aubrey Chaves: Totally.
Thomas McConkie: Let’s jump into it. There’s a lot of things we don’t know and that causes a lot of anxiety. Take a moment to just open up to everything you don’t know right now. Think about the most disturbing things, just for a moment, keep your hand on the faucet, so to speak. You can crank up the anxiety if you want if you’re feeling like gifting yourself with more anxiety or just a little bit, but just as an exercise, think about the things that are most disturbing to you right now in life, whatever those are, and I’ll just give you a second.
Just so you can follow along in my adventure, the first thing that comes to mind is my wife just hit her third trimester today and we don’t know what the impact would be on the baby if Glo got sick in the next three months. That’s significant anxiety for me.
Once you have contact with some anxiety, the next step is to really bring all of your attention to it in the body. Just notice where anxiety is coming up in the body. How do you know you’re anxious? Something’s happening in the body where you know you’re anxious. Just allow your attention to move there and notice the quality of anxiety. In other words, notice the physical sensations associated with anxiety. For example, I feel a kind of pit in my chest. I feel a slight tightening of my throat.
As you do this, as you describe the sensations to yourself, take care to not include any emotions, not any stories or interpretations about what it means just strictly physical sensation. I feel a heat in my chest. I feel a clenched jaw. Strictly physical sensation and once you’ve really described the sensations objectively, no emotion, no interpretation, just sensation, then ask yourself on a scale of zero to 10, how intense the sensations are physically. Zero means undetectable, there’s nothing there. Ten means off the charts, you’re freaking out, full on meltdown. Just notice, how much anxiety, how much sensation is present.
For me in this moment, it’s somewhere between a two and a three. It’s there. It’s uncomfortable, I don’t like it. But I don’t feel like I’m going to die. Maybe yours is higher, maybe it’s lower. Just notice. This process helps us name and tame, to wrap our heads around what’s happening in the body.
And the next step, and this is a really important step and this is what helps us really differentiate between life threatening and just normal human anxiety, this next step is to ask yourself the question really honestly, is there evidence in my direct experience right now that I’m in physical danger? Is there actual evidence that I’m in harm’s way right now?
For example, that constricting around the throat is it so constrictive that I’m going to suffocate and I need to call a paramedic? No. So uncomfortable, but no.
What about the heat in my chest? Is it so hot that it’s going to disrupt my heartbeat and I’m going to go into cardiac arrest? No, that’s silly. I’m fine, but I’m really uncomfortable.
Notice, this is really important if there were an earthquake happening right now if I’m anxious and I can see the wall shifting it’s like, “Yeah, there’s a lot of evidence I’m in danger.” This question isn’t just a throw. It’s not always a no, but it’s informative because it’s usually a no, 99.9% of the time in modern life, we feel a lot of intensity in the body, but it’s not a signal that we’re actually in physical danger and so we use our mind to clarify that fact.
Having gotten really clear, okay, I feel disturbance in my body. I feel uncomfortable sensation. But I also feel totally certain that it’s not signaling to me that there’s danger in my environment. Okay, so there’s no danger. It means I can commit even more to the sensation. I can go even deeper and this is counter instinctual because everything about me wants to not feel it. I want to do something to make it go away. But I already realized that there’s no danger in the environment so there’s nothing to do. There’s nothing to do but feel it a little bit more apparently.
I’m just going to commit to actually feeling the intensity. You can just stay with that for a moment and just feel the cook of the alembic here. This is the cook that smelts out the draught.
The next step, one declaration we can make that is actually surprising but powerful. We can declare to ourselves or we can declare out loud from the rooftops if we want, but I commit to feeling this way on and off the rest of my life. This is crazy because to the animal body it’s like, “No, I don’t want to feel this way ever again.” But we already established we’re not in danger so it’s okay if we feel this way on and off for the rest of our lives, because it’s not dangerous.
What we find then is one of two basic possibilities, we either feel profound relief because it’s like, “Oh, it seemed like a problem, but I guess this will just come and go as long as I’m a live and bodied sensitive being. I’m going to feel this way from time to and that’s totally okay.” Notice, just like that we’ve gone from the whole realm of, “I’m not okay and it’s not okay,” to, “Oh, I guess I can feel this way on and off for the rest of my life and it’s okay.” This is a profound shift. It’s like a neuro hack. We use our mind to clarify the true experience of the body and we come to new place. It’s like, “Oh, I’m disturbed. I’m uncomfortable, and I’m deeply okay. That’s surprising.”
The other possibility is that I am deeply committed to my fantasy that one day I’ll never be disturbed again. So I commit to feeling this way on and off the rest of my life and I feel like really devastated like, “Really? On and off for the rest of my life? That sounds awful.” But if we examine that, we realize, “Oh, I’m actually hanging on to this fantasy. I was born into a human body to be comfortable and to never be disturbed.” But we know from the depths of wisdom in our own tradition that we are born into a physical body precisely to be disturbed and to endure pain and trials and tribulation and to consecrate those.
If you commit to feeling your disturbance on and off and feel really bummed out, it’s like, “Oh, crap, this is an awful exercise. I can’t believe I tuned into Faith Matters today.” You can realize like, “That indicates that I’m invested in a fantasy that human life should be really comfortable all the time.” Even that is its own grace, where it’s like, “Oh, actually, when I say that out loud, that sounds crazy but I know I’m not supposed to be comfortable all the time. I commit to feeling disturbed on and off the rest of my life.” “Oh, that actually feels a little better that time.”
That’s the therapeutic version, but if we were to add a religious layer to it which I quite like to do, it’s after making sure we’re not in harm’s way, but committing to our mortal experience more fully in this moment. It’s something like a declaration that I have faith that even this is consecrated for my own good and see what that feels like. When you’re disturbed and you’re anxious, when you can neither stand nor lie nor sit in this world and you escape not from the body, but you escaped into the body and you allow yourself to be thoroughly disturbed and you declared yourself I have faith that even this is already consecrated for my own gain.
When I do that, in this moment, I feel a profound love and care for who I am and who I’m becoming. I’m aware that there’s nothing I can experience on this body that is separate from that grace. That’s a little bit of how we cook in the alembic.
Aubrey Chaves: Thank you so much. Nothing feels ironically safer than being able to face the deepest fear, the worst.
Thomas McConkie: Exactly.
Aubrey Chaves: Just look at it and accept it. It’s amazing.
Thomas McConkie: What you said is profoundly wise. We think that manipulating the conditions of our life endlessly neurotically is what’s going to make us feel safe but that actually just reinforces our doubt that things aren’t okay and then I need to run around and fix them. But what you just said is exactly that opposite mind. To me, it’s starting to approximate the mind of Christ where we realize, “Oh, nothing could be safer than to just be here in the present moment and accepting of what my life is.” We learned this from a person who was nailed to a cross in His early 30s. Life doesn’t get much worse.
Tim Chaves: Yeah. I love the word fantasy that you used in there. We have a potential fantasy that we’ll never have to feel like this again. I think there are all types of fantasies that we enjoy not just that we’ll experience peace for the rest of our lives, but that we’ll be healthy or that we’ll be wealthy or that we’ll achieve certain things or that we’ll have many years with our loved ones. Those stories that we write for ourselves often we have no true control over.
Thomas McConkie: Absolutely.
Tim Chaves: I love applying that exercise that you went through, not just to the idea that we could have peace but to any of the stories that we’ve written about ourselves that we so want to hold on to.
Thomas McConkie: Beautifully said. Absolutely.
Aubrey Chaves: Okay. Is there anything else on this? I can’t imagine… I feel like I just need to go sit with this and think about this daily. If I woke up with that practice, if that’s what I did in the morning, I feel like everything would feel different. This is exactly the opposite of what I do naturally. I try not to think about it or I try to reassure myself that there are five reasons why the worst won’t happen and it feels so freeing to the opposite, to feel the thing I’m afraid to feel and accept the thing I’m afraid will happen that it could happen and just… I want to sit in that peace every day. If that’s how we started the day, I think this quarantine could be a gift.
Thomas McConkie: Yeah, absolutely. I hope that’s what this whole conversation and meditation brings us to is how do we really relate to the quarantine as a gift from the perspective of natural man, natural woman. It’s just endlessly maddening trying to keep it all together. How do I just keep it all together and get through this. But if we reorient like we have been in this conversation and both of you gave voice to this so beautifully, but as we start to open up to the Christ life that desires to be born within us and express through us, there are no more conditions to control. There’s nothing else to do but just live the blessing of the grace of God prepares. That can sound a really glib, obnoxious thing to say if you say it to the wrong person at the wrong time, but it’s the gospel we yearn for.
Aubrey Chaves: That’s the gold, right? That’s what it’s transmuted into just this release of needing to control anything and that’s the transcendent faith.
Thomas McConkie: Totally. Notice, we’ve been on a little journey here on the podcast. If we just rest in ourselves for a moment because you just named what I was feeling already. Here’s the gold. Here’s the alchemy. This is the life of Christ living through us and rising within us. What does it feel to just rest in ourselves for a moment now knowing that absolutely every last aspect of this experience in this moment is okay and that it’s consecrated, that it’s gilded. Just rest in it for a moment.
Thomas McConkie: It’s my hope that all of humanity as best we can working through this smelting process, it’s painful, I’ve felt tremendous pain myself. I know others are as well.
Tim Chaves: Thomas, could you just really quickly before we let you go talk about what you’re doing at Lower Lights for people that may want more of this or may just need more human contact or community?
Thomas McConkie: I’d be happy to. One thing I want to say, it’s felt important not to… oh, and I’m recognizing the irony of this as I said, it’s felt important not to immediately shift all of Lower Lights activity to Zoom like the online offerings because I think I’d been in quarantine one day where I read some article I can’t remember, it’s The New York Times. It’s like, “Humanity is learning to live online.” I’m like, “Really? It’s been less than 24 hours. Now we need to live online.”
This conversation to me has been a testament of, “Okay, yeah, live online and connect to the people you love and be generous with yourself and the resources and don’t let this crisis go to waste.” Let’s notice the pain of isolation. Let’s concentrate that to… That said, Lower Lights, we have three offerings a month for the last few years and they’re gatherings that now are online and people can call into them.
You can read about them on lowerlightswisdom.org and there are meditative processes similar… It’s in the spirit of the practice we just did. It’s less about bringing up new ideas and it’s more about how do we embody these truths and really become them and live them and manifest them. That happens three times a month right now and people can check that out online. I also decided I’m going to boot up the podcasts a little early this year. I’m just going to… Because it doesn’t make sense to do anything else I’m just going to start with the COVID-19 season.
Aubrey Chaves: That’s so great.
Thomas McConkie: I think those will be released starting next Wednesday. There’ll be a little bit of a practice people can work with and then place to meet where we can go over the practices together and just be in presence in the community. That’s pretty much what’s happening in Lower Lights these days.
Tim Chaves: Thomas, that was really just so wonderful. Thank you.
Thomas McConkie: I appreciate you guys. Thanks for having a conversation with me.
Aubrey Chaves: Thank you.
Aubrey Chaves: Thanks so much for listening and thank you especially to Thomas for coming on. We found this conversation to be so healing and helpful for us and we hope that you did too. Again, please check out more of what Thomas is doing at lowerlightswisdom.org and at the Mindfulness+ podcast. We hope everybody is staying healthy and safe and as always, you can check out more at faithmatters.org.