Deseret Book recently published a remarkable book titled: The Power of Stillness: Mindful Living for Latter-day Saints. Mindfulness practices like meditation have become central to an emerging spirituality in the broader world. Latter-day Saints are busy people; we’re doers. Our lives and our faith seem to keep us constantly in motion. But our souls yearn for stillness. This book explores how to infuse our daily lives and our spiritual and religious practices with a quality of mindfulness.
We think this is an incredibly important book. So we invited one of its authors, Ty Mansfield, to explore this topic with us at a gathering in February. He was wonderful, so we decided to share it with you. Ty is a marriage and family therapist at the Marital Intimacy Group and teaches at Brigham Young University. We hope you enjoy this episode.
Aubrey Chaves: Hi, and welcome to the Faith Matters podcast. This is Aubrey Chaves. Deseret Book recently published a remarkable book called The Power of Stillness: Mindful Living for Latter-Day Saints. Mindfulness practices like meditation have become central to an emerging spirituality in the broader world. Latter-day Saints are busy people, we’re doers. Our lives and our faith seem to keep us constantly in motion, but our souls yearn for stillness.
This book explores how to infuse our daily lives and our spiritual and religious practices with a quality of mindfulness. We think this is an incredibly important book, so we invited one of its authors, Ty Mansfield, to explore this topic with us at a gathering in February. He was so wonderful, we decided to share it with you.
Ty is a marriage and family therapist at the Marital Intimacy Group and teaches at Brigham Young University. We hope you enjoy this episode.
Ty Mansfield: So, thank you for coming. I feel very much like I’m very intimidated. This is a very intimidating group and I feel a little like I landed here accidentally. I don’t think I could have planned my life if I wanted to. And a lot of what I’ve come to especially this, kind of happened by accident, it was part of a larger God journey and a conflicted one. I’ll tell you a little bit about that story. But I think even just recently, when he said maybe six, so we have five children in this last summer. I started a practice of mindfulness and I’ll talk about how I got here and how a lot of this came together and where I think a lot of the intersections are with this broader conversation that’s happening with Latter-day Saint faith practice. But this last summer, for a long time I wanted to do, if you’ve ever heard of these sort of in depth, they have these seven day, 10 day in depth Vipassanā retreats is what they’re called, silent meditation retreats. Where you go and for seven days you don’t talk to anyone, you’re not supposed to look them in the eye, you sit in silence.
I was just telling Bill this last summer, I did a seven day silent retreat, and probably three days into just not talking and practicing stillness, I felt more me than I had in a really long time ago, I felt very centered. But in that moment, and most of the retreat was just practicing silence. But in that moment, I had a very strong spiritual impression that somebody is waiting and it’s time to invite them here. And so we don’t know when that person is coming. But I was telling Bill that story, so now it’s five almost six, someday six.
Audience: I’m not pregnant.
Ty Mansfield: And she’s not pregnant.
So to give you a little bit of my story at least as it relates to, I feel like my story is pretty multi-dimensional, but at least the part of my story that brings us here I graduated from BYU and in my undergrad was Chinese studies. I came back from my mission. I was electrical engineering and I think I had, I don’t know, I think I was trying to figure still out where I was supposed to go. But I had a really strong spiritual impression that I was to study Chinese studies.
And at the time, I was business minded and China had just entered the WTO. And I thought this is probably why, to intersect these worlds, the business world, the Asian world. And there was a lot of speculation around what China entering the global market would look like and what that would mean for business. And so I thought this was great.
I minored in business as opposed to majoring in business, I majored in Chinese studies and just spent a lot of time, I spent two summers in China. I remember never ever thinking that I would be here doing this. So it was either like international relations of some kind, business of some kind.
But I remember at one point, it was one of those moments that I just felt very impressed by, we were visiting… you visit different shrines and whatnot. And we visited a Buddhist monastery. I remember the gentleman that was leading us, I didn’t speak very good Chinese. And so there was a translator, but there was a kind of stillness and presence that was so palpable, I could feel it.
I remember wondering about this and wondering what he had that I didn’t. And in the context of, often as we think about in a Gospel of Latter-day Saint context, we have the truth, the dispensation of the fullness of times and where to take the message of Christ to all the world. And here was this very distinct moment where I felt that this person had something that I didn’t and I wanted it. But I had no context at that time for what that would look like or how you’d get that.
But the impression stayed with me for years. So finished, majored in Chinese studies, graduated from BYU, moved to Washington, DC, where by that point, by the time I graduated I was leaning more towards international relations. Washington DC is an international hub. It was a perfect place to be.
But while I was there, studying to take the Foreign Service exam, I had a really strong impression that I was to change course and go into mental health. And so from there, I did my graduate work, my master’s program in marriage and family therapy, and I did my doctorate in marriage and family therapy as well. And then I have a full-time practice in Provo, and then I teach part time at BYU.
But as part of that journey, as I was looking at programs and I was just listed, and I haven’t had a lot of these experiences in my life. I felt spiritual guidance at times, but there had been only a few times where something felt very, very clear and almost confusingly clear. I was just looking through a list of accredited programs and one of the accredited programs was a little school in the middle of West Texas called Abilene Christian University.
I never heard of Abilene. I never heard of the school. But it was as I was just looking at the names of these schools, I had a very again clear impression that this is where I would be going to graduate school. And again, not having any experiential context for what that would mean or where Abilene was or what kind of school it was, outside of it being an accredited school, I just decided to apply and pray that I was right. That I was interpreting this right or something.
Ty Mansfield: So I went down and as I was interviewing at the program, and this was… I was 28 years old at the time. I’d already been in the professional world for a little bit before I went back to school. I was feeling a little old and leftover in Mormon culture, 28 is not young.
But here I am being sent to West Texas where I had no idea what my future was going to look like.
Audience: You were single.
Ty Mansfield: I was single, and young adults don’t move to Abilene, they move away from Abilene. If they’re in the church.
And so, here I was in this space and when I went to the interview, one of the faculty members, and I actually reference her in the acknowledgments in the book. Because the first time I shook her hand, she had that same kind of presence that this Buddhist monk did.
I remember as soon as I shook her hand, it was like I had this moment of confirmation that this is where you’re supposed to be. I still didn’t know why. But she radiated this very centeredness, this kind of calmness, again, I certainly didn’t feel. I felt like I was doing well and I felt pretty basically solid in life, but I felt like again, this moment, she had something that I didn’t.
So there was a lot of things that happened. It wasn’t a clear trajectory. But as part of this, I found out she was very much involved in a Christian contemplative movement, Bill mentioned Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr. There’s a number of thinkers and writers in a movement that’s sort of a Christian iteration of a lot of Eastern, Buddhist or meditative contemplative practices.
So mindfulness, the word mindfulness comes from Eastern practice. On the Christian side of it, they typically just talk about it as contemplative practice. But there’s a lot of intersection, a lot of overlap. And in that movement, there’s a lot of conversation around mindfulness and the culture really because of, again, the Buddhist influence, and specifically some work that a prominent physician at University of Massachusetts, Jon Kabat-Zinn did, in mindfulness, integrating mindfulness into work with chronic pain patients, really began to revolutionize mental health about 30 or 40 years ago.
Ty Mansfield: But again, that’s where word mindfulness comes from. And again, it’s really become a catchphrase in our culture, or at least in the way that it’s used to be synonymous with meditation. But mindfulness is one kind of meditation. To say mindfulness or meditation is kind of like saying athletics, right? There’s lots of different kinds of athletics. There are a number of different sports. Mindfulness is one kind of meditation.
And it’s become very popular, one, because there are a lot of mental health benefits. But it’s also very accessible. And I remember the first time as I was turned on to this, his first book that he ever wrote about the work that he did at University of Massachusetts Medical School was called full catastrophe living. And that was something that I felt like I could sign up for, because my life felt crazy. It felt very busy. There was lots going on.
I thought there’s no way I’m going to be able to set aside lots of time to just sit in silence. But if this is something that you can do in a busy life, like sign me up, I want to figure out how I can do life better. And again, that’s been a lot of the appeal to a Western busy audience. Busyness almost becomes a kind of status in our culture right.
But interestingly enough, the Chinese character for busy means heart killer or to experience the death or loss of heart. And there is a very real way in which busyness numbs us. Busyness is associated with increases in anxiety, increases in depression. And the word mindfulness in Chinese means to bring the heart into the present.
Ty Mansfield: So in a lot of Eastern languages, Sanskrit, other Eastern languages, they really don’t differentiate between mind and heart, mind and heart are the same. So the word mindfulness could also be translated into a lot of languages, heartfulness. So the practice of mindfulness is really about being present with the fullness of our heart in every moment. I’ll share some definitions of what that looks like.
But in all of this, at one point I had… So I came across this teacher, I learned that she was really involved in this Christian contemplative movement, she’d come back at one point from a seven day silent retreat in a Christian contemplative tradition.
And I remember having a conversation with her after she had just gotten back from this retreat. And you could feel that the world felt a little jarring to her, like everything just seemed a little loud and overwhelming, after having been in this silent retreat. I remember talking to her about her experience, and thinking I want to do this someday. But the idea of sitting in silence for seven days was terrifying to me.
Ty Mansfield: But again, I was drawn to this idea-
Audience: Until we had kids. And he was like, let me go.
Ty Mansfield: And to have a wife who was willing to let me go for seven days while she stayed with five kids, you know you’ve married up. So she was very, very gracious about that.
So but at one point in this, I was specifically praying because I felt conflicted. I’m like, I felt very strongly that I was supposed to be there. But I had no idea why. Other than I could have gone to a lot of different schools but it was very lonely too. I was in a family ward. There was really no one my age.
In my program, I get along well with people in my program, but they were younger. And again, it was a Christian program, but people like to go drink and do karaoke on the weekends and that’s fun to watch maybe once. And so I just felt lonely a lot.
But in that I had, it was sort of a theme. It wasn’t really clear at first, but there started to be this oppression. My prayer was, why am I here? Why did you bring me here? I offered that prayer very often.
I started to just feel this phrase, came back to me again and again and it was to learn meaningful solitude. I want you to learn meaningful solitude. And ultimately the question came, can you be alone, but not be lonely? Can you be alone and feel full in me? And I didn’t know how to do that. I spent a lot of my life trying to be a good member of the church and trying to do the right things. But to just sit in silence with God and feel full in God, I really didn’t have any concept of that.
Ty Mansfield: So I began this intentional practice of mindfulness. And that was again in my master’s program. And then for my doctorate, I went up to Lubbock, which was just about a couple hours north. I did my doctorate at Texas Tech University, and they actually had a Buddhist sangha in Lubbock, Texas of all places. And so it’s just a Buddhist community that would gather to meditate.
So on Saturdays I would go, they would do these half day, silent meditation retreats where there was a Buddhist temple in that… It’s a tradition that’s associated with Theravāda Buddhism. But there was someone from the temple in Dallas, they had a big temple in Dallas, they would come and just guide us in the red and yellow robes that you often think of, as you’ve seen Buddhist monks.
And here was this person, again, who just radiated this kind of calmness and life and happiness and it was beautiful. I would relish in these moments on Saturdays when I would sit with these Buddhist practitioners and he would do a teaching and then we’d sit for usually 45 minutes, it’d be a couple sittings of 45 minutes each.
And in those moments of just sitting and slowing down, like I would find myself wandering into prayer. And the prayers that I wandered into in those moments were some of the most richest and clear prayers. Again, sometimes we get into these very transactional prayers in the way that we approach God. And prayer ends up being some kind of wish list and gratitude list and we make sure we cover all of our bases in what we are saying, but at least in the way that I had experienced prayer growing up, you just say your prayers and you continue to say your prayers. It wasn’t even really conversational, to say anything of transactional.
And so I remember just sitting there wandering into these prayers and feeling this kind of communion, kind of relationship. I think my relationship with God up to that point, even as a very strong believer, I’ve always been a very strong believer, I think my relationship felt probably a little more theological than actual relational.
And even my conceptions, I’d had some spiritual experiences before this of really feeling God’s love. But I think even up to those, my experience of God’s love until I had some more, again, mystical experiences with that, it was just theological. I believed that God loved me. And I trusted that. But I don’t know that I could say that I have felt it. I think the first time I really felt it in any real, tangible way I was, again, probably 26, 27 years old.
Ty Mansfield: And so in this, I spent the next four years and it was after that year, I met Danielle and she came with me to one of them, I think.
Audience: I did two.
Ty Mansfield: Do you remember, did you come to two?
Audience: I really liked it.
Ty Mansfield: But, again, I just felt and I would find myself wanting even in the temple, I would want to just sit in that open stance, right? And I remember even one time, but again, it felt like a little bit of colliding of worlds because it didn’t feel like inherently it should have been conflicting. Because just sitting in an open posture in a receptive, I want to receive God.
And I remember one time I was sitting in an initiatory, listening to the language. And the guy stopped, who was leading, because I was just sitting like this with my eyes closed and just open. And he stopped. And then it was long enough that I wondered what was going on. I opened my eyes and he was just looking at me confused. And he says, what are you doing? And I said, I’m just listening. And he just shook his head a little bit and then continued on, but it wasn’t a huge deal. But it was enough that like, he’s like this, I don’t understand, this is odd.
Audience: What are you doing?
Ty Mansfield: Just with my arms open.
But that was very meaningful to me. And it became a meaningful way to just listen and to receive the words of the initiatory and to contemplate on the words of the initiatory and the same thing in endowments. I started just doing this practice. And I didn’t know anybody else who was doing this.
And then at some point, I came across a blog started by Jacob Hess. This was before I had met Jacob, and he’s become a very good friend since then. But he had a blog called Mindfully Mormon. And a total side note, when we submitted the manuscript to Deseret Book, we submitted it on the Friday before the General Conference that Elder Nelson, President Nelson asked us to move past Mormon, right?
And so here at Deseret book, they’re like, we love the title, and even the proposed title, and then by Monday, it was like, we’re going to have to find a different title. Anyway, so hence, we have The Power of Stillness, as opposed to instead of Mindfully Mourning.
But he had this blog and so at least I had some kind of sense. There are other people out there who have come across these ideas. Now for me, it was an intersection of the mindfulness, really the mental health literature and I still, a lot of my practice is in a mental health context. But some of this experience and this Buddhist sangha in Dallas, I was getting a lot more of the Buddhist side of things. And there were a lot of things.
Ty Mansfield: My world and my heart is just very much, it’s restoration. And my thinking is very much Latter-day Saints and restoration. And so even though I was hearing a lot of things through a Buddhist lens, there was still a lot that was just resonating with me as truth. I loved those intersections and I loved those feelings. And I even started thinking then like, what would something look like? Is there a way to translate some of these ideas for an LDS audience?
Then I’d heard of Jacob and I really didn’t intersect with him until much later. But then, I’m sure most of you have heard of Thomas McConkie and some of the stuff that he had been doing and it just seemed like there were a growing number of people who were looking at this and exploring the intersections of contemplative practice, who were believing Latter-day Saints.
At one point it was like you started looking at Buddhism and you were kind of on the fringe and you were on the way out, right? People started, they were a little skeptical of your testimony. But again, there were a growing number of people who were very rooted in the faith, who were experiencing these as very rich.
Carrie Skarda, who’s one of the co-authors, she was going, she talks about this in the book, but she was going through a very painful divorce at one point and was just feeling like she was reeling and had a very specific spiritual experience to practice yoga. And so she started exploring yoga as a way to just ground and to center.
Ty Mansfield: So there was a lot of this and then eventually started coming into more personal relationship with individuals. Kim, of course, met Jacob. And then Jacob had this idea for a book and he had connections with Carrie and he had a connection with Kyle Anderson. So Carrie is also a psychologist and her coming across this first yoga and this spiritual experience. But then she uses a lot in her mental health practice, and she does day long workshops primarily for women, as an introduction to Latter-day Saint women for mindfulness in Alpine. And then Kyle Anderson is the head of a, he’s a core faculty in an Asian Studies program at Clemson right now.
And so again, that’s where the intersections happened for me in this, but I feel like that piece of just learning how to be in solitude with God has been one of the most impacting, one, impressions and ultimately spiritual practices for me, that I feel like has really transformed my spiritual life, and ultimately, my relationship with God. And one of the things that Jacob talks about this in the book a little bit, but he talks about this, he mentions this in the book, but he talks about it often, where his feeling is that a lot of people who are struggling with their faith, and there’s a lot of, most of people who have struggled with their faith, and maybe some of you in this room do.
But one of his feelings is that, it’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ that people are rejecting. It’s an impoverished experience. And I think sometimes our faith practice, sometimes our culture, and sometimes even getting lost in the busyness of institutional practice can actually overwhelm our ability to really be in relationship with God. And that’s where for me life has been.
And at one point, there’s a whole other intersecting less faith crisis and more existential crisis for me, came in, again, I had spent most of my life trying to be a good member of the church. But it wasn’t until I had this real existential crisis for me, and some spiritual experiences that happened there, that I felt the saving power of Christ. I remember just feeling overwhelmed in some of these experiences and the love and the grace and the mercy that I felt in some of these experiences.
Ty Mansfield: And after that, even though I’ve always been, again, a very strong believer, my frame changed for me. And even now, I don’t necessarily, my goal is not to be a good member of the church. It’s to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I believe in the church, and I believe in the church as a framework and as a scaffolding for that. But it’s these relational pieces. It’s experiencing Christ and it’s experiencing this relationship with God in solitude, that has been really transformative, most transformative for me.
There’s a Catholic thinker that I really like, his name is Henri Nouwen and this is part of where I wanted to go tonight and maybe drawing out some pieces of this that I think are very valuable for us. I think regardless of where people are in their faith journey, are really at the core of the gospel and I think get lost to some degree, and are really going to be beneficial to anyone at any point of their journey that they might be in.
But he said, he wrote a piece before he passed away called moving from solitude to community to ministry. And in this piece, he draws on this experience from the life of the Savior, where he goes into the mountain, communes with God in solitude. And then after that experience, comes down, surrounds himself in community with the apostles and then they together go out into ministry. And in this, he’s like, each of these three pieces are important, but the order in which they happen is also important.
And he says very often if we get them out of order, our relationships will also likely be disordered. If I move to community or before I experience God or I look for from community, that which only God can give me, I’m going to expect a lot more from people than they can realistically deliver. And so I have to let God be God first. And the more I can be in relationship with God first, the more I can let people be people.
Ty Mansfield: And then we surround ourselves, as we experience fullness, as we experience relationship with God first, then we come out into community and then in community we reach out in ministry. And that to me has felt very transformational and very key.
But one piece of this that he said, actually, I’m going to go back for a second, because in all of this, I think even though some of this for some reason, well, for a lot of people, this is really new. And to some degree, it’s been a part of our tradition for a really long time. There’s a sense in which there are religious symbols, we have the sacred grove, which is a symbol of the restoration. And especially as we come up towards general conference with this being the bicentennial of the First Division.
We have that as one representation of the First Division, which is really about communion with God and solitude. And then we have the beehive, which is all about industry and creating and doing and community. And it seems like both of those are valuable and in all of this stuff that we’ve done to want to talk more about being, isn’t to take away from doing. There are things that need to be done.
But if our doing is out of harmony or a healthy balance with being, then we lose ourselves in the doing. I think that happens with a lot of people and I think a lot of our church experiences probably more resonant with the beehive than it is with the sacred grove, at least for a lot of individuals who just get burned out in the doing and all the industry and the participating and the activity. And we even frame a lot of our church experience as, are you active or are they inactive or going to the temple and saying your prayers. And the language that we use to describe our faith experience is very behavioral, doing, active language.
But at one point, President McKay said this and this is one of my favorite, well, first of all, he defined spirituality this way, if I could… He said spirituality, this is how president McKay defined spirituality. He said spirituality is the consciousness of victory over self and of communion with the infinite. The consciousness of victory over self and a communion with the infinite. And to me, that’s a definition of spirituality that really resonates.
And then he said this, he said we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion. In our worship, there are two elements. One is spiritual communion arising from our own meditation. The other, instruction from others, particularly those who have authority to guide and instruct us.
Ty Mansfield: Of the two, the more profitable introspectively is the meditation. Meditation is the language of the soul. So just reflect, if you were to reflect on your spiritual practice, your worship, how much of your faith practice or just how we even talk about it in the church is in listening? Here you are listening to instruction or listening to others. How much time do we spend listening to others and how much time do we spend proportionally in silence, just sitting with God?
And I would say for most people, and actually later on President Hinckley, something about President McKay, he resonated with this and he spoke to it often. Because even other teachers who spoke to it later, other presidents of the church, President Lee spoke to it, President Kimball spoke about it, President Hinckley spoke about it. But they all reference back to President Kimball.
Audience: President McKay.
Ty Mansfield: President McKay. And they’ll say something to the effect of, we remember, there was some specific meeting in which he really talked about this. And we all remember sitting with President McKay, when he talked about the importance of meditation, right? That will sit with us forever.
So whatever meeting that was, I’m really interested to, if we ever get a… I’m going to get to look back and see all things at all times. I want to know what happened in that meeting. Because it impressed other members of the 12 enough that later teachings on meditation, because sometimes we give lip service to the idea of meditation and pondering and that kind of thing.
But as far as any real formal practice or introductory practice or really giving it any sort of substance, we just don’t, in my experience, we just don’t do much. But they often reference back to President McKay, but he said meditation, again, is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord. And Jesus set the example for us. And then he goes on to share the experience of Jesus going into the mountain where he communed with God for 40 days in solitude. And again referencing back on this.
But one other thought here is that, and some of you may know the name John Kessler, he’s a Latter-day Saint attorney, but he’s also-
Audience: Sorry, that last quote, you just said was that was President McKay or was that Henri Nouwen?
Ty Mansfield: That was all President McKay. John Kessler, who’s a Zen meditation teacher, he said this, Latter-day Saint, believing Latter-day Saint and a Zen meditation teacher, he said, I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the potential to engender the most profound meditative tradition in the world. This may be a surprising assertion, since we Latter-day Saints tend to be pragmatic, and often emphasize doing rather than being.
However, the restored gospel is uniquely inclusive of being and becoming, and through the gift of the Holy Ghost sourcing inspiration and revelation by being still even for a moment, I have faith that over time we will increasingly integrate and develop meditative practices as a complement to our more active prayers, which will optimize experiencing a personal stillness, an inner peace and an inspired life grounded in our relationship to our Father in heaven and Savior.
I think it’s a very strong statement, but I absolutely believe it and in the spirit of Mormonism, where I think a lot of the teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and others, where Brigham Young said, we commissioned the elders of Israel to go out into the world and gather every truth that you can find and bring it home to Zion. For every truth belongs in Zion.
Ty Mansfield: There was a sentiment in the early church that the restoration or the Restored Church was as much a receptacle of truth as it would be a dispenser of truth. I believe there is a symbiotic receptacle or a symbiotic receiving and gifting relationship as the church is receiving truth. Because even in the church, a lot of what’s happening in the world and whatnot, when I sent the first Deseret Book to see if they would be interested in something like this, there’d already been conversations about, because again, it’s so prominent in our culture and for good reason.
There’d already been conversations around what would this look like? Is there value here? And what would that value look like specifically for Latter-day Saints? And so the timing of just sending this inquiry we would be interesting. She got back with me within an hour and said if you could send me a proposal by this afternoon, we have a product meeting and I’d like to propose it. Because it was like a Facebook message, the original one just because I’m friends with one of the product managers.
So anyway, so I put together, I spent the next hour putting together a statement, sent it to her, she took it to a product meeting, and she came back within an hour of that and said everybody loved it. Let’s move forward.
Ty Mansfield: And so here is The Power of Stillness: Mindful Living for Latter-Day Saints. And I really feel like the spirit has guided us as a team and I think just everybody has been very, I don’t know, there’s a kindling there. And there’s been an excitement because there is something I think deeply resonant in it and that is deeply Latter-day Saint.
And part of our thinking around this, and a lot of the conversations that we as a research team have had, has been that even though a lot of our access to these principles has been through external traditions and resources and that kind of thing, when you get into the scriptures, and you really look at the life of Jesus and how often he took retreat, and how often he went to commune with the Father and would sit in stillness and silence and these sorts of things, there’s so much that’s implicit in our tradition. It’s already there. These external things have been, I think they’ve been triggers and I think they’ve caught a lot of people’s attention, really interested them.
But a lot of our work has to say, one, there is a lot outside of our tradition that we can value from it. Two, so much of this is already inherently and implicitly there, we just need to be able to tease it out. And so we have statements from President Kimball and next to Thích Nhất Hạnh. If you don’t know that name, Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, who is just this beautiful soul. And at the same time that I was being introduced to all of this and these little kind of intersecting pieces, I was listening to a podcast episode.
And it was an interview with Thích Nhất Hạnh this Vietnamese Buddhist monk that I’d never heard of at the time. And listening to this podcast, this interview with him, I could feel his soul and it was beautiful. I feel like I just fell in love with this little man that was hard to understand. And yet you could just feel life flowing out of him and people, a lot of my teachers the last two and a half years or so, I’ve been in a formal meditation instructor training program with two prominent Buddhist psychologists, Tara Brach, and Jack Kornfield. But they often will talk about their experiences having, met with Thích Nhất Hạnh.
And it’s like, he has a book called Every Breath A Step. It’s just like, you’re in his presence, and he’s there and you feel him and you feel his energy and you know that he feels yours. I think this is the piece that for all of us, because the gospel of Jesus Christ or more particularly the body of Christ, is a relational body, it’s not just a theology. It’s us being with each other. This is a lot of the piece that I felt like has really been most healing for me.
And most impressive because I grew up always feeling like I’m kind of an empath, and I feel like I always want a deeper connection with other people than they want, period. So I remember being like in third grade and at a sleepover with two friends. I just wanted to connect. I don’t think I had language for that. But I was like let’s just talk about… and they didn’t want to talk about it. And I just felt like I’d always hungered for this kind of connection that other people didn’t seem to want as much of.
Ty Mansfield: But one of the Scriptures that’s always spoke to me was in D&C 76, when Joseph and Sidney Rigdon have this vision of the celestial glory, there’s one phrase in there as they describe the sociality of the celestial world that has spoken to me on such a deep level, and that’s this space where we collectively… There’s no theology of marriage at this point, when this revelation is received, where we collectively as members of the church of the firstborn, see as we are seen, and we know as we are known.
Ty Mansfield: That phrase, I’ve always kind of been interested in that phrase, but it was passing until I started really getting into contemplative practice. And that phrase, those words, seeing as we are seen and knowing as we are known and for any of you who have followed any of the work of Brené Brown, her TED Talk, power of vulnerability that went really viral, like a lot of her work, I think even though she doesn’t talk about it in spiritual terms, per se, I feel like what she is doing is preparing us to experience relationship in the way that God is calling us to experience relationship.
There’s a Christian writer, Tim Keller, and he said that to be loved but not known is sweet but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is what the heart longs for and it is our birthright. And to me, this is the quality of relationship I think all of us really hunger for. We want to be seen.
Some of you may have had a different experience. But I can’t tell you that I’ve ever had somebody stand up at the pulpit and say I love all of you so much. And we just want to pass on the love. And I’m like it’s meaningful, but you don’t know me. And that’s the story that we often… At least that’s my internal dialogue. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt overwhelming love by someone who doesn’t know me saying I love all of you in this congregation of however many hundreds of people and we’ve never met. And that’s not to say the experience of love can’t be real. I just had not received it that way.
And so there’s a sense in which we hunger to be seen and known. And I think a lot of this spiritual practice really is about opening ourselves up, being present with each other. There are different definitions of mindfulness. But one of those is a compassionate, affectionate awareness of the moment. Think about that as a definition for mindfulness. A compassionate, affectionate awareness of the moment.
And to be mindful is really just to be fully present right now. If you’ve ever read or heard of Eckhart Tolle’s the power of now, right? He’s kind of speaking to some of these same principles where we get so lost in the future, we get in our heads, we’re in the past.
Each of the chapters in the book has a comic. And one of my favorites is this woman, it’s just of this woman standing in a grocery line, if I can find this really quickly. She’s standing in this long line with like rowdy kids, and she says, I want to learn how to live in the moment, just not this moment. Some other moment, like a moment at the beach, right?
And we get in this space where we think some other time, some other place is going to better than this one. But mindfulness is really about practicing to be in this moment. And can I learn to love this moment and can I learn to be with this person and to love this person that’s in front of me?
Ty Mansfield: I get to practice this every day in a therapeutic context. And when you really get to know people, I’ve never met anybody who after hearing their story, I didn’t feel closer to them and I didn’t love them more and I didn’t feel greater compassion and empathy. I love what I do for that reason, because I get to relate to humans on a more real level, I get to see their pain more and that’s what I want. I want that quality of relationship, and to be in the world in a way where we see each other better.
One thought too is that different traditions, greeting traditions and different cultures come from different meanings. And does anybody here know where the handshake, the tradition of the handshake actually comes from? It was a gesture that I don’t have a sword or I don’t have a gun, I’m not going to kill you. So our Western greeting, our Western gesture of connection is I’m not going to hurt you, right? This is where it stems from. That’s a pretty low bar for connection.
And one of the things that if you’ve heard the term, namaste, where the meaning of that is, the divine in me sees the divine in you. And Virginia Pierce, President Hinckley’s daughter, she said this, she says, namaste roughly translated means I honor the deity within you. And that is precisely what we do when we open our hearts to one another. We honor the fact that he or she, like us, is a child of the same loving father worthy of all respect and careful attention.
I see the divine in you or the divine in me sees the divine in you, has a bit of a different feeling than I’m not going to hurt you. You don’t need to be afraid of me. And I think if we all, the spirit of that gesture, obviously, even in cultures where they say namaste, it still takes on a pretty empty meaning and people will talk about that.
Ty Mansfield: But I think the spirit of that is very meaningful to me. And what would that look like if we really practiced seeing each other? There’s the same teacher, Henri Nouwen, this Catholic writer, he said this, he said, let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate.
Now, I would dare say that there’s probably not a person in this room who thinks compassion is probably not a good thing. Why would anybody want to be compassionate? It seems like a waste. I think most of us resonate with the idea that compassion is good.
But he says this, compassion is hard, right? Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard, because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering, by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it, right?
How often have you shared something with somebody and they’ve got an answer for you because they’re there to help you, right? Or they want to help you. And there can be something meaningful in that too, but sometimes we can’t help, but we also struggle with the ability to just sit.
So he says this, as busy active, relevant ministers we want to earn our bread by making real contribution. This means first and foremost, doing something to show that our presence makes a difference. And so we ignore our greatest gift, which is the ability to enter into solidarity with those who suffer. Those who can sit in silence with their fellow men, not knowing what to say, but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life to a dying heart.
Ty Mansfield: Think about that. Jacob Hess, again, in one of the stories that he shares, so his mother died of cancer. And while she was, she knew the end was coming, and there were people that would come to her house to visit her from the ward. But one of her comments was that so often people would be there and they didn’t know what to say. So they wouldn’t say very much and there was an awkwardness about it.
And she would find herself trying to comfort the people who were there to cover her. And somehow developing a capacity to just be with others in their pain, I think is a spiritual discipline. Without trying to fix it and without trying to take it away and simply to just say, I’m here and I’m with you and I don’t know what to say. And if I did, I would, but I don’t. But I want to be here. So I’m here. I think that’s a space that all of us can practice, I think that ultimately God wants to invite us into.
There’s a Mennonite teacher, he said this, being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they’re almost indistinguishable. Think about that. Being heard is so close to being loved that to the average person, they’re indistinguishable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat with a client who one they’re sad because they feel like they have to pay somebody to hear them. But who just in that space of being heard…
There was this one young man who just… one of his frustrations was in his interactions with his family and his parents every time he tried to just talk to them, they just were always trying to help him and teach him and help him to realize what he needed to do. And anyway, but just this space of listening, as soon as we just slowed down enough to say let’s talk like, what’s going on, just taking a breath, all of a sudden the tears would begin to flow. And that was his pain. He said nobody else will just be with me, nobody else can just hear me. I think a lot of our practice, our spiritual practice as aspiring saints is to be with each other more.
For a second, in the spirit of the second great commandment, to love one another as…
Ty Mansfield: Yourself. I would assume that this meaning is implied. But I think an important part of that is to love one another as you love yourself. One, love others as you love yourself, but also you need to love yourself. And just as much as Jesus is concerned about mercy, having mercy for others, he conditioned mercy and he conditioned forgiveness not on doing all the right things. He conditioned mercy on how merciful are you with others? If you want to be forgiven, how quick are you to forgive others?
I think, I believe, really all of this is just about my inner world and some my resonate and some may not and that’s all okay. But I really believe that a key part of what a lot of mindfulness is, there’s a prominent researcher in mindfulness, who at the time, one of the things that brought her into, she recently gave a teaching, and she talked about what she calls the secret sauce of mindfulness. And she said, she comes, I don’t know exactly what her background is, but she came from a background where in her family, marriage was sacrosanct. Her grandparents were still alive, and they’d been married 70 years, her parents were still alive. They’d been married 50 years. And here she was a young mother with two kids and she was getting divorced. And this was just something that didn’t happen in her family.
And there was such a negative dialogue about that, and so much shame around that. And the feelings of brokenness and failure and those kinds of things. And in mindfulness practice, this idea of bringing your heart into the present, there’s very much a spirit of, are you as kind to yourself, metta is the term in Sanskrit, loving kindness. Are you as loving and kind with yourself as you are with others?
And there’s sort of a story, Sharon Salzberg, she’s not a Latter-day Saint but a Western Buddhist teacher. She shares an experience back in 1990. There’s an institute called the Mind and Life Institute that sponsored these dialogues with the Dalai Lama. And it would be Western psychologists, philosophers, medical practitioners, who would dialogue with Eastern counterparts. And all of these dialogues included the Dalai Lama.
And at one point here was this newer, younger Western practitioner who said she asked the Dalai Lama in this meeting what… and this has almost become like classic teaching, if you ever you hear Buddhist teachings or whatever, mindfulness teachings. But she asked the Dalai Lama what he thought about self-hatred.
And he said this to her, what is that? What is that? Through a translator, he’s kind of learned some English along the way, but this was back in 1990. But through this translator, he was like… and they were explaining what that meant. And he said, his response in his confusion was, why would anybody do that? Why would anybody talk negatively about themselves? Or why would anybody hate themselves?
Something about this practice and every culture has their problems. So this isn’t to deify Eastern culture and they’re great at this, all of them. But there was something about this idea that in Western culture, there’s something pandemic in the way that we do life and that’s really problematic and this inner critic and this critical voice and perfectionism and we’re never enough, and there’s always this doing, doing, doing and we’re never enough. And again, perfectionism in the church, I think becomes really problematic and rampant.
Ty Mansfield: But as part of this Eastern contemplative practice, practicing compassion with the self and learning how to be with self is just as important as learning how to be with others. And that ultimately, the degree to which we can’t be that with self is the degree to which we cannot be with others.
And so as kind of a final piece here, and just something to think about, because even with emotions, and I think about this all the time as a therapist, some of our language obstructs our ability, obstructs mental health, and we’ll use language like I feel bad or I feel good. Bad is not a feeling, bad is a judgment. And good is not a feeling, good is a judgment. I could go smoke a joint, feel awesome, it doesn’t mean that it’s healthy for me. And there are emotions that are uncomfortable or that are difficult that I would like to not be feeling that are actually healthy.
And so part of learning how to be healthy is learning how to sit with ourselves in uncomfortable emotions. And so a lot of the work that I do is really at least from a mental health standpoint, but I think that there are a lot of spiritual pieces of this, is helping people reframe their experience with their emotions, so that it’s kind of a process piece. How do you be with your emotions from a more compassionate place? And mindfulness is all about non-judgment, compassionate, acceptance, non-judgment, right?
And so we have to get away from judgment language, in order to be with ourselves and to learn. So fear may not be uncomfortable emotion, but fear has something to communicate to us. Its role from an evolutionary standpoint is to protect us when there’s a threat to our safety.
Ty Mansfield: Anger is an emotion of boundary. Jesus was angry when there were so money exchanges at the temple. Sadness is an emotion of grief and loss, right? But I don’t want to feel my grief, I’d rather go eat a bowl of ice cream. Or, I’d rather go binge on the new season of my favorite show on Netflix, right? We don’t want to feel our feelings, we want to numb, distract or avoid them. And so being a healthy human being first is about learning how to be with ourself in a more compassionate way. And learning how to forgive ourselves when we’re not.
If I could leave just a brief invitation for each of you to consider, when you leave here tonight, what would it look like to practice presence for you with another and to practice kindness for yourself? Where do you find yourself feeling the most short, falling short in your life? Or, feeling the most vulnerable to your own inner critic? And what would it look like for you to offer just a compassionate offering to yourself?
And again, practice looking for those moments of stillness, of slowing down and letting, stepping back as observer and just letting things be in this world. There’s sort of this mantra that our awareness, our thoughts are not us. Our emotions are not us. They’re like clouds in the sky, they move and flow at every moment, but our awareness is the sky, we are the observer of those things.
And as we step back, we just observe, there’s a lot of space for the universe to speak, for God to speak and to just feel and connect. But I do believe in the spirit of the title of the book, that there’s a lot of power and that real spiritual power ultimately comes in that stillness, and in the now-ness of life, of being with God and that a lot of God’s practice, in ancient Israel, it was teaching them to just be in the moment. To stop focusing on tomorrow’s mana and just focus on today’s mana. Give us today’s bread today. And that true powerful spiritual living is in that surrender to God and loosening the grip that we seek to have on our own lives and sometimes other people, letting go of control, surrender that to God.
But anyway, but I want to thank you again for letting me be here. It’s been an honor to be with you. And thank you. Thanks Doug.
Aubrey Chaves: Thanks so much for listening. We hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you’re interested in learning more, make sure to check out the book, The Power of Stillness: Mindful Living for Latter-Day Saints. And as always, if you enjoyed this podcast, please leave us a rating or a thumbs up. You can check out more at faithmatters.org.