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Be Still

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the plan of salvation. It embraces all of the laws, principles, doctrines, rites, ordinances, acts, powers, authorities, and keys necessary to save and exalt men in the highest heaven hereafter.
(Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 331–32)

I felt a bit sheepish as I took my seat on the mat. Let’s just say that my Y chromosomes were feeling dangerously outnumbered, and I hoped that my oversize, faded blue jeans would make a good substitute for the yoga pants everyone else was wearing. Who forgot to send me the memo? At this moment, I wasn’t sure that signing up for a yoga class on campus had been the best way to fill out my schedule.

The I-look-like-a-dork meter in my head was pegged as the instructor guided us to assume positions that civilized grown-ups simply don’t do. But I was trying to force myself to do new things and risk looking like the dork that I am. I resolved to ignore my dangerously high levels of dorkiness and push ahead. Besides, what could I do to escape? Excuse myself because I had left my oven on at home? Act as if I had just seen a long lost friend outside the window? Fake a sudden bout of diarrhea? No, I was in this class for the duration.

At the end of the class, the instructor had us lay down on the mat—in a pose named Savasana—and close our eyes. She told us to watch our breath. Inhale… exhale… inhale… exhale… inhale… exhale… She told us to watch our own thoughts, observing them as they arose, letting them go without holding on to them, quieting our thoughts. She told us about the crazy man in our head that never rested, always frenetically doing something, like a squirrel on speed (my metaphor not hers). She told us not to worry if we had a hard time silencing our thoughts. When thoughts arose, we should see them, observe them, and gently let them slip away without judgment or frustration. Silently I let go of concerns about my past and worries about the future. I existed in nothing except the eternal now.

We ended every class that way, quietly observing our breath and our thoughts. That class changed my life.

My shyness had only deepened as I got older. In a room full of friends, I could feel utterly alone. I abhorred large groups and socially uncertain situations. I hear that some people feel energized by being around others, that these people don’t feel completely alive when they’re by themselves. If that’s true, I was the opposite. Socializing left me physically drained. I never felt at home around others, only within the confines of my own head. If I had seen a psychiatrist at this point in my life, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had been medicated for social anxiety disorder.

This simple meditation that I learned in my yoga class changed all that. Through this simple exercise, the fog in my mind began to clear. I stepped outside of my frenzied mind. I gained perspective. I broke the reactive cycle whereby I was at the mercy of my fear-inducing circumstances. I realized that fear was the root of many problems in my life. Through meditation, I nurtured my ability to choose my reactions.

My upbringing had fostered a fearful awareness of how others perceived me. Meditation gave me inner calm. I realized how dysfunctional the working of my mind had become. The effects of the audience that had been built for me brick by brick came into my conscience awareness for the first time. I saw how the audience worked against me, how the fear kept me isolated from a larger world. I decided that ideally the opinion of everyone else shouldn’t matter to me. I campaigned from that point on to kick the public out of my audience: everyone except God. Oh, and I kept Satan’s minions in my audience too just so I could keep an eye on them. Ignoring them could prove dangerous.

Without this inner change which reduced the role of fear in how I faced the world, I doubt that I would have been married to my beautiful wife and had my wonderful children. I imagine that I would be still be stuck within myself to this day, tossed about by fear, unable to bear the social interaction necessary to meet my future wife. I gained strength to live God’s commandments through a surprising source: the wisdom of an ancient mystic tradition from the East.

I learned from this experience that there were valuable tools outside of the Mormon church which helped me to live its teachings. The teachings of the Church itself were not sufficient to help me live according to its standards. My struggles had not ceased despite all of the doctrine that I had learned in the Church. The Church laid claim to all the truths necessary to save me in the Kingdom of God, and I had found very important truths outside the Church which seemed necessary for my salvation.

This caused me to rethink my simplistic world view. These truths found in a university yoga class must be, in some sense, part of the gospel of Jesus Christ, part of God’s plan for me. I opened my heart to worthwhile truths found outside of the narrow confines of the Church’s canonized teachings.


1 Comment

  1. Green Oasis » Keys to Drawing said,

    December 28, 2007 @ 11:57 am

    [...] For years I’ve wished that I could draw realistic pictures—perhaps to prove that Todd wasn’t that special after all. I’ve doodled. Sometimes I’m surprised by how well my doodles turn out. Most of the time, I hide them from critical eyes. I hate doing things that I’m not good at, being vulnerable in that way. When I realized how driven by fear I had become, I started to intentionally put myself in situations where I would probably make a fool of myself. [...]

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