Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Transparency II: hum your favorite hymn

It is interesting how we try to explain the unexplainable in terms that are easier to understand. Christ did it with his parables. We often do it with young children to try and make complex ideas simpler. In the church we use stories and symbols and object lessons to try to understand ideas that our spirits testify to be true, but our finite minds and bodies cannot connect with any knowledge, experience, or remembrance. 

 As a teen I was taught that after death all of our actions and the desires of our hearts will be available for all to see and used for our judgment (Alma 5:18, Alma 29: 4-5, D&C 137:9).  All of our lives, our thoughts, and our misdeeds will be worn on us like a sign around our necks. One leader provided a very vivid visual of what she thought it would be like.  She said I would die and be welcomed home. I would hug my family and friends and start to remember things I had forgotten.  Then, as part of the welcome home party everyone I ever knew and cared for, everyone I ever disliked, acquaintances, my parents spiritual and earthly, and even those that I  didn’t know would gather together to watch the “video” of my life. They would see everything and hear everything, including my thoughts, which would come up as subtitles at the bottom of the screen, or maybe echo throughout the soundtrack.  My eyes would be the video camera, and everything that they had captured during my time on earth would play back. I imagined sitting in a dark room full of everyone I had ever known and watching this movie.  I would slump, embarrassed and ashamed at some parts.  I, along with others at my showing, would weep during the painful scenes. But the idea of my thoughts being open for viewing, that every dark horrible vision my mind had conjured up, every harsh unkind thought I had housed, even when my lips spoke sweetly, that idea was almost too much for me as a self-conscious teenager.

From a young age we are taught about the importance of training our minds, and harboring only good thoughts, intentions, and emotions there. I’m thinking of the primary song that goes
If on occasion you have found,
Your language is in question
Or ugly thoughts come to your mind,
Well here’s a good suggestion:
Just hum your favorite hymn
Sing out with vigor and vim.
And you will find
It clears your mind,
Hum your favorite hymn.

I think that this song was probably written with different intentions in mind. But as a primary child what I learned from it is that anything in my mind that is not beautiful shouldn’t be there. Because of this lesson, intentional or not, I often say yes when I want to say no. I often get up and work when my body is telling me to rest. I often act happy when I am feeling sad. And then I feel guilty for having had those "ugly" thoughts in the first place. I don’t like the idea that I learned from that song, and it has taken me 27 years to realize that it isn’t true. Sometimes I have an unfriendly thought, that is ok. I am allowed to find some people offensive. I am allowed to not want to be around my kids sometimes. I am allowed to feel angry and hurt and sad. Humming my favorite hymn until these thoughts go away only serves to make me feel guilty, my true self to feel unheard, and my actions to feel unauthentic. Certainly I ought not to act on every impulse that I have, but I don’t have to pretend that they aren’t there either.
It is really easy to hide ourselves from other people. For the most part we can choose what we share of our thoughts and what we keep inside of our minds. But what if one day my heart and mind are transparent and the option to hide within the privacy of my mind is gone? I can’t run away from ugly thoughts and push them aside. I have to discover why they are there and figure out what to do with them. Often when I am angry I think there are only two choices: pretend I am not angry and let it burn inside of me, or fling out fiery, slightly out of control words and then feel bad about it afterwards. But I’m learning that being honest gives me a third option, it means acknowledging my anger without judgment of it being bad or good and expressing it in a way that most clearly explains my feelings without muddling the meaning by trying to punish the person I am angry at. When I truly accept my feelings and ask them what it is they are trying to tell me and then try to find a way to represent them with grace I have no reason for guilt.

  I like the idea of there being another form of communication, one which isn’t contained with a few thousand words and needs to be decoded to understand. It would be the transfer of thoughts and feelings and experiences in a more genuine way, without needing words to represent us. Maybe I even use it here, sometimes. I think of holding my new born babies and staring into their eyes. I know that truths which words can't describe have been passed to me in this way. I think of times when I could really feel what a friend or loved one was feeling. Or quiet times when I opened my heart to receive truth that rested on me with a peace and happiness that I could never begin to share. Isn’t this the form of communication I use when I pray? When I pray I don’t feel misunderstood. Thoughts that I can't express with words aren't left unexpressed, because my true feelings can be communicated through prayer without words, and answers can be returned in the same way.

The little boy in Primary asked, “If we didn’t have bodies in heaven, how could we speak to each other?” What a smart question. I imagined us in the spirit world after hearing the plan explained, another curious soul asking, “If we are going to have bodies and can only communicate with sounds, how will we speak to each other?” At the end of my attempt to answer that little primary boy's question, I have no more answers than I did when I started. But I have found a desire for transparency and expressing myself in a way that the desires of my heart, my actions, and my words are not three dichotomous pieces to the person that I am, but they are one and the same.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Transparency I: a naive question

Last week in primary we talked about the plan of salvation. We talked about how we wanted to come to earth to receive a body, because in heaven we didn’t have one. One of the children raised his hand and asked, “If we didn’t have bodies in heaven, how could we speak to each other?”

I thought this was one of those cute, na├»ve questions that only children seem to ask. I quickly tried to answer the question within my own mind. Of course we could talk, I reasoned, we believe that the plan was explained to us and we chose to follow it. He is thinking that just because we didn’t have a voice box, a throat, and mouths we couldn’t speak. But of course we could speak, just as we do now…couldn’t we?

I began to think of the way we typically communicate here in mortality. At the most basic level our lungs push air through our vocal chords, which vibrate and create sound. We then manipulate that sound with movements of our lips, tongues, and cheeks and create words. This type of communication, of course, doesn’t only require that the speaker has a body but also that the listener has one. The listener absorbs the sound and with the help of the ears’ shape, the sound is funneled into the ear canal, where the eardrum vibrates at certain speeds and strengths. Another part of the ear translates these vibrations into nerve impulses and sends these signals to the brain. The brain then interprets the sounds as words, words which it has heard before and therefore can decode into a meaning.
Communication = Speaker's sound + Listener's ears/brain decoding the sound

But there is more to communication than just the transfer of sounds, right? What we are trying to do with communication is represent something intangible, an idea, with a code of sounds whose meaning a language has agreed upon. Before the speaker even tries to communicate she must have a thought or idea. She must then transfer this thought into a code known as language, which includes picking appropriate words to represent her desired meaning. Once the words have left her mouth and are in the possession of the listener it is his turn to decode the words with his perception of what they mean. Multiple variables influence his decoding of the message including her actions before and now, his past experiences, his understanding of the words and their meanings, his moood, etc.
It is hard to imagine our most reliable form of communicating with others being taken away. But how reliable is it really? Study after study has shown how quickly a person’s intended meaning can be misinterpreted by a listener.Everything we hear, we hear tinted with the overtones of our experiences, our beliefs, our emotions. Speaking is not transparent. It isn’t a fool proof method of transferring my experience, thoughts, and ideas onto someone else. How often are good intentions misinterpreted? How often do I find myself arguing with someone, only to realize in the end that we both have the same view, we were just saying it differently? How often is there something I feel that simply cannot be expressed with words?