I’m starting to think of this as the summer of flexible thinking. Also ten thousand books and lots of travel (yay, on all counts). But mostly, flexible thinking.
Here’s the backstory: a certain child has been learning in therapy how to break free of concrete, rigid thinking processes. He’s learning that his thoughts don’t have to remain stuck on whatever idea of “right” or “perfect” which is currently hampering his ability to move forward when real life doesn’t match his mental image of right or perfect.
It’s a skill, this flexible thinking, and it turns out that I’m learning quite a lot about it too as I discuss it with said child. This process has compelled me to turn the mirror on myself and see that I can benefit from greater mental plasticity because surprise! I also get hung up on how things “should” be.
So while this child and I frequently talk about shifting our thoughts away from the trauma of unmet expectations (in his case, messy rooms make him crazy and cause him to lash out at certain family members), we can see inflexible thinking as “My brother is a pig and I hate how he messes up the house,” and replace it with the measured, more accurate flexible line of thinking: “We always eventually get the house clean. It’s not my job to force my brother to clean up.”
I’m starting to see all sorts of applications of flexible thinking in my own worlds of parenting, teaching, and in challenging cultural norms about what *SHOULD* be happening in one’s life at any given time.
Frankly, I see many parallels between thinking flexibly and understanding spiritual truths, although ironically, it’s pretty easy in the Church to get into a lock-step rut of thinking with complete rigidity. Because something is a cultural tradition, it can be mistaken for gospel doctrine.
The last few months of my own deepening spirituality have shown me that unless we are willing to grapple with our doubts and our areas of limited understanding, we can’t grow in spiritual magnitude. Complacency isn’t a principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, thinking “all is well in Zion” is a sure sign of prideful dismissal of seeking to understand God’s will and strive to bring it to pass.
I’ve had a lot of time standing in temple hallways of late while directing pedestrian traffic to stare at paintings of Jesus and his disciples. This has given me space to contemplate what it is he wants me to do with a) the personal insights I’ve received this year in my study of scripture and Church history, and b) my own revelatory dreams (remember this is how God generally speaks to me; don’t ask me why).
Practicing flexible thinking means accepting new truths, more truths, all truth, essentially. As Doctrine & Covenants 50 says, “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”
All truth is one brilliant eternal round, but in order for us to access more/greater understanding, we first have to be open to adding to the limited light we already grasp.
Recently Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “What is amazing to me is that we are still witnessing the Restoration of the Savior’s gospel and Church. The Restoration is still happening, and we are each a part of it.”
Jesus Christ’s gospel is unchanging and perfect, but our understanding of it continues to grow as he continues to reveal it in the unfurling process known as the Restoration. This is obviously happening on a Church-wide basis, with changes that reflect an ongoing restorative season.
But as every good General Conference-watching church member knows, President Nelson has said being personally attuned to the promptings of the Holy Spirit is similarly vital. He boldly said, “In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”
Taking a passive approach to faith apparently isn’t enough. Without individually grappling and wrestling with what we do believe and what we yearn to better understand, how can we expect the Holy Spirit to speak to us? “Ask and ye shall receive; knock and it shall be opened unto you.” Not just to the prophet, or the bishop, or the Relief Society president. It will be opened to you.
Last winter I wanted to understand more. I had faith. I accepted the principles of the gospel, but I wanted to know more. I actually felt compelled to know more. So I prayed for my Heavenly Parents to help me develop my spiritual gifts.
This, it turns out, is like praying for greater patience or forgiveness, which usually means you get life opportunities to practice patience and develop forgiveness. Hoo boy.
My prayers to refine my spiritual gifts resulted in an overwhelming number of encounters with the Holy Spirit showing me in a tactile and sensory way more about the divine gifts endowed in me before I was born.
I wanted to sip from a chalice dipped in a well of understanding. Instead, I was gulping from a fire hose.
This included an outpouring of those big, vivid, detailed, remarkably clear dreams which weren’t my subconscious working through the minutiae of the day; rather, they were (and are) a conduit for understanding what my Heavenly Parents want me to learn so I can better serve them.
I’m going to share one of these dreams here. It’s not something I even want to share, but the promptings to write about it will not leave me alone.
This is from my dream journal:
I dreamed I had experienced a lot of undisclosed family-related turmoil and consequently was taken, as a gift, to a beautiful old university building that was clearly not on the earth. A couple of people who were acting as my guides me took me to a spacious upstairs corner room with large arched windows. They told me that because of the things I faced on earth, I was being allowed to see this.
We stood just inside the doorway. The room was filled with light. On a couple of low tables, I saw several tall glass rectangular boxes, which were a 3-D representation of all the theories on earth, specifically their relationship to each other–their size, parameters, and limitations.
The theories resembled grains of sand or spices (ocher and deep brown were the two colors I saw most clearly) layered in the enormous clear containers. I could see the strata of different colors and textures, which I understood represented how the various theories had changed and evolved through human history.
Looking at this room, I had a better, fuller, richer picture of how things relate to each other. The theories were political, social, scientific, historical, literary, linguistic, psychological, economic–they ran the gamut. I didn’t understand HOW all these theories work, but I was able to see that comparatively, they were as small as grains of sand.
Every theory in the entire world through all recorded time fit easily in the bottom third of the huge glass boxes. The boxes themselves were dominated by the giant room. It was enlightening in that I felt like I instantly understood the theories’ relationships and limitations.
I woke up and felt like I’d learned more in those few moments of the dream than all of the studying I’ve ever done before in my life. It was a macroscopic view of humanity and its’ ills and ideas, and I saw that these things are swallowed up in the breadth of the infinite gospel. It was both humbling and peace-inducing.
Last week I saw a bunch of Shakespeare plays (an English nerd’s happy place). The version of Hamlet we saw was creepy and terrific, and reminded me of that iconic line where Hamlet says, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
This is how my layered sand dream felt. God’s knowledge is vast.
There is just so much more to learn, and the way to learn it is under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit.
Yesterday in the temple I stood for some time across from this Carl Bloch painting:
It depicts the story from John 5 when Jesus healed the sick at the pool of Bethesda. “A certain man … had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?”
I was struck by the way Jesus is being followed by a whole crowd of people jostling for his attention, but he has deliberately made his way to the man beneath the homespun tarp. In his simple gesture of pulling aside the fabric cover, Jesus bathes the man in light and hope, and then immediately heals him.
Staring at this painting, I asked myself, what covers my head? What blocks me from receiving more light? How can I achieve the sudden illumination of the disabled man? How can I pull aside that which is blocking me from being strengthened and healed by the Savior?
I don’t have all the answers, but I suspect that I get distracted by worldliness. I know that I am tripped up by pride and lack of faith. And sometimes I think I just forget to ask.
When I do ask, my Heavenly Parents give me much more than I expect or even that I feel I deserve. I sense that they yearn to share much more with all of us, if we can remove the covers from our spiritual eyes and ears.
Which brings me back to flexible thinking. Being stuck in one’s current level of understanding isn’t a permanent state, but it does hamper upward progress. Just like my son and I can learn to let go of the limiting and distracting “shoulds” of mortality, all children of Heavenly Parents have an innate capacity to know them, to love them, to return to them.
“Where is the pavilion that hides thy face?”
Perhaps it is a hands breadth above us, waiting to be lifted and cast aside.