Doors in the Wall

August 23, 2007 | 57 comments
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The function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs are in the main eliminative and not productive. Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful. (Aldous Huxley quoting C.D. Broad referencing Henri Bergson).

Last weekend I read Huxley’s Doors of Perception, the infamous tome beloved by a generation of users of psychedelic drugs (perhaps most notably, Jim Morrison). Huxley advocates the use of mescalin and LSD as a Door in the Wall (as noted by H.G. Wells)–a passageway to the extensive realms of reality/being/consciousness that are normally inaccessible. Obviously this route is not one for practicing Mormons. But Huxley also discusses other Doors–fasting, mantras/prayer, meditation, and yogic breathing, to name a few.

Huxley says:

That which, in the language of religion, is called “this world” is the universe of reduced awareness, expressed, and, as it were, petrified by language. The various “other worlds,” with which human beings erratically make contact are so many elements in the totality of the awareness belonging to Mind at Large. Most people, most of the time, know only what comes through the reducing valve and is consecrated as genuinely real by the local language. Certain persons, however, seem to be born with a kind of by-pass that circumvents the reducing valve. In others temporary by-passes may be acquired either spontaneously, or as the result of deliberate “spiritual exercises,” or through hypnosis, or by means of drugs. Through these permanent or temporary by-passes there flows, not indeed the perception “of everything that is happening everywhere in the universe” (for the by-pass does not abolish the reducing valve, which still excludes the total content of Mind at Large), but something more than, and above all something different from, the carefully selected utilitarian material which our narrowed, individual minds regard as a complete, or at least sufficient, picture of reality.

He goes on to say that fasting, certain breathing exercises, chanting, etc. change the chemistry of our brains, thus lessening the efficiency of their function as “reducing valves.” Aspects of reality which are usually blocked slip through our filtering systems. We experience an expanded mode of being.

Mormons are familiar with this concept of a greater reality being blocked for certain purposes. We believe that our minds are extensively veiled, unable to access the vast majority of what we know (i.e. everything we learned and experienced during our premortal eons of existence). Brigham Young even taught that the spirit world–the intermediary sphere of postmortal existence–exists right here, as part of the boundaries of this earth. We just can’t see it, because it is veiled.

Huxley’s assertions made me wonder: could the veil be partially physiological in nature?

I hasten to say that I do not believe that any amount of fasting, breathing, drug usage, hypnosis, or anything else can enable a mortal to rend the veil in the fullest sense (revealing the face of God). God reveals himself only to those he so chooses. And I believe anyone who attempts to force their way into such an experience is foolish indeed.

But I believe there are lesser degrees of the divine presence that are appropriate and beneficial to seek out. Indeed, the primary purpose of prayer is to commune and communicate with God–to bridge the gap in awareness, which we could also call a veil, that separates us from him. Fasting is a way to lessen the body’s dominion over the spirit, and could very well be a means of thinning the veil. And I’ve already stated that I’ve found simple breathing-meditation to be a profoundly spiritual practice.

So, I ask of you: what are the potential benefits and dangers of purposefully seeking expanded consciousness, specifically greater awareness of/communion with the divine?

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57 Responses to Doors in the Wall

  1. greenfrog on August 23, 2007 at 3:51 pm

    what are the potential benefits and dangers of purposefully seeking expanded consciousness, specifically greater awareness of/communion with the divine?

    The greatest promise and threat of such seeking is that one may find things that one does not desire (Joseph Smith’s question regarding which Church was true comes to mind).

    Additionally, though, it is my experience that there are many, many dead-ends in such seeking. I don’t think that those dead-ends are reasons not to explore — but on occasion it has taken me longer than I would have liked to distinguish between a dead-end and a path forward. That probably has more to do my unpreparedness to move forward than anything else.

    The benefits? “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”

  2. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    A lot of this–breathing, drugs, chanting–strikes me as an essentially technological approach to communion with God. Interesting that fasting is said to have the same effects, but there what’s going on is usually thought to be spiritual, not a manipulation of our brain chemistry. I think its quite possible that we can deliberately alter are brain chemistry or our brain waves or our brain functioning by using certain techniques, and that doing so has the actual effect of thinning the veil, but I do not know that we would be justified in doing so. I knock at the door, but I wait for Christ to open it.

  3. Questions on August 23, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    I read Huxley’s book many years ago, along with countless other books along these lines, when I was first beginning my search for meaning and truth, and continue to be intrigued by the concepts he presents. This search ultimately led to my joining the Church, although I am now living mostly in the ‘Borderlands’ for a wide variety of reasons.

    One question that this post raises in my mind is to what degree these experiences of ‘expanded consciousness’ do or don’t provide accurate, factual knowledge about the real world. There are many in the field of neuroscience and neurophysiology who will interpret the creation of such “spiritual experiences” through the various means suggested (drugs, fasting, meditation, etc.) as an indication that these are brain phenomena, and not the result of any external, ‘spiritual’ reality. In fact, there is research being done using Magnetic Fields to induce ‘out of body’ experiences in the experimental subjects. The literature of “near death experiences” also seems relevant, and similarly controversial.

    A fascinating book I recently read on this subject is Dr. Andrew Newberg’s “Why We Believe What We Believe.” Very worthwhile, regardless of your position on what these experiences represent.

    The Temporal Lobe seems to be a significant location with regard to these types of experiences, and the ‘mystical’ or ‘visionary’ experiences of various people through history (some would include Joseph Smith here) may relate to disturbances in this part of the brain. Whether or not this is a pathological state, or represents a higher level of functioning, is a fascinating question, for which I do not yet have any answers.

    A very interesting topic to contemplate, and one which I believe will see considerable scientific research in the near future, and which I hope will shed light on the nature of consciousness (with possible implications for our understanding of God and existence).

  4. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 23, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    Technological–yes and no. There’s a physiological element that I’m just now becoming aware of. But there’s also a “works” element that I believe is just as legitimate as the other kinds of works we believe are essential to salvation. In other words, I don’t see these practices necessarily as “back doors,” although it’s tempting to try to use them as such. greenfrog’s comment that pathways forward don’t open until he’s prepared is a very important point.

    In sum, I uses these practices as ways of “knocking.” I don’t believe in forcing doors open.

    Here’s a great article on the subject of “Mormon mantras.” I don’t typically read Sunstone, but a trusted friend passed this along to me, and I thought it very well done on a number of levels.

    http://www.sunstoneonline.com/magazine/issues/141/141-20-31.pdf

  5. Andrew Ainsworth on August 23, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    Great post, Kathryn.

    I interpret the Brother of Jared’s experience seeing Christ as demonstrating that we have far more control over the veil than we might think. In the following scriptures, count how many times it says that faithful individuals “could not” be limited by the veil:

    Ether 3: 19-20

    19 And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had cfaith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.
    20 Wherefore, having this perfect knowledge of God, he could not be kept from within the veil; therefore he saw Jesus; and he did minister unto him.

    Ether 12: 19, 21
    19 And there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad.
    • • •
    21 And after the brother of Jared had beheld the finger of the Lord, because of the promise which the brother of Jared had obtained by faith, the Lord could not withhold anything from his sight; wherefore he showed him all things, for he could no longer be kept without the veil.

    Based on these scriptures, I regard the veil not so much as something that God places over my mind that is outside my control, only being removed by God when it suits him. Rather, I regard the veil as being the limited perceptions and understandings inherent in all mortal beings that we have the power to remove through our faith, discipline, and purity of heart.

  6. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 23, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    Questions, thanks for posting. I, too, am wondering about the divide between pathology and enlightenment. I think caution is warranted whenever embarking on an “enlightenment quest.” I do well to ask myself, What are my motives? Am I trying to use these techniques as alternatives to essential elements of Mormon living? What am I seeking, and is this seeking advocated in the scriptures?

    I belive there’s a kind of religious living that many Mormons would balk at as overly mystical, but it’s not necessarily so. I believe it’s possible (and even easy) to go to far, but this doesn’t preclude taking a well-informed step or two and seeing if such techniques bring new life to tried-and-true religious practices.

  7. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    KLS, I trust that your experience has been helpful.

    I’m just explaining that the reason I don’t chant or do yoga as a spiritual practice or do controlled breathing or things of that kind is that I do see it as a technology. I don’t see the difference between any of those and between taking a drug that has the same effect, or using a magnetic field. I agree that there are many works that are essential to salvation, but those obviously have a moral/spiritual component (i.e., doing service) or have been commanded. TM hasn’t been commanded.

    I feel that the physical and the spiritual are deeply intertwined. I believe that the kind of communion that comes in spiritual experience is probably accompanied by our electrochemical brain patterns, and is perhaps are even mediated by them. This leads me to believe that the sense of partial communion one has in taking LSD, say, is quite possibly genuine. But I have to believe that its wrong to do so, and absent some account of what is going on spiritually or intellectually when one does practiced breathing, I have to see it as a mostly physiological manipulation that I would avoid.

  8. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    I believe it’s possible (and even easy) to go too far,

    Could you expand on this? I think this might help us understand each other better. What constitutes going too far?

  9. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 23, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    I would say a big no-no is trying to have a supernatural experience for its own sake. Fasting/praying for long periods of time can be something akin to the self-flagellation such as the early Christian mystics employed–a way of self-manipulation for paranormal purposes.

    I think that moderate fasting, deep prayer (such as the wordless variety), and breathing meditation can be valuable augmentations to a spiritual life of service, church attendance, scripture study, etc.

    I’m aware that people have attempted to call down angelic visitations, use prayer circles, etc, in dangerous and inappropriate ways, and I want no part of this blasphemous behavior. But I am a big believer in the value of seeking the kingdom of God within. Doing so saved my life–perhaps even literally. During a time of deep despair, when my former way of Mormon living failed me, I found God within myself, and all around me, and that discovery has been the basis of my toe-the-line Mormon spiritual life ever since.

  10. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    I would say a big no-no is trying to have a supernatural experience for its own sake.

    I can understand what that means when we’re talking about angelic visitations or something. But what does that mean when we’re talking about the experience of communing with God? Wouldn’t that always be good? Or are you making a distinction between the experience of communion and the communion itself?

  11. Andrew Ainsworth on August 23, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught that we are to “gather” all truths from around the world and that “Mormonism” embraces all truths wherever they are found. Combined with the Article of Faith that we believe God will yet reveal truths, I see this gathering of truth from around the world as an ongoing process that has not been completed

    As our Church becomes increasingly international, I would not be surprised if we see a fusion of Western and Eastern spiritual practices within the Church. For example, I see no problem with an Indian Mormon doing yoga, meditating, and chanting–so long as the latter is done with real intent and is not just a “vain repetition.” And I am not aware of any express prohibition against doing yoga, meditation, or chanting as a means of drawing towards God.

    True, these Eastern spiritual practices have not been “commanded” in our Church to date, but that does not surprise me considering that the Church developed from within Western culture and, unsurprisingly, prescribes spiritual practices prevalent in Western culture (e.g., singing Western-style hymns, somewhat formalized prayer, and sitting on uncomfortable wooden pews). But as the years go on and we see millions more Chinese, Indian, and Thai members of the Church, I think gradually we will come to recognize the benefits of many Eastern spiritual practices so long as they are done with a sincere heart with real intent to draw closer to God.

    One practice that has been explicitly advocated by modern Church leaders is meditation. Although they have not specified that it should be performed in the lotus position with deep ujai breathing, I think the overall concept is that we need to draw our minds and hearts closer to God and that “meditation”–whatever that consists of–and other Eastern practices may be able to help us accomplish that goal.

  12. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    One practice that has been explicitly advocated by modern Church leaders is meditation. Although they have not specified that it should be performed in the lotus position with deep ujai breathing, I think the overall concept is that we need to draw our minds and hearts closer to God and that “meditation”–whatever that consists of–and other Eastern practices may be able to help us accomplish that goal.

    There’s no evidence that the ‘meditation’ that modern Church leaders encourage is meditation in the Eastern-practice sense. It is not the case, of course, that whatever is not expressly commanded is forbidden, but its also not the case that anything Church leaders have said about meditating on a subject has anything to do with the complex of Eastern practices that we refer to as “meditation.”

  13. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 23, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    a sincere heart with real intent to draw closer to God

    Yes. Thank you, Andrew. Adam, this is what I meant. We shouldn’t go looking for God only because it’s nifty to have a supernatural experience.

    Like, trippy, man.

  14. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    Ah. Thanks,

  15. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 23, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    Andrew, I somehow missed your #5.

    I regard the veil as being the limited perceptions and understandings inherent in all mortal beings that we have the power to remove through our faith, discipline, and purity of heart.

    I agree. What I meant is that we can’t chant, fast, and pray our way into God’s literal presence through sheer endurance, and we’d be stupid to try.

    I love Ether 3 and 4. Sometime relatively soon I’m going to do a post focusing, in part, on B-o-J’s exchange with the Lord. Thanks for your comments.

  16. Andrew Ainsworth on August 23, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    Adam,

    The Brethren have not explained what they mean by “meditation,” so it is true that I cannot prove they had Eastern meditation in mind (on the other hand, we can’t prove they didn’t). However, if I am able to meditate in an “Eastern” way that draws my heart closer to God’s, and it has not been expressly prohibited by the Church, then to me it is a good practice that falls within Joseph Smith and Brigham Young’s definition of “Mormonism”. So in short, I don’t feel that I need a General Authority’s advance stamp of approval on Eastern-style meditation in order to practice it with a sincere heart and real intent to draw closer to God.

    God says “Be still, and know that I am God.” Western culture has become so frantic in so many ways. I appreciate the Eastern practices that focus on stilling the mind and body in a way that I believe allows me to commune with God in a meaningful way.

  17. Ray on August 23, 2007 at 6:11 pm

    Amen to Andrew’s last paragraph. Frenetic activity and the still small voice often are incompatible.

  18. Dalene on August 23, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    Interesting discussion. I am open to us as a culture being more open to Eastern thoughts and ideas. But to be honest I find that the moments when I feel closest to God or I am most inspired are often not when I am earnestly and deliberately seeking it. But they do occur most often while I am doing something I am supposed to be doing.

    “Be still, and know that I am God.” I have been pondering the meaning of this for months now. All I know is that it is truth. I find the applying is much more difficult than the knowing.

  19. Ron on August 23, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    I\’m not well versed in the aims of meditation, but I\ don\’t think we\’re here to escape mortality or the limitations of the body, though there may be ways to go in that direction. The limitations of our brain, etc. make it possible for us to experience the stream of time the way we do so we can develop faith. One of the most important things I believe we came here to learn involves a specific aim–caring for others, and as a byproduct, losing self-focus. It seems to me that a meditative, etc., practice, that focuses on our own state, though perhaps opening up some doors, could miss that point.

  20. Bob on August 23, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    #20: I believe in Eastern mediation, you always work with a ‘Master’, who pulls you out of your navel if you go to deep. ( Remember ‘Grasshopper’?) I am a child of the 60s. Some good things came out of mediation (TM), I can’t recall anything good from drugs. I would never recommend anyone try to ‘alter their state’ with anything other than prayer or mediation. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Carlos Castaneda in about 1969, right after he had release his book “The Teachings of Don Juan”. He had seen Don Juan cross the ‘veil’, Castaneda never did, and was never sure he wanted to.

  21. Non-Winter Meat Eater on August 24, 2007 at 3:47 am

    “It was like an acid trip from the Lord.”

    -Arthur “Killer” Kane, “New York Doll”

  22. Kyle R on August 24, 2007 at 4:40 am

    Kathryn wonders: could the veil be partially physiological in nature?

    Adam says: I feel that the physical and the spiritual are deeply intertwined. I believe that the kind of communion that comes in spiritual experience is probably accompanied by our electrochemical brain patterns, and is perhaps are even mediated by them.

    This is quite close to my own view. I would say that the physical and spiritual are dynamically related in the same way as matter =energy. The ‘spiritual’, it would seem, expresses itself through matter. They both are essentially the same stuff in different quantum arrangements. In Western Christian there is a persistent Calvinist tradition of ‘profane’ matter and ‘holy’ spirit that still persists and makes us reluctant to ever put the two on equal footing.

    Kathryn you have pointed out various ways in which the Eastern perspective can find a surprising accomodation within LDS thought.

    Last year the Dalai Llama published a short (and in my view excellent) article in New Scientist on Buddhism and Quantum Physics that may cast an interesting light on these issues. Given your evident interests I’m sure you will appreciate it’s viewpoint.

    http://geilenkotten.homeunix.org/wikikotten/index.php/The_Om_of_physics_-_Dalai_Lama

    After reading it again I wondered about this concept of the Veil (which I take to be in some ways analogous to the Hindu Maya).

    If we imagine the Veil as something like a curtain this imagery may not be helpful. It suggests a ‘border line” of some kind rather than the omnipresent and dynamic interface between spirit and matter.

  23. Kyle R on August 24, 2007 at 6:34 am

    Er, that should of course be the Dalai Lama, rather than Llama, although no doubt the latter could be conjured up with enough drugs, fasting and meditation.

  24. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 24, 2007 at 8:58 am

    #17, yes. And this verse says to me that when we are still, we’ll sense an “I am” other than our own, and this is God. It’s as if the Lord is saying, when you’re still, you’ll find me.

    #18, I believe that purposefully seeking is something I’m supposed to be doing. But your point is well taken. I often feel the spirit’s sunburst within me when I’m not looking for it. (often it’s not when I’m “doing” something per se, but merely thinking about things divine, without expressly seeking communion with God). I’ve found that living “stillness” becomes much, much easier once its value has been discovered. It becomes second nature–tapping into that still place within, even when I’m outwardly busy. The practice of it is important.

    #19, I heartily disagree with your point that we’re not here to escape our mortal limitations. We’re actually here for that very purpose–to cast off the natural man that mortality envelops us in, and become saints. Meditation, fasting, and prayer enable us to access God-within-us, awakens us to our eternal selves which are in harmony with God, and makes it easier for us to refuse the natural man when we’re in our non-meditative, workaday states of being.

    If meditation were self-focused, this “missing the mark” that you’re concerned about would indeed be an issue. But as I’ve stated elsewhere, the purpose is to transcend self–the very opposite of focusing on self. Looking for God (within ourselves, within nature, and within others) is something the scriptures repeatedly encourage me to do. Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you, knock and it shall be opened unto you, seek me and ye shall find me, I am the true light within you and you are within me, seek this Jesus of whom the prophets have testified. There’s an extensive mystical current in the scriptures, esp. the New Testament and the D&C. It’s an element not often discussed in official circles, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an essential part of our religion.

    #20, thanks for your insights. The kind of meditation I do does not require assistance–it’s simply sitting still and breathing. I’m more of a dabbler than a devotee.

    #21, perfect!

    #22, Thanks for that link. I’m excited to read it as soon as I find a few minutes.

  25. Kyle R on August 24, 2007 at 10:16 am

    #16 Western culture has become so frantic in so many ways. I appreciate the Eastern practices that focus on stilling the mind and body in a way that I believe allows me to commune with God in a meaningful way.

    #17 Amen to Andrew’s last paragraph. Frenetic activity and the still small voice often are incompatible.

    Well put Andrew and Ray I completely agree as far as the ‘still small voice’ goes. But I’ve suddenly had an odd thought about “communing with God in a meaningful way”, frenetic activity and the still mind.

    I find Eastern thought fascinating but sometimes wonder to what extent the authors of Eastern texts that outline and meditate on these practices and their meanings were – as a bit of a ‘scribe’ caste – living at a degree of remove from the always partially ‘frantic’ struggle for survival that has characterised most of human existence. Western culture is indeed almost soul-destroyingly frantic. I wonder at the reason God Himself has placed us in a mortal situation beset by so much relentless existential ‘noise’, and why it is in this situation that we are expected to somehow commune with Him.

    For example, I’ve had a number of friends who are very meditative and ‘into’ Eastern thought. (In the sense that they seem to have poured a sacket of pre-packaged Buddhism over their create-your-own pizza spirituality). But I’ve noticed at length how circular and repetitive and abstract their acquired insights are. They’ve started to think that the tranquil and all-knowing state of the mind they’ve attained in their bubbles is where they ‘are’ in the cosmos. (“Hey I’m, like, you know, at one with the ‘space’, man.”)

    But you go out for the day with them and it all goes to pieces. They can be surprising quick to take offense and quite impractical when confronted with unexpected situations.

    It’s interesting – and this is my main point – that communion or encounter with the ‘veil’ between ourselves and the ‘greater’ can take place from a lateral as well as a ‘depth’ perspective.

    The other day I was in a supermarket – garish, over-stimulating and horribly bright as they all are – and saw a mother struggling at the checkout, ahead of a long and impatient queue, with a trolley containing a meagre amount of ‘value’ or ‘economy’ groceries, a baby in a pram and another small child who was bored and rambunctious. The baby started wailing just as the other child climbed up on the trolly, slipped and knocked over a rack of goods. The mother herself looked on the verge of tears as she fumbled in her purse for the money the clearly irritated clerk was asking for. At the very same time she leaned over and soothed the crying baby with a warm but weak smile on her face, digging around for a soother and briefly stroking its cheek. She quieted the rambunctious child with a calm but firm word while another customer helpfully restored the tipped over goods rack. The mother’s face was an impressively expressive mixture of gratitude for the assistance, love for the baby she was successfully reassuring and a very controlled look of being almost at the end of her tether. She paid the quite rude clerk without responding to the rudeness and struggled on out the supermarket with baby, child and groceries.

    I reckoned her days must all be like this and her composure – given the circumstances – was striking and admirable.

    Far from sitting in meditative stillness, she was right up against it, in a situation that I realised would have made me completely lose my cool.

    It occurs to me now that in juggling love and stress and the practical demands of frenetic life, she was experiencing the interface between spirit and matter in a different way than someone in quiet contemplation, and yet precisely in the frenetic reality where spirit and matter collide and reveal themselves in all their rawness. And as a mother caring warmly for her children in the midst of dire economic circumstances and the chaos at the checkout, she could also be said to be communing with God in a truly meaningful way.

  26. Mike on August 24, 2007 at 10:24 am

    Perhaps a thread jack…

    One thing I do that I feel is similar to fasting, meditation and prayer is vigorous exercise.

    I think that exercise changes the electrochemistry of the brain. I think that most of the common milder forms of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, burn out, stress etc. are all greatly benefitted on a chemical level by intense exercise. I think that before the modern era most people did intense exercise for many hours every day in the form of manual labor and we were designed for it.

    Vigorous exercise is not for everyone depending on the condition of their body, especially their cardiovascular system. I think that the physiology of running 5 or 10 miles is similar in some ways to fasting for a day. I feel closer to the Lord while running and some of my best insights into how to accomplish difficult tasks have come while running. I also like hard hiking, cross-country skiing and I think swimming would have similar effects. For older people or those not in as good condition and just starting out, walking is excellent.

    At northern tier my son left me on a small rocky island as a prank and ran off with the canoe. Rather than wait for him to come back I chose to swim over a mile against a weak current. I was fully dressed with heavy jungle boots and the required lifejacket so the going was slow and hard. It took over an hour of vigorous swimming to get back to shore. I was so tired I could barely stand up. I felt so good a few minutes later. The effect lasted for several hours if not days. Rather than going after that not-so-little cuss who left me, I felt inclined to thank him.

    I am not a real hard-core runner. I run about 10-20 miles a week around the neighborhood at night when nobody can see what a slacker I have become in my old age. I have never run more than 10 miles at a time. I do not enter races or compete. I won some middle distance races in high school and washed out at the college level. I never trained seriously when young and ran on pure guts and genetics. If I had more time I would take up swimming and then try to enter some of those Iron Man competitions. I have friends who do these things and I admire them.

    In my imagination, I have this true Iron Man tri-event in mind. It would include swimming across a nearly frozen lake, cross country skiing several miles with a hungry wolf pack in pursuit and finally target shooting while shivering. I have heard that just before freezing to death people relax and feel really good and perhaps could shoot really straight at that point. I am also a great fan of the Barkley ultramarathon. It is a 5 lap 100 mile race in the steep Tennesse mountains with almost 60,000 feet elevation change. Over half the entries never even finish the first lap including Olympic gold-medalists. Less than 1% of entries are under the 60 hour cut-off for world class athletes who run other 100 mile races in 15-20 hours. (See this website if curious– http://www.mattmahoney.net/barkley/) But these are examples of going way too far.

    I would never actually consider trying to finish a Barkley even if I was 30 years old and in physical condition to have a shot at it. I think many spiritual excesses are in the same category. Taking LSD or cocaine is like tying your spiritual arms to the back of a motorcycle and being dragged around the Barkley course in a couple hours. It is going to inflict serious trauma and is far from actually experiencing anything resembling the real race.

  27. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 24, 2007 at 11:49 am

    Kyle, thank you. As a mother who has similar moments daily, I understand that this kind of being-in-tune is the most valuable kind possible.

    Mike, great insights. I’m a slacker runner myself, and the spiritual/emotional as well as the physiological benefits are undeniable.

  28. Adam Greenwood on August 24, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    Taking LSD or cocaine is like tying your spiritual arms to the back of a motorcycle and being dragged around the Barkley course in a couple hours.

    True. The real value of completing the course is the demonstration of strength, endurance, and will. Being able to put aside one’s own wants and needs, to forget oneself, is also of real value and using drugs to simulate that is obviously a cheap. But what’s the value of controlled breathing? I’m still wrestling with this question, but so far I don’t see much moral difference between physiological techniques that stimulate a reaction of some kind in the mind and chemical techniques that stimulate that same reaction.

  29. Andrew on August 24, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Kyle (25)

    I too have wondered about how “practical” the Eastern perspective is when at times it seems the ideal is to leave the world and go sit under a lotus tree alone and meditate for years. Not really something that people with children and legitimate worldly responsibilities can do. But perhaps at the end of the day, after our frantic pursuits are over, we can create a quiet space and time to commune with God through prayer, meditation, etc. We can pray and meditate in our homes, in our closets if need be.

    You’re right that Eastern practices won’t do us a bit of good if we can’t integrate them into our daily lives. One thing I appreciate about Mormonism is that it’s just so darn practical and centered on daily living. But we need to be careful about not over-programming and need to strike the right balance between action and still reflection.

    Loved the grocery store example. I recognize that woman as one of the thousands of unsung Brahmins who keep their cool in the midst of chaos every day.

    All in all, I guess I view prayer and meditation like putting on a rain coat, hat, and boots before going out into the storm of daily life.

  30. Andrew on August 24, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    Adam wrote: “But what’s the value of controlled breathing?”

    I idea behind controlled breathing is to learn to control your thoughts. Eastern religions recognize that the mind constantly wanders, often into dangerous territory, and that one must master one’s thoughts. Focusing on and controlling your breathing is an exercise that helps you control your thoughts by forcing yourself to concentrate on one thing and one thing only, excluding all other thoughts. The idea is that if you consistently practice forcing all thoughts out of your mind except breathing, you will develop the ability to force any unwanted thought out of your mind at any time during your daily routine.

    Breathing is something you can concentrate on no matter where you are, and it also has a naturally calming effect to breathe deeply. It also never hurts to get a little more oxygen up to the brain, for those of us who cannot afford Michael Jackson-style oxygen chambers.

  31. greenfrog on August 24, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    A supplement to Andrew’s response to the question regarding the value of controlled breathing:

    1. (stating the obvious) Breathing is something that we all do, all the time. For most people, it is the only bodily operation that can be controlled by either (or both) the autonomic and the sympathetic nervous systems — that is to say, for most, it’s the only action that can happen entirely unconsciously and that the exercise of will (moral agency) can affect. Experiencing and gaining understanding about the relationship between automatic aspects of embodiment and the operation of agency is a pretty remarkable thing — and it may, in LDS parlance, be one of the reasons behind the reason we come to earth (to gain a body).

    2. Because breathing is something that we all do all the time, it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees sometimes. In my experience, the way that we breathe affects, to a very significant degree, the thoughts that we have, and the feelings that we experience, but because we tend not even to “see” our breath at all, we don’t notice how it is related to those experiences. For a simple example, consider the experience of grief. When I cry, the way that I breathe changes. When I get to the stage of sobbing, the breath is wildly different than it is when I am sitting quietly. Typically, we assume that the emotion causes the change in breath, as we tend to think that spirits/minds control bodies in some kind of fixed hierarchy. Practicing breath control has allowed me to discover that bodies affect minds and minds affect bodies without any hierarchy at all. The bodily experience of sobbing’s restricted, gasping, blocked breath triggers the feeling of grief, just as grief triggers the bodily experience of sobbing. That’s, of course, a very unusual and peculiar example (a more cheery one is laughing, for all the same reasons), but the breath affects our minds/spirits/bodies in similar ways with respect to more subtle feelings and thoughts, as well.

    3. Because breathing affects our experience in so many ways, it is worth understanding, just as technology is worth understanding. Without understanding technology, we cannot exercise moral agency with respect to the ways that technology affects our lives. While understanding something certainly doesn’t always mean that we can get what we want, at least it helps us see how our own actions are working at cross purposes with our objectives.

  32. Kyle R on August 24, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    #27 Kathryn you seem to have both the reflective and interactive aspects of life superbly covered.

    #29 All in all, I guess I view prayer and meditation like putting on a rain coat, hat, and boots before going out into the storm of daily life.

    A great way to put it. And “unsung Brahmins”: Andrew, I hope you’ll pardon me if I appropriate that excellent phrase for my own future use.

    Yes, the practical aspect of Mormonism is what I think I most admire about it. Practical and optimistic. Practical in its approach to daily life but practical, too, in its psychological attitude and its ethics. (Apart from some flabbergasting positions on certain issues that this thread is not the place for.)

    Integrating both practical and esoteric aspects of our natures into a balanced whole must be the essential task of life. (And quite Jungian really).

    Perhaps this is what the frenetic crucible of spirit and matter – into which we’ve been placed – is to help us achieve.

  33. Angie on August 24, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    I became a practicing Mormon because of understanding received in a altered state of consciousness (I was an NAC member at the time). I fully believe in the power that you are talking about, and because of that I am very cautious in how I choose to access it. There is much spiritual power and there are many spirits interested in influencing us, and most of us are poorly equiped to understand and deal effectively within that realm.

    Setting aside time to commune with God through prayer, meditation, and scripture study is spiritually strengthening and safe. There is a reason that Church members are broadly encouraged to do these things, and nowadys I find that I receive the direction I need through these channels. I have never felt that they aren’t enough. I do think breathing is much more powerful than most people realize, and when used correctly can be a source of healing and understanding. I have had some amazing experiences related to breath, although it is not something I have pursued for a number of years and I probably won’t again unless I feel a specific spirtual prompting to do so.

    I do think that intention is critical. Getting caught up in a prideful sort of intent–ie trying to take credit for opening doors or trying to do so for selfish purposes–is misguided and dangerous. For me there are two keys–one is to be guided by God in all things, to trust that He will give me the understanding I need for what He wants me to accomplish. I am here to walk by faith, and most of my focus is on doing that. The other is to remember that it is all a gift, and to accept it in humility and gratitude.

  34. Chino Blanco on August 24, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    Cool thread.

    My three cents …

    1) Out-of-body experiences are weird and real, but no idea what they mean, and haven’t found anyone yet who’s described them in a way that didn’t leave me feeling that they were working maybe just a little too hard to use their experiences to validate their pet beliefs about God, the Universe and Everything.

    2) Time is not so linear as I used to think it was, and I have a personal anecdote involving an inflight magazine to prove it.

    3) What some refer to as “technology” is more like “practice” … the bum rap that some “Eastern” practices get is due in part because the individual practices all get exported, whilst the less easily packaged family and community practices, which are equally “technological” but ultimately very laudable from a Mormon POV that appreciates respecting forebears, harmony in the home, etc., well, these don’t seem to have quite the same market overseas …

    3)

  35. Ray on August 24, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    A woman in my extended family has a real problem with letting stressful situations roil until they spill out in ways she does not like – nothing abusive, but not under proper control. Growing up with her, I always emphasized “deep breathing” – nothing more than taking a long, slow, deep breath and letting it help her relax.

    When I watched my wife give birth and saw the Lamaze technique, it struck me that the core principle that directs such breathing is much like what I had been saying outside of childbirth through the years. Since that epiphany almost twenty years ago, my wife (and oldest daughter and second son, particularly) have worked out a visual cue when they start to react to stress. I simply grin and say, “Lamaze keeps the universe together” – sometimes with a palm extended downward. Then I say, “Breathe” – and wait for them to take a couple of truly deep, slow breaths. I have found that when they actually do take a “deep cleansing breath”, there is a real difference in their ability to release the stress of the moment and act in (rather than react to) the situation at hand.

    I also am struck by how much clearer things can be in the morning, after extended slow breathing as we sleep. I have come to believe that there is a powerful lesson in the injunction to “sleep on it” – even if we employ something like unto it.

  36. Rand on August 24, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    Great topic Kathryn. Kyle, not to steal the thread, but can you discover spirit through matter? Is spirit comprehendible and understandable through physical practices? I believe this is one of the weaknesses of Eastern practices; they seem to approach spirituality through the physical side of things. It seems that “all things were created spiritually” before they were created physically, not the other way around, indicates we should discover ourselves physically through spiritual practice, not the other way around.

  37. Chino Blanco on August 24, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    In the spirit of #11, “sitting on uncomfortable wooden pews” does not seem all that far removed from the uncomfortably bent knees that are de rigeur when paying respects at the family altar found on the top floor of many Taiwanese homes … having perched ourselves so uncomfortably before those to whom we grant authority to direct our lives, we then go forth to serve.

    If you only watch from the outside as others dress up in strange costumes and parade through town behind their grandmother’s casket, you’d miss the chance to then handle her bones, and take a bit home as a remembrance of a remarkable woman, and you might even then scoff at the physical side of customs in the East … or, if you were to join in the procession, you might begin to recognize the genius of Mormon worship and its integration of both the “practical and esoteric aspects of our natures” and marvel at how this integration has also been accomplished at other times in other places.

  38. Adam Greenwood on August 24, 2007 at 5:19 pm
  39. m&m on August 24, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    This post is reminding me of something someone smarter than myself once pointed out.

    Look at the following verses: Ether 12: 7, 8, 12, 19, 20, 21, 31, 39. Note the pattern, and also Moroni’s invitation in verse 41. And also read Doctrine and Covenants 93:1 as well. (There are other such scriptures.) Clearly, Ether 12 and other scriptures are about faith as a general principle, but it also appears there is something more we are being taught. I have often wondered exactly how one goes about seeking Jesus literally, seeking His face, even His presence. I think some of what has been discussed here is part of it, but I also believe it’s more than just us transcending this life, but also about doing the things that allow the Savior to change us from the inside out. But that story earlier in Ether is certainly compelling about the role of our faith, our actions, our firm belief in making it so that the veil could be parted.

    It all makes me feel like a peon in terms of faith.

  40. Ron on August 24, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    Very interesting ideas and responses. My knowledge a lot of this is limited, but there are some interesting sources and links for me here.
    I’m thinking there is a difference between escaping the mortal system and transforming it. We come to this life and take of these materials and engage in a creative activity. In Ether we are told we have weaknesses so we can be humble. The Lord shows us what they are (it is less painful if I get to decide what they are, but I don’t know very much) and then helps us to make them into strengths. We draw near to the Lord, seek, knock, and he invites us to become one with him. Christ is in and through all things; His light is life and law for us and in us. He invites us to share in his health and he shares in our sickness, spiritual and physical. That could be called mystical (one definition I’ve seen is that it involves oneness), though words can sometimes carry baggage. I can also see that there are things that can’t be transformed, and are “eliminative and not productive,” hence the need to open doors and escape the limitations. Also, there are things here that are in the category of “added upon.”

  41. greenfrog on August 25, 2007 at 11:29 am

    One last thought along the lines of breath control — it is, in fact, a rather central practice to LDS worship in at least one manifestation. Almost every official Church meeting begins and ends, and sometimes is interspersed, with group breath control practice. We inhale at the same time. We extend the exhalations to the same length. We practice various rhythms and pacings.

    We call it congregational singing.

    When we engage in it, our minds are drawn together. It focuses our awareness. It opens our hearts to each other and to God.

    And on those occasions when we do it with complete attention, complete effort, and complete dedication — such as occurs sometimes in choral singing — we experience the sublime, and we describe the experience as one when we felt angels from heaven had joined in.

    All a form of breath control.

  42. Bob on August 25, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Every time Greenfrog posts on breath, (which I enjoy greatly), I think of that James Garner movie, where he and another old man are talking and he says ” We must go fishing together..early..when we can see our breath..sometimes that’s not a bad thing”.

  43. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 25, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Wow, lots of great thoughts. Thank you, everyone, for lending your insights.

    #32: Integrating both practical and esoteric aspects of our natures into a balanced whole must be the essential task of life.

    I agree that it’s one of our essential tasks. Practical-minded people may need to develop their reflective/seeking side, and vice versa. And certainly, if any given religious practice doesn’t change the way we relate to each other and to God, it’s a waste of time.

    #40 it’s more than just us transcending this life, but also about doing the things that allow the Savior to change us from the inside out

    I agree. We’re not here to escape, but to change. The only way out is through. And the parts of our religious living that we do in solitude are for the express purpose of changing us from the inside out, just as active service in our families, wards, and communities is. One complements the other.

    #41, I especially loved this line of yours. He invites us to share in his health and he shares in our sickness, spiritual and physical.

    #42, fascinating.

    And finally, regarding the concept of walking by faith: Faith is a principle of action and a catalyst for knowlege, not a passive state of being. Certainly, we can be too aggressive in our search for knowledge–as we move along our path we must allow it to unfold before us, and not try to take shortcuts. But on the other hand, saying “we’re supposed to walk by faith” can be used as an excuse for spiritual apathy.

    Seeking expanded consciousness can be a way of exercising faith.

  44. Bookslinger on August 25, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    Adam, your post reminds me that children, the elderly, and the mentally unbalanced seem to have a closer connection to the spirit world than “normal” folks.

  45. Bookslinger on August 26, 2007 at 1:42 am

    Oops, I meant Kathryn.

    And conversely, those with a closer than average connection to the spiritual world are often labeled mentally unbalanced by those with less of a connection.

    I think the spirit world connects to us through out feelings and mind, much like our imagination does. Small children haven’t yet learned how to dismiss their imagination. The elderly are generally less afraid to voice their thoughts, perhaps less afraid of being dismissed by others, at least such seem those whose age has given them confidence.

  46. Kyle R on August 26, 2007 at 6:28 am

    #37 … can you discover spirit through matter? Is spirit comprehendible and understandable through physical practices? I believe this is one of the weaknesses of Eastern practices; they seem to approach spirituality through the physical side of things. It seems that “all things were created spiritually” before they were created physically, not the other way around, indicates we should discover ourselves physically through spiritual practice, not the other way around.

    Ron, I tend to believe – and I think the implication of much of the ‘Eastern’ view suggests this also – that the duality of spirit/physical has more to do with the construction of our human brains and the ideas with which we frame and compartmentalise reality than any real core difference in the substance of spirit and matter. Joseph Smith’s thought also tended to resist any extreme or fundamental duality between spirit and matter. He said that spirit is ‘refined’ matter. This would suggest that potentially – and I’m only using this as a speculative example – in an infinity of time and space, and in an eternity of eternal progression, the basest matter – for example a rock – and the most absolutely refined spirit – the soul of God let’s say – are not composed of essentially different ‘stuff’, they are just at mind-bogglingly different levels of refinement. (I myself would love to know precisely how Joseph Smith understood the issue.)

    Perhaps it’s because of this that God can be in all things, be aware of every seed that falls to the ground, and know personally the states of mind and emotion of billions of spirit children. Western mysticism shares common ground with Eastern thought in some of these areas. The more refined the ‘stuff’ of the cosmos is, the more it somehow encompasses and is aware of all less refined states of matter. At the same time, there is perhaps the implication that matter itself is somehow aware and goal-directed. Tribal Animism and religions such as Shinto veer close to this notion.

    So if you ask me “can you discover spirit though matter?” I suppose I would say that perhaps they are both on a continuum in flux, rather on oppposite sides of some kind of static cosmic dividing line. Thus, when we refer to ‘spirit’ we cannot touch or reach we may just be referring to a potential already embedded and evolving within our physical experience. In some way ‘spirit’ can be shorthand for ‘the future’ in time. (Time and space are also a bit interchangeable and not as distinct as we perceive them to be.) As in quantum physics, the spirit is only ever really there in a meaningful way when our attention and energy is directed towards it. If we aren’t attuned to it, it somehow isn’t there. (Which is perhaps a more technical explanation of how Christ can be a ‘light shinining in the darkness but the darkness comprehendeth it not” D&C 6:21 )

  47. Kyle R on August 26, 2007 at 6:41 am

    # 37 Rand, beg pardon for my getting your name mixed up.

  48. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 28, 2007 at 9:09 am

    Bookslinger, great observations. It seems the reducing valve gets less and less effective the closer people are to birth and death (and insanity, for that matter). Huxley talks about how the same data that slips past the filter can be euphoric or terrifying, depending on a number of variables. The companion volume to The Doors of Perception is called –it elaborates on this dichotomy.

    Kyle, I’m impressed with your grasp of Mormon theology. When are you gonna convert? *smile*

  49. Kyle R on August 28, 2007 at 11:39 am

    *Laughs* I’ve put Joseph Smith in the short-list of thinkers I’m interested in – along with Fyodor Dostoevsky, Carl Jung, Emile-Auguste Chartier, Georg Cantor and Gaston Bachelard. That’s about as much a leap of faith as you’ll get from me I’m afraid Kathryn.

    I converted to T.S. Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’ a long time ago.

  50. Adam Greenwood on August 28, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Tribal Animism and religions such as Shinto veer close to this notion.

    I don’t know that Joseph Smith ever taught this (though he did teach that animals were ensouled) but in the Utah period panpsychism became a fairly popular position among Mormons and still is.

    As in quantum physics, the spirit is only ever really there in a meaningful way when our attention and energy is directed towards it. If we aren’t attuned to it, it somehow isn’t there. (Which is perhaps a more technical explanation of how Christ can be a ‘light shinining in the darkness but the darkness comprehendeth it not” D&C 6:21 )

    That is an extremely fascinating notion.

  51. Jim Morrison on August 28, 2007 at 11:55 am

    There are things known, and there are things unknown, and in between are the Doors.

  52. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 28, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    Jim. I KNEW you were still alive! Everyone called me crazy, but I didn’t care.

    Do you still fit into your leather pants?

  53. Jim Morrison on August 28, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    Do I still fit into my leather pants?

    I am the lizard king. I can do anything.

  54. Kyle R on August 28, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    Lizard King and Kathryn, the leather pants sound like what Rumsfeld referred to as the “known unknowns”.

  55. Kyle R on August 28, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    # 51 Adam, this notion – for me – is linked to ‘agency’. Free agency is most often discussed as choice of action in the physical realm, but there is obviously also freedom to choose one’s ‘state of being’. Let’s say the ‘free agency’ that God grants is in some way absolute. One could in that case choose to know or not know the ‘spirit’. One could choose the ‘state of being’ where matter/spirit flux is relentlessly determined and the exigencies of matter dominate (‘the natural man’). This would be analagous to ceasing to function except according to classical physics and measuring oneself as a mere particle than as a possible wave. This would be the human being in ‘solid state’, where spirit and spiritual possibilities are banished. They’re effectively not there because of the true extent of free agency. The chooser’s own choice of ‘state’ fixes the flux at points where spirit is not.

  56. Jim Morrison on August 28, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    Like Rumsfeld, I believe in a long, prolonged, derangement of the senses in order to obtain the unknown.