Monday, February 27, 2012

DO Go Gentle into That Good Night

This morning I read an article in the Wall Street Journal called Why Doctors Die Differently by Ken Murray, MD. It talked about several individuals who, following a diagnosis of cancer or other terminal illness, opted out of expensive 'lifesaving' (or life-prolonging) treatments, opting instead to maybe take some pain medications, and otherwise to just live life to the fullest for whatever little time they had left. And then to die, peacefully, at home.
Over half of doctors have "DNR" (do not resuscitate) in their advanced directives or living will (what they want done if they are still alive but unable to express their wishes). As the article explains
It's not something that we like to talk about, but doctors die, too. What's unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared with most Americans, but how little. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care that they could want. But they tend to go serenely and gently.

Doctors don't want to die any more than anyone else does. But they usually have talked about the limits of modern medicine with their families. They want to make sure that, when the time comes, no heroic measures are taken.
The author speculates that maybe this is because doctors know the real rates of effectiveness of those heroic measures. In movies and other media, for example, CPR is portrayed as "successful in 75% of the cases [and] 67% of the TV patients went home. In reality, a 2010 study of more than 95,000 cases of CPR found that only 8% of patients survived for more than one month. Of these, only about 3% could lead a mostly normal life."

A follow-up article in The Guardian (a UK publication) cites British doctors' responses to Dr Murray's article. Although one doctor said he thought that he felt differently about the US medical system as opposed to the UK medical system, the general consensus there was the same.
Kate Adams, a GP in Hackney, London, thinks general practitioners "lose" their patients when they enter hospital and take end-of-life treatment decisions with consultants. "For me, quality of life is much more important than quantity. Sometimes patients and distressed relatives focus on quantity," she says. "I wouldn't necessarily go for chemotherapy and drugs that make you feel sick if it's only going to prolong my life for a short time."

"It's a topic that isn't talked about very often, and should be," agrees Dr Clodagh Murphy, another GP, who practises in Northern Ireland. "Most people think there's nothing worse than death – but we know that there is. That's why it's so difficult when you see an elderly patient with cancer; their natural instinct is to go for treatment, and you must respect that – but at the same time, you're thinking, 'So now you're going to have an operation with a six-month recovery period, which might make the last three years of your life even more hellish than if you'd let the illness take its course.'"

It's certainly food for thought, isn't it.  As Dr Murray concludes, "my doctor has my choices on record. They were easy to make, as they are for most physicians. There will be no heroics, and I will go gentle into that good night. Like my mentor Charlie. Like my cousin Torch. Like so many of my fellow doctors."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lenten Thoughts #1--help thou mine unblief

Today, while the children were napping, I took my two minutes to sit in stillness and quietness to ponder. I did not have a mantra or particular concept in mind when I sat down, but almost immediately a scripture verse came to mind:
Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief  
(Mark 9:24)
The dichotomy is striking. I pondered on what it meant (since there is no conjunction in the sentence).
"I believe, but help mine unbelief?"
"I believe, and help mine unbelief?"
And then I was struck with "I believe, so help mine unbelief."

I think that belief is a choice, and that it is one we must make constantly, even daily. Belief may inherently mean daily looking unbelief in the face and saying "I still choose to believe." Some days, at least for me, it is more of "I want to believe," but the result is the same.

Lehi taught his son that "there must needs be opposition in all things," and so it is with belief. If you really care about your faith, about your spirituality, then you will have to face a certain amount of conflict over it. Sometimes that conflict comes from outside yourself, and sometimes from within. Sometimes it comes both directions.

So choosing belief can also mean accepting unbelief as something that you'll have to face repeatedly.
And that's ok.
Because when your doubts cause you to question your faith, you can also use your faith to question your doubts.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lent 2012

This year I've decided to observe Lent. I've never done this before--most Mormons don't--but a friend mentioned that she was doing it, and planted the idea. Then I was chatting with another friend of mine (who is Catholic) and she said this:
We consider Lent a time of penitence. While "giving something up" is a nice idea, and sometimes we do that, we see it as a time of taking something on as well. One year, we committed to attending morning Mass, every day of Lent. So, I don't think you have to give up something, like a favorite food. It should be about doing something that brings you closer to God: if that's giving something up, then I think that's great. If it's taking something on, then that's great too. But I think that all too often people just pick something, give it up, and don't think twice about it. Then there are those who have no formal rituals, but give themselves fully to the season of penitence that Lent should be.
I liked what she said. Then, just a day or two later, I read this article Don't Get Caught in the Lent Trap, and here is someone else saying that Lent often becomes a season of holy one-upmanship, rather than a time of truly trying to draw closer to Deity.

So I tried to think of what I might do to draw closer to Deity, and the answer came quickly and easily: daily meditation. Just two minutes a day, that shouldn't be hard, right? (I'll tell you, it already was hard on the first day, because I'm not used to this yet! I just forgot to do it until nearly bedtime!)

I am trying to be conscious of what Phil McLemore said in his article Mormon Mantras: that when one first begins practicing meditation, it may feel boring, or stressful, and the thoughts that come may be deeply subjective, before they are able to be transformative. BUT that's the whole point of continued practice!

I was reading another article from Psychology Today this afternoon and found Nine Essential Qualities of Mindfulness, and it was a very timely find. The nine essentials are:
  • focus on the present moment
  • being fully present
  • open to experience
  • non-judgment (oooo, I've written about that before)
  • acceptance of things as they are
  • connection
  • non-attachment
  • peace and equanimity
  • compassion

I actually already had an interesting epiphany today, but that will be in its own post. :)

Friday, February 17, 2012

One Eternal Round

"In our worship there are two elements: 
one is the spiritual communion arising from our own meditation; 
the other, instruction from others . . . 
of the two, the more profitable . . . is the meditation. 
Meditation is one of the most secret, 
most sacred 
doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord." 
~President David O McKay

Last Friday night, I sat in a darkened room, listening to "Holy Now" on repeat, and visualized a ball of light within myself. I watched and felt that light extend through my root chakra and into the earth, and through my crown chakra and into the sky. I drew in energy from my Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, and extended out metaphysical arms of that energy and light to connect with other women, forming a circle of "holding hands" even though we were in 4 separate states. We then prayed for each other, sharing our words via skype (because we are so far apart). Then we sent our prayers and energies out into the world, to all nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples, asking for blessings of peace and healing, and pledging to do our part to enact those things within our spheres of influence.
That prayer circle was intensely spiritual. And I never would have thought to participate in such a thing if I had not opened the door to integrate paganism and eastern spirituality with my faith practice.

When I was a teenager, we had an exchange student from central america come to stay with our family for three months. She was Catholic, and we took her to mass each week. I remember sitting in those services and thinking "this is really different from my church, but it's beautiful." I loved the beauty, I loved the ritual. I discussed it with my parents once, how I wished that we had more ritual in our church. They smiled and said that when I went through the temple I would get to participate in more ritual. So I looked forward to that day.
When that day came, they were right, some parts had ritual that I found exquisite and meaningful...but some parts really did not. I was more than a little disappointed. I still craved ritual as an enactment of meaningful spirituality.
When I was in college, as part of my research for my role in Macbeth, I learned about modern Wicca, and was fascinated. The intentionality, formality, and simplicity of their ritual style, calling upon elements and communing with nature, appealed to me.
A little over a year ago, I adopted a more intentional, more mindful, more open integrated mormon-pagan path. About six months ago, I joined a coven with three other women. These women are my sisters, my coven, my fellow "morgans" (mormon-pagans). I meet with my coven each week for a group chat on skype (we often talk more than once a week, but our scheduled chat is important and we all make efforts to make sure we are always there). We are all active, caring, involved mormons. We are all also finding things from outside the mainstream church very helpful to us in our spiritual journey.
Samhain (Oct 31-Nov 1) is the pagan new year, a time of endings and new beginnings (which is why they believed that the veil between life and death was thin, and thus spirits of the dead could walk among us). Last Samhain, in the spirit of new beginnings, I changed the "religion" entry on my facebook profile. Now it says

Universalist Mormon Pagan
Embracing truth wherever it is found. 
Seeking the wisdom of my Mother, Father, Savior, and Spirit. 
Observing seasons, esbats, and Sabbats. 
Rejoicing in the restored gospel. 
Keeping my temple recommend. 
Feeling fulfilled.

I made this change in solidarity with the others in my coven. I don't know whether anyone actually looks at what it says in a person's facebook profile, but there was something about the act of putting it out there into public space that felt good. As Jena explained,
When it comes down to it, Paganism has made me a better Mormon. Lighting a candle while I pray makes me feel more focused and keeps my mind from wandering so much. Adding ritual elements to my day-to-day makes me feel more connected with God. Is it "critical to my salvation"? No, but I don't think it hurts, and it makes my faith rituals feel more intentional. I miss that in mainstream Mormonism. I feel like we've had some of the beauty scrubbed out of our general practice. Incense and oil were burnt in the ancient temples of Israel to purify and sanctify the space and to lift prayers to Heaven...[but] we've become so much about practicality and uniformity in modern times. Things like beauty in architecture and adornment, scent, sound... we rarely use more of our physical senses than sight and hearing in our services and rituals, and I think that makes our correlated practices... sterile. Homogenized. Pasteurized. Devitalized. Boring. Uninspiring.

For me, bringing in these new elements has given my faith vitality again in a time when I desperately need it. It makes it easier for me to feel like I'm in touch with Divine power, like I can receive revelation and inspiration, be guided and protected. I feel a little bit more spiritually alive, and I crave that. I have always craved it.

"The spirit is a present-moment reality. Meditating, pondering, and contemplating are powerful spiritual disciplines. They take us to the present, where the spirit is experienced directly--to the only state in which we can commune with the Infinite."

In the pagan worldview, everything is interconnected, and everything is blessed. In other words, we are all part of one eternal round, and everything is holy. I find that when I believe that I will find this holiness, this magick, then I do find it. When I believe in it, I am able to experience it.
Interconnectedness & Blessedness
Everything is Holy Now:
Elements, Celestial Bodies,
Wonders of the Natural World
Seasons, Cycles, & the Wheel of the Year
Perhaps it's because I'm aware of what is around me, and perhaps I actually attract it. I don't know. What I do know is that I'm taking my spirituality into my own hands, and the result is magickal ♥

Thursday, February 16, 2012

You might live in the Arctic if...

Yesterday evening Bear looked out the window at the large round thermometer we have there. He has been learning numbers at his pre-k class, and is getting pretty proficient with them.
"Oh my gosh mom!" he called to me. "Look at this! It's pointing ABOVE ZERO!"
Yes indeed my dear, it was about 18F yesterday. Then I had to explain to him that in our crazy system, it can be above zero but still below freezing. He grinned and said "It's so warm!"

the weather according to google this morning  
This morning Wolf walked home from his music lesson (the band teacher at the school sweetly offered to simply give him private lessons twice a week, since the rest of the sixth grade band has basically dropped's a non-credit class and most of the kids never took it seriously). It's about a half mile walk, carrying his saxophone. As he came through the door, he proclaimed "Mom, it was so warm out there today I walked home like this most of the way," and he demonstrated, instrument case jauntily on his shoulder, jacket hanging open, no mittens, no snow pants...

And to think, just three weeks ago it was -41. (And, for my non USA readers, -40F = -40C, just for reference...)  At -41, you wear the snow pants, fleece or wool jacket, 600 fill down coat, stocking cap, coat hood, a pair of thick mittens (or two), and a scarf around your face...and your snot still freezes and you get icicles in your eyelashes.

We've passed imbolc too (which marks halfway between solstice and equinox), we have light during the day and even into the evening.

It kinda feels like springtime.

All I'm missing is flowers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

And I used to do this too

♥ ☺

What I Really Do...

These have been flying around facebook the last few days. A few applied to me (more or less), and I found them amusing.
(I know the captions are too small to read here on the blog, but if you click on the image then you'll be able to see it full size)


Monday, February 13, 2012

In Which I Worry People...Again...

I seem to have a knack for worrying people. This isn't the first time, and I'm sure it won't be the last. But I thought I'd take a few moments to explain a couple of things.

Without question, I am in a transition, a spiritual journey, perhaps even a faith crisis. I know that family and friends are worried over me, and praying for me. I appreciate the prayers. I am sure I need them. Please trust that I am studying, pondering, praying, meditating, and wrestling with these matters. I write about these things here because I would rather be honest about my journey, about my struggles, and about the light where I find it fitting together.
But I am definitely struggling, in no small part because simple obedience and following the commandment checklist has left me out in the cold so very much, and I need something more. I have been unsustained. I finally stopped relying on the church for my spirituality--perhaps I had been too passive in that way. When I opened up to that option though, I realized that holiness was everywhere, and that I could tap into it. I probably should have learned to demand spiritual experiences years ago, but I never did. But I'm finding them now (both in and out of 'church' contexts), and the complication is that now I don't feel so dependent on the church structure. I like it, but it's very simple, and between scriptures and words of prophets like Joseph Smith and David O McKay I'm seeing that the current organization focuses on a very narrow part of the gospel (which is no shock for a church that is half new converts), but that doesn't make the rest of the gospel any less valid. And so I struggle to reconcile the gospel that I am understanding with the organization that I am part of.

I'm not trying to be 'beyond' commandments, I think it would be more accurate to say that I'm in a place where I can't do a thing simply for obedience's sake. I need to understand it. I need to be able to see where it fits into the bigger picture. I was raised me to do that--to ask questions, to seek to understand, to question the mainstream way of doing things.
The iron rod/liahona dichotomy is a flawed metaphor, certainly (although if you look at the comments on that post, I did have a chance to broaden/improve it a bit). But it was a step in the process for me, and something that is useful for me in this moment. Liahona trumps rod for me, because neither the scriptures nor the modern leadership have answers for everything unless we filter them with the spirit. I spent 5 years and 7 miscarriages learning that.
And you know what I learned?
To be still. To meditate. To ponder. To think.
So I am trying to follow the voice that told me almost 7 years ago to "be still and know that I am God." And in the stillness, I have moments of stunning clarity.
In one of them I was taught of Mother, and my connection to Her. In one of them I was impressed that my children are the most important thing that I have, and that teaching them to find the spirit is the most important thing I can give them. I've learned that holiness and miracles are everywhere if I will only acknowledge them.
I know I don't have it all figured out. Perhaps part of the reason I need to find this on my own right now is that church is never a quiet or still children are small and I'm in primary. The way they are and the way they need to learn is not compatible with the conditions that I need for spiritual growth or enlightenment right now.

It's a like being on a hike perhaps. And I know the standard advice is to "lengthen my stride," to just hike a little faster; but my legs are short, and there's fog everywhere so I can't see the view right now anyway. I know the fog will clear with time though, and right now I just need to sit down and rest a little, and appreciate the trees and flowers and rocks and holiness and miracles and magic right here for a while before I'll have the energy to keep hiking. And I know some hikers like to just keep moving, and that's fine. But I always did hike with the slower group, with the little kiddos and the flower-lookers. I don't hike fast. I can't. But I still get there.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Of Iron Rods and Liahonas

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi tells of two ways of following God's direction.

In the early chapters of his book (1 Nephi 8 and 11), he writes of a dream about an iron rod. The rod was alongside a "straight and narrow" path, and led to a tree which offered the fruit of eternal life. The rod is interpreted as being the word of God. All about the rod and path were "mists of darkness" and those who did not hold fast to the rod "lost their way" and "wandered off and were lost."
art by Jerry Thompson [source link]

Later, (in chapter 16), Nephi and his family are given a Liahona, or director. It is something like a compass, being a ball with spindles, but rather than pointing just north instead it points the way they should go. It does not make a path for them, but points in a general direction and then they must choose their specific route. The ball works according to their faithfulness and responsiveness to it, and will give new directions in response to prayer.


In  the early books of the Bible, the Mosaic law is laid out. It is elaborate, with minute details about which punishments should be doled out for each of the numerous infractions listed.

When Christ came, He fulfilled the law of Moses and replaced it with a new law. A much simpler and yet equally encompassing law: love one another. It is a law which requires personal interpretation (because the individual must determine which behaviors constitute "love" and which do not, rather than simply relying on a checklist as the Mosaic law had given).


Little children need detailed and specific rules. They need constant oversight and frequent direction. As they get older, the parent can step back and be less directive. Fewer rules and more self-guidence helps the young person develop their own internal ethical system. They learn to make independent decisions (and experience the consequences), rather than merely to follow orders. Direction is good for someone just starting, but ultimately "it is not meet that [anyone] should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant" (Doctrine & Covenants 58:26).


As a child, I remember learning that certain movie ratings were unacceptable. When I was in college, new guidelines were issued by the church with a different guideline: rather than draw a line for us, they asked us to use our own wisdom and perceptions about things ("if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy, seek after these things" cited in For the Strength of Youth).  I believe this is the higher law.
Checklists and many specific rules can be helpful in the beginning, but ultimately they will restrain a person from developing to their full potential. As children, we are taught to fold our hands, bow our heads, and close our eyes when we pray. As we age, hopefully we learn to commune with God, regardless of our physical position, and we realize that prayers do not have to be verbalized to be real.


I have sometimes heard people talk about "Iron Rod Mormons" and "Liahona Mormons," meaning those who are strict rule-adherents as opposed to those who take things as general guidelines; the letter of the law folks and the spirit of the law folks; 'checklisters' or 'intuition-followers.' One group may refer to the other as 'stodgy,' while the others may refer back to them as 'lax.' I think that neither is true.
They are simply stages in the development of discipleship.
I was very much an Iron Rodder in my younger years, and I'm not any more. I've become a Liahona Mormon.The one naturally precedes the other. We all develop and change in our own ways and on our own timetables, so the differences in our faith styles should not be a reason for anyone to look down their noses at anyone else. But I would be lying if I didn't say that, based on scriptural examples as well as the study of human development, I believe that the liahona method is a later stage of development.
I realize that while holding to the security of that rod of iron, it can be intimidating to let go of it in order to trust tiny spindles on a little set out knowing only a general direction, but without a marked path. It is overwhelming, truly. However, I have come to the conclusion that letting go of the rod to follow the ball is NOT a form of getting lost, but rather a natural and totally appropriate form of development.
I don't think there is necessarily something wrong with staying with the Rod if it is working for you...but it must be acknowledged that it is a childlike form of discipleship. Yes, Christ called us to be like a little child...but then He also called us to be like Him. And Christ was no checklister. He broke the letter of the law left and right while teaching the spirit of the law. Jesus lived a Liahona life, and I'm trying to do the same.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Interview with a Wolf

(with thanks to The Road Less Traveled for coming up with the question list)

1. What is something mom always says to do?
get up off my duff

2. What makes mom happy?
when I do [get up off my duff]

3. What makes mom sad?
when I don't [get up off my duff]

4. How does your mom make you laugh?
she tells me the joke about the guy and the oscar meyer weiner truck
(what, you don't know that joke? A guy finds a genie. It gives him three wishes. He wishes for a fancy car *poof* there is a porche. He wishes for a million dollars *poof* there is a deposit slip in his hand. Then, as he sits there thinking of what he wants for his final wish, the oscar meyer truck drives by in the distance, and he begins to sing along "Oh I wish I were an oscar meyer weiner!")

5. What was your mom like as a child?
explorational (His word, I swear)

6. How old is your mom?

7. How tall is your mom?
6 ft (*snort!*)

8. What is her favorite thing to do?

9. What does your mom do when you’re not around?
watch movies with dad

10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?
cuz of your knitting

11. What is your mom really good at?

12. What is your mom not very good at?
making me mad

13. What does your mom do for a job?

14.What is your mom’s favorite food?
strawberry cake (he said he meant strawberry shortcake)

15.What makes you proud of your mom?
her knitting (wow, I had no idea he cared so much!)

16. What do you and your mom do together?
talk about stuff

17. How are you and your mom the same?
we like science

18. How are you and your mom different?
she can stand the kids all yelling at the same time

19. How do you know your mom loves you?
she gives me stuff

20. Where is your mom’s favorite place to go?
 the hotel restaurant (it is the nicest place in town, there are only about 4 options)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Hand of Love

I have a bracelet, custom made by a friend of mine, with charms of specific symbols that are meaningful to me. I have shared here about some of those symbols, such as the bee and the ruby, and I thought I would share about the other symbols, so that when I share the bracelet itself you'll be able to appreciate just how cool (and incredibly personal) it is. ☺

The spiral is a symbol of eternity (found both in Native American cave art and also in ancient Celtic carvings, such as at Newgrange). In some traditions, it is a symbol for "Spirit" (or Deity).

  When the spiral is placed within a hand shape, as is found in many places in the southwestern USA, it is believed to be emitting energy, and is called a Shaman's Hand, or Healer's Hand. The hand with a spiral on the palm is now most often seen as a symbol of reiki, or energy healing. [source

A similar symbol, the Jain hand, represents nonviolence (the main tenant of the religion). Jains strive to "halt the cycle of reincarnation through the practice of Jain asceticism, the avoidance of harm to any living creature."

In fact, another symbol I have seen in recent years is a hand with a heart in it being used to represent gentle discipline or nonviolent parenting. (I first saw it in conjunction with mention of the book "Hands are Not for Hitting.")

When I was looking for charms for my bracelet, I found myself drawn to this bead. I first liked it because it reminded me of henna--the drawing on the hand--but as I see the other things this symbol relates to I feel it is even more fitting. I strive to live a nonviolent life. I try to use my hands for healing, in giving care to my children, in holding them while I pray for them, and soon beyond my home as a doula.
This charm on my bracelet symbolizes peace, healing, gentleness, and using my hands (or taking physical action) to spread those things to the world around me.

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