Soul or No Soul--That is the Question

I saw this image on one of my favorite blogs. It inspired me to do a little armchair internet research regarding a question that's been on my mind.

Do we have a soul inspiring us and leading us to intuit certain matters? Does our soul, if we have one, act independent of our brain to inspire us and answer burning questions? Do we 'feel' in our heart that certain things are true because of our soul? Or is the brain the only organ at work sending messages to the rest of our body; prompting us to feel a 'burning in our bosom' or have that 'gut feeling'?

When we have a strong emotional response to something we can have a physical reaction occurring in our heart or our stomach. It can literally feel like a broken heart or a happy heart or a 'gut feeling'. Are these feelings based on memories of our experiences throughout life? Memories stored in our brain and recalled by our brain? Or perhaps it is an external force (like God) influencing our soul (spirit).

Then I think about personality types and how different people react to these feelings. Some people run away from danger, some people run towards it. Some people follow rules even if they don't agree with them and others break rules just because they can. There are a number of personalities reacting in a number of ways in between these extreme examples; but, is our personality a result of our brain or our soul?

If there is a soul does it affect my brain which in turn affects everything else? What's bigger my brain or my soul? Is my brain my soul? Is my soul simply a figment of my imagination, or my brain?

I'm sure my musings seem elementary to those who have studied the brain and know how the body works. I apologize for my simplistic approach to this question. 

I have always been a very emotionally based person. I have spent the better part of my life feeling my way through most situations. I credit myself for having very strong intuitions prompting me to reach out to others and act in ways seeming, at least to me, to be rather prophetic. 

I've grown up contributing these promptings to something I understood to be my soul. Taking it further into my religious background; I always thought my intuition was my soul, or my spirit, listening to the promptings of something outside of myself; like God or the Holy Ghost.

It is usually more important to me to 'feel' things are right or wrong; true or false; good or bad. Rather than, to 'know' things are right or wrong; true or false; good or bad. There are exceptions to this; for example, taking an exam at school or working with data at work. These situations, for me, are an effort; however, I have become pretty good at thinking and knowing because society demands it. 

Knowing and recalling details or intellectual information does not come easy to me; however, making decisions and taking action based on my intuition is like second nature to me.

Perhaps intuitive and emotionally based people have, over time, developed pathways and areas of their brain that can intuit, or are extra sensitive to, certain physical energies around us. Maybe we are born with certain areas of our brain more developed than other areas. Intellectual, or more pragmatic, people have exercised, or developed, other areas of the brain.

And where does personality come in? Helen Fisher, one of my favorite anthropologists, is an expert on personality types and how personality plays into who and why we love. I think her personality types are very suitable across the board; affecting everything in our lives not just love. I've posted about Helen Fisher and personality types before. Doctor Fisher clearly attributes our personalities to our brain and the chemicals in our body interacting with our brain.

Ergo, If our intuition is a function of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex then perhaps there is no soul. And if our personality is attributed to our brain and the chemicals interacting with certain areas of our brain then, again, perhaps there is no soul.

I guess what I have come out of this brief internet study with is that our brain is a superpower and I want to learn more about the brain, my brain. I want to learn how to use this superpower to help myself and others.

It's weird isn't it? I want to use my brain to learn more about my brain so that I can improve my brain and then use my brain in a more efficient way to help myself and others.

Screaming My Truth Softly

Being a politically and socially progressive person kind of set me up for a lot of disappointment while I was active in the Mormon Church. I could never close the gap or minimize the dissonance constantly present between the life of love, empathy and compassion I wanted to live and the critical, judgmental life I experienced so often in the church. I constantly found myself on the other side of the fence from other 'more faithful' members on most social and political issues.

A lot of people can live in the duality of church activity with all the dissonance; still finding they are uplifted and edified. For me, however, it got to a point where I rarely felt good at church; in fact, it was quite the opposite. I would go to church on Sunday and leave absolutely exhausted and drained of any good will I had built up during the week. Being with the Saints on Sunday was kicking my butt.

Eventually I just didn't want the conflict in my life. I no longer wanted to spend my time in church getting frustrated and angry taking up the fight for social justice in Sunday School. I was tired of the importance being placed on things I found trivial; like, should teenage boys masturbate, should a young man not wearing a white shirt be restricted from passing the sacrament, should young women be passing the sacrament, should a young woman be told her greatest calling in life is to be a mother while at the same time a young man is not told that his greatest calling in life is to be a father along with so many other things I had grown tired of. 

I was a square peg in a round hole and it was becoming uncomfortable and restrictive. I was not supported in being the person I wanted to be. What I found was the tendency, of some members, to constantly measure themselves, and others, against a ruler of perfection and a false notion of righteousness. Without even being aware of it many became quite harsh in their perception of the world and the people in it. Self righteousness was in their veins and they didn't even realize they were judging and being holier than thou. It simply became a way of living.

Of course it's human nature to judge, or make judgments. We make judgments while choosing our personal standard of living. We make judgments, or decisions, about what we will do in any particular situation or in what we wear or in what we eat and drink. It's healthy to have a strong sense of your ethical standard and know who you are and who you want to be in the world. The problem, I believe, comes when you let someone, or something, else set your standards for you. You begin to think your moral standards are the 'only true standards' and then you take a hold of that ruler of righteousness and beat others over the head with it.

Be careful how you use that ruler; it just may be the very thing that blocks your entrance into Heaven as you know it. Don't forget what is important--empathy, understanding, responsibility to do good in the world. Decide who you want to be in the world then rid yourself of the influences and practices not supporting you. If the church supports you in being who you want to be then, by all means, stay, it's a good place for you. If the church stops you from being who you want to be in the world then leave it behind.

And for hell's sake support and uplift others and don't worry so much about spreading your brand of happiness. We don't exist to save others; we just happen to find ourselves on this planet at the same time. Our paths have crossed and by mere coincidence we have this opportunity to interact with one another. It's not my job to convince you that I am right and you are wrong. It's not your job to decide I am a sinner but you're going to love me anyway. There's not a singular path to happiness; stop trying to convince others your path is best. Just enjoy the journey and do your best to uplift and support others on their journey.

If this life is all we have and there is no God or Heaven or eternal anything then wouldn't you want to live life to it's fullest by being a happy, kind person? Wouldn't you want to take advantage of every day you have with your loved ones? Wouldn't you want to live a life worth living? And if there is a God and a Heaven and an eternal existence then wouldn't you want to do exactly the same thing? Let's just get down to the business of living and figuring shit out. Let's just hold on to each other and make our way through life as best we can.

Every day, it seems, I make adjustments to my thinking and to my living. I see my truth, I do my best, I slip up, I adjust then I try again. This is my imperfect life and I am content with it. There is some discontent in there too; just enough to keep me moving forward.

Every so often I want to scream my truth to others; and now and again do scream. To keep from screaming too much I write it down here in my blog and send it out to the blogosphere where a few people will come across it; most likely, not by divine intervention but merely by chance. If you find yourself reading this post I hope it resonates in some way. I hope it either disturbs you or comforts you.

Another Blog Post About Excommunication

... I was hesitant to write about excommunication in the Mormon Church because it has been pretty thoroughly discussed recently.
However, the recent purge the church has launched against a few high profile members, has got me thinking about my own excommunication. Mostly I've been thinking about what I said to the bishop who excommunicated me and what I wish I had said.

You know how it is; someone says something to you, catching you off guard, and you respond with something akin to "uuuuhhh". Then you step away from the moment and you suddenly think of all these things you could have, should have, said.

Let me tell you a bit of back story to set the stage. In 1995 I walked away from the church. It was a very painful process and it took a long time for me to heal from that abusive relationship. In March of 2004 Multnomah County, in Portland, issued over 3,000 marriage licences to same sex couples and in answer to this there was a measure placed on the November ballot to add the 'One Man, One Woman' clause to the Oregon constitution. The ballot measure was approved by voters and discrimination was written into the state constitution.

It was during all of this political activity that I received a phone call from the bishop's secretary telling me that the bishop would like to talk with me and would I like to come to his office or would I prefer he come to my home. 

What I said: "uuuhhhh, my home I guess."
What I wish I had said: "My preference is that you all keep to yourself and stop trying to control everyone's life."

The next day I spent a bit of time straightening up the living room to make it comfortable and tidy for the visit from the bishop. At the appointed time there was a knock on my door. I opened the door and there was this man awkwardly standing on my porch. He introduced himself and said I'm bishop so and so. I invited him in but he politely told me that he preferred I come out on the porch to talk with him. I found this a bit strange but then I remember that he's not allowed to come into my home because he's by himself and I'm a single woman etc, etc... 

Okay, whatever, I did just spend 30 minutes cleaning my living room but oh well. I went out on the porch and we sat down. He apologized for not coming in and started to explain the whole by himself, single woman thing to me. I let him finish then I said "...well, that's not really the case; you see, I am a married woman. Suzie and I got married just the other day." His response was something like "...uuuhhh good one". He then proceeded to tell me that because of certain choices I've made... blah blah blah and my obvious intent to live a lifestyle contrary to the churches beliefs... blah blah blah... I'm left with no choice but to excommunicate you from the CoJCoLDS". He pretty much made it clear to me that this was his obligation and not necessarily his pleasure or even something he agreed with.

After a little chit chat about how wonderful my kids were and what a great job I had done as a mother the bishop left and I went inside to enjoy my clean living room. All in all not a bad experience.

Three weeks after my visit from the bishop I heard that he was released and there was a new sheriff in town. I waited months for a letter or some notification of my excommunication but it never came. Apparently the first bishop didn't complete the job so it was left to the new bishop to do it up right because one Saturday I hear a knock on my door. This time when I open the door there are two men asking if I had a moment. (What is it about Mormons just dropping by unannounced). 

I invited them in and this time they did come in. I invited them to sit down in the living room. The bishop asked if we could sit at the dining room table instead. To this day I don't know why that was important unless it was simply so he could have control of the situation. We sat down at the table and he proceeded to tell me they were there to talk with me about my life choices that they found to be contrary to church teachings. I mentioned that another bishop had already done this and I didn't understand why I had to endure this twice. His response indicated that things needed to be done in a particular manner and the other bishop had not followed procedure. 

What felt uncomfortable to me was that my children were home and could hear what their bishop was saying to their mother about her unworthiness. My children were all active in the church at this time and their father was very much a true believing member of the church. It would be an interesting conversation to have with them now, as adults, to see if they were aware of what was happening.

What I did: I just sat and hoped that the kids were not going to know what was going on. 
What I wish I had done: Was stand up and invite them to leave my home and tell them never to come back.

The bishop proceeded to ask me if I felt the need to repent. This kind of took me off guard, it had been a number of years since I had been under the thumb of oppression. I had completely forgotten what it was like to be subject to this type of judgement and abuse. The counselor seemed very uncomfortable while the bishop seemed to be completely enjoying himself.
Calling the bishop by his first name I said "No Craig, I don't feel a need to repent. I have done nothing wrong. My life is good; I am closer to love and goodness than I have ever been at any other time of my life... and I would like to say that even if I did feel a need to repent I would not do so through you. I no longer need a priesthood holder to mediate between me and God."

"... Sister Searle, I have no choice but to proceed with your excommunication from the church." He then told me that the church had recently changed its policies and since I wasn't a priesthood holder there was no need for a formal court. He and his counselors would convene the next day in his office and the matter would be taken care of. I would then receive a letter in the mail with their determination of my standing in the church.

What I said: "Okay."
What I wish I had said: "Craig, my only words of defense are not to claim my innocence, not to profess that my choices and my lifestyle are perfectly healthy and normal (which is all true) rather my words to you are to defend myself from a tyrant church. I have spent the last several years redefining and reconnecting with myself and with love. I have arrived at a place in my life where the church and it's leaders have no control or power over me. I am closer to love and perfection than I've been at any other point in my life. So this thing you are doing, this excommunication, is completely for your own self righteous and evil ends. There is no love in what you are doing here today. There is no love or concern in your actions. I won't judge your motives because I believe you have been manipulated and deceived for so long that you truly believe that what you're doing is good and loving." 

I then saw these two men to the door, shook their hands and sent them on their way. I did talk to my kids about what had happened. I let them know that because I was choosing to live a happy, authentic life and stay with Suzie, whom we all loved and considered to be very much a part of our family, that the bishop was going to proceed with an excommunication. 

The day after the visit from the bishop there was a plate of Christmas cookies on my porch from the counselor and his wife. Maybe this was his way of apologizing for the abuse he had witnessed the day before. Nothing like a good sugar cookie after such a pleasant visit with the Lord's anointed.

Families are Forever - Unless...

Growing up Mormon; 'it was the best of times, it was the worst of times...'

It was the best of times in that as a young child I was given a road map to life that was safe and easy to navigate. I was surrounded by a community of people who cared for me and, for the most part, protected me. It was the worst of times in that I spent many years chasing rainbows and in so doing I neglected and missed out on relationships with family and peers who deserved my respect and my love but instead received my pity and my judgement. 

This pity and judgement was all wrapped up in golden rules like 'love thy neighbor' or 'love the sinner but hate the sin'. These golden rules allowed me to feel like a compassionate, loving, non-judgmental person. What was really happening; however, was that I had little respect for my father as I tried so diligently to save his sorry soul. I had no way of relating to what many of my peers were going through as they grappled with the gray matter of the world. As a young girl I had no skills to navigate my way out of two damaging and dangerous situations with abusive men.

Families are forever; 'it is the best of blessings and the worst of burdens...'

I was taught, from a very young age, that the 'Eternal Family' is one of the greatest rewards one can attain. To live a life of righteous endeavor, to stay faithful to the principals and ordinances of the gospel with the promise of being together forever is, most likely, a top priority for most true believing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Pretend for a moment, just for the sake of understanding, that you believe with all your heart, might, mind and soul that this eternal family principal is true. As a parent you are doing everything in your might to raise your children 'right'. You have loved and nurtured; you have given everything you have to your children; and then, one of these children has the audacity to 'think for themselves' to actually make choices for themselves and boom, before you know it, they have decided on a path different from your own.

Suddenly that child is out of the EFU (eternal family unit) and there is nothing you can do but hope and pray that this child will one day return to the true church. Okay, this isn't all you can do; there has got to be more you can do. The stakes are too high and you are not going to stand by idly and watch it happen. So you send gospel literature you use guilt to possibly steer them in the right direction. You beg, you nag until before you know it you have placed a wedge between you and your child.

Or you may just let them go, knowing it's their decision; yet, you never stop aching for that child. You will continue to love and reach out; because, you don't like the alternative of losing this child in the here and now. But imagine the weight on your heart because of the fear of not having this child with you in the eternities. The guilt that you did something wrong along the way. 

As a prodigal parent; my heartache was that I wouldn't be with my children forever. I was robbing my children of their mother and opening up the possibility that they would also go astray. I was eventually able to let go of this belief but the fear and grief was still there because I worried that my children would pity me, pray for me and try with all their might to save my sorry soul. Yes, it had come full circle; I went from being my father's savior to being my children's sinner in the wink of an eye. I have since become more confident in my children and in their ability to question, discern and sort through their beliefs; coming to their own conclusions and walking their own path.

The grief, the guilt and the heartache are very real in so many people's lives because of this principal of eternal families. When I made the decision to leave the church I received letters from family members and friends shaming  me and expressing their concern that I was breaking eternal commitments; I was destroying my eternal family. "How can you do this to your children?" was the common question. The decision I made to leave the church was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I had been so controlled and conditioned that I felt there were eternal implications; that there was some sort of God waiting to exact punishment on me and my family simply because I was taking a different course. 

The Mormon temples are at the center of this issue. If you are not Mormon you may, or may not, know the significance and importance of the temple and the temple recommend. In the temple faithful members of the Mormon Church perform very important ordinances and rituals required in this life so that when you leave this life you will be allowed to enter into the Celestial Kingdom (the upper heaven) where families are allowed to live together for eternity. If you don't attain this level of heaven you will not be allowed to be with your loved ones forever. Each year a person is required to interview with two church leaders in order to prove worthiness of a 'temple recommend'. If you answer a set of questions correctly you will get a recommend allowing you to go to the temple. If you don't answer satisfactorily; you will be denied a recommend.

This is a very real issue in the Mormon church; affecting families in many different ways. A mother is kept from attending her daughter's temple wedding. A ninety one year old faithful woman, who chooses to pay her bills or help a family member instead of paying tithing, is kept from entering the temple. A gay son is taken to therapy in order to repair his 'same sex attraction'. Instead of being loved and encouraged to seek a healthy, happy relationship he will be encouraged to live a life of celibacy or to find a worthy young woman and marry in the temple regardless of his sexual orientation. A 15 year old girl tells her bishop that she was molested by an adult male in the church and nothing is done. That adult male holds a temple recommend and is a youth leader in the local congregation. An abused wife is told to keep trying to make her marriage successful in order to preserve her 'eternal family'. Her husband, the abuser, has a temple recommend and holds leadership positions in his local congregation.

To be fair there are many good things that come from the Mormon focus on family and the intention behind most members actions are love and compassion. I don't know about the motives of the institution itself. As I go through my own cycle of healing from breaking off this relationship I find I have gone through all the normal stages of grief. After leaving I went many years keeping a quiet respect for the church; but now, I feel compelled to let go of some of the frustrations and anger I have for the church as an institution. An organization, that I feel, controls the hearts and minds of millions and abuses their power.

The church was, and is, a part of who I am. I continue to be proud of my pioneer heritage. I will always love my friends and family in the church and respect their choices. I am happy to be who I am and where I am today. It is often the case in life, that as we get through the worst of times we arrive at the best of times.


My Gay Agenda

I'm all about transparency so I want to take this opportunity to post my 'gay agenda' as to not sneak up on anyone.
Wake up
Drink coffee
Go to work
Eat lunch
Work some more
Go home
Get into pajamas asap
Have an adult beverage
Watch a bit of TV
Go to bed
Rinse and repeat...

On the weekends I get totally crazy and go to movies and take walks and clean the house. I know; it's a very divisive agenda.

Please be aware of people like myself who would like nothing more than to recruit you, and everyone else, into this subversive lifestyle.

"Just Jill"

A New Years Tradition

I have developed a bit of an aversion to the idea of goal setting. Most likely from years of 'Personal Progress' and 'Pursuit of Excellence' programs fed to me all my life. Not to mention daily and weekly goal setting for nearly two years of my life while laboring in the mission field.

So now I call it 'setting intentions' with lots of room for shifting and natural progress. I know, it's goal setting by another name; but, it's more palatable to me that way. It's a way for me to take an inventory of the past and focus myself for the future without guilt and judgment.

arrhh treasures await
For the last several years I've had a tradition of treasure mapping for the new year.
It started out as something fun to do with my children when they were young. We would sit in the living room cutting out pictures and words from old magazines pasting them onto poster boards to represent our intentions for the new year. The boys, not liking it at first, would eventually settle into the creativity of it and manage to come up with some pretty clever boards by the end. My daughter and I continued the practice long after the boys and Suzie grew tired of it.

It soon became something Katie and I did with several of her friends each year. By this time I had added in the bagua concept. Meaning the feng shui bagua map that helped direct the creativity into particular areas giving us some ideas to start our process. We would section out our maps into nine areas and start cutting and pasting away. It was always fun to visit and create together and see what everyone came up with for their board.
Treasure Map/Bagua Template

Katie has carried this tradition into her adult life and shares it with her friends each year. I, on the other hand, have gotten away from the magazine, cutting, pasting idea and now I just create my treasure map on the computer with a template that I created a few years back. (Mostly because I'm lazy).

I often times pull up maps from past years and think of the progress or shifts I have made through time. I'm sometimes surprised how my intentions have manifested or evolved even though I haven't looked at my map for a year. Then I work through my new map with ideas of what is important to me; launching into the new year with a feeling of positive intention and a bit of satisfaction that I can be artsy craftsy. 

This year's treasure map consists of a myriad of intentions ranging from walk more/eat less to traveling to Kentucky along the Bourbon Trail for Suzie and my 20th anniversary. I also want to take computer programming classes through Linfield's Department of Continuing Education. And, as always, I add Maxine Denver (Paul and Kelly's business) and Kinfolk (Nate and Katie's business) fully confident in their growth and prosperity. Along with a special mention of Jacob's graduation from Pacific University in the spring!

It's hard to see but it's all in there: 
Treasure Map of 2014
I'm thinking I'll work some more on my map of 2014. Maybe throw in a few manifestations for marriage equality and peace on earth. The big smiley face in the center goes a long way and leaves lots of room for growing, shifting and laying down on the couch whenever possible.

I am moving into a year of reaping all the goodness from my hard work and efforts of the past five years. I hope everyone has a fantastic 2014.