Sunday, March 4, 2012

Holding ourselves back - part III (or the best day ever)

One of my best friends is Jay Johnson. I say is, but the truth is that Jay passed away a few years ago. Jay's funeral was well-attended by many people who loved and cherished him, because how could you not love Jay? He was the kindest, most sincere person I have ever met.

Jay was a vibrant, happy young adult with down syndrome. Although he had physical and mental impairments, he lived a happy life that inspired and still inspires everyone who knew him.

Once you spent a few minutes with Jay, you were friends for life. And not just friends, but best friends. Unlike you or me, Jay had hundreds of best friends, because all of his friends were best friends. I can remember occasions when, just after saying, "Michael, you're my best friend," Jay turned to the person next to me and said the exact same thing! For Jay, there was no gradation of friends. All were equally special.

At his funeral, Jay's father related a story that took place over a few days. One day, if memory serves me, they were out camping when Jay said, "Dad, this is the best day ever." His dad was happy, knowing that his son so happy. A few days later, Jay and his dad went out to see a movie. In the car, Jay turned to his dad and said, "Dad, this is the best day ever." This time, his dad laughed and said, "Jay, what do you mean? You said that the other day was the best day ever! How can this be the best day ever too?" In his sweet, special way, Jay shrugged and said, "it just is, Dad."

The programs at the funeral had a picture of Jay, sitting at a picnic table with a huge, warm smile on his face. Underneath the picture was the caption, "This is the best day ever." When I first saw the program I thought it was a little strange for a funeral program, but after hearing his father's story, the words took on deep emotional meaning. These words needed to be here, because this was Jay's message for his friends.

We spend so much time and energy ranking things from best to worst, and we only reserve one spot for that which is "best." How much happier could we be if we allowed every friend and every act of love to be the best? Treating every person as our best friend, or living every day like the best day ever does not cheapen what it means to be best, but it does enrich our lives.

Throw away your rankings, and maybe, like Jay, you will find that all around you are best friends, made or waiting to be made. Maybe, like Jay, you will see that every moment has the potential to be the best moment in your life.

It's not ignorance. It's seeing truthfully how things can really be.

Holding ourselves back - part II (or how I became a Harry Potter fan)

Harry Potter.

You love it, or you don't. But if you don't, why don't you?

I was in middle school when the Harry Potter books started becoming famous, and at the time, I was completely opposed to them. Harry Potter? What a dork! A book about magical kids and witches and wizards? Bah! What a stupid, juvenile thing! I was so high above that.

The first movie came out and it was ridiculous.
The second movie came out and it was slightly better...

The third movie? Well...

When I saw Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I found myself with an uncomfortable dose of cognitive dissonance. I knew that Harry Potter was a joke, but this movie ruined everything! If Harry Potter was so stupid, why did I like this movie so much?!

Then I started thinking honestly...

In time, I realized that I had no honest reason to not like Harry Potter. I didn't like it because, because... it was a rejection of something everyone loved! Well, after the movie, I gave this up as foolishness and quickly immersed myself into the next two books, finishing both of them before week's end. Overnight, I became a proud Harry Potter fan. A few months later, I was in line at Media Play (for those of you who remember it) with all the other crazies, blissfully waiting for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I engulfed it, savoring every delightful detail of teen emotion and struggle. I was a Harry Potter fan, and I couldn't have been happier.

I bring up this story because it illustrates clearly the idea of holding ourselves back. In this case, I held myself back because of a prideful desire to stand apart from the crowd. Little did I know that by doing so, I was keeping myself from happy times. More significantly, reading the Harry Potter books rekindled a joy of reading that had been struggling for many years. After reading the Harry Potter books, I went on to read over thirty more books that year. Only when I gave up my desire to be seen as someone who stood apart was I able to enjoy what everyone else was enjoying.

Now, maybe you don't love the Harry Potter books, and that's okay, as long as it's for a reason other than resisting the popular. And be honest. In my case, I could have used a hundred different critiques to justify my disdain for Harry Potter, but they would have all been contrived, since I had already made up my mind on the issue. It is my experience that things are most often not as bad as they appear to be under "objective scrutiny." When we look for faults, we will find them.

I think we spend so much energy worrying about the objective quality of our activities that we have a hard time enjoying anything at all! For me, life became much more enjoyable and free when I gave up worrying how my tastes affected the way I was seen. By giving up this aspect of pride, we are free to see things honestly and try new and rewarding things.

Holding ourselves back - part I

Today I begin a series of entries on a subject that has impressed me for some time. You'll have to forgive me for beginning with such a personal story, but I feel that if I'm going to try to convince you to live a certain way, I ought to share an example of how this way of being has enriched my own life.

The idea is that more often then not, when we struggle, we are, in fact, holding ourselves back. By claiming that we have a superior understanding of things, or by living to be seen as someone who does or knows certain things, we limit our opportunities to learn and love and flourish. Through our pride, we complicate our own happiness.

 This story is my own experience as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Up front I'll tell you that the story is religious, but as you read, I invite you to consider the idea of holding yourself back, even if you have qualms with the religious content. The idea I a portray here has application in possibly every facet of our lives, as I'll endeavor to show in succeeding entries. Because the stories includes a fair amount of Mormon jargon, I've included links that explain highlighted terms. Here's the story:
Last night and this morning in my prayers I asked for forgiveness for holding onto a feeling of knowing what was right for me to do. I recognized that in seeking to live according to my ideas of what was good, I had unintentionally closed off opportunities to be led by the Holy Ghost. I asked that I might again be led by the Lord, as I gave up my prideful personal claims to righteousness. 
The answer to my prayer came during fast and testimony meeting, though from the moment I made the requests in my earlier prayers, I knew what I needed to do. For reasons I didn't exactly understand, I needed to stand and share my testimony. I remember, saying those prayers and having a vision of sharing my testimony without pride, and in that vision, feeling totally free. Looking back, I believe that sharing my testimony was an antidote to my pride, for in my “wisdom,” I had imperceptibly crafted myself as someone who does not share testimony during fast and testimony meetings unless I had something very powerful or important to say. These feelings had developed as I had “endured” so many “uninspiring” testimony meetings, and did not wish to contribute to such a meeting. 
So what am I saying with all this? Although I'm still trying to figure that out, I think what I want to say is that my testimony started as a desire, followed by a feeling of what I needed to do, and then, by acting upon it, I received the blessing. I had always been skeptical of Elder Packer's words, “a testimony is found in the bearing of it,” but by desiring, feeling, and doing, I think I know what he meant, having experienced it for myself. 
My testimony wasn't exceptional, except for the fact that it came from a sincere desire to follow my Savior and be united with the people I had secretly put below me. Maybe it wasn't exceptional for anyone listening, but it was exceptional for me, because it came out of the depths of humility. This time, I wanted nothing else but to love and obey my Heavenly Father. 
Oh, and the experience! When I finished, I felt humbled again. What a blessing that was, to no more feel better than anyone else! Nothing could have been sweeter than the feeling that I had no reason to be elevated above the other saints! 
When I gave up claims of moral superiority, the burden and pains of isolation melted away. Finally, I was actually being moral, having given up my own doctrine in exchange for childlike hearkening to a loving Heavenly Father.