An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Big Mind’

Giving So It Doesn’t Hurt

Last Sunday at the Big Heart Zen CenterMinverva, the discussion leader, used Big Mind  techniques to facilitate a look at the “Giver” aspect of our personalities. Several of us were confused when she asked us to identify as the voice of the Giver disowned by the Self.

In Big Mind workshops, we usually identify a negative aspect our Self has disowned. Why would the Self disown the Giver? Everybody knows it’s more blessed to give than to receive.

We sat in silence for a few minutes. Finally, someone volunteered, “My Self disowns the Giver because it finds the Giver exhausting.”

Bingo. We could all relate to the fatigue of giving more than our strength allows. To the guilt from never feeling we’ve given enough. To the resentment of thinking our giving is unappreciated. To the neediness of giving with the expectation of receiving something in return—praise, gratitude, or just that warm, cozy feeling.

Then Minverva asked us to speak as the voice of the Giver fully owned and accepted by the Self. “How can the Giver, fully owned, help the Self?”

Another light switched on for me: When fully accepted by the Self, the Giver can give to others without being attached to the outcome. The Giver can give contentment to the Self—allowing the Self to give without the need of recognition or to feel she has solved every problem.

What  wonderful insight I received from Big Mind and the hour spent at the Big Heart Zen Center Sunday morning. My thanks to those who made it possible.

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Is the Iron Rod Really a Balancing Beam?

Genpo Roshi of the Zen Center in Salt Lake City has developed a technique called Big Mind in which students explore facets of their own minds. Two facets that have intrigued me recently are the seeking mind and the grasping mind. The seeking mind seeks more—more light, more knowledge, more love, more of everything. The grasping mind tries to hold on to whatever it has— relationships, possessions, time, accomplishments, everything.

I think most people can be categorized as basically seekers or graspers. Seekers are future-oriented—always ready to move onto something new and better. Graspers tend to be past-oriented—wanting to hold on to what they have. Neither facet is necessarily good or bad, just different. The trick, as I see it, is balancing the two.

Mormon teachings emphasize both seeking and grasping. Joseph Smith admonished members to follow the advice of Paul and seek after anything “virtuous, lovely, or of good report.” Mormons are also instructed to study, to work, to prepare for their earthly future, and to prepare for the next life. Mormons are counseled to hold onto family relationships not only in this life, but for all eternity—and to adhere to not only their nuclear family, but their ancestors for as far back as they can find records. Mormons are expected to record their own personal histories as well as to research those of ancestors. Seeking for the future while grasping at the past leaves many Mormons feeling too overwhelmed to enjoy the present.

I think the Buddhists have it right. Life is suffering, and suffering is caused by attachment. Knowing when to let go is a tricky proposition. Children have to grow up. Parents must let go. And here is where I think Mormon culture makes the transition difficult. Mormon girls are admonished from the time they can push a doll carriage that their main objective in life, indeed, their “divine calling,” is to be a mother. How does a woman let her children go when the whole focus of her life is being a mother? A friend told me her sister actually e-mails each of her married children three times a day. I’ll bet her in-laws hate her.

“This American Life” on NPR recently featured a segment about a dying Mormon mother who wrote letters to be delivered on her 16-year-old daughter’s birthdays for 13 years. At first the daughter welcomed the letters, but as she reached adulthood and was making her own choices, her mother’s advice from the grave was troubling rather than comforting. The daughter had no way to reply, to share her adult feelings with a mother who was writing to a 16-year-old. I understand why a dying mother would dread relinquishing her parental role with her daughter, but the mother’s attachment became a burden to the daughter.

How do we strike a balance between valuing important things like relationships and being attached to them in an unhealthy way? Between letting go when necessary versus giving up too easily? Buddhists meditate to find the place of no seeking, no grasping—Nirvana. For many Mormons, temple worship provides the space to relinquish the worldly concerns of seeking and grasping, restore the spirit, and experience a brief Nirvana.

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