In You Like Breathing


It was a beautiful Sabbath day here. Blue sky without a single cloud, cool breeze. Where I live, that's quite uncommon, so we took a family walk with the dogs. I felt at peace.

I wanted to keep that mood, and so thought of writing a post about something I tried to teach this week--not in my university, but to an acquaintance. It was something I had only learned myself several years ago, and had never tried to articulate it for someone who was unfamiliar with the concept. And then today I found a talk by a member online which kind of echoed what I had tried to teach, and thought, "Yep, that's what I'll write about this sabbath!"

My acquaintance, who is a very smart women, was trying to make a decision. It wasn't a big decision, but she felt it had moral dimensions. She was struggling, because her gut seemed to be going in a direction that she felt was not self-sacrificing enough. Her brain was berating her gut, and trying to corrall it into the more self-sacrificing path she thought was more virtuous. She expressed how naturally her brain would know much more than her gut what God would want her to do. (No, she is not a member, but she is quite religious.) So she was waiting until her brain got her gut to shut up so that she make the decision without internal turmoil.

Now, for most of my life I think I lived this way as well. I felt I could not trust my gut, and that I would make the best decisions if I could get my gut to be quiet and then have my brain decide everything.

I think if you are not living the Gospel, that that may indeed be the best course of action, because your gut is liable to be ruled by one's unschooled appetites. Or one's unschooled, uneducated heart. Of course, one's mind is also liable to be quite selfish and quite prideful, so this is no panacea. But it may allow one to avoid the most costly mistakes.

But my acquaintance and I are about the same--older--age. She and I had been living our religion seriously for decades. We had both done quite of lot of self-sacrifice in our time, so we were not strangers to it, and to the tough discipline it requires. Our hearts had, in the words of James Taylor, "seen fire [and] seen rain," and had been deeply educated by those experiences. Maybe, just maybe, that meant it was okay to listen to our guts? That the Holy Spirit was our companion, and therefore was companion to our guts? That maybe it was time to trust ourselves just a little? All the while praying that if our gut was somehow wrong, the Spirit would let us know in no uncertain terms, and we could trust ourselves to change direction accordingly?

As I have aged, I have also tried this with my body. Rather than punish it with diets or excessive exercise, I've tried to respect it and trust it and value it as a vessel created by God. I try to listen to my body instead of only telling it what to do. And I've found a lot of peace that way, also.

Then today I discovered that Sister Marcia Nielson has given a really great talk that expresses what I learned. Here are her words:

"One of Sister Nielson’s biggest life lessons in learning to hear the voice of the Lord came when she was a young student at BYU and Brent Nielson asked her to marry him. She felt unprepared to make such an important decision. After months of seeking inspiration, she was expecting a great, earthshaking witness to help her be sure.

"One day in desperation, she had a long phone conversation with her father, who was then serving as president of the mission in Santiago, Chile. He taught her about the gift of the Holy Ghost, which she had received at baptism. The Spirit was in her like breathing, quietly sustaining her spiritual life, he said. She needed to turn inward, focus and listen. “Trust that Spirit inside of you,” he told her.

"She was then able to calm down and focus her attention on the beautiful feelings she felt when with Elder Nielson, move forward with the marriage and then receive a quiet, peaceful reassurance that she was making the right decision.

"The gift of the Holy Ghost “is in you like breathing,” Sister Nielson reiterated, “this magnificent spiritual hearing mechanism that has been given to you to hear the voice of the Lord.”

"Just like the hearing aids that help her hear mortal sounds, “there is a God-given gift implanted inside of you, speaking quiet words of truth to your very soul. It can direct you in all you do if you will acknowledge it, focus on it and be intentional about your ability to hear it.”>

I think getting to the point where you can trust your gut and your body because the Holy Spirit is the companion not only of your brain, but also your gut and your body, is an important step forward spiritually. I think you have to be ready to do that, and I cannot say when that time is right. But at some point there comes a time when you have to take that step, trusting in your willingness to listen to the companionship of the Spirit, trusting that that companionship has already helped to change what your gut and your body are and what they want.

And that's what I was trying to impart to my friend--I really think she has lived her life in such a way that she can now trust her gut. There is a peace in the body when your mind, your heart, your gut, and your body are all in sync and wanting the same things. And that peace comes from the Spirit unifying it all together in unity and love.

Happy Sabbath!