Listening to the Spirit

Preparing and receiving spiritual guidance

Some people go to the mountains or lakes to receive heavenly help. Others kneel in prayer, go on long-term juice fasts, while others do nothing at all, believing nothing exists but our own world, and even if God lives, us humans are too insignificant to warrant a thought.

In his talk on The Windows of Light and Truth, Joseph B. Wirthlin said that: “We must become skilled in using the spiritual windows to receive personal revelation for ourselves and our families.” Sometimes, family members and caring leaders provide guidance, yet this can be colored with personal motivations, self-interest or misunderstanding of the situation details.

Personal revelation is not an entitlement, and it is not passive. It is an active state of mind and demands faith. Each phase of the process requires something of us: 1) a desire to ask, 2) a willingness and open heart to listen, and 3) the obedience and courage to obey.

The scriptures of many faiths indicate that manifestations of the Spirit come to the mind in a variety of ways. They come in impressions and promptings, dreams, visions, visitations, by way of counsel from leaders and as what has been described as enlightenment and pure intelligence.

Consider the concept of enlightenment

Steve Jobs is a great example of this: he considered a problem, and credited bursts of enlightenment as the source of his ideas. That led to great innovations which have impacted the world over. Contrast that temporal example with that of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who often talked about pure intelligence flowing within, giving him sudden strokes of ideas.

When I was fourteen, my father asked me to accompany him on a ward visit. I wrote and rewrote my talk, the tension and worry increasing for the two weeks prior. The night before, I was crying with frustration that all my preparation had yielded only fractured thoughts. I said a fervent prayer, asking the Lord for help. Within moments of closing the prayer, my mind cleared, and I wrote an entirely new and different talk in a single session. The next day, following the talk, my father remarked he knew he’d been inspired to ask me. I honestly don’t recall what I said, because those weren’t my words. That experience cemented my testimony of personal revelation, the role of the Lord and the concept of enlightenment of the spirit.

Bruce R. McConkie said that we have the responsibility to seek solutions first for our own problems. It will always involve effort on our part. Elder McConkie expressed it this way: “We are to solve our own problems and then to counsel with the Lord in prayer and receive a spiritual confirmation that our decisions are correct.”

Receiving an answer from the Lord requires a few key elements:

  1. Obedience. President John Taylor said it is the first rule in heaven, and Elder Wirthlin said “nothing closes the door of personal revelation faster than disobedience.”
  2. Receptiveness of mind and submissiveness to the will of the Lord is also required for personal revelation, because as it states In D & C 63:64, the Lord requests “the heart and a willing mind.”

In my 20’s, I was a divorced, single mother, working in the technology industry. My life was just getting settled and financially stable. The company I worked for had sold and I fulfilled a lifelong dream of starting a magazine.  Yet I was feeling unsettled and didn’t know why. I kept asking the Lord to give me direction to ease the discomfort I felt.  Months went by until one night, I made a conscious decision to change my prayer. I added the words…’According to thy will’, and that I’d do whatever was asked. The following morning at 8:15 a.m., I received a call from a recruiter offering me a position at a start-up firm in Silicon Valley. I knew immediately that the call was direction from the Lord. I’d asked, he’d answered, and now I had to Act.

  • Conform to God’s will. Alma exhorted us to “be humble and submissive at all times.” 

Pioneer Brigham Young said that most people fail during the final 10% of the journey. In other words, they inquire of the Lord, receive the answer, but can’t do what the Lord has asked. In my case, The Lord answered my prayer by asking me to sell my home, close down my new business, leave my support system and move—all in two weeks. In his wisdom, he let me reach a mental, emotional and spiritual state where I could both hear the answer but act on it.

  • Stand in Holy Places: This is critical in times of need. Are we in a place at all times to be hear the quiet whisperings of the Lord?  Men in particular have a solemn responsibility to stand in Holy Places in order to call upon the powers of the priesthood when needed.

Fast forward seven years. I’d met and married the man who has now been my husband or 20 years. He joined and left the gospel within the first twenty-four months of our marriage. I knew he was the reason I’d been moved to San Francisco, but at I was at the point of giving up on the marriage.  I simply could not understand why the Lord would bless me with success but give me such absolute personal heartache. Again, for months, I received no direction or solace, despite fervent prayers. I was at my end.

One weekend, I attended a conference of financial executives. As I sat listening to the keynote speaker, I read his background. Below his list of accomplishments, and a Harvard MBA, was an undergraduate degree from BYU. I had the immediate impression to seek him out for a blessing. Now, imagine going up to someone, giving an introduction and asking for a special prayer on my behalf, but that’s exactly what I did. Waiting for a few minutes after the session was over, I touched his arm, and asked if he was a priesthood holder in good standing. He was surprised, but said yes. It took a few minutes to find a room, and he asked me few basic questions, then gave me a blessing with specific direction and details of my life known only by the Lord, It gave me the strength to see me through the following tumultuous years of my life, which included cancer and being told I’d never have children. But all the while, I knew that I was where I needed to be, with the man who needed to be by my side, and it was directly from the Lord. That knowledge sustained me through very rough times. Men, please honor the gift of the priesthood. You never know when you will be called upon to be the answer to someone else’s prayer.

  • Pray with faith, humility, sincerity and intensity.

Years later, I was able to conceive and keep my oldest daughter. One afternoon, at about six-months, I lifted her out of the crib and as I walked down the stairs, noticed she wasn’t sleeping but motionless and not breathing. By the time I reached the bottom, I was near hysteria. I thought through my options. As I lived outside the city limits, an ambulance wouldn’t arrive in time. My doctor couldn’t help over the phone and I had no idea what to do. As I cried, begged and pleaded with the Lord for guidance, a visual and specific words came to my mind. “Turn her on her side and hit her back, hard.” I laid her on the kitchen counter in the exact manner I had visualized, and hit her back with strength, all the while crying and praying. It took many seconds, but she started breathing again.

Richard G. Scott said that personal revelation, or answers to prayers, comes with different forms.

When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence.

When He answers no, it is to prevent error.

When he withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth.

I’ll share one last example on this point. After living in the Bay Area, we moved to Seattle. After a dozen years, Roger and I started to feel as though we should move. It was the same unsettled feeling that I’d had nearly two decades prior. We began looking for homes in and around the area, then extended this to five states. We made offers that were turned down for no reason, or homes failed inspection. After four years, we gave up, reconciled to feeling unsettled. We put all our energy and time into making our property our dream environment. No sooner had we completed the last bathroom, that I was sitting on a rock by the pond, admiring all that we had created, and I had this distinct feeling come over me that I would soon be leaving. I’ll admit, I cried for an hour. Why was it, I wondered, that the Lord didn’t tell us before we spent the time, effort and money to make it our dream home?

A thought came to me. “And he dwelt in a tent.” If the Lord asked Prophet Lehi, and those called before him, to give it all up all he had and live in a tent, then who am I to refuse the direction of the Lord, especially after we’d been asking for years?

While I don’t know all the reasons why CDA was chosen, I know the Lord will reveal it in time, and I must be patient.

As you can see, personal revelation has been at pivotal at key points of my life, guiding, directing and supporting my journey, and these are just a few. The Lord’s direction and love is available for all of us, at any time.

It is my testimony that direct answers to prayers and personal revelation is the key to us enduring our challenges, providing us direction, and helping us focus our talents and energies in the way our Heavenly Father wants for the benefit of ourselves and our loved ones around us.

I hope sharing this with you, my readers, has turned you closer to feeling, hearing and acting upon the promptings of the Spirit that is within you.

Enlightenment & fasting

S teve Jobs has been on my mind; not for his fame, fortune or black mock turtlenecks, but for his use of fasting for the goal of enlightenment.

Let’s think about this for a minute. Fasting has been used for thousands of years for a whole multitude of reasons. Inspiration (think the original Buddha), mental and physical strength (athletes) enlightenment (yogi’s, Jesus) rendering the mind & heart humble and pure (Saint Augustine)  cleansing of the body and soul (millions of unnamed people). The length inspirational quoteand means are as varied as the people and the times. Jobs tended to use the fasting that skipped everything but juices (not to be confused with a cleanse, which is about losing weight but not enlightenment). A fast is generally considered eliminating all food and living on water, although I know people modify this to address dietary and health requirements and/or restrictions.

Whatever the form and function, a “fast” has a purpose, and end-goal if you will, that is ever-present and top-of-mind throughout. Then, when the goal is achieved—vis a vis the sought after enlightenment has occurred, then the fast ends.

Let’s go back to Jobs. Carrot juice being his fasting method of choice, if he had a problem to solve, he’d go on a juice fast until he received the answer (or enlightenment) he sought. (As a side-note, I’ve read and experienced that those who don’t believe in a God tend to use the word enlightenment versus received an answer- which denotes an answer from ‘someone.’ Perhaps this is why fasting itself is so universal—because a universal response is being given at the individual level, and thereby the promise of the fast is achieved).

I love the yoga teachers that throughout my twenty-year study have often gone full-on fasting—not even water—which of course means it has very physical limitations. So too have the martial arts instructors I’ve worked with over the years. The parallel experiences and stories have mirrored those who have removed certain foods from their diets-the difference, I might emphasize, was speed and clarity.

The voice of clarity

Now, I made this promise not to get too personal with this blog, but I have no issue telling the world what I have personally fasted about, because it’s pretty much anything important. For inspiration before a business meeting, college exam, plot ideas, who to date and/or marry, whether or not I should move, accept a client or job, to have or not have a baby. Those are personal. I’ve fasted for others, parents, siblings, even strangers, like those suffering from miscarriages of justice, the survivors or victims of attacks or accidents.

Why, you might ask. It’s because as a person who believes in the power of fasting for others and self, I also believe in the power of positive energy. At the subatomic level, our bodies are composed of energy (as identified in 1951). We can send out this to others regardless of distance. At the simple level, our heart pushes out an energy field 12 feet from our bodies.

It goes like this

  1. Start with the intention. Every self-help guru, yoga instructor, pastor, sales executive and even Oprah, will tell you it starts with the verbalization and visualization of the intent or goal. What is it? What do you desire? What do you need? This is what you are putting out there to the universe if you will, and if you believe in Deity, it’s that entity. Visualize and verbalize. State it and be clear.
  2. Prepare to fast and make the commitment to a timeframe. This is the optimal way to do it…as in, three meals, a dinner, overnight and then breakfast and lunch the following day. Twenty-four hours is a good starting point and there is a methodology. As said by one of my martial arts instructors (an 8th degree who was as agile as a mountain lion but as peaceful as a cool breeze), the goal is to bring the body to submission of the mind, and the mind itself to a place where it stops making noise. Depriving the body of food physically weakens it. Only when this occurs does the mind become quiet. Once the mind is quiet, then inspiration can occur.Now, that said, sometimes it takes some of us (ahem) more time to physically and mentally settle down than others. Honestly, I’ve witnessed that vegans who refrain from caffeine are simply a lot more chill than the average adrenaline junkie (self include). So, when I say that one sometimes needs to prepare for a fast, I’m being serious. If I’ve had a lot of chocolate lately (which has caffeine) I have to ease off so I won’t go through withdrawals. Then I have to clean out my body (by further eliminating bad stuff like sugar) and then I’m ready to be clean physically.For those that live a cleaner diet than I do, fasting is probably easier and produces quicker or stronger efforts.
  3. Constantly reiterate and repeat the intention throughout the fast. Think about it. Consider it. Roll it over and over in your mind. The more you think about the problem you are wanting to solve or outcome you desire, the greater the expansion of your thoughts. This is where the ideas suddenly come from—or the enlightenment. Many have referred to this as a sudden burst of light. For writers, many times this comes in dreams. Others have the ‘a-ha’ moment that seemingly comes from nowhere.


Does it last forever?

What if you fast for a day, even two, are weak and weary, and have received nothing. Nada. No answer. No inspiration. You are frustrated and think the whole notion is bunk.

Actually, a phrase exists for this condition, and it’s called a stupor of thought. That, in fact, is the answer. The answer “no” comes in many forms, and this “blackness” as it’s sometimes called, is the clearest form of answer possible. Should I go out with this person—stupor of thought—is a no. If it were a yes, then it would be a warm, peaceful feeling.

A yoga instructor told me about sending her child to a school that had been recommended, but she wasn’t feeling good about it. She fasted for a day or so and spent concentrated time in meditation (for additional clarity). While she didn’t receive an answer of what school to go to (she hadn’t asked that), she received a strong feeling—described as a sickness in her stomach—every time she thought about sending her child to that school. The longer she fasted and meditated, and thought about this option, the more acute her feelings became. Once she visualized not sending her child to this school, she felt peace she described as a complete calm. That was a validation of her prior answer.

As with anything—exercise or a new job, fasting becomes easier with practice, to the point of becoming second nature. Many people I know fast on a regular basis, either once a month, once a week (usually on a particular day where they can plan a day free from a business meeting luncheon or skipping a workout).

I’d like to end this with a flippant line, such as–the worst case is you have freed your body of toxins, but the reality is that flippancy reduces the power of the fast and the answers that come along with it. We have been put here to learn and grow, and that requires us to push, achieve and fully live to our potential. Fasting is one tool for us to reach the heights awaiting us. All we have to do is take the initiative and jump.

Spiritual Fitness

Today, whilst I was running on the treadmill, contemplating what topic to write about for ‘workout Wednesdays’ it struck me that I have thus far focused only on the physical aspect of health. That’s only half the equation, for what is the body without the spirit? (so said the Mrs. Steve Jobs in the bio I read over vaca). What indeed?

I’m no swami, but have a strong faith that serves to carry me forward through dark times, enlightens my mind and keeps me focused on family. I was taught at an early age that the spirit, and all aspects therein, must be exercised or else it grows weak, just like the flesh. Over the holiday, I read the Jobs bio on my Kindle (it was darn depressing, I tell you), yet it had a few redeeming qualities. One being the eternal search Jobs had on the Zen part of his existence, searching, striving, and seeking more. Of course, searching is not enough. One must apply what one learns. Through the school of hard knocks (e.g. choice and consequence), I’ve developed a few daily exercises or I grow weak spiritually–my energy ebbs, my outlook on life is grey rather than blue, I’m not listening (or receiving) promptings to help others etc.

1. daily prayer. Obvious, I know, but when I say daily, what I’m really saying is ‘meaningful’ in a way that requires me to verbalize my thoughts outloud. As a writer, I find it interesting that concocting words in my head is one thing. To say them outloud is another. Any good writer (and all books on becoming a better writer) council to speak the written word outloud. It’s requires thought. It carries meaning. The clarity quotient skyrockets.

Daily also means ‘whenever I want’, not just in the morning at night or at mealtimes. It means before a big meeting or presentation. I was seriously praying (silently however) backstage before I was to go on live TV with a movie producer from LA during the launch of my book last year. (I ramble, I get confused. I just asked for calm, peace and the ability the articulate my thoughts). My prayers were answered. My responses were short and concise (a miracle in itself). I smiled. I was calm.

2. Study-not just read-the scriptures. It’s strange. Sometimes I get nothing from reading the scriptures and other times I get a lot. Know the difference? Reading is just that–a straight through reading while on the treadmill or couch that I do. This is good (how can this activity ever be bad?), but not the best. About 2 years ago, I found my ability to truly learn and grow in the experience was found by following a 5-step process.
1) pray before hand that your mind will be enlightened while reading.
2) plan a specific time every day. Dedicate this time and have a routine.
3)have a pad of paper and pen to take notes, write down questions (therein is the studying part)
4) search/answer above questions. It doens’t have to be more than a verse (I used to set goals for reading–five chapters or 15 minutes type of a thing). Searching and answering can be much more or less.
5) pray upon completion that the words read (messages, meaning, understanding) can be remembered and applied.

Once I employed the above guidelines, I found the effort of scripture study much more enjoyable (and yes, it is still an effort), but interestingly enough, I began to look forward to it instead of dreading it like an obligation (like the treadmill).

3. Open your heart to being a help to another. This element of spiritual health brings benefits to others as well as yourself. Have you ever been inspired to call someone and done so, finding that the call was ‘just what was needed,’ to the person on the other end? What about writing a note of thanks for a job well done, then later learning your hand-written card (or email) was much appreciated? These little promptings are called ‘tender mercies,’ but also fall in the category of running God’s errands. Opening your heart to the prompting is the first step, but acting on the prompting is the fulfillment for both you and the recipient. I’ve found that the more I act on these promptings, the more I hear.

As with my own physical health, my spiritual workouts are stronger some days than other. The key is to keep moving forward, even if a bit at a time, to be as strong spiritually as one is physically. Ironically, the body will get weaker over time. The same cannot be said for the spirit.