I get questions now and then about barriers Mormons may have to mindfulness and contemplative practice. From my own conversations and personal experience, what I’ve come to see is that Mormons may have far fewer barriers to contemplative practice than individuals from other faith traditions. Here I’d like to point out three main reasons why I think Mormons are predisposed to “fall in love” with this stuff.
1. If we understand our doctrine, we should be radically open to ALL truth – no matter who teaches it. As many people know about Mormons, for us, truth is contained not just in the Bible alone. In addition to the Book of Mormon and other books we embrace as scripture, Mormons see many other books as containing inspiration. The extensive “canon” of eastern contemplative traditions then, can easily be approached by us not as a threat – but with an openness to offering further light and knowledge.
To wit, Orson F. Whitney described “Confucius, Zoroaster, Buddha, Socrates and Plato” as “servants of the Lord in a lesser sense” – good and great men” who possessed “profundity of thought, great wisdom, and a desire to uplift their fellows” and who were “sent by the Almighty into many nation” to “give them truth that a wise Providence had allotted to them.” Whitney emphasized that God is “using not only his covenant people, but other peoples as well, to consummate a work.”
At the heart of Mormonism is a radically expansive openness to truth in every direction. As Joseph Smith first stated, “One of the grand fundamental principles of “Mormonism” is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 313). John Taylor reiterated: “We are open to truth of every kind, no matter whence it comes, where it originates, or who believes in it” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Eternal Truth). And Brigham Young elaborated: ” Be willing to receive the truth, let it come from whom it may; no difference, not a particle….“Mormonism,” so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it….“Mormonism” includes all truth….I want to say to my friends that we believe in all good. If you can find a truth in heaven, earth or hell, it belongs to our doctrine. We believe it; it is ours; we claim it.” Brigham summarized: “It is our duty and calling, as ministers of the same salvation and Gospel, to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church…to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, … to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion” (Teachings of Brigham Young: The Gospel Defined).
Could this include mindfulness itself? You bet!
More than a general openness to more truth, we believe this is a day of new truth being given to the earth. Our scriptures are full of reminders and promises from God that we are living in a day when “all truth” is being restored to the earth. For instance, Joseph Smith recorded a promise that “God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now; Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the fulness of their glory; A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld (D&C 121: 26-32).
I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old. As Joseph writes in our Articles of Faith: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
2. We believe in contemplation and enlightenment…big time. Everyone knows that Mormons look to prophets for guidance and revelation. What they may not know is that these same prophets continually encourage everyone to seek their own enlightenment through various contemplative practices – including prayer and meditation itself.
Joseph Smith himself was described as his mother growing up as, “much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of the children, but far more given to meditation and deep study” (Smith, Lucy. Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet. Liverpool, 1853, p. 84; more here on Joseph’s history).
While we typically use the word “ponder” when describing this contemplative state, meditation is also frequently referenced. President David O. McKay, for instance, once said: “I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion. … Meditation is the language of the soul. It is defined as ‘a form of private devotion or spiritual exercise, consisting in deep, continued reflection on some religious theme.’ Meditation is a form of prayer. …“Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord” (Man May Know for Himself, comp. Clare Middlemiss [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1969], pp. 22–23).
In regular temple attendance, we also seek a deep, contemplative state of worship, adoration and focus. In that stillness, as I explore elsewhere, we believe that we’re most able to commune with God.
3. Finally, we believe human beings are children of God in the spirit – and therefore, fundamentally good. For us, the evil comes from being born into a fallen world that corrupts and degrades us – an idea very similar to the Buddhist notion of being born into “delusion.” For Mormons, then, the emphasis of mindfulness on fundamental wholeness is not a sticking point – as it might be for Christians who believe in the depravity of man.
As children of God, we believe human beings also have a literal divine potential – especially as they yield their hearts and lives to God’s commandments. Mormons thus embrace many elements similar to those of the Eightfold Middle Path of Buddhism.
From our convictions about knowledge, the process of gaining knowledge and human nature itself, then, Mormons are well-suited to embrace mindfulness. If mindfulness feels like something that can help build Zion, in particular, then they’ll be all over it! This doesn’t mean there aren’t unique challenges as well – including our intense focus on HARD WORK! [Hold on…did you say “non-doing?!”] (: