Saturday, April 14, 2012

Fear, Faith, and Motivational Math

Sometimes I wish there was a way to just download random thoughts and observations from our brain, directly into text form.  It has been a great week here for many reasons, but the effort it will take to form sentences and explain why now seems daunting.  Ugh...but here goes.

So quick recap on the last week since I didn't really cover it in my last post.  I passed my lymph and thai massage exams.  After examinations we had a Thai New Years party (Songkran starts this week) with the whole school at the Holiday Inn restaurant/buffet.  It was a seafood buffet and was actually a good precursor for the types of food I would be trying the rest of that week.  Everybody else seemed to love it, but I myself....well....lets just say for the first time in my life, I feel comfortable concluding that I don't really care for seafood.  Most white fish, salmon, lobster, and perhaps crab are still on the pass list, but after trying oysters, clams, octapus, squid, crayfish, shrimp, and frog, I feel well versed enough to conclude they are not for me.  The taste was either fishy or texturally repulsive, so it didn't take much to conclude an aversion.  And I'm not sure if this is common all over the rest of the world, but the Thai have a habit of presenting food in such a way as to remind you where it came from.  Personally, I prefer my food to be a little less...authentic?  Here's a couple of examples of what I'm talking about.

I know it's hard to see, but that last picture is of an octopus, a whole octopus mind you, that is cooked in with a seafood stew.  The taste/texture of the octopus wasn't too bad, but I had a hard time getting past the sensation of masticating it's rubbery and suction-cup-lined tentacles and bulbous head.  Blech...

So on a completely unrelated and much more appetizing topic, I took a Thai cooking course (seafood free) this week.  It was the first really touristy activity I've participated in here in Chiang Mai, and the most English I've spoken in weeks.  I learned to make Khao Soy, Pad Thai, Cashew Chicken, and Tom Kha Gai (coconut soup).  Making the food was actually easier than I anticipated, as long as you can gather the proper materials.  I was also given a small cookbook with various other curry recipes, so I'll be practicing in the meantime.  And yes Dan, I'll make you Khao Soy when I get to Cali...I promise. :)

The rest of this week, I've basically been a bum.  We've been out of school for Songkran, but celebrations didn't actually start until Thursday.  So, I just used the time to relax and catch up on some trip planning (booking hotels, flights, tours, etc) for when I head to Australia and New Zealand.  I'm glad I took that time too, because Songkran is freaking nuts.  Historically, it was a time for paying respect to elders and family members by taking blessed water (blessed by Buddha by pouring it over his statue), and pouring it over the shoulders in an effort to wash the bad away and give them good fortune.  Considering it's close proximity to Easter, I found this rather interesting.

But despite it's serene and rather religious origins, Songkran has evolved into a 4 day all out water war that pervades all of Chiang Mai.  It's so pervasive, in fact, that if you make any effort to go outside during that time, you should plan on getting soaked....repeatedly.  Everywhere you go, you'll meet people armed with water guns, buckets, and barrels of water, just waiting to 'bless you with good fortune.'  I enjoyed it for the first few days.  In fact, it was a nice break from the heat.  But my nerves can only take so much shock, and after being soaked for two days and having countless unanticipated buckets of ice-water being dumped on me, I'm in bad need of a break.  So today I've made a goal to stay safely inside...and more importantly....dry.   Hence, writing my blog seemed like a good idea.

The one thing I keep thinking about though, is how to get to church tomorrow without getting completely soaked on the way.  Hmm...oh well, I'm sure I'll figure it out.  That reminds me though, I finally got to go to church last week!  Because of my navigational issues the first week, and conference the next week, last Sunday was the first time I've been able to attend church in 2 months.  It was Easter Sunday and I was really looking forward to going and finally taking the sacrament.  When I got there, I realized that that wouldn't be an option.  I guess with the time it takes to translate everything, General Conference is broadcasted a week later here, and broadcasted in Thai at that.  Luckily, I was able to acquire some English headphones, and even though I had watched all of the conference a week before, it turned out to be an incredible experience.

Though the talks were the exact same, the Spirit I felt that day among all of my Thai brothers and sisters was incredibly powerful.  I could feel of their faith, devotion, and community.  Almost the entire congregation was Thai and hardly anybody could speak English, but I felt an overwhelming amount of kinship, peace, and love just sitting with them.  By the time the first hymn was sung, I was already choking back the laugh/cry/giggle that usually accompanies my being overwhelmed by the Spirit.

For my readers who don't know what I mean by 'overwhelmed by the Spirit (Holy Ghost),' it's probably best described as an overwhelming feeling of peace and happiness.  Every person on earth, regardless of faith, experience, or culture can feel that Spirit (Mormons, by no means, have a monopoly on it).  Often, it accompanies an experience, realization, acknowledgement, or affirmation of truth.  For some people, it causes them to become emotional and cry (Have you ever inexplicably cried during a really happy/beautiful movie?  It's kind of like that).  For others, it causes them to become almost giddy or really enthusiastic.  But while these may be the more common ways I've heard described, everybody experiences that Spirit in their own way.

For me, it sometimes feels like a warm peace that starts deep within my soul and washes over my whole self.  Other times, it's like a shot of happy juice that brings clarity to my perspective, gratitude for my circumstance, and a lot of love for everyone around me.  Most of the time though, it's a subtle mixture of those feelings.  Last week, during that broadcast, it was more like a deluge of every experience I just described.  I wanted to laugh, cry, dance, hug the strangers next to me, shout "This is awesome!," and thank God for everything....all at the same time.  It was truly an amazing experience, and another affirmation to me of how real and wonderful the Gospel of Christ really is.  Best...Easter...EVER! :)

For the next few days after my spiritual cannonade, I was thinking about Christ's atonement, the love with which he performed it, and started pondering faith, fear, motivations, and why I do what I do.  I've always been fascinated by the power and polarity of intention.  Have you ever heard of a morally ambiguous intention?  An act or belief may be morally ambiguous, but the singular intentions behind it seems to always be described as 'good' or 'bad.'  I think this might be because intention is something wholly individual in nature, and the ultimate drive of our God-given ability to chose.  Nobody can dictate another persons intention.  Nobody can even truly know what another persons intention actually is.  We, as individuals, are the only ones who can know (and chose) what is driving us to do what we do.  I also think it's why we're told not to judge others.  Actually, I know that's why we are told not to judge others.  Because until we become like Christ, we do not have the ability to look upon or see the intentions of another human being.  Others can observe behavior and speculate intent, but only the individual acting can delve into their own motivations and answer the question of why they do what they do, and whether it's good or bad.  And I firmly believe it's the "why they do what they do" that can determine the personal happiness or misery of any given individual. 

Not only does this mean we shouldn't judge, but it also means each of us responsible and accountable for our own intentions, independent of age, circumstance, or experience.  I can testify that personal intent, essential to our peace and happiness, often takes time, effort, and introspection to know/understand.  I think everybody can agree that an intention of love is always a good intention, and I would argue it's present in all good intention.  But sometimes, love hurts others more than it helps.  I think it's partly because the emotion of 'love' is ambiguous and utterly subjective to human understanding and experience.  I may think I'm loving someone simply because they feel love for them, and from there convince myself that every intention felt is a good intent.  That turns into thinking "All of my desires will bring me happiness because I'm doing it for love."  I think this happens a lot, and is the source of a lot of confusion for a lot of people in many different kinds of relationships (families, romance, communities, friendships, etc).  Proof of this: millions of people have a hard time differentiating between real love and twisted adolescent obsession.

I rest my case.  

So this was my realization.  While perfect love is always the best intention, it's also something we are still learning, and therefore stands as a poor method assessing one's personal intent (at least on it's own).  It's like trying to navigate with a compass when you don't know which way is up.  The way I see it, there needs to be another way to check intention, to check and see if our current intentions are congruent with future happiness.  I think many, both religious and otherwise, use principles they hope or know to be true and judge their actions for ill or good depending on how well they line up with those.  I would agree that truth is another important axis for assessing intent, and that having 2 points of reference does create a better understanding of location (think of an xy plane).  However, this is a 3D world we live in (sorry for all the math references).  With love and truth, we might be able to pinpoint our horizontal and vertical intent, but we might be completely backwards and have no way of knowing it. 

I therefore propose a third dimension.  Namely: Faith.  This creates an axis or reality that looks something like this.  Just like most mathematical axis, the negative half of the axis constitutes the opposite of the positive (ie. truth is positive, and the opposite of truth is negative, etc.)  Since the end goal of all human desire is to achieve/exist in happiness, I've pointed out the quadrant (ok...technically an octant) where I believe eternal happiness is experienced.  The equation for happiness then would go something like this:

 A(Truth) + B(Faith) + C(Love) = Happiness   

I know.  I've thought about this too much.  But this realization was probably one of the most clear epiphanies I've had this whole trip.  As with most epiphanies, it hit me in the most random place.  It wasn't in church, reading my scriptures, or saying my prayers.  No, awareness of this dimension struck me as I was wandering around Chiang Mai, completely lost and all by myself.  Perhaps and odd time to be checking intent, but I started wondering why I was wandering since I had no idea where I was.  I tried to assess the various emotions I was experiencing at the time.  There was a lot of confusion, frustration, and even some self-loathing, but none of those were the reason I continued to move, despite having no idea where I was or where I was going.  Then it hit me, I was wandering because I was afraid of not getting home.  Immediately after this realization, another thought hit me - faith casteth out fear, and I can choose faith.  Rather than wandering out of fear, I can choose to wander in faith instead.  It wasn't really a new concept, but in the context under which it was applied, it was all a little mind-blowing for me at the time.  

So in that moment, I decided to choose faith.  I chose to believe that even if I was wandering for while, I would reach my destination and all would be well.  The almost immediate internal transformation that occurred is hard to describe.  I no longer worried about getting home.  I felt peace about what I was doing and where I was walking, even though I had no idea where that was.  I didn't walk in a perfect line straight home, but I wasn't questioning every turn, going back and forth, or even thinking about what would happen if I didn't make it home.  My intention was to have faith that I would get to where I wanted to be - and eventually, I did.  

So as I wandered with this faith and it's accompanying sense of peace, my mind started racing.  What is the place of faith in intention?  Can all intentions be so simply divided into those fueled by faith and those by fear?  Is that the element that I see missing from those supposedly 'good' intentions that don't turn out so good?  Is that why some of the most intense forms of love result in some of the most controlling relationships?  Is that why something as pure and good as parental love can be so powerfully detrimental?  Is that why some people who have a great understanding of truth are so often so prone to worry ?  Is it really as simple as choosing to act in faith instead of fear?  Can it really be that easy?  The Spirit's affirmation to me: "Yes, yes it is." 

So here is how I see it now, and I've provided some examples of what I mean.  We are either....

******motivated by the fear of desires not being fulfilled and happiness therefore obstructed.******
-- studying because we fear not getting a good grade
-- voting for someone because we fear their opponents policies
-- giving our teenager a curfew because we fear they will make bad choices
-- dating lots of people because you fear living life alone
-- working because you fear unemployment and poverty
-- writing in your journal because your computer died in the middle of a blog post and you fear you'll loose your train of thought

*******motivated by faith that desires will be fulfilled and/or happiness achieved (aka optimism)*******
-- studying because you know you'll get a good grade if you do
-- voting for someone because you know they'll do a good job while in office
-- giving your teenager a curfew because you know it will improve their choices and therefore their lives
-- dating lots of people because you know one of them will be 'the one' you'll want to be with forever
-- working because you know the act of work brings fulfillment and joy
-- writing in your journal because your computer died in the middle of a blog post and you know a break from the keyboard will help you write a better post

So going back to my 3D axis:  Like positive and negative integers, I think each intention can be separated by either an eye of faith, or an eye of fear.  I would argue that those who feel both faithful and fearful are actually just hovering around 0, being swayed one way or the other by various events or emotions.  For intentions that are a mixture of two positives and a negative, you may be closer to the octant of happiness, but still not quite there.  They may feel satisfaction or even fleeting joy, but still lack the proper formula that equates to real, lasting, and permanent joy.

Example: What happens when someone acts out of truth, love, and fear --> They worry.  What happens when someone has truth and faith but no love? --> They become self-righteous or conceited. 

I think it's safe to say neither of these things brings eternal happiness.  A worry wort may be happy when something they worry about doesn't happen, but they are still miserable in between.  A conceited person may be happy in moments they prove themselves right or perhaps better than others, but eventually, the pang of loneliness and isolation will strike, destroying any remnants of that satisfaction in it's wake. 

Now, all this being said.  I know a single action is often fueled by multiple intentions.  That most of our motivations are made up of a mixture of good and bad intents: some out of love, some in selfishness, some based in faith, and some in fear.  But I don't think that excuses us from owning and acknowledging each and every intention that precedes every action.  I believe each of us have the capacity to achieve the happiness we all fundamentally desire.  I believe that most people are actively working to achieve that desire, but that many haven't quite figured out the math, and are therefore getting frustrated and more confused.  I believe The Church, missionary work, and all other programs are ultimately geared toward teaching people these principles.  True, many of the tutors are usually still figuring out the process themselves, but I feel pretty comfortable saying that our leadership has a really good grasp on these concepts.  Just think about what was taught in this past conference - or every general conference at that.  The root message is always either "have faith and hope," "know this eternal principle," or "love one another."  More often than not, it's mixture of those three.  I do think the path to happiness can be found in the practice of of what Christ described as 'pure intent'.  I think pure intent is the what occurs when we know truth, feel love, and act in faith.  I do think optimism is necessary for pure intent to be achieved (perfect brightness of hope anyone?).  I have experience that as one practices these principles, they will find joy.  I have faith that because of Christ's love and his atoning sacrifice, that happiness is something I can choose to experience now - and always.

So in conclusion: Why do you do what you do?  Is it bringing you the happiness you desire?  
If not, perhaps you should check your math.


  1. Cherie! I don't know how I missed this post when it was originally posted, but I am glad I found it now (and perhaps there is a reason I found it now as opposed to earlier...). I love everything you said! I'm pretty sure this is a discussion I have been needing to have with you. Having experienced fear vs. faith in terms of motivation recently (mostly job related), I have learned from personal experience how much of a difference it makes. I have also learned that I am a much happier person when I am motivated by faith. I seriously felt like I was having this discussion with you, so I thank you for helping me in my attempt to gain better perspective.

  2. Haha I'm glad it helped. I find it funny how much my friends are still jiving with me even with thousands of miles between us. I do wish it could have happened in person though, with some good food to boot. ;) I miss you dear! Can't wait to see you in a few months :)