Twice a year my church (LDS–Mormons) holds what’s called General Conference. No one goes to church, but watches on TV or the internet the broadcast from Salt Lake City. For Saturday and Sunday we get to listen to five sessions of prophets, apostles, and auxiliary presidencies teaching us how to live more spiritually in the secular world around us. Normally it’s uplifting, and even a fun time at our house to sit in the living room eating snacks and making crafts while “going to church” on TV.
Except for this year. General Conference occurred this last weekend, and it totally fell flat. The speakers weren’t engaging, the music was predictable, and I couldn’t focus on anything for long. In fact, I slept through most of the talks, only to wake up to hear something else bland and uninspiring, so I’d drift off again.
Why did I not find church interesting last weekend? What did they do wrong?
Church wasn’t the problem; the problem was me. I was sick. I’m on day five of fighting what I’m sure is strep throat (but I’m too cheap to go to the doctor’s to find out, so I’m trying to tough it out, which means whimpering every few minutes, “I can’t swallow.”).
(I hope this also explains why this week’s post is even more disjointed than usual.)
In my achy, miserable condition, I couldn’t pay attention, couldn’t feel the spirit, couldn’t become engaged in what I normally enjoy.
The problem wasn’t the source; it was me. This happens a lot, I’m afraid to admit.
For example, I remember reading The Scarlet Letter as a high school junior. I found it dull and strange—why was this minister carving into his own chest? Why couldn’t these people just be nice to this poor, unmarried mother? Like, whatever, dudes . . .
Then, some years later as a senior in college, I read it again for a class. This time I was married and expecting my first child, and the book made me weep. I ached for Hester Prynne, for Arthur Dimmesdale, even for Roger Chillingworth. I could scarcely write my essay about it because the story panged me so deeply.
Why the difference in responses? The book hadn’t changed, I had. My thoughts, my experiences, my heart were all much more prepared to take in what Nathaniel Hawthorne was trying to convey. (Pregnancy hormones likely played a part in amplifying the narrative in my head.)
I’ve seen people come away from movies, books, and speeches with a wide range of responses. “That was wonderful!” “That was stupid.” “That was dull.” “That was inspiring!” They all experienced the same thing, so why the different reactions?
More and more I’m convinced that people’s reactions say far more about themselves than about the activity they just completed.
This is one of the many reasons why I don’t rely too much on reviews about anything, or I read about a dozen reviews before I decide to take a chance on something. Objectivity is pretty much impossible for us biased, human creatures. And the more we insist that we are objective, it seems the more we demonstrate that we aren’t. We should just admit it: we react emotionally to everything around us because we aren’t robots.
During the past few days I’ve seen my friends put up posts of what they enjoyed most about General Conference, and I’m a bit jealous that I missed it all. The talks are available online, and once I’m finally over this gunk, I’ll rewatch or read them.
But this experience has made me understand something painful: if I’m not open-minded and open-hearted, I will miss things. Not just activities or fun stuff, but important emotional things.
Victor Weisskopf, a professor of physics, said this: “People cannot learn by having information pressed into their brains. Knowledge must be sucked into the brain, not pushed in.”
If I want to be uplifted, I need to prepare my mind for that “sucking in” experience. Conversely, if I’m not in the correct mindset, nothing—no matter how marvelous and majestic the experience—will let me see anything more than I’m willing to.
I’m reminded of the city-dweller who was used to vacationing at the beach. One year his wife dragged him instead to Yellowstone. When asked about the magnificent landscapes, the volcanic wonders, the plethora of wild animals, he said, still resentful about missing out on eating seafood and playing mini golf, “There were too many bison and I couldn’t get any wi-fi.”
His mind and heart weren’t in the correct “sucking in” mode.
This weekend has made me wonder how often I’m not in proper “sucking in” mode.
How often do I come to a situation with the “ailing” mindset of cynicism, resentment, unrealistic expectations, or just plain callousness?
How often has my head been acting as if it’s on too much DayQuil—too fogged to pay attention to the important details?
How often am I too light-headed to sink into deep thoughts?
How often do I sleep through moments that would astonish me?
Maybe the most important thing I learned from General Conference this year is to make sure my head’s always in “sucking in” mode. That doesn’t make for a great meme, I know. I tried:
I can’t wait to get better, to escape this oppressive fog, and to once again “suck in” the world more clearly.
(My apologies–no matter how many times I write it, “suck in” just doesn’t sound right, so I’m going to go lay down now . . .)
“She thinks she’s got something relevant from her books for her blog this week?” Mahrree asked Perrin in surprise. “What are we supposed to say?”
He just looked at her with furrowed brows. “What’s DayQuil?”
~Book #nothing, The Writer Needs to Take a Nap