I am in the midst of making a significant career/business decision, and was struck last night by how different this process feels this time around as compared to how I experienced while Mormon. This is the first time I have made a decision of this kind since leaving Mormonism.
While Mormon, a significant part of my decision-making model was drawn from the D&C 9, which advises us to use feelings of peace (as the “burning in the bosom” is usually interpreted) as opposed to darkness/confusion to decide what God wants us to do. For those of you who may have forgotten this bit of wisdom, here it is:
8. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it be right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore you shall feel that it is right.
9. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong â€¦
When deciding whether to accept a new job or business opportunities; move from one city to another; change intimate relationships; etc. we are generally speaking in a state of high emotional arousal or turmoil. Evolution has programmed us to fear the unknown, hence many of these feelings. The bigger the decision, the more likely we are to be in this state. Hence, if we only do what we feel peaceful about, we will tend toward what is safe; what we know; what we are already doing. Not surprisingly, this tends to keep most Mormons close to their Mormon roots and within the behavioural grooves carvedk into us by our conditioning.
And, when we feel this same angst about decisions that Mormonism encourages (getting married young; having babies young; going on a mission; etc.) we are told that these feeligns of darkness come from Satan. Where else could they come from? God has commanded us to do certain things … Obviously, we obvious must obey what the Mormon prophets had said …
Tails, Mormonism wins. Heads, we lose.
I remember, in particular, as a young lawyer being offered several opportunities to leave the law firm I was then working with in Vancouver, British Columbia. As I look back now, it is clear that the main reason I remained there for a decade is that whenever an opportunity to go somewhere else presented itself, I went through the process of fasting, praying, listening to my feelings, etc. and found that I did not feel adequately peaceful about taking the new opportunity. In some cases, these were opportunities that I had actively pursued because they seemed to make so much sense, but when the time came to make the decision I didn’t feel peaceful enough and so let them pass. I remember weeks of listening to my emotions boil and feeling confused as to why God would veto chances that had seemed so good. That should have been a clue, but I was pretty dense. Once again, all I can do is laugh at myself as I consider my history.
When we understand a bit about the biochemistry of emotion, it is easy to predict we will have many strong feelings as we consider opportunities that require us to leave established behavioral patterns and perhaps relationships in order to undertake something new. Excitement; fear; rising energy to meet a new challenge; etc. are all part of this. But peacefulness or a burning bosom (the classic Mormon testimony feeling), generally speaking, will not be a significant part of what we feel. At most, we will get glimpes of this.
Hence, my family and I remained in Vancouver for close to 10 years in circumstances that became increasingly unbearable. The level of discomfort on a variety of fronts had to rise to the point where as I went through the Mormon decision-making process, the darkness, angst, etc. I felt at the prospect of staying with my law firm in Vancouver was worse than the fear, etc. I felt at the prospect of leaving. Once again, Mormonism had nuetered or infantilized me. It harnessed me in place.
Now, as I consider various kinds of significant opportunities I expect to feel agitated and have a reasonable understanding as to what my biochemistry is doing to produce these feelings, and how long they are likely to last. I understand that this emotional state is a short-term phenomenon, and that whether I choose to take an opportunity or not, I will shortly return to what might be called my “normal” emotional landscape. That is, my typical long-term emotional state.
The emotional spikes that occur as we contemplate, and sometimes make, significant life changes interfere with our decision-making process far more than they help us think clearly and make good decisions. They should be ignored for the most part, and we should consult with trusted friends and advisors who can help us see through this fog as we attempt to see the pros and cons of our too-rare chances for major, productive change along life’s way.
Ironically, what I now regard as a miasma is the centerpiece of the Mormon decision-making process. That is what I was taught to focus on to the near exclusion of all else. And until mid-life, that is what I did.
All I can do is shake my head. Yet again.