“A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it is real, so he escapes the suffering.”

                                        Buddha

I recently had a very enlightening conversation with a good friend about the nature of happiness, and suffering. Pain, and Pleasure. A few days later, I was trying to repeat that same enlightening conversation to my co-workers, but conversations are alive, and each new one ends up growing into something a bit different than the last. 

I have told my friends at work that I do not believe that someone can be happy all the time. They tell me that happiness is a choice. You can decide to have a good or a bad attitude about life, and that will determine whether or not you are happy. I disagree. I believe that happiness is an illusion, along with pain, and suffering. 

As humans, we tell ourselves stories about the world we are moving through. On Monday, I may wake up and I decide that I hate today. I tell myself that everyone hates me, that my friends and family are out to get me, and that this is going to be the worst day ever. As I go throughout the day, my brain gives me emotional responses based off the story I am telling myself. I tell myself it is a terrible day, and I will physically feel terrible. So, Monday is a bad day. On Tuesday, I wake up, and I tell myself that this is going to be the best day ever. I am excited to go to work, because I tell myself that everyone there is my friend. Throughout the day, my brain gives me emotional responses that validate the story I am telling myself. I physically feel happy. Tuesday is a good day. 

Now, most would look at that example and say “obviously, you should try to have a good attitude, because it affects the way you feel.” But I don’t think so. On both days, you are lying to yourself. On both days, you are creating an illusion about the world around you, and your body is giving you very real feelings and responses to the illusion that you have created. This is why happiness is an illusion. Because even though the actual feelings of ‘being happy’ are real feelings, they are in response to an illusion that you are creating. They are built on a lie. My friend described it as “An illusion that we are stuck in. But once we realize we are trapped in it, we can both step away from it, and also immerse ourselves in it, because we know it is false.” 

So, what’s the point of having emotions if they are an illusion? I don’t know yet… and most will read this and dismiss it because they are fine with their emotions. They may even like their emotions. But for me, who struggles with low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression, this brings a huge breath of relief. The usual roller coaster of emotional ups and (mostly) downs, now carries a tranquil, almost smug, “okay-ness.” Life is okay. I don’t have to subject myself to the violent ups and downs. I can step back from how I am feeling, feel okay with the fact that life is not okay, and then plunge back in. And maybe even enjoy the ride.

                                      

 

Something that has been on my mind for a few months, ever since a friend share a youtube clip with me. 

When someone, usually in a religious context, states that they ‘know’ something is correct, or true, I cringe a little. For some, this may seem very controversial. I apologize. I do not in any way mean to ridicule, devalue, or besmirch anyones beliefs. I am just wanting to point out that that is what they are. Beliefs. Many know a bit about my story, I grew up in the LDS church, and my beliefs were photocopied straight from the Gospel Principles manual that we so often study. I absolutely loved it, and was ready and willing to follow the step by step plan that our church lays out for it’s members. Until I hit my road block. Being gay casts a new light and perspective on life, and religion, that not everyone understands or agrees with. At least, it did for me. I came to realize first hand that all those things that I claimed to “know” were just beliefs. Scarier still, I was no longer certain that all of them were as true and God-given as I had thought. I had to start wading through the mass of information that I had just blindly assimilated over the years. It is not a pleasant process, and one that requires you to find and connect with an inner voice that is so very good at recognizing light and truth. 

I bring this up, because as our society is steadily moving towards equality towards LGTB people, many who are religious are finding it difficult to know where to stand. Disclaimer: I am not here to push one side or the other. Each person must come to those decisions on their own, and I would hope that they are including God in that process. I am merely here to echo the words of Oliver Cromwell: “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.” 

As I have begun this journey into my soul, I am constantly forced to question what I think, what I feel, what I believe, and what I will decide to do based on those beliefs. I truly know only one thing, and that is that I know nothing. It is a humbling position to be in. When someone questions my actions, I cannot with certainty defend them. I hear so many opinions from both sides of the issue, and I listen. To everything. I have to evaluate it, think about it, weigh it against what I thought I already knew, determine whether it will help me build myself, and then decide where to go from there. It is exhausting!  

To return to the beginning of my post, I really do cringe when I hear someone say they know anything. Again, I’m not dismissing anyone’s personal beliefs. But when you know something, you no longer have to look for truth. You no longer have to consider the other side. In that state of self assured correctness, you are justified in shutting out anyone’s experience that is not in harmony with what you already “know.” It is not comfortable for us, as humans, to be uncertain. We do not like ambiguity. We like facts. We like to know! But that is as much a weakness as it is a strength of ours. The youtube video I mentioned earlier is filmed in a concentration camp. The scientist there talks about what happens to humans when we believe we know something. When we are so right, that everyone else is wrong. That line of thinking is dehumanizing. Granted, the Nazi party is a very extreme example of this. But I use the extreme to help illustrate my point. It is dehumanizing to believe something to the point that you cannot even allow for someone else’s point of view. We all do this. In almost every area of life. And sad as it is, I think it is easiest to fall into this line of thinking when it comes to religion.

Again, I am not attacking any religion, or any religious people of groups. I am simply asking that we all, despite our current beliefs, recognize that they are beliefs. And difficult though it may be, please always be willing to ask yourself “might I be mistaken?”

I think it is becoming more and more important for everyone to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Allow your neighbor, your friend, your parents or siblings the process and the time that it often takes to develop and grow. Given time, we may find that we were all just fellow travelers. As an old Chinese parable goes, “There are many paths to the top of the mountain.” Lets embrace our own path, and celebrate the diversity of each others. 

 

This is the video that was shared with me.

We all have heard the parable of the Talents. It is the parable that everyone’s mom repeats to them when they are young, and refusing to practice the piano, or other instrument. There is a Master, and he has three servants. To one he gives five talents. To the second he gives three talents, and to the third he gives one. He then leaves, but directs his servants to use the talents wisely, and to multiply his wealth while he is away. ‘Talent’ apparently is a name for their money. I imagine it as a coin. Anyway, while the master is away, the first servant, who was given five talents, invests the money, and gains five additional talents, so he has ten to return to his master. The second servant does the same, invests his three talents, and gains three more so he has six to give back to his master. The third servant, fearing the wrath of his master should he lose what he was given, hides his talent away in the earth. When the master returns, he is pleased with the efforts of his first two servants and rewards them for their efforts. When the third servant returns the single talent to his master, his master is angry with him. The servant looses the single talent he has, and it is given to him that had ten talents. Such is the story, or near enough.

 All interpretations I had heard were about literal talents. Our abilities. This was a lesson about practicing and sharing our talents and abilities with others. To improve on what we have been given, and to develop ourselves. I have come up with a different interpretation that means a lot more to me.

 Rather than the Talents in the story being actual talents, or being money, to me, the Talents are amounts, or pieces, of love. The master is giving his servants pieces of his love. To some he gives more to than others, and he asks each of his servants to take that piece of love, and to ‘increase’ it. Sounds nice so far.

 I want to focus on the servant who only got one piece of love. Because lately, that guy has been me.

 I am that foolish servant who took his talent and hid it deep in the earth. Away from prying eyes and greedy hands, because I didn’t trust it out in the open. I’ve often wondered if the servant in the story ever looked at the other two and wondered why he got so much less than they did. And an even more interesting question, did the other two servants look on the third with distain, or contempt, believing that he only got one because he was not as wise or clever as they were.

 Enough dancing in the metaphor. Here is what I am trying to convey through all this. Speaking as one who has had his heart broken, it is all too tempting to take whatever amount of love you have been given, and burry it deep in the earth. After feeling that amount of pain and sorrow, my poor heart wanted nothing to do with love. I did not let it increase, I did not let it stay in me, because it hurt too badly. The consequence in the parable was that the talent was taken away. Well, love can be taken away as well. You can shut out love, but when you do, you throw out all of it. Not just the part that is hurting. The whole thing goes. The whole talent gets buried. And yes, the heartache does subside. It gradually fades, but so does your ability to feel and receive any other form of love. And oh, what a foolish servant I have been. Not once, but twice now the Master has taken away my talent because I have buried it deep in the earth. Twice now I have thrown the gift of love aside. Buried it so I no longer have to deal with it. This poor servant is not the brightest when it comes to talents, and how to invest them. Thankfully the Master is patient. He is helping me as I slowly learn lessons that will help me remember the value of the talent, even when it burns me.

 One lesson I want to share is this. There will always be those who have more talents than you. Don’t let this bother you. Maybe they were just given more. Maybe they have already put a lot of effort into investment, and you are just seeing the result. Just focus on yours. On the flip side, there may be times when those who have more will look at the one talent you have, and tell you that it’s not a real talent. Or that it is so small, it is meaningless and it will never amount to anything. I honestly can’t imagine why someone would do that, but for some reason, some do. I try to ignore them. Yes, my talent is so small compared to their many talents. Yes, it seems silly to only have one to invest. But it is mine. It is all I have. And I need it.

 God gave me my talents, just as he gave you yours. Only you and he know the true value and worth of what he has given you. The rest of us can only guess by how you treat it. If you taint it, or throw it away, the world will only see it as worthless. If you value and treasure it, and treat it like the priceless gem it is, then it doesn’t matter how the world sees it. But chances are, they will treasure it too.

In a country, there is a large herd of sheep. The entire herd is enclosed in a pasture, guarded by a fence. The pasture is large enough for all the sheep to fit. There is plenty of food and water. There are other sheep to interact with, but the best part of this pasture is the safety given by the fence enclosing it. Along with the fence, there are shepherds who watch over the large mass of sheep. Because of the fence and the shepherds, nothing harmful has ever made its way into the herd to kill the sheep. Occasionally a sheep will get free of the fence and past the shepherds, and will wander off where it either starves or is killed. The shepherds are vigilant in their efforts to keep this from happening. They want all the sheep to stay safe and happy, inside the fence.

As the years wore on, the shepherds started running into some problems. One of them was an unusual amount of deaths among the herd of sheep that were safe inside the pasture. The shepherds began watching the sheep more closely, and discovered that despite the abundance of food in the pasture, some of the sheep were not eating. For whatever reason, 5-10% of the population just didn’t eat the grass in the meadow. Some shepherds believed the sheep to be allergic to the grass, while others just thought the sheep were being stupid, and refused to eat the grass in the meadow.

As they watched these sheep, they did notice that every single member of this small group would from time to time go to one corner of the meadow, stick their necks through the fence, and strain to get at a clump of grass growing outside the boundaries of the pasture. Upon closer examination, the shepherds discovered that this was a different type of grass that grew on the outside of this corner of the fence. It was still grass, but it had a slightly different color and shape. As time wore on, many of these ‘other’ sheep escaped the pasture, and the Shepherds believed them to be lost and dead. They later found these lost sheep at the back corner of the pasture, on the outside of the fence, happily eating the other type of grass. The shepherds tried to coax the sheep to come back in, and some were successfully herded back into the safety of the pasture, but other sheep would not come back, and returned again and again to the corner with the grass. The sheep still stuck close to the fence, trying to cling to the safety and companionship that life in the pasture had given them, but their need for this different type of grass prevented them from fully enjoying the safety and comfort that the meadow offered.

The sheep that were successfully brought back to the herd became very sick. They did not eat, they did not move around very much. Some fared better than others, but for the most part, the ones that were returned to the meadow ended up eventually dying. Seeing this, the shepherds decided that the grass outside the meadow was poisonous, and redoubled their efforts to keep the sheep away from that back corner.

The sheep who were already outside the fence eating the other grass were healthy, but in danger. The shepherds tried their very best to bring them back to the fold, but despite their efforts and their coaxing, the majority of the sheep stayed out there. The shepherds would wake every morning to discover that some had been killed and eaten by wolves in the night. Some were no longer staying near the pasture at all, and were lost.

…     …     …

That is where the parable ends for now. I would like to stick a happy ending on this, but I can’t, because we are still living it. I sincerely believe that, in time,  there will be a happy ending.

Galatians 5:22-23.

22. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23. Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

I absolutely love this scripture. I recently attended an Affirmations conference in Salt Lake City. Affirmations is a support group for LGBT Mormons that anyone is welcome to join. I had never even heard of Affirmations until this past summer, after I came out of the closet. An old friend from my ward as a child sent me a link on Facebook, and suggested I look into it. It has forever changed my life. Before attending Affirmations, I was very confused as to where I fit in to society, The Church, and God’s plan for his children. I am a member of the church, but I am also Gay… what now? How am I expected to live? The Church’s advice is to either stay Celibate or keep looking for that special woman to marry. Of course, no church leader will ever recommend or advise you to get married. We now know that marriage is not the cure for homosexuality. And yet, you can’t help but feel that as a gay person, people are still hoping that this will all just go away. Just go get married, just stop having these feelings. They are okay to have by the way, but not to act on. Which means you either spend the rest of your life alone, or you Marry someone of the opposite sex, and make it work. So me, caught in between two worlds that refuse to yield. I’m Mormon. I’m Gay. Everyone is telling me I can’t be both. Affirmation is the first time I felt like I could. 

One of the best parts of Affirmation for me was meeting all the incredible people there. Oh, how I wish I had grown up knowing and interacting with these blessed individuals! This was the first time I had met a Gay Mormon who was so okay with who they were. They loved and respected themselves. They didn’t have a trace of the self loathing, and tormenting confusion I was going through. They were so at peace, and so very loving, I wanted to be just like them. And then there were the allies. Never have I met people who were more full of love, and passion for a cause than our dear allies! If every Gay Mormon in the world gave up, and decided that they would just follow the prophet without a peep of questioning, I know that there would still be those families, those parents, those brothers and sisters who would continue to fight on our behalf. I am still shocked that they would so willingly, and so enthusiastically, help fight for such an emotionally difficult cause, when they could just as easily say “things will work out. It is all in God’s hands” and leave it at that. I don’t think I will ever be able to thank you dear brothers and sisters enough! There are some of us who cannot fight for ourselves yet, and I love knowing that you are there, fighting for us.

Along with the people, the best part of Affirmation was the incredible spirit I felt there. There was such a powerful feeling of love, that no one could deny that God’s spirit was truly there with us. I have told many people this, and I will continually say it. God is with us in this endeavor. It was at Affirmation that I came to a startling conclusion. It was during the testimony meeting on Saturday. One sister was speaking about how she had received a spiritual witness from God about her relationship with her partner. I was so confused how that could be, since God was having his spokesmen, the prophets, tell us that it is absolutely NOT okay. An old scripture mastery verse popped into my head “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself. And though the Heavens and the earth pass away, My word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled. Weather by Mine own voice, or by the voice of My servants, it is the same.” D&C 1, (I don’t remember the verses…) And yet, there she stood, filling us with the spirit as she bore her testimony. So I quickly devised a test. I closed my eyes, and silently prayed two prayers. The first went as follows:

Me: Heavenly Father, do you love me?

I instantly felt peace and happiness, and the warmth of the Spirit boiling up inside me.

That is an obvious “Yes.” Good, good. Next prayer…

Me: Heavenly Father, is it alright with you if I start dating guys?

I felt the exact same feeling. The Spirit boiling up inside me. The Peace and happiness.

I was floored. God had just affirmed my own desires to not only love those of my same gender, but to date them. To Pursue a loving relationship. To hopefully find someone that I am head over heels in love with and spend the rest of my life with that person. I cautiously examined that spark of love that I was currently feeling for a particular guy, and I no longer felt an ounce of guilt. I could still feel God’s loving Spirit. I could still feel his approval. And I tell you, that is one of the happiest moments of my young life.

So now I am home again. Back up in Logan Utah. It has been a week since the Affirmations conference. All week I have been feeling the spirit. I feel like I am bursting with light and love. Naturally, I want to share it. I tell friends about my experience at Affirmation. Some take it well, others don’t. I tell family, ward members, bishops, institute teachers. Less and less are taking it well. I am being told what the church has to say about gay relationships. I have been shown scriptures, Conference talks, and the church website. All in an effort to convince me that I am wrong. As I listen to talks, read the words of prophets, I pay close attention to that newly found light and love that has been burning inside me since Affirmation. The words do not add to it. They fill me with doubt, confusion, and darkness. Those are not the gifts of the spirit. (see scripture above.) Before going to the Affirmation conference, I would have listened. I was very confused, and I didn’t know what God wanted of me, so I was easily swayed one way or another. But not any more. If I felt that same fire and light as church leaders counsel me to stay within the bounds the Church has ordained, then I would gladly obey. But I don’t. For me, despite the confusion, my choice makes sense. I feel the powerful love of God and I honestly believe that he is with me. Now, I just endure the times of darkness and confusion, usually brought on by loving church leaders, and hold on to the memory of the Spirit. I will not make decisions based on darkness and confusion. I will follow the path set before me in times of light and love. 

I sit and listen to friends and leaders tell me what God wants of me, how he thinks about the issues and what he expects me to do, and I can’t help but smile. Because now I know. None of these people have actually asked. They are just going with what the prophet has said. I commend their faith, but when faith is blind, it can be misplaced. When I try to explain to them how I have been given a spiritual confirmation that what I am doing is okay, they tell me that I am being tricked by Satan. This bothers me, I’ll be honest. Other people have no right to interpret my feelings. It is absurd. Just because they don’t understand it, doesn’t mean I am wrong. They tell me this because it is easier for them, and it is what makes sense to them. But that doesn’t make them right. I know what I have felt. I have been raised in the church. We are trained to recognize the promptings of the spirit. I have spent years and years in church meetings, seminary classes, and institute classes, feeling the spirit and receiving counsel and direction from God. This isn’t the first time it has happened.

I am finding that most LDS people believe that we know everything already. There is actually a quote from President Thomas S. Monson that kinda bothers me. “There is no need for you or for me, in this enlightened age when the fulness of the gospel has been restored, to sail uncharted seas or to travel unmarked roads in search of truth.” I do not agree with this idea that we, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, know everything. Article of faith #9: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of Heaven.” That is the attitude we should have. So many people I talk to about these issues, won’t even consider the possibility that there might me things we don’t know. There might be more revelation on these issues. They dismiss any thoughts and feelings I present and, bless their hearts, they blindly fall back on “The Church leaders have said…” Someone who hasn’t spent the time and effort thinking about this issue, and trying to make sense of it in their own minds, will not be ready to accept that there might be other answers. It is frustrating, because God cannot give us answers if we are not asking him questions. And any church that already knows, will not be asking. It is my goal to make people question. I am gay. I want everyone who meets me, to feel my love, feel my testimony and my passion for the gospel, and also to know that I am gay. They will hear about dates I go on. When I get a boyfriend, they will know about him. They will see me as this giant contradiction, and they will have to start to question, “How can this be?”

“Hello! My name is Patrick Wendel. I am Mormon. I am Gay.”  

 

Well, it has been over a month since my last blog. I was planning on putting one of these out every other week or so, but I just never know what to say. I could continue to talk about how I am gay, and life is hard, and then no one would want to read any more blogs of mine because hey, everyone has their own problems. Life is tough all around. So, I will instead try to focus on more of the things that help me deal with life when it is getting tough.

I’m in New York right now, finishing up a month working for a summer language program. We have kids ages 13-18 ish fly in from all over the world to learn/improve their english. I was an activities leader. My job was to take the kids out into the city in the afternoon after their classes. We took them to pretty much every major tourist spot you can think of. It was fun, but at the same time, it was overwhelmingly stressful. Getting 20-40 kids on and off the subways was bad enough, but the part that really was hard on me was that I had never been to any of these tourist locations, and I was expected to lead an entire group of teenagers through Manhattan to these places. As the days turned to weeks, and chaos started building in the camp, I was getting overwhelmed. I would go to bed dreading the thought of waking up, and having to go out into the city to lead another excursion. My mind was flooding with every possible way that things could go wrong. I was drowning in the endless sea of “what if…?” I was about to snap. I could feel it happening, just behind my eyes. I decided the best thing to do was bail. Abandon ship, because this one was sinking fast! I bought a plane ticket home after two weeks, and let my Mom know that I would be coming home early. She encouraged me to stay longer, because it builds character. At that point, I could care less about my character, my sanity was on the line! She also told me that I need to finish what I started, and that I was already half way done. I ended up taking her advice and staying the rest of the summer. “Build my character” my Mom had said. I sat myself down and tried to pin-point which area of my character was being added to. In order to survive the next two weeks, I was going to need to speed up the growth. The answer was, Self-esteem. Confidence in myself and my ability to perform.

When I was in 9th grade, we had a seminary lesson about humility and pride. We read scriptures, discussed it pride and how detrimental it can be to your salvation. We also learned that everyone struggles with it. It is called the universal sin. Well, my 9th grade self decided that I would do better than the rest of humanity. I alone would master the art of humility. I would be the most humble person who ever lived! … I was off to a great start. So, I put every effort I could into being humble. Satan has a very cunning trick that he uses  everywhere. When we realize a mistake, and we try to correct our lives and return to the straight and narrow, Satan tries to make it hard for us to recognize when we have returned to the path, and urges us to keep going, till we have gone right through, and off again, this time on the other side. Here we are, fighting the good fight as hard as we can, correcting our first mistake, to that point that we are erring on the other extreme. I have found that it is called the straight and narrow because you have to learn how to balance yourself between two extremes. Satan will be constantly pushing you one way or the other. He doesn’t care which way, so long as you are not on the path. One of these balance struggles is between Confidence, and humility. Some people can be confident to the point that they try to take life on by themselves, never once allowing God to help them, or work with them. They’ve “Got this, Thanks.” I erred on the other side. I was far to humble, to the point that it was self-depreciating. I had zero confidence in myself. I would let moments of success slide past, worried that it was prideful to acknowledge my achievements, and I would criticize my every failure, because I had a skewed vision of perfection. (see previous blog). Satan had me right where he wanted me, because I didn’t even realize I was doing something wrong. I was doing exactly what God wanted. I was being humble. Or, so I thought. It wasn’t until I realized that I was crippled by fears and worries that I was missing a key piece of myself. The part of me that I had almost killed off in my efforts to be humble. The part of me that believes in Me. So, I decided from then on that I would become my own biggest admirer. I would mentally shower myself with praise whenever I did something well. When I didn’t do so well, I gave myself the benefit of the doubt.

“You know what Patch, It has been a long, hot day, and you have been working so hard. Yeah, you lost a kid in Central park, but hey, there were 26 other kids that you didn’t loose. I like those odds. Heck, I like You! Sure, some people may blame you, or think you are doing a bad job, but you and I both know that they are wrong. And besides, it all worked out in the end. We found him in time, so what’s the big deal? I’ll tell you what’s the big deal. You. You are the big deal.”

One example of my internal monolog. I told myself every day that I am important. I told myself that “Dang, I look good today.” I told myself that I am an extraordinary human being, and there is nothing that I couldn’t do. And you will never guess what has happened. I am happier. I am less stressed, less anxious, and less fearful about the future. I’m starting to stand up for myself more, because now I am starting to believe that I am worth standing up for.