Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Story Part V (Splintered Visions)

How dreams affected the lives of my friends as well as my own.

Life became a confusing roller-coaster ride for me throughout the rest of high school.  Between the drama of my developing social life and the stress of my extra-curricular activities as well as my educational, philosophical and spiritual studies, I found myself continually thrust into an existential quandary.

But I was not alone, close friends of mine shared the same experiences I did.  One particular friend, 'S', also had a revelation similar to mine when watching The Matrix.  During our Junior year, he became very quiet and always seemed sleep deprived.  He pulled me aside one day to talk to me about something I will surely never forget.

"My parents think I'm using drugs, I'm not, " he said to me.  "I'm having a continuous dream and it won't stop."

I was in awe at the thought.  I had very vivid out-of-this-world dreams myself, but never were they continuous.  "Tell me about it," I said very curiously.

He then related to me how he started off having dreams of coming to school like normal but then waking up to find that it never happened in real life, but only in the dream world.  This was something I could definitely relate to since I had similar dreams myself.  But what he said next I was not expecting at all, especially since it had to do with me.

"Eventually in one dream I noticed you weren't at school, " he said.  "You disappeared.  You were gone for a week and nobody knew what happened to you.  Later in the dream I got a phone call from you asking me to meet you on a bridge, that you had something to show me."

He continued, telling me how in the dream he met me and a girl he did not know.  We drove in a black car to a restaurant where instead of giving him a choice, I snuck a red pill into his food and woke him up out of The Matrix without his consent.  "But," he said, "You did it because you knew I was important to the fight against the machines and there was no time to waste.  Eventually I, with the help of the girl apart of the crew, accepted my fate and joined in the battle against the machines."

The time came the dreams stopped and life returned to normal for my friend, but he was frustrated that they ended before there were any sort of conclusions to the drama that had unfolded when he slept.

Dreams were frequent during the last year of high school and their mysterious nature was a subject discussed frequently among my group of friends.  I had learned to interpret dreams for my friends with the help of my friend 'B' back in my Freshman year, but I never really understood how it worked.  It was a very intuitive thing to do, having to completely empty my mind in order to better visualize for myself what my friends would describe in their dreams.  When 'S' had related to me his continuous dream, I didn't know how, but I knew that it meant my being such a profound catalyst of change in his dream meant it was a reflection of what was happening or would eventually happen in reality.  Normally I would've been straight to say what my feelings were about a friend's dream, but for this I chose to keep it to myself; I had matured and acquired a better sense of humility and restraint after all the drama the year before and did not want to seem boastful to my friend.

It was apparent to me at this point in my life that dreams had a profound impact on not only my life but the lives of my friends.  I was interested in knowing more about dreams and what their purpose was.  At the time, being an active priest in the LDS church, I sought answers through the usual means of prayer, scripture reading and the inquiring of my Bishop.

I found myself constantly referring to my patriarchal blessing, especially the part where I was related to Joseph of Egypt.  I knew Joseph was a dreamer and also an interpreter of dreams, but I was continually in awe at the direct synchronicities between the two of us.  But the more I inquired, the more I found myself with a mystical and ethereal definition of the dream world.  I wanted to know exactly what was happening with dreams, not just proverbial hints of personal revelation.

It was about this time in my Senior year that I had to choose a major world religion to study for my concurrent college humanities class.  I instantly jumped into the Buddhism group as I had become very interested and familiar with the belief system through my martial arts training.  I wanted to take this opportunity to discover more about the religion than I had already learned on my own.

Part of our final class projects was to attend services of the religion we were studying.  I had the awesome opportunity to visit the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple of downtown Salt Lake City.  This particular sect of Mahayana Buddhism is from Kyoto, Japan, called "Jodo Shinshu".

I remember I went on a beautiful and sunny Sunday morning in December.  The ground was blanketed with a fresh layer of snow and the air was crisp and fresh from the late-passing storm.  I entered the building to find the pastor greeting everyone as they entered.  I introduced myself to the pastor, letting him know I was visiting for school.  He was very welcoming and told me to sit anywhere I'd like.  I sat in a pew towards the back so I could observe all the people, mostly Japanese-Americans, filing into the main room of the temple.  In the back was a golden statue of a Bodhisattva with elaborate decorations surrounding it as well as an incense burner in the front.  There was no artificial lighting, just natural sunlight shining through the sky-light windows in the ceiling.  The atmosphere was very peaceful and very different from what I was used to at the LDS Sunday services.

Hymns were sung in Japanese to begin with and then people stepped forward to say the Nembutsu and offer incense to be burned, all the while the room was was very quiet and peaceful.  Even the children were obediently reverent during this ceremony, something I was not used to coming from an LDS background (my ward was especially loud with children.)

The time came for the pastor to give the sermon.  I was amazed to watch him invite all the children to come to the front and then start his sermon by asking them direct questions in a kind and cheerful manner.

"Do you know what today is?" he asked.  The children reply: "Bodhi Day!"

"Do you know why we celebrate Bodhi Day?" he asked in return.  The children took turns explaining in their own words the reason for the day, something I had been oblivious to prior to my visit.

"Bodhi Day is the day we celebrate in remembrance of the day Shakyamuni came to enlightenment underneath the Bodhi Tree,"  he stated, this time directing his attention to the audience in whole.

The story of Siddhartha Gautama was well burnt into my mind at this point in my research of Buddhism.  It was a story I had become very familiar with as I was able to relate to the story on many different levels, especially with how Siddhartha was just an ordinary man who was in search of deeper meaning of life, the root of suffering and how one could liberate oneself from it.  He was not half god, or part god and he did not seek answers from a god or gods; he looked inward for the answers to life, not outward.  I was truly amazed of all the days I had chosen to come visit this place that I did so on the occasion of Bodhi Day. 

The sermon continued-- the pastor talked of coming to enlightenment by letting go of worldly cares and living in a true spiritual reality.  He explained how the busy world of modern life could only keep us from attaining the same thing the Buddha was able to attain and that in order to prepare ourselves for such a change we must "awake" from the world we only think is real.

To illustrate this, the pastor told the story that Taoist Chuang Tzu wrote commonly called "The Butterfly Dream."
Chuang-tzu had a dream, in which he was a yellow butterfly. As a butterfly, he flitted here and there, completely oblivious to actually being Chuang-tzu. And then he woke, to discover that he was a man. But then he wondered: now am I a man who just dreamt he was a butterfly; or a butterfly who is now dreaming that he is a man?
The pastor continued, showing how this parable could be applied to the topic at hand.  Are we truly alive with our 9-5 jobs, our bank accounts and our fancy things?  Or are all these things a part of a dream we call life?  What is a dream? And how does it differ from the real world?

And then he asked, "Are you familiar with the movie, The Matrix?"

I'm pretty sure my mouth went wide-open at that point.  He gave a brief synopsis of the movie and likened it unto Chuang Tzu's dream of being a butterfly.  "Have you ever had a dream, Neo," Morpheus said, "that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference, between the dream world and the real world?"

He concluded that we should strive every day to connect with that of true spiritual reality and realize that most worldly concerns are only distractions in the long run.  In order to attain enlightenment, like Siddhartha Gautama, we need to disconnect from what we think is real and search ourselves for that which is eternal.

My mind was blown at the parallel that was just made.  It was even more so when I realized that I was getting this through a sermon of a religion I didn't even belong to.  Here I had been, earnestly praying to God for the answers I sought, and yet the answers were given to me from a source outside of the Church.  I did not understand how I could get spiritual answers outside of the Church as I was always taught that revelation can only come through the order of the priesthood and not by any other means.  Here I had been searching for answers in the external and was in turn told that the answers I sought could only be found within.

I left that experience feeling spiritually refreshed and renewed, but simultaneously confused and bewildered.  I went to my ward meeting afterward but I noticed the atmosphere of the meeting was not the same as it was at the Buddhist temple.  I did not feel the same sense of peace in that LDS chapel.

I asked to speak with my bishop following the block schedule in which he agreed to.  I told him my thoughts and feelings concerning what had happened that day, hoping he could shed light on my situation.  But, as it always had been with that man, I was met with disappointment:  "I'm not going to tell you something I don't know myself," he said, I remember very cautiously.  "I do not have any promptings concerning what you've just told me, so it must be something you'll need to figure out on your own."


I went home that afternoon mentally exhausted from the day's happenings.  I changed into more comfortable clothes and decided to take a nap in order to sort out my mind over some proper rest.

It was then I experienced one of the most dramatic dreams I have ever experienced in my lifetime, the beginning of a series of very vivid dreams that would come to me over the next course of the year.  I will now relate to you what took place in this first dream by transcribing from my dream journal that I felt prompted to start at the time.
"The dream began in First Person.  I leave my house, opening my front door and closing and locking it behind me.  These images are familiar as I do this most everyday usually early in the morning near or at dawn.
"My neighborhood is empty.  At first I think nothing of it but as I walk a few steps away from my front door I am hit with the sunken feeling of being alone.  Very alone.  I feel like I am the only human being for miles.
 "Suddenly, there is a tremor in the ground.  I look up and the darkest clouds gather in the sky together.  I look North East to the mountains and I vividly watch Mount Olympus crumble to the ground, engulfed in flames.  Fires in the valley reflect off the clouds making them glow as a smokey haze rises from the ground.  Then finally, I hear the screams of all the inhabitants of the valley.  I feel their pain and anguish as their torturous yells ring through my head.  I feel like crying but I can't.  It is at this point that I am thinking only one thing:  I've got to get out of here!
"I run to my car, jump in and start it up.  I go into third person as I watch myself back out of my driveway and speed towards the freeway, but I am having a difficult time.  Stop lights and traffic signals slow down my progress.  When finally I reach the on-ramp to I-15, it is in pieces an dI can't get on the freeway.  I try other on ramps but they are all unusable.  No matter what I do I can't get on and finally I give up.
"I enter First Person again as I step out of the car, awaiting an aftershock.  I look up to the sky and the clouds begin to swirl as if they were getting ready to create a giant cyclone.  The clouds are different now, though.  Now they are on fire.  Suddenly I feel dizzy and everything fades to white.
"Third Person.  I'm looking down at myself.  I'm laying on brick in the middle of a beautiful courtyard.  I begin to wake up.
"First Person.  I pick myself up, rub my eyes and look around me.  My thoughs are only this:  Am I dead?  As I look around I see a white picket  fence surrounding the courtyard engulfed in the greenest shrubberies.  The weather is nice and there are only a few white fluffy clouds hanging in a clear blue sky.  And then I turn around 180 degrees.
 "Before me, seated in front of me, are endless rows of people as far back as I can see.  They are seated in two columns with a wide aisle down the middle.  They are all looking right at me with blank emotionless faces.  And yet, oddly, I recognize every single one of them.
"I begin to hear voices.  They are talking but their mouths don't move.  It is as if I can hear their thoughts and feel their emotions.  They're all talking/thinking about me.
"Some are concerned for me, others are only thinking good things.  I do not recall hearing anything about me.  All these people care for me.
 "I step down from the elevated brick plane I've been standing on and begin to walk down the aisle.  Their heads follow my movement and they keep on watching me until they can turn their heads no longer.  As I watched when they got to this point, their heads snapped forward violently and their voices/thoughts faded away.  When they did this, their motions were blurred.  Every so often they would blink, this was also blurred, like they blinked several times really fast, but it only looked like they blinked once.
"Still in First Person.  I continue down the aisle, listening to these people's thoughts about me.  I felt sadness and sorrow for them, like I had failed.  I kept thinking, "Am I dead? Is this the afterlife?"  I continued to walk
"Eventually, to my right, I see an empty chair.  This void in the endless crowd of people made me more than ever want to fill it.  I quickly make my way towards the chair and sit down.
 "I lean forward and bury my face into my hands.  I rub my eyes.  I want to cry but tears escape me.  Even though I'm surrounded by all these people I feel alone and abandoned.
"I look up and I am stunned as the most beautiful girl I've ever seen turns around.  She looks at me and smiles.  She pats me on the back and tells me, vocally with lips moving:  "Everything will be alright.  Don't worry."  An extreme feeling of calmness washes over me as for the first time in this dream I feel happiness.  suddenly, the leas expected happens: she kisses me.
(At the time I had wrote this, I had never kissed a girl before.  I wrote this.)
"To this day I am 100% virgin lips.  I've never kissed a girl before.  But it was at this moment that my subconscious did the most amazing thing.  It created, for my nervous system, a sense of touch.  I could feel the kiss and thinking back it was just as real as me sitting here writing this.  I cannot, for the life of me, explain this in any terms at all.
"Suddenly I feel tears flow into my eyes.  Except these were not the tears I had begged for previously.  These were tears of pure joy and happiness.
"The girl smiled at me and began to turn back around in her seat.  I didn't want her to, but she kept going.  Slowly my vision faded to white.  I did not want to leave her.  I didn't want her to turn around.  I didn't want to be alone again.
 "Third Person.  I see myself running down (a private) lane, my childhood play area.  I'm running towards the main street, running towards my old home.  I am back amidst the chaos and destruction.  The sky is swirling and on fire.  Everything is hot and tinted red.
"I am running now in First Person.  I'm trying to get somewhere but I don't know where.  Suddenly my phone rings.  I reach into my pocket as I come to a halt.  I look at my phone and I see who is calling.  It is my best friend ('S', who I introduced in the beginning of this part).
"This is where I wake up.  I remember feeling disoriented and exhausted.  At first I didn't know where I was.  When I really came to I realized that I was breathing hard, like I had (actually) been running."
"My phone was ringing.  ('S') was calling.... to think that ('S') was actually calling in reality made everything (the) more crazy."
"This dream was not provoked by any outside forces as far as the five senses go.  I wasn't listening to music, I hadn't watched any movies or played any video games in the past (48 hours).  This dream was simply uncalled for."
As graduation drew nigh, I began to see how the first part of the dream reflected my mental state as I was very anxious to graduate from high-school.  I was not a straight-A student and due to my devoted time to extra-curricular activities ran by the school in the fine arts department I found myself having to catch up via make-up packets.  I was very stressed because of this.  I felt the bit where I was searching for a way out by taking the freeway perfectly represented my feelings concerning my life in general, especially with the biblical Armageddon-like craziness all around me.

But what threw me off was the second part where I seemed to do a dimension-jump to a calm and peaceful place with all these people directing their attention towards me.  It took me a while to realize exactly what this part meant, but what freaked me out the most is that I found myself experiencing all the emotions I felt in this part of the dream in reality in the exact same order.

One day I made my way to the music hall where I would often spend my lunch breaks.  At the time I felt as I did in my dream: alone, sad and anxious for a way out.  On this particular day I was surprised to find an attractive girl who I did not recognize eating her lunch in my usual spot, a place usually only those involved in the fine arts department would come by every now and then.  She, however, was definitely a stranger to these parts.

Curious, I introduced myself to her and said something a long the lines of "So, I haven't seen you around here before.  Are you in choir or orchestra?"

"No,"  she replied.  "My friend is, though.  I was just going to meet her here."

I soon found out her friend was also a mutual acquaintance.  We had light conversation as we ate until it was time for me to move on to my next class.  I was, however, perplexed at the fact that our mutual acquaintance never showed up during lunch.  I thought little of this and went on my way.

The next day I showed up to the same spot pleased to find this girl, who I will refer to as 'J', again in the same place eating her lunch again.  We greeted, talked lightly about the school day and ate our lunches again.  It was good to meet someone new who I could talk to so casually.  We departed at the bell again and I found myself in a mood more cheerier than I recall being in in a long time.

As the days went by, every school day we would meet at lunch and we would converse, each day the conversation growing more in-depth and much more personal.  We talked about where we wanted to go in life after high-school.  I had my eye on being a music major, but I wasn't sure.  She had her eye on anthropology and I found myself attracted to the idea of her pursuing such an interesting field of study.  She was a year younger than I, though, and she was jealous at the fact that I would be graduating soon.

This change of mood brought much more focus and motivation to my studies.  I was glad to finally graduate from high school a few months later with "J" in the audience there to cheer me on.  We had become very close in those few months and I was extremely excited.

But as I walked down that aisle amongst all my peers, the dream I had several months before flashed back.  There I was, again in my dream, looking for a place amongst all these people.  And then it hit me:  the girl in my dream, surely it was 'J'.  She gave me that final motivation, that final push to finally find my escape and to finally graduate high school.  The night of my graduation was a climax.

And as school ended and I entered into the real world, I realized that all climaxes must have a Denouement, a fall and finally a conclusion.

At this point I knew I was in love with 'J' and it made things even better that she had a deep interest in me.  I thought I had finally been blessed with an answered prayer, an angel to relieve me of my worries and someone to uplift me and bring out the best in me.  I had never been so happy in my life.

But as I contemplated the parallels between the dream and the direction my life was going I suddenly realized that if these paralells were to continue that I would end up alone again.  I remember seeing the girl in front of me turn away after kissing me with the ensuing deep withdrawl; the fear and the sadness overwhelming me as I reached out for her only to be thrown back into the world of fire, death and destruction all around me.

And with all that had happened in reality, I watched as she drifted away from me during the summer until finally she would not even talk to me any longer.  My heart was broken as I found out she started dating another guy and started associating with new friends.  In the end I was left alone, running.

I saw the pattern of my dream come to fruition and realized that I didn't know where I was going next.  I was just running to somewhere, anywhere.  The realization that the dream I had months before eventually came to pass literally blew my mind.  It turned my whole perspective of reality completely upside down.  I realized that I would need to face the fact that there was definitely something beyond the reality I understood at the time.  I admit, I had never been so frightened in my entire life.

To Be Continued...

(Commenting will not be available for this series until the last post. Please stay tuned.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Intermission: An Illustration of a Major Paradigm Shift

The Cave  
An Allegory for All Mankind

In the 4th century BCE, Greek philosopher Plato wrote a collection of dialogues of what we now call The Republic.  In the beginning of Book VII, Plato's main speaker, Socrates, is conversing with his peer, Glaucon.  The following conversation takes place--
Socrates: And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened:--Behold! human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.
Glaucon: I see.
And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.
You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.
Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?
True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?
And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?
Yes, he said.
And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?
Very true.
And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?
No question, he replied.
To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
That is certain.
This is the beginning narration by Plato's main character, Socrates, of what has become known as The Allegory of the Cave.  It is an effort on the part of Socrates to explain to Glaucon the process of coming from a controlled ignorant state of mind to that of a free and enlightened mind and the implications of the journey that must be made in order to achieve this mental transformation.  (Though this is not the core theme or purpose behind their entire conversation in Republic, this allegory has and can be analyzed on its own, something which we will do in this article.)

Over the years, it has been illustrated literally through artistic representations (as shown to the left), but nothing in our modern age has illustrated this allegory in both imagery and story as well as The Matrix.

In Part IV of My Story, I presented you with how I first experienced the core premise of The Matrix, something which had opened my mind to a whole new dimension of looking at the world I lived in.  Allow me to speak further concerning this before I continue with my memoirs.  I would like to present you with a personal interpretation of this allegory as I believe it is very pertinent to the events that took place in my life following the epiphanies I received when watching this film.

The "Matrix" is the world presented to us in our upbringing by our parents, our culture, our educators and especially the government.  It is the metaphorical projection and contrast of shadow and light by the marionette players who stand in front of the fire with their puppets as described in Plato's allegory.  Neo is a representation of a prisoner who has had his head directed towards the wall in front of him his whole life.  But, like Neo, this prisoner has began to question what he sees because he feels something is not right.

I, too, had realized I felt like something was not right with my life.

It would be a few years before I discovered that The Matrix was all actually an elaborate modern illustration of Plato's Allegory of the Cave, but at the time I did come to realize how I could apply the story's message to my own life.

However, I did not completely realize the full impact a major paradigm shift as large as this would do to a mind.  Back to the allegory, Socrates continues-- 
And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows...
In The Matrix, after Neo has chosen the red pill, he is lead to a room with strange machines.  Morpheus says to him,
"Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference, between the dream world... and the real world....?"
It is then he is released from his bonds.

It is also here where the film excels at illustrating Plato's Allegory of the Cave. We witness Neo experience a huge initial shock as well as an immense amount of physical pain when he is woken up into the real world.   The hoses that were connected to his body have broken off symbolizing his release from the bonds of The Matrix, the experience obviously a painful one.  But it does not stop there; the scenes after show the crew caring for Neo, rebuilding his atrophied muscles and nursing him to good health.  When he physically comes to, Neo must then mentally adjust to this new reality.  In Plato's Allegory, Socrates continues--
...and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?
Far truer.
And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?
True, he now
And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he's forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.
Not all in a moment, he said.
We watch Morpheus take Neo into the Construct, a loading program that is similar to his former reality within The Matrix.  Morpheus, as his instructor, explains to Neo how the things of his former reality were nothing but shadows.  We watch as Neo learns the true nature of his former life which, in turn, causes him great mental "pain" as his mind attempts to cope with this realization.

Back to the Allegory, Socrates' continues his conversation with Glaucon--
He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?
Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.
After this scene, Neo asks Morpheus, "I can't go back, can I?"

Morpheus responds, "No, but if you could, would you really want to?"

Neo's reply is silence.  Morpheus tells him he is sorry for putting him through this as they usually only wake up a mind before a certain younger age.  However, Morpheus expressed to Neo his high hopes for him as he believes he is the one who will finally free humanity once and for all.  If only we could know what Neo is thinking when Morpheus tells him this.  What we can assume, though, is that because of the faith Morpheus has invested into him Neo has realized his purpose is much more important than he originally anticipated.  In this sense we can see he has seen himself in his "own proper place" as he wakes up the next morning with fervor and enthusiasm for his training rather than continuing to recede in disbelief.

To further illustrate this section of the allegory in The Matrix, we watch as Morpheus takes Neo through a series of training exercises to teach him the differences between his old reality and the new.  Morpheus also shows Neo how, if he changes his mental paradigm, he is capable of and can do much more than he could in his former state.

In order for Neo to complete this paradigm shift, he must take a leap of faith.  This is what the "Jump Program" illustrates in the film, that of separating from your past self and "jumping" into your new reality.  Morpheus tell him, "You've got to let it all go, Neo: fear, doubt and disbelief.  Free your mind."

"Everybody falls the first time." What this has shown us is that experiencing a paradigm shift if not easy and can even be painful.  After coming out of The Matrix and back into the real world, Neo finds that his mouth is bleeding.

"I thought it wasn't real?" Neo asks in confusion, obviously in pain.

"Your mind makes it real, " Morpheus replies.

Neo thinks for a second and then asks in return, "If you're killed in The Matrix, you die here?"

Morpheus answers plainly, "The body cannot live without the mind."

This is a powerful metaphor that shows while this paradigm shift may give you an advantage, it does not put you into "God Mode".  Though the realization of this new knowledge may give you much power; humility, discipline, perseverance and other virtues of the like are still required on your part.  In the end, you are still just as vulnerable as you were before and if you are not careful you can still get hurt.

In Plato's Allegory of the Cave, Socrates describes what would naturally follow should the newly freed and adjusted prisoner think back to their former habitation in the cave--
And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?
Certainly, he would.
And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,
"Better to be the poor servant of a poor master,"and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?
Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.
Imagine once more, I said, such a one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?
To be sure, he said.
And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.
No question, he said.
Later, Socarates refers back to this and concludes:
Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye...

There are a few things to be said of this selection from Plato's allegory, one being the idea of a newly awakened person wanting to return to his old habitation to help free his old peers.  The Matrix, aside from Neo's story, is centered on the idea of those who have been freed from The Matrix, learning of the true nature of their universe only later returning to The Matrix to free more minds from their enslaved estate (which I believe is a brilliant plot device in of itself).

But what I find most intriguing is the idea of using physical/literal sight as a metaphor for gauging the mind's conscious awareness of its surroundings.  In the allegory, Socrates' poses the situation of the free man returning to his old habitation without allowing time for his sight to adjust.  How is he going to make out anything in all that darkness?  How would his peers react to his "ridiculous" state?  How could the freed man ever hope to convince any of them to come up with him to surface in such a situation?

Think of how difficult it was for Neo to make the decision to take the red pill even when he was the one searching for answers.  How do you go about waking up a mind that is perfectly content in their "false" reality of The Matrix?

The next morning, Morpheus leads Neo down a busy city street to teach him one last lesson.

"You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it."
"Anyone we haven't unplugged is potentially an agent.  Inside the Matrix, they are everyone and they are no one."
This scene is profoundly important.  It is here we realize how immense the responsibility is to go back into "The Matrix" to free more minds.  We see how much danger there is involved in the operations that must take place in order to free someone from their bonds and also, symbolized by the "woman in the red dress", the temptations that are there to distract the freeman from his goals.

But we also find an interesting metaphor with the "agents" or as Morpheus calls them the "gatekeepers".  While potentially deadly for the operative, I believe this symbolizes the "programming" inherent to those who are still doscile to their true nature.  The "blue-pills" or "sleepers" who are still plugged into The Matrix are still suseptible to the mind-patterened programming and, though they feel they may be fighting for what they believe in, we know that they are only under the influence of an "agent".  I believe this is a very interesting and important metaphorical device that can correlate with many real-life scenarios one may face, but we will explore that notion at another time.

Ultimately, we see that it all comes down to choice.

On part of the freed mind:  Do you stay in the real world and avoid the danger of The Matrix all while simultaneously cutting yourself off from everyone you knew from your old life?  Or do you return to continue the work of waking the minds of those both familiar and strange?

On part of the enslaved mind who is searching for answers:  Do you take the blue pill and stay ignorant to the truth and to the questions in life you may seek answers to?  Or do you take the red pill and venture into the unknown, journeying through a major paradigm shift to that of clairvoyance?

I often wonder what Neo is thinking to himself after realizing he could die by going back into The Matrix.  But as the story continues, we see that Neo is suddenly faced with the choice of whether or not he should save the life of Morpheus, the one who freed him from his bonds.  (I won't spoil the rest of the movie for you if you haven't seen it.)

At the end of the movie, when all is said in done, we see what Neo has chosen to do as he gives a message to the metaphorical puppeteers of Plato's allegory.

I, too, have made this same choice.  I've chosen to share my story with the world in hopes that it may help lead others who are searching for truth towards the answers they seek.

It will now be my pleasure to take you through my real-life paradigm shift as I recall the events that took place during my young-adult years.  Amazingly, but not surprisingly, it has followed the same template which Plato outlined in Socrates' Allegory of the Cave as well as The Matrix.

"Buckle your seat-belt, Dorothy.  'Cause Kansas... is going bye-bye."

To Be Continued...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Story Part IV (The Wake-up Call)

The Ethereal Sphere
An account of how I discovered that which is intangible, the synchronistic events that took place and how I coped with the changes that ensued.

In the Summer of 2002, I found myself alone on the bank of the Colorado River staring up at a beautiful gigantic mountain of sandstone on the opposite side. My boy scout troop was in the midst of a white water river rafting expedition and we had just finished setting up camp at our first night's stop. I decided to walk alone along the river shore as the sun began to set behind this mountain, dimming daylight into twilight. The water flowed smoothly past our camping area creating a meditative ambiance as I sat on the shore, staring up at that mountain.  I could not help but be enraptured by this massive piece of earth.

I suddenly felt detached from myself; the more I stared, the more I felt like it wasn't real. I felt like I had been dreaming the day's ride down the river and that I only just realized that I was dreaming still, but I couldn't wake up. I wanted to wake up very badly, but that mountain seemed to stare back at me, keeping me in a dream-like trance.

As this feeling of unreality crept over me, I found all the stress and frustration from the previous year I had been pushing down billowed up, exploding within me as my eyes filled with tears. I did not cry very often growing up, but about once a year the pressure would well up until I couldn't hold it down any longer and I would find a secluded place to let it all out.

If I could, I would've climbed to the top of that mountain to prove to myself that it was real. I remember I thought about how the prophets of old used to climb up to the mountain tops to pray.  Right then and there I wanted to do that more than ever, not just to pray but to also meditate on my life and clear our the garbage I had within me.

But as the twilight turned to night and the stars came out in droves, my attention changed from the mountain to the sky. Nature was so beautiful and I hated how detached to nature I felt when I was back in the city. I wanted to stay there on the beach of that river forever.

By the time I returned home from that expedition, I felt refreshed and ready for the trials ahead.  Little did I realize at the time, though, that the years that would follow would not just be filled with trials, they would be compressed with them.

If being an angsty, girl-crazy teenage boy had not been enough, I also happened to be a judgmental and self-righteous Mormon as well. This was definitely not a good mix and was both unhealthy for my psyche as well as my public relations, especially since my "holier-than-thou" attitude had driven a lot of my friends away. The little humility I had gained had only been achieved from weathering the drama that had ensued from my actions with my peers the previous year.  Regardless, I was still caught up in what had been said to me in my patriarchal blessing; I felt elevated and unfortunately it got to my head.

And so just when I needed it most, I was introduced to a very wise man that was able to instruct me in the virtues of self-discipline, humility and respect. It was just a few weeks before school started that a neighbor friend of mine invited me to join him to a martial arts class he helped teach that was ran out of someone's basement in the neighborhood. I was very interested; when I was younger I had taken karate from a local school but I was too young to retain anything of worth from it. Up to that point I had developed an interest in Japanese culture, as well as the various forms of martial arts from the region including Karate and Kendo. I remember my favorite book was The Book of Five Rings by the master samurai Miyamoto Musashi and I had taught myself in the way of drawing and striking with a katana by way of books and the internet.

I joined the school immediately after getting an introduction from the school's Sifu.  Not only was this a school of Karate, but also that of Shao-lin Kung Fu.  What struck me the most was that the Sifu was a Mormon and had taught at the institute of religion at Brigham Young University.  He explained that he had set up his school of martial arts to also teach the virtues of the gospel, much like the original Buddhist monks had done when they taught young monks at the monastery with the Buddhist teachings.

I was intrigued at the way he had set up the school.  I did not know anything about Buddhism or the Shao-lin monks when I first joined, but as I attended class and learned the history of the martial arts I was amazed at how much Zen Buddhism's teachings of virtue made sense and even correlated with some of the things I had learned that Christianity had taught.

There were lots of symbolism involved with the motions of the kata we would learn, for example, the triangle representing the balance of the body, mind and spirit.  I was especially attracted to the idea that the martial arts was not just to keep physically healthy, but it was also to keep both the mind and the spirit healthy as well.

It was then I learned about spiritual energy including chi, or ki/qi, aura and chakra.  We would do blindfolding exercises where we would need to "sense" others in the room and walk to them all while completely blindfolded.  The only sense we could use was our sense of hearing and also the sixth sense of feeling auras that we were to ultimately practice developing.  The Sifu told us that his master had focused his chi perception so well that he was able find and take down his students blindfolded in a parking garage.  It was hard for me to believe at first, but as I developed this extra sensory perception I was able to walk straight to and find a classmate in the studio who was focusing their chi through a 3-foot rod and then reach out and touch the tip of it.

But this new ability did not come without its initial issues.  As I entered into high school I became overwhelmed by all the energies around me, mainly, all the people and their emanating auras.  As I walked down the halls I found myself repeatedly sensing others directing their attention to me as we passed in the halls.  Every time I felt someone look at me, I would quickly look back and catch them as they quickly looked away.  It was an eery feeling, but as my training continued I found myself getting used to this occurance on a daily basis.

As we had entered the second week of school, I found myself socializing with friends in the hall during lunch break.  I got the feeling again, that of someone looking at me, but this time the feeling was piercing.  It was not like the casual glance I had started to get used to.

A tap on my shoulder; I turned to find someone that I did not expect to see.  Her name was 'K'.  She was my first love interest at the young age of 9 or 10 when I was in 4th grade.  My feelings grew for her up through 6th grade, but I was disappointed to find that she was attending a different middle school than myself.  I remember as the bus drove away on the last day of 6th grade that that was the first time I had felt heartbreak.  All through middle school she would appear in my dreams as though she were haunting me in my sleep.  I was sure I would never see her again as the middle school she went to directed students to a different highschool.  But, alas, here I saw before me that very apparition that had appeared to me only in the dream state for the past three years; only this time she was real.

"Hey Kris!" she said, apparently excited to see me.  "Remember me?"

All too well.  For that split second I felt like I had felt earlier that summer back on the shore of the river as I stared up at that magnificent mountain.  It didn't feel real.  It felt like every dream I had of her in the past, like my subconscious was once again living out a reunion fantasy with my first youthful crush.  Still in that split second, I began to doubt reality as if I had dreamt up the whole morning only to find myself having this experience.  If it wouldn't have been awkward, I would've slapped myself to see if I was awake.  Instead, I very shyly and helplessly replied.

"Oh my, K, how are you doing?"  I remember saying.  "You're coming to school here then?"

"Yep!" she replied.  She had grown up since I had last saw her and I was in utter awe.  She was more beautiful than ever and I still could not believe at the time that it was actually happening.  But what threw me off was what she said next:  "You know, I used to have a crush on you in 6th grade."

I'm not sure, but I believe I stuttered, "Really? Me too..."

"You had a crush on yourself too?" she said without missing a beat.

"No! I mean, you know, I had a crush on you... back..."

I wasn't doing to well, but we promised to meet up later and then we went our separate ways.  My best friend, L, who was standing there the whole time, was confused as to what had just happened.  When I had explained to him who she was, something I had related to him years before, he was almost just as amazed at what had happened.  When I realized I wasn't dreaming, a surge of excitement shot through me.  I felt like I was given another chance to get to know the first girl I had ever had developed romantic feelings for.

But I was suddenly hit with the realization of two obstacles standing in the way of achieving my long formerly-lost fantasy:

1. I wasn't 16 yet. (Can't date until the age of 16, remember?)
2. She wasn't Mormon.

Looking back now, these are poor excuses to not take advantage of the second chance that had been given to me, but at the time these were things that could not be simply bypassed.  I knew I couldn't date until I was 16 and I knew that I should only date young LDS ladies because we would have to eventually get married in the temple. (This is a common theme in the Church that is bombarded on LDS youth.)

And so it was then I became determined to help convert K over to the Church, regardless of the events that had just taken place earlier that year when I had done the exact same thing with A, B and others.  It did not matter to me, though.  I was only concerned with achieving what I had long dreamed of doing, that of reuniting with my first crush and developing a relationship.  This was my second chance and I wasn't going to waste it.

Little did I realize, though, that through my premeditated actions I would waste it anyway.  My attempts of "sharing the gospel" with her only drove her away from me in the end.  I became very frustrated and depressed over the school year as every attempt I made to advance my relationship with her was trumped by my over-zealous nature to convert her to Mormonism in the process.  I didn't understand why God had given me a second chance with K (which at the time I truly believed was the case) when my attempts to share the gospel with her did the exact opposite of what I thought it would do.  I thought that the whole reason for her coming back into my life was so I could share the gospel with her and we could live happily ever after.  It made sense then, but of course now I look back and realize that it was nothing but my selfish fantasy and because I didn't accept her for who she was I was the one who ended up ruining any chance of any sort of relationship at all.

An account of how I searched for answers that were not supposed to be there for me, but I was eventually lead to them through the synchronicity of an unexpected source.

As the depression sunk in I found myself in a dazed state of confusion.  I felt betrayed; why did God torture me so?  I had done everything I had been asked to do in church and seminary, especially to share the gospel with my friends, even the one person that meant the world to me.  But in the end all that did was drive them away and I was left in this sorry state.  I would tell myself that it was all for some grand reason, or even, to teach me a lesson, but I couldn't help but feel like I had been purposely put down.  It was as if the universe was out to get me.

I earnestly prayed night after night for help to weather the immense negative emotions I had found myself with.  Each night I went to bed telling myself that tomorrow would be a new day and a new beginning, but as the days continued the further I found myself in bewilderment as to what the true meaning and purpose of my life really was.  If not to share the gospel, then what?  I recalled my Patriarchal Blessing where it said, "There will be times you will seek answers that will not be there for you.  You must live by faith."  And so I did, even with all the heavy emotional baggage I carried with me.

For the remainder of the school year I did my best to focus all my energies on school activities where I was very active in the fine arts department as a musician and a stage technician.  All the emotions I built up during the course of the year I simply pushed down to the lowest parts of my mind.  Life had to come first, I could feel sad and depressed later.

But the more I pushed down the more life pushed back.  As my perception for the ethereal continued to grow, I continually found myself in a state of 'awake and dreaming'.  Nothing was real to me anymore.  The fine line that separated reality and unreality had blurred and everything just seemed to be illusion, like my life was fake.  I remember I would wake up, shower, get ready, travel to school and go to my first period class when suddenly the fire alarm went off as a massive earthquake hit, shaking everyone to the floor.  Finally, I would wake up in real life and realize that the fire alarm was my alarm clock and that everything I had experienced was just a figment of my subconscious.  I'd do it all over again (shower, get ready and travel to school) only to be in daze the whole day as a cesspool of teenage energy bounced all around me the rest of the day, sending me further into mental disarray.  Nights were restless, days were a blur.

It was about this time that I had gathered with some friends to watch the film The Matrix.  (If you are not familiar with this film, I urge you to read a synopsis of the plot before continuing.)  I had watched a watered down version on television about a few years before (because good Mormons don't watch rated-R movies, right?) and was instantly attracted to the science-fiction world it presented.  As a fan of the martial arts, I was also excited by the choreography and was pleased when I found out it was the same choreographer who did Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (which I had seen previous to The Matrix since it was only PG-13).

But as I sat with friends to watch it again, I was increasingly awe-struck at the synchronicities the movie reflected within my own life.

In the first scene Neo, the main character, is introduced as he is shown asleep in front of his computer with headphones on listening to music as his computer is running a search program for someone named "Morpheus".  Suddenly, the screen goes blank and words appear on his screen.
Wake Up, Neo._
Neo, almost as if he sensed this message, wakes up to see the words which have appeared on his monitor.
Neo glares at his computer monitor as a new message appears:
The Matrix Has You..._
But this time I read those words and I felt like they weren't for Neo, but that they were for me.  I suddenly realized how truly fake my life felt, how things did not seem to fit right though through all the trials I had been through I remained steadfast in the paradigm that I had taken upon as my own.  I knew things didn't feel right, but I could not figure it out.  But as I sat there and watched as Neo answered the door for his late guests he had been waiting on, I witnessed this fictional movie character ask exactly what I had been wanting to ask my self...
"... you ever have that feeling where you
don't know if you're awake or still dreaming?"
My mind started to spin.  I became enraptured in this film as the story continued, synchronicities abound.  As Neo later steps into the back seat of the car with Trinity, faced with a choice of whether or not to continue following Trinity as she lead him to Morpheus, he becomes frustrated and threatens to step out of the car and leave.  Trinity reaches for him to stop.

"Please, Neo,"  She says.  "You have to trust me."

Neo replies, "Why?"

"Because you've been down that road before, Neo."  The camera shows a dark and wet city road completely void of any people as Trinity continues.  "You know that road. You know exactly where it ends. And I know that's not where you want to be...."

And so, Neo moves back into the car and closes the door. He is practically throwing his life up into the wind in order to find the answers that he seeks. He is taken to Morpheus, the man who he believes has those answers. The following dialogue takes place--
Morpheus: At last. Welcome, Neo. As you no doubt have guessed, I am Morpheus.

Neo: It's an honor to meet you.

Morpheus: No, the honor is mine. Please, come, sit. I imagine that right now you're feeling a bit like Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole? Hm?

Neo: You could say that.

Morpheus: I can see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. Ironically, this is not far from the truth. Do you believe in fate, Neo?

Neo: No.

Morpheus: Why not?

Neo: Because I don't like the idea that I'm not in control of my life.

Morpheus: I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain. But you feel it. You've felt it your entire life. That there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is but it's there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Neo: The Matrix?

Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is? The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.... Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.... Remember, all I'm offering is the truth, nothing more....

I did not know how or even why but I knew that this film had just given me all the answers I had been searching, even praying for.  Though Morpheus was a fictional character in a movie, I felt like he had been talking to directly to me.  But unlike Neo, I was hesitant and didn't know which pill to take.  I was steadfast in my faith and in my beliefs and so I could not see how a movie that was rated 'R' could be answering my prayers.  I thought to myself, 'prayers must be answered by God, not by a movie I technically shouldn't even be watching!'

Or so I thought...

This movie was my wake-up call, my spiritual and mental alarm clock.  This film was a catalyst in which my whole perspective of life began to change.  This was when I started to doubt what I 'knew' to be true and to question what I had been taught as fact.  Morpheus was dead-on:  I knew something was not right, but I could not figure out what it was.  Maybe I do live in The Matrix, a mental prison where I was born into bondage.  Maybe, just maybe... things were really not as they seemed.

To Be Continued...

This is the scene from The Matrix described above.  If you have not seen this film, I highly recommend you watch it as I will be referring to it in future posts.  It is an integral part of my story and I believe the allegory it reflects can benefit anyone who is a seeker of truth.

(Comments have been disabled for this series until the last post.  Please stay tuned.)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Story Part III (The Exorcism of Young Kristophorus)

A Reason to Study
An account of how I was inspired to study the scriptures with a new sense of maturity.

September 11th, 2001.  Everyone talks about where they were the day the Twin Towers fell;  I remember that Tuesday morning when I woke up to get ready for school all the televisions in the house were tuned to Fox News Channel and the volume was blasting.  My parents did the same thing when ever something big had just happened so I knew something was up, but I never expected this.

I watched as the first tower smoldered from the first hit, billowing smoke into the sky.  The caption on screen read "Alert: Airliner Crashes Into World Trade Center."  I remember the commentators were discussing whether or not this had just been a terrible accident or if it was deliberate.

Their inquires were answered when the second plane rammed into the second tower confirming everyone's worst fears:  it was definitely on purpose.  My parents and I watched in horror as both towers burned on the television screen.

I wanted to stay and watch, but first period was going to start.  It was only the second week of my 9th grade school year and I didn't want to miss classes so early on.  I quickly got ready and hopped on my bike, racing to the school in hopes they would have the televisions on with a local news station broadcasting.

I quickly rushed into my first class, sat at my desk and asked my classmates, "Did you hear...?"

I didn't have a chance to finish,  the class was in utter confusion as we were anxious to find out what was going on.  It's all kind of blurry at that point, but I remember by the end of the class, which was about 9AM Mountain Time, we had the television on in our home room watching reruns being broadcast on local news of both towers collapsing.

Fast forward in the day to seminary which I remember was about 4th Period before lunch.  We gathered in the seminary building for the lesson and everyone was distraught.  The seminary teacher, who I will refer to as Brother F, calmed the class down.

I remember him saying something a long the lines of, "I know this is all a lot, but we need to pray."  The class joined in with Bro. F as he gave a prayer for the victims of the attacks as well as protection and solace for everyone else.  I remember I felt strangely numb to what had happened and nowhere near as emotional as a lot of my classmates did.  Not that I exactly felt safe or secure, I just wasn't nearly as afraid or worried as the others.

Over the next several days, even weeks, the atmosphere changed at school.  As President Bush's speech at ground zero aired, everyone became increasingly patriotic.  This mood was reflected in Seminary class as Bro. F gave lessons on the 'grand' purpose of America in the latter-days and why it was so important that we remain free even in the event of a violent attack like 9-11.

This was a nice segue into The Book of Mormon, which was what the class was to study throughout the year.

(It is important that I state this for the record-- There are many ways one can take The Book of Mormon.  Someone who is a member of the Church will usually take it as truth while someone who is non or ex-Mormon may take it as fiction (it really depends on the situation).  Since it is very easy to dismiss something like The Book of Mormon as a work of fiction with out little thought, I will not be addressing the book as such (that's a bit boring and unoriginal in the context of this blog, don't you think?).  I will not be debating details in the book as if we were determining whether or not it has validity (you can find a good job of that here or here or here.)  In fact, to the contrary, I will examine The Book of Mormon as if its contents are really as it is taught: that it is a record of the ancient Americans written for the modern inhabitants of the world.  We will continue on that note after we have established our new paradigm, but for now let's go back to the story-- where I experienced my first real dive into the book in my first year of seminary.)

According to the title page of the Book of Mormon:
"Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation—Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile—The interpretation thereof by the gift of God.
"An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also, which is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven—Which is to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations—And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.
As the title page is supposed to be a translation of what the historian Moroni wrote when he compiled the books into one abridgment, the modern introduction page picks up where it leaves off and further explains:
"The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel."
The Book of Mormon doesn't just deal with the drama of ancient times, it also gives prophecy of modern times in modern day America.  After establishing the setting of the first book in The Book of Mormon, the main character Nephi, who is the narrator, receives revelation from God concerning our modern times in 1 Nephi 13:
  10 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld many waters; and they divided the Gentiles from the seed of my brethren.

  11 And it came to pass that the angel said unto me: Behold the wrath of God is upon the seed of thy brethren.

  12 And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.

  13 And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.

  14 And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.

  15 And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.

  16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them.

  17 And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them.

  18 And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle.

  19 And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations
The summary of Chapter 13 explains this all, leaving no room for personal interpretation:
Nephi sees in vision:... the discovery and colonizing of America;...
The chapter ends prophesying of modern America's "religious confusion" and that the restored gospel would be spread throughout the continent and the world by means of what we now know as The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine & Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price:
  34 And it came to pass that the angel of the Lord spake unto me, saying: Behold, saith the Lamb of God, after I have visited the remnant of the house of Israel—and this remnant of whom I speak is the seed of thy father—wherefore, after I have visited them in judgment, and smitten them by the hand of the Gentiles, and after the Gentiles do stumble exceedingly, because of the most plain and precious parts of the gospel of the Lamb which have been kept back by that abominable church, which is the mother of harlots, saith the Lamb—I will be merciful unto the Gentiles in that day, insomuch that I will bring forth unto them, in mine own power, much of my gospel, which shall be plain and precious, saith the Lamb...

  39 And after it had come forth unto them I beheld other books, which came forth by the power of the Lamb, from the Gentiles unto them, unto the convincing of the Gentiles and the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews who were scattered upon all the face of the earth, that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true.
Here is the key in understanding The Book of Mormon and the modern translated scriptures of the LDS Church, basically, that they would support The Holy Bible as the word of God:

  40 And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.

  41 And they must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb; and the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records of thy seed, as well as in the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; wherefore they both shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth.
  42 And the time cometh that he shall manifest himself unto all nations, both unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles; and after he has manifested himself unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles, then he shall manifest himself unto the Gentiles and also unto the Jews, and the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.
Even though I had casually read the Book of Mormon and referenced to it in church previous to my attendance of seminary, this really sunk into my mind.  I thought to myself, If the Book of Mormon is a record of ancient people that prophesied of something as huge as the colonization of America, this must truly be an important place.  Not only that, but the fact that this record survived all these years just for the inhabitants of this continent makes it even more special.

Bro. F concluded based on these versus that America needed to remain free so that the gospel could be spread among "Jew and Gentile".  (This was an apparent reference to one of the core tenants of Mormon theology, that of Free Agency.  Without freedom of religion, the restored gospel could not spread to Jew and Gentile.)

This was a catalyzing point in time for me as a young Mormon at the age of fourteen.  Just thirteen short chapters into the first book of The Book of Mormon and I found myself with a new interest in the religion I had been raised in with a new-found sense of maturity.  It also drew me into an attitude of urgency for missionary work.  Of course, at the time I continued to do what I had always done which was take things as a matter of fact.  It had not really crossed my mind whether or not I should question what I was being taught.

An Earnest Prayer
An account of my first prayer as to whether or not the Church and The Book of Mormon were true and the answer I received.

As the school year went a long, I found myself surrounded by a diverse group of friends which yielded new and interesting social situations in my life.  'B' and 'L' were my two best friends, both member's of the church but from inactive or non-member families.  B was actually in my primary class when I was younger, but his family had moved out of the ward.  It was a welcome coincidence that we should be brought back together.  L and I had been friends for a few years by this time and we considered each other like brothers.

B, L and I were in the same gym class together where we met 'T', a 16-year old who had been held back a year and 'R', who was a very laid-back stoner.  T was a very outspoken Pentecostal and R was an ex-Jehovah's Witness.

As time went by, 'A' came into the picture.  A was a very attractive young lady who entered into our circle of friends by way of B and I where we were all in the same English class.  A, B and I would often socialize during class which, of course, later lead to socializing outside of class.  Feelings developed on both our parts for A, but I chose to yield to B as I was still pretty shy with girls.

As more time went by and A and her friends socialized with our group of friends, I was surprised to find that every single guy in our group also developed feelings for A, creating sort of a "love heptagon" if you would.  As you could imagine, a lot of tension and drama built up in the process.

Though I'm sure this is all profoundly interesting to you (sarcasm), I assure you this is only to introduce the social conditions which lead me to an event that would change my life forever.

To put it simply, I was the only active Mormon in my large ethnically and religiously diverse group of friends.

During this time, seminary had transformed me into a mini-missionary.  I was intent on converting every single one of my friends (or reconverting, for those who were just inactive).  I would often find myself in friendly, but intense debates with T, the Pentecostal, and also B and A, who were both inactive.  But the time came that one of these debates sent me over the edge.

I remember it was a Friday afternoon and we (B, L, T, A and myself) had just gotten out of school.  We would often walk to A's house to wait for our carpool to come pick us up.  On the way there we had gotten into a discussion concerning dating as at the time A, in complete disregard to all the guys who had feelings for her, hooked up with a new guy who had just moved into the school.  It had built up tension even worse, especially for me, since I was the one who was keeping the most silent about having feelings for her.

It was about this time that the Church released For The Strength of Youth, a pamphlet which "summarizes standards from scripture and from the writings and teachings of Church leaders."  There was a massive campaign being ran by the Church in the youth programs, especially in seminary, to promote this new pamphlet.  Part of my restraints concerning expressing my feelings for A (aside from the fact all my friends had a crush on her as well) was due to the section in this pamphlet simply titled, "Dating".

This section, which you can find in its entirety here, reads:
"Do not date until you are at least 16 years old. Dating
before then can lead to immorality, limit the number of
other young people you meet, and deprive you of experiences
that will help you choose an eternal partner."
This was disappointing to me since I was only fourteen and I wanted to date but I understood the reasoning behind it.  As an obedient young teacher I chose to live by this pamphlet's words.  However, I could not help but feel frustrated when I saw my friends and other acquaintances casually date at school.  Though it may be hard to believe, I was honestly concerned with A, who was an inactive member of the church, in a weird way: my feelings for her were so strong that I did not want her to date either because she was also under the age of 16 (as I mentioned before, I was intent on reconverting her.)

And so we walked and talked about dating.  Because we had just talked about what it said about dating in the Strength for Youth pamphlet in Seminary earlier that day, I felt compelled to bring up the Church's official stance on not dating until you are sixteen.  T and B were not to happy I had brought up the Church's official stance on anything again but A took the most offense.  I, of course, became defensive of the Church and we argued all the way to her house and while we waited for the carpool.  Finally our ride arrived and we went our separate ways.

It's almost humorous now that I think about it now as I'm sure she had gotten the impression that I was just jealous of her dating the new guy and that I didn't want her to date anyone if it wasn't me.  I swear to you, though, in my innocence I truly did not want her to date anyone until she was sixteen.

I got home and became very emotional about what had happened.  I didn't understand why they didn't think the way I did.  I remember telling myself something along the lines of, "I know the Church is true, I have the truth, my friends need the truth too!" As I have already stated, I was very innocent, but I was also very naive and had been indoctrinated by the Church very well.

Then doubt started to sink in.  It crept up on me and sank down into my stomach.  It was the first time I had ever truly started to doubt what I had been taught to believe and it was very frightening.

Then I recalled the Challenge of Moroni towards in the last chapter of The Book of Mormon, which is found in Moroni 10:4--
  4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
I also recalled the story of young Joseph Smith, who coincidentally also at the age of fourteen (according to the official account) went into the sacred grove and prayed for which church he should join--
  11 While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

12 Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.

   13 At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.
  14 So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.
Joseph Smith - History
So with all the emotions I had built up inside me, I decided to seclude myself in my room with my scriptures to pray if what I had been taught my whole life, even the religion I had been raised in was not true.

I knelt down at my bed with my scriptures in front of me, closing my eyes as I breathed deeply in preparation for my prayer.  I thought to myself, Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ when he did this.  What will happen to me?

I remember I opened the prayer expressing my frustrations, describing my feelings concerning my friends, 'A' and the doubt that had been instilled in me by the day's earlier argument with them.  I was shaking.  It felt like I might explode, but as I vented my thoughts through my prayer I began to calm down.  I finally swallowed hard and let out the question, "Are these things not true?" and ended the prayer in the name of Jesus Christ.

I opened my eyes and stared at my scriptures.  I waited for something or anything to happen; a feeling of confirmation, a vision, a disembodied voice-- nothing happened.

A few minutes passed and then I decided to try something:  I closed my eyes again, opened my quad scriptures up to a random page and put my finger down.  I looked to see where I had landed and this is what I found:
Explanatory Introduction? It was a start, I had thought.  Before me lay the introduction page to The Doctrine & Covenants, a collection of revelations given to Joseph Smith, Jr. during his years presiding over the early Church.  At the time I had not read much from this book, only that which I had referenced to in Sunday school lessons.  I began to read the page and I was shocked at what I found:
"The Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of divine revelations and inspired declarations given for the establishment and regulation of the kingdom of God on the earth in the last days. Although most of the sections are directed to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the messages, warnings, and exhortations are for the benefit of all mankind, and contain an invitation to all people everywhere to hear the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking to them for their temporal well-being and their everlasting salvation."
Alright, I thought, I'm interested.  I continued to the second paragraph.
"The book of Doctrine and Covenants is one of the standard works of the Church in company with the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price. However, the Doctrine and Covenants is unique because it is not a translation of an ancient document, but is of modern origin and was given of God through his chosen prophets for the restoration of his holy work and the establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth in these days. In the revelations one hears the tender but firm voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking anew in the dispensation of the fulness of times; and the work that is initiated herein is preparatory to his second coming, in fulfillment of and in concert with the words of all the holy prophets since the world began."
To me this meant that my answer may lie in this book somewhere.  I was surprised; having been studying the Book of Mormon I expected to get an answer from it instead, but this explanation made all the sense in the world to me in the context of the prayer I had just asked.  I continued to read through, reaching the end of the introduction.  After finishing, I flipped a couple pages past the Chronological Order of Contents and turned to Section 1.

I read the section summary and then read the entire section.  I took from it four things and made them personal:

1.  The rebellious will be sorry they were.  My friends were being rebellious, they'll be sorry!
 3 And the rebellious shall be pierced with much sorrow; for their iniquities shall be spoken upon the housetops, and their secret acts shall be revealed.
2.  Those who go forth and spread the Church will be given power.  I need to spread the truth!
  8 And verily I say unto you, that they who go forth, bearing these tidings unto the inhabitants of the earth, to them is power given to seal both on earth and in heaven, the unbelieving and rebellious;
3.  Those who don't hear the truth will be cut off.  I don't want my friends to be cut off.
  14 And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people;

  15 For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant;

  16 They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.
4.  The restored gospel through Joseph Smith and the Church he established is the only true church on all of Earth.  Here was my answer.
 30 And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually—
Or was it my answer?  At the time I was sure of it; absolutely positively sure of it.  But what happened next I did not see coming as it only frustrated my purpose of my spiritual inquiry.  As I knelt there staring at what I had just read, a darkness crept up over me blurring my vision.  I slowly began to lose all feeling in my limbs.  I tried to speak out, but my voice had escaped me.  I fell to the floor and I blacked out.

The next thing I remember is I am down the hall in the kitchen/family room.  I am calling out, crying and screaming.  The blurs above me I know are my parents and they are asking me what is wrong.  I feel the hand of my grandfather, the patriarch of the house, lay his hands on me giving me a blessing.  He is asking for what is inside of me to be cast out.  I hear it again and again.  I finally feel relaxed as lay there on the carpeted floor, staring at the ceiling.  My eyes shut and I black out again, one last time.

I wake up and I am on the floor.  There is a pillow under my head and a blanket covering me.  The warm aroma of food cooking in the kitchen reaches my nostrils, bringing me further into consciousness.  The only thing I can remember seemed like a horrible nightmare.  Had I really experienced all of that pain?  Or was it just a really bad dream?  As I reached full consciousness, I sat up and looked over to my grandmother who was preparing dinner in the kitchen.  She looked pleased to see me awake.

"You've been asleep for hours, are you okay?  What happened?" she asked.

I really did not know had happened, but as my grandparents explained to me what they experienced I was in awe.  They told me how I had crawled down the hall, screaming "It's all true! All true!" as if I were yelling at someone.  My grandmother called for my grandfather and as he saw the sorry state I was in, he laid his hands on me and gave me a blessing.  The first time around did nothing as I continued to cry out and lay helpless on the floor, so my grandfather said the prayer again.  Then again.  It took him a total of three times before I calmed down and went unconscious.  Not understanding what had happened and not being able to help me to the couch or my bed, they made me comfortable there in the middle of the floor.

I did not know what to think.  Based on what they had described to me, my grandfather basically performed the Mormon equivalent of an exorcism. I tried to remember the last thing I had done when it had quickly hit me concerning the prayer I had asked earlier in the evening.  I suddenly realized the insane synchronicty between myself and Joseph Smith, Jr. just before he had the First Vision in the Sacred Grove.
15 After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.

  16 But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
Except there was no pillar of light to save me; I was left only to myself until my grandmother found me and my grandfather laid his hands on my head to give me a blessing.  And then, only after three attempts, was I able to rest.  I knew whatever had come over me was powerful and that I was not strong enough to overcome it, but I was unsure of what it was.  I was only able to relate it to Joseph Smith's experience, concluding that it must have been Satan trying to prevent me from learning the truth.

Personal Prophecy
An account of my experience receiving a Patriarchal Blessing.

Though there are many documented discrepancies between the early versions of the First Vision and the "official" account I have quoted from that is found in the scriptures, I did not know about them at the time.  I had been left to interpret the event for myself in order to figure out what I was to do from there.  I only had the answers I had received in Section 1 of the Doctrine & Covenants and the synchronicity relative to Joseph Smith's experience.

It just wasn't enough.

I told the closest people in my ward, including the bishop.  My bishop was astounded at my experience but offered very little insight as to what the deeper meaning may have been, only talking up what I had already gotten from reading Section 1 of the D&C.  Some things about the experience just didn't sit right with me, especially the fact that it took my grandfather three times before I finally calmed down.  If it was really Satan that had take over my body, would it have not only taken one time to remove his grasp from my mind and body?  Why three?  I had always been taught that the Melchizedek Priesthood always trumped the power of the devil.  What was the exception here?

And then I realized what I needed was a Patriarchal Blessing.  Since it was a personal blessing given directly from God, I'm sure whatever direction I needed I could get from him in plain and simple words.  We had just had a lesson on it a few weeks before this event occurred in Sunday school, but I was hesitant to get one.  I then realized now was the time; we were taught how this once-in-a-lifetime blessing could shed light on things to come.  Some in the class who had already had gotten theirs told how the blessing described what type of work they would go into and also what their families would be like.  At the time I thought it a bit stunning that there was such a thing available to us in the Church, but I accepted it as fact.  I was hesitant to jump straight into it, though, cause they would often caution that one must be ready to accept the blessing.

After making arrangements with my bishop (entering into an interview and obtaining a recommend) and getting an appointment with the stake patriarch, I waited patiently for the time to come all while preparing my mind for what would be said unto me.  About a month passed from the time of the exorcism when finally the day I would receive the blessing, a Sunday, drew nigh.  The Saturday before I entered into a fast and studied my scriptures all day.  I contemplated the things I needed direction with, mostly concerning that day I fell victim to some unknown force.

As the time finally came, my grandparents escorted me to the house of the stake patriarch.  We entered into his office and we knelt on the floor in prayer, asking for the spirit to be with us as the patriarch gave the blessing.

The time finally came and I took my place in the chair set up for me in the middle of the room.  The patriarch laid his hands on me and began to give the blessing.

And now I will share with you the exact words he spoke.  To protect my family, I've blotted out personal information and names.  Here are the scans of the transcription that was later given to me. (Click to enlarge)

A few things initially stood out to me:

1.  The reference to Joseph of Egypt.  Joseph, if you recall in the end became the right-hand man of Pharaoh.  I was stunned at the thought of this.
"The same responsibilities that will be given to you throughout your life will be these same responsibilities..."
2.  "You have a teachable spirit."  This second paragraph confirmed my interest in knowledge and also that I will be able to use it to teach those who are "weak in the faith."

3.  The divine dichotomy and my life's mission goal.  The third paragraph seemed to confirm what I thought had happened the day of my exorcism and then further stated what it meant for me.
"You must always remember that there are two forces here upon this earth, that of your Father in Heaven... and the influence that is exerted by the adversary who was cast out of Father in Heaven's presence for rebellion in this pre-existent estate.  He is very real.  He is here with the desire to destroy the testimonies of our Father in Heaven's children... You're responsibility will be to teach that gospel to our Father's children, and to thwart all the desires of the adversary."
4.  What lay ahead and what I must do now.  The fifth paragraph told me that I must continue to study and "become conversant with [the scriptures]." The sixth paragraph outlined what I should expect.
"There will be trials.  There will be temptations which will come to you.  There will be times when you will desire answers that will not be there for you.  You must live by faith."
5.  The Promise.  That I would see many embrace the gospel through my efforts and that if I stayed true to the covenants I had made that I would be able to enter the Celestial Kingdom.
"Through your faithfulness you will have the privilege of many joyous occasions here upon the earth as you see many embrace the gospel through your efforts, and as you are true and faithful to every covenant that you take, you will have the privilege of entering into the Celestial Kingdom, there being in the presence of your Father in Heaven and the Savior, Jesus Christ."
All the answers I desired were given to me, but later on I would be surprised that this blessing was so brief and to the point in comparison to the others in my life who eventually got theirs.  And also, unlike my peers' blessings, there was no mention of what sort of work I would enter into and not a thing concerning a future family.

I did not question what had been told to me through this blessing.  I knew that there was an adversary that wanted to keep me from learning and spreading the truth.  I understood that I had to continue studying the scriptures and the gospel and that I had to do all that I could to spread it to those among me who were "weak in the faith", and so I continued to debate my friends all through the rest of the school year and into the summer.

But as time continued on, the "trials" came as well.  I preached so much to my friends that I eventually lost a majority of them in the transition from middle school to high school, except those among my friends who were active members themselves.  At the time I didn't really realize it was happening as I whole-heartedly believed I was on a mission from God and that even though there was nothing more I could do for them, I was comforted in knowing I was on the right side and that I had the truth.

But what little sense of humility did I have.  I look back now and can't help but realize how much of a self-righteous douche-bag I must have appeared to be.

To Be Continued... 
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