Inspired by several friends' gratitude lists, I post one of my own.
1.) My calling as a hometeacher. This calling, and the associated hometeaching-director calling that goes with it, give me purpose and responsibility.
2.) A developing friendship. I've recently met someone with whom I can discuss the matters of my heart without shaming either of us. I'm not talking here about a romantic gossip in whom I can confide; rather, I am developing a friendship with someone who understands the things about which I am passionate, and who largely shares similar passions (or similar types of passions.) It's someone with whom I share a language; it feels like we understand each other when discussing things that are important. More importantly, it is someone who lives in such a way that I can believe their passion isn't just words, and that they are also existentially familiar with the type of existential experience I strive to gain. In other words, I respect them, and they respect me, and we can talk about important things without feeling or being silly or ashamed.
3.) Time. I feel I have precious little of this, but I am grateful for the opportunities I yet have to change before graduating.
4.) Employment, now and previously. I have been blessed with the financial means necessary to do what I have needed to do and to prepare for the things for which I've needed to prepare. That alone provides an amazing degree of relief and security.
5.) A loving family. This item cannot be described adequately here.
6.) The temple. It is a place of refuge, instruction, and renewal.
That said, as a primer, brings me to the counter-offensive. You may wonder why I post the following; my hope is that one of you may benefit from my explanation of the changes I plan to make.
Here is a list of changes I'll be making in the next year.
1.) I will get into shape. Specifically, I will run a marathon in March, I will increase my chest press by 50 lbs, and I will increase my maximum number of pull ups in a set by 5. The body is a temple and an instrument of our Spirit, and hopefully of the Spirit of the Lord. That means it needs to work, and work well. I watched Dancesport tonight, and i was struck by the degree of control the dancers have over their bodies; I saw what appeared to be beautiful harmonies of body and spirit this evening. I imagine that such a harmony will be very difficult to develop in the Spirit world, when I won't have a body, until the resurrection, when things are to some degree set in stone.
2.) I will take time, on a regular basis, to hike, climb, shoot photographs, cook, write, and to dance (see 4). Renewal is not something that can be done in bursts - there is no life destination, until death. It's always a process in which one has not arrived until one dies. By the same token, ultimately, if a pattern of living is not joyous to the soul now, it will not become joyous simply by a change of circumstances; i.e. it can always be "the best of times" or "the worst of times" regardless of circumstance (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities). I guess what I am trying to say is that happiness is independent of circumstance; as Nephi wrote, "We lived after the manner of happiness" (2 Ne 5:27).
(Note - happiness is a pattern of living, not an emotional state. I distinguish here between being happy, and having happiness- happiness is a pattern that permits one to be happy, but it is not its guarantor "every, every moment" ("Our Town," Oscar Wilde). There are some who need medication to feel happy; although medication is not part of the happiness I'm describing, being humble enough to take it if one needs it, would be. Thus, happiness is series of principles that allow and encourage the emotional state of being happy, cheerful, glad, grateful, etc. even in the midst of afflictions.)
3.) I will read three books for pleasure. Current possibilities include Quiet Flows the Don, and the Don Flows Home to the Sea; Anna Karenina and Les Miserables. The Little Prince is another possibility, as is War and Peace, though both are farther down the list. Suggestions for other possibilities are welcome.
4.) I will begin to learn to dance. Dancing is wonderful and fun, and I love to dance. Like prayer or singing, dance is something that I believe should be able to be shared by everyone; dance-movement should not be an elitist privilege. Many do not regard me as being able to dance, and I do not necessarily regard dance party-dancing as the joy of movement; far from it, in fact. I want to learn to dance "before the Lord" (2 Sam 6:14). In modern scripture, dance is to be a form of prayer: "If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, and with dancing. and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving" (Doctrine and Covenants 136:28).
I find it very difficult to do so at dance parties; I think social dancing comes a lot closer, so I will probably pursue more... defined modes of dance. However, even the samba or the cha-cha or the bolero or the waltz don't quite fit the bill; yoga comes closer. I'm looking for movement as a prayerful expression. Tai-chi and yoga are about as close as I can imagine.
The trick is not so much to learn a form as to learn to praise the Lord through movement, and that is a very different thing. Maybe any form would serve, but somehow I doubt it. Song certainly does not universally serve as a form of prayer - prayer connects a divine child with God, and some song´s weaken that relationship. Some dances do as well - which dances promote it?
What is a divine dance? And how can I learn it?
5.) I will discover and incorporate some means of keeping in contact with friends around the world. This has to become a change in my life pattern - something regular, something with which I can be consistent.
6.) I will incorporate family history work into my pattern of living. Again, consistency over time.
7.) I will begin to write; I will make writing part of the pattern of my life. This blog is a first step. This number terrifies me more than any other; just writing it on the list has made me somewhat short of breath. But, I must declare the evidence of God's hand in my life. What I write will be one of the ways I do it.
The fear comes from the departure from a sprinting lifestyle - writing, of the type I intend to do, can only be accomplished over a long period of time characterized by consistent and sustained effort. Karl Marx's family life depicts a sprinter's attempt at an alternative: starvation, death, and sorrow leading to bitterness of soul and a rejection of God. Even Kierkegaard, that great Christian existentialist, described his experiences writing intensely as something that enervated him - in the midst of producing his philosophical masterpieces, he became thin, weak, emaciated. As he described, walking was a burden that nearly defeated him since food, rest, and renewal were all subordinate to his calling as a writer. I have heard recently of the muse - like lightning - that strikes an artist, electrifies them, and burns them into a crisp. I've experienced some of the same in Africa. It's heady, and exhausting, and exhilarating, and passionate. Shelley's Frankenstein is another example; I feel far too much kinship with Victor. I know the thrill of creation.
Ingmar Bergman, a director-hero in my mind, gives me hope: though his works were productions of genius, his creativity was subordinate to his psyche. He ate, slept, and enjoyed life; he remained in control. Similarly, this woman especially, and to a lesser degree this man, (and to some extent this man) give me a lot of hope. Cassandra Barney is now linked here on my blog; she is a successful professional artist (as you can see); I've actually seen some of her work in galleries and at art shows. More importantly, though, she is a faithful servant of God and member of the Church of Jesus Christ.
Fortunately, the Spirit aids creation; unlike Frankenstein, our works do not have to rise up and become the elements of our destruction -IF we pursue passion through the Spirit of the Lord. Therefore, creation and the pursuit of righteous dreams is not a guarantee of madness. Quite the opposite, in fact: This clip , although less powerful out of context, is an inspiration to me. Similarly, this message released by Pres. Spencer W. Kimball suggests that not only are creative passions acceptable before the Lord, they may be pleasing unto Him and honor His name. J.S. Bach, father of twenty-odd children and composer of many hymns of God certainly provides an example; Carl Bloch, (who is on display for the first time in history, outside of Scandinavia, RIGHT NOW in the BYU Museum of Art - get tickets to see the display here-(for free! If you live within a ten hour drive of Utah, come see this exhibit before it leaves in May!)) certainly provides another.
The big change in all of this, of which these other goals are simply reflections, is that within a year, I graduate. I will no longer be a student, preparing to pursue my dreams; I will simply and directly pursue them. That is not something to be approached with irreverence or flippancy; I will suddenly be responsible for the entirety of my life. The man who faces eternity is forever changed by it, and agency and accountability are together the gateway of eternity.
My realization of this fact has confronted me with the question: what are my dreams, and am I brave enough to pursue them?
To large degree, the next year will tell. How my pattern of life has become, in that time, will be my answer.