Saturday, December 10, 2016

I Am Haunted By Waters

American Author, Norman Maclean ended his novel, A River Runs Through It, with this simple sentence: "I am haunted by waters."

I, too, am haunted by waters. I could stare at a river or stream for hours. There is something about moving water—much like fire—that captivates my heart and soul. It takes me back to Alaska, where I was born.

In September of 2009, I actually travelled back to Alaska and drove all around that "last frontier." I would frequently stop at rivers and streams to watch the water. As I watched, I would inevitably see a host of red salmon, swimming against the current.

I think those memories of the red salmon were burned into my soul. Their journey fascinates me. They are born in the upper reaches of rivers, they then swim downstream and live most of their lives in the ocean. Then, at some point in their lives, they feel the need to go home—this pull to return to the place where they were born. Using their sense of smell (or perhaps magnetoception), they locate their natal river, swim upstream, return home, and spawn. Shortly thereafter, the salmon die. But their sacrifice gave birth to new life.

I often think about the salmon run in relation to life. As I've said before, It is my firm belief that we are all pilgrims on the earth—that we are all trying to find our way back to our heavenly home.

The salmon run is, perhaps, the most vivid illustration of my philosophy. We, like the salmon, are busy exploring this world . . . and yet something inside of us is calling us home. If we heed that call, we will most certainly be asked to do difficult things and swim upstream. And yes, this journey will most certainly result in our death—or, at least, a death of the life we have known. But that death will invariably lead to an abundance of life.

Do you hear the call?

If so, you are haunted by waters.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Winston Churchill and Depression

My guide through life has always been Sir Winston Churchill (1874–1965), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II. His active and steadfast resistance to Adolf Hitler, along with his vehement refusal to even consider defeat, helped inspire his nation to victory against Nazi Germany. His strength of character and his determination to never give up—even in the most dire circumstances—has made him one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known.

Churchill was also a very funny man. As some of you are aware, Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt were actually very good friends. Once, while Churchill was staying at the White House, President Roosevelt decided to stop by Churchill’s room. The Prime Minister, who had just finished taking a bath, was pacing back and forth in his room—completely naked. When Roosevelt rolled into the room and saw Churchill in the buff, Churchill calmly replied, "You see, Mr. President, I have nothing to hide from you." [Source: TIME]

Winston Churchill and Depression

But there was something that Churchill did hide from the world—he struggled with what he called “the black dog” of depression. Researchers and biographers have since diagnosed him as someone who struggled with major episodes of depression. Of Churchill’s battle with depression, psychiatrist Anthony Storr said this: “Only a man who knew what it was to discern a gleam of hope in a hopeless situation, whose courage was beyond reason, and whose aggressive spirit burned at its fiercest when he was hemmed in and surrounded by enemies, could have given emotional reality to the words of defiance which rallied and sustained us [during World War II].” [Source: NAMI]

The full weight of Europe on his shoulders. He was, in many respects, a lone man standing against the full onslaught of Adolf Hitler—one of the most evil men in history. In studying Churchill’s life—his victories and defeats, along with his emotional obstacles and personal challenges—I am perpetually amazed by his indomitable will to fight his way forward. In a speech delivered to the House of Commons on June 4, 1940, Churchill rallied his beleaguered nation with these words:
“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Consider the context of these words. Not only was Churchill leading the charge against Nazi Germany, he was simultaneously leading a personal charge against his own depression. With this in mind, the following phrase (one of his most famous quotes) is given even more power and meaning:
Me next to the Churchill statue in London.
“Never give in—never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
While writing about depression, I have felt discouraged many times. The process of creating books and blog posts about it has caused many different thoughts, feelings, and experiences to resurface. Some of these have been good, but most of them have been very difficult to recall. I am often confronted with feelings of despondency, depression, and insecurity. After all, I begin to think who am I? Who am I that the world should care what I have to say? But in these moments of self-doubt, I have often looked at a photograph in my office of Winston Churchill. He doesn’t look back at me. Instead, he looks forward, into some distant horizon—as if to say, “Never give in. Keep moving forward.”

Please consider this incredible irony: Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt are two leaders who faced tremendous challenges. One of them struggled with the darkness of depression; the other was bound to a wheelchair. Had they grown up in Nazi Germany, Hitler would have had both men exterminated for their imperfections. And yet, these two men—these two imperfect people—moved forward, and together, they defeated a darkness which had swept across Europe.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Are You Terrible or Blessed?

In Moscow, Russia, at the far end of Red Square, stands the iconic and beautiful St. Basil's Cathedral. There is a tragic, thought-provoking story behind this building. Have you heard it?

Once a church, this unrivaled structure was not built by a saint—nor was it originally made to memorialize any Christian virtues. It’s construction was ordered by the Tsar, Ivan Grasni, a man history knows as Ivan the Terrible. This building was to commemorate his victories in war.

Ivan the Terrible was an iron-fisted ruler whose brutal legacy has haunted Russian history and politics. Given to paranoia and fits of rage, Ivan conquered nations and killed thousands and even murdered his own son. But just outside the Kremlin walls there was one man whom Ivan feared—a peasant by the name of Basil.

Those who knew Basil considered him a prophet. He saw things which others could not and did things which others would not. In heat of the summer and in the cold winter, Basil would walk the streets with little clothing, giving whatever he had to those in need. In sharp contrast to the murderous, opulent tsar behind the Kremlin wall, Basil lived humbly and nurtured life in others. On numerous occasions, Basil openly rebuked the Tsar, calling him to repentance.

Racked with guilt—Ivan would often send gifts to the prophetic peasant, hoping to appease him. But Basil would simply give the gifts away.

Time passed, and Ivan continued to wage costly wars while Basil gave what little he had to a precious few. Ivan became more hated and infamous, while Basil became more loved and venerated. When Basil died, Ivan was overcome with grief and did something that no one expected. He left the Kremlin walls and carried the peasant’s coffin to the Cathedral where they buried him.

The humble heart of a peasant had melted the heart of a tyrant.  From then on, the building was known as St. Basil’s Cathedral—in honor of the peasant prophet.

This story prompts me to ask: Am I symbolically more like Ivan the Terrible or St. Basil the Blessed? Do I live for myself, as Ivan did? Or do I give of myself, as Basil did? For the way we live our lives has an impact—not only on ourselves, but on those around us, and on the generations that will follow us.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sacred Writings | A Map for Your Journey

It is my firm belief that we are all pilgrims on the earth—that we are all trying to find our way back to our heavenly home. And I believe that scriptures, great literature, and inspiring words are the maps we are to use on our journey.

For me, reading and writing have been life-changing agents; scriptures and stories are powerful tools to help me move forward. Time and time again, I have learned that, while medicines can heal the body, inspirational words can heal the soul. Inspired words are like guideposts, markers, or constellations that show us the way home.

There is an ancient legend that tells of a people who built their community at the base of a sacred mountain. It was believed that this mountain was the gateway to heaven and, as such, members of the community would carry their dying loved ones up the mountain and remain with them until they passed on. It was their way of giving their loved ones to the gods.

One day, a young man was carrying his elderly father to the top of the mountain. His father was very sick and frail. Yet, as they climbed, the old man would reach out and grab handfuls of branches and leaves from the nearby trees, and drop them on the ground.

About halfway up the mountain, the young man stopped and asked his father why he was dropping branches and leaves on the ground. Tears streamed down the old man’s face as he replied, “Son, when I die, I want you to find your way home.”

I think great stories and literature are like branches on our path. Our wise ancestors (and those who have gone before us) have left these stories for us so that we could find our way home—so that we could move forward.

Friday, December 2, 2016

See Your Life With Two Sets of Eyes

The Journey Home - by Jon McNaughton
It is my firm belief that we are all pilgrims on the earth—that we are all trying to find our way back to our heavenly home.

If we are to progress on our journey, I think we need to approach each new day with "two sets of eyes." With our physical eyes, we need to see our life for what it is—the tangible reality of every day life: the physical, financial, mechanical struggles of every day life.

But I also think we need to see our life with spiritual eyes. That is to say, we need to interpret our physical struggles as spiritual struggles. This idea is one of the main themes of my novel, Rip Van Winkle and the Pumpkin Lantern. Nathaniel, a talking raven, states it rather simply by saying "Everything you see is merely a symbol for things you do not see."

The physical mountain we are climbing could be comparable to our battle with addiction. Every morning is the chance to have a new beginning. Our physical hunger and fatigue should remind us of our need to be fed spiritually.

In the video below, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a leader in the LDS Church, shares the powerful story of his family's escape from East Germany into West Germany. He then compares this journey (and other "journeys") to our spiritual sojourn on this earth.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Pilgrims on the Earth

I think that for the past ten years I have been an Alaska Pilgrim, a man seeking the Northern Lights o life. Almost thirty-one years ago, I was born in Anchorage, Alaska. My family lived there for another eight years before we moved to the western United States.  I loved growing up in the lower 48, but I have always missed Alaska. I missed looking up at night and seeing the Northern Lights.

In January of 2007, I was feeling lost and I made a brief "pilgrimage" back to Anchorage. I needed to get my bearings. I needed to see the Northern Lights and remember that there truly is light in the darkness.

I saw the Northern Lights.

And since then, I have traveled all over the world seeking the Northern Lights of Life—inspiration sent from Heaven, to guide us back home.

For truly, are we not all pilgrims on the earth? Are we not all trying to find our way home? In the book of Hebrews, Paul referred to the followers of God as "strangers and pilgrims on the earth" who "desire a better country, that is, an heavenly" country. (Hebrews 11:13)

There is a common thread that runs through many popular books and movies. It is this idea that the protagonist, or the main character, is "out-of-place," that he/she isn't liked, isn't normal, doesn't fit in, or feels like something is missing. Bilbo Baggins doesn't fit in with his company of dwarves; Harry Potter is a stranger to the Wizarding World; Lucy and her family were living in the country, away from family, when she entered the wardrobe and discovered Narnia.

Why do you think that is? Why is it that so many of the most popular books and novels rely on this idea, or theme, of being an outcast?

Because that's how we all feel.

Strangely enough, the feeling of being alone, of being an outcast, of feeling out-of-place, is the universal feeling of mankind. Why? I think it's because we are all pilgrims. This isn't our real home—not really. There is a "better country" beyond this, and our life on this world is but a pilgrimage, a journey to that better country.

So keep your spiritual eyes open, Pilgrim. For there are celestial lights all around us, urging us forward—toward that better country.