This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday Morning Session from the October 1973 Conference.
The children and I have been studying geology, which means rocks all over the house and rivers all over the yard. Seb and Malachi carved the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone along the side of the house, pouring buckets of water down the channel over and over, shoring up Upper and and Lower Falls with rocks so they wouldn't collapse, and creating huge deltas of mud and silt which fan out into the lawn for Abe to complain about when he mows.
They were insatiably curious about the Continental Divide, when we visited Yellowstone in June. "But how does the water know where to go?" Seb kept insisting. "It's way too coincidental for it to just happen to fall to either side in this exact spot!"
"It's not coincidence," I kept trying to explain. "The fact of the water going that way is WHY the divide is here. The water doesn't know, but it just goes downhill, wherever that is, and WE came by later on and traced the line and named it."
And so I found it interesting to read Elder Packer's words about thoughts:
I have come to know that thoughts, like water, will stay on course if we make a place for them to go. Otherwise our thoughts follow the course of least resistance, always seeking the lower levels.
He goes on to talk about singing a hymn to drive out unworthy thoughts, advice which I've heard quoted often, but my thoughts (following the path of least resistance, I suppose, ha ha) took a different direction this time. I thought about how hard it is to give my thoughts any channel at all these days. There is so much to keep track of, and I'm so frantically trying to stay afloat. I feel consumed with needs and desires for God's help in my life, but often when I finally get a free moment to sit down and pray or reflect, my mind is too chaotic for me to even remember what it is I wanted to ask. My thoughts spin in circles and I feel like I'm not even making progress on all the questions I half-form as I read or study.
When I was in college I used to love to "save something up" to think about at bedtime. Maybe I'd learn about a new symbol in New Testament class, or I'd have a sudden insight about how something was like something else, or I'd notice something about myself I'd never noticed before—and I'd hold those thoughts closely in my heart, waiting for the quiet of night, and look forward to spinning them out, writing poems or essays in my mind as I lay in bed. I'd fall asleep thinking and wondering and feeling secretly that I was figuring all the world out.
That sort of contemplation feels largely out of reach for me now. I miss it, but I'm too tired, mentally and physically, to summon it up. If I'm in a quiet place, there's a good chance I'm falling asleep—and if it's not quiet, my thoughts are scattered across the thousand things clamoring for attention. And yet I still have so many questions about the world, and more than ever I feel a need for revelation and enlightenment in my life! I have so often resorted to jotting down something briefly, or trying to make a mental note—"Faith and commandments. Need to think about."
I realized how often I'm "saving these thoughts up" to think about when it's quiet, when I'm calm, when there's not something urgent to address. For a better time.
And then I read this quote by C.S. Lewis, about learning in war time:
If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun.
If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favourable conditions never come.
And I thought of Elder Packer's water channels, and realized that I don't have the luxury of silence and an unruffled mind, but I can still give direction to my thoughts. I just need to predetermine what channels I want them to flow into, so I don't end up spinning around in aimless circles, never moving forward. I've been doing it already a little, without really meaning to, as I've been reading these old conference sessions. I read the talks all week and I have certain topics on my mind, and when I come up against some new idea in my reading or conversation, my mind often automatically sends it into the channels I've already been traveling, channels laid down by the talks I read that week. It's helped me feel like I can actually follow a thought through to its conclusion (or at least a conclusion), which is very satisfying. The same process often naturally occurs when I have a decision to make or a problem to solve.
I think now that I'm conscious of it, though, I could even do more with this. Maybe during the week I could formulate an actual question during my scripture time, and try to carve it deeply enough into my memory that it leaves an impression. It would probably help to write it down, too. Then during the sacrament, for example, when my mind is usually so prone to wandering, I could send my thoughts into that channel rather than just letting them roam free. It would have to be a very simple and direct question (or maybe just a topic?), but I think it would work. I can envision this being helpful for the temple, as well—having some "channel" already set down that I'm planning to think about, and seeing how the words of the temple ceremony strike me as I let them flow down it.
Other posts in this series: