I drive by the tidy, white-grey spires of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah. Like a focal point, all city roads are arranged in a neat East to West and North to South grid around it. All directions and addresses are described in relationship to the temple itself. I have hated this building all my life. Hated it with a passion. A colossal emblem of pious tyranny. And not just any pious tyranny… The pious tyranny that stripped my childhood away from me.
Salt Lake City is a very strange city. Skipping over the long history (as in thousands of years long history) of Native American settlement (namely Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute and Ute) it was officially settled by the Mormons and founded by the Church President Brigham Young. The first continental railroad brought a great migration of settlers here. Salt Lake City is the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nestled in the valley and foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, it is a small city that glints against a backdrop of steep granite mountains and stands proud to the east of a vast lake that is the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere. The Great Salt Lake happens to cause lake effect snow during the wintertime, which accounts for the unbeatable snow conditions in the area.
Salt Lake City is divided into two distinct types of people… Liberal and Conservative. And the neighborhoods are segregated accordingly. In fact one of the most startling things about Salt Lake City is that one area of the city can feel like one thing and another area of the city can feel like the opposite thing (like avant-garde and narrow minded). Polarization is extreme here, which is the case in any area where there is a dominant belief system. Wherever there is religious oppression there is a counter culture. The counter culture in Salt Lake City is alive and thriving. By virtue of their resistance, the Mormons in Salt Lake Valley have ‘created’ a city with the largest number of gays (per capita) in the nation, even more than in San Francisco. And now, less than 50 percent of the inhabitants of Salt Lake City are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Which is why one cannot judge Utah by Salt Lake City. In fact, I like to joke to that if you are non-Mormon, life in Utah is very easy, just do not drive your car outside the city limits of Salt Lake City or Park City.
The dominant negative vibration of Salt Lake City is: Denial. The conservatives (mostly religious conservatives) In Salt Lake City live in an attitude of denial. They refuse to acknowledge anything within themselves that they have previously deemed unacceptable. This sets a very ‘shady’ tone to the city. Like everyone is hiding something. Practically everyone is doped up on prescription pills to keep the aspects of themselves that are ‘unsavory’ suppressed. There is a mission to keep all unpleasant truths buried. This state in general might as well be the capital of spiritual bypassing. They do not know their true selves because they are so desperate to act like what they believe they are expected to act like in accordance with what is acceptable to the culture they are part of. Utah has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and teen suicide and it boasts the highest number of online porn subscriptions because so many people are sexually repressed. But the attitude is… Go ahead and watch porn in secret and feel guilty about it, just never admit to it and condemn others who do it.
The liberals in Salt Lake City are not much better. They live their lives in a seemingly never-ending climate of rebellion. By being in rebellion, they cannot actually be their true selves; they are in denial of who they really are. Their personalities are simply a reaction against something rather than something genuine. And they are in denial about anything that causes them to acknowledge their hurt or vulnerability, especially relative to the conservatives. Basically, denial is like a porcelain veneer that covers the energetic blueprint of the Salt Lake City and all the other Utah cities and towns. It creates an unsettling ‘dualistic’ feel that is easily perceived by people visiting the city who are not accustomed to the vibration of façade or dualism.
The dominant positive vibration of Salt Lake City is: Interest. Interest being attention, concern and curiosity being particularly engaged in something. Salt Lake City is not an idle city. It is full of people, both conservative and liberal, who have special interest in spades. Those interests compel movement and perpetual ‘doing’ and ‘seeking’. It is VERY hard to find someone in Salt Lake City that does not have a serious interest in something specific. It is very easy to become an expert in a field with interest. And Utah boasts many experts in various fields because of it. Interest, which resides in the people here like a subtle force, makes the city feel involved. But that vibration of ‘involved’ is a compilation of so many people’s various interests that one cannot tell what Salt Lake City is involved in exactly.
One of the most common interests among people in Utah (both liberal and conservative) is the outdoors. The great outdoors is one of the main reasons people move to Utah and Stay in Utah. In fact it is even the thing that drew my own family here. Utah is one of the most aesthetically beautiful states in the nation. I would even say it is one of the most visually striking natural places in the world. Tourists come from all over the world to see the landscape here and enjoy the many outdoor activities that you can do here. Hiking, horseback riding, backpacking, camping, rock climbing, fishing, mountain biking, kayaking, caving etc. and who could forget skiing? The skiing is so good here that I am finding it hard to pry myself away from the state despite being ready to leave. I can honestly say as a die-hard skier that Utah snow is the best snow on earth! There is so much untouched wilderness here it boggles the mind. There is almost nothing ‘going on’ in Utah except for outdoor activities. I go so far as to say there is no reason to live here unless you have a particular outdoor recreation that you love.
The culture in Salt Lake City is nothing like the culture in the more rural towns of Utah. Rural Utah culture is like an inbred, religious flavored mix between the movie Stepford Wives and the movie Brokeback Mountain. Most of Utah belongs to Mormons. They own the state, governmental institutions and all. Growing up in rural Utah, people do not ask you what religion you are because it is assumed. A non-Mormon is like a kind of rare alien species. Honestly, as is the case with any dominant religious area, being a non-member of the predominant religion can feel like being a fish in shark-infested water. The Mormons in Utah are famous for a special breed of ‘fake sugar cookie niceness’ that compels them to do all kinds of nice things for you when they are attempting to convert you and enhance their own sense of divinity. But after attempts to convert you fail, they close their doors to you entirely and you are ostracized and shunned from the greater community. It was explained to me numerous times growing up by Mormons in the community that Mormons believe there is one excuse for a person not converting to the church: They haven’t been exposed to the gospel. To give everyone the opportunity to transcend obscurity and darkness as well as to give them the opportunity to reach the highest kingdom of heaven, they send missionaries all across the world to deliver the gospel. In essence, they believe that once a person is exposed to the gospel, they will instantly receive the spirit of revelation that the church is true. So, if someone is exposed to gospel and does not convert, it means they are “one of Satan’s recruits sent to tempt members of the church off the path”. It is sort of like some Mormons believe exposure to gospel is a litmus test for evil. So, once they realize you are not going to convert, they cease their kind efforts and you are treated with distrust, confusion and disgust like you are something to be eradicated.
I could go into all the bizarre aspects of Mormon Culture and all the details of Mormon beliefs and this blog would be five miles long. But I will simply assert that like nearly any religion, there are some beautiful spiritual truths inherent within the gospel itself. However, religious doctrine and religious culture are not one in the same. And I detest the Utah Mormon culture. Many out of state Mormons move here, excited to live in the holy land of their church, only to leave disillusioned and desperate to escape the stuffy and shockingly un-Christian tone of the culture here.
I am a spiritual teacher. I am not supposed to have prejudice in my being. But I have spent nearly my whole life in a state of prejudice towards the Mormons. If I saw Mormon missionaries while driving around town, I would point them out and rant for the next ten minutes of the drive. We’d play a non-Mormon game called ‘ten points’ where you joke about the idea of gaining points for running missionaries over. Five points for one and ten points for two. If someone told me they were Mormon, I could feel an absolute rage come over me and I would instantly shut down to them. I would not entertain the idea of ever talking to them again. I would go so far as to say there was a violent hatred in me towards Mormons for the better part of my life.
This hatred of Mormons has opened me up to a great understanding of war. I can see how easily one group of people could justify killing an entire group of fellow men based on their hatred. I mean I am full of so much compassion and empathy for living beings that I refuse to hurt or kill insects of any kind and often drive myself nuts trying to save fruit flies in the kitchen, which are so fragile even touching them with your finger kills them. If even I could feel the kind of rage that would lead to war, what hope is there for someone with less compassion and empathy inherent in their personality structure? But I have also seen something about the kind of hatred that leads to war that is unrecognized by the very people who declare war. The kind of hatred that leads to war comes into existence as a byproduct of one thing: Hurt. And if we had the bravery to face the hurt underneath the hatred, the hatred would cease to exist. War would never be declared. If you want the war in the world to end, you have but one thing to do… End the war within yourself. This has been the overall aim of all my years of meditation and introspection. And this week, I managed to end one of the wars within myself. It is in fact the reason I have decided to write this blog. A big part of this peace I have declared within myself, involves a letter that I have written. I have no way of knowing whether anyone will read this letter. It will definitely be the weirdest letter they ever receive. I half expect that they will pull it from the envelope, become confused, and promptly throw it in the trash bin. But on the off chance that it is read, it carries with it the seeds of peace. I hope these seeds grow roots in the person who reads this letter and bloom into inspired peace. Either way I wrote this letter to ‘get complete’ within myself. So even if it is never read, it is my declaration to the universe at large. I have ended a war, which shall remain ended for all time. Rather than explain, I have simply decided to post the letter below an let you read it. It carries with it the seeds of peace. It is my hope that in reading this letter, these seeds will grow roots inside you and bloom into inspired peace.
Dear Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
(or/and whomever this letter concerns),
My name is Teal. I am writing you this letter to set myself free and also in a way to set you free. The time has come in my life to ‘get complete’ with the things that have held me back from being the person I really am.
My parents moved to a rural town in Utah when I was very young. I was raised non-Mormon in a Mormon town. For years, I was emotionally tormented by members of your church and tormented by the majority, not the minority. They would not allow me to play with their children (for fear of bad influence). They would not allow me to enter their households. I was kicked out of carpools and ridiculed for being impure. I was ostracized completely. They scratched condemning scripture into my car with keys and the list goes on. The first time I was raped, it was at six years old, inside a Mormon Stake House in Cache Valley.
But the most painful thing that happened is that the abuse I endured as a child (which was ongoing) had an effect on my personality. I was visibly suffering as a result of it, like any child would, and the members of the church stood by and did nothing to help me. Instead, on account of the ‘darkness of my personality’ they turned the other cheek and told me I was sign of the second coming as a hireling of Satan and an opposition to the restoration of truth. I had no one to defend me. I felt forsaken; I had lost all sense of virtue in myself, which I was so desperate to feel. Eventually I figured ‘why not embrace darkness if it is the only place I am welcomed and belong’.
I developed a hatred of the church that ran so deep I used to fantasize about burning the temple to the ground and eradicating all Mormons from the face of the earth. For years, I have felt this way. I progressed on my own spiritual path with this loathing in my being. I even became a well-known international spiritual teacher myself. My life became the model of virtue. But still this hatred remained. I wanted to feel my virtue, but could not. And then, during a meditation one day, I had a revelation. And here it is:
I have been pretending all my life that I hate you (Mormons). When the truth is, I am terrified of you. I feel as if my heart has been ripped out. I feel the starved deprivation that belongs only to those of us who have been truly cast out. Somewhere inside me, there is a little child who is still crying to be wanted and valued and received but doesn’t believe that it is possible because she has been led to believe there is something evil and wrong about her. The pain of the hurt I experienced with you is in my veins. It makes it hard to breathe. I have made the experience I had with you mean that I am dark, defective and impure. I have blamed you for cutting me off from my own sense of ‘goodness’.
I have found that below all hatred, there is hurt. The impact of this lack of authenticity (where I say I hate you, when in fact I am hurt by you) is that I carried hate in my heart… Hatred that is not natural to my being; hatred that is not who I truly am. And as a result, I cut myself off from my own sense of virtue. It was less something that you did to me; it was something I did to myself by virtue of my spite towards you. This revelation has allowed me to let go. And I have experienced that by letting go of this hatred and spite, I instantly gained access to my sense of goodness and virtue again.
I now see a future for myself where I do not need to prove my goodness to the world, but instead feel it in my veins. I have been making you wrong for everything you believe, especially the things you believe that allowed you to justify your cruelty. But I have seen that I can either choose to be right (and you to be wrong) or I can choose love. I cannot have both. Love and polarization cannot coexist. And I have wanted love with every fiber of my being. So I am writing to say that I no longer care to make you wrong and to make myself right. I no longer need to justify the way I feel towards you. I regret that I have kept this resistance inside me for so long. I am going to give it up and seek to recognize how I am the same instead of different to others. I am going to practice understanding and loving whomever steps across my path. And as I say this, I can feel my virtue. It burns inside me like a lighthouse that I can trust to guide me to shore no matter how violent the waves of my life become. I do not need a president or apostle or prophet or bishop to lead me to a connection to ‘God’ and the inevitable morality that follows that connection (regardless of how godly or connected these various people may be) and this, I believe is the kind of unshakable virtue and spiritual connection you would wish for all of your members… A connection that allows them to learn from but not need any being who may serve as an intermediary between themselves and God because their connection is that strong and unbreakable.
So in a way, even though you served as the contrast to disconnect me from my sense of virtue, you also catalyzed me back to a sense of virtue, but this time an unshakable one that is stronger than it probably ever was before I lost it. And I thank you for it. It is a service you were most likely not even aware of having done.
I hereby release myself from my hatred and resentment. I hereby release you from my hatred and resentment. May we both be free from this day forward.
In November 2005, in Ensign, your Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I think forgiveness may be the greatest virtue on earth, and certainly the most needed. There is so much of meanness and abuse, of intolerance and hatred. There is so great a need for repentance and forgiveness. It is the great principle emphasized in all of scripture, both ancient and modern. Somehow forgiveness, with love and tolerance, accomplishes miracles that can happen in no other way.” And so, I forgive you. With every step I take, I am finding approval for what happened between us and I know I have reached forgiveness because with approval you find that there is nothing to forgive. Everything, including this, has come to bless me. This time it blessed me with a restoration of my sense of virtue and light. And so, I have only one thing left… A prayer for us both to experience miracles that can happen no other way, but through forgiveness.
With love and liberation in my heart,