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The Mind Is A Stage

My dear brothers and sisters, aloha,

I feel so grateful and humbled for this opportunity to address our university `ohana at this devotional. I’ve sat in the very seat you are sitting in for many years both as a student and as a staff member. The different perspectives between sitting in the audience versus standing at this podium is a stark contrast. The view from this vantage point is a beautiful sight. To witness this gathering of diverse peoples from across the world in this space with the common purpose to become lifelong learners, leaders, and disciples is a miracle and testament to President McKay’s prophetic vision. In fact, as I prepared for this talk and reflected on my experiences, I realized that I am working to fulfill the university mission in my life. About twenty years ago, I was once where you were. I had the same sparkle in my eyes and enthusiasm I see on your faces. One day, you will be where I am. In the years ahead, you will be leading families, communities, professional fields, and the Church. Perhaps one day standing at this very podium. As President Kauwe shared in last week’s devotional, the “small and simple things will prepare and qualify you for your finest hour”. [1] Every day make conscious decisions that improve your wellbeing and bring you closer to our Heavenly Father. The choice you made to attend devotional today is a step in the right direction. Keep going. On the days you struggle and falter, get back up, recalibrate, and keep going. Sometimes, those days may turn to weeks and weeks turn to months. Know that it is never too late to change course and return to the light of Christ. As Elder Holland said, “…however late you think you are, however many chances you think you’ve missed, however many mistakes you feel you’ve made or talents you think you don’t have, or distance from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines”. [2]

I stand before you a culmination of all those who have come before me. I would be amiss if I did not honor and acknowledge them. I bring to this space my kūpuna, my ancestors who have come before me and paved the path that led me here today. I come from a long line of mana wāhine, strong women who I glean strength and grit from. My tūtū ma (great grandmother), Dora Machado, my paternal grandmother, Rose Kahae Machado, my maternal grandmother, Ripeka Brown, and my mother Merania Mikaere Kekaula. I also bring to this space my kumu, teachers that imparted their knowledge of indigenous epistemology and have shaped my world view. I’m grateful for my parents and my husband, my eternal companion, my best friend. I’m grateful for my children, they are my why. Most importantly, I’m grateful for my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and the blessing of life. I acknowledge their hand in all that I have and do.

I wish to speak with you today about a key component in your decision-making process which determines the outcomes in your life. That key is- your thoughts. The scriptures say, as a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he”. [3] This gospel truth is essentially the premise of an evidenced based treatment modality in therapy. Our thoughts influence our emotions which in turn drive our actions and choices. Thoughts- Emotions- Actions- Choices. The choices we make, even the simple ones on a day-to-day basis, ultimately determine our lives. This gospel truth is essentially the premise of an evidenced based treatment modality in therapy. If you can change the way you think, you can change the way you feel, you can change your behaviors which determine the outcomes in your life.

While growing up, I was told many times to control my thoughts or to stop thinking a certain way, but no one told me how. One of my favorite prophets of my youth was President Boyd K. Packer. As a child, President Packer grew up surrounded by an orchard. One day he was working on irrigating the orchard. The rows were overgrown with weeds and soon the finite supply of water began to flood in every direction. He frantically worked in the puddles to shore up the bank, but just as soon as one was patched, another one broke. A neighbor came by, watched for a moment, and then with a few strokes of the shovel, cleared the ditch and allowed the water to course through the channel he made. The neighbor said, “If you want the water to stay in its course, you’ll have to make a place for it to go”. President Packer likened thoughts to the water. “Thoughts will stay on course if we make a place for them to go, otherwise thoughts follow the course of least resistance, always seeking the lower levels”. Learning to control your thoughts is easier said than done, probably one of the hardest things you’ll learn to do, but President Packer reminds us that as we learn to control our thoughts, we can overcome habits, gain courage, conquer fear, and have a happy life. [4]

President Packer eloquently said, “the mind is like a stage”. At every moment, the curtain is up and some act is always being performed on that stage. At times, and often without intention, shady little thoughts try to creep in from the wings and attempt to upstage all other thoughts. If you permit them to continue those thoughts will command your attention and you will be left to the influence of those thoughts to the point where they become intolerable and are eventually acted upon.

Perhaps a relevant comparison for these modern times and for our millennials and Gen Zers is, the mind is like a screen. Your mind is constantly processing an endless stream of information. As you scroll, the thoughts you entertain get programmed into your cognitive algorithm, and you will continue to have more thoughts of similar content. Additionally, vulgar and immoral click bait and pop-ups constantly bombard your screen. Just like the stage, you can choose what content you entertain. You can choose to click on them or to swipe them away.

How do you control your thoughts? The skill takes intentional practice and effort, and like a muscle the more you exercise it the stronger it becomes. Controlling your thoughts is the capability to influence, direct, and exercise restraint over those thoughts. Control doesn’t necessarily mean you can stop, resist, or prevent a thought from occurring. Some thoughts are automatic, and others are intrusive. In some cases, trying to resist a thought may be counterintuitive as more attention is given to the thought and more anxiety builds around it. Let’s test this theory together. In your mind’s eye I’d like you to picture a pink elephant. Are you visualizing a pink elephant? Now that you are thinking about a pink elephant, I’d like you to place the pink elephant somewhere in this center. The pink elephant can be seated across the room, or you can imagine it sitting here on my palm. Now, stop thinking about the pink elephant. Remove the image of a pink elephant from your mind. Have you stopped thinking about the pink elephant? Most likely not, and that’s because I’ve suggested the thought and the more I instruct you to stop the more attention you give to it. Your mind is an automatic processing machine. Its job is to process information for survival. Any external stimuli will trigger thoughts. It’s important to understand that thoughts are just thoughts, you need not entertain them, and you certainly do not have to act out on them.

When a thought comes to your mind; whether it be unrighteous, immoral, or uncomfortable, acknowledge that it is just a thought and let it pass. Swipe it away or direct it off the stage. One helpful imagery exercise is called leaves on the stream. Visualize yourself sitting on the bank of a gentle flowing stream. As unwanted thoughts come to your mind, place them on a leaf and send them floating down the stream. As you direct unclean and unwanted thoughts out of your mind you must fill the space with clean and constructive thoughts. One way to do this is with worthy music. President Packer remarked, “music is one of the most forceful instruments for governing the mind… [a] spiritually inspiring [song] urges you to see yourself in a more noble perspective”. [4] Be selective with your music choices, remember it influences your thoughts. I encourage you to go through your playlists, delete songs with degrading themes. If you haven’t done so yet, create a playlist with uplifting, reverent, and worthy music. Also learn to distract your mind from unwanted thoughts by mindfully engaging in wholesome activities. Pray for help, read the scriptures, memorize and recite your favorite hymn or scripture, take a walk to the temple grounds with a friend- these activities can help to distract your thoughts. We all struggle with the “natural man” and President Faust explained, “If not bridled, our thoughts can run wild”. [5] Learn to control your thoughts by resisting the impulse to act out on them, swipe them away, and then distract your mind with wholesome and worthy content.

Up to this point I’ve discussed ways one can direct and distract from unwanted and unclean thoughts. Now, I wish to turn to a metacognitive approach to better understand what influences your thoughts and how you can reconstruct them. Let’s think about thinking. In his 1985 general conference talk, President Nelson said “Before you can master yourself… you need to know who you are. You consist of two parts–your physical body, and your spirit which lives within your body.” [6] From a cognitive behavioral therapy approach, it’s understood that our core beliefs, interchangeably called schemas or world view, influence the way we see ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we relate to the world around us. Core beliefs are those underlying values and assumptions which are the lens in which we experience life through. Core beliefs are shaped during the formative years, childhood through adolescence, primarily in our family and caregiver relationships. They are deeply engrained, are carried on through our adulthood, and influence our thinking. Applying that concept to what President Nelson said, your core beliefs about who you are, both physically and spiritually, will have a direct influence on your thinking.

Each one of you has unique core beliefs based on your individual experiences. Thus, we could all witness the same event, yet our individual thoughts and reactions would be entirely different. One day a couple was driving down the highway. They noticed a mynah bird that had been hit by a car lying in the middle of the road. About two feet away they saw two more birds standing on the side of the road. One person said, “Oh how sad, those birds must be grieving and saying goodbye to their bird friend.” The second person said, “No, they’re probably waiting to scavenge the carcass.” Two extremely different responses based on the same event. One set of thoughts possibly based on the core belief of family with experiences of grief and loss, the second set of thoughts based on instinctual reasoning, nature, and survival. Neither right nor wrong, just different based on the individual’s unique experiences and core beliefs.

Your core beliefs about who you are, both physically and spiritually, will have a direct influence on your thinking. I invite you now to take a moment for self-reflection. What are your core beliefs and values? How do you see yourself, your meaning and purpose, and how does that relate to the world around you? What are those earlier experiences that shaped your core beliefs? Are your core beliefs centered in an eternal perspective?

An eternal perspective will give you the answers to two very important questions: Who am I? And where did I come from? The answers to these questions can be found simply and sweetly stated in Naomi Randall’s hymn, “I Am a Child of God”. [7] The hymn explains that there was a pre-existence in God’s presence and this earthly existence is the next step. We were sent here to this earthly home into families and communities and are blessed with the opportunity to have the gift of the Holy Spirit to teach us what we must do, to understand His words, to learn His will, and to help us return to God. During the culmination of His ministry, Christ testified to his apostles about the Holy Spirit saying “the Father… shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” [8]

Who am I? Where did I come from? You are a child of God of divine worth and infinite potential. You lived in God’s presence in the pre-existence and were sent here to this mortal existence to learn and grow to be more like Him and to someday return to God’s presence. Our Heavenly Father loves you and wants you to be happy. What are your core beliefs regarding who you are spiritually? Are your core beliefs centered in these simple eternal truths?

I was born in the covenant to goodly parents who love me and provided for my physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. In these nurturing relationships I was able to develop healthy and adaptive core beliefs about both my spiritual and physical identity. I was taught from my early years that there is a God, and he loves me. I was taught those eternal truths. I was a very shy child, quiet, and kept mainly to a small and close group of friends. If left up to me, I probably would have stayed in the comfort of my bubble, but my parents pushed me beyond my comfort zones and encouraged me to join sports, do well in school, take leadership roles, and strive for lifelong learning. This wasn’t always easy and I failed many times, more times than I’d like to admit, but each time I failed my parents reminded me of my strengths, told me to do better, and encouraged me to try again. These healthy experiences in my formative years helped me to develop a core belief about myself- I’m stronger than I know, and I can do hard things. With this core belief I’m able to face challenges with optimism and even when I fail I’m a little kinder to myself.

I acknowledge that not everyone is born into the homes and families they deserve or have the parents kind and dear that our Heavenly Father intended you to have. Due to circumstances beyond your control you may have been raised in an invalidating environment or even been exposed to trauma and abuse. Or you may even be struggling with psychological disorders like depression, addiction, or anxiety. For you I have this message- God loves you, He sees you, He knows who you are. You are not responsible for the past, but you are responsible for your personal healing and changing your life. A quote from Family Services in a Liahona article reads, “Jesus Christ has the power to heal all wounds, no matter how deep. The process of healing is difficult and may take time. In our hurt, we may even become angry with Heavenly Father. While we may not feel like turning to Him, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, the Master Healer. Through the Savior’s Atonement, we can be healed over time.” [9]

Turn to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ for hope and healing. Healing from significant emotional concerns may require professional support. We have trained licensed therapists at Counseling Services who provide confidential counseling. Be open to accepting support. Have courage to take the first step. Part of the healing process is becoming aware of unhealthy core beliefs that lead to maladaptive thinking, overwhelming distress, and problematic behaviors. Examples of common unhealthy core beliefs are I’m unlovable; I’m not good enough; and I’m alone, I can’t trust anyone. Functioning under these unhealthy core beliefs will make it difficult to work through life challenges, establish close and healthy relationships, and to be happy. Learn to challenge and reconstruct your unhealthy core beliefs. Consider those eternal truths and your divine worth as you work to change unhealthy core beliefs. Examples of healthier core beliefs are I am loved; I have good things to offer, and people appreciate me; and I can trust my judgement and let good people into my life. Remember to be patient with yourself, these unhealthy core beliefs have been reinforced in your thinking process for years. It will take time and practice to unlearn them, but the brain can change. You can relearn healthier ways to think, feel, and act.

As you work to reconstruct your core beliefs and learn to influence, direct, and distract your thoughts you will be better able to manage your emotions and to make healthier choices in your life. There are four values that will help you along this process: Knowledge, Strength, Courage, and Faith.

Knowledge. Learn more about our Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ. Learn more about the plan of happiness and your divine role in the plan. Take time each day to pray, read the scriptures, and talk with trusted friends and family about how they have felt God’s love in their lives. Pray for personal revelation to know God’s unique plan for you and pray for guidance to make the right choices to receive the full blessings and infinite potential that God has planned for you. Also, seek knowledge about emotional health and recommended treatments to address significant concerns.

Strength. Having to look at yourself in the mirror to examine your character defects and process the hidden parts of you is difficult and sometimes painful. Change is uncomfortable and sometimes making the right decision for yourself isn’t easy. I know that it’s difficult because if it was easy, you would have made the change already. Pray for strength to help you cope with and manage the overwhelming feelings of distress that might come up during the change process. You are stronger than you know. You can do hard things.

Courage. Our natural response to pain and discomfort is fear and avoidance and yet if we don’t change nothing changes. Have courage to make positive changes in your life that will align you with your divine worth and draw you closer to Heavenly Father. Be brave and honest when examining your core beliefs and automatic thoughts that influence your emotions and behaviors.

Faith. Have faith in the healing power of Jesus Christ. Be patient with the process and know that even during the difficult struggles, He is still with you. Keep going. Trust that Heavenly Father has a plan for you. It may not make sense to you in the moment, but take caution not to lean to your own understanding but trust in His infinite and eternal knowledge. As you make the right decisions, you will feel His love and witness the blessings in your life.

I bear my witness that Heavenly Father knows and loves each one of us. Our Savior Jesus Christ lives and His atoning sacrifice makes the plan of happiness possible. I bear witness the gospel is true and that Russell M. Nelson is a living prophet of God. I have felt the blessings of our Savior’s love in my life, and I testify that as you make choices in your life that align with your divine worth, you will also receive God’s choicest blessings.

I express my love and aloha to each one of you and say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] John S.K. Kauwe, “Prepared for Your Finest Hour,” BYU–Hawaii Devotional, September 5, 2023.
[2] Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Laborers in the Vineyard,” Ensign or Liahona, April 2012.
[3] Proverbs 23:7
[4] Boyd K. Packer, “The Instrument of Your Mind and the Foundation of Your Character,” February 2, 2003.
[5] James E. Faust, “Power of Self-Mastery,” Ensign or Liahona, April 2000.
[6] Russell M. Nelson, “Self-Mastery,” Ensign, October 1985.
[7] Randall, Naomi W., Pettit, Mildred, T. I Am a Child of God. Hymn Book, pg. 301. 1908-2001.
[8] John 14:16-17
[9] Family Services Staff, “Healing from Relationship Trauma,” Liahona: Digital Only: Young Adults. August 2022.