The great obstacle to developing one’s spiritual senses is that of one’s psychic pride. Pride in the pejorative sense is typically defined as excessive self-esteem or a dangerous overabundance of self-confidence. Tacking the adjective psychic to the front is meant to focus on a form of pride that stifles the spiritual faculties.
The mind is naturally in a state of near-constant interpretation of the world around it. Without any conscious effort whatsoever, things within view are given names, and shapes and colors just out of view, are given familiar forms and dismissed. Though dismissal of peripheral stimuli may appear to be a subconscious process, it is in fact the conditioned response of a conscious pride—an overconfidence in one’s understanding and interpretation of peripheral signals. And when what is so dismissed is a stimulus to the spiritual faculties, this pride becomes psychic pride, and it can stand in the way of receiving greater spiritual experiences. This is made especially true in light of the fact that nearly all early spiritual experiences have their inception as periphery stimuli.
In the Book of Mormon, the term most frequently employed to describe the obstacle of psychic pride is the hardening of one’s heart (the heart being the symbolic spiritual “mind”). Take this perfect example from Amulek’s self introduction in his preaching debut:
“I never have known much of the ways of the Lord, and his mysteries and marvelous power. I said I never had known much of these things; but behold, I mistake, for I have seen much of his mysteries and his marvelous power…. Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know; therefore I went on rebelling against God, in the wickedness of my heart…” (Alma 10:5-6).
Amulek describes accurately the problem we all face in living a spiritual life with psychic pride: impressions and revelation had come when sought, but they were quashed by a dismissal response. As a product of two factors, namely psychic awareness and faith, the various manifestations of the obstacle of pride can be visually represented in the following chart:
Let us examine each of these conditions in detail to better understand the effects that spiritual or psychic awareness and faith have on a prospective user of spiritual gifts:
Pride: this is the ultimate form of psychic dismissal. Those under its influence believe that they need not learn any more. In their pride they also claim that “the Lord maketh no thing known unto me,” (see 1 Nephi 15:9) when in reality their mental state is such that they regularly cast away or dismiss higher knowledge or opportunities to experience higher forms of learning. Their spiritual or psychic awareness is therefore stifled, and instances of gifts are explained away by natural reasoning, further limiting their awareness. Ere these are aware, they are left to kick against the pricks and fight against the holy ones, though he or she may claim adherence to their same faith (see D&C 121:38). Their belief in Christ or in miracles is equally tied down to temporal matters, which can never provide that initial proof they require before they allow themselves to experience let alone believe in spiritual matters. If such as these claim adherence to a faith, their works may be dead works, and their faith may be in an institution or in the notion of following a person—not in the truth of things unseen, let alone God and His true attributes.
Hardness of Heart: this mental condition is like unto plain pride but different in that the person is actually having spiritual and psychic experiences but they regularly dismiss them. This type of condition is essentially the same as the pride described above but applied to a person whose mental state is opened enough to receive and experience higher forms of learning. Promptings come with great force to this type of individual due to the purity of their body or sheer determination, but they refuse to act upon or listen to those influences. This was exactly Amulek’s self-described state prior to his obeying the angel of God and learning from a prophet of God. These are they who justify their vain delays and in whom much worldly learning and logic has come to deny the higher senses. Many well-educated, active Mormons fall into this category, for they live purely enough to obtain some spiritual gifts but they do not have the faith to sustain them. Make no bones about it: these too live in a damned state.
Indetermination: this form of psychic pride is a peculiar one for it is rarely encountered in scripture but is the most common state in which modern man finds himself. In this case, the person has faith—or it least claims to believe or is willing to believe—but no signs follow their belief, and they content themselves by accepting that such things are done away in the world or at the very least do not apply to themselves. Moroni warned specifically about this condition citing “unbelief” (the semantic equivalent of “lack of faith”) as the ill that would close the gateways of the very angels of heaven (see Moroni 7:35-37).
It is often considered that if one has faith then one will begin to experience spiritual things automatically. Though great faith is fundamental to the bringing about of miraculous happenings, the effect and power of these things will be limited to the spiritual capacity of the person attempting to access them. For this reason I have termed this state of emotional filtering as “indetermination” because that the individual has not put forth the determination, or effort, necessary to see beyond themselves and rend the veil. Joseph Smith taught that this emotional state was almost nonexistent among the Nephites of old:
“A man can bear a heavy burthen by practice and continuing to increase it. The inhabitants of this continent anciently were so constituted, and were so determined and persevering, either in righteousness or wickedness, that God visited them immediately either with great judgments or blessings. But the present generation, if they were going to battle, if they got any assistance from God, they would have to obtain it by faith” (Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [STPJS], 299, emphasis added).
Note how that the same blessings that were obtained by determination and perseverance in the ancient people would now only be obtained by faith in the present. In other words, where we are now more apt to be indeterminate, the Nephites were more apt to be hard hearted; where we are now more apt to not awaken our spiritual senses, the Nephites were more apt to ‘know concerning these things’ and yet ‘not know.’ Yet both groups of people apply a psychic pride to their spiritual lives that damns up their progress.
Humility: this is the ultimate form of psychic non-dismissal. Those under its influence believe that they yet have much to learn (which is true). In their humility they ask themselves, “Have I inquired of the Lord?” (see 1 Nephi 15:8). Their mental state is such that they regularly accept and receive higher knowledge or opportunities to experience higher forms of learning. Their spiritual or psychic awareness is therefore strong, and instances of gifts are understood through God’s higher reasoning, further expanding their awareness. Their belief in Christ or in miracles is equally untied from temporal matters or the cares of the world, which belief long ago provided that initial proof that they were approved of God. If such as these claim adherence to a faith, their works are true works, and their faith is in the truth of things unseen, especially God and His true attributes.
Therefore we find that the psychic pride that stands in the way of experiencing or accepting greater spiritual power is actually just a product of two factors: faith and awareness. Now consider the following:
- Faith comes of hope based upon knowledge of truth;
- Awareness comes of perseverance, or effort.
Therefore, as all people are capable of hoping and of setting their minds upon a task or object, it behooves the aspiring High Priest or High Priestess to obtain an ever greater knowledge of truth through incessant learning and a determination to obtain.
Obtaining knowledge of the truth and pressing forward in purity and in hope are the simple antidotes to psychic pride.
When one possesses true knowledge of things unseen, there is not a dismissal response to the unknown—for there is no unknown; there is a knowledge of what is happening and how it is happening. The promptings, sights, sounds, and feelings of the spirit world become real and familiar and can be given their true names. And most importantly, things unknown are not dismissed by the assumption that one knows it all.
And so one goes from precept to precept, here a little and there a little, until the curtains are thrown open.