Thomas Wirthlin McConkie comes from a very prominent LDS family, where expectations were high to follow in the path of strong commitment to church service. At the age of 13, Thomas did the unthinkable: he left the church. For years he lived without direction, until the idea popped into his head that he should try meditation. Despite not knowing what it really was or how to do it, he started a lifelong commitment to the practice. As he became more skilled, he started to experience moments of enlightenment and connection to a higher power. He traveled to the far east where he immersed himself in the Buddhist tradition, and experienced “deep healing and transformation.” He lived a life full of stillness and contemplation.


Eventually this path of discovery led him back to the United States where he studied human development, and integrated what he’d learned from Buddhist meditation to explore “universal patterns of growth and development.” His website states:


“Much to his own surprise, 13 years after he originally left, his journey led him back to his hometown of Salt Lake City where a deep integration began to occur. The place that had held more pain for him than anywhere else became a gateway to his deepest healing. This has since become a guiding metaphor for our community. In the words of Rumi:the wound is the place where the light enters you.”

The wound is the place where the light enters you.
In 2008, Thomas heard a talk given by his grandpa, Joseph Wirthlin, in LDS General Conference entitled Concern for the One (which I highly recommend). As he listened, he had the idea that he could return to his spiritual roots in the LDS faith. His journey back wasn’t immediate. It took time for him to integrate the practice of Buddhism with the teachings of Christianity. Shinzen Young, an American author, PhD, and Buddhist monk, describes perfectly McConkie’s approach:


“Thomas McConkie is a unique practitioner with a unique calling. Thoroughly steeped for over two decades in the Buddhadharma, he has a depth of experience that shines through his teachings. But in addition to that, he has done what few meditators do: he has taken his practice right back to the heart of his Christian upbringing. The results have been remarkable: a new wave of contemplatives with a sensibility and desire to realize the territory that no single tradition can claim for its own.”


Thomas McConkie is currently studying transformative spiritual practice at the Harvard Divinity School.


I was deeply impacted by this book and love it for a number of reasons:


1 – It challenges the reader to look deeply, and take responsibility for their individual spirituality. McConkie shows that this is not only possible, but critical for personal growth; even within religious traditions that emphasize obedience and don’t seem to give much space for charting one’s own course.


2 – He describes the messy and painful journey of transformation, and the absolute necessity of trusting your inner compass. Transformation is the process of getting to know yourself at the deepest level. It’s a shift of our center of control from external influence to internal responsibility, the development of true self-reliance. McConkie’s path was unconventional in terms of a typical Mormon life. It took courage to strike out on his own. And it was very painful for his family to witness. But, in allowing for that journey to take place, he’s found a depth of spirituality that is difficult to come by in the modern Christian tradition.


3 – I’m convinced once again of the deep need for humans to find moments of stillness and meditation. I’ve written about this before and again strike out my own journey to make meditation a meaningful part of my life. I’ve signed up for one of Thomas’s courses and look forward to what he has to offer when he finishes his time at Harvard.


4 – I loved his discussion on sin and repentance. Rather than looking at sin as what we’ve done wrong, we should see it as how we’ve been wounded in a difficult world. Rather than seeing repentance as remorse for wrong-doing, McConkie argues that it’s a “coming together” in unity, to lift each other and sit in our shared experience of the challenges of life. It means we become one with others as we come closer to divinity.


5 – Spirituality is for everyone. As Jonathan Haidt noted in the Happiness Hypothesis (reviewed here), happiness requires three things: Love, Purpose and Divinity. Despite being an atheist, he states that without something to bring us a sense of awe and wonder we are stuck in a two-dimensional world. Whether it’s God, the Universe, or some other higher power, we must add a third dimension to make our lives more deep and meaningful. In fact, I’m looking forward to reading The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality with a good friend of mine.


6 – McConkie’s discussion on the six stages of human development is fascinating.


7 – Every spiritual journey is individual. It cannot, and will not look like anyone else’s if we are true to ourselves. It should’t require us to act the same, look the same, or be the same. It may mean we strike out on a journey different from the one we’ve always envisioned for ourselves, always with trust that divinity will guides us. We must claim our own moral authority and our own path.
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Happy reading!


March’s book is The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku