Creative Quietude (by John Nielson)

“Creative Quietude” in the Doctrine and Covenants

by John D. Nielson

Lao-Tzu, the Chinese Taoist philosopher, taught a principle known as “Creative Quietude” through which one could accomplish great things without appearing to strive excessively for them. In his own words, “The way to do is to be”(Smith 1958, 181-184). Or, if one simply is the right kind of person, and waits calmly, things will almost automatically happen as one desires. An example of the contrast between this way of thinking and our own typical approach is found in the clearing of a body of muddy water. The American Mormon puts in a pump, some pipes, a filtration system, works hard, and actively does something to the water to purify and clean it. The Taoist quietly sits down on the bank and waits patiently for the sediment to settle out by itself.

Section 121, verses 45-46, reads a great deal like creative quietude to me. According to those verses, if we are simply “full of charity towards all men” and “let virtue garnish our thoughts unceasingly” or in Lao-Tzu’s terms, be charitable in our feelings and virtuous in our thoughts then the following things will “automatically” happen:

1) “Then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God;”

2) “The doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.” (Without apparent effort)

3) “The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion.”

4) “Thy scepter [shall be] an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth.”

5) “Thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.” (It just happens)

So there are two contrasting ways to approach living the gospel. First, and most common, by earning our reward through effort, striving, struggle, a battle against Satan and our own weaknesses. “Teach me all that I must do to live with you someday.” As if one had a list of requirements to be checked off: tithing, word of wisdom, attendance at meetings, working hard in a church calling, doing your home/visiting teaching, doing temple work, raising a large family, for LDS men, magnifying their priesthood, and for LDS women, baking bread and bottling peaches. The mental image one gets of this approach is of a striving, straining, busy, guilt-ridden, working worrier. Even though it is true that we must “work out our salvation,” it is wearisome to think of it in that way.

A second approach is like creative quietude in that it comes to you without apparent effort, or worry, and with a great deal of inner calm and peace. It should be clearly understood that creative quietude is not the same as just doing nothing. It consists of quietly creative actions that may go unnoticed because they are mostly inner attitudes, thoughts and feelings. It is a state of being. For Christians it it predicated upon absolute faith in the Savior when he says,

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart [an inner attitude]: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28-29).

The Lord seems to suggest here that we will find living the commandments of God easier, lighter, less burdensome, even restful, after we learn of him and become humble, meek, and lowly in heart. There is an element of creative quietude in the Lord’s approach.

How much more joyful living the gospel would be for most Latter-day Saints if we could only apply the principle of creative quietude! But how can we apply this principle? There are commandments that must be obeyed, meetings that must be attended, callings that must be diligently pursued. Yes, of course, but maybe there is an easier and lighter way.

Most of us have had feelings of weariness in Church service, have talked of burn-out, have wished the Church would just leave us alone for awhile. However, if such feelings are deep and chronic, perhaps we have not fully “come unto Christ” so as to find the burden “easy” as Jesus does, or have not developed far enough spiritually to “glory” in the work as our Father does (Moses 1:39). We become “weary in well-doing”(D&C 64:33) when we try to live like someone we have not yet become. The truly charitable and virtuous person does not grow tired of, nor feel pressured by, nor resent doing acts of charity and virtue because they express his very nature.

Most of us have learned well the truth that being follows action. “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself,” said Jesus(John 7:17). Or, “When ye obtain any blessing from God it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated”(D&C 130:21). But few of us have learned that the reverse is also true: Action follows being. If we are able to get our hearts and minds in tune with the Lord of the Universe, so that we are confident in his presence, then right action will flow spontaneously. As we become more charitable and virtuous in our feelings and thoughts then acts of charity and virtue will follow naturally and easily. Much of getting ourselves in tune with God is an inner process of faith, prayer, meditation, pondering the scriptures, a humble responsiveness to the influence of the Holy Ghost, and may be done quietly, calmly, privately, and without apparent effort or outward show of activity. We can even sit down quietly on the shore of a lake to do it. Notice that in D&C 121:45 it does not speak of charitable or virtuous actions but of being full of charity towards all men, an inner attitude or feeling of pure love, and of garnishing our minds with virtuous thoughts, also a quiet inner process. This quietly creative approach to religion is one most of us have not tried yet.

Perhaps if we ever do truly become Christ-like, really do have charitable feelings and virtuous thoughts, then not only will the promised blessings in the Doctrine and Covenants “distil upon our souls as the dews from heaven” and flow unto us “without compulsory means,” but we will glory in the work of exaltation, enjoy our opportunities to serve, find the yoke easy and the burden light, not suffer burn-out and will have learned to use the principle of creative quietude–“the way to do is to be.”

Reference: Smith, Huston. The Religions of Man. New York: Harper and Row, 1958.

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11 Responses to “Creative Quietude (by John Nielson)”


  1. 1 Eric Nielson February 20, 2006 at 11:37 am

    Thanks Dad. This is outstanding. I hope everyone who reads it enjoys it as much as I do.

  2. 2 Robert C. February 20, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    This is a beautiful post, thanks John.

    Eric, FYI, I lurk here from time to time without commenting (sorry!)–keep up the good work.

    I added links to this post at the Feast wiki here and here–if you have future posts relating to scriptures, feel free to add links yourself to bring them to our attention.

    My mom did a good job teaching me this kind of approach to the gospel. I guess it’s also a theme that made Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ so popular. Other scriptures that I think are related to this Taoist approach include:

    * D&C 101:16: “Be still and know that I am God.”

    * Luke 10:40-42: “But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful• and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

  3. 3 Eric Nielson February 20, 2006 at 5:24 pm

    Thanks for letting me know about Feast. I’ll have to try it out sometime. I also thought about the be still scripture. Thanks for your comment and don’t be such a stranger.

  4. 4 C Jones February 21, 2006 at 12:58 pm

    This whole essay is beautiful, but I especially like this thought:

    “The truly charitable and virtuous person does not grow tired of, nor feel pressured by, nor resent doing acts of charity and virtue because they express his very nature.”

    We Mormons really can be a busy bunch, and far too fond of our checklists. Even giving service can be done in a checklist way unless I am serving with the intent to know Christ. But one of the sweetest experiences I’ve had with service came after I followed this advice:

    “I invite you to take a few moments, no matter where you are, and offer a prayer. Think for a moment who in your neighborhood the Lord would be the first to visit. I imagine it would be one who has suffered a setback, a disappointment, or a physical struggle. Now, if you saw a face or thought of a name, would you offer another prayer and ask our Heavenly Father what he specifically wants you to do for that person? Write it down and act upon your promptings.” Mary Ellen Smoot

    I can’t claim to be charitible or virtuous by nature, but the small burden imposed by serving another is indeed much sweeter when yoked with the Savior.

  5. 5 John Nielson February 21, 2006 at 10:26 pm

    I don’t know what to make of it but, as I recall, it was Pres. Kimball who requested a word change in the hymn, I am a Child of God, from “Teach me all that I must be . . .” to “Teach me all that I must do . . . .” Personally, I would have left it the way it was, but then I’m not the prophet.

  6. 6 Eric Nielson February 22, 2006 at 8:29 am

    I may be mistaken, but wasn’t it changed from ‘know’ to ‘do’. Either way I think ‘be’ is superior.

  7. 7 John February 22, 2006 at 10:16 am

    You are probably right, Eric.

  8. 8 The Narrator February 22, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    That was absolutely beautiful and uplifting. Thanks!

  9. 9 John February 23, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    Part of the reason we sometimes grow tired of service in the Church is that we have competing agendas. We want to do so many other things that we sometimes resent the demands the Church makes on our time. We want to read our novel, take a nap, watch the football game on TV, go fishing, take another job to help provide for our family, and so on. Often we would rather do some of these things than do our home teaching or attend the Saturday evening Priesthood meeting, or hold family home evening. Perhaps one of the reasons Jesus found gospel work easy and the burden light is that he had no competing agenda other than doing the Father’s will. He had no worldly ambitions beyond completing the mission his Father had given him. “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me”(John 6:38). Most of us are not so single minded as that. It is comforting that he sometimes took naps, as on the ship on the sea of Galilee.

  10. 10 Anne Boyack March 9, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    Teach me all that I must BE! I like that. We will sing it that way at our house from now on.


  1. 1 John Nielson (1936-2010) May he Rest In Peace « Small and Simple Trackback on May 16, 2010 at 5:17 pm

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