Buddhist-Inspired ‘Mormon Mindfulness’ Springs Up In Salt Lake City

Here are two faiths you might not normally put together: Mormonism and Buddhism. A growing community called Lower Lights in Salt Lake City is showing that the Mormon culture might also be fertile soil for Buddhist-inspired mindfulness.

On a weekday evening just a few blocks east of Temple Square, the headquarters of Mormon church, a group of more than 100 people gathers to meditate. 

Thomas McConkie guides the Lower Lights group through some traditional mindfulness exercises. There deep breaths, introspective questions and journaling.

As he does with most groups, McConkie also shares a little about himself.

McConkie has been all over the world but he grew up here in Salt Lake City in a very conservative Mormon home. Although, as a young teenager he became disaffected with the church. And at 19 he left Utah and his faith behind.

He lived in New York,  Spain, China and studied Buddhist mindfulness in each of those places. Eventually he let go of the angst he felt toward his religious upbringing. And in his early 30s, while visiting Salt Lake City for his sister’s wedding, he realized he should move back.

“I just had this moment of simplicity, where it was like, ‘Oh no, I have to go back to Utah,'” McConkie says to the group as he laughs. “Sounds funny when I say it like that.”

To the surprise of his friends and family McConkie became active in the church again. And he began this practice of blending Buddhist and Mormon thought.

“I don’t find anything that’s in contradiction to what my spiritual beliefs are,” says Sam Nielsen who has been coming to these meditation groups for over a year.

Nielsen is 25, Mormon, and very active in her young adult congregation. She says this practice has enhanced her spirituality.

“I think I may be open to something that’s spiritual because of my religious upbringing,” Nielsen says.

“Mormons are primed for [meditation],” McConkie says. “Mormons want it. It just takes a gentle breeze to blow them in that direction.


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