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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

belief systems great and small

Originally uploaded by yatesdownes

I've been thinking a lot about belief systems, lately, and how they apply in the context of spirituality. and science. and the world we live in. and the experience of living.

can a person live free from belief systems, completely? there are those spiritual traditions who say, yes, one can.

often saints, avataras, Boddhisatvas, however we call the advanced enlightened souls who grace this planet from time to time, are pointed out as characters who may not have much of a belief system, since their consciousnesses are rooted in the Truth behind the illusion of this world, rather than in the everyday illusion of it.

that esoteric reality and way of expressing a beyond belief system state of functioning may sound as relevant to daily life as astrophysics, and so not warrant much inquiry or research.

but to an everyday person, trying to live a decent life with some peace of mind at the end of the day -- it's a highly relevant subject. belief systems are entwined into every experience we have, and our beliefs about things determine, to a great extent, the quality of those experiences.

"there is nothing either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so," Shakespeare tells us, through Hamlet, and there's an eternal truth in the phrase.

if I think that eating chocolate is a terrible thing (because all that's in my mind while eating it is the weight I'll be gaining later!) -- then it's a terrible thing. if I'm of the opinion that chocolate is a fantastic substance and something I very much enjoy -- then it's a good thing, to me.

the substance, the chocolate, is the same no matter what. it's my 'thinking that makes it so' -- one way or another.

Albert Einstein is quoted as having said, ""The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe."

I imagine that's the primary belief system each human being has, at some point, to reconcile themselves with. once we have a working belief -- either way -- the rest follows from there.

the most difficult thing I notice about belief systems (except, possibly, for the result when good friends with strongly opposing belief systems argue) is that they are immensely limiting to the human mind, heart, and soul -- and most of the time, we don't even notice how rigid and boxed in we are with our beliefs.... because we're too busy believing them!

in terms of spirituality, especially, my experience and my strong opinion and feeling is that human beings are prone to sell themselves and this creation way too short. oftentimes, we constrict in the face of stuff we don't understand, or feel challenged by, or uncomfortable with, and find a million reasons to justify our constriction and rejection of something that frankly freaks us out, for whatever reason.

belief systems that start out as an honest and innocent assessment or experience of the world around us, and the worlds of ideas and possibilities we all inhabit can turn into rationalizations we use to cover up our feelings of heartbreak, cynicism, disappointment (with life or god or love or whatever), fear, insecurity, arrogance and egoism, or what have you.

"no, that's impossible!" how many times have you heard that uttered in a bitter voice, either by yourself or someone close to you? and how many times has that judgment turned out to be inaccurate?

human history is full of examples of rigid belief systems run amok, from the flat-earthers (faced with the shattering reality that the earth is, in fact, round!) to the Catholic Church persecuting Galileo for his upstart contention that it's the earth, not the sun, that revolves... to the idea that someone who demonstrates turning water to wine must be a trickster, a charlatan, or worse.

we don't even realize the depth of, and the attachment we have to, our cherished belief systems until they are challenged, either through conversation or experience, or a revelation of new information.

if you think back to a belief system you had that got shattered (maybe when you least expected it!), you may find that your reaction in the moment was less than might've been hoped for. (for sure, my aha! moments have often come at an uncomfortable price -- ie, my own comfort level being thrown out the window! -- and I'm usually kicking and screaming the whole way, flailing in my confusion or stubborn desire to hold on to my old way of thinking/believing about something or someone....) most of us are considerably less than graceful when the chips are down and our belief system just got lost to the house.

some people naturally enjoy having their minds truly blown -- and they're fortunate! others can develop a taste for having their belief systems crashed on a regular basis -- having lived through the growing pains of discarding old ideas in favor of newer, better ones... and seen how inspiring that transition can be, how uplifting, enlivening, and... even... enlightening.

I think one of the biggest challenges to the belief system in the world today is that people can, in fact, become enlightened souls -- individuals who cross the conventional barriers of time and space, through consciousness, and live to tell about it, who know what constitutes life, death, the soul, and beyond those states of being, and function from a state of unconditional love because nothing else, really, is left.

it's natural to think that we have certain limitations, but it's also ridiculous to assume that just because we think something isn't possible... it really isn't.

time and time again, I hear students and colleagues express enormous doubts about the possibility of stepping beyond the illusion to see what's behind it -- as though only 'special' people could have that experience, like Buddha or Jesus, or Ramana Maharshi -- but that they themselves aren't worthy or deserving or capable of such experiences.

why are we selling ourselves so short when it comes to the possibility of enlightenment? of spiritual experiences that do shatter the belief systems, ie, the miracles.

every human being has the same apparatus -- the same kind of physical body, the same kind of subtle energy body, the same chakras, the same inner vehicle for creativity and sublime clarity... in that sense, then, really, we are all created equal. what we do with our creation-ness after the point we enter the world, well, a good deal of that is in our hands. but we have the same chance, each one of us.

so why are we holding ourselves back? and dancing around with our limited belief systems? are we really so afraid, as Marianne Williamson famously shared, of our own power? of the unlimited capacity for light and beauty and truth and purpose that we each have, if we'd only let our own (Shrödinger's) cat out of our own bag of limits?

and if we really are so afraid of our own inner capacities.... to the point at which we'd rather do almost any other activity, including engaging in warfare and strife, in arguments and betrayals, rivalries and judgment, in order to avoid our real inner make-up... at what point are we willing to stop, sit down, take an honest assessment of ourselves to this point, and then realize that in all likelihood, we can't make it to a full discovery of who we are, and what we're really able to do and experience, without the help of someone who does know a lot more than we do?

never mind our ideas about religions, spiritual paths, gurus, this ritual or that ritual....

at what point are we willing to suspend our own disbelief -- about ourselves?!