“I believe in alternate universes,” “If you believe, you will be saved,” “I believe he is telling the truth.” The common word here is “believe.” It is one of my least favourite words. It conjures up an idea that may not have any basis in reality. I think it’s critical to examine how we use the word to see how we can create some problematic mental structures for ourselves. Do we really need belief for us to have a rich human experience?
I hear a lot of people using the word in this way, “I don’t believe in western medicine,” or “I believe in God.” Without looking at the ideas these statements are pointing at, just look at why people are using phrases like these. They are ways of expressing support for or against something without exploring the thought process around the idea they are for or against. Belief used in this way, closes the conversation rather than opening it up to a discussion about what’s truthfully going on.
For example, the person saying “I don’t believe in western medicine” is not talking about belief at all. What they may actually be experiencing is this, “I have symptoms that I’ve gone to my doctor about five times and have not received a solution that is satisfactory to what I expect from a medical professional. I am feeling frustrated so it’s easiest for me to make a blanket statement rather than explore something that feels overwhelming and complex.”
In the example of the person saying “I believe in God” they could potentially more accurately say, “This universe is so massive, intricate and awe-inspiring that I need to project it onto a being that is similar to me and make them the creator of it all so I have a story to help me make sense of where I came from.”
You could say to me “But you know what they mean!” I actually don’t though. I could make assumptions based on my own experience with belief but unless we discuss the experiences that have shaped their ideas about western medicine or God in the examples I’ve given, we’re both floating around in our own universe of thought about something and imagining we’re both agreeing or disagreeing based on very little exploration into the other person’s experience.
I’ve discovered belief is not a necessary ingredient for life to be full of adventure, inspiration and beauty. Rather, being open and expansive creates the environment for inspiring experiences, adventurous exploration and varied expressions of beauty to enter my universe. Those are qualities I learn to embody, not belief systems that depend on my constant thought for them to be upheld. I don’t have to believe I am open – either I am or I’m not. If something isn’t true, my belief in it will create suffering in me because it takes a lot of energy to uphold something false.
If there’s pain, take a look at what you believe. You might be surprised. You might not be able to change the belief overnight and you certainly won’t change it by berating yourself for what you see that you believe. But you’ll get to the root of what’s keeping you in a mental loop. When you experience the truth of something, you don’t have to believe anything. You don’t have to defend anything. Truth doesn’t need your belief or your defense to be true.