Monday, September 26, 2011

Believe Nothing?

One of the realizations that occurred while reading My Big Toe by Thomas Campbell was the notion of having probable truths instead of beliefs. Perhaps it might be useful for others as well.

Book 1 of the My Big Toe trilogy helps to clarify the idea that beliefs are limiting and are functions of the ego as a means to coddle our fears. We choose to believe something or have faith that something is true, so that we can ignore the other (not so warm and fuzzy) possibilities. We might also choose to believe or have faith that something is true as a means to deal with our fear and anxiety toward the uncertain nature of our existence. A quick history of the various religions, societies, and cultures is an excellent clue as to just how common and vast this process is. Okay, so I got it: belief and faith are limiting and not so good in terms of growth and understanding of Big Truth.

So the dilemma then of course was: how does one move forward while not believing or having faith in anything? Much of My Big Toe resonated with me. However, to move forward in any way, it seemed like I had to have faith that there was some truth to it or believe that it was true (at least to some degree). It seemed as though I was just falling into another belief trap. So my first thought at that time was: "okay, I just need to go find some proof." I very quickly realized that amongst such vast uncertainty, there is little actual “proof” to be found. Any evidence found along the way had too many gaps that would have to be filled in with belief and faith. Echoing Descartes, the only thing that I could really say was true with a great deal of certainty was that I exist... I can think and experience.

At that point, I had very little to work with: I exist, belief is limiting, and I was surrounded by a great deal of uncertainty. Well, this stopped me in my tracks. How could I move forward with this? The solution it turns out was both simple and eye opening. It is all of course plainly stated in My Big Toe. It just goes to show that one must actually experience something to fully "get it".

Part of the realization was that beliefs are limiting because they omit the existence of other possibilities. A belief does not allow itself to be wrong. A belief says that everything else is wrong except for itself. Ask somebody with very strong religious beliefs what some of the alternative possibilities are in terms of their existence. This is a very scary notion to somebody with strong beliefs and rightfully so (so don’t actually do it). Imagine taking everything that you thought was true and suddenly having it threatened to be ripped apart. It's not a good feeling. This sheds some light on religious wars no doubt.

So, I considered my own beliefs. I had over 15 years or so nailed them down to three basic ideas: 1. There is something “out there” beyond myself that is inherently "good" 2. The purpose of life is to learn how to love (grow toward love, etc) 3. Nothing else really matters all that much. I was lucky that my beliefs were fairly simple. So in considering these things, I realized that I could not really say with 100% certainty that they were true or accurate. So what if they were completely wrong? Well, I may just turn to dust and the universe will continue on. I could find that I am part of some sick alien experiment. I may realize that I should have been baptized years ago because now I can't get into heaven. Maybe I am laying in a computer matrix somewhere and this is all just a very vivid illusion. You get the idea. Are these considerations any more far fetched than the various religious and cultural beliefs that have existed throughout history?

Okay fine, so now what? How do we move forward? Letting go of everything we believe about our existence is like turning out all the lights and then trying to decide where to go. At some point it hit me: I can move forward based on the idea that something or some idea might be true so long as I am willing to face and accept that it could be wrong. Aha! So this is how that “open-minded skepticism” thing that Tom Campbell keeps talking about works. I can say that I hold the probable truth that I am here to grow toward love, but I must be willing to consider and fully accept that I may be confused or completely wrong. In this way open-minded skepticism is not just about a scientific approach. It is also very much about having a great deal of humility and courage. So I might say, "I am a limited being with a limited understanding, but I choose to move forward based on what I currently find to be most probable. I realize that my current probable truths may be wrong, but I move forward with courage in spite of this uncertainty. My path is one of growth and understanding, and I will look honestly at whatever I may come across along the way." This made the idea of having a "spiritual warrior’s" attitude make a great deal more sense. The battle at hand is with self.

So in the end, my realization was this:
I can move forward based on what I currently hold as my probable truths. For something to function as a probable truth and not a belief, I must fully consider the fact that it may be completely wrong. I must be able to look those other (often not so pretty) possibilities in the eye, accept them, set them down, and move on. I must accept my limitations and move forward with what I have. This approach requires a great deal of humility and courage. The goal is not to cover up or get rid of the uncertain nature of our existence. We have to accept uncertainty. It will likely always be there. The best we can do is to keep moving forward with our current probable truths. Those probable truths of course must be held lightly. As our understanding increases, we will likely have to set them down and replace them with new (and temporary) probable truths. This, as Robert Bruce recently said in a discussion with Tom Campbell is to “remain in the question.” If I ever come to a point where I feel like the question is fully answered, then either I am stuck in a belief trap or I am all knowing... and I’m pretty sure I know which one is more likely. (rhymes with “relief snack”).

Of course, all of this must also be held lightly and as a temporary probable truth :)