Belief and especially steadfast belief is often heralded as an emblematic quality of one who has achieved a place of depth and moral certitude. This level of belief, however, is often problematic at best when It encounters competing claims, new ideas, and evidence that would seem to nuance or challenge it. Because of this belief is often a slippery slope into dogmatic inertia. When a belief becomes the focus of your belief it quickly becomes an idol which one feels compelled to defend, prop up, and justify at all costs.
Belief has strong emotional and intellectual connection at the core of it's DNA. It is something that is rarely entered into lightly. For most, a belief in something comes through hard work, experience, cataclysmic events or through long-form exposure. For this reason, and often times an emotional connection, belief is something we hold onto rather tightly. Not only do we hold onto it but we build other beliefs, paradigms and life structures upon it. Many beliefs become foundational to entire worldviews in which everything else hinges. You do not give your time, money and energy to something that you take lightly. But, much like a Jenga tower, eventually, someone comes along and begins to tug and pull at a piece from the bottom of the stack. When this happens the grand tower that has been built upon this foundational piece begins to lose its integrity and dramatically crumbles to the floor. For this reason, many beliefs are given great value and fervent layers of protection in our minds and ideologies.
The problem comes when we value the belief itself more than the object of the belief. When we first encounter belief it is usually because we are searching for a truth or an answer.
The key operative word here is searching. In searching, we have an openness that allows for new possibilities and realities to emerge and be discovered. because there are few restrictions and nuances at play during this process we are much more receptive to that which has not yet been known. This all changes, however, when we make sacred our belief in our belief, canonize it and end our searching process. The end of this searching process also often ends our openness, creativity, and enthusiasm for more and replaces it with a lethargic dogmatic aimed at shutting down and shutting out those who would destabilize our holy Jenga piece causing our tower to come crashing down.
Now I am not advocating for believing in nothing, quite the opposite, I have many beliefs, many of which I hold with high esteem and conviction. To live a life without beliefs and values is like sailing on a rudderless ship, you end up indiscriminately changing direction and are hostage to whichever way the wind is blowing. The opposite is also true as well. Many people live with belief that is like a fixed rudder, no flexibility and when a course change is needed the rigid system becomes a liability rather than a tool and capsizes the entire vessel. There is a way to hold on loosely to our beliefs so that they do not become idols demanding your undivided attention and commitment. When we hold belief too tightly and do not allow other ideas, revelations, refinements and discoveries nuance, shape and even change them we do ourselves a great disservice. What was once a dynamic, searching, adventurous engagement disintegrates to a brittle, sluggish and nepotistic dogma that slowly kills the beauty of belief in each of us.
Belief is beautiful, necessary and wholesome as long as it does not become too preoccupied with itself. When we believe something it should be based on a truth, when we eliminate the possibility for an expansion of truth or the discovery of new truth in our lives our belief stops being about truth and starts being about security, safety, and fear, and this never turns out well... believe me...
"This One Good Life" Resources
- Stages of Transition between beliefs or paradigms- Clare Graves- Spiral Dynamics
- When we are on the brink of new discovery or paradigm shift there is always a period of chaos and turmoil as well as stages of transition that lead into a new belief or paradigm.
- Stage 1- We are comfortable in your belief, everything fits and makes sense.
- Stage 2- A paradigm or belief disruption happens and we cannot simply accommodate it, we begin to become uncomfortable with our belief.
- Stage 3- The sweater begins to unravel and the once certainty that was experienced now becomes frustrating and things no longer make sense.
- Stage 4- We begin to feel pulled towards another way of belief, a new paradigm a new system that is not in our past but not clear enough to endorse fully.
- Stage 5- In order to move into a new place of belief, we must now let go of what was and dive into a depth of unsettling uncertainty where answers are not yet known. This can be referred to as an existential crisis, a dark night of the soul or a crucible. This is uncharted land. *This is the point where so many turn back and double down into their previous sets of beliefs. The problem is that they have seen and tasted enough of what could be that they are never really truly satisfied with their reclaimed state and can often become cynical, angry and despondent.
- Stage 6- If we persevere and push forward we survive this time of chaos and confusion and enter into a new realm of understanding, belief, and settledness. When we are fully integrated into our new area of belief we will not reject our past paradigms but will keep the good lessons it taught us and move forward with those lessons in our toolbox. Graves calls this to transcend and include. If we find ourselves wholesale rejecting our past paradigms without any redeeming and valuable insights we have not fully integrated into our new belief and can be stuck in a reactionary cycle to our old beliefs.