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September 1, 2011

Beliefs are a funny thing! I’ve touched a little bit on beliefs in previous posts, but maybe it’s time to hit this one a little more directly. Never before in my life have beliefs had such importance, because it’s in death and dying that the rubber finally hits the road, separating the wheat from the chaff … to combine a couple discordant phrases. It’s through the process of dying that beliefs finally leave the lofty, academic campus of the brain, and enter the intimate recesses of the heart. No longer are beliefs simply a team to side with, or a club to belong to, or a topic to discuss, or a position to defend. When one is dying, beliefs are a life-raft to hold onto carrying us into the next life, so it’s important to make sure the things one chooses to grasp are really going to float.

I’ve mentioned before in other posts that I see beliefs as something transitory because they are something that are constructed in the brain using the cognitive “materials” we only have available to us at any particular time. By transitory I don’t mean that they necessarily come and go spontaneously; but they do come and go, develop and wane, grow and diminish with our growing experience with, and understanding of truth. At least under natural and ideal circumstances that is. I believe the enemies of this natural learning process are zealotry, where one’s own beliefs become calcified and rigid, and are seen or understood as absolute truth; perfunctory, where beliefs are acquired in some superficial or indifferent way and never questioned or challenged; or as simply an opiate that one becomes addicted to in order to cope with or avoid reality. I think that it can be true that all three of these things might be present together or at different times in a person’s life. I’m sure this concept could be developed further, but as I mentioned before: I am not a scholar and so will leave that work to those who are.

But as my life starts to find itself becoming narrowed in time and space by the dying process, beliefs are no longer erudite exercises or simple coping mechanisms for me. Rather, my beliefs become an expression of what I have learned through a lifetime to this point, and what baggage I will carry with me into the next; so any dead weight must be carefully let go of. This means that they cannot simply represent what I was taught, told, or otherwise casually acquired; but what was reasoned at through a life of gradual liberated awareness. Do I think my beliefs are true? This becomes a trick question doesn’t it? Yes, I do think my beliefs are true … with the caveat that they are true for me, and for this time and place, and with my current understanding of reality. I think it was the Dali Lama who said: what I believe, I believe to be true; but if science -for example- proves differently, then I will no longer believe this thing. Something like that. This is an extremely profound statement coming from a religious leader, when almost all other religious belief systems belong to a club that generally exists in the zealotry category.

Recently, a friend asked me to write down my beliefs as an exercise in awareness of what drives my life. While I already expressed the core of these in an earlier post, there are a few more that guide me as I look over the sum of my life. These are some of my cornerstone beliefs … what I believe to be true for me, and at this time in my life. These may be of no interest to anyone else and that is fine. Yet some of you may find comfort in knowing that many of us hold similar views of reality; and that … so long as we don’t create a cult out of them … common beliefs can be a common ground that helps us -together- discover what is meaningful and what might be true. I also want to emphasize that all of these beliefs have been adopted as a result of a lifelong search for meaning, and not from the acquisition of a particular dogma or theology.

My beliefs (as of today that is)

  • I believe I am on this Earth to evolve spiritually, by being fully present to this life.
  • I believe that giving and receiving love is the most important purpose I have.
  • I believe that I contain spirit that continues to exist even when my body doesn’t.
  •  I believe that: livelihood, learning, growth, knowledge, wisdom, and love, comes from a conscious effort to obtain these things.
  • I believe that beyond a certain point of basic and reasonable need (for food, water, shelter, security, comfort, and enjoyment) there is an inverse relationship between money (access to resources) and spiritual growth.
  • I believe that the full and conscious exercise of free will is essential to true spiritual growth. This also means being aware of and accepting the consequences of this freedom.
  • I believe wisdom is a balance of heart, mind, and soul.
  • I believe that the Universe is the harmony between truth, beauty, and love.
  • I believe that the development of  my soul requires a unique balance between inner solitude and outer service.
  • I believe that the most important single gift I can give myself is mindfulness, even if I neglect to appreciate that gift 23 hours out of the day.
  • I believe that the human species evolved from the Earth. That the human mind evolved from the Earth. Human needs and desires are part of the mind that came from the Earth. I believe that it follows that human behaviors, activities, inventions … creative as well as destructive … are also part of this Earth. We may admire or loathe those qualities, but we cannot separate them from this Earth. Most of us do what we are impelled to do, and most of us do these thinking they are right.
  • I believe mistakes must be made in order to learn.
  • I believe mindfulness must be present in order to learn from our mistakes.
  • I believe it is my duty to try and live according to my beliefs.
  • I believe it is my duty to question my beliefs.
  • I don’t mistake my beliefs for truth.
  • I believe that, even though my good intentions may not accomplish my intended result, I must try and do what I think is right anyway.
  • I believe that judging others or myself is rarely -if ever- useful.
  • I believe that the opposite of positive thinking is not necessarily negative thinking, but critical thinking.
  • I believe that life is a beautifully integrated design that is inherently neither good nor bad, but which provides me the opportunity to learn from my right or wrong choices. WHAT EXQUISITE ENGINEERING!!!
I imagine I have more, but this will do me for now. I don’t know how large a bag I can take on board my flight to the next life, but my guess is that I would probably be better off by shedding a few pounds rather than gaining any.
And I have time for that.
5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 3, 2011 6:41 pm

    I like your metaphor of life raft for beliefs in extremity. I too have felt these moments…although fleetingly. For some reason this Brodsky poem suggests itself to me, and while it is on the surface a love poem, this fleeting nature of beliefs and their ability or inability to keep us afloat, seems to be at work in the poem. In any case, it is one I would want to share with you because it is such a wonderfully beautiful thing, so why not now…even if it doesn’t translate to this particular post. But I think in some way it does…

  2. Rebecca Wainscott permalink
    September 2, 2011 8:11 pm

    Hey Rick,

    Your postings this week are awesome. They could be a really good book. This whole blog could be a really beautiful book for any and all who are closely involved with or personally involved with the process of dying.

    I shared in my birthday email to you about my father living with his cancer while he was 59 and dying at 60. I’ve been trying to understand the depth of my response to your passing and was confused at first because I certainly haven’t had the kind of relationship with you where I would call you a ‘father-figure’.

    But in reading the depth of your sharing this week, and the beautiful insights and listing of your beliefs, I’m getting that we are part of the same spiritual tribe, not just the same family tree, but very closely related in our perception and our beliefs around life and death.

    Much of who I am came from my dad – he wanted to be a writer as a young man, and he loved to sing and was a great dancer; his father was an early conservationist and owned a landscaping nursery when I was young. I think that he was a man of some depth and spiritual awareness. Unfortunately my father was also alcoholic for most of my life, and the interests and talents we had in common were never able to be shared or even really acknowledged. When he died, I was estranged from him and unable to grieve his death with the rest of my family.

    It’s only been a year since I asked you to be part of my Clearing Circle and began to get to know you better. I’ve not felt this kind of spiritual kinship with many men in my life. And so it is this awareness, that you are a close ‘family’ member, leaving early, another supportive and affirming relationship just beyond my reach, that connects you and my father. I’m so grateful for the chance to know you, for the time that I have.

    And I know that here, in your leaving, I will have a ‘family’ with whom I can share my grief, and celebrate the gifts of your Being we have all received..

    All Blessings,

  3. Diane Banner permalink
    September 1, 2011 3:53 pm

    Hey Rick,
    Thanks for writing and sharing your thoughts once again. I do, along with you, believe that giving and receiving love is the most important purpose I have. Aside from that, perhaps, every other belief is up for grabs. Having said that, however, I do not believe the Dalai Lama belongs in the zealotry category. I noticed a slight reaction in myself when I read that. I guess I believe that religion can help a person move to a deeper level of wisdom, love and genuine compassion. Most people get attached to their beliefs, but there are those who do not. Some people shift and change even within a particular religious framework. I believe that there is something essential to be experienced that is beyond mental argument, call it presence, essence, love. It is that which calls me to go beyond my beliefs into that place where we can meet. As Rumi said: “Out beyond ideas of right and wrong there is a field, I’ll meet you there.” And I do.
    Love to you.

    • September 1, 2011 5:33 pm

      Actually, I did not mean to imply that the Dali Lama was a zealot, or that his religion belongs to one of zealotry, but that religion in general is a club of zealots. The fact that he could make a statement like that implies that his belief system does not fit into that of the others in the religious “club”. Thanks for pointing out that confusion, Diane.

      love back, rick

  4. September 1, 2011 3:02 pm

    Rick…..I was just reading a book that Thomas had recommended a while back…WILLFUL BLINDNESS by Margaret Heffernan….her argument is that, through a variety of mechanisms, we choose to do something that which can be clearly seen to be the wrong thing to do….Exxon, Enron, Arthur Andersen, Worldcom, etc.,etc.We can see it but we ignore the fact that it is wrong so we can do what we want to do.

    She says that one reason we do this is that we want to be with people with similar values, beliefs, etc….people like us, that is! This tends to narrow the scope of what we value and believe.And I clearly have very similar beliefs to my dear friend Rick!

    Taking this argument further, this might mean that we are both “willfully blind” to certain things…….unless we stay in the present moment, fully conscious and mindful.

    The key to graceful and effective living, I would say.

    Love, David

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