Why We Believe What We Believe
How do we decide which belief is right?
Posted Jun 01, 2010
When surfing for answers to the questions of life’s meaning and purpose, the options dazzle and overwhelm. Every worldview tells a story about what is real and true. Every human tells a story about what a given religion or philosophy means and why it is right. Amidst a weave of stories, personal and communal, shapes of culture emerge, a religion, a philosophy, a way of life.
Yet the differences among the options are less significant than what they share. When we breathe to move and move to breathe, we realize that every symbol, teaching, belief, or practice, philosophy, religion, or treatment plan, itself represents a pattern of movement — multiple patterns of mind, heart, body coordination. Each one is offering us an opportunity to discover inside ourselves the capacity to make the movements it represents, whether those movements involve cultivating a mind over body sense of ourselves, engaging a daily meditation practice, or believing in a vision of the promised land.
As we stretch to consider an idea, bend into a demonstrated posture, or organize our senses around a ritual, we exercise capacities for thinking and feeling and acting in ways other than we had previously experienced. We create and become new patterns of sensing and responding that unfold our talents and gifts.
With this perspective, we arrive at a new understanding of what it means to believe. If the effort of moving with a particular belief or practice ignites a blast of pleasure or joy or healing within us, then our immediate impression is that this symbol or teaching or practice is true, and it is. It is real and true for us because it has allowed us to discover something about ourselves that strikes us as who we are and want to be. Our movements are creating the network of relationships that is actually enabling our unfolding. We believe.
When we believe, then, we are exercising our power to name and bring into being a world we love that loves us. And by exercising this capacity, we stir in ourselves the feelings of vitality, direction, and belonging that our desire for spirit seeks as the condition for our ongoing well being. It is intoxicating.
At first this observation may trouble us. Isn’t there anything to believe or trust that is once and for all true? Are our beliefs and practices mere figments of imagination that we concoct for our own pleasure? Why believe or practice at all?
Breathing to move and moving to breathe, we know why we do. It is not to guarantee ourselves a certain ground or a safe delivery from pain. When we believe and when we practice, we provide ourselves with a sensory trainingthat we cannot get anywhere else. As we learn to make the movements prescribed to us by a given religious platform or program, we wake up to the creative power of our bodily becoming. As we bear witness to the changes in us that our believing and practicing effect, we know our capacity to change. We become aware, as nowhere else, of a basic fact of human bodily life: we are always bodies becoming. We are never not engaged in this process of creating and becoming new patterns of sensation and response. We are never not creating our values, our ideals, our gods, and the relationships by which we live.
We find ourselves believing, and believing in whatever we perceive as enabling us to thrive. God is true because God lives in me enabling me to be who I am.
Once we make this shift in how we experience our will to believe, we have the best criteria available to us for navigating the dizzying array of religious and spiritual options surrounding us. For if, in making the movements we are led to make by a given authority or text or context, we find ourselves separating from the very sensory awareness that is guiding us to seek them out, then we know: the relationship is not one that will support me in giving birth to myself. This is not true for me. I can’t believe.
On the other hand, if, in making the movements, we find ourselves enlivened, unfolded, and brimming with the pleasure of it, then we are inclined to name what is enabling us to become who we are as our religion, our faith, our practice. We make a commitment to let live what is ever enabling us to be. We join the community of those who are similarly moved. We proclaim its truth to all. And as we do, we make that matrix of relationships real: it is enabling us to give birth to ourselves. It is real because it lives in us. We are different.
People with different sets of talents and gifts will find their self-creating powers exercised by different approaches. Those with a large capacity to reason will find more pleasure and truth when engaging perspectives that offer rational arguments for their program. Those with a strong emotional life will warm to dimensions of religious life that emphasize devotion and love. Those with a vibrant kinetic, sensory orientation will gravitate towards forms of belief and practice that allow and encourage them to exercise this capacity for movement as an instrument of discernment.
In any case, a path will be true for me when the movements I am making as I learn to move with it are allowing me to name and make real the relationships that support me in giving birth to myself.
We are complicated. Our bodies are full of mystery. There are capacities for sensation and movement in us that we never even imagine possible. We may discover whole ranges of experience by accident. We may be led to explore other regions by the example of someone else’s account. We may experiment for years without uncovering that trigger that releases the desired responses within us. We may exert all of our efforts in one direction only to be swept sideways into novelty or bliss.
The patterns of movement we must make to unfold who we are are more complex than any rational account can delineate. The imagination of the Universe is far greater than ours. All along the way no one else can ever know or tell us how to awaken the unique patterns of creativity that we each are. It is our desire for spirit, our sensations of pleasure and pain, that provide us with the surest guides we have.
Discerning the wisdom of our desires is a life’s work. The work of a life. The work that a life is. The work that takes a life and more to complete. Yet at any moment along the way, if we are bending the power of our minds to the ongoing rhythms of our bodily becoming, we will find the vitality, the sense of direction, and the deep connection with life that satisfies our desire for spirit.
--An Excerpt from What a Body Knows, chapter 23