et us turn our attention to belief.
Every now and then I am asked by a student or client if I really “believe” in all of this stuff.
Stuff, meaning the various kinds of sacred arts from divination and prayer to astrology and ritual and everything in between. The question itself, when it is asked at all, is usually asked meekly and with hesitation. It need not be so.
I want my community to know that I welcome this question – and all questions – completely. To the end of our life we should be as bold in the asking as we are courageous in the seeking for an answer to our deepest heart-felt doubts. Let us look inside our hesitation to face the question and the problem. When we do so we find a mixture of respect, trepidation, and yearning.
No one wants to step on anyone’s toes. We’ve grown up feeling it is better to respect each other, and live and let live. We are nuanced; we want to allow for multiple points of views, multiple ways of doing things. But an inch beneath the soil of this respect and nuance is a clay and bedrock of trepidation, a fear that is many-layered and complex especially as it pertains to the sacred arts.
What if there is no easy answer? What if none of it is true? Then what? Is life that bare and meaningless?
But to lie to our selves and pretend otherwise would be intolerable in the highest degree, to act like we never question and always know for certain is not only dishonest – such an attitude actually prevents a real breadth and depth of experience within the sacred arts.
Then there is the fear underneath the fear, the one that hides in plain sight: the fear that when something really is true, when something really does work it changes us, changes our lives, and as we know, change is not always easy, rarely effortless. But dig down even further below the hard clay and bedrock. Beneath the fear, flows an underground river: a soul yearning, a desire for these things are real, true and life affirming, that they are of and for not just soul, but soulful living and soulful seeking.
So then, what to do with the question do you believe in any of this stuff? Now typically there are two ways that teachers, speakers, and followers of the sacred arts answer this question of belief.
First we’ll touch on those ways. And then I’ll share with you the approach I think really works. The first approach is to dismiss the question altogether, to suppress it. Belief doesn’t need understanding or knowing of any sort. That’s what makes it belief. Case closed. Get out of your head and into your body. Just feel it, go with the flow. There is a subtle way in which this advice, no matter how gently offered, no matter how well-intentioned, shames and scolds. It scolds the person who is alive and lively, who wonders and has natural curiosity, for being too much “in their head” and having a “closed heart” and “narrow mind”.
Shames the person for having the audacity to ask the question in the first place, for being suspicious and skeptical and not “open”…although open to what exactly, it is never really said. Bottom line of this approach? Thoughts are bad. Questions are not needed or wanted here. Belief and an open heart is enough.
The second way the question of belief is approached is the most popular way, and is often mixed in with the first. The sacred, magical, mystical and the miraculous are in fact explained away in terms of a pseudo-scientific framework, in order to give the sacred arts an air of authority and respectability, in order to legitimize our experiences and knowledge of the deeply sacred and profoundly meaningful.
Whatever is unknown, whatever is mysterious, can be explained by science, and whatever we call “sacred”, when you strip away everything, is really secret code for the “profane”, for the only and just human. Bottom line? An open heart is weak. All faith, all belief is blind and a very narrow understanding of reason reigns supreme.
I have written quite a bit about the sacred arts as I know and understand them, but I have written less about my dear community of soulful seekers – students, clients, colleagues, and fellow travelers, and most definitely anyone who is reading these words right now.
To be a soulful seeker does not mean that we have it all figured out. Rather, to be a soulful seeker means that we ask exactly the hard and tough questions, like do those who preach and teach actually believe in what they say? How fair of a question is that? How much potential bloodshed, loss of life, and other horrors would have been avoided through history if more brave ones were willing to ask that exact question?
Soulful seekers do not desire to banish thought, they know that one of their best spiritual tools is sharply honed discernment. Nor do soulful seekers accept the desire coming from some quarters to legitimize their experience of the sacred. They know better than to try to take the wild, vital, mystical heartbeat found in all of the sacred arts and try to pin it down, put it behind glass, and hang it up on a wall so that people can admire their experiences from afar without ever getting down and dirty with the sacred, without ever showing up to do the work.
So it is that neither answer, neither approach to the question of belief satisfies the soulful seeker. We want more. What we want is an approach that is more radical (that is, what goes to the true roots of our experience) than either common way imagines. An approach that encourages not a blind faith, never that, but an eyes-wide-open faith capable of seeing clearly and directly, capable of responding in all the ways that give heart, enliven, enlighten, and bless one another and ourselves.
We can make a good beginning, venturing into the real grounds of belief in the reality of the sacred arts, by paying attention and learning to listen in the most radical way to what we experience, not what others tell us we should or would experience, but what we actually experience.
One example: some corners of scientific and religious thinking tells us that dogs, do not have souls, they don’t have feelings, they don’t even feel pain. Do you have a dog? Do you know a dog? You only need to know one pup, only need to hang with a dog for a few minutes to see that this is absolutely not true. The soulful seeker doesn’t care if it is a tenet we are supposed to take on faith – just believe that a fellow creature is without soul because such and such authority tells me I must? Never! The soulful seeker doesn’t care if scientific fact cannot confirm that dogs feel pain in the same way we do – we see hurt and fear in a fellow creature’s eyes and we respond with care, protection, reassurance. Eyes-wide-open faith: the ability to see clearly and respond appropriately where need is greatest.
If you want belief, consult your direct experience, and you will find a connectedness, an awareness, an aliveness, and a self-moving source there that is utterly familiar. Pay attention to that, reflect on it, understand it, explore and follow that connection, without reducing it to abstractions.
As we engage with what is sacred and holy we might ask how our clarity of thought, our depth of feeling, our creative inspirations, our relationships change, after we spend time making ceremony or prayer or sacred dance or star gazing — as opposed to when we do not engage in any of those activities? How do our homes and hearths, our lives and physical bodies feel after such engagement? How do they feel without it? And then, after asking such questions comes the next and very essential part…we listen.
The word “belief” comes to us from the Old West German ga-laubon and originally meant: to esteem, hold dear, and trust. So we might begin by asking well what is it, exactly that we are meant to esteem, hold dear, and trust in the sacred arts. Paying attention, literally attending to, what is good and worthwhile really – not what someone has promised you is good and worthwhile, not what you wish was good and worthwhile, not what everyone assume it is, but in your life, in your reflections.
Esteem and give credence to what you actually know, sense, feel, understand, and experience and be loyal and steadfast to that truth.