26 February 2010

Lesson #2: I need to believe in something.

Some of these lessons are still in-progress.  That's ok.  This is one of them.

I mean this lesson precisely as it sounds.  I do not mean to be more specific.  I do not mean 'I need to believe in God' or 'I need to believe in miracles' or 'I need to believe in discount pizza night at Trattoria'.  This is not because I hate, or don't believe in, God, miracles, or Trattoria.  This is because the lesson is just this: I need to believe in something.

There is an element of belief in learning.  The act of learning is in itself an act of belief or faith (though faith and belief are not really the same thing): I have faith the person or resource teaching me is correct; I have faith that I can process the information and assess its truth; I have faith that I can apply it accurately at a later date.  Maybe I tried something because I believed in my ability to do it, or that the people around me would help, or because I knew I could get right back up if I fell.  Either way, there is an element of trust/faith/belief, in many of the things I do.

Belief has been very difficult for me.  I've struggled with the same issues of spirituality that many people do.  There are times where I don't believe other people, which often reflects my own limitations, rather than theirs.  But I've come to understand that belief has a place in the soul, and the psyche -- or at least, in mine.  When it's gone, and it's just me in there, I feel a void.  I feel alone.  I can coast like that, while things are going fine, but when the bottom falls out, that's when I feel it the lack of belief the most.  It's like I've fallen down a hole, and I'm sitting there, knowing I can't climb back up, and knowing that there's no one topside to throw me a rope (or a sandwich).

I'm not saying that finding religion is the answer to this.  Having beliefs, and even having faith, are different from participating in an organized religion.  Sometimes they go together, sometimes they don't.  I have yet to figure out if I can hammer this one out on my own, or if I need a community.  I'll try both.

What I am saying, is that I need something.  If God is one of the answers to this, that's great.  But there are others, and none of them are exclusive.  I need to believe in the goodness of other people.  I need to believe in myself, and the choices I make.  I need to believe that the world will continue on, no matter what happens in my little corner, because that actually helps me to keep perspective.

I recently had a discussion on a similar topic as this with an acquaintance.  He brought up the point that, when you rely on the people around you or a community to help define your faith, you can in turn be influenced by them.  To a point he's right.  There will be a lesson about this.  But I want to shift gears from the people to the act of belief itself: belief cannot be blind.

What?  That's the definition, you say?  Well, faith is sort of blind, in the way that it's the opposite of knowing.  But belief should not be blind.  I need to know what my beliefs are, and why.  I need to understand how they fit in the world, with other people's, both those I know and those who are strangers.  I need to be able to examine my beliefs, understand what it means to incorporate them into my life, and decide if that is a change I can and will make.  If I'm doing this... if I'm an active participant in the beliefs that are a part of my life.. I'm being mindful of the things that drive me, of the parameters that make up my own personal universe.  I'm not necessarily subject to the influence or pressure of others who may think differently -- in fact, I'm in a better position to effectively explain, defend, or even adjust what I believe (carefully), as I go through life learning from others and growing as a person.

Let me try to illustrate the point.  I want to believe in the inherent goodness of people.  It makes me feel better as a person, and I also find when I have this mindset, I treat others better.  I don't judge as quickly.  I accept their actions as just that, and don't try to read in alternative motives.  In turn, they respond more positively toward me.  It's a productive cycle.  Or at least, it is when I get it to work.  Sometimes I forget.

However, and this might be a shocker... people are not always honest or straightforward, or even 'good'.  If I am aware of this, and maintain an ability to evaluate their actions, I can be more objective.  I hope and believe that they are honest with me, but when the facts show otherwise, I can see it and adjust how I choose to interact with them.  I am actively participating in my belief, instead of sitting back following it without question.

I could also turn this the other way, to keep myself honest.  For example, I want to believe in the goodness of people, but I am treating So-and-So in a way that does not reflect that.  I could sit back and rest on my fuzzy, warm confidence that my belief makes me a good person... or I could be mindful of how I'm acting, and see it's in a way that does not reflect that belief.

This is not a great example, but I'm not really up for hammering out the issue of spirituality over Blogger. At least, not today.  I just know that I need to bring something into that space, where belief should live, to be a healthier, more balanced person.  The coolest thing about this lesson?  I may never really come to a solid, unshakable answer.  But belief, or faith, is something I could study and grow into for the rest of my life, and I would still be happy.

And then Monday comes around, and I can get discount Trattoria pizza.  Score.

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