Firmly embedded in late 50's and early 60's traditional-values Americana, I developed my own Calvinistic conception of Belief.
The notion was tinged with intimations of moral character. Belief was an exercise in will power, an allegiance to an idea. In the United States the idea was God-and-country. You were a good, upright, moral human being to the extent that you hewed to Belief.
I thought I was the only person who had this experience: I have a Belief, but thoughts and doubts arise; believing that I am good to the extent that I Believe, I have to defend Belief from thoughts, ideas, doubts that might 'threaten' Belief. In fact, doubts and countering ideas/thoughts are a Sign of Sin and must be resisted. To the extent that I can resist them I am a good person.
I thought I was the only person who noticed that the stronger the resistance I mounted to any threats, the stronger they became. Belief became an act of Will Power: the ability to resist ("overcome") assaults to Belief. I prayed for forgiveness for my lapses in Belief; I prayed for strength to overcome this evil in myself (I attributed this evil to the concept of Original Sin.). I got good at screening my mind to prevent disturbing doubts and thoughts from getting through. It took an awful lot of energy, but that seemed like something I was Supposed to Do.
I assumed that other people were also involved in protecting their Belief, and I assumed they were better at it than me: why else would I keep having heretical thoughts? So I never thought to ask anyone what it was like inside of them.
As I inched away from the Christianity of my youth, the notion of Faith and Belief was reincarnated in other forms. Christianity was replaced by a Belief in positivity, which meant that "negative" thoughts caused negative outcomes. "Good" thoughts would invite positive experiences into my life, negative thoughts the opposite. The battle for control over my thoughts continued. I tried to screen out negative emotions (fear, anger, jealousy) before they would become negative thoughts.
Some form of this has persisted to this day. It often goes like this: I want something; it looks like I might get it and I'm glad; I feel fear that I might not get it; I feel fear that I feel fear and I try to screen it out, fearful that I'm poisoning the well. It's nearly reflexive, the default to putting up a shield to screen out negative thoughts--try to prevent one side of my mind from knowing what the other side is doing, I suppose.
Today I saw Belief from a completely new perspective. It was like Magic Eyes, staring at a random pattern on a page, and suddenly a hologram emerges--a 3-D experience springs from a two dimensional page.
I've been musing over the hierarchy of levels, a sort of spiral of development that Ken Wilbur talks about (A Theory of Everything). It makes sense to me that there are 'levels' that transcend themselves by combining and becoming something else, something greater. At the purely physical level this manifests as atoms becoming molecules becoming substance becoming object becoming system supporting something greater yet (yeah, yeah, I didn't include subatomic particles, but they're part of the assumption and have their place at the deconstructed end of atoms).
It occurs to me today that Belief is the bridge between atoms and molecules, molecules and substance, and so on. It's not about willpower at all--it's already there. When we 'believe', we're merely allowing ourselves to rest into that bedrock. Belief is what sustains us when we are between 'stages'.
The child who wants something he's denied is stuck in that moment, or atoms. It is not so much the object she craves, but the satisfaction that the object will bring. Desire torments him, and he longs for release. At that moment, she fully believes that this state will be permanent--she'll always suffer so. Perhaps on other levels he is reminded of other times when raw desire for nourishment, comfort, presence was denied or delayed. A child with a more sensitive temperament will likely suffer denial more acutely...a child who has a persistent temperament may be capable of wailing for an hour or longer. Atoms. The child is stuck in a moment and needs help, empathy, and understanding.
Molecules is the ability to sustain oneself through that stressful situation. Molecules is the ability to self-soothe--And Belief is the bridge between. The most basic lesson in Faith is the caring adult stepping in to provide, however imperfectly, the comfort the child had longed to get from the toy. The caring adult has the job of helping the child through the difficult moment, abiding with her in that moment (thank you, Mrs. Spit) and thereby teaching her that she can sustain herself when moments get hard. Belief is what connects fragments of a whole, to the Whole, and it is already there. We don't have to manufacture it, our willpower isn't needed to maintain it.
So now when I read, or hear, "Only Believe", it will have another meaning for me.
Dang it! Blogger won't let me link "abiding" to Mrs. Spit's eloquent post. Please go see it here: http://mrsspitspouts.blogspot.com/2008/05/abide-with-me.html