Monday, October 27, 2008

More Woo-woo

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:


Wordgirl said...

I have to come back to comment more thoughtfully -- I've been reading avidly and learning so much -- both about our son and our journey parenting in school etc...but just globally -- and as I was reading this I honestly thought "she would love Ken Wilber" -- and then YOU MENTIONED him.

I about fell off my chair.

This is a different conversation but I was deeply affected by reading Grace and Grit years ago -- probably 13 years ago now...and it led me to other work of his --

what an amazing confluence....I was so struck that I had to comment immediately -- even though I hadn't finished reading.

excavator said...

I've been having lots of confluences that involve Ken Wilbur--and I still haven't yet read him from cover to cover. Just bits, a chapter here and there.

Two years ago a dear friend of mine who I hadn't seen for 2 years moved from St. Louis to Washington State. We decided to meet at a bed-and-breakfast in Astoria. Our weekend was filled with conversation, one idea spurring another and at one point I realized that what I was feeling was happiness.

She told me about a book by a guy named James Marion, about how the spiritual development of human kind, and Christianity is comparable to the developmental stages that Swiss psychologist Piaget proposed. It sounded so intriguing that I got it from the library. James Marion named Ken Wilbur as one of his influences, and my dear friend had mentioned Wilbur too.

At the time I was realizing how much had been made possible by the counseling I'd received years and years ago. It had been 14 years since I had seen Sharon. We hadn't ended well, but I felt a real gratitude that the work we'd done had continued to benefit me.

I decided to contact her and tell her.

So I googled her--and found that she was running a Ken Wilbur study group! I wrote to ask her if I could join and she called and asked me to come in first for a session. Long story short, she's in a very different place than she was 16 years ago, and so am I and I agreed to continue seeing and working with her. The way we ended became our entryway into a different way of examining the patterns that had repeated in my life.

Thanks for writing--I'm sorry I haven't been by to visit for a while. I'm still trying to work out some sort of blog discipline and I've been so overwhelmed lately that I've quit trying to keep up. I'll be back though. Right now I'm going to go google Grace and Grit.

Thanks so much for visiting, Pam!

Mercurious said...

The mind is working overtime lately, isn't it?

Congratuations on your escape from Calvinism. My brother is in that world, and I despair that he's ever going to escape it.

Ken Wilbur is an interesting fellow, and clearly a brilliant mind. In earlier years, I read just about everything he wrote. I eventually came to believe, though, that Wilbur needlessly complicates matters.

My experience is that the reality always, always, turns out to be far simpler than I first thought.

Lori said...

Years ago, I attended meetings of the Chaos Club, a place where people like you and your readers would get together and talk about where physics (matter, atoms) meets metaphysics (belief, energy). The leader, a brilliant woman named Laurie Fitzgerald, introduced me to Ken Wilber. I bought some books but have yet to crack any.

Dogmatic religions and the conditions you were raised in are b&w. You, however, are a multihued being. No wonder you've always felt this not-fitting.

The energy classes I took with Ethel were called "Multidimensional Energy Work," referrring to the fact that we really are not limited to the 3 dimensions we think.

One day, while preparing to teach a Grade 3 science class, I got it. I was trying to show how, when you go from 3D (a globe) to 2D (a map), you get distortion. It's impossible to make an accurate map of the world because of the curves of the earth. The medium allows for only 2 of the 3 dimensions.

I think being a spirit in a material world (hello, Sting!) is the same thing. We get distorted on this plane. Maybe this could also address your God post -- major distortions of alienation and separation manifest as genocides and other cruelties.

Heady stuff.

excavator said...

Lori, the analogy of distortion in taking a 3-D representation of the world and trying to symbolize it in 2-D is brilliant!

As is the notion that those distortions manifest as cruelty and alienation.

Mercurious, escaping Calvinism is like a rocket escaping the earth's gravity. As I'm sure you know. My guess is, that one has to be called in order to generate that kind of breaking-free force.