Letter to Estella
Dearest Estella, in answer to your question, and in recognition for the sensitivity this subject might bring, I can only offer you this:
I know it won’t be enough. That it doesn’t validate enough; doesn’t reinforce enough, or doesn’t tell you I am a believer. All it does is tell you honestly what I know. I’m hoping that is sufficient.
I look at all of the belief sciences the same way.
For example, I have researched people’s need to believe in a higher power.
As a boy I was as religious as the next kid, did my time as an altar boy, attended a Catholic school. Once I left the old lifestyle, I returned to the church and attended for a number of years. In keeping with my newly developing social conscience, I even left the Catholics and became an Anglican for a while – an almost identical theology with the exception of its reliance on Rome and the fact that it allowed women priests. Even then I knew that women were the great nurturers and so, it was antithesis to me to find that only men could be guardians of the faith to the flocks of parishioners. I rebelled in my little way. Since then, out of tradition perhaps, I’ve gotten over my reservations and attend Catholic services when I can. It is the church my mother attends.
In time though, I found that I really did not have the kind of intellect that permitted blind faith. I could not wrap myself in its embrace without feeling as if I was living a kind of lie.
So studied cursorily all the world’s great religions, searching for one that did not require such a great leap of faith. I found fault with them all. Clearly, dogma doesn’t cut it with me.
During this time I also spoke to my father about it. He told me that he also couldn’t be a believer, wasn’t in him. But he reminded me that many have found deep solace in the various religious beliefs available; that these are cherished parts of people’s identities and cultures and that in his lifetime he may have missed out on the sense of community that belief and attendance offers the faithful.
My mother has been a life-long Catholic, as have been my ancestors. It’s part of our tradition. In the end, I respect that church and religion, belief and communities of faith, are really just conversations about questions that can never be answered. Some have great dogmatic tenets and are top down hierarchies; others are more organic and centered in the people who profess and practice faith.
I’m fine with just saying “I don’t know if there is a God” and leaving it at that. As mentioned, it can be a conversation about questions that can never be answered.
With that said, however, I also recognize that there are things in life that are ill-explained in mere words; indeed, that defy earthly derived descriptions. Even great art, music and nature can sometimes strike at a core sense of existence that is difficult or impossible to express in language with any great satisfaction, though we try.
I have walked miles of river bank, sometimes climbing deep into mountain tributaries at dawn.
There, I have looked up at towering cliffs, a hundred feet a side; framing just a glimpse of sky on high, blue peeking from behind the canopies of mature trees vying for space in the light. I marveled at the canyon walls, each one a geologic history lesson, riddled with green growth, ferns, small trees, vines and bushes, all clutching desperately at heights in footholds against a steep backdrop of grey and black granite, the canyon itself an ancient structure laid down in visible seams and beds over unfathomable millennia. Here trickling water wetting and darkening the stone, there a gurgling waterfall spraying a rainbow of droplets in the emerging scattering of light, filtered through rock and plant, nourishing the stream below as it emptied from above and beyond.
I saw the first full bands of sunlight stream in as it rose in the sky – not glaring with intense power but gentle and nurturing beacons of life. With the light came birds fluttering about, their calls and song increasing with time, dampened by the noise of the rushing river of blue and green at my feet. Here and there along my journey, where the river naturally pools, its progress slowed, its depth turning it into a deep emerald green, where it becomes mostly silent. It is here that each intrusion of sound is accounted for, purposely, harmoniously, adding interlude to concert. In that quietude, deeply breathing in rarefied air, sweet and pure, until I could hold no more, whilst looking at the miracle of nature in this natural cathedral, it’s easy to see and feel how one might find in it all the very proof of the divine.
I see my ancestors there; I feel their presence. I am aware of my connection to it all; mostly, I feel a peace, tranquility perhaps not possible elsewhere, and a deep humility at my smallness.
However, for me it still remains a mysterious force I’m happy to acknowledge without imposing on it an inadequate answer of transcendence that does not speak to me of truth.
It turns out that most people are hard wired for this trait. The eminent brain scientist, Gazzaniga, believed that our brains developed a physical faculty some 5 or 10 thousand years ago that required most of us to form supernatural beliefs – beliefs unexplained by rational thinking.
It seems this is likely true.
Belief has been researched the world over. Cross-culturally, much of it amounts, at its essence, to the very basic acronym I like to mention: G.O.D. – good orderly direction. It was something I learned from my father, he who had attended a 12 step program for several decades, with its attendant belief in a higher power, and yet, was not a church going man.
It’s likely that 50-75% of people must believe; another portion will believe in case, or because of culture, family, friends, and some cannot believe at all. As I said earlier, much of belief is an unanswerable question; but the conversation can be quite stimulating for some. It’s less so for me, for I have been there.
My next point is that I’m a man of science for the most part. I like to be able to confirm my theories through use of the scientific method. Results that are specific, reliable and repeatable using double blind studies are my preferred method of evaluating truths. I also recognize that this is not always possible and a wholly inadequate way of proceeding reliably through our precious time
It just so happens that educated mankind uses this method to protect itself from seeking truths where they don’t exist. It’s a way that we ensure that what we perceive as real really is.
However, I’m a great believer in the power of placebo. From its ancient roots, it’s proven to be a reliable tool in the influence of man. What we believe is a crucial marker for what we think and feel, and how we behave. Hypnotism, for example, operates purely on the placebo effect. Many medicines do as well, or are greatly enhanced because of belief. There is a lot of science about this; articles appear weekly confirming its use and effectiveness.
Given this powerful change-agent, I’m not foolish enough to abandon those methodologies that offer another variation of what works already. Moreover, as long as there is no harm done to an individual, I think the “do whatever works” rule is somewhat valid and can be justified. There are so many types of people, endless variations of us, that finding a key that unlocks change in someone is a victory.
Like you, I have been around for a while, all through the changes brought about by the 60s to present. How many modalities of influence have we seen?
My eldest brother got so deep into Transcendental Meditation in the 70s that he believed in yogic flying. That’s where I left him; he came around eventually. He ended up a fifth Dan black belt in Wado Kai Karate, religion enough for him, then and now, and yet, works in a lab firmly committed to science. I think he has a belief.
If I use hypnosis to stop smoking or stop eating cookies, without change at my core in terms of who I decide I want to be, the gains I might get from my sessions will likely erode over time. New habits can form where old ones were; however, the brain chunks information so learning occurs in parcels. Old dogs learn new tricks but it can take more time.
And it’s also true that the science of helping moves forward inexorably in fashion. Each new person seeks to put their particular mark on whatever endeavour they are involved in.
Get a new manager at a company and you’ll likely soon get a new system to work under. It’s the same in the helping field or the spiritual realm.
Mankind moves ahead by using something the social scientists call the cultural sling-shot. We assess what everyone else is doing and try to bring our own talents to bear on the situation. In turn, that sometimes results in great leaps forward; other times, not so much. It’s the scientific method that is the arbiter of new technologies, in any field.
Like religion, and belief in general, I don’t have an opinion on them outside of what science can tell me. However, again like religion, I respect that if someone feels helped by whatever approach they prefer, and that becomes their thing, it should be respected.
There is such little comfort in the world for some people. Who would I be to deny or decry someone theirs?
Would I use a Dickens process? Would I ask how one has lived, how one is living, and how living this will way will impact their future? I sure would. It’s a form of hypnosis.
I don’t particularly have the psychological make-up for the newer and less science based approaches. I may not have the strengths required to feel a client’s need so deeply and use those methods in a way that would benefit them. My inner stance would be too obvious. My psychology, even call it my weaknesses if you like, would likely preclude me from being effective using that kind of approach.
And that’s ok. I have other strengths that work very well. The important thing is to respect the person behind the approach if their intentions are pure and good. If they believe in themselves, and others believe alongside them, at the very least the powerful placebo effect will see them gain ground. In my opinion, if we were to deny completely the new energy modalities then we might as well deny the power of prayer, or of thinking positively. What does that say for hope? Should we deny hope too?
I think there is room for some supernatural in life. I think the door to this understanding of our existence shouldn’t necessarily be closed. I think that would be very limiting. Life is more interesting with some of the miraculous in it.
Miracles defy explanations; that’s why we call them so.
I prefer to be open to impossibility. I think it’s a necessary facet of a successful life. If you close one door in your mind, what does that say about the others? I think it’s best to remain curious.
Love and Hugs
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