Some people need something to believe in. Others need to know.
Imagine that there are two women arguing about African bushmen. One says that she read about the bushmen and the fact that they don’t hunt when it’s raining, while the other woman argues that her husband visited a tribe who in fact went hunting, rain or shine. The first woman thinks that the husband did not visit the particular tribe to which she was referring, whereas the second woman insists that hunting practices are the same throughout all the tribes of bush people.
To settle the disagreement, they hop on a plane and go to Africa. Upon visiting all the existing tribes, they finally discover which of them was correct. (I will tell you the results of their findings later.)
Now that the women know the truth about bushmen hunting practices, you might conclude that they don’t need those beliefs anymore, right? My question is, did they ever need those beliefs? What actual purpose did those beliefs serve?
You might respond that beliefs such as those don’t serve any purpose other than to give two people something about which to talk—or argue.
So now my question is, couldn’t you say the same thing about all beliefs?
I am often impressed by how much importance we place on belief, especially when we rarely examine what a belief actually is. We may feel emotionally pumped up by inspiring aphorisms such as Just believe in yourself, or, If you believe that you will succeed, then you will surely succeed. (A friend of mine insists that he never catches a cold because he believes he will never catch one.) But we take for granted that what we believe is true, without ever really knowing.
In my early career as a workshop leader, I would teach my students that everything that happens in life is a result of your subconscious, unconscious, or conscious beliefs, and therefore if you did not like what was happening, you simply had to transform a negative belief into a positive, spiritual, or loving one.
But what are beliefs, and how important are they actually? Does it really matter if you believe it’s raining outside? If a belief is so important, how come it disappears so quickly once you step outside and have a direct experience of whatever the weather is? It seems that believing is just another way of saying, “I don’t really know.”
Does subconsciously believing you are a failure actually determine the circumstances of your life? Isn’t the subconscious mind itself merely a belief?
In my experience, beliefs are replacements for KNOWING. When I don’t know something, I face a vacuum, one which my mind quickly fills up with a belief which I assume to be true. Once that belief is installed, it seems to act as a living entity with a primary instinct for survival. Maybe this is why people tend to be very defensive when their most cherished beliefs are challenged. We immediately form an emotional fusion and identification with these beliefs so that any threat that they will be disproven or dispelled seems to become a threat to our own existence. However, this also means that we will defend our beliefs even at the expense of actually knowing! What I believe I am becomes far more important than knowing who I am.
It was an incredible moment in my life when the wall of beliefs that completely surrounded me suddenly dissolved and I could directly experience “knowing.” It was like the first time I ate a mango after years of only hearing about the fruit and having certain ideas about how it might taste. Eating the fruit was so much more incredible than the concept of it.
Eventually portions of the wall returned, but parts of it are gone forever, and other parts remain translucent, allowing me to simultaneously experience a belief and recognize the belief to be a convincing replacement for the Truth. But with direct awareness of the belief, it becomes more transparent and I can see that it had been disguising the Truth that is constantly present for anyone to see at any time.
It can start with the simple question, “Is this true?” Those three words somehow inspire a person to look past their intellectual mind-set and into the depths of their heart, where the brilliance of intuition resides. Those three words keep you open to direct experiences, rather than theories and philosophies that may offer you comfort, but never provide the wonderfully pleasant freedom that lies beyond belief.
I invite you to try this exercise: Bring a belief into your mind and then ask that simple question, “Is this true?” Ignore the yes or no response you might get and simply sit in the freedom of the question. Just notice what you experience.
The Truth exists. Even the most positive or spiritual belief is merely a replacement for the Truth. Believe it or not.
Oh, and as to the question of which woman was correct regarding African bush tribes, well, I could say either one and you could believe me or not, but you would never know.