Do you believe…….?

A question that is often posed to me in various guises throughout my working day is “Do you believe….?” Before answering, I often seek to learn what is the motive behind the question.  Is it that, “if you do, then I can’t possibly take you seriously ever again as it is so against my own beliefs“, or is that, “if you do, then you’ve affirmed my own position and thereby strengthened it“, or is it that, “I’d like to know so that I have some guidance for my own beliefs which are currently undeveloped“, or is it a question of genuine curiosity to learn of my aberrant perspective?  It is a question where the poser places a responsibility on the one it is posed to.

I’ve never wanted to shape the thinking of my students but only to encourage the act itself – to think.   Their questions, quite often are answered with more questions.  “Is it possible that belief is the death of thought?”  I cannot take credit for this, the response was stolen from Robert Anton Wilson:

“Belief is the death of intelligence” (Robert Anton Wilson in The Cosmic Trigger)

There are times when it is more difficult to objectify oneself in what is a social relationship which has taken time to establish and nurture.  Following a session based on the science of precognition, a student shared a very personal account of her own experience of a close family relative’s precognition of his own death.  Her disclosure led to the inevitable question, “Do you believe…?”  Oh, the responsibility!

To say no, and offer an orthodox scientific explanation would have denied her of the truth of her own experience.  To say yes, may have closed her off to thinking about the experience in a different way (which her course actually demands).  To answer with the question, “Is it possible that belief is the death of thought?” would have been lacking in compassion and empathy.

What would you have answered?

The Beauty of Magic

I told her that I like to keep myself open to possibilities as there is so little that we fully understand.  And to tell the truth, I like a little magic in my life, it makes it beautiful.  She smiled and seemed satisfied with the answer and I got the sense, that she felt understood.

But I often feel inadequate in such circumstances.  Introspective, I rarely verbalise the inner workings of my mind – a barrier to writing also.  I want to say something more like:

“our day-to-day life is bombarded with fortuities or, to be more precise, with the accidental meetings of people and events we call coincidences. “co-incidence” means that two events unexpectedly happen at the same time…..

“Early in the novel [Anna Karenina] that Tereza clutched under her arm when she went to visit Tomas, Anna meets Vronsky in curious circumstances: they are at the railway station when someone is run over by a train. At the end of the novel, Anna throws herself under a train. This symmetrical composition – the same motif appears at the beginning and at the end – may seem quite “novelistic” to you, and I am willing to agree, but only on condition that you refrain from reading such notions as “fictive,” “fabricated,” and “untrue to life” into the word “novelistic.” Because human lives are composed in precisely such a fashion.

“They are composed like music. Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurrence (Beethoven’s music, death under a train) into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual’s life. Anna could have chosen another way to take her life. But the motif of death and the railway station, unforgettably bound to the birth of love, enticed her in her hour of despair with its dark beauty. Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.

“It is wrong, then, to chide the novel for being fascinated by mysterious coincidences (like the meeting of Anna, Vronsky, the railway station, and death or the meeting of Beethoven, Tomas, Tereza, and the cognac), but it is right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty (itallics my own).”                                         (Milan Kundera in The Unbearable Lightness of Being)

or

“The belief that time is a linear, directed sequence running from A to B is a modern illusion. In fact, it can also go from B to A, the effect producing the cause.”                                             (Umberto Eco in Foucault’s Pendulum)

“What is life if not the shadow of a fleeting dream?”                                                    (Umberto Eco in Baudolino)

Although, I do admit, these might have seemed very strange to an 18 year old.

But as a side note, I have come to realise why I’ve been so scared to write – I keep reading the works of those who are the very best at it.

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18 thoughts on “Do you believe…….?

  1. I would agree in saying that there are many things we do not fully understand. For someone who goes through a near-death experience, it won’t matter what you say about the reality of it, they will be lodged in that experience. The same holds true for other experiences (war, sporting wins, climbing a hig mountain). They will align themselves to someone who demonstrates a shared experience which can make them vulnerable. Simply showing empathy to their predicament doesn’t always work as the astute person will see through it. Acknowledging what they have experienced is an important starting point. After that, listen actively and try to get them to come up with their own solution by asking open questions and without injecting your own experience (or no experience in what they may have gone through). Perhaps that solution is to get them to the point of seeking out the truth.
    Regards,
    eLFy
    (p.s. I’m not sure if your question was to me or Debbie)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hi eLfy, i think your answer is a good one and it is certainly what is “recommended” by people who are supposed to know.

      but life isnt like that. war vets and others who have experienced particularly harrowing situtaions of course align themselevs with people who have shared the same experience, as its hard to relate to people who have no idea about why you act the way you do.
      another example: after ten years in china, when i went home and tried to make a go of it, i found myself making new friends with other people who had lived expat lives or where immigrants in Aus – shared experience. understood the difficulties I was facing. and were supportive. so not only can people be vulnerable, in many circumstances others who have shared the same experiences can be very helpful.

      it really depends on where the other person is at. if they are moaning and groaning about their lot, definetly not helpful. if they have pulled themselves out of a difficult situation, like the returned vet who has come to terms with his nightmares, they might be very helpful, as they may be able to share strategies that helped them deal with the original situation. i guess thats why groups like AA are so successful. good and bad in that also.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think even in day to day interactions there is a tendency to gravitate towards those who’ve shared similar experiences and are like-minded in their outlook. It is one a means of self-validation. But as you say Debbie, there is both good and bad in that. Exposing ourselves to different perspectives which make us question ourselves is a channel for growth.

        (Question was put out there generally rather to anyone specifically eLFy. Good to see you again!
        Thanks both for contributing – love discussion.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. to those who live in the world that modern physics tells us is reality – ie time and space are a contintuum, that time is not linear – to those who live in that world where time is not linear, punctuated by visions and prophecies, time jumping dreams – to those of us who live in that world, the world that most people believe does not exist – of course gravitate to those who share the same experience. when the rest of society tells us that psychic impressions, dreams of the future, intuitive knowing, are not true, and people sensing those other realities are pressured to feel ‘crazy’ by the dominant reality belief system, of course they need confirmation from others that they are not ‘going crazy’,
    esp if one is a young 18 year old student, she is seeking confirmation of a reality experienced that is not the dominant reality from an older person she admires – in this case, you.

    of course that is not what i would have answered. if she had have asked me, i would have shared many similiar experiences I have had.

    does that mean i would have been encouraging her “not to think” and that in encouraging that “belief” was to stop her thinking? no, i dont think so.

    i means i would have been encouraging her to think and consider that the dominant world reality might not necessarily be the true reality, that there are many versions of reality, many versions of truth, but she should always trust her gut feelings. trust your gut feelings, and then think it out.

    preminitions of death before dying are actually quite common, and often even prevalent in people who hitherto have been complete skeptics when it comes to any sense of ‘afterlife’. it is amazing what the fear of death can do to people.

    finding out about those things is the product of research – ‘thinking’ – to further investigate one’s own reality when it doesnt confirm to the sanctioned reality of state systems.

    i find it fascinating and amusing at times that the predominant reality beliefs in western countries often do not marry with the lastest in scientific research about the nature of life, the meaning , and everything ( for which the answer is obviously 42 🙂 )…. and also the intensely cultural assumptions that underlay that.

    in most countries in the East, and most indiginous cultures, belief in other forms of life after death of the human physcial body are part of the dominant paradigm. My daughter recently told me about an amusing conversation between her friends regarding what they all wanted to do in their next life. Its as much a part of the dominant paradigm as having toast for breakfast is in western countries.

    while “belief is the death of thought” is a statement with a lot of truth in, it applies mostly to fundamentalist belief systems, where belief does require ‘blind faith’ rather than thinking.

    in the old mystery schools, intuition followed by hard scientific research is a basis for belief.

    in modern science, some of our best scientists make their finest discoveries by operating on intuition which leads them into rigourous research in a field.

    there’s a book talking just abou that : Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahherman. Brilliant book, have only jsut started reading. he shows through research that much of human decision making is made by people thinking or believing they are making rational ‘thinking based’ decisions when in fact they are making decisions based on intuition.

    PHEW! well if you have got through all of the above – I guess a meaty question deserves a meaty reply!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the meaty reply! I’ve read Daniel Kahneman’s book. A personal research interest of mine has been the interplay between explicit and implicit learning. You might also like ‘Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind’ by Guy Claxton who explains a lot of the work I was reading at the time and had very similar insights.
      Kim (I’ll provide a link when I find it) has talked about her authentic self runs counter to the dominant paradigm, it’s also something I experience in the kind of situations described in my post. For example, my professional role was to follow a curriculum following the sceptic’s position on paranormal experience, but with personal experience very much challenging this viewpoint.
      What a great conversation to have had about your future life (lives)!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Do you believe?” It is a question that requires a personal response. That may not sound right but it really comes down to the individual. The individual should not be forced into giving an answer. The real question, I believe, comes after that first step. The real question is, “what are you going to do if you do believe?” This then is the start of the journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that an individual shouldn’t be forced into giving an answer. The statement of belief necessitates a certainty or rigidity, and I’d prefer to think of us as evolving, developing beings – or at least having that capability. Belief is then subject to change. Your last question is an interesting one. Psychological research has shown there is a big gap between belief (or attitudes) and behaviour. It is common, for instance, to have someone who fully supports ecological alternatives, but never engages in any recycling activity.

      Like

        1. yes I think so to. so many people pay lip service, and do nothing, and even do the opposite of what they pay lip service too, like Safar’s example above regarding environmental issues.
          sure, noone should be forced into any answer any time, but in this particular case, this young girl was obviously asking someone she respected for clarification of something that was unusual to her. everyone’s reply would be different, based on their own experiences. thus, each person’s reply is the right reply, because its their reply.
          if you asked me ‘do you believe” on elfonian, i would have a much diferent reply, because you site is delightfully tongue in cheek, so i would probably make a tongue in cheek reply.

          short answer: the questions and the answers depend on the context.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I wouldn’t expect you to believe in eLFonia or eLFonians for that matter – it’s only believed in by other eLFonians (yes, we are a real race of people – you can become an honorary eLFonian).

            I see a budding band of believers here in relation to this topic. 🙂

            In a case like the one Safar has posed, if the person being leaned upon for support has not had any experience to draw upon, I simply think that the best approach is to listen and be there, in presence, to offer solace and some questions to help guide the person towards a solution. To offer “advice” on the basis of a common experience can have a negative effect. I’m sure we can all recall those instances when you are trying to tell someone your problem and they interrupt with how they resolved a similar situation (“what I did when the wall fell on me was ….”). The result in those situations after a few interjections like that and the person seeking solace will clam up and nothing is achieved. A person resolving a situation in a certain way doesn’t guarantee the same result for another. We are always too keen to inject our own experiences when another is pouring out there hurt. We feel like we have to provide an answer in these situations when it may be that all we need to do is listen (and a much harder thing to practice).

            Liked by 1 person

            1. “if the person being leaned upon for support has not had any experience to draw upon, I simply think that the best approach is to listen and be there, in presence, to offer solace and some questions to help guide the person towards a solution.”
              Absolutely.

              “We feel like we have to provide an answer in these situations when it may be that all we need to do is listen (and a much harder thing to practice).”

              Too true.

              “I’m sure we can all recall those instances when you are trying to tell someone your problem and they interrupt with how they resolved a similar situation”

              in the case of Safar, the person asked. that indicates she was inviting a response.

              Of course I believe in eLfonians, eLfy. if i didn’t, how could i be talking with you?? 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

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