I believe only in what I cannot know, but it is knowing that allows me to be whole.
There are some things we think to be true, some things we believe to be true, and some things we know to be true. The rational faculty of our minds examines the evidence of our senses to determine what we think to be true, much as science does in a more systematic way. Such “truth” is by nature conditional in that it can be improved or disproved.
Then there are those things that we believe to be true, often on a deeper or metaphysical level. Belief is dependent upon authority of some sort, whether of a religious leader, a canonical text, or a cultural tradition. We say “I believe you” when we mean that we accept “on faith” the veracity of your representations. Faith is like the mortar holding together the building blocks of belief.
We can believe what does not make sense, such as a virgin birth or reincarnation. In fact, belief most often has as its object what in some way transcends logical reasoning. Belief in God, for instance, does not require a logical argument and may even seem illogical.
Belief, and the faith that sustains it, can be shaken by events which seem irreconcilable with what we have been taught or chosen to believe. This seismic disruption is typically caused by a collision between belief and rationality. “How can God let bad things happen to good people?” for instance. Or, if our belief was based on faith in a charismatic religious personality who betrayed the values that he preached, we then “come to our senses” – in other words, we return to a trust in our rational mind.
In modern society, we rarely speak of knowing something on the metaphysical level to be true. I think we do more often on the interpersonal level. We may say that “I know you’re an honest person” or “I know you love me”, which is to say that on a gut level I believe these things. So I think it’s fair to say that we all understand a sort of “visceral truth”, but I also think that we’ve lost the capacity, by and large, for a visceral connection to deeper truth.
The surviving indigenous cultures in the world, which I think reflect what was true of all humanity for the two million years of the genus Homo, each have their own tribal belief systems but also comprehend truth in a more visceral way, by direct personal experience. For native societies, unmediated personal encounter with truth was, I believe, the norm.
I have had several powerful experiences of this kind of direct encounter with truth. When I first left home at age 17 to live for a time in the Colorado Rockies, I spent an autumn afternoon on a mountaintop in conversation with God or Cosmic Consciousness (I didn’t give it a name). That my conversation with God was facilitated by a chemical agent from the psilocybin mushroom, long used by Native Americans for such ritual purposes, I would hope would not lead you to dismiss my experience as “drug-induced”, for I know that this was more real than anything I’d previously experienced. And I know this on the deepest visceral, almost cellular level.
Many years later, when I was in my mid-forties and quite skeptical of new-age phenomena, I went to a free public talk by a so-called spirit entity who was channeled through an experienced meditator. I went in order to prove to myself that such channeling was fraudulent. I left there, however, with a strangely unpretentious deep inner “gut” knowing that this was one of the most real experiences of my life. What was odd about the experience was not the unexpected reversal of perception, but the lack of revelatory quality. There was no Eureka Ah-Hah experience. There was only the most subtle shift of consciousness from rational doubt to cellular knowing. For the next 18 months, this channeled spirit entity became my greatest teacher – a presence gentle, humble, kind, and full of mirth – and with a power of perception that transcended anything available to a human-in-the-flesh.
Prior to and since that time, I have undertaken several Vision Quests, and guided others through their own. In the manner of all such spiritual rites-of-passage, I underwent a period of cleansing and preparation, walked through the threshold beyond consensual reality, fasted and prayed for four days and nights, and then returned through the ritual portal to incorporate the experience into my life. In each case, I’ve opened myself to and received direct communication from Mother Earth, often in subtle messages conveyed by her creatures or in the gentle whispering of her winds.
The so-called “visions” or messages of my quests have become elements in what I know to be true. This type of knowing lacks pretense, even certainty in the fundamentalist sense. It is, however, such a fundamental knowing that it is subject to neither arrogance nor doubt.
We can doubt the veracity of our senses, the strength of our logic, the authority of our beliefs, but it is not possible to doubt what we know on the most visceral or cellular level. I think that this kind of knowing is far more common than we might acknowledge. But I also think that, because of our rational and faith-based way of being in the world, we don’t pay it much attention or give it the credence it deserves.
So, while I think I know what I believe to be true, I am deeply grateful that there are some things that I don’t have to rationalize or justify by faith. Those are the things that are the foundation of my life and that keep me grounded when walking through confusion or doubt.
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