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The Way We Come to Know Things

Published on 15/06/09
by randy









We enter the mystery of life, and spend a great deal of time attempting to make sense from our universe.  With this in mind, it can be helpful to distinguish our beliefs, our faith, and what we accept through consensus learning.  We try to organize our world through language and just how we structure our thoughts can have a very profound effect on our relationship with others and our universe.  This is why ancient Toltec wisdom suggests we be impeccable with our words.  Brother David Steindl Rast suggests we go through the following exercise before we speak:  a. What do I mean?, b. How do I know (suggesting that if it’s not through direct experience, keep silent), and c. Even when it is knowing from direct experience, so what?  Such honest appraisal of our expression brings us to a humility and openness seldom found, but so deeply craved for in our ‘right’ vs. ‘wrong’ knowing universe.  Greg Braden speaks to this in his book The Spontaneous Healing of Belief.  He sites a runner who’s had direct successful experience in completing several marathons.  When asked if he believes he can do it again, he replies, “I believe I can do this”.  It’s based on his past experience.  Yet, what happens when the questioner adds new information, saying it’ll be run at 14,000’?  The belief weakens with the introduction of uncertainty outside of past experience.  While he doesn’t have direct experience with this, he still may have faith that he can do it.  His assumptions and possibly second hand information and inference from others may strengthen his faith.  He could sample run at 14,000’ and add some objective information that would strengthen or weaken his faith.  Yet, his belief can’t be fully substantiated until he actually runs the entire race at that elevation.


This dilemma is perhaps most evident in our various global faiths about what happens when we die.  There’s simply no scientifically documented account from a human who left their body for several days and then came back to tell us what happens.  Each religion carries myth and ritual and various traditions feed the faith of their followers.  The belief in ‘knowing’ what happens when we leave our bodies is not based on direct experience.   It’s based on faith in second hand information.  It’s not based on common consensus from documented scientific study.  This brings us to one of life’s most perplexing issues.  How do we determine truth in matters of deep mystery?  Over the centuries, those wielding the most power dictated societal ‘truth’.  Whether accurate or not, the person in the most powerful office could simply command authority of belief over those subjected under him/her.  This parental attitude of “Because I say so” seems to be dramatically challenged in this day of rapid change.  It begs us to all examine the nature of authority and decision making.


The Program for a New American Century played a huge influence in the Bush administration’s belief that it had world dominant authority to take offensive actions against other nations.  It forces us to examine where authority to intervene in another nation’s affairs comes from, particularly when it’s from a preemptive attitude rather than from a retaliatory position.  America intervened with a belief about what’s best for government in the Middle East. It did so without the consensus belief from other nations. Today, as we face governments that appear intent on gaining power through means of threat, we come to question the alternative to the Bush doctrine of force without consensus from the global community.  


We’re also at pivotal points in consensus belief in key issues dealing with personal freedoms.  Exactly when does the soul/personality enter the human form?  Just as we’re learning more and more about what happens when form leaves, we’re also learning more and more about how soul comes into form.  These insights from quantum physics have more congruency to ancient spiritual wisdom and conflict dramatically with the old dualistic paradigm and authority dictated from various religious organizations.  Issues of abortion, gay rights, capital punishment, preemptive war, and gun control, etc., continue to draw billions of dollars from various church and political organizations attempting to sway community consensus on these issues of belief.  Real attempts to steward the health of a nation are often sidetracked by these issues of belief and the emotive fights that ensue around them.


Society’s greatest challenge is to hold peace in these areas of uncertainty, as consensus assigns authority, yet holds an open mind to ever changing information and conditions.  As we look at the harm done from holding beliefs of bias against race, gender and religion, we can see the dramatic evolution in changing mindsets with an accelerated change in landscape.  The dominant consensus for authority in the executive branch of government was to give authority to a man of color, intelligence, and apparent sincere desire to collaborate.  This is a tremendous shift in orientation from the forceful Bush approach of “Because I say so”.  There’s willingness to open to participation from others.  There’s recognition that our global community is changing at a pace never before experienced and creative input from all corners will be invited.


Are we finally coming to a shift in how we determine our acceptance of belief?  Can we move beyond antiquated notions that things don’t change?  Can we accept the scientific facts of entropy…that energy disperses?  Can we recognize the now scientifically documented belief that everything is connected, everything affecting everything?  Can we finally move to that space where we once again touch the commands of all ancient spiritual traditions…the command to act with others with the knowledge that we are each other?  Can we move beyond forceful authoritative stances of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and start dedicating our resources to exploring deeper questions?  In effect, can we move from persuasive monologue to open listening and dialog?  Can we move from our strategies of cleverness from the mind to actions from the heart?


It’s my contention that when we openly move to actions from the heart we touch divine authority.  When we can surrender our beliefs and fixed notions of ‘knowing’ to the deeper collaborative circle, God provides the healing response.


Peace is an ongoing practice.  My fixed notions of belief jeopardize peace.  Whenever I stand in judgment of another’s sense of ‘knowing’ I jeopardize peace.  In practice, my most responsible approach to peace may be to simply question my perceived adversary with the question of, “So where do you find the authority of your belief?”  This may then be followed with, “So where do you find the authority to command that I believe what you believe?”  In matters that are not solidly founded in scientific research, the only response may be to defer to the laws of the land as voted upon by the people.  In dictatorships, the people have this freedom taken from them.  At this point a higher global authority needs to be invited in.  And so we struggle with our Rowanda’s, Serbia’s, Darfur’s, Sri Lanka’s, and Burmas.


I’ve personally had years of conflict with adversaries holding different beliefs about our agreements.  They employ tactics of anger, intimidation and threat to encourage acceptance of their belief system.  My most successful response is to non-emotionally hold to the question of authority.  Simply put, “From where do you find your authority to make the demands you do?”


It’s like they say the sky is red.  I see the sky as green.  Our judicial system is set so we all spend thousands of dollars trying to persuade an ‘authority’ that the sky is indeed red or green.  The authority (judge, arbitrator, or jury) then is vested with power to determine the color of the sky.  They have authority to rule from their ‘belief’.  The sky may be blue, however, given the persuasive arguments presented, we have agreed to live by their ruling that the sky is red or green.  Some of life’s greatest pain comes from our later discovery that the sky is indeed blue, even though we live under the belief that it’s red or green.  Certainly, there was a long period of transition before people accepted the notion of a round earth.  Unfortunately, in most legal disputes, we’ll never have the absolute evidence that documents the blue sky.  Without DNA, accurate video recordings of events, etc., we’re asked to rely on the plastic, inaccurate memories of the parties in dispute.  The more we learn of our limitations of memory, the more we discover the lunacy of accepting eye witness reports as factual evidence to be used as sole evidence against another.


It’s a low level vibration that claims truth from the dictum of “Because I say so”.  At higher levels of vibration, we speak of our direct experience (knowing) from the heart.  We listen without judgment, with curiosity to further explore the unknown.  We carry faith that a richer answer will be provided from a deeper collaborative question.  We recognize the pitfalls in taking things personally, in feeding ego’s desire to fixate on an answer, and we drive in deeper courage to face life’s uncertainty.  We recognize the responsibility we have to participate, to show up and pay attention, to do our best to collaborate, and to be at peace in knowing the result is always surprise.


In summary, our deepest gratitude can come from flexibility in our belief system.  Our greatest courage comes from our deepest humility, in forever holding curiosity to another’s sense of knowing and not knowing.  A life dedicated to power accumulation, persuasion, and dominion over the freedoms of others may ultimately turn out to be the most constricting prison imaginable.

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