When we hold too tightly to our beliefs, it’s often because we are afraid. We become defensive and resist opening our minds to new ideas or perceptions. Beliefs make a ‘known’ of the unknown. Beliefs make presumptions about what is yet to come, how it will be, what it will mean and how it will affect us. Beliefs are a way of creating order for what feels chaotic. Because the unknown is uncomfortable and we don’t want to be uncomfortable.
We want a roadmap to get from A-Z. We want to succeed. We want to get it right! The challenge is that life doesn’t always work out as planned. When life gets messy, which it inevitably does, then our prescription for dealing with the situation may not work. In our desire for order, we can become so rigid in our beliefs and approach that we have difficulty navigating the inherent fluidity and disorder of life.
The discomfort of uncertainty is the most precious part of the experience. If you can be comfortable with not knowing, you can learn anything. And if not, you’ve stopped before you’ve begun. ~Professor Wilder
Faith is the ability to move forward even without knowing. It enables us to be willing to explore and be comfortable in the unknown. To test our beliefs and see if they match the truth of our experience. To trust that we can navigate the disorder and bumpiness of life. Beliefs are powerful yet we can change our beliefs.
In her book, Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience Sharon Salzberg, renowned meditation instructor, shares a Buddhist perspective that when we hold onto our beliefs too tightly they ‘contour reality for us’ and it’s like looking at the sky through a straw. The sky is a vast open space of varied perspectives and possibility. We are seeing only a very small part of the sky through our straw yet we are convinced we are seeing the whole. Think of the arguments we get into because we’re comparing straws, adamant that our view is right or best or the only.
Confronted with the vastness of the sky, and unsure where safety lies, we often seek refuge in our own very special straw. ~Sharon Salzberg
Compare the rigid edge of a straw to the ever-changing expanse of sky. Not only is the view from a straw narrow, it is not expandable. A straw holds its shape, at most only able to be flattened. Unless you're using a metal straw!
While beliefs typically come to us from outside—from another person or a tradition or heritage—faith is developed within, from our active participation in the process of discovery. Faith is like a letting go and trusting in the unfolding. Developing faith and this trust means we need to put continued on-going effort into pairing actions with intention to discover what’s possible. To find opportunity. To figure out what works uniquely for us to grow our confidence and our faith in our ability to continue to take action. It’s like an on-going discovery of your 'more-in-me.'
Present moment awareness helps us see the gaps in our suffering. To feel all our emotions. To notice the itty bitty moments of shift amidst pain and anguish that remind us that nothing is static, that things will change. Ask:
For example, you might have a sense of calm watching the sun come up in the horizon, a fleeting smile as squirrels chase each other in the yard, the pleasure of your first sip of coffee in the morning. These little moments of awareness help instill faith that even when life seems really tough and unchangeable, little moments of joy are present too. These pleasant moments help us see gaps in our suffering, chipping away at what has felt impenetrable or unchangeable. In fact, the one thing we do know is that everything in life is always changing.
Having present moment awareness allows us to see and feel the constant shifts. Meditation, journalling or daily gratitude are ways to develop the awareness of the shifting nature of life.
Faith includes the understanding that we don’t know for sure how things will unfold. We can’t control the future. However if we can find it in ourselves to trust our ability to deal with whatever unfolds, we initiate an upward spiral of faith and trust and wisdom to keep taking action.
When you think you’ve reached your limits, maybe it’s just the view from one particular straw that you’ve been looking through. When you take that straw away, the vastness of the sky is the vastness of your ability. The ‘more’ you have in you, waiting to be explored regardless of the circumstances.