Friday, November 25, 2011

to believe or not believe ... is that a question?

Everybody believes something, I imagine. From hula hoops to self-esteem, everybody believes something. And it seems to be OK: Belief inspires action and everybody was built to act in one way or another. But belief means doubt and the stronger the belief the more doubt-filled the lifestyle. It behooves a sensible person to investigate beliefs and the choke-hold with which they are grasped. It's uncomfortable and far from peaceful to live in doubt. Peace is preferable and the only way I can think of to find peace is to get to the bottom of doubt -- the bottom of belief.

This all may sound a bit philosophical and airy-fairy until you look around. What, for example, is money if not a belief system? When you hand me a dollar, we share a belief that this piece of paper is worthy of some concrete thing -- a candy bar perhaps. When we share the belief, things go swimmingly. But where the belief is withdrawn ... then what?

One of the world's richest families, the Oppenheimer dynasty, has decided to divest itself of its holdings in DeBeers, the company with what I understand is a monopoly on diamonds and their distribution. Diamonds, as this Reuters story points out, are not "intrinsically valuable." The Oppenheimers were squeezed for cash and the sale of its diamond holdings seemed a sensible move. The belief in diamonds is waning. If fewer and fewer believe, then wealth, the stuff that business people adore and depend on, dwindles... and the doubt that belief appeared to keep at bay gains an unacceptable power.

Gold seems to be suffering a similar weakening of belief, though I can't pretend to understand the complexities of its recently-shrinking price.

And what is the ordinary result of a belief under pressure from the facts? I don't mean just sissy-safe topics like diamonds and gold ... what happens when some deeply-held belief comes under assault in your life and mine? The first, sometimes desperate, move is to reassert the belief with an ever-greater force ... rush around and find new and better reasons and explanations that will bolster this long-held and much-beloved belief... to create for a former 'authenticity' what must now be made even 'authenticate-r.' And so the spiral of belief rises, higher and higher -- ever corrected, ever improved, ever more assertive -- with nary a glance at the foundations of what shaped the belief in the first place ... doubt.

Belief inspires action. Good. But when held tight-tight-tightly, it invariably asserts and nourishes the doubt that fathered and mothered its birth. Doubt inspires action. Good. But when tight-tight-tightly held, it invariably asserts and nourishes the belief that fathered and mothered its birth. Like a dog chasing its tail, there seems to be no way out of this dynamic and sometimes heart-breaking activity.

The Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki was once asked about the importance of Zen practice. He said, "It's important, but it's not that important."

Belief is important.

Doubt is important.

But it's not that important.

Or, as the refrigerator magnet once asserted, "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly."

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