Beliefs: Gateways or Traps?

doorwayThe truth you believe and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.” -Pema Chodron, Buddhist Nun

“We have been raised to have beliefs; that means we have conclusions rather than experience.” –Richard Rohr, Catholic Priest

Definition of a Belief: Something I know to be true, but I can’t scientifically or objectively prove.

I have been thinking a lot about beliefs lately and how much they matter. Beliefs inform our actions. They both dictate and limit the possibilities of our lives. They kill people and they save people. And ultimately they both close and open the doors of our imagination. But what is a belief? How do I know if what I believe is true or not? And what is the purpose of a belief?

Beliefs, in large part, are given to us by our parents and culture. Some of the recent brain research is showing that from the third trimester in the womb until seven years of age, minds are totally permeable to their environment. That means, as children, we take in the beliefs of everyone around us; they are given to us as reality, and they are given to us as the only reality. Beliefs sit deep in our unconscious as well as conscious mind, well protected from scrutiny.

But beliefs also come from our own experience. When our experience matches our beliefs, all is well and good. But if our experience is in conflict with our beliefs, there is a problem. Now we have a choice to doubt our experience or to question our belief. This is when life gets interesting and growth becomes possible.

Beliefs are important for groups of people to function together. They are important for organizations to accomplish things. They can open up imagination and new possibilities. But they can also become rigid within us, closing us off from the challenge of new ideas. And they can spur massive death and destruction. Beliefs deserve to be examined.

I will be doing a seminar on November 3rd as part of the University of Minnesota Duluth Freshman Diversity opportunities sponsored by the Interfaith Task Force. (see schedule) Please join me to discuss this important topic.



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