The Nature of True Faith
In the previous blog I outlined the dangers of our human inclination to believe, in the sense of setting up mental constructs to relate to as opposed to simply being present to Life as it unfolds. I also described the faith that has developed within my heart and mind over time as to the invariable compassion and goodness of Life. This time I’d like to look into these things more deeply, and in particular to inquire into the nature of true faith.
The kind of “faith” promulgated by the religious institutions I grew up with is not true faith at all, in my opinion: it is belief. Those are two very different things. I was taught to accept without question a set of beliefs about who God is, what God wants from me, who I am in relationship to God, and the way in which God has shown up through history—and this was called “faith”. All this sort of faith does, as far as I can see, is to undermine the potential people have to be real adults and to see for themselves how life works. It turns us into obedient children, with the institution in charge of the beliefs as parent. Interestingly, I knew people within the churches I attended who had what I would call real faith, as in a deep and unconditional love of what they called “God”. In particular I’m thinking of my minister when I was a teen, and his family. They clearly believed the doctrines of the church they served, but they also had a faith that transcended those beliefs. I could not have articulated this at the time, but I felt it: I felt the integrity of their faith, and I admired them for it. Real faith of this sort is a rare and beautiful thing.
I would say that I have received a generous portion of faith, but it is not faith in "God", at least in the way most people use that word. "God" is a concept, not a reality. People create “God” in their own image in order to make sense of things so that they feel more comfortable. This is understandable, but there are grave consequences. Much of human suffering is rooted in the unexamined nature of the Gods we have invented. From what I have seen, there is an almost universal blindness that would have us project self-judgment and self-hatred onto "God" and then live in relationship to these things as if they are real. That is how we get a God who is punishing and vengeful, or a world view filled with scarcity and deprivation. My actual experience of what people call "God" is without concepts, and also without the projections of conditioned mind. I tend to use the word “Life” here in order to make a distinction between the great Mystery that I sense but cannot explain or describe and the lifeless beliefs of my ancestors. I have great faith in this thing I call “Life”, a faith based in my own intimate experience. I understand nothing about Life, I believe nothing about it (to the best of my ability), but I know it in a way that that involves no meaning, and I love it tremendously. This love, this faith in that which conditioned mind can never comprehend, makes sense of everything and provides for me a life that is a joy to live.
True faith, I would say, is a sort of understanding that results from experience in the present and outside of our conditioned belief systems; from carefully paying attention to how life works without presupposed notions or assumptions. When we are here, in the moment, we can let go of our social conditioning and directly experience Life, and from that experience comes an understanding that is not intellectual or even conceptual as to the reality of Life as it is. This understanding I would call “faith”. For example, over time I have developed a deep trust in Life. I know now from my intimate experience that if I will get out of the way, if I will get out of my head and into the moment, then Life will care for me perfectly. This has happened over and over, countless times, and so I now have faith in this process. I’ve learned that there is no need to be in charge of my life; that I don't need any control, and in fact to seek control is to push away the goodness I crave, and to shut it out of my heart and mind. Over time my growing faith has shown me that it is best to let Life take care of things. I just need to do what I’m told, and I am told moment by moment through the circumstances that Life puts in my way. After tremendous resistance for years I have accepted the reality that Life will not always give me what I think I want, and have acquired the faith that this is a good and necessary arrangement. Most often I only want things in order to serve ego, and this is not where my true happiness lies. My job, my faith tells me, simply is to do the work required to live in the moment, where Life's Guidance is. To understand the way that Life works, to have faith in it through simple experience, is a wonderfully relaxing and secure way to live.
I do not subscribe to a faith in particular things. I do not have a faith that I will never go hungry, for example, or that my future will be what I want it to be. This sort of “faith” is popular in alternative religions of various kinds. If I have “faith”, the belief is, then I will get what I want. In addition to being delusional, it also misses the main aim of human life, in my view, which is to transcend the self-centered ego and unite in being with Life. Faith for me is a process, not something that has predetermined results on the level of content. What happens happens, and there is no “I” to influence it. Rather than a faith that something will occur or not, the faith I enjoy is the faith, for example, that I will be adequate to any experience, that I will be given what I need when I need it, that everything that occurs is there for me to learn from, and that all happens in the way that is the most compassionate for all, even if I cannot understand how this is so. I don't pretend to know what is best for me on the content level. I have preferences, of course, but that's not the same thing. My faith tells me that what IS is good, even if it's not what I want at the time.
To live with true faith is to be at peace. It is to let go of everything and give it over to Life, and in this to have nothing to stress over or worry about. It is, blessedly, to have little reason to think. This level of faith, of course, is a tremendous achievement and requires great sacrifice. We must relinquish all that is not that faith if we will have it, but if we do, in my experience, we will receive everything we truly desire. My ambition in this life is to embody such faith. I am not there now, but I am on my way, and for this I feel most grateful. Such faith, as my teacher used to say, is “worth giving a life for”.