Is There an Experience of Belief?

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I think it’s true that experience is obvious. But there are also aspects to experience that are more complex or complicated.

Experience is Obvious…

We feel that of course we know what we are experiencing. It is obvious (to us at least). Whether what we perceive is inside or outside our skin it feels natural and obvious to us. Experiencing doesn’t seem problematic: it is immediate, here-and-now, just plain obvious.

I think it is important to acknowledge that this is true. We can get way too caught up in analysis, reasoning, planning and much else and ignore what is obvious. I can get absorbed by the internet and ‘forget’ that I haven’t eaten for ages, my muscles are getting tight, my eyes are tired and that I will find it hard to go to sleep. It only takes a moment’s pause to realise at least some of these things. I then realise that these things were pretty obvious.

This can lead to those embarrassing moments when people see us more clearly than we do. Those times when sometimes says to us something like: “You’re really upset about this aren’t you?” or, “You’ve been different ever since [you got together with, did that retreat, got that new dress/car, etc.]”.

…Or Not

I think it’s true that experience is obvious. There are also aspects to experience that are more complex or complicated. Sometimes we don’t know if that blur is a plastic bag being blown or an animal running. We can hear our name at a party but weren’t aware that we were listening for it. We can discover that we actually enjoy and are good at things that we never suspected. (I discovered I could do leather stamping when I was working in a drop-in-centre: I didn’t know until then that there was such a thing, but it came naturally to me.)

Experience is the Opposite of Belief…

If I have an experience of something this can render belief irrelevant. I don’t need to believe that this keyboard I’m typing on will work; I can see that it is. Whether I believe it is working or not is not important, it is working — verified in experience.

I think probably the most important religious figure of the twentieth century was Jiddu Krishnamurti (he asked others to call him “K” so I will). In an interview with an Australian (Paul Collins), K was asked, “Do you believe in God?” K responded along the lines of, “Why is the question always about belief? What does it matter if I believe in God?” This puts the contrast between belief and experience very sharply I think.

…Or Not

My current partner and I liked each other from the moment we met. Gradually the conviction grew in both of us that we had found our life partner. We have now come to the belief that we will be together for life.

Could we be wrong? Stranger things have happened.

Our belief is an important part of our experience. It is, in one sense, more than a decision. Talking about this belief refers to a feeling of confidence. This confidence is based on our liking for each other and having resolved some very big difficulties together. There is some evidence that we can get through stuff respectfully and go forward together; in this sense it is a well-founded belief.

But to me that sounds too cerebral. My belief is more than an assessment based on a dispassionate consideration of evidence (to date). And a consideration of past evidence is a perilous basis for future certainty.

The Experience of Belief

For me, the experience of belief is more than cerebral. There is some confidence involved. I do think that belief can be falsified by experience (my belief that this computer will always work when I press the start button may be shown to be wrong one day), but for me there is a dimension to belief that reaches beyond our experience.

I’d love to hear your experiences of belief. I feel that I’m stretching to say what I mean with this post; my ideas certainly aren’t settled. Let me know how you think about belief, and what it feels like for you. I’d love to hear from you if you feel that belief is plain illusion, or if you feel that your beliefs are beyond being proved wrong, or if you fit somewhere in between.

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