Tag Archives: beleifs

Whose universe is it?

In the last week or so, a collision of two books has got me thinking about the nature of reality and how we relate to it. (Jack Barrow’s The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil was one of them). For the magician, the self is the centre of the universe, and the will / imagination can direct said. I’m a long way from being an expert, but as I understand it, holding that belief is rather necessary if you want to go about doing magic. Now, on the Zen side, Jo points out there is one universe and we’re not the centre of it and if we can learn to see ourselves as part of the flow we’ll be able to get along a lot better.

I find both ideas compelling, and after some serious pondering I have come to the conclusion that these things are probably both true. One universe where you are not the centre, another where each of us the centre of his or her own universe and able to shape it by force of will. The life we live, the way we experience things, the choices we make – come down so often to our perceptions and beliefs. If I believe the universe is out to get me, I’ll see proof of that in every setback, and will resolutely ignore the opportunities that came with the setbacks, potentially to my own detriment. If I believe that I am divinely inspired with a special job to do, I’ll look around me and see proof of that in every rainbow and cupcake that comes my way. We see what we want to see.

What’s probably least helpful is bumbling through life without any deliberate choice about how to engage with the world. I don’t mean a ‘go with the flow’ attitude here, I mean a total lack of engagement with anything. The kind of blinkered view that makes it impossible to connect outcomes to actions, to predict how what we do today might shape our options for tomorrow, and to be able to see how other people’s motives might affect things. I’ve encountered that kind of wilful blindness, that refusal to see how what we do influences what we get, often coupled with an inability to imagine that other people are different from us, want different things and react in different ways.

I’m not sure it entirely matters what your relationship with the universe is. I am utterly convinced of the importance of having a considered approach to living and being. Even if that doesn’t fit into an existing idea about how to do things. But then, I’ve also seen so many human relationships conducted with no consciousness of cause and effect, or the implications of difference, too. Things work better when we pay attention to them, think about them, and do not take them for granted.

I am the centre of my own little universe. I am also aware that everyone around me is the centre of their own little universe too, no one of these any more important than any other, all of them able to influence how my bit of reality functions for me, all of them potentially influenced by what I do. Perhaps it could be a lot simpler than that, but I find this perspective works enough for me, so it’ll do for now.

Everything you know may be wrong

One of the things about learning, in any subject, discipline or aspect of being, is that the information changes. This year’s splendid insight becomes next year’s embarrassing mistake. To learn in an ongoing way, it becomes necessary to be willing to challenge, poke, reinvent and sometimes entirely throw away beliefs and ideas to move on. Deciding whether the new information is rubbish, or the old idea is outdated is never easy. I’m no more in favour of the philosophy that old is wrong than I am of clinging at all costs to what we think we already know.

The act of quitting the mainstream for any alternative view of the world, requires a person to ditch a lot of assumptions. Druidry calls for this. You have to reconsider your relationship with the land, your ancestry, the future, and everything you interact with. This takes a while, and there’s a lot of pressure to go back to the familiar old ways, to the life of TV, commute, work pointlessly, and consume.
Shifting towards a life of contemplation, meaning, minimal consumption and looking for work that has innate worth, is demanding and challenging in so many ways. It also rewards us in ways we could not have imagined before we started.

Of course I did all of that years ago. It would be very easy to get smug and comfortable with what I have now, to assume that I know it all, have it all figured out, am living in the best way possible. That would be a druidfail of significant proportions. The thing about learning is that you don’t get to do it once and have that be it. Learning is a process and a way of life, not an event. There are always new things to learn, deeper truths to find, insights to explore and changes to make. I can always aspire to do better than I have done, to go further. I can always challenge myself. The day I decide I’m good enough and can stop trying is the day I cease to be a Druid.

I’m currently wrestling with perceptions about my own body and identity. I have long carried the belief that I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. I’ve been told I have a low pain threshold, make a fuss about nothing. I also fear that I’m lazy and that if I don’t feel like doing something that has more to do with idleness than illness. And so last week when I started feeling ill, I just kept pushing to carry on as normal. Unless a fever actually puts me in bed, that’s what I always do, to make sure I’m not acting out of hypochondria or laziness. What’s happened is that I’ve progressively got more ill, to the point whereby I have to consider that I’m not making a mountain out of a molehill and that I really do need to stop.

This has been hard for me. It takes me deep into some long held beliefs about myself. Those are safe, familiar beliefs and I know how they work. They go with a bunch of other beliefs about worth and ability to judge. Even though these beliefs are having the effect of making me more ill than I evidently was, I still want to cling to them. I don’t think that’s unusual. This is my reality, my sense of self. If I relinquish that, who am I? What have I got? What do I know? Scary stuff. I would have to start from scratch and figure a lot of things out again. I’d have to admit how many years I’ve been going round holding a wrong belief, and I’d have to feel a bit stupid for having done that, which is also threatening. It would be easier to carry on being who I had been, holding my beliefs, doing what I’ve always done. Except there’s a real possibility that if I keep disbelieving my own body, one of these days it’s going to kill me.

Letting go of belief and assumption is not easy. Just recognising that these are ideas and opinions, not unassailable facts is a pretty hard process. Changing beliefs that I’ve held for years is alarming, and difficult. But here I am, in the duvet, and I’m trying to think differently.

Everything I thought I knew could be wrong. Every day is a new opportunity to reinvent both myself and my entire understanding of everything. It’s both liberating and intimidating.

Belief and Meaning

I have a feeling it was the character of Marcus in Babylon five who commented on how much worse life would be if we felt we deserved what we got. Life is not reliably kind, and often more like the opposite. I find in face of setbacks, that I get the downright unhelpful urge to look for meaning. The desire to extract meaning from the chaos that is reality underpins so much of what humans do. It is the basis of all science, philosophy and much artistic endeavour. We want it to make sense.

One of the common arguments against faith of any kind is that everything we observe makes it clear the universe is neither fair nor friendly. At best we might understand it as neutral, but there are days when downright hostile seems a more realistic interpretation. Different faiths and philosophies offer different ways of coming to terms with this. I think they can be divided into taking comfort from the idea that there is a god, and/or a much nicer afterlife to look forward to, or learning to adapt the mind in ways that making living a less painful experience. Not all such solutions need be faith based. Opting not to care is one of the easiest ways to avoid pain.

For a long time, I’ve resisted the possibility of religion as comfort. I have never really wanted my Druidry to comfort me. Except possibly sometimes in the middle of the night when, sleepless and overwrought I can see no way through. The thought of some friendly parent-god with words of encouragement and wisdom has its appeal then. Of course I want someone to promise me it’s all going to be ok. I probably wouldn’t believe it if they did.

What does Druidry offer you, during one of those long nights of the soul? What is there to turn to when life shows another hostile or malevolent face? When there is no justice, no peace and no apparent way forward? Druidry most certainly doesn’t tell us to sit back and wait for God to fix it, or that it is all part of some plan for our betterment that we mere mortals aren’t able to comprehend. Does anyone really draw comfort from such ideas anyway?

In the long dark, sleepless hours, in the dark night of the soul, my Druidry says ‘this too shall pass.’ Tomorrow the sun will come up, same as usual and if it doesn’t, you’ll have far bigger things to worry about than this latest setback. My Druidry says that the only sure fire way to lose is by giving up and reminds me that I would not have chosen the paths that involved not caring, not feeling. I can look back over recent events and recognise that yes, while I’ve made a bucketload of mistakes, I’ve not acted dishonourably. I’ve always done what seemed right, its just that there were times when the information I had to figure that out from was exceedingly faulty. That’s not always much comfort, but I know from experience it beats the hell out of lying there awake thinking you might have acted dishonourably.

My Druidry reminds me that plenty of people have it worse, but not that this is a reason to belittle or ignore my own distress. I pause to be grateful for what I do have, and to remind myself that life goes on and I am not beaten. It also encourages me to make the best of things, to focus on the good, and to extract what meaning I can from experiences. I don’t have to view the current trials as life being hostile. These are opportunities to test my strength, to prove my courage, to demonstrate that money is not the be all and end all and that I will not bow down in face of bullying behaviour. If life was always easy, I’d have no scope to prove myself.

Although a day off now and then wouldn’t go amiss. As Tom says, it’s character building. I am going to end up with so much character that other people will catch it just by standing in proximity to me. I’m going to drip puddles of it onto floors.

We can’t really know how anything we is, but how we understand it shapes our experiences. Hello hostile universe. How are you going to behave if I start treating you as though this is all very helpful and productive?

When Worlds Collide

What happens when we run into something – be it an individual, or an organisation with such radically different beliefs to our own, that there is no scope for finding common ground or areas of overlap? For pagans, encountering people for whom your world view simply does not exist, is not an unusual experience. It’s not a problem exclusive to us – every field of study and human endeavour has scope for paradigm clashes. I know many pagan folk who have found themselves at odds with their families, because of irreconcilable beliefs. Such situations can be painful indeed.

I was exposed to post modernism at college. I learned that there is seldom any such thing as objective truth, there is only the perspective you are looking at things from, the beliefs influencing your perceptions, your own capacity to understand, and so forth. Two people can understand the same experience in totally different ways – with all due reference to the story about the blind men and the elephant. However, in that story, we can see that the blind men are each experiencing an aspect of elephant, their impressions are not irreconcilable with elephant, even if they cannot be reconciled to each other. Given a bit of time and encouragement, I have no doubt that these chaps could have figured things out.

We talk about the elephant in the room. I assume that’s generally taken to be a different metaphorical elephant, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe when things are hard, difficult to talk about, when we can’t reconcile our take with someone else’s we do need to recognise there is potentially an elephant in the room, and that we are only experiencing a part of it. Until we know what the other person perceives, we can’t get a grasp of the whole shape.

So at what point is it that we should refuse to accept another person’s conflicting take on things? When do we say “yes, there is an elephant in the room but you haven’t got to it yet.” When do we write someone else’s perspective off as insane? No doubt we all have at some point – religious fanatics of one brand or another being obvious candidates. We all have people we deem ‘nutters’ and whose opinions we ascribe to paranoia, or a flawed relationship with reality. It’s very easy to do that and avoid considering that another take holds merit when it is wildly at odds with how we understand things to be. And equally, there are folk out there whose opinions we have to deem hopelessly wrong.

There’s a mental dance here that calls for both flexibility, and the knowledge of when to stand firm. When to listen, consider and accept the difference, when to learn, when to reject a lesson. After all, we can all get things wrong, especially when we only have a partial understanding.

I think all that we can rely on when it comes to these clashes of ideology, is honour. If a position is honourable, but flawed, or misguided, or partial, that’s very different from a position that is inherently dishonourable, or that facilitates dishonourable behaviour. When you meet a belief that challenges you, ask what purpose it serves. If it functions to oppress, bully, restrict or undermine, reject it. If the effects are neutral, you can disregard it, or learn from it as you prefer. If you encounter a belief or idea that enables someone to do their work in the world, to stand up with courage, to maintain their integrity, then even if you don’t agree with it, that has to be worthy of respect.