22 October 2010

I am not what I don't believe

Part of my distress lately has come from the nature of my focus. Triggered or exacerbated by some stressful conversations of harsh judgement or even slightly derisive bewilderment and very painful and sudden rejection of some I felt "safe" with, I've experienced some intense emotions, with a lot of feelings of pain, rejection, etc. I have allowed certain of people's reactions to my current decisions and perspectives, and my intense sense that previously abstract differences in ideology had become an extremely personal war, to derail my focus.

I had been confidently pursuing what I believed, had done the best I could with the revelations or realizations I've found, and tried to live a life consistent with the principles I believe and the values I hold. I knew many in my life couldn't fully accept it, but they didn't have to: I wasn't beholden to their perception of truth or my former perception of it. But after feeling rejected just a bit too much, I became defensive, hurt, and a bit defeated. I wondered if pursuing truth really was worth the strife and the worry others seemed to experience over it and the friction it brought into my relationships either due to their reactions to my beliefs or my reactions to their concern or withdrawal. I started to focus much less on what I believe and value and instead on what I don't believe, on what I don't share with so many in my life anymore, on the community I was no longer a part of.

Not only did this create a sense of warfare against potentially misleading and destructive philosophies I "didn't believe", but I let it get to me to such an extent that I started defining myself in "nots" when contrasted with those who believe in the LDS church doctrines: "I'm a non-believer, I'm a fallen Mormon, I'm the devil (in their eyes) who used to be a golden child, I'm not a theist, I don't pray, I don't go to church, I don't share their faith or their joy in those beliefs, I don't accept what the general authorities say over the pulpit as scripture or even inspired, I don't...I'm not...I'm non-..." I lost sight of my convictions by looking at myself through the eyes of my self ten years ago.

Because my beliefs aren't enough for some to be at ease with me, because some people I care about have shut me out or see me as fallen and are praying for me to correct my ways, because some have limited their contact with me to not be influenced by my ideas, and because I completely understand that in LDS doctrine as the vast majority understand it, it doesn't matter how "good" a person is if they don't believe in the atonement or in a real, literal "Father in Heaven" because that is the whole crux of our very existence and our divine destiny for all eternity, I subconsciously started seeing myself through the eyes of my own fears, and it was not uplifting.

At some point, even though I see value in at least remaining open to the possibility that the tenets I used to believe in are true after all, I have to stop listening to the shaming or fearful voices around me and especially from my own "corrective" voice echoing from years past, insisting I must be fooling myself if I think I'm happy now, that I'm pitiable and deceived, that I've not tried hard enough, that I'll be redeemed only once I come back to the fold, that I'm no longer welcome in the sanctuaries or inner circles of those I care so much about because we no longer share what used to be precious to me and still is to them. I could choose to listen to that voice, but...why? In case it's true that I'm deceived and fallen, even though it doesn't ring true, despite my letting it create distance between myself and a newly pushed-away "them"? Because it would make life easier for me to just throw my stressful friendships away and blame it on judgements they may or may not actually be making?

I'm remembering to define myself not by what I am not, or what I "don't believe". I also don't believe there are monsters under my bed or ghosts creating every unexplained noise in the house. I don't believe the Hindu gods exist in any literal sense. I don't believe there's a fabulous pink hippo sitting in the chair next to me. I don't believe Islam or Catholicism is the one true religion as millions and millions of people in the world do. If I were from a family devoted to Islam, my lack of belief in the writings in the Qur'an might be a great source of stress and alienation for me, but I'm not, and it isn't.

When certain beliefs began to unravel, I held on to what I still did "know" or believe. I figured there was no point in scratching the whole just because a part was not what it appeared, and I knew throwing the whole thing out would probably leave a huge void. Over time, many gaps were filled in nicely, and I reluctantly let go of some lingering but withered conceptions to see what would happen. I think I'm still in that process, though towards the later part of it.

I still believe in many principles. I still hold many values. I still recognize forces and influences greater than myself, whether or not they have any grand, mystical explanation or personification. I may not believe in all of the things most people really close to me believe are the most important things to believe, but I have to define myself by my own beliefs, not in a "my way not God's" attitude but in a "this is what I believe is true and right, and whatever I might be missing will hopefully come in time" attitude. I have to pursue my own path and my own convictions and identify my sources of comfort, joy, confidence, peace, and hope. I have them. I have to follow truth the best I can and not cling to the way I used to see things just because once upon a time, they were enough, and for many, they still are enough.

No matter where I am headed, I will bring with me a firm belief in the value of circumscribing all truth, a desire for and belief in true conviction, belief in the necessity of being teachable rather than stiff-necked in the face of truths which are difficult to accept, belief in the power of bowing in acknowledgment of the unknown, striving for the harmony of thinking critically and adhering to proven principles even while being fully broken and freshly malleable, the resolution and motivating force of freely offering and requesting forgiveness, the loving devotion of service, a recognition of the ennobling influence of "tough love", a belief in the absolute necessity of remembering to view others as an all-knowing, all-loving parent might see them, the energizing, cleansing effect of maintaining a universal perspective in the face of potential entrapment into self-pitying patterns, a belief in the power of faith in the unseen and surrender of the need to control what is not in your control, a belief in the empowerment of self-mastery, a belief that weaknesses can train and instruct us rather than simply limiting us, a belief in the necessity of speaking up and standing for something, and so, so much more.

I will bring beliefs and faith which theoretically, to most theists, shouldn't hold up without God's power and influence in my life, such as a reassurance that whether from God or from somewhere within me, I've found the strength to weather hard times and make weaknesses become strong and will be able to do so again. I (cautiously) hope to be continually tested and humbled enough to be compelled to find that strength when I forget to exercise it of my own accord.

I believe or suspect things which an average LDS person may not relate to or agree with. And though I may respond to a question here or there or attempt to articulate aspects of those perspectives, I am no more keen on "defending" my beliefs now than I was defending my LDS beliefs against other Christians. It's time to re-learn to not defensively justify my beliefs but to embrace truth as I understand it, acknowledge that not all things will be known to any of us in this life, to share what makes me happy and what seems true, to offer perspective and comfort when asked and request it when needed, and trust that "it will all work out in the end" if we're each doing our best and opening our hearts and minds.

I recognize that increasingly demarcated battle lines may sometimes necessitate looking across enemy lines into the eyes of people I love. It would be naive to think we can all hold hands and sing songs of peaceful unification. There will always be beliefs which impose upon the beliefs or behaviors of others, and there will always be differing ideas of what "freedom" means or what is true. There will always be those who seek a preemptive and overpowering offensive rather than placing trust in negotiation and reconciliation. There will always be those who feign peaceful, open approaches with underhanded designs to confirm that distrust. Distrust and the perception that beliefs are irreconcilable and must be fought over are self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating, but they're not about to magically dissolve. I don't know what to do about that except take up arms when forced and try not to let bitterness and hatred in, to show forth increasing love after the battle, whatever side I end up on.

Wherever my "path" leads, whatever I choose to believe and trust, whatever truths seem self-evident to me, I have to remember that I'm not defined by what I don't believe but by what I do believe. I am defined not by what I am not but by who I am, and who I am will be reflected in my decisions and relationships throughout my life, the influence I have and the legacy I leave, the lives touched for the better. This goes far beyond motivating a few people to toe the party line more closely, leaving a money-amassing corporate empire, or leaving fruitcake on doorsteps one month a year. If I get to the end of my life, and nobody can honestly say they are profoundly better because of my life, I don't know if it matters how many fun experiences I had, how many cookies I made for people, how "right" I was about my beliefs, or whether I ever got my dream job. I don't want it to be about having something to prove, though. I want to live the best I know how, seek out truth to the best of my ability, leave the world a little better than I found it, encourage and enable others to do the same, experience and benefit from the talents and contributions of others who have achieved excellence in art, science, engineering, design, philosophy, or other aspects of life, and make cherished, shared memories along the way.


A Girl You Know said...

I've been trying to define what it is I do believe for years. I haven't even been able to make the commitment to call myself agnostic.

However, you just made my life better putting into words what I haven't been able to.

Although, I do believe we can hold hands and sing in unity. If only for the duration of the song. But that time matters, too... not just the very end of life, or the time when there are battles. Although battles continue forever, so do love and peace.

blj1224 said...

Those of us who love you will always love and appreciate you and enjoy your company and your friendship as much as we always have. Don't misperceive a strain in relationships with those closest to you because of philosophical differences. The fact that we don't agree about everything should not create emotional distance. We owe it to each other to respect our right to disagree without being disagreeable, to always cherish each other, and to protect relationships that we built together over many years through numerous hard time and good times. Sincere love and friendship don't require unanimity. Besides...I don't know anyone I enjoy spending time with more than I do with you :-)

Kiley said...

I love this post. What a great perspective. I wish I had this sooner. Falling into the trap of defining yourself by "nots" is so easy. I think I personally have spent a lot of time on the "nots" over the last year or so. It would be a good exercise to sit down an list what I do actually still believe in. It is not something I have done.

I also just want to say thank you for your blog. I read it on "reader" so I know it does not show hits and I don't comment much but I really appreciate your very direct and frank point of view.

Bravone said...

I love the self realizations in this post. From an outsider's perspective, these words seem like healthy progression, like someone comfortable with self, like a more focused man, like a man carefully opening up again to friendships with new confidence in his beliefs and values, and yet willing and able to look for good in others. I like!