Faith and Doubt
by Diane Linsley
spiritual development. These stages are belief, faith, experience
Think of it as a pyramid with four levels. The largest number of
people are at the bottom of the pyramid. These true believers, as
Ken Wilber calls them, have a set of beliefs, or a map of reality, that tells them how to interpret the world. A person at this stage is attached to the map. He feels like his very existence is threatened whenever someone questions his beliefs. This is because he has confused the map with who he is. He has not yet experienced himself as the map maker.
Stage One: Belief
True believers are those enthusiastic souls who are sure they know the truth, and they must tell you their point of view. Of course, they are only interested in hearing what you believe so they can argue with your position. In extreme cases, the belief system of a group can lead to war or genocide, as people attempt to eradicate those who don't think like they do. True believers need opposition to define their position. As Eckhart Tolle says, "Who would the believer be without the unbeliever?"
Of course, belief itself is not a bad thing. Every time you are introduced to a new concept, you have to choose whether or not you want to believe it. All learning begins with belief. But it shouldn't end there.
One of the things I do as a life coach is help people become aware of their unconscious beliefs. I have processes that help clients uncover these beliefs so they can examine them more closely. It's always a shock for people to discover that limiting beliefs have been running their lives on the unconscious level. You can only change your life if you change your beliefs. With awareness comes choice.
Sometimes a person has positive beliefs, but they are struggling with a lack of faith. They may be trying to think positive, but their life is not reflecting positive results. In this case, we need to dig deeper to fing out what is really going on in their map of reality. What you think you believe and what you really believe (or fear) may be two different things.
Stage Two: Faith
The next stage of spiritual development is faith. What is the difference between belief and faith? Belief is conceptual. Faith, on the other hand, is the willingness to experiment on a belief in order to prove whether or not it is true. Not all beliefs hold up under the bright light of experimentation. If you never do an experiment, how will you know the truth for yourself?
The experimental stage of faith is active. It may include various techniques such as meditation, contemplation, or the coaching processes that I teach. These methods of self-inquiry help you sort through your beliefs so you can weed out the unresourceful beliefs and refine the more useful beliefs.
Most people think that faith is the opposite of doubt. But opposites are actually two ends of the same stick. Opposites go together and define each other. They come as a pair. They are inseparable like the two poles of a magnet. You cannot have joy without pain, up without down, life without death. When you pick up one end of the stick, you also pick up the other end. You cannot have faith without doubt.
Until people develop the ability to question everything, they live in fear of their beliefs being attacked by others. Doubting your own beliefs is very healthy. In fact, the stage of development that precedes enlightenment is often referred to as Great Doubt. At this stage, the spiritual seeker must learn to doubt everything. The beliefs that survive the fiery furnace of Great Doubt come out refined like pure gold, while everything that is unresourceful is burned away.
In the process of Great Doubt, the spiritual seeker develops the ability to see paradoxes. Paradoxes are the opposites that coexist in Reality. When you can't see the paradoxes, you are stuck in them. When you finally see them, you transcend them and discover a new perspective that integrates the opposites.
There is a beautiful Zen saying that expresses how faith and doubt go together:
Great doubt, great enlightenment.
Small doubt, small enlightenment.
No doubt, no enlightenment.
Some people suffer from the misconception that their doubts mean that they don't have faith. This can cause feelings of guilt, especially if they were shamed in childhood by authority figures. If they could see that their doubt is in proportion to their faith, they might relax. People of faith are always questioning. That's how they continue to progress.
One of my favorite books is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Because of her painful childhood, Jane begins to ask questions at a young age. She reads books and thinks deeply. Jane's aunt doesn't approve of questions, which she interprets as rebellion. So she sends Jane away to a strict religious school where the pupils are abused by the authorities. Throughout her life, Jane learns to stand up to many people, including the man she loves. Jane lives by internalized principles, not by external rules and mindless obedience to those who want to control her. This is a story of great faith and courage. True believers are afraid of doubt. They run away from it every time it arises. So they are unable to work through it and arrive at a higher level of understanding. I've known many otherwise intelligent people who stay on a low level of spiritual development because they run away from doubt. Consequently, they are stuck in pre-rational, magical thinking in their spiritual lives.
Fear arises with doubt - the ego's fear of being wrong. This happens when a person is taught that doubt is bad. What's so bad about doubt? Without doubt, there would be no human progress. Doubt is a natural part of the learning process and the development of the rational mind. Doubt causes you to ask questions. When you ask questions, you find answers.
Genpo Roshi says, "Have faith in your doubt." The moment you stop asking questions, you stop progressing. Humility is admitting that you don't have all the answers. Then you become teachable. When I was going through the stage of Great Doubt, there were two processes that were very helpful for me - Holosync meditation and Voice Dialogue. I recommend these processes to anyone who is serious about spiritual growth.
Stage Three: Experience
Faith and doubt motivate a person to seek for experience. Experience alleviates the tension of the faith/doubt polarization. A direct experience is shocking because it's never what you expected. It comes as a flash of insight that forever changes your map of reality. After such an experience, knowledge replaces faith. With your new understanding of Reality, you experience a feeling of peace, a sense of wholeness, and an increased ability to love yourself and others.
Ken Wilber says, "Authentic transformation is not a matter of belief but of the death of the believer; not a matter of translating the world but of transforming the world; not a matter of finding solace but of finding infinity on the other side of death. The self is not made content; the self is made toast."
The person at this stage doesn't try to force his views on others. He is more interested in hearing other people's perspectives because it broadens his own understanding. This is an exciting stage because everything seems new and wonderful. In Astral Dynamics, Robert Bruce says, "Experiential knowing replaces fear and uncertainty with boundless curiosity and joy."
Stage Four: Adaptation
After many more experiences, a person eventually goes to the stage of adaptation. He now lives from the higher perspective that was previously only an idea. Instead of having a map of reality, he lives in Reality. This stage has been described as "just like normal life, but two inches off the ground."
Eckhart Tolle says, "Many concepts disappear when the reality to which the concept points arrives. The very mental concept of it is not really necessary any more." For example, the person who has gone beyond the concept of love doesn't need to talk or think about love. His life is the embodiment of Love.
In The Secret of the Soul, William Buhlman says, "As you become increasingly directed by your conscious connection to soul, the priorities and beliefs of others will become less and less important. In the end, your burning need for spiritual self-knowledge will propel you forward, and you will never be able to go back to being dependent upon the prevailing beliefs around you."
Enlightenment is liberation from concepts and beliefs. At this stage, you cannot be controlled or manipulated by others because you are grounded in your own soul. You live in joy, not fear.
Of course, this is an ongoing process. In my own spiritual journey, there have been tremendous breakthroughs and life-altering shifts of consciousness. These shifts are followed by long periods of adaptation and integration. At each level, you have to build a foundation from which to launch your next big leap into the next stage of development.
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