belief


When I was young I had a traumatic experience. And no, I’m not going to talk about it here because it’s my experience and deeply personal. I kept it to myself for three decades until after years of therapy I finally built up enough trust to speak of it. This was not a repressed memory, it was one I had always had, I just didn’t tell anyone about it because of a toxic mix of shame and fear. After telling my therapist, I told the people I was closest to and they helped me heal, but I’m done talking about it. Because if I am allowed to speak of it if I want to, to whomever I choose, then I am surely allowed to keep silent about it.

I only bring it up now because I want to talk about false memory syndrome. You see, there are things about my traumatic event that I know absolutely happened. But the tricky part is, there are other things surrounding this event that I know absolutely never happened. The insidious part is, in my mind and in my spirit, when those images and memories pop up, they are as real as the stuff that really did happen, even though I’ve proven to myself they are false. Because I’ve lived with this for a long time, when they pop up I can tell them firmly, “You’re not real.” I try to “gray them out” in my mind’s eye—but I accept that they will be there for as long as I live. Or at least until this current configuration of my brain exists.

It’s pathetically easy to plant false memories into almost anyone’s mind. The younger a person is when the attempt is made, the stronger and more tenacious the false memory will be—but even adults are not immune to false memory creation.

I hate it. It calls everything I’ve ever experienced into question. That’s why, whenever I have an incident, I go over it again and again, obsessively. I return to the place where it happened to make sure I was seeing the terrain correctly. If possible, I call in other people to either verify or deny, confirm or shrug helplessly. I pick everything apart, endlessly.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more accepting. I accept that the human mind has more in common with a hall of mirrors than a straight look into a glass. As far as I know, I only have the one false memory—but that’s the tricky part about them, isn’t it? Still, I try not to live in denial of all my experiences because that way lies madness. These days I accept, verify if possible, and move on.

Yes, I know I’ve spoken of having a number of extraordinary experiences, and admitting to having even one false memory calls them all into question, even to myself. Fortunately, I’ve had a number of these experiences in the company of others, or confirmed by others outside my own head, or confirmed by subsequent events, to know that sometimes weird stuff just happens to me.

But there will always be that niggling kernel of doubt, that gray area in my mind and spirit, that says this happened when it most assuredly did not. It’s a peculiar agony. It’s also my hedge against being a true believer in anything. Or anyone. I have yet to figure out if that’s a tragedy or a fail safe.

Random quote of the day:

“Even when believers earnestly explain how things are and disbelievers earnestly listen, disbelievers go away unchanged because facts are the least of their differences. It’s perception that separates them. That’s how it is, and that’s how it has always been. Those who must see to believe don’t believe enough to see. And those who believe enough to see won’t stop believing, no matter what they see.”

—Christine Wicker, Lily Dale: The Town That Talks to the Dead

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

I was having a very interesting conversation over on Dreamwidth with my friend notasupervillain in the Comments section of my last Musings post (July 24, 2019). It grew into a post-long exchange. I have taken my part of the conversation and reproduced it here, cleaned it up, and expanded a bit. I’ve left the original exchange as is in the Dreamwidth Comments.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not young enough to be absolutely certain I know the truth. The shades of grey multiply with each year. But that’s okay. The things that are important are beyond those kinds of thought processes. We can feel around their edges, if we try real hard and remember they’re always changing shape anyway.

—from my original Musings post of July 24

I’ve known many truths, but they keep shifting as time passes. So, I’ve stopped trying to hold onto them and I certainly don’t try to convince anyone of their validity. Not like I used to when I was young. Whatever works for as long as it works.

This shiftingness of truth applies even to (or especially to) religious faith. I’ve long maintained that faith is experiential, not received wisdom. I don’t reject received wisdom out of hand—often it is quite valuable—but if all you have is that received wisdom, faith is never going to withstand the rigors of living. Once you’ve crossed that boundary of experience, though, faith has the ability to adapt and change. If you let it. Some people are so wedded to a single interpretation of spiritual experience they can’t see beyond it and try bending all of life to their rigid mold…until it breaks. Adapt or die.

I’ve never been religious, but I consider myself spiritual. That spirituality is fostered and sustained by numerous experiences I’ve had that convince me there is something in the universe besides materiality. Some of these experiences I’ve had alone, some with others, some have been creepy, some have given me great comfort. But they are the basis of my faith.

Now, because I am who I am and always questioning, I’ve long-since reconciled myself to the fact that they may be illusion, “mistaken identity,” brain chemistry, etc., etc. As I have more and more experiences, though, it gets harder to deny that something weird is going on. But I try to stay flexible with it, not confine it. I let it seep inside me, grow and change—I stay mindful.

If I was a strict Baptist or a Catholic, for instance (and as I understand it from some strict Baptists and Catholics of my acquaintance), I might have to consider some of these experiences as manifestations of the devil (because they believe all ghosts and other things are evil spirits trying to fool us into thinking we’ve been contacted by our deceased loved ones, etc., etc. ad nauseam). If I believed there was one God who was just and righteous and ruled over everything, I might ask myself, “So why did He allow the Holocaust to happen?” and it might shatter (or at least erode) my faith.

But the one thing that I know absolutely is that I don’t know what rules the universe. It may be nothing, it may be a lot of somethings, it may be one something in many aspects, it may be something I can’t even conceive of in with my limited human POV. I don’t even know if it’s a just universe. I know what I feel and what I’ve come to believe, but that hardly constitutes proof that someone else can take to the bank of faith. All I can really count on are my experiences, not the received wisdom of a religion or religions—which are always filtered through limited human perception anyway. That wisdom may point me down a path, but I am always going to have to be the one who walks that path and decides for myself what I see. Those experiences are not something you can hand off to someone and say, “Here, this happened to me so you should believe as I do.” If they haven’t had their own experiences, it’s not going to stick. But that hasn’t stopped many people trying to do just that through the centuries.

I know that I do not know, and I have my experiences, which allow me to feel comforted—if not always comfortable—in the midst of a vast uncertainty. They allow me to adapt and change, and to keep seeking answers, following paths, being surprised when new things occur to me that I hadn’t considered before, and moving forward.

Random quote of the day:

“Believe, and you shall be right, for you shall save yourself. Doubt, and you shall be right, for you will perish. The only difference is that to believe is greatly to your advantage.”

—William James, “Rationality, Activity and Faith”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

Random quote of the day:

“In relation to the late war, one question that every pacifist had a clear obligation to answer was: ‘What about the Jews? Are you prepared to see them exterminated? If not, how do you propose to save them without resorting to war?’ I must say that I have never heard, from any Western pacifist, an honest answer to this question, though I have heard plenty of evasions, usually of the ‘you’re another’ type.”

—George Orwell, “Reflections on Gandhi”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Laurel and Hardy, Ariana Grande, or the Salvation Army Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Belief cannot be transferred, for it is a function of experience.”

—Dennis Gaffin, Running with the Fairies

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Orville and Wilbur, Katy Perry, or the Avengers. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“It’s easier for a Russian to be an atheist than for anyone else in the world.”

—Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Orville and Wilbur, Katy Perry, or the Avengers. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist.”

—Jean-Paul Sartre, The Words

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Orville and Wilbur, Katy Perry, or the Avengers. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are caves in which we hide.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“People don’t do what they believe in, they just do what’s most convenient, then repent.”

—Bob Dylan, “Brownsville Girl”

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

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