The Modern Necessity of Faith

Hi,

We live in a world revolving around the things we know, where science, measurements, and materialism have taken the highest position in the pyramid of things we believe in. Everything has to be exact, everything has to be quantifiable, everything has to be picked apart and understood so that we can integrate it within our lives without a doubt.

Especially our school system is very reluctant at allowing any kind of space for doubt, since we are “supposed” to know, from a tender age, the path we will want to walk on for our whole lives. What’s more, the holders of faiths, i.e. the current religious institutions, have made a business out of telling people how to live, claiming they found the answers to the mysteries of life, like the most ethical way to live or what happens when we die. All of this combined leads us to where we are now, gaining knowledge through empirical conviction, claiming it for truth, and dismissing anything requiring an ounce of unknown, for it is not a factor we can take into our calculations.

Even in our everyday lives we do this, constantly trying to explain why we chose this option and not the other, why we act a certain way, why we feel like this; our need for understanding is omnipresent, and so is the necessity of self-justification (which are basically the same). We need the answers, and we need them now. This is not to say that we can’t possess knowledge or an understanding of certain situations and the processes behind our action patterns, or at least possess them insofar as we take into account the perceptions we hold and have access to. The truth is, the data we use to build our understanding and our comprehensions is limited by the sensors we have to take and process those streams of data. Example:

I feel hungry and crave chocolate.

I believe I must eat something to satisfy my hunger.

I prepare myself some food, for example chocolate-cookies.

I eat those cookies.

Craving gone, and I don’t feel hungry.

 

Now, in this example, we received data-inputs, that is, hunger and a craving for chocolate. We then associated a way to deal with that data, which we acquired partly innately (eating to satisfy hunger), and partly through our experiences (I discovered chocolate). So we come up with a solution to this situation by answering the information we received and executing the pattern that we learned (hungry –> eat –> not hungry), and satisfied our craving in the mean time. Easy, simple, clear, we understand and we apply, no questions asked. 

This get interesting when we start to question why we had this craving for chocolate in the first place, and even hunger. Hunger can be easily justified by claiming that it is a biological necessity that our bodies have to nourish themselves in order to generate energy so that they can keep on keeping on. But then, what would be the biological imperative behind the chocolate craving?

One possible explanation is that, since cacao is a heart-warming psychoactive substance, we needed something to warm our hearts, possibly due to some lack of emotional nourishment, or perhaps as an add-on to the state we already feel.

So those are still reasons why we felt a certain way, and the justifications of why we acted the way we did following those feelings. If those explanations satisfy us (adding a certain mental well-being to the picture), we repeat those actions when we encounter the same data-input (hungry/craving for chocolate), and so we start building patterns that we understand and which can then become mindless, hence, no need for questioning or doubt. Just like that, the pattern imprints.

Or so we’d like to think. Expanding our understanding a bit, reasons and rationalization can take us beyond this simple execution pattern by filling it up with questions:

Should I really eat chocolate? Or cookies? What about the sugar? What about the cacao? Is it fair trade? What was the environmental cost of the packaging if I simply buy pre-made cookies? Are they filled with potentially unhealthy chemicals? Are they actually good for me? Should I fight the craving or go with it? Am I bad if I still feel cravings? Am I bad if I eat the whole box? Is it the right thing to do if I know that my craving comes from a place on emotional emptiness?

All of these are legitimate questions which can make the simple act of enjoying cookies quite the mental endeavor and so we try to answer them to calm our inner turmoils using the knowledge we possess and the understanding of the situation we can apply.

So, how does that relate to faith?

In the current example, faith comes in after the fact of us going through an entire box of cookies and feeling culpable about it, or right after receiving the sensory input that we are hungry and craving chocolate. In a nutshell, faith allows us to be okay with the actions we do, and the feelings we feel, even if we don’t understand them.

“I’ve been trying to avoid and change this certain pattern of mine which I believe to be unhealthy but have been failing miserably at it, I must be weak”. No, those associations are your brain tripping out, trying to make sense of the actions you took now. Were you really in control of your actions? Or were you reacting on an impulse triggered by an unpleasant sensation?

My aim here is not to get into a debate about free-will or to justify the satisfaction of all our cravings, but rather an invitation to cut ourselves some slack.

I have repeated this unhealthy pattern again. It is okay. I believe I can change that pattern. I have faith in my evolution despite apparent setbacks.

The truth is, there is a myriad of factors which guide our lives and choices every single instant, our will being a part of it, yes, but it is but a part of the whole. Our conditioning to associate chocolate with emotional well-being is one factor guiding the above choice, the belief that we must always satisfy our hunger is another one, I have been feeling sad lately and need a pick-me up can be part of it, I’m hungry and walking through the grocery store and see all those sugar-filled chocolate cookies which trigger a chemical craving for the high of it since society associated sugar and pleasure together and got us all hooked is another factor guiding my choices.

It doesn’t matter what we believe in, the details of how we try to explain the things we can’t understand, we all have our own way of processing the data we receive. We can find communion in faith though, as a notion that things are going the way they’re going because that’s how it is for now, and that it doesn’t necessarily always have to be the case, because I cannot know what comes next. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be paying attention to the actions we chose to execute, but rather to not lose ourselves in questioning our every choices despite conflicting beliefs and data clashing in our heads. Facing the unknown in a shared human (or any conscious being’s) experience, and trusting that things are going to be fine the way they are is faith. This is not to say that bad things won’t happen (the environment is still going to change, I’m still going to feel nauseous if I eat the whole box of cookies, and we’ll feel hurt if we break up), but rather that we can remain hopeful despite of them happening.

I feel it relevant now more than ever given the current state of the world as a whole and human society within it. There are so many dangers, so many things going wrong, so many ways we have to be, it’s quite easy to get lost in all of it and not knowing what to do or where to go, filling us with hopelessness. Faith has also gotten somewhat of a bad rep being associated with the current religious institutions and although it does strongly relate to religious sentiments (facing the unknown mysteries of our existence), it does not have to involve a specific deity in order to be applicable.

And so this is a simple invitation:

Have faith. In yourself, in others, in the world.

Everything’s going to be all right.

Warmly,

Luca

At least you tried…

Hello 🙂

          There has always been this ineffable divide between thinking about doing something, and actually doing it. Considering a certain action is easy, because all it requires is to think about it, imagine the possible outcomes, and hope things work out that way. Yet this does not allow the action itself to be actualized, for it is only reflected upon, and thus still remains within the confines of our minds. The separation occurring between the thought and the action is not an simple one to overcome, since they have to do with two completely different realms, the first being the comfort of our own imagination, while the latter happens in the real world, and has usually to do with others.
          As usual, the moment other individuals are taken into consideration, there will be a part of unknowable mystery surrounding the action, for we are forever cut off from the thoughts of those other people. This makes it slightly difficult to interpret their intentions and desires, and especially the way we should act (or not) towards them. A clear example of this complication is possible romantic or sexual interest. How can one know whether or not another person is interested in them or if they are being creeped out by your show of interest?? Body language goes a long way to help evaluate the situation, and so does the spoken language, but one can never actually figure it out without trying (to be understood as asking in this case).
          This may, of course, lead to the possibility of trying too much, which may then lead to awkward and uncomfortable feelings, and even to rejection, which may be hurtful, but will inevitably happen at some point. The secret simply seems to be to try anyways, and actually do the action instead of simply thinking about it. Acting on one’s desires removes this unknown, and prevents the over-thinking of the mind, which always leads to doubt. The same applies to other areas of one’s life, and not just the romantic or sexual aspects of interpersonal relationships. The gap between thinking and doing can solely be crossed by trying, for only then can we make the unknown known.
 Even though you never know
Just take a chance and let it flow
Until next time,
Luca

Fake it ’til you make it…

Hello 🙂

There is one thing we do every night, which can tell us something very interesting about how our bodies and our psyche connect. This is sleep, or rather, pretending to sleep until we actually do enter the realm of dreams. Indeed, every night we fake our sleep and this somehow tells our bodies that we want to sleep, until at some point we just pass out, without much extra effort than keeping up the pretense. This could lead us to believe that whatever we do with our body might actually have an effect on our mind, showing that not only mind over body works, but that the opposite relationship is efficient as well.

If this is the case then, it would open the door to a wider range of possibilities, where we could use our body to influence our mind in a specific way for whatever reason we might desire. One area which might be of interest is the relation between body posture and self-confidence. In a very interesting TED talk, Amy Cuddy actually explains in details how taking up certain “power poses” helps to increase our self-esteem, especially in situations were we might feel nervous and could use the extra confidence boost, like interviews, dates, or any other stressful events.

The same also works with laughing, for example, since one can start to fake laugh, and keep going until eventually that person will really start laughing, even if they might not have wanted to. But even more than laughter, this could be applied to any area of the psyche or of one’s personality that one might to want to work one, like being outgoing (or learn to become more recluse), confident, change to a healthier diet, and any other habit or lifestyle change one could think of. The idea is simply to pretend to be something in order to keep working on that something, until it has become a part of us. By this I do not mean to pretend to be someone we are not, or to go against our true self for the sake of social acceptance but simply to keep working on ourselves, get up to prevent laziness from taking over, and smiling even when we don’t feel like it, so that we can trick ourselves into being happy, regardless of our state of mind.

Until next time,
Luca

 

The Flame Within…

Hello 🙂

Everything has to start somewhere, for if there is no beginning, then inevitably, there cannot be anything following it, because otherwise, when would it have begun?? So since we need a beginning, let us begin at the beginning. The beginning of what you may ask?? To this I answer, the beginning of ourselves. Where do we start off, as people?? By this I do not mean people as in the larger population, but each person individually, where do we begin, and consequently, where do we end, since the notion of beginning itself brings about the idea of an ending?? The easiest and most frequent answer to this is that we begin and end where our bodies do, that we are defined and delimited by the physical shells we inhabit.

Yet is this an accurate answer?? In some sense, it is, because we are indeed restricted to our bodies while navigating the physical realm, we move with them, use them to interact with the outside world and they determine countless factors that influence us in our everyday life. Yet, despite all of this, is this really where we begin?? Isn’t there something deeper, more profound?? A whole other universe which we know exists, but are not necessarily always aware off, in the same sense we are of our bodies?? I believe so, and all it takes for anyone to verify the existence of this other realm, is to close their eyes and imagine themselves being in a place, any place, which makes them feel good, relaxed, at peace, and at home. The place in itself is irrelevant, but the simple fact that we can imagine ourselves being somewhere else than where we currently are shows us that there might be something other within us than only the body which delimits us. So since there is this mysterious place within our closed eyes, where do we fit in?? Are we only bodies who have the ability to imagine themselves in another place, imagining being whatever’s happening behind our shut eyes, which does not overlap the “reality” we see around us, and in which our bodies reside?? Or are we the opposite, creatures of our imagination who possess a body in the real world so that we can navigate in a realm common to others surrounding us?? Which comes first, the body or the mind?? This seems to be the question we have arrived at here, and it is a nice leap into the quest for where we begin as individuals, because we possess both of them, and even though they may have parts overlapping each other (inevitably…but going into depth there will be a story for another time), they are easily distinguishable.

Just as a clarification, throughout this post, and probably throughout most of my writings, what I refer to as the “real world” is nothing less than the reality we share with others, what two distinct individuals perceive the same way, or similarly, because everybody’s perceptions vary slightly. Also, what I refer to as mind in this case is simply what goes on in our heads, which no one else than ourselves will ever be have any kind of direct access to. Weird isn’t it?? The idea that there is a whole world within our heads that no other person will ever have access too…none other than ourselves, of course!!

Where were we…oh yeah, mind vs body…such a classical debate…well since we are looking for where we begin as individuals, why not go to the only place where we are perfectly alone, namely our mind?? I mean, our bodies are shared with the outside world, but since we are always within our heads, and that our minds usually act…well think…faster than our body can act, it seems to me that the realm within, i.e. our mind, comes prior to our body.

So now that we have found that mind comes before body, we can pursue our exploration of ourselves within this realm. How to do so?? Now this is a tricky question…how can we differentiate anything that is going on in our mind, and separate it so we could potentially analyze it properly?? I must admit that this is a question I am struggling with myself, because we have now fallen into the struggle between reason and intuition. But, what are those exactly??

First, let us take a quick look at intuition, because I believe that the key to our quest lies there (SPOILER ALERT!). Intuition is when we know something, whatever that might be, without having to think about it, it just sort off comes to us, but then we are convinced we know it. Intuition is something that we feel, more than something we think about, because there is no process to reach a certain intuition, it just seems to fly through our heads, but once it does, we are convinced of its truthfulness without a doubt. This may sound very vague and unclear, but intuition is intimately linked with our emotions and feelings, which are themselves very vague and unclear, but are nonetheless present and influence us tremendously. Animals, for example, thrive on instinct, because they do as they feel at all times, and follow their innermost desires or emotions, whether is has to do with hunger, fear, or joy.

Reason on the other hand has absolutely nothing to do with our emotions. It is the cold machinery we use to analyze the world, it is what we use to convince ourselves to do something which does not feel right, and it is what we use to solve complex problems. Reason has a certain power over us, to the extent that we let it, because unlike emotions and intuition, reason does not simply come and take us over, but it is rather a process in which we fall, whether it be consciously or not. That is where the key of reason lies: it is a process. The certainty of it does not just dawn upon us, as is the case with intuition, but we have to look for the end of it, we have to bring ourselves to the conclusion by thinking. As useful and important as that may be, it has also the danger of leading us to over-think, which then creates a blurriness between what we feel, and what we think we feel. Reason pushed to the extreme is embodied in machines and robots, because they do not possess the capacity to feel, and hence can only work with what they analyze and process.

To come back to where we begin as individuals, after having described reason and intuition, I believe that the best place for the answer to lie would be somewhere we could not corrupt by thinking, somewhere we can only know because we know it, i.e. instinctively. So if intuition is really the place where we all start as individuals, what does this imply for us?? Well, firstly, it would mean that all we ever wanted to know about ourselves is already inside of us. Secondly, those gut feelings we have, perhaps we should start listening to them. Thirdly, that annoying inner voice nagging at us when we are doing something we know we should not, well, that voice is actually us. Fourthly, we should stop doubting ourselves when we are truly convinced of something, especially when it has to do with ourselves. By this I do not mean that we should ever doubt anything that crosses our minds, quite the opposite, because reason can be a really dangerous master, and our perceptions may be erroneous from time to time, but it also means that, despite everything, we know what is best for us. And only once we have reached the point where we trust ourselves, truly trust ourselves, then we know that the fire we all have burning inside, is what drives us forward. Yet, to light that fire, one must be able to believe in one’s capacity to do the things one wants to do, and get rid of all doubt which may end up casting a shadow on it. We have to believe in ourselves. Only once we do, can we truly know where we begin as individuals, because how can we ever figure out who we are, if we cannot even believe that we might hold the right answer?? We could not, plain and simple. I know how cheesy this may sound, because it has been said countless times before, but this is where it all begins. Once we know we have the capacity to figure out who we truly are, and also believe the answers we may find, then we can progress on the path of self-realization, as difficult and unexpected as it might be.

Sadly, the world we live in does not promote any of this, because we are too absorbed by the superficial to dive deep into ourselves and find the things which truly matter. Which is also why I believe that meditation should be part of any school curriculum, starting as soon as the children have the capacity to sit down, close their eyes, and concentrate on their breathing. This is how to maintain the fire inside alive, we need to breath air into it constantly, and nourish it with things which make us feel happy about ourselves. No one can ever be content with themselves, if they are too busy focusing on things outside their inner realm, because no matter how many things you have laying around you, or even how many people you may have surrounding you, in the end, you will always be alone in your head. Our true self lies within, no one else can ever find that person for us, because we will always know ourselves best. It is our path, our quest, our mission, in order to be able to live the life we always wanted for ourselves.

This is where we begin.
This is where our fire burns.
This is where we find ourselves.

Until next time,

Luca