By Way of Introduction
It’s spring in Salt Lake City. I’ve been writing at my desk all day and my back’s painfully aware. I glance out the window and see that the morning’s storm has washed out the pollution and left a soft blue sky. I figure it’s time to give my back a break and take a walk before day turns to night. I drip fifty micrograms of acid under my tongue to spark a soft, playful curiosity and hit the streets with no destination in mind.
Before long, I find myself wandering up a steep hill in an unfamiliar neighborhood. At the top, I’m met by a beautiful view of the Salt Lake valley tucked up against the snow-capped mountains to the east. The acid colors my experience. I breath in the fresh spring air with a smile of gratitude and watch the setting sun drape the valley in an orange glow.
I sit down on a patch of grass to take in the moment. As I scan the valley, my eyes lock onto the pearl-white Mormon temple that sits at the heart of the city. It inspires me. Not because it brings me closer to Jesus or anything like that. But because it so brilliantly expresses the power of beliefs.
Beliefs not only build temples, mosques, and synagogues. They build smartphones, spaceships, and self-driving cars. They determine what clothes we wear, what company we keep, and what food we eat. They establish LLCs and run courts of law. They orchestrate symphonies, fuel economies, and spark revolutions. They push mountaineers to the highest peaks and launch astronauts into space. They shape our identities, mold our fears, and carve our dreams. Beliefs frame our experience. They propel our entire lives.
I’ve been fascinated with beliefs since I was a young teen. Growing up in a devout Mormon home and community, I watched the Mormon belief system propel my family and friends to do all kinds of things – their beliefs put them on their knees every day to pray, put scriptures in their hands, sent them to church every Sunday, convinced them to fast once a month, to perform wonderful charity work, to take on church, temple, and mission callings, to give ten percent of their income to the Church, to avoid coffee, alcohol, and even sex outside of marriage.
Why? Because they believed Joseph Smith was a true prophet who restored Christ’s church here on earth.
When I was a kid, I guess none of this really mattered much. If my parents – whom I love beyond words – and the rest of my community said that’s the way things are, what choice did I really have?
One day in Sunday school, however, I struck gold — that is, I ran into a problem, the door to all new spaces of possibility.
Our lesson that day was on the War in Heaven — a conflict that took place in the premortal existence among the spirit children of god. Apparently, god had big plans to give everyone free-will on earth, placing the burden on us to choose the right, to choose our own fate.
Turns out, though, that a third of god’s spirit children – Satan and his homies – weren’t stoked on gambling away their eternal salvation. So, they demanded that each soul who passes the veil of mortality shall be awarded eternal salvation. Not amused, god condemned Satan and the rest of his crew to eternal damnation.
Problems & Ignorance
‘Well, that’s messed up,’ I thought. ‘Why’d he do such a thing? Didn’t homies just wanna lock-down their eternal salvation? I mean…I wouldn’t wanna risk it either. Forever’s a hella long time.’
‘And hey, even if we put morals aside here, where’s the logic in all this? Didn’t the spirits already have free-will? How else could they have chosen to reject god’s plan? And, wait a minute…if god gave us free will, who gave it to him, and so on? Oh, and another thing…how could god or anyone else design free-will anyway? Don’t the concepts “design” and “free-will” seem to be at odds with each other? Doesn’t the design, by definition, limit what the product — in this case, a human or spirit — can do? Without vocal cords, would I not be denied the free-will to speak, eyes to see, or brain to think?’
In any case, once the floodgate opened, these rapids of problems never let up. Many questions compelled me to seek out answers. But every time I’d catch a glimmer, I’d just end up with more problems. Essentially, my initial problems grew deeper and deeper — I learned more about what I don’t know. But as I became better acquainted with my ignorance in this way, I was able to ask better questions and, in turn, create better answers.
The evolution of these problems has consumed me now for over a decade. It has pushed me to learn about the world’s religions, past and present. It has given me a relentless appetite for philosophy, physics, and biology. It has sent me around the world to explore people and customs — to break bread with Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and non-believers. It has led me to explore the nature of my own mind — to sit for various week- and month-long meditations, to experiment with many psychedelics, including participating in a traditional ayahuasca ceremony with the Shipibo tribe in Peru and inhaling vaporized Sapo Toad venom (5-MeO-DMT).
And after all this — books, travel, meditation, drugs — I am confident about only one belief: that I know nothing; that whatever knowledge I have will always be engulfed by my infinite ignorance; that I’m just a kid playin’ in this cosmic sandbox without a clue about much of anything.
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
I do have a few ideas, though — ideas new and old that I’ve explored, criticized, and hopefully strengthened. Again, though, these are only ideas — bold and creative guesses about this strange, beautiful, and mysterious world as well as our place in it. If you’re interested, though, I’d love for you to explore them. And after an honest and compassionate reflection, if you’ve found some mistakes or can offer some improvements, I’d love to explore those, in turn.
“I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may move nearer to truth.”
I don’t want to convert you to any belief system or tell you to live a certain way or anything like that. But rather, I genuinely wish you the best possible life – whatever that looks like to you. So, it’s simply my wish here to awake you to the power of beliefs, to the power of whatever conceptual frameworks you have constructed over your bare, ever-changing flow of experience.
How will you engage with and relate to concepts? How will you view and understand your self and the world? How will you understand your experience? How do you want to spend your time and awareness? Your life?
A Gift from My Dear Love
Creative & Honest Solutions
There’s no right way to build a belief system, to build a life philosophy. It’s largely a poetic and artistic pursuit.
But just as an artist must keep an open and honest conversation with her art, so too must you remain open and honest about your creation – about your beliefs, about your life philosophy. Only then can you hope to have any understanding of your self, of the world, of experience.
Well…get to it. What questions do you have? What problems do you face?
Here are some: ‘How do you view or understand your self? The world? Experience? What about your self in relation to the world? To others? How do you determine which foot to put in front of the next? How do you solve the problem “what to do next?” How do you want to cash in your time? Your awareness? How do you want to live your life?’
Think about it, meditate on it. And, when you’re ready, get out your paint and brushes, your bricks and mortar, and go to work – start building the most important thing you could ever possibly build – your life, your experience, your understanding of all this, whatever It ineffably is.
Oh, and, take it or leave it, but this might help to open up some creative space for you: consider that my dearest friend, who has been on his own journey to truth, uses quite the different framework from me to understand experience, to navigate the world.
Though our philosophies actually have a large overlap, he packs his belief system into the ‘Self’, viewing everything in experience as Self-reflection. This is a beautiful, poetic, and remarkably intimate way to understand and relate to experience. And, though it can be heavy when misdeeds are reflected, it might be something you wanna consider.
I certainly have no problem thinking or communicating in this framework, especially since the concept of ‘self’ carries so much weight with people in the West. But I generally like to use concepts that trigger a more open, expansive, center-less, boundless tone to ’em — concepts like the Cosmos, Experience, Existence, Being, Creation, or the Space of Possibility—so as to not create space between me and everything else; between me and you; between the world, my thoughts, feelings, etc.
Feel free to pack your philosophy into these concepts or, if you’d like, into concepts of your own. There’s plenty of room for poetry and expression here. You can use words like God, Spirit or Soul, the Creator, the Dharma, Christ, the Brahman, Universal Mind, or whatever else tickles your fancy.
Just don’t get too caught up in the words themselves, which are just vibrations in the air, marks on a paper, or a play of light on a screen. Remember what is important here is not the words but the ideas and beliefs they build. A chapel is not the bricks and mortar from which it is built.
The richness, the quality, the juice, of life resides in understanding, in beliefs. So, how will you understand your self? The World? Experience?
However your understanding unfolds, I just hope that in building your belief system, in building your life philosophy, you treat yourself, your experience, with the utmost love, care, and compassion.
And, though you may get sick of me telling you this, I hope you always keep in mind the unbounded and unconditional love I have for you.
With Unconditional Love Always,
“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”