Paul O'Brien: The Cost of Clinging to our Beliefs



  • -- This is a reposting of Paul O'Brien's Blog entry from May 10, 2008 --

    Often as I go out and about I am asked the question: “Do you really believe in this divination stuff?” The answer I give leads me to think about the nature of beliefs and our faith in them, something I touch on in my book Divination. What I say is: “It’s not about beliefs — you don’t have to believe anything to get value from an I-Ching or Tarot reading, for instance. Either it stimulates your intuition effectively to help you get outside your beta-wave thinking box or it doesn’t work for you. It’s not about putting ‘faith’ into whatever you get back. It’s not about the placebo effect, even if a reading does have some suggestive power. If you get one “new thought,” one good idea, or even a slightly wider perspective, a reading has done its job.”

    Most people take their beliefs much more seriously than I do. They think that having a strong faith in their beliefs is the most important thing, perhaps the primary path to salvation (in whatever glorious way they believe on that!). Because of this general tendency to elevate faith in beliefs within our society, which has become much stronger through fundamentalist religiosity throughout the world, the body politic has a bias in favor of those who display stubborn ‘conviction’ — a big mistake in my opinion.

    Oh, beliefs are important all right … we could not take action without them. In fact, I think of all of our beliefs as “operating assumptions,” which should be subjected to upgrading as we learn. (I like the Zen aphorism: “All beliefs are opinions. Cease to cherish opinions.”) I have come to consider ’strong convictions’ to be a learning disability, and a terrible leadership quality. What we know, or think we know, is so tiny compared to what we don’t know (and could be learning).

    So, what should be the relationship between a divinatory reading and your beliefs (much more on this in the book)? It has largely to do with the role of intuition in learning. A sincere readings will use the archetypes (78 in tarot, 64 in the I-Ching) to stimulate your intuition in order to shed new light on a situation for the sake of learning something about yourself and the situation. Yes, it is magic in a sense, but it is not the magic of fortune telling that tells us what to believe about our future.

    Questions: How did we come to own our current set of beliefs? How resistant are we to letting them evolve and change? To what extent are we trapped in black and white thinking (i.e. good guys v.s. evil guys)? Or on the other end of the spectrum, extreme wishful thinking?

    How responsible are we for our current beliefs? Or did we just adopt them from childhood or others? How committed are we still to open-minded learning? And how can we use I-Ching and Tarot as intuitive ‘education’ to come into better balance vis-a-vis the limitations imposed by our prevailing belief systems?

    -- Paul O'Brien


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