What Does It Mean – to Believe in Something?


‘I believe I’m on a train going to Colchester…’
At the time of writing with a fountain pen that certainly was the case: I could feel the train wheels doing just what they were supposed to do and I felt the periodic jolts, slowings down and gettings faster. But to use the words ‘I believed it’ is an unnecessary bit of meaningless verbiage. I knew I was on a train to Colchester – I could look out of the window at the passing landscape, get up to stretch my legs or engage in conversation with the person sitting opposite me.

Nevertheless, it’s a mechanical habit to use the word ‘belief’ to designate what one knows to be the case. This has conceptual consequences: when the word ‘belief’ is used in a religious or political context it more often than not relates to something which not only can never be known but is completely beyond human comprehension or even a deliberate distraction from ‘the way things are’, as with the current Brekshit fiasco and all the unthinking ‘beliefs’ associated with it. In The Fourth Way Ouspensky makes the distinction between ‘Formation’ and ‘Formulation’: a ‘Formation’ is a finally formed conclusion arrived at by avoiding difficulties, their complexity, by collapsing into the death of understanding which consists of ready-made phrases & opinions one chooses to copy from others – a rubber-stamping of a conventional wisdom, say; on the other hand, a ‘Formulation’ requires the constant effort of verification on the basis of ‘considering all factors’, as Edward de Bono said – it deals only in provisional conclusions, staging posts in a long focus on things as they are, the best we can do, always part of a process of approximation towards a possible ‘truth’ (JGBennett).

‘I believe the sun will rise tomorrow morning…’
Though the sun exploding to engulf the planetary system is not supposed to be taking place for millions of years it’s just freakily possible that it might happen during the night, any night soon. Considering the horror of what inhuman beings are doing to one another all over the world, it might be a desirable event, something that would put paid to unthinkable misery. But I just know that the sun will rise tomorrow; it runs through my mind like a grey rabbit; to say I believe it will is an unnecessary addition to a pretty solid expectation. More misery but perhaps some degree of hope not hate.

‘I believe in you…’
… because of the nature of our relationship I know that we are at one together; I know that I can discuss anything with you and get somewhere useful… This is based on long practical experience; I know that the feeling will persist. I don’t have to resort to anything but my experience. ‘Belief’ is irrelevant – just a linguistic attempt to push things to some other meaningless level.

‘I believe that when I get to the Great Hall of Heaven…’
…I shall meet up with Socrates, Walt Whitman & Gustav Mahler and that we’ll have a grand chinwag round a blazing log fire. I am entitled to think that, nay, to really ‘believe’ it will happen, but I know that the words depicting such a highly desirable event derive from a mind constantly, since birth, subject to poetic excess.

I imagine I will meet a few of my heroes in a supposed afterlife but in the cold light of day I know for absolute certainty that it won’t happen.

‘I believe in the Nicene Creed…’
Well, once, long ago, I used to mouth the words because a hundred other people, including 90 year old Miss Eliot, regularly gathered together for evensong in the suburban church of St Mary, Cuddington, were doing the same thing around me, so it ought to be OK. It was catching. It was a sort of virus. Belief in ‘one god… maker of heaven & earth… of everything seen and unseen’ and in the Son of God ‘…who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead… in a kingdom without end…’ and as for the holy catholic church…

Belief is a Thought Virus…
The Nicene Creed is Claptrap, what Mr G would call ‘sinkpoosarams’ – inspiring belief ‘in any old twaddle’. At the most its Godlebegook provides people with a warm fuzzy feeling – that’s the trap. Anybody who catches the virus has parked their intellect some way off; their Moving mind is driven by Emotional Centre – they are unbalanced people who put buffers between what they perceive in the real world and how they would like things to be.

‘I believe in Mr Johnson, the current PM…’
… a statement that makes as much sense as belief in the Nicene Creed. In people suffering from a Fear of Freedom there comes a warm fuzzy feeling from the sensation of being led by the nose by an authoritarian mindless and very dangerous buffoon who is himself being driven by an obsession for so ordering things to satisfy the pockets of his rich friends at the expense of the plebs. His intellect reposes in some remote desert crawled over by snakes and stinging insects – an incomplete specimen of humanunkind without an atom of Conscience, as is the case with the vermin who surround him.

‘I am a non-believer…’
… is an associated nonsense: it pre-supposes something real that can be non-believed in. I don’t believe in God – so you’re a non-believer then. I can’t be a non-believer if there’s nothing to believe in… I don’t believe in Mr Johnson – you’re a non-believer. There is nothing to believe in…

A belief is adopted not out of a balance…
…between Intellect, Emotion & Action but as a result of the craven desire to be bathed in a warm fuzzy feeling so one doesn’t have to do any construction of a Rich Picture. Believers have stopped a third of the way along the road, intellectual quest ceased.

Belief is a superfluity…
…an unnecessary linguistic addition to an approach to things as they really are in the ‘foul rag & bone shop’ (Yeats) down here.

Objectivity, the highest form of Consciousness…
…can be established by systematic application of the 5WH test: asking the questions Who? What? Why? When? Where? & How – they cover Gregory Bateson’s Logical Levels, pro forma for the whole of human life. The outcome of a blend of responses to 5WH has to be ecologically consistent, conducted by a person whose Intellectual, Emotional and Moving Centres are in balance. If there are any warm fuzzy feelings involved they are associated with a sort of satisfaction at the process and provisional results of Intellectual effort with clear ecologically sound practical relevance to the Harmonious Development of all human beings.

In a poor position, thought-wise…
I can easily make the sloppy mistake of asserting my ‘belief’ in the ideas of Mr G (or NLP or Covey) – I’m very well aware of what a warm fuzzy feeling can do for you – but to use the word ‘belief’ is an unnecessary linguistic intrusion into the demonstrable fact that those ideas express the objective truth of the human situation; they pass the 5WH test. Their systematic application (‘take all or take nothing’) works in a severely practical, ecologically justifiable way, when one looks at any human concern.

I could easily say that I believe…
…that true haiku do something for the human spirit but the absolute truth of this is beyond dispute; it could possibly even be the case for those, with no understanding of the state of mind necessary for the writing of ‘true’ haiku, who merely imitate the words of existing examples of the form. The writing of true haiku centres the writer in the present moment, records moments of self-remembering, offers the possibility of full-time self-remembering which is the only way into real Consciousness. (But how should I know…?)

How Did All This Come About?
Those acquaintances of ours who persist in talking in public about their ‘faith’ based on a BELIEF in an imaginary friend they call ‘God’ set me thinking (on a train to Colchester) about the concept of ‘belief’ – its general philosophical drift. My thoughts came in ‘short pants’ (Coleridge) in time with the jolts, stoppings & startings of the train itself.

We Use the Words ‘I Believe’ in a Grossly Inaccurate Way…
…when it would be more appropriate just to say ‘I think’. The words ‘I believe’ (in such & such) implies a ‘done deal’, a Formation, something that requires no further thinking on our part – something of a relief to many who say their brain hurts when they engage in too much thinking. But ‘I think’ (such & such to be the case) right now implies being-mentation: ‘…now I think x but in a few moments you might find me thinking something a bit more refined because I keep at it…’

Our acquaintances might say…
…that they constantly think about their belief in The Almighty in order to reinforce what they believe in. They undoubtedly go through a process of ratiocination about what, for them, is a finally settled, unchallengeable, done deal; there’s certainly thinking involved but the end is already decided. It’s a thinking that imagines it’s doing something to fortify an illusion.

All Belief is an Imaginary Construct…
You either engage in constant seeking, Being-mentation, refining, elaborating, blending, making connections in pursuit of a gradual approximation to the objective truth of things, or you stop thinking and dump yourself into what you could call a belief or two.

I believe Mr G to be wrong when he says…
…no! Working through one idea of his, I think he’s wrong for the following reasons… I think he’s wrong when he says you have to read his First Series (Beelzebub & Co) before you get to read the Third Series of writings. I know him to be wrong since, as a result of much personal brain-activity, I can say for sure that you can start anywhere since it’s all connected – you just have to keep making connections. When I talk about the non-system system of The Fourth Way with people, and engage them in exercises, it’s natural to start from exactly where they are, whatever you imagine their state of being might be, what they want to know. The danger with starting with Beelzebub is that they might well be alienated from the word Go! It’s so wrapped in metaphor and there’s all those invented words. What goes way beyond belief is practical activity that works for the individual.

Mr G, for all his genius, was probably an Enneagram 8, a bit of a dictator: ‘you have to do things like this…’ Mr O was more of an Enneagram 5, a thinker: ‘you can start anywhere you like – it all connected up somehow…’ Notice the NLP meta-program! Covey Habit One.. STOP! and think!

Belief is a Done Deal…
…it saves all the effort of thinking: Moving Centre atrophied; Emotional Centre self-satisfied, probably basking in a warm fuzzy feeling…); Intellectual Centre dead.

I think about the existence of God…
That’s OK – it’s a theological process of thinking: I read Meister Eckhart; I feel interested in the process of soul-expansion – enough to embrace the entire universe; I’ve thought about all this since I was in my teens at least…

You can do thinking in brackets…
… it’s useful brain-agitation… (religious thinking) (political thnking) (philosophical thinking) (art thinking) (thinking-thinking)… Keep them in brackets. Let none of it spill over into the everyday until you can honestly call it life-thinking… Being-mentation…

Maurice Nicoll (Amwell, 14th June 1952)
BELIEF IN THE WORK a shortened and slightly edited version of the talk that day…

In this ‘Work’ we are told that nothing can change in us unless we begin to think in a new way which is what the Work is intended to do. One or two slaps in the face are necessary.

➀ The mind must believe ‘the Work’. That is the first slap in the face.

It’s not at all a matter of ‘belief’ but of thinking it all through to observe how simply thinking, passing the ideas through the mind, can have you thinking in a different way. You just have to know the effect of this. It’s actually the sense behind Nicoll’s Commentary. Willingness might help.

➁ If there is no ‘belief’ in the Work, nothing can happen. That is the second slap in the face.

If you don’t persist in passing the ideas through the mind and noticing how they relate to the way you run your life nothing will happen… No doubt.

You will continue to think as you always have and everything will remain the same. It is possible to remain ‘in the Work’, as the phrase goes, for year after year and not believe it [= not thinking actively about it] and so remain unchanged in your way of thinking.

➂ Consider the matter more closely, so that it engages your deeper attention and brings you face to face to some extent with where you are mentally as regards the Work. You can see that if you have no ‘I’s with any attraction for or real ‘belief’ in [feeling for, or intellectual grasp of…] the Work, you will not be occupied genuinely with what it teaches.

On the other hand, [you will accept the truth of something when thinking about it helps you to see that it] closely concerns yourself. I cannot think of anything that concerns us more closely than the teaching of this Work. But [you have to think carefully about it so that your mind will be] miraculously changed by it and begin to think in a new way… Otherwise, being mind-stuck, we will remain just as we always were. There will be no change of being because there is no change in thinking… I will just go on chasing about as usual, pursuing my usual daily interests, running after my phantasies, satisfying my appetites, and voicing my usual daily imbecilities, with the utmost complacency. I will not, of course, see anything mechanical in all this. Privately, I will laugh the idea to scorn that I am a mechanical man, fast asleep in mind and heart…

There will be no internal change, no genuine transformation, nothing so real and intimate that, turned and twisted in every direction, time after time, we will remain always pointing to the Work. The mind, not being awakened by the Work, will not awaken the Emotional Centre. The underlying disbelief in the Intellectual Centre will be reflected as dislike and disbelief in the Emotional Centre. That is, self-emotions and not Work-emotions will remain dominant.

We have many ancient and habitual ‘I’s that work against taking on a new teaching – This-is-the-way-I’ve-always-done-it-I, Being-comfortable–with-my-anger-mistrust-making-accounts-I (or many separate ‘I’s…)

We need to clear away all the false ‘I’s that are like parasitic charmers in the mind. And make our way towards a Mind greater than your mind. Now mind is invisible. Greater Mind is invisible. Your mind is invisible. To believe in Greater Mind is therefore for one invisible to believe in a greater Invisible. You will see that we are now speaking on the psychological level.

Greater Mind is nothing spooky; it’s an ‘I’ beyond all the smaller ‘I’s that jostle for position; it’s an ‘I’ that can observe all this happening. It’s Meta-I. One that can stand apart from all the others and make careful notes on what’s happening.

Ouspensky often said we need a new language to cope with ‘The Work’. There are also many words we could do without – they are words the very existence of which imply that there is some kind of ‘reality’ behind them which turns out when we think about it to be simply an imaginative construction by the mind. Such words are usually abstractions. ‘Belief’ is an abstraction; the mental activity called ‘thinking’ is a physical reality, a matter of electro-chemical buzzing in all three brains.

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