Envisioning Reality: Beliefs Become our Communal Reality

Beliefs are not merely concepts in our mind, they actively shape our perception of reality, and even form that Reality.

We have to dream. How else will we make a future that does not yet exist?

-Simon Sinek

Joseph Smith’s uncle, Jesse Smith, once said of Joseph that “he has eyes to see things that are not, and then has the audacity to say they are,” referring to the gold plates that Joseph claimed to have.

Ann Taves has reworked this statement as the art of “skillful seeing,” that Joseph had “eyes to see things that could be and the audacity to give what he envisioned tangible form.” It is like the work of an artist or designer, an alchemist, a visionary. What Joseph saw as a seer may not have “existed,” but he dreamed that it could, and perhaps even believed it already was, he saw it so clearly in his mind’s eye, and this vision was so powerful that he reified it into existence. He didn’t magically produce a set of actual gold plates, but he did produce the Book of Mormon, a powerful spiritual allegory that has influenced millions over the last 190 years, and a community that flourished around it.

This also reminds me of Steve Jobs’ “reality distortion field.” He believed in things that didn’t exist already did, or were clearly possible, and this powerful belief was contagious, it was the fuel that made those things come to life, that made them possible, to actually become reality:

The [reality distortion field] was said by Andy Hertzfeld to be Steve Jobs’ ability to convince himself, and others around him, to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement and persistence. It was said to distort his co-workers’ sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and to make them believe that whatever impossible task he had at hand was possible.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality_distortion_field

Is Steve Jobs’ claims of impossible things that much different from Joseph Smith’s claiming to have “gold plates” when he really didn’t? The “gold plates” were impossible, but that didn’t stop Joseph. He believed in them so fully and completely that he made them come to life, he transmuted them into the reality of a new book of scripture and a new religious movement. Jobs turned his beliefs into new product realities. It is perhaps only when we believe in the impossible that we have the strength, the passion, the faith to make it possible.

Even Eckhart Tolle has begun giving courses in the power of conscious manifestation. The idea is that what we believe in our minds is what we can make happen in the world. This isn’t necessarily the New Age pseudoscience of “The Secret,” or “Think and Grow Rich,” where one’s thoughts magically produce untold riches and prosperity for our egos. But rather it is what we believe in our mind that is often transmuted into action, it becomes our walk and talk, it becomes our activity and behavior, and thus it becomes realized in the world. The potential of the mind becomes the actuality of the world. One must believe it so fully, even that it already is, that it becomes manifest through one’s actions in the world, “on Earth as it is in heaven.”

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What we believe becomes our reality. Our ability to convince others of the same belief becomes our communal reality, our culture, our society, our world. Belief becomes reality, in a sense.

Some might say, “but just believing something doesn’t make it so.” There is a popular quote from Carl Sagan about this:

The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true.

-Carl Sagan

I think that is generally true. What we desperately want to be true does not necessarily make it true. It doesn’t always come to fruition, it doesn’t always manifest, it is not the absolute truth, it may not be the way the world or cosmos really is. And yet, there is a power in our thoughts, in our beliefs, in our attitudes, which does impact our lived reality in the world, even our communal reality. Belief changes lives, even Life itself. Even a belief in “no beliefs” is a belief, albeit an apophatic one.

One of the remarkable things about our conceptions of the world is that none of them are absolutely true. Not one! We don’t have absolute knowledge or certainty of anything. That is impossible from our everyday state of dualistic consciousness. All we have is relative truth, relative knowledge, subjective understanding of reality. It is never Reality as it really is. Ever.

And since it is relative and subjective, it can be changed, we can adjust it, we can reconstruct our perceptions of reality by changing our mind, we can reinterpret reality, we can retranslate it into better forms, better understandings, better approaches, better beliefs, better theories, better constructions, better perspectives, better culture, better approximations, better stories, better truths, better goodness, better beauty, better love. And this process will never end. It is never finished!

As Carl Sagan said elsewhere:

If we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed.

-Carl Sagan

I posted this earlier today on Facebook:

We don’t seem to understand that what we observe becomes the “observed” through the act of our observation.

It is the process of observation itself that makes the observed the observed. It is not the observed except through our observation. That is what makes it what it is. It is not what we think it is independent of our observation. How could it be? It is through our thoughts and thinking, the perception and perceptual activity, that gives it all the qualities that make it what it is in our mind. Our mind clothes it in everything that we think it is. Everything!

We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are. [As is often quoted.]

Some might also say, “doesn’t this encourage ‘fake news’?” Don’t we want to know the “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”? Yes, but that is something that we work towards in the world, but will never fully grasp, at least not in our intellectual mind and everyday society. We desire Truth, the Absolute Truth, but as finite individuals we will only ever move towards this ultimate goal, evolve towards it, grow towards it, embody it more fully, incarnate it more completely, express it more beautifully, build it more plentifully, become it more totally, Love it more wholly.

We want our beliefs about reality to closely match Ultimate Reality as much as possible. What we might not realize is that our beliefs and perceptions are also constructing that reality at the same time. There is no such thing as an Ultimate Reality separate or apart from us. This is the mystical realization. We are It. We are the One. We are the Divine incarnating its Self here in this dimension of life on Earth in our corner of the cosmos. Ultimate Reality is not some independent thing that we can model. We create it. God lives through us. Insofar as we shed our egos, we become the Ultimate Reality which we want to be. Ultimate Reality is unveiled and revealed as it is.

This principle can also, unfortunately, be used for nefarious or unwise purposes, by egos. You could say that Hitler and other dictators, politicians, business people, etc., can also create a “reality distortion field,” making people believe in a world that is wholly destructive, violent, divisive, unwholesome, hateful, egocentric, selfish, dark, ethnocentric, tribalistic, greedy, abusive, etc. That’s true. Which is why we have to be careful in being aware of what beliefs we have, being fully aware of what beliefs we uphold, how we reinterpret our beliefs, what beliefs we think are true, etc. Because the beliefs we have will eventually become the reality we live in, if not collectively, then individually.

How do we know what beliefs we should have? Where do beliefs come from? How do we approach the Absolute Truth, the Ultimate Reality, in a way that is right, just, good, true, merciful, graceful, creative, and beautiful? I think it may be primarily through contemplation, and the contemplative practices which get us there. By letting go of our subjective mind, the mind that is full of thoughts of our existing culture and ideas, we open the mind up to receive insight into the One, into Love itself, into the Absolute, into what we actually are in our depths, and we become receptacles of means toward those ends, conduits through which Reality can reify its Self, instruments through which Love may live itself in the world, channels through which the One manifests itself in the beliefs, narratives, stories, theories, concepts, understandings, theologies, constructions which we embrace as a people. We can embody the Whole.

What are your hopes and dreams? What are your visions? What kind of world do you envision for the future? What kind of future do you want for yourself and others, for our community, for our world? You are a participant here. The Divine is living itself through you too, even if you don’t know it. What you believe is what can be, it is what comes to pass. It is powerful visions which make the world we live in. Here is my vision for the world.

The power of vision is found throughout our mythologies.

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires will come to you

If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do

Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of their secret longing

Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

-“When You Wish Upon a Star,” lyrics, Leigh Harline and Ned Washington for Disney’s 1940 adaptation of Pinocchio. Hear it here.


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4 thoughts on “Envisioning Reality: Beliefs Become our Communal Reality

  1. I love this!!! We really do create the reality here. This is in line with the moment I experienced 6 years ago that sent me on my contemplative journey. I was in a state of great suffering that I experienced for years in a roller coaster fashion over religious beliefs where I determined the problem with them was me. One day I was experiencing an episode (it was the beginning of my contemplative path) and the thought came to me quietly yet clearly: you suffer because you believe it. You don’t have to believe it. In an instant years of self-inflicted angst was erased. For the first time I experienced obedience to an inner authority. I literally danced for joy. Being the novice I am, I still get entangled in unhealthy beliefs. This post is empowering. Thank you, Bryce!

    1. Beautifully said, Amy. Most of our suffering is self-inflicted by our thoughts and beliefs. Healing our suffering is in large measure about transcending our thoughts/beliefs, or at least changing them. I’m glad you liked the article.

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