Whether we are aware of it or not, faith permeates each day of our lives. Everything we believe in is based on some form of it. Faith in oneself. Faith in each other. Faith in life – or in a Higher Power. These are the three overarching areas of faith that enrichen and deepen our lives, and quite possibly hold us together in an ever-changing and often frightening world.
Faith is all too often misrepresented as blind (based not on reason, experience or fact, but on unquestioning adherence). More often than not, however, our faith is deeply informed by reason, experience and fact, as well as less-acknowledged sources such as instinct, intuition and gut feeling. How does a painter know she must paint? How does the healer know he must heal people? Tied in with the rational reasons (upbringing, education, history) is the faith each individual has – that he or she has a purpose, and is called to make the best out of this life.
What is faith?
In broad terms, all faith – religious, spiritual or secular – is a belief that life is worth living no matter what obstacles are thrown in our way. In the book, Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience, meditation teacher Susan Salzberg writes: “Faith is the animation of the heart that says, ‘I choose life, I align myself with the potential inherent in life, I give myself over to that potential.’ This spark of faith is ignited the moment we think, ‘I’m going to go for it. I’m going to try.'”
We have all seen or heard examples of what faith can help people do. Such as a survivor of the Holocaust, who witnessed unspeakable horrors, who is still able to rebuild a life… an accident victim who transcends a disability into a new direction…. an artist, despite rejection, who remains creative and makes an important contribution. Many times over, we have seen that when all else is stripped away – safety, comfort, security, home, country, loved ones – faith is what has kept people going. It is both a basic instinct and a spiritual balm.
Faith can strengthen our capacity to meet challenges and face adversity. It gives us a mooring, a direction and a purpose – and, in so doing, lends meaning to our existence. But faith is often difficult to hold onto. One moment life feels full of possibility – and the next, it seems cruel and hopeless. When we are faced with difficult or terrible things, our faith is challenged, and sometimes momentarily lost. What then are we left with?
Doubt is often referred to as the opposite of faith, but is truly its handmaiden. Doubt can lead us to question and think critically about our beliefs. It often helps to strengthen or reaffirm faith. Much closer to the opposite of faith is despair – disconnection from life. Salzberg writes, “Without a sense of possibility, we would be stuck – isolated, hopeless, and unspeakably sad.” Many of us have experienced this type of sadness.
When you feel as if you are about to be plunged into the depths of despair, it’s important to consider the very real possibility that you are not seeing the big picture. The events in our lives are so vastly interconnected that it is impossible to know all the factors that contribute to a difficult situation. You may think you are powerless, but you don’t really know for sure. You may see injustices taking place and begin to lose faith in humanity, but you may not be seeing the whole picture. None of us can know all the elements involved, even in our own situations – or what the future might bring.
The possibility of change
One of the most striking lessons Salzberg teaches is that life is ever-changing – and so are we. Change doesn’t always feel great, but it does allow for new possibilities. “Life is not likely to deliver only pleasant events,” she writes. “Faith entails the understanding that we don’t know how things will unfold. Even so, faith allows us to claim the possibility that we ourselves might change in ways that will allow us to recognize and trust the helping hands stretched toward us. It enables us to aspire to a better life than the one we have inherited.”
Since everything, including this life, is temporary, allow yourself a moment to take a step back and take a deep breath. Reaffirm what faith means to you. In good times and bad, faith in yourself – which is the touchstone of faith in life – is the one thing that can remain steady at your center, getting you through the changes and keeping you open to all the new possibilities.
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