When we practice mindfulness, instead of believing everything we think, we begin to get familiar with our habitual patterns. With practice, we begin to see through the filters our habitual patterns impose to the world beyond, fragmented though it may still appear given the speedy momentum of our minds.
Discerning Thought Patterns
Eventually, we discover within us a background of awareness that underlies the ever-changing content of our busy minds. Just as the sun illuminates the objects of the outer world, the light of awareness reveals the patterns within us that color our version of reality, and thus allows us to discern with greater clarity the patterns that exist in the world around us.
Psychologists now recognize that repeated exposure to ambiguous statements tends to increase people’s belief in them — a phenomenon known as the illusory truth effect. For example, research has shown that even hearing a claim that seems difficult to accept (e.g., one that 80% of people believe is untrue) for a second time makes people give it a little bit more credence. It’s not that they suddenly buy the information totally, but people weren’t quite a quick to reject it after the second go-round. As one might expect, repetition’s effect on beliefs not only hold true for adults, but for children as well.
Indication of Likelihood
This illusory truth bias happens because the brain uses the case with which we can retrieve something from memory as an indication of its likelihood. If you’ve seen or experienced something before, it’s easier to recognize, and thus seems more likely to be true or to happen again. And, the more times you see or hear it, the truer it rings. It’s easy then to imagine the power that daily or weekly recitations of creeds and prayers can have on belief.
Rituals are a set of actions designed to be special — to highlight, differentiate, and privilege what is being done. Making certain acts feel formal, using symbols, evoking emotion, using repetition — these all are potential ways to mark that specialness. None of them are strictly necessary. Yet, just by declaring that certain acts are special, we make them meaningful. They draw our attention, imagination, and sometimes hopes, in a way that mere habits don’t. As such, they change the way that otherwise mundane actions speak to our minds.
Bringing About Change
At heart, almost all rituals seek to bring about change. By altering how our minds encode and process information, the ways we move our bodies in space and in relation to others, and the values and expectations we place on ourselves and those around us, rituals regulate our beliefs, our behaviors, and our bonds with others. In so doing, rituals help us to experience joy, manage pain, persevere toward difficult goals, and bounce back from painful losses.
Modern astronomy has given us a perspective on our place in the universe. Life is a fragile development in an air pocket on the surface of Earth, a small planet revolving around a minor star in a galaxy of trillions of stars in a world of billions of galaxies.
Our fate is intertwined with our planetary air pocket and the life that shares it. Within the “small space” many competing agendas bump up against each other — species against species, group against group, individual against individual.
Importance of Life
If humans are important, it is because we are important to ourselves. And, if life is important, it is because life is important to us.