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.
For cultures of the Near East, the process of creation began with chaos, the Greek word used to signify the undifferentiated material out of which the universe was made. Chaos was imagined as water in darkness, much like a stormy sea at night, that filled everything. There was no concept of nothingness or empty outer space — there was not even the number zero.
Creation Out of Nothing
The concept of creatio ex nihilo, “creation out of nothing,” didn’t yet exist. That idea was a much later invention, not gaining full expression until the Christian period. It was a concept that developed after and because of monotheism, in controversies about what was eternal: Was God alone at the beginning, or was the “stuff” out of which the world was made there also? Was there one eternal principle or two, God and chaos?
Vision seems so simple. We open our eyes and there is the world. Yet scientists have long appreciated how difficult this is to explain.
For a start, we move our eyes about five or six times a second, fixating on something and then moving quickly on, but we don’t notice this, and the world appears stable. Also, what we can see clears only a tiny area around that fixation point, yet it feels as though we are seeing the whole scene at once.
In the West, renunciation evokes images of monastic austeries. However, renunciation actually means “turning away from our suffering.” It is not the external reality that we are renouncing, but our inner reality.
Causes of Suffering
The causes of our suffering are to be found not “out there” but “in here.” And, if we want to turn away from the causes of our suffering, the focus of our efforts has to be on our mind.
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.