October 15, 2015
I have a vivid memory of visiting a very beautiful mosque in Istanbul earlier this year, an immense building with a huge school and teaching compound associated with it, at the heart of a very conservative district of the city. And as I entered the mosque and sat within it for some time—a very quiet, open, spacious sanctuary, with no seats, just a beautiful carpet, people praying, some people sleeping—the words came into my mind: “The fortress of belief.” And the words came so strongly that it was imprinted in my mind. And I reflected on some of the other great sanctuaries that I have visited and prayed within, which also felt like fortresses of belief. And I have met individuals who seem to demonstrate themselves to be fortresses of belief.
The critical thing to know about belief is that it is here to serve something greater, something more inexplicable, something more unpredictable, a greater power, a greater attraction, a greater force of the Divine as it moves through people, places and things. Belief in the mind is here to give structure and support to a growing realization that one day will outgrow that structure and support. It is like the launch platform for a rocket to be launched into space. The rocket absolutely must have that platform, and it must function well. It must be enduring and strong and properly designed. But when the rocket takes off, the need for that platform no longer exists.
This is a good way to think about belief—that it is a platform for launching you into a greater life. Even within the greater life, you will have beliefs, but they will always be seen as serving a supporting and substantiating role. They will not be fixed. They will not be leaden or solid. They will not be inflexible or immovable. They will be part of the wings that help you fly, but the flight itself is greater than the wings.
To be a fortress of belief yourself means that your mind has been walled in, further separated from life around you and others—walled in, circumscribed by firm and fixed beliefs, the prison of the fundamentalist, the prison of the fixated mind.
Yet God’s intention is to liberate you from the mind and of all its seductions, its overriding fear, its addictions and its traps. The mind is the perfect servant, but you must know of the Master for that servant to function properly and appropriately.
To be a fortress of belief means that you believe you have enemies because at the level of belief, there will always be other people and groups and even nations of people who seem to stand in marked contrast, opposed to your beliefs. And from this position, you become condemning and judgmental, you make people enemies who you do not even know. You make vast assumptions about other people’s faith traditions, not really understanding them or how they too are connected to God’s greater Plan for the world.
You build your identity, your sense of self, on a set of fixed beliefs: social beliefs, religious beliefs, beliefs about people, beliefs about God. When this happens, God cannot reach you. You have built a prison for yourself of the very things that are meant to support you in gaining greater freedom and expansion, greater liberation. Now your servants, your beliefs, become your gatekeepers. They stand guard over you, warding off anything, fighting anything that seems to contradict them, or to challenge them, or to question them. So your mind becomes like the great edifice—solid, immovable, unchangeable, resistant, fixed, unalterable.
And yet God moves through people, places and things like the wind. And God has put within each person a greater intelligence called Knowledge, which is beyond belief, and functions beyond belief—rewarding those who are truly devout, whether they seem to be believers or not; holding back those who think they believe in the truth and that they know God and God’s Will and Purpose, but who are not truly devout. They are governed by their thoughts, their mind, which has become hard and fixed and resistant.
God’s first purpose is to unburden you so that you can begin to respond to a greater calling and the power of Grace that is always there for you if you are open to it. Here you step off the pavement into the wilderness. Here you enter a reality that you cannot logically understand or organize for yourself personally. For you are standing within the Grace of God, which exceeds any person’s understanding and capacity.
The amazing thing about the mosque that I visited was that it has entrances and exits, and within it a beautiful, quiet, open space without human images, with beautiful designs, but eminently quiet and spacious. This represents the deeper part of your mind, which is not a solid structure, which is not a house of cards of belief that could be blown over at any moment by any kind of force in the world. This is emptiness; this is spaciousness. And it is within this spaciousness that the Presence can be deeply felt. And that is why I like to pray in mosques, in particular, for they have, often, a beautiful inner sanctum.
Your mind must have entrances and exits—entrances for new ideas to come in, new understanding to bloom, an expansion of your current views, a challenge to your current beliefs, growth, a deepening of your experience of the Divine Presence and Power. And your mind has to have exits where old things can leave you, old ideas no longer needed can fall away, or an earlier understanding can be eclipsed by a greater and new understanding.
For the mind to be truly efficacious, powerful and insightful, it must be refreshed, it must be stirred. If it is not stirred, it hardens like concrete, and then you cannot do anything with it.
Let belief give you stability and structure as you gain your real strength in being in the world, which is beyond belief and ideology. But create the inner sanctum within yourself, within that house of belief, where the mysterious can occur and the inexplicable can be experienced. Then your belief will support you without confining you. It will lead you to a greater reality rather than holding you back in the confines of the mind.