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The Soul of Therapy

This Printer May Not Exist: From Believing to Knowing

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Does God exist? There are other questions that are even more important, such as “How can I live as a light in a world struggling with darkness?”

I had a peculiar moment with my computer the other day. I was trying to print something when the screen displayed: This printer may not exist.

I looked to my left on the desktop and could see that the wireless printer definitely existed. I did not have to believe the printer existed. I knew it existed; it was right there next to the computer!

This moment got me wondering about messages that sometimes pop up on the screen of my mind as part of a lifelong search for God, purpose, and meaning. I never want to hold any belief with absolute certainty. I periodically get an inner warning about my belief that God (or Something much larger than me) is flowing through my life like electricity through a filament: This God may not exist.

These flashes of doubting everything can be unnerving, but according to theologian Paul Tillich, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith, it is an element of faith.” Tillich’s words are lodged in an accessible corner of my mind. Yet, these This God may not exist moments can leave me wondering if my life has any meaning or purpose at all or if there is any larger Source of my consciousness—or anyone’s.

Most patients come to psychotherapy with well-developed meaning systems. Part of my job is to learn the language of each patient’s meaning system, spiritual or otherwise. I also need to discern whether to shore up the patient’s meaning system as a resource or to bolster their doubt. They may be ready to grow into a deeper version of their current meaning system or into something new and more supportive of their best life. Patients stuck in a limiting or even dysfunctional idea of God may need to doubt their meaning system in the same way a person obsessed with material acquisition needs to experience the limitations of such a worldview.

Carl Jung was once asked if he believed in God. He responded, “I do not believe in God. I know God.” I’m not sure what Jung meant by “God,” but I do think moments of confusion about God or ultimate meaning can invite us beyond asking ourselves what we believe to focusing on what we know. I sometimes doubt whether “God” exists, but I know that:

  • My children are sacred;
  • The life of each and every human being is sacred;
  • I live with the mystery we call consciousness;
  • I participate moment by moment in a miracle called life;
  • The universe exists and remains beyond the comprehension of the human mind (Sir Arthur Eddington, a British physicist, once said: “The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we are capable of imagining”);
  • Love is real and matters more than money or possessions;
  • Compassion makes sense when nothing else does;
  • Any form of religion or belief that leads to violence or separation of human beings into groups more favored or less favored by a Deity is of no help to my spiritual quest;
  • I am a brighter light in the world when I live as if my life has deep purpose, even if I cannot offer my mind the proof it might want for my purpose.

Maybe whenever This God may not exist shows up on the screen of my mind, I could greet it with acceptance: Yes, any limited, fixed understanding of “God” likely does not exist or is at least greatly confused by my finite understanding. I might practice gently letting go of thinking I can ever understand “God” and choose instead to hear “God” as one way humans name our sense of the sacred and the infinite.

Heck, this article may not exist and the device you’re reading it on may not exist! You’ve never met me. I and my ideas could be just a figment of your imagination, but my guess is that something in you knows I exist. And let’s face it, you don’t really understand how the computer or cell phone you’re reading these words on works down to every last quirk and quark, so maybe it’s illusory too. Or maybe you know it exists even in the absence of complete comprehension.

If you insist on absolute understanding, the eyes you’re reading with and the brain comprehending these words may not exist, because they’re also part of the living mystery that is your body, that is you in this mysterious world.

Here’s another message I get periodically on my inner screen: The self I think I am may not exist. Many spiritual teachers encourage us to realize that the separate self is an illusion. That sounds profound and important, but I don’t want to believe that with 100 percent certainty any more than I want to believe God is a guy with a white beard who lives in a place called heaven. I’m intrigued with the idea that the separate self is an illusion, but what then do I do with thousands of near-death experience (NDE) accounts that suggest individual consciousness might persist beyond death?

Recently I realized that I may not have to choose between thinking “I” am a drop of water or just a temporary illusion of the Ocean from which that drop came. Maybe you and I are more like a single molecule of H20. Maybe we separate from the Ocean for a lifetime and then reunite with it after death, but maybe the molecule does not disappear in the Ocean. Maybe it’s part of something infinitely bigger and retains its identity as a single molecule. Who knows? In the end, such questions are interesting but ultimately distract me from more important ones:

  • How can I live as a light in a world struggling with darkness?
  • How can I become more capable of loving those close to me and all human beings?
  • Can I live as if my life has deep purpose without any absolute proof of this?
  • What choices do I need to make to be a small part of humanity’s spiritual evolution?

I don’t believe those questions are a better guide to my best life than trying to achieve absolute metaphysical certainty. I know they are!

Here’s one of my nested meditations that expresses some of this in a different way:

Ask not, “Does God exist?”

-

Ask not, “Does God exist?”

but, “Am I willing to be fully alive?”

-

Ask not, “Does God exist?”

but, “Am I willing to be fully alive

as if God exists?”

-

Ask not, “Does God exist?”

but, “Am I willing to be fully alive

as if God exists

in me?”

From Now is Where God Lives © 2018 by Kevin Anderson

Keep reading: “A Vacation From God.”

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