Bart was the original central character in The Simpsons. Only after a few seasons did the focus shift to Homer, and both characters became softer and more appealing, as the writers and artists got to know them. And so it is, always, with the creative process of writing for public consumption; these words, like children, make their way in the world, some more, some less, successfully.
In the very first post of this substack, I stated my intention to tell the truth. Instead of trying to please everyone or get every detail hammered out, I began where such an exercise ought to start: by stating what I perceived to be true, and then allowing that position to evolve or sustain as experience and argument tested it. As time has passed, I have found many opportunities for refinement, one of which is to make clear that I am not using capital “T” truth, because I don’t know what that is. That is not to say I do not believe it exists; I have been accused of relativism and that is not the case. But I do not see a way to be outside of the framework of my own thinking in order to know whether I am correctly assessing it, therefore, my focus has been on how I test what I believe to be true.
Whether this is a simulation, or a divine creation, or a series of agreements we make on a level beyond our understanding, matters less to me than what it means for something to be true. When we test a hypothesis, we seek to falsify the claim, but this becomes a fraught and perilous exercise when we are examining our beliefs, for the very reason that belief constitutes something irreducible, but informed and molded by experience. How would I go about attempting to falsify it? Against what control could it be tested?
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I listened to an interview with Arthur C. Brooks where he explained that he reviewed, at 50, the bucket list he had written at 40, and discovered that, while he had done all the things on the list, he was more unhappy than he had been when he wrote it! As I have written elsewhere, everything you think you want is in the service of how you want to feel. Tosha Silver writes of allowing yourself preferences and desires, rather than demanding that the universe deliver a life to your material specifications or else (certain types of manifestation practices promise the desperate supplicant access to the Shopping Mall of God; I have observed this strategy to result much more often in anxiety and distress than in Instagram-ready lives of luxury. I, myself, put in an order at least five years ago for a suitcase full of cash to be dropped on my doorstep, and I’m still waiting). Every time I have tried to say, “this outcome or bust,” it’s bust, one way or another.
“Happiness” as a measure of well-being is subtle, because it must be distinguished from impersonators such as giddiness and righteous swellings, which arise from the delivery of short-term serotonin hits and often come with hangovers. When we are really happy, sometimes we are sad; the place where deep peace is found is in our connection to truth, and that is not always an easy or comfortable place (although it always brings an ease and a simplicity with it that sustain us through trials).
When beliefs and actions are aligned with intuition, when both Haidt’s rider and elephant are in agreement, and the elephant is on its correct course, we receive inner and outer confirmation that we are not lying to ourselves or anyone else. That’s true health, and the right path, and actions built on that foundation will be honorable. Deviate from it and we take steps towards hell, and our own doom.
So the process of identifying the truth in our beliefs is also the process hearing the inner voice; we cultivate both by bouncing around in the interaction between our actions (internal and external) and feedback (internal), oscillating ever closer to being fully integrated. It is both an end, and a process.
This takes us through the Arc of Healing, neither a simple arc nor ever complete, and yet, like enlightenment, always complete as it begets a new cycle of itself. All the tools are available to you right now, in this moment; begin with the knowledge that you have been successful, 100% successful, at getting here, and then start to ask yourself how you did so.
This work is your work if you wish to be free, to be whole, to be well.
I believe that to be true.
I am here if you’d like help. You’re the captain; I’m the navigator.