By Gary Z McGee
“We should go and proclaim without cease and remind people at every step of what we are: that our capacity for self-delusion has no limits and that anybody who believes anything is mistaken.” ~Celsa Milosz
Attachment (belief) is both an intellectual, psychosocial, and spiritual tripwire. We cling to our beliefs at our own detriment. The more we cling to a belief, the more closeminded and inflexible we become and the more difficult it is to change our mind. Better not to cling in the first place. Better not to become attached. Best, to practice healthy, mindful detachment from the jump.
Why is this? Simply put: we are finite (mortal) creatures vainly attempting to interpret an infinite reality. Any such interpretation will always be fallible. There’s no avoiding this. Practicing healthy detachment is a way of honoring our fallibility in order to avoid self-delusion.
Conversely, when we do not practice detachment—that is to say, when we become attached to a thought, idea, or belief—we are more likely to fall victim to our own self-delusion. We are more likely to cling to a fallible interpretation and then falsely assume it is infallible.
If, as Aristotle suggested, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it,” then it stands to reason that ideas are pure up until the point that we accept them.
Entertaining an idea is pure. The only thing that makes an idea impure is accepting it (belief). When we accept an idea, we cease thinking about it in further depth, our curiosity atrophies, and our imagination dwindles. Unless we let it go. Unless we cease to cling to it. Unless we stop believing it and start rethinking it. Or unless we simply allow it to be an entertaining idea and then move on smartly, open to new knowledge. This is the epitome of healthy detachment.
Belief is a hang-up because it traps us in a psychosocial comfort zone that’s reinforced by cognitive dissonance.
No matter how much we think we know, there is nearly an infinite amount of information that we do not. And yet we still cling to what we think we know despite this fact. We want our beliefs to be true so badly that we believe in vain. We cling. We obsess. We attach. We unreasonably and illogically lash out when our beliefs are reasoned with, perceiving an attack that doesn’t exist; all while raising nearly insurmountable walls of cognitive dissonance.
It gets to the point that the only way around the walls is to transcend them. That’s the detached state. The more we practice mindful detachment, the less our mindless attachment has any sway. The more we practice mindful attachment, the looser the clamps of cognitive dissonance become. Over time the walls crumble. The view clears up. Clarity manifests. We see with new eyes. We see how our beliefs were a hinderance to our self-improvement.
As Ursula K. Le Guin states, “belief is a wound that knowledge heals.” Indeed. The knowledge gained in the detached state transforms the wound of belief into the sacred wound of flexible mindfulness. We are then capable of entertaining a thought without accepting it.
But what is belief exactly? Is it not just our vain attempt to force an idea, ideology, or worldview into being foolproof? Is it not just our futile attempt at pigeonholing truth? Is it not merely pretense in hard makeup? When in a state of belief, we tend to dodge the difficulty of thought, sidestep the challenge of imagination, and go straight for the easy way out: leaning on hand-me-down, ill-conceived, outdated beliefs in religion and politics that have been spoon-fed to us in the form of propagandized cultural conditioning and indoctrinated brainwashing. And then we wonder where we went wrong.
Belief is where we went wrong. Becoming attached to our fallible interpretations of an infallible cosmos is where we went wrong. Allowing an authority to do our thinking for us is where we went wrong.
If, as Buckminster Fuller said, “Belief is when someone else does the thinking,” then detachment is when we allow our higher perspective to do the thinking instead. This is the power of mindful detachment. It is strategic about helping us get out of our own way: psychologically, socially, intellectually, and spiritually.
As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Faith, indeed, has up to the present not been able to move real mountains…. But it can put mountains where there are none.” Rather than remain attached in a fixed state of belief turning mountains into molehills, we become enhanced in a flexible state of detachment and fly straight over the “mountain.” Summit and abyss become one within us.
Flexible detachment is far superior to belief precisely because we are a fallible, ever-changing, ever-evolving species caught up in an impermanent cosmos. We happen to be a species with a big brain, which gives us a false sense of security that we have discovered answers to complex questions, along with the false sense of accomplishment that we’ve evolved to a peak state.
But when it really comes down to it, we are merely big-brained mammals stumbling through a vast cosmos of which we have barely even scratched the surface.
That’s why we must practice flexible detachment rather than fixed belief. Belief is limiting. Flexible detachment is limitless. Belief is mental slavery. Flexible detachment is mental liberation.
The best way to maintain a healthy, reasonable skepticism, and not devolve into an ignorant, sycophantic, violent mess of a human, is to practice flexible detachment and then question things rather than believe in them. When we come up with what seems like a solid answer, we simply take it into consideration rather than believe in it and then keep questioning. In other words: we entertain the answer without accepting it. Then we use the “answer” as a tool so that it doesn’t turn us into a tool.
When it’s all said and done, it is always better to practice mindful detachment rather than attached belief. Thinking from a detached state that something may or may not be true allows for error, fallibility, and wrongness. Whereas believing in an attached state that something is certainly true cuts us off from other possibilities.
Where belief is all or nothing, predicated upon faith despite facts or evidence, mindful attachment is open-ended, taking beliefs, facts, and evidence into deep consideration and then using reason, probability, and validity to discover the truth.
In the battle against bewitchment, all beliefs, no matter how powerful or well-intended, are a hinderance to clear thought and self-improvement. The greatest fight in this battle is against our own bewitchment. Fixed beliefs are self-reinforced bewitchment. Mindful detachment breaks the spell.
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (Belief is a Hang-up: Let it Go!) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.