Living a Life without Belief

On this Easter Sunday, I wanted to start a conversation about something I have been thinking about for years. It all started with the movie Dogma, in which the thirteenth apostle, Rufus, says “I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier…” I thought, Hmmm… What would my life be like if I didn’t believe in anything? Is that even possible? I experimented, considering strong thoughts, long held assumptions. I whittled away, but something new always came up. Or, I suppose, more accurately, something old always came up.

Years later, I developed a tacit acceptance of my belief — I simply stopped thinking about my experiment and went about my life. I was certainly more flexible in my thinking, though a few beliefs I just couldn’t shake. Interestingly enough, I couldn’t have named them if you asked, as they were invisible to me.

And then, at a critical moment of vulnerability in an interaction with a coworker about four years ago, something snapped.

After many difficult conversations, I had determined that the only way forward was vulnerability. That moment was akin to holding your hand outstretched to someone, just to have them stab a knife through it. I only avoid the “heart” metaphor to avoid sounding cliche… but whatever your analogy, everything instantly went silent, all color drained from my life, and years of giving up my power culminated in a single moment of implosion… Depression hardly covers it.

I don’t know how many people can point to the exact moment when they became depressed. It was startling in its completeness. I searched for a word —


For almost a month, I had, almost literally, no feelings. I went from completely numb, to occasional dull frustration, back to numb, a brief moment of sharp anger, back to numb. Nothing felt real. I was completely detached from everything in my life. Literally nothing felt real. And suddenly, I knew what it was like to live without belief. And just as suddenly, I knew what my core belief had been:

a caring, loving universe

I thought, I have been betrayed by my own sense of reality. Maybe this is all an illusion after all. Absent suicidal ideation, I decided that time could be an ally. I would wait it out and see what happened. I knew from past experience that depression could pass — presuming experience could be trusted. I chose to believe it was possible.

The depression did eventually lift, but I just couldn’t process my life, my history, my sense of belonging in this world. I told my partner what had been happening, and she was the most amazing support. I sought counselling and, through what can only be considered synchronicity, I found a class on Toltec Mastery**. I signed up, and started the journey back to myself — perhaps my truest self.

As we met and learned, listened and discussed, I started rebuilding a sense of reality. In fact, much of it seemed so familiar, even more familiar than the life I had been living before I became depressed. It was as if I needed to lose all structure to find what had been hiding underneath. And then at one class, my teacher said, “A warrior strips away personal history in order to create freedom. When you strip personal history, you strip away the beliefs that hold you back. Your awareness creates choice points — and choice is the only true freedom you have. A warrior chooses. And a warrior chooses what to believe. A warrior uses belief as a tool to accomplish what he wants, because you cannot accomplish without belief.”

I wish I could say that a light went on, but it was more of a stunned silence within me. I considered it, rolled it around in my head, rolled the words around in my mouth… Is this even possible? Is this even real? Could I live a life without belief without returning to that dark hole, that void, that blackness? And without further consideration, I simply moved on.

Many things changed in my life**, but what I take from that moment while I sit writing this post is that I cannot live without belief, because in order to interact with this world, this reality, I have to believe in it. Without that belief, I would be adrift, without anything tethering me to those I love and anything that I have grown to enjoy about my life — or anything I inherently enjoy. There’s something to consider

I can, however, direct my belief; I can deeply consider my beliefs; I can make invisible beliefs more visible with my practiced awareness; I can manifest possibilities with the power of my belief; I can help others create amazing opportunities through my belief in them…

Whether you believe a man died on a cross, was buried, and raised from the dead on the third day; whether you believe that there is a triune G_d who inspires, protects, saves; whether you believe in men of flesh who die and leave pretty or potent words behind — take heart. What you believe is powerful and shapes your destiny. What you believe is the core of who you are. Believe wisely. Believe compassionately. Believe with open eyes.

Live a life without belief — in nothing at all.

With all the love that my heart can endure,

** Way more stories lie here. But for another day.

4 thoughts on “Living a Life without Belief”

  1. Ryan first, a good post revealing your tender heart. The world needs more men like you in it. I do agree that what one believes is powerful and shapes one’s destiny, but from a slightly different perspective.

    Have you ever studied the Enneagram? Second post in a row I find myself mentioning it this morning! Take a look at point Six or Nine – I suspect you might fall into one or the other. Not all of us need beliefs, but anyone on the 3-6-9 spectrum seem to, and seem to badly. I remember my husband (a Nine) many years ago reading Pema Chodron. Something she said about abandoning hope. So he wrote ‘Abandon Hope’ on a piece of paper and stuck it on the wall. He just couldn’t manage it without feeling depressed, so took the paper down. Today I think he has far better perspective about what she said. Me? (A One) – I’ve got no problem loving life completely, fully, with open eyes and very little in the way of ‘beliefs,’ they feel like props to me. Just as hope does. The only thing that brought me close to depression in the past few years was the death of a close friend. Not because it brought up anything about my own mortality, but that I can count these kinds of friends on one hand. The world lost a sweet soul that day.

    Loved Dogma, by the way – we still watch it from time to time 😉 Blessings to you, Ryan! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Bela. I haven’t looked at the enneagram in a while… I have always been a believer. I opened an autobiographical monologue with it in college: Santa, tooth fairy, Easter Bunny. lol
      I agree; I think I’m predisposed to belief. I also believe (heh) that belief can be magical, so why no harness it?
      And thanks for the compliment. I decided that hiding my heart wasn’t an option anymore, so the recognition is appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

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