This 2002 article, composed as a response to a SageWoman theme, “Body and Soul,” could also have been archived under Alt-Epistemology. Now, 16 years later, I have moved even further from mainstream epistemology, viewing all closely held “be-LIE-fs” as strictures that keep us from continuing to open to the universe.
If “there’s no such thing as proof,” then how to decide the value of an idea?
by Ann Kreilkamp
When I was a young girl, I was lucky. I knew what the Truth was. The Truth was Roman Catholicism. Actually, I needed my religion to be “true.” Without my religion I would have nothing to stand on, no place to call home. I needed my religion to be true so badly that I even tried to ignore the fact that my friends “couldn’t go to heaven” (i.e., they would go to hell!) “because they weren’t Catholic.”
Later, when my own two children were small, my desperate need not to have yet another child clashed directly with my strict interpretation of religion, and, thank the Goddess! my own personal need finally took priority.
I still marvel at people who are able to let go of their religion the way they might discard last year’s clothing. I was not so lucky. In giving up Catholicism the foundation of my world caved in. I no longer knew what the Truth was. And I was terrified.
Quickly, I scurried to graduate school, in philosophy, the philosophy of science. My goal, as ever (I am a double Sagittarian), was Truth, and since schools and magazines and books and my doctor daddy had told me over and over again that if something isn’t scientific, it isn’t provable, not worth talking about, much less believing, I assumed science would replace the foundation destroyed by the loss of religion. (In this progression, from religion to science, I personally recapitulated the history of western civilization.)
One semester in, I met a professor who terrified me, fascinated me. I needed to know who he was, what made him tick. I needed to know if he knew what Truth was, and if so, what was the proof.
Well, right away, on first meeting, he told me that there is no such thing as proof! That behind any proof there is a set of assumptions, which themselves need to be proved. In other words any attempt to prove something leads to an infinite regress of assumptions.
Now that, for me then, was a scary thought. For without proof I was left with nothing, no foundation, no bottom line. No way of making decisions as to what is good or bad, right or wrong.
I was a head, trailing a body. I was a (left) brain who happened to be attached to a disgusting thing that grunted, squealed, farted, made love, hated, loved, birthed, mothered, yearned, feared . . . You would think that my body would have dominated my brain, since, as a young woman in this culture, I was expected to have no brain, and especially back then, when I was swamped by hormonal tides.
But no. As a girl I had wanted to be a boy, and as a woman I wanted to be a man. And so I was. Whatever we intend, we get. I rarely menstruated and I hardly noticed my body. It was just that thing I had to drag around with me, while “I” (my brain, that is), was preoccupied with avoiding the infinite abyss of the infinite regress.
Had I not desperately held (in my mind) the unprovable assumption that it was better to be a man, I could have relaxed, let go, touched down into my body. I didn’t realize that the infinite regress was terrifying precisely because it was mind-created, and if I could have let go of my mind, I could have landed, kerplunk!, in my body. And had I done so, I could have luxuriated in its comfort, its sensual security, its appreciation of touch, taste, smell . . .
But I did not. I held on to my mind as if my life depended on it. And it did, at least the life I knew did. The life I had concocted for myself. The unique “identity” I had laboriously constructed as both better than and separate from, others.
Then my body, having received no attention from me, no care at all, and certainly no appreciation, rebelled. My body rebelled and almost killed me. That woke me up to its primacy.
And now I had a new thing to fear: not only the free fall of the mind into the abyss, but the capricious power of the body to sicken and die.
It took many years before I realized that the body’s symptoms were symbols. That my body was talking to me.
It took many more years before I sensed “the body” as a concentric series of dimensions, each one less dense, more diaphanous, than the others. And that, to study the body, was to study the universe.
From that time on, I have been fascinated with the body, its power to not just betray me but to enlighten me. Indeed, I now realize that Truth comes into me through the body. That my body is the ground of being, the bottom line, the foundation I was seeking all along.
Whatever Truth is, it must filter through the all-knowing cells of my own body before I can believe it. And since, at different times, my body needs different things, different truths, then what I “believe” changes with its tides. Indeed, the word “belief” for me, is looking more and more suspect. For if to believe something is to attach to it, no matter what the cost, I would rather not attach, rather not believe, rather not get stuck! I want to be flexible, so that I can continue to evolve. By flexible I do not mean that I am a relativist, at least not in the sense of one who assumes all ideas are equal and then uses “relativism” to justify selfishness.
All ideas are not equal. Some are repugnant, and some are attractive. I rely on instinct, intuition, the knowing awareness of the cells of my body to tell me which is which. That way, no matter how glamorous an idea, or how much it has infected the culture in general, I have my own criterion for deciding whether it is true or false, good or bad. My body decides what is good or bad. Good or bad for me. Good or bad for me, now.
The deeper my surrender to my own body, the more I recognize it as a sensitive antenna of the larger Earth body. She too, then opens as a cell in the larger solar body, and the solar body as a cell in the galactic body. And so on, ad infinitum. The infinite regress is infinite expansion, nothing to be afraid of.
As I allow my natural corporal sensitivities to activate, I recognize the body’s essential mystery; in surrendering to the interior reality of the present moment, my responses become ever more natural and spontaneous.
As I center within my own body, all of nature, including the sky, that immense infinite regress into the vastness, is available to my awareness. The veil separating inside from outside thins, dissolves. Rhythms of the breath and heart synchronize with oceanic and stellar tides.
Thus, what might seem at first to be a solipsistic retreat into the most private place, the body, becomes the center of the universe, one’s personal portal to the interdimensional swirl of the great beyond.
Fear resides where security is lacking. My security comes from having solidly landed within my own body. Fear recedes, gives way to wonder.