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Doubt gets a bad rap in most of the spiritual teachings teachings I’ve come across. It’s so often viewed as some kind of stumbling block that is to be removed one’s path, so they don’t trip over it. Instead of doubt, seekers are told to cultivate faith (i.e. confidence, trust) in the teachings or their teacher. Doubt is seen as an opposite to faith, as though you can either express one or the other in any given moment. You either have faith or you have doubt, and to have the latter is to be set up for failure from the beginning. Among communities of faith, expression of doubt is often taboo. Sure, it’s OK to express doubt for a brief period, but it’s expected to be cleared up through prayer or by receiving advice from elders who know better. Faith is the higher virtue, end of story.

The problem is that this faith/doubt dichotomy puts the intelligent seeker in a wicked double-bind. By intelligent I don’t mean genius. I’m referring to ordinary levels of adult intelligence. And this means that for many adults, perhaps upwards of 50% of them, have matured to a point in their human lives where doubt is the expression of higher developmental processes than what is required for doubt to arise in the first place. Was it not doubt that made the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil attractive to our mythical first human beings? Was the serpent not other than that voice inside each one of us that is unsatisfied with anything but knowledge acquired by testing things for ourselves? Giving in to this voice is seen as the root cause of our lives gone-askew, and it is our inheritance, our original sin. Thank God for that sin, for you can’t travel a path if you stay in the garden.

The great misnomer here is that doubt could somehow be removed and replaced with faith, like uprooting a weed and replacing it with a food-producing plant. Some people think this is possible, and some even claim to have done it. Perhaps they have. But in suppressing the expression of doubt (since I sincerely doubt anything has actually been removed), the source energy of doubt is also suppressed. This energy is a tremendous resource that goes untapped for so many people, because they either don’t no about it or don’t believe in the possibility of it. The confusion lies in what I said earlier about doubt and faith being misconstrued as opposites. This isn’t so. Faith and doubt are not expressions of the same energy. The flip-side of doubt is not faith, but rather clarity. We could also call it discernment, or even wisdom. And to which coin do doubt and clarity make up the heads and tails? I’ve been speaking of it already… intelligence.

This is not the kind of intelligence that comes from memorization of facts, the “book smart” variety. It’s the intelligence that is capable of seeing things clearly and accurately as they are. It is the primordial intelligence of the source. It is before ego, before identification of any kind. Therefore, it is selfless, belonging to no one and everyone alike.  I have never known one single awakened person who did not have access to this resource, and who didn’t gain that access through allowing doubt to remain on their path. It is by working with doubt – exploring it, using it, testing it, allowing it – that one discovers how to use this same energy to give rise to clarity and understanding at the deepest levels available to humankind.

I said already that doubt is often mistaken to be the enemy, even the flip-side, of faith. But, in my view, faith and doubt do not arise from the same basic energy, so  so they are not really opposites. I bring this up to point out that faith is not the enemy of doubt, even thought that’s how it seems sometimes. One can simultaneously express great faith and great doubt for this very reason. There’s something more sneaky, more clever, more cunning, to watch out for on the path, which is the expression that attempts to suppress or deny the basic source energies as they are, and thereby distorting their expressions into the forms we call “hindrances.” It can be none other than fear.

But what is fear, really? Much like doubt and clarity, whose source is primordial intelligence, fear also has a source and an alternate expression. For, what is fear other than the fundamental expression of “No”? The opposite of fear is often said to be love, and that is true in some ways. But the word love doesn’t really do this expression justice. If fear is the fundamental “No,” it is that which we are able to close ourselves off from experience. If the fundamental “Yes” is that which we express as openness to experience, this “Yes” is a more basic form of trust; and therefore, faith. Faith is that which says “Yes” to what arises, and fear is what says “No.” And the root energy of both is choice.

Confusing as it may seem, choice is built into the fabric of reality. Yes and No are not unlike wisdom and ignorance, yin and yang, expansion and contraction, nirvana and samsara. This doesn’t jibe well with the philosophy that says because there is no self, there is no real choice or agency. But to think that choice requires an inherently existing self is ignorance. And the more one taps into the source, realizing the primordial intelligence, the more all of this becomes clear. It’s a matter of learning when to say Yes and when to say No on this path. Our confusion leads us to say Yes when saying No would be more beneficial, and vice versa. And this is when doubt becomes particularly useful, for it’s expression says, “Am I saying Yes to this when saying No would be better?” Doubt raises the important questions, leading to skillful experimentation. And this experimentation refines doubt into clarity, which then guides us to taste and see the results of our Yes and our No when applied to life as it shows up for us. Really, there can be no real inquiry without doubt.

So often people say No to doubt when saying Yes will take them further. But you can say Yes when your mind, body, and emotions say No. Feelings often lag behind the decisions of the higher regulating centers; that is, you don’t have to wait until you feel like doing something to do it. All of these energies are expressed in your body, your use of speech, your thoughts, and your actions (that is, expressions as a bodies of No, feelings of No, thoughts of No, actions of No). They need not all be aligned at first. It just takes one step with one of these to give a Yes instead of a No, and that can turn your whole life upside down… or rather, right-side up.

If you doubt any of this, that’s wonderful. Explore it. Use it. Trying saying Yes to doubt if No is getting you nowhere.