It is often said that people only see what they want to see. That’s frequently true, but I prefer to say that people only see what their ideas about the world will allow them to see.

A few years ago when I was preparing to lead a book study of Willow Polson’s The Veil’s Edge (one of the few books available on advanced Pagan practice) I came across this quote by Clive Beck, Professor of Education at the University of Toronto: “Knowledge is the product of an interaction between our ideas about the world and our experience of the world.”

To illustrate the quote, I made this simple Venn diagram.

From birth (and maybe before?) we learn about the world from our experiences of it, both first-hand and second-hand. But those experiences are little more than isolated data points until we compare and contrast them to other experiences and fit them into our model of Life and the Universe.

Last summer I had a spiritual experience while visiting Mesa Verde. As I stood at a canyon overlook, the wind came up, I experienced the wonder and power of nature, and I had a moment where I was a part of it all. I can’t describe it except to say it felt right.

A skeptic could say I experienced a gust of wind combined with a touch of agoraphobia at a time when I was overheated and fatigued. He wouldn’t be wrong. And based on his ideas about the world, that’s all it was. I have different ideas about the world: that everything is connected, that God / Goddess / the Divine is found in the natural world, and that there is a purpose for life. My knowledge of that experience is different because my ideas about the world are different.

A creationist can’t see the evidence for evolution because his ideas about biblical literality and the age of the universe won’t let him see it. A homophobe can’t see the love in a committed same sex relationship because his ideas about physical attraction won’t let him. A materialist can’t see magic and spirituality because his ideas about quantifiability won’t let him.

What are you missing because your ideas about the world won’t let you see it???

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About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.