Slay The Beast of Doubt

by Dan Walsh

Where does doubt come from anyway?

I felt a heavy doubt last week. The efforts with which I was engaged weren’t working out how I envisioned. These might have only been short term hiccups, but I wondered about the future too. If I couldn’t get things to work now, how could I expect to get the larger, more complicated vision to work later? The future became muddled. And the harder it became to envision that success, the more doubt I felt. I wanted to slay this beast – the beast of doubt – and reclaim my clarity. But how? I don’t actually know what doubt is. How can I take up appropriate arms if I don’t know the beast? Is it scaled? Feathered? Does it creep, fly, swim, or run? Do I bait and trap or hunt it down on horseback like a fox?

If I wanted to resolve my doubts, I’d need to first discover the real nature of it.

So I turned to meditation as my tool for understanding. I meditated on doubt. Instead of trying to keep it at bay, I fully embraced the feeling and all the emotions that came with it. I wanted to know the stuff of doubt so I had to feel all of it. It worked.

My doubt was a complex interweaving of sadness, worry about the future, and a feeling of exhaustion. I was sad that my plans had gone awry, I was worried they would never work out, and I was exhausted from trying so hard. I was beating myself up mentally and emotionally. But here’s the strange bit. My exhaustion was a product of my emotional state. If I had been successful so far then I would have felt invigorated instead of exhausted. This is a subtle point, but it made me realize that there was a subjective judgement somewhere at the base of my doubt. But who was judging me?

Maybe I was judging myself. Perhaps present-me was looking back at past-me and saying “way to make a bad plan, dummy!” But, what made the plan bad? It was bad because it didn’t work out, right? So why didn’t it work out?

If I went into a job interview and it didn’t work out – I didn’t get the job – it would be because the person interviewing me judged me as unfit for the position. If, in my single days, I approached a girl and couldn’t score her number it was because she rejected me. If I ran for mayor and didn’t get elected it would be because the masses rejected me. In all of these instances there is someone else who makes a call on whether or not my plan “worked out”. There is external validation from people. This is easy to see.

What I realized during my meditation is that The Universe also passes judgement. The Universe also grants external validation. This is a lot harder to see. It also sounds metaphysical, but I promise it’s not.

The Wright brothers spent years trying to get an airplane to fly. They weren’t after fame, glory, or articles in the newspaper. They weren’t seeking external validation from other people. They were seeking external validation from the universe – from the laws of physics. In their heads they said “if our design is correct, then our device will fly.” It was gravity and aerodynamics that judged their designs, no one else.

In its purest form, all invention, all creation, all noble efforts require validation from the universe. The complex system-at-large. The silent other. Doubt comes from without, but manifests within.

Doubt is formless. It doesn’t have feather or scales. It doesn’t swim or fly. It seeps, like a poisonous cloud. There is no way to slay it because it doesn’t have a body. But it can be prevented – resolved. If we can see the gas, we can walk around it. We can avoid it. We can prevent it from seeping into our hearts and minds.

Realizing that there was an external source for my doubt has made all the difference.