Is faith a mind trick?

"I'm dying!" I yelled. "No, you're not!" my bootcamp instructor yelled back.

He was right and I was wrong. I wasn't dying. I just felt like it. For the past ten minutes, my mind had been engaged in all out warfare against me. My mind was rapid-firing these thoughts: Ow, ow, ow. Pain, pain, pain. Pain means something is wrong. You are dying. Is this a heart attack I feel? It is! I'm dying! I'm dying! STOP NOW!

And it wasn't just my thoughts. I was dry heaving. I felt dizzy. I felt literally sick.

It was sheer craziness to continue. Only an absolute fanatic would keep going, right? Only a total whackaloon. Exercise is for idiot fanatics!

Instead of stopping, I slowed down. Caught my breath a little. My bootcamp instructor was right. I wasn't dying, after all. So, I started running again.

But later, as I thought about this, I started freaking out a little bit. What was happening to me during the workout felt so real. I really thought I might die. But the truth was that I was nowhere near dying.

So, what was really happening? This was happening: even after three months of bootcamp, my ass still doesn't like moving.

My ass so dislikes moving that it will engage every weapon in its arsenal to make me stop moving. I will feel sick. I will dry heave. I will think awful, horrible, end-of-the-world thoughts.

This freaks me out.

I would like to think that I have total control over my mind. I would like to believe that what I think is true. But bootcamp has shown me something deeply disturbing: my mind can trick me into believing something false.

This really terrifies me. It's almost a feeling of alien possession, as if my mind has a life of its own. Here's the crux of it: how do I know what is real? If my mind can so persuasively convince me that I'm dying--when I'm not--what else is it persuading me to believe?

What if even my faith is a mind trick? I mean, I believe certain things. But believing in them doesn't make them true, necessarily. However, by choosing to believe, I start experiencing confirmation bias. Once I lean into belief, things start happening which seem to confirm that belief.

The hopeful part of this is that positive believing seems to make manifest positive beliefs. Ultimately, I needed my bootcamp instructor to insert a positive thought into my barrage of negative ones. Once I heard his encouraging words, I was able to momentarily adjust my perception of what was happening. It didn't take the pain away, but it kept me from quitting entirely.

Later, when I looked in the mirror, I could see with my own eyes that he was right. There is positive change happening in my body. Positive change is painful and difficult, but it reaps true results. For the first time since highschool, I can see muscle definition in my upper arms.

When it comes to matters of spirituality, I can't say I know with absolute certainty that my beliefs are empirically true. Yes, I believe they are and, yes, I've placed my faith in them. But I also admit the possibility that maybe my mind is playing tricks on me. Maybe I've told myself these beliefs are true so many times that now I don't just believe they are true for me personally, I also believe they are universally true for everyone.

The more I think about God, the more I talk to God, the more I pray and read Scripture--the more I believe in God. Does this make the existence of God more real empirically speaking or just more real to me, personally?

I don't know.

But I've decided that I'm OK with that.

Ultimately, I've had an experience of Divine Love. I feel remarkably grateful for that. I don't think it has anything to do with me, necessarily. Others search and pray and strive for an experience of Divine Love and perhaps never find it. I caught a glimpse of it. And it was enough.

It has momentarily adjusted my perception. The pain of life is still here. But Love keeps me from quitting faith entirely.