“There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head. Beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.”
Anthony De Mello
Wait a second! My own beliefs can be making me unhappy? WAIT! I choose what I believe…so how could that be possible?
WHY would I possibly choose continued attachment to something that is making me unhappy?
That sounds backwards to the max!
Okay…so what is a belief, really?
My beliefs are simply repeated thoughts…that I am currently “attached” to because I have adopted them as “truth”.
They are thoughts that, at some point in my life, I have decided are worthy enough to base my subsequent thoughts and actions upon, and they are always hanging out, ready to direct my path at a moment’s notice.
They live in what I call My Belief Boxes.
Unquestioned beliefs are those that I am no longer mindfully connected to: I don’t even give them a second thought. Their lids are on the tightest of all and are hardest to open, as I haven’t bothered to look inside recently. My refusal to look at them more closely may result from my fear of what I might see…or the dread that I may have to change my ways…or just being too busy to stop and be curious for a few moments.
These unquestioned beliefs often get me into trouble because they bring into play my collective judgments, projections, expectations and knee-jerk reactions.
Unfortunately, I usually don’t even realize what beliefs are actually running the show.
So here’s a balancing truth:
These beliefs can be modified or even eradicated at any moment we choose.
But…we can’t do that if we’re unaware of their presence behind the things we say and do.
So HOW do we even begin to notice these beliefs…so we CAN practice questioning them?
One important thing I have learned from being in a regular meditation practice is that I am not my thoughts or emotions. I am actually the observer or watcher of my thoughts and emotions, which come and go continuously. It is my “consciousness”, my “awareness”, that sees what’s going on, whether it is noticing my thoughts, my feelings, my actions or those of others…
But this awareness doesn’t change. It just observes…
And it is always present.
As long as I am in this position of watching, without becoming sucked into the stories and dramas of thoughts and emotions, I am able to have a clearer, broader view of what is happening. And it is from this perspective that I will be able to note my beliefs and how they are functioning in my life.
So here are a couple of questions:
“Is what I am currently thinking about a person, an event, a situation, a future action, a relationship, taking into consideration ALL perspectives that could be involved?”
Or another way to ask it:
“Could my perception/belief actually encompass the total picture…or is it possible I could be missing something?”
Humbling questions, those, as they bring us right up to the point of realizing…we can’t possibly know everything.
Yes, we are not omniscient…even though our belief systems might have us thinking otherwise!
Now be brave enough to ask an even harder question:
“To what extent am I willing to explore the possibility that perhaps my ideas are NOT the end-all answers in every situation…admitting (at least to myself!) that I may not know everything I thought I knew?”
This is where it gets tricky.
Because at this point we are opening the door to some serious “boat rocking”…meaning, change WILL occur if we continue with this line of thought.
And how fearful we are about change in our lives determines whether we choose to rock our boat and to what extent we do. A lot of us avoid change like the plague and will do some pretty illogical things to avoid it.
Let’s say I have been cruising along these past six months or so, being rather lax about my exercise and a number of my eating habits (because actually? I have!) I’m not doing anything regular, I’m not feeling motivated and I keep choosing to eat stuff I know is not helping me improve. I’m gaining weight little by little, my clothes are getting tighter(!) and I know I should be taking care of myself…but as the end of each day comes along, I realize I still haven’t done a single thing about it.
Now begins the “self-flagellation” (as Martha Beck calls it!)
“What is WRONG with you?”
“You’ll never get going..you might as well give up!!”
“What a failure!!”
Whenever I hear those kinds of questions, I’m seeing warning flags everywhere, and these are what prompt me to look deeper.
Because underneath these unhealthy actions is a belief.
An unquestioned belief.
Since a change will only occur when its accompanying belief changes, the sole responsibility falls squarely in my very own lap.
With this diet/exercise scenario, I am unhappy…with my health, my body, my mind…and my spirits lower accordingly.
In this state, the belief is that I am currently accepting is that it IS actually okay to take this line of actions.
Otherwise? I would be doing something different.
So we must determine what beliefs are getting in the way of the change we’d like to see.
Whenever I think “I should go for a walk”, “get moving”, or “join a gym”, “eat more vegetables”, I hear from different beliefs:
“You don’t have to do it now. You’re so content just sitting here doing ________ .” (Belief: I need more comfort)
“You’re too busy right now.” (Belief: I have to get everything else done first)
Or how about
“What will people think when they see me with my less than wonderful body?” (Belief: Others will judge me and embarrassment is painful)
Or “It’s too much work.” (Belief: I am weak, incompetent…maybe unable to complete the workout. More embarrassment.)
With further exploration, we will also discover that beliefs are running the “positive” actions in our lives as well.
For instance, I might choose to smile at someone. (Belief: This will help them feel happy/accepted/special.)
Or, I set up meeting a friend for coffee. (Belief: Connection is important/friendships need nurturing)
I write a note to say thank you to someone who brought me food when I was sick. (Belief: It is important to express gratitude because it seems to be so needed in our world.)
I let someone go ahead of me in heavy traffic. (Belief: It is good to be polite to others.)
You get the picture!
But the important part is to take a moment to Pause, be curious and try to determine what exactly is driving our current actions, whether positive or negative.
Where to begin?
Say we normally complete a simple task with a certain sequence of motions. So…this time? We will deliberately choose to do it a little differently.
How about brushing your teeth using your opposite hand?
Putting your clothes on in a different order than usual?
Smiling at a stranger instead of the usual choice not to interact?
Backing your car into a parking spot instead of going in forward?
Regarding more closely the food you are about to prepare/eat and, before you interact with it, think of at least three people that made it possible for you to be able to cook/eat it.
Before automatically popping up and plowing into another day, choosing to lie in bed ten extra seconds so you may close your eyes and breathe deeply two times and noting how it feels.
When we elect to “change things up” in even the smallest ways, this “wakes up” our belief systems (which are actually the result of ingrained neural pathways) and this helps us begin to be aware of how much of our life is being run unconsciously by these unquestioned beliefs (thus enabling us to create new neural pathways).
Be aware…and Pause now for just a moment. Ask yourself WHY you are doing what you are doing.
For today, choose three (or more if you become inspired!) different actions to perform differently. Break out of your Belief Box and change something, however small. Notice how it feels when you do this.
Is it exciting?
Does it make you frustrated?
Can you challenge yourself to be brave enough to try it again tomorrow?
How does it feel the second time around?
What are your thoughts and emotions this time?
How about for the rest of the week? What is shifting?
Again, just be curious.
Our only task is simply watching…to see what we can learn.
Once we are in the habit of practicing with these smaller beliefs, we can move into the more difficult ones where we may be more emotionally invested.
But for now, just choose to begin!
Begin with what makes sense to you; and you will know when to move on.
If you open your mind to the idea that things are not really “set in stone”, starting with smaller simpler tasks, this will begin a sequence of actions that will soon become a new habit. And you will begin to find yourself listening more closely, tuning in to your thoughts more frequently, noticing the variety that life offers…
Change will become less scary…
Confidence will grow.
You’ll be amazed at what the world is actually presenting to you.
And if you find you are unhappy, search for the Belief Box that is attached. Open it and decide what small change you’d like to make. You’re in charge, after all.
Because boxes that remain open are the easiest to change!
I believe George Bernard Shaw says it best:
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”