There has been so much written and expressed about beliefs. We often find ourselves talking about unshakable beliefs or that someone’s belief has carried them through their hard times. We use the word excessively when defending our position or trying to make a point. It’s also almost always at the root of how we describe ourselves to others second only to our career and the functional capacity others see us in. But are beliefs truly cast in stone? Are they something that are unshakable? Are they truly something we can say that we’d die for? Or is that just lip service spoken to stay in line with what’s expected of us echoing all the way back to when our parents made us swear to keep the rules or promise to behave in a way that would earn and keep their love and respect? And even after all those commitments and dedications to what we’ve been taught to believe, do we even know what the word means let alone where it actually comes from? I think not. Most of us are just parroting what we’ve been told is true and have been blackmailed into aligning ourselves with what we’re told to accept as true and swear to uphold. We say our deepest wish is to “do right thing” and uphold our beliefs. But are they really ours or are they just something that we’re trained into accepting as true by others under threat of losing their emotional and physical support? Is our need to belong so much stronger than our wish to grow and express ourselves and what we believe? Truly, what IS a belief? Where does it come from? And why would we swear to uphold it? The word and its meanings are entwined in an internal dance between our need to belong and our desire to express ourselves combined with our perceived personal accountability underlying any choice we make relative to which way we lean.
When most of us speak of a belief, we hold an underlying assumption that something is true. But what does that actually mean? How does it relate to how we see and live our lives? For some of us our acceptance of what we consider to be true is based on the assumptions the groups we belong to hold. For others, it’s what we’ve been told by someone whom we’ve either trusted or feared. For others of us, it is what scientists qualify as being true by tangible methods of testing. For others of us, it’s based on our own personal experience. What confuses the issue even more is that we can hold a varied combination of these validations based on the situations we find ourselves in and the level of confidence we have in our own ability to assess what is true and our truth concerning others. Yet we’re still no closer to clarifying what a belief actually is. Bottom line is that we choose what we accept as being true for us and for others. We only have two ways of validating what can be accepted as being true. We personally experience something for ourselves or we accept something as being true because we’ve been told by someone we trust and/or fear. Simply put, we base our decision on what comes from within us or from outside of us. In our culture we have been taught, almost exclusively, that the validity of what is true comes from outside of ourselves. Generally, in order to remain in the good graces of any group we belong to, we must acquiesce to the general consensus. But to assume this does massive harm to our trust in our own experiences. We now come back to the idea that a belief is one of choice. Do we accept what we feel, have experienced and seen, felt and tasted or do we rely on what we’re told by others who most influence the groups we belong to and who will either boycott, excommunicate, eject or withhold support from us if we disagree with them, essentially, weakening or even disarming their influence over the group? It is because of this second scenario why I’ve included those whom we fear with those whom we trust.
Our ability to choose comes simply from living in a mostly tangible polarized world where everything is arranged in terms of pairs of opposites offering contrast which is needed for any choice. We all have the ability to choose.Imagine two monkeys who could rationalize. Does a monkey in the grass go for a tasty morsel while a tiger is stalking him or does he climb a tree to prevent being eaten? If he climbs the tree, he many never know of the danger of the tiger, unless he’s told by the second monkey in the tree, whom he trusts and who has personally had a life threatening experience with the tiger and escaped. If the first monkey runs after hearing from the second monkey, they’d both be in the tree; one because of his personal experience and one because he’s been told. Which reason is more valid for now being in the tree? Does the first monkey who climbed the tree now have a belief that he’d be eaten by the tiger if he didn’t climb? Or is that just hearsay? Does the second monkey in the tree have the belief that the tiger would eat him because of his own experience? That’s his assumption based on his own experience. What if the second monkey told the first monkey not to worry because he wanted to eliminate the second monkey as competition from pursuing his possible mate? What if the first monkey on the ground trusted him and then was eaten by the tiger? Now, what is really true? What is now believed? We human monkeys do this all the time to each other. Each of our truths are personal, subjective and experiential. There is no “absolute” truth. The validity of it is assigned from within the perceiver. Trusting ourselves will always be true for us. Trusting what others tell us is sometimes true and sometimes dubious. We can’t always know the difference. Our choice is most securely based when our own experience is the basis for choosing rather than the hearsay of others or even from a large group; even science. On some level we always know our own motivation. Not always so for knowing others. So let’s refine our definition. A belief is our choice based on either whom we trust, our own experience or simply the accepted hearsay of others. Which validation we use for what we accept as being true depends on whom we were trained by to trust more in our childhood; ourselves or our parents. We would expect that in growing up that we would learn to trust ourselves exclusively. We can see that our contemporary culture teaches and purports that we trust ourselves but in reality only accepts and expects our trusting of the status quo if only for the validation, security and the “good of the group.”This usually unperceived double standard has caused tremendous confusion in issues between personal and group accountability.
Once we choose to accept something as true, will it always be so? If we’re always having new experiences and adding to or reframing our beliefs after each new experience, how could it be so?If others are also having new experiences and changing their beliefs and what they tell us based on their new assessments and awareness of themselves and us, how could they not change? Beliefs are fluid. They move and change within us as we grow more aware broadening our own experience and awareness. They establish a constantly expanding framework of reference points for our understanding of the world and for us to operate within it while assessing who we are and how far we’ve come. Now we are faced with the uncomfortable question of what happens when people are “unable” or refuse to change their beliefs even in the face of the overwhelming evidence of their own experience? Since expanding our awareness almost always leads to changing our beliefs we must conclude that unalterable beliefs suspend awareness. Think about this for a moment and just let that sink in…
Let’s look a little deeper at an added dimension. This comes, not so much from familial training, but from how we perceive our inner and outer world and when awareness is active.
When we’re having an experience, we’re in the moment. When we think about an experience, we’re no longer having it or, at the least, we’re unaware of its continuing movement. The same is true of beliefs. Beliefs are made up of thoughts and the memory of decisions we’ve made about our prior experiences. When we’re using our thinking (introverted activity), our awareness of the outside world is switched off. We’re often “lost in our thoughts” or in daydream mode so we’re often unaware as to what’s going on around us. The same is true when we’re expressing (extroverted activity) our beliefs. We can become so involved in what we want to say that we may become oblivious to the reactions of others. So, our awareness of the outer world is switched off while we’re thinking or expressing much like the flow in a fire hose. If water is shooting out, nothing can track back in unless the flow of moving water is shut off. Based on this we can say that when we’re thinking or expressing our beliefs, we are NOT in the moment. We’re self-absorbed and unaware. Conversely, we can say that when we are in the moment, the mind is quiet. Hence, meditation is being in the moment.
So when we say that someone is “closed minded,” what we mean is that someone is totally absorbed with thinking about or expressing their beliefs based on their prior experiences and the decisions they’ve made concerning them. They are neither open nor listening to you or anyone else. While they’re thinking or expressing, they’re unaware.
So let’s return to our title. Absolute beliefs corrupt absolutely. When someone is solid or unchangeable in their beliefs there is one perceived advantage to those of us who are relating to them. If we know their beliefs, we know where they stand and where we stand concerning the subject of those beliefs. We feel relatively secure and generally know what to expect of them. Bottom line; both of us feel in control. They adhere to their beliefs and we know what to expect in relating to them. But when we both need to be in control, we are not allowing ourselves to open to new experiences related to those beliefs. We also actively work at recreating the prior experiences involved in creating them. For many of us who don’t attempt to control the world based on our beliefs, we find those people who do a danger to themselves and, often, to others not to mention the frustration created in our dealing with them. These type of people dedicated to controlling their environment and others are most often found in disciplines of a religious nature based on scripture written ages ago by others who have chosen beliefs that resonate to an archaic time in our social development. We call these people “true believers.” The danger exists in the fact that unchangeable beliefs cuts them, and sometimes us, off from the universal current. Then, our emotional and spiritual growth becomes severely impaired if not halted.
It’s not just “true believers” that cut off this flow. We also do it to ourselves when we accept truths about ourselves that are essentially only the opinions and perceptions of those who raised us that might be contrary to what we innately feel about ourselves. It’s imperative that changing from accepting the truths and beliefs of our parents and elders must change toward establishing beliefs about ourselves based on our own experiences if we are to emotionally and spiritually mature and broaden our awareness. There are no conclusions about our growth; only our current arrivals at stages of awareness destined to move on to broader perspectives. Absolute beliefs are a poison to our well-being. The beliefs we establish operate best when fluid and changeable based on our own individual experience and are dropped when they no longer serve our higher nature.