Tuesday, November 10, 2009

True Power: What do you believe?

Do you know what you believe?

Most people say yes. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that most of the people who say yes, when questioned, don't really know what they believe about a whole host of things that affect their lives.

I believe (ah, here's one I know!) that what we believe is the key to how we feel, how we respond, how we live. I also believe (another!) that we can change what we believe; that things we hold as "truths" are more often than not "good guesses" and "cherished assumptions" that we've chosen to embrace; that many of those choices are based on faulty information and misunderstood (or missing) data; and that by changing what we choose to believe, we change how we see the world and how the world sees and treats us. Finally, and maybe most importantly, unless we do the hard and ongoing work of discovering what we believe and holding those beliefs up to the light, we run the risk of letting beliefs that don't serve us rule our actions.

To be in control of our own lives, we need to know what we believe, understand why we believe it, and ask ourselves, always, "Is it true? Does it serve?" Anything that isn't true and doesn't serve should be replaced.

We form beliefs based on things we're told, events we witness, experiences we have...and the way in which we perceive those things, with whatever level of understanding we have at the time, colors and shapes our beliefs. And since so much of what we think we believe about ourselves is based on input we receive and process and use to define ourselves and our roles in the world, we end up with colorful, oddly shaped self images, more akin to fun house mirror images than true reflections. We develop our beliefs about others in much the same way, often complicated and clouded by our ill-formed perceptions of ourselves.

Beyond what we believe about ourselves and others, beliefs about death, life, sex, work, love, learning, relationships...in short, everything that matters...shape our lives in ways we don't always think about. We act on what we believe most of the time, even when don't know or can't articulate those beliefs. At other times, we ignore what we really believe in favor of some false belief we've cooked up to justify doing something pleasureable or avoiding something uncomfortable.

Discovering what we believe isn't always as straightforward as it might seem. In fact, it's much more a sneak-around-the-back process than a front door process. Beliefs can hide, and often we have to examine both action and motive to uncover the belief.

My personal journey into my own beliefs started with a gift. My ex-husband brought me a little book, Celebrate Your Womanhood Therapy, one of a series called "Elf Help Books." It featured charming little drawings of elves and short insightful sayings on each page. I can't quote the page verbatim, but it said, in essence, "True happiness is not found outside yourself. Happiness is a result of your thoughts, your beliefs, and your actions in harmony."

The statement rang true to me and since I was anything but happy at the time, I started thinking about my beliefs, my thoughts, and my actions. What I discovered, to my surprise, is this:

my actions were based on what I felt;
my feelings were based on what I thought;
my thoughts were based on what I believed;
my beliefs were based on... what?

That's where I got stumped. I reasoned that if I didn't know what my beliefs were based on, then I didn't know why I believed as I did, And if I didn't have a clue why I believed it, how the heck did I know it was true?

For me, discovery started with discomfort. I wasn't happy; if happiness was, as the book suggested, the result of harmony, then places where I felt most unhappy were places to look for what was discordant. Once I started to look, I discovered just what a mess I was! Things I claimed to believe, beliefs I claimed to hold dear, were nowhere evident in my life. Some things I thought I believed, or maybe thought I wanted to believe, I really didn't believe at all; I thought I was supposed to believe them, so I said I did and went on. But my life was telling another tale and the discord and chaos were pretty damning evidence. One discovery led to another, like dominoes falling. It was and is a slow process, one that continues today.

I don't even know where to begin to tell you what I learned and am still learning. The biggest lesson of all,I guess, is that I am not powerless over my thoughts and emotions. When I feel discomfort - anger, disappointment, fear, sadness, betrayal - I am not "stuck" with that emotion. I can dig deeper, look for the underlying belief that causes me to think the thoughts that cause the emotion. When I find it, I can examine the belief, look for its roots, discern its truth. Often, I find that the "belief" I hold so dear is really an assumption, a creative filling of gaps between facts based on some deeper, bigger belief that I wasn't aware I held.

I also learned, in the absence of irrefutible facts, to choose to believe the explanation that brings peace. So much of the time, we fill in motives when all we have observed is behavior. Most behavior (and there are exceptions, of course) doesn't really affect us all that much. It's the motives for the behavior that cause us the most misery. If someone steps on my toe, it hurts for a little while. If I believe she stepped on my toe purposefully, that hurts a lot longer. And if I don't know for a fact that the step was dileberate, I choose to believe it wasn't. It hurts less that way.

Examining my life, I learned that anytime I was acting in a way that was not aligned with what my intuitive, knowing self knew and recognized as the path of honor and wisdom, my life was chaotic and discordant. Let me tell you, that little nugget of wisdom, as obvious as it seems now, was a long time in coming. I wasn't listening to my inner voice. But that inner voice is the voice of our truest, deepest beliefs. It's the one that tells us we're ok, even when we're surrounded by the echoes of other voices telling us we're not ok. It's the one that knows what we love and where we're gifted and our highest purpose in this life. It's the one that tells us when we're about to act foolishly and do something selfish, arrogant, stupid, unsafe, unethical, or unwise...the same one we ignore for so many ill-conceived reasons. I got married twice when my inner voice was saying, "NO! This is not right for you!" because I didn't know how to back out of the relationship and wanted to avoid the discomfort of dealing with it. Talk about trading up! There's discomfort, and there's discomfort! And I put myself through hell and contributed to my partners' hellish experience because I didn't pay attention to what I knew, what I believed.

So I ask you again...what do you believe? There is tremendous power in listening, asking, digging, and finding our beliefs, questioning them, discovering their sources. There is even more power in having the courage to change beliefs that don't hold up to scrutiny. One of my favorite Bible verses (yes, I have favorite Bible verses!), John 8:32 (World English Bible), says it well: "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." The power to cause change to occur in our lives in conformity with our will is magic of the highest order.


  1. ***

    "My feelings were based on what I thought..."

    Why are our feelings based on what we think? Who is doing the thinking and who is doing the feeling?

    Splitting this one apart and just *feeeeeling* is what has helped bring the greatest changes in my life, and has been the path to "knowing" truth and freedom. Our feelings are our guidance system for aligning with the higher frequencies (i.e. true happiness). Valuing and acting according to feelings without allowing thought to intervene is key.

    I think where we get hung up is that so much of what we call feeling actually is still thought. It's thought + reaction. If we stop the mind and go into the heart where real feeling is, we often find we feel a different way entirely compared to how our minds were tricking us into "feeling." Make sense? :)

  2. Makes much sense. :)

    I think we're saying similar things here with different terminology. Feelings are our inner guidance system, and they originate from different sources. They can point us toward our highest source, and they can point us toward faulty thinking that needs to change.

    There are those deep, knowing feelings...the ones I refer to as my inner voice or my intuitive, knowing self...that voice is the highest truth, and listening to that voice, allowing it to help align us with the higher frequencies, is key.

    I use the term "feelings" to refer to emotional states, as well...and those emotions are very often the result of what we're thinking, how we perceive the situation. You called it "thought + reaction" and I think that's pretty accurate. In examining the thought, we can often change or halt the reaction.

    I have a recent example...I mentor someone at work who recently came to me and said that she was angry because her manager had done something "just to make me look like an idiot." When we discussed the situation, she admitted that she knew what her manager had done, but she really didn't have any clue why she had done it...and yet she was very angry mostly because she thought (assumed, filled in the missing data) she had done it purposefully to humiliate her. When she stepped back, looked at only what she actually knew, she saw the situation differently. She realized there were any number of possible reasons for the manager's actions, most of which had nothing to do with her. In fact, the reason she had so adamantly decided to believe - that it was just to humiliate her - was the least likely reason of all! Changing her thinking allowed her to change her emotional state, and that allowed her to listen more closely to the true inner voice that held wisdom she could use.

    Thank you for singing along...your voice adds much to the "song."

  3. Nice! Your example fits perfectly. It seems like so many of our thoughts create false states of emotion, which we come to think of as our "feelings" when in fact they're not really how we feel about a situation but are more of a conditioned reaction generated in the brain.

    Recently I heard someone point out that our heart is the center of our being for a reason -- that the heart should be our "thought-center" instead of the mind. Sort of like living from heart-mind instead of head-mind. It seems like all the yucky emotions we have come from head-mind. Instead, when we enter the heart we find "hey, everything's cool! I'm safe, I'm strong, I'm eternal...." and so no reaction is necessary. Letting the heart be our true guidance conserves so much energy that might otherwise be spent in reacting to things around us.

    For me, it is an experience of feeling instead of thinking -- bypassing all that 'reasoning through things' -- but you said it so much better! "...she stepped back, looked at only what she actually knew..." Perfect! Somehow that process takes us out of petty mind and into feeling the heart-center.

    Thank you for all you share.

  4. This is something I was thinking about just the other day. I'll simply say this.

    Don't BELIEVE anything. BE something. Then, when you LEAVE this world, there will be something left behind you besides good intentions.

    A belief claims we hold a certain perspective. To hold a perspective, we must either be still (no longer travelling, and thus static) or we must carry that vantage within as part of us (in which case, it is no longer a belief, but an embodiment of something that is part of us forever).

    I have learned that people who profess beliefs must speak because their inner knowing has not yet become outwardly doing and must still be spoken about to be seen. When you become what you believe, it is no longer a belief, no longer a thing outside yourself you must ascribe to -- it is who you are and needs no words.

  5. Sitara, I think you make a really good point.

    I saw a perfect example of this many years ago when I sang with a choir in a small Presbyterian church. The choir was full of mostly nice folks who spent a lot of time talking about faith and Jesus and walking the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, nice as they were, it was mostly talk from what I could see.

    But there was one young couple who emanated such a sense of calm, joyful purpose. They were preparing for a career as missionaries, yet they never spoke of it unless asked. They simply lived their faith...doing every day the things that illustrated what others were saying, but not doing.

    Thanks for singing along, dear Sister...you add such richness to the song!

  6. I can very much relate to your experiences of ignoring the inner voice, and the pain and life difficulties you put yourself and others through because of this. This is something to reflect upon. I can look back at many obvious points where I did the same, and can probably trace many or most, if not all, of my "miseries" to this one thing. Your article has helped crystallize this for me.

    Socrates said he had an inner "demon" (not a bad thing) who warned him, told him what to avoid, what not to do. He listened to his demon and did not fall into the traps so many of us do habitually.

    You are so right. This voice is within each of us. It is unerring. It is simply ourselves - our surface personalities - who err in pushing it back, in avoiding its message... because to listen to it requires us to plow our own fields of belief, thought, emotion and action. It seems such as unpleasant task, as you say, because the ground is initially hard, "chaotic and discordant." And because we fear the wrong things. Our beliefs are faulty! But what good does it do us, or anyone, to "gain the world" (however we define it) and "lose our souls?"

    I am looking forward to reading more in your series about True Power! Believe me, these are lessons I, for one, need to hear. :o)

  7. You were talking about the couple who pretty much walked the walk, instead of just doing the talk.

    I took a workshop, when I was still employed at CADAS, and it was on "Finding A God Of Your Understanding". There were people from different facilities there, also. One older lady, from UTC, was there and she was of the Baptist faith. The facilitator had us introduce ourselves, and state our "religion". You can imagine the "gasps", from the outsiders, when I said "Wiccan". By the end of the workshop, the older, Baptist lady came to me and told me I was beautiful! I didn't know how to respond... she then went on to say, when I talked about my spirituality I just glowed, and that she enjoyed and learned more from me then she did the facilitator! By the end of our conversation we were both in tears and hugging each other. She said she felt like she could see my spirit "shining" through, and I was just stunning. This, coming from an older woman, who proclaimed to be a very devout Christian, a Baptist to boot!

    I know I told that group that my belief wasn't one of "religion", but more of a "feeling" of spirit. Because to have a belief in something is a restriction. The feeling of spirituality is freedom... freedom to grow, to make choices..to continue the journey.

    I don't have the "inner voice" .. Mine is more of a "feeling". I know something isn't right when I feel as if something is rubbing against my spiritual "gut", if that makes any sense.

    Linda, you've said it all so clearly. And you do make sense, whereas, I couldn't put it into words. Thank you, my friend! Looking forward to reading and learning more.

  8. Every time I try to post to this, it ends up turning into a book. :) I'm still thinking.

  9. Anonymous10:27 PM

    I had to think about this for awhile before I posted a comment. Librans strive for balance. We can't help it. Interestingly enough, I know when I'm "out of balance", but never really thought about what being "balanced" means!?! I think that what you wrote explains balance perfectly:

    my actions were based on what I felt;
    my feelings were based on what I thought;
    my thoughts were based on what I believed;
    my beliefs were based on... what?

    I think the answer to the final question is: all of the above. So what do balance and belief have in common? I think that maybe, just maybe, they're the same thing: bi products of how we act, feel and think working together in harmony!!

    I've never heard anyone state that balance and belief are synonymous. But why not? Hypocracy is when one acts differently than what they claim to think or feel....so then balance/belief is when the way we act, think and feel are in harmony. Hmmmm......


  10. Well, okay... having thought about this for over a week, now... this is my take on "belief":

    I question (most) everything. I look for answers... which means I look for evidence and I try to draw conclusions from the evidence that involves the fewest assumptions. It's like a blind man trying to get across a busy highway... given the circumstances, he just wants to make it to the other side in one piece; he's not going to split hairs about being two blocks further down than he intended. I've memorized the road maps but I still can't see the road... or the cars whizzing by on it. And even when I think I know something, I still can't see it... so I never really know if my conclusion was correct or off by a country mile.

    What I believe in is what I can prove. Other stuff... it's fun to think about, talk about, whatever... I just don't "believe" unless I have proof. Yet I do not disbelieve necessarily, either. Take intelligent, alien life. There's no proof that they're out there, but it makes a lot of sense that they would be. (Out there, not here! ) So do I "believe" in alien life? No... why should I? Either I know (which I don't) or I don't know (which I do (not know, that is))... there is no "believe".

    Writing this... I finally understood. "Belief" has no place in my mental picture. To bastardize a line from Yoda in "The Empire Strikes Back," "Know... or know not. There is no 'believe'." It isn't a choice; it's the way I think... and I don't think there's anything wrong with it. No, it isn't like "normal" people... but then most "normal" people believe in "the invisible man who lives in the sky and has a list of ten things he does not want you to do". I am simply one who reserves judgment until sufficient facts are in to allow me to make one. (Personally, I think this is a sign of being one of those on the bleeding edge of evolution; but hey, I may be biased!)

    So, then... writing this helped. I understand now that it isn't something that I need to "fix" or even worry about. I can't flap my arms and fly like a bird, nor can I dive underwater and breath as if I had gills... and I don't wrestle with myself over those inabilities. I'm not a fish, I'm not a bird... and I'm not a believer. To quote another movie character... "a man's got to know his limitations".

    Belief, as I see it, is one limitation I don't have to worry about. :)

  11. @Winter MoonWolf "But what good does it do us, or anyone, to "gain the world" (however we define it) and "lose our souls?" I've never heard that Biblical phrase used in this context before, but it makes perfect sense. It fits so nicely with the as within, so without concept (from The Charge of the Goddess and implicit, at least in my understanding, in the Hermetic principle of "As above, so below"). We can spend all the time we want understanding the world around us, but without understanding ourselves, our inner world, we don't understand much at all. Another thoughtful comment and nice harmony...thank you.

    @~zephyr - "...so then balance/belief is when the way we act, think and feel are in harmony." That's the essence of how "happiness" was defined in that one little page of a $2 used booklet that started me on the journey that has saved and continues to enrich my life. You're right on target as far as I can see. :) Thanks for singing!

    @WitchGeek - "...having thought about this for over a week, now... this is my take on belief" Another perfect affirmation of the power of sharing our thoughts and perspectives...if it makes you think about something for over a week and come up with as articulate an explanation as what you posted, it can't be bad! Reading your words, I was struck by how at ease you seem to be with unknowns. What a gift you have, and what a gentle, fluid sense of the world! For it seems to me that it's the assumptions, the "filling in the gaps" that I talk about in my post, that cause us the most misery. We take things we don't know and fill in the missing parts to form a belief, and then base our actions on that belief as if it were irrefutable truth.

    That said, since there are so many unknowns in the world...the true motives for another's actions, for example...and since we have to keep on going in the face of those unknowns, we are sometimes forced to act based on "working hypotheses." Since every hypothesis is an assumption (albeit a deliberately temporary one until the facts are established), I choose to work with assumptions that cause the least distress. If facts present themselves that prove otherwise, I'll adjust. Until then, I'll choose peace.

    You add a rich, strong sound to the choir here, my friend...thank you!

  12. "...we are sometimes forced to act based on 'working hypotheses.'"

    True that. In life we often find ourselves needing to make a decision in the absence of the complete picture.

    I love the use of the term "working hypotheses" in this context! I haven't really found a word or term that fits between "belief" and non-/unbelief, but I think "working hypotheses" will do nicely. :)


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