Need to believe? Are beliefs useful to us or simply limitations we have put on our thinking?
At some point in our lives we will become aware of our beliefs, often ironically when they are put into question by others or life circumstance.
Many beliefs are unconscious, that is, we have been believing them for so long that they have become part of us, or part of our thinking and they just stay there in the mix, milling around until they get stepped on by somebody or something.
But what do we really need to believe?
At some point on the spiritual journey, we start to question what we need to believe
If you are on the spiritual journey, at some point the discussion of ‘belief systems’ will come up.
In order for people with many and different varying belief systems to work together on the spiritual journey (and there I go again) this has proved in my experience to be a great way to discuss beliefs without stepping on anyone else’s belief set or system, unintentionally or otherwise.
Differing values can then be honored and reviewed in the light of all beliefs being valued by someone – then any of the people in the room who hold those beliefs can hear about others beliefs without immediately feeling the pressure of needing to believe different beliefs straightaway.
And while we’re discussing what we need to believe, semantics invariably have to come into it.
Should your belief system include the belief in a higher power, God, Creator, Universal Consciousness or any variation on that, it feels honoring for most people (since these types of beliefs are strongly held) to use the word or phrase that feels most comfortable for them.
The irony being, that for many on the spiritual journey, we are all talking about the same thing, the same belief, simply from the filter of our own personal, religious or mystic experience.
I currently need to believe (ha!) that beliefs can be let go if they no longer serve us
One book that changed my views on what I personally need to believe is a book that talks about beliefs as forms of social agreement. The premise of this book is to ask us to shift some beliefs so that we can let some baggage go and only believe a few things from ancient wisdom to structure our lives effectively.
The book is The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz. The author is known as a nagual, or shaman, of the Toltec tradition and believes that we are all dreaming a dream that we call ‘reality’.
The four agreements (or things you need to believe) are:-
- Be impeccable with your word – Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
- Don’t take anything personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
- Don’t make assumptions – Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
- Always do your best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
This book made a big impression on me because it offers useful tools and clear direction for the mind…often the beliefs we grow up with may not be as road tested and helpful to us as this selection of agreements, or beliefs.
What do you need to believe and can we do without beliefs altogether?
I’ve certainly experienced that letting go of some beliefs has been freeing and helpful.
I still remember an interesting exercise from John LaValle, an internationally recognized NLP™ (Neuro-Linguistic Programming™) practitioner.
Attending a workshop, we were discussing the nature of belief and one guy piped up “Well, I don’t believe in anything!” John LaValle turned to him and smiled, and said “So in order to believe that you don’t believe in anything…you have to believe that you don’t believe in anything…?” Hmmn. That one’s a thinker.
Dr Michael Schermer, in his book The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths, writes that…
We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large; after forming our beliefs we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations. Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow.
Dr Schermer also discusses the neuroscience behind our beliefs. He says the brain is a ‘belief engine’ and that his belief (ha again!) is that the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, then infusing those patterns with meaning to reinforce the data.
From the neuroscientific view of the world then, beliefs are a brain function.
From my (spiritual) view of the world, it is certainly helpful to review our beliefs, and pick and choose those that serve us best, releasing those that perhaps we no longer need to believe, or that were dysfunctional beliefs in the first place.
What I need to believe about the Turkey on the Porch (or the elephant in the room?!)
Working with a colleague yesterday, giving and receiving an energy session, about two thirds of the way through my session, my colleague said “Do you have a turkey?”. Errr…zoned out on the massage table, I was thinking…did I have any turkey left in the freezer?
She responded “There’s a wild turkey on the porch, it’s been hanging out for a while now, staring in the window, I was wondering if you kept turkeys?“. Oh. Now that’s never happened before. Maybe it likes our energy. (Belief).
Maybe there’s a spiritual reason for the turkey’s appearance (ancient Shamanic belief – long before the Pilgrim’s ‘first meal’ American Indians viewed turkeys as a symbol of thanksgiving and abundance).
What do you need to believe?