What Do I Believe?
This exercise is the first of a series designed to start one on the path of growth through self-exploration. The essays provide the conceptual foundation for how we approach this and the exercises provide opportunities for gaining practical experience in it. The purpose of this exercise is to get to not just to know ourselves a little better; it is to push ourselves to focus our attention.
In general, our attention is poor because we have so many thoughts going on all the time and we rarely focus in detail on anything save purposeful things, doing things, thinking about doing things and so on. The question is why do we think the way we do? What are the foundations of our thinking?
We take much for granted. It is rare that we take the time to think about our own thoughts. What are we thinking? Why do we think that? Why do I prefer this and not that? What do I notice and what do I not notice?
We could have asked those questions, instead, the question we are asking ourselves for this exercise is “What do I believe?”, though we could use the same method to explore any of other questions as well. We are asking this question as beliefs are core mental constructs, every bit as powerful as any physical stimuli, and depending on the nature of the belief, it can be far more so.
We do not ask this question to get a definitive answer as we are unlikely to get such an answer on our first attempts. Such questions cause us to examine ourselves. By considering such questions we expose thoughts that we either ignore or that are more like whispers in the back of our minds. This is how we start to get to know ourselves.
45 minutes to 1 hour (10 to 15 minutes for each belief group and 15 minutes at the end to contemplate)
- Concepts Essay “The Limiting Aspects of the Rational Mind”
One of the most basic aspects of ourselves that we need to understand is our relationship to the world around us. A core element of this relationship is our beliefs. While their influence over us is extremely powerful, they are subtle things. Figuratively, you can view beliefs as being part of the structure or lattice of our mind unlike facts and information which are the substance or the material of it.
Exploring our beliefs can open our eyes, if we do more than casually consider them. Certainly, a revelation or an epiphany can shatter previously held beliefs. While these are rare occurrences, they are generally set in motion by experiences that have gradually modified restrictive ideas until they are able to be shattered.
Beliefs have significant influence over every aspect of our lives from what we perceive to how we perceive. We can believe two things that are in opposition or believe something to be true even when we have evidence to the contrary. These conflicts can be very subtle and it is often the subtle ones influence us the most. For instance, many believe that Jesus is the son of God and at the same time believe that we are all part of God, all are “One”, that we are interconnected. These two beliefs are in conflict. It may not seem like it, yet the first has us as separate from God unlike the second one. These types of thought forms block us when we try to elevate our awareness. Another example is we can believe something even when we have evidence to the contrary. We can even believe something with very little evidence to support the belief. At the root of many of our political and social discord are beliefs of this type.
Beliefs are thoughts, similar to other thoughts; however, they are rooted high up in our mental body thereby acting as gatekeepers of a sort. A core belief is also associated with many thoughts that share a commonality with it. An example would be the belief that the world is solid. This will affect our relationship with every object we think about, observe or with which we interact.
Our rational mind creates beliefs when it integrates experiences. The belief is not in what is observed, or what one perceives, rather it is in thoughts around what is perceived, be it externally or within our own minds. The power of that belief depends on us and what value we place on it. We take on some core beliefs simply because of experience, such as the belief that one cannot walk on water, or through a wall.
We start to examine our beliefs by having a dialogue with ourselves. This is not as easy a task as one may think, for when one starts to consider what they believe they often find themselves listing somewhat trivial notions as beliefs, questioning whether something is a belief or not or going round in circles. This is all good, for the act of exploration alone is every bit as valuable as the discoveries one can make. This is because it is unlikely you will get to the core beliefs without exploring the more general ones first.
Beliefs are empowered due to their persistence (objects are physical) and the strength of the reactions we had that led to the belief and how many supportive thoughts there are. Again, we do not have to be conscious of them, nor are they necessarily founded on “truth” and they can be vague in nature, unformulated, or solid as a rock. Our rational mind constructs the beliefs it holds as it integrates experiences. We detect the beliefs we do not know about by observing our reactions to experiences and noting those that seem to have no discernable belief or idea behind them; much like how we detect planets around a star, not by seeing the planet, rather by detecting the wobble of the sun. However, this is beyond the scope of this material.
We will look at our beliefs in three ways, what we believe about ourselves, about others and about the nature of the Cosmos or our relationship with it. When you first try to determine what you believe you may find it hard to articulate them. When you are repeating this exercise the challenge will be one of digging deeper into them. This means exploring them to discover if they really are true for you, whether you just “think” they are true or you would just like to believe they are because of how the belief makes you feel about yourself.
When you begin this exercise, do so with the intent to follow through with it and do not be concerned about the outcome. This reduces the tendency to be superficial or fallacious in your answers, which can reduce the benefits.
Remember the following:
- This is not a test
- Be as open and objective as you can
- Be as relaxed as you can to start and throughout the exercise
- Try to write the first things that come to mind without editing your words
- Try to notice when you pause before writing or hesitate to write the first thing that comes to mind for any reason (it is wrong, silly, not me at all etc.)
- Wordiness is not a shortcoming, but avoid writing an essay if possible unless you feel it is important or you feel “prompted” to do so
- Try to limit your answers to one page, though if it takes more so be it.
- Try not to get sidetracked
The benefit of this exercise is not just in the doing, it is in the contemplation of your beliefs. Even after you have completed it you will consider what you thought, what you wrote and did not write down and why you may have done so.
1. Find a place to do the work, one where you will feel comfortable and relaxed, and sit down with a writing pad and pen or pencil.
2. What I believe about myself?
When you are comfortable and ready, begin this exploration by considering yourself in an overall sense and as you do so think about what you believe about yourself. Try not to get too deeply into particular attributes though this may help to get the ball rolling. As we are examining our beliefs about ourselves, use statements like “I believe that I am a good person” or “I believe that if I work hard I will be rewarded” rather than “I believe there is good in the world” or that “those who work hard get rewarded”.
Besides the ones mentioned above, some important beliefs to examine are:
- Do I believe I am worthy of love?
- Do I believe that I am smart?
- Do I believe that people care about me?
- Do I believe that I can make a difference?
- Do I believe that my opinion matters?
For instance, if I believe that “I am not worthy”, then one needs to consider why. The notion of worthiness did not come from within; this judgment comes from our interactions with others and the world. We hold beliefs around such ideas as worthiness even if we are not conscious of having them.
3. As you write down what you believe, make note of your thoughts around it. The below are provided as examples of ways to explore a particular belief.
- What memories and thoughts does thinking about this belief bring out? Do you really believe it, sort of believe it or would you like to believe it?
- Why do you believe it? What awareness, knowledge or facts support your belief?
- How do you feel when you consider your belief? For instance, does thinking about it, in terms of yourself, make you feel strong, uncertain, unworthy, content or happy?
- Do you believe it is a worthy belief, is it beneficial and is it even necessary?
4. When you feel you have explored these questions sufficiently for the moment, and not given up easily, continue to the next step.
5. What I believe about others?
Follow the same process as above though this time with the question “what do I believe about others?” Again, consider your overall or general thoughts about others and as you do so think about what you believe about them. It will help if you visualize other people, not particular people, rather a group of people or the masses of people. As before, try not to get into particular attributes though this still may help to get the ball rolling. Use statements like “I believe people who lie are untrustworthy”, “I believe people are not trustworthy”, “I believe others are generally kind” or “I believe that most people care about themselves first”.
Besides the ones mentioned above, some important beliefs to examine are:
- Do I believe I am smarter than others are or know better than they do?
- Do I believe that how others appear tells me what kind of person they are?
- Do I believe that other people are worth caring about?
6. As you did in Step 3, write down what you believe and make note of your thoughts around it. Consider the same questions in regards to this set of beliefs. When you feel you have explored these questions sufficiently for the moment, and not given up easily, continue to the next step.
7. What I believe about the nature of our Cosmos or my relationship to it?
Follow the same process though this time we will explore beliefs related to our existence, the nature of things, our place in it, even our beliefs around God. Again, consider your overall or general thoughts about whom and what you are, about your existence and so on and as you do so think about what you believe about these ideas. In this case, it can be of benefit to get into particular details. Beliefs that relate to our place in the universe tend to be ones that have a significant effect on our other beliefs.
For instance, if I believe that “I am not worthy”, then one needs to consider why? The notion of worthiness did not come from within; this judgment comes from our interactions with others and the world. Therefore, one has a belief regarding what makes one worthy even if they are not conscious of having it. This is not just a belief about us; it is also one about the nature of the Cosmos or reality, as we perceive it.
Besides the ones mentioned above, some important beliefs to examine are:
- Do I believe that God is a being?
- Do I believe that I have a soul?
- Do I believe that I live on in some form after I die?
- Do I believe that everything that is consists of energy?
- Do I believe that the Cosmos has a plan for me?
- Do I believe in free will or fate?
8. As you did in Step 3, write down what you believe and make note of your thoughts around it. Consider the same questions in regards to this set of beliefs. When you feel you have explored these questions sufficiently for the moment, and not given up easily, continue to the next step.
9. After you have completed looking at all three sets of beliefs, consider then as a whole. There is no prescribed method for this other than keeping your thoughts on the topic of your beliefs. That said; try to look for beliefs in conflict, for those that agree or for gaps where you have an external based belief and no corresponding personal one. You are not necessarily looking at the truth of them at this point, though as you write them down you may realize that some beliefs you hold are no longer valid (if they ever were) or helpful.
10. Take notes of your contemplation to keep the flow of thoughts going and not so much for the history or posterity or for later review. This may not seem important for growth; however, it provides us with the opportunity to consider what we think about and believe to be true. We spend precious little time considering our thoughts, ideas and beliefs, yet these are key elements of how our rational minds interpret and integrate experiences.
This is the first exercise on the material, and one thing to note, as with all of them, is the work does not end just because you have completed the exercise. You may put the pad and paper aside, but your mind will not forget. In this case, by daring to examine what you believe, you begin to send a signal to your non-conscious mind that you are getting more serious about growth. Your thoughts about it will start the background integration of new awareness’s about yourself. If you also allow the freedom to dare, you may find yourself shifting more quickly than you thought.
Our minds are incredibly powerful, and when fed better information, information aligned with “the way things work”, they will integrate it quicker. You will not necessarily be conscious of this as realigning of beliefs happens behind the scenes in our non-conscious mind. The rate also varies depending on the clarity and objectivity of one’s rational mind and how many conflicting and unfounded beliefs one has.
In addition, be aware that working on one’s beliefs can lead to conflicts with other beliefs or ideas that remain as they were. It may even seem, at times, as if you are fighting yourself and in a sense, you are. You are fighting the irrational programming of your own mind with new ideas and concepts that can fundamentally change it.
It is not surprising that the mind may offer some resistance and will continue to do so unless it feels “safe”. We make it feel safer by working through the issues we face as they arise. Over our lives, we tend to paint ourselves into a corner and it takes time to expand our foundation so that we can get out of it. The one act we can do is to continue working through whatever pops up into our lives. A great many people talk about growth, but few do more than try to work around their growth points, in software programming the term that is used is kluge. We have been kluging solutions our whole life, so be kind to yourself as you work through things. Try not to blame yourself for what you did not know, if you had known better you would have done so. Further, by doing the exercise you have become one of the few who are actively trying to grow.
After the exercise read what you wrote down. It does not matter where you start. As you read, do the following:
- Do not change what you wrote after the fact.
- Consider what you wrote
- Monitor your feelings and thoughts as you read it
- Note your reaction to it separately so they are not mistaken for your original responses.
- Ask yourself if the point is accurate and pay attention to how you feel as you ask
After reading through all that you wrote, the next step is to consider our responses individually and as a whole.
- Look to see if you avoided, focused on or glossed over any beliefs
- In cases where you were not accurate, remember that it is just as important to acknowledge that what you wrote may not be accurate as it is to know what the “correct” belief should have been.
- Look at your beliefs and ask yourself, “Is this truly what I believe?”
While you are considering your beliefs there are, as I touched on in the exercise, other questions to ask yourself about them. During our initial look at our beliefs, our primary concern need not be whether a belief is good or bad, though this is worth considering, instead we put our focus on whether it is beneficial or not. By beneficial, I do not just mean to us. For instance, do my beliefs about others affect how I relate to them or do my beliefs about myself hold me back?
This exercise, like any, will bring benefits in proportion to the focus and effort put into it. Mental focus directly correlates to attention, and we increase our attention by removing the irrelevant. If you do not take it seriously or have other things on your mind and cannot concentrate, do not expect to reap as much benefit from it. You should repeat this exercise every so often as it will help you see your progress and of course help you continue to monitor your beliefs.
The path of growth requires us to get to know ourselves. This is an unfolding rather than a destination and the primary purpose of this material is to help you to get to know yourself better. While this exercise might seem odd, or strange, getting to know and then examine our beliefs is a key step in the process. For those that seek to develop their spiritual awareness, you cannot avoid the process, only postpone it.
In our noisy, busy world, our minds spend far too much time on meaningless things. They may mean something to our poorly trained rational mind; however, never forget the old question of “is this important in the grand scheme of things?” We make things important, even critical that are nowhere near critical. We often base much of our lives on what matters least, and our beliefs steer us. What we own, or have accumulated in this lifetime, and what power we may think we have matter less than caring, sharing, laughing, exploring, learning and having fun, even allowing ourselves to accept love and in turn to love freely. Which do your beliefs steer you towards?
© 2009 Allan Beveridge