Moving The Mountain Of Beliefs
Each and every day I am making hundreds of choices, although it often doesn’t feel like it. I seem to want to be happy and comfortable, but I do not feel that way. I look at myself confused . . . wanting more as I tramp into doctors’ offices looking for “ups” and “downs” to release me from my depressions. I turn to religions for the grace of peace and to mystics for a glimpse of Nirvana. Or, I just cling to my scotch-and-sodas seeking a lift.
I even defy my unhappiness by calling it mental health and abdicate my responsibility by classifying it as an “emotional disease” or “malfunction” of my unconscious which is beyond my control. I search for half-measures, coping techniques and meditative bliss to soften my pain. I continually look to others for what has always been within my power … I have the freedom to choose and change.
So what do I really want? The Freudian might call for adaptation and adjustment. The Gestaltist signals for awareness and being in touch. The Humanist urges self-actualization. The cultist shouts for sacrifice and worship. But why? What is it that I chase with such haste and fascination? It is my wanting to be happy . . . to feel good with myself and those around me. All my quests for possessions, respect, lovers, health, and just items I believe I need in order to be happy. The focus of the Option Process is finding and experiencing happiness now, while I still pursue my goals and interests.
Not only have I believed that getting things would make me happy, but I have also believed that current unhappiness is a necessary part of getting there. “Grin and bear it,” I used to tell myself. In essence, I had the basic belief that I had to be or should be unhappy now in order to be happy later. “Pay your dues.” “You can’t be happy all the time.” “You have to take the good with the bad.” “Life has its ups and downs.”
Each of my beliefs lies atop a mountain of beliefs. And unhappiness, which is the experience of certain kinds of beliefs, is based on a logical system of reasoning.
If I unveil my system of beliefs, I create for myself the opportunity to disconnect the short circuits of unhappiness. If I pull the plugs on my self-defeating concepts, the Option Attitude will evolve naturally.
Buddha once said, “Remove the suffering and you get happiness.”
It is what remains when I have dispelled the misery, the discomforts and the fears. It is what I find beneath the debris of my bad feelings and unsettling visions.
And what is a belief? It is a judgment, which is really a question and an answer. Most often, beliefs are presented as statements. The building is tall (the question: is it short or tall?). The temperature is hot (the question: what is the temperature according to my variables so I will know how to dress?). A car uses gas to operate (the question: what makes the car run?). These are beliefs about my environment.
But the beliefs I deal with in regard to my happiness are ones that involve judgments of good and bad. Is it good for me and what I want? Or, is it bad for me? From the questions of good and bad develop all the judgments (answers) that crystallize my wants, my feelings and my behavior. The fact that I believe the sky is blue usually seems a simple statement of observation. But when the sky is blue means no rain during a severe drought and I’m a farmer, then another judgment or belief comes into operation. The sky is blue means no rain which is “bad” for my business … and the reaction might then be unhappiness.
Seems rather simple, but what about those “spontaneous” actions that do not seem to rely on judgments or beliefs. What about automatic responses … like my jumping out of the way when being attacked with a knife? Is that reaction really so automatic? If someone lunged toward a two-year-old child with a knife, he would probably not even flinch or move out of the way. But attack me, and wow, watch me move.
Although my response occurs in such a split-second fashion, I am still acting from my beliefs and fears (ones the child has not yet acquired). I know about the properties of a knife. I might be terrified of being cut and fear the possible consequence of dying, of which I might have additional fearful beliefs. Also, I have beliefs about people running at other people with knives. They’re dangerous, crazy and moving out of their way is in one’s best interest. And so on.
Each statement above expresses beliefs . . . all different kinds about knives, pain, people, violence, death, action, etc. Even though I act swiftly, this is merely an example of the amazing speed with which my brain waves and thought patterns are processed. Since they are neurologically and electrically formed and triggered, the speed of their messages is so great that I can actually have hundreds of thoughts (beliefs) operate within a fraction of a second. Therefore, the ensuing movement out of danger appears automatic. Actually, it is the result of a complex series of judgments and beliefs.
The significance here is that all of us are a bundle of beliefs. We are believing animals.
How do I acquire beliefs? Most of my basic beliefs were taught to me … by parents, peer groups, teachers, religions, institutions, governments, cultures, etc. Then, as a student of life and recipient of those beliefs, I became a participant insofar as I adopted those beliefs as my own. Often, I carry them with me through the years, forgetting where and when I acquired them.
I follow from my beliefs (the ones I chose to acquire) and each of us can have different beliefs about the very same things. Perhaps the following illustrates in gross simplification how diverse our beliefs can be about even the very same occurrence and how crucial they are in affecting our reactions and feelings.
About to leave for college, a young woman is poised to enter a train that will take her away from home for the very first time. Her family stands on the platform, awaiting the last good-bye. Her father is filled with pride and is genuinely excited for his daughter whom he sees as having grown into being an alert, intelligent and independent young lady. Nevertheless, he is somewhat distressed and disoriented, believing he will be lonely and miss his “little” girl. His wife, crying softly into a plaid scarf, is overwhelmed by her personal sense of loss and by the swift passage of time. The little sister is filled with joy, elated by her older sister’s exit. She anticipates inheriting her sister’s room and becoming the pampered “only” child. During this quiet drama, a stranger passes and casually observes the entire situation. He registers no feelings whatsoever about the matter.
Although participants in one experience, each person reacts based on his or her own beliefs. The father believes the situation to be both good and bad, the mother envisions it as negative while the younger sister assesses it as beneficial to her. The stranger made no judgments. He did not tap a belief about the circumstances. Thus, he developed no feelings about the event.
What I feel and how I act depends on my beliefs which are freely chosen or acquired by my acceptance of them. No act, event or person is intrinsically good or bad . . . I call it what I will. I define it, love it, hate it, embrace it, reject it and become happy or unhappy according to what I believe about it. Therefore, the beliefs I acquired in childhood or the ones I just adopted yesterday exist right now for me if I still believe them today . . . because today is all I ever have.
And in the dynamic of adopting and rejecting my beliefs, I am confronted by choice. And if I can choose or rechoose old beliefs, the beliefs of others or establish new ones, then I am what I choose to be and I can recreate myself as I wish! And when I am wanting to do that, the process is beautiful …not painful.
If we were taught as children that going out in the rain was bad, that we would get sick, then we might not go out in wet weather if we adopted that belief. Later, as our ideas or experiences with rain change, so might our beliefs and judgments. Rain could now be seen as a beautiful and joyful experience . . . we might now venture out into it often and with great comfort.
Generations of Catholics did not eat meat on Friday because they believed it to be bad . . . against the laws and tenets of their religion. Now with the change of certain laws and rules, eating meat on Friday is perfectly acceptable. People who, for thirty years, would never have touched meat on that day almost instantly altered their beliefs when they thought they had permission to do so. Thus they dramatically changed their feelings about meat eating on Friday and also changed their behavior.
Not so many years ago, medical reports stated that it was healthy to jog; so a lot of us went jogging and felt really good about it. Then, as some joggers collapsed and died with their sneakers on, we learned that jogging could be extremely stressful and taxing to the heart. Immediately, we altered our belief, stopped jogging and frowned on those who continued. Later, after still more research and reports, we were informed that with proper medical supervision, jogging was healthy again. We read all the material until we decided that we had enough “evidence” to change our belief back to “jogging is good” and then we jogged again. Others, who did not accept the new evidence, might have continued to hold onto the belief “jogging is bad.”
Even if I seem to give up or abdicate the apparent choosing to others, I have still chosen. I am still connected. I say: “Let the President decide” or “Let the doctor decide” . . . and each time I put myself in their hands, I do so from my beliefs that they might be better equipped to make the “best” choice, which I judged would be my best choice. Beliefs about governments, learning, parents, sex, self-image and self-worth, children, future, death and potential are just some of the basic bricks of my personality.
They can be investigated for a clear understanding of my own system and then changed. The old cardinal concepts of “I do not choose my feelings; they just come upon me” and “I am a victim of what happened to me in the past” and “I can’t help it, that’s just the way I am” are all open to question.
The inference is, if I choose my beliefs, then I am responsible. But perhaps that is not what we believe or want to believe. Why not? Responsibility is only threatening if I want to protect myself from the past (with beliefs like “I couldn’t help how I acted – that’s just the way I am”) or protect myself from the future (with beliefs like “If I make the wrong choice and it has ‘bad’ consequences, it’ll be my fault and then what?”). There is no past or future . . . there is only me now for this moment. Me now from moment to moment. My beliefs about past and future were simply my tactic of trying to take care of myself and justify my actions.
Responsibility in the NOW is only a problem if I believe I would choose against myself, hurt myself out of some mystical failing. Then, indeed, I might not want to know my own power. Yet, by contrast, if I know I always do the best I can for myself based on my beliefs and available information, then increased awareness can be an opportunity to become more effective, to experience my own freedom and to take more assertions in finding my own happiness.
I am the ruler over my kingdom of beliefs. Just as I could say that life is good today, I could judge it bad for me tomorrow if I were suddenly crippled or overcome by some dread terminal disease. I could have once believed that certain types of people were bad, until I had contrary exposure and changed my belief.
As long as changing a belief is possible, then changing the resulting feelings and behaviors is also possible. I am free to become anything and everything I want to become … even to remain exactly the same. And so, in a fashion, at this very moment, I am everything I want to be, based on my current beliefs.
If I rid myself of those beliefs I do not want, those I consider self-defeating and which result in unhappiness, then I open my life up to every conceivable direction.
The “Think” Page
Chapter 4 – Moving The Mountain Of Beliefs
Questions to ask yourself
- Have you recently experienced changing a belief (just one)?
- Do you have to be a “victim” of your past?
- If you really wanted, do you believe you can change?
Option concepts to consider
- “Remove the suffering and you get happiness.”
- Man is a believing animal
- Now is all we ever have
- Beliefs are judgments, freely chosen and maintained
- I am what i choose to be and can recreate myself as i wish
- In choosing beliefs, i am responsible for who i am
- Change beliefs and you change feelings and behavior
Beliefs to consider discarding
- I have to be unhappy now in order to be happy later.
- Everyone has to pay his dues.
- I can’t be happy all the time.
- We have to take the good with the bad.
- Life always has to have its ups and downs.
- I do not choose my feelings; they just come upon me.
- I am a victim of what happened to me in the past.
- I couldn’t help the way I acted; it’s just the way I am.
Q.What are you unhappy about?
A.I’m out of control . . . as if my emotions have overtaken me and there’s nothing I can do about it. I get angry even before I know I’m angry. And although I say to myself, I don’t want to be here, I’m still burning.
Q.What is it about being overwhelmed by your fury that disturbs you most?
A.That I’m a victim of something inside me.
Q.What do you mean?
A.Well, just today, I was in a taxicab and it was very important for me to get downtown on time for an appointment. The cab driver was moving leisurely down Seventh Avenue as if he had all the time in the world. I asked him to go faster . . . he said, okay. Two minutes later, he was casually sitting behind a bus when the entire left side of the road was clear. Then, I don’t know what happened to me. Suddenly, I was screaming and cursing at him. Later I apologized, of course, but I felt embarrassed . . . it was like I was some kind of a maniac. It must be from my unconscious . . . some crazy seeds planted there when I was a kid.
Q.Can you explain why you say that … what do you believe is occurring?
A.My reaction in the taxi was crazy … unrealistic. It seemed to have nothing to do with me. My emotions felt separate. You know, for a couple of seconds, while I was in the middle of screaming, it was like I was outside my body and observing myself. I couldn’t believe it!
Q. When you were “outside” yourself, looking at the you who was angry, how did you feel?
A. Even more upset … I was angry about being angry.
A. All I wanted was for the driver to move the damn cab faster and he was doing the opposite.
Q. What about that was so upsetting?
A. Wouldn’t it be upsetting to you?
Q. Perhaps, but if I got upset, I would for my own reasons. And you would have yours.
A. I know what you’re saying, but I had no choice. It’s better that I screamed at him than if I steamed in silence. I don’t want to get an ulcer.
Q. If you feel angry and expressing it is a way to get it out . . . to neutralize it, then you are doing the best you can to take care of yourself. Suppressing anger or venting it is your decision and obviously you’ve made it for yourself. What I asked was why. . . what were the reasons you were so angry?
A. If I didn’t get to my client on time, I might have lost a substantial order.
Q. And why would that make you unhappy?
A. Because I wanted that damn order and I was going to lose it because of some dumb cabbie.
Q. And if what you feared came to pass – you did lose it … Why would you be unhappy?
A. Because I wanted it . . . that’s how I make my living.
Q. Of course. You wanted the order, but why would you be unhappy If you didn’t get it?
A. (exhaling a long sigh) Listen, I don’t have to get every order I go after. In this instance, I guess I really didn’t allow myself enough time to get downtown. If I’d had my wits about me, I would have given myself at least ten more minutes. It would be okay not to get an order … unless, of course, it’s my fault.
Q. What do you mean?
A. I don’t mind not writing business, except if the reason relates to something I did or should have done . . . then, it’s definitely not okay.
Q. Why not?
A. Because it means I couldn’t cut it. Period. I failed.
Q. What do you mean by failed?
A. That means I’m responsible. You know (laughing), I can’t blame it on an act of God, like they say in insurance policies. It was “an act of Robert” tripping over himself. If I had just relaxed, given the appointment two more seconds consideration, I probably would have allowed myself more time. Then a slow cab ride would have been fine, but I didn’t do that. I ended up sitting in traffic, furious.
Q. What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t get furious?
A. Then I wouldn’t do anything and the cabbie would just take his sweet-ass time.
Q. Do you believe that?
A. (sighing) I know I just said that, but suddenly I’m not sure I believe it any longer. Even if I didn’t get angry, I would do something … I know I would.
Q. Are you saying that you were angry so that you would do something?
A. Yes, that’s exactly so. I never really saw it so clearly before. (grinning) Funny, but when I left the cab I kept thinking how my ranting and raving didn’t move the driver. In fact, the result was the opposite of what I wanted. The driver stopped the car, turned around and proceeded to give me a big argument. Even more time was wasted. That’s definitely an eye-opener . . . to me making myself angry so I would do something. Okay, that’s part of it … but there’s more underneath.
Q. What do you mean?
A. It’s the way I react to the whole business of failing.
Q. Could you explain what you mean?
A. Yes. I become angry in response to seeing myself mess things up.
Q. When we began, you said your anger came from nowhere and just seemed to take control . . . as if it were separate from you. Are you now saying your anger comes from your awareness and judgment that you’ve failed?
A. (a soft smile) Yes, I guess so. My anger is, in a very real way, my specific reaction to failing. Wow … look at what I just said, the opposite of what I believed just a few minutes ago. Funny place to come to . . . the full circle. It really knocks me out (long pause) My feelings are not half as automatic as I thought. I guess I do have reasons. You know, even though I know that and it’s really a great discovery, I still feel off balance.
Q. What do you mean when you say “off-balance”?
A. I still sense a discomfort. My anger comes from my belief that I’ve failed, but I don’t know why failing upsets me. Can we go on?
Q. Sure. Why does failing upset you?
A. Well, maybe you can tell me why it triggers anger in me.
Q. If I answered the question, I could only give you MY reasons. And only you would know your reasons. Do you want to take a swing at it?
A. For me, failure is more than just not getting. It’s trying and missing that hurts. Oh, it’s crazy all right . . . being locked into seeing everything that doesn’t go your way as a personal defeat. I even start to believe I purposely don’t do the best I can for myself.
Q. Why do you believe that?
A. I don’t know why I believe anything any more.
Q. If you guessed at an answer, why would you believe you would purposely go against doing what’s best for yourself?
A. Maybe there’s no why. Maybe this is all just my game.
Q. How’s that?
A. Its only when I’m under pressure that I make those kinds of judgments about being off or purposely being a poor performer. It’s during those time I accuse myself of being inadequate. I wonder if that relates to what we were talking about before.
Q. What do you mean?
A. The bit about being angry to do something. Maybe I accuse myself of being inadequate so that I won’t be inadequate.
Q. Are you saying that without the accusation you might be bad for yourself and not do the best you can?
A. Yes. And I just started to realize it as I was talking before. When you asked me if I believed I would purposely hurt myself . . . well, I immediately knew deep down it wasn’t so. In a way, I was afraid not to get angry.
A. Because that would confirm I didn’t care about myself. The anger was proof that it really mattered.
Q. Okay. Do you still require such proof now?
A. (his face softens . . . smiling) No . . . certainly not that kind of proof. I guess it’s a question of believing in myself. When I get down to it, I do. Now the trick is just to remember this fantastic bit of information for the next time. Knowing me, I’ll probably just get furious again.
Q. Although you’ve always reacted angrily in the past and perhaps for the same reasons you’ve mentioned today, why now do you believe you would still continue to react that way?
A. Why? I don’t know. Isn’t that crazy. I don’t know.
Q. What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t get angry?
A. It goes back to the same thing … maybe I won’t take care of the situation.
Q. Do you believe that?
A. No, not any more. It’s coming clearer and clearer. I see what I’ve been believing and what I’ve been doing. No, I don’t have to be crazy to take care of myself. And I don’t want to be. And let me tell you, that sounds great to my ears.
Q. What do you want?
A. I want to know more. Now that I see it’s explainable, I know I can change.