‘Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think’
In the above quote, Buddha meant to say that we make our life based upon what we think(or believe) as actions are guided by our thinking.
Many researchers have pointed out that most of our beliefs (mental structures) are formed during the formative years of brain development (age up to 7–9 years). During that period, we observe patterns in the environment and the people around us.
We incorporate such patterns in our mental structure from our surroundings without much filtering in place. We simply absorb.
As most of these are put in a structure very early in life, these beliefs seem like a law of nature. A web-like structure gets formed in our mind, wherein there is one central belief and on top of it, there are many sub-beliefs. Further, there are many dimensions and philosophical understanding of a single belief. Morals, values, and principles are some manifestation of this system.
Let us take an example to understand:
‘life is in the moment’ or ‘live in the moment’ or ‘spontaneity is life’ is one such belief. (here I am not discussing whether it is right or wrong).
Such beliefs start their journey, when someone decides to uphold it, lives life abiding it, and also shares with other people. Over a period, it gets passed to the next generations. And many times it ends up getting deeply rooted in that culture. Such beliefs then get constantly propagated and reinforced by our surroundings; from movies we watch, sports we cheer, literature and magazines we read. Now, they are no longer just carried but a handful of people, but society at large.
There are many dimensions associated with a belief. It is just like a tree having many branches.
Let’s consider some dimensions associated with 'live in the moment belief’. Let’s first take death:
Death, according to believers in ‘live in the moment’ is not what you get when you stop breathing, but the lack of ‘life’ in each and every moment, wherein you are not feeling alive.
Let’s consider one more dimension to get deeper clarity. Let’s talk about relationships. There is a bit of romanticism around relationships.
Relationships are considered pre-designated and all you are doing(in life) is searching for ‘the one’, chosen for you by some superior forces.
Here, spontaneity is the key in the identification of ‘the one’ i.e you should either internally know the one or get the gut-feeling, when you meet him/her for the first few times(ideally the first interaction).
The sense identification is mostly expected to be experienced as the departure of things from their normal way i.e. something should feel different about the interaction. The next part is ‘soulful acceptance’ i.e the body, and soul (your energy, vibe, or whatever you want to name it) should for you to make the final decision. In this case again, the ’spontaneity’ is becoming the key factor.
These are many sub-beliefs and expected emotional responses associated with the core beliefs.
At this point, some of you must be feeling lost and thinking ‘what kind of rubbish is this’?
Such feeling of skepticism might be surfacing due to your prior experiences i.e many of you have must have firsthand felt such emotions in your relationships. And here, I am seeming hinting that they aren’t your own manifestation.
I believe(my bias:-)) that such beliefs are so deep-rooted in our society and minds, that we can’t be 100% sure of our own initial emotions i.e what we felt for the other person were the result of special pre-destined bondage or were just an output of some chemical reactions. Here, ‘what’ caused ‘what’ is a complex puzzle to solve.
Our emotional experiences which are someway manifestation of the underlying beliefs make this situation very complex and limits our ability to objectively look at our own beliefs.
An example of our attachment to our beliefs could be the way we, as a society, felt about certain facts about our environment, which later got disproven by scientific discoveries.
Let’s take a specific case.
The earth being flat or centre of the universe was taken as fact of life (just like the sun rising in the east)until scientistic discoveries proved it otherwise.
If one would have asked people at that time ‘how do you know that earth is flat’? They would have answered with deep conviction (and of course in a ridiculing tone) that they have felt so and it is so obvious, that it’s for everyone to see with their eyes. One just needs to look around for the proof.
Further, it would be noteworthy to understand that the literature, art, and culture in that era would have repeatedly communicated the same information as fact of life. These became the beliefs carried by society.
In such a situation, it would have been very hard for people to digest this newfound and proven information because changing believes, just like changing habits, takes a lot of time, critical thinking, and persistent efforts.
This brings us to the most important part- issues that one might face due to the underlying belief.
Before moving to this topic, let me summarise what we have discussed untill now quickly in the three bullet-points:
- Our beliefs are shaped up by our environment and surrounding (not just by our experiences).
- Questioning our beliefs is something that doesn’t come naturally to us.
- It is difficult to internalise the change even when our beliefs are proven inconsistent/wrong
As long as the experiences are aligned with the underlying beliefs, there is no issue at all. However, when one doesn’t get to experience a world in-line with his/her underlying beliefs, then instead of questioning that belief, he/she most likely concludes that something is wrong with him/her.
For example, Someone has not experienced the relationships as prescribed ‘spontaneous way’ for anyone. Simply put his/her experience didn't align with the considered his/her own ‘normal’.
Pin-pointing the difference in the emotional experience and attributing or associating it to an internalised beliefs is very hard. And it is unlike the case of scientific discovering, wherein the situation could be clearly laid out, explained, and understood. In the case of emotions and experiences, there are many blurred lines.
Thus, it is highly likely that when people do not experience life in a way, that is believed to be natural in their own eyes. Then they can create a self-image of an incomplete and imperfect self. And finally leads to internal friction.
This is one of the significant reasons for low self-worth, which is detrimental to our well being.
What I expect from you now is simply questioning the underlying beliefs whenever you find blaming or criticising yourself for behaving, appearing and acting in a ‘natural’ way.
Let’s be alert to our beliefs. Period.