"What do you believe?" "Do you believe?" "Are you a believer?" "I don't believe that."
What do we mean when we use this kind of language - the language of belief?
Where do our beliefs come from? In some cases you may say it's something
that you instinctively know. For example, you may believe that if you walk
to the edge of a cliff you will fall off. In fact, you might say you know this to be
true. But as a small child you would not have known this, so is it something
that you have learned? Could the same be said about other beliefs that you hold?
Perhaps you believe that someone who is speaking kindly to you really cares about
you. What if they are speaking kindly to you because they want something from you?
Maybe someone is angry or upset and we believe it's because of something
that we've done. What if it's because they are struggling with something, having
a bad day, or have been triggered by something that is bringing up this anger?
We could come up with all kinds of scenarios in life where what we believe feels
like a "known" when actually it's a "learned." How much of what we believe is
is a result of our perception of the world around us, our thoughts about a situation,
person or thing?
Now think about some of the things that you have "learned" from experiences in
your life and how they have affected what you believe. If you have been hurt in
relationships, you may believe that relationships are hurtful and damaging.
If you have been raised in a home where people don't talk about their feelings, you
may believe that talking about feelings is wrong, or a sign of weakness or
that feelings should be kept private. If you were raised by someone who is
racist or prejudiced, you may carry a belief that "others" are different than
you, or lesser than, or worse.
Take a few moments and make a list beginning with the words "I believe...."
Now, spend some time writing about these beliefs - why do you believe this?
can you determine when you first began believing this? who and what
influenced this belief? has this belief changed over the years? did you used
to belief something different than this belief you now hold? what events
or experiences in your life have reinforced this belief? are you willing to
change this belief or be open to a new belief on this particular subject?
If you take this practice seriously, and spend some time in contemplation
and reflection, you may find that much of what you "believe" has been
placed upon you by parents, significant adults in your life, your environment,
the media, educational or religious institutions....you may notice that many
of your beliefs are "perceptions" of the world around you, based on these outside
One of my mentors suggests that the practice of meditation is, at it's core,
the practice of reality. There is no other true reality than what is happening in
this moment, and yet we carry with us many "realities" of what we
perceive to be real, that is to say, what we believe.
What would it be like to strip away all of our beliefs, to return to the purest
form of experience in this moment? We can have a taste of this "reality" in our
practice of meditation. As we practice being present to each moment, we find
that many of our former "beliefs" begin to fall away, our tolerance and
acceptance of others increases, our understanding of the world, in all it's diversity,
expands, our compassion for ourself and others intensifies and we
find ourselves without a need to hold tightly to beliefs. Does that sound
I have been given a bumper sticker that says:
"Don't believe everything you think." It feels like a mantra that
I carry with me(literally on my car) and want to share with others. Don't believe
everything you think. Question your thoughts rather than take them at
As Jon Kabat Zinn says, "We only have moments to live." Live them well.
Soul in the World