Regardless of where we live on this earth, we are born into some society or culture and, through family and the institutions of authority of that society, we’re told by those who are already here how this world works and how we should behave in it. I refer to such systems of thought as “Stories of Life”, or “Stories”. It is from these various sources that we derive our individual and mass beliefs. But each of those institutions – religion, science, academia, government, medicine, media, etc. – has a different set of beliefs, laws, or tenets that represents its particular Story of Life. While they all have many similarities and congruencies, they all have differences, too, some slight and some not so slight. And each person arrives in adulthood with a personal set of beliefs that is an amalgamation of the beliefs offered by the various groups of human beings she or he has been closest to while moving through the developmental stages of life. Obviously, these cultural, political and religious influences are very specific to the geographic locations we live upon during our developmental years.
A belief begins within us as a thought that we hold onto and think upon in some depth. The more we think that thought and agree with it, the more firmly it becomes ingrained within us. A belief is, then, a thought that we keep thinking and agreeing with until it becomes part of the system of beliefs that is our personal definition of reality, i.e., our Story.
One vitally important aspect to understand about our beliefs is how hidden they can be to our conscious awareness. Most of us don’t realize that, in the earliest years of life, human beings are biologically constructed to be extremely programmable. Between the ages of two and six years old, our brains are in a low, theta (4-8 Hz) brainwave state; the same suggestible, programmable state of brain activity that characterizes hypnosis. As stem cell biologist Bruce Lipton explains in his book Spontaneous Evolution:
A child’s perceptions of the world are directly downloaded into the subconscious during this time, without discrimination and without filters of the analytical self-conscious mind, which doesn’t fully exist. Consequently, our fundamental perceptions about life and our role in it are learned without our having the capacity to choose or reject those beliefs. We were simply programmed…. We download our perceptions and beliefs about life years before we acquire the ability for critical thinking. (pp. 31-39) (bold emphases are mine)
Thus the things we are repeatedly told during our earliest years of life – about who we are, the conditions of life and the rules to live by – are firmly imprinted into our subconscious minds as beliefs. Because of this unconscious programming during childhood, by the time we become adults, there are powerful subconscious belief programs that run below our ego-level awareness which were installed within us before we had the capacity to examine them in any conscious way. And there they remain, as programmed, until and unless we change them later in life.
What this means is that for most of us our beliefs are, to a large degree, not intentionally chosen by us. Instead, we’ve been very effectively conditioned in the earliest stages of life to adopt the beliefs of others. Even though we consider ourselves to be autonomous, free-thinking and free-choosing adults, we’re actually using a set of beliefs to guide us through life which we haven’t deliberately chosen for ourselves. In short, the vast majority of us are creating and moving through our lives according to a societally-programmed Story, rather than one we’ve decided upon for ourselves. Because of this, most of us aren’t actually familiar with much of the thinking that drives our own behaviors.
In addition, we aren’t taught how extremely important our set of beliefs, i.e., the Story we tell ourselves, is to the quality of life we will have as adults. For the decisions we make, the path we choose in life, the way we treat ourselves and others, all are molded or guided by this personal conception of reality – which consists of a great deal that we haven’t deliberately chosen for ourselves! This includes all of the thinking that makes us get upset in any way, that drives us to laugh at some things and not bat an eye at others, that makes us dismiss certain things as preposterous and accept others without question. The fact is that all of our reactions and behaviors are based in our beliefs about life and the outer world, about people, and especially about ourselves. Stated more succinctly, nothing has more impact upon who we are and how our lives turn out than our beliefs, not even genetics, for Bruce Lipton also explains, in his book The Biology of Belief, how changing our beliefs actually changes our DNA.
Given all of this, it would make sense for us to be very familiar with our beliefs and to make sure that we actually do believe them. However, very few of us have done this. Arriving in adulthood with the Story we’ve been conditioned by family and society to believe, relatively few of us then exercise our ability to think for ourselves and critically examine the beliefs that have been placed within us by those familial and societal influences. We operate on autopilot, without any real awareness of being driven by many thoughts and ideas that, if we were to honestly examine them, we would discover that we don’t actually agree with them.
In this way we are, in effect, sleep-walking through life, not fully conscious of what we’re thinking and doing. And unless something occurs in life to deeply shake and wake us from our semi-conscious state into a more fully self-aware one, we move through life being driven by thoughts and feelings within us that we aren’t fully in touch with, and in many cases don’t even know are driving us. This is then faithfully reflected by the events in our lives and the decisions we make that we equally don’t comprehend. And we find ourselves repeatedly reaching painful points in life where we ask ourselves, “Why did I do (or say) that?” In a very real sense, we don’t know who we are.
Again, this conditioning occurs through the influence of those closest to us as we progress through the stages of life; first via family, then religion, education, media, etc., etc.. Most of us actually do deliberately examine and decide upon some of our beliefs about life and what is true and possible. However, for most of us this amounts to but a small subset of our Programmed Story, leaving the rest of it to continuously run in our subconscious minds, patterning our lives.
If you’re now thinking something like, “That’s not me. I’ve thought about things a lot, too, and I’m well acquainted with my beliefs”, let me point out that this is a well-documented method of closing yourself off to allowing even mere consideration of new ideas. If you can suspend that impulse to dismiss what I’m saying here, you may discover surprising and helpful things about yourself. Many of the beliefs we hold that have the most impact upon the character and quality of our lives are precisely those that we aren’t consciously aware of, and it takes some effort to pull them out of our subconscious so that we can examine them. If you ever find yourself wondering why you do or say the things you do – and that includes just about all of us! – then perhaps you aren’t as familiar with the beliefs of your Story as you thought.
As implied above, a good way to become more consciously aware of your own personal Story is to train yourself to take notice whenever you do or say something that you later regret, or are perplexed by. You must train yourself to first catch yourself in the behavior, and then check within as to what thoughts were behind it. You have to sleuth them out by having a self-dialogue in which you become your own counselor by asking yourself why you said or did that thing, and then allowing the answer to arise within you.
If you do this seriously you will often be surprised, even shocked, at the answers that come out of you and how revealing and helpful they can be. Once you give voice to the parts of you that are holding those hidden thoughts, you will likely discover unresolved feelings and issues within yourself that haven’t been fully recognized or dealt with. Then you have the opportunity to resolve them so that they no longer drive your behaviors. It’s a process, but one that can be very illuminating and therapeutic.
There have been countless times doing this when I have been very surprised by something that came out of my own mouth, yet at the same time knew that it was true. I have often likened it to the way stirring up a pot pulls things up from its bottom. Once you begin giving voice to your thoughts it causes a flow to happen that pulls up from within yourself thoughts that you had never given yourself permission or the opportunity to speak out loud. Revealing them is always helpful, for you are learning about yourself and what “makes you tick”, and you can make positive adjustments that then improve your life.
So I challenge you to ask yourself, “What’s my Story? How well do I actually know what beliefs it includes? How well do I know myself – really?”