“We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think.”
This quote by Swami Vivekananda, and others like it, are well-circulated throughout spiritual, healing and New Age communities. As someone who spends the majority of my time “in my head,” I can vouch for how powerfully thoughts impact how I live my life, how I feel and the choices that I make.
I think of the mind as the room in which we live every single day. It is, in actuality, our “living room.” It’s the place where we plan and process. It’s where we go to regroup and reflect. It’s the one place we are truly alone—whether we view that as a positive or a negative depends on the circumstances.
In our mind room, we are surrounded by all our sweet comforts—our thoughts, beliefs and preferences. Everything from our ideas of an existential nature (Who am I and why am I here?) to whether we prefer raspberries or blueberries is stored somewhere in our mind room.
I doubt we could even count all these items anymore; like any room that’s been lived in for a long time, over time, we forget where it all came from or why we have it. We get so used to much of it, we barely notice it anymore (or if we do, maybe we don’t dare get rid of it, for fear of what Grandma might think).
We’ve got hand-me-down curtains from dear ol’ mom and dad that seem harmless, until even a minor breeze gets them waving in our face all their shoulds and musts—from the obligations of “blood” over “water,” to how (or if) we raise children, to what we do for a living.
The ‘art’ in our mind rooms
We’ve decorated the walls of our mind rooms with an eclectic mix of modern art (from the culture—often Instagram and Facebook), impressionist art (beliefs that came from others) and abstract (no one knows where the eff these beliefs came from) art.
We are surrounded by platitudes we’ve gathered about living our best lives, staying positive or setting boundaries—courtesy of our educational system, spiritual communities, books, movies and television.
And we can’t forget the relic beliefs of our religious upbringings—the ones that detail for us who God is and why the world was created. When we were children, these beliefs provided comfort and solace in a too-complex-for-a-child world. Funny how they’re still sitting around, though, lurking in the corners, waiting to judge us at any moment.
The cedar chest in the center of our mind room was provided courtesy of old lovers and friends. Inside are manuals and textbooks about relationships, dating, romance, marriage and love, as well as stories we’ve told ourselves about who we were (and who we were not) in those relationships. We’d probably laugh ourselves silly, digging through that chest, if it didn’t hurt so damn much.
From floor to ceiling and wall to wall, our mind is stuffed with the belief systems that we’ve settled for in our lives. Yet, how many of these were generated by us, and out of genuine inquiry? How many of them serve to make our lives better? How many of them are even remotely true?
You might be thinking—let’s just go ahead and dump it all. But I did that once, and trust me, it’s not the best approach. Once I stopped believing in anything at all, I experienced a deep loss of faith in human life and a subsequent identity crisis. So, no, humans are meant to have and be supported by beliefs. But they must be the best possible beliefs for us, our growth and our well-being.
Instead of dumping them out impulsively, we need to painstakingly and mindfully comb through and turn over our beliefs. We have to trace them back to their roots until we understand their presence. Each belief is then either one we choose to return to its owner or keep as our own to likely pass down to future generations. But now, at least, it is a conscious choice we’ve made, not an action out of reflex, obligation, ignorance, desire, fear or any number of other variables.
Sorting through our beliefs
We sort through our beliefs, one by one, by asking ourselves the following questions:
Where did it come from?
Most of what we believe is inherited, handed down or unconsciously taken on. We think something is true because we’ve always thought it to be true. But—that doesn’t make it true. It only makes it a habit. There’s a story about this:
A daughter watched as her mother chopped off the end of a roast before putting it in the pan. She asked her mother why she did that, and her mother answered, “Because my mother did that.” So, the inquisitive child asked her grandmother the same question, to which her grandmother replied, “I didn’t have a big enough pan to hold it all.”
How long has it been there?
The longer a belief has been with us, the harder it is to let it go. Long-lasting beliefs are usually the ones that formed our early value system, and value systems are difficult, if not impossible, to change. Only if we are willing to shift and change our values do we have a chance to release these aged (and often outdated) beliefs.
What was the intention of those who gave it to us?
Sometimes, we’ve been given beliefs for convenience’s sake. But not our convenience, generally. Think of the belief that “children should be seen and not heard,” and ask whether that benefits the adults or the children.
If we are the providers of said belief, then—what state of mind were we in when we took it on? Did it give us some temporary validation? Do we still need it today?
I once believed that I didn’t need female friends. But that was just a belief of convenience at a time when the reality was that I didn’t have many female friends. I implanted the belief so that I didn’t need to ask myself harder questions about why this was my reality. Later in my life, I felt confident enough to let go of this belief, and female friends entered my life with ease.
What does it offer us?
We have to ask ourselves how these beliefs function in real-time. They’re always working for something, and we need to ask what that is. Does each one give us a boundary or protection? A false sense of security? An excuse, a validation, a cover-up?
As we get older, it gets harder to let go of our beliefs, likely because they’ve been functioning as a cushion between us and the world—or perhaps between us and the capital-T Truth. But, the more we deepen into our sense of self and individuate, and as we develop self-worth and humility (those go together), the less we need beliefs of comfort.
Once they are gone, curiosity will take up residence in the space where the belief had lived. Beliefs are often heavy and static in energy, while curiosity is light and mobile, so switching out any belief for curiosity will give us a spring in our step.
Having cleared out the excesses, heaviness and clutter in our mind room, we will be less likely to get tangled up in our own web of beliefs, which allows the beliefs we have kept to better light (and lighten) our path. These beliefs can now provide a framework for a new set of values, and perhaps even a new direction in life.
Every room needs a makeover from time to time. And this is especially true of our mind room.
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image 1 Hands off my tags! Michael Gaida from Pixabay 2 Photo by Andrew Petrischev on Unsplash