There’s an old saying that the reason our parents can push our buttons is that they installed the control panel. And there is so much truth in that.
I was watching a presentation from Mike Dooley the other day and he was talking about the importance of our belief systems. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Dooley’s work, he’s a strong advocate of the idea that, “thoughts become things,” and teaches visualization and manifestation techniques. His take on belief systems is that they act as, “regulators,” for what we allow ourselves to think, and since thoughts become things, our beliefs determine what we’re going to think and, therefore, what’s going to manifest in our lives. Our beliefs determine the Judgments that we make about life, which determine the course that our life takes.
For instance, if we have a strong, unconscious belief that we’re unattractive it’s very unlikely that we’ll be able to visualize ourselves with a good, loving partner. We can’t even THINK of that happening, and so it doesn’t. If we have a strongly held belief that rich people are evil, we’re not going to be able to attract money into our lives because we don’t want to see ourselves as evil.
Those are belief systems on a personal level. There are also what we might call, “meta belief systems,” that operate on a more elevated basis. These are systems like religions and politics and they interact with our personal belief systems. Most people in the United States are Christians and an inherent element in that religion is that people are, “sinners,” that life is suffering, and that there’s a loony tunes god in charge who might just throw you into a pit of eternal flames because you masturbated last night.
We can contrast that world view with this statement from the Dalai Lama: “I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. . . From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment. I don’t know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves.
If we believe in the so-called Law of Attraction – the idea that we draw into our lives people and events that are a match with our energy, emotions, and ideas – then we can see where these two belief systems would have massive implications in our personal lives. If we accept the classic Christian view that people are basically evil and life is shit because we got, “thrown out of the garden,” what are we going to attract into our lives? Evil people and shitty experiences. If we listen to the Dalai Lama and believe that the purpose of life is to be happy, we’ll automatically seek out happy people and create positive experiences in our lives.
All of this operates on an unconscious level, of course. If you were to ask the average Christian if she believes that people are rotten and life is meant to be suffering, she would very likely say no. But that’s exactly what we were taught in Sunday schools and church services when we were forming our views of life and were too young to make realistic assessments. All of those buttons – guilt, sin, life hurts – were installed on our control panels and they’re just waiting to be pushed.
Don Miguel Ruiz talks a lot about this in The Four Agreements. As he put it, most of our belief systems are just, “dreams,” illusions passed down from one generation to the next or forced onto us by our society and they remain largely unexamined. Democrats (or Republicans) are evil. People are no damned good. America loves peace (even though we sell more weapons than any other country in the world.) Monogamy works (even though about half of the people who try it get divorced.) Liberals are socialists. Conservatives are fascists. God’s a male. There is no God. We all have tons and tons of opinions and viewpoints that we live by, that we design our lives around, and, for the most part, we haven’t thought about them very much.
I once read about a woman who went into an absolute fury every time that her husband would put his cap on the kitchen table. When he questioned her about it, the only thing she could say was, “It’s just wrong.” She realized that her mother had taught her that lesson, so she asked her mother why it was wrong. Her mother’s response was that her mother had taught her that it was a terrible offense. She finally worked her way back to her great grandmother who started laughing and said, “Oh, lord, child, when I was young everyone had head lice. That’s why it was wrong to put your hat on the table.”
So three generations of her family had passed down a very strong belief and reaction about a simple behavior like putting a hat on a table. And none of them, until her, had ever questioned the belief or wondered what was behind it.
The sad part of this is that so many of our beliefs and judgements are just like that: totally unconscious ways of judging the world and ourselves that were passed down to us by people who weren’t thinking about them and accepted by us without thinking about them.
That’s also the good news.
Once we accept the idea that a lot of our most cherished beliefs – if not most of them – are constructed on total bullshit, then we can just get rid of them. It sounds like a really radical idea when we first encounter it but why not? Why not just get rid of beliefs that limit us and restrict us, and adopt beliefs that serve us better and allow us to expand our lives?
For instance, the belief that I’ll NEVER have enough money, shuts me down and keeps me frozen in place. The belief that the Universe is filled with abundance and I deserve my share opens me up to expanding and receiving. The belief that I have a RIGHT to be angry keeps me upset and repels positive people. The belief that I have a RIGHT to be a loving person attracts positive, loving people into my life and reinforces the idea that I’m lovable.
The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche said that most of us will never become enlightened in this life and that we’ll continue to live in the dream of illusion. But he also said that we CAN decide whether we want to have a good dream or a bad dream. And the road to a good dream starts with our beliefs about that dream.