I recently pulled out 70 feet of cyclone fence from my backyard. Now my yard looks so much bigger, and it’s much easier to get around. Now the fence is gone, I no longer have to walk around it, mow around it, or trim under it. The yard just seems a lot more open to possibility.
I also recently reconnected with a friend, and, after we talked about what’s been happening in our lives, I shared about some recent events, and she asked, “So where does that leave you?” This is my answer to that question.
I think about beliefs as limits, they say what you can and cannot do, think, and be. Plato explores this in his allegory The Cave, but in today’s world, a better analogy is a mirror maze. If you’ve never seen one, a mirror maze is a maze where the walls are a combination of mirrors and glass panels, and, if you just rely on your eyes, it’s extremely difficult to find you way through. All you see is endless reflections of yourself, stretching off in all directions, and, with every step, you are just as likely to walk into a wall as not.
In my analogy, we live in a mirror maze of ideas. No matter where we look, we just see our own ideas, philosophies and attitudes reflected back at us, leading us to think that that is all there is. We’ve memorized a path through this maze so that we can get through our days without bumping into walls, so we seem to function just fine. The catch is, the maze is much larger and more complicated than we realize, and, when we worked out our path, we didn’t have time to explore all the nooks and crannies, so we missed a lot. We did a lot of exploring and testing when we were young, but then we got older and now we just follow the same path every day, only vaguely aware that the maze might be much bigger than we think.
Beliefs and attitudes are like the fence in my backyard and the walls of the mirror maze. They make us behave according to our fixed set of rules. This can make life easy in a lot of ways, but they can also make us resistant to change. We don’t want to pain and embarrassment of walking into a wall, so we stick to the path and don’t question.
But there’s a cost to sticking to what you know, you may never learn that there’s a much easier path than the one you’re taking. A maze can make getting from Here to There a long, convoluted journey, even if Here and There are only a few steps apart. But you can’t see that if you know there’s a wall there. But, what if there isn’t?
Some attitudes are like my fence, I could see it was there and regularly had to deal with the hassles of walking around it and cleaning up under it, and I put up with it because, well, because it was there. Other beliefs are like the mirrors and glass, we don’t actually see them, exactly, we just feel the effect of running into them. So, we learn to walk only were we know it’s safe. It’s just easier.
That’s really great, if your life is blissfully happy, but what if it’s not? What do you do when shit goes down and everything falls apart? What if you were dealt a crappy hand to begin with, and your life’s been a struggle from day one? Then you might want to question: Is the path you found is the only one? Is it the best one? Finding a new path is difficult, and involves a lot of nose-bumping, but people do it, and are better for it, but it’s not the only thing you can do.
In The Matrix, Neo discovers that the world is nothing like he thought it was, and that knowledge makes him more powerful than he could have imagined. We act as though our beliefs and attitudes are real, physical things that exist outside of ourselves, fixed and unchangeable. What if they’re not? The Matrix has such an appeal because people recognize, if only on an unconscious level, that we really do live “in a prison of our own minds,” we just have no idea what to do about it. Thus, the endless stream of self-help books promising happiness and success.
There is a term for the process of tearing down the fences and walls of belief, “Enlightenment,” or in new-age terms, “Awakening.” It is a process, because you are never done. The first stage of Enlightening or Waking Up, is to become aware of the Matrix, the maze, the fences in your mind. The next step, and this is the hard part, is the work of actively tearing them down, hoping to one day exit the maze entirely. No one that I know of, except, perhaps, the Dali Lama, is ever finished becoming enlightened. And, until you transcend this reality completely, you are still inside the maze and subject to its assumptions, rules and limitations.
Tearing down the fence in my yard is an outward sign of an inner transformation. Around a month ago, I got honest with myself, asked some tough questions, and dug until I exposed some uncomfortable truths, truths that explained why my life and relationships where the way they were. Becoming aware of these truths revealed that they were merely unquestioned beliefs that could be released, and that release felt like a great weight lifting off my shoulders. Now that these beliefs have been dragged out into the light and honestly acknowledged, they have lost their power over me.
Beliefs don’t stand alone, but are woven in a tapestry that defines and enforces a particular worldview. On one hand, this makes pulling out a single belief difficult, on the other, once individual threads are teased out, whole sections of the tapestry begin to unravel in a cascade of transformation. I am in that process now. Almost daily, I tug on lose threads and ragged edges, as I evaluate how my world has changed and what that means to my life. Inner change demands outer change, so I started transforming my back yard into a useful outdoor space, and I now see an obvious solution to an ongoing relationship issue.
This relationship issue is a perfect example of beliefs making simple tasks difficult, or impossible. In this case, I was Here, in the relationship, and I wanted to go There, but I believed that there was a long and difficult path in between. But now I see that all I really have to do is take a couple of steps. I don’t know what I would have done if someone had pointed out these steps earlier. Would I have be able to hear them? Would I have been able to take the necessary actions? Would I have been able to take the necessary actions, effectively? I don’t know these answers, but the point is, my beliefs create my world, in a very real sense. I change my beliefs, I change my world.
As always, comments and respectful discussions are welcome.