Most everyone could articulate at least one thing they would sincerely like to change, one thing in their lives that they would like to be different. Why then does this one thing, on balance, seem to change so infrequently? It has at least something to do with the role that beliefs play in our lives.
Beliefs are a powerful thing. They anchor us to a foundation that allows some sense of certainty around how to live and be in this world. They enable us to construct boundaries and make decisions. They provide threads to the past, insights for the future and connections with others who share with us the truth and wisdom of our beliefs.
Our beliefs, at their most fundamental essence, are what is obvious to us and, we think, should be obvious to others. But herein lies the rub, when something is obvious it is never questioned, probed or challenged. It’s merely the way things are.
In his artful book Liminal Thinking, David Gray describes this alternative way of thinking as “the art of creating change by understanding, shaping and reframing beliefs.”
If our beliefs are obvious, why should we have any interest in changing them? Simply put, because all beliefs are constructed. They have been assembled throughout our lives by an intricate mix of personal experiences, powerful narratives, shared tribes, and the plethora of our unique successes and failures. They are constructions, our constructions. Coming to grips with this doesn’t mean we have to abandon our beliefs because they are wrong, rather it invites us to see that there are other possibilities that have equal merit. Beliefs are our attempt at knowing reality.
Gray gives us some insights into what this construction process looks like. At the foundation of all things is reality, which as a whole is unknowable to any individual or group. Our belief construction starts with the limited range of our experiences with all of what is. While it might feel extensive and even somewhat comprehensive to us, it represents a smattering of what can and has been experienced by humanity writ large. We are constrained by the narrow experiences any one of us can have in this world. This alone limits the thoroughness and authority of our personal beliefs. The next layer of limitation comes with our ability to actually pay attention to all of what we are experiencing. In any given day we are exposed to a multitude of experiences, thoughts, ideas, feelings, beauty and transcendence to which we are able only to grab and process a tiny percentage of. Think about how these two factors have just winnowed our perspective of reality to a glance or snapshot of the magnificence of all that is. From the limiting prisms of experience and attention, we form theories and make judgments which serve as our new foundation of what is now obvious. Its impressive how we are able to take the infinite complexities of reality and reduce them to a limited number of soundbites that we then base so much of how we show up in the world around.
The good news is that if we have in fact created – constructed – our beliefs, it is also in our power to recreate them. Through the power of choice, we can reexamine what we have labeled obvious, we can shine a light into the shadows below the surface and allow ourselves to see what may be hidden in blind spots.
Personal change and transformation requires some honest exploration of the space between all of what is possible and the limiting beliefs that we have constructed as the new foundation from which we are experiencing our world. Inviting curiosity around how we came to have the beliefs we currently have and how those beliefs were carefully assembled is an essential tool to in the exhilarating transformational process.
Ultimately, this frees us to play with and explore new ideas and new ways of being even if at first, they seem absurd or wrong. This requires some willingness to step out of certainty into not knowing, at least for a season. It is embracing, as Zen practice describes, the beginner’s mind. Allowing yourself to deconstruct what has seemed sacred and untouchable (obvious) in service to relearning and reconstructing a more expansive and ever evolving way of thinking.
Long held beliefs will not release their grip without a bit of a struggle. They will defend themselves by sowing fear of the new and unknown. The experience of change invites us to walk through the fear and into the expansive realm of possibilities.