Last week, I had a few interactions that reminded me how much our attachment to our beliefs can keep us from truth, growth, and freedom. I was surprised at how often we choose comfort over truth, even when it means restriction and repression. And how terrifying it can be to seek truth at all costs.
The path to truth isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it’s frightening, painful, and unsettling. Likewise, a life of comfort is often riddled with self-deceit, stagnation, and limitations.
If I want truth, then I must be willing to question everything. I must be willing to let go of the way I think the world is or how I think it should be. Otherwise, my resistance will limit my vision and I will never get to truth, or the real peace that lies beyond resisting. I’ll also never grow outside of the comfort zone I imprison myself in.
On the other hand, if I desire comfort over truth, then I must ignore the questions in my mind, do what has brought me comfort in the past, and believe whatever I think will make me happiest, whether it’s true or not. Then, I must refuse to consider anything that challenges that view. Many people live seemingly happy lives this way, ignoring the deeper questions that lie beneath the often subconscious repression of the inconsistencies their mind discovers. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.
Is one choice better than the other? Is it worth seeking the truth if it may lead to an uncomfortable reality? Or can you tolerate a sense of comfort when you know you may be deceiving yourself? With so many unknowns in our world, don’t we all choose comfort to some degree anyway?
I think it’s not so black and white. Most of us have beliefs we’re willing to question, and those we hold sacred or refuse to consider challenging, at least until we’re ready. Several years ago, I challenged my beliefs about money, education, and religion. This completely changed my life! Yet I still struggle with questioning things like the value of certain relationships, my views of right and wrong, and what it means to be human. But unless I question these things, how will I know if these beliefs are limiting me?
It can be scary to challenge core beliefs! For example, having grown up Mormon, it was terrifying for me to question the source of my spiritual feelings, and the existence and nature of God. I had to be willing to give up my world as I knew it in my attempt to find the truth. And while I still can’t state for certain what God might be like, I feel much closer to the truth now, than when I claimed to “know” the answer with absolute certainty when in fact I had simply been too afraid to lose my comfort by fully challenging these beliefs.
I’ve also noticed that the more beliefs I question, the more beliefs I discover under the surface that are waiting to be challenged. Usually, these are beliefs I didn’t even know I had but are affecting my life profoundly. New worlds continue to open up as I go deeper into challenging and letting go of my attachment to these beliefs.
Perhaps the questioning process will never end. Maybe it ends only with omniscience. Or maybe it stops when I finally realize that I know absolutely nothing, and hold attachment to no belief at all. How else can we get to the truth except by questioning what we think we already know, and being willing to drop all beliefs in order to see what lies beyond them?
But it can be a tiresome process. Not everyone wants to take this journey, and there is nothing wrong with resting in the comfort of potentially false belief when we choose to, even indefinitely. We all do it to some degree, usually unconsciously. But by becoming aware that this is what were doing, we enable ourselves to make a conscious decision about it. We increase our ability to choose, which means we increase our freedom.
How to Challenge Beliefs
We tend to start questioning our beliefs when we tire of stagnating in comfort, or when we see that the answers we’ve been given don’t add up, or when we just feel like there is something more that we’re not seeing in our life experience. Every person will do this in their own way when they are ready, but here are a few methods I’ve found helpful in opening my mind to new possibilities:
- Read or listen to opposing views. But not from the perspective of how to prove them wrong or fit them into your current framework of reality. Instead, see them without any judgment. Identify their value and maybe even try them on for size to see what the world looks like through that lens. This can be terrifying, difficult, and very uncomfortable. It is common to take a glimpse into an opposing view, not know how to deal with the questions or emotions it brings up (especially when existing beliefs creep in), and give up before fully exploring the view. Instead, welcome the discomfort. Stay with the belief for a while. Yes, it may completely change your view of reality, and that can be scary. But if you give up too early because of fear or discomfort, then you’re selling yourself short of reaching deeper levels of understanding and truth.
- Gain perspective. Spend some time with people who have completely different worldviews than you. Travel to foreign countries where the language, religion, and culture is different. Talk to the impoverished and the wealthy, the activists and the pacifists, the traditional and the unique. Try to see the world how they do, and see what it teaches you. Notice how some of your beliefs are not part of their framework at all, and how that affects them or not.
- Study the mind. Learn about how our beliefs are formed and how we tend to hold onto false beliefs, even when it doesn’t make sense. Read a book like Don’t Believe Everything You Think or some of these thought-provoking books.
- Identify hidden beliefs. When we make a statement or ask a question, there is often a hidden limiting belief lying beneath our words. These can be tricky to identify, but they permeate how we talk and think, and can limit our view. Here are some examples of possible hidden beliefs in statements and questions. “Why did God let my son die?” (Possible hidden beliefs: Your son died. God is responsible for that. God cares about your son. God exists.”) “I wish I had more money.” (Possible hidden beliefs: More money will make you happy. It is too difficult to get more money. Rich people are greedy and are the reason I have so little.”)
- Watch your emotions. If you find yourself feeling angry or defensive when an idea is presented to you, or when one of your beliefs is challenged, this can be an indicator of a belief you may identifying with or holding onto for comfort. Whether you decide to question these beliefs or not, being aware of the beliefs you’re most attached to can help you see what’s driving your behavior and allow you to question them when you’re ready.
These methods are rarely comfortable. But in order for growth to happen, in order for us to know the truth, and in order to increase our freedom, we must be willing to get out of our comfort zone and sincerely question our beliefs.
I recently watched a moving and funny documentary called Kumaré about a man from New Jersey who pretended to be an Indian guru, went to Arizona, and gained a following of real people. He taught them fake yoga moves and made up chants. Yet, some of his followers were profoundly touched by these practices, and went on to make positive changes in their lives. They found comfort in these empty rituals and made up teachings. He also taught that they didn’t need a guru and could become their ideal selves on their own, a lesson he was experimenting with as he taught it.
The most interesting part for me was seeing the internal struggle this man had with revealing his true self to his followers, and how they reacted to the news. I won’t spoil it for you, but the choice between comfort and truth is apparent here as well. You can watch the movie at http://kumaremovie.com.
While comfort can be nice, I invite you to ask yourself if you have a belief that it might be time to question. Is there something you’ve been believing that doesn’t resonate with you anymore? Is there a hidden assumption that’s holding you back from reaching your potential? Is there something you have doubts about but are afraid to look at completely?
If so, I invite you to jump into the fire, embrace the discomfort, and see what lies on the other side for you. I can’t make any promises about what you will experience, but every time I have done this, an unexpected new world of deeper understanding has opened up to me and changed my life in profound and positive ways. It can be like waking up from a dream or hatching out of an egg.
If you have the desire, I hope you will take the chance to break through the barriers of your limiting beliefs when you feel ready to do so; and that the world you discover beyond them will bring more comfort and truth than you’ve ever known.