Do beliefs reflect reality, or create it? Can beliefs be
altered at will, or are they changed only in response to certain external
events? If the former is true, how easily can you change your beliefs?
I suppose it first would do to define what a belief is, what its functions are, and, accordingly, what it means to change a belief.
What is Belief?
I gave what I feel is a decent answer to this in The Power of Beliefs. I explained that belief is a relative, time-based term, meaning that a belief is simply a thought that you (1) agree with and (2) think fairly consistently. Perhaps you could say that a belief is a thought you are attached to.
You can and probably do think thoughts that deviate from the belief, but you do not agree enough with them to think about them more often and potentially integrate them into your belief system. You are attached to the idea that such thoughts are incorrect. “Agree enough with them” means that these deviant thoughts do not make sense in the context of your more frequent thoughts- that is, your beliefs. So it would make sense, then, that you would reject the deviant thoughts.
Later in this piece I will lay out for you an overview of my current beliefs about reality. I could argue that because I do not think the same thoughts or feel the same feelings from one moment to the next, even if my beliefs are supposedly the same, I can relay my reality to you only as it is now. This is not necessarily my reality at the most positive nor at the most negative that I have recently (or ever) experienced it: it’s just how it is now.
I could argue these minor short-term changes in thoughts and feelings indicate changes in belief, even if the changes are only temporary and I switch back and forth between two beliefs or even two belief systems. A change in my mood, thus, is really a change in my beliefs (well, I think it is).
But, I think it is easier to go by the relative definition of belief I gave at the start of this section.
What do Beliefs do, and Why Change them?
It would be simplest to say that (at least from a subjective-reality standpoint) your experience of reality is based on your beliefs. Not just individual beliefs, but the collection of your beliefs as a whole.
So if I believe that (1) It is possible for a girl to run 3000 meters in 10 minutes and 55 seconds and (2) that I am a girl who can do so, then chances are that I will do so. I believe (1). I used to believe (2) but I don’t any longer. In accordance with these beliefs, I still witness other girls run 3000m in this time (or faster), but I have not done so myself in several years.
From an objective standpoint, it would be sensible to say that I believe (1) because I observe it, and I used to believe (2) because I used to observe it, but I stopped believing (2) because I stopped observing it for a significant period of time (3 years, though the belief ceased after about 1 year).
From this objective standpoint, then, beliefs are the collections of a person’s conclusions (inferences) of their observations of reality. These conclusions, in turn, may affect subsequent observations, depending on the situation. In the example given, because the beliefs pertain to my own actions the beliefs will affect my actions accordingly.
However, my beliefs about another person’s behavior, for example, will indeed influence my observations of them, but my interpretations of these observations may not be correct. For instance, I may assume they act for one reason when really it is for another, or I may view their “good” behavior even as “bad” simply because of my beliefs about the person. But, my beliefs and interpretations exist merely in my mind and emotions- that is, my subjective experience- and not in reality, which exists “out there” beyond myself. My beliefs, then, do not influence the truth about this person, but as long as I have these beliefs this truth will inaccessible by me.
From a subjective standpoint you could say that whatever I believe is correct, because I experience what I believe. What is important, then, is that I alter my beliefs so that they each fall in line with a certain context of reality I aspire to live from. What this means is that my beliefs arise from my current level of consciousness, and because I believe that I ought to raise my level of consciousness, and raising my level of consciousness entails certain things, then it is in my interest to alter my beliefs so that they match up with those things.
I ought to mention here that consciousness is most simply defined as your ability to be aware. From an objective standpoint, an observer is a conscious being. From a subjective standpoint, everything is an extension of awareness. Reality is held together by awareness itself.
I also explained in The Power of Beliefs that beliefs operate statistically. This means that it manifests as true to the extent to which you believe it. So, in addition to changing beliefs outright, from a black-and-white standpoint, you also can and likely will change the extent to which you believe/disbelieve something (thus creating “gray area” in your life).
Yesterday I recorded Episode 3 (4?) of The Kim Wrate Podcast! (Which I shall upload soon) and described that performing perceptual experiments in which you deliberately change the way you view reality can be valuable. This value lies in the potential of drastically changing your experience- specifically, for the better (well, depending on what beliefs you take).
So, changing your beliefs can be in your interest for two reasons: (1) From an objective standpoint, forming more accurate beliefs about reality will help you to function better in reality. Your experience will be enhanced thus. And (2) From a subjective standpoint, forming more empowering beliefs about reality will influence your thoughts and behavior accordingly. Your experience will be enhanced thus.
Overall, then, the purpose of changing your beliefs is to enhance your experience.
First, I will note that “experiment” is used loosely here. Particularly, this cannot be considered a controlled experiment. Especially when I am working with individual beliefs only (as opposed to entire belief systems), I cannot put all my other beliefs on hold—otherwise I cannot function. I will do my best to suspend beliefs that may conflict with the one I am exploring, but I’m afraid that not all variables can be held constant. This is complex stuff. :P
So, here I regard “experiment” as nearly-interchangeable with “experience.” An experiment, in this case, is a controlled experience. As much as I can, I am attempting to measure and manage my experience. There aren’t incredibly specific outcomes I am trying to produce, though I do have predictions about what the outcomes will be.
I am not working on my experience of the world “out there,” as normally would be the case in a controlled experiment; rather, I am working from my experience “in here,” so as to influence the reality of both “in here” and “out there.” In other words, I am performing an experiment within the context of subjective reality. In this context, you can almost go so far as to say that life itself is research. It’s science in subjectivese! :D
Why Experiment with Beliefs?
Anyway, if I’m going to talk the talk, I suppose I ought to walk the walk. This is not to say that I haven’t practiced with altering my thoughts and beliefs before—rather, I don’t feel it’s something I’ve made a totally immersive effort toward.
For roughly the last year (maybe two, at most) my approach to changing beliefs has mostly been a day to day process, meaning that I’ll simply work on certain beliefs as I encounter them throughout my usual activities. “Encounter them” entails thinking about them (thoughts arising about them, if you prefer- which I do) as well as actually facing them in person/in physical reality.
This approach has generally entailed me getting far more leverage out of certain aspects of my life more than others. Some changes are relatively solid and long-lasting. With other aspects of my life I’ve experienced brief bursts of newness which are followed by a continuation of my usual experience. And with others still, I make hardly a hint of progress (at least, as is apparent from the surface).
Probably the most dramatic belief-change I’ve experienced is in regards to psychedelic drugs. In the span of 7 months I went from telling my friends that I would not smoke marijuana “on their lives” to actually using it. I had a very positive experience (which doesn't seem to have made me dumber or lazier, by the way) and intend to use it again at some point.
In contrast, even though I encountered them everyday as a member of the Cross country and Track teams, I hardly made a dent in my running abilities. Logically I know I don’t have to be slow, but I’ve thought to myself pretty consistently that I’ve “lost it” (“it” referring to my previous speed). However, I did make other changes to my body, such as by powerlifting weekly (for a few months, anyhow) and cutting gluten out of my diet, because I believed these things could be beneficial to me (they are!).
Overall, I’ve made changes mostly through absorbing information (e.g. books, podcasts) that have convinced me in the direction of some change. In some cases, such as with my recent decision to start sleeping on the floor, I only had to hear the information explained once to decide to go along with the change.
More often, though, I’ve had to hear the information thoroughly explained in various ways multiple times, as with psychedelics and cutting out gluten. With psychedelics the tough part was being convinced that they don’t do more harm than good. With gluten I already had intentions to eliminate it for at least a few months, but I just felt that I could not act on those intentions.
Of course, from a subjective reality standpoint, in both cases I did not that I should use psychedelics nor that I should not consume gluten. If actions reveal beliefs, how can I believe that gluten is bad and continue right on shoving it down the hole in my face? Whatever the case, I was resistant to the premise that these ideas are true.
Attempts to Test and Alter Beliefs
This isn’t to say that I haven’t made more deliberate efforts at changing my beliefs. For a few months from the middle of 2013 to the start of 2014 I practiced on and off with The Lefkoe Method, which yielded mostly questionable results. I would sometimes feel better for a short period after supposedly eliminating a negative belief, but I wasn’t always sure that it was gone; or, if I was, the belief might return in several months. But I do think this method can produce at least some degree of change, and it is worth trying. Perhaps I merely have expected too much from it.
I’ve also attempted, to a lesser degree, altering my beliefs through EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques, AKA Tapping), though I have found this to be far more useful at reducing physical pain. Since the end of high school about a year ago (when I tried using it, with likewise-questionable results, to reduce my anxiety and mental self-sabotage related to racing) I have turned to it mostly in desperate situations only, such as when I woke up at 1 A.M. this morning with leg cramps bad enough to induce tears (though I can’t say it’s too hard, for me, to start up the water works). These are also the situations where it has apparently worked best (from an objective standpoint I’m hesitant to say that it works- even more so how it works- but if it’s all coincidence then damn it is some coincidence indeed). It’s too bad that for most of the last 9 months I seem to have forgotten about it. I wonder if I really just stopped believing in its validity. Hm…
I also recently began taking a day each week to read material that conflicts with my beliefs, to see just how strong my beliefs are. The first week I read about the pointlessness of life; the second, about why homosexuality is bad. I made fairly honest attempts to suspend my disbelief and entertain these ideas.
To some dismay, I found that even just half an hour of immersing myself in such thoughts is enough to be thrown down the rabbit holes they have inevitably pounded into the Earth, and be disempowered thus. Thankfully, though, it did not take long in either case to pull myself back out and find meaning in life and acceptance of my sexuality. Phew!
Where to Take these Belief Experiments?
It’s tough to say where precisely I should start. Do I want to view the world through different organized religions? Different schools of philosophy? Different occupations? Different emotional states? Different economic backgrounds? Different ages? Different specific individuals?
Because the amount of time I have is limited, I’d like to experiment only with beliefs that I foresee will enhance my experience of reality. This raises an interesting question: Do I have to believe that a belief will work in order for it to work? Can I effectively suspend my disbelief about a belief, or will I have to leave that to chance and insight? I’ll wrestle with this question more as I go on.
So, should I bother with testing belief systems I don’t believe will work out that well? It would seem not. In addition to the functional issues, I have already tried Christianity, Atheism, and Agnosticism, for example-- do I really need to relive them? Why not allocate my time to new experiences?
On the other hand, it would be cool to be able to switch to them at will. And immersing myself in them for some time might reveal gaps in my current beliefs and provide insights on other perspectives (collections of beliefs) as well as decisions I am attempting to make.
But it might be more worth my while to start with belief systems that I actually think will work, yes? Might it be easier to develop my perspective-switching skills by starting with the beliefs I most strongly thing will work, or would I learn more quickly by diving into beliefs that will be more challenging to integrate?
I think I will begin by working with one belief at a time. In particular, I will integrate beliefs which I foresee will enhance my experience of reality. If I am well convinced that I can make these changes, it will be that much easier to experiment with whole belief systems/perspectives, whose entirety I probably will not agree with. Once I feel ready I will start working with belief systems, rather than individual beliefs.
I have two basic goals for these experiments: (1) Integrate beliefs that will enhance my experience of reality, and (2) Improve my ability to switch between different beliefs and perspectives.
Square One: My Current Beliefs
As I earlier said I would do, it might help to start by giving an overview of reality from my current belief system. For me, it would be easiest to direct you to Building Trust with the Universe and A Brief Declaration of Consciousness, and perhaps to all of my published material if you really want to go deep (have fun, my friend).
It would be easier for you, however, if I simply laid out here what I believe right now. I suppose it would be sensible to start with the highest-order beliefs- that is, what I believe about the nature of reality- and to work down to more objective beliefs. I could go right down to what I am currently observing through my senses, though I will spare you of that.
This overview of my current reality will be the comparison standard for my experiments. Of course, for reasons explained at the beginning of this article, this overview can only be crude.
As you likely can tell I have already described some of my relatively-fundamental beliefs about how reality works. However, I will state them again here more simply, primarily so that it will be faster and easier to look back on this article as I need to.
Overall, I will move from the most fundamental and seemingly-abstract beliefs to the ground-level and concrete. Because I am moving from more to less important, I will get less detailed as I go along.
An Overview: My Beliefs About Reality
My most fundamental belief is that reality is contained within consciousness (defined above). Consciousness is not an object located in the heads of separate individuals; rather, there is one consciousness in which we all exist and are a part of.
Objects and time are secondary to consciousness as components of reality. They exist, in some sense, but their existence is a result of belief. Events are likewise extensions of consciousness. Simply stated, objective reality exists within subjective reality. Even more simply stated, I believe in mind over matter, and that the body is consciousness (rather than consciousness being an extension of the brain, which is part of the body).
The purpose of human existence in physical reality is to elevate our collective consciousness. This generally means that we become more aware. More specifically, this means that we become more powerful (able to influence our experience of reality more) and also connect with each other, activities, and other entities optimally. All the events that take place here can ultimately contribute to the reorganization and elevation of consciousness. One can thus assume that reality plays out as it needs to, or is perfect.
Elevating consciousness basically consists in altering beliefs. Each belief alters my experience of reality for better or for worse. My thoughts, feelings, actions, and observations arise from my beliefs, and it is primarily in my actions that my beliefs reveal themselves. It is thus sensible to strive for a belief system which consists of no self-contradictions and which is overwhelmingly empowering and kind.
Working within objective reality to alter thoughts, feelings, actions, events, and other observations (objects) can be effective, but it generally is not as effective as working from a subjective-reality standpoint. However, the two need not be separated: a person can work within objective reality from a subjective standpoint. Combined with periods of focusing primarily on one’s subjective experience (and to a lesser extent, one’s objective experience), this is the optimal method of elevating consciousness. It’s also the most fun. :)
Dreams and psychedelic experiences are simply phases of reality, much like the “normal” physical reality. In these different phases of reality it may be easier or harder to learn certain things or perform certain tasks than usual (in physical reality).
My beliefs about death are fuzzy, but it is possible that individual [slices of (if you prefer)] consciousness does continue after bodily death. A different phase of reality is entered, and this consciousness may return to physical reality and basically resume where it left off once a certain age is reached. This is reincarnation. However, I’ve more recently considered that an individual’s contributions to collective consciousness are retained, but that person does not explicitly return to this Earth in some physical form. For instance, if this was a fairly intelligent or enlightened individual reality may reflect this thereafter, but the effects will be more widely and subtly distributed than a return as a new individual. Of course, there is no reason that reincarnation and the latter idea cannot go hand-in-hand. Hm…
I do not believe that there is a God-like entity which makes rules and monitors the occurrences on planet Earth. Such a God would have to exist within an object-based reality, and from what I can tell objective reality has generally not supported the idea of the existence of a God.
There are two basic ways to approach reality: fear, and love. Fear is object-based self-interest: it focuses on preserving and inflating the ego, or the self as a function of objective reality. Love is based on the collective interest, so it can be called subjective or subject-based self-interest. It focuses on elevating collective consciousness and is thus dedicated to the service of self and others together. Enemies of Consciousness discusses the love and fear polarities more in-depth.
Humanity’s potential is largely untapped, in both an objective and a subjective sense.
Many (if not all) events deemed “negative,” which include dysfunctions and diseases of the body and mind, can be regarded as the products of fear (i.e. a low level of consciousness).
The most detrimental events in human psychology are hatred and denial.
Before a certain point and only of certain types, the body benefits from stress. This means two things:
(1) Humans must move on a daily basis. It is best to walk, run, bike, or swim for at least several miles, and combine this steady-state exercise with bursts of intensity (e.g. sprints) as well as strength training. The body benefits more and is injured less from movement over natural surfaces, rather than man-made ones. Staying in any one position or repeating any one movement for too long (particularly the former) can injure the body. Movement is generally linked to a positive state of consciousness.
(2) It is generally optimal to not follow the same exact physical routine each day. It can be easier on the mind to do mostly the same exercises, eat the same foods, and sleep in the same timeframe each day, but variations in this monotony can be beneficial. In particular, periodic breaks from eating (fasting) can be helpful to the body.
It is far more beneficial to overall health to be out of doors than indoors—particularly, in natural areas than in man-made ones. This does not mean that man-made structures are “evil” or should be avoided entirely, but it does mean that natural settings should be sought out often.
Foods which are altered by man beyond various crop-breeding practices and typical preparation are generally less beneficial or even harmful. If it cannot be found on the Earth in some form (farms count), it is probably best avoided (do cupcakes grow on trees?).
I think this is a good place to stop. I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole of health here (and we know that’s deep), and I probably don’t need to talk about anything and everything.
It looks like I have a few holes here and there. I could do a better job of defining some things, particularly toward the top. Perhaps experimenting with my beliefs will help me to clarify them.
Time-Frame for the Experiments
As usual, 30 days seems like a reasonable amount of time in which to totally dedicate myself to these experiments. It’s not too long that it will drive fear into me or contribute to procrastination, but it is long enough that I can get used to living this way and experience noticeable affects from the experiments. It also is a short enough period that I feel I can focus on the quality of the experiments, rather than trudging through them and scraping by.
In addition, yesterday (May 15) was the start of another 30-day trial in which I will strive to post an article everyday. I think these two challenges will go hand-in-hand with each other because I will feel obliged to write about my daily experiences regarding my explorations with beliefs. Plus it will be that much easier now for me to find something to write about :P So, I say, double-challenge accepted.
I’m glad to do it this way because in the past I’ve completed trials as I said I would but wrote little to no follow-up (ahem An Unusual 30 Day Trial), and I’ve claimed that I will do others but made only a minimal effort at them and wrote zero follow-up (cough cough Radical Honesty). I won’t lie-- the thought of radical honesty still gives me shivers. Perhaps I can integrate it into my present 30-day trial somehow? We shall see. J
Within the 30-day timeframe, I have mostly considered working with a different belief or belief system each day. However, I can’t say this seems like a sufficient amount of time to sufficiently educate myself on the belief, actually believe it, and experience noticeable results from it. There are many perspectives I would like to work with, and there are some which I am afraid to take on for too long.
I think two days may prove to be just sufficient enough to produce results, yet not too long to derail me. If that timeframe really doesn’t work out I’ll just roll with it: perhaps in the future I will try another 30-day set of experiments with a different timeframe in which to work with each belief.
Overview of the Experiments
I’ll quickly review what’s about to go down.
I am going into these belief experiments with certain answers to the questions I’ve asked throughout, as experiments without defined variables are, well, difficult, to say the least. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t seek better, more fine-tuned answers to them. To review, the questions are as follows:
What are beliefs?
What do beliefs do?
Can I change my beliefs deliberately?
How can I change my beliefs?
How much of an influence do my beliefs have on my experience of reality?
What is consciousness?
What is a perspective?
In what context of reality would I like to experience my life?
(By the way, if you have any darned good smokin’ hot questions you think I should address through these experiments, let me know!)
Time: First I will work with individual beliefs, then with belief systems. I will allocate two days to immerse myself in each belief or system. I thus will run 15 different belief-experiments within 30 days.
I will write about each of the experiments, meaning that I will post at least 15 separate times about them. I also intend to write about the whole of my experiences at the end of the 30-day period.
Okay? Okay. Let the games begin! Tomorrow I shall begin by really easing into this. I will focus on a belief that I already hold, but feel I could hold much more strongly: my consciousness will continue on after I die, and as a conscious being I thus am safe in this physical reality.