How Powerful, Unconscious Beliefs Threaten Survival
Our thoughts and beliefs have an enormous effect on our nervous system and our moods. Just my thought that the police car behind me is going to pull me over triggers my nervous system into a state of anxiety we call the fight/flight response. I start to sweat and my heart rate increases, adrenalin and cortisol are released in my bloodstream. As the police car drives past me and away, I realize I was wrong; but my body believes the thought.
If I believe that the end of a relationship or a job defines me as a lifelong loser, I’ll get depressed and a whole slew of negative beliefs and thoughts will cascade. The essence of these thoughts or cognitions will express hopelessness, helplessness (victimization), worthlessness and guilt or self denigration. They are only thoughts and beliefs with no objective, existential reality. Yet, they can shape a life or a death. They can destroy or recreate us.
My survival and the quality of my life depends in large part on the way I think and believe. If I am mindful of my thoughts (a most valuable mental health skill) I have the ability to examine them and let truth be my target. What I believe about myself, my relations, my work, my worth, my future and the unknown affects not only my physical and mental health but my behaviors, my resilience and my capacity for joy. The thoughts and beliefs I project into the unknown will shape my future.
It’s easy to see how beliefs can affect survival in these dark days of the pandemic and political disinformation. Those who have been led to believe that the virus is a hoax and masks are for sissies, are more likely to be exposed. Some will die or suffer lingering health and financial problems. It’s sad that large groups of people are led to believe ideas that are counter to their interests, their survival and the quality of their lives. It’s primitive.
Stepping back farther for a longer view, look how the belief that money and power are equivalent to survival is affecting the survival of species and our sacred planet Earth. Patriarchy is older than our species. Gorillas organize power in a hierarchy behind the silver-back male who controls territory, resources and reproductive rights. When the silver back male wanes in power, he often literally loses his life in a battle with a younger contender. How much more evolved are we in Washington DC or other centers of power? We are still fighting for power over territory, resources and reproductive rights and firmly believing that money and power are equivalent to survival itself. It’s primitive. And the health of our species and our planet are in peril.
This belief that money and power are equal to survival justifies the destruction of nature in its pursuit. It is completely fear driven. We can afford the largest military in the world to defend our power and territories, but we have no safety net for our people. Our culture suffers from it immensely in terms of human rights, mental and physical health and the cruel exploitation of labor. Our children are anxious. We have forgotten somehow what our survival really depends on: clean air, water, good soil, and human community and cooperation. Without these precious resources, all the money and power in the world will not save us.
We can look to indigenous people for a clue to life free of the dollar. I was fortunate to be able to visit three of the Tahitian Islands twenty years ago. I was warned to lock up all my belongings in the safe in my room because the native people have no shame at all about taking what they like. In their culture, theft has no meaning because everyone owns everything together. Take what you like. There’s enough for everyone. What a concept.
Often, in indigenous cultures there is deep reverence for the Earth and her elements and spirituality is woven into the fabric of life itself, in all her forms. How can we reintegrate our own ancient knowledge when we are under the belief that money and power are equivalent to our survival and more important than the water, air, animals and soil? What could possibly bridge that existential and cognitive gap?
Certainly, increasingly deadly fires, storms and poisoned waters will drive some kinds of adaptations. I believe, though, that a whole new way of thinking about well being and survival as individuals and in community must be born in these fires. As a psychotherapist and coach, this is what I do with individuals, couples, families and groups. Along with many others, I’m trying to plant the seeds of a new way of thinking about our lives on this planet.
We literally have to get out of our fear driven heads and come to our senses. We have to feel human and embodied and connected because we are. Without preconceptions, we have to open to the unknown and make some changes. Without indoctrinated beliefs, if you really want to, you can feel connected within yourself, spiritually. Then, the best downloads come from within. That inner experience can guide us. Spirituality is in our DNA. And Godus knows, we need to evolve. Religion has divided us. But a genuinely spiritual human being is recognized everywhere. We need a whole new way of thinking. And not thinking.
Meditation grows the skill of mindfulness, the ability to recognize when you’re thinking and to return to the technique. Being the witness of thoughts without getting carried away by them enables you to gradually free yourself from useless, negative and most of all, untrue thinking. This is so useful with CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) when we explore and examine the thoughts and beliefs that contribute to unhappiness or emotional distress. I’m often examining thoughts and beliefs and I’m curious about the often brutal and dangerous powers of unconscious groupthink in families and larger systems. History is rife with examples. I help people to individuate and think for themselves and to use their thought process consciously.
It’s wonderful that the word, ‘woke’ has entered our collective consciousness at all. It says so much. And gives me hope that truly, we are waking up and seeing many beautiful and painful truths. We need to fully wake up from the global delusion that money and power are equivalent to survival and the value of life itself. It is a soulless belief. That belief is destroying life on our planet. And it’s just a belief.