Limiting Beliefs


I've moved on in my reading, but I can't stop thinking about Feversong by Karen Marie Moning. In the beginning of the story, Mac has been imprisoned in her own mind, cut off from control of her body, and despairing of ever finding a way out. Mac believes she is trapped, and, therefore, she is. As the story progresses, however, Mac quickly discovers that the only things actually keeping her prisoner are her own beliefs. She thus realizes a truth so exquisite, so overwhelming, I can write it, but I can't quite wrap my mind around it, much the same way that Mac struggles with the concept—and here it is: belief is reality. There. I've said it. But what does it mean? For me and for reality in general? In the book, Mac is in a box that doesn't exist but that she believes inescapable. In the fantasy story, belief is reality and it's the keystone of all existence.  Is this truth in fantasy?  I think so. In the story, Mac asks, "What's the surest way to be victimized? Believe yourself a victim. To win?  Believe yourself a champion."  All true. And so simple. But if it's so simple why are there so many victims in the world? If it's just a matter of our beliefs, of our thoughts, then why are there so few winners?  

I have a coffee mug that says, "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?"  I've always been drawn to that quote, one of the square magnets and greeting cards that have spawned a cottage industry of tote bags and ashtrays and the ubiquitous coffee mugs. And I've given the concept a great deal of thought (and yes, I am inspired to deep thoughts not just by vampire porn but coffee cups and tee shirts too). The quote invokes the question that Mac asks by implication: what are the limiting beliefs that hold us back from doing what we want to do? What do we believe we will fail in the attempt and therefore neglect to try? 

For me, the superficial answers to this question involve physical gifts I know I will never possess. An early-to-develop optical astigmatism ensured poor hand-eye coordination and thus a pitiful performance on tennis and golf courses, not to mention in softball, field hockey and volleyball. I knew I would fail (after the first disastrous early attempts), so I never went out for such pursuits. I was also quite confident in my lack of musical skill, particularly of the vocal variety, although my singing voice was not to be eclipsed in its similarity to cats in heat by my dexterity on the piano or guitar. No, I had absolutely no innate talent for any of these activities and demurred from additional attempts lest I further humiliate myself. 

And while I can accept the futility of chasing dreams of winning Wimbledon, what about limiting beliefs of a more intellectual bent?  Could I will myself to become adept at physics or astronomy?  I don't believe I could. Only because I tried. And failed. So while I can believe myself to be Stephen Hawking to my heart's content, it's not going to have any significant impact on my calculations concerning the moons of Jupiter. I can believe I wouldn't fail at any number of endeavors, including maintaining a clean diet (fail!), exercising on a regular basis (major fail!) and establishing and following a productive daily routine (epic fail!!). I believe that I should be able to do these things, but as far as I can tell, my beliefs have not changed my reality. 

And what about our fearless leader, The Donald? We're being assured by his sycophantic mouthpieces that whatever the Donald believes is ground truth and that by his belief these fantasies are made manifest. And these ridiculous and dangerous delusions are endless fodder for late night comedy and social media commentary. So we know that, at least in some respects, this “belief equals reality” formula is poppycock. Or hogwash. Or horseshit. Choose your favorite animal adjective, my friends, it all means the same thing: untrue.

But on the other other hand, Mac (or her creator, Karen Moning) is only repeating an oft-quoted Buddhist idea, popularized by Mahatma Gandhi that thoughts become things. I looked it up, of course, and there are various iterations of the quote, but they are all along the same lines, as follows:

Watch your beliefs, for they become your thoughts.

Watch your thoughts for they become your words.

Watch your words, for they become your actions.

Watch your actions for they become your habits.

Watch your habits for they become your character.

Watch your character for it becomes your destiny.

And while we are spouting other people's quotes, let's add Henry Ford to the mix and bring to mind his take on these same ideas: "Whether you think you can or you think you can't— you're right."  I think herein lies the Rosetta Stone to resolve the apparent paradox of Gandhi and Ford being right while simultaneously making Donald Trump and his minions wrong (and how convenient is that for supporting my own very strident world views?).

Our beliefs affect us, but not necessarily others or the world around us. We have control over the way we view ourselves and over our actions—and, therefore, ultimately, over our own characters but no one else's. We can believe ourselves to be victim or victor, and, in truth, no one can take those beliefs away from us without our consent.  But no beliefs, no matter how strongly held, can make the sun rise in the west or set in the east. No belief can make verifiable truth a lie or fake news true. It just doesn't work that way.

Moreover, while the idea of beliefs impacting our own personal realities is simple, it is by no means easy. It's simple to believe ourselves victors and not victims, but the difficulty of this simple task explains the rarified nature of its accomplishment. I understand that much of what holds me back, whether from becoming a published paranormal fantasy author or an accomplished yogi, my two most fervent and fevered dreams, are only the limiting beliefs that keep me imprisoned in paralysis in much the same way that the Book kept Mac imprisoned in her own mind. Neither construct is real. But breaking free of our self-inflicted bonds is easier said than done. But I will keep fighting my own limiting beliefs and working to answer the question I read each day on my coffee mug. I'll ask you the same question and invite you to answer it for yourself and perhaps share it in the comments section. What would we do if we knew we could not fail?