“There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.” — Anthony de Mello
When people come to me suffering from anxiety, fear, anger, self-judgement etc., there are five things they invariably believe to be true.
Let’s take anxiety as an example. Most (if not all) people with anxiety believe:
1. It’s bad or wrong to feel anxious.
2. It shouldn’t be there.
3. There’s something wrong with me (for being anxious).
4. My mind should be peaceful.
5. I won’t experience peace until my anxiety is gone.
I’m sure you’d probably agree with most, if not all, of them.
Few people, if any, would question the truth of these statements.
They are, as the spiritual teacher Anthony de Mello says:
“Beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.”
And yet, I’d say that these beliefs alone produce 98% (if not more) of the unnecessary suffering that most people experience.
Maybe you’ve heard the expression “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is a choice?”
Experiencing anxiety is unpleasant. There’s no getting around the fact it’s a painful experience.
But it’s our beliefs and mental commentary about it that cause most of the suffering.
“Anxiety is awful. I can’t go on like this. What’s wrong with me? I shouldn’t be feeling this way. My life is a mess. I’m so screwed up. I’ll never be happy again.”
The mind’s commentary about the anxiety adds fuel to the fire and turns a painful experience into full-blown suffering.
Lasting peace can never be found on the level of thinking. The mind is restless by nature.
To end suffering, we need to change the way we relate to the mind.
And to do this, we need to see through the false beliefs that hold us captive.
As long as you believe that certain thoughts are bad or wrong, that they shouldn’t be there, and that there’s something wrong with you for having them, you will continue to suffer… not so much from the thoughts themselves but because of your beliefs about them.
The solution is so simple that most people overlook it completely.
Getting To Know The Mind Better
There’s a quote from Abraham Lincoln I use a lot:
“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
Exactly the same logic applies to your anxiety, your depression, your fear or your critical inner voice.
If you don’t like these thoughts, resisting them won’t help. What you resist persists.
The answer is to get to know them better.
The 2 Approaches to Becoming Free of the Mind
There are two approaches we can take to find more inner peace.
The first is to try to fix or change our thoughts through “working on yourself”.
I tried this approach for years and discovered that change comes painfully slowly… if at all.
After years and years of hard work and effort, I had very little to show for it.
Then I got lucky.
On a 6-month meditation retreat, I was fortunate to stumble upon another way to deal with the mind which was far easier, far more effective and far quicker—immediate in fact.
Through getting to know my thoughts (feelings and emotions too) better, I came to a completely different understanding about myself, my mind… and the path to peace.
I saw that:
It’s not your thoughts, feelings or emotions that cause you to suffer. Suffering is self-created through the way you RELATE to them.
See through the false beliefs that hold you captive and your troublesome thoughts will no longer have the same power to affect your peace.
So here are 5 false beliefs that keep most people trapped in their heads for life, in most cases.
The 5 False Beliefs That Will Keep You Trapped In Your Head Forever
“Demand is born out of duality: ‘I am unhappy and I must be happy.’ In that very demand that I must be happy is unhappiness.” — J. Krishnamurti
The beautiful thing about beliefs is that the moment you see through them, they lose their grip on you. You become liberated in the seeing alone. It requires no time.
False Belief #1 The mind should be quiet and peaceful, otherwise there’s something wrong
I love the following quote from the Indian spiritual teacher, Nisargadatta:
“There is no such thing as peace of mind. Mind means disturbance; restlessness itself is mind.”
Restlessness is the nature of the mind. Expecting it to be quiet and peaceful is like expecting water to be dry or expecting the grass to be pink.
It’s not the restless nature of the mind that disturbs your peace. It’s the belief that there’s something wrong and that it should be different.
You don’t suffer because the mind is restless. You suffer because you believe it shouldn’t be.
Expect the mind to be messed up, crazy, confused, all over the place.
Don’t be surprised! There’s nothing wrong. It’s called the human condition.
False Belief #2 Suffering is caused by negative thoughts, feelings and emotions
What if it were possible to feel down, sad, concerned, anxious even— and to remain perfectly at peace throughout?
Negative thoughts, feelings and emotions, although unpleasant, are not the primary cause of suffering. We suffer because we reject them, think there’s something ‘wrong’ and believe they shouldn’t be there. This is the real reason we suffer.
If you don’t mind feeling sad, don’t think there’s anything wrong with it and don’t think it needs to go for you to be OK, you can be sad and peaceful at the same time.
A lot of people confuse peace with feeling good. It’s not the same.
Our thoughts and emotions are like clouds passing across the sky. It’s inevitable that there will be dark ones as well as light ones.
The key to ongoing peace is to embrace them all. Even if they don’t feel good.
And anyway, what makes a thought negative? A second thought that says so.
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False Belief #3 It’s bad/wrong to be anxious, down, depressed, feeling unworthy
This belief definitely comes under the category, “beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that nobody thinks to question them.”
Most of us enjoy warm sunny days more than dark cloudy ones.
But this doesn’t make cloudy days bad or wrong—less pleasant perhaps, but not wrong.
In the same way, the challenging thoughts and emotions that cloud our inner sky are not inherently good or bad, right or wrong. Like the weather, they are neutral events— part of the human condition.
The real problem (or only problem in fact) is the notion that unpleasant = wrong.
And this, in turn, triggers the mental commentary: “it shouldn’t be there, there’s something wrong with me that needs fixing, I’m unacceptable as I am, I can’t be happy until it’s gone etc. — in other words, suffering.
False Belief #4 I can’t experience peace until this/ that pattern is resolved
This is a common belief amongst my coaching clients.
I see so many people who have been waiting for 20 years for their anxiety to be healed so they can start living again. I’ve seen lifelong anxiety sufferers experiencing deep peace within a minute or two.
Peace is your nature. And it’s ever-present, no matter what is going on in the mind.
People wait, often for years, for the dark clouds of anxiety, sadness or self-doubt to move on, before they can get back to living life to the full.
There’s a powerful meditation called the “Noticing Exercise” which I like to share with people who believe they can’t experience peace the way they are.
Without going into too much detail here, I ask people to bring a difficulty to mind, and then, through directing their attention to what’s happening right here, right now, I guide them to become fully present in the moment.
When I ask them afterwards how their experience was, they usually use words like “peaceful, still or expansive.”
And when I then ask what happened to their difficulty during the exercise , people invariably say, “Oh, I totally forgot about it. I only felt peace.” — more evidence that you don’t have to wait for your issues to be healed before you can live fully.
Peace is available right here, right now—whatever is going on in your mind or in your life.
If you’d like me to guide you through the Noticing Exercise and look at some of the false beliefs that are holding you back, why not take advantage of my complimentary coaching session offer?
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False Belief #5 Engaging with the mind is mandatory
If you had told me all those years ago, when I was a chronic over thinker struggling to find any peace at all, that engaging with the mind is not mandatory, I would have said you were nuts.
When thinking is unconscious and running on autopilot, as is the case with most people, it feels like it’s something that’s happening to you— as if you are an innocent victim being bombarded by an unrelenting torrent of thoughts and you have no choice but to listen.
You’re not so much thinking as being thunk!
But here’s the truth. You are the one in charge and the mind only has as much power as you give it. It may not seem this way but it’s true.
As we saw previously in the “Noticing Exercise” you are free to withdraw your attention from the mind in any moment. Thinking is a choice. It’s not mandatory.
Mooji, a teacher I like a lot, says that we suffer because we are open for business. If you choose to close up shop, the mind becomes powerless to affect your peace.
When you learn to step back and watch the mind objectively, you can choose whether to get involved or not. Over thinking is an unconscious habit you can learn to let go off.
So, there you have it.
Letting go of these 5 false beliefs will dramatically reduce the amount of thought traffic in your head and increase your peace.
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