Some of us have a hard time believing in things we can’t yet understand, or that we haven’t yet seen or experienced for ourselves. This can make learning and loving pretty difficult. Our ability to overcome this limitation can be complicated by the ego and our conditioned beliefs. Some cognitive styles, like over-thinking, can also make it harder for us to step outside the box to find the infinite range of possibilities waiting for us there. When someone else knows, or has experienced something we haven’t yet realized, we might plug what they share into a familiar conceptual framework, to make ourselves feel more comfortable and pretend that we know. And sometimes we just dismiss what they say altogether if we don’t yet understand it, calling them opinionated, arrogant, or crazy. The ego and our conditioned beliefs can greatly influence our choices to both pretend to know or dismiss what we don’t yet understand.
I define faith as a choice to believe or trust in something we have no evidence of, and have not yet personally experienced. Developing faith in ourselves and something beyond ourselves makes it easier to accept the things we can’t yet understand.
Some compare and contrast faith and reason, faith and knowledge, or faith and science; focusing on the lack of evidence available in matters of faith. Some use the concept of faith to get people to believe what they themselves believe, like religions, reducing a general principle to something very specific in support of their collective purposes. Some use the word faith synonymously with religion, like tissue and Kleenex, apparently to emphasize and glorify its faith-based origin. James Fowler proposes a series of stages of faith development across the human life span, paralleling the models of Piaget, Erickson, and Kohlberg. (whose models address psychological and moral development). These developmental perspective on faith suggest that we continuously learn, grow, and change in relation to our beliefs. This seems pretty realistic to me, both based on my observational assessments and intuitive inferences. Even highly faith-resistant people usually end up believing in something bigger than themselves that has a powerful influence on their existence. Albert Einstein attended synagogue as a child, turned agnostic, then pantheist, and then spiritualist. Our beliefs about faith will naturally grow and change throughout our lives, if we let them, and it seems normal and healthy to openly welcome such evolution.
As science evolves, gathering more and more evidence in support of what could previously have been explained by faith alone; there appears to be a shift in human consciousness toward the acceptance of what we have been defining as faith, and its relation to universal consciousness. Since truth is the highest vibration, and since the light (awareness) of this vibration makes true love, true joy, and true peace “visible” (accessible to our awareness), and therefore possible; true love, or the truth about real love, is an element of universal consciousness. This supports, or reflects, the belief that real love, or Fourth Chakra love, is a spiritual thing.
But I believe that much of what we have understood as faith is actually inner awareness, or spiritual awareness of things that naturally occur, and that we can clearly perceive; but not with the human mind or the external human senses. So maybe this is part of what is expanding within our race — the acceptance that much of what we perceive, to heal and grow as humans, is not accessible to the human mind and external human senses. But it is also not based on faith. Maybe some of what had been considered faith is really our awareness of universal consciousness, and the very real things that exist within it and flow from it. And maybe this awareness grows continuously throughout our lifetime, if we let it, allowing the light of universal consciousness to shine more brightly and clearly through it. And maybe this growing awareness is mistaken for growing faith. And maybe science, through its hypotheses and experiments, has even begun verifying the existence of such spiritual phenomenon, which it previously considered fantasy, fiction, or insanity (not that we needed science to prove that our awareness is real). Maybe we are beginning to accept that the things beyond our human perception (mind and external senses) are as real, or even more real, than what we previously believed “real” was limited to.
An important realization for me is that the beliefs of others are not a requirement of our own, and that if others do not accept our beliefs, it does not diminish or invalidate them. Some, for a variety of reasons, will not believe anything unless they have personally learned or experienced it, or unless someone they respect supports it. This is one of the most limiting of all possible human conditions. So how do we overcome this limitation?
Vicarious Learning: No Need to Re-invent the Physical or Etheric Wheels
Countless wheels have already been invented, and are rolling along merrily toward their purposeful realization. Credible people everywhere bear witness to their orbicular animation. The fact that we haven’t yet personally set them in motion does not mean that they don’t exist.
Albert Bandura, from the Department of Psychology at Stanford University, in The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, says “Psychological theories have traditionally emphasized learning from direct experience. If knowledge, values, and competencies could be acquired only by trial and error, human development would be greatly retarded, not to mention exceedingly tedious and hazardous. Moreover, limited time, resources, and mobility impose severe limits on places and activities that people can directly explore to gain new social perspectives and styles of thinking and behaving. However, humans have evolved an advanced cognitive capacity for observational learning that enables them to shape and structure their lives through the power of modeling..” He goes on to say “People do not come fully equipped with these agentic capabilities. They must develop them. Observational learning operates as a key mechanism in this process of self-development, adaptation, and change. Through the power of modeling, people acquire lifestyles, values, self-regulatory standards, aspirations, and a sense of personal and collective efficacy (Bandura, 1986, 1997)..” He says “For years the power of observational learning through social modeling was trivialized by portraying it as simple response mimicry. In social cognitive theory, social modeling operates at a higher level of learning and serves much broader generative functions. Modeled judgments and actions may differ in specific content while embodying the same principle. For example, an individual may see others confront moral conflicts involving different matters but apply the same moral standard to them. Modeled activities thus convey principles for generative and innovative behavior. In abstract observational learning, observers extract the principles or standards embodied in the thinking and actions exhibited by others. Once they acquire the principles, they can use them to generate new instances of the behavior that go beyond what they have seen, read, or heard..”
And I believe that such observational learning, or modeling, occurs not only from things we can perceive with our mind and human senses, but also from those things we access through our awareness of universal consciousness. If we develop awareness of our spirit, and through it connect directly with universal consciousness, then we gain access to an infinite range of possibilities, occurrences, and experiences that we can learn from. If we have faith in what we perceive through our spiritual awareness, then we have the potential to grow exponentially with no limitations. For example, if, through our link to higher consciousness, we observe a method for consciously selecting outcomes from a pool of coexisting possibilities (conscious co-creation), and if we believe in what we have observed, then we can apply this observational learning to the co-creation of our dreams. Since some may not understand how spiritual things are observable, we could also refer to it as vicarious learning.
As we learn from others, it would help if we studied the evolution of their beliefs, values, and experiences rather than tuning in to just a snippet from a cross section of their existence. What people are most remembered for may be least reflective of their ultimate realizations or attainments. If we limit ourselves to studying what someone believed at one point in time, then we will miss out on the richness of their evolving perspective, will be less likely to see the naturalness of developmental changes in beliefs, and will be more likely to rigidly limit the naturalness of our spiritual growth and development.
And if we look deeply enough, we will see that what we can learn from others based on their material world experiences and perceptions of these experiences, is simply a mirror reflecting, or arrow pointing to something within ourselves, and through our spirit within the universe, that we need to learn in order to grow and develop. So vicarious learning is intended to help us learn more about our spirit, and then through our spirit the universe. Universal consciousness offers the ultimate source of vicarious learning (although some who have experienced it might argue that it is not vicarious at all, but rather experiential). However we interpret it, allowing the light of universal consciousness to flow through the awareness of our spirit into our human consciousness removes the limitations of the mind. This creates peace, freedom, and the potential for real love.
Real love, or Fourth Chakra love comes from our spirit. Our spirit is our own personal link to, or connection with universal consciousness. Through it we can access the infinite range of coexisting possibilities every-where and every-when. As we expand our awareness of truth, or broaden our light; we will “see,” or perceive more of the possibilities waiting for us there. This occurs through spirit. Spirit is not related to our mind or human senses. Through our spirit we can access universal consciousness, and then bring its awareness back into the mind in a way that it can be understood and shared. Growing and developing personally, and then helping others grow and develop, are the reasons for our human existence. Sharing our evolving awareness with others, to help them learn and grow; based on our access to universal consciousness through spirit; is one of the greatest forms of love we can offer. Sharing this with a beloved companion, or together with a companion sharing it with the world; generates a love that surpasses human understanding. Love has no limits. Love is transformative. Love is so important to us that we would die for it. The ego and conditioned beliefs can confuse our understanding or experience of love, but they cannot change love.
I believe the ego is the greatest cause of suffering in our world. It can be individual or collective. It has its own identity, which is different from our own. It has its own energy field, and feeds off negativity (anger, resentment, irritation, reactivity, etc.). We often believe that it is who we are. We are usually first drawn to it while trying to avoid or deny something uncomfortable (avoiding what we don’t want) or while pursuing selfish desires (pursuing what we want when it may not be responsible, or a current priority). The ego makes things look the way we want them to look, regardless of how they actually are. It makes lies seem like truth, and truth like lies. It creates fictional stories, or delusions, that serve a combined purpose — 1. to maintain the ego’s control over us and 2. to help us justify avoiding what we don’t want or pursuing what we want. It limits our ability to perceive anything that does not support this purpose. It inhibits our present moment awareness (presence, or the awareness of the truth of who we are and what is really happening), while convincing us that its fictional stories are this truth. It creates entire contexts of fiction in support of the specific stories it manufactures. These fictional contexts can include thoughts, feelings, memories, beliefs, and values; none of which are based on truth. The fictional stories, and the equally fictional contexts that support them, can generate strong negative emotions, intense reactivity, and fight or flight-related responses; all based on egoic delusion. And the brain’s Survival Mode, triggered by negative emotion, can strengthen such egoic delusion by convincing us that we are in danger and need to fight against or run away from a threat. Negativity feeds the ego and triggers Survival Mode, and then they reinforce each other until we figure out what’s really going on.
Eckhart Tolle, in a dialogue about how to recognize the ego, says “Negativity is the key, knowing whether or not that is present in you. You need to be present to know whether it’s there or not. If you are identified with negativity, then you won’t even know that there is negativity. To the Ego, a negative feeling is something good. The Ego loves to be angry. It strengthens itself with that. If there is absolutely no awareness, then you won’t even know that you’re in a negative state. And then there’s nothing you can do, you need to wake up first so that you can see “What state am I in right now?” Then the Ego cannot even recognize itself. For the Ego to be recognized, the awareness needs to have awakened. Then you can observe yourself. The witness, the observing presence needs to be there. Once that’s there, you can recognize negativity, and then you’ll know that’s the Ego. Then the Ego is no longer totally dominating you, and you don’t necessarily have to act on it. You can then have a feeling of anger without acting on it, and simply allowing that feeling to be there, and observing it, how it arises, and how it passes away. You don’t have to obey what it tells you to do, you don’t have to follow every thought that arises out of that feeling. Vigilance is required for you to know where a feeling comes from. Is it generated by a thought in your head? Then it’s Ego. That’s a helpful little hint, is it a feeling that is generated by some story I am telling myself about my life, about other people, about a situation? Or is it a deeper realization of what is needed in a situation? Whatever it is, the key factor is the witnessing presence inside you. The witnessing presence is the only thing from which the Ego can be recognized.”
We have to choose to awaken this witnessing presence (awareness, observing presence, true nature) for it to wake up. This can initially be quite challenging, and seem un-natural; because what we are trying to awaken ourselves to, that which we are trying to open our “eyes” and see, may be uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and precisely what we usually try to avoid. Mindfulness meditation can generally increase our present moment awareness, and then, in order to distinguish the ego from our spirit (true nature/who we really are), we need to begin watching our thoughts, and the emotions they generate. But how can we watch our thoughts if we are trapped within them, and believe them to be equal to who we are? So who is it then that needs to watch our thoughts? It is us. Then what generates our thoughts? Our mind. We are not our mind. Our mind is a tool, like an organic computer, intended to process information and help us communicate. And then, when its tasks have been completed, we are supposed to shut it down. “Your mind is only a tool, so remember to turn it off when your work is done.” What remains after we turn off our mind is our spirit.
Our spirit is our higher consciousness and is linked to universal consciousness, from which we can receive limitless information as we expand our awareness of it. A simple, practical way to identify and move into spirit is to ask yourself the question “What am I going to think next?” And then watch for your next thought. The part of you watching for your next thought is your spirit, and the part of you thinking the thought is your mind. The ego is part of the mind, and, if present/active, can be seen while observing the mind. The spirit could also be thought of as our true nature, conscious presence, true self, or observing self.
The ego can be identified in negativity, reactivity, issues, and defenses; and is often activated through avoidance of what we don’t want or the pursuit of what we do want. So after we have become more present through mindfulness meditation, and when we have learned to watch our thoughts; we want to start specifically looking for forms of negativity, reactivity, ego issues, and ego defenses. Doing so will help us more quickly and easily recognize the ego for what it is, and aid us in the prevention of unnecessary suffering, disruption, and distraction. Negativity can take the form of anger, resentment, irritation, etc; whether contained within ourselves, or directed externally at others. Reactivity is an intense and often misdirected negative emotional response, usually based on egoic delusion which, in the moment, seems to justify the response, directed externally at another (usually during a conversation). Ego issues consist of things like inadequacy (feeling like a failure), control (feeling controlled by others), victimization (feeling picked on, unfairly treated, or abused), and trust (lacking trust in others); based on past experiences and perceptions. Ego issues are an intense and distorted focus on specific topics, matters, or situations; giving them great importance and emotional significance, making them more likely to result in negative emotions, which strengthen the ego. Engaging in repetitive behavior like attention seeking to gain acceptance or approval, in order to feed the distorted sense of inadequacy; is an example of ego issues in action. Ego defenses attempt to counterbalance/compensate for the ego issues. So, for example, ego defenses supporting the ego issue of inadequacy could include acting superior, always needing to be right, or acting like a know-it-all. A defense against control is simply trying to control things (either generally, or sometimes with the specific people, or in the specific situations that make us feel most out of control). A defense against feeling like a victim could be accusing someone of picking on us, when they are not, and we might actually be picking on them. A defense against a trust issue could be accusing someone else of being a villain, in some way, when we have cheated on them. Ego issues are perceptual distortions deriving from a hypersensitivity to something (e.g. not being good enough), usually because of something that happened in our past. Ego defenses try to help us “right the wrongs,” or compensate for these perceived inequities. So, for example, if we are doing our attention seeking thing to gain acceptance to feel less inadequate (ego issue), our way of seeking attention might be to act superior in some way, or try to prove ourselves (ego defense).
Conditioned Beliefs and Automatic Response Patterns
Conditioned beliefs are things we have grown to believe in over time, arising out of repeated experiences, that greatly impact our understanding of ourselves and the world. They can originate from families, friends, advertising, the media, churches, or schools. They can influence our beliefs about our worth, future success, relationship potential, intelligence, appearance, value, and integrity. They can create automatic response patterns, mentally, emotionally, or behaviorally; that cause us to think, feel, or operate in predictable ways in specific situations before even realizing we are doing it. These conditioned beliefs may represent the subjective perceptions or marketing strategies of our parents, teachers, friends, advertising, or the entertainment industry, and the related conditioned patterns are habits of thought, emotion, or behavior we have developed based on these beliefs. For example, if we have been conditioned over time by our parents, peers, or advertising to believe that our worth is tied to how sexy we are, then we might find ourselves automatically acting flirty and gushy, swinging it when we walk, dressing seductively, bending over to put the focus on our butt, attending parties with others who think and act similarly, taking guys up on invitations and dares, presenting ourselves as being promiscuous, and doing lots of things we otherwise would never consider — before we even realize what we are doing. When conditioned patterns determine what we do, it is like we are on auto-pilot and have no awareness of what we are doing until we “wake up” from it (like being in a trance); often with great disbelief and even greater regret. And then many turn to their ego or mind-altering substances to avoid or deny the truth of what they have done. The ego will create fictional stories that make something irresponsible or destructive seem positive or beneficial. With enough repetition, ego issues (e.g. inadequacy) will be formed from our developing beliefs about ourselves and feelings of guilt, shame, regret, etc.
Ego issues can create conditioned beliefs, and the automatic response patterns generated by conditioned beliefs can form ego issues
When we have ego issues, our conditioned beliefs may determine the patterns by which these issues manifest. For example, if a woman has ego issues of inadequacy, and if she has been conditioned to believe that her value lies in her sexiness, then the ego defense against her perceived inadequacy might be sexual attention seeking, and the automatic patterns arising from her conditioned beliefs might be thinking, talking, dressing, and acting sexy. Such conditioned beliefs and patterns (my value is my sexiness — thinking, talking, dressing, and acting sexy to be worthy), along with the ego issues and defenses that often interact with them (inadequacy — attention seeking), can be easily detected by thrill seekers, players, and sexual predators, making us vulnerable to their destructive manipulations. While we are busy strutting our steamy stuff, they are using our vulnerability to plan their attack; and we, while engaged in the automatic conditioned patterns, are unaware of both what we are doing and what they are doing. We may simply be thinking something like “Oh, he’s cute, and OMG he’s looking at me! Let’s see how he likes this!” (while bending over to highlight our butt and show our cleavage after dropping a lipstick case on the floor). We are limiting our perception of who and what he is, and where his value lies to objectification (he’s cute); as we are our own (I’m sexy). We are limited to understanding the worth of others based on how we determine our own. And then what happens next may set us up for more negative emotions (e.g. guilt, shame, regret) which strengthens our ego and reinforces the conditioned belief; so we go back and do it again to try to feel better about ourselves. But it doesn’t work. And in the example above, we make no attempt to get to know the person before we decide we like them, or even that we are willing to have sex with them; because we are basing their value and our own on objectification. That’s pretty scary if we stop and think about it! Consider the potentially dangerous, risky, and empty situations we could be setting ourselves up for!
Such conditioned beliefs and their corresponding automatic response patterns, along with the ego issues and defenses that often interact with them; make us needy, and dependent upon others for whatever our ego needs are (worthiness, acceptance, security, confidence, etc.). Instead of quietly holding the truth of such things inside us, through our own personal realizations, awareness, and knowledge (internal locus of control); we are dependent upon others to provide a false and temporary sense of them, like a drug, that will quickly fade and leave us needing it again (external locus of control). The solution is to recognize and rise above our ego and conditioned beliefs through mindfulness, awareness, and truth; and then to internalize this truth about ourselves so we can hold on to the truth of who we are internally, without needing others to provide comforting illusions that quickly fade. This will free us up to truly live and love, to know what we are really doing and why, and to live in the truth of the present moment without ego issues and conditioned beliefs determining our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. Who are we anyway? Is our identity equal to our destructive ego? Mine isn’t. Are we no more than a set of conditioned beliefs and automatic response patterns based on opinions, biases, or advertising? We are much more than this!
Taking steps to overcome these destructive forces will aid us in letting go of limitations, and in our ability to accept things we can’t yet understand. When we succeed in rising above them, we will no longer experience the negativity, reactivity, avoidance, fictional stories, defensiveness, and destructive behaviors that keep us stuck in revolving cycles of anxiety, depression, and stress. We will know who we really are, peacefully accept this amazing being, and live free from the destructive effects of the human mind. Yes, this is possible!
Cognitive styles, like overthinking, excessive worry, impulsivity, and distractibility can diminish our potential for learning how to let go of limitations. These cognitive styles can be either psychological or neurological in origin. But we can overcome them by first fully accepting them, and then making the necessary adjustments to compensate for them. For example, if we have a tendency to worry too much, then while we are considering whether or not to believe in something (and worrying about our decision), we can factor into our decision making that we usually worry too much, remove the worry, and make the decision solely based on relevant points (minus the worry). Even if we start worrying about it again afterward, at least we have made the decision without the worry being able to stop us.
Letting Go of Limitations
So, in order to let go of limitations, and believe in things we can’t yet understand; it is helpful to develop our faith, expand our ability to learn vicariously, connect with our spirit, recognize and rise above our ego, identify and release our conditioned beliefs and automatic response patterns, and recognize and adjust for our cognitive styles. Doing so will remove many of the barriers to our spiritual growth and development, and to our ability to encourage such evolution in others. We can do this through mindfulness meditation, developing our witnessing presence, increasing our self awareness, self acceptance, and self control; finding a philosophy of universal consciousness that fits us pretty well (e.g. Quantum Buddhism; learning from a spiritual teacher, counselor, or written words; applying what we learn to our ability to connect with, perceive, and consciously co-create with the universe; and learning how to understand and share real love. Attaining these higher vibrations will also naturally decrease our stress, depression, and anxiety.
Photo Credit: National Geographic