Rearranging the Belief Furniture of the Mind

When I’m working at examining and changing my personal beliefs, it helps me a lot if I can conjure up some sort of imaginative image, a symbol to stand in for a particular idea that I’m trying to isolate and confront. Ideas can oftentimes feel intangible. If a certain concept takes the form of (say) a dilapidated nightstand, though, then this piece can be moved, trashed, smashed or burned within the theater of my own inner mind. Such visualization makes the act of manipulating the belief behind the image much more visceral.

Flushing Mental Debris

I recently had a dream that dramatized this process. I was swimming in a long, oval-shaped pond whose waters felt deep and ancient. I was trying to reach the sunnier side, but my progress was confounded by scattered debris floating around in the water. This rubbish mostly took the form of furniture.

At one point I was caught in backwards-moving current that had also begun to pull at the furniture so that the pieces aligned behind one another in a snaky procession towards a whirlpool. I had the visceral sensation of the entire pond being akin to a giant washing machine. At first I feared that I’d be sucked down the ‘drain’.

Distancing Ourselves from Our Beliefs

But I managed to float nearby it while the debris, one by one, was sucked down. I am not my beliefs. That was the underlying message of this dream motif. They belong to me; I do not belong to them. In some ways I associate the waters with my subconscious, and my state of being ‘impervious’ to the pull of the undertow with the freedom that each of us have to distance ourselves from our own beliefs. They do not have to own us. They are ours to nurture or discard.

Once I reached this realization, within the dream, I was able to utter the mental command of “Enough!” and slough off the inertia of these ideas that, I had felt, could pull me under. Armed with the knowledge of my own freedom, I was easily able to swim to the sunnier side of the lake. There, beneath the warm rays, was a new house that was mine. I was able to rest, and then begin a project that was of great importance to me.

Not Being Ruled by Our Ideas

In the novel Trust in the Unseen, Brandon Chane (my protagonist) begins to trust his own insights and intuitions to the point where he’s able to achieve some autonomy apart from his mentor Saul. Until this point he’d been obliged to accept Saul’s guidance as best he could. Now, however, he finds that he can take what he has learned and translate it into his own personal terms; he can own it as earned knowledge.

{…} In time, as the miles raced beneath and behind our wheels, my angst began to subside, to be more fully replaced by a sense of victory – or satisfaction, at least. I’d proved to myself that I was able to act from someplace other than my familiar ‘default’ position. And I began to question how many other assumptions, equally erroneous beliefs, I might be carrying around with me like dusty dead debris in my mind. Saul’s artistry was to lift the stones and expose such skulking creatures. Might I not be capable of the same sort of excavation on my own?

After we stopped at a salad buffet for our first healthy meal thus far on this road trip, and returned (highly caffeinated) to change positions in the van once more, I settled in the back seat with my notebook. While Carlos got us back onto I-80 E and pushed us into Illinois, I began writing down bits of my own internal dialogue whenever I could catch it. If I noticed my imagination tugging me towards feelings of gloom and despair, I tried to identify what I’d been thinking beforehand. I isolated the unspoken assumptions, let them roll around in my head for a while, questioned them. I could feel how my thoughts and emotions were linked. Black moods and rage-filled episodes didn’t just “come over me”. They had always been generated somehow by my own internal monologue.

I felt the kind of excitement that often accompanies the discovery of an unforeseen new way forward. Was this the trail back to the sources of all my misery, frustration and overall dearth of hope? {…}

This is the journey that each of us inevitably have to take if we hope to get on top of our own thoughts and feelings and not be ruled by them. Books and lectures and teachers can only take us so far. At some point we’ll have to interpret it all in our own terms, and realize that, though we may have invested ourselves in our own beliefs, those beliefs don’t constitute who we are – any more than we are defined by the furniture in our physical environment.