By Jim Tolles
Beliefs and belief systems offer us a broad way to interpret a lot of life experiences, feelings, and sensations and to generally make sense of things. They aren't inherently troublesome things. But by and large, beliefs aren't being used to help us to open and flourish. We use our beliefs to protect and defend ourselves, which typically has the outcome of limiting the way we experience our lives. In general, core fears around death and pain tend to underpin a lot of beliefs and belief systems. Whenever this happens, beliefs become limiting beliefs, and the more powerful the fear or underlying issue is, the more limiting the belief tends to become.
In general, my thinking is that words, ideas, and beliefs should help us to free ourselves. This too is a belief, but you can probably sense the openness to it. Holding beliefs lightly allows us to stay agile with each evolving moment so that we don't get trapped trying to make life conform to an idea. Holding onto a belief is part of what defines limiting and core beliefs. Essentially, we try to make ourselves, other people, and our environment conform to these beliefs. This brings nothing but aggravation even when our beliefs are seemingly positive and meant to benefit others because life is bigger than our beliefs. And so are we. Thus to continue your journey deeper into yourself and into the awakened awareness that simply Is, you will have to confront many limiting and core beliefs.
What Are Limiting and Core Beliefs?
A limiting belief is an idea that limits how you can see a situation, person, or something. It also limits how you may choose to respond or not respond based on an idea of what you think should happen, what you think you should get, or something else.
A core belief tends to be a central belief that is the epicenter for resulting beliefs and actions. It can be limiting or not. Here is an example: "The world is cruel." This can be a core belief for someone especially with childhood trauma. This core belief is already a limiting belief because it's likely to color what the person looks at or sees. This person may see kindness much less than cruelty. This person may even look for cruelty to reinforce her/his belief. It's not hard to do either; just turn on the news. If kindness comes this person's way, s/he may not know how to accept it or will doubt it. Additional limiting beliefs tends to pile up on top of this core belief. "Because the world is cruel, I need to protect myself. To protect myself, I need to stay away from strangers. I need to stay in my own country. I need to always be right." And so on and so on. There are many types of limiting beliefs that build up on top of such a core belief. It ends up making a rather vast network of reinforcing beliefs, and because people tend to be very committed to the ego identity that is built out of these beliefs, it tends to be quite impossible to show people the truth until something really rattles their cage.
Core Beliefs Reinforced by Action
Of course, these limiting and core beliefs are never just sitting on the sidelines. They're the coaches actively telling the players (the person) what to do and say. As such, these beliefs that are typically based on fears get acted out. As people craft their lives based on fear, certain patterns and life lessons begin to appear. This creates and amplifies a person's karma--life lessons that they're here to learn. So the woman who is afraid of being abused by men puts tons of energy into avoiding unfamiliar men because the unknown is frightening to her. Unfortunately, her familiarity is with abusing men, so she unconsciously keeps finding more abusing men as romantic partners, bosses, and friends. Yet, she may also excuse their abusive behavior until a breaking point gets hit. The cycle of pain and suffering continues until the core belief is confront.
These types of patterns repeat over and over. It's why I am always encouraging people to journal about these things. The more you can identify the patterns in your life, the more you can start to turn inwards to look at the limiting beliefs. And as I've already pointed out, layers upon layers of limiting beliefs and inner defense mechanisms have usually been built up around the core beliefs. Many core beliefs are often protecting deeply held fears, grief, and other things, and different core beliefs like to reinforce each other. "I am not worthy of love" mutually reinforces the belief "I will get abandoned." As such, this person clings on to potential lovers like a drowning person in the ocean to a life preserver. You can imagine how the other person may feel being clung to in this way.
But you'll see none of this if you only look at the world around you and assume the world is just trying to make you miserable and you can never find the right romantic partner--that they also just run away from you. The world is as it is, and you have the opportunity to choose what and how you believe.
Avoidance and the Blame Game
Avoidance and the blame game are all too common ways to keep the light away from limiting and core beliefs. It's easy to blame others for your discomfort, but the spiritual adult learns to own his or her own feelings. No one is in charge of how you feel but you. It doesn't matter how good or bad you feel around someone else, and it doesn't matter how sensitive you are to energy. You are responsible for you. In the latter instance, you have to be even more responsible because in dealing with the upset emotions inside you, it becomes easier and easier to sense what other people are feeling or projecting out without hooking into that feeling and feeling it yourself.
But we've become masters at avoidance and blaming others. It's a big problem, but wherever you notice this coming up, you should be happy. You should be happy because it means that you're getting closer to an outdated belief or an issue. In this way, we learn to skillfully acknowledge our inner discomfort and turn towards it. We see when avoidance and blaming others is getting really bad, and we ask, "What am I trying to avoid and why? Why am I blaming someone else for my feelings?" We realize as spiritually mature people that no one ever makes us feel emotions; we choose what emotions to feel.
Breaking Through a Limiting Belief
Some of you probably have had the wonderful experience of breaking through a limiting belief. You thought you could never be a good public speaker, but then you started doing it and realized that you're not only good at it, but you enjoy it as well. The limiting belief that said you don't like public speaking or won't be good at it was wrong. Even if you aren't that good at, removing a limiting belief allows you the flexibility to speak in public or not. You can speak up or maintain your silence without the idea and fear saying you have to do one or the other. You can easily get a limiting core belief that goes the other way that says you always have to speak up. This can be emanating out from a core issue where you didn't feel heard at some time in your life.
Regardless, whenever we have broken through a limiting belief, it tends to shine a light on additional limiting beliefs inside us. We naturally say to ourselves, "Well, if I can do that, what else can I do?" This can be a very healthful mentality, but at the same time, we must be cautious to not create new limiting beliefs. The hallmark of the spiritual path is around flexibility. Beliefs can give us the opportunity to go further in understanding ourselves and our lives, but the minute they start congealing into a new identity of how we have to live or act, we're creating new limiting beliefs, which includes some of the ones that seem to be "spiritual."
The Belief Vacuum
If you break through enough beliefs and even let go of a core belief or two about who you should be and how you should live, you may suddenly find yourself in quite a bit of spaciousness. Spaciousness tends to be very confronting for a lot of unconscious egos, so if you find yourself feeling unsure and scared, take some time to breathe into this space. Don't rush to formulate a new idea about yourself. Don't try to make a spiritual ego to fill the space. The true spiritual ego is a flexible thing just as beliefs should be. It doesn't try to make you conform to new rules, robes, and rituals. It simply is a lens that helps you see life more and more as it is without distortion. Too often many spiritual seekers get to these places of spaciousness, and they immediately fill the void. They take on spiritual names, join spiritual communities, believe in new beliefs, and so on. In terms of living a peaceful life, it's probably not the worst thing you can do. In terms of being free--which is what I am pointing you towards in this spirituality blog--it's like putting the car in reverse right when you're actually getting close to your destination (please don't hold onto this metaphor though; the truth is that you are already here and there is no destination).
So if a belief like "I am unworthy of love" melts away, sit in the open space. Especially with a belief like that, you tend to feel more at peace and more in love when its gone. A new belief is not necessary to say, "I am love." That type of affirmation was typically only ever a retort to the initial core belief that had been saying that you are not worthy of it. Without that core belief, the reply is not necessary. The truth is evident, and the truth is beyond words and beliefs.
Hunting Down Your Limiting and Core Beliefs
As I said earlier, you're going to find networks of these beliefs, and most of them will not want to be looked at. Most of them you'll find yourself still identifying with them. When you identify with a limiting belief such as "I have to make money to survive," you energize it. You side with it. And this typically is where your self investigation will stall out. You may even find ways to make it true. Self-sabotage is one of the fine arts of forcing ourselves to learn our lessons and see our karma. As such, it's why third-party perspectives can be helpful as well as learning from others. A person with the aforementioned core belief is typically shocked by all the people who have needed very little money to not only survive but to thoroughly enjoy their lives. That shock is nothing by the unconscious ego that does not want to believe. It does not want to because then its days are numbered, and you will have to journey deeper into the unknown and face the many fears of the unknown that you have.
One by one, limiting and core beliefs can melt away. In the space left over is the freedom to see your life as it is. It is the freedom to interact in each situation with a fresh mindset and the agility to respond to whatever wonderful opportunity and actual threat is present. Much of the unconscious ego is built around threat avoidance, and as such, that's what most people's limiting and core beliefs tend to be about. Much like I mentioned above, a lot of times those beliefs lead us to create situations with the very threats that we're trying to avoid. So it's not a very effective system. Additionally, the safety we do create tends to feel like a cage, and that's because it is a cage. You are not flying. You are trapped in your suburban nightmare, abusive relationship, or some other scenario. You know this, and you know who is holding you prisoner. It's not the relationship, the government, your boss, or anyone else. It's you, and the limiting and core beliefs are the jail cell walls. Knock them down. Open up your heart and your life to freedom and breathe the fresh air.