Teaching courses, such as the one I do at SUNY Brockport, means that I have the opportunity to interact with people from a wide diversity of belief systems. It is always amazing to me how a group of people can have such diverse perspectives and beliefs on everything. One of the things we have been discussing all semester is how beliefs and knowledge are socially constructed and so deeply embedded in our culture and our way of life that rarely do we think about or acknowledge that these are belief systems or that there are other ways of being in the world. One of the things a few of my students were discussing recently were those things they lost and unlearned as they have grown up. Don Miguel Ruiz talks about this as the domestication of the planet in his book The Four Agreements.
It is interesting to go back to our earliest memories and think about the freedoms, energy, and zest for life we might have had. I remember growing up my parents would always say that my favorite word was why? It seems as if I asked that question incessantly. However, as I entered school, I quickly learned how to no longer ask why, but what was the right answer and would it be on the test. Several years ago, I came across a quote by Roger van Oech, which resonated with my spirit. “By the time the average person finishes college he or she will have taken over 2,600 tests, quizzes, and exams. The 'right answer' approach becomes deeply ingrained in our thinking. This may be fine for some mathematical problems, where there is in fact only one right answer. The difficulty is that most of life isn't that way. Life is ambiguous; there are many right answers - all depending on what you are looking for. But if you think there is only one right answer, then you'll stop looking as soon as you find one.” How many right answers have we missed in our life because we stopped looking and asking?
Returning to this state of excitement, innocence, and passion is one of the core teachings of Toltec’s and Buddhists. Buddhists talk about returning to the Beginner’s Mind. Those who follow the Toltec wisdom talk about eliminating the inventory. What we believe, what it is affects our perception of everything we see, do, read and encounter in our daily life. We see what Toltec’s call the Smoky Mirror. The journey to the Beginner’s Mind and the elimination of the inventory clear the smoke that stands between us and that which is reflected back to us.
Some of our beliefs are so embedded in our culture that we no longer even recognize them as beliefs. For example, our culture perceives the number 13 as unlucky and as a result, many high-rise buildings eliminate the 13th floor. In Japan, it is the number 4, which is associated with the Japanese word for death, which is considered unlucky. Therefore, rarely will you ever see a fourth floor in Japan. There are some cultures where males are socialized to actively co parent and engage in the same beautification process as females such as in the Trobriand Islands and there are other cultures where women are so devalued in their society that they are viewed as replaceable and destroyable.
One of the biggest challenges to transforming this world is freeing ourselves of belief systems. If we are to grow and evolve, then we must change the way we see the world and ourselves. It is easy to see how things like racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, and other systems of discrimination are often based on belief systems. If one believes a group of people is inferior, they will actually see things that validate their beliefs. They see the world through lenses colored by their beliefs.
If we are committed to being the change we want to see in this world and making this on earth as it is in heaven, then we must begin by no longer conforming to the ways of the world, but being transformed in it through the renewing of our minds.