May 13, 2023

Distorted Beliefs & Negative Emotions: Why what we Believe might Hurt Us.


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Our beliefs run the gamut ranging from sublime, spiritual matters to mundane ones concerning love, nutrition, and political views—anything we can take a position on.

When entangled in one’s negative emotions, belief is quite a word to toss around to see if there is a viable reason for having them.

Anger, hatred, and jealousy are examples of feelings that have weighed on me in the past, but for the good fortune of a chance encounter with a stranger, may continue to do so.

I was ascending a steep hill on the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, when my motorcycle broke down. It stopped and would not start no matter much I tried. I persisted in my efforts when Jack pulled over in his jeep to help. About one minute later, the bike started and before I could say “Thank you,” I was invited for a puff of opium at Jack’s place a short distance away. Of course, I accepted, finding my new friend’s invitation unexpectedly fine.

So, I followed Jack to his house a short distance away, a modest house with an 18-foot sailboat on its side in the yard, and an absolutely gorgeous woman standing in the doorway greeting us.

I quickly learned Susan and Jack were perfect hosts but for reasons entirely unexpected. Five years earlier, Jack—then a naive 20-year-old—had a satori while sitting in the back of a car while his two friends purchased grain and beans in San Francisco’s wholesale district. Jack’s choice to sit in the back surprised his friends as it was their custom to shop together, but it proved fortuitous for Jack and led to converting their commune—like house into a temple and Jack its abbot.

While his friends shopped, Jack practiced zen and had a sudden awakening, peed in his pants, and without being aware of what was going on, got out of the car to help his friends carry the hundred-pound sacks of beans and grain to the car.

Motioning to his friends to put one sack on each shoulder, Jack—built like a traditional hippie—carried the two bags to the car and dumped them in the trunk. Only then did Jack come out of his state of heightened awareness.

On the way home they pulled over for gas and Jack insisted they purchase the “Turn off your Motor” sign hanging near the pumps. Jack prevailed over his startled friends’ protests to negotiate the purchase. Arriving home, Jack had the sign nailed over the front door of their place, and henceforth their commune became a temple.

After a few years running the temple, Jack decided he should sail his boat, a boat basically designed for staying near port, and with no open ocean sailing experience, he sailed off to Hawaii…and made it. Susan’s faith in him must have been truly tested when she assented to join him.

Learning a bit about Jack, I turned the topic to spirituality and philosophy thinking I might be the educator rather than listener. But, of course, the tables were quickly turned as my metaphysical speculations were incised with surgical precision when Jack, a good listener, said six words that never left me, “Be careful of that word belief.”

I believed in everything spiritual at the time—beliefs that I was to later realize were born of my naive proclivity for speculation. Jack exposed the fact that I had no idea what I was talking about, and a couple of hours later I rode back to my place realizing I had a lot to learn, a lot to reevaluate, and to be careful with the word “believe.”

Over the years, I have found that examining my beliefs were not restricted to educating myself of religious doctrines and philosophies closest to my heart, but mundane negative emotions as well.

Jealousy, anger, and hatred are common for various reasons, imagined or actual, and sometimes not merely adventitious, but embedded deeply in our subconscious. I fall into the last category, unfortunately, but have learned to cope, if not cure most instances of negative emotions as they are exposed as distorted “beliefs” imposed on circumstances from my end.

I examine what it is that I believe is causing me to feel cheated, disliked, jealous, demeaned, angry, and so forth. (Thankfully, not hatred.) None of us are strangers to the fact that we cannot present our best face when miserable inside and, of course, want to be uncontrived when presenting a cheerful and warm attitude toward others. Whether the cause of one’s hurt is valid or not will not make a difference until we understand why our negative emotions are justified or unjustified. As long as we ascribe the wrong reason for our negative feelings, they will burden us, whether the cause is a product of our imagination or otherwise.

The lessons I learned from Jack worked well, disentangling me from metaphysical speculation—but also proved infallible for lesser matters such as my seemingly innate mistrust of people, which, over the years, has been a source of the negative emotions outlined above.

With an aim to get a “correct” perspective, I have found that by not voicing anything on the matter of my concern, materially being cheated or personal relationships of various kinds, but instead acting as a spectator helps (which is difficult when in the thick of it). I have found that circumstances will eventually unfold in unexpected ways to reveal the truth of the matter. Exposed is the viability or lack thereof of my beliefs.

The takeaway is a bit surprising because whether we find the outcome as expected or contrary, knowing the reason why it is one way or the other is therapeutic. If we can bite our tongue and not act, our patience over the days or weeks it may take will invariably mold themselves to reveal whether we got things right or we got things wrong. Our beliefs are now established in reason, and we can move forward.


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