We’re all aware that we have particular belief systems and that we tend to identify and cling to these beliefs. The ego is largely composed of beliefs, opinions and preferences and this is why people often become very sensitive with regard to having their beliefs challenged. To someone who identifies very strongly with the ego and has relatively poor perception of awareness, having their beliefs challenged is seen as an attack on their very being. This is why some people will get very angry at having their beliefs contradicted. Someone who is extremely heavily identified with the ego may become violent when their beliefs are challenged. They see no separation between their beliefs and their own identity and so an attack on their beliefs is an attack on themselves. They are their beliefs as far as they are concerned.
But if we look at this objectively and from afar we can see that this is an absurdity. The person is not their set of beliefs, the beliefs are something they have acquired over time. It could also be said that these beliefs are somewhat arbitrary in nature, possibly even completely random. Why a particular person develops one set of beliefs while another develops a completely different set of beliefs is not immediately apparent. Clearly upbringing, temperament and life experiences all play a role, but the disturbing thought remains that perhaps we are all playthings of our thoughts, emotions and desires.
For those of us who have the ability to be honest with ourselves and see the possibility that we may be mere playthings of our own natures, the opportunity exists to step back and envisage a gentler less brittle outlook where a person no longer reacts in a knee jerk fashion to any challenge to their belief system. Indeed we can envision a point where perhaps a person no longer places any store whatsoever in what other people think of their outlook because they have reached the conclusion that belief is fundamentally a flawed attitude. They realise that from a personal development point of view it is destructive and not dissimilar in nature to uncontrolled emotion. They come to see that belief can be a weapon aimed at other people. The person who wants to win all the time has what Zen calls an “unsound mind”. To them words are weapons.
It is clear therefore that this habit of allowing beliefs to turn us into robotic type individuals who react strongly to any perceived challenge needs to be tackled. The first thing we need to do is to get a very clear perception of this idea that we are not our beliefs. A good way of doing this is to visualise our beliefs as an interlocking construction similar to the chemical and atomic models we often see in laboratories and schools and pictured at the top of this post. If we visualise this image strongly and then imagine the structure dissolving and collapsing in front of our eyes we can see that the loss of the belief system in no way affects our existence or even our sense of being. Indeed, there is something refreshing about seeing this structure dissolve and no longer feeling that it is somehow important and must be defended. We can also visualise this structure being smashed to pieces by somebody else and use this image to desensitise ourselves to criticism.
This practise can be included at the start of your meditation. The more strongly you can visualise the belief structure as being separate to your being, the more effective the practise will be at dissociating the thinking process from beliefs.