How can we deal with belief systems that make us suffer?

“Examine your possible motives for wanting to suffer. Do you deny that there’s anything wrong? Do you think it makes you a better person not to show others that you hurt? Do you enjoy the attention you get when you are sick or in distress? Do you feel safe being alone and not having to make tough choices?

Belief systems are complex—they hold together the self we want to present to the world. It is much simpler not have beliefs, which means being open to life as it comes your way, going with your own inner intelligence instead of with stored judgments. If you find yourself blocked by your suffering, returning to the same old thoughts again and again, a belief system has trapped you. You can escape the trap only by ending your need to cling to these beliefs.”

~ “Does a Belief System Make You Suffer?” by Deepak Chopra

In response to the contemplative post above, I suppose belief systems are complex because we human beings are complex as we are all conditioned or influenced by various worldviews and experiences as we grow up in life. Perhaps when we were little children, our way of thinking tends to be simpler and more carefree, but after growing up and facing hardships and disappointments, we begin to form certain beliefs about ourselves and others. Usually organised religions may appear to offer some help in relieving these sufferings, through their promises of “eternal life” and “salvation”, but they are limited at best and misguided at worst and may only end up adding to the suffering. For example, their sin theology may cause people to think there is something fundamentally wrong with themselves and others, or they may teach people to deny their feelings, thereby denying their humanity.

Like what Deepak Chopra wrote, letting go of old limiting belief systems and being open to life can help relieve people from self-imposed sufferings. I think the Christian religion often propagates the idea of “martyrdom” in that the followers think they must silently suffer for “God” and bear hardship and even glory in their “persecutions”. While there is a place for cultivating patience and endurance in life, regardless of one’s religion, I think sometimes religions carry things a bit too far in this aspect, to the extent the church culture allows abuse and manipulation to go unchecked or unnoticed by preaching submission to leaders or elders and frowning against any open display of honest questioning and any expression of doubt, hurt, anger or bitterness. A recent blog and Darin Hufford’s article “The Bitterness Phenomenon” came to mind, which remind and reassure people that it is ok to feel angry or bitter, and we can choose not to allow ourselves to be guilt-tripped by those in the religious circles for expressing our humanness. It is our way of finding greater freedom through recovering our humanity and being true to ourselves.

Being True To Ourselves

I think true religion, if there is such a term, or perhaps a better way to call it is “true spirituality”, seeks to empower and uplift people instead of suppressing people and making them think that they are born “sinners” and that there is something wrong with them. Empowerment comes when we realise who we really are – that we are innocent and complete, and we possess an infinite resource of wisdom and strength within us. We are divine yet human. We have the capacity to feel happy and sad, or angry and bitter, and there is nothing wrong in expressing these emotions.

Emotions and Stillness

There is a place for expressing anger and bitterness. Each of us has to find our own balance to not allow these valid emotions to run our lives or affect our health and well-being or cause harm to others, while at the same time, to express these emotions freely as long as we need to, in order to find greater freedom in future.

Suppressing our emotions would be tantamount to denying our humanity and thus causing resentment to fester over time. To experience healing from abuse and manipulation by society and religion, we all need safe ways to ventilate and express our emotions. Being in a community of fellow survivors where people support one another instead of trying to fix one another is one such way, and is a step towards finding healing. One such online community I have visited and can recommend is The Lasting Supper.

Being still and finding time to meditate on life’s experiences is another safe way of dealing with anger and bitterness. It involves accepting all our emotions wholeheartedly without making any value judgment on whether they are right or wrong. By accepting our humanity, we give ourselves permission to feel what we need to feel, and eventually heal from the inside out.

I am learning that compassion involves being involved in another person’s suffering too. In order to empathise with others, we need to stay in touch with our feelings first and not deny our feelings. Being human, no one is immune to feelings of hurt and abuse, and we all have the capacity to put ourselves in the shoes of another, and show sensitivity and understanding.

On a similar note, I think the verse “Be still and know I am God” can mean be still and know I am love; I am peace; I am non judgement; I am one with others, both in joy and in sorrow, both in bliss and in suffering. Feelings are that which makes us human and unites us as one humanity. Contrary to popular belief, expressing feelings does not make us look weak because it can forge a stronger bond between people who share similar challenges and support one another with compassion and understanding.

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