With mindful awareness, we get to choose to feed the beliefs that lead to a more meaningful life. We can choose “I am enough”.
As we continue to practice meditation, we begin to attune to the changing experience of life both internally and externally. During a meditation session my mind might be drawn to an itching in my foot or a warmth in my knee. I might notice the contraction of anxiety in my chest or pressure in my forehead. Sounds come and go. We start to see that what we experience through our senses are many changing events. Similarly, we can look at thoughts as simply events of the mind. If we choose not to give them our attention then they fade away like any other changing sound or body sensation. Alternatively, thoughts become sticky when we engage with them. The more we engage in thinking, the more we teach our brain that these thoughts are important and relevant and the more likely our brains will be to send similar thoughts in the future. If we spend a lot of time thinking about certain thoughts then they can often harden into beliefs and stories. One of the most important beliefs we can have that points us towards living a fulfilling life is the belief “I am enough”.
Shame researcher Brene Brown studied the wholehearted in her bestselling book “The Gifts of Imperfection”. She defined the wholehearted as people who engage with life from a place of worthiness. She wanted to see what makes the wholehearted different from the rest of us. After interviewing hundreds of people she expected to find that the wholehearted were better in some way. Maybe they were better looking or had more secure families, made more money, or had nicer houses, had more friends, or were with the significant other of their dreams. However, none of these turned out to be true. The only difference was that the wholehearted believed they were worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. A belief. A belief about themselves and the world. Beliefs are just thoughts that we have often. There is nothing inherently more worthy or superior about the wholehearted. The only difference was that their minds were often filled with thoughts about their own worthiness. They believe they are enough.
If beliefs are simply thoughts that we have often, it’s important to differentiate between thoughts that randomly pop into our awareness and one’s that we create through our own conscious thinking patterns. Often we create the latter thoughts by engaging with random thoughts that pop into our awareness. If we consciously think thoughts often then these thoughts can begin to form beliefs. Likewise, if we are not aware of the random thoughts that pop into our minds then our lives can be run by all sorts of beliefs that we are not even aware of.
Mindfulness offers us the power to recognize these beliefs and ask ourselves “What am I getting from this belief?” We can investigate how it feels to live in the world with the belief “I am enough” compared to how it feels to live in the world with the belief “somethings wrong with me”. When we are aware that both are stories of the mind, then we can see that we have the choice about which story to live in. As we become more aware of how our thoughts create our reality, we realize that we can get curious about what various beliefs and stories serve us in our lives and what beliefs and stories we can let go of.
So maybe it’s not really about the Truth of being enough or being unworthy. Maybe it’s a matter of getting really curious about what each of these beliefs do for us in our lives. If we choose to believe “I am enough”, how does that affect our interactions with others and our ability to produce creative work? If we choose to believe “I’m not enough” how does that affect our life in the world? How do we feel? As we investigate what we get from different beliefs about ourselves and others we will start to see more clearly which beliefs feel good and which one’s don’t feel good.
From that place of embodied understanding, it will be easy for our brains to gravitate towards the beliefs in which we are getting something positive. Our brains are programmed through evolution to move towards pleasure and away from pain. The brain wants us to feel good, but it’s often confused about the real reward values of different situations. With mindfulness we can get really aware of the reward values of different beliefs. “I am enough” actually feels really good when operating from that place in the world. “I am not enough” does not. Or, that’s my experience. My hope is that you check it out for yourself in your own life!
So how does this actually work in practice? Here is an example- If I am aware of the thought “They don’t want to talk to you. You’re not good enough for them” I can simply notice it. I don’t have to fuel it by trying to figure it out or arguing with it. I can become aware of what I am getting from the thought. In other words, how does this thought or belief live in my body? I might notice the sensations of sadness in my face. For me sadness is a pressure in my forehead and this heavy sensation behind my eyes. When I feel these sensations my inclination is to avoid social contact. I can be aware of all of this and then choose how I want to act. I can choose to let my thoughts and emotions just be there as I engage in the conversation.
Alternatively, if my mind is sending me compassionate thoughts like “Hey buddy you’re doing great. Of course you’re having a tough day. We all have them sometimes. You’re human and you’re worthy of connection no matter how you’re feeling”, I can again choose to get curious about how those thoughts live in my body. In this case it probably feels good. I can lean into the sensations of belonging that come with the thoughts as I move toward engaging in conversation. By doing this I am strengthening the beliefs. I am making it more likely that those thoughts will enter my awareness again in the future. I can even repeat the thoughts to myself like I would do with a compassion manta. “Of course you’re having a tough day buddy. You can connect anyway” As I repeat these phrases I feel more warmth. This is cultivating a belief that will benefit me in life.
With mindful awareness, we can choose to be in the world from the place of “I am enough” and “I am worthy of love and belonging”. However, in order to make that choice we need to know that the choice even exists. If we believe our thoughts are some real truth about the world then we lose our freedom to choose and act. However, if we recognize our thoughts and beliefs as simply events of the mind, we can choose to step out of the beliefs that lead to suffering and into those that lead to a more fulfilling life of love and belonging.