belief is like a drug

Today we ask that you understand the power of belief.

Belief is extremely powerful.

Perhaps you are aware of a phenomenon called “the placebo effect.”

This occurs when people are given medication by a doctor, and told that this medication will treat their symptoms — reducing pain, for example.  Unbeknownst to the patient, the medication is an inert sugar pill, containing no drugs. And yet remarkably a great many people who take placebos experience relief from their symptoms.

This is all because of the power of human belief.

In the case of placebos, the people who experience the strongest effects are those with a strong faith in the authority of the doctor writing a prescription, as well as a general faith in the effectiveness of pharmaceutical drugs.

In cultures where people believe in black magic and voodoo, “curses” exist.  All that is necessary is for the victim of a curse to believe in the power of the black magician who is cursing him.  If you believe that a black magician has power, and you believe you have been cursed, then the curse can become quite real for you.  

However, if there is truly no part of you that believes any such thing, then you cannot be cursed.  (That said, even the most educated, science-minded individual may be prone to unconscious superstitions in these matters.)

So belief is extremely powerful.

All that is required for you to give your power away to some other person is the belief that they are an “authority figure.”  In reality, this “authority figure” may not be much of an authority at all.  You may even be consciously aware that your various bosses and parental figures are highly fallible individuals.  But if you believe these people have power over you, then they will.  

And it really is a belief.  You may believe that you are powerless in the face of a certain authority figure, even someone you have little respect for.  You may point to external reasons as to why you are trapped and victimized by this other person.  

But in reality, most people are not in a prison, and no one is holding a gun to their head.  Their powerlessness is a belief, and if they stopped believing in their powerlessness, their situation would change.  However, the externals change only after the internal beliefs are changed.  In fact, if the internal beliefs change, nothing in external reality has to change, but you will feel completely differently about your situation.

So if you are frustrated by some situation, examine your beliefs around it.  In particular, look to where you are giving your power away.

It is a tendency hardwired into the human brain to believe in the words of authority figures: parents, teachers, priests, doctors, bosses, policemen, celebrities, billionaires, judges, critics, experts, and people who say things on TV and the internet.  

Who are these people?  They are all fallible, flawed people.  Some of them may be measured, thoughtful, and good-hearted.  Others are prejudiced, irrational, and reactive.  Many of them really have no idea what they are talking about.  

Yet you put your faith in them, and so they become like “witch doctors.”  Should you feel “accursed” by such a person — if you are told that you are defective or worthless in some way — then this curse will become real for you to the degree that you place your faith in this particular authority figure.  

Many of the beliefs told to you by authority figures in childhood become internalized, take on a life of their own, and form your identity.  Whether you identify as a “liberal atheist” or “conservative fundamentalist” may have nothing to do with you, but is completely a byproduct of the beliefs laid down for you by authority figures.  

If you are frustrated and unhappy, the problem is not with reality, but with your beliefs about yourself and reality.  And most of these beliefs may not even be your own.  You may have picked them up long ago from some unreliable authority figure to whom you are still giving all your power.  

So what can you believe in, if not the words of authority figures?

You possess an inner wisdom, centered in the body.  The more you quiet your thinking mind through meditative practices, the more easily accessible this wisdom becomes.

This wisdom can tell you what is true, and what is false.  Most of what you hear in this world is false, but sometimes you will encounter truth.  Often you may be confronted by a mixture of truth and falsehood, as is the case with the world religions.  It is also true in the world of science, which reveals many truths.  But scientists are far from infallible — as any scientist worth his salt should be the first to tell you.  

The sign of a wise man is someone who readily admits how little he knows, and how limited is his perception.  This is the height of wisdom.  Beware anyone who proclaims himself an “expert,” let alone a “genius.”  Beware anyone who claims he has cornered the market on The Truth.  

Question everything.  Science, religion, what your parents say, what your friends say, what the voices on the TV and internet say.  Question, question, question.  Pay attention to what sits well with your heart, and what does not.  Learn to discern what is true from what is false.  

Beliefs are extremely powerful.  They are far more powerful than drugs.  

Therefore, be very discerning about what you swallow.