Do You Really Know What You Believe?

 “Not all those who wander are lost.”  ― J.R.R. Tolkien

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

One belief, wrongly held, can cast a shadow over one’s entire life.
What do you believe? Do you know what’s driving you?

Over the last decade in my work with women over fifty, I have heard said countless times, “I don’t feel that way anymore”, and “I don’t worry about that anymore. It’s just not important.” The process of self-evaluation seems to begin in earnest as we begin to feel our bodies entering the “maturing woman” phase of life. There is a clear moment in time when we are forced to accept that we are no longer “young” and in our youth driven society that can come as quite a shock! I see it as a gift.

A shock of any kind can be just what we need to shake us out of our complacency. It forces us to ask the hard questions, to look at what we believe to be true at the most fundamental level. When we ask these questions, when we look deep inside of ourselves and ask, “who am I?” and “what do I believe” we set in motion a tidal wave of change.

Our lives cannot change unless we change…on the inside. This does not always appear to be the easiest option! We think it’s so much easier to just tolerate our discomfort, or change externals to alleviate our dis-ease. We imagine that if we get a new job, a new house, a new spouse, a new blouse all will be well. Has that ever worked for you in the long run? It hasn’t for me.

The bottom line is that to live a congruent, energy filled life as we age it is necessary to line up our insides with our outsides. In other words, we have to get in touch with our fundamental beliefs and values and start living them. I believe we are all challenged to do this, if by nothing else than our pain and suffering, for when we are living and acting in contrast to our fundamental values, we will suffer.

What questions need asking?

Knowing what questions to ask often comes along with whatever difficulty we are facing. When my mother was in the last years of her life a conflict arose in my family as to where she should live. I wanted to bring her home to live with my husband and me. My four siblings wanted her to stay put in the retirement home. My mother gave me every indication that she wanted to live with us, was, in fact, desperate to get out of the retirement home and get back into a more comfortable home environment, but, it was very clear she would not ask directly for this, nor would she advocate for herself. It was left to me to decide whether or not I should act counter to the rest of the family. It was a touch place to be as I hurt deeply for my mother. I understood her sense of isolation and loneliness. I wanted nothing more than to ease her pain, but there would be serious consequences. It was time for me to dig deep and wrestle with what I believed at the deepest level. Here are some of the questions I asked myself:

  • Is it worth creating a rift with my siblings that could cause long after my mother was gone?
  • Was my perspective of the situation of any more value and importance than my siblings?
  • Am I responsible for my mother’s happiness?
  • Is her happiness more important than my own?

I came to recognize that while I value family and doing what we can for those we love to ease their pain, they alone are responsible for their happiness, as am I for my own. Happiness is an inside job. Contentment is an inside job. As harsh as it sometimes sounds, even now, the seeds of my mother’s despair were sowed throughout her lifetime. I could never fix that, nor did I want the responsibility for it anymore.

Asking the question is the first and most important step.

When we look closer at an area of our lives that is causing us distress and pose a question that does not contain the word “do” (i.e. what should I do), or have person’s name attached to it, (i.e. what is Johnny’s real issue), then we are getting closer to the question that needs to be asked. You may want to begin by asking, “what do I believe to be true for me in this situation” and what are my underlying beliefs and values about this situation. Formulating the deepest, richest question you can find will take you in the direction of your answer and your resolution.

About Dorothy Sander

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2 Responses to Do You Really Know What You Believe?

  1. This is a very thought-provoking post. I just finished reading the book “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande that deals with these very issues. It really makes one think about how to prepare for that phase in our lives when we begin falling apart. As a late friend, who was a former Jesuit used to say, “Yeah, well we all fall apart in inconvenient ways.” That just about sums up the human condition.

    And you are so right about how our beliefs change over time. I believe that our beliefs are organic… stemming from our perspective about our experiences, perceptions, thoughts, and emotions. And when our perspective changes, so do our beliefs.

    Thank you for this well-written post.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I’m not sure we can ever prepare for when we fall apart, because it seems to happen in the most unlikely and unexpected ways! I have become a fan of the concept of resilience – developing inner strength and stamina to weather storms as they arise and to trust in ones ability to adapt and grow in understanding and awareness of the larger picture. I agree that our beliefs are often an unreliable source of strength and guidance. One wrong belief can plague us for a lifetime. Truth on the other hand is a more reliable guide but a little more challenging to find!

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