Enlightened Living

Meaning and mindfulness in everyday life

Core Truths, Core Beliefs and Obstacles to Progress, Pt. 2

What you believe about yourself may be getting in your way, Pt. 2
Each of us maintains a collection of Core Truths about our lives. Our Core Truths are repeating pattern of thought and behavior defined by our various assumptions and expectations, as well as our ideas about the way the world works, collected over time. The Eastern wisdom traditions refer to these as samskaras - attachments that generate repeated patterns of behavior and habits of the mind, which influence karma. [1] [2]

The psychosocial implication of this notion of samskaras, karma and their relationship is that by virtue of attachment to our assumptions, expectations and ideas we both attract and are attracted to consistent experiences that validate these filters, thus creating a meta-template for our existence.

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As we filter our experience through these assumptions, expectations and ideas, we create belief systems - our Core Beliefs. Core Beliefs lead us to develop Active Beliefs - how we operate in the world - that consequently drive the Outcomes that recursively support and sustain our Core Truths.

The whole system is a giant double feedback loop, each element both compassing and contained within the other. This recursive compassing and containment is referred to as a holon in the language of Ken Wilber's Integral Theory, Integral Psychology and the psychology of spiral dynamics.

A practical example of this idea might be how you interpret and integrate an experience like the early death of a parent. This event might generate an Active Belief that "People whom you love leave." With this Active Belief in place, we may develop a tendency to become involved in situations where significant others are physically or emotionally unavailable, or we may consistently operate with a sensibility of impending abandonment, which then influences how we approach our significant relationships.

Our Active Belief both generates an Outcome and supports the concretizing of our Core Belief -- "I will be abandoned, if I love or care about someone or something." The Core Belief solidifies, becoming a habit of the mind (samskara) that drives action (karma), and the Outcome we both create and experience validates our Core Truth - "I am unlovable and will be left behind because of it".

Although here we are primarily considering obstacles, Core Truths need not necessarily be negative, nor need they be positive --- they are simply constants. Understanding these constants, as internalized in thought and expressed in behavior, can help us to understand how we set ourselves up for particular experiences, and why those experiences seem to repeat themselves. It is one's perspective that influences whether a Core Truth is interpreted as positive or negative; the same Core Truth can have both adaptive and maladaptive qualities, depending on context and integration.

A simple example of a Core Belief that engenders this dual interpretation might be, "If you cross against the light, you will put yourself in danger". This belief system supports the Core Truth - "Always wait for the light", which prompts the Active Belief system in most of us to wait at the corner, or at least hesitate before crossing the street.

From an adaptive perspective, this Core Truth has the potential to create an internal environment and external context of safety and security. From a maladaptive perspective, it has the potential to create an internal environment and external context of hypervigilance and anxiety.

Our investment in these belief systems - both unconscious (Core, or samskaric) and conscious (Active, or karmic) -- inform the way that we respond to and internalize our experience. The experiences that we create for ourselves based on those responses inform the Core Truths that we uphold as defining our lives and ourselves.

Let's say that you maintain a Core Belief that you are irresponsible with money. For the moment, let's not worry about how you developed that belief. If you maintain that belief, two things will likely occur; first, you will likely behave in ways that consistently support that belief, and secondly you are likely to consistently create situations that reinforce the Core Truth that this particular Core Belief informs.

So here's the whole system - Core Truth: your finances are a mess. Core Belief: you are irresponsible with money. Active Belief: your finances never seem to work out. Behavior: ignoring your finances and your financial responsibility. Outcome: your finances are a mess.

Let's try another one -- Core Truth: your relationships are always chaotic. Core Belief: you do not deserve to be loved and valued in a meaningful way. Active Belief: you never seem to find the right partner. Behavior: you take what you can get. Outcome: you're relationships are always chaotic.

Let's try one more - Core Truth: you and your mother don't get along, and argue consistently. Core Belief: you are never good enough. Active Belief: no matter what you do you can't seem to please your mother. Behavior: you are resentful, passive-aggressive uninvested in your actions and self-sabotage. Outcome: you and your mother don't get along, and argue consistently.

When it's laid out like this, it becomes clear how we might both feed and be fed by these systems of "truth", belief, action and outcome. Can you, the reader, discern the common denominator in each of these examples? - it's you, or, more properly, your ego.

In a previous post, we discussed the secret of life - ‘it's not all about you.' How that applies here is that our Core Beliefs, and by the bridge of experience our Core Truths, are self-directed: ‘I am lousy with money.', ‘I am unlovable', and ‘I am not good enough.' If we ferret out the source of our Core Beliefs, we can begin to change our Active Beliefs, in turn changing our Outcomes and re-informing our Core Truths -- taking our ego out of the game.

In order to find the source of our Core Belief, we need to uncover the Original Wound. Rather than spin some fanciful conjecture that applies to our examples above, let's consider a concrete and demonstrable example that we have discussed previously - my personal math wound.

My Original Wound was Mrs. Haggat standing in front of my 5th grade class, waiving that long division quiz with the big red ‘F' at the top telling me that I would never understand higher mathematics. Right there, she invested me with a Core Belief - ‘I can't do math'. From that point on, I operated with the Active Belief that, whenever I did math, I would get it wrong.

The ‘ego piece' that I missed - forgive me, I was 10 - was not that I was somehow wrong, damaged or broken, but that Mrs. Haggat, in her need to publically display my shortcomings, had her own agenda. Did she feel a need to humiliate a child to feel superior? Did I threaten her? Did she just get a reprimand from Principal Hayes and need to take it out on someone? Was she anxious because she and my mother were colleagues and she thought my poor performance would be a reflection on her teaching skills? In any event, it (the Wounding) wasn't about me - it was about her.

Nonetheless, starting from this negative premise about my math abilities, I enjoyed consistently negative Outcomes, which not only reinforced my Core Belief, but those of my parents - both teachers - who invested countless hours and dollars in coaching, tutoring, hiring tutors, etc. as they operated from their own Core Belief that I didn't get math.

Even a 700-something-or-other on my SATs (it had to be the tutoring), a Masters degree in Quantitative Analysis, a 2-year research position with the National Science Foundation in conjunction with the Smithsonian, countless hours spent coaching doctoral candidates on the stats for their oral exams and teaching positions at Columbia University and a number of other top tier schools could not and would not shake my conviction that I was bad at math.

It was not until I said, "This is dumb." and began to dissect the genesis of my Core Belief -- prompting me to make a conscious effort to change my Active Belief - that I could finally figure out the tip because I had re-informed my Core Truth.

These Core Truths are the pillars of our lives. If you see a consistent pattern - positive, negative or neutral - and are interested in finding from whence it comes, start with defining your Core Truths. Uncover what Core Beliefs those Core Truths engender, what Active Beliefs they prompt and what Outcomes you gather.

Whether it is an exercise in re-invention, or just a bit of amusing introspection, you might surprise yourself.

© 2008 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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Michael J. Formica, M.S., M.A., Ed.M., is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. He is an Initiate in the Shankya Yoga lineage of H.H. Sri Swami Rama and the Himalayan Masters.

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