The Freedom Of An Open Mind
A baby born into a world of beliefs has no beliefs of its own until it learns its mother tongue, hears opinions and reasoning of adults, and begins to think accordingly. A fleeting thought comes and goes and is forgotten. But thoughts repeated, again and again, become beliefs.
“Beliefs arise through experience. Experience needs previous beliefs and reason to be assimilated, and reason needs experience to be formed, as beliefs need reason as well. Beliefs, reason, and experience are based upon each other.” —J. L. Usó-Doménech & J. Nescolarde-Selva
Even a baby elephant can create a belief from experience. It is an elephant’s nature to roam. So, in India at night, a baby elephant born in captivity is chained to a log or tree trunk. At first, it tries to break free and roam, but is not yet strong enough to separate itself from the chains or the tree. Soon the calf forms a belief that it is weak, it is captive, and stops trying to roam. After the calf grows into an adult, it can be tied with a thin rope to a small tree that it could easily uproot, but the magnificent pachyderm won’t even try. It is strong enough to lift or move 600 to 1,100 pounds, but it is conditioned to believe it is too weak.
After a talk I gave at a Women’s Health Conference, a member of the audience enriched this baby elephant metaphor. She told us that, upon sensing the vibrations that precede a tsunami, an elephant’s latent instincts can override its conditioning, allowing some elephants to break their chains and run to higher ground. In humans, catastrophic events can create an emotional tsunami that forces us to break through conditioned beliefs, languid tedium, or refusal to answer a Call. Crisis can become a timely call from the goddess of necessity that rouses the seeker within to begin a search for personal freedom, instead of accepting being tied in place by timeworn childhood beliefs.
“Only a small part of you thinks something is impossible. Another part, utterly innocent of the odds, doesn’t know it’s impossible.” —Jean Houston
Many people have achieved the “impossible” because they didn’t know—or believe—that what they were doing was impossible. Have you ever experienced this phenomenon in your life? One night in 1939, a young college student at Berkeley named George Bernard Dantzig did. Worried that he would not pass the final exam for a math course, Dantzig studied so long that he overslept the morning of the test. When he ran into the classroom several minutes late, he found three equations written on the blackboard. Because he was late, he hadn’t heard the instructions. The first two were rather easy to solve, but the third one seemed impossible, but he persisted and worked out an answer. Dantzig turned in his test paper.
Later Dantzig learned students were only asked to do the first two problems. The professor had written the last problem on the board as an example of an equation that mathematicians since Einstein had not been able to solve. Was it possible for Dantzig to do what no other mathematician had been able to do because he slept in and didn’t know it was “impossible”?
Thoughts and beliefs are not just ideas in your mind. Every cell in your body knows and responds to your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
“Everything exists as a ‘Matrix of pure possibilities’ akin to ‘formless’ molten wax or moldable soft clay. We shape them into anything we desire by choosing to do so, prompted, dictated (consciously or unconsciously) by our beliefs….” —T.S. Sathyanarayana Rao, et. al.
In his book The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., recounts a remarkable story about the power of belief in healing. In 1951, Dr. Albert Mason, an anesthesiologist who also practiced hypnosis, treated a 15-year-old boy for an advanced case of black warts that covered his entire body, aside from his face and chest; he’d already had two failed skin grafts. Mason guided the boy to imagine seeing the skin on his left arm turning pink and healthy. In other hypnosis sessions, the doctor and boy continued to envision healing of the skin on the rest of his body. After two weeks of this, the boy’s skin had healed remarkably. By the time Mason and the patient returned to the referring physician, the surgeon had realized he initially misdiagnosed the boy’s condition: It was not warts, but an incurable, lethal genetic disease called congenital ichthyosis.
After he published his startling and successful treatment of ichthyosis in the British Medical Journal, Mason was approached by other patients suffering from the rare disease. They consulted Mason for hypnosis, but none experienced a cure. But his first patient was healed and went on to live a healthy life. Why?
Consider the role beliefs played in this miraculous cure: Initially, neither Dr. Mason nor the boy knew the skin condition was incurable. Because they both believed the skin condition was just warts, and that warts could be cured, they both abided in a morphic field of possibility. Later, when Mason failed to cure ichthyosis in any other patients, he attributed these outcomes to his new knowledge and belief that the skin disease was “incurable.” He admitted he was “only acting” while performing hypnosis. It is worthwhile to acknowledge that the patients also knew and believed their “incurable” prognosis.
Beliefs Are Stories Are Beliefs
We have beliefs about stories and stories about beliefs. Beliefs about cause and effect shape your story about yourself, what is possible, and what is happening—even before it happens. For example, “I think the reason my baby was in the wrong position, and I had to push so long, was because Mercury was in retrograde.” Or, “Mercury is in retrograde! Oh dear, this will probably make labor harder.”
“Belief systems are the stories we tell ourselves to define our personal sense of reality. Every human being has a belief system that they utilize, and it is through this mechanism that we individually, ‘make sense’ of the world around us.” —J.L. Usó-Doménech & J. Nescolarde-Selva
Events in and of themselves have no inherent meaning. Yet humans seem to be hard-wired to find meaning in their lives, so much so that one of the first questions children ask is, “Why?”
After an unwished-for experience in childbirth, people often ask, “Why me?” or “Why my baby?” Any answer reframes the story and creates beliefs that either foster guilt or blame, or that foster self-acceptance. A storyteller seeking meaning to redeem an experience might say, “This happened because I needed a lesson in perseverance.” Sometimes a storyteller turns what happens against herself, creating a limiting self-belief, such as, “The nurse forgot to come back to check on me because I don’t matter.”
Meaning exists only in mind—not in the world, and not in the story itself. Therefore, if you don’t like the meaning you believe about your birth or life experience—or yourself in regard to it—remember that you invented it, so you can change it!
Believe a Change of Heart Is Possible
In 2011 I gave a talk at an International Cesarean Awareness Network conference called “The Nine Birth Story Gates,” about how a birth story evolves. Many people told me their biggest takeaway was that cesarean birth trauma was not fixed for life. They had no idea—or hope—that the meaning a storyteller initially gave their birth story could change and heal. If neither the storyteller nor the listener knows the map to healing, and has no hope for healing, then they might stop their search for the hidden healing too soon. Indeed, it might reinforce their belief that the wounded story may be the story they carry all their lives— and repeat and pass it on to the next generation.
On the other hand, if a storyteller and the listener accept that beliefs are relative, malleable, and evolving, a change of heart is possible. Expecting to find new meaning does not necessarily make the road to healing easy or quick, but it does provide hope, motivation, and creativity during the steady excavation of the story until the hidden healing is discovered.
Assessing personal beliefs is often overlooked, but it’s a fundamental task of preparation for childbirth. Beliefs become filters that limit holistic preparation for birth in our culture. For example, some people believe that by learning about cesarean birth, they are inviting it or creating it. More than evidence-based information, beliefs animate our behavior and decisions. Daniel C. Dennett wrote, “To say that someone believes something is to say that someone is disposed to behave in certain way under certain conditions.” People believe themselves to be rational, and yet at different times we have believed in something that defies logic, or we’ve believed in and trusted someone when there was no evidence we should—or even when there was evidence to the contrary!
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The beliefs or the story? Maybe which came first is less important than knowing that birth stories and beliefs are synonymous. To understand one, one must understand the other. And this quest becomes an essential cornerstone of our birth story process.