Brave Curiosity: Challenges to Our Belief Systems

“Doesn’t matter where I am or who I’m with; when I take a bite of fried chicken I’m transported to my mother’s kitchen on a Sunday afternoon. As the sun filters through the white cotton curtains, I can hear the hot grease bubbling on the stove. She’s been gone for fifteen years, but I remember that moment as if it’s yesterday.” Alex

“I was driving home through Golden Gate Canyon State Park late one summer night. I rounded a corner and found myself smack in the middle of a herd of elk. I turned off my engine, rolled down the window, and listened to the elk tear the aspen bark in the light of the full moon. At that moment I felt the presence of my son who died years ago.” Marjory

People have a wide variety of opinions about life after death. I’ve had conversations in my office about all types of heavens, hells, lifetimes, ghosts, energy dispersal, spirits, nothingness, angels, and the void. Alex believed there was no life after death, so he didn’t understand why he couldn’t “let go” of his mother (i.e. eat fried chicken without being transported to her kitchen). On the other hand Marjory believed her son was in heaven and was upset that she “felt” him here on earth. What does that mean about his afterlife?

As human beings we tend to want our experiences to line up neatly with our belief systems. From a healthy psychological perspective the question is, can the new experiences be integrated in the belief system, or does the belief system need to be changed? Alex and I began working on what he was feeling when he ate fried chicken. Turns out once he stopped experiencing this memory as a threat (a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy technique called reframe), he could both believe life ended with death and appreciate the sweet memory of his mother. Marjory took some time wrestling with her elk experience, and eventually created an on-line community exploring these deeper questions.

Our initial reaction to challenge of our deeply-held beliefs is often fear and defensiveness. This week see where curiosity might bring more positive results. Remember, change is always optional!