Symbol of the major religions of the world: Ju...

The other day while doing research for a novel, I stumbled upon a webpage concerning the Illuminati and the conspiracy of world banking. As I read through I found several of my assumptions and beliefs challenged, some quite strongly. I began to feel as if I was being “brainwashed.” But then I thought, “What is brainwashing, really?”

I hold a certain set of core beliefs, and hundreds of what I’ll call causal beliefs. Core beliefs are only changed by brute mental force, but my casual beliefs can be changed with little argument or effort. I believe rice is hard to eat with chopsticks until someone shows me the correct way. America is the most advanced country in everything until China lands a rover on the moon and Europe builds CERN. I can’t stand Lady Gaga until I buy her latest album. But the core beliefs – political preference, religion, patriotism – these I’ll endure conflict and attacks without changing.

You have your own set of beliefs that, quite possibly, are drastically different than mine.

We all cling to our own favorite arguments, slogans and beliefs – “Tax the rich,” “Trickle-down economics,” “Communism,” “9/11 was an inside job,” “There is a war among civilizations,” “Christianity,” “Judaism,” “Islam.”

The question is, why do we believe them?

If you think back on your youth and your upbringing you’ll see that most everything you believe has been implanted in your head by another sentient being. We share the religion of our parents, or lack thereof. We are loyal to the country we are born into or focus on its flaws, depending on our school district. And we understand great and enormous things about our universe, from mitochondria to dark matter, all of it told to us by professors who might, in fact, be making it up. How could you or I prove them wrong

It all resembles a conspiracy. That conspiracy is the battle to define reality being carried out by each and every human being.

Sometimes we encounter a belief so opposed to our own that we decide we cannot co-exist with it. This is called war. Sometimes we dislike a belief so much that we encourage the government to take action against those who hold it. This is called fascism.

But at the very core, when you look at your own beliefs, whether you believe in heaven, hell, nirvana, Mother Earth or black holes, you believe it because someone told you it was true.

There are, most likely, no pure or original beliefs in your head. You’ve been brainwashed. And if you do have an original belief, you’re probably a writer.

Something Extraordinary

fork in the path

“I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us, against insurmountable odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us.” – Khaled Hosseini, And The Mountains Echoed

Sometimes we aren’t aware of our own greatness. Perhaps someone told us long ago that it was no so, that we weren’t special. Maybe our belief in ourselves was lost somewhere on the long road of life, torn away by lovers as they left, by dreams as they disappeared. For many, as in my case, our belief in our abilities to be great were worried and withered away in illness.

Whatever the case, we often find ourselves at a place in life much different than the place we’d imagined we would arrive. This is what is nostalgically called “life,” as in “that’s life,” or “life sucks.” But does it really? Can we honestly say that life is bad? We see our circumstances, but we forgot how we got here. We don’t realize that the insurmountable odds we are waiting against for something extraordinary to happen… is ourself.

I’ve had many dreams in my life, and I’ve seen most of them relinquished for a moment of security, or a choice I thought was one well made. As I look back now, I often wonder how different my life would be had I made my choices based on a dream, on a moral ground, on what I knew was the right thing to do. While I’m grateful for the wonderful people in my life, I also realize that I chose them to be there. They are the victories I’ve had along the way. But so many people on that same journey were lost to me.

But mostly, I think I lost myself.

There are times in life when we are faced with setback, struggle or sickness. Of those three setback is the easiest to overcome. It means we’ve lost ground, but have not lost the prize. Perhaps with hard work, with a change of heart, or with a new direction, setback can become victory. Our choices guide us.

Then there is struggle. This is by far more challenging, because struggle is when the road disappears. We don’t know if we are going in the right direction, only that the way is incredibly hard. Struggle lasts, struggle steals hope and heart, and puts us in a shell where our thoughts turn from the good we can do, do the very least we must do. The only way through is perseverance. And we know that those who persevere finally reach their destination, scarred, but safe. But not everyone perseveres.

And then there is sickness. I’ve familiar with them all, but most familiar with this one. This is when the darkness comes. In an instant, we are transformed into mortal beings, and faced with the many days we wasted doing things that made no difference, and also faced with the few days that remain and the choices they hold.

But there is a gift there. There is a gift in knowing your days are fleeting. For you see something more valuable than money, more valuable than all the wealth in the world. The only thing this insight is not more valuable than is time.

The insight is this: we are the obstacles in our own lives. Every struggle, every setback, every challenge can and will pass. It only takes a choice. It takes no more energy to destroy than it does to build. It takes no more risk to do something safe as it does to do something brave. You can’t add days to your life either way. It takes no more thought to think you can’t than it does to think you can. Something extraordinary can happen to you. But you must choose it.

It would be so easy now, to go back in time and change the things I wished I’d done. It takes no more energy to live with regrets, than it does to live without regrets.