Updated: Jun 25, 2020
Have you ever changed your mind about something you believed in?
Do you look back sometimes and ask yourself how it was possible that you used to think that way?
Do you judge or look down on other people who have stayed on the side of the spectrum where you used to be?
Do you tend to think that there's no way you could ever go back to seeing things the way you used to see them?
Well, I have. I have moved from being religious to being a non-believer. I have gone from being a politically right wing military officer to a left wing anarchist hippie. I have changed my mind about religion, politics, relationships, health and education during my lifetime.
The truth is, we all have done this at some level. Our human tendency is to reject the way of our parents in order to find our own unique identity. Usually during our years as teenagers, we rebel against the system in which we’ve grown up. Sometimes we reject the way of our parents and retain that rejection for the rest of our lives. Sometimes we reject our parents in our heads, but since our unconscious can be smarter than we are, we may find ourselves living the same lives as our parents, though that is something we were so sure we would never do. Either way, we usually choose one of two options:
We take on the behaviors, beliefs, values of our parents, families and culture and live out our lives, repeating a similar pattern that our parents lived or wished for us (so that we don't make the same mistakes they made). Even if we rebel at some point, later on we will wake up to the “truth” and return to the path prepared for us.
We reject the way of our parents and swear never to allow ourselves to be like them. We live our lives attempting to be different from them and what we were taught and avoiding thinking, talking or believing the way they did.
It might feel like we are exercising free will regarding the way we think by choosing between the two options, but both cases are a form of imprisonment in beliefs that we didn't really choose.
Is there another way?
What I've found is that there are transitions and movements between one side and the other. Even if the transition is gradual, there is usually an event or moment in which the shift happens. This moment can be traumatic or shocking, and it has a deep effect on the way we see ourselves and the world around us. By recognizing and releasing emotional attachment to those life events, we have a chance to find a true freedom that is different from the blind following or blind rejection that we have chosen until now.
In my life, one of the strongest moments of transition was when I was sent to military prison. As a soldier, similar to my years as a student in school, I was always in line. In those years as a soldier I never did anything that generated punishment, since I was so disciplined and believed in following the rules. To me, the system was something that was safe, predictable and necessary, and I didn't doubt it very much, until I was punished for no reason and experienced injustice myself.
My story with prison was a shock to my whole system. I was punished for what's called “negligence on duty,” which can mean many things. In my case, I was responsible for a convoy of armored jeeps and decided to let the soldiers I was responsible for have a break and drive from the army base I was in, to rest at a driver's house that was close by. I had asked for permission from a commander who was not my direct commander, and he said it was ok. While parking, one of the jeeps hit a wall and broke one of the backlights. When I called to report the accident, I was reprimanded for taking such a detour, saying that it was inappropriate and irresponsible. I was sent directly back to my base for a trial in which I was sentenced to 14 days in prison for my negligence and irresponsible behavior. I was shocked, since I had asked for permission, and since my intentions were good. I didn't understand why the unit commander who gave me this sentence was so blind to who I was. I was the good guy, the one who always does what he's told and never breaks the rules. I made a decision for the sake of the soldiers I was with, to allow them to rest, and even asked for permission. I understood that I made a mistake and should not have made that request or gone out of the way, but why did I need to be sent to prison? I felt like I was slapped in the face by the military and even by the country that I had sworn to serve and protect and even give my life.
During my time in prison, I had time to reflect on what had happened. I realized that the military was not the right place for me. I realized I had been blind for a long time, and this experience shook me and woke me up to my blindness. I had reached that point because I was always trying to do the right thing. I was committed to be the best I could be, to always do what was expected of me and to follow the rules at all times. It turned out that that doesn't always work, even if you always try to do the right thing. My conclusion was clear. I'd been doing things I didn't want to do and doing them for the wrong reasons. I wasn't listening to myself and to what I really wanted. So, for the rest of my life, I decided , I WILL NEVER DO WHAT I DON'T WANT TO DO.
My time in the military ended a few months later, and I was off to India to find myself, as many Israelis do after their time in the service. The pendulum that had started on the side of do everything I should do, swung to the other side of do only what I want to do. I took this very seriously and let go of all commitments and all responsibilities. I needed to be as free as possible, and I wasn't going to let anything imprison me ever again.
I found myself on the other side of the pendulum in an extreme of another kind, but I didn't seem to find myself there either. Something was missing. It took me time to realize how much I was in a counter reaction to my time in the military andmy time in prison. It took me time until I was able to commit to life again and to let go of the attachment I had to this so called freedom. I realized I was imprisoned by the idea of freedom and that it was very different from the true freedom I was searching for. I had to let go of my former conclusions in order to live my life to the fullest. My commitment to freedom became more clear, and it directed me to allow myself to flow with the stream of life with as little resistance as possible. It directed me to walk the path that lies ahead and not get lost in thinking about what I want or what I should do, but rather to be free to do what I'm meant to do and what needs to be done.
This freedom is the third option. Not following the path of my parents or my country, nor rebelling against them, but making a conscious choice to live the fulfilled life I am here to live.
When I observe a pendulum as it swings from one side to the other, I watch it go back and forth a few times until it comes to the center. I feel this is how things have worked for me as well. On the path to balance, I feel I need to move from one side to the other more than just once. After swinging to the extreme of doing what I want to do, I might find myself going back to doing what's right and possibly neglect the things I feel like doing for some time. I know that that's part of the process, and that if I allow myself to swing with as little resistance as possible, I will find myself getting closer and closer to the center.
In this center, I can find my own center and choose ideas that resonate with me from the right and from the left, and I don't have to identify with one or the other. In this center, I can simply be myself and let go of the need to fit in a box that defines me in a polarizing way.
The ability to swing between two opposite sides of the pendulum has also given me a great gift of compassion for others. I can more easily understand, without judgement, why people behave the way they do and believe in the things they believe in. I can see myself inside of them, and I can allow them to be where they are, knowing that it's a stage of evolution and part of their growth.
I know now that if I have a strong belief about something, and I can't seem to understand how people can see things in another way, there's room for me to learn and grow. It doesn't mean I have to change my mind. It doesn't mean I can't fight for an idea that I believe in. But it means I can learn to be less attached to having ownership over this “truth” and ask myself, “If so many people believe in something I think is untrue, how is that possible?” Can I put myself in their shoes so that I can understand them better? Maybe that's the best way to reach those I disagree with, instead of convincing them I'm right and they're wrong.
Minds can transform faster and with more ease when they encounter kindness and compassion rather than anger and opposition.
In a time when our beliefs can divide us and create such hate and anger, I invite us to look inside and ask; why are we so attached to our own “truth?” If this “truth” is truly true, does it need us to defend it? Does it need us to prove to everyone else how truthful it is?
What side of the pendulum are you on in your life right now? Is it possible you've been stuck there for too long? Has it ever changed or moved from one side to the other? And what would it be like to be closer to the center? To be closer to your center?