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Why Get Trapped in All or Nothing Thoughts?

It appears easy for humans to fall into an all or nothing approach to life. In doing so we may unwittingly box ourselves into a limited view of life. We might imprison ourselves in our beliefs.

For example, if I have the aim to connect to God and explore traditional ways to do this, I could logically decide to try, say, ten religions. I might spend a year studying and practicing each. At the end of ten years I would have an appreciation of the various way I might connect to God. I would have discovered which work best for me. I might be able to take the best bits of each and create my own style of religion. There is a lot to gain from this flexible holistic approach and little to lose. If a lot of people did this we might have a better understanding of religion as a whole and less of a feeling that one religion is right and the others wrong. And yet not many people follow this path.

Is it because we like to attach ourselves to an, all or nothing mentality? Does this come from liking to think our way is right, better or the only true way? Something similar happens with diets. To explore our relationships with food it would make sense to try macrobiotic, vegan, vegetarian, raw food, juicing, low carb, high carb, high protein, food combining, gluten free, alkaline forming and blood type diets to gain the greatest real life experience of food and find the one that suits us best. Even then we could keep our options open and switch as our needs change. Yet, we tend to get attached to one form of eating for many years. Sometimes people get so attached to a diet that they persist even when their health is compromised by the diet. Why would an all or nothing approach take such a hold over us, even to the extent that we self harm?

Something similar happens with our beliefs. Rather than openly exploring a range of ideas and trying on different philosophies of life, we readily attach ourselves to one and persist, even when it contributes to stress and unhappiness. It is as though something inside us keeps us hanging on to a thought although it causes great difficulties in life. Many wars have been fought over an attachment to certain beliefs. Even today arguments, resentment and broken relationships may stem from whose belief is better.

I suspect external reasons we do this include, upbringing, education, wanting to belong to a tribe, social pressures and a need to please someone else. If so are we really living our own life? Have we become imprisoned into a life that has been imposed on us?

It may be that internal desires for security, safety and acceptance predicate us to fixate on the beliefs that we think will save us. If so, are we running to an, all or nothing, life out of fear? Are we running from the open fields to the cave, but finding ourselves still stuck in our cave many years later?

It is almost as though absolute beliefs can be addictive and once we are addicted, they become, all or nothing. In one sense all consuming. Very little room is left to explore other possibilities. Other ideas often get shut out as soon as they are found to be different. Most of us have probably had the experience of trying to explain something new to someone, to find they simply cannot hear us, if it is outside their chosen beliefs.

Naturally we tend to think all this applies to others but not us. Be if we examine ourselves thoroughly we may find that we are attached to politics, green issues, spiritual practices, cultures, ethnic identity….. I have noticed in myself that I have not only been attached to subjects like feng shui and shiatsu, but even particular styles within those subjects. I might be attached to the idea of not being attached, right now!

How can we escape an, all or nothing, culture and free ourselves to explore life more fully in our lifetime? Could an awareness of where we are stuck in an, all or nothing, thought pattern help us out? Perhaps it is making a bigger effort to be open to other possibilities. For me a big part has been escaping the thoughts altogether through meditation and living in the moment. Finding that when I come back to my ideas they are different, has helped. Perhaps the biggest help for me has been to view my life as moving through waves. Sometimes I engage and become entrenched in a subject, but then I allow myself to move on and engage with something else, even if it seems contrary. Sometimes I try to be free from it all for a while. Over time it has become easier to drift in and out of different ways of being. Naturally this is all part of a process, gently unfolding in its own way and I am curious to see where my next phase takes me.

Copyright Simon Brown, London, 2010