Every day, the battle! Every day, the forces align and the crusade begins all over again. And for what? For your attention, of course. Your loyalty. Your innermost desires and convictions. In short, the war wages for your hard-won, but ultimately sort of fickle and apparently rather wimpy belief.
That's right: wimpy. But also invaluable. To gain this prize, billions are spent. Armies of designers, marketers, chemists, analysts, strategists, psychologists, politicians and drug dealers are marshaled to sway your wayward convictions this way and that in hopes of hooking you into a religion, a brand, a product, a stance, a country or team or tribe, enemy or allegiance or god. Do you feel it? I bet you do.
Or maybe you don't. They'd all be much happier if you weren't very, you know, dialed in. Healthy. Attuned. Awake to the world, your body, your heart. It makes their job so much easier if you're generally sort of numbed out, sedated, convinced that you're a powerless, impotent victim or a meek plebe at the mercy of a terrible God or multiple heartless corporations. Believe in shame and guilt, the original sin of merely being born in the first place? Baby, you are a goddamn goldmine.
Let me ask you this: Did you sleep well last night? Are you sure? Here is a new study that sort of proves that if you believe you slept really well, if enough people tell you that you did, then you will perform better and feel better throughout your day, probably. Conversely, if you are told (and therefore believe) you slept terribly, the opposite is often true: you will feel foggy and perform less than optimally, even if you actually slept fine. Because you believed otherwise. Because you are more powerful than you know. But only if you believe you are. Get it?
It's another fascinating example of the placebo effect, otherwise known as the power of your own belief to affect (cause?) your behavior, your health, your energy levels, even your body chemistry, your basic functioning and overall happiness quotient.
It's the most baffling, enigmatic thing, this placebo effect (and its evil twin, the nocebo effect, wherein negative beliefs/fears induce illness and disease) and scientists are still sort of clueless as to what to make of it.
Nocebos are, in particular, sort of hot right now. Name your trendy poison: EMFs, MSG, gluten intolerance, Wi-Fi sensitivity, antidepressants, fibromyalgia, stress, chronic pain, chronic anything: More and more studies are proving that the more (or less) you believe an ailment or demon exists and directly affects you, the more (or less) "real" it becomes. Works for positive and healthy things as well as it works for destructive and hurtful things. See? Goldmine.
Take antidepressants, the world's most overprescribed medication: Studies increasingly confirm that taking Prozac, Xanax, Paxil et al is likely no better or worse than popping a plain old sugar pill, and in many cases the sugar pills worked better at alleviating symptoms of clinical depression. Amazing.
Conversely, millions now claim they are gluten intolerant, not because they've actually been diagnosed with celiac disease, but because to believe that bread is evil is a powerful way to take part in the culture of victimization, to validate suffering, to lay blame for whatever may ail you. Does this mean the symptoms suffered by so many aren't real? Of course not. But what's the actual cause? The bread or the belief? How do you know for sure?
It all invites the slippery question: What, deeper down, can you actually trust? How do you know what's "real," and what's the power of your consciousness, your devout belief, to make it so? Is there a difference? If sheer certainty can alleviate/cause suffering, what does this tell us about the nature of our woes and our ecstasy? What's the distinction, exactly, between subjective and objective reality? Do the lines not begin to blur? Dissolve completely?
Here is where science likes to get mired, veering off into all sorts of neurological/psychosomatic theorems, biomechanics of the brain, tinkering with structures. And we shall leave them to it.
Because, psycho-spiritually speaking, this is also exactly where things begin to get really juicy.
Try this: If we can change the very nature of our experience - pain or pleasure, illness or health, you name it - just by believing it to be so, is that not in line with what the gurus talk about when they suggest we are "co-creators" of our own reality? Or when the sage speaks of consciousness as the only truth? Or when the mystic speaks of abiding in a perpetual state of "non-dual awareness" - that is, no separation between you and the world, God, any and all objects and experiences and things? Belief doesn't just affect reality; it causes it, it becomes it.
This much is irrefutable: How you direct your gaze, where you place your energy and your conviction, how you tune your perception and with what integrity and attitude you offer yourself to the world means, well, everything. Why can't this basic truth be broadened out to humanity as a whole?
It can get a little... unwieldy, akin to pondering dark matter, like hearing there are billons of galaxies in the universe and our tiny blue dot is but a speck off on the far corner of a vast beach a million miles long. The concept leaps the bounds.
But who cares? Let's go even further....
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Mark Morford is the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a mega-collection of his finest columns for the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate, and the creator of the Mark Morford's Apothecary iOS app. He's also a well-known ERYT yoga instructor in San Francisco. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...