Most of us are concerned about putting on a few (or many) physical pounds. We correctly recognize that carrying around extra unnecessary weight is unhealthy, unattractive, and unpleasant.
But when it comes to psychological excess baggage, such as unneeded religious, spiritual, philosophical, mystical, or New Age'y beliefs, we aren't as worried about how all that "fat" is affecting us.
Well, it does. So I'm recommending a belief diet -- paring down our craving for what Michael Shermer terms "patternicity" and "agenticity," two strong appetites in every human brain.
The brain is a belief engine. From sensory data flowing in through the senses the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses these patterns with meaning.
The first process I call patternicity: the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless data. The second process I call agenticity: the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention, and agency.
These are natural appetites. But so are our cravings for fat, protein, and carbohydrates, which can become unhealthily morphed into a fast food addiction. Yum! Got to have that big burger, large fries, and a 24 ounce coke!
Likewise, it's easy to become hooked on finding meaningful patterns in just about every aspect of life, leading to belief obesity.
Meaning, our minds get crammed with unfounded assumptions about how special and important we are. Our egos get expanded with delusions of religious/spiritual grandiosity. Whatever happens in our lives is meant to be; it's God's (or guru's) will; it's the universe (or karma) leading us in a destined direction; it's a lesson for us.
Here's another much more likely possibility. Whatever is happening is simply what's happening. Flowers, birds, whales, and dogs don't wake up in the morning and return to believing that the world revolves around them.
They just get on with their living. Only the human brain, with its evolved capacity for patternicity and agenticity, considers that finding a parking space, looking at a beautiful sunset, or holding a baby in our arms is a message from the cosmos.
More and more I'm learning how pleasant it is to let go of that unnecessary mental crap.
Sure, it's impossible to do this completely, just as it's impossible to go entirely without food. But we can reduce our belief intake in the same way as we can lessen our caloric intake. Mindfulness is one approach to shedding excess psychological believing pounds.
If I simply focus on what my body and brain (which is the conscious aspect of my body) is doing at any given moment, there's much less of an opportunity for belief birds to take wing and fly off in all sorts of strange directions.
The driver of that car must have seen me coming. Why did she pull out right in front of me on this curvy two-lane road? She must want to slow me down on my way into town. What a jerk!
That's option #1. Option #2 is to simply be aware that a car pulled out ahead of me in my lane and I need to slow down.
Likewise, we can either go through life believing that a God, guru, angel, fate, or some other supernatural power is guiding events and giving us lessons, or we can simply go through life.
It isn't unpleasant to dethrone yourself from being the King or Queen of the World, the center of the universe, the reason why everything happens the way it does. Actually, believing this is exhausting. It's stressful. It requires a lot of mental effort to keep unfounded concepts alive and well in the brain.
Let them go. Feel what it is like to be leaner, belief-wise. Once you try it, I bet you'll like it.