The mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. Perception, discernment, awareness, learning.

Lack of harmony among musical notes. A tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements. Inharmoniousness, discordance.

Cognitive dissonance is the inner discomfort that we have when our beliefs don’t match our behaviour. It’s the confusing tug of conscience when we value something, but our actions say otherwise. It’s the niggly, sticky, slightly gross, but often disregarded and justified, interior conflict that happens when our actions don’t sync up with our personal consciousness. You feeling it? Felt it? It’s the human struggle.

“Cognitive dissonance” is a term coined by psychologist Leon Festinger to describe the discomfort or dissonance that we feel when there’s a lack of alignment between our thinking and our actions.

It doesn’t matter where the thinking or beliefs—or types of actions and behaviours—are sourced from. We can inherit all of the above from our culture, friends, the media. The beliefs can be flawed and irrational. The key point is that there’s an inner to outer mismatch that we’re conscious, or unconscious, of. And this is a hot topic in a world that’s in moral upheaval, in which each and every one of us is being called to higher intention and action—from our apartments and relationships, to policy change and cleaning up our beaches.

I used to eat chickens. (This is not going to be a tyrad in veganism, stay with me.) Easy to prepare. Source of protein. So I cooked ‘em up. Even thooough… I felt slightly awful and unloving about it. I’d apologize to the chicken EVERY time. It wasn’t like a blessing of thanks. It was sheer guilt. I’d be like, “Dude, sorry, so sorry, but I need the protein. Sorry. Thanks.” And YET (cog dissonance always has an “and yet” refrain… ) and YET… the rest of my life was all yoga and compassion-aspiring for all sentient beings. And YET… I’d justify the meat intake, “It’s all energy, circle of life. It’s free-range. Got it at the farmer’s market, no injected hormones, happy chickens. Protein helps me do my work in the world.” Blah, blah. [Again, side note: if you want to order a cutlet at dinner with me, my love for you will not waiver.] The POINT IS…

If you’re paying attention to your choices, you’ll cognitive dissonance pang once in a while. And it can be a smidge shamey. But when you apply compassion to that sensation it shows itself as your conscience. And it’s a signal to get into alignment with your higher nature. Either examine and change your perspective, or shift your actions.

In my case, I decided that my apologizing to chickens was only going to stop when I stopped eating chickens. So I stopped. And the beliefs I was holding about compassion—and agriculture, and factory farming and GMOs, and protein, and my body, synced up with what I put in my body. Alignment. I felt better. (Guilt is toxic.)

Cognitive dissonance can be a beautiful prompter for growth. We learn so much from that creative tension. We desire to do better. This is healthy. But… and…

Feeling one thing and doing something else, knowing better—leads to all kinds of internal battleground issues. And inner conflict lessens our ability to focus/concentrate. Overriding your cognitive dissonance is actually a huge drain on your energy resources.

The cure for disharmony is to harmonize—to reconcile our values with our actions. This is the work of spiritual maturity, of becoming whole. And it requires FOCUS. And this deep focus is how we navigate upheaval.

Let’s close our eyes right now, take a few breaths into our heart centers, and ask ourselves where we could be more in alignment. Just a brief inventory of the morals we hold will be revealing. How are our beliefs matching up with our words, and purchases, and all the things that we do with our spare time?

This isn’t meant to be a guilt trip. Not at all. This is an exercise in luminosity. We’re bringing the light of our consciousness to the shadows, and we’re aspiring to be in service to Love—and a world in dire need of it. Healing the dissonances is how we remove the obstacles to Love. Love of ourselves, each other, our partners, our parishioners. Love of the land… and maybe even the chickens. Inner harmony makes for expansive power.