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We have cats. By their instinctive nature they chase things. Humans aren’t much different. Once in a while we will take out a pen sized laser pointer and put a red dot on the floor. The cats go after it. We point the laser light up and down the hallway and the cats chase the red dot reflecting on the floor. Humans aren’t much different. Their mind asks questions and then they go spinning in circles trying to find answers. They end up feeling trapped but don’t know by what.
I spoke with James the other day who was trying to figure out what he should do about his relationship. He and his girlfriend had broken it off again and he didn’t know if he should give up or try whole heartedly to commit. It was a pattern he had done before.
He was frustrated because he couldn’t come up with an answer to his question. It was especially frustrating because James is an educated, intelligent, and professionally successful guy.
James had a number of beliefs that created impossible conflicts for him to make the right choice about his relationship. He didn’t see those core beliefs. He also didn’t see that he was asking the wrong questions. He was operating unaware of what his mind was doing to him. Kind of like those cats reacting and chasing the red dot reflecting on the floor. They don’t notice the person moving the laser pointer around that is in control.
Should I end the Relationship
If he ended the relationship he was facing the prospect of being alone. Related to being alone his mind constructed a scenario of being lonely, depressed, and in grief over the loss of the relationship. His mind didn’t have another chapter to that future story. To avoid the painful emotions his assumptions projected his mind darted to staying in the relationship as a solution.
Should I Stay in the Relationship
His mind had set up an impossible structure of being with this woman. Actually it painted a terrible picture for being with any woman. James has a number of beliefs about what it means to be a husband and father. It would require him to spend all his energy trying to be the “perfect husband” in order to fit the image he had fabricated in his mind. James felt overwhelmed at the task. He felt he wasn’t up to it. Based on those expectations the Inner Judge in his mind concluded he wasn’t good enough.
His mind also projected that the responsibility wouldn’t allow him freedom and flexibility in his career choices if he had to provide for a family. He saw it as an unending treadmill with little room to do other things he enjoys. James felt trapped by that picture of his imagined future. In that picture he was both feeling trapped and feeling unworthy.
“What should I do?”
The world of the mind and imagination is a fascinating place. You can easily lose your attention there and feel lost and powerless. The belief system in the mind constructs a picture of being alone and unhappy. The belief system also makes assumptions about a committed relationship and projects being burdened, trapped, and unhappy in marriage. After constructing these two unhappy scenarios the mind then asks, the question,
“What should I do?”
There is something particularly crafty about this question in this scenario. Layered into the question are hidden assumptions that point the attention to look only at these two previously constructed possibilities. Cats are a lot like this with that laser pointer. They lose sight of everything else around them. Their ability to focus is one thing that makes them great hunters. It’s also what makes them chase reflections and miss the bigger picture. Cats are so focused on the reflection they can’t see who is moving that laser light.
James puts his attention on trying to find an answer to that very simple question. That one question has trapped his attention.
He follows a direction of logic until he imagines the possibility of being alone. When the emotional body begins to perceive the unhappiness of this projected future it begins to look for another way. It’s a natural instinct to avoid emotional pain, even if it is from reflections in the imagination.
He considers committing to the relationship for the rest of his life. It’s the only other option his mind offers. His core beliefs have constructed an image of what he is supposed to be as a man. It includes perfect husband, protector, emotionally available, supportive, and a bred winner financially. He should be “like a rock”.
According to this Image of Perfection there’s no room for not knowing what to do in any situation. There is no latitude to be human. There too little room to enjoy his life, and have fun within this imagined box his beliefs have built. If he doesn’t meet this image he is a failure according to his inner judge. The Image of Perfection is so high that failure is certain. The imagined emotions are too unbearable to consider. His mind jumps to another reflection of light darting past in his mind.Â He has to get out of the relationship. The cats run the other way down the hall.
When James looks for an answer he isn’t going to find anything solid. He’s chasing reflections of imagined futures that his fears and core beliefs are projecting. Since his fears and beliefs of not being good enough are projecting the future everything looks bleak. He feels trapped and yet compelled to answer.
He doesn’t look beyond those two options because that one question has trapped his attention. “What should I do” implies that there is a “right” answer and that he should choose it. It assumes that one of the two scenarios in front of him is “right”. It assumes the other will be wrong. Oddly enough neither question addresses his happiness directly. Happiness in life is left as an indirect consequence of choosing the “right” answer.
That question puts his whole future happiness into one choice. With that much weighing in the balance the question makes itself more important. It becomes vital that he find an answer. He focuses his attention even more into the possibilities of those two answers hoping to see something he missed before.
It’s like the cat trying to put his paw on the red dot.
What James fails to realize is that the question and assumed answers has trapped his attention. The construct of beliefs is a much bigger trap than the relationship could ever be. At least in relationship there is always the prospect of break up or divorce. His mind doesn’t offer alternate options. When the attention is trapped by beliefs and assumptions like this a person doesn’t have the awareness to see other options.
Cat’s are a lot like this when they chase reflections of light. Sometimes they chase the light reflection from my watch all over the office as I type. Their instinct to hunt that spec of light down is pure survival instinct. Humans are like that. Since the time we were very little we spent years in school training to find the right answers to questions that other people asked. We spent years learning to answer questions as if our survival depended on it.
What we didn‘t learn
We never learned to ask the questions. We were not trained to ask our self better questions so that we can come up with a better answer. We never learned to question the question. Because we didn’t control the questions we never got a chance to direct where our attention went. We just chased answers. We even jump to find answers when our own mind asks the question. We chase the reflection instead of grabbing the pointer.
The problem that James faces is not that he is stupid and can’t figure out the answer. The problem is that he doesn’t hold the laser light. He is not beginning with useful questions. “What should I do?” doesn’t have an answer that will make him feel happy and fulfilled.
What will help James is to stop chasing reflections of light and get hold of the source. He’s got to get hold of the laser pointer in his mind that is asking the questions. It’s the part of his mind leading the show. When he starts asking better questions he will stop chasing dead ends.
Ask a better question Get a Better Answer
Do I want to be happy? How important is it?
Have I ever been happy when I was alone? Is it possible for me to be happy with other people? How much of my happiness is dependent on me? How much of my happiness is dependent on another person? How much of my happiness do I want to be dependent on another person? How do I change the balance?
What do I want to feel emotionally? What do I want my relationships to feel like? What can I do to feel that way all the time?
Free Will – Does James have a choice to be happy?
At the level of awareness that James is operating on it won’t make much difference to his happiness how he chooses. No matter the choice his mind will second guess himself afterwards with doubting questions. The voice in his head with questions will cause him to wonder if he made the “right” choice. His mind will imagine different scenarios and produce insecurity, fear, and unhappiness about his choices. His Inner Judge and Victim will conclude he was wrong with either choice. It’s just how that part of the mind operates until you become aware enough to change it.
The Pursuit of Happiness
The motivation for the “should” question was always about being happy. The real question was, “What should I do so that I will be happy in my life?” It’s just that when you shorten it you get caught up in a different question. The emphasis changes from being happy to being “right.” Your mind puts in different assumptions and you chase impossible answers up and down the hallways of your mind.
Cats chase reflections of light hoping to catch their prey. They don’t have the awareness to notice who is holding the light source. People are a lot like cats. People chase answers to questions that trap their attention and spin them in circles.
If you want a happier outcome in your relationships and your life don’t just chase better answers. Get a hold of the light source and control where you point your attention.
For exercises in gaining control over your attention, changing core beliefs, and changing the emotional experience of your life, listen to the free lessions in Self Mastery.
you will be the one holding the light.