I used to have cats. By their instinctive nature they chase things. Once in a while I would take out a laser pointer and put a red dot on the floor. The cats go after it. I point the laser light up and down the hallway and the cats chase the red dot zooming around on the floor. We humans with our mind can get trapped in a similar way chasing dead ends questions. The mind asks questions and then we go spinning in circles trying to find answers. We 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 to fully 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. As a smart guy his mind believed he should be able to answer the question. Because he didn’t have a clear answer he felt trapped, stupid, frustrated, and confused. What was wrong with him that he couldn’t figure this out?
James had a number of beliefs that created impossible conflicts for him to make any choice about his relationship. He didn’t see those core beliefs. He also didn’t see that his mind was asking the wrong questions. He was unaware. Kind of like those cats reacting and chasing the red dot on the floor. They don’t notice the person moving the laser pointer around that is in control. For James his unconscious beliefs were asking the questions and controlling the laser pointer in his mind.
Should I end the Relationship
If he ended the relationship he was facing the prospect of being alone. Associated to being alone his mind’s unconscious beliefs constructed a scenario of being lonely, depressed, and in grief over the loss of the relationship. His unconscious didn’t have another chapter to that choice. That implied that he would feel those painful emotions for the rest of his life. To avoid the painful emotions from his beliefs his mind darted to staying in the relationship as a solution. He was left to follow the dot his unconscious beliefs had pointed to.
Should I Stay in the Relationship
Upon investigation we found Jame’s unconscious beliefs had set up an impossible structure of being with this woman. James has a many 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 unconscious. 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 beliefs 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 as husband and father. In that picture he was both feeling trapped and feeling unworthy. To avoid this pain his unconscious beliefs pointed the laser dot towards leaving the relationship.
“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,
“Which of these two options should I do?”
There is something particularly crafty about this question in this scenario. The mind actually asks “Which of these two terrible imagined options should I do for the rest of my life.” Layered into the question are hidden assumptions that point the attention to look only at these two made up 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. 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. He has to catch the red dot or unhappiness will happen, but it keeps changing directions.
That question puts his whole future happiness into one choice. With that much weighing in the balance the question makes itself more important. He focuses his attention even more into the possibilities of those two answers hoping to see something he missed before. His attention is trapped chasing a red dot that keeps moving.
It’s like the cat trying to put his paw on the red dot.
What James became aware of is that the question and assumed answers has trapped his attention. His beliefs are 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 unconscious beliefs 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 reflecting 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 self worth depended on it.
What we didn‘t learn
We never learned to ask the questions. We left the questions to our unconscious programming of our past. We were not trained to ask our self better questions so that we can come up with a better answers. We never learned to question the question. Because we didn’t control the questions we didn’t 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. Becoming aware and asking better questions is like grabbing control of the laser 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 pointer. 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? Am I responsible for my partners happiness and fulfillment? 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 unconscious 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. It’s just how that part of the mind operates until you become aware enough to change it.
The Pursuit of Happiness – “What should I do?”
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?” 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 unconscious limitations and emotions 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. People are often unaware it is their unconscious beliefs holding the light source that keeps them chasing reflections.
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 audio sessions in Self Mastery.
you will be the one holding the light.
Suggested Listening – Hidden Assumptions in Questions – MP3 Audio Download. This is from a previously posted podcast.