Click ‘play’ just below to listen to me read this post.
Some of the most significant breakthroughs I have had as a client myself have been through the deconstruction of mental constructs. In turn, this is a tool I use frequently with my own clients. Perhaps the most common one is some version of,
“I will not be fully happy until ‘x, y, z.’”
For people with chronic pain it might sound like,
“I will not feel full and total relief until I find ‘x, y, z’ external intervention or healing practitioner, and I don’t yet know what ‘x, y, z’ are.”
This might be tied to being symptom-free, or fully healed. This leaves us feeling disempowered—as we project an external locus of control.
These constructs can often be subconscious, as if playing on repeat at a very low volume, maybe even imperceptible to our conscious mind, yet still bearing significant influence on overall disposition and mood. This keeps us future-oriented which makes it such that when our miracle arrives, we’re not able to absorb and celebrate it fully, as we’ve become habituated to the future orientation. (Picture the horse following the carrot on the string.) This can leave us left to wonder why it didn’t have the impact we so eagerly anticipated.
A couple days ago I had a major breakthrough in dismantling a mental construct of my own:
“If I am someone who desires partnership, I will not be truly fulfilled until I have a partner.”
I have repeated this in different seasons of my being single, to myself, friends, and family members, often without much push-back. It seems logical, no?
It just simply isn’t true. Happiness is in the here-and-now, and there are so many ways to fall in and to be in love. Some examples include: devotion to work, time in nature, connection with friends—really anything that helps ground us, again, in the here-and-now. This is why I deliberately chose the language “will not” instead of “can not” in the initial construct. Opening to the present moment is more about willingness than ability.
Partnership is beautiful. We’re a pair-bonding species. Our organism seeks it and benefits from it. And, it’s not necessarily correlated with a categorically higher overall level of happiness. Perhaps needless to say, partnership comes with its own set of challenges and celebrations. Cliché as it may be: it’s not better—it’s just different.
Pausing and allowing myself to notice this, I dropped in deeper, and noticed something beneath it.
“Having sex regularly equals a better overall quality of life [period].” (And that this requires partnership.)
Again, there is some validity in this statement, but it’s just not, “Capital T-True.” My choice to code this into my system of beliefs at some point in my past has made my capacity for expansion, joy, and creativity conditional, and limited.
I’m reminded here of a dear friend who, when describing skiing in the perfect conditions, has oft spouted the soundbyte, “It’s better than sex.” This is a perfect example of devotion, connection to nature, and to self, as a means of achieving ultra-presence & ecstacy.
Dropping another layer deeper, I wonder what the circumstances were in my life such that I built this construct. If it became my living gospel, so-to-speak, I imagine I must have engaged with it repetitively until it became ingrained. Where did it originate? It’s not difficult to see the acculturation of boys & men to place the fate of their self-esteem in their sex lives—how much and how many partners? I could go on all sorts of tangents here, (our sexual-biological evolution, polyamory, tribalism, to name a few), but most would be beyond the scope of this post.
Suffice it to say that perhaps it’s easier to arrive at this insight at age 32 than at age, say, 17 due to my hormones, physiology, and biology. Wait, is that a mental construct!? Can’t a 17-year old have raging hormones and still have the guidance and presence-of-mind to understand all of the above concepts? Food for thought.
Why are mental constructs limiting? Well, some of them aren’t. Having a mental construct is like going into a tunnel. It isn’t inherently good or bad. We need some infrastructure, like tunnels, to traverse the stuff-of-life. Some lead to light, and possibilities at the end. Some are more like cul de sacs though, and can feel safe, quiet, and comfortable, but prevent us from seeing the forest for the trees.
I’m using the image of a tunnel here as a metaphor, but it also happens to be an apt fit for our neuro-physiology. Pathways form in our brains that become reinforced over time the more that we travel along them. As Tara Brach says, “We really do become what we practice,” and I’ll add, for better or for worse. Imagine a wooden handrail that started out rough with bark and has had so many hands pass over it that the oils from the skin of those hands have made it smooth and shiny, making it a path of less resistance. (Wow, the impact of COVID has me feeling differently about a metaphor where many different hands are touching the same surface!) This function of our neuro-physiology has an impact on the rest of our body, potentially creating tensions that can disrupt overall health long-term.
What can I do about it? Simply having the language and conceptual understanding of this process is the first step in unraveling it. Does this most universal one, “I’ll be happy when, ‘x, y, z,’” exist in you? Examine it. Ask yourself if it’s true and dive into why you believe it’s so. Journaling can be supportive in following a thought-thread more deeply, rather than simply mulling it over in a loop. Try working with a practitioner who is skilled in tracking these patterns, reflecting them back, helping to reframe them, and identify how they might have once served an important purpose. (BTW, did you know I’m taking on new clients?)
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, be in your bodily experience. Relax open to the present moment, breaking down the walls of that tunnel to experience the expanse of the Universe. Practice this and it will become the ever-widening pathway Home. This is a huge part of my work with my clients. In my personal life, I am often supplementing it with the guided meditations of the aforementioned Tara Brach.
Throughout this post I have implied that happiness is some sort of universal goal, and so I want to clarify that while that’s perhaps a relatable endeavor, it can be a construct in itself. The real key is opening to what is. Paradoxically, this can create space for overall higher levels of contentment. It can feel really good to truly feel sadness, like if you’ve ever experienced, or heard someone describe having, “a really good cry.”
This is not to be confused with feeling depressed, which most certainly does not feel good. Depression could be described as a resistance to truly feeling what is, that resistance then being the cause of the stuckness and dissatisfaction. It’s like a veneer, or sometimes thicker coating, between ourselves and whatever is arising. (Note: this is not to add shame or judgement to people who are experiencing depression. There are often good reasons that we resist what is there to be felt, and we often don’t know we’re doing it.) I posit that feeling what is, at the somatic (or embodied) level is the key that opens the doorway home to presence, and to contentment.
What are some of your mental constructs? Are they supporting you, or limiting you, or both?
Did you notice any others of mine in my writing? I did! I hold it that being present and embodied is of higher value to my well-being. For now, so long as I’m not using it as a vehicle for self-judgment, I think I’ll stick to that one.
If you’re interested in exploring these concepts more deeply, as they pertain to you, and with some support and guidance, please reach out to me for a free consultation to see if it might be a good fit for us to work together. Thanks for reading.