The Practice of Letting Go of Mental Constructs

By Leo Babauta

Everything we believe about ourselves and others is an idea, an image constructed in our heads. And these mental constructs can be some of our biggest obstacles and struggles.

Letting go of our mental constructs – our ideas about ourselves and others – can be one of the most liberating things possible.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to have mental constructs – we can’t help it, it’s human and often necessary for whatever we’re doing. But sometimes it’s an obstacle and cause of pain.

So let’s look at what it would be like to let go of these mental constructs, and then how to practice.

Some Concrete Examples

Mental constructs are ideas we have about something. For example, if you look at your phone, you might have the idea that it’s a “phone.” But that’s an idea – in fact, it’s a clump of matter that is only arbitrarily separated by our minds from any of the other matter around it. The clump of matter we call a phone isn’t even static – it’s constantly changing.

But you can see that it’s necessary to think of it as a phone, and even useful. Thinking of everything as a dynamic field of matter and energy makes it hard to get the laundry done or have a conversation. We need concepts and mental constructs.

That said … let’s look at what happens if we can let go of them (we’ll talk about how to do that in a bit):

These are a few examples, but you can see that letting go of ideas can be freeing.

We start to realize that we can access a wider view of each moment, instead of narrow and tight. We can access an open, fresh perspective in the midst of any struggle. We start to have a more relaxed way of being with life, and can access freedom, peace and presence in any moment.

How to Practice

So how do we practice?

First … start by noticing what ideas you have about the world, yourself and other people in various moments. What are your ideas about the person who is annoying you? What ideas do you have about yourself in whatever situation you’re in? How is everything you believe about someone or a situation just a set of ideas or mental constructs?

That doesn’t mean it’s bad to have ideas, but recognizing that they’re ideas we’ve created is a powerful step.

Second … what would this moment be if you were free of these ideas? Imagine that the blackboard of your mind were wiped clean of your narrative, mental constructs, ideas about everything you’re thinking about?

Imagine a moment that’s free of these ideas. Feel the wider perspective of the moment, the openness that becomes accessible when you let go of the ideas. Feel how freeing, how open, how lovely.

Third … once you’ve accessed this, you might let yourself become present to sensations in your body, of tightness, of fears or resistance or overwhelm, of emotions. Not the ideas about these sensations, but the experience of the sensations. What does it feel like? Could you relax with the sensations in the present moment, even feel the freedom of being in the midst of the experience?

And finally … you could take a small action. Wash a dish. Write a sentence in that email you’ve been avoiding. Speak to the person in front of you, with an open heart. You don’t need to do anything – experiencing the freedom of the present moment is enough. But freed of your ideas, there might be something you feel called to do, a single step that would be a beneficial action. This action will be based on a mental construct … but that’s OK.

Are you up for practicing letting go of ideas and experiencing the freedom available in each moment?