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Institutionalized by the Everyday Mind

Imagine if it were possible to hand over all responsibility for living life to a whole bunch of habits, a whole bunch of conditioned reflexes, a whole bunch of rules. How wonderful that would be! What a relief that would be! Life would all be ‘done and dusted’, life would finally be taken care of – everything would be sorted out neatly with all the appropriate boxes ticked, and all we would have to do would be to chill out, put our feet up, lie back (perhaps with a drink by our side) and let all the trusty conditioned reflexes take care of everything. What could be better?



The point being that actually being there, being present (having to live life consciously on a first hand basis) is uniquely difficult. It’s uniquely difficult because it’s always the first time. It’s difficult because we don’t know how to do it – we haven’t got a learned pattern of behaviour to draw on, we haven’t got any precedents to fall back on, we haven’t got a map of where we are or a theory of what’s going on. If we haven’t got a theory, if we haven’t got some kind of a map or method or procedure to get us through, then we’re stumped. It’s all down to us, in this case.  It’s landed on us. What to do? How to handle it? How should we be with this situation? What’s our approach? What’s our angle? What should we think of what’s going on? Is it good or is it bad?



Normally we have rules for all of this – we have precedents to fall back on. We have accumulated memories, accumulated knowledge about all the various kinds of situations that might arise and how we dealt with them in the past and by drawing on this store of memory, this store of ‘learned responses’, we don’t have to face the situation as if it were the first time ever, as if no one else had ever faced it. The situation is treated as being generic rather than unique in other words and this makes all the difference in the world. Because it is generic (or regular) we can hand over responsibility to our conditioning and this takes the existential angst out of it. Dealing with whatever has just come up is now a mere technical matter, and there’s no major existential challenge in this. Actually there’s no existential challenge in this at all…



When we talk about handing over responsibility for living life to a whole bunch of habits, a whole bunch of conditioned reflexes, what we’re really talking about is handing over responsibility to the thinking mind. When we talk about handing over responsibility for living life to a collection of method and procedures, a data-base of knowledge and memories, what we’re talking about is handing over responsibility to the rule-based rational intellect. Handing over responsibility to the thinking (or rational) mind is what we always do! It’s what we ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS do – we don’t know anything else. We can’t actually conceive that there could be anything else…



So we don’t have to imagine what it’s like to hand over all responsibility for living life to a bunch of conditioned reflexes – we’re already doing it! We do it all the time! But actually we still don’t know ‘what it’s like’ because we only know what the conditioning in question allows us to know and the conditioning never shows us anything real. That’s kind of the whole point of handing over responsibility – so that we don’t know what’s actually going on. We hand over responsibility precisely so that we don’t have to know. ‘Handing over’ means that it’s not up to us. It’s whatever YOU say it is – I don’t want to know about it, you just go ahead and take care of it. YOU decide…  So I really don’t have a clue what it’s like to have handed over all responsibility for living life over to the rational mind. I’m the last person you should ask – all I know is what the conditioning tells me, what the conditioning shows me, and the one thing that we can be totally sure of is that this has absolutely NOTHING to do with what’s going on in reality.



Conditioned reality is a smokescreen, so the more I’m into the smokescreen the less I know about what lies behind it. And we’re all very much into what the thinking mind is telling us – we’re all very much into the ‘mind-created virtual reality’ and its dramas. It’s not simply our ‘favourite thing’ – it’s our only thing. This on-going full-time absorption in the productions of the rational mind means therefore that we don’t know what it feels like to have shuffled off responsibility for relating directly with reality as it is, for dealing with life on a first-hand (non rule-based) basis. I have an app for that. I have an app for everything! And what’s more I don’t even know that I have done anything. I don’t know that I am no longer ‘present’ in life – I wouldn’t believe it if you told me. I would be down-right offended if you told me. I would think that you are a jerk for suggesting such a thing!



The reason I wouldn’t believe the suggestion that I’m not actually present in life is because I’m present in the conditioned version of life – I have got an ‘artificially-created kind of a present moment’ instead of the real thing and I don’t know the difference. I’m present in the rule-based simulation of life, only of course I’m not really present because the rule-based simulation of life doesn’t actually exist. It’s a construct – it’s a world that has been made by my thoughts. Being present in a construct isn’t the same thing as being present in real life, obviously! And anyway, it’s not I who am present in the mind-created virtual reality but the rule-based simulation of me! That’s not the same thing at all. A thought is present in a world made of thoughts. What does this mean? What does this come down to? I am a production of my own thinking process, living in a world that is also a production of my own thinking process, and the whole thing is run by abstract rules, by ‘conditioning’.  That’s what handing over responsibility for living life to the conditioned mind means.



As we have been saying, not only is it possible for us to do this (to carry off this remarkable stunt) it’s pretty much obligatory. We can’t help doing it. We do it all the time without having the slightest clue that we’re doing it. So the question is – what kind of benefit do we get from this manoeuvre? It must be substantial after all because why else would we do it? The only reason we pull off this stunt is because we want to get some benefit from it; the only reason we do anything is because we expect to get some benefit from our actions. We said earlier that we hand over responsibility so that we can kick back and let the reflexes take care of everything. It’s a holiday, in other words. The only thing being that it’s nothing of the sort. Conditioned life can sometimes seem wonderful, it’s true. It’s not really wonderful however – it’s not really wonderful because it’s only a simulation! It could equally well seem not wonderful – it could just as easily seem very un-wonderful indeed. It could seem absolutely horrible. It’s isn’t either wonderful or horrible really because it isn’t actually anything but it can SEEM like lots of things – for whatever that’s worth…



So already the supposed ‘benefit’ of doing what we’re doing is starting to look very tenuous. It’s like having a friend who can be very nice to us but who can also be very nasty. They could swing either way, depending upon what sort of a mood they happen to be in. Would one really want to have a ‘friend’ like this? The mind-created simulated reality can seem wonderful to the extent that it can seem completely terrible and so what’s so great about this? And what is more, it could also be pointed out that underneath the fickle ‘one day good one day bad’ nature of conditioned reality, there is also a kind of greyness, drabness or ‘sameness’ that will in time inevitably show itself. It’s like reading articles in the Daily Mail (or whatever) – no matter how supposedly diverse the various articles are, it’s the same boring, small-minded old Daily Mail! It’s still the same old rubbish. Or we could say that it’s like the meals in some dreadful old institution – after a while they all tend to run into each other; after a while they all end up tasting the same and you can’t tell whether its breakfast, lunch or dinner. It all blurs together – no matter what the simulation simulates, it’s only ever the same old simulation. No matter what you think – it’s just another crappy old thought, same as all the rest.



When we hand over responsibility for living life to the conditioned mind therefore, not only do we not have a clue as to what’s we’re actually doing here, there isn’t by any genuine ‘benefit’ to be had out of it either. What we do get to experience (instead of reality) is a pile of crap. Conditioned reality is a load of hogwash. It doesn’t stand any sort of scrutiny. It’s isn’t worth a damn, when it comes right down to it. To say the world that we experience on a daily basis is an ‘inferior version of reality’ is understating the matter – it isn’t any sort of reality at all. This being the case, we might wonder how on earth we manage to put up with it! Why don’t we get sick of it? Why don’t we just give it up as a bad deal?



But then again of course we have to put up with it because we don’t know that there is anything else. We think that ‘this is all there is’. Or rather we don’t ‘think’ that this is all there is – we just kind of automatically assume that it is. We automatically assume a lot of stuff when we hand over responsibility to the conditioned mind! That’s pretty much what we do in conditioned living – that’s the deal. We buy into stuff, we assume stuff, we take stuff for granted, we don’t ever look beneath the surface. And then having made all the assumptions we continue blithely ahead on this basis, without even showing a modicum of curiosity about what might have happened if we hadn’t assumed it, if we hadn’t taken it for granted…



What’s happened to us – not to put too fine a point on it – is that we have become institutionalized. We have been institutionalized by the everyday mind, institutionalized by the mind-created virtual reality. It’s as predictable and boring as hell and we’re fed up to the back teeth of it, and yet at the same time we’re terrified of anything else, terrified of anything that isn’t part of the mind-created virtual reality. The whole thing is as tedious as bedamned, as dull as ditch water and yet we just don’t want to know about anything else. As a result of being institutionalized like this, life just flashes by, life just flashes by. It’s amazing how quickly how quickly life goes by when you’re thoroughly institutionalized, as any inmate of a total institution will tell you. There’s nothing more hypnotic, nothing more sleep-inducing than a routine that never varies and that’s all that the MCVR is – a set of routines. A rule-based repetition. There’s nothing that’s going to put us into a spiritual coma like the endless repetition of the same old patterns, the same old generic elements, over and over again. And that’s what the conditioned mind is – a continual recycling. It’s what is called in Buddhism ‘the cyclical or samsaric mind’.



And to cap it all – as if this isn’t enough of a down-side already – when reality eventually does come along (as it will sooner or later, this being the key thing about reality!) then it is going to come as the biggest shock of our lives! It’s going to come like a thunderbolt from the blue. When we have been institutionalized (i.e. conditioned to playing the game) then as Erik Berne says ‘unstructured time’ becomes our greatest terror. By adapting to the routine, we have made unstructured time into the enemy; by adapting to the structure we have made unstructured space into the enemy. Or we could say that by conforming to our conditioning we have made Unconditioned Reality into the enemy.



And yet this Unconditioned Reality is the ONLY reality! There isn’t any other. It’s our true nature. The ultimate down-side of handing over responsibility for living life to a whole bunch of habits, to a whole bunch of conditioned reflexes, is therefore that when we are confronted by ourselves, as we actually are, then this becomes for us the greatest terror that there could ever be…









Author: Nick Williams

Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.

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  • David

    I (you may determine whether that I is conditioned, unconditioned or an unmentioned, alternative; a combination of neither and both) disagree! A combination that isn’t anything and is any thing simultaneously, that is both available and unavailable to everyone and none at the interstices of everything and nothing, forever and never. May you have happy hunting!

    August 4, 2015 at 10:49 am Reply

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