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The Illusory Thinker

The regular everyday thoughts that come to us every day – and keep on coming on a never-ending basis – what use are they to us? What good do they do?  Why are we so very receptive to them – why do we entertain them so very willingly? Why do we bother with them at all, come to that?



There is something truly astonishing about this: we treat every thought that comes along as if it were something special, something unique, something well worth looking into, and yet this is not at all the case. It’s only ever just ‘more of the same’. Our everyday thoughts are generic, dull, of no special or unique interest at all. The parcel arrives, you open it up – full of eager anticipation in relation to the treasure you might find there – and there’s nothing in it, only scrunched up tissue-paper, only a handful of polystyrene beads, there to fill up the space. Every thought that comes along is like this and yet every time one arrives we can’t wait to unwrap it and see what wonders it contains, what surprise it has in store for us…



Thoughts never contain surprises, however. ‘Surprise’ is the one thing we will never find in a thought! If our mental processes are surprising us then it’s creativity or intuition or compassion we’re talking about, not the regular old rational thought process. If anyone were to doubt this assertion all they would have to do is watch their own thoughts for a while to see what the story is with them. The best was to explain what our everyday thoughts are about is to say that thinking is essentially a case of ‘the same old the same old’. They are ‘more of the same’. They represent a continuum of sameness – that is the whole point of the thinking process. A ‘continuum’ means that everything adheres to the same basic rules such that whatever happens is only ever going to be ‘a variation on a theme’. The theme itself never changes. Another way of explaining what is meant by the term ‘continuum’ is to say that is the same sort of thing as a mathematical set. If we say – for example – that the set in question contains numbers that end in 3 then there can be an awful lot of numbers in the set but they are all based on this theme. They’re all the same in that regard and if they weren’t ‘all the same’ then we couldn’t be put in a set! There can be no such thing as a set of elements that have nothing in common otherwise we would have no way of specifying the set, no way of saying what goes in it and what doesn’t.



There can be variation of a very limited nature within the confines of a set but the variation that is there is always going to be secondary to what is unvarying. There can be change only insofar as this change ‘abides by the rules as to what sort of change is permitted’ and what this means is that the change can never be of an unpredictable nature. The whole point of a set is that what we are going to find in any given set is always going to be in accordance with the specifications of that set. We’re only ever going to find what is written on the label, in other words. If it says ‘strawberry jam’ then its strawberry jam we’ll find. So in the same way that a set can only be a set if there’s never anything unspecified in it, and a continuum can only be a continuum if there’s nothing there that fails to obey the rules that underlie its existence, there can never be anything in the output of our ‘rational thought machine’ that doesn’t agree with the rules governing what goes on there. Thoughts are put together on the basis of rules and so nothing can ever come out of the thinking mind that doesn’t faithfully reflect these rules. Rational thoughts can only be ‘rational thoughts’ when they are one hundred per cent generic in nature, in other words…



We could say that the point isn’t so much that all of the thoughts we have as we go through the day are basically variations on a theme, that our thoughts are unfailingly generic in nature, but that nothing new ever happens in the everyday rational mind. The thinking mind – because it is based on ‘processing rules’ – is not just very narrow in its outlook, it is completely rigid. It is a static fixture that somehow manages to generate the illusion of change, of variation. All of the thoughts that flitter on a daily basis through our awareness are reflections of certain immutable basic rules and what this means is that our thoughts are these rules. They just generate the illusion of being something else, something that ISN’T just composed of dead invariant rules! Our thoughts are the rule-based mind and the rule-based mind is a constant, a fixed thing, a static fixture that we carry around with us wherever we go. Any thought that wasn’t a variation on the theme wouldn’t make sense to us – because it wouldn’t correspond to any of our mental categories we wouldn’t have any way of knowing what it meant! Any other way of seeing the world – a way that is fresh and surprising rather than being stale and predictable – simply wouldn’t makes sense within the terms of our understanding of what does (and does not) constitute reality. Any other way of seeing the world would present a major (and ultimately fatal) challenge to the fixed everyday mind. It would also present a major (and ultimately fatal) challenge to the fixed everyday sense of self that the thinking mind provides us with, and which we happen to be very attached to!



So straightaway we can see that there is a reason after all why we would be so quick to buy into every thought that comes along, no matter how dull, no matter how tiresomely repetitive it might. We have to buy into it because what we’re really buying into is our own security, the security of us seeming to be who or what we would like to think that we are. We’re preserving the status quo and the status quo is what really matters to us, no matter what else we might like to believe! If we love the mind-created image of ourselves then we are of course very much obliged to love the mind that produces it too, only ‘love’ isn’t really the right word to use here – it’s more of a ‘fearful holding on’! The whole set-up is driven by fear when it comes down to it – it’s based on fear from beginning to end. Only fear could result in a situation that is so restrictive; only fear could induce us to be so intolerably small-minded, and at the same time cherish our small-mindedness as if were the greatest of all virtues, as if we were somehow going to be rewarded for it at the end of the day…



The everyday regular old thoughts that keep coming to us aren’t any use to us at all really. They aren’t any good to us, not when we look into it. It is a perverse kind of a set-up that we are looking at here because by pledging our unquestioning allegiance to the everyday mind we’re actually conspiring against ourselves. Fear makes us conspire against ourselves – we’re afraid of what will happen if we get too much reality in our world-view. We’re afraid of what might happen if our diet gets too rich and so we stick to the crappy innutritious and insipid diet we’re on. We don’t want to get too close to the fire! As we read in Saying 82 of the Gospel of Thomas


Jesus said: He who is near to me is near the fire, and he who is far from me is far from the kingdom.


It is because we are afraid of the fire that we restrict ourselves to the recommended, officially sanctioned products (no matter how anodyne they might be) because we know that they can be relied upon not to lead to any unexpected expansion of our consciousness!



The regular everyday self can only maintain itself in relation to the type of anodyne generic thoughts that we think every day – thoughts that are completely and utterly lacking in any connection to who we really are. If we are attached to this everyday self therefore (as we most certainly are) then we have to be equally attached to the thoughts that maintain it.  We have to go along with them, no matter how pointless they might be. We have to be obedient to them, no matter how stupid or banal they are. We have to keep on lapping them up, just as a citizen of a totalitarian state has to keep on lapping up the state ideology – if they don’t want to find themselves on the wrong side of the authorities! This is of course not a conscious decision that we make. Nothing based on fear is conscious. ‘Acting on fear’ and ‘being conscious’ are not two things that go together! When we go along with our thoughts in the usual blandly unquestioning way (which is to say, when we relate to them strictly on face-value) then they do not in any way appear to be ‘our projections’. They seem like non-projections, they seem like some kind of reality that really does have an objective existence of its own. They seem to be ‘nothing to do with us’ and because of this independence they are interesting.  Anything that is not us is interesting!



The unacknowledged projection can be ‘interesting’ in either a positive or a negative way. We can either like it or dislike it, feel desirous of it or fearful of it. We can either feel attraction or aversion to it and this is what is called attachment. Attachment isn’t really the same thing as ‘being interested’ of course – it’s just means that we are being manipulated or controlled by external forces, either one way or the other. Either we like or we dislike and it’s totally mechanical, totally involuntary either way. This is the type of relationship we have with our thoughts – our thoughts control us! Both like and dislike, attraction and aversion are based on fear. They are ways of avoiding fear, ways of us evading knowing that we are being manipulated by fear. The reason we can say this is because attraction and aversion are both ways of ‘not seeing the truth’ or ‘not seeing straight’. If we could see ‘straight’ then we would see that what we are relating to ISN’T something different to us, ISN’T something that has an existence which is independent of us, but simply an extension of our own mind. If we saw straight, therefore, then we’d see the absolute nullity (or sterility) of our situation. We’d see the complete hollowness and futility of our situation and this would be a very difficult thing for us to face up to. Inasmuch as we are attached to the mind-created sense of self (or as much as we are attached to our own petty-mindedness) we will not want to see the truth of our situation. We go along with like and dislike in order to avoid seeing the perfect vacuity of the system we’re identified with, in other words.



PLUS and MINUS are both evasions of the truth. YES and NO are both evasions of the truth. There is no PLUS or MINUS, there is no YES or NO! This is only a game we play – a game that we are addicted to playing. Both GOOD and BAD, YES and NO, LIKE and DISLIKE only make sense from the assumed point of view of the mind-created self (which doesn’t really exist). If I say that something is ‘good’ I mean that it’s ‘good for me’ and if I say that it’s ‘bad’ then I means that it’s ‘bad for me’. If I say that the answer to the question is ‘yes’ – and take it for granted that the ‘yes’ answer has some sort of independent existence of its own, outside of the assumed framework – then I am losing sight of the fact that both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ only make sense in relation to the question that has been asked, and that the question which has been asked only makes sense itself in relation to the assumed context that it has been framed within (the context that doesn’t really exist).



Most essentially, we can say that the terms ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ only have any meaning in relation to an assumed criterion, or that [+] and [-] only have any meaning in relation to an assumed rule or boundary, a rule or boundary that we put in place and then take totally for granted in all subsequent operations. Automatically reacting to what the mind tells us is either good or bad, advantageous or disadvantageous, right or wrong, is therefore our way of ignoring the truth that the set of biases or rules that go to make up the everyday mind aren’t really there at all.



So every thought that comes along has to some degree the property of being able to exert an influence that is either attractive or repulsive and this mechanical magnetic push/pull property is what makes the thought (or projection) ‘interesting’ to us. What this really means – if we were to penetrate right to the heart of the matter – is that the plus or minus (attractive or repulsive) charge that each thought carries allows us to create the everyday sense of self that comes about as a result of obeying (or ‘unreflectively acting out’) that positive or negative compulsion. Or rather (since ‘create’ isn’t really the right word to use here since nothing was actually created) we can say that automatically (or unreflectively) reacting to the thought in either a positive or negative way allows us to assume the existence of ‘a self that reacts’.  Liking and disliking allows us to assume the existence of liker or disliker! The generic entertainment that our thoughts provide us with – despite the fact that it is abysmally poor in quality – efficiently facilitates the compulsive illusion of ‘the thinker’, the ‘one who is thinking the thoughts’.



Who we are really isn’t the rational mind, isn’t the thinker. We aren’t the everyday ubiquitous mind-created sense of self – who we truly are is  pure spaciousness and in this spaciousness there is neither like nor dislike. Spaciousness doesn’t unquestioningly buy into every thought that comes along. This is why in meditation we cultivate the Buddhist virtue of equanimity – because in equanimity (which equals ‘lack of bias’ or ‘lack of self’) we recover who we really are…






Image taken from: RBR DESIGN


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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