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Why Thinking Puts Us to Sleep

The thinking mind is superlatively good at creating a particular type of illusion – the illusion of familiarity, the laughable illusion that we actually know what we’re talking or thinking about! This expertly-created illusion goes to make up just about the whole of what we call ‘our lives’ – what we aren’t familiar with doesn’t really come into it very much and when we do run into it the chances are that we will feel quite uncomfortable and try to exit the situation as soon as possible. We will run as fast as we can back to our comfort-zones, if we can…

 

 

The assertion that ‘thinking creates the illusion of familiarity’ is very clearly true. How often after all would we find ourselves thinking about something and yet at the same time realize that we don’t actually have the faintest clue as to what it is that we are thinking about? This is hardly a common occurrence. The converse is also true, which is to say, as soon as we think about something we automatically feel that we know something about it. To think is to feel that one knows what one is thinking about – it’s the same thing. To think is to lose perspective, to think is to narrow down our attention so much that the particular thought we are having seems self-evidently true to us (when actually it only seems true because we are looking at the world in the particular narrow way that makes it appear true). If we were to think a thought and at the same time retain enough perspective at the same time to be able to see that the thought only appears plausible because we are looking at things in the particular way that makes it seem plausible then this would be a very unusual thing! “Don’t believe everything you think” may be a useful tip but usually ‘thinking something’ and ‘believing what we have just thought’ are one and the same thing!

 

 

Thought narrows us down so that what we’re thinking seems right, seems normal, seems as it should be. Thought makes what we’re thinking about seem ‘not arbitrary’ even though it is exactly that. As we have just said, thought creates a deceptive feeling of familiarity about what we’re thinking about and what this familiarity means is that there is no discontinuity between the thought and what is being thought of. Instead of a discontinuity there is ‘a continuity’. Instead of there being a healthy gap between the description and what is supposedly being described there is only ‘the continuum of thought’ and the continuum of thought is full to the brim with ‘familiarity’! It’s chock-a-block with it. Just to reiterate the point that we’re making here – this sense of familiarity arises purely as a result of the narrowing down of our perspective, purely as a result of any other viewpoints other than the officially nominated one being excluded from awareness. It is ‘artificially created’, therefore…

 

 

The continuum of thought doesn’t contain within it the possibility of us being radically surprised. It doesn’t contain within it the possibility of us ever having any genuinely new experiences and without us having this possibility – without the possibility of us ever being radically surprised – we sleep. It is as Frank Herbert says,

 

Without new experiences, something inside us sleeps. The sleeper must awake.

 

In a way we could say that it is convenient to ‘have everything covered’, to have a map for everything, a model for everything, a technical language for everything. We’re less likely to be caught out this way – we’re going to be better prepared, more in control in a potentially risky environment. These are the arguments for what Jung calls ‘rational adaptation’. These are of course highly persuasive and they are true up to a point, but the funny thing here is that we never hear the contrary argument. We never hear any talk about what the downside of rational adaptation might be. We know all about the pros – we’ve had them drummed into us right from the word ‘go’ – but no one ever seems to mention the cons!

 

 

We kind of assume – as we would – that this is because there aren’t any cons. We very much tend to assume that ‘it’s all good’, that there’s no downside, that – actually – the more we rationally adapt the better it is. The argument to bring thought into everything we do is overwhelming. It is irresistible – everyone votes for the continuum of thought, the continuum of logic, the continuum of rationality and no one ever opens their mouths to say “Maybe this isn’t such a great idea…”

 

 

There is no possibility in the continuum of thought for us ever to be radically surprised and this is the ‘con’ that no one ever speaks of. This is a downside because, as we have just said, the absence of any possibility of being radically surprised sends us to sleep pretty much instantaneously – we’re away in the land of nod before we know it! It tends to sound strange to us to hear this for the very understandable reason that we don’t think that we are asleep – we very much understand it to be the case that we’re asleep alright at night when we’re all tucked up in bed but that we’re not asleep in the day when we’re walking around and doing things and going places and having conversations with our friends…

 

 

There are different types of sleep however, not just the type where we are lying inert and relatively insensible in bed at night with our eyes shut and our breathing shallow. There is also ‘waking sleep’ which is (as Frank Herbert says) when ‘something inside us sleeps’. What sleeps is the ‘best bit of us’, so to speak – the part of us which is most truly ourselves. What is left behind to take care of the day’s business is what Colin Wilson calls the ‘internal robot’. When we’re just ‘going through the motions’, when we’re automatically enacting the well-worn grooves, the well-worn daily routines of thinking and behaving, that isn’t us at all. That’s just the habit energy carrying on all by itself; that’s just the good old mechanical self doing its thing over and over again like one of those perpetual motion ‘desk toys’ that used to be so popular…

 

 

It might seem grossly unfair to say that – in normal routine life – we’re little more than glorified ‘simulated perpetual motion machines’ but however unnecessarily harsh this may sound the plain unvarnished truth of the matter is that unless we are breaking new ground and having new experiences (rather than having the same old ones recycled endlessly) then the bright light of our consciousness is going to ‘switch off’. How could we expect otherwise – life itself is a movement (not a standing-still) and so when we ‘step out of the stream’ (so to speak) how could we expect to remain genuinely alive ourselves? It’s not living that we’re doing but some pale recycled version of it. We’re not living when we’re in psycho-stasis, we’re ‘marking time’ – we’re waiting to live. It’s as if we are in some kind of suspended animation, waiting for the day to come when the malfunctioning programme is supposedly going to trigger the ‘defrost’ procedure. Everything’s on hold till then, but the long-awaited (and long-promised) day never arrives. The messages from the propaganda machine keep on saying that it’s going to arrive, but it never does.

 

 

Having said this, it is nevertheless true that we still do contrive to find stuff that is of interest to us. In the absence of anything genuinely new we preoccupy ourselves with the superficially new, which is generated for us by the machinery of the thinking mind as it clicks and spins through its limited repertoire of possibilities, though its limited range of inbuilt options. The continuum of thought – as we have said – doesn’t contain the possibility of radical surprise, of something that isn’t just ‘pretend or theatrical surprise’. It can’t contain such a possibility because it is a mechanical kind of a thing and this is precisely what it means to be mechanical – being mechanical means that there is never any possibility of being radically surprised by anything that happens. We very quickly get conditioned into accepting this kind of mechanical situation as being ‘normal’, as being ‘the way things are supposed to be’. The limit of what is mechanically possible very quickly becomes the limit of what we are able to imagine. It very quickly solidifies into the hard-and-fast conceptual horizon that hems us in. We very quickly become not just acclimatized to the mechanical realm, we become ‘fond’ of it, we become ‘attached’ to it, we become ‘loyal’ to it…

 

 

Actually, there is more to it than just this – what we are talking about here goes way further than mere fondness or loyalty. There is actually something distinctly sinister going on. This ‘sinister’ process – as we are calling it – is the process of identification – we identify with the laws of the mechanical world, we identify with the mechanical image or picture of the self that the thinking mind is presenting us with. We’re getting tricked into seeing ourselves as being this image, this picture, and nothing more. We’re getting tricked into seeing ourselves as being ‘just another thing in a world of things’. We’re being converted into a bunch of dead mechanical processes.

 

 

What more sinister process than this could there be? We’re being sold a view of ourselves as being ‘just another thing in a world of things’ and we’re buying into it big time! We’re swallowing it hook, line and sinker. We’re giving ourselves over to this way of looking at things in such a way that we don’t retain any possibility of backing out of it and seeing that the mechanical viewpoint isn’t actually true at all really, seeing that it is actually a frightening lie. Who wants to be ‘a thing’, after all? Identification is an irreversible process; it’s like a water-slide – we can slide down it alright but there’s no way on earth that we can slide back up again! Buying into the mechanical view of the world is a one-way street – we can see the world this way alright but as soon as we do we forget that there was ever any other way of seeing it. The truth of the Unitary View has been lost to us; the harsh lie which denies our true being has now become the only truth we shall ever know…

 

 

Forgetting that there is any other way to see the world other than the mechanical or rule-based way is the ‘going to sleep’ that we have been talking about. This is the ubiquitous state of ‘waking sleep’. When the only thing that exists is the logical continuum then there is only one way to see things and that is the way that the continuum of logic provides us with. No wonder, in this case, that we have such a sense of familiarity about the way things seem to us! How could we not be weighed down by a crushing sense of familiarity? As we have said, the illusion that we know what we’re thinking about arises as the result of the narrowing of perspective that we have been subjected to; perspective has been narrowed down to the point where there actually isn’t any of it anymore and this lack of any other way of seeing things is what creates the stifling sense of familiarity that we are always afflicted with when we live entirely within the realm of the rational mind. There is nothing else – just the ‘desert of the known’.

 

 

We are oh-so-familiar with ‘who we think we are’ and we are oh-so-familiar with ‘what we think the world is’ but actually there is no such thing as either! Both are an illusion. Both are the two sides of the very same illusion – if, that is, an illusion can be said to have ‘two sides’…

 

 

 

 

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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