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Stuck in the Everyday Mind

The very worst thing of all, the most appallingly dismal thing of all is that we should be stuck in the everyday mind. There is no calamity greater than this! There is nothing that ought to scare us more! And yet this is the curious thing because it doesn’t scare us at all. It doesn’t even scare us a little bit – no one you meet is in the least bit concerned about being stuck in the everyday mind! They’ll be worried about a million and one other things perhaps, but they won’t be worried about this. No one is worried about the one real danger in a universe full of illusory ones. There are no end of other things that we are prepared (at the drop of a hat) to be concerned about but we remain at all times sublimely indifferent to this the most dreadful possibility of all…




Being stuck in the everyday thinking mind is a lot like being institutionalized. Being stuck in the thinking mind IS being institutionalized! It’s the very same thing, the very same phenomenon, and what a wretched affliction it is. From the outside – when it is seen for what it is – the state of being institutionalized can be very clearly seen as a truly grievous affliction. It can be very clearly seen as the reduction of a human being to a mere machine a machine whose sole purpose is the enactment of the daily routine of the institution in question. Our purpose is simply to follow this routine wherever it may lead, even though it doesn’t actually lead anywhere (and yet takes an interminably long time getting there). Who could wish this fate upon anyone? Who could remain indifferent in the face of such a catastrophe? And yet when we have fallen into the trap then there is no fear at all! The only fear we experience is the fear that something might happen to take us out of our daily routine; the only thing we fear when we have been institutionalized is that something might happen to de-institutionalize us, that something might come along to challenge us to stop being a machine for the enactment of the daily routine…




We all understand this – we all know what it means to be institutionalized, we all know perfectly well what it means to be turned into a machine for the dutiful enactment of the prescribed routine! We all understand perfectly well that when we are institutionalized the one thing that terrifies us beyond measure is the thought of change, the thought of being challenged to do something that isn’t the prescribed routine. We all understand that the thing that terrifies us the most a change to the status quo even though a change to the status quo is the only thing that can actually help us, even though leaving the comfort of the established pattern is actually our salvation. What we don’t tend to understand however is that being stuck in the everyday thinking mind is the very same thing as being institutionalized.




Of course be to stuck in the thinking mind is to be institutionalized – the thinking mind is a finite repeating structure, a closed system which is made up of rules we cannot break, rules we cannot ever question. No matter what we might ‘think’, the ubiquitous thinking mind is nothing more than a set of routines that we feel bound to act out; we feel bound to act these routines out because they are all we have, and because acting them out is all we know how to do. Rational thought is a wearisome treadmill – a rule-based process that is guaranteed to be the same every time. Thought is guaranteed to be the same every time precisely because it is rule-based. It is a routine in other words – it is a standardized routine that we go through in order to try to obtain some sort of a satisfactory outcome.




There are two possibilities with rational thought – either we solve the problem or we don’t. Either we come up with an answer or we fail to come up with an answer; either we get somewhere or we don’t get somewhere and if we don’t get somewhere then we have to keep going. And even if we do get somewhere then a new task or new problem will come up and we will be obliged to start all over again! This is how it is for all routines – we feel duty-bound to enact them, we feel duty-bound to try to correctly follow them through. If we are successful in enacting the rule or the routine then we feel gratified and if we don’t then we feel frustrated, upset and annoyed. When we successfully do what we are supposed to be (in terms of the rules of the game) then we feel good, and when we don’t we feel bad. We are in other words compulsively driven to do what the external authority of the routine says we have to do and if anything comes along to get in the way of us fulfilling the task we take this very personally. We take it very personally indeed. We find it impossible to be OK about this, to have equanimity about this…




We ‘take it personally’ when we cannot do what the routine wants us to do because we have been institutionalized. We take it personally because the only thing we care about (when it comes right down to it) is that we should be allowed to go on enacting the routine which is the ubiquitous thinking mind – for ever and ever. There may not be any sense to this – it may in fact seem like the most dismally uninspiring scenario that it is ever possible to envisage – but this is nevertheless what we want when we are stuck in the prison-house of everyday mind! This is all we want and as far as we are concerned to have this jeopardized is the worst of all catastrophes. When we find ourselves gripped by fear, it is this that we are fearing – the possible ‘coming to an end’ of our comfortable and familiar routine (as dull and pointless as it may be). Not being separated from the routine is the limit of our aspirations, the be all and end all of what we won’t. Naturally enough we won’t admit to ourselves that this is the situation – we will tell ourselves that we have other values, other aspirations – but that is all just a cover story. That is just our camouflage. The bottom line when we are institutionalized is and always will be that we are terrified by the prospect of change. Enacting the routine that we have been provided with is our way of defending ourselves against change, our way of holding on tightly to sterile non-change.




The ubiquitous thinking mind is a collapse of all possibilities – it is the ultimate exercise in self-imposed restriction. It is like going around with our heads in a cardboard box – if only we could see it (which of course we don’t since the one thing the thinking mind will never do is honestly portray itself). Far from seeing this mind as a cardboard box that we have our heads stuck in, as a patented way of making sure that change never gets to happen, we see it as a kind of ‘must-have’ fashion accessory. More than this – if we went out without our thinking mind on it would feel like going out without any clothes on, we would be utterly mortified. And not only would we be mortified, we would be terrified at the feeling of vulnerability that comes with not being encased in a rigid structure of thought at all times. A better way again of explaining this is to say that we simply feel that we are our minds and so of course we don’t want to be ever separated from them!




It is as if we are playing a game of Monopoly and we are identifying ourselves with the various tokens (the Top Hat, the Battleship, the Scottie Dog, etc.) so that the token then becomes us. The various ‘types’ of everyday mind are the tokens that we both play with and identify with, therefore. Some kinds of mind are seen as desirable, others as undesirable. Some are upmarket, others downmarket. We admire some minds and have contempt for others. And yet no matter what type or brand of mind we have it always comes down to the same old thing in the end – it always comes down to the very same ‘generic mind’. As Carlos Castaneda says, the thinking mind is always ‘a foreign installation’ – it’s always ‘one size fits all’. There is no such thing as generic mind that actually benefits us, any more than there could be a prison cell that is somehow going to bestow freedom upon us (because of all the fabulous luxury features it contains!) What is precious and unique about a person is not what type of a thinking mind they have, but how free from the ubiquitous everyday thinking mind they are!




Being free from the thinking mind is what makes us kind, gentle, creative, humorous, compassionate, wise and sensitive. The degree to which we are not stuck permanently in the ubiquitous thinking mind is the degree to which we manifest all these qualities. And conversely, the reason why we are conspicuously lacking in the above-mentioned qualities (which are the qualities of being an authentic human being, so to speak) is because we are stuck permanently in this generic mind. All ‘versions’ of the generic mind are the same in this regard: a tool is only ever going to be any more than a tool, no matter how high-powered it is. A tool is never going to stop being a tool and instead become ‘who we are’ no matter how much time and effort we invest in it, no matter how much we glorify and exalt it. The thinking mind is only ever a ‘thing’ and can never be not a thing. It is a few limited possibilities cobbled together and all we can ever do is go around and around with these same limited possibilities. It is a lot like a game of Ludo or Snakes and Ladders – limited for sure but we can play it over and over again quite happily (although in the case of the thinking mind ‘happily’ is not quite the right word). Talking about the thinking mind in terms of a game like Snakes and Ladders (or another other game for that matter) is actually very apt – there are -within the terms of the game – advantages to be had or lost and this is what makes the game. Without the advantages which can either be gained or lost there is no game. In one form or another, in one guise or another, this is of course what all games come down to…




Straightaway we can see that this is a very limited type of a situation – it all comes down to either incurring advantage or disadvantages, to either getting better or getting worse and what a frighteningly impoverished outlook this is! Really it’s just the same old thing that all routines (or rules) boil down to – either we manage to successfully manage to follow through with it or we fail to follow through with it. Either we win or we lose. Either we get a merit or a demerit. We might object that at least there are these two possibilities, the two alternatives to play about with – there is at least a small bit of diversity there to give us a bit of relief from the monotony. Two possibilities are surely better than only the one! But even this meagre bit of diversity is an illusion – really there is just the routine and the question of whether we successfully manage to adapt to it or not. Really there is only the rule, and the vexed question of whether we can successfully obey it or not!




When we put it this way it becomes clear that there isn’t actually any freedom (or diversity) involved in the set up. There is only the routine, there is only the rule. Saying that there is something else other than the routine or rule is just not true. And what is more, when we talk about successfully enacting the routine (or successfully obeying the rule) this is simply a euphemism. What we are doing when we ‘adapt to the routine’ is that we are becoming the routine. To ‘fail’ within the terms of the game is be oneself – to win is to cease to be oneself, it is to successfully ‘do away’ with oneself. The ‘True Self’ (or ‘Unique Individuality’) is ALWAYS an ‘error’ to be eliminated as far as the system of thought is concerned! We only get rewarded when we ourselves become the routine, which necessarily means eliminating our true selves completely, and yet if this is what we have to do in order to be ‘rewarded’ then clearly this is actually not a ‘reward’ at all! How can it be when we’re not actually there anymore to be rewarded? Whoever benefits, it is clearly not us! This is exactly our situation when we are stuck in the everyday mind…








  • Matt B.

    Many people believe that thinking about love, compassion, and questioning our own thoughts help remind us to disidentify from our minds and become our real selves again. The reasoning is that we can paradoxically use the mind to remind us to use our mind less when it gets in the way or simply isn’t needed and to detach from it, thereby freeing ourselves from its control. Is this an effective technique or is it too part of the illusion?

    Also, are there any resources you recommend (in addition to your blogs) to learn more about this? Have you written any books?

    June 14, 2016 at 10:11 am Reply
    • Nick Williams

      That’s a really nice way of putting it. I can’t think of a better or more succinct way of putting it! The only thing is that I would not say that this is a ‘technique’ because a technique is something we can understand and be in control of – we are inevitably controlled by our attempt to control so this doesn’t get us anywhere. We are controlled by the mind as you say. The process of disidentifying with the mind happens naturally by itself in a way we cannot understand once we assent to it and go along courageously with it on a heart-level.

      The thinking mind is only a machine and when we identify with it we become machines too, as P.D. Ouspensky says! A bit of a’ psychopath/sociopath machine’ really, it could be said. I met a Tibetan monk in the Samye Ling monastery in Scotland who simplified things by saying that there is the ‘good mind’ and the ‘bad mind’ – the bad mind is the mind that is only concerned with ourselves and the good mind is the compassionate loving mind, the mind that is concerned about others (which is exactly what you have said). The bad mind is called ‘bad’ because it inevitably generates suffering, the monk was saying, whereas the good mind always leads to happiness. In our world we are of course very much encouraged to go with the ‘bad mind’ and see where that takes us!

      I will think about what resources I would recommend. I have been working on a book for ages but still haven’t quite got it together!

      June 15, 2016 at 8:25 am Reply
      • Matt B.

        Thanks for the reply; I think it gets to the core of the issue. As to a book, while I’ve never written one I know that it takes a great deal of time. One thing you could consider in the meantime if you like – just a suggestion – would be to bundle some of your blog posts together in an order that makes sense and package them as an e-book that could be sold on Amazon, etc. I’ve noticed other blog authors doing that and it helps them to reach a new and appreciative audience. In any case this blog is already a wonderful resource.


        July 5, 2016 at 2:42 pm Reply
  • Rashid

    The ‘everyday mind’ is the same as what biblical scholars and Christians refer to as ‘bondage’ or ‘sin’. The compulsive thinking and the actions (fruits) that come forth from the compulsive thinking are the ‘sins’ that come forth from the static mind (sin). The mental/emotional equilibrium state you often write about corresponds to what in religious circles is called ‘darkness’ and the collective agreements (social facts, according to Durkheim) to enact and deny this darkness is what is referred to as the ‘powers of darkness’. Maybe you can look into Girard (his mimetic theory doesn’t explain all, but does shed light upon these issues).

    September 13, 2016 at 9:29 am Reply
  • Nick Williams

    Thanks Rashid, I will check Girard out. Thinking is sinning, therefore! That makes us all sinners for sure…

    September 13, 2016 at 10:08 pm Reply

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