I Am Thought’s Unhappy Gimp

Nick Williams
8 min readNov 26, 2023
Image — offidocs.com

When thought runs us then everything we say or do is for a reason — it has to be for a reason because that’s how thought works — but the problem with this is that this causes us to be fundamentally insincere, which can hardly be counted as a good thing. There’s no way that we can do something (or say something) for a reason and yet be sincere. To be sincere we would have to do something (or say something) without thinking about it first.

‘Doing stuff for a reason’ sounds perfectly sensible to us; it sounds great in fact — there’s nothing as good as ‘having a purpose’, as far as we’re concerned. Having a purpose or having a goal or having a particular direction in life validates our existence — if someone were to come along and challenge us all we’d have to do in response would be to point to the purpose, to point to the goal! We can take cover behind our purposes; we can hide behind them — and this is exactly what we do do in everyday life…

This is why we ‘overvalue’ the rational mind in the way that we do — because our ideas and beliefs — if we don’t question them — can provide us with a structure to orientate ourselves around. Thought ‘gives definite shape to our lives’, we might say. Thought gives us guidelines to follow, boundaries to observe, rules to take seriously, and this is far more important to us than we are willing to admit. We are dependent upon thought for our ontological security and that’s why we’re never going to challenge it. In CBT we’re told to ‘challenge our thinking’, which sounds impressive, but rationally based therapies such as CBT can never challenge thought — what they do is offer us the opportunity of ‘switching one type of thinking for another’, whilst creating the impression that this is a meaningful thing to do. Switching one thought for another is not a meaningful thing however — to challenge thought means to challenge all of it, across the board, in whatever guise it might come.

Thought is not the friend to us we think it is — we don’t really need it to excuse to excuse our actions or validate our way of being. We can be in the world without thought giving us permission, without the rational mind whispering in our ear the whole time telling us what we should and shouldn’t do, in the way that it does. We don’t need a middleman, no matter what we might have been lead us to believe, and yet we simply don’t know what it means to be in the world without thought guiding us every inch of the way — we don’t dare to do anything without its say so. We have no independence whatsoever in this regard. We are not however generally aware of our dependence upon an external ‘say so’ and so we go around feeling that we are completely independent and that we don’t have to conform to thought’s obstructive bureaucracy in all things. We have a kind of false pride (or arrogance) in this regard.

So — just to recap what we’ve said so far — our tendency is very much to say that the only type of activity which really counts in life is that activity that the reason behind it — we see having a purpose as being ennobling for us. This is a cheap trick however — it’s a cheap trick because our ‘purpose’ only validates us when we’re very careful not to examine that purpose too closely. In this case we can say that our cause is super-important and so this gives us the opportunity of ‘partaking in the glory’, so to speak; it’s not just the case that our activity is sanctified, but also that we are. This is how the package is presented but were we to dig a bit deeper we would uncover a much less palatable truth, which is that we can’t actually do anything unless that thinking mind rubber stamps it for us (which basically means that we have no autonomy). We’re being controlled by external mechanical forces every step of the way.

In the same way, when we feel sure of ourselves, secure in our ego-identity, this may be regarded as healthy self-esteem oh confidence we call this self-belief and we (very naively!) see it as a crucial element of mental health. What we’re actually saying here though is that it is mentally healthy to ‘feel good about ourselves because we have accepted thought’s definition of who we are’. We feel that it is ‘OK to be in the world’ merely because we have conformed to the generic picture or image of ourselves that has been provided for us. We fit into a pre-existing mental category and so this ‘green lights’ us, this supposedly empowers us to live life in whatever way we want. We’re ‘good to go’. This is ‘upside-down thinking’ of course — it’s upside-down thinking because what we’re actually saying is that we are free to feel OK about being in the world just as long as we’re following the rules that have been given to us, just as long as we’re fitting into that categories that thought tells us we have to fit into.

This is like me telling you that ‘you are free to do whatever you please just as long as you do what I say’ or ‘you’re free to be yourself just as long as that ‘yourself’ is who I say you are’. What we’re seeking in life is the validation that the TM bestows upon us when we agree to play the narrow little game that it wants us to play. We don’t have the courage to ‘go it to alone’ and chance living in the world in a way that hasn’t been approved of in advance by the external authority; we don’t have the nerve, we don’t have the audacity just to be whatever or whoever we are regardless of whether this accords or doesn’t accord with the unspoken rules of the game. The extent of our conformity is such that we can’t even imagine questioning our artificial existence; it would never occur to us, in the general run of things, that there might be another way of looking at things (other than the way we’ve been provided with, that is). We can’t ever depart from the script because we can’t see that the script is only ‘a script’.

This is similar to the familiar idea of ‘being exiled from the tribe’ — being exiled from the tribe may not sound like the ultimate punishment but if the tribe is all we know then we can’t see that there’s any life outside of it and so when our lives are defined by our socialised existence, by our identity in the group, then being excommunicated is as good as a death sentence for us. In the very same way, we can’t ordinarily see that there is any existence outside of the script that has been written by the thinking mind and this means that we will experience pure terror at the prospect of departing from it, even though we have no way of knowing what we’re actually terrified of (since we don’t know that the script is only a script, or that the conceptual version of reality is only a conceptual version). All we know is that an unspeakable disaster is about to befall us — a disaster which we have to fight against as hard as ever we can. All we know is that we’re being pushed against our will towards a terrifying precipice. What’s really happening here (outside of our inverted perception of the situation) is that we are actually being born — we’re coming into actual being (as opposed to the virtual being that was all we knew up to this point). ‘Existence’, Paul Strathern tells us, ‘is a colossal risk’ — we absolutely don’t know what we’re doing (whoever ‘we’ are) or how it (whatever ‘it’ is) will work out for us. The risk is 100%, the risk is total

We have no way ‘validating our existence’, no way of knowing whether we are ‘allowed’ or not. Are we really going to get away with this? We feel that we can get away with it [1] if someone in authority says we can (so it must be OK), or [2] if we see that someone else is ‘allowed to exist’ so that then we can copy them (because there’s no risk). If there is no precedence however then we have nothing to go on. Just to exist — without any justification, without any explanation, without any mind-created ‘reason’ — is inconceivably audacious to us and we will shy away from it every time. We will languish instead in our mind-created ‘limbo’ (otherwise known as hyperreality or samsara) for ‘as long as it takes’, so to speak. And once we have adapted ourselves to some taken-for-granted framework (and obtained the cheap and cheerful validation for existing that this FW provides us with) then we are loyal to it — we’re loyal to it because we owe it everything. Even when it becomes abundantly clear that our relationship with the External Authority of thought is one in which we are being abused, we still can’t walk away from it — we’re being disloyal, we’re letting the side down, we’re betraying the sacred trust, and so on. We’re rule-breaking.

On the one hand — therefore — we’re afraid to ‘go it alone’ outside the comfort of the group and on the other we feel guilty about doing so (or wanting to do so) and this guilt fuels our internal conflict. We’re torn between wanting to leave the abusive relationship and our loyalty to the abuser. Underlying this conflict — we might say — is our fear of breaking with precedence and venturing forth into the radically unknown. As we have said, there’s nothing more audacious than reaching out beyond the bounds that have been set for us by the thought — we’re going against everything we’ve been told, we’re ‘disobeying the sacred commandment’, and so on and so forth. What awaits us on the other side of thought’s limits isn’t eternal damnation however but life itself, the genuine article and not a mere mechanical analogue! According to Herman Hesse in his novel Steppenwolf the price for admission to the magic theatre is the everyday mind — what we have to leave behind is our means of making sense of the world, our map or model of the world. We could equivalently say therefore that the price for being alive (or for ‘being conscious’) is that we have to leave the conditioned identity behind, even though doing this goes against everything that we have ever been told. We would rather ‘play it safe’ and continue to live the dull, grinding, mechanical life of the self-concept even though that so-called ‘life’ isn’t actually real.

If I insist on sticking with the defined identity (i.e., if I opt to stay with who I am in thought’s sterile game) then I simply cannot live therefore — there is no life (no genuine being) for ‘the idea that I have of myself’. There is only the idea of life, only the notion of being. ‘…you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.’ [Revelation 3:1] If I cannot bring myself to step out from under thought’s shadow (and take the ultimate risk of seeing what happens then) then my fate is to be chained up in Plato’s cave for eternity along with all the other unhappy prisoners. If I cannot find it within me to ‘dare to exist’, without any reason, without any explanation or justification, without any narrative to hide behind, then I will have to endure what is surely the least enviable fate of all — the fate of ‘being thought’s unhappy gimp’ until either hell finally freezes over or pigs miraculously learn to levitate at will…

--

--