Each of us is a unique individual with differing views, perceptions and behaviours. Our actions are based upon conditioned positive and negative responses that we have experienced throughout our lifetime. I have referred to our human conditioning in previous blogs but I have never devoted an entire blog to exploring this topic. In this week’s blog, I will explore a bit further the topic of conditioning as it relates to the human experience.
We are conditioned over time to act or behave in a certain way to get attention, be acknowledged and ultimately to feel love. These interactions are with our family, friends and colleagues. As a child, we learn that if we act in a certain way we will receive praise from our parents. If we behave in a different way we will be scolded. Our conditioning derives from continuing to act in a way that gets the positive attention and try to avoid the negative experiences. Similarly, when we are developing friendships we will do the same trial and error testing of our actions. Some will get positive reactions from our peers and others will result in friends distancing from us. We begin to weed out those people that have similar conditioning as us and enhance those relationships that create positive experiences. Within our working lives, we find working environments where we receive praise and recognition, which conditions our working style so we are successful.
What is most fascinating is how, as humans, we have each become conditioned in a unique way that can have both positive and negative aspects. Some people have been conditioned to be the nurturer for other people. In their human journey, they have found that they feel loved and valued in being a nurturer for others. In their friendships and relationships they take on the role of the one who supports and comforts. They ironically feel nurtured by providing nurturing. It is how they have learned to feel loved. Similarly, but in a very different way, others have learned that being criticized is a way to feel loved. Through their early years they may have always been criticized and never feel good enough. As an adult, it is only through negative feedback that they feel some sense of love. I have even experienced adults who have been conditioned to act from anger. They delight in saying things that cause others to feel small. Only when others feel small do these individuals feel valued and ultimately some sense of love.
My own story is one in which I learned that attention could be gained through self-pity. When I felt sorry for myself and became emotional, I received greater attention. This behaviour was surprisingly made aware to me in my first year of living at a Sanctuary in Virginia. When first becoming aware of our conditioning it is like trying to get the stench of a bad smell off of your clothing but no matter what you do it is still there. Seeing yourself in a new way for the first time can be quite shocking and at the same time liberating, if one is willing to let go of old habitual patterns. Through my time at the Sanctuary I worked through this behaviour a great deal but every so often I still notice small inklings of it surfacing. Our conditioning goes deep and takes years to unravel just like as it took many years to become solidified.
One of the best ways that we can see our conditioning is in the interactions of those around us. We attract those people who have been working through many of the same issues. We repel those people who show us attributes within ourselves that we either don’t like or reject. Having people who remind us of those aspects of ourselves that we would sooner not face is often too much for us to bear. In looking at those people around you, what is it that you like about them? What actions, behaviours or conditioning do they have that we agree or align to? If we are brave enough, we will also look at those people we don’t like and keep at a distance from us. What are the behaviours that they do which we don’t like? Why don’t we like them? How does it make us feel? Keeping in mind that all conditioning is learned behaviour to get attention or to feel love. With this perspective, our negative reactions to people we don’t like softens and we become more curious about what we see in others that we don’t like about ourselves.
Our conditioning can be changed. In fact, we will make changes over time as we interact with new people, new friends and colleagues. We in some cases are forced to change because the old ways are no longer serving us and we must drop them because of some new environment or interactions. Letting go of old conditioned behaviour can be painful. It is similar to letting go of an old friend, someone who has stood by you and been your ally for many years. There are times when we decide that the pain of letting go is too much and we relinquish the new association rather than let go of the conditioned behaviour. However, in my experience, I have found that the pain of letting go increases the more we try to hold onto old habits. We are continually evolving, growing and learning whether we realize and accept it or not. Resisting change can be a painful experience.
During our lifetime, we will be peeling back the layers of the onion to reveal our true self to ourselves. For the most part this is a slow process but periodically we will have a big layer pulled away. There are times when we consciously decide to let go of our conditioning. The meditator’s journey is ultimately to let go of conditioned behaviour, to be in the awareness of the true self without commentary. In essence, to have peeled back enough layers of the onion to be in the awareness of what is. Meditation can be a blissful experience but it can also be a confrontational experience in seeing oneself. Slowing down, being aware of what is surfacing for you in any moment reveals conditioning and limiting beliefs. Once revealed it is difficult to put things back in a box and hide it under your bed. Meditation allows us to consciously become aware of ourselves in a gentle loving way filled with compassion.
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