I don’t use the word “conditioning” much here, if at all. I prefer to use causality or habitual patterns.

But conditioning is a useful word, especially since it implies both causality and habitual patterns.

Everything has indefinite causes. We can always find one more, and one more. And we can always split up a cause into sub-causes. I can trace the origin of any thought to somewhere in human culture, via family, tradition, philosophy or subculture. If I can’t find the exact thought (unlikely), it is most likely still clearly influenced by or related to thoughts found in human culture. I can also trace the origin of emotions and behaviors the same way, especially if I include biology and evolution. Everything in me as a human being has innumerable causes, stretching back to the beginning of time and out to the extent of the universe.

As I gather, conditioning is specifically used to refer to the links between (a) a situation, (b) thoughts and beliefs triggered by the situations, and (c) reactions such as reactive emotions and behavior.

It can also be more finely grained. For instance, no situation in itself trigger beliefs. It is always our stories about and interpretation of the situation that trigger beliefs. This interpretation is in itself conditioned, it has roots in subcultures, culture and even our biology and evolutionary past. Beliefs are conditioned in the same way. The stories come from our culture, and the habit of taking certain stories as true and real also comes from culture, subcultures and families. Whatever linkages I find, no matter how finely grained, are conditioned in the same way.

Everything comes from somewhere else. It is not personal. It just happens.

It is good to notice.

It helps us see it as not personal.

And it helps us recognize dynamics and mechanisms so we can work with them and relate to them in a more skillful way.

Of course working with it in a more skillful way is also conditioned. That too has indefinite causes. And that’s fine. No problem there.

There is nothing wrong with conditioning. On the contrary, we – as human beings – wouldn’t exist and couldn’t function without it. It is what makes this whole universe possible.

At the same time, we can find that unexamined conditioning – especially of the situation/belief/reaction variety – tends to bring discomfort, and examined conditioning tends to bring relief from discomfort through a more skillful way of relating to it.

This comes up for me now since a pattern of loneliness and grieving over loss is coming up. Without knowing for sure, I assume this may be a family pattern, perhaps going back generations. And it is certainly a cultural pattern, and a tendency programmed into us through biology and our evolutionary past. It is not personal, which makes it easier to examine how the experience of loneliness and grief is put together and created, and relate to it in a slightly more skillful way. By seeing and feeling through it, the experience softens and at times falls away.

Note: Even the ideas of causality, habitual patterns, and conditioning are conditioned. These too come from culture and biology. These too are linkages. Causality is a story that something caused something else. Habitual patterns depend on stories of past, present and future. Conditioning is a conglomerate of several stories and ideas, each with a number of assumptions about the world, all coming from culture and perhaps biology and evolution.


  • conditioning
    • infinite causes
    • from family, culture etc.
    • linkage of….
      • (a) situation – how it is perceived, interpreted
      • (b) thoughts/beliefs – triggered by the situation (my stories of the situation)
      • (c) reactions – reactive emotions, behavior etc.
      • and (d) linkage, expectations of a -> b -> c – one leading to the next (expectations, habits)
    • good to notice
      • impersonal
      • recognize dynamics, mechanisms

One thought to “Conditioning”

  1. The Origin of Emotions is a book which identifies the biological purpose, trigger and effect of each emotion.
    This book can be downloaded for free at
    Revenge is an example.
    Revenge is a negative mental effect triggered when you conclude “X harmed me by breaking the rules”.
    The negative mental effect stops when you reach the second conclusion “I harmed X as much as X harmed me”.
    The purpose of revenge is to encourage victims of rule breaking to retaliate.
    The more victims of rule breaking retaliate, the fewer rule breakers there are.
    The fewer rule breakers there are in a group, the more efficient that group is.
    The more efficient a group is, the better its chances of survival.
    The purpose, trigger and effect of all emotions is detailed in a similar way in The Origin of Emotions.

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