Playing out conditioning

Our human life and interactions is conditioning playing itself out.

A simple way to explore this is to take any view we have or activity we are doing, and then find a cause behind it, and then another, and then another. They are innumerable, and stretch back to beginning of time and out to the widest extent of the universe.

When we see this, there is a softening of identification with our identities, views, and actions. They are not personal. They are universal in the sense that they (a) belong to the universe as a whole, and (b) we and everything live out conditioning.

It’s also quite beautiful. It allows the universe – including us – to exist and function. It creates a great deal of diversity and richness. And it allows us to find ourselves as that which all this happens within and as.

In daily life, we can notice this whenever we interact with others. We each perceive and live from our conditioning, and it can be helpful to notice or guess some specifics about it. For instance, I prefer quiet over loudness. What may have lead to that preference?

I grew up in an educated middle class home in Norway, and quiet is valued in that subculture and culture. Being quiet equals being considerate and a good person and citizen.

I am used to quiet at home. I prefer it because it’s familiar.

I feel nervous and restless if it’s not quiet. It’s uncomfortable.

I have CFS and had PTSD, both of which makes me more sensitive to sound. Silence feels deeply nurturing and healing.

I am a mammal, and mammals tend to prefer silence or quiet. Silence or near silence is part of our evolutionary history, and it also allows us to detect danger more easily. It’s built into us to prefer silence.

And so on. I could probably always find one more possible reason, and then another.

Another person may not have this preference, and may even prefer loudness. What are some possible reasons?

They may have grown up in a lively and loud home. It feels familiar and comforting to them.

They may not have sound sensitivities. Their consititution may be more robust.

Their ancestors may have been very comfortable with loundness, and passed on those characteristics. Those traits can give a survival advantage in some situations.

They may use it to drown out uncomfortable sensations and thoughts. It can feel like an escape for them, a way to find a sense of safety.

When I see this, there is more understanding and compassion for both of us. I see that we are both playing out conditioning. And, really, we are both conditioning being played out. I still have my preferences, and I’ll still seek more silence, but the identifications around it have softened a bit.

These lists of possible causes are just that, a list of possible causes. They are questions. In this context, it doesn’t matter how accurate they are. They just serve as a reminder of innumerable causes.

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It was in place long before me

Sometimes, when we get frustrated with our own conditioning and patterns, it can be helpful to remember that this was in place long before me.

These human dynamics, patterns, conditioning, beliefs, and identifications were in place long before me. They were already in place in humanity, culture, society, in the family. And as I was born and developed, I took on more patterns that were already in place.

It’s much less about me than it seems. It’s much less personal. And at the same time, it’s all about me since it’s happening here and I am the one who can relate to it more intentionally now.

Of course, this is the case for others as well. Whatever I see in them – and me – was in place long before any of us. It was in place in culture, society, and previous generations. And even for those previous generations, it was in place before them.

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Culture, forgetting, and resistance

In our culture, we have learned to resist what we label discomfort, whether it’s physical pain, emotional pain, unease, or something else.

And with “our culture” I mean most, or perhaps all?, human cultures these days.

It’s so pervasive that it may seem inevitable, as the only option, but it’s not. We can learn a different approach, as individuals. We can learn to do the opposite, and see what happens. And from there, it’s easy to imagine a culture where doing the opposite is the norm.

Meeting what’s here. Resting with it. Welcoming it. Thanking it. Finding love for it.

Also, in most or all human cultures, we learn to forget who and what we are. We learn to pretend we don’t know. Here too, we can do the opposite as individuals, and imagine a culture where that’s the norm. We can remember the wholeness of who we are, of our human side. And we can live in remembrance of  what we are, that which all – our whole field of experience – happens within and as….. that which a though may label awakeness, or awareness, or love, or life, or Spirit, or the Divine.

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Conditioning in three ways

I have heard the word conditioning used a few times lately. Here are some things that come up for me:

There is functional conditioning, which includes how our bodies and minds work. This allows us to function in everyday life. Without this conditioning, we wouldn’t be here or function as a human being. We operate on patterns put into us through evolution, culture, upbringing and experience.

Then there is reactive conditioning, patterns created from taking stories as true. This can be seen through, it can soften and fall away, and it can continue to do so through our lives. (Or it can be strengthened, or – often – there is a mix of softening and strengthening.)

Then there is the story of conditioning, which is also conditioned. Conditioning only appears to us as words and images, which can be recognized as that or taken as solid, true and a real object. And both the idea of conditioning, and the tendency to see it as an idea or take is as true, is conditioned. It’s a pattern created by culture, what we have heard or read, and what we have seen for ourselves – either directly (perhaps guided by words and images) or filtered through ideas, or a combination.

And all of this can be recognized as words and images, an imagined overlay.

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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.

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A few things about conditioning…

It seems that everything within form is conditioned. It follows habits, patterns, laws. And everything has infinite causes, stretching back to beginning of time and out to the furthest reaches of the universe.

In our human lives, most conditioning is essential for our survival and functioning. Our bodies are conditioned to pump blood, breathe, regulate temperature, fight off diseases and so on. We eat when we are hungry. We fight or flee in danger. We learn and use a verbal language for communication with ourselves and others. We learn and follow (mostly) social norms which makes a functioning society possible.

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Living our history

We live our history, before and even within awakening. We can’t help it since that is all our human self has to go by.

And when others live from a conditioning that is quite different from my own, it is easy to notice that we all live from our own history.

Here is a good example for me:

Two spiritual teachers appear to sometimes live from the story they should have told me. In one case, they should have told me about no-self. (That it can be recognized.) In the other case, they should have told me about the dark night. (How stark it can be.)

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Conditioning – like “ego” and “mind” is one of those words that are sometimes used in ways that confuse rather than clarify.

When I look at it for myself, I find that it can be quite simple.

To me, conditioning refers to habitual patterns created from infinite causes from within and outside of the particular holon (whole/part) we are looking at.

So it is pretty clear that the vast majority of conditioning is very useful. In terms of the conditioning of our human self, we find conditioning in just about any activity we engage in, from language to knowing how to eat and walk. Conditioning makes it possible for our human self to function in the world. Without it, we would be a vegetable, although since even our biological functioning is conditioned, we wouldn’t even be alive or exist.

In the bigger picture, we see that the typical conditioning of all our ancestors – to stay alive and procreate – was also necessary to our existence as a human self. And the conditioning of this universe – its habitual patterns and “laws” – is needed for this galaxy, solar system, planet and a living planet to exist.

So the first thing I see is that from a conventional view point, conditioning is not bad at at all. It is what allows for my human self, and this living planet, to be around. And looking a little further, I see that it is not bad or good in itself, it is neutral. It just is.

So when different teachers talk about conditioning, and make it sound as something slightly sinister, what are they really talking about?

Of all the innumerable forms of conditioning, it seems that they are talking about two subsets of conditioning.

The main one is our habitual tendency to take stories as true. This automatically creates a sense of I and Other, which in turn fuels a sense of drama and unease. This is not bad either, it is only uncomfortable. And it comes from lack of clarity.

And the second subset of conditioning comes from the first one. From belief in stories, and a sense of I and Other, a whole set of other forms of conditioning is created. Mainly the habitual tendencies of a rigid view, an ambivalent heart, reactive emotions, and whatever behaviors comes out of those.

The tendency to take stories as true is what most spiritual practice is really aimed at, or rather – aimed at undermining. Practices such as inquiry, prayer, yoga, precepts and so on all invite us to see a little more clearly that thoughts are just thoughts, and notice a little more clearly what we really are – that which experience happens within, to and as.

The other thing spiritual practice is aimed at, which is mostly secondary and sometimes a byproduct of the first, is to invite our human self to reorganize. It invites the habitual patterns of a rigid view, a closed heart and reactive emotions to reorganize, and our human self to heal, mature and realign with what we really are – whether what we are notices itself clearly or not.

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