Don’t Fool Yourself – You Are Conditioned
It’s easy to fool oneself because conditioning hides behind ideas of freedom. Freedom is there when conditioning is not.
Don’t fool yourself – you are conditioned. It’s conditioning that does the fooling.
Don’t approach freedom until you get the depth of conditioning. It’s easy to fool oneself because conditioning hides behind ideas of freedom. Freedom is there when conditioning is not.
Conditioning is like my glasses. It shapes my perception but I can’t see the processes of the shaping. Conditioning is not “bad” or malicious in itself, it just does what it does, unconsciously shaping, etc. But if you don’t sense its processes you will give wrong meanings to your perceptions and so feel and act incoherently. For example a conditioned assumption that deeply tethers the mind is that security is found through identifying who you are with such diverse notions as a country, religion, type of music, football team, etc. Or more subtly, with “truths” you have found through experience. But these are ideas, not actualities. To give a sense of this let’s take the example of football. The actuality is a number of men running after a piece of blown up leather within a painted area having metal poles at each end. This strange behavior can only be given significance by a conditioned perception. A Martian watching this sport would very quickly be convinced there is no intelligent life here.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking conditioning is just an intellectual, philosophical construction that doesn’t touch our emotions and intuitions. Such notions lead to thinking that we can trust our “gut” feelings. But if emotions and feelings are not beyond conditioning, then what is?
“Our problem is: How is the mind to be set free? And, is it possible to set the mind free –not in layers or patches, not in little bits here and there, but totally, right through, the unconscious as well as the conscious? Or, is the mind ever to be conditioned, ever to be shaped? You have to find out for yourself and not wait for me to tell you whether the mind can ever be free. Can the mind only think about freedom, as a prisoner does, and so is doomed never to be free but always to be held within the bondage of its conditioning?
Do you understand the problem? Can the mind ever be totally free, or is it the very nature of the mind to be conditioned? If it is the fundamental quality of the mind to be limited, then there is no question of ever finding out what is reality; then you can go on repeating that there is God or there is no God, that this is good and something else is bad, all of which is within the pattern of a given culture. But, to find out the truth of the matter, you have to inquire for yourself into whether the mind can really be free. I say it can be, which is not for you to accept or reject. It may be true, or it may be my opinion, my fancy, my illusion. And you cannot base your life on somebody else’s discovery, or on his illusion, his fancy, or on a mere idea. You have to find out.”
It’s Conditioning That Does the Fooling
Don’t go to the idea of the unconditioned. This idea is another product of conditioning. Once we have labeled conditioning as “bad” it is a conditioned habit to conceptualize the opposite, as this logically must be “good”. But since it is an idea it is not “what is” and to go beyond conditioning one needs to pay attention to “what is”. “What is” is what is actually directly perceivable by the senses. It is actually what is happening without judgment in the moment – whether it be the movement of the clouds or sea; or a feeling of anger or joy.
Don’t fool yourself – you are conditioned. It’s conditioning that does the fooling. To get this is the first step. Like in a magic trick, what seems to be going on is not what actually is going on. Magicians exploit this vulnerability of ordinary perception and “fool” their audience.
Question: You talk about the ill-effects of conditioning. Yet many psychologists and philosophers say that only through proper conditioning can humans think and act clearly. What’s your answer?
How does conditioning do the fooling? Perception is usually thought of as objective and rational and passively sensing whatever is out there, but the active involvement of conditioning leads to deceptions and confusions. So in daily life we normally believe that we are perceiving an objective reality. But what if both the perceiver and the perception are created by the movement of conditioning? This can lead to a confusion in perception- that “objective reality” seems to be providing evidence that my assumptions and worldview are a true, while in fact what is actually going on is conditioning engaged in a self-validating process.
Could this be a factor in why so many people develop a fixed view of what is true, real, important, etc. in their world, resisting the disturbance of adjusting to what is new and different in their lives? In the words of Warren Buffett: “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.”
It is a shock when actuality comes knocking at the door to shatter a strongly held conclusion or assumption in one’s view. The same could also be said about relationship when a stubborn denial to face an actuality is exposed. The knowledge you have accumulated may have some validity but it is so limited and small compared with the limitless unknowable movement of life. When you see your “certainties” for what they are, a healthy mind might see that true security is in the vast actuality of the unknown.
By Colin Foster
Former Academic Director at Brockwood Park School