You talk a lot about cultural conditioning and our conditioned state of mind. How important is this really? How much of our thinking and emoting is actually a conditioned response, and how can we tell when a specific thought or emotion that we have is conditioned or simply our own?
The importance of recognizing, acknowledging, and addressing the conditioned state of our minds cannot be overstated. Many people think and even pride themselves on the assessment that they are independent thinkers, but our cultural conditioning renders such a notion as virtually impossible. Furthermore, those who imagine themselves to be free because there is no one telling them what to do need to think twice about this, because a conditioned mind is never free. It is our own inner tyrant that we carry around with us wherever we go. And it is quite ruthless. Thus it makes a mockery of the concept of freedom and turns us all into slaves—slaves of the tidiest sort, self-oppressing slaves who need no outside taskmaster whatsoever.
When we first start practicing mindfulness, there are a couple of common experiences and perceptions that we all tend to share. One is the realization that up until then many, if not most of our thoughts and emotions have been going on without us being aware of them, as if our inner workings have been on autopilot, mired in unconsciousness. Another perception is that there seems to be a tonal quality to most of our thinking and emoting that is not very pleasant. It is anxious, fearful, hesitant, self-chastising, and just plain disquieting. Both of these perceptions—our unconsciousness and general inner disquietude--are highly indicative of the presence and outworking of conditioning.
Unconsciousness is not our natural biological created estate. Where does it come from? It is actually a manifestation of our conditioning—one that is intended to shield the conditioned mind from our conscious awareness. It's as if the conditioned mind uses unconsciousness to hide behind. Why does it seek to hide? Because as long as we are unaware of it, we will have no recourse to try to change or confront it. Through unconsciousness it can continue to wield unimpeded, uncontested dominion over our psyche. So our conditioned mind not only sanctions unconsciousness at some point in our upbringing; it actually plays a huge role in causing that unconsciousness to proliferate.
The unpleasant quality to our thinking and emoting is simply due to the nature of our conditioning. In other words, our conditioning is not formless and void. It carries its own substance and implements its own agenda. It is a collective (cultural) reality view that is imposed upon our sponge-like infantile mind. And its overall agenda is to make individuals compliant to the collective mandate. Perhaps the original root motive behind this was to make human society more homogeneous and thereby more peaceful, harmonious, and submissive. But the actual outworking of this injunction has been anything but peaceful. Why is this? Because it is the created nature of the individual human being to be inwardly unique and free. Therefore it naturally resists and opposes the imposition of conformity.
Human cultural conditioning has not been a static phenomenon, however. It has changed and adapted as the centuries of human initiative have unfolded. That is why it might now be described as sophisticated. When it was understood that the individual human mind naturally resists conformity, our cultural conditioning bypassed this roadblock with its own adaptations. This it was able to do because of the absolute blank-screen quality of the infantile mind. Cultural conditioning could be made over to suit whatever requirement was presented to it. And in this case the human individual needed to be rendered less resistant and oppositional. He or she needed to grow up less confident of his or her own unique inner workings. They needed to feel consistently hesitant and fearful. They needed to doubt their own worth and be rendered utterly forgetful of their innate capabilities.
Thus the very substance of our conditioning has been amended with these aims in mind. Individual thoughts and emotions have been programmed to make us feel fearful and distrustful of our unique capabilities, guilty of our willful individual tendencies, and anxious about every decision and choice we make. We are taught to relate to ourselves through the lens of a falsely constructed identity—that which we call ego. And this false construct, by its very nature, is wobbly and unsure of itself. It is in need of constant propping up and reassurance and is highly insecure as a result. And so when we put all this together it invariably creates a disturbed and discomforted mindset—one that is then encased in unconsciousness in order to perpetuate its condition.
As a collective unit then, in our day human society functions according to a long-held agenda (perhaps dating back to the beginning of human civilization) and it does so through a sophisticated onslaught of infantile cultural conditioning—a procedure that is really nothing other than a subtle form of brainwashing.
Meanwhile, the individual has borne the brunt of this collective initiative in ways that we are only now coming to understand. And one of the keys that is unlocking this door is the practice of mindfulness or meditation. How has the individual been debased? First, through unconsciousness and the total lack of inner awareness—a condition that is shameful and debilitating. And secondly, through the psychological suffering caused by the quality of our conditioning—the subtle inference that we must fear everything and approach every situation we find ourselves in with crippling anxiety.
To understand the full extent of this plight of the individual we need only to practice mindfulness long enough to recognize how much unconsciousness we have been moving in. Remember that unconsciousness is actually a manifestation of our conditioned mind and is intended to shield it from our conscious awareness. Logically then, the more unconsciousness we discover, the more we can be sure that conditioning has been at work there, hiding behind it.
How can we recognize unconsciousness when by this very act of recognition we are making our thoughts and emotions conscious? What we recognize is not our present tense unconsciousness; it is our past unconsciousness. As we become aware of a certain thought or emotion in meditation, it will suddenly dawn on us that this thought or emotion is not new. Rather it is one we have rehashed hundreds and perhaps thousands of times. It may only now be coming to our awareness, but we can feel that it is actually a well-worn retread. It feels familiar to us. And it is this feeling that alerts us to the extent of our conditioning. Where has that familiar thought or emotion been before this moment of realization? It has been hiding in unconsciousness. Therefore consciously detected unconsciousness becomes a telltale sign of conditioning.
Equally indicative of the work of conditioning is the nature or tonal quality of a thought or emotion. It is safe to say that any and every thought or emotion that is anxious, fearful, unsettling, downcast, guilty, and set in a temporal context other than the present moment is a conditioned one. How can this be? Because it is not a part our created makeup to constantly be pandering to such negative mental processes. We were created to be happy, cheerful, and inspired. Therefore our general mental malaise is not who we really are; it is the demonstration of a thoroughly conditioned mindset imposed upon us in infancy.
What all this adds up to is that the collective entity has largely succeeded in squelching the uniqueness of the individual through cultural conditioning. It has turned human society into a society of mental clones. Does this mean that the individual is doomed to extinction? Of course not. It just means that up until now the individual has been asleep at the wheel.
The truth is that it is not as difficult as previously believed for the individual human being to awake and throw off the shackles of cultural conditioning. How can this be? Because it is just mind stuff. It is nothing more than a phantom mental projection—one that we have been cowed into believing to be monolithic and unassailable. But all we have to do is a little mental reprogramming. And the best news of all is that there is absolutely nothing in this world that can stop us from doing this. Of course, it takes time and practice, but it is fully within our capability.
This is what the new consciousness is all about. The revolution that will escort us into the New Age will not be fought with bombs or guns. It will be won with awareness. It will happen little by little with a newly awakened individual here and a newly awakened individual there. These individuals will then parent children who are filled with awareness from birth. These parents will break with convention and refuse to sacrifice their children to the age-old god of collective expediency.
Cultural conditioning is real. We all have wallowed in its somnolent effects. We all have tasted the kind of unhappy, unfulfilling brand of life it promotes. But the time is coming and is now here for individuals to wake up from this dream and lay hold of life abundant—the life we were created for. We have the power to free ourselves from our prison of cultural conditioning. All we have to do is to exercise it.