To understand my conditioning requires me to observe myself much more intensively than I have in the past or do ordinarily.
I can begin to watch the minute I feel a strong preference – either for or against something – what the Buddha called “craving and aversion,” like or dislike, want or don’t want.
At the moment, I’m watching myself behave self-servingly. I have sticker shock over an item a friend asked me to pick up for her as part of her Xmas list and I’m noticeing the manner in which I dealt with the sales clerk.
I watch myself exaggerate as I review my performance with the clerk. Everything becomes lumped together; numbers are finessed; my vocal tone changes when I recount the incident, assigning the screechy tone to the sales clerk and the calm, reasonable tone to me.
In actual fact I was the screechy one and the sales clerk was calm and reasonable. But anything to make myself right.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, Solomon said. (1) If my version of events doesn’t seem right or if we think it won’t sell, we amend our story to make it right or make it sell.
Then we hold our launch, trying our version out on others to see how it flies in what I call “howdido” (How did I do?) conversations in the lunchroom, over the dinner table, etc. What doesn’t fly, we rework until we have it just right.
What we’re seeking from others is agreement and sometimes absolution. We know darned well how offensive we may have been but in our version we come off looking like an angel.
I watch myself doing it all the time. It may be one of the hardest aspects of my conditioning to give up.
Watching myself “spin” the story of my interaction with the sales clerk tells me is that there’s still more work for me to do.
Vasanas (what Linda Dillon calls “core issues”) are the residue of our emotional past. But conditioning is another layer of residue.
Our conditioning comprises the perspectives, attitudes, scripts, stories, and other accounts of image management that we use to get what we want in life.
Conditioning derives from vasanas to be sure, but it’s capable of an independent life as well, living on quite nicely after our vasanas are more or less processed.
It impacts all levels of behavior from simple preferences to emergency needs. And, I think, it keeps us from our natural state of bliss, love, and ecstacy.
I watched myself switch into “whatever you do, don’t show the sales clerk you approve of the price of the item” mode. It was a conditioned response.
Robot that I am when I act from my conditioning, my operating instruction was: Buy the item but make sure the sales clerk knows you disapprove of the price.
Its further instruction was: Make sure the friend also knows you disapprove. Yes, there was a vasana lurking underneath it. I saw myself in a dingy house after Mom left Dad. We had no money and had to watch every penny.
I have a codebook and handbook on how to respond to virtually every experience I judge as negative, undesirable, objectionable, unproductive, etc.
The codebook helps me decipher vocal tone, facial gesture, and hand movements and “identifies” (judges, labels) what it is I’m allegedly facing. This assessment itself proceeds by using all my filters, which are a part of my conditioning.
Then I thumb through the handbook to see the recommended response.
Once activated, the robot does not take into consideration … well, very much save the importance of its mission.
I cringe describing it. Can I really be so automatic? I’m afraid the answer is “yes.”
Deadsville. Why do I do it? Because it’s familiar? Comfortable? Right?
If I’m to excavate the overburden that lies on top of the house of my aliveness, I not only have to deal with my reactivity by eradicating my vasanas, but I also have to dissolve what remains after the vasanas are gone; namely, my leftover conditioning – my habitual responses to anything I do or don’t like or want.
This next leg of the journey is going to be much more difficult terrain to cover. Our vasanas or core issues are visible. They’re interruptions in our well-being. But our conditioning is invisible. And it’s a preferred and valued course of action rather than an interruption in our well-being.
We want to be seen as we are when we’re outside our vasanas and conditioning. But like everything else connected to image management, it’s a fond hope to think people will overlook them. But such is the bubble of delusion we live our lives in that we think we’ll be forgiven all sins and seldom guess why we’re ultimately on the outside looking in as our relationships turn sour and finally dissolve.
Eradicating conditioning is a more subtle operation than eradicating vasanas. The latter is like hammering railway spikes into the ground; the former is like unravelling fine stitching.
So I’m leaving the level of purification called “processing vasanas.” I’m now exploring the level of purification called “dissolving conditioning.”
If you’re just joining the fun and find yourself reactive, dull and alone, perhaps see “On Processing Root Vasanas or Core Issues” in our Library/Archive, here.
(1) Proverbs 21:2.