The Conditioned Mind

The Conditioned Mind

The mind is conditioned to see or perceive things in a certain way. A good example is the concept of beauty. A beautiful woman was not always thin and fair. It is the media that have conditioned us to accept this standard as beautiful. Another example is the definition of success. There are more unhappy people today because they have been conditioned to think of success only in terms of monetary and material possessions.

How did the Mind get conditioned?

The mind gets conditioned when it accepts things as true without verification or conscious awareness. We get conditioned from the moment we are born.

  1. Conditioning occurs at home when our parents instruct us to do things or behave in a certain way.
  2. Conditioning occurs in the school when we are instructed to accept certain truths and to follow certain rules and regulations.
  3. Conditioning occurs at work when we ritualistically follow a certain way of doing things.
  4. The media condition our mind through its own created sense of values, standard of beauty and of what is good and bad.
  5. We get conditioned in our interaction with others. We also get conditioned when we associate certain emotions with a person, event or experience.

Is a Conditioned Mind bad?

A conditioned mind is not necessarily a bad thing. A conditioned mind is simply a mind that runs on auto-pilot, without being scrutinized or supervised consciously.

A conditioned mind has its usefulness. For example, we can often drive to work even while we are thinking about other things without putting our full attention on our driving. We are able to multi-tasked because most of the things we do are conditioned in our mind.

A conditioned mind can outlived its usefulness. For example, when we were young, our parents warned us against talking to strangers. This is both for our own safety as well as to ease their job of looking out for us. We were too young to judge for ourselves whether a stranger can be trusted or not. However, if we continue to function with this in our adult life, it becomes an impediment to our ability to socialize with others.

Additionally, a conditioned mind can be bad. For example, a woman may stay in an abusive relationship because the conditioned mind prefers a known variable – even when the known variable is physical pain or possibly death – to the fearful unknown.

Thus, it is our responsibility to examine our conditioned mind, to verify truths and to choose what is skillful and discard what is unskillful, instead of allowing the conditioned mind to go on working on auto-pilot.

An unexamined life is not worth living, so said a wise sage.

Characteristics of a Conditioned Mind

  1. A conditioned mind is an ignorant mind. It is not aware of its conditioning. It does not see its own conditioned mind that runs on autopilot, preconceived ideas and beliefs. It is a sleeping mind. It is not fully awake. It cannot or does not have the mental strength or power to constantly be aware of this fact. The practice of mindfulness is very helpful in this regard.
  2. A conditioned mind is a mind that lives in the past. It perceives events based on old experiences, preconceived ideas or beliefs. It interprets new experiences based on conclusions derived from the past. While this is useful for learning and comparing, it obscures us from seeing with a pair of fresh eyes. It cannot see things as they really are.
  3. A conditioned mind has tunnel vision. Because of its preconceived idea or belief, it automatically limits options, choices and possibilities. A closed mind has difficulty accepting new ideas and seeing new solutions.
  4. A conditioned mind is a ritualistic (habitual) mind. It runs on a pre-programmed operating system, on auto-pilot. It feels save and in control in what is familiar. This is its comfort zone. It is less likely to try new things. It prefers a fixed pattern of behavior, even if that behavior is unbeneficial. Mental habits are conditioned thinking. It is important for us to examine our mental habits and decide which one is beneficial (skillful) and which is not. This is how we cultivate and purify our mind.
  5. A conditioned mind is an imprisoned mind. This is because it limits itself to choices and options. It cannot see all the available possibilities. A conditioned mind does not examine nor challenge the authenticity of its thoughts. As such, it cannot see the deeper truth – the emptiness of reality, including the emptiness of the thoughts themselves. In this way it is suffocating, imprisoned. It is not liberating.

How the Conditioned Mind Protects Itself

The conditioned mind gets uncomfortable and anxious when it is challenged. To preserve its status quo (comfort zone), it becomes tricky and deceptive. It erects a mental barrier. We call this resistance. It also often misled us by offering reasons why we should not change.

Dealing with the Conditioned Mind

  1. Recognize destructive and harmful conditioning. Acknowledge them. Change and redirect them to gain an empowered perspective.
  2. Recognize that conditioning can lead to self sabotage.
  3. Step out of the comfort zone. Break the pattern. Be vigilant. Be mindful.

Beware of the Most Common Conditioning

    1. We have been conditioned to focus our attention outwardly. Learn to focus inwardly. This is where the self discovery begins.
    2. We have been conditioned to personalize every experience. Learn to step back and de-personalize the experience. Discover new perspectives, new options.
    3. We have been conditioned to believe in the truth of our thoughts. Learn to challenge Ask yourself “Is it true?” Even if it is true, is the thought beneficial or skillful? If not, drop it or let it go.
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