We consider here the relationship between conditioning and learning; for the two are related but not the same.
It’s presently an issue with terrorists in the prison system; but probably also an issue for ourselves.
What am I talking about?
Conditioning is all the things that happen to us in our formation, both noticed and unnoticed; both helpful and damaging.
Our conditioning – our early relationships and circumstances – leaves impressions on our soul; and where the impressions are disharmonious, they create rigidity and fixation in our personality which is full of ‘red lines’ that cannot be crossed.
At first, this is necessary. Such fixity gives us an identity to take out into the world, a sense of self.
Young Muslims in the west are not the only ones: everyone needs an identity to get going, to engage with the world.
The downside is that we become attached to our identity, to our fixed impressions – and therefore reject paths of growth, like openness, empathy, curiosity and malleability.
The more fixed/terrified our ego structure, the more resistant we will be to the prospect of change; and to protect our identity, we may well reject the possibility of fresh impressions, regarding it as a denial of who we are.
This is a decisive moment; the stakes are high.
If the soul lets go her rigidity, it means surrendering not only the deep defensive structures, but behind them, her very identity. She fears she will be naked and vulnerable without these things.
So where is learning in all this?
Learning is that which leads us away from our disharmonious conditioning; and requires openness to fresh impressions – the ability to allow fixity and rigidity to dissolve.
In those able to learn, instead of rigidity protecting identity, we find the glorious mystery of receptivity.
Learning requires both letting go and hope – some glimmer of a truer self; the rumour of something beyond our conditioning; beyond the mistaken affirmation, ‘That’s just the way I am. And you are wrong.’
Learning appears first as a tiny possibility of something else, as a thin crack of light in the dark – though behind the crack is the sun.
Our soul is a growing relationship between our conditioning and our learning, a conversation between the two.
Not all our conditioning is negative; some of our conditioning will have left kind and wise impressions in our soul.
But where the impressions are fixed, anxious, depressed, rigid, raging, fearful, achievement-centred or self-denying, then it is learning that can take us through and beyond them.
Learning throws a kind light on our conditioning; and begins gently to weed out what isn’t helpful, what isn’t true…and much of our conditioning isn’t.
We don’t suddenly have all the answers. But the day we acknowledge this conversation, and can begin to hear both voices –
– this is a good day in our lives; and in the history of the world.