As adults, virtually all our actions are conditioned responses. That is, we generally react to whatever happens (a stimulus) in our daily life in the same way each time. This is largely because we live in the same environment day after day, and nearly all of our daily activities are a pattern. We’re programmed to operate in a certain way within that pattern of daily life. We ARE a pattern. We’re conditioned.
When we are conditioned to do any particular action, our decision to choose that action is still always a conscious one. 1) We perceive a stimulus; 2) we think of what we will do in response to the stimulus (the conditioned response comes [to mind] first); 3) we decide whether to do it or to pursue another response; 4) we respond. This takes very little time, and you don’t notice it until you DECIDE to notice it.
At the time that we think of the conditioned response, we can consciously choose NOT to give that response. Then we will think of another possible response, to which we can also choose “yes” or “no”.
Thus, we can take steps to liberate ourselves from conditioning and live more consciously. Conditioning hardens and leads to living death. Liberation leads to real living: conscious living.
Conscious, waking life can be likened to a dream. We can experience both with varying degrees of consciousness. Some dreams we are hardly aware of, while others are vivid and rich in imagery and meaning.
For example, last week, I had a very, very realistic dream in which I knew I was dreaming. I took the opportunity to examine my surroundings very closely. I got on my belly on the vinyl flooring of a house, running my hand all over a section of the floor, feeling its smoothness and the dirt on it. I exclaimed, “It seems so real!” I tried to push my hand through the floor, as I thought I’d be able to in a dream, but it acted like a real floor. I was amazed.
As we increase in consciousness, the waking dream which is our life becomes more vivid and “real” to us, and we experience life more fully, until, eventually, we recognize the dream of life for what it is and we become more and more able to influence the course of our life and our relationships with others in it.
Do you understand the significance of being able to determine to a large extent the course of your life and the nature of your relationships? It means that your life reflects your will: what you WANT to happen. What does everybody want? To be happy and confident that everything is OK; to be their own master; for life to be easier; to be sure that they’ll have what they need.
Anyone who wants this and is determined to have it can have it; it only takes one step. There are a million first steps, but here’s one: observe yourself when you’re reacting to something. It doesn’t matter what. Identify your conditioned (“automatic”) response. Decide to do something else.