Robert Augustus Masters

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Shifting Out of Automatic

  • November 23, 2015
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The presence of our past can take up a lot of space, crowding out our “the past is past” illusions and intentions, finding expression in varied ways, including through behaviors about which we say “That’s not me” or “I don’t know what got into me.”


But something did get into us, way into us, playing a key part in generating our sense of self: our conditioning. And those aspects of our conditioning that we, probably unknowingly, pushed the furthest away from everyday consciousness, into the back corners of our shadow, are the very aspects whose emergence makes use especially feel as though we’re little more than a helpless host for negative or unhealthy behavior.


Facing our conditioning and penetrating its roots is a heroic journey, asking much of us. Being able to recognize and illuminate our conditioning is an important step, bringing with it the sense of an increased responsibility, for once we recognize what we’re up to, we can no longer play victim to our default inclinations and automaticities.


What needs to follow and coexist with our awareness of our conditioning is developing the ability to work with it. This means feeling its roots, seeing our charge with and attachment to its various aspects, and deepening our capacity to stand apart from it when it arises — and take actions other than what we’re habituated to doing.


This takes some serious doing — hence the word “work.”


Along the way, we need to keep our eyes open and be ready to shift direction with minimal delay, so as to not let our nonreflective or go-to behavioral tendencies run us. When we recognize an aspect of our conditioning and have done enough work on it so as to not let it possess us, but still find ourselves letting it take us over (as when we remain reactive or behave badly), we can be sure that there’s something about it that we’re not seeing.


This may be our resistance to handling it consciously, especially in ways that require our leaving our comfort zones.


Keeping that resistance in our shadow, out of sight or mostly out of sight, gives us the green light to act — including melodramatically! — as if we cannot help but be taken over by our reactivity or unhealthy behavior. Once we see this resistance of ours, bringing it out of the dark and exploring its origins, we greatly increase the odds of being able to skillfully work with our conditioning.


Conditioning is a given. What we can do with it is not.