Sunday, December 26, 2010

Conditioning.

If you want to figure out who you are, move home. Live with your family- watch and listen. You might find, as I have been, that you are, to perhaps a frightening degree, deeply a product of your environment. I'm sure that Nature plays an important role in our formation, but anyone who denies the impact of Nurture clearly isn't paying attention. Begin to examine your values, your morals, your stories about the world and "how things are" and I guarantee you will begin to see your family reflected back somewhere in there. This isn't always a bad thing. I am appreciative of many of the excellent habits, ideas and values that my family helped to instill in me. For instance, how would I have learned to be an excellent hostess if it were not for watching my family warmly greet and over feed strangers? "Joe just met you at the bus stop and now you're here to have Thanksgiving dinner with us? Great! Welcome! What can I get you to drink?" That kind of gracious, openheartedness is a gift to have been raised with.

There are other habits and patterns that we learn that don't serve us as well. Within the family group everyone tends to take on a role, and this is especially prevalent in groups with substance and/or physical abuse issues. Unless properly examined we can get stuck in these roles in other settings and play out the same scenarios over and over again. I have a growing personal theory that when we have unresolved issues with a parent, we'll find romantic partners that are similar to that parent and try to work out those issues with them instead of with our parent. Of course this is all subconscious, but it still raises interesting questions about how our conditioning, intentional or not, shapes the rest of our lives. Take a look at your current partner, or partners past. Do you notice any patterns? Are there things about these people that didn't work, and are those things similar to issues you have with your parent(s)? Remember, the one thing all your past partners always have in common is you. We are attracted to certain people for a reason.

The term "daddy issues" has become almost a slur, but I don't think there's anything shameful about having issues with one or more of your parents. Parents, bless them, are by no means perfect and even the "best" parents can still accidentally screw their kids up. All families are dysfunctional in some way because families are collections of people and people have shit. Our parents, bless them again (they need it!), have issues with their own parents that can transfer down. And because our parents are our primary point of contact when we're small and soft and impressionable, it's only natural that the impression they make would run very deep. As we grow older and develop consciousness around how these relationships impacted us, it becomes time to realize that our parents are human and to forgive them for not being everything that we needed them to be. Once we become adults, we can learn to take care of ourselves in the way we wish they had, and to form healthy romantic partnerships with people who will treat us in this way, too.

Living with my family again is offering me the opportunity to deconstruct my personality and determine what's really me and what traits or ideas belong to my conditioning. There's this old Zen story about a lion that was brought up by sheep. He is unaware of his true nature until he is captured by an old lion and shown his reflection in a pond. What have we been taught to believe about ourselves, or the world, that is simply not true? What behaviors have we picked up that are contrary to our true nature? I am becoming observant of moments when an idea, behavior or characteristic feels uncomfortable and out of sync with my natural rhythm. Upon closer examination, I am finding that some of these things were learned through observation and I can unlearn them. In letting go of these old patterns, I get to establish new patterns that more closely match the person I am, and am becoming.

Now is a good time to take a good look at your own reflection. What do you see? Did you develop your thoughts about yourself and the world through experience, or were they given to you? Question whether or not your conditioning is still valid and serving you. Perhaps you'll find that it's time, as an adult person, to recondition yourself.

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