Previously we said that we considered conditioning as a mental problem, in fact one of the main causes of misery in life1. This is a point that we cannot emphasize enough. For this reason our first topic is concerned with deconditioning.
Yoga aims to slowly remove fixed and rigid habits, dogmas and conditioning, so that the individual is adaptable to new situations and perfectly receptive to new experiences. Most people live a robot, automated existence with stereotyped responses to situations and people. There is absolutely no spontaneity. Since birth we have been conditioned and trained to act in fixed and automatic ways to given situations. We are like Pavlov’s dogs: ring a bell and we begin to salivate. This may seem a little exaggerated, well perhaps it is, but we are trying to convince you of how most people lack freedom and spontaneity in their actions. Look around you at the activities of others, or even better, look at your own actions. You will find that many of them are deeply ingrained habits. And these are only the obvious ones.
It is a fact that the more aware one becomes, the less habitual one becomes. A peaceful, trouble free and deconditioned mind has incredible powers of clarity, perception, decision, that can adapt itself to any situation. Furthermore, a deconditioned mind responds perfectly to a given situation, and the forth-coming actions are those that are relevant to the circumstances. There is tremendous agility and flexibility of mind. Whereas a conditioned mind will respond according to its own limited dream world interpretation of the situation, or according to its habitual programmed response. The resulting action is very rarely the best possible in view of the circumstances.
There is a wonderful example of conditioning given in Zen Buddhism. The master asked his disciple a question. When the disciple answered, the master was satisfied. On another day the master asked the same disciple exactly the same question. The disciple remonstrated that he had previously been asked the same question. The master acknowledged this fact, but nevertheless, asked the disciple to answer his question again. The disciple duly did this, giving exactly the same answer as he had before. The master became very angry and the disciple could not understand this, so he asked the master why he was pleased on the first occasion and yet angry on the second occasion, even though the answer was the same. The master explained that every moment in life is a different situation and therefore if one is truly spontaneous one will respond according to the new situation. The disciple had frozen and merely reproduced a stereotyped answer from past memory. He was not living in the present, but was following the dictates of his conditioning.