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Mind liberation. It's all about deconditioning.

I once heard this quote: “I like my mind. I’m just not inclined to trust it much.” *


Why? Conditioning.


Simply put, conditioning is what we’ve “learned” about ourselves and the world. It’s the messaging, beliefs and values stamped onto our psyches by social narratives and ideals, generational patterns, doctrines and our own experiences. Some is inherited. Some is firsthand. Much is culturally instilled.


Everything we “see” – inside and outside ourselves – passes through this imprint, this lens, and forms our perception. And our perception shapes how we feel, what we limit or allow, what we expect and how we respond. In this way, conditioning has enormous power over us.


Especially since the hallmark of conditioning is that it is unconscious. Conditioning doesn’t feel implanted. It feels like truth. It feels like us.


But it’s not.


Conditioning is learned. Which means it can be unlearned.


Mind liberation is the process of deconditioning - of seeing, examining and discarding unwanted conditioning. It’s about choosing what we think and believe, a choice that has the power to transform how we see, how we feel, how we live.  


Some conditioning is for our good (don’t kill people) while some is not (girls who lead are bossy). Some is oppressive (women who don’t wear make-up have “let themselves go”) while others might be empowering (follow your dreams).


But rather than good or bad, we can gauge conditioning by its impact on ourselves and others. Does this belief ask me to ignore my instincts, my gifts or make me feel small? Does it overvalue me and undervalue others or vice versa? Does it separate me from myself or ask me to ignore our shared humanity?


This, of course, is the point of conditioning – to separate us from our inner truth and forces our allegiance to an outer truth. Typically, a “truth” engineered by those aiming to control our behavior or profit from us. (Hello, beauty industry.)


We like to think we are so independent, so free-minded. No one tells me what I like and how to be. I’m my own person.


woman hanging arm and head out of moving car

Yet much of what we think about love, money, career, success, parenting, our bodies, our health, our time, our lives has been conditioned. By families, traumatic experiences, cultural narratives, peers, laws (especially those that target specific groups of people), religion and media.


If not for conditioning how many of us would people please, hate our bodies, starve ourselves to be thin, talk ourselves out of applying for the promotion, stay silent in the face of injustice, worry about what people think of us, spend more money than we have or wear those trendy jeans that make it hard to breath?


Conditioning has hooks. I can consciously believe I’m allowed to write and say what I want (hey, I’m a feminist!), but when I go to do it, I feel stuck. Blocked. The bold idea deserts me. Maybe I don’t have anything to say after all.


This isn’t a loss of inspiration. This is unconscious conditioning swooping in to keep me in my box. It’s the greatest hits record of what is allowed for women and what is at stake if I don’t comply. (Potential ridicule, rejection and exclusion from the group, all of which is very real.)


Conditioning serves as a malfunctioning filter in our minds, blocking things we may deeply want and polluting our inherent worth and goodness.

Just as you wouldn’t pour water through a dirty filter and expect it to be clean, we can’t automatically trust our processing system to be unbiased. In fact, we can assume all of us have been programmed with some amount of bias, misinformation and erroneous beliefs.


It’s conditioning that causes us to feel guilty for resting when tired, for saying no, for thinking we are selfish to prioritize ourselves. It’s conditioning that starts wars, lets the planet melt, creates divisive politics, encourages teenage girls to bikini pictures across IG and has brilliant women settling for a man who can’t give them what they want. It’s conditioning that causes food deserts, the gender pay gap and innocent Black people being killed by police.


Conditioning normalizes human hierarchies, hatred (for self and others) and greed. It underpins oppressive systems like racism, hustle culture and patriarchy.


Our conditioning is collective and individual. You might be immune to body shame where I’ve been under its spell. I might feel worthy of setting boundaries where you are gripped by guilt.  There is no ranking. Our work is the same – to decondition our minds and free ourselves.


Step one: awareness. We simply observe our thoughts, eavesdrop on our own minds. We don’t even need to be willing to change anything; we just acknowledge the thoughts and beliefs our mind feeds us. (Oh, I feel superior in my able body to that elderly person walking with a cane. Interesting.)


It’s a process of making the unconscious conscious. Without judgement.


Step two: permission. We accept that we have the right to choose our beliefs.


Wait – is this just self-delusion?


Maybe. But isn’t living by conditioning - by unexamined bias and limitation - also delusional?


Belief is extraordinarily powerful. Part of mind liberation is choosing what we believe. Because allegiance to someone else’s ideal can never, ever bring us joy. And if we are waiting for cultural trends to shift to allow us or include us, we are still bound by an external narrative or approval.


Step three: examination. We start asking: “Is that true?” (Are men better leaders than women? Do Black people not belong in this upper-class neighborhood? Are women over the age of 50 unsexy?) Just because our mind believes it doesn’t mean it is true.


Deconditioning takes guts and resilience. It is a process. There is no schedule, no grade. There isn’t even getting it “right” or “wrong.” There is only the gradual unhooking from these insidious, destructive narratives, the reclaiming of our own native landscape. We don’t hurry or judge ourselves. Demanding our awakening is just another facet of oppression. Instead, we practice compassion and curiosity, for ourselves and others.


It can be scary and lonely to abandon cultural or familial norms. But so, too, is living severed from your true self.  


There is something beautiful that happens when I judge someone in my head, catch it, reject it and send them a mental apology for my unkindness. That, to me, is liberation. That is me, connecting to my true self. It’s a humbling, imperfect, practice.


Mind liberation is blazing a new path through a dark wood. It won’t always feel good. Often as we uncover our conditioning, it rears its head, doubling down with shame, insults and fear.


This isn’t a sign to turn back. It’s proof you are on the right path.


Picture an unlikely heroine – the twiggy asthmatic with thick glasses who’s scared of the dark and allergic to everything – chosen to slay the dragon.


She will be tested. She will want to give up. But in the end, she always, always finds her power. And it is always within.


Step four: own your power.


Because if we don’t, someone else will.

*I tried and failed to attribute this quote to someone.

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