When you saw this quote attributed to "unknown" did you think, "wait, I know that one, isn't it Mark Twain?" I thought so too and upon googling, I learned that it has never shown up in his work. The grand irony is a quote about being so sure of what we know has been mis-attributed likely thousands of times...Why is this relevant? Well I felt compelled to write today about stories, conditioning, and dogma. So of course, as I was thinking about what quote most perfectly portrays what stories that we are SO CONVINCED of as being true, this one was the first to pop into my head.
By way of background, I am a Post-Modern Political Theorist by training. Huh? Yah, random, or is it? Third quarter of my Sophomore year of college, I stumbled into a Political Theory class taught by Dr. Nicholas Dungey. I began college as a bio-chemistry major and not too far in realized that even though I loved and excelled at Chemistry in high school, hardcore science was not my calling. I began exploring other courses and the moment I started learning of ancient, modern, and post modern political theory, I was hooked. It was a soul knowing that this is what I was meant to study and felt as if I was remembering the texts, rather than learning them for the first time. It was the first time I recall experiencing the feeling of true oneness with the universe.
Political Theory is the study of systems, governments, and the way in which government and people interact. So what does this have anything to do with consciousness, healing, and being on a spiritual journey? I'm glad you asked (HA!) The way in which governments and organizations (religion, for example) want people to behave and the power that these organizations hold over people, directly informs the conditioning we are all subjected to. One of the main philosophers I studied was Michel Foucault who talks about Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, a building structure that allows one person to watch many. It became the structure used for prisons, hospitals, and classrooms, to name a few. When we begin formal schooling, we begin our conditioned training (outside of the home, there's plenty that goes on inside the home, but that's another blog!) We begin to learn the rules of the institution, in this case the school. We learn when to work and when to play, when to use the bathroom, how to ask for what we need, and when to listen to others. All of this conditioning is very useful to live in a civilized society. It teaches us manners, how to cooperate with others, that our needs are important and so are everyone else's.
The problem with conditioning isn't the fact that we all learn a certain basic set of rules of community engagement, it's that we don't realize we're being conditioned. So we begin to interact with the outside world and start to learn ALL of the rules, rules that actually exist and ones that truly don't. We start to think that what everyone else has to say is more important than what we thought to be true. I'm talking to your five or six year old self, the one who wants to obey, fit in, have friends, be a part of the community, be in good standing at school, have the teacher like you, and receive love. All of this is happening when we're not old enough or experienced enough to know what of the outside world to listen to and what of ourselves to listen to, so we learn to defer to the outside first.
You may be thinking, so what are you proposing, total chaos in the kindergarten classroom (as if any more is needed)? No! On behalf of my mom and all of the loving, giving, selfless kindergarten teachers out there, I am absolutely not advocating for five year olds in perpetual chaos. I'm talking to adult you, to your soul who knows that everyone else's rules do not have to be yours all the time any more. You learned WONDERFUL ways of being and ways of coping as a child and many of those things still apply. Have you ever seen the poster "All I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten?" (side note: my mom had one hanging in our laundry room and that triggered the crap out of me in high school. I was like "if this is true why am I still putting up with all of this bs?!")
What I'm saying is it's time to unlock the doors to your own prison. It's time to get super curious about what conditioning you've taken on that is truly not you and is not serving you. I'm advocating for you to take direction from your higher self, fully aligned with your values. Grab a journal and a pen and answer the following questions:
What actions am I taking on a daily basis out of fear?
Whose rules or what story are at the root of these actions?
In what ways am I keeping my own prison door locked even though it's making me miserable?
What stories am I telling myself MUST be true, that simply are not?
The process of unconditioning ourselves can be arduous and treacherous, but it is so rewarding. Everything we've ever wanted is on the other side of fear. One of the scariest parts about moving through some of the ways we keep ourselves locked up is the fact that you will realize you were doing it to yourself all along. This is where a huge dose of self-forgiveness comes in. This is about loving yourself so much that you let the emotion flow and you remind yourself you've always been doing the best you could with what you know, in every single moment.
Now is the time for change, more so than ever before in human history we are bringing everything to the light. It is time to unlock ourselves and find out what's on the other side of these prison doors. Go towards the light, with every freaking step, go towards the light. The light looks feels like love and possibility, it feels open, free, and expansive. It feels like the land where all of your hopes and dreams reside. Come meet me there.