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Spiritual Traveler: Unlearning & Conditioning

by Dr. Stewart Bitkoff

He whose undertakings are free from anxious desire and fanciful thought, whose work is made pure in the fire of wisdom: he is called wise by those who see.

Bhagavad-Gita, 4:19

Traveler: It is said, that in order for the spiritual traveler to reach their goal, first, they must unlearn much of what they have been taught. What is meant by this?

Master: Each person’s thought patterns or consciousness is a mosaic; a series of shifting patterns. Some thoughts arise from our biological nature, directed at physical survival and caring for the body. Other thoughts are tied to emotions, and expressing our self in the world. Still others arise from specific operating principles, beliefs, and rules of conduct prevalent in our society. These codes and unwritten rules are necessary to maintain social order and daily life. In many ways, these thoughts help form the fabric of each day and allow for orderly social conduct.

Similarly each religion, school and formal institution has a set of operating principles which are transferred and in some cases indoctrinated into members; these being necessary for the survival of that institution and the traveler’s participation.

In helping the spiritual traveler reach what lies beyond ordinary consciousness and thought; that is, the assumptions and values we have about living in our society and what is required to effectively do this; these patterns must be examined and as required suspended, so they can be temporarily disarmed and pushed aside. Sometimes, this pushing aside occurs within specific exercises, other times, through personal examination and introspection; this being done so that the spiritual traveler can go within and explore deeper and more lasting levels to consciousness.

Many times, our daily thoughts are filled with notions and ideas about things that are simply not true and have been engineered by a specific societal entity so they can prosper at the expense of another.

Traveler: Master I am confused; can you provide an example of thoughts or ideas that are offered by an institution that may not be true?

Master: The task of the spiritual traveler is to become master of their own thought process, so they can use and operate another level of consciousness that lies beyond ordinary thought. Many times the things we think about, which are effected by strong institutions and leaders within our society, serve as snares or chains that hold us back from doing what we personally need or wish to do.

For example, consider the notion of infallibility; that someone in power is always correct and acting in our best interest. This may or it may not be true. Similarly, each society sets-up a series of written and unwritten rules, or operating procedures, which become expectations and codes of conduct. Sometimes these are useful and sometimes they are not. How about the ideal of nationality; our country is better than your country. Or the notion our sport team is better than your sport team; is it better simply because it is ours?

Another example, consider the child who grows up wishing to become a musician and is not interested in math, science, or working at an ordinary job. In school, they will be told it is best that they learn what everyone else is learning, because these identified skills are necessary for daily life. Yet, the child’s heart is not in this, wishing only to pursue the dream of making beautiful music.

Or take the example of a religious body that maintains that their way of worship is the only way; yet, as a traveler looks about there are hundreds of religious forms and after questioning is told- you have to have faith that our way is best. These other ways are false.

Because of the inherent conflict in each of these situations, due to the relative importance of specific ideals, this makes it very difficult for the spiritual traveler to go beyond surface levels of consciousness. The traveler is in conflict, and until this clash of emotions is resolved, very little inner development can take place. As discussed earlier, everyday thoughts have to be pushed aside, or stilled for a time, so something else operating on a deeper level can come forward.

Understand, the conflicts identified above as examples, depending upon the traveler, may take years or moments to resolve; we are discussing learning how to still and temporarily push aside contrasting ideas; further the point of our discussion is to help the traveler learn to monitor their thoughts, examine assumptions, and identify when indoctrination is operating so they can go deeper- temporarily suspending often cherished beliefs. Before you can learn to still conflicting thoughts, first you must conceive of it as a possibility and then begin the process of monitoring all your thoughts. This process, we term, unlearning.

We all have to live in society; we are social beings. Our way is to teach travelers how to access what lies beyond everyday levels of consciousness. To do this effectively, travelers must understand how their thoughts operate, when they are based upon assumptions, and when they are consciously engineered and manipulated by others. This learning is not intended to change thought patterns or replace them with others, but to allow the higher consciousness to come forward.

Conditioning & Spiritual Studies

In varying degrees, each traveler is a product of their culture and environment; conditioned to want and think specific thoughts which the overall culture identifies as important. This is neither good nor bad; it is a matter of effect. How does wanting one thing and not another effect your life and is this really what you want or something which has been engineered into you to desire or fear. That is the question which must be considered: how does believing one thing and not another effect your life, choices and consciousness?

For the spiritual traveler, it is important to recognize, and when necessary disarm the effects of conditioning, so, that another level of consciousness may operate. When we are busy thinking certain thoughts and worrying about others, typically, the higher consciousness is dormant far below the surface. Levels of ‘inner noise’ or emotionality- keep the higher consciousness from operating. Often, a degree of ‘inner stillness’ is a requisite for tuning into our higher consciousness.

Consider this example and its effect upon daily thought. Most religious and spiritual systems indicate that the traveler must believe and act in specific ways; while this posture (following rules, steps, and instructions) is a necessary component in all learning, some systems take adherence to form and questioning to the point of insisting their way is the only ‘true system;’ and unless the traveler accepts all their teachings, they are doomed to failure and may be banned from their system.

What of the traveler who has a question about specific teachings and is given the above response? Consider the energy, both emotional and intellectual, expended trying to resolve this conflict; while part of this manipulation is intended to control and proliferate a specific belief system - the real problem, in terms of accessing higher knowledge, is that while all of this ‘noise’ is going on in the traveler’s head- another dimension cannot be accessed. While a specific teaching is working on a surface level, trying to control specific beliefs and behaviors, nothing of real inner value may operate.

Within your belief system, is it possible to consider the possibility that all paths lead to Truth or that 2 opposing beliefs may be true at the same time? While it may not be possible to support or personally resolve issues like these, what the spiritual traveler must learn to do is: recognize when opposing thoughts are operating and temporarily suspend conflicts so the inner awareness may come forward and be experienced. This is higher consciousness or spiritual experience.

In our culture, most of us have been taught that capitalism, with its values of a free market economy with little governmental control, is the best system. Now it may be, however, by adding the value ‘best,’ this negates on some level other economic systems, which may also have something of value. Additionally, it conditions and controls the traveler not to look at other systems too closely, and subtly suggests that they are doing something wrong, when making inquiry into these other systems or challenging the present one.

In the process of unlearning or examining the effect of conditioning, what the spiritual traveler is trying to accomplish, is to reach a neutral mental posture, relatively free of emotionality, where they can examine different values and systems; and temporarily free self, as necessary, from the psychological effect imposed by living in a social grouping.

Within our western society, many institutions operate using ‘either’ ‘or’ frames of reference; this quickly translates into a ‘good or bad’ mentality, with ‘you are with us or are against us’ posture. Additionally in these systems, fear and reward are the motivating carrots; and individual inquiry is minimally supported and encouraged. To rise above these effects, the spiritual traveler must learn to recognize when conditioning and mental engineering by others is operating; temporarily pushing aside these mental effects, and allowing a neutral objectivity to operate. Eventually, higher consciousness, which has been awakened through a period of focused training, will come forward.

Thoughts to Ponder

  • Fantasy- Often we are like small children playing with the sand castles of our imagination. True reality is only evident when we are not connected, emotionally, with the emerging pattern. This emotional attachment blocks our vision and we live in a private world of fantasy.
  • Spiritual Sight- That which is permanent is seldom known to the senses. It must be perceived by another capacity. Until this capacity or organ of perception is awakened, we are like heedless children playing with fire. Sooner or later our actions create problems for us.
  • The completed individual, or enlightened one, is able to temper their expectations with reality. Often it is our reaction to daily events and not the events themselves which pose the lasting problem.
  • We must learn to view and accept what is present; not what we want or expect to be present. By clouding reality with expectation and desire we shift off center. This lack of balance, in turn, prevents us from perceiving what is before us.
  • This capacity or necessary ‘attitude’ to view what is actually present may be learned. It is the birthright of humanity and is taught to those who are capable of using it in the proper way. This spiritual sight is a matter of function; it becomes available so it may be used to benefit others. By learning to view what is actually present, we are then able to perceive higher or spiritual realities which manifest in this realm.

* *

One’s own misdirected thought can do more harm than an enemy or an ill wisher.

Dhammapada, Sayings of Buddha.


Also by Dr. Bitkoff, A Commuter’s Guide to Enlightenment (Llewellyn, 2008) and Journey of Light: Trilogy (Authorhouse, 2004); these books are available from publisher or on Amazon.com. To contact author go to www.stewartbitkoff.com.

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