Cultural Conditioning

This is an article I have been meaning to write for a number of years, now the time has come. There is a lot to say about the topic. For one, cultural conditioning is of great importance to every spiritual seeker; moreover, while living abroad I've been exposed to several foreign cultures, which makes you think and react emotionally. Either your reaction is positive or negative.

My interest in personal development and the impressions from abroad, have made me reflect on my own culture, foreign cultures and culture at large.

This post offers a clear introduction to cultural conditioning, its effects and not the least, how to become aware of your own conditioning...

What Is Cultural Conditioning?

Just like the wind shapes a sand dune, the environment you grow up in shapes your personality. The main influences are your family, friends, neighborhood, teachers and culture.

Cultural conditioning encompasses your world view, the way you think, how you speak, the way you act, religious beliefs, what you consider right and wrong, what you eat and how you dress etc.

Growing up in a big city is quite different from being raised on a small farm. Your parents' economy, level of education, interests, emotional status and addictions greatly affect your conditioning.

The cultural conditioning continues for as long as you live. Your life situation and the environment you live in, never cease to condition you. Having said that, your upbringing is like the foundation of a house. It's your very platform, if you like.

The Effects Of Cultural Conditioning

An individual who grows up in a harmonious environment where the majority of people are respectful towards each other, is likely to take on the same quality. While someone who is raised in a dysfunctional family, where anger and disrespect are commonplace, is likely to behave like them.

Cultural conditioning differs within and between cultures.

If you are from a macho culture, your behavior is foreign to those who are from conservative backgrounds, and vice versa.

If you grow up in a society where it's okay to beat animals, your conditioning differs from someone who has learned to care for their wellbeing.

If you were raised in a corrupt nation, your trust in government is lower than people who are used to justice.

If you are familiar with male-female equality, you would find it odd to live in a country where women don't have the same rights as men.

If you have been conditioned by a suppressive religious culture, your mindset is different from those who take personal freedom for granted.

So, what happens when people of various conditioning interact?

Aside from the initial curiosity and preconceptions, it's likely to lead to misunderstandings, disagreements and emotional reactivity. Those who are from emotionally expressive cultures and dysfunctional families, lash out their anger and frustration, while well-mannered individuals reach out with patience. Some are dominating while others are reserved.

In conclusion, negative conditioning leads to widespread unhappiness through negative thinking, negative actions and emotional reactivity. Please keep in mind, that most of the cultural conditioning is neutral, in other words, neither positive nor negative. For example, some eat potatoes and others eat rice.

Awareness Of Your Cultural Conditioning

Most of us are blinded by ignorance and habits, totally unaware of our own conditioning.

It's most beneficial to become aware of your cultural conditioning. Another way of phrasing it, is to say that it's helpful to become aware of your programming. Awareness allows you to observe your conditioning, let go of it and offers you choices. Let's elaborate on that.

How does awareness let you see your own cultural conditioning?

I've spent quite a few years abroad, away from my own culture. While living in foreign countries it's easier to become aware of your own conditioning, than when you stay at home. Here are two examples:

In Asia they eat rice with most meals including in the morning, while I was used to having a Western breakfast. The first few years, I didn't want rice dishes for breakfast. I simply didn't have any appetite for cooked food in the morning. With awareness, I realized that that was how I had been conditioned back home. With the new understanding, it was easier to stop resisting and enjoy cooked meals for breakfast.

When I lived in the West, my friends and I would go out to restaurants and bars in the evenings. In several countries where I have stayed, it's not unusual that children, parents, grandparents and relatives also come along. That is not my idea of fun. Again, with awareness I've realized it all comes down to conditioning. I was selfish and followed my personal preferences. Now, I can accept both ways of life.

Without awareness it is easy to get stuck in criticizing and complaining. It's natural to like what you are familiar with and dislike that which is foreign and new. Make a conscious effort to be open-minded. That way, you can avoid a lot of negative feelings and thoughts.

How does awareness of your cultural conditioning offer you choices? Perhaps you live in a fiercely competitive society, where status and success are highly sought after. With awareness, you may realize that you are not interested in a life filled with stress and pressure, and that you don't have a need to prove yourself. Rather, you choose to follow your heart and lead a meaningful life.

There are plenty of choices in life, but many times we are unaware of them. It's important to point out that fear prevents us from going against the stream, or phrased differently, to lead an alternative lifestyle.

How To Become Aware Of Your Cultural Conditioning

Mindfulness is the key to awareness, which is to give attention to your feelings, thoughts and everything you do. It's easier to be mindful when you slow down and are subject to as few distractions as possible. So, switch off any tv, radio, computer or phone.

One way to get started is to eat mindfully. Practice when you are alone and have plenty of time at hand. Eat slowly and pay attention to your hand movements, body movements, the opening and closing of the mouth, the lips, tongue, chewing, textures, tastes, drinking and swallowing.

You can also practice awareness when walking in the forest. Walk slowly while giving attention to the sensations in the souls of your feet. Either wear shoes or walk barefoot. Always give relaxed attention to your meditation object, in this case the sensations in the souls of your feet, since trying too hard leads to physical and mental tension.

With practice, the mindfulness deepens and becomes more steadfast. It's a wonderful tool that is both calming and makes for increased awareness.

Best of luck!

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