Our natural state is happiness, peace, and spontaneous fulfillment. Yet many of us experience these qualities only rarely because they are blocked by our stored emotional pain, negative thought-patterns, or non-nurturing habits.
Past conditioning affects us all. Whether you call these influences from the past emotional debt or karma, they function the same way. We have a new experience, but instead of evaluating it for itself, our mind shunts it down a well-worn groove. This usually happens so automatically that we’re unaware and don't have time to intervene. For example, if past conditioning tells you that you are unlovable, when someone says “I love you,” you don’t react to those words but to old insecurities, doubts, and negative experiences with love. You can’t receive the new because the old is blocking the way.
How do we release past conditioning?
Some old memories are stickier than others – they cling to us, and it’s hard to shake them loose. If we can break down a past experience, it’s often easier to deal with it one piece at a time. Staying with the example of feeling unlovable, let’s look at that conditioned belief. Feeling you are unlovable usually has the following aspects that make it stick to you:
As a child, you received the message from a parent or someone in authority that you were unlovable. Begin by realizing that your parent was probably like so many – emotional amateurs, unable to meet the basic needs of children for approval, acceptance, and appreciation. Ask yourself if this person could give love to even the most lovable child in the world. Also keep in mind that this person no longer has authority over you, and you are not the child you once were. If the information you took to be true is actually highly unreliable, why accept it?
Being loved felt scary in the past. Consider what the scariest part of being loved is for you. Is it rejection? A sense that the real you will be exposed and found unworthy? Examine these questions by yourself at first, and then with a trusted friend or confidante.
Avoiding painful memories. Realize that emotion is the strongest glue of all. The things we feel strongest about turn into indelible memories. The way to loosen the grip of a memory is to work through the emotions associated with it. Instead of repressing difficult feelings, they need to be faced and released, which may require a good counselor or therapist. You may also want to consider the Free to Love workshop, where you lovingly guided to identify and release the pain of the past. Whichever route you chose, give yourself permission to experience what letting go really feels like.
Overgeneralizing. We all have a tendency to turn our worst experience into rules about life, but these rules usually aren’t true. Just because a bully at school made your life miserable when you were ten doesn't mean that the world is out to get you. The worst breakup in the world doesn't mean you are unlovable. Look at your most negative beliefs and untangle them from bad experiences that now belong in the past. Your present life is filled with infinite possibilities; it’s your interpretation of it, based on flawed beliefs, that is undermining you.
You believe you can’t change. Countless people believe this voice telling them they can’t change. They choose inertia, yet think it was forced upon them. The answer is to reclaim your freedom of choice. Consider the thing that simply can’t be changed and imagine that this isn’t your problem but a friend’s. Write this friend a letter containing all the best, most objective advice you can devise. Tell your friend that she has a choice to change—always—and offer specific steps to bring about this change. If you find that you can’t think of any advice, consult a good book about change and adopt the advice given there.
When you approach old conditioning through these steps, it becomes possible to release the past. While it’s never easy to delve deep into the parts of oneself where the old traumas and wounds lie in hiding, if you are patient and gentle with yourself, you will bring in light to dispel the darkness. You will release what is no longer serving you and become open to receive.