• Carol Kershaw


Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist best known for his discovery of classical conditioning. During his studies on the digestive systems of dogs, Pavlov noted that the animals salivated naturally upon the presentation of food. However, he also noted that the animals began to salivate whenever they saw the white lab coat of an experimental assistant. It was through this observation that Pavlov discovered that by associating food with the lab assistant, a conditioned response occurred.

According to the principles of classical conditioning, learning takes place when an association is formed between a previously neutral stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus. In Pavlov’s experiments, for example, he paired the natural stimulus of food with the sound of a bell. The dogs would naturally salivate in response to food, but after multiple associations, the dogs would salivate to the sound of the bell alone.

Notice your most habitual pattern that keeps showing up in relationships, finances, career, etc. and that comes from old conditioned programs which often leave you feeling caught in a persistent sense of separation and insecurity. Just like Pavlov discovered he could condition a salivating response from dogs when he paired the sound of a bell with the presentation of food, we have been conditioned to hold certain beliefs, maintain familiar mental states, and act on them in repeated behavioral patterns. These are difficult to change.

Conditioning can result in a collection of rigid and stereotyped patterns, instead of a reservoir of spontaneous ideas, which then becomes a filter through which we perceive the world. Patterns become schemas that carry life themes playing out each day. These repeating refrains result in beliefs that we have specific limitations. By learning to dis-identify with our minds, we can detach from steams of thought and feeling and just observe them as they come and go. Then you can observe your own psychological processes without being controlled by them to gain mastery over old programs.

To master your psychology, a process of deconditioning is important to free yourself from being lost in mental chatter and extreme feelings. By training yourself to interrupt thoughts, or notice how they come and go, you become free to be more conscious. You begin to condition the experience of being more alive. We can decondition ourselves, so that we no longer respond “on cue” to the various triggers for these reactions. If we can’t totally eliminate the response, generally we can at least dampen it to the point that it can be resisted or ignored, so that it is no longer experienced as stressful. We can decondition ourselves from being constantly hungry, from getting angry or irritated by certain comments, from getting sad or depressed by circumstances of health, finances, or interpersonal conflicts.

How do you accomplish this feat of mastery?

You can move into a “ground” state where you just observe the sensations in your body, thoughts, and emotions. Just notice them. As you perform this activity, you notice how the mind chatter covers many topics. These are the “butterflies of the mind” that Marion Milner, first female psychoanalyst in the United States, observed (A Life of One’s Own, 1934) that flit here and there.

We can only feel emotions like sadness or fear through the tensions of the body. When you are in your ground state, you are more yourself without any inner program. You are no longer in struggle, but feel in a state of grace and comfort. Meditation is the best deconditioning process to get there. Based on a different perspective that we create all negative feelings and thoughts, we can decondition their patterns. There are some things we cannot change. But with acceptance, change will occur.

There are higher forms of human wellbeing that we can experience. But you need a system that is congruent with what it says it does.

We will be discussing a well-researched system that does just that in the next newsletter.



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