On Taking Myself “Not So Seriously” and Undoing My Cultural Conditioning

I go “deep” a lot. In this intensity, I ask myself the big questions: “Why did I say that?” “Why did I do that?” “Why did I EAT that!?” Recently, I figured out that my answer is in “cultural conditioning”, a topic I plan to explore all year long with myself and with my grade 10 students.

Forgive me,  but I didn’t even know Cultural Conditioning really existed until three years ago when I first read the memoir Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. In one of their Tuesday Talks, Professor Morrie Schwartz asks Mitch, his former student, and now a high profile sports writer: Why do people need to be number one? What is “wrong with being number two?” With this question, Morrie also completely silences a crowd of basketball fans cheering “We’re number one!”

That is a perfect example of “Undoing Cultural Conditioning”: Asking ourselves, and the crowd, “What if we believe the opposite to what the “standard/norm” states?”

Just “google it” (talk about conditioning!), and here is what will come up: “cultural conditioning is the unconscious process by which we are socialized to adopt the ways of thinking or behaving.” 

No, ‘Undoing Cultural Conditioning’ is not us playing the “Blame Game” for our life gone wrong.

This is the Conditioned BLAME GAME: “it was my co-parent’s (ex-husband’s) fault that we got divorced, my mom’s fault when my Italian temper flairs, and my teachers’ responsibility that my work was more important than goofing off for hours after school, and now as an adult I NEVER have fun.”

Playing into these resentments, anger episodes, and the “all work makes Pam a dull girl” life is just old news. Old News that can be re-vised.

Here’s HOW:

This year, is the year to see how it feels to entertain the OPPOSITE thought, TO TRY TO write a QUESTION in THE OPPOSITE of what society, the church, and even my beloved family have taught me (or conditioned me) to believe.

Then, I will try it on in my mind, and potentially an action, to see if the “new belief” feels better than the Conditioned one.

And IF I get serious, it looks like this (hold onto your chair and hair!):

  1. What if divorce is the beginning of the life we really want to live, instead of the ending of, or evidence of, the failure of a “commitment” we could not keep?
  2. What if Staying Single and Childless means we are adventurers! We love ourselves so much we want to nurture our own soul completely?
  3. What if when we have a temper tantrum, a mean streak episode, a negative thinking pattern, or finger pointing moment it is because we have triggers that are easier to nurture rather that nix? NOT the other person!
  4. OR, what if, when someone is cruel to us, we decide to go soft (and maybe silent for a bit) on them, instead of thinking about a 100 ways to get even? OR, what if I say to them, in the moment of their meanness, after taking a deep breath in and then a long breath out: “You are hurting my feelings, please stop.”? Then ask: “Why are we in this place of hurt?” And LISTEN.
  5. What if, before we go to work each morning, we spend 25 minutes in solitude and in breath. Maybe we add a couple yoga cat stretches — instead of hitting snooze 5 times? NOW, there’s an “Undoing”!
  6. Lastly, What if, what if, we wear “cat ears” to work? Even if we work on Wall Street! Even if it seems not ‘gender appropriate’ —

YIKES! Can we brave the storm of embarrassment?kittenearsNow, I am NOT saying we have to have “National Cat Ear Wearing Day”

(although that would be FUN)

or that we throw out the idea that first degree murder is definitely WRONG.

I am also NOT suggesting that certain ways to safely pound a hammer, confidently boil water, or strategically drive a car get revised either!

World chaos is not the goal.

What I am suggesting, is to take a look at our pain (or our pleasures) and try to figure out if we are living out a pattern because society, our parents, or our teachers placed it there.

And, one way to get there is to become “conscious” (instead of unconscious – as the definition suggested) of our “conditioning”. We can do this by taking time to breathe, stretch, contemplate, and EVEN HAVE FUN more.

Especially if we can get conscious in the moments

where we feel a triggered ‘rush of negative emotion’.

I invite you to ask yourself as we enter into this fall season: “What do I enjoy?” “Why do I say that?” “Why do I do that?” AND YES “Why do I EAT that?” And if your answer is something like, “I don’t really know” or “That’s how my dad did it”, please go to the next level of thought:

which means attempting a degree of intensity that might feel awkward…

…being silent in your breath. Try a full minute to start. Set the stove timer, close your eyes, sit up straight by elongating your spine, and breathe in and breathe out softly. Hold your attention on the breath.

When the timer goes off, STOP. Now. Open your eyes.

Then, whatever you discover, acknowledge it –

be nice to yourself about it –

be compassionate to YOU.

Love yourself no matter what the discovery may be,

even if no discovery happened today, at all.

And then, after this meditation I like to respond by:

  1. Giving myself permission to smile. After all, I made space for important ‘work’ here.
  2. Looking into the eyes of someone I love. Love is the Great Healer.
  3. Going someplace pretty in nature — or at least imagining a delightful spot: nature relieves my need to be so ‘serious”.

This photo initiates all three responses from my soul: Smile. Love. Delight.

sunflowers bridge 2017

I go “deep” a lot. Yet, I am going “light” more, too. Asking BIG questions of my inner self pulls out the need for this kind of self-compassion.

Ultimately, I am undoing my conditioned habits of mind, discovering who I really am, what I really believe and honoring Pamela.

The residual effect: becoming more compassionate of others.

My hope is to Gift my sophomores at least a comprehensive level of why they behave and act in certain ways. And to feel my compassion as they process it along the way.

In the meantime, I am still going to “google it” when I have a question, have Italian temper tantrum moments, and maybe even point a finger (or two).

However, the laughter and love I offer to myself afterwards will encompass my Being…

And hopefully, if you know me, yours too.

With Blessings and Peace (and a ‘cat eared’ smile),

Pamela Rae



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