Our identity and our lives begin in our minds, in the sense that the mental conditioning that defines us begins soon after we are born. We are given an identity, a relationship with our mother, father, siblings, and so on. In the realm of objective associations too, our early fumbling with words soon converts into tags, the knowledge of which we believe will ease our passage through life. Fire means danger, our familial and social community represents security, et al.
We believe that these associations — the identification and tagging of objects and attachment with humans —keep us grounded to our reality. They help us interpret everyday occurrences; keep us secure in the knowledge of who we are, what we must do, and what we must not.
For all that associations seem useful, hold on a minute—associations represent the conditioning of our mind, a habituation that sooner or later, takes over our spirit and prevents us from dwelling in the here and the now. This happens gradually, in such a subtle manner that we do not feel being pinned down to live in our minds. Yet it does happen.
It also transpires that every human being is conditioned differently, even though people from the same community and similar social strata may share common aspects of conditioning. This suggests that people from different backgrounds do not have much in common as far as mental conditioning is concerned. Now, since conditioning works as a prejudice of sorts, our mental associations become cause for external differences.
We tend to believe ‘my’ conditioning to be correct, rather, the best possible. Consequently, anyone who thinks differently from ‘me’ becomes wrong. This belief or thought process only serves to insulate us from those whose conditioning is radically different to ours.
Sadly, these differences build, especially among communities that are collectively conditioned differently, and hence share dissimilar beliefs.
A characteristic of the conditioned mind is that it always tries to emphasise its righteousness in its perceptions and decisions, and thereby, inflate its ego when it succeeds or invoke fear when it feels threatened.
So when even slight differences emerge among communities, they are led closer to larger scale conflict, as their individual and collective conditioned minds are only capable of predictable, limited responses.
Manipulated by its conditioned minds, humanity as a whole is unable to think out-of-the-box, especially when presented with challenging situations. We become unable to respond innovatively to new situations or even situations where our survival is at stake. Doesn’t that sound far from intelligent?
We think, therefore we are
Intelligence is what differentiates humans from animals. Animals are driven by instinct, or unconscious intelligence, since instinctive responses happen by default, automatically. In stark contrast with the animal world, humanity possesses the ability to respond after assessing a situation, in a way that best merits the present moment.
But such free responses mandate an absence of conditioning, or unconditioned intelligence. Far from the conditioned mind that seeks shelter in the proliferation of its beliefs, is unconditioned intelligence that has no belief system or ideals to propagate. Hence it is free to discover the truth of the absolute moment and choose an appropriate response. In this sense, unconditioned intelligence is completely flexible, unpredictable, and creative.
It isn’t intelligent to respond blindly to a situation, just as it is unintelligent to apply the law in the same manner to every case being judged or to follow orders without applying your mind to evaluate the merit of the command. Habitual or ‘blind’ responses are a sign of conditioning, of being subservient to who we think we are or what we must do. Habits, or personality traits, compel us to act and react in a strait-jacketed manner.
Awareness to intelligence
Far from conditioned intelligence, true intelligence is liberated, free-flowing and coloured by a complete absence of fear. True intelligence is the seed of freedom of choice, or free will, since it is able to come up with creative responses.
More importantly, since this is the key to experiencing and applying true intelligence, unconditioned intelligence, as explained by renowned author and speaker Eckhart Tolle, is a function of awareness.
It is a quality, a property of consciousness. Unconditioned, timeless intelligence is also spoken of in the Yoga sutras of Patanjali—in representing a state of yoga that comes from inner evolution and is attained by surrendering the ego-principle to the ever-existent reality, that is, consciousness.
So it follows that true intelligence succeeds awareness. It does not follow identity [associations] nor is it a product of personality. Yet in truth, we rarely comprehend intelligence as such, possibly because humanity has largely distorted the concept of intelligence. We have grown accustomed relating to intelligence in an extremely functional way—typically in the ability of the brain to retain [memory] and process information [intellectual capacity].
Consequently, we look upon people with high IQ to be highly intelligent beings.
IQ ≠ intelligence
But here’s a twist of sorts—people with low IQ may display greater signs of unconditioned intelligence, in that their lesser mental capacity leads them to apply themselves unconditionally to a task, by working only with the facts at hand.
Free of prejudices born of multiple associations, they are in some instances able to respond more intelligently than so called intelligent people. For the same reason, the presence of people with low IQ is also experienced to be less threatening—they have less of an agenda to press upon you.
Agreed, you wouldn’t like to be known as someone with low IQ. But consider that at the end of the day, or indeed, at the end of your lifetime, your intelligence may well be measured by your response to life. Granted, your life started in your mind. Just don’t let it end there.
Take up a creative hobby
Some of the obstacles to experiencing awareness as listed by Patanjali are disease, doubt, carelessness, inability to turn the attention away [from obstacles] and distractedness. Overcome these obstacles by taking up a creative hobby—the activity must be new to you so that your ego cannot prevail from day one itself, and its newness should appeal to you so that you are not distracted while working. Remain attentive to your work and do not allow your learning [read ‘conditioning’] to prevail upon the new task. Like artists, you may then experience a burst of unconditioned intelligence, and find your creativity blossoming ‘as if’ from nowhere, leading you to create a masterpiece! Allow your new hobby to bring some unconditioned colour into your life.
Conditioning is like spoon-feeding intelligence and slowly causing it to dull. It takes you away from experiencing the truth. In contrast, true intelligence is born of an experiential process, of actual observation that holds the power to dispel hitherto uncontested thought patterns.
Choose to emerge your true, unconditioned intelligence by living in the present moment. Alongside being fully conscious of your outer world encompassing people, objects and events, and your inner world comprising your perceptions, thoughts and emotions, be aware of consciousness itself. Recognise the presence of awareness within you. Experience that you are not the sum total of your thoughts.
One way to experience this is deep breathing. When you breathe consciously, feeling your breath, you will find that your thinking ceases, albeit for a fraction of a minute. Then, the ‘being’ or ‘alertness’ that experiences the breathing is who you really are. It is also called consciousness, and its beauty is that it is unconditioned. The practice of abating the inner thought process is the route to enlightenment. So ask yourself several times during the day, Am I conscious of being conscious?
Our conditioning hides this awareness from us by dragging us into thought cycles that have us fluctuate from past to future. After all, a conditioned mind is weighed by past events or expectations of the future.
Practice being in the present moment, or the now, and experience the freedom of charting your life.