IT WAS AN ENCHANTING WALK. The path from the house lay through the vineyard, and the grapes were just beginning to ripen; they were rich and full, and would yield a great deal of red wine. The vineyard was well-tended, and there were no weeds. Next came the beautifully-kept tobacco patch, long and wide. After the rain, the plants were beginning to blossom with pink flowers, neat and tidy; their faint smell of fresh tobacco, so different from the sickening smell of burnt tobacco, would become stronger in the hot sun. The long stem on which the flowers grew would presently be cut off to make the pale, silvery-green tobacco leaves, already quite large, grow still larger and richer by the time they were picked. Then they would be gathered together, classified, tied on long strings, and strung up in the long building behind the house, to dry evenly where the sun wouldn't touch them, but where there would be the evening breeze. Men with oxen were working in that tobacco patch even then, drawing a furrow between the long, straight rows of plants, to destroy the weeds. The soil had been carefully prepared and heavily manured, and weeds grew in it as richly as did the tobacco plants; but after all those weeks, there was not a single weed to be seen.
The path went on through an orchard of peach, pear, plum, greengage, nectarine and other trees, all laden with ripening fruit. In the evening there was a sweet scent in the air, and during the day, the hum of many bees. Beyond the orchard, the path led down a long slope, deep into thick, sheltering woods. Here the earth was soft under the feet with the dead leaves of many summers. It was very cool under the trees, for the sun had little chance to penetrate their thick foliage; the soil was always damp and sweet smelling, giving off the scent of rich humus. There were quantities of mushrooms, most of them the inedible variety. Here and there could be found the kind that can be eaten, but you had to look for them; they were more retiring, generally hidden under a leaf of the same color. The peasants would come early to pick them for the market, or for their own use.
There were hardly any birds in those woods, which spread for miles over the gently rolling hills. It was very quiet; there was not even the stirring of a breeze among the leaves. But there was always a move- ment of some kind in those woods, and that movement was part of the immense silence; it was not disturbing, and it seemed to add to the stillness of the mind. The trees, the insects, the spreading ferns, were not separate, something seen from the outside; they were part of that quietude, within and without. Even the muffled roar of a distant train was contained in that quietness. There was complete absence of resistance, and the bark of a dog, insistent and penetrating, seemed to heighten the stillness.
Beyond the woods was the lovely, curving river. It was not too wide or impressive, but wide enough to give space for the keen eye to see people on the opposite bank. All along both banks there were trees, mostly poplars, tall and stately, with their leaves aquiver in the breeze. The water was deep and cool, and always flowing. It was a beautiful thing to watch, so alive and rich. A lonely fisherman was sitting on a stool with a picnic basket beside him and a newspaper on his knee. The river brought contentment and peace, though the fish seemed to avoid the bait. The river would always be there, though there would be wars and men would die; it would always be nourishing the earth and men. Far away were the snow-covered mountains, and on a clear evening, when the setting sun was upon them, their lofty peaks could be seen like sunlit clouds.
Three or four of us were in the room, and just beyond the window was a wide, sparkling lawn. The sky was pale blue, with heavy, billowy clouds.
"Is it ever really possible," asked the man, "for the mind to free itself from its conditioning? If so, what is the state of a mind that has unconditioned itself? I have heard your talks over a period of several years, and have given a great deal of thought to the matter, yet my mind doesn't seem able to break away from the traditions and ideas that were implanted during childhood. I know that I am as conditioned as any other person. From childhood we are taught to conform - taught brutally, or with affection and gentle suggestions - until conforming becomes instinctive, and the mind is afraid of the insecurity of not conforming.
"I have a friend who grew up in a Catholic environment," he went on, "and of course she was told of sin, hellfire, the comforting joys of heaven, and all the rest of it. Upon reaching maturity, and after a great deal of reflection, she threw off the Catholic structure of thought; yet even now, in middle life, she finds herself influenced by the idea of hell, with its contagious fears. Though my background is superficially quite different, I, like her, am also afraid of not conforming. I see the absurdity of conforming, but I can't shake it off; and even if I could, I should probably be doing the same thing in another way - merely comforting to a new pattern."
"That's also my difficulty," added one of the ladies. "I see very clearly the many ways in which I am bound by tradition; but can I break away from my present bondage without being caught in a new one? There are people who drift from one religious organization to another, always seeking, never satisfied; and when at last they are satisfied, they become frightful bores. That's probably what will happen to me if I try to break away from my present conditioning: without knowing it, I shall be dragged into another pattern of life."
"As a matter of fact," went on the man, "most of us have never thought very deeply about how our mind is almost entirely shaped by the society and the culture in which we have grown up. We are unaware of our conditioning and just carry on, struggling, achieving, or being frustrated within the pattern of a given society. That's the lot of almost all of us, including the political and religious leaders. Unfortunately for me, perhaps, I came to hear several of your talks, and then the pain of questioning began. For some time I did not think about this matter very deeply, but suddenly I find myself becoming serious. I have been experimenting, and am now aware of many things in myself which I had never noticed before. If I may continue without everyone feeling that I am talking too much, I would like to go into this question of conditioning a little further."
When the others had assured him that they too were deeply interested in this subject, he went on.
"After having heard or read most of the things you have said, I realized how conditioned I am; and I likewise saw that one must be free from conditioning - not only from the conditioning of the superficial mind, but also from that of the unconscious. I perceived the absolute necessity of it. But what is actually taking place is this: the conditioning I received in my youth continues, and at the same time there is a strong desire to uncondition myself. So my mind is caught in this conflict between the conditioning of which I am aware, and the urge to be free from it. That's my actual position right now. How shall I proceed from there?" Does not the urge of the mind to free itself from its conditioning set going another pattern of resistance and conditioning? Having become aware of the pattern or mould in which you have grown up, you want to be free from it; but will not this desire to be free condition the mind again in a different manner? The old pattern insists that you conform to authority, and now you are developing a new one which maintains that you must not conform; so you have two patterns, one in conflict with the other. As long as there is this inner contradiction, further conditioning takes place.
"I know that the old pattern is quite absurd and dead, and that there must be freedom from it, otherwise my mind will go on in the same stupid way."
Let's be patient and go into it more. The old pattern has told you to conform, and for various reasons - fear of insecurity, and so on - you have conformed. Now, for reasons of a different kind, but in which there is still fear and the desire for security, you feel you must not conform. That's so, isn't it?
"Yes, that's so more or less. But the old is stupid, and I must be free from stupidity."
May I point out, sir, that you are not listening. You go on insisting that the old is bad, and you must have the new. But having the new is not the problem at all.
"That's my problem, sir."
Is it? You think so, but let's see. Please don't carry on with your own thoughts about the problem, but just listen, will you?
"I will try."
One conforms instinctively for various reasons: out of attachment, fear, the desire for reward, and so on. That is one's first response. Then somebody comes along and says that one must be free from conditioning, and there arises the urge not to conform. Do you follow?
"Yes sir, that's clear."
Now, is there any essential difference between the desire to conform, and the craving to be free of conformity?
"It seems as if there should be, but I really don't know. What do you say, sir?"
It is not for me to tell you, and for you to accept. Must you not find out for yourself whether there is any fundamental difference between these two seemingly opposing desires?
"How am I to find out?" By neither condemning the one nor eagerly pursuing the other. What is the state of the mind that is hungering after freedom from conformity, and rejecting conformity? Please don't answer me, but feel it out, actually experience that state. Words are necessary for communication, but the word is not the actual experience. Unless you really experience and understand that state, your efforts to be free will only bring about the formation of other patterns. Isn't that so?
"I don't quite understand."
Surely, not to put an end completely to the mechanism that produces patterns, moulds, whether positive or negative, is to continue in a modified pattern or conditioning.
"I can understand this verbally, but I don't really feel it."
To a hungry man, the mere description of food is valueless; he wants to eat.
There is the urge that makes for conformity, and the urge to be free. However dissimilar these two urges may seem to be, are they not fundamentally similar? And if they are fundamentally similar, then your pursuit of freedom is vain for you will only move from one pattern to another, endlessly. There is no noble or better conditioning; all conditioning is pain. The desire to be, or not to be, breeds conditioning, and it is this desire that has to be understood.