Conditioning, in its broadest sense, is anything which tends to block the free movement of spirit through form. It is characterized by crystallization and shows itself through tension, clinging, and lack of spontaneity. In a more limited sense, conditioning is any process or activity which results in behavior which is not spontaneous, unlimited, and appropriate to the specific situation. Conditioning can stem from and act upon individuals, groups, nations, cultures, societies, and worlds, yet to break conditioned action requires individual freedom - which then can feed over into seemingly larger spheres.
A person who desires to walk upon the Spiritual Path - a far better expression being "one who desires the spiritual life" - is one who seeks to know oneself, to know what is real, and to become one with that in function. Thus one seeks to be able to act fluidly, as needed in any situation, without encumbrances. In other words, at a minimum, one must be able to act without any aspects of conditioning - for those aspects would stand in the way of clear perception and function.
In order to do this one must discover oneself and eliminate any blocks to or from oneself. This is a multi-layered and multi-facetted process that eventually converges to one point, from which expansion may take place. One of these facets is becoming aware of conditioning in its grossest sense, learning how to avoid it, and then rising above it. As the conditioning process has taken place in virtually all of the situations in which an aspirant to the spiritual life has lived, it is necessary, in effect, to unlearn and relearn all aspects of life. As it is difficult to separate oneself from one's perceived reality and its relative validity, some aspects of early "training" (or learning) are to become aware of how extensive and intrusive this conditioning process is in one's life, how it is operating, how to avoid it, and how to operate - that is experience, function and perceive - in an unconditioned manner. This opens the way for further growth.
A limited example of the conditioning process it found in a typical educational system. Within the system one normally finds curricula for teaching certain subjects. Each subject, depending upon its level is broken down into steps. Thus we find that there is an outline or syllabus for each course or step. With very little variation, this is followed, regardless of the particulars of the situation. This method does not take into account the many variables inherent in a process, and by its very nature and methods precludes "real learning".
Thus if we are to learn a specific practice - mathematics for example - the material must fall within the purview of this field, such as addition, subtraction, geometry, trigonometry, etc. All of these are within the broad framework of mathematics. Each of them requires certain step-by-step procedures to be learned, but each situation is different. Thus for effective teaching, attention must also be placed upon approach, which is determined (or should be determined) in part by the particular students, their aspirations, background, training, and make-up, by the time allotted, by the place, equipment, and facilities, by the point of view of the teacher, and by the purpose, intent, capacity, culture, society, language, preconceptions, expectations, and more, of the students, faculty, organization, and society at large.
In other words, the syllabus, or outline must be flexible enough to allow for all of these conditions (and many which were not stated), and the teacher must be able to recognize each of these variables and adjust the presentation accordingly. Even assuming this can be done, the student must be able to perceive what is taking place and become an active and willing participant in the process. The end result of this situation adequately carried out is an ability to function.
However, this effectively means there can be little constraint in form to reach that point. Thus time of classes, semesters, degree of study, approaches, methods, testing, evaluations, etc. all must take a second place; and there must be an attitude that the only successful course - or gauge of success for the student - is when the learner is able to function. This is generally not the case in traditional education.
In addition, this is dealing with only one small level of what may be called rigid education. It does not touch at all on societal values, expectations, assumptions, the relative value of the material studied, or many other areas. There are "outlines" which include or require "independent study", "research", or other approaches more responsive to individual needs. They open to door for "non-conditioned" experience or learning. However, a careful examination of the framework and requirements of those "studies" will expose another layer of "expectations" leading to simply another conditioned situation. This also presupposes the ability of a student to actually be able to identify what and how to learn - abilities which have been restrained and repressed. It is not until a person following this approach gets beyond the traditional approaches and reaches what has been called the "cutting edge" that real learning can begin.
One of the conclusions that may be drawn from the foregoing discussion of education is an understanding and acceptance of the fact that while one is involved in such a situation as described, one is being conditioned. This process however has been successful within its limitations and can function within its own framework. It is not, however, necessarily the basis for true learning of a spiritual nature. In fact, it is totally unsuitable for that purpose and fails dramatically when applied in this manner.
If one recognizes the variety of circumstances that may take place in the teaching of a relatively small collection of material within a field such as mathematics, one may justifiably ask how much more variability may exist within the realm of spiritual teaching. After understanding this, it is quite reasonable to assume that one is not able to generalize any "system" from the particular approach of a qualified teacher acting within certain limited circumstances. There will always be a general pattern to the teaching, but like a quilt - whose function is to provide warmth- the teaching will make use of the materials available. Therefore the end results of function may be very much the same, yet the look may be quite different.
If one deceives oneself into believing that the "way" or method is important, one is guilty of conditioning oneself and will never be able to reach the goal to which the teachings point. In addition, if one reaches the goal and then holds on to the way, one will never be able to pass on the teachings (if that way is limited). This is just as if one no longer has the same raw materials or tools and thus may not be able to make a quilt without broadening one's point of view to include "function" as the goal, rather than "look" or "appearance", and to view available materials and tools as the means towards that goal.
When one applies this directly and considers it in depth, one gets an understanding of the developments of cults, limited techniques or "teachings", systems of "training" and crystallized points of view.
Thus it is necessary for one who desires to learn and walk the spiritual path (which means one desires to live the spiritual life) to recognize that any living teaching will change according to conditions. That person must be flexible enough to adapt to these changing approaches, as none of them will be just what he or she anticipates based upon any reasons, systems, or expectations. If they are taught in the same manner with little variation, this is a good indication that the teaching has degenerated into conditioning.