The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

How To Relax, Change & Be Free

Jiddu Krishnamurti was a lecturer and teacher for almost 50 years. He was famous, there are a lot of books transcribing his talks, and he maybe got one person enlightened.

Jiddu was the anti-guru, guru. He didn’t want to give concrete instructions, because when people follow concrete instructions they aren’t free: they’ve got a system and they’re just enacting the system.

Reading him is frustrating. I’ve read his lectures multiple times over the years, and each time understood a bit more of what he was saying.

One main point is that everyone is acting according to conditioning: religious, social, family, school, philosophical, etc… They’re in chains, and they regard those chains as themselves.

But none of that conditioning is you. You aren’t your personality, and beliefs you got from you religion, nation, schooling, family, etc… are not your beliefs.

Krishnamurti is famous for “choiceless awareness”: his only real recommendation was to watch the movement of one’s mind (which includes impulses to do things, emotions and what your body is doing) without judgment. Don’t think “I shouldn’t be like this” or “this is how things are” or “this is how it should be.”

No judgment.

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His point was that if you are tying to change, if you want be kinder, or richer or less greedy or anything, you’re acting because of conditioning. You’re pushing one set of conditioning, say Christianity, against another, say “get rich because only people with money are worthwhile”. (Or maybe you think money is bad, it doesn’t matter: that didn’t originate with you.)

You push two sets of conditioning against each other, and even if you change it’s not real, there’s usually still conflicting sets of conditioning and in any case, you were acting out of conditioning, which is not something you chose.

All of this sounds very nice, but if you don’t do the work, you don’t get it. What works is actually looking at your conditioning, which comes up as thoughts, feelings, impulses and actions. Every time you feel resistance, every time you want to do something and also don’t want to do something; every time you feel something and believe you should feel something else, you’ve two sets of conditioning in conflict.

You can feel this, and you need to feel it and, often, repeatedly perceive it happening. If you do so with judgment, say, being angry or guilty because you’re angry then you’re just adding to the conditioning and it’s just conditioning fighting against each other.

If you do it without judgment, however, what often happens is a release of the conditioning. This isn’t a theoretical release, conditioning in conflict will make your muscles tight. When release happens you will feel it: muscles will relax. In some cases you’ll be shocked, you didn’t even relize they were tight, and had been tight for years or decades.

Krishnamurti was concerned with real freedom: he wanted you to become free. You don’t have to, you can eliminate all conditioning except one set, the way certain fanatics and true-believers do, and give everything to that set, and you’ll release a ton of the tension and feel better and a lot more peaceful.

You won’t be free, though.

Find the conditioning, feel it, watch it without judgment. When I say this works, I am not speaking theoretically: it does work.

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Open Thread


  1. mistah charley, ph.d.

    the question of freedom is what dostoyevsky’s parable of the ‘grand inquisitor’ in the brothers karamazov is about

    jon kabat-zinn, founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction, calls mindfulness “the inward cultivation of moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness”

    in his book ‘the healing power of mindfulness’ kabat-zinn writes

    “Ultimately, healing is a coming to terms with
    things as they are, rather than struggling to force them to be as they once were,
    or as we would like them to be to feel secure, or to have what we sometimes
    think of as our own way. As my colleague and friend Saki Santorelli puts it,
    healing is a matter of knowing that we can be shattered and yet still whole.”

    i have a diagnosed incurable condition – but of course everyone reading this also faces aging, illness, dying, separation from those we leave, and leaving a legacy of our wholesome and unwholesome actions

    prospero año nuevo y felicidad, hermanos

  2. Joan

    The idea that these conflicts are physical is very real. I feel cognitive dissonance and conflict of will in my body just like Ian says, not just in tightening of muscles but also in a sort of spiritual indigestion that can lead to real indigestion and trigger my IBS. If I ignore it, it’ll build up into panic attacks, and if I smother it, it’ll lead to depression.

    My daily practice of discursive meditation still feels like riding a mechanical bull, so I’ve taken to also typing out my thoughts and keeping a folder of journal documents organized by date. I’ve been able to accomplish reflection and organization of my thoughts, feelings and goals better by typing them out and reading over them. Hopefully this can one day lead to a clearer mind that is tidy and in order.

    I don’t know about you guys, but 2022 for me was an enormous helping of cognitive dissonance and conflict, in being forced into a life situation I didn’t and don’t want to be in. 2023 for me will be a “Now what?” year where I hopefully figure out what to do about it so that I can be happier and less stressed.

  3. Willy

    I once went to one of those weekend happiness seminars. In one exercise we all got paired up with somebody and then had to get to know why the other was there.

    My other went first. He was a STEM guy, graduated university with honors, got an MS from MIT. Got a good job at Microsoft, married well, and now had beautiful kids and a beautiful home. He even drove a Tesla. Yet he was feeling unfulfilled in his life. He seemed quite proud of his predicament.

    It took all my strength to contain my sarcasm. The compulsion for me to play my tiny air violin while singing “I cant get no satisfaction” was overwhelming. But I maintained. So then my turn. Tales of woe including painful dealings with sociopathy, lost career, lost wife, lost home, and dog dying. Plus I was feeling a little unfulfilled in my life.

    He didn’t seem to want to pair with me again. That’s when I realized that maybe one’s emotional state is what one makes of it. I tend to agree that most folks are being conditioned. The conditioners have spent their lives learning how to get us to feel less satisfied, at least until we buy their product.

    Plus I’m thinking that this Jiddu Krishnamurti might have known that people are cut from different cloths. Not only do we have to know ourselves, but be disciplined enough to be able to accurately assess our conditions as they relate to us personally. And then how we’re being conditioned by the well-intentioned as well as the nefarious, and see that much of it’s bullshit.

  4. mago

    Good old J. Krishnamurti. I first found one of his books in a bookstore in Antigua, Guatemala. It was 1974 and I don’t remember which one, but it stuck out of my back pocket everywhere I roamed.
    I still have just about all his teachings ever printed in a box somewhere, although I stopped studying them in the early 90’s when my path took different turns.
    Annie Besant brought him to England from India and took him under her wing. He was prophesied to be a new mystical messiah.
    He was a heavy hitter for sure in the spiritual world and influenced many, although a few people I know who met him described him as something of a scold.
    It is said that he slept without moving and his bedding was never wrinkled. Funny the things we remember.

  5. Z

    As Ian often alludes to, it’s a good idea to particularly take a good, hard look at your parents because they’re the ones who often have the most influence on your perceptions since they’re the ones who got to you first. Damage most often comes from the people who have the most access and power over you when you are most vulnerable.

    Good parents are as good as gold, they help you through your journey in life even when they are dead, but bad ones are as heavy and toxic as lead and weigh you down even when they are gone. Don’t assume that your parents actually cared more about you than they cared about themselves. It’s the way it should be, but it’s often not the case and to assume it is is fairy tale thinking.

    “Tough love” is often just narcissistic parents venting their aggravation about their kids’ behavior and/or embarrassing them. It’s assh*le parents making an favorable excuse to themselves for abusing you. Emotional abuse has particularly corrosive qualities to it and is difficult to disentangle yourself from because it’s internalized … you feel it … and you often can’t “see” the person doing it to you like physical and sexual abuse which makes it harder to diagnose, especially if you got parents who continually tell you how much they’ve done for you every time you don’t do what they want.

    If they laid heavy guilt trips on you, definitely consider dismissing them from your life because often all they were doing was trying to control your behavior per their benefit … or venting their frustration on you … and didn’t care if they damaged you in the process. Tossing off guilt laid on you by selfish, immature parents considerably lightens the physical and psychic load on you. Do it because assh*les like that ain’t worth your time. If they thought enough and cared enough about you they would’ve realized the damage they were causing you and stopped it, but they didn’t because they thought more about themselves.

    As the essay below says: it’s never too late. I think of it this way, if it was all roses and honey in your life until now, and something bad happened to you in the present all that prior happiness wouldn’t mitigate the pain presently experienced. It’s the same the other way around too: if you had a hard life and you got a good day, it’s still a good day; in fact you may even appreciate it more after all you’ve been through.

    A lot of times fully enjoying the present is about shucking off your past conditioning. It’s not easy to do, but the first step is holding the people accountable who harmed you. Ain’t no use letting them keep f*ing with you. They don ‘t deserve that respect.


  6. C

    Who is this self that supposedly can be “released” from its conditioning? An eternal soul? An atman?

    More importantly, what would it mean to exist and act in the world in a truly non-judgemental way? We clearly need to learn to be *more* judgmental about the actions we take in the world, not less. We need to reason about our ways of living and producing as a society, and we need to make judgements about how we ought to go about doing these things collectively.

    This involves, not a suspension of judgement about our conditioning, but indeed an expansion of it—it requires us to make clearer and more serious judgements on the effects of what conditions us, and the way we reproduce these conditions in our daily practices. Because there is no position we can take outside of ideology, that is, outside of a set of judgements about how we ought to live and how we ought to collectively produce what we need to live. If we think we are being “non-judgemental,” well, aren’t we just deluded into believing that we have some eternal soul, one that isn’t subject to such causes and conditions? Isn’t it *only* causes and conditions, though, that bring us into the world in the first place and determine what actions are possible for us? And would it not be best to judge whether these causes and conditions are worth reproducing in our social practices?

    The idea that we can remove all conditioning and live ideology-free is, ironically, an idea that emerged only recently in human history. It is itself a product of causes and conditions! It’s important to remain aware of this.

  7. Trinity

    I’m with C on this one. Nature itself conditions us, and it can be as variable as space and time. And we are being conditioned by nature to expect higher variability than we’ve ever known (ignore it at your own peril).

    But Nature doesn’t have a value system, it’s a physical/mechanical system only, determined by physical laws for rotating, revolving spheres in space. We attach values to whatever is happening in Nature, however: good weather is cool and dry, versus too hot/too cold/too much precipitation in any form are “bad”. Part of the problem is that instead of living with and accounting for nature in all its variability, we instead try to control our environment to those “sweet spot” ranges of weather variables, and we’ve done it in a way that will never be sustainable. Climate change is an extreme response to the extreme changes we’ve made.

    The real problem is the value system used to determine our conditioning. It is the underlying value system that determines the conditioning we receive and it’s scaled, from our parents/grandparents, to communities, states, countries. Whoever has the power gets to choose the value set to which we are conditioned, and it may differ at each of these organizational scales. We almost never get to choose these values (or the range of acceptable values within the system), and we are forced to operate within them as best we can, again ignoring natural variability in humans, this time. I would also posit that the value set underlying our current conditioning is specifically designed to induce conflict, internal and external. It’s the best way to keep a population under control.

    So I’m arguing that recognizing our conditioning has been done by most people here. And we are going to be conditioned by something throughout our lives, unless we become hermits, in which case we are still conditioned by nature.

    There is no escape to conditioning, even on Mars. What needs to change are the underlying values, beginning with a total rejection of the imposed values we are currently encouraged, or forced, to embrace. This is why Amazon workers keep rebelling. Bozo and the others are trying to recondition us to accept the worst possible work environments, they are trying to normalize extreme inequality, extreme poverty and homelessness, mass school shootings, police brutality, “own nothing, rent everything, and be happy”, and many others as they force march us toward total fascist control. The current value/conditioning system deliberately (and so far, successfully) removes the majority of choice for us, the antithesis of being free.

  8. Joan

    @Z, thanks for the link to the Vachss article! I have benefited enormously this year from Patrick Teahan’s youtube channel. He discusses different forms of childhood trauma but also role-plays toxic conversations between parent and child. This helped me to see and put words to something that had always been an underlying angst. I’d known things were deeply wrong but since I suppressed and painted over everything as a coping mechanism, it had always been hard to parse the details.

  9. gbloon

    Ian, thanks for mentioning Krishnamurti, perhaps the most revolutionary teacher the world has seen. He is hard for us, not because he is complex, but that he is so very simple. We are the complex, the tangled, convoluted, conflicted, and we are tied up in knots.

    My understanding is that release from conditioning is possible. But you cannot release yourself. You are your conditioning, and not separate from it. Any movement away only ensnares you more. The way out is not by using the mind; the mind is memory, conditioning. Thought is representation, or re-presentation of what is. What is needed is direct perception.

    Perception–seeing, listening without thought interfering. Feeling conflict, emotion, desire, staying with it and not moving away into thought. What this means is direct contact with reality, and that contact reveals the truth, is truth. Say I am angry, for instance. Just stay with the feeling itself, not justify it, or suppress it, or even name it. Just go with the feeling and there can be release.

    This goes for thought also. Just observe thoughts as they arise one after another. Not me observing, but observation simple. You may have listened one time to music, maybe with headphones, and it went right through your head like a wind. Like that. Sounds kind of empty, and it is.

  10. Ché Pasa

    “Letting go” is crucial, no?

    Not everyone can or wants to or is ready. That’s OK.

    Long ago, I was taught that Sakyamuni Buddha’s keen insight was that desire was the source of suffering. Later, I was taught that “desire is life,” and no, it wasn’t desire but attachment that caused suffering; but no, later still, suffering was due to craving, and then it was clinging — and so on and so forth almost infinitely. None of which really gets us anywhere, does it? But then, is there anywhere to get?

    I offered up a modest koan to one of my Zen teachers: “What did Sakyamuni perceive as he was awakening under the Bodhi Tree?”

    His answer? “The Sutras don’t tell us…” Oh dear. Who knew?

    The scholarship, mysticism, and obscurantism of the East can be maddening to the Western mind and yet letting go

  11. Purple Library Guy

    Ehhhh . . . I don’t really buy the base claim, either in terms of fact or implied value. I mean, there’s something to it clearly–people live in an environment and they experience things in that environment and those things they experience have a lot to do with how they think and react. That much is obvious enough.
    But, first, it’s not as complete a thing as Krishnamurti-via-mr-Welsh is saying. When I watch small children, even as small as late-baby-early-toddler stage, it’s obvious that they are already quite different from each other, and they react to and process their experiences differently, and they are already making choices, what they like and don’t like to do, what interests them and what does not, what they fear, what tastes good and so on. And it remains that way as people get older–it just isn’t the case that everything going on in you is “conditioning”. So for instance I find the claim that you are not your personality borderline incoherent. There may be elements of your personality that were incorporated via “conditioning”, and there may be some things that could be considered part of “you” that you would want to say aren’t “personality”–but if you subtract my personality, what then do you have? You still have SOMEBODY, I suppose, in the sense that even a bug has an identity, but you don’t have the PARTICULAR somebody I would normally call me. In a very real sense, a person is their personality.

    Further, I think there are some basic philosophical positions, values, that you can get from a combination of thinking and innate personality–there is a very solid level of truth to them. It is notable that while there are different ethical philosophies and philosophers thinking about them disagree a lot . . . the disagreements tend to be all about edge cases. Most of the core behaviour they point to tends to hold for all of them except Ayn Rand and LaVey Satanism and similar ethical frameworks starting from psychopathy. The point being that you can reach some important ideas independent of conditioning, and you can process your reactions to things that do count as conditioning based on those ideas. So I’m not willing to say that every ethical impulse I detect is mere “conditioning” and equivalent to every other, nor that every effort on my part to, say, shift my behaviour or ideas more in line with my ethical insights, is just one set of conditioning clashing with another. I think that’s just not true.

    Beyond all that of course, there’s a certain “so what”. I mean, people are not born with a taste for beer; it’s bitter and just fundamentally doesn’t taste much good on first experiencing it, especially with a young palate. Many people then acquire a taste for beer (I never did, I have a very childish palate that never really changed); this is clearly an example of “conditioning”. And, so? Should people realize their fondness for beer is just “conditioning” and try to stop enjoying beer? The fact is, having acquired the taste for it, now they really like it, and they do enjoy it.
    I read The Lord of the Rings when I was nine. Since then I have spent a great deal of my time seeking out and reading fantasy and science fiction books, playing paper-and-pencil roleplaying games with fantasy and science fiction themes, hanging out with friends who share those interests. I have many bookshelves filled with mainly F&SF books. A great deal of what I know, I know either directly or indirectly because of that (eg I have researched quite a bit of history so I could run a better game). OK, so as far as I can tell all this stuff in the Krishnamurti theme counts as “conditioning”. Now leaving aside the oddity of calling it “conditioning” when clearly I did it to myself due to internal, quite deliberate choices . . . I REALLY, REALLY LIKE this stuff. I have consciously INCORPORATED it into my identity. It is no longer a neutral external thing; it’s part of me now, and again, as with some people and beer, it makes me happy. Does it matter how innate it is?

    That doesn’t mean I think there can’t be any point to practicing some kind of mental awareness and introspection, to kind of look at your mental processes to see what’s going on. But I don’t buy what I’m seeing as the philosophical underpinnings to why you’re supposed to be doing it and how you’re not-exactly-judging it in this setup.

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