What is Conscious Living?
Conscious living is about waking up. More than just mindful living, it's about being conscious of what you consume with your senses and of the effect it has on you.
If you understand that first sentence deeply than the rest of this section is unnecessary. But, it can be very difficult to understand what conscious living is in the beginning without further explanation.
Conscious living is about appreciating yourself as well as everything around you through seeing and acting with greater clarity.
It goes beyond the traditional understanding of self-development, clears up the illusory and confusing separation of self-development and spirituality and introduces the concept of you not as a separate person but as interconnected to all other people and things.
To understand what I mean by that and to know how you should approach conscious living, I need to explain something first.
Mindfulness is the very practice of living peace itself. When practicing mindfulness, we touch the world around us deeply. This can bring us great happiness.
But when practicing mindfulness we also see very deeply into the things with which we're interacting with, which is the reason mindfulness is the basis for awakening. This is because mindfulness develops in us the power of concentration. Through the power of concentration we can receive insight and see into the true nature of things.
Take an orange for example. When practicing mindfulness while eating an orange we may see into the true nature of the orange. What does that mean? We see, or realize, that the orange is made up of completely non-orange elements.
We see the orange tree with which the orange came from. We see the rain water that helped the orange tree, and therefore the orange, grow. Because of the rain we see the clouds, we also see the sun and the
soil from which the orange tree grew from. You can see the farmer that grew the orange and you can also see the pesticides it was treated with along the way, among other things.
So you see that the orange is made up of many different things. Everything affects the orange or contributes to its growth or death and the orange will then go on to do the same.
In The Art of Power, Thich Nhat Hanh explains:
Everything is related to everything else. Your well-being and the well-being of your family are essential elements in bringing about the well-being of your business or of any organization where you work. Finding ways to protect yourself and promote your own well-being is the most basic investment you can make. This will have an impact on your family and work environment, but first of all it will result in an improvement in the quality of your own life.
This is the very basis of conscious living. And you don't have to receive any sort of special insight to see this. By simply becoming aware of the interconnected nature of all things (called the concept of interbeing by Thich Nhat Hanh, the most fitting term in my opinion) you'll begin to see the effect other things have on you and the effect you have on other things.
You can then make the choice to consume more of the things that feed your mind and body, whether it's a certain type of food, a TV show or some sort of relationship, or reduce or even eliminate your consumption of those things that don't (or negatively affect it). Conscious living has two steps:
2 Steps to Conscious Living and the Garden of Your Mind
- Awareness. That is, becoming fully aware of the complete effect that all things consumed by your senses has on your well-being and on the world around you.
- Consumption. Next, consuming wisely based on that knowledge: eliminating, reducing and avoiding those things which don't serve you and the world around you and adding and promoting those things which do.
Conscious living includes a huge variety of things. Really, if you think about it, conscious living has to do with everything you do every single day.
Conscious living includes a number of things you might not yet have associated with having an affect on your well-being. It includes not only the obvious things such as what we eat and drink but also what we watch, read and listen to. All of these things affect you in various different ways.
Think of yourself as a plant. Depending on how much sun, water and other nutrients you absorb you'll either grow or wilt. You need to absorb various nutrients on a regular basis. You can't just do it every once in a while and you can't just get water with no sunlight. You need to cover all of the below categories in order to fully master your life- to perform at your best and to be your happiest, healthiest and most energetic self.
One last note about conscious living: it doesn't mean simply feed yourself good things and avoid the bad. Conscious living is about looking deeply into everything that you do, as I mentioned earlier, and really seeing into the true nature of things. It's about getting the complete and fully educated picture.
Then, using that insight to make the conscious decision to consume more or less of that thing based on the effect it has on you. Make no assumptions in conscious living and let your daily mindfulness practice and regular practice of seeing deeply guide you.
Don't just eat more vegetables because other people tell you to, really do your research and look into why you should eat vegetables. What do they do to your body? What do the various vitamins and minerals do that exist in each vegetable? Conscious living is about making conscious decisions, not just taking conventional wisdom at face value.
This is also helpful because by knowing why you do something you'll have a stronger drive to keep doing it as opposed to if you did something that someone else simply suggested you do, even if you desire the result it will give you.
Why You Should Live More Consciously
The happiest and most successful people in the world practice conscious living, whether they call it that or not. In fact, the road to happiness and success in anything is often paved with gradual steps towards a more and more conscious lifestyle.
And by success, I mean true success. Not success at the expense of ourselves or others. That isn't what conscious living is about nor what real success is. I mean success that positively contributes and connects with as many people as possible, positive use of any power and influence you have and all the while keeping your loved ones, your health and your practice of inner peace and happiness first.
So, why live more consciously? By practicing conscious living you can become:
- More peaceful
- More energetic
- More focused
- More compassionate
- You'll also be more likely to have like-minded people in your life who will support and encourage you as well as help contribute with you along the way.
- And you'll also make your loved ones more of all of those things as a byproduct of them associating with you.
Unfortunately though, many of us are closer to the other side of the spectrum. We live unconsciously. As I wrote in 7 Ways Zen Buddhism Can Change Your Life:
We talk about people behind their backs negatively, complain about our day at work when we’re home or about home when we’re at work. We watch reality shows filled with nothing but people fighting and insulting one another for entertainment. We read articles and blogs about Hollywood drama and partake in bashing our politicians and government officials instead of trying to create that positive change ourselves.
The teachings of Buddhism emphasize simplifying one's life. What this means in Buddhist terms is to weed out distractions and negative influences such as the ones I just mentioned which can make it difficult to follow the way to inner peace and happiness. This stands true no matter what you believe.
Until you weed out these distractions and negative influences you can never hope to find true peace or happiness. And by the way, you'll also have difficulty finding true success in anything as well.
The reality is that neither you nor I have the ability to avoid being affected by this, no matter how strong we think we are. Everything around us, especially those things we regularly consume, effect us and in a very concrete way. You need to take steps to reduce the pull of negative seeds in your life and to water the good ones.
How to Live More Consciously
Listed below are the 9 major areas of conscious living. These are the major things which you should become mindful of in your everyday life and educate yourself on to make your own decisions based on your life.
Also, keep in mind that mostly the same things apply for all of us, but, there are exceptions. Remember not to take anything at face value and do your own research on yourself. Really examine your life closely and make a conscious decision.
And don't worry about being perfect. Perfection is just an idea, it doesn't exist in the real world and hanging on to an idea of perfection won't help you.
Like all other efforts that have to do with improving your life, it takes time and you'll invariably get some things wrong at first. Just make your best effort and you'll quickly see the change that living more consciously has on our lives.
Lastly, I know each point is pretty big, so I'd suggest picking two of these points at a time that go well together (mindful eating and drinking for instance) and working on those first. Later you can come back and work on another group.
1. Eating 2. Drinking 3. Healing and Medicating 4. Purchasing 5. Watching 6. Reading 7. Connecting 8. Conversing 9. Loving
Mindful eating has become a popular subject since the spread of mindfulness over the past decade. What is mindful eating? To put it simply, it's eating in mindfulness. Being fully present for the act of eating that piece of fruit or whatever it is that you're eating
But conscious eating is about more than just eating mindfully. Like everything else on this list, it's also about being conscious of what you're putting into your body in the first place. Remember the orange?
Conscious eating is about knowing how the food you put into your body will affect you. By practicing conscious eating you'll not only control your eating and improve your digestion, but by being careful of what you put into your body you'll become healthier and can increase your energy levels substantially.
At my "peak", I was eating McDonald's on an almost daily basis. This peak lasted almost two years. When I started to get back into the martial arts I began gradually working on my diet. I worked on sections of my diet at a time, never pushing myself too hard. The most noticeable change was in my energy levels.
It's hard to describe without sounding like I'm exaggerating, but I wake up on average 4-5 hours earlier than I did back then, go to bed at roughly the same time, have two kids now and get far more done in a given day. And this isn't all because of my diet, but that's been a huge contributing factor. Real change is a marathon, not a sprint. It's been nearly 7 years now since I've had any McDonald's.
What you put into your body really does make a difference. In fact, some of the most significant improvements to your health and vitality can be made via changing what you drink. There's a few beverages worth mentioning, namely: water, soda/juice, and alcohol. Of all those, water is critically important for your body.
I've followed Mercola.com for most of my health related advice for some time now. I've followed a lot of websites for health advice and few have been as helpful and thorough as Dr. Mercola's website. He had this to say in his article "The Case Against Drinking 6-8 Glasses of Water a Day":
It is my strong belief that the single most powerful intervention the majority of Americans can make for their physical health would be to stop drinking all sodas and juices and replace them with health promoting pure water.
He goes on to say that:
If you get the fluid/water replacement issue right, then you have made one of the most important and powerful steps you can in taking control of your health.
Soda and juice is paired together because the same culprits exist within both: artificial sweeteners and sugar. Artificial sweeteners especially, but sugar itself is bad in excess quantities as well. Our society consumes massive amounts of sugar and it's a huge contributing factor to the ever-increasing rate of diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Lastly, alcohol. Even casual drinking over the course of years can wreak havoc on your liver, damage your brain and it does you no real good. Not to mention, you or someone you care about and spend time with could have the potential for alcoholism and not even know it, which could lead to much worse things.
You'll find that with a healthy spiritual practice intoxicating yourself for a little fun stops being so attractive. You'll realize the only reason you ever did it was either out of peer pressure or to temporarily numb some sort of internal pain.
3. Healing and Medicating
Healing might not seem like something that would be associated with conscious living, but when you consider that the majority of us rush to consume either over-the-counter or prescription drugs anytime something is remotely wrong with us then you'll see that how you react to pain and illness (whether minor or major) is an important part of conscious living.
In The Art of Power, Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about how we've forgotten our bodies natural healing ability:
When an animal in the forest gets seriously wounded, it knows exactly what to do. It looks for a secluded spot and just lies down for several days, not concerned with eating. It has wisdom. Only when the wound has healed does the animal return to foraging or hunting for food.
We once had this kind of wisdom, but now we have lost our capacity to rest. We panic every time we experience something uncomfortable in our body. We rush to the doctor to get a prescription for all kinds of medicine because we don’t realize that just allowing our body to rest is often the best method of healing.
"Thay", as his students lovingly refer to him as (pronounced 'tie'), suggests using mindfulness to speed up the healing process. How do you practice mindful healing? Mindful healing is simply mindfulness of body.
To do this, you can focus your complete awareness on the affected area, or, on your entire body as a whole. To practice mindfulness of your entire body, start with your head or your toes and stay in mindfulness as you go slowly through each area of your body. When you get to an area of your body causing you trouble, take a few extra moments and give extra attention and love to that area.
Unfortunately most people, at least in the U.S., choose drugs over natural healing.
There's a lot of different over-the-counter and prescription drugs out there and the number is growing every day. I'm sure you've seen the commercials where it's the same beautifully perfect day in every single commercial followed by what sounds like an insane list of side effects.
Drug companies bring in billions of dollars every year, and with money, comes greed. I'm not saying everyone associated with a big pharmaceutical company has fallen to greed and every medication a cash pull. But I am saying that the cases are prevalent enough that you need to be careful and educate yourself about what medication you consume.
Do your research, be aware of all the possibilities, stay mindful of the signals your body is sending you, introduce yourself to natural healing remedies, and practice mindful healing. It's in your hands to be mindful and to make a more educated and ultimately conscious choice.
If conscious living is about being mindful of what you absorb through your senses, and we're talking about mastering your life through conscious living, then conscious purchasing is an important point to consider because it effects many of the other categories here.
Conscious purchasing is about being mindful of the impact which something you buy will have on you, on others, on the planet and of the purpose for which you're purchasing it. For the first reason conscious watching, reading, eating and drinking as well as loving and parenting in some cases are all directly connected to this.
The second reason I need to explain a bit further. Being mindful of the purpose for which you purchase something is about being mindful to not clutter your life with needless or useless things. This can eventually have a number of negative impacts on you and those around you, so it's important to consider just for this one reason alone.
I'd suggest starting out here slowly. When you go to buy or acquire something just start by asking yourself these two questions: 1.) Do I really need this? 2.) Will this positively or negatively affect me and/or others around me? Maybe both? This can be a whole lifestyle change in itself, so take it one step at a time and stay true yourself in the process.
By conscious watching I'm referring exclusively to watching TV, movies and videos on the internet. This one is pretty straightforward. Things to be mindful of here are your total daily screen time (TV, phone, desktop, any other sort of screen), how many hours a day you're sitting and what kinds of things you're watching.
You probably already know that staring at a screen for long hours each day isn't exactly good for you but more than ever you need to be mindful of how much screen time you're clocking every day because of how difficult it is to get away from them. We use screens for everything from work to play nowadays.
Chances are you need to cut down on your screen time. An easy exercise to do is to pay attention to how often you check your email and social accounts throughout your day and to cut each down to once or twice a day if possible. Really stop to think about the things you do on your phone especially the things that are just time wasters and seek to cut them off or minimize them.
You probably work and communicate off of your phone and desktop though and generally do nothing but waste time watching TV- so it's an easier target.
If you're an avid screen-watcher then do this experiment: cut your TV by half or a third and immediately start doing something positive with that time like reading a book, going for walks outside or meditating. See how you feel. Pay close attention to your mood, energy level and ability to focus on whatever task is at hand during this period and for the weeks afterwards.
You also need to becareful of how many hours a day you're sitting down as this can be dangerous for your health. Some of the best ways to counteract this are, aside from watching so much TV, to start standing at regular intervals in your day to stretch for a moment and to buy a standing desk for work.
Lastly, be mindful of the effect that shows with not-so-good themes and advertisements can have on your state of mind. It's possible that some are unaffected by this, as research seems mixed, but you need to pay close attention to this regardless. In any case, these things don't feed your mind or contribute to anything positive so they should be minimized.
Now, I'm not telling you to stop watching your favorite show. You don't need to take it that far. But what I am saying is to become mindful of the effect that the things you consume have on you and simply to minimize the bad.
As with every category here, take it slow. At first you can just focus on cutting down your screen time and reserving it only for the things you need and like most. Preferably, things that actually teach you something new.
People love reading about gossip and drama. If they didn't, those magazines with all those bogus celebrity stories on the news stands of grocery stores wouldn't still be there decades after their inception. When they told you in elementary school that reading is good, they didn't mean stuff like that.
Conscious reading means being mindful of the effect that whatever you're reading will have on you and choosing those things that grow your mind or maintain your well-being over those that don't.
That means staying away from gossip, drama and most other negative forms of writing be it a physical publication or a blog, magazine or news source online. It also means that when you do read it should be something that feeds your mind.
Keep in mind that you can't, and shouldn't, stay away from all negative news. I keep up with world news. I think it's important to do so. But man...it can be difficult at times. Read through one week's worth of headlines and your general enthusiasm for the world as a whole will usually drop a few points.
But this is our world, the real world. And it's not all pretty. There's a lot of beauty, but there's a lot of chaos as well. It's important to know what's going on not just in a general sense but so that we can help our brothers and sisters in any way possible. If you live in the U.S. or another well-off nation you tend lead a sheltered life unaware of the hardships of other nations. So it's important to educate yourself.
Conscious reading and conscious living as a whole isn't just about consuming good things. It's about seeing reality as it is. To see with clarity. That means, as we've spoken about throughout this article, that you realize the effect the things you consume have on you and can therefore make a better choice for the sake of your well-being and the well-being of the world around you.
This is about connecting with people online, primarily via social networks and texting, but also anywhere else people communicate at a distance. Conscious connecting means that you're careful who you spend time connecting with online and what conversations you take part in. It also means though that you watch how much time you spend on your phone or computer in the first place.
Much of the same principles from mindful conversing apply here, except it's much easier to connect online then it is in person. The act of typing your response to something makes it far more difficult to respond to something in anger.
The internet has connected the world like never before, and it's been mostly good, but not all good. Ever read Yahoo! comments? If you have, you know exactly what I mean. Skip the rest of this paragraph. Seriously though, people are FAR more likely and willing to say hurtful things over the internet than they are in person. People will say things over the internet that they would never say in person.
Be very careful who you choose to connect with over the internet. Even if you think negative comments will have no effect on you. We each have the seeds of every emotion from anger to joy in us and what comes to the surface is simply what we choose to water and what we choose to neglect. Choose not to water the seeds of anger, fear, and other limiting beliefs and emotions.
Also, as difficult as I know that it is, don't be disappointed or angry with these people. Just know that it's a deep-seeded anger, resentment or ignorance being projected outward. Understand this and you can continue to show compassion towards them. Consciously, or mindfully, connecting also means that you seek to cultivate compassion towards anyone you connect with.
Unlike conscious connecting, conscious conversing deals exclusively with face-to-face contact. What I really want to talk about here is, like with connecting, being careful about who you talk to on a regular basis. In other words, your associations.
The people you associate, or communicate, with face-to-face are the most powerful people in your life and some of the most powerful forces in your life period. I can't stress this more. It's so important to keep company with positive and compassionate people. It really does effect everything you do.
By keeping as many positive associations and as few negative ones in your life you'll not only be happier and more at peace, you'll be far more likely to become successful in anything you do. By being mindful of your associations you'll be able to decide which ones are and aren't positive associations.
OK, that sounds great. But in real life, as opposed to online, it can be much more difficult to be choosy about who you speak or spend time with. You might even live with someone who isn't the greatest association. This can be really difficult.
Trust me, I know how it is. I've lived with people who were pretty bad associations as well. In these situations, you need to meditate on the person in hopes of cultivating compassion and understanding towards them otherwise you'll be bothered by them everyday.
But on top of that, you don't want to hang around them any longer than you have to. You can't change someone else for them, that person has to want to change themselves. And if they just don't want to change their ways, you need to get out on your own.
This isn't always possible, I understand. But you can find peace regardless. In fact, it's through these struggles that you will grow to appreciate your practice of mindfulness and mindful living even more.
Conscious conversing is also about how you respond when you're actually talking to someone. This is mindful speech and mindful listening. That argument with your spouse, talking about that project at work with your team where one person is being difficult and meeting with a friend to have fun only to have him or her start to spill about their recent struggles. These are all opportunities for mindful conversing, not only to be mindful of how being around them affects you but of how you respond to them.
Conscious loving is about being fully present to our loved ones. It's about paying attention to our loved one's needs and listening deeply to them.
Why is it on this list? Because conscious, or mindful, loving is mindfulness of how you spend, or consume, your time with your loved ones (in other words, realizing your priorities). It's about realizing how precious your loved ones are and in so giving your full attention to them while in their presence. It's also an extension of mindful conversing.
Mindfulness is the basis for a healthy relationship of any kind. By practicing conscious loving you'll notice your relationships begin to flourish. Try this next time you get in a fight with someone you love:
_______, I love you and I care far more about you than what we're arguing about. I don't care who's right and who's wrong. I love you and I know we can work this out together. Let's do this together, so we can be happy.
This helps bring any argument into perspective. You'll notice when doing this it sort of personifies the argument and makes it an outside force- an adversary. It then allows you and your loved one to see the situation clearly and helps handle the problem.
How does conscious loving towards others help you master your own life? First and foremost, it'll make you (and your loved ones) happier on many levels.
By not just improving the quality of your relationships, by allowing them to altogether thrive, you'll transform every challenge from a possible argument into an opportunity to strengthen your relationship and grow closer. You'll notice your loved ones following your lead and expressing compassion more often than anger, and when anger is expressed your, and their, ability to quell it will improve.
And this strengthening of your relationships will make everything in life easier. Your job, home life, life challenges of any shape and size. Our relationships are possibly the single most powerful factor in our success in anything. So practicing mindful loving is one of the most powerful points on this list.
There are many ways to start with conscious living, and so much included within it, so I've provided a variety of resources below which are designed to either help you develop mindfulness as a daily practice (what I believe to be the central and most important effort in conscious living), simplify your life, or better examine your life as a whole:
- What is Mindfulness? A Guide to Mindfulness Meditation
- 11 Ways to Be More Like a Zen Monk
- My 2015 Mindful Living Integrity Report
- 30 Simple Steps to Simple Living in 30 Days: How to Simplify Your Life from Start to Finish in 30 Days
- The 10 Most Important Ways to Simplify Your Life
The Important Thing
Remember, conscious living includes your entire life, so it's a huge topic. Don't become overwhelmed with all the various different places you can live more mindfully and consciously and get confused about where to start first.
Just remember what is the important thing: to wake up. To live mindfully and to really take the time to educate yourself and become conscious to the world around you.
Be aware of your interconnected nature (our interbeing) and how one thing affects many things and how many things affect one thing. This is the way things are, so by living your life in a way that you become more conscious of this layered relationship you put yourself in a position to experience greater mental and physical health.
However you choose to live your life, what's really important is that you live mindfully and consciously. Wake up to your life in the present moment and realize that every small action makes waves like ripples in a pond.