The Ultimate Principle of All Human Development
Without a doubt, when it comes to doing the right thing and figuring out how we should live our lives a lot of difficult questions come up.
Should I be religious? Is religion a good thing? What is religion anyway?
What's spirituality? What's the difference between religion and spirituality? What's the difference between spirituality and self-development? Are they the same thing?
How exactly do I improve myself? Can I really change? What do I change first?
What's the most important thing in life to do? Is there a universal teaching behind all religions, for all people no matter what religion, tradition, or culture?
What the heck am I supposed to do? Why am I asking all these questions??
When the Buddha was asked to sum up the entirety of his teaching, the teaching of all Buddhas (or awakened beings), the most basic teaching about how we should live, and ultimately what all spiritual and self-development practice boils down to, his response was:
The bad things, don't do them. The good things, try to do them. Try to purify, subdue your own mind.
This might sound simple, but it's not. It's the very essence of all personal and spiritual development.
But where do you go from there? How do you actually use this wisdom? Naturally, two questions come to mind: "how do I decide what's good and what's bad?", and "how do I purify my mind?" The answer to these two questions is the very foundation of what could be a universal practice based not on a particular religion, belief, or philosophy but on simply being human.
Is there really a universal principle behind all human development that you can key in on and use as a basis or foundation for a universal practice which isn't restricted to a particular religion or philosophy?
There is, and that principle is....
By consciousness, I'm referring to a complete awareness of yourself and what's happening around you. Specifically, a complete awareness of the effect that your actions have on you as well as on other living and non-living things and the effect that the actions and occurrences of the rest of the world have on you and on others.
This is really taking the principle of mindfulness and applying it to the world at large, so I call it mindful living, although it's sometimes called conscious living. Mindfulness is essentially the highest form of awareness, observation, and engagement available to us. It's the very expression of being fully conscious, so conscious living and mindful living are essentially the same thing.
Mindfulness is a complete and nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness is particularly mindfulness of yourself- your actions, thoughts, and feelings. So conscious or mindful living means to live in a way that you strive to be completely aware of the "action energy" within you and in the rest of the world.
There's a second aspect of mindful living that needs to be mentioned. To be mindful of something isn't just to be fully aware of that thing, it also means that you're fully engaged.
When you practice mindful walking, you're fully engaged or fully present for the practice of walking mindfully. No part of you is engaged in anything other than walking in mindfulness. This same principle is applied naturally when you strive to live mindfully, such as becoming engaged in better food consumption practices when you become aware of the effect that certain foods have on your body and on the environment.
But I won't go into detail about that because for the most part, become fully conscious of something means you naturally become fully engaged in that thing. So your focus should simply be on increasing your awareness.
This is a gargantuan topic. I could write an entire book about mindful living, so this is really a crash-course on mindful living. I couldn't ever hope to cover all there is to mindful living in a single article. But don't worry, it's easy to understand the basic principles of mindful living.
Once you understand the basic principles of mindful living you can simply invite mindfulness and deep observation into each area of your life, one area at a time, and begin transforming your life for the better. Both for the good of yourself and for the good of the rest of the world.
How Mindful Living Can Transform You + the World
Why should you practice mindful living? We don't all agree on what the right thing to do is in every situation, some of us have conflicting beliefs, but this is OK. Because, despite this, by striving to live more consciously we naturally come to a number of universally agreeable truths and revolutionary realizations:
- We're all one big family, literally interconnected in the most concrete way possible. - No matter how dysfunctional we may seem at times.
- You're happiest when you do things for other people rather than yourself. - Despite our naturally self-centered nature.
- What you do every single day affects an exponential amount of people in a very real way. - Whether we realize it or not.
I could go on, but let's stop there. Just these three points are completely transformative in themselves. They're earth-shattering really.
Wait, we're not supposed to be killing each other? We'd all get what we wanted if we instead learned to work together in peace?
You're saying you want me to do things for -other- people? And this is supposed to make me feel even better than when I buy something for myself? And you're saying this is going to give my entire life a sense of meaning?
Are you trying to tell me that when I buy an apple, drink milk, throw out my trash, say something to a stranger, shop for a friend, do work at my job, or anything else I'm not only affecting my own well-being in a concrete way but I'm creating a sort of "ripple" that expands out and can affect tens, hundreds, sometimes even thousands or millions of people in some way?
Yes, yes, and yes. Each of these principles is a great example of how striving to live more consciously can change your life, and on a larger scale, change the entire world as we know it.
Living consciously is the foundation not only of all human development, of your own personal and spiritual development, it's also the foundation for positive change in the world at large.
Most people don't realize it, but real change on a national and global scale most often happens when regular people (non-politicians) stand up for what they believe is right and take action. Whether it's something as simple as a peaceful march or something more active like creating initiatives to spur change, it's these activists that really make change happen.
We place so much of the responsibility for national and global change on our politicians (the term "leader" has been placed on them, when they're hardly if ever that). But while they might be fighting hard to create change, the reality is no one person, no matter what position they have, can create significant change for such a large group of people.
Real change on a large scale happens when people come together as one in peace. A leader might inspire the people, raising their awareness of an issue and being brave enough to stand up before anyone else does, but other people still have to stand up and take the call otherwise the leader will get nowhere.
When it comes down to it, mindful living is really about realizing our interconnectedness.
It's about discovering how we affect ourselves, how we affect others (both living and non-living things), and how others affect us.
Mindful living has two life-changing benefits:
- It gives us the ultimate tool to transform our lives. With the ability to see deeply into our thoughts and actions we can differentiate the good from the bad and then change course for greater overall well-being.
- It provides a concrete way to contribute to creating global change. If we as a group can realize the truth of our interconnectedness we can begin steering our entire race towards a more peaceful existence. We'd all realize that what we want is very much the same thing and that we're most likely to get that if we work together. Mindful living is about our greater responsibility to come together in understanding, compassion, and love for one another.
For anyone confused about self-development or spirituality and unsure of what to do or where to start, this is it. This is the ground of all human development. Work on this first and everything else will unfold on its own.
Living the Mindful Life
Mindful living is about taking the idea of mindfulness and expanding it outward to encompass the entire world. Meaning that both the world affects us in myriad ways and that we affect it in myriad ways.
Mindfulness ultimately helps us uncover afflictions, such as deep-seated anger or jealously, so that we can accept and simply "be with" ourselves and let the healing energy of pure awareness cure us.
This uncovering of afflictions, in the case of mindful living both done to us and by us, is the primary function of mindful living. By living mindfully we can see the effect we have on the rest of the world as well as the effect the rest of the world has on us (and the effect we have on ourselves) and from that discover what's right and wrong, good and bad. And that brings us back full-circle to what the Buddha said.
Mindfulness and meditation at large is also the primary tool we have in purifying and developing the ability to control (or subdue) our mind.
Just think of mindful living as one great big meditation. You're constantly meditating on everything. What you do when you wake up, what you're watching on TV, the general effect that watching TV has on you, where you're going, why you're going there, what all that rushing around is doing to your mind and body, what you and everyone else does on a day-to-day basis to contribute to climate change and pollution levels and how it might affect you, what food you eat, where the food you eat comes from, how it's made, what people had to do to ultimately get it into your hands at the grocery store, the effect ideas have on you and on others, the way ideas seem to exist, move, and develop in large groups as if there were a sort of "collective consciousness", and so on. There's so many things to become conscious of and meditate on that it really is a life's work.
Mindful living encompasses your whole life, but it isn't complicated. When striving to live more consciously, just keep these 3 things in mind:
- What you do (and what other things do to you)
- The complete effect it has on you
- The complete effect it has on others
Because mindful living encompasses essentially everything you do and experience, it can be difficult to know where to start. Here's a few of the major categories you can start with to begin living mindfully and quickly creating a positive impact in your life and in the lives of those around you:
1. Your thoughts and feelings
This is the foundation. If you're a cave explorer, exploring the many caves that make up "you", then mindfulness is the headlamp which helps you navigate the vast and dark corridors. When looking deeply into what it means to live mindfully, we see that the effect we have on ourselves as well as the effect other things have on us leave an imprint. And this imprint, a limiting or negative belief for instance, can be detected with our mindfulness.
Deep and intellectual contemplation and observation also has a place in mindful living though, which together with mindfulness make up your left and rights hands in the act of living more consciously.
2. Physical nourishment
The next two categories make up all that is mindful consumption. Mindful consumption is a huge part of mindful living because it includes anything you consume physically or mentally. By physical nourishment I'm referring to anything you put into or place onto your body.
Food and drinks are the largest and most obvious piece of this, but this also includes physical fitness, hygiene products you use, and physical pleasures. Yes, that includes sex. It might be an uncomfortable topic for some, but there's making love, desiring sex for simple pleasure, and there's sex based on muffling insecurities.
Nothing is off-limits when it comes to really working on yourself. To ignore anything would be a disservice to yourself. Hey, I didn't say mindful living was easy...
3. Mental nourishment
This completes mindful consumption. Mental nourishment includes a lot of things, but they're ultimately the things we do for enjoyment: watching TV, connecting on social media, connecting in person, reading blogs, otherwise surfing the internet, reading books, reading magazines, playing video games, and the act of buying.
No matter who you are, nearly all of us spend time doing most of the above. So the question here is more: how much of what do you spend time doing?
Do you watch loads of TV with little reading? Are you on Facebook for two hours a day? Do you check your email 20 times a day? Do you sit in front of the computer for hours every day, eventually getting up with the feeling like you haven't really done anything the entire time?
Or, do you read books, blogs, and magazine articles regularly that grow and nourish your mind and connect often with friends and family in person? There's a big difference in the well-being of those two people.
Your scenario is unique to you. I don't know what you're life looks like, so you need to live consciously in order to find out what you're consuming on a regular basis.
For more on mindful consumption read The Ultimate Guide to Mastering Your Life Through Mindful Consumption.
4. Your time
This is a big one. You have a new 24 hours every single day, how do you usually spend it?
You might not think there's a problem with watching TV in the sense of mental nourishment (maybe you watch a lot of Discovery and History??), but when you then factor in the importance of and limited resource that time is it could be headed to the chopping block.
What do you do when you wake up? When do you wake up? When do you go to sleep? Do you feel tired every day? How long do you work? Do you get enough time with your kids? Do you get enough time to do what you really love? Is there something you don't feel you get enough time for or spend too much time on?
These are all questions you'll need to ask yourself. Not once, constantly. As I'll talk about later, and as you may have already noticed, mindful living pairs perfectly with someone interested in peak performance. You might find it a good idea to ask these questions every 6 months to a year as a regular evaluation.
5. Your words
Your words, along with your thoughts and actions, are one of the three major categories of yourself to be mindful of. This can be included in your actions, but it's often separated partly because of how powerful this category is. This is communication, and communication is powerful.
Becoming more conscious of what you say, what you don't say, when you say something, and how you say it are all very important. Our words can literally make or break people, make or break relationships, and make or break your goals and dreams.
The power of mastering your words can't be overstated, and becoming conscious of how you communicate is well worth the time spent.
6. Your work
What do you do for a living? Does it help the environment? Does it affect the well-being of other people? Is it negatively affecting your own well-being? Does the company support something important that you're against?
Are you doing what you believe you're meant to do? If not, do you know what you want to do?
These are all questions you should ask yourself at one point or another. If your answer to any of these questions is less-than-stellar then you need to reevaluate your living and see how you can improve the situation.
You'll often need to tread slowly and carefully here as adjusting your living is a big and often sensitive area (you can't just put your rent on hold...), but this is one of the areas that can affect your well-being the most.
7. You physical possessions
This includes becoming more deeply aware of both what you buy and what you already own. Most of us buy, and hoard, a lot of things we don't really need.
Taking the time to closely analyze as well as silently observe your interaction with your various physical possessions is important. Different things have different effects on us, so it's important to first see deeply into the effect that an object has on us.
Most of us aren't aware of the effect that simplifying our need for and reducing our total amount of physical possessions can have on us. Simplifying your life, starting with your behavior and actual ownership of physical possessions can be a surprisingly liberating experience.
The Tools of Mindful Living
Now it's time to take action. We've talked about conscious or mindful living as the foundation for personal, spiritual, and global transformation and better well-being, covered the basic principles to keep in mind while striving to live mindfully, and went over some of the various areas you can begin working on.
Now it's time to talk about the various tools which you can use to begin actually raising your awareness.
We discussed this already, but mindfulness is always your master tool. Everything you do and everything that happens to you has an effect which leaves an imprint. This imprint is the reason mindfulness is your master tool.
Whether it's a deep-seated emotion, a limiting belief, or a wrong perception, mindfulness is a tool which can help you the remove all afflictions and find true peace and happiness in the present moment.
Mindfulness is the cornerstone of mindful living and should always stay your focus. If you lose sight of yourself then no amount of conscious of mindful living will make up for what you've lost.
2. Deep contemplation
But with regards to mindful living specifically, there's more to it than just mindfulness. You also need to take the time to contemplate deeply on the things you do, the things you use, and the things you buy.
Mindfulness can help you come in contact with the truth of our interconnectedness, but it's contemplation that transforms that observation into a measurable life change. If you observe the effect that eating a certain food has on your body, it's contemplation that studies the possible reasons and solutions and comes to a decision.
Sometimes, just picking a piece of your life and sitting down to delve deeply into it is productive as well. There's a number of uses for contemplation, but to keep it simple just look at contemplation as the piece that connects mindfulness and action.
3. Meditation on interconnectedness
If mindfulness is the direct facing of the issue, meditating on interconnectedness is turning away from it to walk up a 100 foot hill so that you can gain a better vantage point.
Once you have this vantage point you can see clearly the various ways you're interconnected to other living and non-living things, and from there, deciding what to do about it is generally pretty easy.
By using this trinity of tools you can begin raising your awareness and living more consciously. Improving your energy, your health, your sense of peace, bringing more joy into your life, and giving your life a sense of meaning.
As the foundation of all personal and spiritual development, mindful living can do all of those things and more. Mindful living is the ideal foundation for anyone interested in living to their full potential.
By living in a way that we're constantly mindful of our interconnectedness, we're able to realize our greatest potential. What we do to others, we ultimately do to ourselves.
There is no separating you from all other living and non-living things. Any thought that you might be able to operate separate from the rest of the world is a delusion. And the faster you realize this the faster you can begin truly living the good life.
When we realize that we live not only for ourselves but for each other, we truly shine.
I wanted to end with a few important notes which I've learned over the years of working to become more conscious in my own life:
- It can be tough- Understand that mindful living isn't always easy. It will be difficult at times to follow through on what you find. Especially in your mindfulness practice, where you're liable to find some deep-seated emotions and beliefs which you rather not associate with yourself.
- It takes time- Like mindfulness, a greater overall awareness of yourself and the world around you takes time to develop. Stick with it, as we talked about earlier it's more than worth it.
- Work in groups- You can only do so much at once, and since mindful living is such a huge undertaking, you'll need to work on just a few areas at a time as opposed to everything at once. You'll find yourself much more productive if you do this.