I’ve been practicing mindfulness for more than twenty years. You would think twenty years of practice would make it easier to live consciously. Yet, both personally and as a professional working with others, I find that living consciously is a daily challenge. First, let me define in my own simple way what it means to live consciously, then explain why it’s a challenge and finally, why people still pursue this path despite all the challenges.
For me, living consciously means being continuously aware of what is happening in and around me. Throughout the day, I am checking in with myself as often as I can remind myself to see what it is I am thinking about, how I am feeling, what I am needing or wanting, what I am daydreaming or fantasizing about, and if I am reacting or responding to my inner and outer world. But it does’t stop there; Living consciously also means being aware of my external environment, or checking in to see what is happening in my immediate environment.
That includes, checking to see what kind and quality of interactions I am having with my surroundings, how I feel in relation to my environment, and if I am reacting or interacting with my environment. As you can see, living consciously is work!
It is a challenge to live consciously because essentially you can no longer live on automatic pilot. You can’t just get up in the morning, get dressed, eat breakfast and like a zombie go through the rest of your day. You become unable to just interact with your family or loved ones without thinking about the quality or depth of the relationship and you can’t just attend church, temple or mosque without questioning your values and what these religious teachings mean. You also can’t just sit in front T.V. or play video games, drink, eat, have sex and continue to feel good inside. Basically, once you develop awareness, you can’t just exist or remain as a passive bystander to what is not working in your life.
But the darn thing is that once you become conscious, you can’t go back to living unconsciously even if you try really hard. Some days you wake up thinking, “I really don’t want to care today. I really don’t want to “see” the misery today. I just rather go about my business thinking about my next meal or what I am going to wear to tonight’s party.” But, fortunately, you can’t. Because living consciously is like having tasted ice cream for the first time. Once you taste it, you can’t go back to undoing the knowing of how good it tastes.
Once you have lived with awareness, and your soul has touched the soul of the world, and you have come alive feeling the vitality and intensity of living life fully, that knowing can not be undone. Even if that aliveness means being in touch with the depths of suffering and pain, you still can’t go back to not feeling. Because if you don’t feel the pain, you can’t feel the of joy of life and love either. Living unconsciously is living on auto pilot or going through life not connected to anything or anyone. Basically, feeling numb to everything.
Having lived consciously, you recognize that the pain of being numb is far worse than the challenge of living consciously. That is why most people who live consciously choose to sit with the suffering and pain, rather than go back to feeling numb. But people who live consciously, also know that suffering and pain go hand in hand with experiencing love and joy too. It goes without saying, once you have arrived, there is no turning back. Once you begin to care, you are compelled to make a difference. Once you see what is not working in your life, you are driven to make changes.
Whether you make a difference in your own life or in the life of others, change for a better life becomes mandatory almost compulsory. You come out of your complacency and apathy and you get going. When you get going, you are unstoppable and people know it’s futile to try and change your mind or stop you. You are no longer operating on auto pilot. Instead, an incredible life force and energy has taken over the driver’s seat of your life. That’s when you begin to feel energized and a profound sense of joy and well being exudes in your life. Life starts to become exhilarating and intense. You realize you can no longer waste time because life is too short and too precious and you have to make the most of it while you are here. Regardless of how challenging it can get, once you have fully experienced living consciously there is no turning back.