What would the world be like if more people
were intentional about who they are and how they live?
For years I’ve tried to articulate a desire I have within to inspire women to pursue their lives with a particular philosophy. Words like mindfulness, spirituality, intentionality, purpose, and meaning have floated around in my mind. They’re all related to this approach and help define it, but on their own they don’t seem to fully express it. Recently I’ve come across a phrase that seems to best describe this approach in just a couple words: conscious living.
In simple terms, conscious living is being aware of yourself and how you live your life and using that awareness to make thoughtful decisions. In more complex terms, as I define it, conscious living is a lifestyle that is driven by an intention to navigate your life with a malleable sense of self-awareness that fuels your choices and directly impacts your experience of life and your interactions with the world.
The Importance of Self-Awareness
Self-awareness is at the heart of living a conscious life. When you cultivate the seed of self-awareness and invest in personal growth, you begin to notice and understand the complexity of your being. This includes being aware of your inner thought processes, your social conditioning, your underlying motives, and especially your personal mission, or your dharma.
Your increased awareness then helps you to participate in your life with intention and integrity. You essentially become an empowered character in your own story, pursuing a life’s mission that fills you with purpose and positively impacts the world around you.
Self-awareness empowers people to recognize the central role they play in making choices for themselves, ranging from career choices to thought processes and everything in between. In the long-run, collective self-awareness is what gives birth to a more awakened society.
When we slow down to be intentional about our career, our choices, our beliefs, and how we show up in the world, we naturally find more meaning in our lives, and in the process we contribute to a more mindful society.
The Art of Conscious Living
Live with authenticity.
Self-awareness opens the doors for us to understand who we are and what is truly important to us. We can then use this sense of awareness to live with authenticity by making choices and engaging with the world around us in a way that aligns with what’s true to us. When it comes to the opinions we share, the paths we choose, the relationships we engage in, and more, we’re always presented with the choice to either show up authentically or to turn away from our sincerity.
Living with authenticity is a courageous and vulnerable decision we make moment-by-moment. It opens us up to potential hurt, but if we want to experience a deep sense of fulfillment that comes with living an authentic life, we must risk other people’s opinions and disapproval that inevitably comes when we live from our hearts.
Be an empowered character in your own story.
It can be easy to get caught in the mundane, day-to-day tasks of life and feel that we’re simply a character in a story that we didn’t write. Though it’s true that life brings each of us scenarios and circumstances we don’t have control over, it’s also true that we always have a degree of choice within those circumstances. A sailor doesn’t have control over the wind, but she does have control over her sails. Likewise, we don’t have control over what comes our way but we do have control over how we navigate what does. Hold this truth close and let it empower you.
Before we can live consciously, we have to acknowledge that we have power over our choices and can make decisions that lead to a more meaningful and fulfilling life. The person who lives life with awareness and can truly make a difference in themselves and in those around them.
Stop living your life on autopilot. Many of us are hurried along a particular life course without slowing down to understand the "whys" behind our "whats." We latch on to particular identities, religions, and beliefs without evaluating why.
Go to school, get a job, find a partner, get married, have children, work, then retire. Sound familiar? It’s a path many of us pursue, and it’s not without its logic. For many people, this chronological path works and makes sense. But many others pursue this path in a sort of slumber where they ignore their deeper desires and feel a lack of purpose.
Living on autopilot means pursuing your life without a conscious awareness of what you’re doing and why, and it often happens when we live in the illusion of immortality. Looking death in the eyes is one of the most startling but powerful ways to wake up to your life.
Be intentional about your choices.
We make hundreds of decisions each day, and our lives are paved in large part by these decisions. Some of them are minor and others are more important. What will you eat for lunch? What food will you buy at the grocery store? How will you spend your time after work? Who will you build a relationship with? Where will you live? What career will you pursue?
When we live on autopilot, we make choices without taking the time to understand 1. The motives behind them, 2. The impact they have on our lives, and 3. The impact they have on the world around us. By making intentional choices, we draw awareness to our choices by digging below the surface and asking if what we’re choosing is in alignment with who we want to be and the way we want to show up in the world.
Be aware and intentional about how you spend your time.
This point fits right in with making intentional choices. We each have 24 hours in a day, and though each of our responsibilities and day-to-day tasks vary, we all have choice over how we spend our time outside of other obligations. Conscious living asks that we make choices that foster our connection with the things that are important to us. What do you truly care about? What kind of life do you want to create? How do you want to feel? Do you create time in your life for those things, or do you mindlessly give it over to other people and activities that get in the way of them?
Be aware of what you consume.
This is a big one, and it plays into making intentional choices. We consume a variety of things on any given day: media, food, dialogue, ideas, and more. Every single thing we consume has an impact on us, and overtime these choices typically produce a negative or positive effect on our lives. This is most obvious when it comes to food, but it also applies to a wide range of habits like consuming news or TV entertainment, gossiping, drinking alcohol, and making purchasing decisions.
Consumption doesn’t only impact us personally, it also impacts society at large. Take for example the massive plastic issue we have in the world, or the obvious over-consumption of material goods in the United States. Many of us financially support companies we wouldn’t support ethically or accumulate things without understanding the impact it has on others and the environment.
Conscious consumption means to use that same sense of awareness we talked about earlier and applying it to your purchasing habits so that where you spend your money reflects the values and intentions you hold for your life. In this way, conscious living helps us recognize the unbreakable, reciprocal relationship we share with each other and the environment. Our choices not only impact our personal lives, but also the world around us.
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness simply means to bring awareness to whatever is happening in the present moment. It’s the practice of developing a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and the external environment without judgment. A consistent mindfulness practice teaches us to see deeply into things and receive insight into the true nature of those things.
“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. – Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Power
Cultivate meaningful relationships.
Rising Woman defines conscious relationships as “a way of being–a commitment to understanding ourselves, our minds, our shadows, our thoughts, and our patterns” and then building relationships with others from that place of self-awareness.
Whether it be in familial, romantic, or friendly relationships, many of the challenges that people face arise from the inner worlds of both people. Meaningful relationships aren’t the result of not having challenges, in fact conflict is an important ingredient for relationship growth. Rather, meaning arises in our relationships when we show up with a desire to truly know ourselves first, and then when we use that awareness to build a healthy and supportive bond with another person. As I mentioned earlier, self-awareness is imperative to living a conscious life.
We can also cultivate meaningful relationships and practice conscious living by making intentional choices about who we spend time with and how we show up in our relationships. Are you half-present with the ones you love? Do you truly see who the other person is and connect with that part of them? Is your life filled with relationships with people who don’t know who you truly are and wouldn’t actually show up for you if you needed it? These are a few questions we can ask ourselves to help us experience conscious and meaningful relationships.
Reflect & Ask Important Questions
Living a conscious life comes down to reflecting on your life, asking important questions, bringing a nonjudgmental awareness to the answers, and then actively participating in creating the answers you desire.
Take for example someone who wants to be more mindful about how they spend their time. They first have to inquire how they currently spend their time, and then they have to ask if that’s how they actually want to be spending their time. Let’s say the answer is that they often binge watch Netflix and hit the bars with friends when they’d rather spend time working toward personal goals. In order to move toward conscious living, it’s important that they honestly see the reality of their situation without judgment so they can go on to make conscious choices that align with their intentions.
There are many aspects of living a conscious life, but this is an important one: consistently and honestly reflect on your choices, ask yourself insightful questions, and then use that insight to make empowered and intentional choices to create a fulfilling life for yourself.
Conscious living incorporates a degree of spirituality. Spirituality draws our awareness toward the soul and away from the material just as conscious living invites us to connect to something deeper than the surface-level offerings of society. By strengthening our innate connection to the soul, we cultivate a greater sense of self-awareness which then opens the doors to living our lives with intention.
If we couldn’t understand our connection to something greater than ourselves, it wouldn’t necessarily matter whether we lived thoughtfully or not. But by uncovering this truth, we have an inevitable desire to treat our lives as something that truly matters and make choices that support that realization.
Spiritual practices like yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and more help us to create an internal environment that breeds consciousness and intentionality.
Walking the Conscious Journey
Conscious living invites us to explore the question: What’s below the surface of who we are and how we live our lives? It asks us to acknowledge the significant, finite gift of life and to fully embrace it. Conscious living reminds us to not merely drift through this precious life, but to pursue it with heightened awareness and intentional decisions.
When we choose to shine the light of awareness onto who we are, the choices we make, the impact we have on others, and the life we’re living, we begin to experience life with a sense of purpose. Conscious living makes it possible to live a meaningful life.
The practice of conscious living is a life-long journey. It’s not a result of a single decision, but rather the gradual and continual expansion of life as a result of consistently showing up with presence and choosing over and over again to navigate life with thoughtful awareness.
Look deeply into everything that you do. See its effect on you. Use that insight to make intentional choices that fuel a more enlightened version of yourself. An enlightened you will compel the individuals around you to do the same, and together we will begin to experience the profundity of life and choose to co-create a world of depth and meaning.