How to Live Consciously in an Unconscious World
For many of my adult years, I lived unconsciously.
As an adult, well into the years when I was “free” to choose what I wanted for my life, I continued to conform to societal expectations, accept dogmatic beliefs, and remain largely a stranger to myself. In my early thirties, I remember a law school professor asking me about my hobbies, and I realized I had none. I was not even aware that I had no leisure pursuits until I was confronted with the question.
Other examples of my living unconsciously:
I married before I knew what I really wanted in a spouse and before I knew myself. Why? Because I thought that’s what you do when you finish college and get a job. It was the logical next step, right?
For decades, I accepted without question my parents’ religious faith and practices. I accepted blindly without any exploration of other religious or spiritual teachings.
I chose a college major not because I was passionate, but because a high school teacher suggested it. I didn’t know enough about my desires and interests to make my own decision.
I said yes a lot even when I didn’t want to and when it didn’t serve me because I wanted to please others, often at the expense of my own happiness, peace, and life-balance.
There are hundreds more examples, some more consequential than others, of me living my life by default rather than by conscious choice.
I am not unique in that.
Many, if not most, people drift through life without noticing, without stopping to question, and without self-knowledge. They make automatic choices versus conscious choices. They settle for what happens to them and call it fate rather than taking control of their lives through conscious thoughts, beliefs, values, choices, and actions. Many would rather “join the herd” than stand out and travel in a different direction that is truer for them.
To live unconsciously means to live without awareness. I don’t just mean a void of cursory awareness, like not remembering which roads you took to travel home or not realizing the habits you’ve formed as part of your daily routine. I’m also speaking about significant lack of awareness of self, others, and the world. It is to live without knowing who you are, what you want out of life, what matters most to you, what your unique strengths and talents are, and how your actions affect you and others. To live unconsciously is to drift along life passively, accepting what comes your way without regard to whether it’s serving your highest good or not.
Do any of these sound familiar to you?
Repeatedly falling into incompatible relationships with the same “type” of person
Voting repetitively for a certain political party candidate without knowing their views on issues (or your views)
Frequently feeling like your life is out of control and things are happening to you – “Why does this always happen to me?”
Despite wanting to achieve a certain goal, your actions don’t line up with your desires
Working in a career field that is unfulfilling, not knowing how you got there or how to get out
Finances coming up short each month, but you can’t figure out where your money is going
These are all signs of unconscious living. Can you think of others?
“Where there is a lack of consciousness, we live our lives out of conditioned habit and impulses – which may or may not serve our highest potential or happiness.” (Mary Allen)
There is another way to live: Conscious Living
To live consciously means to live awake. It is surfacing the truths that lie within (unconsciously) and using those insights to make conscious decisions to have the life you want. It is awakening to how you are interconnected with others and the impact your life has on others, the environment, and the world.
“In simple words, to live consciously means… that you’re creating your life consciously rather than drifting along passively. It means you are aware of your true desires and you’re able to direct your energy for the progressive realization of those desires.” (Fearless Soul)
I noticed a shift in my consciousness in my late thirties, early forties. After a couple of failures and setbacks, I began to inquire within myself to get to know my truest self, my desires, my fears, and my hopes for my life. Over time, I peeled away the layers of “should” that had governed my thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and actions. I felt free and open to possibilities that I would never have entertained previously. It landed in divorcing after a long marriage, changing jobs, completing my doctoral studies, becoming vegetarian, and discovering my sense of purpose and meaning.
Through it all, I’ve found that living consciously is joyful living. And it is a process or journey that is still unfolding – and likely always will.
If you desire to have more control of your life, to see and act with greater clarity, and live with more intention and purpose, here are five things you can do to kickstart your conscious living journey:
#1 – Become self-aware.
Make time for self-inquiry to get to know what you want out of life and your core values. Notice the messages about yourself that you’ve accepted as true, how you treat yourself, and what gets your attention. You can become more self-aware through journaling, meditating on stories from your past, and working with a life coach or therapist to create a vision of the life you want now and into your future.
#2 – Establish or review how you spend your time.
What routines or habits govern your days? Are there things you’d want to change? Create a daily routine or follow a habit tracker.
#3 – Consider your impact on others and theirs on you.
How do your words, decisions, and actions impact others? Are you cognizant of your footprint on the environment? Think about the farmer who produced the food that makes its way to your table. We live in an interconnected and interdependent world.
#4 – Be present.
Practice mindfulness, observing and listening, and mono-tasking. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to live consciously when you’re constantly distracted. Find time to be still and silent, engaging all your senses (including intuition), to be available for the precious present. Try painting, knitting, or a sport where mind, body and spirit are engaged.
#5 – Pay attention to the little things.
Have you noticed what you eat and drink and how they affect your mind and body? Are you aware of what you love about your partner, who delivers your mail, your interactions with neighbors, how the seasons change, how you spend your money, and how you show yourself love or don’t? Life happens in the little things. Mary Oliver said, “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
Living consciously in an unconscious world takes time and practice, but it is worth every effort. The benefits are a happier, healthier, more peaceful, focused, and compassionate life (Buddhaimonia).
If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, head over to my website, Your Aha! Life, and sign-up to be on my email list. You’ll receive a free gift from me to help you discover your Ikigai (purpose), you’ll become a part of the Your Aha! Life Global Community, and you’ll receive lots of perks to help you live your best life.
And lastly, I’m super excited to invite subscribers to our first Global Community Virtual MeetUp on March 23, 2021 at 7:00 PM Eastern Time. Register today. Let’s connect, have fun, and learn together.