Conscious living

A snippet from a conversation with a friend in college. I’m still wrestling with the same questions 🙂

What is conscious living?

My definition is that conscious living is joyfully working to minimize the distance between the people we want to be and the people that we are.

The fact that we all die adds a bit of fire under our asses to get going on this distance-closing, conscious living project.

The definition of hell is: Your last day on Earth, the person you became meets the person you could have become.

Dan Sullivan, Who Not How

Or…more optimistically, if we live consciously, our last day — whenever that is — could be heaven.

Embodying values

The song Cocaine and Abel, by Amigo the Devil, beautifully describes the pain of realizing we are not living according to our values:

The distance from the man that I am to the man I want to be 
The time it takes to realize that time is the distance I need 
But I was born impatient and I was born unkind 
But I refuse to believe I have to be the same person I was born when I die 
Change is alright...

I’m not proud of all the choices I’ve made for a lot of my life
Following the shadow when I damn well know that behind me is the light

This song clarifies our big project in life:

  1. Consciously choose our values
  2. The hard part: live our values out

We can decide to strive to embody joy, love, generosity, kindness or any other values we choose.

We can do our best to show up for these values. We may fall flat, but then we get up, dust ourselves off, and try again another day, another way.

Or we can live without consciousness, getting swept up in whatever directions the winds of life take us. As Seneca warned:

If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.

Our lenses determine our values

What determines our values?

I think the answer is: our lenses on life. Objectivity doesn’t exist, for humans, I don’t think. We are always looking through a lens.

Do you see life as a dog-eat-dog affair? If so, then survival is probably near the top of your values list.

Is the world a celebration of exuberance? If so, then joy is probably a major value for you.

My friend Ethan talks about lenses on his blog in detail. I’ll quote a juicy excerpt:

Understanding we all have a unique lens through which we are each viewing the world lends many awareness-expanding questions…

Questions like, “Do I like the lens I look through?”

Or, “What would the world be like through someone else’s lens?”

Or even, “My God! How do I take this thing off?!”

I think that a middle way approach to lenses is optimal for me. I don’t want to be rigidly attached to one perspective, unable to accommodate new shit. But I don’t want to be completely unattached either, for I believe that curating and polishing our lenses is one major way that we can live consciously. Much like choosing our values, I believe that tinkering with our lenses helps us become the people we want to be.

My lens-tinkering

The past few years, I’ve been consciously tinkering with my lenses. Some writings that capture this labor of love:

  • Lens polishing. This list serves as a reminder of the lenses I aspire to see life through, despite the dirt they will inevitably accumulate (credit to Alex for this metaphor).
  • Good life philosophy. What is a “good” life? I’ve been pondering this question deeply for quite some time. Here’s my current crack at an answer.
  • Practices. Practices and rituals can help us embody our life philosophy. This is my current collection. Always slightly out of date.
  • Principles. A small number of quotes that capture ideas I try to live by.
  • Needlestack. A short list of internet things that I find to be profound pointers to a good life.
  • Bookshelf. Take-aways from books I find meaningful.
  • Thinksongs. A philosophical mixtape, writings inspired by songs.
  • Wonderletter. A hopeful letter from my 5-years-in-the-future-self.

I hope that this inspires you to do some lens-tinkering of your own!