Conscious Living

DenaSeptember 2, 2009

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” —Socrates

Most people think that just because they are breathing and their hearts are beating, that they are alive. The truth is, there is a huge difference between being alive biologically and being alive spiritually.

Most people are spiritually dead, living on autopilot. They do what society tells them to do. Get up when the alarm goes off. Eat a bowl of Cheerios. Fight through rush hour traffic. Get to the office, sit in the cubicle. “Work.” Make someone else rich. Make just enough to stave off that ever-growing debt for another month. Or. Slave away at another job — lay brick, fix toilets, clean floors, sell shoes — and not because they want to, not because they have a passion for it, but because they have to, so that they can make the next car payment, mortgage payment, engagement ring payment, credit card payment, whatever payment.

Unconscious living is not entirely about career/money, it’s about life, but for many, career/money is life. It is sad and it is wrong.

There are two ways to live: 1. consciously— aware, deliberate, thoughtful and 2. unconsciously— unaware, on auto-pilot, careless.

To truly live a conscious, thoughtful life we must break free from the chains of societal expectation. We must switch off the autopilot and become aware, and not just of our career/money, but of everything. We must learn to become masters of life, to be conscious of every action that we perform — from taking a bite of food, to choosing our next vacation destination, to laying our heads on the pillow at night — everything.

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” —Socrates

There are seven elements to conscious living, master these and you will lead a life uncommon, a life of intent and purpose.


We all engage in relations — personal, professional, romantic, friendship, and so on. But how aware are we of the dynamics in those relationships? How consciously do we exist inside of them?

Do you grab your briefcase each morning, kiss your wife on the cheek, and then head out the door on autopilot? Or do you carve out the time to eat breakfast with her, talk about your hopes for the day, kiss her on the lips, tell her you love her (and mean it)? This is the difference between conscious and unconscious living.

Do you have a boss who is always shooting off reams of advice? Do you sit in his office and stare blankly ahead, smiling and nodding, but all the while thinking of your evening commute or the flowers need watering or the number of emails clogging up your inbox? Or do you listen to his words, actively listen, be thankful for his time, his thoughts, try to learn from what he says, and to become a better person for it? This is the difference between conscious and unconscious living.

Each relationship and each encounter is an opportunity to grow. Too often we say and do the things that we are supposed to. We shake a hand, kiss a cheek, rub a back — but we do it mindlessly, re-actively. To live and to grow consciously in our relationships we must be entirely present and thoughtful in our engagements with others. Our actions must be proactive and not reactive. Speak from the heart. Listen to what your soul is saying when you see someone. Share your true thoughts. Practice kindness and patience. Be aware. You will find that not only will you have more to give within your relationships — student, employee, sister, mother, friend, lover — but you will also get so much more out of them.


In our modern society human beings have become self-centered. During the age of enlightenment we learned that we are not, in fact, at the center of the universe, however for some reason over the past several decades we seem to have forgotten that basic fact. We mass consume, burn through natural resources at alarming rates, and clear forests without hesitation. Somehow, we have forgotten our place in the world. We have lost sight of the fact that we are a very small piece of a very large puzzle, a puzzle that our future depends upon.

Occasionally, when I start to lose my footing or become overwhelmed by day to day trials, I refocus. I remind myself that in the grand history of time, my life is just a speck on the radar. I think about the little earth spinning through the giant universe. I think about the fact that the earth is alive beneath us, molten rock moving miles and miles beneath our feet. These thoughts ground me. You are the most important person in the world and the most insignificant. Remember both of these things always.

A person that has no reverence for nature can not live a truly conscious life. Nature — the plants and animals around us, the planet Earth, the atmosphere, the universe — are all things larger than us. Living unconsciously allows us to consume, destroy, and rape nature. We must stop to examine our actions. We must act in a way that protects and conserves nature rather than devastates it. Unconscious living in the natural world is shameful and dangerous. There are thousands of articles, websites, and blogs about conservation and green living. Start there.

Each person’s definition of art is different. When it comes to conscious living, art is simply the stuff that you find beautiful. It can be music, painting, dance, theater, literature, bodybuilding, stamp-collecting. It is about determining what you find to be beautiful and appreciating it, surrounding yourself with it, and incorporating it into your life. If you music is art, listen to it on your car ride in to work, while preparing dinner, at your desk between meetings. If bodybuilding is your art, get a gym membership, keep a second-hand set of weights in your basement, hand pictures of bodybuilders in your office, on your refrigerator.

Conscious living involves surrounding yourself with your version of art. It means infusing art into as many areas of your life as possible and letting it provide you with continuous motivation and inspiration.

Thought is the most important element of conscious living because conscious living is based in thought. Conscious living is about taking the time to think about every word that you say and every move that you make. It is about acting with intention rather than simply acting just to act.

Have you ever known a person that speaks just to hear themselves talk? Well, that is how most people live their lives. They are acting just to act or living just to live. They do things because they think they are supposed to or that they have to. That is not life! Conscious living involves doing things because you want to, because you are passionate, inspired, and driven. It means thinking positively and rationally all of the time. Everything that you do should be a conscious act. Even when you get dressed in the morning, choose something that will make you feel good for the whole day. Don’t just throw on the first thing you see because it is clean. Even when you plan your next vacation, choose a destination that will enrich your mind and feed your soul. Don’t just book a flight to Miami because the airfare is cheap.

The conscious life involves meditation. The level of meditation may vary. For some, taking five minutes mid-day to close your eyes and breathe will be enough. For others, meditation will in

volve intense rounds of yoga or prayer. No matter the method, meditation is necessary. Simply close your eyes and turn off your mind. Focus on just existing. Slow your breathing, relax all of your muscles, and just exist. Meditation is a much deserved rest. After all, conscious living is all about thinking. Meditation is relaxation for the conscious mind.

The body is a vessel. The body is a temple. We are each given one body to inhabit during our time on earth. It is up to us how we treat it. Conscious living involves making intentional decisions about our bodies. What do you put into it? How do you maintain it? How do you nurture, honor, and protect your body?

“Worthless people live only to eat and drink; people of worth eat and drink only to live.” —Socrates

Each time you put something in your mouth, think of the consequence or the benefit that it will have on your body. Eat and act in a way that will nourish your vessel. Stretch, exercise, eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Again, there are thousands of articles, websites, and blogs about healthy living. Start there.

Conscious living is not a selfish endeavor. It is not about living rightly to enjoy a good life and then ignore the fate of others. Conscious living means living life, enjoying happiness, and then sharing the fruits of our labor. It can be as simple as smiling at every one you see. There are endless opportunities to be of service in this world. Volunteering is a great place to start. Next week, I begin volunteering at my local animal shelter. While it is going to be trying for me (a huge animal lover!) I know that it is going to be infinitely rewarding.

Being of service and spreading kindness are crucial elements of conscious living. Just as being present in our relationships improves our own lives, so does helping others. To give is to receive. This is a lesson that the conscious mind knows well.

Conscious living means living a life of purpose. People believe that finding their life’s purpose is a great mystery, an impossibility. Perhaps they are right. It can take a life time to determine your life’s purpose, but there are ways to make it easier. Ask yourself these questions. *i*What do I love? What is the one thing that I would do every single day even if no one saw me, even if I did not get paid? If you can answer those questions you will have discovered your passion. Often times pursuing our passion leads us directly to our life’s purpose. My passion is helping people to live a life of joy by sharing my story with them. It is also my purpose in life.

“It is not living that matters, but living rightly.” —Socrates

Pursuing your passion is conscious living. It is doing what you love and being what you love. There is no autopilot involved. Passionate living is living with intention. It is the difference between a conscious and an unconscious life. Conscious living means being alive spiritually. It is what each person must strive for.

As a final thought, I ask you to read over this quote by Henry David Thoreau. Here he speaks about why in 1845 he decided to leave society for two years and live alone in the woods.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” —Henry David Thoreau

Comments (11)

  • Ken

    September 2, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Wow Dena, as Socrates said "The unexamined life is not worth living."
    Just yesterday, I saw a YouTube video of little male chicks being slaughtered because they were useless to the poulty industry. It was extremely disturbing and sad at the same time. Which got me thinking:
    When we stress, we create 'stress hormones' within our body.
    Not only that, we eat animals that have been caged and stressed every single second of their lives. I would think the animals must be full of 'stress hormones' which we end up eating… If my theory is sound, it's a very scary thought.

    Sorry to bum out your comment section.


  • J. D. Bentley

    September 2, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    This was a wonderful post.. very deep and very well thought out. The quote at the end has done quite a bit to rekindle my interest in Thoreau. I'll probably re-read Walden today. Such a great book.

    In the nature section you talked about being very small pieces of a large puzzle. That's true. A few years back I was reading The Purpose Driven Life. I'm not proud to admit that because it's a fluffy, pop-theology, self-improvement book, but it was worth reading for one quote. "I was not put on this earth to be remembered."

    That's the one thing I can recall from that book that hasn't completely evaporated from my memory. It's very true, too. But what's ironic is that the people who realize they aren't here to be remembered are few and so remarkable that they are usually remembered. Humility has a lasting effect in the face of the universe.

    Thanks for this post! I'm off to reacquaint myself with some Thoreau!

  • lifeexcursion

    September 3, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Being aware is sometimes the toughest thing. I try to slow down and appreciate that which is around me. But sometimes life gets in the way. Great reminder post!


  • Dena

    September 8, 2009 at 8:34 am

    @Ken I think I know the video you are speaking about. I saw a link out to it on youtube, however I did not have the heart to watch it.

    You are so correct – we all need to be more conscious about what we put into our bodies and the behaviors that I purchases (food choices) support.

    @J.D. Thanks so much for the sweet comment. I am glad that you enjoyed the post. Indeed, humility has a lasting effect – I think it is a quality far too UNDERvalued in today's society.

    @Dave Thanks, Dave. Yup, it can be as simple as stopping to smell the roses! 🙂

  • Josh

    September 9, 2009 at 2:25 am

    Amazing Dena, I have been following MarcandAngel and saw your comment and I think I really was supposed to, This is a very throught provoking post and I am glad I came across it, you now have one extra follower 🙂

    Kindest Regards Joshua

  • abc1243

    September 10, 2009 at 10:33 am

    "There are two ways to live: 1. consciously— aware, deliberate, thoughtful and 2. unconsciously— unaware, on auto-pilot, careless."

    I think this is a good quote, the hardest part is when you realize you are living on auto-pilot and making the change to living conciously

    Thanks for the post Dena!

  • Dena

    September 10, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    @Josh – Wow, I am so glad that you found me & that you enjoyed the post! Keep reading my friend & keep improving your life. 🙂

    @abc – You are absolutely right. It is hard. Change is never easy but it's usually worth it. You are very welcome, my friend.

  • Amber Zuckswert

    February 26, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Thanks you so much for the sweet inclusion in this article. I am so glad you enjoyed my post on conscious/mindful eating. Mindfulness is essential in every aspect of our lives. Cheers to our good health! Thanks again and looking forward to reading more from you!

    1. Dena

      March 2, 2010 at 1:30 pm

      You are very welcome, Amber! I am a big fan of your site and it is a pleasure to share your content with my readers. Keep it up!

  • Breathing Consciously – Turn Off Your Autopilot

    January 28, 2012 at 4:31 am

    […] about breathing. Consciously done an activity that for the first 16 years of my life I’d partaken completely unconsciously. Fast-forward 11 years (last year) and I’d be consciously thinking about breathing, again for the […]

  • chadmcmillan

    May 3, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    Great post, and ages well. 🙂 Once upon a time, I hit a wall with my unconscious patterns and when I started to see them ended up on an epic spiritual pilgrimage that brought me deep into Central America – and myself. (One of the best things I’ve ever done).

    I also share more about my new approaches and lifestyle on my own blog as well. You may also find one of my related posts there of interest..

    5 Tips to Support your Conscious Lifestyle Transformation..

    Sending your all good vibes.



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