In virtually all spiritual and philosophical traditions of the world, there appears some form of the idea that most people are sleepwalking through their lives. If, and when these people “wake up”, they are said to be “enlightened” as they can now see and experience the world for what it truly is and the way it was meant to be.
Although these spiritual and philosophical traditions may vary in their presentation, they all share the same basic message, that it is only by becoming more aware, more conscious, of yourself and your surroundings, will you evolve as a person and realize your true potential in life.
Why is Consciousness Important?
For all species that possess it, consciousness is the basic tool needed for survival. It allows awareness of the surrounding environment and identification of predators, food and shelter. Without a certain level of consciousness you would be nothing more than a blob of flesh. Not thinking, not purposefully reacting and not living.
Consciousness, and the awareness it gives you, therefore makes the world what it is. For how you perceive the world around you is ultimately determined by your level of conscious awareness of it.
So by expanding your consciousness you also expand the world in which you live, because if you are aware of more, you can experience more.
This in turn allows you to grow and develop as a person, perhaps even reaching the level of enlightenment that the ancient sages and spiritual leaders so often used to talk about.
To them, the outer world was merely a reflection of one’s inner world, and so they spent a lot of time trying to develop their mental abilities to the fullest.
Consciousness can be sought after, ignored or actively avoided. In other words, your mind has the ability to manage your own consciousness by choosing what you think about and what you don’t think about.
Whilst managing what you think about certainly can be a great advantage, it can also be a great burden.
For if you do not bring an appropriate level of consciousness to your daily activities, eventually this can lead to a diminished sense of self-efficacy (i.e., confidence in your ability to do something) and self-respect (i.e., love for yourself).
The reason being, is that you cannot feel truly confident and worthy of greatness whilst conducting your life in a mental fog. So when you sacrifice applying consciousness to your life, your self-esteem will also suffer.
The Reality of Consciousness
Through the thousands of choices which you make between thinking and non thinking, by being responsible towards reality, or evading it, you are continually and automatically creating a sense of the kind of person you are.
Consciously, you may not remember the choices you make on a day-to-day basis, but deep inside your subconscious mind, all these choices are recorded and added up. The sum total of these experiences, then becomes who you are.
To live consciously means being aware of everything that may have an influence on your actions, purposes, values and goals. Living consciously means seeking out these things to the best of your ability, and then acting appropriately with what you see and know.
This last point is especially important, because consciousness that is not translated into appropriate action is a waste of consciousness. Living consciously therefore means more than just seeing and knowing, it means acting on what you see and know.
For example, suppose recently you had an argument with someone and hurt their feelings. You know that you should go up to that person and try to make things better, but at the same time you don’t want to admit that you made a mistake.
So instead of apologizing, you tell yourself that you are still thinking about what to do, but in the end, you never end up apologizing. This is the opposite of living consciously, and demonstrates one way in which people can avoid their reality by diverting consciousness away from the issue at hand.
Unfortunately, this tendency to avoid dealing with an issue head-on is quite common in our society, as doing so can bring a person immediate relief from the pain of having to confront something which is uncomfortable for them.
Thus, by avoiding the true reality of a situation, by not being conscious of it, they are essentially choosing to take the easy way out.
Traits of Conscious Living
Living consciously simply means having a mind that is active rather than passive. Below you will find listed some characteristics of an actively conscious mind:
- Living in the moment, without losing the wider perspective.
- A willingness to accept reality, rather than withdrawing or hiding from it.
- Knowing where you are in relation to your goals and ambitions in life.
- Seeking feedback from others to continually grow and expand.
- Being receptive to new knowledge and being willing to examine old assumptions.
- A willingness to correct and admit mistakes.
- A commitment to growth, learning and expansion of knowledge.
- An awareness of the values that guide and motivate you.
As you can see from the above characteristics, living consciously requires for a person to know and accept themselves, have an open and flexible mind and accept the reality which they are living in.
This last point is especially important, because many people choose not to accept the full reality of situations they dislike, but rather choose to deny or ignore them in the hope that they will go away or resolve themselves.
But as you probably already know, whilst ignoring a situation can put it out of mind, very rarely does it solve a situation or make it better. A far more common outcome is that the situation becomes worse over time, thereby causing far greater consequences than it originally would have had.
This is the basic principle of living consciously, and why it’s so important in life. As once you are able to accept your reality, rather than denying or ignoring it, you will place yourself in the best position to cope and deal with the challenges and experiences that life throws at you.
Why People Deny Reality
When people choose to deny a reality it’s usually because that reality is causing them some degree of pain, discomfort or boredom. Since it is a natural human reaction to avoid these things, it’s often far easier to pretend that they don’t exist and not live consciously.
This is one of the main reasons why living consciously can prove to be so difficult, because our natural tendency to avoid the things that cause us discomfort continually creates barriers which block the path to a more conscious lifestyle.
In order to live more consciously, a person must therefore be filled with an enormous amount of self-discipline, courage and inner strength, so that they can smash through their personal barriers and fully awaken the potential that lies within them.
It is only when you are able to fully accept the reality of a situation, whether good or bad, and without trying to deny or ignore it by escaping to another reality, will you start living a more conscious and successful life.
Lets now have a look at an example to demonstrate the consequences of not living life consciously and avoiding reality.
No Escape From Reality – Shelley’s Story
Note: The following story is a fictional example. If you “click here” you can read a real life example of someone who underwent a similar transformation to Shelley.
Shelly was overweight and was feeling depressed due to her size, but she found it easy to avoid this pain by eating more food, watching TV and sleeping.
Whilst these things provided Shelly with a temporary escape into another more pleasing reality, in the morning when Shelly woke up and looked at herself in the mirror, she was immediately brought back to her original reality. She was very fat, and was getting fatter.
Looking at herself in the mirror every morning caused Shelly to feel more depressed, more pain and more discomfort. This only increased her motivation to avoid this unpleasant reality, and Shelly soon began comforting herself again with chocolates, cake and TV.
Shelly knew that this would take her mind off things and make her feel better. At least, until tomorrow morning, when the whole process would start again.
What you have just read is a classic example of a person who is trapped inside a “reality cycle”. By choosing to ignore her problems, Shelley made them worse. And the worse things got, the harder she tried to avoid them.
In essence, Shelley created a self-perpetuating cycle which can only end when a) she accepts her true reality and stops trying to avoid it, or b) Shelly dies.
Now that you have seen the consequences of avoiding consciousness in your life, let’s have a look at what happened to Shelly once she accepted the true reality of her situation and stopped trying to avoid it by escaping to another reality.
What Happened to Shelly?
One morning Shelley woke up, looked at herself in the mirror and decided that she had enough. She could not continue living her life-like this, and running away from her problems was only making things worse.
From then on, Shelley made a commitment to herself. No longer would she deny or disown the reality of her situation. From now on she would accept her reality, and live life consciously.
So how did Shelley do? When Shelley decided to fully accept the reality that she was in, she automatically placed herself in a position where she could change that reality.
By accepting her situation, Shelley was able to take the most appropriate action to change how she looked. She stopped eating comfort food and watching TV all day, and instead ate a healthy diet and exercised regularly.
Although it did take a lot of hard work and discipline over many years, eventually, Shelley shed her excess weight and is now the envy of all her friends. Shelley’s only regret is that she didn’t start living consciously sooner!
Shelly’s story is a great example of what happens when you avoid reality, and what can happen when you accept it.
When you face the true reality of your situation, rather than trying to avoid or hide from the discomfort it brings you, only then will you put yourself in a position where you can affect a meaningful change into your life. This is the very essence of living consciously.
The life that you are currently living is your main reality, but virtually everyday you escape from that reality, either for a few minutes or a few hours.
So for a quick example to demonstrate this, imagine your life as your main reality and the time you have been reading this article you momentarily slipped into another reality.
You still exist in your original reality, but because you have slipped into a new reality (by reading this article), your consciousness is focused in the new reality which means that you are unconscious (unaware) in your original main reality.
Whatever reality your consciousness has been diverted to, one thing will always remain the same. You must return back to your original main reality (your life), and when you do, you will bring back with you what you learned from the reality you just visited and either apply it to your life or ignore it.
The trouble with escaping from reality is that by doing so you leave your main life in an unconscious state. This means that whatever reality you escape to, will either have a beneficial or negative impact on your main life.
For example, if you have an exam tomorrow and are bored with working, but you know that you need to keep working, you could do two things: 1) escape your main reality by watching TV or 2) stay in your main reality and continue working (in the truest sense by working you still slip into another separate although related reality).
Whatever choice you make will either have a beneficial or negative impact on your main life, which, in this case, will be your exam performance.
This is an extremely important point to recognize, because as we have already discussed, people often choose to escape from their main reality (their life) in order to hide from, or disown, feelings of pain, discomfort or anxiety it may be causing them.
Whilst this escape may provide some temporary short-term relief, ultimately, they find that by escaping from their reality they have only postponed the inevitable and made things much worse than they originally were.
Is Escapism a Bad Thing?
Escapism can take many forms, although the most common include: lying to yourself, watching TV/films, socializing, playing games, drinking or taking drugs.
What these things all have in common is that they are used as a means of shifting focus away from one reality onto another.
Slipping into other realities, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s sometimes nice for example, to escape from your main reality and watch a film, read a book or play a computer game. It’s like taking a holiday away from your life and the things you don’t like about it.
Where this starts to become a problem though, is when living in other realities becomes more appealing than living in your main reality. When this occurs, people are often said to have “no life”.
This is an interesting remark, because by living in other realities your main life automatically becomes unconscious (although still active) until you return to it. So maybe there is some truth behind that expression?
Another point worth making is that the desire to avoid reality only seems to be getter stronger as technology progresses.
For example, there have been several cases where people have actually died playing computer games. These people had played computer games for several days without a break, only stopping to go to the toilet or take short naps during their “marathon gaming session”.
Apparently the appeal of a new reality (the video game) was so desirable that they preferred living in the computer generated reality rather than their own real life. In the end, they spent so much time in their alternate reality that they died in real life.
This seems to suggest two things 1) there is a time limit which you can spend in another reality before your main reality collapses, and 2) when your main reality collapses, so do all the other realities that stem from it. Therefore, in order to support new realities, you must also support your main reality.
I suspect the trend towards escapism will continue to escalate as the general population feels more and more inadequate with who they are (the primary motivator towards escapism), and the richness and realism of technology increases.
In particular, I think that virtual reality and true 3D TV (technologies that will create worlds which will seem almost as real as our own) will pose the greatest temptation, and therefore, the most problems.
With these new technologies, which will be arriving very soon, people will be able to create their own perfect worlds. But as we have already seen, this may ultimately come at the expense of their own real life world.
One example which demonstrates this point well is a program called “Second Life”. This Internet-based “reality game” allows participants to live in a virtual world. In Second Life, they can control the way they look, get virtual jobs to earn money, go shopping, build themselves houses, have sex and even get married.
It truly is a second life as the name suggests, and has been extremely popular since it was released. One of the main reasons for its popularity, is that it allows people to escape from the reality of their life.
Whatever they may not like about themselves, or their lives, can be changed in Second Life. They can become the person they always wanted to be, have the things they always wanted to have, and forget, at least momentarily, about their everyday life.
As you can imagine, this level of escapism can be extremely addictive and can have serious repercussions on a person’s real life.
For example, as a result of Second Life there have been people losing contact with friends, parents neglecting their children, affairs, divorces and even a murder.
The main point to remember here is that alternate realities in themselves are not bad, as they can be both beneficial and enjoyable. In fact, people have been escaping to alternate realities for centuries, throughout all cultures of the world.
This was usually done via a herb or special plant with psychedelic properties, although these “trips” as they are called, were carried out for spiritual reasons rather than for recreation which seems to be the trend today.
These “magical herbs” have now been replaced by other types of drugs, alcohol and technology. Although in essence, they still serve the same basic purpose, an escape from one reality into another.
The Dangers of Escapism
The only time that escapism may pose a problem is when alternate realities become preferable to, and used as a replacement for, the original reality.
When this occurs, there can be very serious consequences to a person’s life. Second Life provides a good example of these potential consequences, and also serves as an indication of some of the problems that advanced future technologies may bring.
As technology advances and life-like virtual reality technology becomes mainstream, addiction to alternate realities is likely to increase exponentially.
Those most at risk of becoming “virtual addicts” will likely be those who feel inadequate with themselves and the life they lead. Consequently, these feelings will make future Second Life’s seem very appealing.
This is something that everyone should be aware of, as today, we live in an entertainment society where escaping reality is actively encouraged.
So if you are unhappy with your life, be very careful in using these alternate realities to escape from your worries or problems. Whilst they may seem tempting, they may ultimately have very real and undesirable consequences.
The only way to truly overcome your problems, and lead the life you would like to live, is by understanding and improving your own level of self-esteem, accepting yourself for who and what you are and living your life consciously. Anything else is just an unsustainable illusion.
The Difficulty in Living Consciously
Living consciously in today’s society is hard. If people do not like their life, it is easy to forget about their problems with entertainment, drugs or alcohol.
Drugs and alcohol have been around for a long time, and although there have always been drug addicts and alcoholics, there were fairly few in comparison to today.
But what there wasn’t such an abundance of, which there is today, is entertainment. Today, if I wanted to, I could spend the whole day browsing the Internet, watching films, playing video games and getting drunk.
It would be very easy to forget about my problems and escape into some fantasy reality while my mind remains unconscious in my original reality.
This ease of escapism, and the feelings of inadequacy or discomfort which drive it, are the two main reasons why some people can find living consciously so hard.
After all, who wants to experience pain or discomfort when they can easily take their mind off things by watching TV, or doing something else that distracts them from the problem they face?
The simple truth is that people are motivated towards pleasure and away from pain, and so for this very reason, many people choose not to live consciously but prefer to hide or disown their problems hoping that eventually they will go away.
Becoming Aware of Consciousness
The main purpose of this article on living consciously was to make you conscious of consciousness and the potential consequences of avoiding it.
This is important, because with knowledge comes awareness and with awareness comes action. It is only through action will you be able to exert a meaningful change to your life, and this action can only come through consciousness.
Becoming conscious of consciousness is therefore a self reinforcing cycle, whereby the more conscious you become the more appropriate action you can take that will positively impact your life.
However, the reverse is also true. The less conscious you become, the more inappropriate action you take that negatively impacts your life.
For example, if you know that there is a hole in the ground, you can walk around it. But if you didn’t know the hole was there, you would most likely fall into it. Life is a lot like this. There are holes everywhere just waiting for you to fall into them.
Often when people fall into these holes they never get out, and most of the time they don’t even realize that they have fallen into one! So they just walk round and round never going anywhere.
But when you have the knowledge that comes though living a conscious life, you can avoid these holes, and if you do fall in, you can get out again.
This is what living consciously is all about, recognizing, accepting and taking appropriate action for the reality which you are in. Only this way will you achieve your true potential in life.
Here is a summary of the key points discussed in this article.
- Pain or discomfort motivates people to escape their main reality.
- Drugs, alcohol and entertainment are all means of escapism.
- The amount of time you can spend in an alternate reality is limited.
- You must always return back to your original main reality.
- Your main reality supports and sustains alternate realities.
- When in an alternate reality, you become unconscious in your main original reality.
- Time spent in alternate realities will positively or negatively affect your main reality.
Reviewed – 27th March 2016