Sunday, February 01, 2009

Conscious Living - An Introduction

I wish to discuss my thoughts surrounding what I call Conscious Living. This is something I have been pondering over and truly meditating on for quite some time. I suppose my life itself has been an experiment in this and having involved myself in another facet of life, I feel I am in a position to discuss this now.

This is an introduction to a series of articles that I intend writing over the course of this year. This post will be where I wish to introduce what I mean by Conscious Living (alternatively called responsible living or right living). This is not a self-help post or series. There is nothing that will make you feel positive about yourself (a normal reading should make you feel horrible). This is not a post on any clinical psychology studies or spiritual gyan. This is not a measure of where you stand or a means to motivate you. An unexpected side-effect might be to make you feel inspired to live a rightness which is welcome and I shall not be disappointed.

Having purged this series of what it can be imagined to be, I shall now proceed to explain what I mean by Conscious Living.

Conscious Living is a chosen style of conducting oneself in the context of Nature (including the various animals, natural resources, environmental conditions, etc.), consumption (including food, manufactured resources, space, etc.), contributions (including one's career, social involvement, returning what one takes from the world, etc.), relationship with other individuals and finally, one's personal journey into understanding the self and Self.

Conscious Living is a choice merely because the human mind is instinctively greedy and insecure, and, left to itself, it will chose the path of maximum returns and comfort for minimum investment or expenditure. This is true about relationships too. Please do not accept this or deny it but observe life around you as it is. That excursion requires a quiet and still mind that is not interested in condemning or justifying. Since Conscious Living is a departure from the effortless and the greedy (I refrain from using the word "selfish" as I require its contribution when I, later, describe rightness of human values and actions in the framework of contributions and consumptions), it is a choice and like every choice, which is a moving away from laziness of a similar nature, it requires effort and a mental faculty that can sustain its observance in the face of all adversities and doubt. Please be aware that Conscious Living is a vigorous and responsive belief in the rightness of things and not in a particular version or rendition of rightness, for rightness is objective and occasionally adaptive.

Conscious Living is a style and not the written code of law because all it can provide is a framework welded from the spine of Truth and honesty and its flesh is derived every single instant. As a style, it does not disallow individual differences which responsibly play within the space of rightness. As a style, it fits in with the individual and his preferred mode of learning about Conscious Living. As a style, it is readily identifiable in a practioner. Deviations from Conscious Living are also, hence, noticeable. It is also a style because its governing principles lie in the inherent order of Nature and in the nature of Order.

Like every choice made, there is an operating context. Conscious Living a few millenia ago might have apeared different from what it would mean and entail now. Today's state of Nature, environmental degradation, moral degradation, economic instability, availability of resources, human perspective and intelligence are what define Conscious Living. It would be irrational to speak about Conscious Living as a context-less absolute, for it is not that though several traits might urge one to conclude so.

Conscious Living is vital because we as human beings are the most destructive entities of this Earth (and perhaps, in the near future, of this Universe). We often mistake our destructive nature to be power, superiority, etc. We believe that man is at the top of the chain of evolution (because he can invent new gadgets and study animals and the world in a laboratory). We also believe we are the most powerful (because we can shoot deer before he knew what hit him or from where, because we can raze an entire building or a forest in a short while, because we can clone something that we believe is beneficial for this world) of all creatures. We believe we are the most intelligent (because we have strong SAT scores, invented chess and created robots that can bark). Whether we are all that or not, we are definitely the most destructive as we are the only specie to systematically invent ways to drastically eliminate scores of living creatures, ecosystems and ourselves, too. No other animal has that capacity. Lions do not refrigerate water buffalo for the weekend dinner. We systematically kill, destroy, hoard (by exploitation and depletion) and introduce economics into this equation to make matters worse. We believe that this world is a smorgasbord and we have every right to clean it up before we burp our last one. We believe there is no need to cleanse ourselves of our ignorance because it hasn't pinched yet. Yet.

One can enter the philosophical argument that every creature is doing what it does and so is man. Why complain? Perhaps this is the order of Nature that we in our amateur benevolence wish to paint differently. Perhaps we are not supposed to learn from animals. Perhaps we need not be kind to water bodies or worry about the depleting coal reserves. Perhaps not. Shall we then abolish laws and turn the other way from every rape and theft? Shall we allow the SARS virus to take its own course? Shall we let a rabid dog walk freely? Shall we direct the effluence to our kitchen faucet? Shall we stop condemning the Holocaust? After all that was quite a human event, wasn't it? Why condemn cannibalism? If I can systematically rear sheep and hack them to death for dinner, why not do that with a bunch of test tube babies? If the argument is that we should do anything to preserve our survival (how parasitical!), then how do we stop intra-specie threats? More importantly, how do we intend coming to terms with the fact that if we wipe out all animals and plants and build more malls and theme parks, we cannot survive more than a few centuries? If we keep polluting all water bodies, how do we intend getting pure water to drink? It is not merely eco-friendly living but Conscious Living.

Any clever attempt at creating arguments for living irresponsibly and ignorantly will culminate in the rapid elimination of the human race. Conscious Living is vital for our existence and not an altruistic gesture at painting a leafy colourful backyard. Conscious Living is the most selfish way to live on this earth. I would have loved to point you to a single resource for understanding selfishness as a virtue but the one tome that comes closest fails significantly in being that. Conscious Living is not an attempt to denigrate the human race or create a lifestyle to curb one's passions and/or ambition. It is not an attempt at destroying individuality nor is it a case for charity and altruism. It is the most wise style of conducting our lives in order to achieve our goals and passions and simultaneously maintain the world around us to be able to provide the same opportunities for others. It is not mindless or ignorant or rash selfishness (as selfishness is often assumed to be) but an awareness of the self, the personal wants in life, identifying the drivers in one's life, recognising and accepting that the world around us is not our larder and structuring our life in the best possible manner to achieve what we want to with least damage to the world around us. Conscious Living places the self above altruism but beneath Natural order. This is where Ayn Rand fails. She is clever in establishing the place of self above altruism but seems to lose steam before completing the positioning of selfishness in the grand scheme of things. Altruism and parasitism must go but so must selfishness in the face of a threat to the Natural order.
Hence, Conscious Living mandates a thorough awareness and understanding of the world around us, the context. Any attempt at living consciously without this realisation would be a stuttering one. It is vital for every individual to understand the following:
  1. What are his basic needs in life?
  2. What is it that makes him happy?
  3. How is balance maintained in the world around us?
  4. How is this balance being repeatedly disturbed?
  5. Why is he consuming/purchasing whatever he is?
  6. Is better quality of life a mere matter of excesses?
  7. How to define "Enough"?
  8. Is he returning to this world at the same rate at which he is consuming? Not charity!
  9. What are the failings of the present society?
  10. What is the fabric of interpersonal relationships?
  11. Why does he seek particular relationships?
  12. What is the state of his spiritual realisation?
  13. Why is there conflict within him?
  14. Why is there an hollowness within him?
  15. Is he leaving the world in the same or richer state in which it was when he was born?
Each of these possibly warrant a month of meditation but there is no necessity to have understood them all in all their depth and breadth before living consciously. Conscious Living, as mentioned earlier, is adaptive. There are few basic logs of wood that would provide anyone with a raft to float on the expansive waters of Conscious Living. With greater understanding, you can watch it transform into a sturdy ship that will take you to where you wanted to go and in rightness.
I shall be immersing myself in the details of these basic constructs over this series, but in this introduction, I intend touching on them to give the reader a taste for what is in store. I might not create these posts in the order below.

  1. Balance of Nature: In this I wish to investigate what do we mean by balance in Nature, how we are disturbing it, how nearly every other animal seems to intuitively maintain it and some more. I shall also be discussing the role of medicine in disturbing this balance. Industrialisation and urbanisation will also be touched upon.
  2. Our Food Habits: Our food habits have been partly formed by the dictates of the market. In the West, a lot of what people consume is a function of their lifestyle and the market trends, not to mention the health business. Our food habits destroy the Earth we are living in in gradual but definite measures. Our mindless eating and disposal of food creates imbalance in the world leaving several pockets of human being impoverished while human beings in other places can afford to taste a spoon-full and toss the food into the garbage bin. This post, would be borrowing a lot from Michael Pollan's brilliant work called "In Defense of Food"
  3. How We Hoard: This post will explore the consumer in us and how we purchase mindlessly or driven by petty factors. This post will explore how imbalance is created and how we cannot sustain this style of living. This also explores the market and political forces behind this tendency. This post will lead into the next one.
  4. How We Deplete: Here I will explore how every consumer's action has repercussions of magnitudes that we do not wish to consider when we buy. Do we know what goes into the making of a burger or that tee-shirt you are wearing? Why, do you know how that tomato was grown? Do you know what that cow was fed before landing on your plate? Do you know how that cow was reared!? The beautiful teak furniture in our house, where did it come from? Who was involved in its crafting? How do they live? Do you know how much coal was burned to produce that wonderful cast iron bench? Do you know that the company that manufactures your prescription drugs throws all the waste into the adjoining stream that is used for irrigating fields way below and as water in poorer villages? Do you know how much of forest cover has been eliminated to build that new amusement park? How many animals died in the process? What is happening to all our iron ore reserves?
  5. Returning to the World: It takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes to create a delicious Herb Rubbed Sirloin Tip Roast (and try this with softened yam. Works fine!) but few years to rear that beef-giver! It takes a couple of days to manufacture the finest mahogany poster beds but several years to grow one. You think the price justifies it? Coal, iron and several natural resources take several millenia to form. Can we return these to the earth at the same rate? What then becomes of our grandchildren (so what if they are not yours) who need a little zinc for a particular need but can't get it anywhere or can only get it at this extremely expensive rate?
  6. Relationships: Why do we only think in terms of our family, my girlfriend, my husband, my son, my granddaughter and not in terms of humanity? Why do we build relationships on parasitical grounds expecting sacrifices and the like? Why do we not give as much as we want to take? This post will explore the nature of modern relationship and how unconscious it is. It will focus on how a relationship can be beautiful in being conscious, in being aware of the mettle of the other being, in clarity and in love that is of a very different substance (and not mere declarations in words while actions differ). It will further explore why honesty and truth are vital to live the rightness of a relationship. It will explore how psychological chains can never create a relationship. This post will leave the reader with enough material to ponder over why relationships can only be between equals and why every other attempt will only have one sucking blood from the other, with society to support the parasite.
  7. Nourishment of the Self: This will be my personal tribute to Conscious Living for it is in the individual that rightness can be realised at all levels. A society is contained in an individual and it is not the individual who needs it but conversely. This is the bedrock of all that there is to realise in Conscious Living and all our feeble attempts at joining herds of mindless human beings in finding placebos and escapes from the pressing concerns of our life will wither away in that realisation. I hope to be able to convey the conviction I posses in this regard in this post.
Each of these sub-titles will become a link to the relevant post. I invite the reader to raise relevant questions and offer constructive guidance as I am still exploring this paradigm myself. It will at best help me polish my points and at worst convince me that this world urgently needs this.

Svaaha

6 comments:

  1. Anonymous3:56 PM

    E,

    The set of 15 questions are excellent for a self-inquiry.

    The 7 points described here gave me a feeling of all wrong going on with human being (including me), and instinctively I found myself defensive and repulsive. Upto you, how and whether you want to address them in a perspective of acceptance, so that mind can get engaged in seeking possibilities rather being in resistance.

    Looking forward for the interesting series...

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  2. Dear Anon,
    Though I am aware that the "Anonymous" option is there for a purpose, it would be nice if a name was also provided! :-)
    Glad you found the questions interesting. I would love to be milder in my presentation of material and create less of revulsion in the reader, but I feel that that reaction is vital as it unsettles the common reader from assuming that all around him/her is fine and normal (except for that stray case of terrorist attack or the Darfur crisis). Things are not normal. Things are sickeningly wrong. Things are morally wrong. Things are destructive around us. I could be nice and soft in telling someone this or place all the true and hard facts. Perhaps a combo would be best. I shall do what I can to arrive at that, but I genuinely find it amazing when people casually assume so much and live double standards without even knowing that they are. The tremendously thickening mire of lies and greed is astonishing, and I assure you, I am only scraping the surface. But your points are well taken and I will be more mindful. Thank you. :-)

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  3. Parvati7:33 PM

    Ok.

    You have written something that frankly comes when it is too late in the day for man and this Earth and the environment to start anything at all, howsoever well intended.

    All is already over for Man,the Earth and all the other species besides man.

    Unless first we get a level playing field where in we have just the exact number of every species as required to get Earth and the Environment and the balance of nature back on track, which means the ruthless but right action of slaughtering 99% of all human beings, we cannot go to the next step of conscious living.

    Otherwise this post, howsoever sincere, howsoever well thought out, howsoever brilliant in its comprehensive incisive analysis of the various aspects to conscious living is completely ineffective and without impact on what matters - the saving of Earth from Man and therefrom the redemption of the rest of the species and maybe that of the human species too.

    Understand that conscious living to save the Earth from Man and Man from himself and other species from Man, is completely futile and only a self indulgent exercise to ease your conscience and greater light, IF ALL OF THE HUMAN SPECIES SIMULTAENOUSLY AND AT ONCE DO NOT ADOPT IT AS THE ONLY WAY TO BE; AND FRANKLY, ONLY WHEN THE NUMBER OF HUMAN BEINGS HAS BEEN BROUGHT OUT TO A LEVEL OF MAYBE A FEW THOUSANDS AND NOT A FEW BILLIONS.

    # So this noble exercise of yours is all very well, but is completely useless if only you in your enlightenment, or a few that are motivated by you are moved to live thus.

    My two step solution is simple but impossible -

    1. Bring down or up the number of each species to the exact quantity as needed by the Earth - this has to be calculated correctly by environmentalists, biologists, anthropologists maybe.

    2.Thereafter let man or whosoever remains of his horror-species live consciously.

    Otherwise all is just entertainment or a self gratifying expression. Your or my living consciously will never never never save the Earth or anything else.

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  4. Parvati4:28 PM

    Questions 3,4,5,8 and 15 are obviously of relevance to the Earth, the World and the Environment at large and whatever be the answers to these, an individual's conscious or unconscious living is irrelevant in its impact on the whole Earth's environment or survival.

    So, I think that barring these questions 3, 4, 5, 8, 15 that are meant for the large scope of the Earth's well being as a whole, the rest of the questions have an impact on a smaller personal and narrow life of an individual and hence are important from that point of view. And hence the rest of the questions and their answers will definitely help or harm conscious living of an individual and its effect on the individual himself and his small circle of people.

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  5. Dear P,
    Yes it is late in the day, but still worth an effort if it can get some people to think and re-visit their life and lifestyle. Does that save the Earth and humanity? Perhaps (not) but if it can be viral then I am certain it will be. We definitely need to bring down the human population.

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