“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.” – Henry David Thoreau
This is a quote from Walden, which is a great book. It’s available at wikisource and it’s on my ‘to read’ list. What attracts me to this quote is the use of the adverb ‘deliberately’ with the verb ‘to live’. ‘I wished to live deliberately’ he says. I’ve always wondered what he meant by that. Now I’ve finally understood that he’s talking about living consciously.
What does it mean to live consciously?
To live consciously or deliberately would mean to live while doing things that you intend to do. We don’t realize it but most of us live unconsciously most of the time. We react to the world and the people around us. We react to our circumstances. Our actions are not deliberate actions but rather reactions to what’s being done to us.
When we are young we are under the control of our parents and we can’t live deliberately. We are sent off to school and into the rat race. Many people never think of questioning their life and its meaning. They just start running and keep running until they die.
Even those who do question things and start thinking about the way they would like to live find it hard to do it. It’s hard to live deliberately. We must deal with society and most of the time we are swept away by the immense current of social rules and rituals.
When I’m not living consciously it means that I’m not conscious about my existence as something separate from my body. I relate it with getting hypnotized by the Maya of this world, completely lost in this illusion. When I’m not living consciously, I’m aware of how tired I am and how much I want to sleep. I start feeling bored and I watch TV and I snack on fat and sugar rich foods. I feel lazy and I stop thinking about my life and goals. I just want to pass my time so I surf the internet without knowing what I’m looking for. I get lost in my ego. When someone is rude to me I feel anger and hatred for that person. I get lost in my emotions. I start feeling depressed about how my life is going nowhere and how lonely I am and how unfair the world and everybody in it has been to me.
On the other hand when I manage to live consciously I am aware of myself as a manifestation of this universe. I am me but I am much more than me as well. I am aware that I am the master of this body so I push it to its limits. I exercise because I want a fit body and if I feel tired I still make my body do the exercise because I know the tiredness is temporary. When I’m living consciously I don’t feel bored or lazy or anxious or stressed. I know what my purpose in life is and I calmly go about doing the things I want to do. I become aware of my ego and whenever I interact with others I watch with interest how my ego reacts to others and how their ego reacts to me but I don’t act on my ego. I know I am the same as others and I feel the unity and there is no more ego between us. I feel the emotions and realize how silly they are and enjoy the control I have over myself. I feel motivated and powerful and at peace with the universe.
That’s what living consciously or deliberately means to me. It’s not something I can do continuously but I’m getting better with time.
How to live consciously?
It starts with questioning why you are running this rat race. Then comes a little courage to stand your ground and decide to live deliberately. This is followed by a long process of forgetting everything you’ve been taught about how to make a living and relearning how to make a life.
I’m at this stage myself. My programmed brain tells me that I must try to make a career before I get too old. I must try to make as much money as I can. I must be successful. But the other part of my brain says that I must learn to live consciously, intentionally and deliberately before I can do anything else. It says that as long as I’m living my purpose everyday, I’ll be fine. And I believe it.
I believe it because I’ve lived the rat race as well and no amount of money gave me a similar level of peace and fulfillment as I get when I live consciously. I believe it because I know that in the end our few decades on earth will mean nothing as compared to the age of the universe. When I die as me I’ll live on as the universe. If I can live most of my life observing most of this universe and evolving as much as I can as part of this universe then I would have lived a good life. Everything else like money, fame, success, power etc. doesn’t matter because they are inconsequential to the universe. To live this kind of a life means to live consciously.
This is what I’ve learned about life and I hope that when I come to die I won’t discover that I have not lived at all. Here’s the full quote from Walden.
“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 practice 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, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever”.”