Living More Consciously
Duane Elgin

The word consciousness literally means "that with which we know."  It has also been termed the knowing faculty.  To live more consciously means to be more consciously aware, moment by moment, that we are present in all we do.  When we stand and talk, we know that we are standing and talking.  When we sit and eat, we know that we are sitting and eating.  When we do the countless things that make up our daily lives, we remember the being that is involved in those activities.  We remember ourselves (and to "re-member" is to make whole; it is the opposite of dis-memberment).  To live consciously is to move through life with conscious self-remembering.

We are not bound to habitual and preprogrammed ways of perceiving and responding when we are consciously watchful of ourselves in the process of living.  Consider several examples.  It is difficult to relate to another person solely as the embodiment of a social position or job title when, moment by moment, we are consciously aware of the utter humanness that we both possess--a humanness whose magnificence and mystery dwarf the seeming importance of status and titles as a basis of a relationship.  It is difficult to deceive another person when, moment by moment, we are consciously aware of our unfolding experience of deception.  It is difficult to sustain the experience of sexual desire by projecting a sexual fantasy when, moment by moment, we are conscious that we are creating and relating to a fantasy rather than the authentic individual we are with. 

In short, when we begin to consciously watch ourselves, in the activities of daily life, we begin to cut through confining self-images, social pretenses, and psychological barriers.  We begin to live more voluntarily.

We all have the ability to consciously know ourselves as we move through life.  The capacity to "witness" the unfolding of our lives is not an ability that is remote or hidden from us.  To the contrary, this is an experience that is so close, so intimate, and so ordinary, that we easily overlook it presence and significance.  An old adage states, It's a rare fish that knows it swims in water.  Analogously the challenge of living voluntarily is not in gaining access to the conscious experience of ourselves but rather in consciously recognizing the witnessing experience and then learning the skills of sustaining our opening to that experience.

To clarify the nature of conscious watchfulness, I would like to ask you several questions.  Have you been conscious of the fact that you have been sitting here reading this book?  Have you been conscious of changes in your bodily sensations, frame of mind, and emotions?  Were you totally absorbed in the book until I asked?  Or had you unintentionally allowed your thoughts to wander to other concerns?  Did you just experience a slight shock of self-recognition when I inquired?  What does it feel like to notice yourself reading while you read; to observe yourself eating while you eat; to see yourself watching television while you watch television; to notice yourself driving while you drive; to experience yourself talking while you talk?

Despite the utter simplicity of being consciously watchful of our lives, this is a demanding activity.  At first it is a struggle to just occasionally remember ourselves moving through the daily routine.  A brief moment of self-remembering is followed by an extended period where we are lost in the flow of thought and the demands of the exterior world.  Yet with practice we find that we can more easily remember ourselves--while walking down the street or while we are at home, at work, at play.  We come to recognize, as direct experience, the nature of "knowing that we know."  As our familiarity with this mode of perception increases, we get lost in thought and worldly activities less and less frequently.  In turn, we experience our behavior in the world as more and more choiceful, or voluntary.

Bringing conscious attention into our daily lives may lack the mystery of searching for enlightenment with an Indian sorcerer and the spiritual glamour of sitting for long months in an Eastern monastic setting, but consciously attending to our daily-life activities is an eminently useful, readily accessible, and powerful tool for enhancing our capacity for voluntary action.

First published in 1981, Voluntary Simplicity was quickly recognized as a powerful and visionary work in the emerging dialogue over sustainable living. Now--more than twenty years later and with many of the planet′s environmental stresses more urgent than ever--Duane Elgin has once again revised and updated his revolutionary book.  Voluntary Simplicity is not a book about living in poverty; it is a book about living with balance. Elgin illuminates the changes that an increasing number of people are making in their everyday lives--adjustments in day-to-day living that are an active, positive response to the complex dilemmas of our time. By embracing the tenets of voluntary simplicity-frugal consumption, ecological awareness, and personal growth-people can change their lives and, in the process, save our planet.

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Mindfulness is being aware of yourself, others, and your surroundings
in the moment.  When consciously and kindly focusing awareness on
life as it unfolds minute by precious minute, you are better able to
savor each experience.  Also, being closely attentive gives you the
opportunity to change unwise or painful feelings and responses quickly.
In fact, being truly present in a mindful way is an excellent stress
reducer and, because of that, can be seen as consciousness
conditioning, a strengthening workout for body, mind, heart, and spirit.

Sue Patton Thoele


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Carefully observe the natural laws in operation in the world around
you, and live by them.  From following them, you will learn the morality
of modesty, moderation, compassion, and consideration (not just one
society’s rules and regulations), the wisdom of seeing things as they
are (not of merely collecting “facts” about them), and the happiness of
being in harmony with the Way (which has nothing to do with self-
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lightly, spontaneously, and effortlessly.

Benjamin Hoff
The Te of Piglet


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