Conscious Living

  • Conscious living as a recovery manifesto has guided me through and made the difference between reacting to what happens to me, and beating the schizophrenia at its own game. 


    As a daily devotion, conscious living is the act of thinking things through instead of responding on autopilot.  It can take the form of small changes, or epiphanies.  When you have these breakthrough moments, in the flash of one day or over the course of many years, a shift happens.  I'll use a couple examples from my own life.


    When I turned 40, I ate the same amount of food I always did, and I exercised only twice a week.  As a result, three years later, I weighed 10 pounds more.  Five months ago, I cut back on food, and I started going to the gym at least three if not four times a week.  My original blind path of doing the usual had led me down an unhealthy road; luckily I saw the light and could change my habits.

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    Another instance where I reacted in an unconscious way was early in my recovery, in the 1990s.  Not thinking of how it looked (and obviously not doing well), I'd wear the most bizarre clothes, assuming that if I dressed in trendy fashion, people would admire me.  My faulty thinking was that my clothes defined me.  Today, I understand just how important it is for my sanity to wear outfits that reflect my personal unity.  I would rather the clothes take a back seat to my personality, which is strong enough on its own.


    Here now I'll give a general example of conscious living: examining our behavior to see if we get a payoff from it.  Sometimes, there's a great benefit from staying stuck.  It means we don't have to risk being vulnerable or open to rejection or even just doing something we're not familiar with.  Repeating a new behavior for 21 days-only three weeks-is the beginning of making any change permanent.


    Now, I'm a big fan of having a daily routine.  I'm not saying you have to shake things up just to be different.  Rather, I stress being aware of what you do, think and feel and questioning if these responses serve you in your recovery.  It could be hard to face life head-on, yet I believe the only way to heal is to be honest with yourself, and be true to yourself.


    How will you know you're doing something on autopilot if you're not mindful of it?  I suggest that twice a year, in the fall and spring, you do a "deep clean": simply examine, for a week, what's going on in your life and if your lifestyle suits you.  This could be like spring cleaning to see if you're holding on to outdated perceptions or if you've outgrown certain relationships.


    This year, I've determined to consciously choose the food I put into my mouth.  If I see a donut on a table, I'll think twice about taking it.  Conscious living requires that we prepare for the possibilities.  When I know breakfast meetings involve muffins or pastries, I can bring a yogurt and spoon to have a healthier alternative.


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    Part of conscious living involves knowing yourself and being content that at times you may be out of step with society or what other people do.  Conscious living is the ultimate form of self-respect you can give yourself in recovery.  Another aspect of this devotion to mindfulness takes a cue from the "Slow Food Movement."  As I hinted, when you're impatient with yourself to make things happen, you'll cut corners, act in haste, or, as I did-deny the truth.  However, taking things slow and being aware of what you're doing, and mindful of whether it benefits you, is the key to recovery. 


    It could take years to get to where you want to be.  Recovery is its own reward: it's a process, not an endpoint.  Enjoy the journey.  The classic expression is, "Stop and smell the roses."  It's spring.  Why not live your life in full bloom?



Published On: April 29, 2008