Thoreau had his definition, but this is the 21st century, and I’m not chopping wood for a cabin in the woods (though that actually sounds lovely…). Here’s what living deliberately means to me:
It means prioritizing inner peace, and building that priority time into my day or week, so that the action I do take comes from a place of calmness.
It means being aware of my actions, instead of acting automatically or reacting blindly. It means being aware of what I feed my body, mind and spirit.
It means embracing the breadth of life’s emotions – the love, pain, joy, sorrow, wonder, beauty, fear – the whole mess.
It means quieting my mind as much as possible (and I have a super-noisy mind).
It means experiencing the sights, sounds and fragrances of nature fully, without putting names to them. Living as a witness to the planet.
It means taking time to focus on the experience of being alive, rather than compulsive Doing.
It means interacting with people and seeing a human being, not a role.
It means being earnest and vulnerable in a culture of increasing snark and judgment.
It means slowing down and allowing the existential questions to arise, and to be okay with not having the answers.
It means spending hours that are soul-nourishing and deliberately “unproductive.”
It means not rushing.
It means continually looking at my ego, at where I’m still grasping.
It means allowing things to unfold, rather than trying to force them to happen the way I want (this…is an ongoing challenge for me).
It means understanding that everything ebbs and flows. That is life. And that’s precisely why it’s important to honour this moment.
It means appreciating people for who they are, and things for what they are, without needing to label or evaluate them.
At times, it means living in a place without words, because words are symbolic, and they can’t capture the essence of what they represent. The word ‘forest’ can never communicate the experience of being in a forest.
It means being comfortable with uncertainty. (Some types of uncertainty are much easier to deal with than others)
It means being selective about the media (social and otherwise) I consume and choosing not to feed my mind with negativity, fearmongering or gratuitous violence.
It means understanding that most of life in Western society is just a game we play, and many of our social constructs are collective delusions.
It means finding in meaning in life not from accomplishments, status or accumulated possessions, but from experiencing life fully.
It means living a lifestyle in which I’m able to do all these things, by keeping my financial obligations minimal and only buying those things I can purchase outright.
(I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with having money per se. I don’t believe it’s evil, nor do I believe there’s anything virtuous about poverty. I do believe the blind pursuit of money as a means to security is misguided.)
Less this sound too sanctimonious, it doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally eat chocolate chip cookie dough – it just means that when I do, it’s a conscious decision, and I know I’ll probably be sluggish and crave sugar the next day. But sometimes, it’s worth it. Similarly, it doesn’t mean I’m always peaceful, but when unpleasant emotions arise, I take the time to look at them – where they’re coming from, what stories I’m telling myself (there’s always a story – it’s the mind’s sense-making mechanism) and how it feels in my body.
When the inside is peaceful, I can make choices:
– I can choose which thoughts I pay attention to
– I can choose how I interpret the events of my life
– I can choose whether to focus on the positive or the negative
– I can take responsibility for my internal state
I spent decades on automatic pilot, and it wasn’t until I was forced to slow down that I realized what I’d done to myself and others by rushing through life as though it were a flip-book. Like Thoreau, when I come to the end of my life, I want my existence to have meant something. I want to feel that I have truly lived the life that was given to me. I want to know that, in my time on this stage (to reference Shakespeare now), I have moved the story forward.