Even in these challenging and divisive times, there is a reason for hope. That reason is that we all have access to the greatest capability ever created. Individually, we can use this capability to shape our lives. And when leaders use the same capability they can change the world. The capability is consciousness.
People often glaze over when they read the world “consciousness,” but I find it helps to think of consciousness simply as a state of awareness. What am I aware of? Am I aware that I’m in danger—then that’s my state of consciousness. Am I aware that I’m extremely fortunate to have the life I have—then that’s my state of consciousness.
And, here’s my point—we can each direct our state of awareness. We do it all the time. Look out at a scene in front of you right now. You will see more than you can take in so just focus on one thing—doesn’t matter what it is. That’s called conscious sight. You are seeing one thing consciously. Go to a party and listen to the cacophony of sounds, then focus on what one person is saying. That’s called conscious listening.
The same thing applies to how you think. You can experience conscious thoughts by directing your mind. Any time a thought arises you have a choice, or almost any time. If you are truly in a threatening situation then the freedom to choose diminishes, but mostly we are safe and can choose our thoughts.
So, do you choose to think about things that upset you and make you anxious, fearful, regretful, or do you think about things that make you calm, present, and hopeful? Directing consciousness is the key to living an intentional life. This is what we do in the Live Conscious community—we share tools and practices for living more consciously.
In the movie Allied, with Brad Pitt, there is a scene in which Pitt is talking to a young lieutenant, just before the man is ready to depart on his first combat mission. The man is visibly scared and Pitt asks him, “What are you thinking about?” and the young lieutenant replies, “My mother.” Brad Pitt says, “Don’t. Think about your father. He’s proud of you.”
For a young man going into battle, thinking about his mother will most likely produce feelings of tenderness and vulnerability, which although valuable, may not be the most helpful way to feel when getting ready to fly a combat mission. “Think of your father, he’s proud of you,” produces a completely different state of awareness.
When we ask other people questions about themselves, we are directing their consciousness. I encourage you to pause before asking questions and think about whether your question is likely to be helpful or not.
Great leaders throughout history have been able to direct the states of awareness—the consciousness—of millions of people. FDR did it at a time when our country was in a state of despair. John Kennedy did it when he directed us to “put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.” When I look at the problems our country is facing today, as well as the problems we see around the world, I believe the solutions will come when we have leaders capable of directing our consciousness in ways that unite us.
But we don’t need to wait for leaders before we take charge of our own lives. We can do so by directing our consciousness in proactive ways. To do this I recommend starting every morning with three simple acts.
1) Set your intention for the day. What kind of person do you want to be today? How do you want to conduct yourself? Just one or two words will be sufficient.
2) Spend a few minutes reading something intelligent, thoughtful, well written. This will be your first “conversation” of the morning. It will direct your consciousness. Make it count.
3) If you don’t have time for a longer meditation, take time to do our 4-minute meditation, which you can find here and download onto your phone or iPod. This is a thoughtfully designed practice that will help you strengthen your consciousness muscles.
Learn to direct your consciousness, and you can alleviate suffering—yours and other people’s. Learn to use your conscious, and you can create hope—for yourself and other people. Hope begins with each one of us and then it has a ripple effect, touching the lives of people around us.