Branden on the Art of Living Consciously

My wife and I have been corresponding with my great aunt and uncle over the last several weeks.  Earlier this week my uncle wrote us the following email. The bulk of it is an excerpt from a book called the Art of Living Consciously by Nathaniel Branden, which is available on Amazon for as low as $10.

It was good talking to both of you yesterday. As time goes by you both will gain the wisdom to separate the trivial from the important. Unfortunately world conditions are deteriorating but whatever happens you will have each other. You both are young and in the prime of life and have the energy to fight for your own happiness. You can do nothing about the world but as long as you have your minds and learn to use it for your rational self interest all the rest is bull shit.

I’ve come across some observation from Nathaniel Branden who taught me a great deal and I would be remiss if I did not share them with you while I still able to.

The following are from a book he wrote “THE ART OF LIVING CONSCIOUSLY”

Living consciously is a state of being mentally active rather than passive. It is the ability to look at the world through fresh eyes. It is intelligence taking joy in its own function. Living consciously in seeking to be aware of everything that bears on our interests, actions, values, purposes, and goals. It is the willingness to confront facts, pleasant or unpleasant. It is the desire to discover our mistakes and correct them. Within the range of our interests and concerns, it is the quest to keep expanding our awareness and understanding, both of the world external to self and of the world within. It is respect for reality and respect for the distinction between the real and the unreal. It is the commitment to see what we see and know what we know. It is recognition that the act of dismissing reality is the root of all evil.

If we wish to remain adaptive, we must be committed to continuous learning as a way of life.

Most people are unaware that their thinking and value system may be riddled with contradictions.

One of the most common forms in which people confront contradictions in everyday life if when their official view of themselves (their self concept) clashes with some aspect of their behavior. In such a
situation, they have three alternatives:
1) They can revise their self-concept.
2) They can change their behavior.
3) Or they can evade the contradiction.

We undermine our self-esteem when we persist in our contradictions, because at a deeper level we know what we are doing. In aligning ourselves with reality as best we understand it, we optimize
our chances for success.

Our inner world, too, is part of reality.

If we are to function effectively, we must learn to look in two directions: to preserve contact with the world and with the self.

If we choose to move through life blindly, we have good reason to be afraid.

When we are able to see the internal more clearly, we become able to see the external more clearly.

Among the many crimes committed against the younger generation, one of the worst is that younger people are taught next to nothing about reason, rationality, or the importance of critical thinking.

We must choose to think.

The quest of reason…this can hardly be stated often enough…is for the non contradictory integration of experience.

The practice of living consciously entails an openness to evidence that might suggest an error in one’s thinking…and a willingness to correct such errors.

One of the meanings of living consciously is: Pay attention to what works, and do more of it, and try to understand the principles involved. And also: Pay attention to what doesn’t work, and stop doing it.

Do I take responsibility for generating a level of awareness appropriate to the context? Do I give my activities the best consciousness of which I am capable, or do I settle for something less than that?

The essence of our psychological freedom may be summarized as follows:
1) We are free to focus our mind, or not bother, or to actively avoid focusing,
2) We are free to strive for greater clarity with regard to some issue confronting us, or not bother, or to actively seek darkness
3) We are free to examine unpleasant facts or to evade them.

The simplest strategy of avoidance consists of giving up the effort to direct the flow of awareness. We abandon purpose. We surrender to passive drifting.

Another form of consciousness avoidance (reality avoidance) is passive surrender to the feeling or emotion of the moment in a way that effectively freezes our rational mental activity.

Another avoidance strategy consists of switching one’s mind away from where it needs to be to some irrelevant issue to hold reality at bay.

Passivity as a policy leaves us feeling incompetent in the face of too many of life’s challenges and opportunities. It also leaves us with undeveloped self-esteem.

Fears: that paralyze thought:
1) Fear of facing truths about ourselves (about our thoughts, feelings, or actions) we have been denying, avoiding, or disowning so as to protect our self-esteem or our pretense at it.
2) Fear of facing truths about another person that, if acknowledged, might impel us to rock the boat of the relationship or even destroy it.
3) Fear of not knowing how to deal with the realities one is acknowledging.
4) Fear of losing face in the eyes of significant others if certain truths about oneself are exposed, so that one dreads to expose them even to one’s own inspection.

Success belongs to those who are willing to take responsibility for attaining their desires…those who respond to life proactively rather than passively, choosing independence over dependence.

What we repress does not simply disappear; at an unconscious level, it remains active.

People who are governed by a respect for reality lead lives that work better than those of people who place wishes above reason.

Know what you are doing. If we are present to what we are doing, our consciousness is open to receive..

Often, a flight from reality is a flight from the reality of our inner state.

When we are frightened, we typically pull energy in to our center, seeing less, hearing less…shrinking consciousness precisely when we need to expand it..

“I”…our deepest identity…is neither our social roles nor our beliefs nor our feelings nor our attachments nor our defenses nor our possessions, but that inner searchlight we brighten or dim by choice.

Mindfulness leads to increased effectiveness; its abandonment leads to failure and defeat.

If there is one certain indication of unconscious living, it is indifference to the question ‘”What do I need to know (or learn) in order to achieve my goals?

Living consciously entails paying attention to relationship between our professed values. goals, and purposes and our daily behavior.

Doing more of what doesn’t work doesn’t work.

If we are wise enough to base our self-esteem not on being “right” but on being rational…on being conscious,,,and on having integrity, then we recognize that acknowledgment and correction of an error is not an abyss into which we have fallen but a height we can take pride in having

One application of mindfulness is that of learning to manage the feeling that pulls us away from where we need to look.

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