The Art & Science of Mindful Living

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In the last couple of years, the concept of “mindful living” has been sweeping the world like a tidal wave. A simple Google search on “mindful living” throwing up 118 million results in 0.75 seconds speaks volumes about the influence of this wave, which I find very exciting and heartening. Afterall “mindful living” is known from ancient times to help in battling distractions, improving mental health, nurturing better relationships, increasing efficiency and effectiveness of whatever we do, and leading to a life of contentment, happiness and success. But what saddens me is when people equate mindful living to merely being in the present. Let us say you want to watch a movie in the theatre. You need to go to the theatre and then watch the movie. Like, on reaching the theatre you cannot declare that you have seen the movie. Similarly, being in the present does not mean that you are living mindfully.

What is mindful living?

Mindful and living are two words, with the first representing the state of existence and the second representing action. And, when they come together and pool their meanings and energies, they bring into existence a philosophy of living life, wherein, the whole (mindful living) is greater than its parts (mindful & living).

  • Mindful means being aware of what is happening in the present. This present-moment awareness is not restricted to what is happening in the physical world around us. It also includes what is happening in our inner world (values, emotions, aspirations, thoughts). We need to remember that both these worlds are Siamese twins, with the inner world deciding how we think and behave in our outer world.
  • Living means not to merely exist or survive. It means to be actively alive in a meaningful way. And to be meaningfully alive, one needs to learn to respond and not react to the circumstances and situations that life routinely throws at us. Those who develop the ability to respond become the blue-eyed children of life. Life empowers them to recognize the opportunities that come their way, they unleash their potential, make the improbable probable, and build a life of meaning, purpose, happiness, and success.

Thus, Mindful living entails not only living in the present but living in the present in a participative way. It is all about taking responsibility and accountability of our lives and ringing in meaning, purpose, happiness, and success. The purpose of mindful living is that we lead our lives in a manner that helps us unleash our best version, develop our potential and recognize the possibilities before us. We take action, achieve, grow and evolve, so that when in old age we look back and reflect on our lives, we smile and say ‘life well lived, I am happy, I would love to live it again’.

Becoming mindful is a learnable skill and is the foundation on which we develop our ability to connect with life, take control of it, participate in it and navigate it.

The ancient Indian formula to live mindfully

In ancient India, life was a celebration, an opportunity to achieve one’s highest potential, happiness, and success. The ancients recognized that we humans are a bundle of desires and if anything comes between us and our growth and evolution, it is our desires.  Thus, taking a pragmatic view, they declared fulfilling one’s desires as the first noble goal of life.

Since desires do not get fulfilled in a vacuum, you need resources and means. This brought the ancients to the question ‘how do we fulfil our desires in the absence of resources and means’. They saw the solution in each applying themselves to the process of wealth creation. This not only helped the individuals, but also contributed to their society’s growth. Hence, wealth creation was declared an integral part of life and the second noble goal.

When our desires are fulfilled, we feel happy and contented. We want to repeat the experience and to be able to do that, we strive harder to generate more wealth. With wealth comes power and power is human weakness. Since power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, the wise ancients thought it necessary to introduce some checks and balances to safeguard the moral fabric of the individuals as well as the society. Righteous living was declared as the third noble goal.

Righteousness is the ability to decipher between right and wrong. It works on the principle of mutuality, interdependence & brotherhood in society by promoting personal and social consciousness. Righteous living permits everyone to protect their self-interest without harming others. Harming others would include deceit; lying; stealing; depriving someone of what is rightfully theirs; exploiting someone financially, emotionally, sexually, and mentally; taking advantage of one’s wealth, power, or position; intentionally putting others at disadvantage for personal gains; and so forth. Righteous living brings equality and order in self and society which is critical for human survival.

While the above three goals focus on our external world, the fourth goal about which I will now be talking, focuses on our inner world. In my view, this fourth goal is the most significant one. It is the key to managing our thoughts and behaviour. Let me remind you, our inner world (thoughts) drives our outer world (behaviour). Our mind which is sandwiched between our soul and body is a field of duality. At its lower end are the five evils – namely lust (kama), anger (krodh), attachment (moha), greed (lobha), and ego (ahankara). At the upper end rests the higher values of love, humility, compassion, and higher wisdom. Reflexively the five evils dominate our mind, resulting in our purpose-thoughts-actions speaking their language. But nature has not left us at our mind’s mercy. It has given us the ability to develop internal discipline and make our mind serve us. To make our mind subservient to us we need to develop self-awareness and expand our consciousness.

When we operate out of five evils of mind (lust, anger, attachment, greed, ego) we violate the principles of righteous living and damage the moral fabric of self and society for the safeguard of which the third goal was created. In this background, liberation from the evils of the mind was declared as the fourth noble goal.

Collectively called Purushartha (“purpose or object of human pursuit”) the above four goals are found in the Upanishads, Samhitas, Brahmanas, and Aranyakas defined as Kama (desires), Artha (means of living), Dharma(righteousness) and Moksha (liberation). The sequence of the four goals in ancient literature is different from what I have given above; but that changes nothing as they are mutually exclusive and inclusive of each other. Secondly, the ancients saw the goals from the standpoint of liberation from the cycle of life and death; while in this article, I am seeing them from the standpoint of liberation from the pain, misery, unhappiness and failures that we bring upon ourselves during our life.

I firmly believe that to “excel and thrive in life, nothing less than an integrated approach works, and nothing more is needed”. The integrative nature of the discussed four noble goals makes them the perfect life philosophy to adopt to mitigate the challenges of present day life.

Let me ask you the following questions and if your answer is ‘YES’ to any of them, then take the steps given to embark on your journey of mindful living.

The question:

  1. Do you want to fulfil your desires?
  2. Do you want to earn money / generate wealth?
  3. Do you want to be just and reasonable in life?
  4. Do you want to get rid of the five evils of the mind operating in you?

The path to mindful living:

  1. Be righteous in your attitude (Dharma): Practice mindfulness, increase your emotional intelligence factor, and develop the habit of looking beyond yourself.
  2. Create wealth – earn money (Artha): Actively participate in life and develop internal and external skills that will help you to add value to society and society rewards you in money/wealth.
  3. Fulfil desires (Kama): Be mindful of the quality, quantity, and direction of your thoughts. Don’t be overindulgent and reckless
  4. Rise above the evils of mind (Moksha): Practice meditation, gratitude, forgiveness and bring humility and compassion in your purpose-thoughts-actions. This will help you develop internal discipline and rise above the five evils of mind.

Sustainable success comes only when you lay the correct foundation. To help you lay the correct foundation for mindful living, I am sharing my time-tested formula below:

  1. Attention management – learn to manage your attention.
  2. Observation – learn to observe what is outside you and also inside you.
  3. Pause – learn to pause so you respond and do not react.
  4. Acceptance – learn to accept reality on “what is, IS” basis.

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article belong to the author. is neither responsible nor liable for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in the article.



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