Skilful living might mean different things to different people, but in essence, it’s the same for all of us – staying awake and aware in all aspects of our lives. But whatever the specifics are for you, the foundation is about staying aware in all aspects of your life. As humans, we tend to get stuck in a reactive mind loop – constantly reverting to ingrained habits and responses. One of the goals of skilful living is to not allow ourselves to be defined by our reactive mind. And that starts by cultivating mindfulness.
One of the simplest mindfulness practices around is to regularly ask yourself, “What is true in this moment?” and then notice how your body and emotions respond to the answers that come up. Skilful living is learning to respond from a place of awareness rather than reacting from a place of habit or high emotions.
Here are three helpful reminders for living more skilfully:
No matter what is happening in your life, no matter what has happened in your past, no matter what box you or others have put you in, you always have a choice about what you do next. Yes, the past brought you to this point but the future is not set, and neither have to define you. We often associate choice with behaviour (I can choose to eat these biscuits or not), but we also have a choice when it comes to how we respond to our thoughts and emotions, though it might now always feel that way. Skilful living is about becoming aware of our choices and changing them if we don’t like them.
Most of us feel strongly about doing the right thing, even when it’s hard, but we also feel that we often lack sufficient resources to put this into action. Sometimes it’s because the right thing isn’t entirely clear, we can’t find a path, we misunderstand a situation, or we are dominated by anger, shame, resentment, or other strong emotions. Skilful living does not require perfection. In fact, life tends toward chaos and ambiguity – making the right thing a sometimes shifting target. Skilful living does require that you set your awareness toward the practice of doing the right thing. There are no automatic rewards for this practice, and it requires a great deal of trust, humility, and working to align your intentions with your actions, but it’s a vital skill to cultivate.
There’s a great quote by Jose Ortega y Gasset that reads, “Life is fired at us point-blank.” This feels really true sometimes. But it’s our tendency to believe that this makes us powerless victims. This belief is a reactive way to live our lives. Skilful living requires us to remember that life happens from within, not without. Our external reality is a reflection of our internal state of being. This is not about attempting to be in control of everything – that’s futile. Practice being aware that your reactions and choices shape your reality.
‘We see things not as they are, but as we are ourselves.’ – H.M. Tomlinson
Skilful living begins with becoming proactive rather than reactive, staying aware of your choices, and practicing doing the right thing. With mindfulness, the way is often smoother, and the flow of life is more enjoyable.