It had always been easy for me to keep busy, I was pretty good at it. There was so much going on all the time. For several years, my life consisted of finishing university, getting a new job, getting engaged, getting married, buying a home, newlywed life, preparing to move to London, ACTUALLY moving to London, travelling to Europe every three weeks, making new friends, finding new jobs… it was hectic!
And then suddenly, I was back in Australia. My sabbatical from work came to an abrupt and unexpected end, and I rushed back ahead of my husband, who was left to pack up our London lives on his own and follow a few months later.
I was back home, back at my old job, and back to my old life. I stared out at the beautiful 17th floor view of the Storey Bridge and the Brisbane River from my work office. It was a perfect August day in 2013 in my home city. And I felt… nothing. Numb. Lost. I didn’t even notice the tears running down my face at first until a teardrop plopped on my notebook, breaking my trance. I quickly wiped away the tears, hoping no one saw and went back to looking busy.
It wasn’t long after when I started buying little packs of tissues to keep in my handbag. I’d never been the kind of person who carried tissues around. Mothers carried tissues around. My grandma carried tissues around. But lately, I had found myself stashing unused napkins in my handbag; sometimes even taking a couple extra when I bought my lunch. Crying had become a regular (albeit secret) occurrence. At my desk, at the bus stop, while making a cup of tea.
Leaving London was my worst nightmare. Buried deep down, I knew that my time was up. There was no more ‘staying busy.’ For years I had been going through the motions, never daring to truly be alone with my own thoughts. Over and over again, I’d pushed away an underlying feeling of unfulfillment. I can see this all now, but I was pretty oblivious at the time. All I knew was that I was incredibly sad and that I had become the kind of person who carried tissues around with them.
In 2014, I started seeing a therapist, alone initially, and then occasionally with my husband. She listened to me, validated my feelings, and very gently, asked me tough questions which I usually brushed aside. It was a tumultuous year, to say the least. Most of the time I felt like I was taking one step forward, two steps back. My husband and I were in a dark place. Fear had taken over my life and I felt paralysed, trapped.
As the end of 2014 approached, during the month of December amongst the Christmas chaos, I reflected on a year of crying, complaining, feeling awful, looping… I felt like a broken record. I felt like I had hit rock-bottom and I was finally sick of myself. So I decided to make a resolution for 2015: instead of feeling sad and sorry for myself, I decided to take steps to feel happier. Not in the ‘slap on a happy face and pretend to be happy’ kind of way. But truly happy. It was finally time for me to answer some of those tough questions I’d been avoiding.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the start of my journey towards conscious living. I was finally starting to take responsibility for my life.
Transitioning to conscious living
One week into 2015, I watched a short interview with author and motivational speaker Gabrielle Bernstein. She spoke about how each of us has an inner guide and that we can create miracles simply by tuning into the messages of the universe. It felt like she was speaking directly to me, as though I had been ignoring my own inner guide for so long. Her message left me feeling uplifted and hopeful that I could learn to tap into that inner knowing and experience miracles myself. After that moment, I started reading her books and listening to anything by her I could find.
Gabrielle, or Gabby as her fans call her, led me to Marianne Williamson, Louise Hay, Elizabeth Gilbert, Danielle La Porte, and many other incredible women authors. With their guidance, I started unplugging from my various methods of keeping busy (like partying all night each weekend and endless hours of TV) and started learning to be alone with my thoughts. I started to question the decisions I’d made and beyond that, I started to get curious about the thinking that had led me to those decisions.
The next 12 months brought about the biggest changes in my entire life. I held onto my New Year’s resolution at every moment and at first, used it to make small decisions. Choosing Sunday brunch over Saturday clubbing. Reading books instead of scrolling. Meditation and affirmations instead of beating myself up.
And then came the bigger decisions: Choosing my own happiness over living up to others’ expectations. Dreaming instead of settling. Listening to my own inner guide instead of seeking external validation. And ultimately, choosing to be alone rather than in a marriage that both my husband and I had outgrown.
Conscious living comes down to one key ingredient: responsibility. Complete responsibility for the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Discovering tools for conscious living
I didn’t realise it at the time, but my New Year’s resolution for 2015 involved me taking responsibility for myself. I remember thinking that happiness was a choice and that I had to choose to be happy. But the by-product of this decision was that subconsciously, I was taking responsibility for my happiness and unhappiness. And I was taking responsibility for peeling back the layers of protection and shame I had built around myself.
I’ve since learned a model called “Core, Crud, Crust” from Sharon Pearson’s book, Ultimate You. This model resonated with me because it made me realise how I ended up in that awful, fearful position in the first place.
At the centre is our Core, our true, authentic, beautiful selves full of love, wonder, and creativity. This is how we’re born—pure and curious. We are born with three emotional needs: the need to belong, the need to be lovable, and the need to be enough.
As we grow, we try to make sense of the world and our place in it. With our childlike thinking, we work out how to get those three needs met and come up with limiting beliefs about ourselves. I can see now that I grew up believing I had to be perfect in order to be lovable and I had to make my parents proud in order to belong in my family. I also cared deeply about what others thought of me. This was all subconscious; I never realised I had these beliefs until many years later. Because of these beliefs, I built up the ‘Crud’ layer. This is where negative self-talk and shame comes in.
The theory goes that because we’re ashamed of these limiting beliefs and we don’t think they’ll be accepted by others, we create the final ‘Crust’ layer. This is the version of ourselves that we show the world. I did all the things I thought I had to do to be perfect and live up to the expectations that I thought my parents had for me. I got my good degree, good job, good house, and good man.
And then, I kept busy, carrying on with my life. Occasionally I would get this niggling feeling inside that something wasn’t quite right. But I didn’t let it stop me, I just kept going, planning the next thing. I didn’t allow myself to go inside, to really reflect. I can see now that I was too afraid of what I might find: that I’d made most of my big decisions to make others happy.
The other concept I’ve learned relates to the notion of complete responsibility which I mentioned earlier. The concept of ‘above the line’ vs. ‘below the line.’
When we’re living ‘below the line,’ we are in a state of blame, excuses, justification, and failure. We don’t take responsibility for anything and we become the victim. Essentially, life is happening TO us.
When I made that fateful New Year’s resolution to be happy, I unknowingly enacted ‘above the line’ thinking. When we’re living ‘above the line’, we’re accountable and responsible for how we respond to situations. We make choices, seek solutions, and ‘own it’—all of it.
The combination of recognising my ‘Crud’ and choosing to live ‘above the line’ have been the moments that redefined my life and set it on a new course. It wasn’t easy. I had many dark days when my fear of being alone nearly overtook me. I had to learn to trust my inner knowing, learn to be whole on my own, learn to prioritise myself. I remember my father’s wise words, “Darling, in the end you only need to be able to look yourself in the mirror and be at peace. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, including me.”
Commencing a journey of reawakening towards conscious living is slow and requires patience. Because everyone’s life experience and situation is so different, I’m hesitant to offer ‘tips’ per se for living more consciously, but here is what worked for me. Feel free to try any of these or none at all—whatever works for you!
I chose to stop multitasking and started practicing mindfulness by doing just one thing at a time. I began to love walking home from work and paying attention to the sights, sounds, and smells of nature around me (without music in my ears or my head in my phone).
Journal it Out
With the advice from all the books I was reading, I started meditating and journaling. When something fearful came up through meditation, I journaled it out to try and process it. This really helped me distinguish my inner knowing from my inner critic.
Notice the Abundance
I started writing gratitude post-it notes every day. Each day, I’d write one thing I was grateful for and put it on my wall. Over time, my wall was an optical delight—a rainbow of post-it notes filled with all the wonderful things I had in my life. This really helped shift my mindset from one of lack, to one of abundance. Instead of focusing on the things in my life that were missing, I started noticing all the rich and bountiful parts in my life. When I started focusing on what I did have rather than what I didn’t, it shifted my perception of life altogether.
Create Your Future
My first vision board was the first time I started designing my life for myself, rather than for anyone else. It’s an exercise that I love and I usually re-do it every year. My favourite way of approaching it is to put on some tranquil meditation music (piano based pieces are my favourite) and cut images and words from magazines. If there’s any key images missing, I search the internet and print off images that resonate with what I want to bring in. I use a cork pin board to arrange all the images together and when I’m done, I meditate on my vision board, asking higher powers (the universe, God, mother nature, or my own inner guide) to support me as I bring in the things I want to manifest. I really believe in the law of attraction, and what we focus on is what we get, at the exclusion of all else!
Anchor to a Mantra
I created a mantra for myself: “Trust and surrender.” This really helped me whenever fear came up, and it is still something I hold onto today when I feel anxious. “Trust” relates to trusting my inner knowing, that I have the answers within myself. “Surrender” relates to releasing control. I take actions to move forward in the direction that I want, and then I surrender those plans knowing I’m guided by something bigger than myself.
By learning to listen to what I really wanted for myself, I went on to complete my yoga teacher training and began studying coaching and human behaviour. I moved cities and made some incredible new friends. I dated a few guys and I met one incredible man who shares my beliefs and values about relationships, and who I absolutely love doing life with.
I’ve been living consciously for five years now, and I can see that my New Year’s resolution was my reawakening moment and the decision that changed my life. It wasn’t always easy, but the person I am today is far less fearful and far more happy in the truest sense of the word.
Resources for Conscious Living
- Gabrielle Bernstein – The Universe Has Your Back, Spirit Junkie, May Cause Miracles – All of Gabby’s books had a profound effect on me as they introduced me to a whole new way of thinking. She shares powerful messages from the metaphysical text “A Course In Miracles” in a relatable way that’s easy to understand and apply.
- Spirit Junkie – a great introduction to the world of miracles, manifesting, abundance and the law of attraction.
- May Cause Miracles – a 6 week program that’s designed to “kickstart unlimited happiness” by creating mindful rituals and habits
- The Universe Has Your Back – a guide to creating more self-trust and my personal favourite of all of Gabby’s books!
- Glennon Doyle – Untamed – This book is all about living above the line! Glennon shares her personal journey through eating disorders, addictions and an unhappy marriage and how she broke free from the shackles of living and unfulfilled life
- Sharon Pearson – Ultimate You – In my opinion, this book is the most comprehensive guide I’ve come across when it comes to healing your inner child, understanding your tribal cycle and creating who you want to be.
- The 5 Questions that Changed My Life – In this video, Struthless shares the 5 questions that changed his life, and provides thought provoking questions in a humorous and relatable way.
- Locating yourself – A Key to Conscious Leadership – This video provides more details about living above/below the line.
Edited by Jordan Reed & Ely Bakouche