I have an old, ingrained habit that refuses to die. And it’s frustrating and exasperating. How so?

Let’s start with some background. Anybody who reads my stuff knows that I consistently write about three of my favorite teachers: Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle and Mickey Singer.

What the great ones urge us to focus on

And what do these three high humans profess to be the central work of our lives?

-Is it becoming the best at whatever we choose to pursue in life? No.

-Is it doing everything in our power to make the world a better place? No.

-Is it loving and alleviating the suffering of as many people as possible? No.

While all three of those pursuits would be fine and dandy with Ram Dass, Eckhart and Mickey, they are not the central work of our lives. Fine. So what do all three of these masters say is that central pursuit? Drumroll please…The answer is:

Becoming more conscious.

I know. Not very exciting. But that’s the truth.

What does that mean, becoming more conscious? A million words could be spilled on that one, but I’ll try to do it in less than a hundred.

First, to become conscious is to be fully present in the moments of our lives. A conscious person:

…is fully attuned to their six-year-old struggling to read Good Night, Gorilla, not trying to decide which Netflix show they’re going to watch once junior goes down for the count.

…doesn’t slam the steering wheel and scream obscenities after hitting their third red light in a row.

…doesn’t analyze the beautiful sunset in front of her. She drinks it in and becomes one with it.

So that’s what becoming conscious looks like. How do we achieve that? Again, zillions of words could describe this, but I’ll reduce it to this:

To become more conscious is to shed what is preventing us from being fully conscious.

In other words, it’s not about adding consciousness, it’s about subtracting unconsciousness.

How do we ‘subtract unconsciousness?’ By doing the daily work of, as Ram Dass called it, chopping wood and carrying water.

What kind of daily work? Meditating. Practicing mindfulness, qi gong, walking in the woods, praying and myriad other practices.

Don’t add, subtract

We engage in practices that allow us to subtract unconsciousness. In other words, practices that allow us to shed our egos.

Because when we shed our egos, what we’re left with is consciousness. And it’s in that state that we’re best able to alleviate suffering, make the world a better place and do our best in life.

How I screw up

With that, it’s time to come back full circle to the topic at hand, which is how I continually screw this up! Screw up what? Putting ‘becoming more conscious’ at the forefront of my life…all the time.

Yes, you read that right. All the time.

How do I screw this up? By constantly placing something else at the forefront.

What is that? My work. As in this stuff I’m writing right now.

I find that so often my attention goes to:

“What am I going to write next?”

“I missed all last week because of our trip to the Smoky Mountains so I’m behind.”

“My wife is chatting up a storm in my office and it’s going to set me back!”

Bottom line is that way too much energy and attention is going to my work and not enough to my ‘becoming more conscious’ work.

I get why I do this

I understand why I do this. My core issue in life has been feeling pressured to work hard and “do big things.”

Why? Mostly because I grew up in a family of success-oriented people. I’m the sixth of six kids with a father who was a big-wig in the business world. Throw in the fact that I grew up in America where success is mostly measured by how well one does in their job and it’s not surprising that I felt this pressure.

I’ve come a long way

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve come a long, long way from my days in Washington, D.C., where I always felt I lagged behind in the power world there, and then in Hollywood where I never became a star writer. My spiritual work these past several years has thrust me to a far better place on the pressure front.

But it’s still there. It’s this insidious feeling gnawing away at me so often that I need to be giving more to my writing work.

Spiritual writing is not spiritual work

Then there’s this added wrinkle: My work is writing about the spiritual path, which, in the background of my mind I conclude equates to doing the work of becoming more conscious.

But it doesn’t. It’s still work that my mind/brain has to produce.

Maybe this happens to you, too. You try to center your life on the becoming more conscious thing and find your attention constantly drifting to your job as an accountant, teacher, landscape architect, or your role as mom/dad, church pastor or what have you.

The takeaway

The question then becomes, what do we do about this? How do we shift our attention back to where we want it? It’s two simple steps.

The first thing we do is restrengthen our belief that focusing on becoming more conscious really is the be-all, end-all. It’s so easy to lose sight of this and drift into thinking that our “work work” is where we should place the bulk of our attention.

It’s not selfish

At first blush it seems selfish to focus so much on our inner worlds. But the fact is that doing so, as Eckhart, Ram Dass, Mickey, Buddha and all the rest say, is the best thing we can do for the world for the reasons I stated earlier.

The second step is simple and obvious: We need to summon our will to make us vigilant about noticing when we’re veering off track. We can’t fix something we’re not aware of. As Eckhart says,

Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”

I’m going to do this. I’m going to redouble my efforts to refocus the bulk of my attention on being conscious. On being present. On letting go when my ego is provoked.

If this resonates with you, I hope you’ll join me. It’s the best thing we can do for ourselves, those around us and the world in general.