“We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.”Kahlil Gibran
You’re living the life of your dreams.
Good career. Great friends. Luxurious living.
You answer to no one. You’re widely admired. You’re free to live your life as you want.
But over time, you find it harder to ignore the gnawing sense of dissatisfaction arising in you. It doesn’t add up. You thought you had everything you wanted and needed.
You see friends who are going astray left and right. They’re unprincipled. They’re entitled. They steal and lie to get what they want.
Shocked and disillusioned, you decide to leave everything behind for a while. You wander off into the desert to live on your own in a cave. You spend time fasting and praying. You come up with a strict set of rules by which to live your life.
To your great surprise, many of your friends have noticed and have followed you out in the desert. They too want to give up their freedom. They want to live by your strict rules because they sense what you sense. That living by a set of rules instead of doing anything you want is the path to true happiness.
Rules to live by
This opening sketch was inspired by the life of St. Benedict of Nursia. St.Benedict lived between the 5th and 6th centuries and was one of the founders of Western monasticism. Those who followed him into the desert are known as Benedictines and they follow the Rule of St.Benedict to this day.
Most of us today may wonder “Why would people give up their freedom to follow the strict rules of another?” You may be skeptical of the claim that renouncing the world is the path to happiness. You may claim that you’re happy living without limits, without rules.
Yet, the idea of living by rules or a set founding principles is enjoying a resurgence in popularity today, albeit mostly in secular form.
We’ve become obsessed with the science and art of habit formation. You’ll find tons of articles proposing rules to live by online. The book 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson has enjoyed enormous popularity.
On the less noble end of the spectrum, Roger Stone’s rules will teach you how to ruthlessly dominate the world of politics and life in general.
The truth is that we all live by a set of rules. It’s just that for most if us, these rules are unconscious and unwritten.
What if you took the time to write them down? What if you could edit them? What if you deleted the ones you disliked and kept the ones you like so you could live them more intentionally? That’s exactly what I’ve done here to create my own list of rules to live by.
1. Breathe deeply
Take three cleansing breaths. Each time, breathe in a little deeper and try to exhale every last air molecules from your lungs when breathing out.
Keep your shoulders level and let your tummy expand and contract. Let your arms dangle from your shoulders.
How do you feel? Probably a lot less stressed than you were a minute ago. That’s the magic of conscious breathing.
You can do this at anytime, not just while you’re meditating or in the yoga studio. Do it when you’re stressed and overwhelmed. Do it before making a big decision. Do it first thing in the morning.
2. Eat until you’re satisfied
“Eat all the food on your plate. Don’t you know there are starving kids in Africa?” You may have heard this line a time or two when you were a kid.
Every time I’ve eaten beyond satisfaction, I’ve always regretted it. Furthermore, gorging myself does nothing for starving people.
This rule goes beyond food. It keeps us from overindulging in pleasures of all kinds because this is how pleasure becomes pain.
3. Seek meaningful connections
Gossiping is like alcohol.
It’s an easy way to bond and feel a sense of belonging with others. But it often leaves you with a hangover of guilt, shame, and general ickiness.
If you’re seeking meaningful and lasting connection with others, talk about yourself instead of others. Be open and vulnerable about your challenges rather than openly wishing or relishing the misfortune of others.
Listen carefully to the concerns of others. Cultivate genuine friendships instead of fickle cliques. You’ll build strong and unbreakable connections with no negative side effects.
4. Work on your relationship with money
Money is not evil.
Money is a tool.
Money is a symbol that points to the deeper reality of human relationships. It signifies our mutuality in the pursuit of satisfying our wants and needs.
Putting this rule into practice will help you bring value to others instead of extracting value. And this will make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams.
5. Let everyone be a teacher
There’s wisdom to be found everywhere, even in people who are not wise. Learn from them what doesn’t work. Learn what does from the wise.
Assemble a council of mentors out of them: fictional characters, historical characters, inspirational characters, infamous characters.
This rule will remind you that you do not have to build a life from scratch. You can use the example of others as raw materials.
6. Be willing to look like a fool
Sit in the front row.
Raise your hand in class and ask that “stupid” question.
Be the first one on the dance floor.
You may look like a fool for a while, but you may eventually start a movement. Better still, you’ll finally learn to stop being held hostage by what other people think.
7. Be persuasive, not preachy
Nobody really cares about what you think. Preaching at them will only make them care less. Raising your voice at them will only make them hate you.
Instead, find out what they’re interested in. Find out what they want. Figure out how what you’re offering intersects with their needs.
Only then might they listen to what you have to say.
8. Listen to yourself
Not the nagging voice in your head but the tugging of your heart and soul.
Try not to ignore it. Try not to second-guess it.
Sure, seek the advice and input of others. Just don’t let their advice cause you to betray your own heart. Because the cost of self-betrayal is more than you can afford.
9. Play with children
Spend quality time with your children, nieces and nephews.
If you don’t have any children in your life, mentor at-risk youth in your community.
They’ll lighten your soul and you will make them wise.
10. Pray on your knees
Praying on your knees will help you to be more humble.
You’ll end the exhausting task of trying to lean on your own strength.
No matter what they say, you weren’t designed to be the master of your own life. Learn to submit and you will find rest for your weary soul.
11. Go to bed early
It will solve 97% of your problems.
And don’t worry, you won’t miss a thing. The world will still be here when you wake up.
12. Don’t drive so fast
Wouldn’t it be better to savor your life rather than make a mad dash to the finish?
You’ll enjoy the ride more and you’ll be less likely to put others in harm’s way.
Trust that you’ll get to your destination on time. And if it’s thrills you’re seeking, go ride a roller coaster.
13. Have a reason for waking up in the morning
It doesn’t have to be something world-changing.
Wake up for your children.
Wake up for your clients.
Wake up for your dreams.
And you may find yourself finally waking up to the life of your dreams.