When my wife and I set out on our Bolivian sabbatical, I was eager to create more time in my daily routine to dedicate to my spiritual practice. To that end, I've been intentionally reflecting on the writings of great thinkers who have influenced my spiritual outlook.
As a broad-shouldered, pimply faced teenager, I was enamored with Friedrich Nietzsche. He convinced me that I was only a deformed, undercooked version of a potentially great person. He said:
"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."
As a young, lonely weirdo, his message that my struggle could also be my strength was empowering and helped me to resolve myself to never compromise for social acceptance. But empowering though it was, his message was hardly comforting. Nietzsche's promise that a lifetime of quietly struggling in isolation would eventually reward me with Übermensch status was hardly enough to quell my lonely heart.
Then I came upon Rainer Maria Rilke, and his Letters To A Young Poet. Immediately, I felt as though I might be the titular young poet to whom he was speaking.
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."
Yes! To be less than über now, I learned, is not a burden to bare and eventually shed on my road to spiritual ascent. It is a critical and beautiful part of the journey, a longing without which the trip (and it's eventual destination) wouldn't be possible. Rilke's words echoed in my heart and in my head then and now. More, perhaps, than any other, this passage became the guiding light on my trip to spiritual self-recognition, and it motivates the first solid rule that I live by (we'll get to that shortly).
Since then, I've read and re-read the Mediations of Marcus Aurelius; studied and practiced George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior; and even attempted, for a few months, to adhere to Ben Franklin's 13 virtues.
Each of them can be judged not only by their actions but in the context of their ideology because of the commitment they made to adhere to a written code. They committed these codes to paper and faced the ultimate challenge to avoid hypocrisy, and to share what they had learned with future generations who find themselves on a journey of their own. They were all worthy of the history books, and challenged historians to say there actions weren't in line with their core values.
So now, in my ongoing effort to ascend in my spiritual practice, I commit my code to the digital history books. These are the seven solid rules which I live by, so far. I might add more, some day, I can't be sure of that now. I challenge you to reflect on your own code-- your own rules-- and commit them to paper. Even if you only hang them above your bed, let them be a reminder to reflect daily on what defines you as being worthy in your own eyes and aspire to ascend in your spiritual practice daily.
“If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one's own self-deception and ignorance.”
1. Seek first to understand.
I first came upon this phrase in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. It's a worthwhile read but, despite the resonance of this line, I wouldn't put it on the same mandatory reading list as Letters To A Young Poet or Mediations. In Covey's book, the line is followed by "then to be understood." It's sensible as a communication strategy.
As a life strategy, however, if you can fully internalize and utilize the mantra "seek first to understand", you remind yourself at every moment to look past your own biases, to subvert the efforts of the world around you to limit your knowing, and to destroy ignorance- which is the single greatest force in opposition to your spiritual fulfillment. To seek first to understand is to put the knowledge of the universe within your reach, and this is an infinitely powerful tool.
1.a: "Debate is the anvil upon which all truth is hammered out." -Voltaire.
1.b: Avoid any binary ideology. If anyone– whether it is Adolf Hitler or Bernie Sanders– delivers to you the message: "There is some insidious Other who is superficially like us but in reality far different. They are a threat to you and the only way to defeat them is to follow me." Then you must not trust them, because they are trying to obfuscate your ability to fully know the world.
1.c: Any worthy idea must first pass through the sieve of cynicism.
2. Make a contract and stick to it.
This rule sprung from two equally significant areas of my life: my romantic life (from pre-marriage to present day), and my business as a free-lance artist and writer. Both of these areas have the potential to be filled with the conflict of expectations clashing with reality, and in both areas, the matrix of wants and needs can be highly subjective and abstract.
What I learned is that if you don't rely on the presumed (and often inaccurate) expectations of others to govern your behavior, but rather be clear and concrete in your expectations for yourself in your dealings with partners (in either area), you can consistently disempower these conflicts. The simple challenge is to say what you are going to do, and then do it.
3. Never make a plan which requires someone else to change in order for it to be successful.
Human behavior is highly predictable. We like to hope for the best in others, to be optimistic, to root for the underdog. But the single most consistent predictor of one's behavior is past performance. If you simply observe the patterns that others have historically presented and assume that they will continue, you will rarely be disappointed.
4. Actions/Feelings 1.10,000
That is to say, the exchange rate between actions and feelings is 1 to 1,000.
I want to be totally clear that I'm not saying your feelings are completely worthless. I'm just saying that they are really, really close to worthless. That if you took your 1,000 biggest, most exciting feelings and put them all together, they might have as much real value as a single, tiny action.
And "raising awareness", "promoting dialogue", and "sending thoughts and prayers", don't count as actions. These are just schmaltzy ways to say you're blubbering on Facebook about your worthless feelings.
5. Form your own opinion of others, and keep it to yourself.
This one is the hardest for me because I loooooove talking shit.
6. Violence is rarely-- but sometimes-- the answer.
Listen, I'm not saying these are rules for everyone to live by. But by my code, every now and then you gotta fuck somebody up.
7. Obey basic traffic laws.
Because this is the easiest possible way to make sure that you don't die underneath the wheels of a car, which is not how I'm trying to leave this world.
Those are the seven solid rules I live by. I think there's touches of Nietzsche, Rilke, and Marcus Aurelius in there. Not much George Washington though (one of his rules was to never adjust your genitals in public and no thanks.)
Verbalizing these rules and commiting them to paper has made it easier for me to abide by them. I don't have too think much about them anymore in order to follow them (on good days). I figure the longer I live by them, the easier they'll get. Hopefully, one day, my seven solid rules (or maybe more) will help me ascend high enough in my spiritual practice to join the ranks of the great men and women who have gotten me this far.
So... what are yours?
I've Got 7 Solid Rules To Live By (So Far) is available as a minicomic in the CTOB store. If you've made it this far through the blog, you've already read the whole thing then some, but it only costs $4 so why not support an artist, right?