by Charles LaFond
Writing a Rule of Life need be neither complicated nor difficult. It is written one chapter at a time until one covers the topics of one’s life – a set of thirty or so reminders – checkpoints on life’s map. Those are just thoughts. “It is too hard.” “I cannot write.” “I do not know what I want or how I would like to live my life.” These are just thoughts, and that they are thoughts does not make them true. They are just limiting thoughts. Just pick up a pen and write.
The greatest suffering which we perpetrate on ourselves and on those around us is not gun-violence, slander or racial beatings or greed-induced poverty – though they are horrific. The greatest violence we humans exact on ourselves and on others – the greatest suffering we make happen on this planet, is that we believe our thoughts just because we think them. So, the first thing one needs to do in order to write a Rule of Life is to reject the thoughts you are thinking about not being able to write a Rule of Life.
The next thing to do is to go ahead and WRITE! Get words down on paper. Set aside time early in the morning or late at night (early works best because you are fresh and well and the darkness is silent.)
What I do when writing a chapter of my Rule of Life is simply Google for a while. Its fun. Take the words which identify the title of your chapter and Google those words. Or, grab books off your shelf and see what they have to contribute, but really, the ability to search the world through the internet will transform The Rule of Life because we can research a chapter in minutes. Do not obsess about it either. Set some time – say 30 minutes and Google a word or some key words. Have two windows open on your computer – one for Google and one for harvesting key lines, phrases, ideas and quotations from your searching. Just park those ideas onto a scrap page on your computer no matter the order or in a note book if you are using a pen. Then reorder and fill out the notes a bit and then, on the other page, begin to write.
When you have about 100 words of outline, ideas, and sentence fragments, then you are ready to write your chapter. It’s ok if it is not perfect. It will not be perfect and it will never really be finished since here and there you will see and hear things you want to add to some chapters. Just get your SFD (Sh%# ty First Draft) down on a page. Done is better than perfect. Just write a draft chapter and try to keep it to about 600 words (about half a type-written page at 12 point and with 1 inch margins) unless you need more or less. You can always go back to that chapter on a snow day, retreat or vacation day or some morning when you are up early and rewrite, add, delete. But for now, just get some form of a chapter written and set in the line of chapters which you will find soon become your Rule of Life.
If you write a chapter a day for 30 days you have a Rule! Done! Edit later but do not obsess. And as you write, keep a wide right-hand margin of three inches so that you can write notes to yourself over time as to how you want to change it. But read your Rule, mostly, as a meditative exercise, not an editing exercise. Each chapter is nothing more than a reminder of how you have chosen, discerned, decided how you want to live. It is a living, breathing document, but if it is always under construction then it will always be a distraction to prideful perfection.
Let’s use this chapter on WORDS as an example. I Googled “speech” but that search was unhelpful so I googled “non-violent Communication” a subject about which I am passionate and fairly well-read due to a few classes and retreats on the subject. That search turned up a few articles which I scanned but did not find helpful until I saw an ad for a book called What We Say Matters: Practicing Nonviolent Communication October 1, 2009 by Judith Hanson Lasater Ph.D. (Author), Ike K. Lasater (Author). Jackpot! The book was one I had devoured a few years ago and it was, I remembered, a foundational influence on my thoughts on my own speech. So I went there, like a dog or a trained pig sniffing around in a forest and finding the truffles hidden just under the dirt – I had found what would inspire my first draft of the chapter on speech and words in my Rule of life. I did not take time to re-read the entire book. I just skimmed it in my library and read on line some of what people said about it. There are some wonderful quote site such as Goodreads found at https://www.goodreads.com. I just needed enough to get started on my own thoughts. And so do you.
So just read enough to grease the skids so that you develop your own list of thoughts and then write them down as if you were wiring a letter to yourself about how you want to live this part of your life. Do not worry if that is how you live now. This chapter – each chapter – is aspirational. And no need to be Gandhi or Jesus. Just be yourself but set out your longing for who you want to become.
When writing a chapter on speech or words (since some words are spoken and other written) simply write a letter to yourself stating what you think about speech and words. What do you know Jesus said about speech? What you have seen others say about speech? Jesus came to us as “The Word” so what does that mean to you. Then write – do not research too long or you will never actually write your chapter!
Here are my notes on SPEECH and WORD for my chapter called “WORDS”:
- Attachment to what has been said to and about me
- Detachment into what God says about and to me
- Suffering caused by words
- discernment and discretion and the words used in each
- foundational practice of non-harming – hold back speech that is harming
- chatter, gossip, slander, lies
- inner awareness
- the great silence – a time to re-set
- meditation practice – a time to fuel truth and right speech
- ”My words reflect my thoughts, my thoughts reflect my belief, and my beliefs, especially the unexamined ned, run my world.” Judith Hanson Laster, What we say matters
- unexamined thoughts will shape what I say like an infection, a virus
- Byron Katie: “They are just thoughts. No need to believe them. Examine them. They are not true just because I think them and they certainly need not be spoken just because I think them!”
- how words contribute to suffering of others
- “Is sloppiness in speech caused by ignorance or apathy. I don’t know and I don’t care.” William Safire
Questions raised in me from the introduction of the book:
- What is the principle of satya (truth) and the Buddhist precept of right speech?
- How can right and careful speech make for peace in me, in relationships, at home, at work, and in the world?
- How can careful speech meet my desire to diffuse anger?
- How can I make requests rather than demands or assign blame?
- What do I need to do to understand the difference between feelings and needs?
- How may I choose connection over conflict when using careful speech and mindful thought?
- How may I extend empathy to myself and to others by the careful use of words?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
These notes took about 30 minutes to harvest from my readings. Now it is time to fill out the outline of a chapter…
Here is an outline of questions used for writing a Chapter of a Rule of Life. They apply to any chapter and you may want to add your own, but be careful, keep this chapter short, simple, easy to read, honest and under 600 words or so. If it becomes too long and too complex you will be unwilling to read a chapter each day and the whole exercise will cave in on itself in an explosion of pride!
TITLE: WORDS Chapter One
What do you see in scripture, church tradition or reason regarding this topic?
What do you see in yourself regarding this topic?
What are your goals for how your life will express this topic?
What measures will you take to encourage the goals you have set for yourself (people, resources, checks and balances, boundaries, etc.)?
What do you seek from God in assistance regarding this topic?
Try yours! What can you find on speech? What do you think about your speech? What would you outline as a possible chapter on your speech? What is your vision for the role of speech in your life? Now, write 600 words on the subject!
Here is mine:
Words – Chapter One
Jesus came to us – God came to us – as The Word made meat. And in John’s gospel, the Word is life and the light of all people. This must mean that God, who could have come as the idea, or the notion, or the image or the thought – God must consider words to be important. This means I want to consider them important too.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God.” John 1
I love what William Safire says: “Is sloppiness in speech caused by ignorance or apathy. I don’t know and I don’t care.” It reminds me that I must take great care with my words. My father once dropped a drop of ink on my palm as he gave me a pen on my birthday and said, “Son, this drop of ink can bless or kill. Be careful with your words and with this pen.”
Words said about me – those inflamed with flattery or engorged with bile and manipulation need to be left alone. Words I say need to be true, honest and withheld if they hurt others – except in rare cases when justice demands speaking out – and then only after much thought, prayer and counsel.
Mindfulness and prayer will help me to see what I need to see. That seeing will help me with words. And so wordless prayer must be central to my life daily in order to mind my spoken and written words.
At the doorway of my home is a sign: “Welcome, all who enter. When using words, speak only what is kind and true in this house and only if it improves on the silence you find here.” I want to choose friends and colleagues who speak truth and love silence.
As a writer, written letters with ink and paper are important to me. I want to write beautiful letters to friends. Write letters, Charles that bless and do not harm. As a cook, meals hosted at my dinner table are also important to me. The words spoken around my table are important – they nourish. In those meals may our words bless and not harm. As a priest, I have taken a vow to take my place in the counsels of the Church. Even there my words and those of others are important. May they bless and not harm. As a friend I have a garden of friends – may I till that soil, feed that soil, tend and weed and pluck such that my real friendships flourish in the midst of the words we speak to each other.
When I am angry, may God bring me always back to mindfulness so that I may see poisonous words before they are spoken or written. There are too many words and too many gadgets which bring me words by buzzing, dinging, pinging and vibrating. There are even too many words in our liturgies. So I will be particularly mindful of limiting words on my Sabbath Day and in retreats so that I may rest from all but those words which bless and nourish.
My dog, “Kai” reminds me of how much love can be given and received without words. His name comes from “Kairos” – that silence in which God loves and plays. Let that be my guide.