Congratulations—if you are reading this, you too have made it halfway through this year! And what a mess it has been. If I’d told myself at the top of the year what the months ahead would entail, I’d be consumed with laughter. Between a global pandemic, an economic crisis, and our nation’s current reckoning with racial inequality, it is hard to feel grounded. Aside from living through these macro challenges, people are experiencing their own tragedy, joy, and daily struggles. I have found this to be true as a partner, sister, friend, and medical student. I have struggled with how to balance my responsibilities, stay true to my values, and live a life that feels whole. Perhaps you also have struggled to regain a bit of control over your life in an ever-changing environment.
As self-care has continued to grow as a popular buzzword, I have reflected on how to maintain sustainable wellness practices and coping strategies. Now, more than ever I am turning to my personal toolbox of emotional balms and aides to make it day to day. One of these tools stems from my faith as an Orthodox Christian, called the Rule of Life. While it stems from a particular faith tradition, it is a practice that people from all traditions, or even those who do not practice a faith, can benefit from.
What Is A Rule of Life?
According to Saint Benedict, the Rule of Life is ‘simply a handbook to make the very radical demands of the gospel a practical reality in daily life.’ The late church father is revered for his insightful contributions to monasticism—the practice of leaving the world in pursuit of a life with God. But if you are reading this, my guess is you are not living the life of a desert father and that you are very much living in our present reality. And yet it is because we exist in this tumultuous domain, that implementing a Rule of Life can be so useful. The Rule allows you to examine your life through the prism of your core values. As its founder intended, these values are those stated in the gospel, but these can simply be the guiding principles upon which you base your life.
Building Your Own Rule
The Rule typically incorporates five main categories:
- Prayer: this category stems from the Rule’s origin, but if you are not religious or do not practice prayer, consider meditation as an alternative.
- Work: this category is not exclusive to the work you do to earn a living, but can also include activism or volunteering in the community. You can think about work in a broad sense ranging from the office to your home.
- Study: As a full time student, this category is overflowing for me—but I invite you to use this space to think broadly about wisdom. This can be a space where you look into studying your interests, honoring traditions, and learning about the histories of your ancestors.
- Hospitality: as humans, we all need some sort of social network. In this category, you can examine the ways in which you build and foster a sense of community.
- Renewal: this is my favorite section, but by far the hardest as it forces me to challenge myself to think deeply about what brings me a sense of restoration.
The premise of creating your own Rule is that you observe your current habits, activities, and practices as they pertain to each category. Then in whatever format you like, using pen and paper or digitally, you sort and file as you deem fit. This activity allows you to take stock of how you are dividing your time and energy. As a result, if you notice a deficit in a category (ahem, renewal—speaking to myself here) then you can take a targeted approach to examining what you could do differently.
When crafting your Rule, you may want to choose a guiding theme; this could be an inspiring quote or a grounding mantra. For example, a line that resonates with me at this time is from Mary Oliver’s poem Invitation which reads, “It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.” In addition, feel free to get creative with images or mixed media. You can even frame your piece and place it in your room or workspace.
Living by the Rule
An important takeaway from this practice is that it is meant to be a guiding framework, not a binding contract. Revisit it from time to time, consider making it a seasonal or annual practice. As you continue to evolve and adapt, allow your Rule of Life to do the same.