Each morning since 2013, alongside pictures from work, travel, musical moments, and family, a list of eight simple reminders shows up on my computer screen. These rules of how I want to live day-to-day are the result of a more intentional focus on life’s journey rather than relying on a changing list of annual resolutions. As one blogger noted in outlining a similar set of what he called “cardinal rules,” these are not quite principles, but are rules which — for the user — have lasted over time.
In thinking of the work before us in 2021 as we look to regain our equilibrium after a tumultuous year, we can all return to our own set of reminders. Though I often miss my personal marks, I return each day to be prompted about the things that matter to me and to focus on ways to live with compassion, grace, insight, integrity, and love.
We are all looking for our way through and beyond the difficulties of 2020. I’ve written — in one way or another — about each of my personal reminders over the past twelve months. Here are eight of those stories from More to Come, given in the hope that they will help you think about your cardinal rules in this new year.
Rule #1. Be Grateful. Be Thankful. Be Compassionate. Every Day.
Making time for gratitude (December 28) is my story of a practice that didn’t begin as a pandemic project. But as the weeks passed and turned into months, the realization deepened that the specific action of writing one or more thank you letters each week — not in a reflexive way but in a more thoughtful and intentional fashion — was a perfect antidote to the poison that seemed to permeate our lives in 2020. It was, for me, an ideal pandemic project.
Rule #2. Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.
Journeys that move us toward justice never end (October 20) begins with a walk through Brookside Gardens. There were small signs of “Garden Mindfulness” along the path with reminders to “feel the air moving across your skin” and to “bring awareness to those parts of the body where you could feel the wind.” Upon discovering a labyrinth, I began to walk its path and recalled Rebecca Solnit’s words about the rules and morals of the practice:
“…sometimes you have to turn your back on your goal to get there, sometimes you’re farthest away when you’re closest, sometimes the only way is the long one. After the careful walking and looking down, the stillness of arrival was deeply moving.”
In troubled times it was a good reminder that your grandmother was right: A walk will do you good.
Rule #3. Listen more than you talk.
Listen, learn, love…and act (June 8) was written after the horrific murder of George Floyd and as the nation reached an important inflection point in our 400-year-old history with race and racism. A number of smart commentators noted that while we should stand up in the moment for an end to racism, white people like me need to listen, listen, and then listen some more, followed by work to educate ourselves about the systemic nature of racism, the ties to implicit bias, and how we can train ourselves to be anti-racist. But listening and learning, without action, will not change history. As the first African American presiding bishop in the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, counsels, our actions should come as we walk a path of love.
Rule #4. Spend less than you make.
Be there (December 7) focuses on how you never know when someone needs you to be your best. It may be as you write a note or pour a cup of coffee. It fits with this reminder about money in that it contains the story of Lene and Abeba Tsegaye who left Ethiopia in the 1980s to move to the U.S. and set up a coffee shop in our town. On a recent visit to Kefa Cafe, Abeba told me these were challenging times, but that she and her sister have seen challenges before. I was able to tell her how much the café meant to us, and how much I appreciated the sign they had placed in their window which read, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” She replied that it was the way they tried to live. This is a good year for all of us to be grateful for what we have and to resist the urge to try and satisfy ourselves with more stuff.
Rule #5. Quit eating crap! Eat less of everything else.
Reflect. Reconsider. Reset. (March 23) was written early in the pandemic as we were each learning that navigating through difficult times is both a personal and communal journey. One of the ways to reset was my suggestion that we could use this time to straighten out our mental house. “Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits,” according to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Oftentimes the way I eat — and eat too much — is simply a habit. It was easier to reset this habit during 2020, since we stopped eating out and I benefited from thoughtful, well-prepared meals.
Rule #6. Play music.
Saturday Soundtrack: Doc Watson’s Deep River Blues (November 21) relates to a life rule that works for me but may not be important to you. Virtually any time I pull out one of my guitars, I end up playing Deep River Blues in the style of the late Doc Watson. In this post, I thought it would be fun to see what real guitar players do with this tune.
Rule #7. Connect and commit.
Remembrance, not regret (March 2) was written as I approached my 65th birthday. It has a similar focus to the first cardinal rule referenced in Niklas Göke‘s blog: “Make peace with your past so it won’t mess with your present.” In this post I thank the many family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers who have been there for me over 65 years. Their support has led me to a place where I now move quickly past feelings of regret to memories that provide a solid foundation on which to connect and commit anew. And while they may, or may not, remember what they did to lift me up, I remember.
Rule #8. Don’t be a Grumpy Old Man. Enjoy life!
Finding your potential: Aging in a time of turmoil (June 15) contained thoughts on two books I read this year after recognizing that one can’t claim to be middle age when no one lives to be 130 years old. Times of turmoil give us the chance to “change the status quo” about many things, including how we see the roles older people play in daily life and how we, as we age, can move past grumpiness into full enjoyment.
What did I learn from those who have successfully navigated the next third of life? To find the power and potential of our lives, we should:
- Maintain a future orientation that provides the ability to anticipate, plan, and hope. Learn something new every day.
- Stay engaged with meaningful work.
- Exercise, but don’t worry about getting a gym membership.
- Spend time with younger people.
- Build the capacity for gratitude and forgiveness and focus your perspective around empathy for how others see the world.
- Get enough sleep.
- Do things with people, as opposed to doing things to people.
Oh, and as neuroscientist Daniel Levitin reminds us at the end of his book, don’t forget to laugh. “Whatever’s going on around you, remember to laugh.”
Here’s to a better 2021.
More to come…
Image: My computer wallpaper with DJB’s Life Rules as a daily reminder of what matters.