In my book, Did Jesus have a Cat?, I wrote about the Seven Modern Deadly Sins. So, readers won’t be surprised that the Ten Modern Commandments couldn’t be far behind. And they would be correct. So, with the “wisdom” garnered from life, my observations of the modern world, and considerable humility, I have developed ten new commandments. Because sometimes you have to update your maps and your tools, to stay up with the times. So these are the ten that I choose:
1. Be curious.
2. Be open-minded.
3. Embark on a spiritual journey.
4. Be kind, loving and compassionate to those you meet on your journey.
5. Surround yourself with people who will challenge and support you.
6. Always remember you are part of something greater.
7. Constantly cultivate and improve your self-esteem.
8. Find opportunities to serve others.
9. Laugh, frolic and have fun regularly.
10. Set goals and reinvent yourself several times in your lifetime.
I am not suggesting doing away with the original Ten Commandments, because that would be tampering with 2000 + years or tradition, and I’m not that bold. But, these ten modern exhortations, or suggestions (?), can be followed in tandem with the existing ones. The main difference is that with the original commandments you could sit passively in a chair and live a very boring life, do little and engage in life only modestly, and still be obedient to them. And be very smug in thinking you are leading a “good life.” However, these modern commandments require engagement, purposeful activity and active living. I think more is required with the second set. Also, the original set is based on a belief in God, fear of God and punishment by God for non compliance. The modern commandments are not based on belief in a deity, though they do not preclude such a belief. And notice the wording. Instead of “thou shalt not” (just sit tight and don’t do anything), I use the imperative and action verbs. And with the modern version, the penalty for non-compliance is not the wrath of God. But non-compliance may result in a very bland, colorless life – plain vanilla, rather than delightfully flavored (like pistachio almond, or coconut mango). And it may mean very little communion and interaction with one’s fellow homo sapiens.
Now some people may look at my list and think it is boring. Some may feel it is worse than the twelve labors of Hercules – too much work and not interesting enough. They may have thought they left all that learning and achievement stuff behind when they left school. But, I included fun and laughter, so it is not all bad. I firmly believe you can learn, progress, grow and have a darn good time all at the same time. That is why I included “laugh, frolic and have fun regularly.”
I may be repeating things I’ve said in some of my essays and other presentations, but it is because I feel strongly about them. If something is important, I think you should say it more than once. Regarding the First modern commandment “Be Curious,” I’d like to quote Eleanor Roosevelt who said the following; “I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.”
If you are curious, you will overturn rocks, climb trees, catch bugs and frogs, read nutrition labels on food packages, take apart objects and devices to see how they work (like clocks and toasters and and bicycles and ballpoint pens and computers and mechanical gizmos). You will read voraciously and join book groups, haunt museums, surf the net, rummage in used book stores and ask a lot of questions. You will go to lectures. You will raise your hand often and annoy the presenter. You will want to know why. You will dog ear the pages of your dictionary or put little sticky flags on many pages. If you use an on-line dictionary and the interent instead, you will rub all the markings off the keys on your keyboard and they will become blank. You will need to get a new keyboard. The web sites “about.com,” ehow, Google and Wikipedia will become some of your new best friends. You will become competetive at Scrabble, trivia games and crossword puzzles. And you will travel and see the wonders of the world, experience new foods, learn foreign phrases, enjoy the offerings of many cultures and learn to appreciate diversity. You will be at ease at cocktail parties, networking and mingling events because you can talk about lots of things. And the icing on the cake – you will have the opportunity to go on “Jeopardy!” because where else could you use all that arcane information? Being curious may well be an important cornerstone to a diverse and colorful life.
Number Two: Be open minded. Being open minded is huge. It is also a compatable companion to curiosity. If all modern sojourners on the planet took this dictum seriously we could end prejudice and war. I wrote an essay titled “Open Mindedness and the Responsible Search for Truth.” A version of it appeared in our newsletter some time back. So I won’t beat a dead horse and totally repeat myself. Open-minded people don’t make snap judgments, either on the positive or negative side. They constantly gather more facts and evidence. They are like scientists in the lab of life. Like Harry Truman, they want to be shown, not just told. They hold out for the empirical, not just the anecdotal. They are careful about their sources and they constantly re-confirm and re-examine, even when they are pretty sure they have it right. I think that open-minded people are far less likely to be prejudiced, and if they have prejudices they are more likely to work on trying to wipe them out. They are more likely to agree to compromise and civil discourse. They let light and air into their world and their heads, allowing for the possibility of enlightenment.
Number Three: Embark on a spiritual journey. Pick a path, any path. You have many choices, from Taoism to secular humanism to neo Druidism to Christianity to Buddhism. You can celebrate Imbolc (a pagan festival that celebrates Spring) or Hanukkah or the Day of the Dead. Pick one that particularly calls to you or that you are curious about. Talk to pundits, ministers, rabbis, monks, sages, authors, readers. As a fact-finidng expedition, you could go to open houses of community churches that might appeal to you. Read the books of other seekers, including those who are skeptical, trying to find answers but still not sure. Go to a personal appearance of the Dalai Lama if you have the opportunity – he has made many speaking appearances here in the US. Always keep a little bit of skepticism active in your soul as you sojourn. Don’t rule out Richard Dawkins or Stephen Hawking. In my scheme of things, agnosticism is a viable spiritual path. If you start down a path and the path seems wrong and doesn’t suit you, be prepared to change course. In a lifetime, you might traverse several paths. You might even travel some of them more than once. I think that’s just great. I’m just not big on vegetating without exploring or venturing forth. You can make a circuit. Find two or three varieties of spirituality you kind of like and visit them all every now and then. You can even choose a few bits from several and make a spiritual salad.
As some of you have heard me say before, ”spritual” doesn’t necessarily mean religious. It doesn’t necessarily mean prayer and reading a holy book or going to mecca. It could, but it doesn’t have to. Spiritual means that which evokes awe and wonder and makes you aware of something magical and mystical outside yourself, perhaps just out of reach. You might find spirituality in flying a plane, being an astronaut, hiking in the mountains, deep sea diving or reading the poetry of Mary Oliver. You might find the mystical in such service professions as physician, psychologist, nurse, or surgeon. Maybe you’ll be a minister or an active religious lay leader. You may mentor struggling students in poverty areas or build houses with Habitat for Humanity or you might do relief work in Haiti. You might be a big brother, a foster parent, or foster stray animals. Get outside yourself. There is so much wonder and amazement on the planet, you will never run out of things to be bowled over by. But you have to start. You can’t be passive or it won’t happen. It is like playing a board game. You won’t win the jackpot in the center if you don’t roll the dice and get off the “Start” square. And you won’t settle Catan if you don’t buy some lumber. Awe and wonder don’t always float over your house and strike like lightning in a mid-west storm. You have to get out of your chair and do a little work. But once you experience a couple of “WOWs” you will want to keep going.
Number Four: So the next commandment proceeds logically – be kind, loving and compassionate to those you meet on your journey. That is a bit like our UU Principle to honor the worth and dignity of every being. Here we are, all wandering the planet, down this path and around this overgrown trail, many of us aimlessly, looking for answers, meaning and fulfillment. So shouldn’t we rightfully expect to be treated kindly and with dignity while we’re here? I’d like to think so. Certainly it isn’t always easy, and sometimes we get kicked in the shins by the very people we reach out to, but that doesn’t mean we should close ourselves off completely. In fact, it is sometimes very difficult to reach out, either to help or accept help. This is just a different twist on the golden rule. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. You help me understand this crazy life we’re in, I’ll give you my take on it in return. What’s worked for you? Have you tried meditation? Or yoga? Have you listened to any Peter Mayer songs? Have you read any Kay Ryan or Mary Oliver poems? Have you read any good books? Have you attended any good lectures? Have you had a good laugh lately? Do you know about laughter yoga? Ask and get some answers, and then pass the answers and referrals on to others. If someone isn’t quite so generous, maybe he or she is struggling. Be more patient than critical. I listened to a presentation recently by a professor from Soka University, Dr. Seiji Takaku? He suggested that we remember our own stumbles and mistakes when tempted to disagree with another, or when we find ourselves in a conflict situation; such reflecting might keep one from being so critical or combative. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people may be great, but seek out a few who think differently every now and then. You might learn something or have your point of view tweaked slightly. Don’t get in a rut and always hang out with the same folks, year in and year out, especially if they aren’t going anywhere. Ruts can be very comfortable but they can be deadly, kill growth and stop you in your tracks. Try on several point-of-view glasses as you travel before you decide to wear one pair permanently.
Number Five: You need to be challenged and supported, so surround yourself with both challengers and supporters. You absolutely require both. You need to be challenged so your brain doesn’t turn to mush, so you don’t become complacent, so you don’t become a barnacle on the underside of the planet. Who wants to become a parasitic slug or a sloth? Do you have acquaintances or “friends” you see socially, rather regularly, who are always saying negative things, making subtle digs, putting you down, impressing you and others with one-upmanship? Maybe you need to expand your circle of friends. You need support so you feel energized and affirmed, worthy of being alive, so you keep going even if it is inhospitable sometimes, and even when the detours are daunting. You need support so you keep on keeping on and don’t lose momentum entirely. Stopping for a short rest to take stock is OK, but don’t stop too long. It is too easy to get soft and vulnerable. It is easy to think you’re good enough, complete enough, smart enough, developed enough, and then stop. Your supporters are your fan club, your boosters, they have your back. I think you can do some amazing things if you have support, whereas going it alone is often just folly. Both challenge and support, together, provide sort of a dynamic balance that provides buoyancy, purpose and reward.
The sixth modern commandment – Always remember you are part of something greater –reminds us, perhaps requires us, to always remember we are part of something greater. Whether you believe in God, or not, whether you follow some aspects of an Eastern religion or a Western one, or are a non-believer – it makes sense to realize you are part of something greater. Devotees of science, skeptics and agnostics generally concede that we simply don’t know all the answers to the mysteries of the universe. If we thought we already had all the answers we wouldn’t have research biologists, or space probes or NASA missions or space observatories. Some latter day Copernicus, Galileo or Aquinas, or a neo-Teilhard de Chardin will certainly emerge at some future date. And our time now may well look like the pre-discovery time of the 1400s. Now we are very smug because we know the earth isn’t flat, but I’ll bet we’re dead wrong about a few other things. The new visionaries, whoever they are, might well pose some theory that knocks all the old beliefs into a cocked hat (so to speak). We don’t know what the new theories and discoveries might be at this juncture. But think just how much we’ve learned from photos returned by the Hubble Telescope or from atom smashing at CERN in Switzerland. Based on that alone, I think it is safe to hypothesize that we aren’t the end-all and be-all of intelligent life. Presently, I don’t believe in little green men from outer space, but if a deep space camera sends back pictures, I’ll have to adjust my beliefs, won’t I? We all will. So I don’t begin to presuppose what we might learn over the next two thousand years. But I want to believe we will have expanded our current models. That’s why I say we are part of something greater. Our piece of the puzzle simply isn’t fully understood – to say otherwise is what I call cosmic ethnocentrism. I think I made this term up, at least the “cosmic” part. But you never know — maybe I remember it from reading a sci-fi novel.
Number Seven: on to cultivating and improving your self esteem. I’ve come to believe that self esteem is so important because it is the cornerstone upon which all successes can be built. From my perspective and my observations over a number of years, I think you can do just about anything you set your mind to with sufficient self esteem. You can set a course for success, get a degree or two or more, start a small business, save money, amass wealth, have successful relationships, influence others, conquer fears, achieve goals, become a public speaker, change careers, write books, run for office – all this with sufficient self esteem. It seems to be the common denominator of all successful people – they feel good about themselves, their capabilities and they aren’t afraid to try most anything. If there is something they need to learn along the way, a skill or a task to achieve an end, then they learn it. Everything seems possible to them. They are possibility seers, optimists, risk takers, problem solvers. If there is a setback, they bounce back.
I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that somewhere in the lives of those successful types, early on, most of them were praised, complimented, supported, mentored and encouraged by a parent, a teacher, a minister, priest, rabbi, a grandparent, aunt, uncle or other significant role model who gave a damn. They were probably told regularly they could do anything, that they were worthwhile, lovable, smart, and creative. They were probably encouraged to be inquisitive, to read, to explore and to ask questions (in line with my first modern commandment “Be curious.”). Self esteem is a basic building block, almost like the cellular structure of certain proteins and enzymes, but on a behavioral and developmental level.
Number Eight: Find opportunities to serve others. People who are engaged in living and see themselves as part of a larger whole often are compelled to serve others who are in greater need. Service can take many forms. There is community service, social justice-related endeavors, mentoring the illiterate, joining the Peace Corps, fighting for immigration reform, donating to worthy causes, working in food banks, and endless other options including some here at Tapestry with the Social Action Committee. By your very involvement in life, you might serve as a role model. You can be real social activist if that is your calling, or you can participate on a more modest level. Real self-actualized individuals, however, feel the need to give something back. This eighth commandment makes it a requirement.
Number Nine: laugh, frolic and have fun regularly. It is all about balance. You can’t be in an intellectual, learning, growing, striving mode all the time. You would burn out. So you need balance. A balanced individual appreciates the importance of countering the serious with the playful, the intellectual with the whimsical and lighter side of living. You can read Proust, then have a margarita, or play Words with Friends. You can read a book by Stephen Hawking then go see a Jim Carey film. In one of my essays, “Gambol and Frolic for Your Life,” I encouraged readers to be active and joyful in the pursuit of child-like play on a regular basis, regardless of chronological age. I stand by that viewpoint and have taken it to the next level with this commandment. It’s a must.
Number Ten: my last commandment requires setting goals and reinventing one’s self several times in a lifetime. Very few of us are the same person at 40 or 50 that we were at 20, nor are we still the same at 60 as we were at 40 — unless, of course, you live in a cave, under a rock or in a log cabin in the woods of Idaho. What if we all went to our high school reunions after forty years and found that no one in our class had made any progress, achieved any growth, and still lived at home? What if no one had moved away or gone on to college? That would not only be boring, but downright scary. Well, that’s not likely, but you get the point. Change and growth are required, and not just change by accident. Purposeful change leads to success, fulfillment and greatness. Random change may lead to the creation of a confused individual resembling a couch potato in a dead-end job with no joy in life except eating Cheetos and swilling beer. Snakes and other reptiles shed their skins periodically. Crabs molt. Birds molt. Caterpillars become butterflies. The human version of this activity is a little different and I think deliberate re-engineering needs to be part of the equation. You can be several “yous” in a lifetime – sibling, student/scholar, spouse/partner, parent, grandparent, mentor, successful employee, entrepreneur, investor, writer, athlete, social activist, congregational volunteer, or open pulpit speaker.
To summarize – in my humble opinion, if you follow these commandments, you will have a full life. You will be able to look back at 60 or 70 and take stock of some remarkable self-development and successes. You may have some regrets, but I’ll bet they aren’t huge. You might inspire others and serve as a role model. And when you die, your eulogizer will have much to recount about your many contributions to life while you were part of it and how you were a model for living an awakened life. And wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to be remembered?