Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rules for Playing

“Look both ways before you cross the street”, “Never talk to strangers”, “Be nice to your brother”, “Say please and thank-you”, “Lying is bad. You should always tell the truth.”

We learn the rules as soon as we can talk. We learn how to stay safe and play in the world within the boundaries drawn around us. We color within the lines. When we don’t know, we look to mom and dad for the answers.

Wherever we go when we are young, there are always rules. “Stay in your seat.” “Raise your hand if you have something to say”, “No cutting in line.” “Do your homework”.  And so the world seems simple and manageable – there are clear cut directions and order reigns.

And then there are the other rules – the ones that we absorb thru our skin, that swirl around in the atmosphere dictating what to look like, what is “cool”, how to fit in, how to be a “good girl”. Some shrug these off and make up their own mind about how to show up in this life. Others, myself included, commit these rules to heart, rehearsing them over and over until they are no longer something externally imposed, but rather they become so digested that we are no longer aware of what we believe and what the world tells us to believe.

“Stay in your room until you can come out with a smile.”
“Less is always more. Thinner is always better.”
“Perfection is the goal. Mistakes simply mean you weren’t trying hard enough.”
“Be sweet and nice to everyone.”
“Taking care of others is noble. Taking care of yourself first is selfish.”
“ To be ‘cool’ is the ultimate goal. To fit in, you must fit yourself to others’ mold.”
“Doing nothing all day is lazy. You must always be doing.”
“Success is measured by the balance in your bank account or level of fame you achieve.”
“Achievement is what matters, not the journey.”
“Bite your tongue if you’re angry.”
“There is a right and a wrong answer and if you think about it long enough, you’ll be able to figure it out.”
“Life should be filled with order and discipline in order to prevent chaos.”
“Being good enough is never good enough. You could always be better.”

Even though many of these rules aren’t written down or directly taught, they’re well communicated nonetheless. And still, despite their harm, at least they’re still rules. They give direction and order.  Without rules, we are like the children without a bedtime, running wild seeking for some structure.  So as I build my own adult life, I look around me and realize that for the first time, there is no one authority figure dictating my choices or outlining their worldview for me to subscribe to.

In the past decade as I’ve moved from state to state and job to job, much like searching for available grandparents, I have sought out new teachers wherever I go. But instead of sifting through their lessons and deciding which parts I agree with and which parts I’ll choose to let slip through my fingers, I instead have simply swallowed them whole. A new outlook on life complete with the rules for playing came with every new location, and I was an eager player. It’s much simpler this way. No thinking for yourself, no agonizing debates about values and morals, no uncertainty about what to say, what to think, what to do.  And yet, the fatal flaw is that eventually I moved, moved on, moved away, and was left floundering with competing rules from all of the different schools of thought. 

In psychology graduate school, the outlook was that of dysfunction and healing and speaking your every truth. In Buffalo Gap, Texas, the standard was confrontation and voicing your anger, one day at a time and tough love. In St. Louis, I learned to value movement and color over words and to ignore declarations and only trust actions.  Back in Arizona, I learned that family is a unit that stands together and falls together and that love has no limits but that love can also bring a family to its knees.  In Malibu, I learned independence and feminism and yet, still had to play by the rules of fulfilling a role to please those around me.

And so, in west LA, in my own apartment, there are no rules written on the chalk board, no mindset that I can put my finger on that chooses my values and opinions for me. And being the slightly obsessive craver of order that I am, I decide to make my own rules…Some of which are old, some have been taught, some are simply applicable for today. The beauty of making your own rules for living is that you get to add amendments at any moment without needed a majority vote.
  1.  It is possible and acceptable to be angry with someone and still love them.
  2.   Less is simply a smaller life. Taking up space in the world leads to richness.
  3.  Making mistakes is part of the journey and simply are items to be learned from.
  4. Taking risks can lead to failure, but it can also lead to unforeseen opportunities, and you’ll never know which one it will be if you never take the first step.
  5. Doing ‘nothing’ is often harder than staying busy with mindless tasks and rather than meaning you are lazy, it means you are working at relaxing and self-care and peace of mind.
  6.   Reading is a talent rather than a mark of ‘uncoolness’
  7. What is being 'cool' anyway and who gets to decide? Perhaps being cool is being yourself.
  8. Being crabby is part of life and everyone is allowed to have a bad day, week, etc. without having to shut themselves off from the world.
  9.  I am not a mind-reader and therefore can stop dancing through life trying to please others in the way that I think they want.
  10.  Those I love are not mind-readers and therefore I must tell them what I need rather than waiting for them to decode my signals.
  11. Living well includes being present in the moment and finding small beauties in every day.
  12. Simple kindnesses make a difference. Not everything that matters has to be a grand gesture.
  13. Everyone has baggage. It’s just a matter of finding others whose luggage compliments your own.
  14. Nobody is perfect and if we were, we’d just be boring. It is the struggles and lumpy parts that make us who we are.
  15. Weaknesses can be turned into strengths if you can figure out how to harness them.
  16.  Despite thinking in terms of black and white, life is often filled with grey. Figuring out how to live in an ambiguous world is the challenge rather than searching for the perfectly “right” answer.
  17. There is no such thing as “good enough”. We are all “enough” exactly as we are, right at this moment.
  18. Speaking of how we look, “I’m not a frame, I’m a finished home.” (Cosy Sheridan, ‘The Losing Game’)
  19. We all need teachers and mentors including learning how to heed the advice of the one we carry within us.
  20.  Falling down doesn’t mean defeat, it simply means it’s time to brush yourself off and take another step.
  21. Each day we have a choice about how to show up in the world, how to treat others, how to treat ourselves and it is the sum of those choices that make a life well lived.

 So for today, these are what I strive to live by. And of course, some rules are meant to be broken, and some rules are harder than others to follow. But knowing the rules has to be at least a start. Otherwise, without rules, how do you know how to play the game? And i'm done sitting on the sidelines watching others play while i wait to fully grasp all of the rules. 

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