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Apr 11

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Rule breaking and other cutlery-related figments

Today I received this text:

“Churchmen shunned the use of forks!!!!”.

This was not some cutlery-based religious hallucination, but part of an ongoing conversation with my mother. She was reading an article on how Europeans moved from eating with their fingers to using cutlery in the 16th century.

I found this particularly amusing as I recognised that medieval churchmen’s belief that “forks are instruments of the devil” is no more barmy than some (most if not all) of the arbitrary rules we make up about the world today.

For example:

We mustn’t get into conversations with random people (even when we sometimes really feel the urge).

We must keep our promises (even when we’d really like to change our minds).

We mustn’t share our worries at work (even though it’s exhausting to us to keep up the act, which everyone can probably see through in any case).

We musn’t give up on our plan (even though it’s no longer fun).

We must work like a dog to maintain a certain level of income (even though it feels miserable).

When we realize our rules are simply lines in the sand as arbitrary as “forks are evil and must be shunned” it becomes easier to move them (or ignore them). It then becomes easier to make choices based on what we instinctively know to be the best way forward. Compromising around a bunch of rules that are entirely figments of our (individual or collective) imagination then seems a tiny bit barmy.

Rather than leading to the breakdown of relationships, employment opportunities and civilisation as we know it, siding with calm knowing wisdom over random lines in the sand, leads to extraordinary results, in my experience.

For example:

Randomly speaking to someone might end up being a life-changing conversation for at least one of us (as happened to a friend of mine this weekend).

Or breaking a promise (with grace) might release others from a feeling of discomfort, as well as ourselves.

Or dropping the game face at work and being honest might free up mental space for a brilliant new idea (and increase the likelihood of our colleagues doing the same).

Or abandoning a plan that no longer looks exciting might create space, time and energy for some even more compelling.

Or relinquishing an overloaded work schedule might leave a gap for the hatching of a cunning plan for a fun way to make money.

I’m not suggesting the converse of each of these imaginary rules is true – that we MUST break our promises, or talk to random strangers. That would simply create another set of equally barmy rules.

Rather, I’m suggesting that it’s useful to recognise these external ‘one-size-fits-all’ directions are nothing but figments of our imagination. It seems to be simpler, easier and far more pleasurable to listen instead to our internal compass (which comes with its own built in sense of compassion, wisdom, and love).

When we start to tune into that, we can really start making things happen.

What made up rules are currently influencing you, and what would happen if you shifted the line in the sand?

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