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Do You Need to be Told How to Live?

Or do you already know?

Birds don't need to be told how to live.

Night ends. Dawn comes. I wake up and stare at the pine-paneled ceiling, while outside the window birds fluff feathers, clear their throats with song and get on with the day. It’s autumn, the season of change. But nothing has changed in my life. I lie here asking myself the same questions I’ve been posing for years: What must I do? What ought I think? What should I be?

Why can’t I be like the birds? Birds don’t have questions. They never hanker after guidance or memorise rules for living. They don’t fly to the feet of quilled gurus to learn how to be better birds. There’s no such thing as Ten Principles for Parrots, Ethics for Eagles or Retreats for Red-capped Robins.

But I, a typical human being, keep wondering how I should live, and keep a sharp eye out for anyone who thinks they can help me solve this perennial problem.


Don’t kill; don’t steal; don’t lie; never envy others; care about significant relationships; honour what is worth honouring; mind my language; take a break.

Okay, I say. That all makes sense. I commit them to memory.


Lao Tzu (or the collection of writers who became known as Lao Tzu) is considered a wise Chinese philosopher whose compilation of sayings titled Tao Te Ching has survived more than 2000 years. He tells me there are four virtues that are indispensable if I want to live a good life: honour all life forms; be authentic; be sensitive; serve others.

I can do that. I write them on a sticky note and affix it to my computer screen, in case I forget.


He came up with the Golden Rule.

Did Jesus really have to come all the way from Heaven to Earth to tell me to only do to others what I'm happy for them to do to me? It’s a long way to come to state the obvious. But once again I don’t trust myself. With red crayon I inscribe it on a sheet of cardboard and nail it to the inside of the toilet door.


To bring things more up to date I read 12 Rules for Life (subtitled: An Antidote to Chaos), written by the clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson. It became a No 1 Bestseller, which shows there are lots of people like me who fear they need someone else to tell them how to live. His first rule reminds me of my grandmother:

Stand up straight with your shoulders back.’

I'm so impressed with his advice I type his twelve rules on a sheet of paper, fold it and slip it inside my wallet. Its bulky presence will remind me to follow his precepts.

Now I feel I know what I should be doing.

But the feeling doesn’t last long. Before a week has passed I'm wondering if twelve rules are enough to be going on with. Once more packed full of insecurities, I scan the Internet for more guidance. I find sites that list five, forty-five, and 101 rules for living!

Do I really need one hundred and one rules for living a good life? Should I memorise them? Write them down? Chalk them up? Engrave them on my heart? What if I forget one of them? Will that make my life less good?


Is how to live my life really that hard to work out?

Do I have to be told?

Or do I already know?

Most answers lie within you.

Night ends. Dawn comes. I wake up and stare at the pine-paneled ceiling, while outside the window birds fluff feathers, clear their throats with song and get on with the day. It’s time to get on with mine.

I don’t know what the next few hours will bring, but from now on I'm going to trust myself to respond appropriately. I’ll mind my language; be authentic; follow the golden rule; stand up as straight as I can. Not because I’ve read other people’s rules, but because deep down, where my true self has been all along, is an inner knowing of how my life is to be lived.

I need expert advice, guidance and encouragement from time to time, and grace-filled gurus can give me inspirational gifts. But I’ll never forget to access the deep down true self of inner knowing.

Most answers lie within me.

Most answers lie within you.

With love, Marlane

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