How to escape from this? How to free yourself from the collective lunacy and reclaim your calm and sensible self? Because most certainly we need this. To make the right decisions, stay focused, set the right priorities and do what is needed, we need a calm and confident mind. And that’s were Benedictine Monks come in.
“Monks?” you may ask. “How can we learn how to stay calm in today’s hectic world from people who have completely disconnected from that world?” But that is exactly why we can learn from them. They manage to live in this world and at the same time not let this world stress them out.
For my recent book “No More Bananas” I took my inspiration from monastic life in the spirit of Saint Benedict, or Benedict of Nursia, a Christian Saint who lived around the year 500 AD. His “Rule of Saint Benedict” is one of the most influential religious rules in the Western Christian world. This rule contains a lot of surprisingly practical advice on how to live a monastic life. Unlike some other religious documents, it is very down-to-earth and free of mystique and symbolism. And it contains a number of great bits of advice and principles for living a calm and confident life. These four I found most important:
Principle 1: A novice attitude
It starts with your basic attitude. Benedict tells us always to stay a novice. You have to feel like a novice and behave like a novice, even if you are already advanced at something. This is interesting and humbling advice. It makes you realize that there is always something to learn and that you are never there yet. It also makes you realize that there is always someone to learn from, even if you are the highest boss or greatest person on earth. This attitude helps you focus on the things you are not good at yet and to improve them.
Principle 2: Persistence
Another main principle outlined in the rule is perseverance—or stabilitas as it is called there. It means not walking away from something you have committed yourself to. So, despite the hard times that you will face, you need to go on and not stop and escape into something else. What I particularly like about the idea of stabilitas is that it takes away any grandeur. It is a grounded way of saying that once you commit to something, you stick to it. You are going to need this attitude to get the stickiest bananas out of your head.
Principle 3: Continuous improvement
A third important principle is Benedict’s version of continuous improvement: conversatio morum. It is a bit hard to translate, but it means something like “conversion of life.” It refers to making changes. According to Benedict, we are not only supposed to stick to something, but also engage in a continuous, step-by-step change to improve. For Benedict, life is a continuous journey in which you keep on improving yourself all the time. The word conversatio implies a commitment to live faithfully and keep one’s mind open. Broadly translated, it means we should stay optimistic and open to any ideas or help that we find along the way. So, you are not just sticking to your own improvement plan but, on your journey, you welcome and appreciate any help or opportunity that you may encounter. Having such an open attitude is going to help you a great deal in getting rid of your bananas.
Principle 4: Obedience
This brings us to the fourth and probably initially most deterring aspect of Benedict’s rule: obedience (obedientia). Benedict tells us to be obedient to our superiors and each other. That sounds old-fashioned and against today’s strong focus on freedom, equality and self-determination. It would be if it meant that we follow someone else’s orders blindly. But that is not at all what obedientia means.
The term obedientia comes from the Latin word audire, which means listening. What it stands for, is that you listen attentively and look carefully around you and embrace any advice or suggestions that you can get—and that you act accordingly. It means you are always trying to learn from what others do or tell you and that you implement their advice. So, you ‘obey’ signals you are getting and not just think by yourself that you are right.
Interestingly, obedientia means almost the opposite of blind obedience. It implies taking responsibility for your own life. You are supposed to make the best of it, and seriously consider any input you get and act if this is the right thing to do. So, you don’t hide behind others, or behind being busy, or behind having some sort of special inability, or behind being entitled to deserve exceptional treatment.
I suppose you are getting a sense now of what Benedict is trying to tell us in his rules. The four principles discussed above belong together and add up to an image of us persevering to continuously improve our lives with a humble attitude while carefully paying attention to any help and opportunities that come our way. That’s what leaders, and the rest of us, can learn from Benedictine monks.
This post was published earlier here on my forbes.com page.
Image credit: Getty