Many years ago, in my Your Jewish Fairy Godmother persona, I developed her Ten Commandments. I was coaching people addressing life issues like tough relationships or jobs, blocked decision-making and creativity. Developing Ten C was a good exercise for navigating the world.
As I’ve thought about them the past decade plus, they’ve pretty much stood the test of time. I would change only glib number five, and replace it with Know your values. That was the core of how I worked with folks. Because once you’re clear about what feels okay and what does not, your choices become much simpler, even in the pursuit of difficult goals.
It’s rarely a simple do or don’t, like Torah’s original Ten Commandments, handed down in this week’s reading. Most of us never think about violating Thou shalt not kill. But none of us can truly know how we’d act when supremely tested, like in the post-pandemic reality of Emily Mandel’s brilliant new novel Station Eleven, or in the Holocaust.
The original Ten C ask for obedience to a deity and offer guidelines for living together. Though it’s officially none of them, great commentators in virtually every religion say they all boil down to Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you. Shouldn’t be complicated.
Something more open to interpretation, like keeping the Sabbath, gets trickier. Your way may seem like dogma to me or mine like apostasy to you. It’d help world peace to get past judging one another; but we still need to decide what our own values are, affecting a gazillion daily choices.
My painting class is illustrating for me how we shape and form, and then reshape and reform our world. It’s a good mirror for values. Each time you refine your sense of self or your vision for your life, you’re getting clearer on who you are, what you believe, what you stand for, and what you’ll act towards.
Whether you call them commandments, instructions, or suggestions, the Ten C also a useful model to clarify other subjects. What if you considered the ten rules of friendship? Of healthy eating? Of compassion and generosity?
Think about ten things that make you laugh or cry, joyful or angry. Ten things you wish you’d done differently. Ten you still can do in a way more like the now you. Ten hopes for the coming year. Ten intentions to make them manifest.
It’s an exercise I find useful when I’m stuck, whether it’s in a negative emotion, problem-solving, or even creatively stuck. It clears mental litter like the daily morning pages Julia Cameron advocates. It helps you peel away whatever’s stopping you from getting to your core, even if what you find there are unresolved questions.
Your lists of ten will reveal truths about what you really want. Themes will emerge, so don’t just toss the lists. You can’t ask for what you want until you know what it is and what you’ll do, or not, to make it real.
Knowing your values will help you find direction. It’ll help you take the the next steps and the ones after. With that compass you’re less likely to lose your path through the wilderness.