A Personal Constitution
The term “constitution” refers to a document or statement of what is important to a town or country, and could equally be applied to a person, as a “personal constitution”.
It’s a very illuminating exercise to write one’s personal constitution. What would we put in it? We might start with principles, what is important to us. For example, friendliness or truthfulness, or we might put in the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you).
In any case, our ideals may or may not match our actions in our day-to-day lives; this is why it proves to be such a wonderful exercise to write them down. It’s an excellent mirroring exercise, and a challenge for each of us. It helps us to see whether we are walking our spiritual awakening talk.
Start Your Personal Constitution: List Your Top Five Operating Principles
To start your personal constitution, list your top five operating principles in order, from most important to least. Keep them where you can refer to them regularly, and then follow them as best you can in day-to-day situations. It’s perfectly okay to change them at any time, but once you do, then follow that new list. If you find that you’re changing them constantly and/or rearranging their order, it will reveal a lot about how you constitute your life and relationships.
For example, you might place truthfulness above compassion, but can you think of a situation wherein this order might be reversed? If you can, then change the order in your personal constitution and live by that until you meet a situation that supersedes the new arrangement.
Paradoxes in Your Personal Constitution: Ideal vs Practical
When it comes to living out your personal constitution, you’ll also notice the dialogue about the ideal and the practical. If we place compassion as first, and it interferes with our comfort or relationships or habits, so which would we prioritize?
One could make two lists — one actual (survival and career might be at the top of the list) and one ideal (the Brahma Viharas might rank highest). How would you envision navigating the relationship between them?
This exercise is not about judging, nor moralistic assessment. It’s about self-knowledge and a realistic and reliable guide to attitudes and decision-making, This can clear a lot of confusion out of our emotional and mental processes.
Writing Your Real World, Livable Personal Constitution
Let’s say that now we have two short lists of principles, actual and ideal. We can return to writing our personal constitution in relation to how we live our lives and how we make decisions. The principles also give us a methodology for adapting our interactions with others and with our world, in a way that makes more sense and reduces conflict.
There’s been a transformation in modern education, where each child is considered unique and special, and no one is “measured” in relation to another. Perhaps one of the unintended consequences of this is that the process of simply measuring at all has fallen by the wayside.
Naming – Wholesome and Unwholesome
The process of writing your personal constitution is in essence about identifying, discernment and “naming” how you want to live. Naming — which is itself a measurement, of valuation — brings a way of ordering and understanding a subject, so that we can discern between more or less useful and appropriate. This approach taught us how to carry fire and fly airplanes, to create laws and regulations that help order society.
More importantly, naming provides us with a way to separate the wholesome from the unwholesome. “Wholesome” is a tricky term, and to avoid moralistic positioning, the concept of a “good space” versus a “not-good space” might be helpful.
A good space is one where a being feels in a state of union, is interested, has a degree of joy, where the internal/external dialogues are quieted, and there is a feeling of serenity. A not-good space feels agitated, creates a feeling of separateness (loneliness), and serenity is absent.
A Personal Constitution Helps One Engage and This Feels Good
Naturally, everyone desires to feel good. Almost everyone thinks feeling good should happen by magic, that it doesn’t require investigation and effort -! But this idea mistakes happiness (a.k.a. pleasure) for contentment (a.k.a. understanding).
Moreover, almost no one arrives at peace and contentment through pleasure alone. In fact, happiness or pleasure is actually a result of engagement.
In writing one’s personal constitution and clarifying one’s principles, one becomes more actively engaged and committed to creating and maintaining the very essence of peace and contentment.
This doesn’t mean the death of pleasure! It also doesn’t mean that there will be no difficulties or struggles in one’s life. Rather, given a clear sense of our principles and priorities — as determined in our personal constitution —we can rally through the agony to be assured that the ecstasy is with our reach.
And that, dear friends, is something to be happy about.