Are you a rule follower? / by Ariel Carson


I am a confirmed Rule Follower. Anyone else? My rule following self is one of the most humorless aspects of my personality. She’s no-nonsense, bossy, and easily flustered. You can find her standing off to the side with her hands on her hips and a furrowed brow while everyone else goes out and has a good time. 

Photo by  Tim Gouw  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

We live our lives abiding by rules, both consciously and unconsciously, as imposed by our societies, our families, and our selves. Some are in place for good reason: stop your car at red lights; wash your hands after going to the bathroom; treat others as you would like to be treated. Other rules have simply outgrown their usefulness. And then there are those designed to oppress. We often shame people into following The Rules by demonstrating that if you don’t, you will no longer be accepted. And because we are biologically wired to live among other people, we conform to the rules so we can avoid banishment, and continue to belong to whatever degree possible. So how do we know which rules and laws actually serve the highest and most grounded good of all? Who determines this if we don’t subscribe to a book that tells us how to live? 

Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” 

Audre Lorde said, “For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master's house as their only source of support.”

So how do we expand our consciousness, and learn new skills to dismantle the outdated and/or oppressive structures that keep us locked in place? How can we stop relying on someone else to tell us the answers?

Photo by  Greg Rakozy  on  Unsplash

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Somatic practices like Somatic Experiencing and Alexander Technique empower us to break those rules that do not serve us, and to make new choices based on the union of our intuition and reason. When we practice registering feelings of relative safety, our curiosity and capacity to learn new things, and to reason, comes online. When we begin to understand how our inner sensations function, and what they are telling us, we gain access to our intuitive nature. We become better able to differentiate between fearing something solely because it’s unfamiliar, or it’s triggering a traumatic memory from our past, or because it actually threatens our wellbeing. Instead of acting from residual fear-based places, we can more accurately assess risk levels to make braver choices, even if they’re uncomfortable, from a place of loving-kindness and compassion. We can recognize when our boundaries are crossed in ways that contribute to our growth, or when we need to practice our ability to say, “Stop” or “No”, and to walk away.

We pause to question how we do what we do. We observe ourselves, and our culture, with greater objectivity to ask, “What’s really happening here?” and “What’s the best way to move forward?” We release old habits of how we use our energy at rest and in action. We explore new ways of being and moving from the inside out, and become more aware of how we’ve held ourselves for so long in limited postural coordination patterns. We access support from all points of contact we make with the ground, our chairs, our beds, subway poles, countertops, etc. As we relate more consciously to our environment through our senses, we recognize our interdependence. We feel less isolated and more connected, which leads us to consider the whole in the decisions we make for ourselves, and our communities.

In order to access this balanced union of reason and intuition we’ve got to interrupt the ways we currently interfere with these processes. We’ve got to learn what rules we subconsciously follow, so we can break them if they do not align with the people we want to become, and the societal structures we want to support. 

Grace Hopper said, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” 

Photo by  Kiana Bosman  on  Unsplash

Stop for a moment if you find yourself thinking, “Oh no, I’d never do that,” or “I’m not that kind of person.” Notice how that manifests muscularly, in the way you are holding yourself, and in your breath. Release the limited thought. Then see what happens if you think, “What if I were that kind of person, just for a minute?” Let your bones and muscles try on the shape of that person – how they sit, stand, or pick up a glass of water. Envision how they might say, “Hello”, or how they would receive a compliment from a friend. 

How do we become more awake, and utilize new tools that support our individual and collective agency and freedom? We become rebels with the noblest of causes. We stop trying to get it all right. We explore and play! We start asking, “For who? For what?” We practice remembering that maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. We open ourselves up to failure, and embrace getting it wrong. And we celebrate those around us who break the rules in the spirit of serving the highest and most grounded good of all. We let them lead the way.

 What rules are you going to break today? 


Embodied Experiential Practice:

  • Journal or meditate for 5 minutes guided by the question, “What societal, familial, or personal rules do you abide by for your body-mind-self?” These may show up as places in you where you feel a sense of obligation. Some examples are: “I should cross my legs, suck in my stomach, engage my core, or stand up straight, etc.” 

  • Rather than judging these rules as bad or good, see what happens if you ask, “Are these rules serving the greater good of me and others? Do they help me feel free and loving, or however else I want to feel today?”  

  • How do you register the answers to these questions in your body-mind-self? Give yourself a minute to be with your knowing. 

  • If these rules are not serving you, ask yourself with gratitude and compassion to let them go. And If they are serving you, let yourself have a moment of appreciation for tending to yourself well. 

  • Finish by exploring some gentle movement while releasing or embracing one of the rules you noticed.