How to Live | Judith Valente

Summary of: How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning, and Community
By: Judith Valente


In ‘How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning, and Community,’ Judith Valente delves into the ancient wisdom of St. Benedict’s rulebook for building a happy and harmonious community. The book summary demonstrates the importance of core principles such as listening, simplicity, humility, hospitality, gratitude, and praise. The relevance of these values transcends religion and can apply to modern life, emphasizing the need for balance and connectivity within our complex world. As you explore this summary, prepare to uncover the secrets to living fully and peacefully, striving for personal growth, and opening your heart to others.

The Art of Listening in Building a Happy Community

St. Benedict’s community was founded with the intention of creating a happy and thriving community, which led to the creation of The Rules of St. Benedict, with simplicity, humility, hospitality, gratitude, and praise as its pillars. Above all, St. Benedict emphasized the importance of the art of listening to better understand one another. Without listening and effective communication, a community is bound to fail. The phrase “listen with the ear of the heart” suggests that truly hearing other people is essential in fostering a successful community. This skill requires self-awareness and a willingness to accept feedback from others. St. Benedict’s message prompts us to listen with an open mind and heart to different voices in order to relate with others more successfully.

Embrace Life Fully

The Rule by Benedict offers an urgent call to wake up and make the most of the limited time we have. To live fully, we must awaken to our surroundings and the inevitability of death. Benedict believed in embracing nature and awakening our senses to the sights, sounds, and smells around us. We should acknowledge the presence of death and use it as motivation to embrace life. The author describes her transformative experiences at the Abbeys of Gethsemani and Mount St. Scholastica, where she learned to appreciate life’s moments and the importance of living a meaningful life.

Living peacefully with silence and humility

St. Benedict’s Rule teaches us that silence and humility are essential tools for peaceful living by helping us avoid gossip, complaining, and inner turmoil.

St. Benedict knew that building a community can lead to fights and resentments that disrupt peace. In his book, The Rule, he offers advice on how to build a peaceful community by avoiding gossip and complaining. One of his main teachings is to speak well of others and to silence our tongues, which can lead to inner peace. True silence isn’t just about not speaking; it’s about quieting the mind by avoiding social media and other distractions.

Silence isn’t the only tool for peaceful living. Humility is also crucial, as it helps us be patient and kind to others, recognizing that no one is perfect. Benedict provides 12 steps to humility, which include knowing when to speak and when to listen, as well as having patience with ourselves and others. This approach to humility is rooted in love, which is exemplified by the sisters at Mount St. Scholastica who begin their work by saying, “Have patience with me, as Jesus would want it.”

In a world where boldness and uncompromising behavior are often rewarded, cultivating silence and humility is difficult but necessary. Even monks struggle with it, but they recognize that wisdom comes from nurturing our inner lives and avoiding distractions. The key message of St. Benedict’s teachings is that silence and humility are essential tools for peaceful living, helping us avoid gossip, complaining, and inner turmoil.

Balancing Life with Benedict’s Principles

Building the perfect life is unattainable. Benedict emphasizes the value of work and rest, prayer, and inner reflection to create balance. The haiku poetry, which is similar to prayer, is a useful tool to promote focus and peace of mind during a busy day.

The pursuit of perfection is a misguided approach to life, including relationships, family, and community. Instead, the focus should be on mitigating problems that emerge and looking for the best solutions to solve them. Benedict’s philosophy is centered on humility, silence, a rich inner life, and work within a community. However, he emphasizes the importance of not working excessively, which results in distress and illness.

The key messages from Benedict’s principles are that prayer and poetry can help us lead a well-balanced life. Although the Liturgy of the Hours is a time-honored tradition for monks to keep dedicated prayer times, prayer does not need to have a religious aspect. Many secular activities can serve the same purpose in helping us step back from the demands of the day and focus on the world around us and our place within it.

The haiku poetry form is similar to prayer. It can bring peace of mind and encourage an appreciation of nature’s beauty. Benedictine principles suggest the importance of rest, leisure, and prayer throughout the day to balance work and life. The haiku practice is a useful tool with immediate benefits that help re-center and refocus a hectic day. Using Benedict’s approach to balance work, rest, and inner reflection, we can all strive for a more balanced life.

Keys to Peaceful Living

Forgiveness and hospitality are the keys to peaceful living according to St. Benedict’s Rule. Holding a grudge can weigh you down, emotionally and mentally, leading to a clouded mind. St. Benedict stresses the importance of being patient with those who have hurt you, and not to retaliate. The author of the book shares a personal story of how she should have been more empathetic towards her brother instead of reacting with anger. Benedict’s call for hospitality directs us to treat the poor and needy with compassion and help those in need, irrespective of their beliefs or background. The Benedictine monasteries serve as a concrete example of practicing this hospitality by sponsoring refugees and aiding the underprivileged in their communities.

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