The Four Agreements
If you knew me, then you would know how much I care for the simple philosophy of “The Four Agreements”. The book was pointed out to me a couple of years ago [Fall, 2003] by a good friend of mine while we were browsing a book store. It was the first *fun* book I’d read since beginning alcoholic recovery in January 2003 and it changed my life.
The Four Agreements started me on a spiritual journey that would lead me into today, renouncing openly, the world and its rules. The rules that kept me sick and suffering. The rules that kept just about everyone I know ping-ponging their anger and disdain for one another out in the open by means of sarcasm or spiteful speech. The rules that, quite frankly, enabled me to stay drunk without ever really thinking of a good reason to not stay that way. So clearly when I got sober in January 2003 I still had this world’s mitote to deal with and, staying drunk more or less for 15 years I had developed no sort of spiritual growth in any direction. This book and its views were like coming home.
Starting this book and while reading it it was as if all the world’s puke-colored gauzy curtains fell from my eyes and I was able to see with such clarity and light that I WAS a free person. That it was mine for the taking if I just understood and worked on applying these four agreements in my life.
A side note I must mention out of necessity: I am a “member” of an “anonymous” organization that helps people with their alcohol problem. There are 12 steps this organization believes that, when taken, can relieve a person of the obsession to drink. I want to make it clear that the fellowship of this organization and the 12 steps is what got me sober. [Sobriety Date: January 04, 2003] Period. I want to make it clear this organization’s philosophy on alcoholism is how it was I came to be reintroduced to my spirituality which dispelled my obsession/need to drink alcohol. BECAUSE I was sober is how I believe my spirit led me to The Four Agreements. [I say this for anyone who may be drunk/high now who are expecting this book to fix them. This book, in my opinion, is for those who have the clarity that only not drinking or using drugs can provide and it took, for me, several months - and working the 12 steps until step 11- for my mind to get clear enough to know I desired more spiritual understanding and sustenance.]
The Four Agreements: Don Miguel Ruiz
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
When I gossip about other people I feel badly. When I curse someone I feel badly. When I call someone a name behind their back – deserved or not – I feel badly. When I talk badly about myself or call myself names I feel badly. When I am silent in the middle of racist jokes, sarcastic remarks or caustic conversations, I am not being impeccable with my word. When I lie, exaggerate or dramaticize a truth or an event, it’s no longer a truthful expression, but a lie. I am no longer bringing who I am to the conversation; no longer contributing myself to the world. If I continually bring lies in or drama or use my word/s to spread chaos and malcontent I am perpetuating the mitote [the dream/the lies of the world that say this is normal or okay] and spreading disharmony. It reinforces the poison within the world and keeps me poisoned.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
If I take it personally that you love my hair, my face, my body and my personality then a few things may happen: My ego may come in – which kills my spirit, and/or I may look to you as then the source of my sustenance, and/or when all of a sudden you don’t compliment my hair, my self-esteem takes a backseat as I wait for your approval to progress in my life. The truth is, if you are complimenting me on these things I’d like to say thank-you and then respectfully submit that you appreciate my qualities, based on YOUR world view, based on what you have been believing as good hair/face/body/personality. Has nothing to do with me. Conversely, where this Agreement will do the most good in my opinion, is to acknowledge that people’s anger – even at me – as THEIR anger. Period. End of story. Their world view [remember: mitote] has them believing that I have broken one of *their* agreements….True Examples that could have turned out better if we all examined our world-based agreements and threw away the ones not in sync with our spiritual agreements.
Example #1: I dated a guy in college my mom found completely unacceptable. [She had agreements within, that had the idea of an acceptable person. Spiritual Solution: All people are acceptable.] Her anger ruined the day of my college graduation. She spread her poison to my family, me and others around us. As a consequence, instead of it being one of the happiest days in my life, it’s one of the top 5 worst. As a further consequence, 9 years later I would have to do a lot of searching within to wonder if I should invite her to my wedding [to a different person]- fear she may ruin that as well. She took that personally – it reflected on her *raising of me* and that was her breaking of the Agreement here. She broke Agreement #1 when she spread it around that day, with sarcasm and scathe.
Example #2: There are times I need to shut down and go within. Be with myself. In silence and stillness. I require more of this than 95% of the people I know. I have a joke that for every 4 hours I am around people I need a complete hour by myself. As a result, new experiences, much activity, energy, electronics even, and loudness affect me deeply. [See Highly Sensitive Person. It's emotionally as well as physically the idea that some people just seem to pick things up ~more~ and ~more easily~ and with more intensity than most other folks.] There are people in my life who seem to not understand this, accept this – much less appreciate this in myself. They get angry and take it personally. They blame me for their pain when it’s their own mitote causing them the pain. [Prior agreements they have within themselves have them making assumptions all over the place -See Agreement #3 - and then they break Agreement #2, which leads to nasty breakings of Agreement #4. All of which, could be avoided in the future if a simple examination of prior Agreements that don't work for them could come into a way of living.] Spiritual Solution for this scenario: Accept that people are who they are and where they are. If you are disturbed due to someone else’s disturbance, ask yourself what you can do to help this person. If still unclear, how about asking the person? You will not have time, then, to take it personally.
Example #3: I snapped someone’s head off at work several weeks ago. I took it personally that he is hyper. He is exactly opposite of me in demeanor, I was having a difficult day [I work at a software company where computers surround me and electricity is the God and no excuses for my day but damn!] So he came back and gave me an answer I disliked immensely. Couple that with the way he delivered the message…all hyperactive and spasmodic. I said: “Well that’s a nice thought but it’s NOT working is it?” He didn’t even notice according to his appearance but the next week I made amends to this person. My crime? Taking his hyperactivity and the answer I did not want to hear and blaming him for the bad feelings I was going to have in delivering to my client this crappy news. Spiritual Solution: Being okay with not always satisfying a client in 100% of the cases. Being okay with not being perfect and letting others do the same.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.
Example #1: I have a friend at work. She said “Good Morning” to someone one morning. A month later she can still recall how he ignored her. She had much anger and animousity over this one event. I suggested that maybe he didn’t hear her. “Oh he heard me.” I suggested that maybe he thought she was speaking to someone else. “Oh he knew I was speaking to him.” I suggested maybe he is hard of hearing. “Oh he can hear perfectly.” I suggested maybe he was deep in thought. “Oh no. He looked right at me.” We went round and round on this for weeks. Whenever she would see him she would tense up and feel terribly! For the record, I know this man’s spirit and he does not ignore people. So when he brought doughnuts in five weeks later or so and offered her the first pick, she readily [finally!] dismissed the thought he had been ignoring her. Point is that she massaged that thought and felt bad and discounted and belittled and less than… yet her prior Agreements with herself would not let her think it could have been something else. This is the crime of the Assumption. It hurts YOU. Spiritual Solution of the Assumptive in this situation: If ever at all possible in any circumstance, always opt for the better thought. No harm could ever be had with this. Ever.
Another Example: I wanted to eat dinner with my beloved Thursday night and tried to work it out Wednesday. I was so tired Wednesday night when we were discussing it that I honestly didn’t know which conclusion we came to by Thursday. I called him Thursday evening and asked if I needed to get something for myself before I came home. He said that he thought we were going to eat together. I told him I didn’t know that. He said, “How could you not know that? We talked about it last night.” I snapped back, “Because I’m just stupid I guess.” BIG problem he is not even aware of in that conversation. He ASSUMED that I should have known. Yes it’s a reasonable assumption based on the fact we’d discussed it the night before BUT I felt discounted. I ASSUMED he was calling me stupid. So I, in turn, broke Agreement #1 and #3 on myself. I came home, went into introspect and he, in turn broke #1, #2, #3 and told me I could do better so enforced Agreement #4 on me – and in that context is really more of #1. We NEVER use these Agreements as a way to beat people up. NEVER.
I use the Agreements to break my own faulty agreements. Not yours. If I am using these to try to change YOU then I am breaking Agreement #3, in and of itself, by assuming YOU need to be “fixed” or altered. That would make me God and please see Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself.
4. Always Do Your Best Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
When I was so sick I was unable to go to work. I was unable to clean up around the house. I was unable to meet with friends. I was unable to have fun. I was unable to eat very well. I was unable to even shower but once every few days. I was unable to get out of bed for for more than a couple of hours at the time. I was not able to be completely rational and sane. I was very emotional, frustrated, sad and feeling helpless. A few things happened while I was sick that I got resentments over… that I had to deal with after getting well, as I could not afford the emotional investment it would take to deal with them as they occurred, thus leading to resentments. [What does one do when one can do nothing but lie in bed or barely function? Me...I go inside deeper.] But yet I can say that I did my best. Had to put the anger to the side so I could try to heal physically. When it became apparent I was on the upswing is when I dealt with the other stuff. It would not have behooved me to try to tend to this emotional whirling derbish while so physically ill- my brain would not have been capable of looking at it sanely, my emotions were too highly in overdrive, and I knew my communication skills were not as okay as they would have needed to be in order to deal with the anger with the person I needed to talk to. Spiritual Solution: What I did. Put first things first. Mind/body connection: Had I tried and failed to deal with my emotional state it would have affected me more gravely and I believe my body would have taken longer to heal if at all.
There have been other times, when I have been just fine – emotionally/physically and yet, have NOT cleaned up my garbage [or done my best]. Sometimes I “just didn’t feel like it” [probably in the back of my mind hoping I could keep running from it] and when the time came to do it or suffer immensely, I would do it and then kick myself for having suffered so long from avoiding doing it. Spiritual Solution: Procrastination is the sister of denial. If I can emotionally/physically handle doing something that would be for my good then I should opt to do it as soon as I can. If I lack the courage necessary then a spiritual contact may be necessary in that I gain the courage. Waiting begets suffering.
The Four Agreements have me question any prior agreements I have made with myself, which were first formed as a child from my first social unit – my family. Then society. Then, due to family and society I formed my own. Some Agreements I acknowledge that I used to practice as a matter of regular fare – but caused me great suffering were: Getting angry because you are angry. Just seems like the thing to do. Thinking my version of things is the only version and the true one at that. I am all alone in this world and no one could ever understand me.
If you are angry it is my fault. Must be because I am so terrible.
If you do not hold the beliefs I think you should then you are wrong.
If you do not compliment me then I am worthless.
If you compliment me then you must want something.
Guilt and shame would encourage positive change.
Sarcasm, lies, and scathing zingers should be funny to me.
Some people are evil. Some people are good.
I am too sensitive and need to stop that.
The Superwoman is not a myth! [Family, career, home, activities, and friends! ALL is possible.]
Better not express myself cause I may be wrong. And horrors!
There is right. There is wrong. Black/white. Good/evil. No middle and no grey.
I can say, after quickly examining these former beliefs, as I type them in – that they are all crap. I could analyze and evaluate where they came from but it would serve no healthy purpose. The purpose in recognizing them as harmful is the purpose. With these former agreements I can see that I have come full circle into my own from just these agreements….challenging them to myself and asking myself if it really is true. Is it healthy? Is it peaceful, loving or kind? If no, it is a bad agreement and it’s poison to me.
The Four Agreements and The Four Agreements Companion Book [more recently purchased] enabled me to see and even more, has enabled me to grow, in a direction and onto a path that has freed me spiritually and emotionally. I hope to be able to pass along some of what I have learned with the wish that it can free and enrich the lives of all I touch – even if just in the practicing.