The Four Agreements – Review

The Four Agreements by don  Miguel Ruiz
This was one of the first books on spirituality I ever read. It was actually recommended to me by an entrepreneur who stated it was the book that spurred his own journey into true success in life. I have to admit I was a bit taken aback when I started to read it because it spoke of things I would have been suspicious of.

I was still a bit stuck in my old religious background but had enough curiosity to at least read the article in which he was featuring the book. The thing that “sold” me on reading the whole book was the summary of the four agreements. They sounded more like proverbs than affirmations, as well. Looking back I now understand why.

Here they are in their most basic form:

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don’t take anything personally
  3. Don’t assume anything
  4. Always do your best

Anyhoo…

I was still coming out of my narrow religious life so many of the terms and explanations in the first chapters didn’t sit well. Spirits, smoke, hooks, stories… Still, something in its pages resonated with my core being – whatever that part of me that was still growing, seeking expansion. I just didn’t know it at the time.

Don Miguel Ruiz was a trained medical doctor, but not long into his profession, he had a life-changing accident. I remember reading his story and thinking, ‘Why is it that something “big or bad” happens and we “wake up”? Midlife crisis? Nervous breakdown? Near-death experience? Later I came to see this crisis or breakdown as a spiritual awakening. Another opportunity to find the vastness of our consciousness. I didn’t call it that then. I didn’t know what to call it. I just knew Ruiz’s narrative was worth listening to, even if it seemed off to my bigoted psyche. And even if I didn’t understand the first couple chapters, I definitely understood the chapters that explained the four agreements.

The Stories

I think I had heard the explanation of “stories”, like videos, that replay in our heads. Stories from our childhood, school, parents, friends… all these stories make up our lives. These stories guide our lives and directly influence every choice we make. But it isn’t who we are. Who we are is the One who is watching all these stories – not having any particular attachment to any of them. Whether it’s something your husband says that ticks you off, why you get sick at your stomach when you see a snake, why you start crying when you see a sick child…

Everything you see, hear, smell, touch or taste has a story attached to it. A horn honking makes you jump and your heart starts to race because the last time you heard a horn honk you were involved in an accident.

The smell of smoke has you looking all around you for signs of fire.

You feel something slimy and you recoil thinking you touched something rotten like when you were cleaning up after a hurricane.

You smell a sweet spicy smell that reminds you of your grandmother and depending on how you felt about her, it was a good feeling or not so good.

Your partner tells you they want to talk to you about something.. you assume it’s not good. Because the last time someone said those words, it was an old boyfriend who broke it off with you.

Our lives are all about a collection of these stories. And depending on how much we pay attention to them, our lives can be miserable.

Ruiz then teaches you how to overcome those voices or stories which have hooked themselves into our psyche we tell by applying the simple advice of the four agreements:

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don’t take anything personally
  3. Don’t assume anything
  4. Always do your best

Be impeccable with your word

What would this world be like if each one of us only spoke kindly and with integrity, saying only what we mean? Ruiz contends and this much even Jesus concurred, that the Word is creative or destructive. “In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was God.” John 1

How many times did you say something or someone said something to you that you knew instantly changed the course of your life for the worse. This particularly happens to children by other children or worse, their parents. Off-handed comments like you’re so stupid or you’re never going to look like your sister or some people are just born [you fill in the blank]. That person is forever hooked on that story unless they come across teachings like Ruiz to neutralize them.

If we only ever opened our mouth or thought thoughts that were in the direction of love and truth, there would be no dissension, jealousy, emotional pain.

Don’t take anything personally

This agreement was the one that resonated the loudest when I first read it. The idea that nothing others do is because of you was a foreign concept. Yet somehow my wiser Self knew it to be true. What others say and do is a projection of their reality, not mine. I mean they have had their own stories all their life and I just happened on them in that moment. That girl at work who exploded at you when you forgot the cookies for the meeting was reacting to her own issues/problems – not you. What you did might have triggered it but it wasn’t about you. The time your husband walked out after you ignored his requests to stop spending so much… it was about him.

If you really think about it, life has been happening for millions of years. It was happening before you came. It’s happening now and will continue to happen long after you are gone. To take life personally is rather arrogant if you think about it. Life just is. People just are reacting to life.

Rather than taking it personally, learn to just accept it.

I love the words, “Don’t judge me by the chapter of life you walked in on.”

Don’t assume anything

This is a biggie, too. How would your life change if you didn’t assume anything? Didn’t assume your boyfriend was ignoring you when he was driving by in traffic. Didn’t assume you were being passed over at work because you were black or white, male or female, or some other subgroup. Don’t assume that because your husband is late getting home from work he is either dead or seeing someone else. How free your mind would be if you just let things be what they are – in this moment. Not what you think they are but just what they are.

Always do your best

This seems silly at first glance. Of course you want to do your best. But do you? I’m not talking perfectly. I am talking your best. Do you pick up your stray things off the floor or think, meh – I’ll get them later. Do you quit part way through a project when it gets hard? If you spill, do you clean up as soon as possible or wait till later. If you leave a dent in someone’s car, do you leave a note or hope no one was looking and leave?

Spiritual Breadcrumbs

Following is an excerpt in which my mom and I discuss one of my daughter’s personal struggles. Mom wants on some level to help her as do I and we are in so far as we can. The following is part of the discussion as to how much we should help and why we need to just let things unfold. Yes, I took out the names.

… (Daughter) does feel over responsibility much like any mother does. Learning to draw boundaries is the key. But before that is the whole self-esteem issue…

Since her self-worth is tied up if not completely hobbled by her religious beliefs, it’s hard to fix until you admit that the religion is flawed. And since much of what she believes depends on a great and loving Father figure… Well, she is her mother’s daughter. On a similar journey.

All I know is that I needed to have the rug ripped out from under me. I had to learn that Paul was a false apostle and that Jesus is not the god/man I believed he was. That destroyed me. My whole life depended on the Bible as God’s inspired (God-breathed) words and, as such, non-negotiable. My life depended on Jesus being my bridge to God much like Catholics believe Mary is the bridge to Jesus. That without the blood of Jesus to cover my sins, God couldn’t even look at me. (Don’t get me wrong, Jesus still figures hugely in my life. Just not as a blood sacrifice.)

But much thanks (ironically) to my husband’s maverick personality and curiosity, I was let in on a lot of his “explorations”. When he first introduced the possibility that Paul was a false apostle, a foundation stone was kicked loose. Very scary for me. Lots of angry tears. Lots of wandering in mind…

I told husband I hated knowing what I now knew. scary, scary times. He told me that I didn’t have to believe what he told me. That I could continue on with my faith. (He ultimately wanted me to stay under the spell of the religion that “kept” me. To this day he hates that he told me.) I told him that un-knowing what he told me was not as simple as stuffing a brand-new sleeping bag back into its original shape. You can’t un-know truth, especially if it was meant to be told.

You can’t un-know truth, especially if it was meant to be told.

It was a matter of time that the rest would be exposed as a collection of books which the Jewish culture and later Pauline Christian culture use as their scripture. Too much evidence that it was tweaked over the years to suit the powers that be.

I was very angry with husband for taking away the security of him being my answer machine. I depended on him to tell me what God wanted me to do because I didn’t want to get it wrong and go to hell. I realize now that is was angry with God but husband was the agent He used to bring the message.

Thankfully by that time, my beliefs about hell had eroded (oddly due to a study Ross started me on years ago. The sad thing is that Ross still clung to the fiery hell till his last breath.) So, since there was no hell to suffer in for all eternity, I could begin to entertain ideas that the Bible was not God’s perfect will.

Where am I going with all this? I’m just outlining the progress of my own steps toward no religion which in truth means esteeming self.

I have an inquisitive husband. He had no idea that his wife was used to clinging to his every word. he had no idea that one day she’d lose confidence in him and transfer it to herself. He had no idea his rambling curiosity would crumble his safe world of control. He was not the “answer machine” anymore. She learned God – in her – is the answer machine.

The day I realized I could not depend on him to tell me what God wanted was both freeing and the most frightening day of my life. I can relate to daughter’s confused angry frightened mindset. But still, God was – is – there in the dark. He was stripped down to who or what he is. He would expose another aspect of himself in a book, a word, a song. It is that gentle breeze of his spirit that carried me along when I hated life.

Brene Brown calls it the Wilderness. and that in the wilderness is the spiritual enlightenment or what is more commonly called a nervous breakdown. Crying anger then silent anger. All the while aching for something to hold onto. The nervous breakdown is just the spirit of God in you that is trying to break out. The something in you that says stop listening to your stupid stories you keep telling yourself. It’s like realizing your whole life is built on lies and that the only truth is what we see in this moment.

I am still on the way. Still finding out who I am in all this mess. But I see now that I, the me that is watching my psyche mess around is God in me. Not in the heavenly Father sense but in the universal sense.

Finding self-esteem means realizing you know just exactly everything you need to know.

It’s self-building to be able to reach that part of you for an answer. Realizing you don’t need a man or woman as your personal encyclopedia of knowledge and wisdom. It’s all there, written on our hearts. Discovering that God in you is all you need. Learning to trust that is what spirituality is all about.

I am immersing myself in Michael Singer’s work. His teachings are simple but not easy. The spiritual journey is one of letting go of resistance – feelings – which are associated with any person or event. So, when I feel any kind of feeling it’s a sign I am still ridding myself of stories or lies I’ve clung to. The idea is to enjoy the moment. to not judge whether it is a good or bad moment but to just be with it.

But at the same time, I am reading Sacred Contracts. Odd, yesterday, that I opened up at my bookmark to read this: “Many people fear their empowerment and unconsciously encourage their shadow to thrive… Change signals loss of control and entry into the unknown. But beyond the fear of change, empowerment represents isolation, which people will do anything to avoid… We don’t want to be whole if it means being alone…” Read the whole passage starting on page 131 or in the section called Confronting the Shadow in Chapter 4. The rest of Chapter 4 has a fascinating discussion on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, too.

This journey is one of following crumbs. I am driven. I crave learning about and becoming more spiritual. But then something hits my Orphan Child’s shadow… that part of me who is afraid to be abandoned. More nervous breakdowns/spiritual enlightenment on the horizon…

But I want it. Daughter wants it. That is the fight that is in her. Her spirit is kicking at the door saying, “toss the crap you’re sitting in and just BE!!” But she (we each) clings to the crap; preferring the poopy diaper to the freedom of the toilet.

I will continue dropping bits and bobs of ideas and wisdom. Like breadcrumbs for her spirit. She will find the way. She is that hungry.

Jeez! where was I going with this?? I guess much of where I was going with it is that I will continue to be there for Daughter (like you always were/are for me) dropping bits and bobs of ideas and wisdom. Like breadcrumbs for her spirit. She will find the way. She is that hungry.

talks with mom

My talks with Mom are very personal. Deep down soul searching, spill my guts labors of love. Sometimes I include her responses but more often I just put down my side of the convo.

Mom always listened. She always offered advice but always let me take my own direction. I see now how hard it is to love your child so much; to watch with great trepidation the direction she takes; to purposely look the other way to let them fall. But to be there when they need something. Kinda like God. And the story of the Prodigal. A good parent lets the son/daughter go but is there when the child needs them.

That’s my mom. She let me go. She didn’t cling. She didn’t invest herself in me, insisting I fulfill something for her. She wisely knew I had a journey to take.

I created a category – Talks with Mom – so I could record my ramblings with Mom. Each time I spill on the page, I learn something about me. Maybe you’ll see a common thread or find a bit you can identify with as well. If it helps you to read my ramblings, then I am blessed.

Is there a God?

The short answer: Yes.

Yes, I believe in a creator God, Father, Source, Great Spirit. I believe there is a power greater than all that made it all. Who made a big bang, if you will, to start what we know as the universe.

I also believe he made himself manifest to us in varied forms and through different means. I believe that the vastness of the universe and the opposite but even more vast inner conscience.

How did I find God?

My own story began not unlike most young adults on the brink of independence. On entering adulthood, I was scared. I had already been laughed at, failed miserably at a menial job, disappointed my parents, said goodbye to too many friends. I was unhappy. I really just wanted to hide under a rock.

Some kids go to drugs, sex or alcohol. I guess I was odd. I sought solace in religion. I found a church that gave me answers and gave me a group to be part of.

From that group, I ended up finding a man who made me feel safe and we got married. 35 plus years later I am still married to that man but both of us have changed so much. We have grown together and apart and back together again as we both grew in our separate understanding of God.

Actually, I can credit Hubs for throwing the religion under the bus. He basically got me to question the “sola scriptura” I had firmly chained myself to. By tossing the occasional comment that Paul was a self-appointed apostle. That Jesus was a good man and leader of a small Jewish sect that later came to be called Christian but not the son of God and Savior.

Jesus, not son of God

Can I tell you that the day God showed me that, I literally died. I cried and sobbed and didn’t think I could live. If Jesus wasn’t the Savior, how could I go to heaven and live for all eternity with him?? Essentially, I have come to know that God saved me and not in the sense of Christian salvation. But by setting me free to live and explore His vast inner and outer creation.

The Key to Lasting Happiness

Have you noticed just how many big name personal development personalities, how many news sources – even mommy bloggers – are talking about happiness and how folks just aren’t “gettin’ any”.

And it’s true! I mean, on any one day, most of us will have a chance to have a glimmer of happiness: a spark of joy from a kiss from your kiddo, a sparkle of light shimmering in the spider’s web (yes, I connected happiness with spiders – lol), or an unstifled giggle when someone says a goofy joke that hits you just right.

Maybe those are too “airy fairy” for you. Maybe you need shiny new stuff to get your heart fluttering.

What about the charge of exhilaration when you bought your first (second and third) car or new home or got your dream job or perfect mate… Or newest iPhone, leather handbag, gadgets, etc… at least until you got it. Then it doesn’t give you that kick like you thought it would.

You know what I’m talking about. You’re happy for only a brief time, then – poof – you’re on to something else.

The problem with happiness, like love or other feelings, they keep moving the finish line!! Enough is never enough! Thanks to Hollywood, social media and advertising, there is always some new thing to “need”. And you won’t be happy till you get it!!

But the fact is – and it’s my guess it’s why you’re reading this – most of us ache for lasting happiness. It may be nice to have snips of happiness like a sun break on a rainy day but why put up with blips of joy when you can exist in happiness 24/7/365.

Is that a crazy statement? Not according to happiness experts. But I am getting ahead of myself…

Examples of short term happiness

I have news for you, if you are looking for happiness to be something “out there”, something that will happen when you turn a certain age, get to a certain goal, marry or hook up with that certain someone, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Ask me how I know.

Do you remember as a child that you had a long Christmas list but particularly wanted a certain thing: video game, Xbox, iPod – whatever – you fill in the blank). You burned inside hoping for that thing and knew it would be the pinnacle of joy to open it and then spend hours immersed in playing it. For me it was an 8-track player and my favorite tapes (yes, that dates me – LOL!) I hinted loudly and by the looks on my parent’s faces, it was a done deal. I believed that when I got that player, I’d be so happy!!

Christmas arrived. I received the 8-track player with John Denver and The Carpenters albums to start off my collection. I was in pure heaven. I played those tapes till they broke. But something I noticed, even at that naive young age, I was “happy” while listening, but shortly afterward – droopy Dora.

 

My next goal toward happiness that comes to mind was to get my driver’s license. When I get my license, I’ll be so happy!! Learning to drive was an exercise in frustration. I took driver’s ed back when they still offered it at school. But the trick was to get plenty of behind the wheel practice. Mom, bless her nervous heart, never even offered. And Dad, well, he tried. I maybe got 2 hours of behind the wheel practice in a stick shift car. A Dodge Colt, as I recall.

Not. Enough. Practice.

When I took the behind the wheel test, I failed. I was too nervous and that just threw the rest of the ordeal off. I went home and practiced for a few more weeks then scheduled another test. I was doing fine through my second test but at an intersection, my car stalled because I popped the clutch too fast. Instant fail.

We are talking humiliating. And top that off – I had to take the school bus. I was not a happy teenager. Totally uncool!

At this point, Dad had sympathy and bought me a Ford Pinto Fastback with automatic transmission and to save the boring details, I – FINALLY – passed! I was sooooo happy!

For about ten days.

It was just not enough to be driving. I needed a job now to pay for the privilege of driving. Ugh!

 

Soooo, when I get a job I’ll be soooo happy!

Until I had bills and taxes to pay.

In my mid-teen years, when I became conscious of my unhappiness, I started to look for what I later came to know as spiritual guidance. In high school, I met a friend who seemed to be the happiest person I knew at school. I asked her why she was so content and she explained she was a Christian.

Ahhh – I thought. Maybe religion is the key to happiness. So, I went to church with her. (This is the subject of many other articles on this site so I won’t go into it too deeply.) Very quickly, I became a “card carrying” member of a very conservative protestant denomination and in many ways I felt supremely happy. I knew I wasn’t going to hell and that was half the battle for me. But the itch still needed to be scratched. Again, I’ll be elaborating throughout this blog on that subject.

One more example of looking for happiness “out there”. Marriage. I would find my prince. He would love me – be my best friend – provide for me and help me raise my (two) babies. I just knew I would be the happiest girl in the whole USA (reminds me of a song!)

Finding said prince was tricky. ‘Cause I was picky. It didn’t help that I started my shopping at a church as that stiffly narrowed the field but I wasn’t about to marry a heathen! LOL!!

I found my guy, we married and, oh, I was happy!!

For about ten days.

And on and on it goes.

Clearly, all those people, things and events didn’t bring lasting happiness!! Am I right?

So, how do you find lasting happiness?

The conclusion I came to all these many years later – is that happiness isn’t about things, people or events. Not by a long shot. It was all about me being happy with me. Once you are happy with you – it doesn’t matter if you got the 8 track player, the driver’s license or the perfect mate.

Happy is the lens you look at the world through. It’s a fundamental part of your being. I believe we are born happy and then later learn to be dissatisfied. I suppose we learn dissatisfaction when the fundamental needs aren’t met right away: food and warmth (clothing, dry diaper, shelter).

I think we learn to be unhappy when we see others around us acting happy when they have things. We want the thing but really we want the feeling of happiness that thing brings.

But they just weren’t keeping me happy!!

So what is the key to a happy life?

Much as I hate to admit it, the answer was right in front of me in the very bible I read all those years. It wasn’t till I left the church and stopped reading the bible that I started seeing the truth.

What truth?

The truth is that gratitude – a thankful, content heart – is the key to happiness.

When we start to look at the world through a grateful lens, happiness follows.

Having food and covering, let us be therewith content. So says Paul to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:8ff.

I resented that simple outlook on life. I wanted [husband, children, house, security, working car, etc.] and I knew they were the key to my happiness.

The bible isn’t the only place that states this. All the world’s religions and philosophies state this same wisdom in one form or other. In that sense it confirms that it is truth.

What I didn’t know as a child, young adult, wife and mother was that I wasn’t truly grateful for, settled and content with what I had.

The story/movie Pollyanna comes to mind. I know, I know. We all roll our eyes when we hear Pollyanna say that while she was disappointed there wasn’t a doll in the missionary barrels but instead some crutches. She found she could be glad she didn’t need crutches. At that early age she was learning to be content which set the stage for her to be happy – no matter what. Always look for the good.

Be thankful even in the midst of the “bad”

There is always something to be thankful for – even  if it seems bad. Even in sadness and grief we can rise up stronger better people.

But how!? How can you be thankful in the midst of or in spite of the bad? Cling to the fact that you will survive. Remember a time when things were bad but you came through it. You will again – better, stronger.

This is not he end of this… I know I’ll have more to say in the future.

Eating for health

It seems odd that I finally woke up to what I was doing to myself at fifty-something. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I have lived in a sort of state of denial. Yeah, I am over weight but I feel fine. Sure my knees are starting to creak. My feet fight between themselves to see which one will gain my attention from pain. My ankles were never slim but now they positively look like posts!

I have been reading about health most of my adult life. I even consider myself an amateur family health practitioner as over the years I have helped my family stay well using sound home cooked menu, herbs to boost immunity, encouraging functional fitness. I like to think I have stripped back the tendency to turn to high tech solutions but use common sense to let my body to heal itself as well as stay strong and fit.

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Time to Switch the Flip!

Switch the Flip! In times when things were uncertain and we weren't sure where to go next, my father-in-law used to say, time to switch the flip. I didn't get why he said it that way when in reality the saying is "flip the switch" meaning time to change, or turn it on. I suppose as I got into life and started to see things inside out - from a contrarian point of view - the term was perfect.

Switch the Flip was born because at a time in my life when the kids are well grown, my husband is doing his thing and life was at a turning point, I realized something needed to change. Something was about to "break".

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