Tuesday, September 17, 2013

'Agreeing' to a Better, More Joyful Way of Living

From Oprah to Kid Fury, there has been constant plugs or references made to the best-selling book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz. And with those kind of endorsements, I figured I needed to join the masses who not already read his book but were living more authentic, joyful lives by following its principles. Besides, I just turned 40 and 40 makes you want to hit the restart button on a lot in your life from career to relationships. And reading this sounded like a good place to help in crafting that new blueprint.

Now, the irony about The Four Agreements--much like other tomes designed to enlighten us with Universal truth--is its principles are (embarrassingly) simple. So simple, it makes you really wonder if we just like things being difficult. (It also makes you wonder why you didn't write this book yourself and make millions, but that's beside the point.) Thank God, these "difficulties" are something Ruiz spends a great deal of time discussing, i.e., the ways in which we actively make life less joyful, painful, and complicated by expending so much energy trying to change what's outside of ourselves as opposed to focusing on creating infinite peace within. It's akin to pulling out a jackhammer to crack open a jar when all you had to do was twist its lid. And boy, oh, boy how we like to pull out the jackhammer.

At 138 pages, it was beyond a quick read but the challenge comes after you close the book and decide to begin applying these four nuggets of truth, for as Ruiz reminds us, we have been well programmed since birth to think in a way that does not align with these four truths. However, not being patient enough to wait for what will be a natural transformation, the Virgo in me needed to take "this thing" on a test drive. The situation: an infraction with a close friend that left me feeling a tad concerned, a ton disappointed, and a tinge of hurt. I could have chosen my normal approach, i.e., just let it be and trust it will sort itself out or confront it head on. I decided to go for the latter, and here is how, in an instant, me and Ruiz saved a friendship.

Agreement #1 - Be Impeccable with Your Word (Speak with integrity; say only what you mean; use your words in the direction of truth and love). And so, that's where I started in rectifying this matter: by carefully sorting through the facts of why I was hurt (because you know how we like to go on tangents and throw in points to strengthen our argument, like bringing up the time the person didn't give you gas money back in 1998) and then conveying that hurt calmly, yet lovingly and honestly. But before doing that, I had to embrace...

...Agreement #2 - Don't Take Anything Personally (Nothing others do is because of you). Right. Some of us just died right there because, in our victimized mindsets, we comfortably have learned to live with the misconception that everything is about us. Wrong. And boy is that a tough one to digest because when we feel someone has hurt us, we tend to believe they had to know it would hurt us so how can we not take it personally? Well, as Ruiz says, "When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our [thoughts], and we try to impose our [thoughts] on their [thoughts]. Epic fail as it's impossible to know what anyone is thinking at any given time. And thank God for that because I truly doubt we could handle it. Which leads to...

...Agreement #3 - Don't Make Assumptions (Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want). Well, just start shaking the tambourine and open the doors of the church now on this one. Aside from friendships, I can't begin to think of how many relationships PERIOD can be saved simply by asking what you need to know, asking for what you want, and saying what you feel, as the most overused line in ANY relationship is, "S/He should know!" As Ruiz says, "With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life," and dare I add, preserve your sanity!

Lastly, Agreement #4 - Always Do Your Best (Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret). There is not a single price you can place on this agreement be it applied to the ending of a job, a relationship, or a sweater you're knitting, for when you KNOW you've done your best, as the old folks say, you can rest. Hearing that always reminds me of the end of the movie Schindler's List, when upon the end of the Holocaust and after Schindler saved the lives of more than a thousand Polish-Jewish refugees by employing them in his factories, he cries out, "I could have done more!" Personally, I think the man was being super hard on himself (and we do have to know the difference between doing our best and beating ourselves up), but if you know that you know that you know you could have done better, said something better, been better, the thought will haunt you like Mozart's ghost (inside movie joke reference (wink)). So, do your best at all times and free your mind in the process.

And so I applied all of these principles to the dilemma with my close friend. I spoke truthfully about my concerns (she was surprised yet pleased I shared them); I didn't take what she did personally (she assured me it wasn't and even shared how what she did with me was showing up in her life with other friends as well); I didn't assume she knew I was disappointed--hence my reaching out to her--and I even asked how we could fix the situation so we could grow from it (she didn't even have a clue I was upset and was more than eager to discuss how we could avoid similar infractions in the future); and in the end we agreed to do our best moving forward as to not ever make each other feel not valued. And just like that, a friendship--and hours of bad thoughts, side eyes, and awkward interactions--were cast aside. Not saying doing these things didn't feel a tad strange, as actively shifting to a new way of thinking and being always does, but I believe the reward was definitely worth the discomfort. Will I have my moments of regression? I'm almost certain I will! But do I have a better option of how to attract more peace in my life to avoid regressing? Absolutely. And hopefully, you do now as well. I think Mr. Ruiz would be proud. I certainly am. And maybe applying the principles would make you feel proud too. After all, all we stand to lose is a life full of peace, love, and joy. And so it is.