The fourth agreement: You’ve got to be kidding!

It happens this way …

Version 4For any recovering perfectionist, reading “always” and “best” in the same sentence is a temptation to relapse. To my great relief, Don Miguel Ruiz softens this statement early in his discussion of the fourth agreement:

Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more, no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. Everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good. When you wake up refreshed and energized in the morning, your best will be better than when you are tired at night. Your best will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick … . Your best will depend on whether you are feeling wonderful and happy, or upset, angry, or jealous.

Phew! “Always” and “best” are relative not absolute.

During her 1965 college class in adolescent psychology, Dr. Anna Starr – who was as old as God and as wise – told a room full of us white-veiled novices, “Sometimes good enough is good enough.” That was news to young women who were on the path to perfection. How we ate, walked, prayed, slept, studied, did chores, and recreated were surrounded by rules that encouraged us to do each activity perfectly. Of course, being young and sometimes a bit clumsy, we broke dishes and Sacred Silence; we scorched veils and spilled coffee on senior sisters; we dumped a container of meat on the pantry floor, quickly scooped it up, and served it without a second thought.

Since none of these activities reached perfection, we had to confess these shortcomings in front of our Novice Director and each other. I’m not sure we felt too much self-judgment or regret — most of what we did were accidents – but we certainly felt these were legitimate bumps on the road to perfection.

The upshot was it took me decades to rid myself of shame when I made a mistake. Mistakes were moral failures, I thought, rather than keys to learning. Then one day I read somewhere, “Make more mistakes.” Bam! That thought slowly brought me around to a more balanced approach to navigating life on this planet. Recently, I wrote in a poem, “Believe what you want. I believe failures set us free and eternity holds enough time to get things right.”

And maybe that’s the key: always do your best to keep on learning and growing and finding joy and happiness in the every day of every day. That’s an agreement I can work on.


The third agreement: “You should have known …”

It happens this way …

Version 3

At the beginning of his discussion of the third agreement, Don Miguel Ruiz lays it out:

We have a tendency to make assumptions about everything. The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth. We could swear they are real. We make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking – we take it personally – then we blame them … . That is why whenever we make assumptions, we’re asking for problems. We make an assumption, we misunderstand, we take it personally, and we end up creating a whole big drama from nothing.

How many times have I assumed someone wouldn’t want to do what I would love to invite them to do, or travel  somewhere with me, or contribute to a project I was involved in? I made those assumptions not based on their truth, but on my own hesitancy to ask and be told “no.” So rather than risk rejection or the appearance of being pushy, I never gave them the opportunity to say “yes.” What a limiting way to live!

Ruiz discusses the third agreement mostly in terms of personal relationships with our significant others. They’re supposed to know what we need, when we need it, how we need it, right? Of course that never works. What would happen if we had the courage to “avoid misunderstanding, sadness, and drama” by being honest? I think I’ll add “Ask for what I need” to my note on the refrigerator – all week my significant other kept reminding “Don’t take things personally.” This week I’ll remind her not to take it personally when I do the asking.



The second agreement … yeah, right!

It happens this way …

Version 2

But I’m a person, I want to scream! How else can I take what others throw at me with their words, actions, or energy but personally?

Ruiz explains that once we realize that people do what people do, it’s not too difficult. He writes:

 All people live in their own dreams, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world. Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you.

Hmm …

Years ago I was entangled in a series of misunderstandings with some colleagues that led to a lot of hurt. I was so confused about what they were accusing me of  that I couldn’t see they had their own pain and confusion. It’s taken years to understand that and let go of resentments. My focus had been on me, me, me and not them. Ruiz calls this me-focus “personal importance” and emphasizes again, “Nothing people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.” Phew! Let’s chew on that for a while!

There’s another stunning insight in this second agreement. Ruiz says:

… by taking things personally you set yourself up to suffer for nothing. Humans are addicted to suffering at different levels and to different degrees, and we support each other in maintaining these addictions. Humans agree to help each other suffer.

We are addicted to suffering and support each other’s addiction? How can that be?

Have you ever met someone who seems almost relieved when they have another illness to deal with, another personal set-back, another seemingly insurmountable challenge? They are so wrapped up in their suffering that they can’t seem to live without it. That’s what addiction is. Nothing we do can free them from their suffering unless they are willing to take responsibility for it. And our job is to take responsibility for our own. However, if we are people-pleasers who have a misplaced notion of caring, we may participate in their addiction as a way to support our own. What a crazy suffering cycle this is!

Ruiz suggests we write “Don’t take anything personally” on paper and put it on our refrigerators. I’m off to do that right now. Enough of personal importance and needless suffering!







Ancient wisdom anyone?

It happens this way …

Two weeks ago, a Facebook friend posted a reference to the 1997 spiritual classic, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz. I remember enjoying this book in the early 2000’s, so I was happy to see a renewed interest in its ancient wisdom. And, I’m happy to say, I found a copy on my bookshelf.

agreements coverOne of the more meaningful ideas early in the book is a familiar one: we all made mini- contracts with ourselves about ourselves based upon what other people told us was true. Ruiz calls these agreements the Book of Law.  It contains the beliefs we adopted from the moment we were born to the moment we opened our computer this morning and brewed our first cup of coffee. To challenge these beliefs – or narratives – takes courage because, even though they are probably wrong, adhering to them makes us feel safe.

Consider this: By the time we were 12, most of us had been reprimanded 150,000 times. We went to school with its hundreds of quizzes, tests, report cards, and classmate critiques. Then, our working lives were filled with performance reviews. Now, if we live with a significant other … well, I won’t go there! In any event, that’s a long and complicated story-line we’ve lived with and believed in.

As Ruiz explains, ” … even if we know we didn’t choose all these beliefs, it is also true we agreed to all of them. The agreement is so strong that even if we understand the concept of it not being true, we feel the blame, the guilt, and the shame that occur if we go against the rules.”

Want to read that again?

Today my thought forward is to take a quick look at the four agreements over the next few weeks to see what wisdom they hold for us in 2019. What can they teach us that we haven’t already learned? Let’s give it a try.

four agreements (1)





This one couldn’t be more timely, no? Voltaire was correct when he said, There are some who use words only to disguise their thoughts. We could add, There are some who use words even when they don’t have thoughts. But that’s them not us!

As teachers, students, writers, parents, spouses, friends, family members, we’re surrounded by words every day. Lots of noise pollution! Perhaps you’ve seen that other Facebook post that asks that before we open our mouths, we ensure that our words are true, necessary, and kind. Can you imagine the blessed silence we’d experience if even a minority of people put their words through this test?

I get the “true” and “kind” part, but the “necessary”? Of course my words are impeccably necessary! Yet, do I have to counter every story I hear about another’s grief, success, struggles, travels, whatever with one of my own? Can’t I just let the spotlight stay on them and not move back to me? This is something I have to work on.

On the other hand, words are not just symbols and sounds. They are powerful energies that can lift others up or destroy them. In this age of social media where anyone with an opinion is an expert, those energies can throw kerosene on kindling or they can heal and uplift in miraculous ways.

But you know all this. So do I. Enough about words then. Actions are needed. I’m going to try to be more aware of the words coming out of my mouth this week to see how true, necessary, and kind they are. How “impeccable” are they? Ruiz defines this as taking responsibility for them without judging or blaming ourselves. That’s a fine definition. I’ll remember it when I hear the words I send out to the Universe. How about you?