The Four Agreements, with extra input from Anne Brannen

These keep coming up and up and up – with me and for me, with initiates and for initiates, with friends and for friends, etc. It is a work of a lifetime because even when you have them down pat, and they are habit, they need to be looked at again, and reinforced with thought and action (or inaction as the case may be), and reimplementing them when we fail at them. We will always continue to fail at them, some times, because that’s how humans are. And as humans we love to tell stories about ourselves, to ourselves. And we love just as much to tell stories about others, to ourselves – and sometimes we love to tell to others what we think of them, too! How dandy!

So, here is a repeat of an older blog post about one of the agreements in Anne’s words, plus her thoughts on the other 3 agreements, right after that one. Each topic will also be a link to her e-zine so you can bookmark them if you’d like. And really, get the Damn Book.

Long post is long, so here’s your cut tag.

On Not Taking Things Personally
Well, I suppose one could take any useful self-help dictum and wield it like a bludgeon on other people; I just hadn't considered the 4 Agreements as particularly vulnerable. For some years now, I've been using the 4 Agreements in my own life, and I've been recommending them to students.  One of these students, who struggled with the agreements at first but then came to love them, and to recommend them herself, recently let me know that the 4 Agreements Can Be Misused.  Dreadfully.
(Brief synopsis of the agreements: 1) Be impeccable with your word; 2) Don't take anything personally; 3) Don't make assumptions and 4) Always do your best.)
These aren't easy agreements, and they do take some explaining.  They're worth it, though. I've found my life fundamentally improved by them, and I thank Don Miguel Ruiz, who articulated them for us.
For now, let's focus on not taking things personally.  This is extraordinarily liberating, when used properly.  That is, on oneself and not on others.
In general, it means that all the stuff that happens isn't really about us.  The world news, the family news.  Not about us, though it may impact us.  That's sort of a relief.
But it gets even more powerful when you move it further in.  If I've agreed not to take anything personally, then even if someone directly addresses me -- with a name, a complaint, even a compliment -- or even if the newspaper mentions me directly by name, it is, essentially, not about me.  It's about how someone sees me.
Now, I may find that information useful!  I might well need to hear the complaint, or take in the compliment.  But I'm not required to.  And it isn't, even then, personal.  It's about how one piece of the energy of the universe is being observed to manifest herself, at one particular moment.
We are so fluid, and we are all part of the same deep energy.
So, used rightly, the agreement frees me to act more powerfully, by helping me detach from other people's opinions and even my own opinion.
Cause even my thoughts about myself are  not about me.  They are about something I'm thinking about myself.
OK!  Great!  So, what's the problem?  How could you possibly misuse this, and use it against other people, when it's all about how really we're not even seeing each other at all?
Well, because detachment is not the same thing as ignoring, or supressing, or silencing.
What I want to do is detach from my attachment to being right, to being perfect.  And my attachment to pleasing everybody.
BUT!  I still get to attempt to hear what other people are saying when they believe themselves to be upset with me.  I want to communicate.  I want to listen.  So not taking things personally does not mean abdicating responsibility for our actions and our words.  Oh, no.  No indeed.
And it most certainly does not mean telling other people that they need to not take things personally if they're upset with me.  I make the agreements with myself.  I am not to impose them on other people.  Just saying.

Being Impeccable With Our Word

In the second installment of our little series on Not MisusingThe Four Agreements, Which Are Really Simple, Actually, So What Was The Problem, let’s address the agreement to be impeccable with our word.

(That’s Gawain up there in the picture, by the way, pretending to be asleep when the lady of the castle he’s staying in comes by to attempt to seduce him.  She won’t manage that, but she WILL finagle him into Breaking His Word, which will grieve him the rest of his life.  An example unto us all.)

So, first, the problem I’m hearing some of us are having:  Agreeing to be impeccable with our word does NOT mean assuming that, once we’ve agreed to it, we’re always impeccable.  Nor does it mean assuming that everybody else isn’t being impeccable with theirs, if we don’t agree with them.

My, my, my.

We will be addressing assumptions later, in the “don’t make them” agreement discussion.  For now, let’s just remind ourselves that 1) the agreements all have to be continually renewed consciously and 2) our agreements have only to do with ourselves and aren’t ever about what we think other people should be doing, and 3) when other people disagree with us, we don’t want to take it personally (see our last discussion, which was all about “don’t take things personally”), but, gee, ya know, maybe they are right.

All of the agreements are very simple, but deeply subtle.  Being impeccable with our word certainly means agreeing that we will tell the truth — how simple is that! — but even that is almost impossible, given the half-truths and white lies we tell for social reasons, and the omissions we allow to stand because they make life so much easier.

If we are being impeccable with our word, we are also not agreeing to do things that we know to be too difficult for us to do, or that we don’t really want to do at all, knowing, in our deep selves, that we are probably going to bail on them later.  So this agreement causes us to notice our boundaries, and if we are honoring them.

And it causes us to question all the things we believe to be true.  A whole lot of them are just some stuff we think, and not necessarily attached to reality in any sort of useful or noticeable way.  The things we believe about our intelligence, or our beauty, are prime examples.  (Are you not familiar with being stupid and ugly one day, and brilliant and beautiful another? If you voiced any of these beliefs, were you telling the truth?)  But so are our beliefs about our health.

And those of us who are close familiars of addiction and co-addiction know that it’s possible to tell absolute lies that we absolutely believe.  I remember telling a friend, after I stopped drinking (and oh I am grateful that I did stop), that I had stopped many times before and gotten things under control for a while.  I absolutely believed that.  It is totally untrue.  I have no idea why I believed it, but believe it I did, at that moment.

So, in that I believed it, I was being impeccable with my word.

But it was untrue, and a lie.

(I picked this cause it’s such a clear example of what I’m talking about, but please don’t think that the only reason I believed a Total Lie about myself was that I was being a practicing alcoholic.  In the 33 years I’ve been sober, I have Quite Often discovered that things I believed to be true about myself are indeed untrue.  It wasn’t just the drink.)

So the upshot of all this is that we can agree to be impeccable with our world — and I totally recommend it, for it is a Great Aventure — but it is foolish for us to think that we actually know what we are doing.

That’s ok!  We get to the agreement to do our best later!    Whatever our best is on any given day!

 Doing Our Best

We’re on the third installment of the How Not To Misuse The Four Agreements series — today: Do Your Best!  But Dont Freak Out About It!

First, as usual, the agreements we make are for us; the minute we find ourselves getting annoyed because we think other people are not agreeing to them, we need to take a little breather.

In fact, the best use of this agreement, as far as other people are concerned, is to assume that they ARE doing their best.  If their best is, as far as you can tell, not that great, you can easily add the lovely Southern phrase, “bless their hearts,” thusly: “Oh, she is just doing her best, bless her heart!” Then.  Let.  It.  Go.

As for ourselves, since we are the ones in the agreement: we do our best.  That’s it.  EXCEPT that we remember that our best on our good days is not as good as our best on our bad days.  Bless our hearts.

Also that if we are living the self-reflective life (SELF reflective!  SELF reflective!  Not OTHER refective!), then our best next year is probably going to be better than our best today.  Unless next year we are having a bad day.  Bless our hearts.

Here’s the deal: This agreement isn’t best used to beat anybody up.  Including ourselves. It’s best used to encourage ourselves to work and think and play well, while remembering to give ourselves a break when it’s appropriate.

Indeed, this agreement can only be followed if we are paying attention, and living in reality.  Our reality.  Not the ones we think we should be living in, or the ones that our loved ones want us to live in. The one where we are.

When the Holy Grail shows up for the knights of the Round Table — there it is up at the top there — each of the knights who go looking for it will have his own story.  And each of them, bless their hearts, will do his best. Ok, ok, for Gawain and Lancelot their best isn’t that great, as far as they are concerned, but we need their stories.  Perceval will get very far, and actually see the Grail, because his best is so very very good, but! it’s not so good that he remembers to ask the question he’s supposed to ask.  Too bad. Only one of the knights will actually achieve the Grail.  So his is the best story, right? Right? The one you remember, right?  No.  No, it is not.  It’s Gawain, and Lancelot, and Perceval, that people remember.  Because it’s when we do our best, and we “fail,” that we live the most memorable stories.  Bless our hearts.

(It’s Galahad, by the way, who achieves the Grail.  Boring. But he does get to go to heaven, so there’s that.)

And! Here’s the mystery!  If we are living in the moment, we are doing our best.  That was all there ever was.

On Not Making Assumptions

It’s the last installment of our four-part series on Not Misusing The Four Agreements In Order To Actually Make Your Life Worse.  Today: Don’t Make Assumptions!

(Brief recap: The Four Agreements are 1) Don’t take things personally; 2) Do your best; 3) Be impeccable with your word, and, of course, 4) Don’t make assumptions.)

So, I’m told that, not surprisingly, it’s possible to wield this agreement, as with the others, and indeed pretty much all good ideas ever in the history of the planet, against other people.  So, well, don’t do that.  It is not our job to police other people’s assumptions.  Nope.  Indeed, it takes so much time and energy to actually find out our OWN assumptions, that if we’re focusing on that, we’ve got no time to be figuring out other people’s.  If we could. Which we can’t,  Cause we are NOT in their heads.

Indeed, that’s actually the main point of this agreement — we aren’t in other people’s heads, and we DON’T know what they are thinking, or why they do what they do.  All the good guesses we can make are merely that. Guesses.

Hence, we ask.  We listen.  We learn.  We remain flexible.

Now, we don’t need to take this agreement so far that we’re stupid.  Though I don’t want to assume that other people have bad intentions, for instance, I don’t need to assume that everybody I meet is safe. I can use this agreement to allow myself space to figure things out.

And here’s the deep mystery — once I get used to this agreement, and I learn to approach the world, and the other humans and beings in it, with an open and questioning mind, I can learn to apply it to myself.

I don’t have to make assumptions about me, either.  I think I know my motivations.  I think I know my very good reasons for doing what I do.  But life has taught me that over and over again, I find out, years down the line, that I had motivations and reasons I had not even guessed at.

What would a life be like, if I walked though it with an open and questioning mind, not only about my surroundings, but about myself?  What would my day be like, if I allowed myself to learn new things about the inner recesses of my mind? Who would I be, if I were able to keep from making assumptions about even myself, not only my fellows?

The thought enchants me.  What a large and bountiful existence that would be.


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