To live into who we really are, we have to stop living our lives trying to satisfy the dictates of other people.
Out of all life’s lessons, this one has proven especially difficult in my personal journey. We are bombarded with the opposite of this truth almost from the moment our mothers deliver us from the womb. Yet the reality is fairly simple to acknowledge, if not implement, when we stop and consider our past and the hoped-for future.
“To be alive is the biggest fear humans have,” writes Don Miguel Ruiz in The Four Agreements. “Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive — the risk to be alive and express what we really are. …We have learned to live our lives trying to satisfy other people’s demands. We have learned to live by other people’s points of view because of the fear of not being accepted and of not being good enough for someone else.”
Miguel Ruiz calls this the “domestication” of humans. We initially develop concepts of what makes up a man or a woman based on what others tell us. We hear about the type of acceptable behavior expected of humans. And, he adds, “we also learn to judge: We judge ourselves, judge other people, judge the neighbors.” We establish punishment and reward in our minds based on the beliefs we have accumulated and accepted. In today’s world, too many of those beliefs come from online sources.
Having grown up wanting to please parents, teachers, bosses, partners, and some undefined tribal rules, I have come to find that I developed rationales and excuses for why I live the way I do. Those justifications are easy, but that doesn’t make them right.
Of course, the uncovering of our personal story is never just an individual story. Pádraig Ó Tuama, host of Poetry Unbound, notes that ours is always a community story, it’s a story of many “we’s.” Yet experience tells me that when we face our oft-hidden agreements honestly, we can change our understanding and personal dreams that may have been set by the larger community. I have tried to do this with gender roles, judgement, and new ways of thinking about perfection that alters my approach to punishment and reward.
Published more than twenty years ago but still relevant today, Miguel Ruiz’s short book suggests that everything we do is based on thousands of agreements we have made — agreements “with other people, with God, with life” and, most importantly, with ourselves. In these agreements we learn to tell ourselves who we are, what we can do, how to behave, and what to believe. We lump these together and call them our personality, as if it is set into our DNA. Yet too many of these personal agreements come from the dictates of others or worse, a Facebook algorithm, and are self-limiting.
His four agreements to move beyond those restrictions are simple:
- Be impeccable with your word
- Don’t take anything personally
- Don’t make assumptions
- Always do your best
Simple, yes, but there is a lifetime of learning in the living. The idea that your word “is the power you have to create” pushes me to explore the many ways I use words. Taking things personally, Miguel Ruiz suggests, “is the maximum expression of selfishness, because we make the assumption that everything is about ‘me.'” When we make assumptions, we too often believe they are the truth. Doing your best is important, especially when we accept that what is best is constantly changing because everything is alive and changing.
This doesn’t mean we can do what we want without consequence. Instead, accepting the fact that we should take responsibility for our actions without judging or blaming ourselves puts the focus where it belongs.
“Action is about living fully. Inaction is the way that we deny life….Expressing what you are is taking action….Without action upon an idea, there will be no manifestation, no results, and no reward.”
Epictetus said something similar when he suggests we focus on what is ours alone to avoid blaming the fates and other people. When we do that, “no one will ever be able to coerce or to stop you.”
Stop fearing life and the dictates of others. Focus on what we can control: ourselves.
More to come…