Interpretation of Part 10: Expectation

“Doing your best means taking action because you love it,” Ruiz starts out by saying in Part 10, “not because you expect a reward.” We all do this, most notably at work, especially if our job is not our first choice for ‘what we wanted to be when we grew up’. As householders, we are obligated by work in order to afford things like a home and food. As such, many people end up hating themselves for what they believe was “settling” for a job, or a life, that we didn’t necessarily dream of.

I once attended a yoga class where the teacher offered the idea that we change the language around what we “have to do” and more often talk about what we “get to do”. When we talk about what we “have to do”, we disempower ourselves from having any choices….we become the victim of circumstance (and life). When we decide that we “get to do” more things in our lives, including going to the job that we don’t always like, we put the power of choice back in our hands. When we are truly doing our best, we have no regrets. “That is why we do our best,” Ruiz writes. It doesn’t mean we get things right the first time, or every time either. We need to examine our actions and learn from our mistakes.

It is the same notion I have written about before: Fail. Forward. Faster. Doing your best means you have given yourself the freedom to make mistakes and move on from them. If we do our best only in an effort to try and please others, for the reward of it, we tend to berate ourselves heavily when things go awry.  Rather, we do our best when we are doing it regardless of the reward, simply because we want to.

Too often, we never take the perceived risk of living our dreams because we don’t know if we will be rewarded or what the outcome will be….the writer who doesn’t write because they are afraid they won’t be published, the musician who doesn’t make music because no one may hear it, the painter who stops painting because a gallery may not display it, or the person who never travels because they worry about how much it costs, or that the destination won’t live up their expectations…..these people end up resentful towards life for not fulfilling the needs of their own egos.  Doing your best means that you write, paint, compose, or travel because you WANT to, not because you are waiting for some big payout on the backend.

We get stuck within our inaction and are no longer able to fully experience life if we are only living for the reward, rather than for the joy of the process (the action)….we are no longer doing our best.  Action means you do it anyway, without expectation of what the outcome might, or should, be.  Eckhart Tolle speaks about this as the power of living in the NOW when he writes, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”

If we ruminate in our past, or tell stories about what could/should be happening in the future, we cease to live in the present moment – the only time we ever really have to live in.  When you get caught up in dreams of the past, whether is was something that happened that you wanted to change, or something that wished could have happened that didn’t, you stop living…really – you STOP living.  All of those expectations cloud your vision of the current moment, make you see things that aren’t there, and stop you from experiencing what IS.

When I stopped expecting life to be a certain way, or the way that I hoped it would be, I was more available to see what life was already there.  It also is what gives me the energy to continue to reside in a city that is completely backasswards because it isn’t the city that makes me happy – it is all of the things I do, and people I interact with, on a day-to-day basis that bring me joy.  I remind myself that those are things I can do no matter where I live.

Of course, we all want to feel appreciated every now and again, but when that need arises, ask yourself why?  What are you not doing for yourself that you are expecting someone, or something else to do for you?  Inevitably, when we look to other people, or outside conditions, to bring us happiness, we will be left disappointed and unfulfilled.  The best you can do is love yourself – others will see that glow of self-acceptance and will love you too, but it is a healthy love for self that is the hardest to obtain.

The other three agreements are dependent upon this one.  We won’t always be impeccable with our words, but we do our best.  We won’t always be able to not take things personally, but we do our best.  We will sometimes make assumptions, but try our best not to. The forth agreement is the foundation for the other three and it is the one that will set you free to fully be the person you are.

Interpretation of Part 9: Assume Not

How many assumptions do you make in a day? Do you know? I am not sure that I know how many I make. Even though I have been working on implementing the Third Agreement into my daily life for a few years now, I can honestly agree with Ruiz, in Part 9, when he says that “they happen so fast that…we make assumptions unconsciously all of the time”. This is how we learn to co-exist, so as children we are taught to stop asking questions, or not to ask too many questions. Many parents are guilty of using the “do as I say” method of child rearing. In schools, teachers limit the number questions that students may ask, or admonish children when they don’t ask the “right” kind of questions.

At some point, we get the message that we should stop becoming curious about the world; we stop viewing the world through the lens of a scientist and we start to believe we know all of the facts and that our position is always the right one.  Worse – we stop having empathy.  I am still, very often, guilty of assuming that others think the same way I do.  When I was younger, it angered me when people I thought loved me didn’t know how I felt or what I wanted.  I couldn’t muster the courage to ASK for what I wanted.  This was not a productive way to conduct relationships and consequently many of them failed.  People got tired of trying to read my mind and walked away….I lost friendships and a marriage.

My relationship with my father remained strained until my mid-30s.  I wanted to believe that everything that was wrong with me was caused by him.  In some ways that was true, but I never once looked at the situation from his side.  I tried too hard to change his demeanor to be more like mine, or to believe what I believed and couldn’t understand why he didn’t see issues the same way I did.  That moment I stopped trying to change how I expected he should be, I was able to accept the way he is.  I also forgave myself for not liking some of those things either.

For me, I think that having empathy for others, being able to in some way put yourself into another person’s shoes, helps to apply the Third Agreement.  When we agree that we won’t make assumptions, we decide that we want to understand what the other person’s viewpoint is.  In order to do that, we must ask them questions.  But, we must ask those questions with the intention of wanting to learn about another person – we must come at them with an open mind, free of assumptions.

Ruiz takes this a step farther and applies this to ourselves.  We often make assumptions about what we are capable of, what we like or don’t like, who we love or don’t love, where we want to live, etc., etc.  I was in a relationship for two years with someone because I wanted to believe that they were someone they truly were not, based on a list of assumptions I made in my head about who that person was.  Rather than look at the truth, I damaged myself beyond recognition to live the lie.  I mistakenly assumed that I could love him enough for the both of us.

In simpler context, take my loathing of brussel sprouts, that I have carried on since I was child, for example.  I have been served these many times over at dinner with friends, or out at a restaurant, only to leave them on my plate and have someone offended that I didn’t eat them.  Then, a few months ago, I had to ask myself, “Why don’t you like brussel sprouts?”  To which I had no logical answer and therefore decided it was time to make amends.  Low and behold, those little f**kers are fantastic!  Who would have thought?  And now I can honestly say that I like brussel sprouts!  But, this never would have happened unless I let go of old assumptions.

Same goes for those negative thoughts we hold onto about ourselves that we are “no good”.  Have you ever challenged that thought?  I challenge you this week to write a list of why you think you are “no good” in one column.  Then in the next column, I want you to write a rebuttal next to each statement – something that your best friends would say to refute the lies you tell yourself.  Keep going with this point, counterpoint exercise until you abolish these old assumptions you have carried on about yourself for far too long.

Keep asking questions, my friends!

Interpretation of Part 8: Fantasyland…

We often wonder why people lie to us and are deeply wounded when they do.  We cause ourselves needless suffering by constantly believing that everything people do is somehow about us.  This leads us immediately into the third agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions as I have found the second and third agreement are closely tied to one another.  We generally take things personally because we made an assumption about what someone said or did.  By breaking these agreements, we can free ourselves from the suffering these habits cause.

“Write this agreement down and put it on your refrigerator”, Ruiz instructs in Part 8.  Obviously, he knows how challenging this agreement is for all of us.  The reason many of us fail to follow through with making the Second Agreement an integral part of our belief system is because we all have egos.  Of course, the ego frequently gets a bad rap, as if having a sense of “self” is such a terrible thing, but there must always be balance.  Have too much sense of self makes us narcissistic, we lack empathy for others, and we think that the world revolves around us.  On the other hand, no sense of self means that we tend to allow others to treat us in harmful ways, or we do harm to ourselves, we don’t take care of our own basic needs.

A lot of time and energy gets wasted by taking things personally, and also by making assumptions.  We get caught in a vicious cycle when we presume to know why someone said something or didn’t do something, or looked at us a certain way, and we usually assume that it has something to do with us.  Ruiz makes the astute point that we also believe these assumptions are the “truth”.  More often than not, it really doesn’t have anything to do with us, it is far from the actual truth, and we assume too much.  But, we become fearful of what others think of us, because we want people to like us, so we start to do things that are pleasing to them, and maybe not so pleasing for our sweetness of mind.

What if you stopped taking things personally?  What if you stopped assuming you know what someone else is thinking or feeling and instead ASK them?

Many times we are afraid of the answer.  I once dated a person who didn’t reciprocate any loving actions.  I assumed that since he was “with” me, that he liked me, but I never asked him how he felt.  Deep down, I knew the answer, but was afraid to ask.  However, if I had, and I hadn’t been so dependent on this relationship somehow validating that I was worthy of love, I could have saved myself so much heartache by walking away from someone whose actions never matched their words.  He said he liked people and was a good person, yet constantly gossiped about all of his friends and cheated on me….this is exactly what landed me in the “hell” that Ruiz continually speaks of.

It is called depression and it is indeed hell.  Once I stopped giving a shit about how this man, or anyone else felt/thought about me, and started focusing on how I felt and thought about myself, I slowly came out of that hell.  Not taking things personally doesn’t mean I stop caring what others think, I care deeply what my loved ones think.  However, I don’t assume to know what they think or how they feel – I have gotten much more comfortable with asking.  I also take ownership for how I think and what I feel and don’t put any blame on anyone else for those things.  This is also what it means to not take things personally.

Relationships are far less complex when you stop assuming to know and just start asking and communicating.  They also become easier when you tell someone you are upset about something and don’t expect them to assume or know how you feel or what you want.  By mastering the second (and third) agreement you can radically simplify your life.

Interpretation of Part 7: What Do You Take Personally?

As I started to learn about the second agreement, in Part 7, it became quickly apparent that this agreement would be one of the most challenging for me. It challenged my ego’s conventional way of reacting. Things in life were not happening TO me, rather around me, yet this is how most of us are taught in the West. We believe that there is a degree of right and wrong in every decision, or good and bad in everything we say and do. I have learned from yogic (and Buddhist) philosophy that the only way to achieve sweetness of mind is to understand that there is no good or bad, no right or wrong. There are only the ways in which we suffer and the ways in which we become free from suffering.

However, my ego felt affronted when I began to take accountability for my own reactions and my own feelings. When I was no longer able to place blame or guilt on anyone else for my own suffering, saying things like, “you make me so mad”, could not be used to express how I felt in a frustrating interaction with someone. By agreeing that I would not take anything personally, I had now had to become aware of why I was choosing to be upset or frustrated. While this is exceptionally challenging to accomplish in the heat of anger, it is extremely empowering to know that I had a choice in how much power I gave someone else over my state of mind.

Some believe that love “should” be taken personally. After having given this a greal deal of thought, and practice either way, I believe we cannot “take” love, nor “make” someone love us. Love is an action of free will, we choose to love others because love is a verb, and an active practice. If you want to love someone, then you must do so without expectation or reciprocation. (insert Tom Robbins quote “Love is the ultimate outlaw…..) We run the risk that those feelings will not be returned, yet we all seem comfortable taking that risk anyway. If we were take it personally, then we stop trying to love others because we are consumed with feelings of inadequacy and rejection. If we allow this to continue, those feelings can evolve into anger towards the other person if they don’t feel the same way we do. By not taking love personally, then you know it isn’t your “fault” when someone can’t reciprocate your feelings. Sometimes, they are incapable. Sometimes, they are just unavailable. Sometimes, they don’t feel worthy. Or maybe they do love us, but we are so focused on what love should be or how it should be, that we fail to see the actions the other person has taken to express their feelings for us.

It can be excruciating to have to break those habits we were pre-conditioned into thinking and the agreements we are used to making. As you begin to take accountability for how you feel, you can live a much happier life knowing that you have the power to let others piss you off or not. Consequently, the other person also feels a newfound freedom when they aren’t constantly expected to live up to your standards. This freedom can give the friendship the space it needs for both parties to be themselves and develop a deeper intimacy than if we are always trying to just please those around us. Transversely, it may also give you the space you need to see that the friendship isn’t healthy for either party involved and it is okay for you to walk away from it, forgiving both parties for its failure.

The second agreement does not give anyone the permission to treat others with complete disregard just because they shouldn’t take whatever we say or do personally, however. Ruiz ordered “Don’t Take Anything Personally” second, and asks us first “To Be Impeccable with our Words”. First, we must be kind…always, we must be kind. What’s the easiest way to be kind? Not to believe that another’s behavior is a direct reflection upon us. It makes it so much easier to be compassionate towards someone who disagrees with my point of view when I first make the agreement that they are allowed to have their own words, their own agreements. Disagreeing with me means that they see the world differently than I do, not that they want to hurt my feelings. When someone is mean or hurtful, it is generally because their life situation has led them to see the world in a mean and hurtful way. By understanding this is how they see the world, I end up feeling sad for them rather than being angry with them.

You may have noticed a surge in people personally attacking someone for not sharing their same opinion on a particular topic. When this happens to me, I try to notice that they have not made the same agreement I have to “Be Impeccable With Their Word”. Their unwillingness to accept another who is different from themselves demonstrates that they have yet to accept themselves and how fearful they are of the world….they are still sinning against themselves. If I understand that they live every waking hour, with a closed-minded view of the world, then I can’t possibly take what they say personally. It allows me the choice to respond instead of from a a reactive state to a more compassionate one. Or, it may also allow me to see that it is best to just leave the conversation entirely because they aren’t willing to have a respectful conversation. Should I choose to take what the other person said personally, then we would end up exchanging unpleasantries, leaving both of us feeling worse off than when we started. Why do we do this to one another? Why do we attack strangers for having opinions different from our own?

Taking things personally means allowing someone the power to influence my sweetness of mind. It means that my limbic system will take charge of my decision making skills and my brain perceives a threat in nearby. If someone is threatening us then we often fight back for fear that they will harm us in someway. Fear is the greatest enemy we have to experiencing freedom from suffering. Fear keeps us contracted, tied to our attachments that we believe comfort us, but as we have seen may actually be more harmful to our overall state of being. Looking beyond that fear, we can open to a greater abundance of love that is available within us – love for ourselves and love for others – so long as we choose it.

Interpretation of Part 6: Transcend Hell

Love is what you are; it’s the center of your creation. It’s your point of origination and can become your point of attraction as well. As Karl Menninger told his patients, and anyone else who was suffering and willing to listen, “Love cures, the ones who receive love and the ones who give it, too.” – Wayne Dyer

From the time we are young, women are taught that society will judge us based on our appearance.  We are also taught to criticize others, along with ourselves, when we do not meet arbitrary standards set by arbitrary people.  How many times have you been in line at the grocery store, staring at the front cover of the latest gossip magazine, reading a headline that berates some publicly known female for not wearing make up when she left the house that day, or for the woman that has the audacity to have cellulite on her legs AND wear a bikini to the beach?!  These “journalists” act like we should all recoil in horror if a famous woman leaves her house to attend a yoga class IN yoga clothes.

Whenever I read beauty magazines, or even when I watch the news, I feel a great deal of underlying of anxiety.  Even though I know that what I am looking at isn’t always real, beauty magazines cause me to judge myself in comparison to the women in the book, who stare back at me with flawless makeup and airbrushed cellulite.  While I tell myself that their appearance is contrived, it still creates a false feeling that I am somehow not a good person because I do not look the same, nor does my face appear in a magazine.

The news functions in much of the same manner when they sensationalize the smallest of stories for their own gain in viewership.  Media’s primary function is to generate fear and doubt within society.  The more suffering we see around us, the easier it is to feel trapped in the dream of society that is “hell”.  In Part 6, Ruiz declares that this way of communicating with one another is done to intentionally promote suffering which keeps us stuck.

He calls all of this negative type of communication gossip and it poisons our minds much like a virus infects the hard drive of a computer.  When someone interjects an opinion that creates judgment, doubt, fear, anxiety or suffering, they are infecting your mind with the virus of gossip.  It bogs down the mind’s ability to produce good results or to function at optimal levels.  When we are fixated on worry, we lose energy.  Our mind becomes fertile ground for anger and resentment, rather than for joy and love.

gossip |ˈgäsəp| noun
casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true: 
he became the subject of much local gossip.
a person who likes talking about other people’s private lives.

What about when you gossip about yourself?  When you constantly berate yourself for the smallest of mistakes, you create self-defeating beliefs about who you are and what you want.  The first priority in practicing the first agreement then, is to FIRST change how you speak to yourself, then you can change how to you speak to others.  Being impeccable with your word, Ruiz says, will cultivate the mind into fertile ground for love.  If you are to be impeccable with your word, then you are to be free of the hell you place yourself in when you gossip.

Impeccability means you speak in a manner that promotes life and is free from hate.  When you are impeccable, you transcend hell to reside in love.