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The world can feel like a mighty harsh place. In fact, it can often feel cruel and unkind, not just on a global scale, but even more so on a personal one. There’s lots of “wars” going on “out there,” but more importantly, they are often going on right in our own backyard.

What I know for sure is that no matter who we are, what we own, what our financial status is — or any other status for that matter — every single human being is fighting some battle within. Every. Single. One of us. No matter how it appears on the surface, let us never forget what might be going on on the inside. And what I also know from personal experience is that there are times when we are more equipped to handle that world around us, and there are other times when we’re not. In those times – depending on the intensity of the storm brewing within on a particular day – we feel a little more raw, vulnerable and exposed. And in those times, the mental and emotional callouses used to protect our soft inner yolk, don’t always work; sometimes it all just feels “too much.”

We’ve all heard it before… “its a cruel world out there.” Yep, that may be so, but who makes up that world?

We do.

That base word of communication is “commune,” and to commune means to share, connect, and come together in a deep and understanding way; it brings a certain level of intimacy and closeness. Yet, often our communication with each other hardly brings us closer, and instead drives us further apart, contributing to that cruel, outer world. In my experience, it is safe to say that we, as human beings, have a lot to learn about this extremely vital aspect of living if we truly want to experience peace on our planet.

Never did I realize this to the degree I do now until I read a certain book several years ago called, “The Four Agreements” by don Miguel Ruiz.

This simple, yet profound read changed my life for the better in so many ways, but mostly – and obviously – in how I communicated and “communed” with my loved ones, my colleagues, and just the world in general.

So, in case you haven’t read it, drop everything and read it right now. I’m serious. Do it. The Four Agreements, as laid out by the author, are essentially the four commitments to awareness about ourselves and each other, that if we apply, can not only save us so much unnecessary heartache, hurt, and sadness with the ones we love, but even with those who live on the other side of the planet (or on our Facebook screen). And as a result, it has the possibility to not only change our personal world, but also our collective world in the process. And that is powerful.

A review for those who may not know, “The Four Agreements” are:
1.) Be Impeccable with Your Word – Basically, say what you mean and mean what you say. Also, choose your words wisely for words have the power to either build or destroy our fellow human beings. This is important because what we do to others, we do to ourselves; what goes around, comes around. Stop the criticism and the sarcasm. It’s not funny if it feels hurtful to someone else, but more importantly, it says nothing of the other and only reflects our own battle within. Don’t do it. Instead, think before you speak.

Is it kind

Essentially, this agreement is all about being kind – not cruel. This is what we were taught in Kindergarten, yet surprisingly, we forget. Just be nice to each other. Be gentle. Let your words uplift, not destroy. It really is very simple.

2.) Don’t Take Things Personally – Because it’s not about you. Basically, we are all seeing others and the world from a very self-centered perspective. So if someone you know or don’t even know, blows up in your face and accuses you of this or that – or a crazy driver in traffic flips you off in rage – don’t take it personally and do your best to not to react, because it’s not about you. Chances are they’re having a bad day and clearly struggling. And the same is true for us too. Has there ever been a time when you were irritable and lashed out at someone for no real reason? Then felt bad because you later realized it really was your stuff that was bothering you, not theirs?

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I believe self-awareness asks us to recognize both sides of the coin and act respectfully toward each other. In other words, detach yourself from others’ comments and behaviors that are mean-spirited and don’t inherently feel true about you. And then, send them love; they need it. But at the same time, acknowledge and own when it’s you who might be erroneously dumping on someone else. And then, even better… apologize. Apologies are important and are the key to maintaining loving, open interaction with others. Without apologies and taking responsibility of our own actions and words, communication stops and so does connection. In essence, the relationship dies. Not good.

In my experience, I have found that it’s best to own all of my stuff – my feelings, my thoughts, my circumstances – and to be aware when I’m making it about someone else, but also to know when someone is doing the same to me. I have learned to do that by tuning in… feeling in my gut as to what is the truth in a particular situation. And yet, it’s also important to be open to hearing constructive criticism from those we love and trust so we can grow. All of it is a constant practice and a dance of awareness. And lord knows, it’s not always easy, but do it anyway.

3.) Don’t Make Assumptions – In other words, before you’re coming to ANY conclusion about another human being OR a situation or circumstance, make sure that you are crystal clear (and I mean crystal) on all of the details. In other words, have the whole story first. Why? Because most, if not all of the time, we don’t, and instead, we hear or see someone’s story and without blinking an eye or even thinking, we often carelessly fill in the blanks based on what we think, but not necessarily on what is true! And why is this so incredibly damaging? Because what if what we assumed (based on our limited information) is wrong? And most of the time it is! Thereby, we have officially begun the destructive power of assuming. I think we all have been misunderstood before because people didn’t know our full story; it’s painful when that happens. I know it well.

Assuming the wrong conclusion does create hurtful and often unnecessary separation between loved ones, and especially between those who we already deem different than us. The state of our world and so much suffering is a direct result from this alone.

One of my simple examples of this was years ago when I was sending out State of the Heart Fitness’s newsletters; I used to send them in the mail as well as digitally. Well, I got an email from a family member who basically just said, “Don’t send me your newsletter anymore. Save the stamp.” That was it. No other words. Nothing. Okay. It felt a twinge and I immediately went into a hurt place (don’t take things personally and don’t make assumptions, yet I was doing both!).

I thought to myself, Lisa, it’s okay if not everyone likes your newsletter. They have that right and you don’t have to take it personally. But, maybe be a little vulnerable (scary) and ask some questions to get some information about the truth. So I did.

I wrote back and said, “Okay… I won’t send it to you anymore. But I just wanted to ask for feedback so I know for the future… what didn’t you like about it? Is there anything I could improve upon or are you just not interested, because that’s okay too.”

She wrote back immediately and said, “Oh no! I love the newsletters! I read every word. You just are sending it to me via email as well as by mail and I wanted you to save on paper and the stamp. Please keep sending them to me. I love them!”

Wow. To me, this is a simple, yet powerful example how making assumptions – and we do it ALL the time – can put us on a totally erroneous trajectory with someone, all because of something that isn’t even true and could potentially damage an otherwise good relationship!

Obviously, I have never forgotten that incident and it serves as my reference for all times when I find myself assuming things or making up a story that has no basis in truth, rather is just me “filling in the blanks” based on my own story, perception and feelings. As a result, I always challenge myself to keep asking questions – even if it feels vulnerable – until there is clarity. With clarity comes connection and with connection comes peace. It really is a beautiful thing. I encourage you to try it!

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4.) Do Your Best – Put simply, do your best in applying these simple agreements/understandings to our fellow human beings in every moment. But also recognize that in each moment, we have different factors pulling at us, and thereby our mood, our health, our life, and our feelings about ourselves are in flux as we go throughout our day. Our best, therefore, will be different each moment. But again, remember, be kind and be gentle… not just with each other, but also ourselves. This will take us all a long way.

As I said, reading this book – as well as being coached years ago from an incredible life/business coach who taught these principles – changed my view of myself and the world in the most amazing ways. It gave me the tools to improve my communication skills so that interaction and relationships with those I loved (or simply had to work with) didn’t have to be so painful, combative and something to run away from. Yes, it still takes effort and a conscious desire to work through things with each other, but these agreements pave the way to healing and growth, instead of unnecessary destruction and pain – an all too common human experience.

When I learned that when taking responsibility for my part in it all – by being aware of the words I choose (being impeccable with my word), by not taking things personally when someone says a hurtful thing to me or acts in a way that feels cruel, by not making assumptions of someone or a circumstance and instead, asking questions for clarity until I know the whole story, and then by just doing my best and not being hard on myself if I temporarily forget these agreements – I am reminded that healing the world, ourselves and our relationships (no matter if family, friends, partner, work colleague, person of another country, sexual orientation or religion, whatever), it all starts with us. It starts with awareness of our own inner workings as well as our perspectives and asking ourselves what we are contributing to the world. What an incredibly powerful and transformative practice.

So, do yourself a favor. Try the Four Agreements on for size. Make it a daily practice and challenge to be more aware of how you use your words when speaking with someone, to practice not taking things personally (or projecting your stuff onto another), to choose to be more mindful of your immediate and sometimes careless assumptions, to be vulnerable and ask more questions for clarity, and then to remind yourself to do the best you can everyday and to even recognize that everyone else is doing their best, depending on their own awareness or lack there of.

Applying the Four Agreements can make life so much more fulfilling, joyful and forgiving. It has helped me to be a better person and that’s what I believe we all want to be… better and better each day. And we can!