I decided to kick off my adventure with the first card returned to me because two very important people in my life have been pushing me to do this particular task for well over two years, now. I did not anticipate that it would be so personal, but I guess that’s kind of the point of all this, so…
In the spirit of full disclosure, Elizabeth Cottingham has been my shrink/therapist/confidant/pal for over 5 years now. (Everyone needs one. I am a huge proponent of unloading your personal crap on an unbiased ear.) After seeing bazillions of quacks since I was a wee-one being diagnosed with ADHD, I finally landed on one I actually like. She has seen me through some incredibly difficult times, including loss of loved ones, career change, heartbreak and personal struggle, and some absolutely fabulous times, as well. Both she and Jen Jura, my personal trainer turned friend of just about the same amount of time, have been begging me to read this book for too long and finally I have no choice, but to oblige. You can stop hounding me now, ladies.
For those that have not read the book, it focuses on four essential beliefs or perspectives that, if you truly commit to living your life with these in mind, will enable one to experience personal freedom and a life “full of grace and simple truth.”
The book begins by explaining that, as children, we are taught to believe certain things and raised in certain ways, making “agreements” with our “teachers” in life because that is how we grow. These are things like religion, the way we speak, right and wrong, how we feel about ourselves, etc. These agreements then guide us through our lives and help us make decisions. I think. We accept the things that we are told as truth because we learn them from people we trust and we live our lives with these beliefs in mind. We sometimes allow ourselves to be abused by others and, more often, by ourselves if we do things that we think are wrong. That abuse defines us because we have made that agreement. He says, “In this whole life no one has ever abused you more than you have abused yourself.” Likely true.
There is an example in the book of a little girl that loves to sing and one day her mother, after a long stressful day, tells her to stop singing because she has an ugly voice. The little girl then makes the agreement that she must have an ugly voice and never sings again. Essentially, the book tells us that as adults we have to break the agreements we made as children in order to truly experience personal freedom. We have to commit to our own agreements on the type of people we are and the life we want to live. You have to break down the walls you’ve built up, let go of the fears that are holding you back, put on your big girl pants and live the life you were destined to live. Easy, right? Not according to this guy.
The Four Agreements are:
1. Be impeccable with your word – Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
2. Don’t take anything personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
3. Don’t make assumptions – Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
4. Always do your best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
So there’s that.
I have pretty mixed feelings about the book. First of all, it’s very poorly written and suuuper redundant. His inability to write made me question his credibility and I was all “Why should I believe what this dude is saying if he can’t construct a sentence?” I was forewarned that this would annoy me. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine. If you’re going to be published then produce a decent piece of literature. I mean, I couldn’t get 50 pages in to Fifty Shades of Grey because it was written sooo, so badly. Anyway, I got over it and tried to really listen to what The Four Agreements was bringing to the proverbial table. I read along as I listened to the audio book so that I could truly focus without surrounding distractions (ADHD rears its ugly head).
Secondly, I get the message. It’s a solid message. And it makes sense. All of those things can definitely lead one to live a happier, more pleasant life. But every time the words Jesus or God came up, I felt myself roll my eyes a little bit. I had begun to accept the personal perspective it was providing, but I was not ready for the Jesus-speak, so to say.
Those that know me well know that I have a very difficult time when it comes to accepting faith and religion in my life. As a child, I would go through the motions and do everything I was told to do at good old St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Anderson. However, I have always questioned it. I have a hard time believing all the water into wine, walking on water, parting of the sea, dying and rising stuff. I cannot suspend my disbelief long enough to focus on the real message I’m supposed to be receiving. I questioned my religion teachers all through junior high and high school asking them to “prove it.” This was never appreciated. I believed because I was supposed to believe – an agreement I unwillingly made, according to this book. However, these days, given past circumstances in my life, I just don’t have the patience for it. I cannot wrap my head around how God, or whatever he/she/it may be, can allow certain things to happen, especially to such wonderful people. My family has had some pretty hard losses and now my mom, one of the healthiest people I have ever met, is fighting cancer and I just can’t comprehend it. Blah blah blah, everything happens for a reason. I’m not buying it. I had a conversation with my father the other day about how he wishes I would accept some form of faith back into my life and how he feels it would be beneficial. I told him I would consider it. Apparently this book thinks I should, as well. I have some other challenges coming down the pipeline that will focus on that so I’ll deal with it at a later date.
From a personal standpoint, the book hit home specifically with the second and third agreements. I cannot tell you the countless hours I have wasted in my lifetime worrying about why people did things they did, whether it was my fault or a result of something I had done or said. So the message is that people do what they wanna do because they wanna do it. Plain and simple. It has absolutely nothing to do with me. Except, I’m not totally on board with that. If I knock over a cup and spill its contents all over another person, they are going to get up and dry themselves off because I spilled on them. My action: their reaction. I actually think there is, like, a scientific theory behind that or something. I’m working on this one because, in my opinion, it needs further investigation. I also cannot tell you how many countless hours I have wasted assuming things. Assuming what people are thinking about something I have done or said. Assuming what reaction people will have to certain events. Assuming how a conversation will go before it even begins. Part of this is because I have an insanely good memory and never, ever forget anything – good or bad, so I predict outcomes based off previous events. If I said something stupid to someone, I would mentally kick myself over it for years when really, anybody else couldn’t care less.
I remember we had this activity in Mrs. Wilson’s second grade class at Ayer Elementary. We had to bring in a baby picture of ourselves, sit in a circle and the rest of the class had to match the picture to the classmate. I got SO excited (ADHD again) when my picture came up that I yelled “That’s me!!!” Mrs. Wilson looked at me and told me that I ruined the game. Now, your average kid would probably forget about that moment, but it has clearly scarred me for life. I think about that moment allll the time. I have spent the last 20-some years of my life desperately trying to avoid being the “fun-ruiner” ever again. So, I guess now I’m supposed to make peace with this moment, and many, many others, and move on. Yeah…ok. After having spent the last 28 years wrapped up in my own head I imagine this will take awhile.
Since completing the book, I have already been more conscious of things that I am saying and thinking, so it’s already begun to have an impact on my life. We were in Florida with my niece, Belle, and it was absolutely fascinating to watch her learn, grow and discover things in her own way. She would stare in wonder at things she was unfamiliar with and mimic behaviors, sounds and mannerisms as she watched her parents interact with others. I began to think about the “agreements” she is starting to make. I can only hope she soaks up the best lessons from her wonderfully loving parents and the great big world around her because that beautiful, little angel deserves only the best. And then I accidentally knocked her off of a toy train and will probably feel horrible about it until I know there isn’t any permanent damage. Baby steps.
Now, naturally, I read the book, but have put my own little spin on the second portion. Thanks to Pinterest and the lovely additions of some creatively talented folks, I printed out some images of the agreements and framed them in various places in my home. Now I can see them all the time.