I consider myself a spiritual person, so I was both intrigued and open to a friend's suggestion that I read Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements. Though originally published in 1997, this book is one of those timeless tales of self-love and the behaviours we've become accustomed to that limit it. Ruiz is a Mexican New Age shaman and Toltec teacher (an ancient Mexican spirituality); he's basically a guru in the quest for authenticity, believing that the purpose of life is to just be ourselves.
At a glance, Ruiz's four ways to live an authentic life include:
1. To be impeccable with your word.
2. Not take anything personally.
3. Not make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.
I'd like to share some of the insights I took away from reading The Four Agreements, and how you can apply them to your life.
Be impeccable with your word. At NKPR we have a similar mantra: "Don't just talk. Say something." Especially in today's message-and-media-filled world, this means so much; there is so much chatter on the internet, on television, everywhere - it can be hard to focus on what truly matters. I believe it's important to speak with integrity, truth and love because good relationships are based on sound communication. Saying what you mean isn't always easy; sometimes, with all the thoughts racing around in your head, you just don't know your true feelings. Ruiz recommends at times like this that you "go inside and listen to your body, because your body will never lie to you. Your mind will play tricks, but the way you feel in your heart, in your gut, is the truth." I've learned over the years to listen to my gut and this grounds me; when I'm not listening to it I feel like I hit speed bumps. Sometimes these bump me back on track, but they often block my path. It's important to be true to yourself, and this means to speak the truth about how you're feeling or responding to a situation. Not every truth will be well-received but when it stems from your gut -- your source of truth -- then at least you can trust that your words represent your authentic self.
Don't take things personally. When we speak the truth and are faced with a negative response, Ruiz gives us a simple yet powerful statement to rise above this: nothing other people do is because of you. He says other people's reactions are because of their own interpretation of reality. This can be taken in many ways. For example, if a guy you like doesn't like you back, and you've done your best to be true to him, it isn't that you're not good enough...it's about him and the way he wants to live his life. Looking back at my own break-up history, I realized that although I always try to look within and see what I could do differently to make a relationship work, the reality is often the only thing I could have done was stop trying to fix things sooner. I find a lot of women hang onto relationships that aren't working instead of letting them go; we take it personally that our efforts aren't working and so we keep 'flogging a dead horse' so to speak. What Ruiz is saying is that we should do our best to make our relationships work, but if someone doesn't like us back, we need to remember that letting go is not the same as giving up.
Avoid making assumptions. Instead of assuming we know all the answers, Ruiz says we should be courageous and ask questions. This can help avoid misunderstandings and stop us from putting words in other people's mouths. It's amazing how much stress or upset we cause ourselves by making assumptions! If you are making assumptions about yourself, about your lack of ability or value, you're going to assume people around you are making those same judgments. Instead, we need to respect and appreciate ourselves by expressing our true feelings or concerns and others will follow suit. Recently, a young colleague seemed like she was trying to disappear at work. I noticed a change in her and it bothered me because I truly felt she was so talented and capable of more. She admitted that she was feeling insecure and intimidated, and she was making the assumption that she wasn't good at her job. I find a lot of people don't know how to communicate these kind of feelings properly, or don't have the tools to respond to them. Sometimes it's hard to find the courage to avoid assumptions and say how we truly feel, but we all have the strength inside us - we may just need to ask for help.
Do your best. No matter how good we are at something, we should always give our best efforts. Because then we know we are being honest and true, and even in moments of self-doubt we can take comfort in the fact that we did our best. If we look at life as an enjoyable path and live in the moment, every step we take will lead us towards our goals. This is a great philosophy we apply to every client we work with, and every project we work on. Doing your best will move you to the next level. And it's a way of living that should extend outside the office too: we can't do our best at work and then go home and be miserable to our families. Be the best friend you can; the best daughter, mother, neighbour; the best everything. It's a win-win situation. Even as a child I grew up with the philosophy that if you are going to do something, give it the best you can. These are the same values I am teaching my son, too. It's about self-worth and putting value on your time. Whenever the opportunity arises to cut corners, my gut kicks in; it won't let me not be my best. Living my life this way helps me have no regrets and ensures that I am the most authentic me I can be.
Like the great actress Judy Garland once said, "I'd rather be a first-rate version of myself than a second-rate version of someone else." I think Don Miguel Ruiz would agree!