January 10, 2007

Four Agreements...or Just One?

Don Miguel Ruiz's book The Four Agreements is a distillation of life lessons the author learned on the path of self-inquiry. Like so many wise teachers--and like many of us--it took a catastrophe in don Miguel's life to get him to look within...and he did so within the tradition of his Toltec ancestors. His conclusions are remarkably similar to those of the Eastern nondual teachings and as such are not dissimilar to those reached through Byron Katie's Work.

Don Miguel tells us that unhappiness comes from our clinging to old agreements made under the influence of outmoded beliefs and that the key to a happy life is to make four new agreements: be impeccable with your word; don't take anything personally; don't make assumptions; always do your best.

The third agreement, "don't make assumptions," resonated within me in a way the other three agreements did not. Indeed, the book's cover copy asserts, "With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life." Here, don Miguel gives a wonderful explanation of what we do to ourselves when we attach to thoughts that are not true for us. (Sound familiar? Hint: Question 3 of The Work: "How do you react when you believe that thought?") The way to stop making assumptions, says don Miguel, is to question our thoughts...because it is human nature to automatically assume that every belief we hear is the truth, even if the source of the belief is gossip. Good information, although like so many other authors of spiritual guidebooks, don Miguel does not share in his book the process of self-inquiry that helped him to stop believing his assumptions; he just tells us to stop. And if you've ever tried to stop believing what you believe, you know it's not so easy.

It's because we haven't known how to "ask us" that Byron Katie gives us what she received...the simple inquiry mechanics of four questions and a turnaround. We might say that "ask you" is the "One Agreement" of Katie's Work. Even the thought "I should stop making assumptions" can be questioned. People make assumptions; that's our nature. To say, "don't" doesn't stop this from being so. It's an assumption to say that I should not make assumptions!

Once we do the simple work of noticing and questioning for awhile, inquiry comes alive in us. We still make assumptions, but assumptions no longer make us. The "don't know" mind that results from inquiry cannot continue to create a world based on uninvestigated beliefs. Once we notice how these beliefs affect our minds and our behavior, the code of conduct prescribed by don Miguel comes naturally because it feels more peaceful.

With The Work, our word becomes impeccable because we have questioned our motives before speaking. We take things less personally because in the oneness that results from losing our stressful stories, we realize that nothing is personal. When we question what we believe, we can see that everyone--ourselves included--is always doing the best he or she can in the moment.

And we assume that none of this is true...until it is.

Deepening Transformational Inquiry: One Agreement

Here's a gentle agreement to make with yourself in the new year: "I invite deeper awareness in my life." Exciting! Who knows what that will look like? It might mean that you'll take time to smell the flowers, taste your food, notice the color of the sky, feel the support of your chair, or revel in the soft texture of your clothing. It could mean that you listen literally to what your children or partner or boss is telling you, experiencing true intimacy with them for the first time as you discover that their opinions and criticisms and desires are not personal to you. Perhaps it means you will be open to sit with your feelings and actually feel them, rather than stuff them down with food or cigarettes or affirmations meant to banish the "negative."

Notice I did not say, "Resolve to meditate/contemplate/do The Work every day." Resolutions imply promise...and promises are difficult to keep; things (and minds) change beyond our control. What if reality has a better idea than the one we've resolved for ourselves?

On the other hand, an intention is like the gentler twin sibling of a resolution, inviting you to open your mind and consider the possibilities. It is not a task or commitment to add to your list of "shoulds." It allows for creativity and natural flow.

Will you invite yourself into this sweet intention along with me...and let me know what happens?

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

Register here for the January 2007 teleclass series "Transformational
Inquiry: Your New Year's Revolutions"

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