This week, the theme has been about conduct, not communication, in various relationships. The book I recalled and pulled off my shelf is an oldie but goodie. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, written in 1997, gives simple instructions and offers hope in improving relationships. Afterall, relationships are based on agreements. In this book, Ruiz suggests that we agree to belief systems that have been handed to us and stored as information in our minds (p. 5). We “agree” to these beliefs and apply them to our interactions with others. He later says that we can change the agreements if we don’t like the way things are going and that our transformation will be amazing (p. 23). Sounds like positive change, right?
I was working with a man and woman who were fighting with each other saying atrocious things, threatening to throw valuable electronics in the pool, peruse each other’s phones, and block each other from assets. Ultimately, he said, “GET OUT and “F-YOU” and the other threatened to leave and really did. She left for more than 36 hours and they were wondering how to find their way back to a peaceful place. I pulled The Four Agreements off my shelf and began to talk about agreement #1: Be impeccable with your words. The man in the relationship couldn’t believe that when he said to “get out,” she left. She couldn’t believe that he didn’t see that she honored his word. The book reminds us that words have power. It says, “The word is pure magic – the most powerful gift we have as humans. (p. 33). However, it can do damage too. The takaway from the book was, if you don’t mean it, don’t say it. We began to discuss mindfulness and meditation, which could help both people gain some control over what is said in argument. The book promises on page 45 that “Impeccability of the word can lead you to personal freedom, to huge success and abundance; it can take away all fear and transform it into joy and love.” The key is to take a pause, speak from the heart, and respect the spoken word at all times.
Not long afterwards, another couple was arguing on my zoom screen and one was again criticizing and name-calling and the other was left stunned and hurt. I needed to offer comfort and The Four Agreements was still sitting on my desk, a divine accident perhaps, and it offered me the second agreement: Don’t take anything personally. The truth is, hurtful words can do a lot of damage, but said in the heat of a conversation, they are often linked to fear, poor communication skills, unresolved pain and resentment, and rarely are an account of actual truths. The book suggests that this agreement gives us freedom to not be tied to labels or names or things said in anger. It says “taking things personally [sets ourselves] up to suffer for nothing (p. 56).” We have a choice about what we agree to believe. It promises, “if you keep this agreement, you can travel around the world with your heart completely open and no one can hurt you (p. 60).” The clients and I discussed how taking things personally results in a power dynamic that doesn’t result in In change. It perpetuates conflict. Towards the end of this particular session, apologies were said, forgiveness was offered and the walls came down.
Later that week, a client reported feeling isolated and left out of a group of moms that she was forced to interact with on a regular basis, as all of their children were in the same school. She talked about her looks, her social circumstances, and her son with “on the spectrum” special needs. The book, still on my desk, presented the third agreement: “Don’t make assumptions.” We explored the assumptions she might be making in this area of her social life and she began to let some of her fear and anxiety about interacting with these other mothers. She explored other perspectives. The book says that “we have agreed that it is not safe to ask questions, and… we assume we are right to the point that we will destroy relationships in order to defend our position (p. 68).” We talked about other things she could focus on that filled her spirit with joy and she committed to letting go of the assumptions that were perpetuating her sadness. When she began to change her perspective, her assumptions lost their power.
On another day, I met a client who was struggling with a new job and was feeling overwhelmed. He called himself “stupid,” “ill-equipped” to function in his new capacity and it was occupying his mood and his attitude. He was paralyzed by a fear of trying. His self-talk was the problem, and what do you know? That book was still on my desk and I reached over and flipped it open. Agreement #4: Always do your best. It reminds us that our best is always changing, that sometimes, the ability to do our best is contingent on things like sleep, nutrition, self-care. Sometimes we can ask for help and learn the skills that allow our best to become a better best. The book says, “If you do your best always, over and over again, you will become a master of transformation…If you do your best in the search for personal freedom, in the search for self-love, you will discover that it’s just a matter of time before you find what you are looking for (p. 86).”