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Posts tagged ‘Don Miguel Ruiz’

Always Do Your Best & The Power of Gratitude


These two things that I read today dovetailed quite nicely together. The first is abridged and adapted from “The Four Agreements,” and it is agreement number four: “Always Do Your Best.” The second is abridged and adapted from Melodie Beattie’s book “Gratitude.”

Always Do Your Best

There is just one more agreement, but it’s the one that allows the other three to become deeply ingrained habits. Under any circumstance, always do your best.

Keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. In your everyday moods your best can change from one moment to another, from one hour to the next, from one day to another. When you wake up refreshed and energized in the morning, your best will be better than when you are tired at night. Your best will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick.

And your best will also change over time. As you build the habit of the four new agreements, your best will become better than it used to be.

Just do your best in any and every circumstance in your life. If you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself, because you will have done your best. There are no regrets. By always doing your best, you will be breaking a big spell that you have been under.

When you do your best, you have to be aware and learn from your mistakes. Learning from your mistakes means you practice, look honestly at results, and keep practicing. This increases your awareness.

Doing your best doesn’t really feel like work because by focusing on doing your best you will more deeply enjoy whatever you are doing.

If you take action because you feel you have to, then there is no way you are going to do your best. Instead of taking action because you have to, it would be better to take action because you want to do your best and doing your best all the time makes you so happy.

Action is about living fully. Inaction is the way we deny life. Inaction is sitting in front of the TV every day because you are afraid to be alive.

Doing your best is a great habit to have. I do my best in everything I do and feel. Doing my best has become a ritual in my life because I made the choice to make it a ritual.

Doing your best, you are going to live your life intensely. You are going to be productive, you are going to be good to yourself, because you will be giving yourself to your partner, your family, your community, to everything.

That is why we always do our best—so there are no regrets. It is not an easy agreement to keep, but this agreement is truly going to set you free.

(Adapted from Don Miguel Ruiz, “The Four Agreements,” pp. 75-83)

Gratitude

Many of us were deprived as children, and many of us have also carried that deprivation into adulthood.

Deprivation causes deprived thinking.

And deprived thinking perpetuates deprivation.

Deprivation becomes habitual. We may continue to feel afraid and deprived, even when we’re not.

We may react to deprivation in many ways. We may insist that life and the people in our lives make up for all we never had. That’s unfair. And those expectations can wreck what’s good today.

Deprived negative thinking makes things disappear. We grumbled about the half-empty water glass, so focused on what we don’t have that we fail to appreciate all that we do have—the half-full glass of water, the glass itself, or being alive and well enough to drink the water.

We become so afraid that we might not get more, or we’re so sour about only having half a glass to drink, that we may not even drink it—we may let it sit on the table until it evaporates. And then we have nothing! Which is what we thought we had anyway.

Deprived thinking turns good things into less, or worse, into nothing.

Grateful thinking turns things into more.

What we believe we deserve—what we really believe deep inside—will be what we get.

Deprived, negative, ungrateful thinking can prevent us from seeing what’s good in our lives today, and it can stop the good stuff from happening.

It hurts to be deprived. It hurts to be walk through life secretly believing we’re undeserving. So stop. Now.

Many years ago, I dreamed of getting married and raising a family and owning a beautiful little home that would be our castle. I wanted some of the things that other people had. I wanted “normal”—whatever that was.

It looked like I was about to get it, too. I got married. I got pregnant. I had a baby girl.

Now all I needed was a home.

We looked at all sorts of homes, large and in-between, but the home we got was the one we could afford. It had been a used property for fifteen years and had been standing vacant for a year. Now it was three-stories of broken windows and broken wood. Some rooms had ten layers of wallpaper on the walls. Some walls had holes straight through to the outdoors. The floors were covered with bright orange carpeting with large stains.

And we didn’t have money to fix it.

We had no money for pain, carpet, curtains. We couldn’t afford to furnish it.

We had three stories of dilapidated home, with a kitchen table, two chairs, a high chair, a bed, a crib, and two dressers, one with broken drawers.

About two weeks after we moved in, a friend stopped by. She kept repeating to me how lucky I was and how nice it was to own your own home.

But I didn’t feel lucky; and it didn’t feel nice. I didn’t know anyone else who owned a house like this.

I didn’t talk much about how I felt, but each night as my husband and daughter slept, I tiptoed downstairs, sat on the living room floor and cried. This became a ritual. While everyone was asleep, I sat in the middle of the floor thinking of everything I hated about the house, crying and feeling helpless and hopeless.

I did this for months.

And however legitimate my reaction may have been, it changed nothing.

Then one evening, when I was sitting in the floor going through my wailing and self-pity ritual, the thought occurred to me: Why don’t I try gratitude?

Gratitude, I thought. What could I possibly be grateful for? How and why should I?

But then I decided to try anyway.

After all, I had nothing to lose. And I was getting sick of my own whining and self-pity.

At first I wasn’t certain what to be grateful for. So I decided to be grateful for everything!

I didn’t feel grateful. So I willed it. I pretended. I faked it. I forced it. I made myself think grateful thoughts. When I saw the layers of peeling wallpaper, I thanked God.

I thanked God for each thing I hated about that house. I thanked God for giving it to me. I thanked God that I was there. Each time I had a negative thought, I countered it with a grateful one.

Now perhaps this wasn’t as logical of a reaction as being negative, but it turned out to be much more effective.

Because after I practiced gratitude for about three or four months, things began to change.

My attitude changed.

I stopped spending my nights sitting and crying in the middle of the living room floor. I started taking care of the house as if it were a dream home. I acted as if it were my dream home. I kept it as orderly and clean and nice as could be and made it a little better every day.

And nine months later, after a lot of learning and ingenuity and scraping by, I eventually had a beautiful home.

I had finally learned how to make something out of almost nothing, instead of making nothing out of something.

I had empowered myself and changed the course of my life!

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The Four Agreements. The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally


    The Four Agreements
    The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally

I get the gist of what Ruiz is trying to communicate with his advice of “Don’t take anything personally,” and there’s certainly some wisdom to it, but unfortunately he’s trying to make an absolute out of something that likely isn’t meant to be an absolute, and that if it were an absolute would render human interaction and human relationships meaningless; every relationship and every interaction would be completely self-referential and solipsistic and narcissistic; other people aren’t real and there’s no real contact or communion possible between people.

Let us imagine an ordinary husband and wife—well, not completely ordinary; let’s imagine a husband and wife who have read “The Four Agreements” and who are following Ruiz’s advice. . . . (down the rabbit hole we go . . . )

Husband: “What a lovely morning. It’s such a joy to wake up next to you each morning. I love you so much, my dear, thank you for being a part of my life. But don’t take any of that personally.”

Wife: “I love you too, darling, sooo much. My life is so much better with you in it. But don’t you take that personally either.”

Husband: “Now let’s get up and wake the kids and tell them that we love them but not to take it personally.”

What an absurd relationship that would be. And what a delightful little brood of antisocial rugrats they would be contributing to society. Nothing would mean anything. Nothing that anyone said to them or that they said to another. Everyone would just glide along in their own little solipsistic and narcissistic insular self-protective Teflon bubble or monad (Leibniz). What a world. And what an utter waste of life.

These are Ruiz’s own words: “Whatever people do, feel, think, or say, don’t take it personally. . . . Don’t take anything personally. . . . Even at the extreme” (pg. 53).

And, “Whatever you think, whatever you feel, I know is your problem. It is the way you see the world. It is nothing personal, because you are dealing with yourself, not with me” (pg. 51).

And, “Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give . . . come from all the programming they received during domestication” (pg. 49).

But earlier he writes, “Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally. . . . [I]f I see you on the street and I say, ‘Hey, you are so stupid,’ without knowing you, it’s not about you; it’s about me” (pg. 47).

The first problem is that Ruiz is not being impeccable with his word: “without knowing you”—why add that phrase? Because it would seem to imply that if he knew someone well enough and then called the person “stupid,” then the remark would no longer just be about Ruiz himself, but actually about the other person, and perhaps even have merit. His wording and thinking seem, at the very least, a bit muddled here.

Secondly, he’s clearly taking everything off the table—not just words, but feelings, and actions. Ruiz wants his readers to take nothing that others say or do to us personally. Nothing. He’s using the categorical word “anything”—as in “Don’t take anything personally.” He didn’t say, “Don’t take too much stuff personally”—which would actually be sane, thoughtful advice.

Now I can appreciate the benefits of each of us trimming our need for, or our dependence on, social mirroring and what Schnarch terms “reflected sense of self” (or external validation). There’s much to be said about learning how to self-validate and form our own opinions and ideas about ourselves that are realistic and accurate. It just encourages a more examined and reflective way of life; it encourages honest self-awareness and emotional maturity and mindfulness; it encourages better and more accurate observational skills; and it encourages better critical thinking skills. And there’s also much to be said as well about not disempowering ourselves by putting ourselves in a reactive position where we are dependent on other people to define us and thus to make us feel a certain way (namely good about ourselves and who we are). Seen from this perspective, Ruiz is indeed correct when he writes that, “taking things personally is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about ‘me’ ” (pg. 48). It is an example of what’s worst and weakest in us—and what we all must face and deal with if we are to actually grow; it is an example of what Ruiz, later in the book, will refer to as our inner “parasite” that we must confront.

I also agree with Ruiz that allowing others to define us is in many ways a very unwise and sketchy endeavor because most people are inherently dishonest and lie to themselves and thus to others, so therefore they are highly unreliable in their mirroring; they are highly unreliable narrators—they are not objective and fair and honest and free of distortions; so what they have to say about us will be highly distorted and warped, and we will end up with a reflected sense of self that looks like something out of amusement park funhouse. We will not see ourselves as we truly are, but in a highly bloated and distorted way. And how can we make our way through this world with grace and dignity and goodness when our map of ourselves is so inherently flawed and distorted from the getgo? Our map of reality, of the external world, will also be similarly botched and bungled and distorted. So Ruiz is right on the money when he writes: “Wherever you go you will find people lying to you, and as your awareness grows, you will notice that you also lie to yourself. Do not expect people to tell you the truth because they also lie to themselves” (pg. 57). But he misses the mark wildly in the very next sentence when he malignantly advises: “You have to trust yourself and choose to believe or not to believe what someone says to you.”

The only basis we have for trusting ourselves is the quality of our thinking and discernment—how deeply honest we are with ourselves, how up to snuff our critical thinking skills are. It’s not a question first and foremost of trust; it’s a question of the quality or level of our critical thinking. If our discernment (sense of judgement) and critical thinking skills are razor sharp and we are willing to be honest with and stringently examine ourselves and our own motivations and emotions, then a legitimate and abiding sense of self-trust is warranted. But to blithely advise people to trust themselves when their quality of life and the happiness and goodness of their relationships is a product of their own best thinking—which usually means a marked lack of any real rigorous, honest, courageous thinking—does his readership a grave disservice.

The reality is we need others. We all have blindspots; we all have areas of ourselves where we are ignorant. As Ruiz acknowledges elsewhere: “[W]e need truth to open the emotional wounds, take the poison out, and heal the wound completely. . . . Truth is like a scalpel. The truth is painful, because it opens all of the wounds which are covered over by lies so that we can finally be healed. These lies are what we call _the denial system_. . . . [T]he denial system . . . allows us to cover our wounds and still function. But once we no longer have any wounds or any poison, we don’t need to lie anymore. we don’t need the denial system, because a healthy mind, like healthy skin, can be touched without hurting. It’s pleasurable for the mind to be touched when it is clean” (pp. 115-6).

Truth means seeing ourselves as we are, or allowing ourselves to be seen as we are—which takes great honesty and courage and critical thinking skills—as well as helps to create and build these. Being truthful means getting rid of the blinders and overcoming our appetite for softeners, sweetness, having things soft-pedaled to us. It means really showing up and being present in our relationships and friendships: “Relationship is self-revelation; it is because we do not want to be revealed to ourselves that we run away and hide in comfort” (Krishnamurti). It means calling ourselves out on our excessive and bloated need for comfort, security, compassion, mildness, ease, fun, enjoyment, as well as denial, softeners, et cetera. It means weaning ourselves from the nipples that provide us sweet and easy to digest half-truths and developing the stomach (and the stones) for some solid food and solid thinking. “Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think” (Martin Luther King, Jr.). Amen to that!

The danger with following Ruiz’s admonition to not take “anything” personally and to absolutize this portion of his advice is that it actually stunts our thinking—especially our critical thinking skills. It promotes the development of individuals who are now even more closed-minded and avoidant and frightened—and who now have a neat new way of “legitimizing” it and rationalizing it! Instead of encouraging his readers to become better critical thinkers and to operate on insults and compliments legitimately, honestly, with calm reflection, Ruiz is encouraging his readers to dismiss them all in one fell swoop—to throw the baby out with the bathwater, not to bother trying to separate wheat from chaff, but just throw it all out—wheat and chaff together.

Not sound or mature thinking at all, on Ruiz’s part.

Why not suggest something more emotionally mature and intellectually honest? Why not suggest that instead of people not taking “anything personally,” instead advise them to honestly and fairly and calmly and dispassionately and objectively evaluate any criticism or compliment as well as the other person’s motivations for saying such a thing to us or about us? Why not suggest a path that is more truly empowering and thoughtful? Why instead suggest a path that cuts corners and that doesn’t encourage people to become more aware and to deal with things with more emotional maturity and self-control and objectivity? After all, sometimes the ugly things, the critical things, the things that are said to us in anger, maybe the truest and most accurate—

Never forget what a man has said to you when he was angry. If he has charged you with anything, you had better look it up. Anger is a bow that will shoot sometimes where another feeling will not.” (Henry Ward Beecher, “Life Thoughts,” pg. 190.)

It is one of the severest tests of friendship to tell your friend his faults. If you are angry with a man, or hate him, it is not hard to go to him and stab him with words; but to so love a man that you cannot bear to see the stain of sin upon him, and to speak painful truth through loving words,—that -_is_ friendship. But few have such friends. Our enemies usually teach us what we are, at the point of the sword.” (Henry Ward Beecher, “Life Thoughts,” pg. 146.)

If we truly want to learn and grow as person psychologically and spiritually and emotionally then we to let more and more of this world in and show us who and what we are. And we also simultaneously need to learn how to raise our level of thinking and to think more critically—fairly, objectively, honestly; we need to lead a very examined and self-aware life; a life of ceaseless and tireless dedication to the truth and to reality.

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