According to Don Miguel Ruis in his book The Four Agreements, we, as individuals, live in the collective dream of a family, of a community, of a nation. We, as individuals, live in the collective dream of humanity itself.
And every time a new soul enters this experience of earthly life, its people rush in to hook its attention and to indoctrinate that new soul into the ways of this collective dream. Every time a new soul enters this experience of earthly life, Moms and Dads and siblings and friends and teachers and ministers and, dear God, the media and social media, rush in to hook its attention and to indoctrinate that new soul into the ways of this collective dream.
And because that child quite simply doesn’t know any better, the child agrees with the ways of the outer dream. And in so doing, the outer dream, for better or worse, becomes the inner dream.
And this process (a process driven by rewards and punishments) this process by which the outer dream, for better or worse, becomes an inner dream, is called the domestication of humans.
And it’s through such a process that this outer dream, for better or worse, gets passed from generation to generation to generation.
I say for better or worse because entire lives have been constructed on inner dreams which are largely false. Entire lives have been constructed from the accepted fiction of generations of fearful humans.
And so it is that when a wisdom found in one’s heart bumps against a falsehood, one arrives at choice. Will he abandon the falsehood? Or will she retreat to the safety of the falsehood, no matter how limiting, how mediocre, how destructive it might be?
Don Miguel Ruiz sets forth four agreements which are designed to help us wave away the hell of these false agreements that we might reveal a new dream.
The first, that the author calls the most difficult of the four agreements is “Be Impeccable with Your Word.”
And oh, how I hope you have with that one! You know, it’s been my experience that the universe so loves me that it conspires to support my teaching with all manner of real-world experiences! If I decide to teach on forgiveness, the universe conspires to let me practice forgiveness. If I decide to teach on non-attachment, the universe conspires to let me practice non-attachment. If I decide to teach on responsibility, the universe conspires to let me practice responsibility.
And this one did not disappoint. Yet again, the universe conspired to let me practice “being impeccable with my word.” And it was actually quite powerful. I found the need to be quite impeccable with a group of people (not at this center, but in another geography altogether) and the response was essentially, “Thank you. You are completely right, and we sincerely apologize. Changes will be made. We had no idea.”
So, if the universe so loves me that it conspires to support my teaching with all manner of real-world experiences, it is with something of a dread that I welcome you to the next agreement which the author articulates as, “Don’t take anything personally.”
Now, in approaching this, let me tell you what a Sunday is like for me.
I hear, “Just one most thing before I go: Less Bible talk, please,” followed moments later by, “Just one thing before I go: More Bible talk, please.”
I hear, “A minister really shouldn’t drive a red car – it’s just too … up,” followed moments later by, “A minister really shouldn’t drive a silver car – it’s just too … down.”
I hear, “Those shoes...” followed by, “That hair,... followed by... you fill in the blank. This tendency to share is made wildly more complicated by the fact that people hear things I didn’t say and people miss things I did say. Any minister will be able to affirm this weird dynamic: people get wildly offended by a thing that never passed my lips and by a thing that completely passed their ears.
Perhaps some married couples can relate to this dynamic. Perhaps you have someone in your life who hears things you didn’t say and misses things you did say.
This is why it’s said that we don’t experience the world the way it is, we experience the world the way we are. Each of us wears blinders of history, blinders of fear, blinders of belief, blinders of suggestion, blinders of need.
If your blinders are focused for a world of limitation, my words of possibility might not be hearable. If your blinders are focused for a world of betrayal, rejection, lack, my words of community, inclusion and support might not be hearable.
In a sense, when we speak of changing consciousness, we speak of pulling back our blinders that we might experience the world less the way we are and more the way it is.
We are like the proverbial frog in the well. Do you know that story? The frog in the well experiences the world as a piece of sky. But as the frog begins to climb, that frog begins to experience the world not only as a piece of sky and but also as clouds and birds and trees and flowers and people and more.
Regardless of the reasons, in any given week, I’m surrounded by those who believe me to be destined for an eternity of pearly gates and soaring violins, and by those who believe me to be destined for an eternity of fabric stores and bad sopranos.
I suppose it’s reasonable to conclude that in any given week, I’m surrounded by those who adore me, and by those who dislike me.
And so it is that I find relief in the charge of the second agreement, “Don’t Take Anything Personally.”
I find relief in the charge of this second agreement because I live in an outer world brimming with disparate opinions about me. I find relief in the charge of this second agreement because I live in an outer brimming with disparate opinions about who I am.
And I suspect you can relate. And if you can’t, just open that road-rage-superhighway we call Facebook for a healthy dose of disparate opinions about who you are.
So, here’s the problem according to the author: as part of the domestication of humans, which is an experience common to each of us, you developed the assumption that everything is about you.
And here’s the solution: It’s not.
Everything is not about you. Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday. You’re welcome.
In fact, this agreement offers that nothing other people do is about you so much as it’s about them. Their opinions aren’t about you so much as they are reflections of their own inner dreams. Other people live in worlds completely apart from the world you know.
To quote Don Miguel Ruiz, “When we take something personally, we make the assumption that others know what is in our world. 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 are according to the agreements they have made. Their point of view comes from all the programming they received during their domestication.”
And he continues – see if this speaks to you, “When you take things personally, you feel offended, and your reaction is to defend your beliefs and create conflicts. You make something big because you have the need to be right and [to] make everybody else wrong. [So] you try to be right by giving them your opinions. [But] in the same way, whatever you feel and do is just a projection of your personal dream, a reflection of your agreements. What you say, what you do, and the opinions you have are according to the agreements you have made.”
And so it is that I find relief in the charge of this second agreement. For if I allow that outer world so brimming with disparate opinions to be the standard by which I determine my success or my failure, to be the standard by which I experience peace or angst, to be the standard by which I assign my value, I can never know success, peace or value.
I could say that if I take it personally, I will spend everything desperately trying to be all things to all people. And, in so doing, I will become very little to very few.
So, while it’s tempting to interpret this agreement as one that would have us deflect all negative opinions and saturate our egos with every positive thing the world utters, I would suggest this agreement to be broader than that. I would suggest that this agreement isn’t so much about avoiding negative opinions and saturating our egos as it is about assigning our authority wisely.
For when we avoid negative opinions and saturate our egos with every positive thing the world utters, we’re still victims. We’ve still assigned our authority to that fickle world. In a sense, when the outer world says, “That’s the craziest idea I’ve ever heard. Keep your day job,” the charge of this agreement is to respond by saying, “Thank you for showing me a little bit of you today.” And when the outer world says, “You are so hot a hobbit just threw a gold ring at you,” the charge of this agreement is to respond by saying, “Thank you for showing me a little bit of you today.”
The voices which would reduce you and those voices which would elevate you are just two sides of the same coin. And in either case, it’s a coin that would purchase the very soul of you.
The charge of this agreement is to assign our authority – not to that fickle outer world – but toward Jung’s “wise elder within” in all manner of choosing, seeking and living.
It’s a charge found on the pages of virtually every faith tradition. Unity’s Co-founder Myrtle Fillmore encouraged that we are to concentrate all our attention upon the Truth of God, and the truth of our own being. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it was the psalmist who said it this way, the Lord is our shepherd. It’s something beyond that outer world that we can trust to lead us into green pastures and beside the still waters.
Don’t take anything personally.
Mr. Ruiz concludes, “If you keep this agreement, you can be in the middle of hell and still experience inner peace and happiness.”
So don’t take anything personally. Let us reclaim our authority from that fickle outer world. Let us assign our authority to that Lord of each of us, to that “wise elder within.”