Upon your human birth, it’s as if the outer world handed you a book of law.
And that book of law would offer you its suggestions specific to your self-worth, to your gender role, to your religious sensibilities, to your career possibilities and beyond.
That book of law would offer you its suggestions specific to the clothes you wear, to the holidays you celebrate, to the foods you love, to the neighborhood you inhabit, to the salon you frequent, to the music you buy, to the car you drive, to the spouse you choose and beyond.
And even in those earliest of days, in the grand adventure that is a human incarnation we begin to absorb and accept and then to embody and imitate, and finally to impose and insist.
And so it is that childhood curiosity and ultimately divine diversity get sacrificed on the altars of human homogeny and comfortable conformity, generation after generation.
I remember those December mornings in Osawatomie, Kansas, going downstairs dressed in my cowboy boots and my 10-gallon hat (true story), my six-shooter strapped to my waste. But at no point did it occur to me to say, “Grandma, will we be celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah this year?” “Will we be acknowledging the principles of Kwanzaa this year, Grandma?”
At no point did it occur to me because my book of law suggested that December would draw to a close, as at always did, with an evergreen tree somehow poised in one of those awkward red bowls with the green legs and the chrome screws (how could something so simple be so hard to assemble) one of those awkward red bowls with the green legs and the chrome screws, covered in lights, topped with a star and surrounded with gifts, just like Jesus.
And this brings us to an important awakening about these books of law: they are brimming with lies. Entire lives have been constructed upon books of law brimming with lies passed from generation to generation about self and other. And let it not go unsaid that entire lives have been constructed upon books of law brimming with lies passed from generation to generation about life and truth and God.
And no, lies don’t have to be conscious or malicious or intentional. We might say that entire lives have been constructed upon books of law brimming with outdated understanding, with childlike superstition, with rudimentary science, with human prejudice, with contextual ignorance, even with human laziness about life and truth and God. The effect is the same.
So, perhaps the first suggestion of the author’s work is simply that we acknowledge that we have been deeply programmed by our outer worlds. We have been deeply programmed by our outer worlds. Let’s start there.
We have been subtly domesticated by, or even mindlessly enslaved by, the endless suggestions of our books of law.
We might say that the outer world is something of a brainwashing machine, all-too-often perpetuating ancient narratives and propagating fearful fictions while catering to the rudest of impulses, the lowest of perceptions and the smallest of possibilities.
And so it is that when traditions such as Unity would come along to reinvigorate the ancient wisdom of the Vedas or the Christian mystics or the early transcendentalists (none of this is new, you understand) by saying that there is one Life (one is-ness, one I-am-ness, one beingness), that there is one Life – eternal in breadth and limitless in depth – a field of infinite potentiality, if you will - and that you are an individuation, an emanation, a pressing-forth of that one life, some find their books of law crumbling.
When traditions such as Unity would come along to say that as an individuation, an emanation, a pressing-forth of that one Life, you are eternal in breadth and limitless in depth, inherently valuable and worthy of your right to be by virtue of your beingness itself; that rather than some fleshy bag of carbon and atoms here to slosh around on planet earth for a brief moment in time, the real you is expansive soul stuff here to reveal something of your unique God-ness during a momentary foray into multiplicity we call a human incarnation – when that happens, some find their books of law crumbling.
When traditions such as Unity would come along to affirm the wondrous nobility of all life, and yes, that includes yours, it’s not because we would have humanity start imagining itself to be more than it really is, but because we would have humanity stop pretending itself to be less than it really is.
We have spent decades – centuries – protecting books of law that would imagine life to be disposable, limited, separate, broken. What do we have to lose by considering books of law that would imagine life to be sacred, limitless, unified and whole? It seems clear to me that an emerging generation of Christians is eager to update their books with such ancient wisdom while allowing the graying pages of original sin and a lowly humanity and a patriarchal supremacy and a Christian exclusivism to fall to the floor. I invite you to read Richard Rohr, John Shelby Spong, Rachel Held Evans.
If we would live anew, we must begin to discard those laws which are less than the truth.
When we find ourselves saying, “You know, I am (fill in the blank),” start by learning to ask yourself, “Now is that really true?”
When we find ourselves saying, “You know, men are/women are/Mexicans are/Muslims are/Gays are (fill in the blank),” start by learning to ask yourself, “Now, is that really true?”
Is that really true? It’s a gateway question that leads us into the capacity to love each other, you understand. It’s a gateway question that leads us into the capacity to choose, to change; to grow.
Is that really true?
And the author asserts four strategies for discarding laws which are less than true. Be impeccable with your word. Now, does this mean that you are to completely discard all filters of good taste? Of course, not. The world doesn’t need to hear everything that comes into your mind or mine. But it does mean that words matter and that we might do well to become more intentional with those words we choose to use.
If we were able to look at our words as things, would we see them go forth to reflect the truths of us or to paint the false selves we want others to see?
And if we were able to look at our words as things, would we see them go forth to unify and to affirm or to separate and to demean?
Don’t take anything personally, he says. He explains that the actions and choices of another offer far more about them than they do about you. When I find myself wanting to take something personally (and that can be something that feels pleasurable or something that feels painful), I try to start by thinking something akin to, “Wow. I wonder what’s going on in your world.”
“You’re the worst teacher I’ve ever known,” someone might say.
“Wow. I wonder what’s going on in your world.”
“You’re the best teacher I’ve ever known.”
“Wow. I wonder what’s going on in your world.”
Don’t make assumptions is his third agreement, and man, this is a fun one. The pattern usually goes something like this: we imagine a story; we assign that story to a person; and then we punish or exalt that person for the story we imagined and assigned.
Specific to this agreement, he suggests the core problem to be that we lack courage: the courage to ask questions and the courage to make requests.
Which brings us to today’s last and final agreement. Always do your best.
Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions and always do your best. Four agreements (practices, if you will) designed to support you in discarding those laws which are less than true.
Always do your best. The author explains, “Don’t be concerned about the future; keep your attention on today and stay in the present moment.” “Live intensely, fully – make it a habit, a ritual.”
He goes on to encourage that we find ways to show up for even the most mundane of daily tasks. That taking a shower might become a ritual of gratitude, that scrubbing a floor might become a ritual of meditation, that listening to another might become a ritual of presence, that driving a car might become a ritual of blessing.
Always do you best, he says, and yet in reading these words, it seems to me that he might have done better to call this chapter, “Always show up.”
He even referenced the movie Forrest Gump to make his point. And I imagine that all can agree that Forrest Gump is about a man who showed up in every moment.
Forrest showed up so fully when his spine was crooked and his legs were in braces, that he inspired Elvis Presley’s iconic hip action.
Forrest showed up so fully when he was being chased, that he ran through the University of Alabama football practice where he caught the eye of Bear Bryant and ultimately became an All-American football player.
Forrest showed so fully when his friend Bubba died, that he started the multimillion dollar Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.
Forrest showed up so fully in every moment, that he graduated college, he earned a Medal of Honor, he met dignitaries, he became a ping pong champion.
And when I say that Forrest showed up, I mean that he gave the fullness of his attention to whatever happened to be before him, until whatever happened to be before him was done. Forrest never expected compensation, and yet he was always richly rewarded.
Unlike Forrest, we tend to find ourselves so distracted by tomorrow’s work that we fail to show up for today’s vacation. We tend to find ourselves so distracted by friends out there that we forget to show up for friends right here. We tend to find ourselves so distracted by what’s been lost that we forget to show up for what’s been given. We tend to find ourselves so distracted by what was that we forget to show up for what is.
There are times on Monday afternoons that I tend to find myself so distracted by Tuesday’s agenda that I completely sabotage the joys of my free day.
One article in Psychology Today says it this way, and I quote, “We live in the age of distraction. Yet one of life's sharpest paradoxes is that your brightest future hinges on your ability to pay attention to the present.”
Something of this present-moment orientation (something of this mindfulness) can be found in Buddhism, Taoism, yoga, tribal traditions. Something of this always-show-up agreement can be found in the works of Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman.
It’s among the deep offerings of the early Christian writers that we find, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ In other words, “Do not spend your energy on your remembered past and your imagined future, but seek first that kingdom of God (which is a here-and-now experience).”
In this chapter, Mr. Ruiz says the same thing this way, “[Look. If you want to say, ‘Thank you, God,’ start by] letting go of the past and [by] living in the present moment, right here and now.”
Always show up.
And here’s an affirmation for you: I show up for life and life shows up for me!