don Miguel Ruiz’s wisdom book, The Four Agreements, is something to pay attention to. But you can’t be impatient with it. He talks simply and succinctly about concepts that when you actually apply them to daily life, are as difficult as making a good sushi roll. Your metaphorical self-knife must be sharp, your attention delicate but firm.
In this post I will be talking about the way the first agreement,“Be impeccable with your word,” helps forge real connections in relationship, how being in touch with what is true for you is a self-loving act, and how these go together to vitalize your life and relationships.
The practice of holding these agreements connect you to what is real, profound, and ultimately life-giving within you. Truth is delicate and firm when connected to love, and it feels vitalizing when put into action. Words are actions, in this sense:
Ruiz writes, “Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”
This agreement can ground you in a moment of conversation. The delay that it takes to think about what you mean is a kind of holding yourself, as if you matter. And you do.
This is not about saying something and just going through with it blindly, or just doing what you said you are going to do. It’s definitely not about being nice, because in many ways “nice” is just a “nice” way of talking about the way that people lie. It is about holding a position within you that your truth matters, and trusting that by bringing it forth you will have something of value to offer.
If you want to build trust in your relationships, then holding this agreement for yourself will help you say what you mean to say, be more accountable to your word, and also, gives you the courage to take the risk of being honest with your loved ones about what you are thinking. Not about them – but honest about what is going on within you.
Personally, I am in recovery from being a yes-sayer and an over-extender. Despite what I have needed in a situation at hand, I have learned through my own self-discovery process that I can negate myself in the “service” of others. This pattern causes resentment and trouble in relationships in the long run. I am serving no one if I am negating myself along the way. And the mess of cleaning up this kind of self-negation can feel like cleaning up a never ending spill. But holding this agreement with myself continues to bring strength and calm to the process.
This agreement has helped me to start turning the corner and take more risks, to love myself more, and to have the guts to say “no” when I mean “no.”
What this means is that in each moment – even as things change – I am present with what is happening and attempt to find words to match that. I don’t just say “yes” before pausing anymore, because “yes” can be a habitual response of someone who got taught that “pleasing” others is the highest value. I must pause and listen, trust myself and take the risk to bring that truth forward in order to live in integrity.
Being “nice” now means a way that I block myself, and that ultimately is me not being nice to me. It is different to stop yourself from being mean, impulsive, or spouting out something without reason or with an intensity that is unwarranted. But to hide your truth in the attempt to avoid conflict is a distortion. This distortion is not self-loving, and thus can not be a loving act in a relationship.
Your truth is your love. What is true tends to settle like the end of a wave at the tip of the shore. Its clear, still, and settling to our nervous systems. It can take a certain stillness to tap into, but when you do, love is also there. You are being self-loving when you listen to yourself.
When you lie or cover up by beating around the bush instead of just talking about the bush, no one understands each other. If we offer distortion to our lives, others then get tangled in it, and thus your distortion causes havoc in the lives of those around you. This is not generating love within your life or others. It is generating confusion, and most likely frustration as well – both of which are signals that what is alive is being negated instead of allowed to move forward into completion.
“Pleasing” others, for example, is a distortion that may fool your friend for a second that she is getting what they want, but when you get irritated later, or flake out as a result of not taking care of your own needs, that first moment is completely meaningless. This scenario is a relational tangle that takes more time to clear up than if you had taken a moment to pause when making the plan. Then you may have said, “I can’t (or don’t want to) meet that early” instead of stressing yourself in attempts to give your friend the meeting time that she wants. Denying the relationship the chance to show you that you can negotiate together – or that you can actually have a truthful friendship – is not a self-loving act, nor is it a loving act in relationship to one another. Accommodation of another’s needs is only loving if you can truly mean that you are letting go of your own. Resentment nor irritation follows such an act.
According to Ruiz, your word carries a power that either connects you to you and you to others, or it disconnects you and can cause harm. The agreement is to use the power of your word for the creative and interconnecting force of love.
Holding yourself in and with love is all part of embodying yourself in a way that stands in that clarity. Clarity in you offers clarity to others.
I hold the first part of the agreement as an inner command. The inner command reminds me: “Say what you mean.”
“Meaning” is a sophisticated concept. In order to know and sense into what that word is connected to, I find that both being present and then the consideration of intent is necessary. If you agree to the terms of the whole agreement, then your intent is “toward truth and love.”
And believe me – there is a little part of me that shuns those words in disgust when I read them because they seem so disconnected to how I can experience life sometimes. Life can feel murky and confusing, hard and annoying. Truth and love? How can I find that amidst all the distortion? The frustration I feel, however, is only signal that there is something alive waiting to be found. And it takes a slowing down, a trust, and an intent towards love in order to do so.
“Fine, I’ll breathe,” says my old, habitual self.
Of course, to feel into yourself in a way that finds your truth, while connected to love, takes being present in any particular moment. Being present is opposed to being in the future or past, or above yourself in a concept like “I should act or say….” It is about noticing the dirt and distortion, and standing in an intention to find what is clear, true, and simply loving. In the practice of it, it isn’t so hard. In a moment where there is pressure to perform or fear of being rejected, it takes some bravery to follow the agreement and see what happens. I am finding that it is worth it every time. The sense of vitality I get when I find the truth of a matter is the sign I look for.
Truth can be multifaceted which makes holding this agreement a creative act. If you choose to speak in the direction of truth and love, you will find words that fit that intention, and bring it into your relationships. One truth, but many ways of expressing it. Some are more clear than others. Follow the current of what creates a sense of aliveness – A sense of excitement that feels good.
Let’s be careful here – because this agreement is not about just changing your mind, or suddenly and spontaneously having some truth that you must live out after making a plan with someone. That is called being flaky. This is about in each moment, knowing what is true for you and saying what you mean. If you do this all of the time, than there should be no change of plans, because the truth is actually something pretty consistent.
The sense data of our bodies send guiding signals to orient to – this is primarily for our survival, but also helps to tune into the environment and to listen to our feelings and thoughts as they run the course of our nervous systems. Sometimes signals can be maladaptive – you want to run, or shut down, and that is the loudest thing you can hear.Perhaps, you may look and listen, and find that you are not experiencing really anything (yet). But that is where an intention to find your truth is important (and Ruiz does not talk about the difficulties of this). Many of us need time and support in order to learn to listen amidst all the messages that we have picked up that have told us that our truth is not correct by the environment around us.
All of this can be territory that somatic psychotherapy can help with in order to gain clarity and some new ways to body yourself so that you have more tolerance, and the capacity, to feel and speak at the same time. These are learned skills that anyone can develop.
I think us humans need more education as to how to find our meaning, our truth, and to make the connection from our body’s to the world in a very real way. Our bodies can betray us, our minds can trick us – to get closer, to lean in, to find what is true and loving takes serious attention.
To hold your truth as if it matters and up for those to see can be a loving act, but it is not always comfortable. In fact in many ways our bodies will say to run or shut down in these moments. This is why pausing is so important – not not just speak from the habitual, but to find where you are and what you mean in the present situation.
When we hide our truths in order to keep the “peace,” this can be seen as an aggression against love. To be in relationship in a real way, we must make contact. Peace is only peace if it is truly without conflict. When we lie to ourselves and distort our truth, this causes an inner conflict that is ultimately not self-loving, and thus cannot be a loving act within any relationship. Loving myself and my truth builds a bridge towards another in a real and concrete way. It takes practice to be more alive – to not only tolerate, but allow the current of vitality through you into action and words.
If you are interested in my Somatic Psychotherapy practice, communication help within relationships, or in taking the risk to know and live your truth, contact me here.