Community Drop In Group
We are looking at Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements, and this week, we are continuing with the 2nd Agreement— Don’t take anything personally.
Before I start however, in one of the zoom groups last week, I mentioned how much I appreciated his framing of this in terms of agreements. Someone in the group wanted to know more, so here are some thoughts on why the word agreement is powerful in this context for me.
Agreement for me feels somehow more purposely binding that just setting my intention. When you make an agreement, it means you are willing to follow it. But there is also a particular tone in the word agreement that is helpful to pull out. For example if two people are in conflict, and they come to an agreement for how to move forward, it implies a finding of a mutually acceptable way to put down the fight. It implies finding some goodwill from which moving forward then is possible.
This is evident in the root of the word agree which means “to please, satisfy; to receive with favor, take pleasure in.” Consider the word agreeable— it refers to a sense of pleasant. Also included in the root meaning of agree is “of goodwill and welcome.” So if there is any sense of conflict— which we are often in with ourselves or others—coming to an agreement can be seen as about finding a path of opening with goodwill and ease— and then sticking to it!
So if I carry all of these connotations into the idea of making an agreement with myself, it is in essence an act of finding a way out of conflict with myself that feels good. I do this as an act of goodwill. And agreements only work if followed. The agreement I’m making with myself here is not about perfection in any of these agreements, it is rather about practice, about making an agreement to re-orient myself in this direction again and again, whenever I fall off.
All of these agreements are ways of taking care of ourselves, instead of allowing ourselves to fall again into old hurtful habits and traps. In this way, making an agreement of goodwill with myself is a powerful opening to healing.
Now we can carry the understanding that this is an act of goodwill into Ruiz’s 2nd Agreement— don’t take anything personally. Last week we looked at this through a lens of understanding that we are so interwoven with all around us that there really is no “personal.” “Personal” is a made up, but sometimes useful, concept. But in the context of hurts, blaming, shaming, judgements, it’s not useful.
Ruiz makes a powerful case for this. He looks at this agreement in 2 different ways:
1. What others say about us
2. What we say about ourselves
In terms of what others say about us, I like how he languages this. He says:
Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally. If 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. ... You take it personally because you agree with whatever was said. As soon as you agree, the poison goes through you, and you are trapped in the dream of hell.
He makes it clear that we only take things personally from others that we are willing to take true about ourselves. Otherwise, there would be no reason that we would get mad, offended or upset because we simply wouldn’t accept what they said. It would have no place to land.
One addendum: for me this also includes another kind of “poison”— that is, while I may not believe “I’m so stupid” about myself, I can get endless entangled in worrying about the fact that that person might believe that about me. Don’t take anything personally means totally letting go of what I can’t control about how someone else sees me.
Instead, we learn to see their words and beliefs as a reflection of them, not us. As Ruiz says, What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have made in their own minds. ...
That person trys to send poison to you and if you take it personally, then you take that poison and it becomes yours.... they can hook you easily with one little opinion and feed you whatever poison they want, and because you take it personally, you eat it up.
You eat all their emotional garbage, and now it becomes your garbage. But if you don’t take it personally, you are immune in the middle of hell. Immunity to poison in the middle of hell is the gift of this agreement.
He goes on:
The whole world can gossip about you, and if you don’t take it personally you are immune. Someone can intentionally send emotional poison, and if you don’t take it personally, you will not eat it.
To learn to stand strong in this agreement is a freeing way to be in a world where people chronically lash out at others.
In terms of his second way of looking at not taking anything personally, i.e. all of the ways our own minds create self judgments, self blaming, self shaming habits, Ruiz points out how many divided voices we carry in our own minds. He compares it to a “huge marketplace with thousands of people are talking and bartering at the same time,” each with a different thought, feeling and point of view.
So we have to have some practice using wise discernment for how to navigate all of the voices of the mind. Even though he doesn’t say this specifically in this chapter, the first agreement is a great start with this – be impeccable with your word, meaning take great care with how you speak to yourself. Then don’t take personally whatever crazy messages your mind might create, and don’t let yourself poison yourself with those messages.
Finally I want to name one thing he doesn’t say as clearly in this chapter. If someone gives me the message that something I say is hurtful to them, Ruiz points out clearly how it hurts not because of what I actually said, but rather because that person has a wound on which those words land. If they had no wound, my words can cause them no pain. Getting clear on this is very helpful— it keeps us from trying to take responsibility for what might not be ours. But stopping there leaves something important out.
I want to learn to use words that are less likely to fall onto wounds. To refer back to the 1st Agreement, be impeccable with your words, the words I say matter. I want to learn words that are less likely to cause harm and more likely to open doors for mutual healing. So this second agreement needs the strong backing of the first. It needs my willingness to be open to learning and growing always in response to how my words land for others. While it’s not useful to go into reactive self-blame for poor use of words, it is highly useful to get feedback and then to make an effort to do any wise learning needed from that feedback.
Don’t take anything personally— how is this useful for you?