There is a very well-known, cheap little book that tends to float around the spiritual community called The Four Agreements, written by a man named don Miguel Ruiz. The book, based on Toltec (the folks who were living in what is now Mexico prior to the rise of the Aztec culture) wisdom, outlines four rules to help us limit the amount of suffering we go through in life.
I suspect that part of what makes us human is to suffer. There’s just no way to get through certain things – a breakup, the death of a loved one, a financial crisis – without some amount of suffering. Suffering is that time that we can face our shadow aspects, a time of opportunity to examine who we are, what we want and how we can become stronger versions of ourselves.
But The Four Agreements does, in fact, have some pretty great, simple advice. Ruiz’s goal with the book is to offer a path to limit needless suffering, the kind that comes with things like grudges held over misunderstandings or taking on the frustrations of others when we don’t have to. The agreements themselves are as follows:
Be impeccable with your word.
Don’t take anything personally.
Don’t make assumptions.
Always do your best.
I’ve been thinking a lot about being impeccable with my word lately. I’ve had a tough start to 2018. A series of events have happened in my life that have challenged my sense of whether I’ve done my best; and in the moments that I think about the role I’ve played in my personal hardships, I’ve not done a great job at not making assumptions and not taking things personally. It’s hard! I find myself assigning a lot of blame to the decisions I’ve made, and I’ve thought a lot about the concept of karma, of past choices having an impact on my present.
During these times of introspection, I’ve often labeled myself with negative and untrue things: stupid, lazy, undeserving, ungrateful, bad, unkind, selfish, vindictive, unlovable and a host of other harsh assignations.
It took a close friend stepping up to me and being honest to break the spell that this pattern of negative self-thought had cast on me. She said, “you are kind and supportive to everyone in your life, but when it comes to yourself, you judge yourself more harshly than you ever would anyone else. You’re being hurtful to yourself and you have to stop.”
It’s been a while since I’ve read The Four Agreements, and I had lost the thread of being impeccable with myself-word. We hear “be impeccable with your word” and we automatically translate that to “be kind and don’t say negative things to other people.” But I had been missing the part in which I’m kind and refraining from saying negative things to myself.
Self-love isn’t always available to us. I certainly don’t wake up every day appreciating and embracing every aspect of myself. I’m often overcome with frustration with certain aspects of my personality. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I don’t love the body I see. Someone referred to my “strong European nose” the other day and I immediately spiraled into a moment of self-loathing about not having won the genetic lottery in terms of cute all American button noses and perfectly symmetrical faces.
When self-love isn’t easy to access, though, it’s much easier to choose words that are supportive, to be “impeccable with my word” to myself. Instead of looking in the mirror and saying “you are ugly,” I can choose to say, “you have a unique face that is unlike any other and is beautiful in its own way.” Instead of saying “you’re lazy” I can choose to say, “you are motivated when you have a mission you care about because of your integrity and intelligence.”
I don’t have to believe these things. I just have to say them. Fake it until it’s real, right? Practice, practice, practice. The more we practice, the more we integrate.
Being impeccable with our word extends to other self-promises too, though. Let’s not tell ourselves we are going to go to our yoga class and stress ourselves out all day dreading it if how we truly feel is that we want to snuggle under a blanket and eat cookies and cry. Let’s identify what we need and stand by it: “girl, you are TIRED today, you are going to blow off your responsibilities and let someone else take care of you because you deserve it.”
Even harsh truths, the things that are hard to admit, can stand in for being impeccable with our word: “I am lonely.” “I am not taking care of myself very well.” “I need help.” Speaking our truths to ourselves holds honor and power. We’re not hiding from anything with our words. And when we can speak this way to ourselves, our harshest critics, we can extend that kindness to others.
On the mat at Hustle and Flow, sometimes a person on a mat in front of me will offer to move because they “won’t be able to keep up” or feel embarrassed at having all eyes on them during a challenging class. I have done the very same thing to others as well. As I go forward, I hope to be impeccable with my word to myself, and be able to say, “how I move is perfect in its own way, and there is no reason to be embarrassed.” Perhaps one day I will end up believing it! I invite everyone to join me in this simple act of self-kindness as well.
Pick a class from the schedule to join me in this radical act of self kindness, and we’ll see you in the orange room soon!