Monday, August 24, 2015

The First Agreement

The word is the most powerful tool you have as a human; it is a tool of magic. But like a sword with two edges, your word can create the most beautiful dream or your word can destroy everything around you. -- don Miguel Ruiz, "The Four Agreements"
Recently my husband and my father in law tackled a big messy project in our back yard. An invasive species of bamboo, not the tall pretty Crouching Tiger-y type, but the bunchy, ugly, yard overcoming sort that can grow before your eyes on a rainy day. It formed a giant bush that nearly bisected our yard. They spent the better part of the day hacking out this mess and loading it onto the back of my father in law's truck to take it to the borough yard waste dump. It wasn't fun, but it was necessary.

I feel like I'm undertaking a similar project in my life. We are in a season of chaos-before-order, uprooting clutter, uprooting habits that threatened to take over, uprooting thought patterns that are invasive and unpretty. It is hard work, but it is necessary. I recently read don Miguel Ruiz' the Four Agreements and have found it enormously helpful in addressing some of the 'soul clutter' that needs clearing.

The first agreement, be impeccable with your word, is something I misunderstood on the surface. I always took that to mean 'do what you say you are going to do', which, while noble and always a good policy, is not what he's talking about. Being impeccable with your word means not filling the air with opinions that don't do anyone any good. It means not bringing negativity to a space and sharing it when it does no actual good.  He talks about ideas that 'poison' other people, impressions of others that we share that others may accept as truth and act on accordingly. It is a tough thing to think about. I find myself reviewing unkind words or acidic assessments of other people I've spoken that were likely taken as truth (or humor) just as I have taken others' opinions as truth, when in fact, I am only speaking out of my own reality, as they are speaking out of theirs. I think about how bad it would be if I was characterized forever by my worst day, or my most erroneous belief, or my unkindest comment.

I have a really good memory. This is helpful in many contexts but it is a bit of a torment when I can remember mean or stupid things I said fifteen years ago with absolute clarity. And I do remember. So one of the tasks before me as I indulge in the order-before-chaos of being who I really want to be is to uproot this habit of saying more than I should and not imposing my dream as reality on other people. My mother in law is fond of quoting a Bible verse which says that the power of life and death are in the tongue. This First Agreement is very much about using that power for life.

Monday, August 03, 2015


        Repetition makes the master. - Don Miguel Ruiz, 'The Four Agreements'

Let me tell you how it happens sometimes.

You start in a place of desperation. You know something has to change. You get inspired. You make decisions. You make changes. You get results. You have success. You get noticed and praised. You get cocky. You get careless. You think you can get away with stuff you can't actually get away with without concrete consequences.  You start going backwards. You panic, but not enough to stop old habits. You get distracted. You flame out for a while. And while you do, you stoke embers of really useful things, like regret and self loathing. It does not feel awesome.

And one day, sometimes, you hear something simple that makes sense. And you realize that you can pick up where you left off with a minimum of drama. In my case, it was simply this: "Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it, Establish your priorities, and go to work" . A friend put this up as a Facebook status a few days ago. And I realized something. I have wasted SO much energy wrapping my personal goals in a thick blanket of emotion. I've indulged in morose contemplation of past failures, of backtracking and time wasted, all the while wasting more time and making everything much, much harder than it needs to be. 

In the end, there is one useful course of action, and it is simply this. Plan and execute. Decide what I want, decide what the steps are to get what I want, take the steps. Find people who will kick you in the right direction if you get off course. Listen to them. I consider myself lucky because I found a community in DDP Yoga that is wall to wall with people who have overcome limitations I can't even imagine to improve their lives and health. This is a no BS no excuses community. I'm thankful to be a part of it. 

In the spirit of that community, without apology or excuse, I am back on track, back on task, and doing what needs to be done one day at a time.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Courage to Change the Things I Can

     I've decided not to be concerned that sometimes my writing wells up from an angry place.
Usually I'm doing something very ordinary; washing dishes, for example. Folding laundry. A sentence fragment winds itself around the hard core of a feeling, a white hot sense of urgency. And so it spins itself into a whole sentence, usually something from the middle of the stack of thoughts. I have to work backwards and forwards to work it into the weft. Intelligently. Usefully. And I worry. Always worry that whatever comes out is too intense, too much like the fevered scribbles in the pages of a journal with a wraparound lock, something I'd write in with a foolish pen, cotton candy pink or with a big plastic daisy on top. He likes me. He doesn't like me. I memorized his schedule so I could pass him in the hall. It is hard to know when your writing stops smelling of rollerball lipgloss and hormone driven urgencies and starts making sense, being real. Or maybe it is all real, and 14 year old real is just as valid as 43 year old real.
What purpose does it serve? I ask that question not with the desperate fear that maybe the answer is "None at all", but because I really don't know. Truly don't. Only that sometimes it is anger and failure and frustration that turns the machine, starts the shower of sparks.
     I am considering the possibility that I am an addict. And I use that word carefully, gingerly, not wanting to grasp the corner of a flag I don't have the right to fly. Being a sugar addict isn't the same as being addicted to something that could kill me outright. Its legal. Hell, its everywhere. And I only use the term in response to the degree to which it is humiliating and frustrating not to have mastery over something that, for most people, isn't even a thing. Isn't even an issue. But when you want something very badly and that want paces your thoughts, talking endlessly, accusing, bargaining, pleading, interrupting your peace, making threats, I think it is fair use. Addiction. Okay.
     I walked that narrow road for a good few months where I kept it away. And didn't miss it. And acknowledged that it was best left elsewhere and not in my house. Then I let it back in through a series of sneaky compromises. And before I knew it, the "When this is gone I'll just...." negotiations started. And hey, something occurred to me.

Changing the things I can is a real bitch.

I think I have paid really close attention to the first part. "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change." because that focuses the whole business on making things okay, dealing with what needs dealt with. Legitimate enterprise. Absolutely necessary. Acceptance seems like something that will eventually happen if you wait the right way. Maybe it will steal over you while you sit around a particularly poignant and introspective campfire. One day you find you have the calluses and muscles necessary to grasp and carry the Things that Cannot Change.

But even if that is true (and I suspect that it is not), that's only a third of the way home. When I ask for 'the courage to change the things I can' the implication is that I intend to make use of that courage and actually change things.


It is the things in this category I'm having to confront right now. A big ol' pile of Things. Behavior I can't engage in. Ways of dealing with stress and frustration and intensity and hurt that don't work and never did. And it seems so stupid that this can be as simple as things I can no longer eat and drink. I am realizing that, for me, there is no 'treat yourself', there is no 'once in a while' with some things. And that has to be okay. Because the only way to stop negotiations with that internal liar, that endless compromise, is to call it out, call it what it is no matter how foolish and humiliating it might be, and deal with it accordingly. The courage to change the things I can.  Not just most of the time', but all the time.

The wisdom to know the difference. Wisdom is a good thing to ask for. Solomon asked for wisdom and as a result, pretty much got everything else he needed. We get it when we ask also. Sometimes there's a little gap between the wisdom and the place we need to land.

I have to believe I can make the jump.