One way of looking at life is to see youth, particularly, as a time of “agreements” we’re then living our lives by. This process of “domestication” that ushers us into the particular way of thinking of our family, community and culture. It’s the perspective skilfully deconstructed and reworked by Don Miguel Ruiz in his book “The Four Agreements”.
Childhood surely does shape our relationship with the human and social realities surrounding us? It’s the time for finding our place; discovering ourselves; learning to stand alone and firmly grasp the world in thought and action. And by far the majority do all they can to help others come to terms with life and form useful ideas for approaching it.
Life perhaps “is” our understanding of the world? Underpinned by all those ideas we’ve accepted as true. Beliefs Ruiz refers to as “dreams”: “The dream of the planet is the collective dream of billions of smaller, personal dreams”.
It’s fascinating to imagine how we’re all directing others’ attention toward what we consider or were told was important. This process of learning and socialisation that civilisation arguably depends upon: bringing people into the world of meaning, purpose and understanding their society’s upholding as valuable (Notes One).
A process where, step by step, we lose ourselves to become as we’re supposed to be – repressing or rejecting parts of “self” to become part of our community (Notes Two). We perhaps all “learned to live by other people’s points of view because of the fear of not being accepted”. Part of being human may be to accept the ideas of a community.
But there’s clearly scope for living with attitudes, ideas and beliefs quite apart from those Ruiz recommends; beliefs that can be as damaging to the individual as to those living alongside them (Notes Three). If our thinking doesn’t reflect our own worth, that of society or the world at large, presumably our behaviour will also reflect that?
The suggestion here is to “forget everything you have learned in your whole life” and, in its place, adopt the four agreements of “Be impeccable with your word”, “Don’t take anything personally”, “Don’t make assumptions” and “Always do your best”. Essentially, to break old agreements that perhaps never truly served us, replacing them with these flexible, healthy ones.
As foundational principles for smoothing our path in life they seem pretty solid, versatile and balanced. A sense of taking responsibility for yourself and doing what’s needed to unpick, relearn and become the best we can be.
Ideas Ruiz carries further in “The Mastery of Love”, exploring the impact of basing relationships on fear and self-protection rather than acceptance and forgiveness; how awareness instead of blame might help heal wounds so we’re able to share ourselves freely with others; and ways our relationship with self informs all other ties we make in life.
With the wisdom or constraint of tradition rapidly fading, this refreshing presentation of Toltec thought offers us some truly human-centred principles for living a modern life.
Notes and References:
“The Four Agreements. A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” by Don Miguel Ruiz, (Amber Allen, California), 1997.
“The Mastery of Love. A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship” by Don Miguel Ruiz, (Amber Allen, California), 1999.
Note 1: What you’re left with
Note 1: Knowledge, capacity & understanding
Note 1: Definition, expression & interpretation
Note 1: What are we primed for?
Note 2: The way to be
Note 2: Society as an imposition?
Note 2: What it is to be human
Note 3: The struggle with being alive
Note 3: Living as an open wound
Note 3: The dignity & power of a human life
Note 3: This thing called love
Offering something of a counterpoint to this, Is cultural sensitivity still a thing? looked at the challenge of individualism meeting with tradition.