Love not Fear: Living by the Four Agreements

Corvus and I (right before we stopped commuting to work together because somebody started working from home…) had the opportunity to reread The Four Agreements. Every couple years or so, I pick it up again–usually when I feel that my metaphoric walls have gotten a little thin and the world is wearing me out more than is strictly necessary. It provides a good reminder that interacting with the world does not have to be an exhausting resource drain. Every time I read this, I get something new out of it, and this time was no exception.

Let me just preface the following discussion with a disclaimer: I know this is not a particularly deep or well-written book. Corvus frequently refers to it as a “pamphlet” (not in a judgemental way, just by way of observation–it doesn’t really contain a books worth of information) and I am inclined to agree with him. It is repetitive, simplistic, and repetitive. Did I mention repetitive? However, this works in the context. Especially if you need a paradigm shift in the way you are approaching the world, because maybe whatever you are doing just doesn’t seem to be working. I can see that some people might be turned off by the strongly spiritual approach and language. However, for me, it provides a relevant metaphor (no need for a literal interpretation).

The basic premise of the book is really quite simple. From the time we are born, we are essentially being domesticated–a lot like the way we domesticate dogs or cats. We tell them what is good and what is bad. Based on this input, we make agreements with ourselves, our families, our friends, the social circles to which we belong, etc. These agreements frequently contradict one another and are based on the rules established by our respective societies. Yet we agree to them, often without knowing why.

Don Miguel Ruiz claims that keeping these endless and conflicting agreements robs us of all our energy. Furthermore, he promises that making just four new agreements will free up enough personal power to deal with all our other individual agreements. They are as follows:

1.) Be impeccable with your word–in other words, don’t lie.
2.) Don’t take anything personally–in other words, anything and everything people say is all about them. Everything. Really. Everything. So you don’t need to take anything personally. (This was a big time life changer for me).
3.) Don’t make assumptions–well, we all know what happens when we assume…
4.) Do your best–after all, it is all you can really do, and your best may be different every day.

The first time I read it, it was really all about not taking things personally. This was the beginning of my understanding that I had to become my own source of validation. So, good stuf.

This time through, what kept coming up for me over and over and over again was the idea that much of our modern lives are lived based on fear. More specifically, fear of (Perhaps Corvus will be so lovely as to expound upon his “Fear of” vs. “Fear for” theory at some point in the comments?). As I go through my daily routine, I find myself more concious of the presence of fear in my life. I see more clearly the ways in which I let it hold me back. How it affects my course, disrupts my journey, creates stress and suffering.

So lately I am toying with the idea that you could live a life based on love rather than fear. I’m thinking about what it would like like to make decisions out of love. How it would feel to live without fear (at least most of the time). That’s what I want. It’s really just that simple. The rest of it is just details.

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6 Responses to Love not Fear: Living by the Four Agreements

  1. kaizerin says:

    I have to admit, that book was given to me some years ago, and I didn’t get too far into it before thrusting it away from me forcefully. However, its major points, as you have boiled them down, are quite valuable.

    You know how sometimes, when you hear a piece of advice that really clicks with you, it sort of rings around in your head and you never forget who said it, and where and when? That bit about not taking things personally, about recognizing that the things people say and do are about themselves, not you, reminds me of something my wise ol’ stepdad, Bubba, once said. He told me it was a waste of time putting a lot energy into ‘getting even’ with people for the slights and injuries they had caused me; in his experience, most people were doing a pretty good job of punishing themselves already.

    It was like the whole world turned around and I was looking at it from the opposite side. I’m not here to set you straight, I’m here to take care of my own business. And anyway, there’s nothing I can do to hurt you that can even compare to the damage you do yourself. It made me think about the things I do to hurt and undermine myself; it made me recognize that I could never face an enemy greater than my own self, and I needed to be on my own side, first. (Bookish tie-in: Carolyn Baker’s “Reclaiming the Dark Feminine: the Price of Desire” is a fantastic book for getting a handle on the ways we undermine our own happiness.)

    Coupled with your book’s advice that the insult or injury was never about me in the first place, that’s a lot of freeing up from other people’s issues.

    I’m interested in hearing more about “fear of” and “fear for”. I suspect it will link nicely with a discussion Carter and I had years ago about freedom as a motivator, and whether we were motivated by ‘freedom from’ or ‘freedom to’.

  2. kaizerin says:

    Also: nice kick-off for the 2nd Annual “What Scares You?” discussion! It’s Halloween time, and as ever, I’m in the frame of mind for foggy nights, lurking shadows, and shivery chills down the spine!

    Ooh, you know what I’m really in the mood for? A Vincent Price movie marathon. A whole day of V.P. at his elegant, creepy best, romancing and/or menacing a series of beautiful women clad in flowing peignoirs, in and around decrepit manor houses.

    Do they still make peignoirs? I feel compelled to be dressed appropriately when AMC kicks in with its 13 Nights of Halloween festival. 🙂

  3. Ramona says:

    Kai – I’m certain they still make peignoirs. Do you remember the old lavendar one you used to dress up in?
    I, too am looking forward to the “fear of”, “fear for” discussion.
    Being involved in a 12 step program helped me alot in letting go of fears. Mostly fears that something would happen to my children. Worrying about something that may never happen is a waste of time. Time that is better spent reading, knitting, working, doing anything one enjoys.

  4. Corvus says:

    It was the mid-nineties and I was living in the Uptown area of Minneapolis. One weekend, I found myself walking home from some party that no longer held my interest. The party was somewhere north of downtown. It was a long walk (something I used to do quite often) and I was in a philosophical mood.

    As I crossed Franklin Ave I saw a drug deal going down in a parking lot. I saw the trio of young men at the same time they saw me. We all did a rapid assessment of the situation. One of them had his hand up under his hoodie at his waist. I emanated every casual disinterested vibe I could muster. After all, I don’t believe that anyone else’s decision to do drugs is any of my business. I honestly just don’t care…

    Once I was able to relax, I suddenly realized how badly I felt for those three guys. The thought that they were making choices which led to them feeling threatened by me, seemed to be a tragedy. I was afraid for them. For what they might do to themselves, or to someone else, because of their own fear and insecurities. The worst, I figured, they could do to me was kill me. After I was dead, there wasn’t much more they could do that I’d notice. They, on the other hand, would have to live with having killed me for the rest of their lives.

    I considered (and still do) that to be a fate far worse than death. Living with having killed someone? Slowly removing pieces of your own humanity because you felt so threatened by someone else? Terrible.

    About a block away, I started laughing a bit. I had just walked through a tense and potentially dangerous situation and spent the whole time worrying about the humanity of other people involved. If felt really damn good. I felt free. I felt happy.

    And that’s when it hit me–instead of being afraid of them, I had felt afraid for them. Instead of my fear pushing me further away from them, conceptually speaking, it drew me closer to them. Instead of my fear ultimately leading to my hating of them, it would lead to my loving of them. Fear of == hate. Fear for == love. I vowed to always try to fear for whenever I felt fear again.

    I have a fortune from a cookie on my desk. It used to live in the little plastic window of my wallet, before I started making paper wallets. It reads, “A Fearless Person Cannot Be Controlled.” I like it, but it isn’t strictly true in my experience. A person who does not experience “fear of” cannot be controlled. A person who experiences “fear for” is almost always the one in control.

  5. kaizerin says:

    C–that’s a powerful transformation of thought–from the common, animal response of fear for one’s own safety, to the bigger picture of “who’s really in trouble here?” I can see where living in that mindset would be very liberating.

    CZ–now that you’ve brought up the topic of fear, it’s popping up everywhere in my field of view. I was reading the Get Rich Slowly blog on a completely unrelated topic, and found this older post that spoke right to the issues you’ve raised lately about stepping outside the comfort zone and living beyond your fears.

  6. CountessZ says:

    What an excellent post! I particularly liked the line: “For too long, fear of failure held me back. Failure itself didn’t hold me back — the fear of it did. When I actually try something and fail, I generally get right back up and do it again, but better the second time. I pursue it until I succeed. But often I convince myself that I can’t do something because I’m going to fail at it, so I don’t even bother to try.”

    The thing I liked most about the “fear of/fear for” concept was that it allows for the presence of fear, which is a very useful and natural human emotion, but provides a different direction for the application of the emotion. Or maybe a different motivation.

    Anyway, the journey continues…

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