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Sunday, June 26, 2005

the 4 agreements

A friend recently reminded me of a great book that I’d read years ago, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It is a practical guide to personal freedom and corresponds so beautifully with the yogic path. I’d like to share these four agreements, how they relate to your yoga practice, and encourage the power of incorporating these into your life.

The first agreement is "Be Impeccable with Your Word” and the concept is similar to yoga’s satya (truth) principle that is one of the yamas. The author encourages us to begin by speaking gently to ourselves and to observe how we communicate with others. He says, “Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” As yoga practitioners we are human AND we are yogis, so mistakes will be made. However, practicing yoga with integrity means that we speak and live with integrity. Begin to practice being an observer of what you say and how you say it. In our high-tech world, this now goes beyond verbal communication but also e-mail and other forms of written communication.

The second agreement is “Don’t Take Anything Personally.” The author claims that, “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” This is the one agreement that I both love and hate. I absolutely believe that other people’s reactions are often out of our control and come from their own struggles. However, I also believe if you continue to have the same issues with people, this becomes worthy of self-study, svadhyaya. As so eloquently put in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, you are the only constant factor in your numerous interactions. If you continue to run from situations, people, or experiences, expecting things to be different, you may spend your whole life running. This is where the yoga niyama svadhyaya comes in -- a little bit of self-reflection can go a long way to stop these patterns. The author does a wonderful job here reminding readers that people operate based on their own experiences and it is best not to internalize that. I like to go one step further to encourage a little bit of personal responsibility through awareness of patterns through self-study.

The third agreement is “Don’t Make False Assumptions.” I liken this agreement to pratyahara, the fifth step on the eight-limbed yogic path. Pratyahara is the conscious withdrawal of the senses, choosing to consciously react or not react to stimuli. We all have those moments of gut reaction when we say or do something in the moment that we regret almost immediately. The author encourages clear and concise communication, something that is emphasized heavily in the Tranquil Space teacher training. Ask for exactly what you want in as few words as possible – this avoids needless rambling or talking in circles. The author writes, “Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.” How many of us have tortured ourselves over something that we thought someone meant when we were totally off base? Assumptions involve jumping to conclusions over our own perceptions of what we would mean if we had said that, however, it is always a great lesson in humility to realize that not everyone thinks or reacts as we do. Really?

The fourth agreement is “Always Do Your Best.” This concept is similar to the yoga niyama isvara pranidanah -- acting as best we can and then letting go of attachment to the outcome of our actions. The author writes, “Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.” Years ago when I would complain to a friend about an attorney that I worked with (in my former paralegal days), my friend would remind me that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. I always try to remember that when I get frustrated as most people are operating the best they can with the tools they have. Isn’t that powerful? By showing up each day with a clean canvas on which to paint your life, and putting your best foot forward in each situation, you will live a life with few regrets.

These four agreements are very powerful, especially coupled with the yogic principles. As yogis, we are striving to lead a more conscious lifestyle. Blended with our innate humanness, there is always a struggle but I’d like to think that those of us pursing a yoga lifestyle are doing so in a non-pretentious, non-dogmatic but somewhat enlightened way simply because we have more tools – asana and beyond. Choose an agreement and the corresponding yogic principle to play with each week of July. Practice being an observer of yourself, and watch as your world begins to transform through these basic principles.

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