Agreement #2: Don’t Take Anything Personally

As I sat on a bus headed to Marseilles from Barcelona, I felt the clouds that have been hanging in my heart for the past year clear out and sunshine began to burst forth. The need to let go of the layers of hurt and betrayal, by a man, a community, and myself, was overwhelming. I had carried this burden of sadness and anger for quite some time now and it has caused me to remain stuck in the stage of grief that often prevents people from moving forward in life. The bargaining stage, a necessary part of the grieving process, is anchored firmly within our own ego – I had been bargaining with mine for quite some time.  Bargaining gave me a false sense of hope and false hope was my ego’s way making me believe that I was able to change someone else’s karma.  This bargaining, or false hope, kept me in a relationship with a lying, cheating, covert narcissist long after I found out the truth about him.  Bargaining kept me tied to a belief that a company, full of overtly narcissistic a-holes, could be better than they were long after I uncovered their lies. Bargaining kept me stuck in a cycle of fear, complacency and self-loathing that led to a state of overwhelming depression.  At one point, I contemplated suicide as the only option to end my suffering.  The illusion of control is the most challenging to expunge.

The bargain I had tried to make forced me to evolve into someone other than my true self, in the false hope I would be granted acceptance by others – something I would equate to making a deal with the Devil.  To deviate from the path towards sweetness of mind left me feeling even more isolated than before.  Yet, making an agreement to not take things personally is similar to the Buddha’s teachings on attachment and clinging, or the other side of the coin – avoidance (they all cause equal suffering).  I took the things that these people, I once trusted, did very personally because I was attached to their approval as validation of my worth.  I clung to the idea that the outcome of these relationships proved whether or not I was of value.  I became so caught up in that need to please others’ misappropriated expectations of themselves, that my spirit became shrouded in negativity. As we all know, but often forget, the world is full of negative energy and a lot of it gets directed at us by other people and often what they are saying about “you” is really about them.

Looking back at Agreement 1 to “Be Impeccable with Your Word”, Ruiz emphasizes how our perceptions of others are really reflections of ourselves.  Confucius concluded this, as well, when he summarized ‘the way to put the world in right order is to, ultimately, first get our personal lives in order’, and in order to do that, “we must first set our hearts right”.  Thus, the only way to resolve my deep seeded fear of abandonment was to realize that the only person, who could truly ever abandon me, was me.  It was then I made the commitment to continuously show up for my own life, to be my own best friend, in order to cease seeking validation from others.  Only then could I finally be rid of the fear.  I had to focus on not taking what something someone said, to or about me, personally.  This still remains a constant struggle for me to maintain the awareness of the karmic thought patterns that I had habitually repeated through life.  However, with attention and care, over the course of time, the grooves started to even out and clearer thinking has been the welcomed result.  This made it possible for me to review the relationships and not be trapped in their personal drama.

I also had to learn what the second agreement is not……Agreement #2 does not mean that I should succumb to passivism, nor does it does mean that I hold an air of arrogance (taking things personally does not mean we are better than anyone else).  Just as the Buddha taught non-attachment is not the same as detachment.  In order to maintain composure instead of being poisoned by someone else’s words, it is imperative to maintain a level of equanimity, so that these words did not become the agreement I made with myself.  It is important that we not allow what someone else says or does to become a personal agreement we make as to how we choose to feel, think, speak, or act in the world.  The only person who can provide validation of your self-worth is YOU.  But, before I could to get there, I first had to set my heart right.  And the only way I could do that was let go of the personal baggage from the past, in order to see things clearly as they were, and not as I bargained for them to be.

Clearly, we were all dysfunctional, but the only yard I had to clean up was my own.  This was, and is, the hardest work I will ever have to do in my life and it has also been the most rewarding.  It required me to get acutely honest with myself and that meant that I had to be accountable for my role in the relationship.  I had become passive as I gave away my power of choice over to another in search of their approval.  The farther I moved away from my true self, the angrier I became and my anger was not being used in a constructive manner.  Many significant societal changes have come about because of adversity and negative emotions, so there is no reason to believe that anger is a “bad” feeling.  When we stop taking things personally it doesn’t mean that our lives will be lollipops and rainbows all of the time, it just means that you don’t allow someone else’s insecurities to be the cause of your suffering.  Non-attachment gives you the opportunity to see clearly who you are in the present moment, not who someone else wants you to be, or who you think someone else is.  Not taking things personally gave me the freedom to move into a stage of acceptance and forgiveness.

I finally saw clearly that the harm caused by the community and the man has been done to many others, and will probably continue to be done until they work to revise their personal agreements.  What happened within my community wasn’t a personal attack, but rather I understood that the need to devalue me and others spoke volumes as to how badly they personally feel about themselves as human beings.  This gave me the opportunity to forgive those who had caused harm, without condoning their actions.  In regards to my ex…..I learned I am not the first woman he has cheated on, despite his lies to the contrary, nor will I be the last.  The manner in which his relationships have failed demonstrate his inability to empathize, appreciate, or accept others who are different from himself.  Realizing that he is plagued with an insatiable need to be perfect, helped me understand he will be haunted with disappointment the rest of his life.  How could I not feel sorry for someone who will never truly love themselves or others?

The hardest part of the work was yet to come, however.  I had to forgive myself for my own complacency and for allowing myself to be suckered into a corporate cult.  I have always considered myself to be a strong, independent woman, so it has been difficult for me to accept that I was so willing to conform to another’s beliefs.  Of course, that is what happens when you begin to take things personally – you go against the grain of your true Self and often times end up living a life that offers no growth, no creativity, and no joy.  The reason I hadn’t forgiven myself is because I still wondered what others thought of me after such a massive life failure.

Recently, I received a text from a former student in regards to the events of the past year that read, “So…..unfortunately I feel I must say this:  I am very hurt……after I did everything I could to show up for you after you got fired.  I am also very disappointed in your blog.  That was so hurtful to so many people on so many levels.  Whatever it was that……any of us did to you, I think you did much worse.  It was the most un-yogic thing I’ve ever seen and as your were my teacher.  I’m totally hurt and disappointed.”  Normally, I would have been enraged by a text that was so self-absorbed and ignorant, but then it occurred to me that I had not taken what she said personally which made me realize that I am getting closer to integrating the second agreement into my life, closer than I was a year ago.  Her text reminded me that I, too, defended this community and this man to my friends and family when they questioned their integrity and their motives.

Now here she was, as a reflection of the past.  By bringing to light their appalling behavior, I am threatening the bubble she has tried to insulate herself with.  I am filled with compassion because I know the road she still has to walk is filled with hurt and the pain of disillusionment.  Unfortunately, she must walk the path alone – no one can pull the wool from our eyes, just as no one can put it in from them either.  We individually choose to drink another’s poison, or we don’t.   At the point we stop taking things personally, we begin to see clearly what is broken in the world, without lamenting about why or how it happened.  We are then we free to go about actually doing the work to become a solution, instead of compounding the problem.  Unlike this former student, and as painful as it was, I decided I no longer want to live in a bubble, or in constant need of validation from others.  I will not change the personal agreements I have made to speak up about harmful actions.  I have agreed to take the action necessary to “be the change” I hope to see in a broken heart in order to put a community back in order.  Maybe that is unrealistic, maybe not, but I will not take it personally if it doesn’t happen.

Click here for the Follow Up to Agreement #2.