“Fear may feel very real but it is really nothing more than a convincing illusion.” –Adyashanti
In America, we are really “good” at the forth agreement. We are the best, in fact. From the time we are young, we are taught we need to be the best, do the best, be better than the best, and we are the best – no child gets left behind, we all strive for excellence. The trouble isn’t so much that we strive to do the best, the trouble is that we allow for the “best” to be a constant variable that changes from person-to-person, day-to-day, and moment-to-moment. We mistake best to mean perfect and then we teach our children to be perfectionists. “Perfectionism is self-loathing in its highest form.” I myself have worked for the better part of my adult life to eliminate the self-defeating concept of being “perfect”. When you get caught in the thought pattern that doing the best means you can never make a mistake, you are constantly acting as the Judge, Jury and Executioner of your self-worth based on your ability to achieve or not achieve goals.
Ruiz, instead, offers that “When you do your best, you don’t give the Judge the opportunity to find you guilty or to blame you.” Instead, he implies, you start believing in yourself, that you have indeed done your best, at any given point in time – win or lose – and you give yourself permission to take the fifth. Instead of constantly being at odds with yourself, your mind and your heart act as one team. Instead of your aim being perfection, you aim for sweetness of mind. Sweetness of mind is a concept that I learned from studying the Bhagavad Gita. As I repeat “sweetness of mind” to myself, I feel more peaceful. I visualize the feeling of being comfortable in my own skin, being confident in my abilities and humble about my shortcomings, and I forgive myself and others for past mistakes. Others may refer to this state of mind as happiness, bliss, union, etc. For me, these labels still indicate a constant striving for some end point outside of myself. The state of mind that is sweet, reminds me that this is a process and a journey, something to savor – not so much the destination, or a craving.
We all yearn to be happy, we all yearn for peace, but when we don’t achieve our perceived blissful state, we are often disappointed in ourselves and others. This leaves us with feelings of unresolved anger and resentment. It also projects the responsibility for a happy state on something outside of yourself, or on someone else to provide it for you. This keeps us in a place of constant victimization by others and by life itself. Ruiz states that doing your best centers on being in action, “Action is about living fully. Inaction is the way that we deny life. Inaction is sitting in front of the television every day for years because you are afraid to be alive and to take the risk of expressing what you are. Expressing who you are is taking action. You can have many great ideas in your head, but what makes the difference is the action. Without action upon an idea, there will be no manifestation, no results, and no reward.”
Inaction generally indicates fear. As a perfectionist, the biggest thing I have always feared is failure. By definition, failure means “lack of success”. This is the antithesis of perfectionism which is defined as “a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection, and rejects anything less.” This comes back to perfectionism being the highest form of self-loathing. It is veiled under the guise that we are “doing our best”, so we must be “good”. All the while, the inner voice, the Judge, is rejecting anything less than success, achievement, or perfection. These relentless demands we place on ourselves, and usually on others, keep us in a constant state of stress and dis-ease when we don’t live up to expectations. As a perfectionist, I never gave myself credit for the effort when I took it, rather I only saw the areas that I came up short. This led to times of extreme procrastination and repressed feelings because I wouldn’t put forth the effort to try something new, or to make myself vulnerable, because of that perceived fear of failure.
The forth agreement states that simply by acting, you have done your best. This also means that the other three agreements have been applied. Being Impeccable with Your Word implies that you will do your best to be honest. Don’t Take Things Personally implies that you will do your best to let go of resentment. Don’t Make Assumptions implies that you will do your best to take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings. I would like to add that when we act from a place of sincerity, respect, kindness, and compassion for ourselves and others, then we have achieved excellence. It doesn’t matter if the planned end result was achieved or not, when you act with the best of intentions, you are able to retain your sweetness of mind.
As I continue to remind myself that perfection is overrated and that my sweetness of mind is my one true goal, I can begin to let go of any attachments to external results and focus more on the feeling present for the journey – being present for your own life, while treating yourself with love and respect, is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.