I have a difference of philosophical opinion with this statement….partly because of my understanding of Karma and partly because of the concepts Ruiz introduces to us in Part Two of the Four Agreements. Accepting a statement that your life is only a result of any choice that you made is a bit narcissistic. It somehow indicates that I am disconnected from all others – that their choices don’t affect me and my choices don’t affect them – that there is no cause and effect. If that were the case, then I would have no reason to take accountability for mistakenly hurting someone I love (because ultimately it was their choice to be hurt, not mine)
While it may be true that I am responsible for how I choose to feel, I am also responsible for being compassionate and caring of others and if I inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings, then I think I need to apologize. According to Ruiz, there are many agreements that we made, when we are children, that were not really our choice. Things like the language we use or our own name – these HUGE agreements were not our choice, they were given to us. Of course, language is necessary for us to be able to communicate with one another, but the way in which we process information will vary due to the causes and conditions by which we learned to communicate (aka karma).
The author of this quote is expressing their desire for everyone to take accountability for their own lives and not succumb to playing the role of the victim and I applaud that. Yet, the author fails to recognize that many of the major choices in life, that created the foundation by which all of our other choices grew from, were imposed upon us when we were young. By the time we are able to choose which beliefs we want to keep and which ones we don’t, we have already been assimilated into the dream of society and we follow these agreements without question.
Ruiz makes the point that when we agree with something, we store the information in our memory. As children, we usually agree with most of the information that is given to us by our parents and our teachers. Right or wrong, ethical or unethical, that information is agreed to and stored by us. If this information is repeated to us on a consistent basis, then we create neural pathways to reinforce this thought pattern. We are trained that when we behave badly, we are punished and when we behave well, we are rewarded.
The thought patterns (the karma) we develop are what ultimately dictate our reactions and our choices. If we are shamed as children about not behaving like the other children, we grow up believing that we are no good as adults. Ruiz makes a profound statement, “The human being is the only animal on earth that pays a thousand times for the same mistake, while all of the other animals only pay once.” We don’t want to pay a thousand times for a mistake, so we adjust our beliefs to what others want so that we will feel accepted and loved.
These beliefs, and fears, have been so well engrained into us that we carry them forward into adulthood. They become the laws that govern our lives, some of which are useful and many of which are unjust, but they were beliefs that had always been there, so they often go unquestioned even though they may be completely self-defeating. By developing a mindfulness practice, we can slowly separate ourselves from these agreements, and others’ beliefs, to better discern which ones are causing us suffering and which ones promote greater equanimity.
It is only through a meditation practice that we can step back for a moment to observe how harshly we judge ourselves for the same mistake over and over again (years after the fact, sometimes). Awareness of our self-defeating belief system and extending compassion towards ourselves as we undergo transformation to new ways of thinking are what liberate us from the injustice we serve up for ourselves on a daily basis.