As I started to learn about the second agreement, in Part 7, it became quickly apparent that this agreement would be one of the most challenging for me. It challenged my ego’s conventional way of reacting. Things in life were not happening TO me, rather around me, yet this is how most of us are taught in the West. We believe that there is a degree of right and wrong in every decision, or good and bad in everything we say and do. I have learned from yogic (and Buddhist) philosophy that the only way to achieve sweetness of mind is to understand that there is no good or bad, no right or wrong. There are only the ways in which we suffer and the ways in which we become free from suffering.
However, my ego felt affronted when I began to take accountability for my own reactions and my own feelings. When I was no longer able to place blame or guilt on anyone else for my own suffering, saying things like, “you make me so mad”, could not be used to express how I felt in a frustrating interaction with someone. By agreeing that I would not take anything personally, I had now had to become aware of why I was choosing to be upset or frustrated. While this is exceptionally challenging to accomplish in the heat of anger, it is extremely empowering to know that I had a choice in how much power I gave someone else over my state of mind.
Some believe that love “should” be taken personally. After having given this a greal deal of thought, and practice either way, I believe we cannot “take” love, nor “make” someone love us. Love is an action of free will, we choose to love others because love is a verb, and an active practice. If you want to love someone, then you must do so without expectation or reciprocation. (insert Tom Robbins quote “Love is the ultimate outlaw…..) We run the risk that those feelings will not be returned, yet we all seem comfortable taking that risk anyway. If we were take it personally, then we stop trying to love others because we are consumed with feelings of inadequacy and rejection. If we allow this to continue, those feelings can evolve into anger towards the other person if they don’t feel the same way we do. By not taking love personally, then you know it isn’t your “fault” when someone can’t reciprocate your feelings. Sometimes, they are incapable. Sometimes, they are just unavailable. Sometimes, they don’t feel worthy. Or maybe they do love us, but we are so focused on what love should be or how it should be, that we fail to see the actions the other person has taken to express their feelings for us.
It can be excruciating to have to break those habits we were pre-conditioned into thinking and the agreements we are used to making. As you begin to take accountability for how you feel, you can live a much happier life knowing that you have the power to let others piss you off or not. Consequently, the other person also feels a newfound freedom when they aren’t constantly expected to live up to your standards. This freedom can give the friendship the space it needs for both parties to be themselves and develop a deeper intimacy than if we are always trying to just please those around us. Transversely, it may also give you the space you need to see that the friendship isn’t healthy for either party involved and it is okay for you to walk away from it, forgiving both parties for its failure.
The second agreement does not give anyone the permission to treat others with complete disregard just because they shouldn’t take whatever we say or do personally, however. Ruiz ordered “Don’t Take Anything Personally” second, and asks us first “To Be Impeccable with our Words”. First, we must be kind…always, we must be kind. What’s the easiest way to be kind? Not to believe that another’s behavior is a direct reflection upon us. It makes it so much easier to be compassionate towards someone who disagrees with my point of view when I first make the agreement that they are allowed to have their own words, their own agreements. Disagreeing with me means that they see the world differently than I do, not that they want to hurt my feelings. When someone is mean or hurtful, it is generally because their life situation has led them to see the world in a mean and hurtful way. By understanding this is how they see the world, I end up feeling sad for them rather than being angry with them.
You may have noticed a surge in people personally attacking someone for not sharing their same opinion on a particular topic. When this happens to me, I try to notice that they have not made the same agreement I have to “Be Impeccable With Their Word”. Their unwillingness to accept another who is different from themselves demonstrates that they have yet to accept themselves and how fearful they are of the world….they are still sinning against themselves. If I understand that they live every waking hour, with a closed-minded view of the world, then I can’t possibly take what they say personally. It allows me the choice to respond instead of from a a reactive state to a more compassionate one. Or, it may also allow me to see that it is best to just leave the conversation entirely because they aren’t willing to have a respectful conversation. Should I choose to take what the other person said personally, then we would end up exchanging unpleasantries, leaving both of us feeling worse off than when we started. Why do we do this to one another? Why do we attack strangers for having opinions different from our own?
Taking things personally means allowing someone the power to influence my sweetness of mind. It means that my limbic system will take charge of my decision making skills and my brain perceives a threat in nearby. If someone is threatening us then we often fight back for fear that they will harm us in someway. Fear is the greatest enemy we have to experiencing freedom from suffering. Fear keeps us contracted, tied to our attachments that we believe comfort us, but as we have seen may actually be more harmful to our overall state of being. Looking beyond that fear, we can open to a greater abundance of love that is available within us – love for ourselves and love for others – so long as we choose it.