The Four Agreements: Impressions

Book review of The Four Agreements – by Don Miguel Ruiz

I read The Four Agreements after receiving it as a loaner from a colleague. He told me how he read this book while on a flight, and that he loved it so much he read it three more times on the same trip, and that it had helped transform his life. That is pretty hefty praise for such a little book, so I humbly sat down with it this weekend, wondering what precious gems it had offered that transformed the life of my older, wiser colleague.

The Four Agreements was a quick read at only 138 pages, and took me less than a few hours to get through. The chapters of this book are laid out in logical sequence, with each lesson building on its predecessor, and the concepts are simple to understand.

I noticed immediately that there is a religious overtone in the message, which alerted my skepticism as to the content right away. Anytime I see that faith is a part of the basis of a lesson that someone is trying to teach, I become irrevocably skeptical and the logic in me demands to see proof behind the claims that are being made. This book was no different. In his prose, Ruiz comes off as an expert on the subject of how best to live your life, and he bases this in the teachings of the ancient Toltec society, but without much further context to provide credibility to the finality of his statements.

Whatever position you take on matters of religion and spirituality, though, it is possible to accept what you can believe, and simply read between the lines of the rest while setting judgment aside. I am someone who doesn’t believe in ‘god,’ but I can still appreciate that believing in something bigger than ourselves is helpful to many people, and that the philosophy behind the faith often still holds some important messages on how we can strive to live our lives in a good way.

So I continued reading, ignoring the statements that ‘God is in everything,’ ‘God is life,’ etc., etc.. The efficacy of any self-help book is going to depend on the openness of the mind who reads it, and how ripe your mind is for incorporating a new philosophy, so I put aside those points that I immediately disagreed with the author on, and focused on what I could gain from this book. In taking note of the lessons therein, rather than passing judgment on the religious aspects of the book, I resolved to take the lessons for what they are and what they can do for me, and leave the rest.

Thankfully, the lessons offered are sound.

 

Some of the primary takeaways of this book are that you should practice trusting yourself (because you are already the perfect version of you), learn to communicate in a healthy and positive way, and not allow others to influence your own personal happiness. That all sounds like good advice, right? I think so, but I remained lost in the author’s presentation as an expert, someone who has already somehow transcended human suffering. If the statement is ‘do this and don’t do that, then your life will be transformed,’ sorry, not sorry, but I am going to need quite a bit more convincing than these short chapters offer.

Ruiz claims with conviction that if you let go of your self-limiting beliefs, understand that others’ judgments of you are a result of their own unique belief system that actually has nothing to do with you whatsoever, then you can achieve personal freedom and happiness. Whatever you think is holding you back in life is only in your own mind, so release those chains, put your best effort into everything you do, and you will be happy.

All of these things are easier said than done. Of course many of us have heard that practicing forgiveness will have endless positive benefits, but that doesn’t mean that we can simply hear that and then forgive those people who have harmed us. Forgiveness is a journey that is unique to each situation, and true forgiveness will not come overnight. To this, Ruiz says just do your best. According to Ruiz, if you always do your best, then you will see that guilt and self-doubt have no place to settle down in your life.

If you are seeking a new strategy to the way you live your life, and don’t mind that you will only learn what to do, but not how to do it, then give this book a try. If you are not wholeheartedly ready to accept a new philosophy on life, or you will expect to see supporting facts to back up the claims of this new philosophy, you may want to pass this one by.

If nothing else, this book provides a good reminder to live your life with integrity, don’t be your own worst enemy (as we so often are), and do all that you do with love.

The Beauty of September

Summer has come to a close and autumn is on our doorstep.

While there are some I know who regret the coming of September as it reminds them that the long, care-free days of summer have passed for another year, I just can’t fathom entering this time of year without the sense of calm grounding that stirs in me every year at this time. For me, September signifies growth. Outwardly, as we look once again to our goals and recommit to them, and inwardly, as we subconsciously root down once again to our work.

Sure, I love summer, too. I love getting outdoors under the hot sun, checking out the festivals and the midways, and taking road trips to the Canadian Rockies. I love to be able to sit out in the backyard on warm summer mornings with a cup of coffee and bask in the quiet morning light.

Still, summer is always full of commitments. We jam the long days full of social events and outdoor activities, always trying to take advantage of what few days of summer we have to enjoy. It often means long, fulfilling days away from home, camping or traveling, living out of our cars and suitcases for a time, getting back to nature, and making lifelong memories.

By the time September does roll around though, I am ready to buckle down and get back to routine. I am ready to have some weekends to myself again and to reorganize our lives after the chaos of summer. As the sultry days of summer pass by, I begin to miss my cozy sweaters and the cool, fresh air. There is even a tiny part of me in this moment of time that looks forward with excitement rather than dread to the clean beauty of a fresh snowfall sure to surprise us any week now.

Every September I find myself reflecting on my younger years when fall meant going back to school, and wading in this nostalgia is a huge part of the draw. The end of summer and going back to school meant new clothes, new supplies, and reconnecting with friends. As kids we would walk to catch our bus down the quarter-mile driveway, passing a half-harvested garden on the right, surrounded by trees that had by now turned to an inspiring variety of golds and reds. Unchaining the long iron gate, we would stand, facing the stead in front of us, but really looking to our right a mile down the straight dirt road until we could see the dust of the coming bus beyond the hilltop. In those first few days of school, everything is fresh, and it always feels like this year is going to be the best one yet.

When I was in university the coming of fall meant I had new classes to take that would help me to propel my career and broaden my mind, and I would gain renewed purpose and responsibility in my days. In these years I would get to buy brand new books, and I could splurge on office supplies (love!), and I knew that the relationships and networks that I would build in the coming year would be of the kind that could last a lifetime.

These days, I am no longer in school (though in my mind, we never really stop being students), and yet I am always brought back to the sentiments of the years that passed before, and it is as though my soul is breathing in the cool air as an elixir of life. After having overwhelmed my senses during the long summer days, the changes of autumn signal a settling of mind and spirit into the routine of success. I look forward every year to the gold leaves and clear blue sky, writing fresh new notes, having interesting new topics and chapters to study, and building up to the excitement and glimmer of Christmas ❤

It’s fulfilling to share that there is something particularly special to me about the new books, pens, paper, and journals that are procured at this time of year, as my sentiment wouldn’t be complete without its mention. A fresh new journal or unmarked notebook is one of my very favourite small pleasures in life. It is an open canvas for learning and reflection and has so much potential within its blank pages, just waiting to be turned into something more. Every time you open up a new notebook to pen it for the first time, you set a purpose, for those pages and for yourself. I just love that feeling, it truly makes my soul sing.

This September, as I begin the merge on to the next great path in my life, I’m going to savour these calm moments of reverence and nostalgia and make use of the renewed focus that the changing of the seasons has offered me. My life is going to change in these coming years, so I am going to appreciate this time of quiet and peace and renew my dedication to how I want to shape my future. I may not ever know by what serendipity things have come together for me this year out of them all, but it feels just right, and there is nowhere in my life I’d rather be right now than this September of 2017.

 

Appreciating Motherhood

Let’s just be happy that we’re all on this journey, k?

So I read a post recently written by a woman who declared that mothers are tired because they often manage all or most of the details involved in running a household. She described how all these little things she keeps track of add up to a lot more than some may think. She was a stay at home mom who noted that her husband helps with some things, and her message was that she is very tired due to her mental load.

After reading I thought to myself, “That’s nice, she seems to be working really hard to ensure her husband and kids have a good life full of lots of positive experiences. Good for her for taking some time to reflect that she is taking on a lot. She’s allowing herself to be proud of what she does and recognize all of those many little things, while also acknowledging that she has this in common with many other women. She’s letting other people know she’s not alone. It’s awesome that she has this awareness because now she can do something about it if she wants. I like how she articulated it in a way that described facts about her own life, without generalizing or judging, and although she clearly says she’s tired, she still manages to come off like she doesn’t hate her life for it. Good for her.”

I was shocked to read the comments on this post! People judged her very harshly, making wry comments that she shouldn’t complain as it’s her own fault, that if she hates her life she should do something about it, and comments from dads who were offended by her position on the subject (despite that she clearly stated she was not generalizing and that she knows that there are other men who do more of the share of this unpaid work).

I just do not understand the need to judge other people’s lives so harshly, as if any one of us has all the right answers?! Why not just see the good in people and recognize that she is expressing her feelings about her life, which is perfectly fine? It’s great, in fact, that she has found this way to get her thoughts, feelings, and opinions out into the world. If that’s what makes her feel good, then why not? Why should anyone care anyway?

All of this got me thinking though, and I wondered where I stood on the matter of roles and responsibilities in a family, as a woman in her early 30s preparing for marriage and motherhood.

Well, it seems to me that a lot of women actually like to ‘wear the pants’ and manage the house! Although I definitely think there are some men somewhere who can do it really well, it is more commonly seen that women take on the bulk of this work in a household, often without their partners even fathoming the intricacies of all that they do.

This is where the conversation typically turns to a discussion about gender roles, and many will argue that the old-fashioned views of women needing to manage the household is unfair and that we should change the way we think about these responsibilities.

But doesn’t it also seem like many women also just prefer to do it? Isn’t it maybe that many (not all) of us women can’t wait to be moms and get to do all those things?

Don’t many women enjoy doing the organizing, the keeping the kids fed and ready to meet the world, getting to shop and decide what products everyone uses, taking pride in a clean home, getting to plan for success and enjoy the love that they cultivate within their family?

I understand that for some it’s not that they want to take on so many tasks, rather it’s that if they don’t plan it or manage it then it might not get done, or it will be done in such a way that ruins other plans or takes more time to fix than it would have to have just done it themselves. That makes it hard to delegate, which could understandably lead to frustrated exhaustion.

I’m sure that a lot of the time it’s that mothers do like doing a lot of these things, they just wish they had more help with it or that their partner enjoyed it as much as they do, and so they are again frustrated and exhausted.

But it is okay to admit that you are tired! Recognize it and do something about it!

Even with all these frustrations, I still believe in the importance of appreciating what you have and enjoying that time while it lasts, because you only get to do it for a fraction of a lifetime. Although you will be a parent forever, your children will grow and you will enter a new phase of your life. I am determined to make the most of raising a family and being a wife, because I can’t see how life would be tolerable if I didn’t look to the good as much as possible and as often as I can.

So I’ll be tired. I’ll be tired from making memories for the whole family. Still, time will pass and life will change but the memories will last forever.

I know that mine sounds like a pretty rosy picture and that eventually I will have to work to keep this perspective. I know that it won’t feel great all the time and sometimes it might feel awful. I might need to really push myself sometimes to remember what a gift I have. And when I need to, I will.

I’m not even a mother yet but I am so aware that we can never know how much time is left with a person or how your life will change, so we need to cherish the time that we do have and make the most of it, no matter the circumstance. Learning to feel happy with what you do have even when things are shitty? Who wouldn’t want that?

I also know there will of course be many women who read this and think, “But I don’t love all those things!” That is more than fine. Do your best to make your life the one you want to live.

As for me, I can’t wait to try raising good little humans and getting to do it all with my very best friend.

I’m saying I know it is going to be hard, but I also know that I am choosing to do it because at the end of the day, this is the life I’ve signed up for, and I’m creating the life I choose.

“Learn to appreciate what you have, before time makes you appreciate what you had.”

–  unknown