How to Set Yourself Free
“Everyone talks about freedom. All around the world different people, different races, different countries are fighting for freedom. But what is freedom? In America we speak of living in a free country. But are we really free? Are we free to be who we really are? The answer is no, we are not free. True freedom has to do with the human spirit – it is the freedom to be who we really are.” – Don Miguel Ruiz from The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
The most difficult, but most rewarding, aspect of creating your own individual simply luxurious life, is breaking free from the chains of society – the expectations, the traditions, the imposed belief systems – that imprint themselves onto us while we are innocently trying to grow-up, figuring out our direction in the world toward our true bliss.
Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements enlightens readers to the realization that life can be either fear based or love based, and unfortunately many people choose fear thinking they are choosing love.
What is the difference? Living a life based on fear is living a life constantly seeking acceptance from peers, colleagues, family, spouses, children, as well as ourselves and letting our emotions of anger, sadness, envy and jealously run our lives. While on the other hand, living a life based on love focuses on his four agreements - (1) being impeccable with our word; (2) not taking anything personally; (3) not making assumptions; and (4) always doing our best.
When we choose to focus on these four agreements, we are choosing to live a life built on a foundation of love, rather than on a foundation of fear. Let’s break down each one.
1) Be Impeccable with Your Word
“Depending upon how it is used, the word can set you free or it can enslave you even more than you know.”
The words you speak. The words you write. The tone you use – genuine, sarcastic, curt, gentle, etc – all come from where you find yourself in your life. If you feel safe and at peace with the life you’ve created, there is no need for sarcasm or venom. On the other hand, if you feel threatened, insecure or scared, you perhaps will tell a lie, say something subtly cruel to push someone’s button to make them feel the insecurity you feel or raise you voice aggressively.
By choosing to be impeccable - defined as without sin (sin being anything that you do that goes against yourself) – you are only saying what is true for you – no lies, no repressed emotion, no intent to hurt, rather being authentically who you are and what you know to be true. When you speak impeccably you take responsibility for your actions and then move on without judgment, guilt or blame.
“How much you love yourself and how you feel about yourself are directly proportionate to the quality and integrity of your word. When you are impeccable with your word, you feel good, you feel happy and at peace.”
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves . . . When we take something personally we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.”
The second agreement is easier said then done because initially we don’t realize how we’ve allowed our emotions to own the reins of our decisions and therefore our lives. But when we have control of our emotions, thereby controlling our thoughts, we can halt the spontaneous reaction that occurs when someone makes a statement – good or bad. For example, “How could you do that? Are you stupid?” or “You are very smart. Bravo!” If we know ourselves, if we accept who we are, we know we’re not stupid, and we also know we are smart without needing the approval of others. So upon hearing either statement, we can hear it without being knocked down or bolstered falsely (in other words, needing someone else to say we are in order to believe it). Most importantly, we take back the power because we’ve refused to allow others’ opinions dictate our mood or our behavior.
But the question may arise, what if I am surrounded by people or involved with a person who is constantly degrading me or praising me falsely? What do I do?
“If someone is not treating you with love and respect, it is a gift if they walk away from you. If that person doesn’t walk away, you will surely endure many years of suffering with him or her. Walking away may hurt for awhile, but your heart will eventually heal. Then you can choose what you really want. You will find that you don’t need to trust others as much as you need to trust yourself to make the right choices.”
When you begin not taking what other people say personally, you will only need to trust yourself to move forward making responsible choices, rather than trusting others. Yes people may hurt you or they may become someone who brightens your world becoming dependable as a rock. Either way, if you know you can trust yourself, lean on yourself in tough times, make the right choice even in celebratory times, then you know if they walk away or cease to be with you, you will be fine.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
“It is always better to ask questions than to make an assumption because assumptions set us up for suffering.”
Why do we make assumptions throughout our lives? Why do we judge someone without knowing the full context? We do so because we have a desire to know, and when we don’t know, we begin to fill the gaps with assumptions. And when we don’t have the courage to ask the right questions to gather the necessary information, we get ourselves into trouble.
Whether we are dating someone knew, getting to know new people or reading an interview of someone, whatever is left out, we fill with our own understanding of how the world has worked for us so far. And as we all know, we each have had different experiences which gives us different perspectives on life.
While upon learning the whole truth, we may not choose to continue dating or spend time with certain people, that is perfectly fine, but the problem arises when we remain and hope to change someone. The only way people can change is if they choose to.
“Real love is accepting other people the way they are without trying to change them.”
In order to build relationships that are built around real love we must find our voice and be able to speak up, asking the questions that are necessary, revealing our true selves to them to see if they truly accept us and then finding the courage to walk away if real love isn’t present. Ultimately, communication is the key to having successful relationships in every aspect of our lives.
4. Always Be Your Best Self
“If you always do your best, there is no way you can judge yourself. And if you don’t judge yourself there is no way you are going to suffer from guilt, blame and self-punishment. By always doing your best, you will break the big spell you have been under [of believing you aren’t enough or aren’t doing enough].”
One of the best ways to lift the burden of any defeat or stumble is knowing you’ve done your best. Because so long as you gave it everything you had at that exact moment, you know you’ve left it all on the court. Each time you give your best, you improve. Consider it practice, and as you practice you become more and more of an expert, and gradually you are transformed.
The gift of always doing your best is that you gradually find your purpose and your path. And when you find what you love, you only want to do your best. Simply being able to participate in doing something you thoroughly love in the best reward, rather than trudging through solely for the reward at the end – the pension, the graduation, the paycheck, etc. When you find pleasure and happiness throughout the entire process, you find your bliss.
Now I know today was a long post, but I found myself devouring The Four Agreements over the duration of twelve hours this past weekend (eight of which were sleep) on my Kindle. And while I realize it was originally published in 1997, if you haven’t read this book, I strongly suggest that you do. And even if you have, perhaps reading it again will solidify how you continue to move forward as adhering to these agreements is a process that will take time especially if any or all of these agreements have not been a part of one’s life.
I guess it’s true, the student must be ready to learn the lesson, and in this case it took me sixteen years to be ready, but I am so thankful this book came along. And I think you will be too.
~Join the discussion! What have you discovered to be the best gift once you decide to let go of what others think or say about you? Comment below or on Facebook.
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