I just finished reading The Four Agreements, by Miguel Angel Ruiz, which I would recommend to anyone who, like me, is working on being more mindful.
Kristen’s post yesterday reminded me of the positive power of the first agreement. I think the four agreements overlap and feed each other, and working to create good habits in one area will aid in strengthening all four. The agreements are a useful framework in general.
There are lots of different ways to practice mindfulness, and I want to remain open to whatever strategies will work. In my journey this year of actively working to create happiness in my life, I’ve found that both perspective and practice are crucial. I must change my way of thinking in a particular moment to gear my outlook toward the positive, and I must practice this response again and again until it feels natural and automatic.
As a parent, it’s easy for me to observe and understand the power of these approaches. This morning, for example, after participating in her second gymnastics competition, Free was entirely focused on the fact that she forgot a piece of her beam and floor routines, lowering her scores for those events. She was so upset that she was entirely unable to enjoy her FIRST PLACE medal for vaulting and her trophy for 10th place overall! It was so obvious to me that she needed to practice shifting her perspective, and I was able to help her do that, but it was also a reminder for me to practice it more myself.
The four agreements were at the back of my mind last night when Newman and I drove to see an old student of his, who was in town visiting. She is a 32 year old mother of 19 month old twins, and she teaches at a tiny private school in Sedona. She is way in it with work and family and living an active life in the mountains with her husband, who also works at the same school and with whom she is clearly madly in love. She was thrilled to catch up with Newman (who taught her as a sixth grader!) and fill him in on her life, and as I listened to her talk, her joie de vivre was striking. I commented on it to Newman after we left, and because Newman was trying to figure out how I felt about her, he asked if I resented her for it. Not at all, I said; she seemed entirely lovely and somebody I could be good friends with. In fact, I thought, she reminded me of some of my better female friends in that her spirit exuded a genuine caring but also entirely self-possessed quality.
I found myself mulling over the impression the woman had made. The quality she has is one that is quite foreign to how I see myself, but it is a quality I admire in others, and it is one that I know serves them well. It is an energy and a confidence that some people have that allows them to be resilient, to shake off other people’s negativity, to decide what is important and where they will put their energy. They are in control and comfortable most of the time, and if they are not, they find a way to restore order or make changes relatively quickly, and without revising their essential notions about themselves as powerful and deserving and worthy individuals.
I don’t know where this quality, which is elusive to me, comes from. I don’t know if someone is born with it, if it’s a product of privilege, or if it is a state of mind (perspective) that one can practice and adopt. Maybe it could originate in any of those sources, but in reflecting on the four agreements and other strategies for finding mindfulness and happiness, I am betting on the last one right now. Essentially, I’d like to believe I have the option of embracing and chasing that quality not just in the friends I choose, but in myself as well.
Sometimes I think I do resent this quality in others, and I think I’m struggling with whether I really want it for myself. What am I afraid of? I think many of us, especially women, are brought up to make sure that our own happiness doesn’t come at the expense of others. Guilt and shame can be maddeningly powerful, and we get used to riding the line between taking care of ourselves and taking care of others.
I’ll speak for myself; I generally want to adopt a “do no harm” approach to life. The problem is that in my life experience, especially when resources are limited, I have had to make choices about how much I can do or take for myself when it affects others. I also really don’t want others to think badly of me.
What’s interesting is that when I am at my ugliest, I can be really judgy of others, and this probably reinforces my own beliefs about how important other people’s opinions are. When I get judgiest about others, especially women, it is because they seem to be getting off too easy. I consider myself mostly kind and pretty forgiving, but I reserve a lot of negative feelings for those who seem to be doing a poor job–on purpose–in some area of their life, and the more closely that area of life aligns with one that I work hard on, the judgier I get.
The problem with that way of thinking is that it breaks the agreements. All of them. I make assumptions about others (3); I speak poorly of them (1); I take it as a personal affront that I feel I am working harder than they are and therefore the world is inherently unfair (2); and I spend my precious energy on a negative perspective and path, thereby lessening my own ability to take action and do my best (4).
Wow. Now that I’ve written it out, it seems pretty clear and pretty awful. My therapist would be proud. The good part, of course, is that it’s also within my power to change it all. Look at that; facing my fear actually does create a window to release myself from it.
Here’s what I know. When I have found happiness in my life, it’s because I have claimed it for myself or believed myself worthy of having it, worthy enough to accept it when offered. Moving forward, I want to put more of my energy into changing myself for the better and less energy into worrying about what others are doing or thinking.
This is my second to last post of the year, and I want my final post to include a specific plan for making progress on the goals I set here in an earlier post. I am so excited at what I’ve been able to accomplish this year that I’m eager to get going on the next round.