Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Screech of an Arching Eyebrow

On my nightstand is The Fifth Agreement, by Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz, with Janet Mills. This is the latest in the popular Four Agreements Toltec wisdom series. If you aren’t familiar with these books, they are a collection of life principles from the Toltec society of artists, scientists, and healers in central and southern Mexico.

While the Agreements are not a religion, I have found that if I follow them faithfully, life just works out better and with a lot less calamity.

The Agreements came into my hands nearly a decade ago, when, in a difficult work situation, I needed a new approach for navigating a too-long string of spirit-killing days. Succinct and direct, the minimalist guidelines are:

1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don’t take anything personally.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.

Like the board game, Othello, these agreements take about a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.

I greatly benefitted from practicing the first four, so this summer, I’m eager to explore the challenges in the new book, The Fifth Agreement: Be skeptical but learn to listen.

Be skeptical. The power of doubt is alluring. I like questioning things, having learned to do this early in life. Before I entered first grade, I once asked my mother, “If it’s on TV, it must be true. They can’t lie on TV can they?” This was when I first heard the screech of an arching eyebrow.

Did you know the word gullible is not in the dictionary? Screech! Gotcha!

Discerning when to be skeptical is a lifelong challenge. How do we carefully consider the cacophony of incoming messages and identify what’s distorted or true – those twisted fibers so difficult to unravel?

On the zero of the spectrum: a child’s arms wrapped around your neck with sweet “I love you’s” in your ear. No skepticism allowed.

There’s doubting, and there’s being questioned or doubted, a dimension of skepticism that’s suddenly uncomfortable. That’s where practicing the previous four agreements comes in handy. If you’ve done the work, you’re centered and sturdy for the journey. When someone probes your pronouncements, you’re in sync with the integrity of your words. Let them question away.

Learn to listen. I’m all ears for good advice on listening in a world where you can’t hear yourself think over pod players, multiple speakers barking over themselves, the poly-pummeling of pocketbook-plundering promotions, and multi-tasking minds scurrying to get past one another so they can get home and multitask some more.

Listening may be more difficult than skepticism, but it can be practiced into fruition, and become quite fun. Removing the roadblocks is challenging but essential. When shyness creeps over me at a gathering, I shift my thinking to: This might be my only chance to understand that person’s perspectives. It’s easier to engage and open your mind when you are on a mission.

Listening involves receiving whole points of view without judgment, pro or con. Per Toltec wisdom, we each live in a dream world where we each create our own truths, some beautiful, some detrimental. No two people exist in the same dream. This perspective is as exciting as it is frustrating – depending on whether you’re fascinated by others’ visions, or you’re time crunched to create your own truths of the moment.

What will you be skeptical of this week? When will you make time to really listen? Who’s been a good listener for you?

The Fifth Agreement may not be summer beach reading, but I’m ready to kick the sand out of my ears and explore some new perspectives on truth. I doubt I’ll regret it.


  1. My summer reading is light and fluffy - Kelly Cutrone's, If You Have to Cry, Go Outside - Love her no BS attitude. I'll have to add The Fifth Agreement to my reading list.

  2. Excellent. And by the way, you are a great listener.