This Tuesday, October 27th, I missed hearing one of my favorite authors speak at a local bookstore.
Last week my friend and I were driving through town when we saw an announcement. Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, would be speaking at Copperfield’s Books! We had both read the book and couldn’t believe our luck. I excitedly checked the calendar on my phone to see what day of the week he was speaking. “Oh man, it’s a Tuesday, we’re both working,” I said.
I did contemplate trying to get my shift covered, but it just wasn’t in the cards. And that’s okay. Because even though I didn’t get to hear Ruiz speak, I will always have his four agreements etched on my mind. In fact, I have a reminder of them tattooed on my wrist.
I used to be one of those people who said they would never get a tattoo. But last year something shifted. I heard that a local tattoo artist and friend would be moving to Brooklyn. His decision prompted me to make a decision of my own, and rather quickly, almost instinctively. I had been feeling restless, on summer break and in a kind of limbo: I was about to embark on my last semester of college, I didn’t know what I was doing with my life, and one of the most talented artists I knew was leaving. Why not get a tattoo? Why not get a few, for that matter? It seems pretty bold in hindsight, going from virgin skin to three tattoos in one sitting, but like I said, I was restless. I wanted something to change, though I couldn’t articulate what.
Last summer I had finished reading The Four Agreements, a book my mother had given me that sat untouched on my nightstand for over a year. I suspect that books often come into our lives right at the moment when they are most needed, whether we recognize it or not. Though I had been given this deceptively simple yet infinitely wise book long ago, I didn’t read it until that summer. Ruiz’s book is “A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom,” and the agreements are these:
Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
Always do your best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.
These agreements stayed with me, though I was still in the midst of my destructive love affair with alcohol. I struggled to do my best, to not make assumptions, to not take anything personally, to be impeccable with my word, but I couldn’t seem to follow through. Because I was drinking. I didn’t realize this at the time, because I was in denial and always set out with the best intentions, but intentions ain’t shit when they’re drowning in a sea of tequila. When I was drinking, all bets were off. I was relinquishing my desire to be a person of integrity to the siren song of my past and my patterns.
Though I was stumbling on my path to personal freedom, I knew that what Ruiz said was true and pure. And I wanted to remember that, even though or perhaps because I was so lost in my haze. So when I heard that my tattoo artist friend was leaving the area, I scoured the internet for images of the numeral four. I looked at Roman, Sanskrit, Greek, you name it, trying to find something that matched the simple power of Ruiz’s agreements. I just couldn’t find anything that I would want on my body forever. And then I came across Egyptian hieroglyphs, followed by a page of numerals ancient Egyptians would use for official documents. There it was. A symbol for the number four, used when sealing agreements, when officiating something that was important.
Once I had the image for my new tattoo selected, a began thinking of who I knew or had known that really exemplified Ruiz’s agreements. I immediately thought of my grandparents, whom are both now gone. I miss them everyday. My grandparents were like parents to me; my sister, mother, and I lived with them when we were young, when my mother was alone trying to raise twins on her own. My grandparents are one of the main reasons I had such an amazing childhood, despite what my father had done. With my grandparents, my sister and I sang, played games, grew vegetables in the garden, watched old black-and-white movies. They embodied love, integrity, generosity, humility, patience. They are two of the most wonderful people I have ever known. They spoke honestly and gently, they always did their best, they created a family of imaginative, lovely human beings. I wanted to honor them somehow.
When I got the Egyptian numeral four tattooed on my wrist, I also got my grandfather’s birth date tattooed in Roman numerals on my left shoulder and my grandmother’s birth date on my right. These tattoos are my anchors, evenly placed on either side, emblems of the love I received.
I wish I could say that as soon as I got my tattoos I quit drinking, that I began living with the integrity of the four agreements and of my grandparents, but that would be a lie. I was drinking champagne when I got tattooed, and I drank for a long time after that. Sometimes we are given the tools, the signs, to transcend our current predicament, but we just aren’t ready. I can’t explain it, but you’re not ready until you’re ready.
When I was drinking, I took everything personally. Whenever I was hurt by what someone said or did, it was an excuse to drink. I took to heart the flippant remarks of an acquaintance, the judgements of strangers, the rudeness of customers. I valued what other people thought more than I valued what I thought. It was easy to absorb hurt because I identified with pain as a part of my being, rather than an outside entity that does not need to affect me or my life.
When I was drinking, I could never do my best. Though I began with or believed in the best intentions, my actions did not match my values. My morals and integrity became muddled or lost in the waves of alcohol, my virtues blanked out. Though I was doing the best I could with the tools I had been given, it was never enough. The tools I had were rusty or incorrect for the job, they proved faulty and dangerous.
When I was drinking, I always made assumptions. I learned in high school, “To assume is to make an ass out of you and me,” but when I wasn’t equipped with the wherewithal to be the author of my own life, I assumed the worst. I assumed people didn’t like me, or that I wasn’t worthy. I assumed that the world was a terrible, scary place. I assumed that I deserved what I got, that the bad things that had happened to me had happened for a reason, that I was responsible for every fall from grace. I assumed that the outside matched the inside, which was actually the only correct assumption that I ever made. My outside reality did match my internal world, because my internal world was unconscious, scary, painful, doubtful, uneasy. When I assumed the worst, life offered me the worst. Without knowing it, my thoughts had created my world.
But now, thankfully, my world is different. Since February of this year, when I quit drinking, I have been given the clarity to wholeheartedly and intentionally set out on a path to personal freedom. I have been given the opportunity to discover what my path looks like, what it feels like. Now I have the opportunity to ask myself questions that I never thought to ask before: What makes me truly happy? What have I been put on this earth to do? What excites me, stimulates me? What have I always wanted to try but never have? What can I do to have fun instead of drinking?
With this new insight, with this self-questioning, I am able to finally make four agreements with myself and do my best to stick to them. It isn’t easy, and I have a long way to go, but now I can say that yes, I am impeccable with my word. I don’t take anything (too) personally. I don’t make assumptions. And, most importantly, now that I no longer drink, I can always do my best. If I commit to these four agreements, I can live a life of freedom, a life wild with possibility.
I wish you a wild, free life.