The Fifth Agreement is Be Skeptical. But Learn To Listen.
This agreement is so important that don Miguel has an entire book devoted to it. After practicing the Four Agreements, and attaining some mental clarity and stability, the Fifth Agreement propels you onto the path of self-discovery. It begins the sacred process of inquiry.
In short, in refers to the following. Being skeptical is really important. As is critical thinking. Spirituality and philosophy are not dogmatic. They are not like religion. This is not about buying into a belief system or adopting faith. Be skeptical of anyone who asks you to believe in their view of reality; you don’t need to believe it. A lot of traditions (from the ancient to the New Age) ask you to believe in this or believe in that – don’t believe it. But learn how to allow all of it in to challenge you, to teach you, and to expand you. Learn how to listen when you vehemently disagree. And allow that very discomfort to be your guide inward.
Go within yourself and find that which is true for you. Use the agreements and other spiritual wisdom to guide your own search for truth – your truth. Don’t let anyone else’s beliefs control you.
And while you’re going inward, be skeptical of your own beliefs too. The beliefs you hold within were given to you when you were young. You were conditioned to believe a whole bunch of stuff about the world that isn’t true. Uncover all of those beliefs that you carry around. They push thoughts and feelings into your conscious mind. Recognize that you are not the originator of your thoughts. They come from your subconscious belief system. So be skeptical. Be skeptical of other people’s world view, and be skeptical of your own. Be skeptical of the thoughts you think, and the reactions you have. Use the power of intelligence and critical thinking to serve your growth and liberation.
But learn to listen… this one is hard. And it reminds me of the Zen Buddhist teaching of Shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.” This refers to the attitude of openness and eagerness to listen and learn from every person you meet. It means that no matter how advanced you get, continue to hold yourself as a beginner, not an expert. Continue to hold your beliefs with a gentleness, so they can be fluid. So you can continue to grow and expand. So your self-importance doesn’t get in the way of your development.
It means that instead of judging those you meet and jumping in to talk; you sit back and listen. You don’t need to share what you know, or show off how smart you are. You don’t need to be right. You don’t need to control the conversation, or convince anyone of anything. It’s not necessary. You allow the possibility that the other person might be right, and your strongly held ideas might be absolutely wrong. Listen with curiosity. Ask questions. Drop the need to prove yourself, or defend yourself, or to be dominant. Be wary of your attempts to teach others; unless people specifically for guidance, they aren’t interested in advice. Most often, people just want to feel heard, so take the opportunity to learn how to listen.
If you approach life with the attitude that you know everything and you’re always right, you are not open to learning. You are not humble enough to receive the wisdom and teachings that life has to offer you. This agreement is about learning humility, respect, and a dropping away of self-importance. This is moving away from the arrogance of believing that you are always right; and taking the view that you don’t know. This allows you to be teachable. This allows you to learn.
So be skeptical (of your own beliefs and the beliefs of others), but learn to listen. Don’t follow people that require you to believe something. Investigate it for yourself. Choose what you want to believe in, based on your own direct experiences. And at the same time, be humble enough to listen, and to allow the wisdom of life to show you the way.