toltec tradition

Responsible expression

I am responsible for what I say. But I am not responsible for what you hear.

don Miguel Ruiz

 

This is one of my favorite quotes from don Miguel. It is such an important, healing, and liberating piece of wisdom. I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot lately.

Expressions of truth can be really powerful. The intent behind the words, the part of the expression that is conveyed indirectly, is even more powerful. We are responsible for wielding that power wisely.

Speaking truth does not carry the intent to harm.

In fact, speaking truth must be done very carefully and considerately, so that any collateral harm it does produce is minimized. It is typically done vulnerably, with the intent to cease harm that has already been happening.

If the intent of the words is to harm or diminish the other, that’s not justified as speaking truth – it’s vengeance, retaliation, punishment, even if the words are technically true.

Hurtful things, said in the heat of a conflict, in order to win or dominate over another person are not justified as speaking truth.

We are responsible for the harm that harmful words and intentions convey. 

On the other hand, we are not responsible for the interpretations other people make. We are not responsible for how our words are heard, or received by those who don’t understand, and don’t make an effort to understand.

There are people who are highly reactive, lacking a certain generosity of spirit. Upon hearing something they don’t like, they immediately jump to absurd unjust conclusions, make ridiculous or inappropriate assumptions, become offended, and sometimes work themselves up into hysterical outrage. Typically, they start flinging wild accusations and personal attacks in response, all without ever asking for clarification or deeper explanations. They seem to always be ready for mortal combat at a moment’s notice, completely certain that their views and interpretations are singularly correct, and therefore the speaker must be destroyed. 

Those of us who grew up in oppressive dysfunctional environments know these people well. We were made to believe that we are always responsible for these aggressive inappropriate reactions of others. If they got angry, it was necessarily always our fault. We learned that we must be really careful, tiptoeing around other people, because any careless or unwelcome words would have dire retaliatory consequences. We were made to believe that this is normal, and morally justified, and it was our job to manage their reactions. We learned that we must be thoughtfully sensitive and careful with people who would regularly lash out with cruelty and destructive intent, if we said the wrong things, tried to speak the truth, or expressed unwelcome opinions.

This piece of wisdom resets those false beliefs back on solid ground.

We are responsible for ourselves – to speak with love, to speak with respect and kindness, to express hurt feelings or anger in a measured or careful way. To hold others accountable in a fair and tempered manner.

But we are not responsible for how other people react, how they mis-interpret our words, how angry they get, how destructive they get, or how much gas-lighting or blame-shifting they seek to engage in.

Destructive people like to make others responsible for their emotions. If they are angry, they always find someone to blame, whether it’s justified or not. They are unwilling, or at times unable, to see themselves clearly or control their explosive feelings.

But that does not make us responsible for it. We don’t need to carry that responsibility, nor remain silent in order to avoid upsetting them. If they jump to conclusions, and twist words and intentions out of context, and get angry seeking to provoke escalating chaotic conflict – that is entirely up to them. We don’t have to apologize, nor feel guilty or responsible, for things others choose to get upset about.

Learning to make the distinctions correctly is really important and takes time, courage, and lots of patience to figure out.    

Try as we might, we cannot control how other people receive our expressions. We all want to be thought of as good people, to be liked, admired, accepted, and appreciated, but the reality is that everyone hears, sees, and judges others through their own filters. People make assumptions, judgments, and interpretations based on what they believe about themselves, and the pain they experience in their own realities. There is very little we can do about that in relation to another person. We cannot explain ourselves to someone who is unwilling or unable to see past their own filters. We cannot prove our good or innocent intentions when they are convinced they know our true malicious motives. And we cannot be responsible for how they interpret or react to what we say, when they are stuck entirely inside their own reality. 

When we realize this, we stop trying so hard to affect what others think of us or how they receive our words. You can’t control their opinions of you, or how they react to you. You can only do and say whatever is in your own integrity, guided by your own love, truth, and compassion. And how other people hear you or react is entirely their business. Their emotions, their reactions, are solely under their sphere of control.

 

Always do your best

One of the most famous modern books introducing ancient Toltec wisdom is don Miguel’s The Four Agreements. I’ve been studying and working with the agreements almost every day.

On the surface they are just four simple sentences:

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

Below the surface, they are really huge pillars of an entire philosophy of life. Implemented and practiced correctly, the offer a wise, emotionally intelligent, and personally responsible way of living in the world.

What I love most about them is their depth – every day, as I discover more of myself, I find deeper and deeper interpretations of the agreements. New situations and experiences keep teaching me new lessons, bringing me back to these four sentences. They are really incredible.

So a few days ago, I came across a chapter of Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. Have you read it? It’s one of those very old, very famous books. I’d heard about it over and over, but never actually sat down with it. I still haven’t read the whole thing, but what struck me was a wonderful section on the chapter about fear.

One of the ways we all sabotage ourselves, is that we make excuses for failing to follow our dreams. The excuses seem reasonable, and so we continue to believe them. This is how we remain stuck.

In order to move forward and actually start living the life you want, you have to become aware of the excuses you make, and begin to question their veracity. As I listened to the list of “Fifty Seven Famous Alibis” in the book, I recognized these excuses in my own mind. (I pasted them below).

The wisdom here is straightforward – in order to live a “no excuses” life, you have to become aware of the excuses you actually use to keep yourself from taking action. If you bring these excuses to light, you can begin to question whether they are really true, and whether you want to keep believing them.

This way you “undo” the strangle-hold they have on you, and then you can give IT (whatever your “it” happens to be) your all. Ta da! And just like that your life suddenly has meaning, and purpose, and passion. (I’m being flippant, but that’s exactly how it works).

And so, it is when there are no more excuses, that you can ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST!! Because if you are afraid to make that call; afraid to take that course; afraid to write that book; afraid to ask for that loan, you aren’t doing your best. You aren’t taking action. You are allowing fear to keep you stuck in place.

I never interpreted the agreement this way before – but now I see it!

The flip side of the agreement, the usual reading, is that you don’t judge yourself for not doing more on any given day. You give it what you can give it, and you are content with yourself. You don’t push past your limits, driving yourself to exhaustion. You don’t disrespect yourself with judgments. You don’t compare your performance yesterday to your performance today. You just do your best, without excuses, every single day. And your output will vary day to day, and that’s ok too.

Which of the Alibis below resonate for you?

IF I didn’t have a wife and family . . .

IF I had enough “pull” . . .

IF I had money . . .

IF I had a good education . . .

IF I could get a job . . .

IF I had good health . . .

IF I only had time . . .

IF times were better . . .

IF other people understood me . . .

IF conditions around me were only different . . .

IF I could live my life over again . . .

IF I did not fear what “THEY” would say . . .

IF I had been given a chance . . .

IF I now had a chance . . .

IF other people didn’t “have it in for me” . . .

IF nothing happens to stop me . . .

IF I were only younger . . .

IF I could only do what I want . . .

IF I had been born rich . . . 

IF I could meet “the right people” . . .

IF I had the talent that some people have . . .

IF I dared assert myself . . .

IF I only had embraced past opportunities . . .

IF people didn’t get on my nerves . . .

IF I didn’t have to keep house and look after the children . . .

IF I could save some money . . .

IF the boss only appreciated me . . .

IF I only had somebody to help me . . .

IF my family understood me . . .

IF I lived in a big city . . .

IF I could just get started . . .

IF I were only free . . .

IF I had the personality of some people . . .

IF I were not so fat . . .

IF my talents were known . . .

IF I could just get a “break” . . .

IF I could only get out of debt . . .

IF I hadn’t failed  . . .

IF I only knew how . . .

IF everybody didn’t oppose me . . .

IF I didn’t have so many worries . . .

IF I could marry the right person . . .

IF people weren’t so dumb . . .

IF my family were not so extravagant . . .

IF I were sure of myself . . .

IF luck were not against me . . .

IF I had not been born under the wrong star . . .

IF it were not true that “what is to be will be” . . .

IF I did not have to work so hard . . .

IF I hadn’t lost my money . . .

IF I lived in a different neighborhood . . .

IF I didn’t have a “past” . . .

IF I only had a business of my own . . .

IF other people would only listen to me . . .

IF – and this is the greatest of them all – I had the courage to see myself as I really am, I would find out what is wrong with me, and correct it, then I might have a chance to profit by my mistakes and learn something from the experience of others, for I know that there is something WRONG with me, or I would now be where I WOULD HAVE BEEN IF I had spent more time analyzing my weaknesses, and less time building alibis to cover them.

 

 

Forgiveness, a labyrinth in Toltec Tradition

I’ve been working my way through the Five Levels of Attachment by don Miguel Ruiz Jr. Although you can probably get through the book in one sitting, I’m taking my time with it. I will read a few pages, and then take some time to digest what it means. Then I go back and re-read a few pages, and find a new deeper understanding. The words resonate in very interesting ways.

I came upon an exercise in the book that I find very profound – The Labyrinth in the Toltec Tradition.

The instructions are pretty simple. The focus of the exercise is a taking of responsibility for our own lives, a letting go of egoic conditioning and limiting beliefs, and a healing method of forgiveness. We are telling ourselves the truth of how we created our own emotional pain, and we are creating the internal space for forgiveness. The results are very powerful.

And so without further ado, imagine yourself standing at the entrance to a large life-size labyrinth…

(I have condensed the excerpt for our purposes, but I encourage you to get a copy of the book. It’s excellent. Miguel’s words are in italics below).


As you enter the labyrinth, imagine it is a road map of your past that leads to your present moment in life. With every turn, envision a person, a moment, or a belief that you have used in some way to [limit] yourself. What or whom have you used to subjugate your own will in order to be accepted by yourself or others? When you hold that vision in your mind – a person for example – stop, envision him or her, and become aware of how their words have contributed to your [limiting beliefs] and say, “Forgive me. I have used your words to go against myself.” Although that person might have used his or her words and actions to [limit] you, or to cause you harm or pain, you are the one who ultimately said yes to the belief and allowed it to blossom in your mind.

Following the idea that we explored in the previous post about releasing the victim stories, it is important to recognize that you have caused yourself pain, by absorbing and believing the words and actions of others. Their intentions don’t really matter in this moment. This exercise is for you to see how you have contributed to your own pain, and how you can reclaim your power over your life and beliefs.

Forgiveness happens the moment you say no to carrying this pain, this weight, this hurt, and let go of it all…Forgiveness is the action that allows us to move forward in the labyrinth.

Continue through the labyrinth, repeating the same action of forgiveness as new people and situations come to mind – whatever person or wound hooks your attention at that moment. That is the next one you are ready to face and forgive.

As you reach the end… you will find yourself at the entrance to the center of the labyrinth. Stop here. Look at the entrance to the center point and envision a mirror. Walk up to that mirror and see your own reflection. When you are ready, repeat these words: “Forgive me, I have used your words most of all to go against myself, and I will no longer use them to hurt myself again.” The action of entering the center point of the labyrinth represents the moment you forgive yourself. This is the action of your own forgiveness and of reclaiming the power, or the impeccability, of your own word – of your own intent. You are worthy of your own forgiveness, as much as you are worthy of your own love.

At this point in the exercise, you have let go of the past by recognizing that the only thing that exists is this present moment. The labyrinth itself is now the past, and you can let it go as you forgive yourself. With awareness, you can now draw the knowledge from your past to make choices in the present moment. The labyrinth expands as you live your life, but the only truth is in that center, that present moment where you are alive. The labyrinth ceremony ends when you recognize that you are worthy of your own love because you are alive in this very moment.

This is one of the most beautiful exercises in forgiveness I’ve seen in a long time. I hope you try it.