Monday, December 10, 2012

Toltec Agreement 1: Be Impeccable with Your Word

Read Toltec Agreement 2: Don't Take Anything Personally

Read Toltec Agreement 3: Don't Make Assumptions

"The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz, released in 1997, has sold and continues to sell millions of copies worldwide. Derived from the wisdom of the Toltecs -- the ancient, native people of southern Mexico -- the four agreements provide a template for enhancing human behavior, interpersonal communication, and relationships. One reason this captivating little book has traveled so far is that these themes resonate so deeply with people at a personal level. 

Not unlike the venerable Thich Nhat Hahn's Four Mantras for Relationship Success, the Toltec four agreements pack quite a punch in delivering the triumphs of personal empowerment. Here are the four agreements:
1. Be impeccable with your word. 
2. Don't take anything personally.
3. Don't make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.
This post -- the first in a series of four -- is not a book review, but rather an evaluation of the Toltec wisdom within my own emotional and spiritual framework.

Toltec Agreement 1. Be impeccable with Your Word.

Words! Words are everywhere these days -- in books, texting, email, social media, advertising. There's also the original source of words: the human mouth, and it's thunderous as ever! Words have power. They can change lives. Words can be fired off as destructive missiles and words can be swallowed as healing capsules. Words can ignite minds and stifle lives. Words can be both empowering and draining, nourishing and noxious, liberating and entrapping.

In the midst of this word noise, how can we equip ourselves to make the right choices? Where words shape relationships and character, how do we discern between wholesome and unwholesome speech? Especially in the digital era, how can we use words to promote a happier, more emotionally plugged-in society?

Most of us know that speech comprising lying, exaggeration, sarcasm, blame, pretense, denial, defensiveness, abuse, and idle chatter is unskillful, unwholesome, and negative in nature. Yet it doesn't stop us from engaging in trash talk or constantly judging others. Why? Because it's fun. It's easy. It makes us feel in command. Makes us feel better about ourselves. Wanted, perhaps? And, ironically, it helps us feel secure from others' ridicule and judgment. Being social creatures, humans have an inherent need to belong, to feel accepted, even validated. Consequently, we make agreements with ourselves, agreements that manifest as unwholesome words, actions and behaviors on the external plane. Words serve as a perfect veil, the shield that obscures from the outside world our inner mesh of unease, anxiety, deficiencies, dissatisfaction, insecurities, and incompleteness.

No matter how we rationalize it, and whether we're willing to acknowledge it or not, negative speech creates tension in the body, agitation in the mind, and remorse in the heart. Tabloid headliners and biased-media outlets are examples of how negative speech can fan the flames of passion, ignorance, hatred and violence on a large, global level. Using language that thwarts our aesthetic and spiritual sensitivities and disrupts social cohesion is counter-intuitive, a step backwards on the road to personal empowerment, a turning of the community clock back to medieval times. 

Right speech is one that is positive in nature and embodies both present and futuristic qualities. "Right Speech" is an essential part of the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha said that wholesome speech creates and promotes warmth, gratitude and harmony, and enhances love, kindness, compassion and empathy. Imagine a world in which we would allow judgment to pause, restrain our sense of impulsiveness, accept personal responsibility, and open up to others' points of view. Imagine, from the home-front to the workplace, the wonders a little empathy and sincerity could do for relationships.


Right speech is about practicing mindfulness, i.e., developing greater awareness of body, mind, emotions and inner guidance. Mindfulness can help us tune in to our inner environment, allowing us to step out of our shadow. Mindfulness can awaken us to the preciousness of words and guide us through the process of choosing the suitable formulation and delivery of words, at the appropriate time and place. Mindfulness can help us contract our ego and align with who we are on the inside. Slowly but surely, as we continue to transcend the worldly egoic conditioning, the emotional walls begin to crumble and the social masks begin to dissolve. When stripped down to the basics, we become better equipped to honor and appreciate human life and relationships for what they are. Nurturing our authentic selves promotes our personal well being, for sure, but also has the power to inspire a widening circle of happiness and contentment in the society at large.

Some specific strategies that can help inspire right speech:
-Attend a life-transforming vipassana meditation (mindfulness) retreat at www.dhamma.org
-Make this your mantra: Respond; don't react
-Don't take things personally
-Become aware of destructive feelings and emotions as they arise
-Breathe when you feel the urge to lash out
-Laugh when you feel the urge to be right
-Don't sweat the small stuff
-Only speak when it's your turn
-Take a moment to consider the impact of your words
-Refrain from making assumptions
-Don't let the past color your thoughts (and words)
-Listen with compassion, without creating conflict
-Focus on the behavior, not the individual
-Focus on the big picture 

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