I’m re-reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements. The first time I read this book was transformational, and I learn something new with each successive re-read.
The Four Agreements are:
These four statements seem so simple, yet when practiced, they bring clarity and peace in a world often filled with chaos. I thought I understood the practice of the Four Agreements; I make a daily commitment to them, and indeed, they have helped me through many life experiences. But a few weeks ago, I felt a refresher was needed, and I decided to read a bit each night right before falling asleep – in hopes the words would percolate within my subconscious through the night and awaken me with a fresh brewed look at life.
There’s research that says reading before falling to sleep can reduce stress (1), relieve insomnia, enhance creativity and empathy (2), improve cognitive ability, reduce cortisol levels, and even help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease (3). Who wouldn’t want to read at night?! So I read. Every night just a little bit. Last Wednesday, I read the chapter titled The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions. And here’s where the story shifts a bit.
Thursday I found myself filled with anxiety – the kind of anxiety that caused my heart to beat faster, perspiration to collect under my arms, and a feeling that my heart was in my throat. What was that about?! I tried to breathe deeply, think of the beach (my happy place), practice gratitude. Each attempt helped for a bit, but then I got a text message that threw me over the cliff.
I’ve been doing a new pain management treatment (more on this later) that really seems to help but takes a considerable amount of time out of my too-busy schedule and funds out of my not big enough bank account, so I’ve cancelled several sessions. Neither excuse is acceptable, but I rationalize. Do you ever do that? We know something is good for us and it’s worth the time, money and effort, but yet, we find reasons/excuses not to do it.
The text message was from the practitioner who’s been doing these treatments, and it simply said “Remind me to talk to you tomorrow about scheduling your sessions.” Innocent. Harmless. But guess where my mind went? Here’s the conversation in my head:
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Oh, yeah, I bet she’s going to give me a lecture about cancelling sessions.
I know her time is important, but so is mine.
Who does she think she is to give me a lecture?
I won’t stand for it.
I’m doing the best I can.
What does she want to talk about?
You get the drift, right? I immediately MADE AN ASSUMPTION that she wanted to talk to me and of course it would be about something I had done wrong. Where does that stinking thinking come from?
So needless to say, I didn’t read or think about any of the Four Agreements that night. Nor did I sleep much. I tossed and turned; I repeatedly rehashed that imaginary conversation. I took deep breaths and tried to think good thoughts. And morning came way too soon.
Just as I arrived at her office the next morning for my appointment, she sent me another text message: “I’m so sorry. I’m at the dog park and completely lost track of time; I’ll be there in about 20 minutes.”
Hmm. Guess where my mind went this time?
Oh, yeah, I see it now. Passive aggressive behavior.
I was disrespectful of her time, so now she’s giving me a taste of my own medicine.
Well, we’ll see about that. I won’t stand for any lecture.
What is wrong with me?! This kind of thinking is not me. I'm known around the office as "Mary Sunshine," always seeing possibilities and promise, not negativity.
Twenty minutes later, she breezes in with a smile on her face and a big hello! We do the session, and just as we’re finished she says, “Cindy, I’m really concerned about you. You need to come twice a week, but I know you’re concerned about the cost, so I want you to just pay half the price each time and that way the weekly cost is the same for you. And there’s no charge for today since you had to wait.”
Okay. Can you guess how I felt right then? Yeah, not so good. Mortified. Ashamed. Embarrassed. I left her office with a completely different outlook.
Today when I saw my practitioner again, I shared this story with her and we talked about some of the lessons I learned.
- I have anxiety on a fairly regular basis.
- I mask that anxiety by staying really busy.
- The Four Agreements are a daily process.
- I'm human and a work in progress.
So tonight, I will read that chapter about assumptions again. Maybe again tomorrow night, and for yet a few nights after.
And I will remind myself daily:
- Be Impeccable with My Word
- Don’t Take Anything Personally
- Don’t Make Assumptions
- Always Do My Best
- The surprising benefits of reading before bed
- These 6 Amazing Things Will Happen If You Read Before Bed
- 8 Great Benefits of Reading Before Sleeping!
Cindy Leyland is ProHealth's Fibromyalgia Editor. Cindy also serves as the Director of Program Operations at the Center for Practical Bioethics and the PAINS Project Director. She lives in Kansas City with her husband, enjoys hiking, reading, volunteering with Synergy Services and being Gramma Cindy.