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Kitten Reads a Book: Life is Altered

July 1, 2013

Any time someone recommends a self-helpish, pop-psychology-type book to me, I usually meet the recommendation with skepticism if not disdain. Why is it always the people who are total train wrecks…who have terrible relationships, who hate their lives, who are walking around sad and angry……that are the ones who are the most passionate about proselytizing their belief system or some new found wisdom acquired from Dr. Phil or Oprah or the latest pop-philosophy book? Christianity, Wicca, Crystals, Astrology, The Secret and therapy in general…..I’ve heard quite a few pitches in my years.

None of it ever had any impact on me. Nothing affected my daily life or my ability to be happy. Until now.

I have become that person. That insufferable convert who won’t shut up about her recent enlightenment. I’m like a born-again knocking on doors. Ok, maybe that bad but I feel like going out and buying 100 copies of this book and giving it away to everybody I know.

I found a way of looking at the world that changed everything for me.

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One day after some difficult exchange with her family, Pickle texted me, “I’m not taking it personally.” I had no idea what she was talking about. “The Four Agreements,” she said. I still didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. She told me about the book written by Miguel Ruiz. I listened with the usual skepticism, but giving her more benefit of the doubt because of my admiration and respect for her.

She tried to explain the concept of one of the agreements, Don’t Take Things Personally to me. I wasn’t getting it. It sounded like bullshit. In fact, it sounded like the kind of bullshit marriage counselors used to try to pitch to me the many times my husband and I tried to work on our marriage.

“He’s not responsible for how he makes you feel,” they would tell me. “No one can make you feel a certain way.” Blaa Blaa Blaa. I thought it was complete nonsense. I mean, we teach our kids to be kind and generous, not to be mean. As grownups we’re supposed to have no responsibility for what we do and say?! Take no responsibility for how our actions and words make other people feel? So, when my husband used to come home and criticize me for some bullshit nonsense that he was just as guilty of doing…..I was supposed to simply, not take it personally. “What a crock of shit,” I had thought.

I researched the author. The wikipedia results were not encouraging. Native American religion. Sixth generation of the sun. New age spiritualism. Here we go. I’ve been down this road. I wasn’t buying it.

“Just read it,” Pickle said. It might work for you. It might not. It’s not for everybody.

She loaned me her copy. I read it in two days. It fucking changed everything!

It changed the way I see the world, the way I relate to everybody. It changed how I see my marriage, the end of my marriage, my co-workers, my children…..myself. This one book gave me tools that changed my everyday behavior and my ability to cope with life and try to find happiness in every day. I shit you not.

The beginning was a bit difficult to get past. Allot of Native American myth….. Then the sentences started to make sense. Phrases began to resonate.

Just beyond the introduction, the author talks about how much humans abuse each other with hate and anger. We judge, we lie and we pretend. We do things to please others, for acceptance and out of fear of rejection. We abuse ourselves most of all.

Then I read this paragraph:

“Nobody abuses us more than we abuse ourselves. We are our own worst judges. In your whole life nobody ever abused you more than you abused yourself. And the limit of your self abuse is exactly the limit that you will tolerate from someone else. If someone abuses you a little more than you abuse yourself, you will probably walk away from that person. But if someone abuses you a little less than you abuse yourself, you will probably stay in the relationship and tolerate it endlessly…….”

Are you fucking kidding me?

Read that paragraph again and tell me it doesn’t describe at least one relationship you’ve had in your life.

This author wrote this book in 1997. I read that paragraph and cried. He described exactly what happened when I left my husband. I never thought of it that way. No one ever put it to me that way. But that’s exactly what happened. That piece of paper I found with my handwriting on it, “I know better than this. I know who I am.” That was me, the real me. I was inside fighting. I always knew who I was. I just hadn’t reached my limit yet. I was willing to punish myself. I didn’t believe that I deserved freedom or happiness. I forgot my worth, for a while. I gave up pieces of myself a little bit at a time. Until, the amount of abuse I was receiving was more than I was willing to accept from myself. I remembered who I am.

I remember the moment. A voice on the other side of the phone. A toxic phrase spoken with scorn and disdain. I hung up. I got the big suitcase off the top shelf. I may have been hysterical with fear and sadness. I may have spent the following months confused and panicked and lost. But in that moment, I was brave and true. I was myself. I saved myself. And now I know why. It wasn’t because I was a coward or a bad wife or a quitter. It was because I love myself and know my own worth. I just hadn’t gotten to that point before that moment. I was willing to accept the amount of abuse I was receiving because it equaled what I thought of myself. Until it didn’t anymore.

I sat at a coffee shop reading that paragraph and the tears rolled down my cheek. I hadn’t even gotten to chapter one yet. I hadn’t even read about the first agreement yet.

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…. That is why humans resist life. To be alive is the biggest fear humans have. Death is not the biggest fear we have. Our biggest fear is the risk to be alive…the risk to be alive and express what we really are. Just being yourself is the biggest fear of humans.

I feel that way all the time. I’m not afraid to die. I am afraid to live. Sometimes I’m so afraid to live I don’t want to get out of bed. (Fear aided by the chemical imbalance of depression.) Fear is what keeps us from doing all sorts of things. It keeps us from taking risks, of expressing our true feelings, of telling the truth, of saying I love you. This author isn’t the first to say this but he expresses this idea in a way that resonated with me more than any other. I’m afraid to leave my job. I’m afraid to try a new job. I’m afraid of ridicule, of failing, of being rejected, of being hurt, of being poor, of growing old. Of being myself. But I’m learning how to overcome all those fears.

The book says that we’ve made agreements with ourselves. We learned some of these agreements as part of our socialization. We agree as a society on certain ideas or social constructs. We agree on how to behave, what a good or successful person should be. What success, beauty and justice are. We make agreements. The ones we make with ourselves are the most important. We make two types of agreements: ones based on fear and ones based on love. Here are some of my fear-based agreements:

I’ll never be able to make a decent living or earn a lot of money.

My talents are mediocre at best and I can’t compete with so many others who are so much better than I am.

I’m too old to hope to find someone I can love for the rest of my life. It’s too late.

I’m lazy and unambitious and have been a failure my whole life.

People don’t like me because I’m weird and hard to understand.

You get the idea. I’m working on breaking these agreements and replacing them with new ones. I’ve begun to adopt “the four agreements” suggested by this author and it’s already changed my life.

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From → Rantings

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