I read a review at blogcritics.org of The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz* that made me laugh out loud. Only problem was, I was on my lanai and it was 11:30 at night. I’m sure I awoke my neighbors who had an early plane to Minnesota this morning. Sorry!
Here’s what the reviewer said to evoke my mirthful response:
Before I get started with this review, I feel the need to get one important caveat out of the way: I am not one of those navel-gazing, crystal-wearing, pipe-smoking, new-age freaks. There, I feel much better.
Funny: a year ago, I might have written that. Elements of the statement still apply. But if the desire to get to the elemental truth of man’s relationship to horses qualifies me as a freak, so be it. Few changes in the world have been wrought by folks who walk the middle of the road. The reviewer’s statement did give me an idea for a good Halloween costume, though.
In my post asking for input on a equine bill of rights, I said,
If we love our animals, why not ensure that they enjoy the same benefits of living in the modern that we hope to provide for our loved ones? After all, when we assume the stewardship of an animal, we also take on the responsibility of treating it humanely.
From that statement, I’ve been steadily work backward to the foundation of humane and compassionate treatment of horses in the area of riding, training and basic care. Working deductively toward a kind of mission statement as to the essentials has not proven easy. The constituent articles of such a foundation will always be hotly debated unless we arrive at the most fundamental of conclusions. That’s why I was thrilled to learn of,
The Four Agreements
by don Miguel Ruiz
Be impeccable with your word.
Don’t take anything personally.
Don’t make assumptions.
Always do your best.
In The Four Agreements, a book written with the self-actualization of people in mind, don Miguel Ruiz writes from the ancient Toltec perspective, revisiting the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. The Four Agreements offers a code of conduct for the transformation from old patterns of reactiveness to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love. According to Ruiz, we have domesticated ourselves from birth to accept confining cultural and spiritual constructs. He labels the beliefs borne of this process of domestication agreements. Everything people do is based on agreements we have made – with ourselves, with other people, with life. He goes on to explain that the majority of these agreements are detrimental to us in that they derive from fear, which saps our energy and diminishes our self worth. They limit our ability to live in the moment with joy and clarity of vision. Ruiz emphasizes the fact that the most important agreements are those we make with ourselves. Here we tell ourselves who we are, how we should behave, what is possible, what is impossible. These agreements can be changed with determination and awareness.
Like tiny seeds planted in cold, dark soil, I suddenly felt the faint stirrings of promise sprouting in some of the darkest places of my mind. While these simple concepts might be rather obvious to some, for me they were wonderful reminders of the importance of stopping, taking a step back, and reevaluating habits and priorities.
The current, longstanding welfare problems for horses can be said to arise from our dysfunctional agreements with ourselves on the subject of our relationship to other beings (and, for the purposes of our discussion, to horses). I’d like to examine the agreements with respect to horses in light of the proposed equine bill of rights.
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
“Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”
Here is where your Horseman’s Manifesto will come in handy. Deliberate application of our personal manifestos on a moment-by-moment basis will take concentration at first, but will soon become second nature if attempted with an open heart. Speaking to our horses comprises just about every possible action taken under saddle and on the ground. These are promises that must not be broken.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
This agreement is less easy to interpret. Our relationships with our horses are personal. The danger of personalizing their reactions to our requests and demands however, is that reactivity seldom produces positive results. Greeting our horses’ reactions to us with the emotional detachment that derives from unconditional acceptance and compassion eliminates the potential for harmful ego-based negative reactions. An example: When I first started riding, I thought my Quarter Horse Brego was trying to kill me. It really hurt my feelings that day after day I would go to him and try with all my might to stay on during his frenzied spins, only to get repeated mouthfuls of turf. One can see where personalizing issues like this can lead. If I were a different kind of person, I might have punished him for this kind of behavior.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
“Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.”
We don’t speak the same language, horses and people. Even those who claim to be horse whisperers will admit they don’t listen as well as they should all the time. In all fairness, making assumptions is a natural function of the way the human mind works. We gather evidence and theorize based on what (we think) we know. All too often, however, we are wrong. This is fine when we are doing small-time science experiments in a lab, but not fine when we are dealing with the malleable mind of another being.
The downside to incomplete listening is that in order to fill in the gaps, you have to make assumptions. Going back to my example above: based on my limited understanding of equine behavior, I assumed that Brego deliberately tried to put me on the ground time and time again. As I have learned a little bit more, I now see how he suffered terribly from a lack of confidence and was reduced to near panic attacks in certain situations. Repeated exposure to them in the form of “desensitization” did not help. It just exposed him more and more to what scared him. I didn’t have the tools to listen and not make incorrect assumptions. If you have ’em, use ’em. If you don’t, stay open. You soon will.
4. Always Do Your Best
“Your best is going to change from moment to moment. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.”
Acknowledgment and acceptance of the fluidity of the process while making a commitment to such agreements might allow our horsemanship to undergo a pretty profound transformation. Exchanging those old, worn-out deleterious agreements for Ruiz’ deceptively simple and powerful guiding principles could have an effect on our entire lives.
Like all great wisdom derived from the ancients, the good stuff is often hidden in plain sight. Mindfulness and concentration are required to detect, examine and implement the most elegant solutions to any problem, and the “problem” of ensuring the continued welfare of our horses and guaranteeing that of others needs a solution. If you have thoughts on these agreements or how they might be used to further the idea of an equine bill of rights, please let me know.