self care what i'm reading

The Four Agreements


The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Oliver* bought me The Four Agreements, a book he found helpful in breaking bad habits and moods and reframing how we relate to each other. That’s a lot for such a little book but I read it, because he gave it to me, and I was astonished at how applicable Don Miguel Ruiz‘ “agreements” are to my life and habits and moods and relationships.

{This is the disclaimer paragraph and one I will one day be able to skip, once I become a more evolved human being. I am wary of New Age and Self-Help and this book belongs on those shelves. I tend to shy away from easy appropriations of “ancient wisdoms” — the glib referencing of Buddhist, Mystic, Mayan, Whatever thought promoted as “wisdom” based on the very fact that it’s “ancient,” a tautological argument if I’ve ever heard one. And finally: written 20 years ago, selling 5.2 million copies in the U.S., translated into 38 languages — why I have never heard of it?}

But lately, I have formed the habit of challenging the hard little “truths” that are diverse in their content but share this: they are self-limiting. I ask myself: why do you believe that? what if you’re wrong? wouldn’t it be a relief to be wrong, to not know something, to let someone tell you, help you? isn’t it possible that the answer is not in your head and therefore you have permission to stop ruminating and just experience the world, finding or not finding answers elsewhere?

In a more succinct way, the Four Truths guide seekers (and everyone else) out of the jail-like constructs of habitual thought and out into the wide-open lands I like to call “possibility.” And here they are:

  1. Be impeccable with your word — this is about honesty, but also a caution against toxic judgment and gossip.
  2. Don’t take anything personally — the most salient for me, who assigns meaning to casual words, smiles, even glances, rejecting people because I know how they really feel about me. Put another way, in a Psychology Today article written by John A. Johnson: “Because each person sees the world in a unique way, the way that others treat us says as much about them as it does about us.”
  3. Don’t make assumptions — ties closely to #2 but also my self-challenge, above, and best summed up as: confused? just ask!
  4. Always do your best— this is a hedge against that internal judge and jury that critiques every word and action and finds them lacking. Do your best, whatever that is, and move on (if only to silence Judgey McJudge).

Funny, in the telling of them, they seem so self-evident and exactly the sort of overheated leftovers a skeptic would expect from a long-ago Buddhist/Mystic/Mayan/Whatever meal. But that’s the assumptive way (self-help is garbage), to which the self must ask: what if you’re wrong? *Also, Oliver, what a guy!



self care

Self Care Saturday

Self acre is newish word for something that’s been a subset of “self help” for a long time. But self help seems to have been co-opted by a certain kind of book and talk-show host. By contrast, self care feels more modern, a way for women (or mostly woman) to value the practice as much as they value working hard, working out and doing shit for other people (hey, I’ve just described my life).

Here’s how an Atlantic article rationalizes (and in my mind elevates, because it’s in the Atlantic) the need for self care: “…there’s little about modern society that prioritizes, encourages, or facilitates caring for yourself or treating yourself well. It’s all, ‘Buy more things!’ ‘Work harder and at any hour of the day!’ ‘Click back and forth uselessly between the same five websites and call it leisure!'” (And, hey, that kind of describes my life, too.)

I had a week, let’s just say. A return from Cuba (more to say about Cuba), a 24-hour bout of NoroVirus (the less said about this the better), a farewell to Oliver, whose off to Asia for another year (more on that, too), and a  9-course Southern Food dinner last night. And now it’s Saturday morning and I’ve been to the gym and am sitting by the fire, feeling not at all obligated to go outside again today (it’s 20 degrees). Can’t imagine a better setting for my Self Care Saturday, which, thus far, has included:

  • That gym workout
  • Shopping at Whole Foods which, unto itself, makes me feel virtuous, more so today because I bought Argan Oil for my dry, dry face; coconut oil for my dry and peeling skin; Savannah Bee lotion as a gift for the Southern-Food chef from last night; kale; slaw; honey crisp apples
  • A thorough application of these oils before getting into the bath — which is something I should do all winter long, along with a vigorous loofah scrub
  • That bath
  • More oils to skin
  • This outfit: Madewell’s fancy grey sweatpants, a grey cashmere Grandpa cardigan, a slightly ratty pink camisole, slippers
  • Steve playing something he calls spa music: non-melodic, tonal sounds that wouldn’t be at all out of place in a yoga classself-care

I might have even achieved hygge, an even more modish state of being. We’ll turn to The New Yorker — because we’re all about elevating the act of sitting around the house in sweatpants — for this one. And, by the way, let’s call our sweatpants hyggebukser, shall we, defined by “that shlubby pair of pants you would never wear in public but secretly treasure.”

Like many of the best things from Scandinavia, hygge might seem, to some Americans, to come with a whiff of smugness. The term is often mentioned in the same paragraph that reminds us that Danes (or, depending on the year, Norwegians and Swedes) are the happiest people in the world. Perhaps Scandinavians are better able to appreciate the small, hygge things in life because they already have all the big ones nailed down: free university education, social security, universal health care, efficient infrastructure, paid family leave, and at least a month of vacation a year. With those necessities secured, Danes are free to become “aware of the decoupling between wealth and wellbeing.”