Part One of Five: Be Impeccable with Your Word
Introduction: Don Miguel Ruiz was born in rural Mexico, a descendant of the Toltecs, an ancient people who lived in the central valley of Mexico. Their philosophy held that we live in a dream state, with the quality of our lives determined by how we dream. But most of us fail to transcend to a higher awareness, concluding that life is filled with suffering. Nevertheless, Toltec thinking says we can change how we dream and thereby achieve happiness. Discovering love and respect for one’s self is the beginning of that process. These essays are my reflections on Ruiz’s best-selling books, The Four Agreements, and The Fifth Agreement.
Religion and Words
Cultures have attributed to words a spirit of sacredness or profanity. Words people consider “divine” create respect, fear, humility, obsequiousness. Conversely, words for that which people consider “satanic” bring loathing, fear, horror, repulsiveness. Obey the rules and regulations and you are blessed. Holy figures hold forth with their pronouncements, saying that they are representatives of the divine.
Schools of theology are created, each with its distinctive lexicon; they use words that express their specific viewpoint on human existence and on our place in the order of things. Rituals are established with the appropriate words used; and over time their institutionalization makes them appear as if they were always in existence. Holy books are written and interpreted the way an individual or group desires to do so, literally or symbolically. “God” can be a noun, a verb, a pronoun, or an adjective – whatever forms of speech the adherent chooses. “God” can be “Goddess.”
Sense of Self and Words
“Who are you?” You answer with your name, gender, age, family status, role in society, and group associations. You fill in the requested questionnaires, take the tests, vote, pay your bills, and join clubs. You are such and such and such. You box yourself in, for your own sense of security perhaps; or so that others can feel secure around you.
You start to believe that the words you utilize can describe you — until you wake up one morning and still think you are in your prime but then glimpse yourself in the bathroom mirror! Other words come to mind to describe you then. You fill in the blank. You realize life is brief. You know now that the words you have attributed to your sense of self are inadequate.
Throughout your existence you can think of yourself in negative ways, or positive ones. Most of us go negative. Spiritual wisdom of the Toltecs teaches us to love our self; to respect our self; to describe ourselves in positive ways. And to think of others in this way, too.
Beliefs and Words
We feel we must defend our beliefs. So we talk and write about them. And when others are defending their beliefs, we are thinking about our own.
We use words to say who we are and what we believe. And sometimes we get stuck in our belief systems. But then we get hold of something, and learn something new. That new belief then becomes integral to our sense of self.
But then someone comes along with other beliefs, with other words; with a sense of their self. And they seem to be challenging us.
And yet, it is a deeply kind act to listen to others, to their words. It is a mark of profound respect to put your own ideas on hold so that you connect with the other person in her/his/their belief structure. And then, you hope that this gift will be reciprocated.
Gossip and Words
Telling stories about another person without that person knowing you are doing so can be an insidious form of human communication. Reputations are made or destroyed. There is nothing impeccable about this and some people use negative gossip about others to their own advantage.
The paparazzi glory in stimulating the public with lurid photographs and stories of the rich and famous. And if only the water coolers in offices could talk, to repeat the gossip that employees have spread!
But imagine if guidelines were mandated in organizations that purport to be ethical places. Guidelines that go something like this: Do not say anything about anyone without that person being aware that you are doing so. Nor should you repeat what someone has told you in confidence. Because if you can’t say it to the person face-to-face, then don’t say it.
Truth and Words
The poet Emily Dickinson tells us: “Tell the truth, but tell it slant.” But of course! How could we tell it upright, when “truth” is changeable? Always tilted? One person’s truth is another’s manipulation. Even if we want to believe there is a singular truth, our sense of the matter deeply within us doubts it.
Indeed, can we be sure about much at all? Always there is change. But in this, there is possible growth and possibility. And in our attempt to speak and live with good intention and speak our particular truth we are rising to the nobility within us.
On the other hand, we lower ourselves when we consciously tell lies or even “half-truths”; we diminish our being and creation itself when we thwart the possibility of what is real, what is true; when we say false words for our own gain, thereby showing our intent to disregard the welfare of others. Granted, sometimes out of charity, we consciously must tell the truth at a slant. Sometimes, it is the kindest thing to do for another human being.
Action and Words
Trying to match what we say with what we do is difficult. Words are wondrous tools in fashioning obfuscation. And when words are used to block, delay, or destroy the hopes and dreams of a human being, they can be assassins of the human spirit.
Some people, though, just love to talk and not do, although it can be argued by such talkers that they are, in effect, “doing.” Chatting on and on — enjoying the give and take, and sometimes being “on the take” — can be a sport for some people.
Organizations need to have caution with this loquaciousness because it could become the raison d’être for their very existence! Committees, sub-committees, and sub-sub-committees, and committees on committees can sometimes become sub-par in actualizing one’s human potential. Not to say that such human groupings are ineffectual, just that they need to know what their purposes are and then work hard to actually achieve them.
Discernment and Words
Teachings from the Taoist master Lao Tso tell us: “Existence is beyond the power of words to define.” Christianity states: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This concept is the “Logos” of Greek teaching. In classical Stoicism, Logos is the divine, animating principle pervading the universe.
Indeed, in creating a spiritual life it is crucial to relax into the concept that we are, after all, unable to articulate through words the ultimacy of our being. Realizing this can lead us to that depth of our existence, to a place that some call “discernment.”
To discern who we are, what we feel, and how we should act, I believe we must stay silent and listen to that “still, small voice within” described in the Old Testament. It is what the founder of the Society of Friends, George Fox refers to when he says: “Be still and cool in thine own mind and spirit.” Or as a modern Quaker thinker says of discernment: “(it is) allowing the rational to combine with the intuitive and numinous.”
Indeed, words can accomplish good rather than harm. But for this to happen, we must be impeccable with our word.
Don Beaudreau is a member of the Ajijic Writers Group and has just completed his 11th book, The Magic of Lakeside: Reflections from Chapala, Mx (2013-2023)
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com