Don Miguel Ruiz has been the leading proponent of Toltec wisdom since publication of his best-selling book, The Four Agreements, in 1997. He has a fascinating history. He grew up in a family of modest means in rural Mexico, attended medical school, and practiced neurosurgery for years. It was only after a near-fatal car accident that he returned to the Toltec tradition of his ancestors, ultimately training as a shaman. He eventually came to the U. S. to spread the word. The Four Agreements was an international sensation—it spent seven years on the New York Times bestsellers list—and Ruiz followed it with several other books, including The Mastery of Love, The Voice of Knowledge, and Beyond Fear.
Like all good spiritual writing, Ruiz’s work is simple, clear, and unassuming. He doesn’t get into abstract ethical principles or theological arguments, but presents practical steps people can take to deepen and enrich their everyday lives. His work is also an excellent example of spiritual writing that has special and unique significance for writers.
The “Four Agreements” of which Ruiz writes are deceptively basic. They sound a bit like advice a parent might give a child starting school:
1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don’t take anything personally.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.
But within this simplicity is surprising depth. Let’s start with the first of the four agreements and explore what it has to say, especially for writers.
Agreement # 1: Be Impeccable with Your Word:
Like it’s Buddhist counterpart—“Right Speech”—this admonition is the foundation of the very work writers do. What does it mean to be “impeccable with your word”?
When you are impeccable with your word, you tell the truth. Truth is something that comes up almost every time I teach or coach. It is the answer to many writers’ questions.
“How can I write about what happened to me when it’s so ugly?” Tell the truth.
“Should I give this short story a happy ending?” Only if it’s the truth.
“How can I make my fiction ‘honest’ or ‘authentic’?” Find the truth for each story. Even if it’s fiction, discover the truth that wants to be told and tell it.
“Why would anyone want to read my story?” Because it is the truth.
For me, discovering the truth under the layers and layers of attitude, misconception, confusion, falsehood, and deception and telling that truth are the foundation of everything writers do.
When you’re impeccable with your word, you treat words like the sacred items they are. You don’t throw sacred things away. You don’t use them indiscriminately. You find exactly the right one for each act, event, or situation. Being impeccable with your word means finding the one word that says precisely what you mean to say—and eliminating everything extra. It means immaculate, spare, and crystal clear writing.
When you are impeccable with your word, you use it only for the right reasons. The reasons we write are complex and many—exposing injustices, healing wounds, offering solace, paying homage and just cheering people up through laughter and entertainment—but they don’t include getting back at someone, shaming others, spreading lies, or revealing confidences. Being impeccable with your word means never hurting others with your writing—including yourself. Above all, never use words again against the manifestation of the Universe who is you.
When you are impeccable with your word, you honor your writing. You recognize it as profoundly meaningful and important. You never disparage, resent, or misuse it. You never forget that it is sacred work.
Next week: Don’t take anything personally!
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...