The Four Promises?
by Kim Adelman
I never quite understood how don Miguel could say, “If you break an agreement, just make it again.” In my life, I learned that when I break a promise I must pay the price. So how can I just make it again and forget about it? What kind of teaching would let me off the hook that easy?
Fortunately wisdom has a way of eventually shining through. A slight and unexpected shift in my point of view revealed a promise as much more than just an agreement. I can now see a promise as a pledge between people or with myself – as a contract for some action in the future. A promise is a kind of vow or an oath, with personal consequences for non-compliance. “I promise you that we will meet tomorrow for lunch,” is a dramatic way of stating a simple intention. “I promise myself that I will never feel that way again,” is an unrealistic oath. If I break it, I pay a real or imagined price.
An agreement, however, is not always a promise. I make many agreements without the conscious intent of a promise. In most cases I am saying, “I agree that when this particular perception happens, I will respond in that way.” Any sound, word, or phrase is a symbol for what we perceive in common. They are agreements. Most of what defines me is just the accumulation of agreements like these.
From this point of view, when I break an agreement the only consequence is how I feel afterwards. Did I communicate clearly? Am I judging myself? Do I feel enhanced or diminished now, or will I later? Depending on the answers, I can choose to make the agreement again – or to change it for something that suits the present circumstance. I may decide that no agreement is necessary. Most importantly, I’m no longer living under the threat of broken promises.
This beautiful shift in the perception of words is a gift, just a taste really – of the delicious freedom to move beyond the ‘me’ of my agreements. How much easier just to see myself as life in the moment. How much easier it is to speak for life with impeccability. In this case and many like it, I broke an old, unworkable agreement with myself and made another one – for the sake of a happier life. Thank you, don Miguel.