I’ve lived in Vegas my whole life and never saw the Grand Canyon until two weeks ago. Sad I know. Fun fact: While driving to the Grand Canyon, I mentioned to The Boyfriend that it was one of the original 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. Don’t let me teach your kids history.
Apparently, there are two rims of the Grand Canyon. Lots of people go south. We, along with another super cute and wonderful and artsy and fun couple, went north. When you go to the north rim, there are many green camping options nearby. And by green, I mean, literally green.
We stayed at DeMotte campground, about a 20/30 minute drive to the Grand Canyon. It was lovely, and I would definitely recommend it. Wildflowers with lavender petals were everywhere. Of course, I’d like to tell you that we are really prepared travelers and researched the best campground, but that’s simply untrue. We called last minute and literally the only campsite available in the ENTIRE Grand Canyon was the one we scooped up at DeMotte. You call that lack of planning; I call it fate.
Yes, that’s a tent. I love nature, but do I love tents? Well no. Does anybody actually enjoy sleeping in a tent? Name yourself, because you’re weird and we should point fingers at you.
We explored the campground area and found a perfect little spot for an afternoon chill out.
Then there it was. The Grand Canyon. One of the original 7 Wonders of the Ancient World (Okay, it should be one of the wonders of the ancient world):
I won’t overwhelm you with pictures of the Grand Canyon, because no picture can truly capture the largeness of it, the beauty of it, or how completely terrifying it is to stand on the edge of it. So here we are, instead:
I stood there and realized how little I am in comparison to something so large. It was a humbling and spiritual experience. One way to look at it is to think our little lives are insignificant. But I don’t think that’s true. Another way to look at it is to realize how cool it is to be allowed to participate in such a creative and incredible world. Basically, we’re the shit. Just for being alive.
I first read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz over a year ago. My life was changing in ways that ended up for the better, but I felt crappy at the time. I knew I needed a new perspective on life, many of the old ways I’d been living just weren’t working out very well. Been there? Me too.
I saw lots of bloggers and writers talking about these four agreements, so I decided to read the book. Life changer, guys, life changer. It attacks common hangups in a simple way. I re-read this book in between finishing my degree and starting my new career. I wanted a reminder, and I’m so glad I did. Without remembering these truths, the insecure, controlling Taylor might suffocate the creative, inspired Taylor.
Without further ado, The Four Agreements:
1. Be Impeccable with Your Word
I’ve always understood the importance of not lying, but I never fully grasped the idea of only saying what you actually mean. I have discovered over the years that I am the queen of saying things I don’t really mean, or saying things passive-aggressively instead of intentionally. This has gotten me in trouble, and has led me to being the doormat in many situations. Being impeccable with my word means when I want to say “yes,” I say “yes” – when I want to say “no,” I say “no.”
Ruiz talks about how much power is held in words (The Bible has a lot to say on this matter too). I love this fact as a writer, but I’m humbled by this fact as a human. Hitler was good at using words, but he used them for lies and hate. Being impeccable with your word means you use your words for truth and love, something I try to remember since my job is using words.
Favorite Quote from book: “Use the word to share your love…beginning with yourself. Tell yourself how wonderful you are, how great you are…Use the word to break all those teeny, tiny agreements that make you suffer.”
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
This truth takes the cake for me, it’s the foundation of so many of my struggles. Taking nothing personally is not only about ignoring a bad joke aimed at you. Taking nothing personally means you realize that people live in their own worlds, or as Ruiz calls them, “dreams.” What they think and say about you really has nothing to do with you. It’s a projection of their own reality.
I have received such negative, hurtful feedback for years for being a more liberal, “opened-minded” Christian. To the point of people thinking there’s no way I could be a Christian if I support gay marriage(aka “marriage”) or read teachings of Buddha. I took that all personally for so long – “they think I’m going to hell!” But that’s a reflection of what they believe about their religion, not a direct attack on me.
Favorite quote from book: “Whatever you think, whatever you feel, I know is your problem and not my problem. It is the way you see the world. It is nothing personal, because you are dealing with yourself, not with me.”
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
We make assumptions all the time, don’t we? I don’t think I realized how common this phenomenon was until I read this book. From the tiniest things to the largest things, we assume all the time. (My mama always told me “You know what happens when you assume? You make an ass out of u and me. Love her for that!) Ruiz warns that assumptions are what kills relationships.
I felt the true sting of assumptions when I went through my divorce. Because I believe in being brave enough to share my own story, but kind enough not to share anyone else’s – I haven’t written about the details. Still, I’d get email after email when it first happened with people assuming lots. That frustration encouraged me to ask people more questions so I’m not the assumer.
Favorite quote from book: “Making assumptions in our relationships is really asking for problems. Often we make the assumption that our partners know what we think and that we don’t have to say what we want. We assume they are going to do what we want, because they know us so well. If they don’t do what we assume they should do, we feel hurt.”
4. Always Do Your Best
As a perfectionist with a mad case of people-pleasing, this one is important in my life. We hear “always do your best” a lot in life, but typically it means you have to crack your back to achieve everything we expect of you. That’s not what it means in this book. Doing your best means doing no less than your best, but also NO MORE than your best. All while knowing your best will change from day to day and year to year as circumstances change.
Favorite quote: “If you try too hard to do more than your best, you will spend more energy than is needed and in the end your best will not be enough. When you overdo, you deplete your body and go aginast yourself.”
Ruiz develops these four agreements even more deeply and profoundly. He also discusses “domestication,” the process where we start making agreements with ourselves as children, and not all of them healthy. Ruiz bases most of his work in the Toltec tradition. Know that I highly recommend The Four Agreements; it’s made a huge difference in my life. It can in yours too, I’m sure.
I was listening to Rob Bell’s podcast yesterday. In his latest episode, Rob interviewed my patron saint Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the wildly popular memoir Eat Pray Loveand other great books. Rob Bell and Liz Gilbert – it was as if they made the podcast thinking, “Oprah AND Taylor DuVall love us. We might as well join forces.” Listen to it – these two brilliant minds discuss creativity and every word is gold.
In a small side discussion, Elizabeth and Rob took a religion pit stop. Elizabeth mentioned being happy that she “didn’t have anything to undo” in the realm of religion. Her religious upbringing was not oppressive or fundamentalist in any way. “I hadn’t been fed toxic religion so that I had something to detox from.”
So when she went on her spiritual journey (documented in Eat Pray Love) she was, as Rob put it, “exploring, not just running from something that didn’t work.” She mentioned that she didn’t know how fortunate she was until friend told her: “You’re so lucky that you didn’t have anything that you had to unstitch before you could begin your search.”
In many ways I have related to Elizabeth Gilbert through her writing. She was young to marry, young to divorce, and she found herself through travel and writing and creativity. But this unstitching religion is where our stories take different paths. In a simple moment of rejoicing something good about her past, she offered me verbiage to help explain what’s happening in my present.
I’m unstitching. I’ve been unstitching for a while. I’ll be unstitching for a good time to come. I have things to undo.
My life was given to me as a plain piece of fabric. Everything I’ve learned or experienced made a stitch. Every stich came together to create a pattern. Because I believe that our spirituality is fully integrated with our physicality, I don’t think I have a spiritual life and a physical life. I think life is both. Always. So this piece of fabric was both physical and spiritual. And the pattern was about womanhood, creativity, heartbreak, excitement, music, writing, God, love, judgment, The Bible, church, puberty, and nail polish.
All the things.
Then I became an adult. Which happened after I became a legal adult. I became an adult somewhere between “I don’t know what I believe” and “I know what I believe but I’m scared to admit it” and “I need to leave the church, my marriage, and life as I know it.”
I knew the person I wanted to be. I knew the type of people I wanted to be with. I knew the places I wanted to go and the things I wanted to do. Even if all of these were general ideas. But none of these things could happen with oppressive and unhealthy stitches of religious dogma that include, but by no means are limited to:
Self-hate, self-doubt, shame. All these messages about humans being little and God being big, explaining away every contradiction or problem with “God’s understanding is higher than our understanding,” and humans being pawns in God’s game – I mushed all that together into a big pot of “I am nothing.” I had to take out that stitch because it isn’t true. My life is not insignificant, my brain is not incapable of high or new thought, and I see myself as a partner in what God is doing on this earth, not as a pawn.
Hating gays and democrats. I grew up believing that nobody could possibility be godly and liberal, and I believed that all gay people were actually straight and just trying to piss God off. Sigh. Forgive me. I was holding a handful of sand yesterday and it was tan. Of course sand is tan. But it wasn’t. It was actually orange and brown and white and black and brown and light brown and clear. People are like sand. We all are humans, the same. But we’re not. We are all different and that’s something to celebrate, not something to condemn.
The world is not our home. There’s this idea that the universe we live in is a big test and those who pass get the reward: Heaven, our real home. Life on earth lacks magic and luster when its sole purpose is to get us to believe in Jesus so we can get our “heaven tickets.” This planet is thrilling and spiritual and special. I’m not going to miss it while waiting for the next world. No wonder everybody is always waiting for the next big thing and missing today’s big thing. This world is my home, and I’m going to explore every inch of it.
My list goes on. I ripped out female submission quickly. The purity culture and spiritual abuse stitches followed swiftly. The stitch that demanded all the Bible must be literal in order to be true, well, I took that one out too. I unstitched the necessity of church attendance and then added in the necessity of looking for spiritual lessons and community in everyday life.
And I’ve kept some stitches in. Ones like: God. God is still my center stitch. But the color has changed. He looks less hard and one-sided and more like a buddy, a beloved guide who isn’t mad. Also, I kept “love your neighbor.” I’ve just made that one bigger so it includes more people.
You’ll find me unstitching the religion to make room for life. For how long, I don’t know. I’ll pull out a stitch only to find I’ve left a few fibers behind. It takes time. I want a life that is rich, wild, and full. I’ll keep all the good – the love, the fellowship, the service, the God, the grace. And I refuse to allow cultish, dogmatic, and exclusive stitches to reside on my life’s fabric any longer.
I take a yoga class every Monday and Wednesday morning. I love it. Yoga has become more of a spiritual practice for me throughout the years. Not in the creepy “Voodoo” “New Age” way a lot of people think it can be. I just believe more things are sacred than not sacred. Sharing meals, taking walks, children’s laughter, music, yoga class – it’s all sacred. Yoga class is place I can go to relax, quiet my mind, and remind myself of important truths like: acceptance, worthiness, rest…and…gasp…stillness. Stillness: the thorn in my side.
I’m really not into the whole stillness thing. I’m constantly going. If I’m not literally on the move, my mind is moving a mile a minute. Wait in a line? Ha! I don’t wait. I grab my phone to check the news, reply to texts and look at Facebook for the 100th time. To me, total stillness in the body and mind feels similar to pain. And I avoid it.
I went to yoga this past Wednesday morning, and the instructor informed us that we would be working on deeper relaxation. Coming up on mid-semester, I was thrilled to have some extra time to enter my Zen-Beast mode. We did some basic movements for the first 30 minutes, then made our way to our backs for a recorded 20-minute guided relaxation session. We were supposed to stay still. Perfectly still.
At first, I found it to be extremely soothing. The voice coming over the speakers was encouraging us to focus on each body part, noticing the way it felt, allowing it to melt, to ground. Then I realized I wasn’t doing a damn thing. I wasn’t producing, I wasn’t tweeting, I wasn’t creating. I was simply on the floor. Still. Perfectly still.
I had a panic attack. All at once, every part of my body felt like it needed to be moved. I wanted to bend my knees, shake my hands, lick my lips, blink my eyes. I didn’t want to be grounded; I wanted to run. Just to DO something. But I stayed. Not because I wanted to learn some deep truth about withstanding lack of comfort. No, I mostly stayed because I didn’t want anybody to think I chickened out. Purely egotistical reasons.
After it was all done (Thank heaven above) the instructor asked how we liked it. I told her it gave me anxiety. I wasn’t doing anything. She said kindly: “You were doing something. You were relaxing.”
I realized – Why is relaxing not a thing? Why do we live in a “crazy busy” world? We call our friends, ask how they are, and how do they respond? “I’m crazy busy.” Doing all these things. Why is relaxing not a thing? Why is rest not a thing?
Yoga, then, is a spiritual and sacred practice for me, because it’s sanding off the rough edges of the bigger part of myself. I am flesh and bone and muscle, yes. But I am more than flesh and bone and muscle. I work out my body in the gym. I work out my mind in a classroom. I need to work out this bigger part of me somewhere, this spiritual part of me.
And this spiritual part of me freaks out in stillness. In the Christian faith, God says: “Be still and know that I am God.” Buddha said: “Still and calm is he who has awakened.” There is a reason the world’s religions talk about being still. It is important to this bigger side of us. Stillness allows us to be grounded. In my daily productive, intentional, disciplined life – I cannot forget that relaxation, rest, and stillness are all “things” too. And they don’t make me less productive, intentional, disciplined – quite the opposite I’m sure.
I’m going to keep practicing my stillness even if I hate it. Maybe I will freak out again, but maybe I will freak out a little less. I won’t hate on myself for disliking it. I won’t chastise myself for wiggling my toes. Who knows? Maybe some day I will really be a Zen-Beast. Maybe not. Probably not. But I just might be a stiller, more grounded version of myself in this “crazy busy” life. I can have the wings and fly and move and dream big; but I have to have the roots too.