The Fifth Agreement

Joe: Good morning Calliope.

Calliope: …

Joe: You must be sleeping in this morning. I thought I would share with you my latest newsletter. Hope you like it. I did include this in my new book on stress as well.

The Fifth Agreement for Our Lives

Beach sculpture- Martha's Vineyard

Beach Sculpture- Martha’s Vineyard

During all the years that we grow up, we make countless agreements with ourselves,

with society, with everybody around us.

~Don Miguel Ruiz~

 I wrote about the four agreements some time ago. In case you missed them, Don Miguel Ruiz described them in his book The Four Agreements. They are: being impeccable with your word, not making assumptions, not taking anything personally and always doing your best. Recently he completed a new book, The Fifth Agreement. This agreement is to be skeptical but learn to listen.

You are a skeptic if you don’t believe the truth of everything you hear. Why should you be a skeptic? You risk deluding yourself by being too gullible. You can end up looking foolish or get yourself in trouble if you are not careful. I am not suggesting that you go to the other extreme and become paranoid. Your sanity lies somewhere in the middle.

How do you know if someone is telling you the truth? That’s easy. They are not. People use words to say things and use other symbols to convey meaning in the fine and performing arts.

These words or other symbols represent what another person sees as the truth. Or maybe the other person tells lies to deceive you or just wants to get your attention, perhaps to sell you something. Even if others believe what they say or show you, this is not the truth but only their interpretation of it or the truth as they see it.

Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to listen carefully, respect others’ opinions if they are honest ones and interpret what they convey according to your view of the truth.

Are you following me so far? If so, you can see why human communication is so complicated and why it so often leads to misunderstanding and conflict. You can take what others say at face value and then outright reject or accept what they have to say. The fifth agreement is another approach. You can accept the words or other symbols, realizing that they might have different meanings depending on who says, writes, paints or acts them out. Your truth might not be the same as someone else’s. Just because they don’t see things the same as you do is no reason to become upset or judgmental. Their reality is most likely a little different from yours or perhaps greatly so.

With this understanding, it might be easier to accept how others act and respect it, especially when they differ from you. Walk gently among others and don’t react too strongly or too quickly to what you encounter. Weigh what you hear and consider what you find to see whether it can enhance your view of reality and of the truth.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Don’t believe everything you hear or see.
  • Reserve judgment on others who differ from you.
  • Try to understand them through dialogue.
  • Respect their interpretation of reality.
  • Use what you can for others’ views to clarify your own view.

For a free subscription to my Sliding Otter Newsletter, see

Dark Night of the Soul

Joe: Good afternoon Calliope.

Calliope: Good afternoon Joe. You said last time you would share what you are writing about in your new book on stress. I am curious about the Dark Night of the Soul. Please enlighten me.

Joe: I would be happy to do so. Rather than talking about it. I will share with you a selection from my book which I also published recently as a newsletter. Here goes:

Navigating the Dark Night of the Soul

Shuttle Cockpit

Shuttle Cockpit

 Your dark night is your invitation to become a person of heart and soul.

 ~Thomas Moore~

 John of the Cross, a sixteenth century Carmelite mystic, coined the term dark night of the soul. He saw it as a process of purification in which we root all the dead wood out of our lives and concentrate on becoming the person we want to be.

Thomas Moore, in his book Dark Nights of the Soul: a Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals, sees dark nights as periods of transformation. It is not always clear what the transformation might entail, where we will end up and how we or others might benefit from our trial.

We don’t choose our dark nights. They choose us, appearing unexpectedly when we least expect them. As you might have gathered, dark nights are no fun. They disrupt the ordinary course of our lives, giving us a chance to reevaluate where our life is headed should we choose to do so.

We feel suddenly buried in an avalanche of troubles. We might be overcome by grief, feeling suddenly lost on our life path or abandoned by someone on whom we deeply relied.

Medically, we might view a dark night as a state of depression. In our cultural haste to return to normal, we might rush to the doctor for antidepressant medication. We want to get this experience behind us as quickly as possible.

Taking this path, we miss an opportunity. A disruption in our daily living pattern stops us from business as usual. We try to fit in all the activities in which we have become entangled. With a break in the action, we have a chance to consider whether we are still on our life path or have wandered into the brambles.

Without such a disruption, we might continue along, trying to keep up with the frenetic pace of our current society. We don’t seem to have time to think these days about our lives and what course they are taking. A dark night stops us in our tracks and gives us the opportunity for self reflection. Instead of viewing our predicament as a tragedy and just feeling sorry for ourselves, we have a chance to make a course correction in our lives.

We might learn that we are doing pretty well staying on the course we have set for ourselves. We could find that we have forgotten how we would like to live our lives. At the very least we might discover that we do not have the best ways of coping with misfortune. Maybe this is your first major disaster and you have no idea what to do now. Now is the time to discover who we can count on when we are in trouble. It’s also a time to learn some new skills we can use in future life challenges.

Life Lab Lessons

  • If you are suffering a major life trial, be thankful for the opportunity.
  • Use it to see where you have been and where you want to go in life.
  • Don’t feel sorry for yourself in troubled times.
  • Don’t look for someone to blame.
  • Take charge of your life.

Calliope: Thanks for sharing I am looking forward to more.

Joe: will be glad to oblige. In the meantime if your friends want to see my newsletters, they can find them and/or subscribe for free at






Stress and Spirituality

Passionist Memorial

Passionist Memorial

Joe: Good morning, Calliope.

Calliope: Good morning Joe. How is your book on stress coming?

Joe: I am happy with my progress. I am up to sixty pages now and moving along nicely.

Calliope: What part of stress are you working on now?

Joe: I just finished my chapter on spiritual stress and am now working on the joy of stress.

Calliope: Tell me about spiritual stress. I don’t think I have ever heard of it.

Joe: Probably not. It is not discussed much. You always hear about stress on the body and on the mind and emotions. Somehow the spiritual aspect is not as popular a topic.

Calliope: What do you have to say about it?

Joe: I first distinguish between religion and spirituality. Then I look at how stress affects one’s spiritual or religious outlook. I also consider how religion can add to stress when it becomes institutionalized.

Calliope: That sounds interesting. Was it hard to write?

Joe: Yes and no. I have had some personal experiences with my years in the seminary and monastery as well as two very good references, Elizabeth Lesser’s book The New American Spirituality and Thomas Moore’s book  Dark Nights of the Soul. The hard part was organizing what I had to say and making it coherent. Since the book is still in draft form and I have not gotten any feedback yet, I am not sure how successful I was in writing it. That remains to be seen. Next time I will tell you about the joy of stress.

Stress and the Mind

Organizing in the sand

Organizing in the sand

Joe: Good morning, Calliope.

Calliope: Good morning Joe. How goes the writing?

Joe: Well, thank you. I have completed 45 pages of my book on stress. So far I have finished the foreword and chapters one through five.

Calliope: Where are you now?

Joe: I just finished my draft of a chapter on stress and the mind and am now working on stress and feelings/emotions.

Calliope: Is this chapter on feelings or emotions or feelings and emotions.?

Joe: Good question. I got to thinking about the difference between feelings and emotions and realized I was not sure whether they were the same thing or differed somehow.

Calliope: What did you discover?

Joe: I did some research and found that most people writing about the relationship between the two had very firm ideas.

Calliope: Did that help?

Joe: Not in the least. the entrenched ideas were quite contradictory. Some thought they were the same thing. Others thought feelings were physical and emotions mental and some thought just the opposite. That’s as far as I got and haven’t reached a conclusion about the matter myself.

Calliope: A conundrum.

Joe: To say the least. Sometimes I need to let things percolate in my mind before I know how to proceed. I guess I will take that approach. I will let you know what happens.