I first read this idea in The Four Agreements (1997) by Don Miguel Ruiz. The second of Don Miguel’s four agreements was: do not take anything personally. I first read the book not long after it was published. This particular agreement hit me in the gut. At an intuitive level I knew it was true, yet I also knew that I did not really understand what the author was saying. I also knew that I could not manifest this wisdom in my daily actions. A few years later I had the opportunity to take a work-shop with Don Miguel at Omega, and was impressed by his warmth and openness. Not long after, in September of 2002, I experienced a kind of disappearing act which allowed to me to see directly the truth of this teaching.
I have applied this understanding ever since in psychotherapy sessions, and have found it to be one of the most liberating of the spontaneous realizations that emerged after the disappearance mentioned above. This Sunday, February 6 those who are interested will meet in my office to discuss the meaning and value of this truth. Our normal understanding convinces us that everything is personal. Going in depth into the nuances and subtleties of this realization will help us all to embody this truth in the ordinary activities of daily like.
For example, would it also be true to say that everything is personal? As this clear awareness unfolds over time, a real appreciation emerges for not only the impersonal but also for the very personal. In The Heart Sutra we are taught that “form is only emptiness, emptiness only form…” Notice that this profound teaching does not deny the form aspect, or what we might call the personal. Living in emptiness, walking it, eating it, breathing it, or being breathed by it is the experience of awakened awareness moving freely through the world-the same world we all know through our normal consciousness.
It is certainly beneficial to cease taking anything personally. However, does it then follow that everything is impersonal? Can’t we say that there is both a personal and an impersonal aspect to everything? How does this realization play out in our lives? Ultimately, with the maturing of realization through integration and embodiment, both personal and impersonal lose their allure. Then we know directly the spirit of Master Dogen’s Mountains and Rivers Sutra, and the following classic lines:
Before I understood I saw mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers.
When I arrived at some understanding, I saw mountains are not mountains and rivers are not rivers.
Now mountains are once again mountains, and rivers are once again rivers.
See http://www.mro.org/zmm/teachings/daido/teisho49.php for a brief teaching on this topic by John Daido Loori, Roshi, published in Mountain Record 25.1, Fall 2006.