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My Five Agreements: What I Learned in the Dark about Judgment, Truth & Manipulation

It’s been one year since a friendship in my life came to a painful end. I grieved intensely for two months, and then felt it begin to subside. After that, the emotions came and went in waves, allowing me to work through them gradually. The pain was still intense as each wave reached its peak, but once it crashed, I felt a sense of peace wash over me. Layer by layer, I peeled away illusion to reveal deeper truth.

I took my time with this healing, because I wanted to really look at what I needed to take responsibility for. I didn’t want to take on too much, giving a blanket apology in order to keep the peace, while resentment continued to fester in the shadows. Nor did I want to completely dismiss it and make it the fault of someone else. I wanted to take from the experience what was actually mine to take, and then own it.

I forgave my former friend almost immediately. It’s forgiving myself that has taken all this time. I had a hard time coming to terms with how I responded to the conflict between us. I didn’t meet the expectations that I believed I needed to fulfill. So I abused myself. But my time in the dark reminded me of something essential, that I had forgotten. I’m not here to be perfect. I’m here to be real. And sometimes being real means being messy and contradictory, and emotionally unstable, and unreasonable, and naïve, and selfish, and even cruel. And it means accepting the whole truth about myself and loving myself anyway.

Many years ago, someone told me I was an empath, and enough of the description fit that I agreed and adopted that as one of my labels. While it’s true that I have a tendency to absorb energy from people, I realized that it’s not that I actually feel other people’s emotions. It’s more that I know what they are. I am a claircognizant who has empathy. There’s a difference.

Sometimes, the information and energy I pick up from others gets lodged in some dark corner of my unconscious and I forget where it came from. I start to believe it’s mine and my mind thinks it needs to then create a story that explains the emotion’s origin. I have probably spent a lot of my life working through other people’s shit because of this. At one point, that may have made me feel resentful, but not anymore. Now I see the bigger picture that it is all a part of. Often, even though a feeling isn’t my own, it mirrors something that is. It reminds me of a time when I felt the same emotion or had a similar experience. The essence is the same even if the specific details are different.

I know that whatever I heal within myself helps to heal others. And I’m willing to do some heavy lifting. It’s not because I get off on self-sacrifice, it’s because the process of transformation, with its highs and lows, its dance of light and dark makes me feel alive like nothing else. And this past year is no exception. As hard as it’s been, I cherish the experience.

Judgment and Discernment

When I was a young child, I would often lay on the ground and look up at the ceiling and think about what it would be like if people walked up there all the time. How would we complete our daily tasks? How different would the world look from that perspective? Recently, I read a book written by my brother about the keys to learning a new language. As I was reading, it occurred to me that being fully present with another person’s reality is like going into a foreign country and learning a new language. It requires curiosity, respect and a willingness to put aside your fear of judgment in order to try new things, make mistakes, and learn from them. Learning is most effective when done with a playful spirit, seeing the process more as an adventure than a chore.

For the most part, it has been beneficial for me to see life from new perspectives, to expand my own reality by opening to the existence of another. My curiosity says, I want to allow for all things to be potentially true, nothing excluded. But my discernment says, I want to determine what is relevant to the finite human life I am living now.

Discernment is the tool I choose to use instead of judgment. Judgment is about assigning value, separating things into good and bad, acceptable and not acceptable. Discernment is about seeing all potentials as equally valid, and then deciding what option or perspective I choose to observe at any given time.

A belief that I absorbed from my time exploring New Age Spirituality is that if I see something that bothers me in others, it is only a mirror for something that is within me. It is an indication that I need to look within and see how, when, and to what degree I might be inclined to do the same behavior myself. For me, this belief became another form of self-abuse, another yardstick for me to measure myself against and feel like a failure. The more I looked at the mirrors, the more confused I got about what was real and what wasn’t, what was me and what wasn’t. I got lost in that hall of mirrors, more than once, and it nearly ended me each time.

Until I realized, that the mirror was only there to educate me, not to punish me. The punishment only came into the picture when I placed a value judgment on the trait, situation, or behavior. When I believed that there was something wrong with me that I needed to fix. Sometimes the image displayed in the mirror showed up in the most extreme way, because I had ignored it before and it needed to get my attention. It didn’t mean that I was manifesting the extreme in my own actions. It was there to show me what I didn’t want to be or experience, so that I could use that information to make a clear choice about what I did want.

Encountering the mirrors helped me sharpen my skills of discernment.I realized that if I’m talking to someone and I feel my mind getting wrapped into knots trying to figure out the right way to be, that is a red flag, telling me that I’m entering the realm of judgment. If I stay in discernment, I can be present with whatever perspective is in front of me and remain centered in my own truth.

Truth and Kindness

Recently, I read a Facebook post by Elizabeth Gilbert, titled, “Truth and Kindness”. In it, she quotes Martha Beck: “The truth is always an act of kindness, even when it seems like it will hurt. And a lie is always an act of unkindness, even when you believe you are being protective.” She talked about respecting people enough to tell them the truth. And this hit home for me, because I know that a large part of my responsibility in what happened with my friend is that I withheld my true feelings about our relationship. This was a decision I made out of fear, not a desire to control or manipulate, but the end result was the same.

Somewhere along the line, I got the idea in my head that when you decide to be friends with someone, you’re supposed to support them fully, no matter what. That this is just what it means to be a friend. So, if I encountered things about my friends that concerned or upset me, I figured it was my problem, and I needed to find a way to get over it. In my heart of hearts, my desire is for everyone to feel free to be who they are, without apology or explanation. I want to love everyone unconditionally, the same way that I want to be loved. I don’t want to be a person who points out others’ flaws. I don’t want to be a person who gives unsolicited advice or is constantly calling people out on their shit without permission. And yet, because of my intuitive abilities, I see things in other people that I can’t ignore. Believe me, I’ve tried to.

This is the challenge. Trusting my knowing while at the same time respecting others’ boundaries. Owning the truth of my experience while not invading another person’s privacy, even though the transformations I go through internally are often affected by interactions I have in relationships, and so part of their story naturally becomes part of my story.

I learned that just because I’m aware of what people’s emotions are doesn’t make it my responsibility to take action on that knowledge, especially if they haven’t given permission. In the relationships that have a foundation of trust, permission is usually given and that makes me feel safer about expressing my truth. What I realized is that I am willing to put in the time and energy to build up that trust, but only as long as I feel the other person is worthy of that trust. I reveal myself in layers, waiting to see what kind of response I get before deciding whether or not to reveal more. I look for clues that I am safe before opening, and if the signs aren’t there, I don’t grant access to the deeper layers.

When I meet someone new, my inner voice will usually give me an indication of whether or not to invest time in building a relationship with that person. The answer will either be, “Fuck Yes!” or “Hell no!” or, “Maybe, let’s wait and see.” I’ve come to realize that most often a “maybe” is just a “no” that I don’t want to accept yet. And that when I get a nagging feeling that tells me that a relationship is not going to work out, I need to have enough respect for myself, and the other person, to bring it to closure. Experience tells me that if I don’t do it in a kind way, as soon as possible, it’s going to happen in an unkind way at some point down the road. And it’s going to hurt a whole lot more.

I learned that healthy relationships that are worthwhile will sometimes be challenging. They will push my buttons and require me to do tremendous amounts of inner work. But if I’m with the right person, it won’t feel like endless struggle and I won’t feel like I have to walk on eggshells and hide my true self. There will be a payoff comparable to the amount of effort I put into it. If that balance is off, that is a clue that I’m not with the right person. That doesn’t mean the other person is wrong or bad. It just means they aren’t right for me, for now. Practicing discernment instead of judgment allows me to show up in the world with self-respect, asserting my right to be as I am, while also granting others the right to be who they are.

Manipulation and Allowing

I wasn’t planning for my friendship to end the way it did, but I did see the potential for conflict on the horizon and I moved forward anyway, taking whatever action or lack of action felt most appropriate in each moment. Sometimes it felt right to communicate my feelings. Sometimes it felt right to protect myself through silence. But I am reminded of something my inner voice once told me, which is, “Don’t deny that you are creating, even when you choose to be passive.” I didn’t actively set my friendship up to fail, but I didn’t do all I could to avoid it. I let it happen. And I paid a price for that choice.

But taking responsibility for my choices doesn’t mean burying myself in a pile of shame. Ultimately, there are no mistakes, only experience. And to my inner Cosmic Creatrix, it’s all the same; light and dark, creation and destruction. It’s all juicy experience, and there’s no shame in reveling in that. Every potential is valid, even the potential that I am cruel and self-serving. Yes, even that. I refuse to stuff my Dark Goddess into a box and lock Her away. She’s a part of me, and she loves the world deeply, in Her own way. I need Her by my side. And that means I need to stop being afraid of Her. And I need to stop letting others’ fear of Her make me feel like she’s not worthy of love.

“How exhausting to be so much at once. How exhilarating. To always be a prism of undying elements, all at once compassionate and cruel.” ~ Ora North, Path of the Pathless Witch

My Five Agreements

Years ago, I read the The Four Agreements* by Don Miguel Ruiz and the follow up, The Fifth Agreement*, which he co-wrote with his son. I was inspired to write up my own five agreements for relating to myself, others, and the world. Recently, I got the message that it is time to rebirth the contracts and agreements that I have in place to protect myself, and to do it in a new way that is an energetic match for who I am now, not who I was before. Here they are:

#1 – Trust my intuition regarding what attracts or repels me.

I won’t feel ashamed for liking what I like or not liking what I don’t like. I won’t feel guilty if I don’t want to be around someone or do something they want me to do. I have the ability to choose when I will say yes and when I will say no. I don’t have to give a reason, unless I want to. I don’t have to come up with an acceptable excuse or story. It is enough to simply state, “I don’t want to do that,” or “That won’t work for me,” politely but firmly.

#2 – Communicate consciously and clearly express my needs, desires and preferences.

I will never feel ashamed for having or expressing desires or preferences, and yet I am willing to accept it if others are unwilling or unable to fulfill them. I can decide which desires are open for negotiation and which aren’t. For the ones that are, I can be flexible in how they get met and be willing to fulfill them myself if someone else can’t or won’t. I will take the time to go within, explore my feelings and gather my thoughts before speaking, so that my words are as accurate a representation of my truth as they can be. I won’t give in to pressure (internal or external) to express my thoughts before I’m ready or rush to form an opinion just to keep the conversation going. I will remember that silent presence is sometimes the best response, and be okay with saying, “I don’t know how to respond to that.”

#3 – Be aware of my emotional reactions, but don’t let them rule me.

I will honor my authentic emotional reactions and take steps to ensure that I feel safe, even if that means creating physical distance from a conflict. Rather than reacting from a place of past hurt or future fear, I will give myself the time and space to respond with an appropriate level of assertion and compassion, which matches the current circumstances. I will do my best to not take things personally. If something feels personal, I will ask for clarification, rather than assuming the worst. I will reflect and respond, rather than react.

#4 – Offer myself in partnership from the most honest ground I can get to.(*1)

I commit to being honest with myself and everyone I partner with. I will keep my boundaries and commitments to others clear and straightforward, being mindful of the promises that I make, knowing that when I give my word, I will do everything in my power to follow through on what I’ve committed to. I will respond to my relationship responsibilities with care and consideration, being sensitive and emotionally available, and also trusting in others’ ability to take care of themselves. I will no longer hold my expression back out of fear of offending those I love. I will trust in the people I have chosen as my tribe to tell me their truth and to honor them with my acceptance of it. I will hold space for those I trust to confront me when necessary. I will trust others to communicate their needs, and if I am able and willing to offer help, I will. If not, I will not feel guilty. Just because someone wants something from me doesn’t mean I have to give it to them, especially if doing so will drain me. I will remain accountable for my actions and apologize when called for.

#5 – My love is unconditional. People’s presence in my life is not.(*2)

"The moment that someone proves that their value of me does not measure up to my sense of self-worth, I will have no problem unconditionally loving the memory of them and moving on." I am not what others expect me to be and my existence is not contingent on another person’s acceptance of me. When appropriate, I close the door to my heart. I don’t close it to disconnect from life. I close it to stay sacred. To protect the sacred space that is within me. (*3) I am capable of forgiving others because I choose to forgive myself. But forgiving is not the same as forgetting and trust has to be earned.

What I learned in the dark is that I want to be the kind of person who heals people through my presence. Not because I do something to fix them, but because I acknowledge the truth of who they are without feeling threatened by it. Because I am secure enough in myself that I can sit with another in the presence of their tragedy—feeling pain and despair, hope and triumph—and see it all as gloriously beautiful. Because I can be with another in the Unknown and not demand answers. I want to be the kind of person who offers fierce compassion that empowers rather than enables. The kind of person who embodies pure, Divine love. I learned that before I can be this person for anyone else, I need to be this person for myself.

And I realized that if I want to be this person so badly, then somehow, in some way, I must already be. And with that, I’m done feeling shitty about myself. Onward to the next adventure.

Blessings, fellow travelers,


*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

*(1) I borrowed some of this wording from a weekly astrology forecast by Chani Nicholas.

*(2) This agreement was adapted from a quote I saw on Facebook by Carson Patrick Bowie.

*(3) Wisdom about closing the heart to stay sacred came through during my bone reading from Nissa Howard

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