“You are stronger than you believe. You have greater powers than you know.”
-Antiope, Wonder Woman’s aunt
Wonder Woman is the most beloved and enduringly popular female comic-book superhero of all time. And she’s got serious longevity: Only Superman and Batman have been in print longer. Since the first Wonder Woman comic books appeared on the shelves in 1941, young girls everywhere have looked up to her, been dazzled by her, and ardently wished to BE her. Just like other superheroes, Wonder Woman has a secret identity. Unlike her super compatriots, she also has a fascinating and slightly salacious backstory!
The creation of Wonder Woman
“I am who the world needs me to be. I'm Wonder Woman.”
~ from DC Comics
Comic books were a brand new medium back in the late 1930s. The first issue of Superman launched in 1938, and in its wildly successful wake, publishers scrambled to create equally appealing characters.The majority of these heroes were men, but a shrewd and unlikely author saw that the world was hungry for a strong woman character to headline her own comic.
That author was Dr. William Moulton Marston, a psychologist and co-creator of an early prototype of the lie detector. He’d never written fiction before and had actually been hired by a comic book company to defend the entire medium against calls to ban comics. Mothers and teachers across America were calling comics violent, amoral, and a terrible influence on young readers. After spending some time in the trenches with the writers and illustrators and colorists, Marston decided that the best defense against these moral high-ground critiques was to create a woman superhero. After all, the aspect of comics that got most American mothers in a tizzy was their brutal masculinity. Bring in a lady to calm them down!
“Well, Doc,” Maxwell Charles Gaines, founder of DC Comics told him, “I picked Superman after every syndicate in America turned it down. I’ll take a chance on your Wonder Woman! But you’ll have to write the strip yourself.”
Marston was an outspoken feminist and had every intention of making Wonder Woman comics into subversive propaganda. He’d use them to subtly fight for women’s rights and show readers across the world that women could be strong, powerful, and wise. (In other words, INTEGRATED!) Marston was also a sexually adventurous man, and littered his Wonder Woman scripts with bondage imagery. He lived with his legal wife and a second, undocumented wife and based Wonder Woman’s character largely on these two women. Gaines may have hired him to quell controversy, but Dr. Marston just ended up stirring the pot!Luckily, Wonder Woman comics were a wild and nearly instantaneous success.
After William Moulton Marston died in 1947—just six years after the first copy of Wonder Woman appeared—DC Comics quickly began eradicating the feminism, toning down the bondage, and taking the character in a less controversial direction. Over the decades, the company has changed her origin story, re-launched the series multiple times, and made more changes than can be counted. Marston once said, “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.”His vision may have gotten lost a few times over the course of her evolution, but that powerful core still remains.
Wonder Woman’s origin story
"The gods made the Amazons to restore peace to the world, and it’s what I’m going to do."
~ Wonder Woman
Enough about the man who created her! Let’s talk about the hero herself!
Again, DC Comics has published several iterations of Wonder Woman’s origins, but the original Marston story is the one that purists favor. In it, Diana is young a princess living on the secret island of Themyscira, a tropical paradise inhabited only by women warriors called Amazons. The Amazons were granted this island by the Greek gods and, Diana’s birth smacks of Greek mythology: She’s the daughter of Queen Hippolyta, but she was brought to life from a clay sculpture!(Marston did this very much on purpose: He didn’t want men to be part of Wonder Woman’s origin story.) Diana loves her life of learning and sparring and training, having never known any other world.
The gods created the Amazons to bring a message of peace to humanity, but they never lived out that fate. Instead, after being enslaved by men for many years, they hid themselves away from the brutality and ignorance of man’s world, and built a matriarchal society brimming with magic and powerful sisterhood. As World War II rages outside their island, they are blissfully ignorant.
Then Captain Steve Trevor crashes his fighter plane on the island, and begs for the Amazon’s help in the war. Hippolyta holds a tournament to determine who will return with Trevor, and (of course) Diana wins. She is given gifts by her loving sisters, including the Lasso of Truth and sandals that allow her to run at great speed. She does not, however, accompany the captain back to fight, but instead considers herself an emissary from Themyscira charged with bringing her ancestors’ message of peace to a tumultuous world, a Warrior-Sage.
Of course, after she arrives, she is unable to remain peaceful for long. Although she takes on the mild-mannered alter ego of Diana Prince in daily life, she transforms into Wonder Woman whenever she needs to fight the forces of injustice. And she’s been fighting since 1941, in more than 700 comic books,several television shows, and a big-budget Hollywood film.
Wonder Woman’s cultural impact
“If you need to stop an asteroid, you call Superman. If you need to solve a mystery, you call Batman. But if you need to stop a war, you call Wonder Woman.”
~ Gail Simone, comic book writer
Wonder Woman has been an icon of female strength, wisdom, and power for generations. Even women who don’t identify with the Warrior often adore and revere her, seeing her as a level-headed Sage, ardent Lover, or caring Mother to all of humanity. She holds near-universal appeal because she is such a perfect balance of female archetypes. We can allidentify with Wonder Woman on some level.
And we’ve all loved and admired her from the moment her comics hit the newsstands. She paved the way for other women superheroes, and did so early in the history of comic books and superhero sagas. She has earned legions of loyal fans, and more join the ranks every day. The 2017 film sparked a new wave of interest, a new throng of young girls carrying Wonder Woman lunchboxes and backpacks to school, dreaming of being as strong and wise as she is.
Our culture loves nothing more than to tear down a powerful, confident warrior woman. Physical prowess, bravery, speaking our minds, showing emotion, all of these things make us targets for ridicule. And millions of women worldwide, when faced with scorn and derision, put their hands on their hips and stand tall, imagining Wonder Woman rising up within them.
Researchers are trying to prevent and treat CTE, the brain disease caused by repetitive head trauma – including combat blasts. Here's how vets can help:
How about giving the gift of time?
If you are a wounded warrior or wife of wounded warrior you are eligible for a free Ski Get away with Vail Veterans or National Ability Center!
If you’re a civilian you can volunteer with these programs!
Here’s an excerpt from the book WOUNDED WARRIOIR, WIFE showing the healing power through recreation!
When a soldier, marine, sailor or airman return home wounded–grappling with PTS and plagued by nightmares–he may struggle to feel connected to his wife. Married couples who have been close for years, even decades, who are used to trading secrets and sharing life-altering experiences, suddenly feel like they are from different planets. Even like they’re living on different planets. The space seems vast, and the silence seems deafening.
Finding a way to reconnect is essential. Therapy and sharing, bonding over the struggles of a new way of life, and working through difficulties by talking them out are all helpful practices. But sometimes it takes something more–something unexpected and drastically different–to forge a new bond.
This was the case for Jane.
Jane met her husband Kyle while working as a park ranger at Vail mountain , Colorado. He was a big guy, bald and blue-eyed, with an appealingly athletic build and personality to match. Jane was an outdoorsy person herself, and they fell in love hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter together. They were engaged six months after they met and married six months later in October 1990. Kyle was in the Navy reserves then, doing his duty on weekends and two weeks a year. After they were married nearly 20 years, Kyle was put on active duty and was required to leave for longer periods. Eventually he was deployed overseas.
In Afghanistan, Kyle’s Humvee was hit by an IED explosion, and both of his legs had to be amputated. He was lucky to be medevaced out within an first hour or it could have been much worse. After bilateral amputations to the knees, he was fitted with new legs and had to go through intense physical therapy.
Once he was back on his feet, Jane thought their life together would be easier. She didn’t notice the aftershocks of PTS and traumatic brain injury until after Kyle was discharged and had been home for quite some time. He often got dizzy and had ringing in his ears; his eyes became light sensitive which forced him to wear dark glasses all the time; he was very distressed by noise and could not be around crowds. Jane believed they had a strong marriage – they had been married for over 20 years — but his injuries changed how they treated each other.
“We’re still very close and love each other very much,” she said. “But I feel I have to leave the room at times because of something he says or does.”
One of the changes that is most noticeable to Jane is Kyle’s temper. Whenever he became angry he had no filter when he spoke.
“He’s emotionally regressed,” Jane confided. “He’s not the man he used to be. Sometimes I feel like I’m dealing with a two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum.”
Jane found that her husband’s PTS took a psychological toll on her as well. She would get depressed because she couldn’t always do the things she wanted to do. What bothered her the most was having to make excuses to their friends and family for their absences. Sometimes she would cope in unhealthy ways such as eating more or not going to the gym. Self-care can fall to the wayside when all of your time and energy get used up caring for someone else. It’s natural, but frustrating.
She still puts time, energy, and effort into her relationship with Kyle, though, and focuses on cultivating patience.
“When I was younger I was a bit of a hot head myself, but age has mellowed me, so I can go with the flow better in certain situations.”
Jane has taken it upon herself to study up on PTS to get a better understanding of what triggers Kyle’s outbursts. She also formulates strategies for heading it off by removing him from situations that cause him anxiety or stress.
Jane was grateful that she’d had the chance to travel when she was younger, because when her life changed and she was convinced her globe-trotting days were over, she felt content to stay home and care for her husband and grandkids. But just when Jane had resigned herself to letting go of traveling and adventures, Kyle told her about the Vail Veterans’ Program.
And in the blink of an eye, they were packing their bags to go to Vail.
The Vail Veterans’ Program was founded in 2004 to provide rehabilitation sports training to severely wounded warriors and their wives. Jane was excited about this organization because although it was focused on helping her husband heal, she got to participate too.
As you might expect of a program based in Vail, this one was all about skiing. Kyle’s instructors at the Vail Veterans Program strapped him into a monoski and put him on Golden Peak’s bunny hill, while Jane skied along with him. She watched him open up and transform before her eyes. This program got him out of his shell and added a new dimension to their life through their shared love of the outdoors.
“Gliding through the snow on ‘wings of wood’ is the closest thing to flying,” Jane explains. “We felt a sense of thrill and joy soaring over the shining crystalline whiteness.”
The healing process is a journey that lasts a lifetime—for wounded warriors and their caregivers. The four days Jane spent with Kyle in Vail skiing and sharing meals with other Wounded Warriors and their wives was a turning point in both of their lives. They met skiing, and it was skiing that brought them back together again. Now these two are healing their wounded souls through sharing new positive experiences, and gently forcing a world that can feel small and suffocating to expand and unfold.
As a physical therapist working with patients in rehabilitation, I have seen how most patients can’t wait to get out into the great outdoors after being in a hospital for months. I’ve taken patients skiing, fishing, hiking and horseback riding, and have watched their eyes light up as they experience the world beyond the hospital room.
For the caregiver, getting away from the hospital was as beneficial to her as it was to her husband. The desire to escape can be irresponsible, but at times it’s essential. Wives of wounded warriors can’t “suit up and show up” day after day without ever taking a break. There are times when she must face her responsibilities and dodging them is not the answer. But every once in a while she needs to break free.
Sometimes I think the very best thing couples can do is run like hell — as fast and as far away as they can possibly go. Because there are circumstances in which a change of scenery can change their minds. There are times when spending time away from the hospital, away from the city, away from the stress, can be just the balm their wounded soul needs to recover. And when you feel trapped in the stifling space of a home filled with angry outbursts, flashbacks, and night terrors, leaving home together can be the key to unlocking a whole new level of recovery and reconciliation.
Taking a running leap can, at times, gives you a better chance of learning to fly. Leaping together can help you reunite in flight.
“Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.”
~ Richard Bach
We are living in a time of great uncertainty. Every news cycle seems to produce a new story about a prominent man sexually harassing women in his orbit. No one knows who will be called out next, but we all know that this string of exposés is far from over.
I’ve found it interesting to hear from women who summoned up the courage to speak out only after hearing other women do so first. And even more interesting to hear that some of them didn’t understand that what they’d experienced actually was harassment until news stories broke about others enduring similar treatment. It’s like a part of our collective unconscious is waking up, and linking women all over the country in unexpected solidarity.
It might seem odd that anyone could lack the self-awareness to know she’d been violated, but it’s really not. We all strive to know and understand ourselves, but few of us achieve that knowledge and understanding beyond the surface level. We fail to identify and face our strengths, weaknesses, and defining traits, which leads us into the same behaviors and frustrations over and over again. Leadership expert Warren Bennis says that true self-awareness is “the most difficult task any of us faces. But until you know yourself, strengths and weaknesses, you cannot succeed in any but the most superficial sense of the word.”
One of our strongest desires as human beings is to have the freedom to be ourselves, and when we do, we access the power to transform our passions into realities. But we may face obstacles, both internal and external, to this knowledge and freedom. We’ve all heard the parables; A fish swims in the ocean, but out of water he struggles. An acorn grows to be a towering oak tree, but only when given the proper nourishment.
To live the life we want we need to know ourselves. But this is easier said than done.
Self-understanding through archetypes
“Extraordinary individuals stand out in the extent to which they reflect—often explicitly—on the events of their lives, large as well as small.”
~ Howard Gardner
Although we must explore and embrace our uniqueness, sometimes the things that unite us make us stronger. This has definitely been the case with women who are speaking up about sexual harassment; Their shared experiences have created a tidal wave of courage and support. Along these same lines, our individual quests for self-knowledge can be kicked into high-gear if we begin them by examining our relationships with timeless archetypes. By seeing ourselves in these eternal dimensions—Mother, Lover, Warrior, and Sage—we begin to unlock the tools we need to understand ourselves. And the deeper we dive, the more able we are to leverage these tools to grow our power and achieve our goals. These tools can help us live more productive lives, both professionally and personally.
When we consider the four archetypes, we’re better able to understand ourselves. This self-knowledge is crucial because we can build happy lives only on the foundation of our own natures, our own interests, and our own values. With wisdom, experience, and insight from the four archetypes, we can use our time more productively, generate better ideas, suffer less stress, and get healthier.
Plus contemplation of the four archetypes helps us to better understand and engage with other people. We can live and work more effectively with others when we identify their archetypes. As coworkers and bosses, teachers and coaches, husbands and wives, parents and children, health care providers and patients, we live more harmoniously when we see and acknowledge each other on deeper levels.
Understanding the four archetypes gives us a richer, fuller understanding of the world.
Four faces in flux
When I describe the four archetypes, I sometimes get the impression that people want to identify with only one. But although some of us may resonate with one over the others, they are all part of us. The happiest, healthiest, most productive people are those who have figured out how to harness the strengths of each archetype, counteract the weakness of each archetype, and build their lives accordingly.
It’s also important to note that these faces are fluid. While one may emerge strongly during one phase of life, another may take over as time passes. We are a hybrid of all of them, and our expressions of Mother, Lover, Warrior, and Sage can emerge in isolated or blended ways. In my own life, I have seen my relationships with these four ebb and flow. I’ve sought to find balance among them, and doing so has helped me get in touch with my deepest desires and strive toward my loftiest goals.
Refine without confining
“This above all: to thine own self be true.”
Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3
Bear in mind that the four archetypes framework is meant to help us understand ourselves more deeply, not to limit our sense of identity or possibility. Some people say, “When you define yourself, you confine yourself.” I’d argue that systems of self-definition are very helpful because they serve as starting points for our self-knowledge explorations. This framework isn’t meant to be a box that stunts our growth or a label that captures everything about us. Instead, conceptualize it as a spotlight that illuminates hidden aspects of our nature.
Think of exploring the archetypes as augmenting the best parts of yourself, supercharging traits and strengths that were always there. When your inner Warrior sets goals, she doesn’t just write the book, she gets it published. When your inner Mother gets promoted, she doesn’t just praise her direct-reports, she makes them feel deeply appreciated. When your inner Lover works the lunch shift at the diner, she doesn’t do it on auto-pilot, she speaks kindly to her patrons and gets bigger tips. When your inner Sage goes on her dream vacation, she doesn’t just take photos, she journals and meditates and uses the time to explore her internal landscape. Connecting with each of these aspects within yourself can help you build confidence, achieve more, and have a deeper impact on the world around you.
These archetypes have been a powerful influence on my life, and I’m currently working on a project that will help YOU dig deeper into your own understanding of them. Stay tuned for more posts on this topic, and a few hints about the larger archetype project!
THANK-YOU FOR YOU SERVICE and MEGAN LEAVY are films in theatres now that show us the wounds of war! Hope you get a chance to see them… After watching them I had an enlightening discussion with military experts.
In the moment, battle decisions seem very black-and-white. It’s kill or be killed, take down the enemy or risk losing men, losing ground, losing strategic advantages. The men and women who serve in our armed forces are trained to follow orders and focus on immediate goals. They make split-second decisions, but those decisions are based on directives from the officers and commanders above them. Choice rarely factors in. They do what they must.
But in the aftermath — back home and attempting to adjust to civilian life again — veterans of war often find themselves replaying disturbing scenes in their minds and questioning their own actions. Many have killed teens and children, witnessed brutal rapes, shot people who seemed to be targets but turned out to be bystanders. They’ve watched their comrades die and felt the guilt of surviving. And looking back, they begin to wonder: Did I have a choice? Could I have done something less damaging? How can I live with myself after taking part in such ruthless activities?
“You know it’s wrong. But … you have no choice,” explained Nick Rudolph, a 22-year-old Marine.
This quagmire of confusion and contradiction has become painfully familiar to returning veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After seeing similar reactions in countless soldiers, experts have begun to identify this state as moral injury: pain and confusion resulting from damage to a person’s life beliefs, values, and moral foundation.
This might seem like it could get lumped in with post-traumatic stress (PTS), but the mental health community has determined that while PTS stems from fear, moral injury has to do with an individual’s sense of right and wrong. Symptoms are similar and can include depression and anxiety, difficulty paying attention, and loss of trust. But the morally injured feel sadness and regret, too. They are trying to reconcile the ethics they brought with them into battle with the ugly realities of conflict.
Modern wars have no trenches and our enemies don’t always look like soldiers. Our warriors are put in situations that test their ethics and values every single day, and they’re fighting wars that much of the American public now believes to be pointless. Of course they return from battle confused and damaged.
“Civilians are lucky that we still have a sense of naiveté about what the world is like,” Navy psychologist Amy Amidon told Huffington Post reporter David Wood. “The average American means well, but what they need to know is that these [military] men and women are seeing incredible evil, and coming home with that weighing on them and not knowing how to fit back into society.” [http://projects.huffingtonpost.com/moral-injury/the-grunts]
PTS has gotten some attention from the medical community and the media, moral injury is still in the shadows, wreaking havoc on our veterans but mostly unacknowledged. And it is shockingly widespread: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that while 52,000 have sustained physical injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, between 275,000 and 500,000 returning soldiers are coping with PTS and/or moral injury.
Which brings up many complex questions: Should we find ways to harden our fighting men and women against moral injury so they won’t suffer later on? Or would that be worse for them in the long run? Should we, as a nation, insist on changing how wars are fought? What is the responsibility of the civilian population in helping these fighters heal?
There are no easy answers. But there are a few things we can do that will help until bigger, better solutions are uncovered: We can listen to combat vets who want to talk about their experiences. We can be patient with them if they are withdrawn, angry, or overwhelmed. We can research support networks and connect veterans coping with moral injury with resources and people who can help them.
And we can acknowledge that black-and-white decisions are a relic of wars past, and that our modern-day warriors are coping with far more complex situations every day of their fighting lives.
I've admired Marie Curie since I first learned about her spectacular accomplishments in grade school; Here was a woman who'd won Nobel Prizes in two different scientific disciplines in a time when women were all but banned from research labs! She was brilliant, brave, and changed our world forever with her discoveries. She was a heroine to me, a shining example of how intelligence and determination could prevail in the face of adversity.
I recently visited her hometown of Warsaw—which is packed with monuments to her life and discoveries—as well as her adopted home country of France. Visiting her childhood home, seeing the tremendous pride the Polish people take in her work, and exploring the museums that celebrate her achievements rekindled my love for Madam Curie.
And I wanted to write about her here because I realized that while most people might see her as a Sage archetype, I know her to be a Warrior through and through. She was forced to fight at every step. She fought to learn, to keep pace, to get full credit for her world-changing findings. So let's meet Marie Curie, Warrior.
A childhood of challenges
“I was taught that the way of progress is neither swift nor easy.”
~ Marie Curie
Marie's mother died of tuberculosis when Marie was just 11 years old. This tragedy shaped her life in more ways than one: It led to her spending more time with her father, a math and physics instructor, who helped her cultivate her knack for the sciences. He even brought laboratory equipment into the family home so his children could run experiments!
His guidance was invaluable, and led Marie to become a top student in high school … only to be denied entry to the local university because of her gender. Undeterred, she continued her education at the Flying University, a set of underground, informal classes held in secret. There, she studied alongside her older sister, Bronislawa, and dreamed of moving on to an institution with proper labs ... and less sexism.
On to France
“I never see what has been done. I only see what remains to be done.”
~ Marie Curie
Both Marie and her sister longed to go abroad to earn official degrees, but they simply didn't have the money. Unwavering in her resolve to learn and achieve, Marie worked out a deal with her sister; She would work to support Bronislawa while she was in school, then Bronislawa would return the favor after she'd completed her studies.
After fulfilling her half of the bargain, Marie made her way to Paris where she enrolled at the Sorbonne and threw herself happily into her studies. Paying for her tuition and rent made her crushingly poor, and she survived on buttered bread and tea. But although she was exhausted and broke, she was mentally engaged and wildly successful. And her hard work paid off. She earned first place in the master's exam for physics in 1893 and second place for the master's in mathematics in 1894.
Shortly after earning her degrees, a colleague introduced her to French physicist Pierre Curie, who helped her locate a lab space for her research. A romance developed between the mastermind pair, and they became a scientific dynamic duo. They were dedicated to science…and each other. In fact, during a time when most women were expected to either raise a family or pursue a career, Pierre ensured Marie could do both. They were quite the modern couple!
“A scientist in his laboratory is not a mere technician: He is also a child confronting natural phenomena that impress him as though they were fairy tales.”
~ Marie Curie
At first, Marie and her husband worked on separate projects. She launched into work on a doctoral thesis, exploring Henri Becquerel's work on the strange emissions created by uranium. (Her revolutionary ideas created the entire field of atomic physics, and Marie herself coined the word “radioactivity” to describe the phenomenon.) Soon Pierre put aside his own studies of crystals to support Marie's work.
Working together, the pair discovered a new radioactive element in 1898. They named the element polonium, after Marie’s native country of Poland. They also detected the presence of another radioactive element and called it radium. The Sorbonne refused to fund their research, so they performed it in an abandoned shed, working in hazardous conditions to prove their theories and isolate pure radium.
Marie recalled the night she first realized the magnitude of her discovery. In the darkness of the shed, she murmured, “Pierre, look!” as she saw the radium glowing with a ghostly blue light. She would soon prove that it was nearly 1 million times stronger than uranium.
And 1903, she was honored for this discovery when she became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in physics. She shared the title with her husband and Henri Becquerel, who both contributed to her groundbreaking work on radioactivity. The duo planned to use their prize money to continue their research.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Tragedy and triumph
“Have no fear of perfection; you'll never reach it.”
~ Marie Curie
Just two years after their win, Marie suffered a heartbreaking loss when Pierre was killed in Paris after stepping in front of a horse-drawn wagon. Although she was stricken by grief, she decided to take over his teaching post at the Sorbonne, becoming the institution’s first female professor. Five years into her tenure, Marie received another great honor; In 1911 she won her second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry.
When World War I broke out, Marie devoted her time and resources to helping the cause. X-ray machines had been invented based on her research, and could be found in many French doctors' offices, but Marie realized that X-rays could help doctors in the field. They could use the technology to see the bullets and shrapnel embedded in the soldiers’ bodies and remove them, as well as locate broken bones. So she championed the use of portable X-ray machines, and even trained 150 nurses to use them! Her love for the mysteries of radioactive materials never died.
Unfortunately, her constant exposure to them took its toll.
Years of being exposed to radiation began to wear down Marie's health. She had spent almost her entire career working with radioactive elements completely unprotected, and even carried test tubes of radium around in the pocket of her lab coat, something a modern scientist would never do! In the end, she died in 1934 of aplastic anemia, which can be caused by prolonged exposure to radiation. But she died doing what she loved, after decades of fighting for her place in the scientific elite, and became the only woman laid to rest in the Panthéon in Paris.
Thank you Marie for displaying passion and dedication until your last days. You worked as a warrior for science, busting through every barrier put in your way, and unlocking discoveries that still save lives every single day. May we all find something that grabs hold of us and never lets go, may we all fight as hard as you did for our rightful place in this world.
Have you read Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements? This book is a total life-changer, so if you haven't encountered it yet, order up a copy as soon as you can! The ideas you'll find in its pages are based on ancient Toltec wisdom, and present a powerful code of conduct we can use to transform our lives for the better. Ruiz himself is a shamanic teacher and healer who is dedicated to helping readers create a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love. His ideas have been healed wounds and sparked growth in people all over the world for more than 20 years.
The subtitle to The Four Agreements is “A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom,” and that concept has been rolling around in my head for weeks now. So much life advice is vague or hard to apply, but Ruiz's ideas are refreshingly specific and pragmatic! I wanted to create my own version of the four agreements as a way to honor our four dimensions, the archetypes of Mother, Lover, Warrior, and Sage, and to keep that spirit of truly useful, down-to-earth advice in mind in doing so. As women, we are constantly pushed and pulled in many directions, and remaining true to ourselves can seem impossible. But I believe there are some simple ways to honor our essential selves, and learn and grow in the process.
The First Agreement: Be Impeccable with Your Word
Ruiz says, “Everything you feel or believe or say that goes against yourself is a sin. You go against yourself when you judge or blame yourself for anything. Being without sin is exactly the opposite. Being impeccable is not going against yourself. When you are impeccable, you take responsibility for your actions, but you do not judge or blame yourself.”
What could be more loving than embracing honesty without judgment? And yet this can be so hard to do, especially for women. We are taught that blaming ourselves is natural and normal, even when the true fault lies with someone else. But speaking with integrity and saying only what you mean are powerful ways to remain authentic to your inner beliefs.
To embrace the first agreement in the guise of The Lover, you can:
• Take note of your internal dialogue. When you notice it becoming negative, put it lovingly on pause. Then say an affirmation out loud to re-center yourself.
• Stop apologizing for everything! When you find yourself starting a sentence with “I'm sorry,” consider how else to introduce your ideas. Part of “not going against yourself” is standing tall inside your beliefs.
• Slow down. We're living in a fast-paced world that encourages speaking without thinking. Breathe before you speak, make sure you know exactly what you want to say and why.
The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally
The priceless nugget of truth here is that everyone in the world is self-centered, and their reactions to you are driven by their hopes and fears about themselves. It's so easy to take nasty comments to heart, or be hurt by accusations. But when you become immune to the opinions and actions of other people, you save yourself from needless suffering.
Mothers both know this, and teach it to their children. Understanding the motivations of other people and protecting yourself from their words helps mothers all over the world navigate their own family dynamics and shield their children from emotional pain.
To embrace the second agreement in the guise of The Mother, you can:
• Practice empathy. If someone says something that stings, put yourself in her shoes. What might be motivating this negativity? Instead of feeling hurt, try to understand root causes.
• Remember yourself. Opinions and observations can be especially hard to ignore when they've got a grain of truth in them. Be open to that. If someone tells you you're “stuck-up,” step back from the statement and examine its meaning. If what they're really seeing is pride in your accomplishments, that is nothing to feel ashamed of. Remember who you are to re-contextualize criticism. (You do this for your kids, now do it for yourself!)
• Be patient. Living by this agreement is just plain HARD. Give yourself time to adjust to a new way of understanding people and the things they say. And if you feel wounded by a comment or judgment, go back to the first agreement and remember not to judge or blame yourself.
The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions
It is so easy to slip into assumptions. We lead busy, full lives and often don't have time to investigate things as fully as we should, so we just take the tidbits we know and make some mental leaps. But this is disrespectful, to ourselves and to others. To channel the wisdom of The Sage, we must be patient, ask questions, and never assume that we possess knowledge we haven't earned.
To embrace the third agreement in the guise of The Sage, you can:
• Be curious, not judgmental. This gem of advice comes from poet Walt Whitman! The antidote to judgment is curiosity, so embrace it. Ask questions instead of assuming you know the answers.
• Check your prejudices. Did you know women can be sexist … against other women? Or that most of us have at least a few racist ideas floating around in our brains? If you find yourself jumping to conclusions about another person, be brutally honest with yourself about why. Again, don't judge or punish yourself, just be wholly honest. Then think about what you can do to be more open-minded about an individual or group in the future.
• Listen: Asking questions is an important start, but actually hearing the answers is just as crucial. Don't ask for the sake of asking. Listen actively and intently when someone honors you with a response.
The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best
Of this agreement, Ruiz says, “Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. Everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good.”
So gentle and helpful! Of course you want to give your all to everything in your life, but your all will be different when you're sick, exhausted, or overwhelmed. Commit fully to your life, but with the understanding that your real capacity may vary. Just like that of a warrior, who is capable of ferocious battle at full-strength and far less when weary or injured.
To embrace the fourth agreement in the guise of The Warrior, you can:
• Listen to your body. Our culture values strength and endurance, but sometimes at the expense of actual health! If you are tired, honor that and rest. If you are in pain, get the help you need to heal. And adjust your expectations for yourself when your body tells you you aren't at full capacity.
• Push yourself. Gently. On the flip side, be aware of when you're phoning it in. (You know when and why it happens!) If you can do better, lean into that. If you need help getting motivated to step up your game, ask for it.
• Reflect. Doing your best means understanding what “your best” looks like. Journal, talk with friends, or find some other creative way to self-assess your performance at work, in your hobbies, in relationships, and other important arenas of life. This is especially helpful to people who tend to go-go-go without pausing to process.
The strategies and advice found in The Four Agreements can be used by people of any gender, but I loved looking at this body of wisdom from a woman's perspective. As women we face specific and nearly endless challenges, but given the tools we need to remain true to ourselves, we can refashion those challenges into triumphs. I hope that thinking about how Ruiz's ideas relate to the four foundational archetypes will help you make key changes to how you think, feel, and react so you can be more fully present in your own life!