Don Miguel Ruiz’s brilliant little book, The Four Agreements, has weighed heavily on me for a few years now. It has inspired more contemplation and reflection than most, and even inspired my own piece on the 2nd agreement, Don’t Take Anything Personally. The recent news of Robin Williams’ tragic death has many bewildered over such a bright, vibrant and funny personality succumbing to such darkness. And it is the onslaught of opinions and reactions that has me reflecting on the 3rd agreement, Don’t Make Assumptions.
Years of memes and quote sharing has helped us all see, even for a brief moment, that we never know the struggle of another, that we’re all winding our own weird path, often filled with deep pain and sadness, and there’s no way to know another’s plight unless we walk in their shoes. And we simply can’t. It’s impossible. And even within our closest loved ones, it is difficult to empathize and even understand their pain.
I do not personally struggle with addiction. That is not how my darkness manifests. It would be arrogant for me to assume to know the depth of pain, solitude, and endless confusion one might be enduring every single day to just survive. It would be just as arrogant for me to assume the whys and hows of one struggling with depression and anxiety, something I do have personal experiences with, both within my own psyche and as an outsider attempting to help loved ones.
We make assumptions about others, the reasons for their behaviors, the backstory to their pain in an attempt to square away some cognitive dissonance in ourselves. We don’t want to believe that sadness can cut so deep that fame, fortune and adoration cannot elevate it. We can’t fathom a loneliness so potent that a person surrounded by love isn’t somehow at the same time filled with that love within.
All the beauty in the world and all the examples and demonstrations of love simply aren’t enough. It is one thing to see, it is quite another to feel, understand and live in the truth of it. And often our forays into both lightness and dark are attempts to understand and receive glimpses of just that: Love.
Out of respect for our fellow humans we should make no assumptions about their lives. As innate as it feels to analyze thoughts and actions, it serves no one to draw conclusions based on nothing but our own mental machinations. And out of concern for our own sanity we should also make no assumptions about why someone is behaving in a certain way, whether it directly affects us or not. Easier said than done but the wiser choice.
Similar to not taking anything personally, often when we assume the truth of another it is merely a projection and reflection of how we feel about ourselves. Most human beings fall into the trap of making something about ourselves, allowing ourselves to feel offended, hurt, misunderstood or forgotten simply from assumptions created by our own minds.
Here are a few examples you may have heard yourself or another say:
“Why would she look at me like that? She must…”
“Why won’t he text/call/message me back? It’s because…”
“I haven’t heard back so I probably didn’t get in/win/make it/etc.”
“They’re just being a jerk because they’re jealous.”
“They had a leg up because their more attractive/rich/popular than I am.”
“They’ve been gone a while. They must have diarrhea.”
That last example was just for levity, but you get my drift. I’ve fallen into these patterns of assumption so many times, too many times to even count. We’ve all most likely, at some point in our lives, been on the giving and receiving ends of assumptions. And at neither time does it feel good, does it satisfy whatever discomfort we’re trying to dissolve. It simply keeps our minds stirring, distracted from real life, pulled away yet again from the present moment.
The questions and statements above are very generic and broad, obviously we can get much more specific, detailed and often mean in our assumptions. And with the case of Robin Williams’ death and the tragic happenings of many other people we feel (assume) we know, the unkind and presumptive thoughts that suicide is selfish or cowardly, there must have been some lack of gratitude or perspective, or that there were any real choices in the matter are more reflective of those judging than those whose lives we’re carving hypotheses about.
Often the line between darkness and light is quite thin. And those providing the most light and levity frequently deal with deep, private darkness. As one who considers herself a bit of a comedy nerd, I've learned how many of those most talented are engulfed in crippling depression, anxiety and dread.
And I think many of you are aware of similar occurrences within Yoga.
It is my own experiences with darkness that led me to Yoga, a practice and career that I feel balances me, helps me share mere moments, lessons and aspects of light I wish I felt more. And sharing those experiences does just that; helps me feel. More.
My parents divorced when I was young. As sadly common as it was and still is, being the only child of my biological parents made the experience feel endlessly confusing, sad and lonesome. This caused many sleepless nights drowning in the depths of assumption. Throughout my adolescence and early adulthood I doubted real love existed, certainly didn't expect to feel it myself. And it is precisely through art, films like Mrs. Doubtfire, practices like Yoga and Meditation, and raw, honest comedy that I was first able to glimpse real light and real love.
I hope Robin Williams can truly rest now knowing he provided so much joy and light to an often dark world. Don't be afraid to reach out, friends. Hug someone. Tight. Let assumptions lie. And as Robin brilliantly said, “You’re only given a little spark of madness, you mustn’t lose it.”