The 4 agreements

I know about “The 4 agreements” around 3 years ago, in a cab. I was leading a private tour to Ha Long bay and on the way to airport, I asked my guest:

“Can you tell me what is the book that changed your life?

He smiled at that question and suggested me one and only book. “It sounds so simple”, I thought. I was looking for something more sophisicated so I decided to ignore his book recomendation and never actually read the book beyond a summary.

Until today. :). It’s still a simple book that can’t compare with the philosophy shelf, yet there’s nothing I can oppose.

Below are some extracts from chapter 2 – “Don’t make assumptions“.



Man’s search for meaning

“Man’s search for meaning” was given to our office after a long day. Coming back  after riding in Mekong, I asked Van upon seeing a new stack of books on the table.

– Wow, whose books are these?
– Steve’s. We can read them.

Scrolling through the bunch, I chose for myself the thinnest one for the sake of…fea
sibility. With the cover of a candle lighting in the dark and an ambitious name, the book gave an impression of being overrated, or at least religious. I read through a few pages and put it back to the shell, like what I do with almost anything else in life – abrupt, broken and unfinished.


Not until Paul came to Saigon did I took it out again to discuss over a cafe. “It is a great book”, Mary Croy said. Or at least something similar. Written by a survival in Nazi concentration camp and a psychoanalyst – Victor Frank, the book describes and analizes psychological reactions, emotional turmoil of the author and his friends after being robbed away everything step by step.

They are herded as naked sub-human beings for a long period of time in extremely limited space, lack of food, heavy repetitive workload, no hope and no real identity.

In that particular time of history, how did the prisoners cope to find the meaning in life?

Buchenwald Survivors, 1945

The book is divided in two parts, the later part is less interesting and more focused on logotherapy as a method, yet in general, it is a vivid depiction of emotional battle of normal people in an abnormal context, when all set of values are challenged. How can they, and us, see the meaning of life in a seemingly hopeless and pointless concept?

Despite contrast in the time and context used in the book, we can, for once, imagine ourselves in their shoes and feel a special emotion journey actually experienced by an articulate mind-reader and professional psychologist.


More importantly, how can we, modern human beings living in peace and fulfillment of basic needs, relate to the “meaning” mentioned in the book? As most of us have every basic things we need, is the void and vacuum of meaninglessness in modern life still relevant to the meaning in the book?


How can a normal person like me with music, earphones, ample portions of food, work to do and freedom to do so many things still feel meaningless?

The book has brought me through a special teleportation back in time and get into the mind of another human’s quest for meaning. In a seemingly hopeless and pointless absurd cut of human history.


That feeling surged again. In Kuang Xi- a waterfall full of people in Laos, I soak myself in cold running water and after around 20 minutes, I stared at him.

Him here is a random person standing around 10 meters away from me. Muscular, tanned, tall and tattooed, with a small beard and looking at me almost at the same time. My heart started to beat fast.

Almost immediately my head is vividly filled with the image of that stranger pulling me closer and us making out under water, behind and in front of arrays of wild trees in the area while resisting the strong water current flowing towards. In public and passionately.

We will breath hard, tongues twisted, excited by the overwhelming chemistry and an immense guilty inappropriate feeling when all other swimmers stopped to point and gossip at the wild scene in front of them just to be turned on at the same time. In seconds, every freaking one of them will be itchy and about to turn into vampire.


The thing is…it did not happen, yet the visualization was so vivid that the aura around us changed forever. Right there, at that waterfall, I can smell and touch that strong sensation.

I am losing grip babe. I am losing my poise.

In mainstream psychology, lust is defined as such



Aside from the surface pleasure that lust triggers, I deeply believe there is correlation between lust and vulnerability. I have never felt such an immense level of vulnerability in my life recently, and the desire for attention/ connection increases with the same rate.


After writing for 30 minutes, the receptionist came behind my back and when I turned around, I can felt that look again. I better not disturb her, I think and sigh.

” What are you writing?

-I am writing about yesterday. I went to a waterfall and wanted to kiss every freaking person there.

-Ha ha, really?

-Yeah, maybe it is hormone, haiz.

-It happens to me too, ha ha.

-What? Really?

-Yeah, sometimes when customers come in, it took me some minutes to be calm and professional =))

– So you can control it. I can’t. Damn.

Where will this lead and for how long? Is it purely biological or psychological? Let’s see. Maybe you can let me know.

When Avril loses her grip, she can fall over her fans and the audience will take her with all they have. When I lose my grip, hmm, when I lose my grip, maybe I will come and find you and kiss you, right there.

Y.O.U (Why. Opressing.Us)

A fuss with 23 “I”

The pure intentions in my head and the actions I take are conflicting, creating an unbearable cognitive dissonance. Being honest with oneself is freaking hard, telling oneself to admit and accept the person one currently is to move on is unacceptable to the standards I set for myself. I want to be beautiful, generous, brave, open, meet the demands of various people. I want to have it all – a nice sister,  a good daughter, a great considerate friend, a great stranger, while being creative, spontaneous and conquer places. I wanna be a supergirl. I want to be the female version of Cloud Strifle.

I want to look that great, and settle for no less without any efforts. The kind of super person that does things easily like a light feather

(Well, I could, if I had the ability to clone myself into 10 people, or 100 =)) ) Naruto can do that.

My actions are not in accordance and I refuse to admit it, feeling bitter. I cannot open my mouth to apologize anyone because it makes me feel weak. I am not who I want to be.

In that process of self denial, one also denies others. When I hate myself, I will inevitably hate others and squander the rapport that matters. It is purely a projection to the world.

I want to change the world but cannot even be honest with myself. How ironic. If I don’t fix it, I will have hallucinations soon (like the drug takers in Requiem for the Dream)

I can’t be everything to everyone but I also refuse to trade off. By refusing to trade off, I lose all. Now I have to act soon to save the relationships I destroyed in the process of trying-to-have-it-all.

And looking back, when I try to have it all, it is totally selfish. It is fed by building an image I wanna be proud of, without considering the facts and necessity or the motives.

If you die and I come to be a savior, it is because it feels good to be a savior, not because you matter to me just a little bit. This is so freaking crazy.

Can one have it all?
What is “all”?

Can you see the problem?

There is 23 “I” here, in this short expression.

It is a good period to study Freud, Carl Jung and the so-called “ego”.

I feel like I want to have a tattoo soon, a proof of existence burnt in this lump of meat before the tattoo itself loses its meaning.

Noise in the air

Coming back from a cafe with my friend, a nonsense ambiance  lingers in the air. What have we talked about? Many things. And at the same time, nothing. You were there with your friend, and both of you stayed there like rocks. Coffee dripped slowly from the filter, it was raining outside. At the corner, the TV was broadcasting a football match. There are noises all around, we are also making noise, but there is the undeniable void that after sensing it, you cannot stand sitting there anymore and decided to go home. I didn’t care enough to go back, so I stayed.

Do you have time?


One of the questions we often ask each other when we want to meet is “Do you have time on this/ that day?“, and more often than not, the answer is “Sorry I have …to do on that day“.

“Do you have time?” itself is a meaningless question. We always have the same proportion of time that we have control to manage. Other than work obligations, we decide when to eat, sleep, hang out, exercise. We have the options to say yes or no with people we want to meet and the power to reach out or reject networking. We can spend hours for a stranger we just met and just 10 minutes with somebody else, using time as an excuse.

Instead of asking “Do you have time?”, why don’t we state the reason we want to see each other?

“I miss you, can we meet?” 

“I feel lonely. I need somebody to talk. Can you talk with me?”

“Can you MAKE time for me?”

It is very simple is it? We talk because we want to share something, or because we just need to be around somebody to reduce loneliness, or we miss that particular person, or we are worried about something.


Yet, we rarely say this, perhaps partly because a “NO” answer will hurt. After stating our reason to meet, a NO is a rejection to that particular reason, compared to classic question “Do you have time” when a “I am busy” is enough to cover whatever really going on.

“When you do have time?”
NEVER” (Actually, I ALWAYS have. What a stupid question. I just don’t have time for YOU because I DON’T want to, but you don’t wanna hear it, NEITHER do I).

Formula of meaningless conversations

We are not born to be good conversationalists, and we don’t have to level up our skills. People talk a lot about soft skills and tactics to connect with people, while in fact, there are 2 main factors

Curiosity and sincerity

If we are curious (either because we are naturally curios or because we personally care) and sincere, conversations will flow. We will be curios enough to cross the awkward silence and be sensitive enough to read that facial expression, to break that wall of others. If we are curios enough we can read between the lines and not just focus on words.

In turn, sincerity helps us to open up. Sadly most of us come to talk with our walls shut and without either willing to express or curiosity to explore, we reach external distractions. And there are always distractions.

Many of us come to conversations and being either

Advice giver (plz, just shut up, and do you know that Quora is much better than you as an advice giver?)


Noise maker (talking nonsense to fill the void)

Why can’t we be listeners? Just shut up and listen. We listen by ask questions, if there is silence, ask more.

Don’t blame smart phones

2 years ago, a guy named Gary Turk from England made a wave all over internet with a meaningful and poetic video named “Look up“. The video does an excellent job as stating the lonely state of people immersed in online world more than real world

“I can’t stand to hear the silence of a busy commuter train
When no one wants to talk for the fear of looking insane
We’re becoming unsocial, it no longer satisfies
To engage with one another and look into someone’s eyes.

And no matter how beautiful and true the poem is, smart phones are never the real reason.

Devices just make it EASIER for us to escape to another world when the real presence of another or several human beings around us does not trigger any connection. When we feel the urge to reach out smart phones or when you see somebody does, it is a good SIGN that there is something wrong with the interaction. It is like cat and mouse game, the mouse is bored and there is fascinating piece of cheese over the corner. Internet is like a huge piece of cheese, and endless source of entertainment.

And when somebody does that, we get discouraged to continue and stop trying altogether. Opps. Game over.

Face-to-face interactions only make sense if there is resonance, relevance, echo. If we are not willing to do that by asking questions and answer honestly, then do not blame smart devices for stealing others’ attention.

If we cannot connect offline, online connections will replace it. When that comes, don’t blame internet. Blame ourselves.

Because, wait, we can look down too ha ha.


What are you doing?

Many people are:

– Selfish.
– Have no clue what they want/ be (productively) busy with what they don’t want.
– Have no clue where they are going/ why they are going there.

So before be drawn into something “important”, ask “why” and question their motives. If you can’t find that, stop & watch a movie instead. Involve in nonsense that make sense to you.

A better use of time ha ha.


Sadly, I am one of them too. So before figuring out why I am doing what I am doing or where I am going/ why I am going there, I will just watch movies or spend time doing nothing. Work just enough to sustain for a life doing nothing.


Just say it

Words can be used to elevate things or put things down in delicate ways, and because of that they can be very useful, or dangerous, or f**king annoying.

Speaking with “decent” phrase to use in mind is annoying. Like a layer to hide your true thoughts, words are sometimes just a defense mechanism. With mastery you can easily excuse yourself, attack others or just create narcistic writing filled with unnecessary flowery words.

“Omg this is so beautiful/ awesome/ best of this & that”. Complaints come later. I hate that #.#

Don’t be passive agressive. Just say it. I love you/ hate you/fed up with you/bored to death. Just say it & free your mind.

My face your possession

Putting 4 little earrings bought from a weekend market together, I remember my question for a beloved cousin:

– I have thought about face recently. I find it really weird.
– How? What do you mean by that?
– I mean, most of the time we don’t see our face. We only see them in the mirror. We just imagine our face or just don’t think about it at all while talking with others. Our face is for others to look at only. Isn’t it strange?

She kept silent for a moment then replied:

– Right. But think of face or appearance in general as an expression channel. People perceive you via that channel, whether you want it or not. So express it the way you want if you can.

Then Looking back at these 4 earrings. When I wear them these are just 4 tiny pieces of inox tied to my ear buds. I hardly see them. These earrings are for you, most of the time invisible to myself.

They are ultimately yours, my friends. Your visual possession which I carry.


Awesome article, as always from raptitude.

Uhmm, maybe not awesome. Aging is more complex than that, especially in a world which worships youth. It’s like running on a treadmill whose ever-increasing speed; eventually, we will be kicked out.

With age, expectations increase. When we are 20-something and stupid, we can use youth as an excuse (yeah, yolo, live while we are young, a stupid slogan considering end of youth as end of life), but when we are 40-onward and still stupid, there is no easy acceptance. Yet, the child whose curiosity and desire to explore still lives inside us, bewildering at what happening out there, amazed yet scared at the change in the blink of an eye.

Which is sad and inevitable for us all. Aging gracefully might not be mission impossible, but definitely will be mission super difficult. I am lucky to witness many senior friends who are fighting hard to age gracefully & healthily.

Which reminds me of the poem by Thai Ba Tan

Rudeness for no reason

I feel uneasy when sb is too kind & friendly to me, even to the point of slashing rude words at them for no reason. The moment I acquire affection, I am done.

Maybe it’s just a psychological reaction. A coping mechanism. “Leave me alone by stop being too kind”

With family members I have to make a conscious effort to go against this. maybe just a matter of personal space. When u are too friendly you are willing to give part of this up. And be vulnerable & helpless, too.

I hate that.

This is a big problem in work & corporation. The moment sb tells me to do something, a feeling of obligation overwhelmes me and turns me off. Even when autonomy level is generous, can’t help feeling like a puppet pulled by a string. Yet, the moment I am not, I can work like a horse !

Still a child? I reckon.