The Four Agreements
When I first read The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz several years ago, I felt as if the book had been written specifically for me. How could Ruiz, a Toltec shaman who has been writing and teaching longer than I’ve been alive, possibly have known my inner struggles so precisely? The truth is, he does know me – simply because he knows human nature really, really well. (Find out who else felt that way the first time reading this book!)
In this 138-page quick read from any bookstore’s spirituality section, The Four Agreements transforms common self-limiting beliefs into these simple guidelines:
Be impeccable with your word. “Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love,” Ruiz writes about his first agreement. He then dissects what really happens when we use the word for bad instead of good.
“By hooking our attention, the word can enter our mind and change a whole belief for better or for worse,” says the author, who goes on to use Hitler as an example of how words can be seeds for hatred – and unspeakably worse. It’s almost as if the negative word, even on a smaller scale, casts a spell over human beings. But there is hope, because the same is true of positive words – just as long as we use them wisely, truthfully and maybe even sparingly.
Don’t take anything personally. “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own dream,” Ruiz writes as a summary of the second agreement, which is probably the most difficult for me.
And I think I know why. “Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about ‘me’,” the author writes. Let’s face it, most of us are pretty self-centric but I totally understand this agreement, even if it’s difficult for me to practice.
Ruiz teaches that criticism is only hurtful if you believe it. And likewise, compliments only have merit if you see yourself that way. Nobody else should have the power to form our opinions of ourselves – so we really shouldn’t let them.
The author then gently points out some of the many reasons we make assumptions in our work, with our families and in our relationships. For example, we may be too afraid to ask questions or we may be a tad lazy. Or maybe we’re a little too biased.
“We make the assumption everyone sees things the way we do,” writes Ruiz. And that’s dangerous because our reality could be drastically different from everyone else’s (and most likely, it is). Instead, we’re encouraged to ask questions, ask for clarification and ask ourselves if we’re being completely open to the truth, no matter what it might be.
Always do your best. “Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret,” Ruiz says about his fourth agreement. It sounds simple, but requires a delicate balance.
The author puts it this way: “If you try too hard to do more than your best, you will spend more energy than needed. . . but if you do less than your best, you subject yourself to frustrations.” Now there’s the brutal truth for a perfectionist like me. However, he also points out that “best” is a subjective term, and sometimes we feel better able to achieve than others. So when we feel tired, overwhelmed, sick or injured, we should just do our best for those particular circumstances and the rest will take care of itself.
Throughout this book of wisdom, Ruiz speaks casually yet sternly about how we humans tend to limit ourselves. He genuinely wants to help us all find freedom from our personal obstacles and embrace sincere happiness and true love instead. There is one catch, however, because we have to do the work – which is considerably easier with this simple set of guidelines.
Ruiz has recently written a sequel with his son, fittingly called The Fifth Agreement, which is all about recovering personal authenticity, dating all the way back to the day we were born.