When most self-improvement books give you almost hundreds of principles to follow in order to reach your goals, Don Miguel Ruiz gives us only four. Even though few in numbers, the principles, called agreements, are very powerful tools on our journey towards becoming an autonomous person who is free from social programming.
His teachings are based on the tradition of the Toltec, an old southern Mexican tribe of scientists and artists. Besides giving us these four guidelines, he also shares his ideas on how our world works. Although this book is pretty spiritual, you don’t have to be a spiritual person to enjoy it. Even if you skip all the parts where Miguel Ruiz elaborates on his view of society, you will still leave with great tools for your everyday life.
About Don Miguel Ruiz
Don Miguel Ruiz was a surgeon until he choose to become a Shaman. He is a spiritual teacher following the tradition of the Toltec. As an author, he published several books with “The Four Agreements’ being his most famous teaching, even though all of his books are international bestsellers. Besides his lectures, he also leads retreats in order to guide people on their way to personal freedom.
Don Miguel Ruiz starts the book by explaining how we all live a dream. We all are dreaming right now, with our minds being awake. Everything we see is a dream, including our society, our community, our country, and the whole world. What Miguel Ruiz means to say is that all those constructs or ideas are man-made and handed down from the older generation to the younger.
As a child, we learn the rules on how our world works, or rather, on how they tell us it works. We believe it is real because everybody seems to agree it is reality. Miguel Ruiz calls it the “domestication of humans”. If we go against those agreements, we get punished. If we follow the agreements, we often get rewarded. The worst part is, that over time, we become our own domesticators. We begin to judge our behaviors based on the rules of society.
According to Miguel Ruiz, we are living in some kind of hell on earth. Hell is being described by most religions as a place of never-ending punishment. And all we do as humans is to punish ourselves over and over again. This behavior is based on a deep-rooted fear we all have inside of us. Being ourselves is our biggest fear. We learned to satisfy other people and seek their approval, but at the same time, we reject ourselves as we believe we are not perfect enough according to the standards of society. In fact, nobody abuses us as much as we do.
So, what can we do in order to break free?
It all starts with awareness. It is up to us to realize that those ideas we live by are indeed not true. In fact, some of the rules are just plain wrong. Then we have to create our own new and empowering agreements on how this world really works. This will create a new reality for us to live in. And this is where the four agreements come into play.
The First Agreement: Be Impeccable with Your Word
This is the most important agreement, and also the most difficult to follow. Impeccability means “without sin”. A sin is something that goes against ourselves, just as judging ourselves or blaming ourselves. It is through our words that we express our creations. We all have creative power and we use words to convey it to the world. We can create both positivity and negativity by the sheer power of our spoken words.
A word can plant a seed in one’s mind. This seed will grow into a belief. Beliefs turn into reality. Unfortunately, our minds are fertile for the seeds of fear. As we live with a constant state of fear inside of us, our minds are programmed to believe in realities we dread. Fortunately, we can re-adjust our way of thinking. We can prepare our minds to become fertile for other, more pleasant seeds.
Miguel Ruiz also explains how judging and blaming others is also a sin, as it creates hate towards ourselves. When we blame other people, they will start to resent us. This will hurt us. Also, while gossiping seems to be the major form of communication among people in our society, it is also the worst form of communication.
Start being impeccable with your words towards yourself. Honesty is the most important aspect. Telling yourself the truth might hurt, but it stops the suffering.
Once you made it a habit, you can be impeccable towards others.
The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally
What people say to you is not about you. In fact, it is all about them. To be a little bit more precise:
“What people say about you is a reflection of their emotional state at the moment.”
Miguel Ruiz calls it “personal importance”. We believe everything that happens is about us. We see ourselves as the center of the universe. But nothing people do is really about us. And this is also true for personal insults. Stay away from the need to be right or from defending your beliefs.
Our beliefs are exactly that: OUR believes. They are our agreements on how we chose to see reality. That does not mean our beliefs are right in any way. So don’t put too much effort into convincing people that your view on reality is correct. Not taking anything personally is true for blame….and for praise.
The goal is to be unaffected. Only this can lead to true autonomy. Making the second agreement a habit will make your anger, envy, jealousy, and sadness slowly disappear. And remember: you are only responsible for your actions, never for the ones of other people.
The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions
As human beings, we always make assumptions. That by itself wouldn’t be a problem. The problem is that we believe our assumptions are true! The reason we make assumptions is our need for certainty. We humans cannot live with uncertainty. Did you ever talk to somebody who waited for a result of a test or from the hospital? Often you will hear a statement like “I don’t even care about the result. I just want to know!”
We’d rather accept a negative outcome than deal with uncertainty. This is when our assumption habit takes over. We use our imagination instead of rationality. And the end result is often not in our favor as we are naturally driven by fear. According to Miguel Ruiz, assumptions, together with taking things personally and gossiping, creates hell on earth. Fortunately, there is a rather easy solution to this problem.
Ask for clarification instead of believing what you came up within your head. It sounds easy, and it should be once you realize you got caught up in the mind game of assumptions. But as it is so natural to us, the main problem is catching ourselves making assumptions. You will have to actively make an effort to become aware throughout your day and regularly check what’s going on in your mind. This won’t be easy at first. And this brings us to the final agreement.
The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best
This agreement puts the other three agreements into action. The key is to always do the best you can at that moment AND to accept that your best won’t always have the same quality. Always doing your best sounds great, but it is important to realize that we can’t be perfect all the time. When we are tired or sick, we cannot expect ourselves to be as efficient as we are when we are full of energy.
Even if you feel down and out, try your best and accept that the quality of your action won’t be of superb quality. The reason why we should always do our best is simple:
Once we do our best, we cannot blame ourselves anymore. Once we stopped blaming, we stop suffering.
There is no need to blame somebody who did all that he or she could. You will still have to learn from your mistakes and be absolutely honest with yourself though. The goal is to make the four agreements a habit, and this takes massive effort.
There will be times when you fail living according to the four agreements. In those moments, all you have to do is to start over again. Don’t blame or judge yourself. Failure is part of the transformation and it will get easier every time you fall and get back up.
More Bits of Knowledge
After explaining the concept of the four agreements, Miguel Ruiz elaborates on how we can break free from old habits. This is a necessary step in order to wake up from the dream of society’s reality. Miguel Ruiz wants us to remember being a child. We were free and only lived in the present, doing what we wanted to do. As we got older, we started to believe we have responsibilities.
We partly did this to be accepted by others and all too often we lose our freedom through this way of approval seeking. In order to regain this freedom, we first have to realize the dilemma. And most people are not aware of their situation. This is why Miguel Ruiz mentioned that awareness is the first step.
Miguel Ruiz wants us to become what he calls a “spiritual warrior”. He talks about the “war” against the parasite in form of our old beliefs and the voice in our head judging and blaming us. In order to do so, we have to become aware, gain control over ourselves, our emotions, and our behaviors. It takes effort, but the reward is freedom. Miguel Ruiz believes a life of bliss is possible, as he himself lives it. Now it is our turn to get there through living according to the four agreements.
Personal Thoughts & Putting Knowledge into Practice
I liked the book for several reasons.
1) I like the wisdom of old ancient communities. We always believe, we are smarter than every generation before us, but you cannot deny our ancestors had their own (and often very effective) ways of living a fulfilled life.
2) I like the idea of the spiritual warrior. With all the struggles we face while we try to improve ourselves, it can actually feel like a war. It is important to realize that the battlefield is inside of us and we shall focus on “fighting” our unhealthy habits and ideas. This reminds me of the term “peaceful warrior” first established by Dan Millman.
3) Instead of giving us techniques, Miguel Ruiz gives us principles. Over the years, I became an advocate of learning according to principles. It is often easier to act according to principles than to execute techniques. Techniques are limited to certain situations. Principles are expansive. And principles are easier to remember.
I personally implemented agreements 2, 3, and 4 into my life. I admit to having my problems with the first agreement, as I find myself trying to be authentic and just saying what’s on my mind right away. The words I use in such situations can create some kind of negativity in other people. Obviously, the goal has to be to combine the first agreement with authenticity.
It is all a process and even while struggling with the first agreement, the other three improved my life. Catching yourself making assumptions and being able to stop is wonderful, just as not taking anything personally. If you add always doing your best, I don’t see any chance of not improving your life. Try to make it a habit. Fall and get back up. Over time you will get better and this is when you will experience the benefits of the four agreements.
All the best.