The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
–Review by Douglas Balzer
My favorite quote from Don Miguel Ruiz is this:
“Life is like dancing. If we have a big floor, many people will dance. Some will get angry when the rhythm changes. But life is changing all the time.”
My last review was 12 Rules For Life by Jordan B Peterson. It is an excellent book in my opinion, but once I put it onto the shelf, it occurred to me, as good as Peterson’s advise is the basis was still founded on principles. It perplexed me for a while as my mind and heart struggled with the principle basis of changing one’s life. Then I spied The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz on my shelf almost next to my new addition. Agreements, yes, I remembered reading The Four Agreements years ago and found the concept of agreements to be inspiring as an approach for the journey of life and relationships from the perspective agreements rather than principles. So, I read the book again and here is my review. I hope you enjoy it.
As a disclaimer here, Ruiz presents the teachings in this book as being based upon ancient Toltec traditions. The Toltec’s are an ancient tribe from southern Mexico comprised of creative and artistic people. Ruiz shares with us from the perspective of how our world works from the Toltec tradition or worldview. Unless you are part of a worldview, you may not correctly understand it. So, please keep it in mind and look for the prevenient presence of God.
Ruiz describes the world we live in as living in some kind of hell on earth. Not as a never-ending punishment but as a form of suffering to prepare one’s soul. Ruiz begins by explaining that we are all living in a dream. We are in a state of dreaming right now, while our minds are in a state of being awake. According to Ruiz, we are making our reality. We are dreaming everything, society, community, country, the world, and cosmos. Essentially, Ruiz is stating this dream state is the results of constructs or ideas that have been handed down from generation to generation. Each generation learns the rules on how our world works, or according to Ruiz learns how the previous generations tell them it works. The power of agreement is what creates our reality because everyone seems to agree it is reality. It is referred to as the “domestication of humans,” according to Ruiz.
Now, according to Ruiz if we go against these agreements, we are likely to get punished, and if we follow the agreements, well, we get rewarded. In Ruiz’s presentation of this Toltec concepts, he indicates that each person becomes their own domesticator and the result is we each create our own living hell. And what we do is to punish ourselves over and over again. It is a vicious cycle, and Ruiz wants to help humanity relieve some of the sufferings we endure. In his premise, nobody punishes or abuses us as much as we do ourselves. We have learned to live to satisfy other people and seek their approval, but at the time we reject ourselves. Why, because we believe we are not perfect enough according to the standards of our societies.
So, obviously this is not a Christian Worldview, yet there are some observable elements of truth within the concept he shares. It can all seem like a dream, and we have a tough time accepting reality, we work towards conformity for the sake of peace in social constructs. We do create our own living hell as a result of bad choices and behaviors. People pleasing, approval seeking, rejection and self-loathing. It seems like the Toltec concept understands some things about the human condition and what it means to be a human being. Let’s allow it to stand, so to speak for the sake of argument. What can we do about it, in order to break free?
According to Ruiz, it begins with awareness. Entering into a condition of actualization and personal responsibility, and it is up to you and me to realize the reality and ideas governing it that we live by are indeed not true. Some of the rules we live by are just plain wrong. In some ways, I could not help think about what it must have been like to hear Jesus turn the world upside down when he preached the sermon on the mount.
The solution according to Ruiz is The Four Agreements. Creating our own new and empowering agreements based upon how this world really works. Thereby, creating a new reality for us to live in. So, here is where Ruiz’s four agreements come into play.
First Agreement – be impeccable with your word.
Probably the most important and difficult agreement to follow. Like Peterson who states we should not say things that make us look stupid. So, Ruiz’s agreement is based on the concept of the power our words convey. According to Ruiz, we all have creative power and the way we use words conveys that power to the world creating both positivity and negativity with each spoken word. Ruiz likens words to the idea of seeds, and they will into a belief and beliefs turn into reality. Ruiz concludes we program our realities by the words we plant. Fortunately, we can re-adjust our words and way of thinking. We do this by preparing our mind to become a fertile field for more pleasant seeds, words.
Blame is one issue Ruiz focuses on. When we are in the habit of blaming other people for our problems or suffering, then they will start to resent us. This action will only result in hurt to ourselves. As well, gossiping seems to be the go-to form of communication among people in our society and culture; it is the worst and most destructive form of communication we employ.
Ruiz’s agreement means to be impeccable with our words first towards ourselves, and then this will lead to impeccable words to others. Honesty, it is the most important personal aspect we can have with ourselves and others. Telling yourself the truth, well, might hurt, but it stops or lessens the suffering we and others endure. But Ruiz makes it clear that once you have made it a habit with yourself, then you can be impeccable towards others.
Second agreement – Don’t take anything personally
The basis of this agreement is found in the idea that what people say to you in mot about you, but is in fact, all about them. Let me put it this way – what people say about you is a reflection of their emotional state at the moment.
Ruiz calls this “personal importance.” The concept deals with the idea that we see ourselves as the center of the universe. Especially, subconsciously. Humans believe, everything that happens is about them, it is about us. But nothing others do is really about us. It is true for personal insults. Ruiz recommends that we stay away from the need to be right or to win the argument. Our beliefs are “our Beliefs.” Our beliefs are agreements we have chosen to perceive reality – our lenses. It does not mean our beliefs are right in any way. Avoid an argument by not putting too much effort into convincing others your perspective or view on reality is the correct version.
Now, not taking anything personally is true for blame, but also for praise as well.
For Ruiz, this agreement has the goal to be unaffected. He sees this as the way toward autonomy. By learning to make the second agreement a life habit, it will make one’s anger, envy, jealousy and sadness slowly disappear. Ruiz firmly places the responsibility for our personal actions squarely on ourselves, but we are never responsible for the actions of other people.
Third agreement – Don’t make assumptions
Human beings are good at making assumptions. By itself, it is not an issue, but the problem is we believe our assumptions are true!
Have you ever found out you believed a lie? How did you feel? Betrayed, fearful or uncertain?
As human beings, we have a need for certainty. The tension of uncertainty is something we cannot live with. We want to know. Think about the last time you were waiting for the results of a medical test. Positive or negative outcome, we would rather know. Why, because when our assumption habit takes over, we use our imagination instead of our rational mind. It results in a fear-driven condition that fills the void of not knowing with anxiety. Ruiz states that assumptions, together with taking things personally, along with gossiping results in creating hell on earth. He suggests there is a rather easy solution for this issue – ask for clarification instead of believing what you come up with in your head.
Sounds easy, it should be once we realize we got caught up in the mind game that assumptions create. It comes so naturally for us to make assumptions, the problem is to catch ourselves making assumptions. It takes a lot of effort to become aware on an ongoing basis what is going on in your mind.
Fourth agreement – Always do your best
Here is where Ruiz’s first three agreements have the rubber hits the road moment. The other three agreements come into action with the final agreement.
Do the best you can now and to accept your best won’t always have the same quality.
Sounds great, but it is important to realize we can’t be perfect all the time if any of the time. We get tired or sick; we cannot expect of ourselves to be as effective as when we are at full strength and health.
According to Ruiz the reason why we should always do our best is simple –
When we do our best, we cannot blame ourselves anymore. When we stop blaming, well, we stop suffering. There is no need to blame somebody who did all that he or she could do.
Ruiz encourages us to make the four agreements a habit. Make it a goal and realize it is going to take a lot of effort on our parts. He acknowledges there will be times when we fail to live according to the four agreements. Learn and be honest with yourself through the process. In those moments, start over again. Don’t blame or judge. We need to know that failure is part of the transformation and as one lives out the agreements through practice and failure it will get easier. If you fall down, get back up.
In conclusion, I see the immense value in The Four Agreements, but the empowerment of the agreements needs the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, Ruiz concludes the book by talking about becoming spiritual warriors. It all begins with awareness – unfortunately, most people are not aware of their condition or situation. Awareness is the first step.