I always like to start a new year off with some constructive aspirations. This year, I chose to read a book over the holidays that I had heard so much about from others, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz. The Toltec culture is a Mesoamerican culture that existed prior to the Aztec culture, known as “men and women of knowledge.” I admit that I was a bit skeptical at first, thinking this book might contain a lot of Native American spiritualism that I wouldn’t quite understand. However, Toltec knowledge is not a religion; it is more a way of life that embraces love and happiness. I was pleasantly surprised to find four insightful “life lessons,” and I immediately wanted to make the agreement with myself to put these into practice. I easily identified with each agreement and was able to pick examples within my life where outcomes could have been drastically different if I had read this book.
First, Ruiz talks about all the agreements we’ve made with ourselves that we didn’t really choose – primarily from our upbringing. He explains why we feel unsafe when these agreements are challenged. Next he tackles perfection and how we hold ourselves and others to our often crazy image of perfection; this keeps us in a cycle of constant disappointment when no one, including ourselves, can live up to it. All of this sets the stage for the four agreements that follow:
Be Impeccable With Your Word
Almost sounds too simplistic, doesn’t it? Ruiz makes sense of the idea of saying only what you mean and speaking with integrity in an entirely new way. We often forget that words can be poison. He reminds us how important it is to take responsibility for not only our actions, but also our words. Furthermore, he touches on an issue we all struggle with: wanting to be right. Ruiz writes, “Your opinion is nothing but your point of view. It is not necessarily true.”
Don’t Take Anything Personally
Easier said than done, right? However, making the assumption that everything is about “us” is selfishness at the highest level. When Ruiz puts it that way, understanding that nothing others do is because of us becomes a more straight-forward concept that is more apt to be absorbed. When you love, trust and accept yourself as well as remove the need to be accepted by others, you can ask for what you need without fear of being rejected.
Don’t Make Assumptions
I thought I was pretty good at this one because one of my favorite phrases is, “I don’t like to assume anything.” After reading this chapter, I realized I still have a lot of work to do in this area. We all have a need to justify and understand everything to help us feel safe. We quite often lack the guts to ask questions; instead, we make assumptions. The biggest assumption, according to Ruiz, is “that others think the way we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge…And this is why we have a fear of being ourselves around others. Because we think everyone will judge us, victimize us, abuse us and blame us as we do ourselves. So even before others have a chance to reject us, we have already rejected ourselves.”
Always Do Your Best
If we strive for more than our best, we exhaust our energy and hurt ourselves. If we do less than our best, we subject ourselves to self-judgment, guilt and regret. However, if we do our best regardless of circumstance, we eliminate self-judgment because we intrinsically know we did our best not to please others, but to find satisfaction within ourselves.
Ruiz goes on to discuss breaking old agreements, including how to let go of old hurts and the difference between repressing and controlling emotions. Some of his insights are things we may already know deep down or have heard before but need to be reminded of more often to keep our emotions in check. Happiness, just like suffering, is a choice. I caught myself saying out loud, “So true” while reading this book. My favorite quote among many, “Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive-the risk to be alive and express what we really are.” A super quick read with wisdom that will leave a very long lasting impression. Make the agreement to read this book soon.
Information taken from: Ruiz, D.M. (1997). The four agreements: A practical guide to personal freedom (A Toltec wisdom book). San Rafael, California: Amber-Allen Publishing.
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