The Four Agreements
While living here in Costa Rica, I started and finished one of the most profound books I have ever picked up:
The Four Agreements
The Four Agreements is a small, short read described as a “Toltec wisdom book”, written by Don Miguel Ruiz.
This spiritual book was recommended to me at a personal development conference I attended in July 2016. I actually bought it off of Amazon shortly after that, and it sat on my bookshelf, unread, until I decided it would come with me to Costa Rica.
...Oh, how glad I am to have made that decision.
I’ll be honest: I have never considered myself a spiritual person.
It’s actually something I’m starting to realize that I have subconsciously avoided for most my life. I seek knowledge, the secular, the see-it-with-my-own-eyes stuff. Spirituality has never held a place of importance in my life…
Although it’s a bit corny to say, “This book changed my life,” it did. It opened up a gateway that I was, for lack of a better word, scared of my entire life. It allowed me to escape my head and acknowledge something greater.
The Four Agreements also made it clear how destructive our emotional and mental patterns are. How we project hell into the earth by punishing ourselves and others around us. How we love to create drama and play the victim.
Breaking Down the Four Agreements
The fact is this: Everything we know about who we are is an agreement we have made with ourselves. If I feel guilt, it is because I have made an agreement that I have something to be guilty for. If I believe I am not good enough, it is because I have made the agreement with myself that it is true.
These agreements create deeply embedded limiting beliefs that keep us from being our best selves and living our best lives.
The worst part is, we uphold these agreements because they make us feel safe. They may cause us pain, they may cause us suffering, but it’s pain and suffering that we know and understand.
We need to break our old agreements, and Don Miguel Ruiz introduces the only four agreements that really matter.
The Four Agreements are simply these:
Be Impeccable With Your Word
Don’t Take Anything Personally
Don’t Make Assumptions
Always Do Your Best
I want to break down each of these four agreements in a personal way, explore where I can improve, and make myself accountable for not just upholding these four agreements, but breaking the old ones I have made. The old agreements that do not serve me.
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
Being impeccable with your word is more than speaking with kindness or mindfulness. It is about honoring the impact that your word has on yourself and on the world. Miguel Ruiz says this:
“The word is not just a sound or a written symbol. The word is a force; it is the power you have to express and communicate, to think, and thereby to create the events in your life...The word is the most powerful tool you have as a human; it is the tool of magic.”
Ruiz continues to explain that it is words (thought, written, spoken) that create the living hell on earth. We manifest into reality what we think, write, and speak.
Here’s How I Am Not Impeccable With My Word
Ruiz admits that this first agreement is the most difficult to uphold, because we are so identified with what we think. What we think is truth to us, but we must break out of that pattern to attain personal freedom from the agreements that do not serve us.
There are many times I catch myself using my word just to get a reaction out of those I love. I am not being impeccable with my word, because I am using it to create fiction, exaggeration. For example, in arguments with my boyfriend, I have caught myself saying, “I must not be good enough for you,” which of course is to get a rise. I know he loves me, but my ego is trying to make him prove it.
I am also not impeccable with my word when I don’t think my words through before saying them. In other words, when I am completely reactionary to a person or a situation. You might be able to relate to this one.
One of the worst ways I do not uphold this agreement, though, is by not expressing gratitude. As Don Miguel Ruiz says:
“If I love myself I will express that love in my interactions with you, and then I am being impeccable with the word, because that action will produce a like reaction. If I love you, then you will love me. If I insult you, you will insult me. If I have gratitude for you, you will have gratitude for me. If I’m selfish with you, you will be selfish with me.”
In that way, not conveying my gratitude to those that deserve it, will result in me not receiving the gratitude I deserve.
This agreement also goes heavily into gossip, as gossip injects emotional poison into our minds and hearts.
Although I catch myself gossiping on some occasions, and have been even more cautious of it now, it isn’t the predominant way I break this agreement. You should understand, though, that gossip is complete misuse of the power of our word.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
This next agreement was a major wake up call for me. In essence, taking things personally means you are agreeing with whatever it is you are taking personally. Otherwise, nothing is personal. Only if you make it so.
Mind bender, right?
Here’s the quote that hammered the point home for me:
“Nothing other people do is because of you. It’s because of themselves. All people live...in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.”
I see this as truth. Even if someone insults me directly, I understand now that it is not personal. They are insulting me for their own reasons, whether it’s to feel superior, to feel powerful, whatever the reason. It’s their issue, not mine. In learning this, I felt a sense of peace in my world.
Here’s How I Take Things Personally
In absorbing this second agreement, I quickly realize that this is one of my weakest areas of self. I found that I tend to take things personally because my ego is fueled by playing the role of the victim.
That has to stop. Like, yesterday.
I take it personally when I am corrected, especially if it is publicly and especially if it’s by someone I love. I identify strongly with being intelligent, of having a wealth of knowledge. When I am corrected, it feels like a personal offense to my intelligence. Of course, this belief is highly unfounded.
However, I can see clearly the messes I have caused and the sharp emotions that have arisen, just from me taking a correction personally.
I also tend to take it personally if someone I love does not give me attention or if I feel emotionally neglected.
I understand that taking these things personally is completely pointless, and only causes more emotional stress on myself.
If I love these people in my life, I owe it to them to be understanding and accepting. No matter what.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
In my opinion, this third agreement goes hand-in-hand with the second. Taking things personally is making an assumption; an assumption that whatever you’re taking personally was done or said with you and only you in mind.
Yet, this agreement goes even deeper. One of my favorite quotes from this agreement is this:
“All the sadness and drama you have lived in your life was rooted in making assumptions and taking things personally. Take a moment to consider the truth of that statement.”
And boom, I realized the truth in that statement.
The biggest problem with making assumptions about other people and situations is that we believe they are the truth. We are afraid to ask questions and communicate clearly, so we just make something up and believe it is true.
Here’s How I Make Assumptions
I think one of the best examples from my own life of making assumptions was clearly outlined in The Four Agreements. It’s the assumption that my partner knows me so well, I shouldn’t have to communicate my needs clearly.
Here’s an awesome quote from Ruiz:
“Often we make the assumption that our partners [in a relationship] know what we think and that we don’t have to say what we want. We assume they are going to do what we want, because they know us so well.”
How many other relationships are plagued with exactly this? We make the assumption that, if a person loves us, they must know us well enough to know what we want.
The way to solve this problem is to simply ask questions. To build clear communication patterns. And that applies to everyone, not just your spouse or significant other. The trick is to not ask questions with emotional charge, which is something I need to work on.
Another way I am guilty of making assumptions is by digging too deep into situations or conversations. I have a nasty habit of over-analyzing to the point of exhaustion, which leads to all sorts of assumptions.
Am I so bold that I think I know another’s motives?
4. Always Do Your Best
This agreement is perfection to me. It sums up all three of the other agreements, and reminds us that we can only do our best on any given day. As Ruiz says:
“Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next.”
Sometimes, our best is not the same today as it was yesterday. Sometimes, you have a really bad day at work, or you are physically ill, or whatever. Our best varies, and the only person who really knows what our “best” is, is ourselves.
Here’s How I Know I Don’t Do My Best
I have a character trait that I know I share with millions of people out there. You might even be one of them.
My expectations of myself are very high.
My “best” should be past the moon, in my eyes. But that is simply not realistic. Ruiz explains that trying to do more than your “best” in any given moment causes you to expend more energy than is needed and then your best will not be good enough.
What I can learn from this agreement is that I need to be more forgiving and gentle with myself.
I need to accept that doing my best is my best. I need to be mindful and aware of when my mind needs rest. I also need to be mindful and aware of when I am most productive and energetic.
It will do me no good to punish myself for not doing my best. Ruiz states that we punish ourselves endlessly for not being what we believe we should be.
So I am committing to waking up with dedication to do my best, and I will go to sleep at night reviewing how I can do better.
Breaking Old Agreements
The final section of The Four Agreements dives into how to break old agreements that we have made with ourselves. Agreements that have created a faulty belief system that we must operate by, or else we judge or punish ourselves.
I don’t want to get into so many of these agreements, but this is somewhat of therapy for me. So I’ll be as transparent as I can.
In my notebook, I drew a line down the center of a page. One side was the “old agreement”, the other is for a “new agreement”, the agreement I want to replace the old agreement with.
Here are just a few examples. Try to think of your own old agreements with yourself, and see what you can replace them with!
Old Agreement: Being myself means I will be rejected or judged by others, which equals pain.
New Agreement: Pain is temporary if I allow it to be. Being myself is freedom. If others reject or judge me, it is only a projection of their dream.
Old Agreement: I must feel guilty to pay for the choices I have made. Forgiving myself means I get away with what I did.
New Agreement: Forgiveness is freedom. What is done has already been done; the only moment I have is the present.
Old Agreement: If I am wrong, I am stupid and worthless.
New Agreement: To be wrong is to be human. The need to be right is your ego taking over.
I used to believe that being spiritual meant taking the “easy” way out. That believing in something greater and more powerful than myself would mean I was shielding myself from embracing the fact that I would someday die.
I can’t even bare to read the above paragraph because of how silly it sounded writing it.
It’s obvious now how much my ego has blinded me from truth.
After all, spirituality is the path to transcending the horrors that plague humanity. It is how to find peace, purpose, and love.
One last quote before I wrap up:
I highly recommend the book, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz to anyone who feels like they are “stuck”, either emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. I recommend this book if you find yourself repeating the same destructive patterns over and over again. I recommend this book if you’re looking for simple spiritual guidance, or for help renewing your personal freedom.
Although I can admit that I was not expecting such a spiritually-driven book when I first opened The Four Agreements, I am so happy to have it in my library.
P.S. The Four Agreements is a quick and easy read, with large text in a small book. It’s easy to take with you on the go. I have actually already read it twice, and if you buy it, I encourage you to do the same. You’ll find something new each time!