How I stumbled upon “The Four Agreements”
Two years ago my partner and I had the privilege of expanding and deepening our connection as we walked the Camino Frances de Santiago, 800 kms across Spain. It was on this walk that we met our current house guest, Sylvia Madrigal, from Rhode Island and Texas, U.S.A. Our Camino became a richer experience as the three of us tempered our walk from Najera to Leon with explorations of books and writing, along with sharing tapas, fatigue, blisters, hopes and many belly laughs.
As Sylvia talked about her own writing projects this week, she mentioned Don Miguel Ruiz’s little book: “The Four Agreements” – based on ancient Toltec wisdom. I’m drawn to this book because I find it simple yet profound. How did I manage to miss out on this little gem – when it was written twenty years ago?!
We make agreements with ourselves based on fear
Ruiz says we make agreements with ourselves based on fear. These agreements are mostly unconscious. Yet we use them to define ourselves. For example, we might say: “I am not a natural leader”, “I am not good with people”, “I am an introvert”, “I can’t draw”, “I always…”, “I’ll never…” or, we might say: “I’m a teacher”, or “a CEO” and close the door to any other possibilities. We end up believing: “This is what I am…. I can do certain things and some I cannot do. This is reality, that is fantasy; this is possible, that is impossible” (p. 21). So, we limit ourselves and set ourselves up for suffering and disappointment.
As Ruiz points out, it takes up a lot of energy to keep these agreements. Hee says that to live a life of joy and fulfilment we need to find the courage to break these agreements and step into our personal power. So, how do we break these agreements? I love that his answer is not about analysing all our agreements but, rather, stepping into four new agreements. Here they are:
1. Be impeccable with your word
“Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid speaking against yourself or gossiping about others. Use the power of your words in the direction of truth and love.”
As I read this, the message I hear is: “Stop, and connect with what is really alive for you – and speak from that true (and hopefully loving) place.” It’s about taking responsibility for ourselves. There are resonances for me here with Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC): What are you feeling? What are you needing or longing for? What do you need to do or request to meet the need or longing?
These ‘NVC’ questions support me to connect with what’s really alive in me – rather than avoid connecting with what I’m feeling, and then deflecting that onto the world through judgements (of myself or others) or gossiping about others. It enables me to take the responsibility that Ruiz is saying is so important.
2. Don’t take anything personally
“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
We may have grown up taking on people’s labels of us, e.g. “You are the best!”, “You’re awful!” Yet, at the end of the day, others’ judgements come from their joy or pain, and their issues.
3. Don’t make assumptions
“Find the courage to ask questions to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can change your life.”
When we believe that our assumptions are the truth, we create a whole movie from them – a movie about what others are doing or thinking. Then we act out our movie in real life. We become the producer, director, and lead actor. We believe we are right about our assumptions. We defend them and try to make others wrong. This leads to blame and control and, as Ruiz says: “we create a big drama for nothing” p.64
He continues: “The whole world of control between humans is about making assumptions and taking things personally…. We are afraid to ask for clarification” p. 64 – or as Executive Coach Judith E. Glaser (C-IQ®) is fond of saying: “to make the invisible visible”. For Ruiz, “the day you stop making assumptions you will communicate clearly, free of emotional poison”.
4. Always do your best
“Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to when you are sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse and regret.”
I enjoy how Ruiz points out that our best will be different at different times. It is simply enough to do our best and so be productive and kind to ourselves as we contribute to our family, community, work place and beyond. This saves us from trying too hard and spending more energy than we need to.
So, doing our best is about taking action – rather than “…sitting in front of the television every day for years because (we) are afraid to be alive and to take the risk of expressing what (we) are”. It’s about living life – not denying it. It’s about living in this present moment.
- What assumptions do I consciously or subconsciously live by?
- How do I allow others to sabotage these new agreements that are not fear driven?
Ruiz, Don Miguel. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. Amber-Allen. Ca. 1997