The Four Agreements - Critical summary review - Don Miguel Ruiz

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The Four Agreements - critical summary review

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Spirituality & Mindfulness and Self Help & Motivation

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book)

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 9781878424310

Publisher: Amber-Allen Publishing

Critical summary review

Don Miguel Ruiz, Mexico’s “national heirloom,” was born in the rural parts of the country as the youngest of 13 siblings. A near-fatal car accident made him rethink his career as a surgeon. Soon, he became a shaman’s apprentice. His debut book, “The Four Agreements” is the best introduction to what he learned during this period and is supposedly rooted in authentic Toltec spiritualism.

So, get ready to explore a New Age “practical guide to personal freedom” and prepare to discover the four ancient tenets of true joy and happiness!

Domestication: or, how life has killed the dream you dreamed

We are born with the capacity to become whatever we want. Unfortunately, we are also born in a world whose rules are not ours – but the makings of those that have been born before us. And for the first few years of our lives, we don’t get to choose whether we’ll obey these rules or not. For example, none of us has ever been in a position to choose their mother tongue. Its rules were bequeathed on you by your parents – and you passively accepted their gift. 

And that’s when the process of your domestication started. First, you were given a name, then taught the names of other things: mom, dad, milk, bottle. Afterward, you learned about the “good” and the “bad”: what to do and what not to. Your moral values, your religion, your belief system – they were all engraved in you while you were just a child. 

The method described is the same used to domesticate a pet: a system of punishment and reward. You were a good kid when you did what your parents and your teachers wanted you to do; you were a bad one when you disobeyed their orders. Eventually, you became their copy. Their rules became your rules. And you’ll impart them on your children.

The problem: the rules of your world – of anyone’s world, for that matter – are merely the product of numerous agreements. They are neither God-given nor definite nor timeless. They are nothing short of a collective dream. The Toltecs called this dream “mitote,” a fog; the Hindus and the Buddhists – “maya,” an illusion. And you have the power to burst through this illusion and find your true self on the other side of the mist. 

Change the agreements between you and the world because the current ones have been killing your dream ever since you were born and because you’ve sacrificed the authentic you when you were forced to make them. And when you are finally ready to change your agreements, start by adopting the following four: they are so fundamental that they should create enough personal power for you to change the entire system of your old beliefs.

The first agreement: be impeccable with your word

The first agreement is the most important one, but it is also the most difficult one to honor. And it is rather simple: you should be impeccable with your word.

Words are immensely compelling. The King James version of the Gospel of John explicitly states that they preceded everything: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Nothing existed before God gave an order for something to exist: the orders consisted of words. People are no different: they have created some worlds with their words, and they have destroyed others. Just compare Hitler and Shakespeare. The former was able to manipulate a whole country through his use of the words; the latter was able to sculpt, solely out of words, three-dimensional characters that today seem more lifelike than real people: Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear.

The word carries extraordinary potential: it is the tool that makes us human; it is the tool of magic. Use the right one at the right occasion, and you can change someone’s life. Use the wrong one at the wrong time, and you will destroy someone’s dream. Ruiz writes that every human is a magician – “ we can either put a spell on someone with our word or we can release someone from a spell.”

Indeed, since our mind is a fertile ground for words and their creations (opinions, ideas, concepts, gossip), we cast spells all the time with our judgments. Tell that friend of yours who likes to sing that her voice is ugly, and the ensuing doubt might cripple her ability to sing; tell someone in pain that you’re there for them – and they may once again find the will to live.

Being impeccable with your word means not using your word against yourself or anybody else. When you think about it, the two mean pretty much the same, because if you call someone stupid, you’re not just using your word against them, but you’re also using it against yourself, because that person is going to hate you for this, and will start using their words to cast “black spells” on you in the future. On the other hand, if you love yourself and treat yourself with affirmations daily, you’ll be able to love other people as well. Moreover, this will also give you the immunity from anyone putting a negative spell on you, since it will transform your mind from fertile ground for words that come from black magic into one accepting only words that come from love. 

The second agreement: don’t take anything personally

The second agreement – just like the other two – stems from the first one and can be formulated thus: don’t take anything personally.”

You are not the center of the world. Or more precisely, you are, but only inside your own story. And since this is true for everybody you know, nobody says or does anything with someone other than themselves in mind. This is the trap of personal importance and is an inevitable product of the process of domestication. It is also “the maximum expression of selfishness” because it only works when we make the assumption that everything is about us. But we are not responsible for everything. And neither are our opinions and beliefs objective: they are the upshots of temporary states of mind, and they change as we go.

“Nothing other people do is because of you,” writes Don Miguel Ruiz. “It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.”

In other words, when you are happy, you feel as if you can burst into a song; you tell everybody they are the best and greet people with a smile. However, when you are angry or sad because of something, you can’t see the good in people and you are unwilling to treat anyone with a compliment. If happy, you tell someone how perfectly they sing – not because of the singing, but because of the way you feel. Just as well, if in times of desperation, you tell someone to shut up, it’s not because of their voice – but because you don’t feel like listening to a happy song. Now, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Would you take your words at their face value? Would you take them personally?

The third agreement: don’t make assumptions

In the 18th century, Germany’s foremost writer Johann Goethe noted that misunderstandings produce more wrong in the world than deceit and malice. And the reason can be summed up in a single word: assumptions. Whenever you don’t understand something good enough, you make assumptions about it. And even though these assumptions are, by design, based in your mind and not in reality – you think they are true. And that’s when misunderstandings transform into deceit and malice.

An example: you’re walking in the mall, a likable person turns to you and smiles – then walks away. Numerous different ways explain the event, but you only make certain kinds of assumptions. “Oh, this person really likes me,” you think, and in your mind, you form a whole relationship out of it, all the way to marriage. But, say, you’re already in some kind of a relationship. Suddenly, your real life doesn’t seem as happy as it had seemed only yesterday. How can it be any different? No reality is as perfect and naive as your fantasies and dreams. The problem: despite your dreams being nothing more than an illusion – they have just poisoned your real-life relationship with doubts and hesitations.

This is why the third agreement is to not make assumptions. Especially in relationships, making assumptions means asking for trouble. Assuming your partner knows how you feel and what you want leads to hurt and pain. On the other hand, talking about your feelings and wants is a sure recipe for happiness. You have to fight against your assumptions, and your best ally is clear communication. And this starts with asking the right questions. So, in the future, whenever you’re in doubt, find the courage to ask what happened, what’s wrong, or why someone has done something. It will make all the difference.

The fourth agreement: always do your best

The fourth and final agreement is the one that “allows the other three to become deeply ingrained habits.” It is about “the action of the first three.” And it is, once again, a straightforward but challenging agreement: always do your best.

None of the first three agreements will work if you don’t do your best at all times. By doing your best always – and over and over again – you will become someone capable of being impeccable with their word, someone who doesn’t take anything personally and someone who never makes assumptions. And that’s because when you do your best, you leave no room for regret or for your inner judge to criticize your habits. You will certainly make numerous mistakes along the way of breaking free from the agreements of the past. If you did your best to avoid making mistakes, you will always be able to find the strength to take the next step. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Moving on.

“If you do your best,” writes Ruiz, “you will become a master of transformation. Practice makes the master. By doing your best you become a master. Everything you have ever learned, you learned through repetition. You learned to write, to drive, and even to walk by repetition. You are a master of speaking your language because you practiced. Action is what makes the difference.” So, act – starting now.

Final Notes

Though fairly simple – as all wisdom ultimately is – Don Miguel Ruiz’s “Four Agreements” might affect you in a life-changing, world-shattering kind of way. 

After all, it already has affected millions in this manner. Why should you be the exception?

12min Tip

Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. And always do your best.

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Who wrote the book?

Don Miguel Ruiz is a Mexican author of Toltec spiritualist and neoshamanistic texts. Members of the New Thought movement primarily focused on old teachings, meant to achieve spiritual enlightenment, appreciate and follow his work. The youngest of... (Read more)

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