The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
Sit Down and Read
One Line Summary
Toltec wisdom to live in heaven on earth
Are you aware that you’re dreaming? Right now, this very moment. You think the world you’re living in is objective, but it’s not. It’s not even close. It’s so far removed from objective reality that we could call it’s the equivalent of a dream.
Not only are you dreaming, but if you’re like most people, this dream is very often a nightmare. You live in fear, anger, jealousy and all other negative emotions. Rather than help solve your problems (because that is why you tell yourself you need these emotions, right? They help you in some way?) they tend to exacerbate the problem and trap you in a self-perpetuating loop of negativity.
The Four Agreements is about how to turn this nightmare into a pleasant dream. You’ve been letting the dream run wild and do its own thing for who knows how many years. It’s time to do some lucid dreaming instead.
Why it’s Awesome
Find any object near you and pick it up. Just look at it for a moment and notice any thoughts you have about the object. For instance, maybe you picked up a pen and thought “this is a pen. It’s blue. I use it to write with. Otherwise it doesn’t have much use”. Or maybe you picked up a picture and thought “this is a picture of me and X family member. It means a lot to me because this person passed a few years ago”.
Whatever it is, just notice it. And also notice how QUICKLY you do this. In fact, if you look carefully you’ll notice this happens so fast that you’re hardly aware of it. Your brain just does it automatically. But at some point it does this.
This is what we call “thinking”. And as humans, we love our thinking very much. In fact, I’d suggest trying just for ONE MINUTE to stop thinking. Have no thoughts, not even the thought that you’re thinking. Post the results in the comments below.
If you’re a normal human, you couldn’t do it. Probably not even for ten seconds. Your brain just keeps pummeling away with thoughts.
This is not in of itself a problem. Thinking can be extremely useful and to live without it would be impossible. But as this plain exercise should have shown you, this thinking is not “your” thinking. You’re not actually in control, thoughts just fire away on their own.
Now bring your attention back to the object that you picked up before. Notice by simple logic that this object must have existed before you had a thought about it. The fact that you thought “this is a pen” didn’t actually make it a pen. It was already whatever it was, THEN you labeled and categorized in your mind at lightning speed.
So we’ve shown that there’s actually a distinction between WHAT IS and your thought about it. But of course, your thought is true, right? How could a thought that “I’m holding a pen” be wrong when you’re holding a pen in your hand?
Now notice (and this is the hard part) that actually what you’re doing when you’re thinking “this is a pen” is that you’re using SYMBOL called “pen” to symbolize a group of sensory perceptions and other thoughts. This is all gets combined into the single thought, “this is a pen”.
But a symbol isn’t actually the thing it’s supposed to represent. In fact, symbols can be completely arbitrary. Who says that the letters P-E-N have to represent a collection of perceptions we commonly agree upon as a pen? What does this weird shape that looks like a tongue sticking out have anything to do with the actual experience of the sound people make when they say ‘P’? We could keep going.
This seems trivial, but this is what Ruiz is referring to when he calls reality a “dream”. It’s our thinking that weaves this dream. Reality simply EXISTS, and it’s our minds that create this convoluted and twisted interpretation.
Make no mistake, this is not just happening a little bit. It’s massive distortion. Your thoughts about reality, while useful for navigating the world, are not at all matching up with the underlining reality. Hence, living in a “dream”.
These interpretations all are passed down to us. Think about the fact that you’ve never actually learned something “new”. At some point, the knowledge came to you from someone else.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with thinking. I have to stress that or you’ll shut me out. But if we’re living in a dream, what kind of dream would you like to live in? Personally, I want to live in the nice one where I’m happy. Not a dream where I’m stressed, angry and fearful all the time.
What’s possible is actually to re-wire your thinking in such a way that you consciously decide the emotional life you want to live. If this seems impossible, like your interpretation of reality must be the “right” one, I’d suggest you question that assumption.
This brings us to the real jewel of this book: the four agreements.
The four agreements are really just four mantras to live your life by. By ruthlessly trying to apply them in every moment of your life, your thinking will slowly change. Here they are:
- Be Impeccable to your word
- Don’t Take Anything Personally
- Don’t Make Assumptions
- Do Your Best
If this sounds like cliché wisdom, it’s cliché for a reason. Applying these thoughts are how you climb out of hell and into the sunlight. I’ll explain each one briefly.
Be Impeccable to your word
This means that you never say anything that’s EMOTIONALLY negative about yourself. Words are power, and when you unnecessarily beat yourself up you further the nightmare. Notice that this still leaves room open for CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM, i.e evaluation that doesn’t imply anything “evil” or “unworthy” about the original situation.
What happens in society is that people use words to shame you for things that don’t support their own agenda and then you end up shaming yourself. You become your own jailor.
For instance, say you have guilt around having sex or being forward with the opposite sex. Why? Is something like sex something objectively to feel shame over? We all do it. So who told you sex was something to feel guilty about? Was it you, or someone else? And if it was someone else, why do you now shame yourself for having sex?
Think about it.
Don’t Take Things Personally
Most people understand that you shouldn’t take negative opinions of others personally. But how about positive opinions? We love those. Those we want to take personally.
The problem with this is it’s a double edged sword. If someone can give you positive emotions, they can give you negative emotions. One implies the other. The solution is to instead take NOTHING personal. This brings about an inner sense of calm because you’ve become emotionally grounded.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Much of the dream we talked about in the beginning of this review comes from making assumptions. You “assume” something will go wrong at your new job. You assume a person didn’t like you. You assume a person did like you but then find out otherwise. On and on it goes.
Do Your Best
Probably the most common objection I hear when I talk about the first three agreement is “but how will I function? I NEED to get down on myself in order motivate myself. If I accept myself and reality as it is, won’t I lose all motivation?”
The answer is no. If you find yourself in that situation, that’s when you apply the final agreement: do your best.
I talked about this in my review of the Bhagavad Gita that the place I always try to operate from is one of simultaneously caring more and less than anyone. As I write this article, I’ve been working for almost 12 hours straight. Why? Because I can’t imagine doing anything else. Because I’m doing my best. The reward isn’t money and bitches, it’s happiness.
Why Does It Suck
This book is about being happy within the dream. But if you’re on the quest for either TRUTH or unconditional happiness, this book is not about that. It’s not about getting out of the dream altogether. That’s what enlightenment is. This book may be a very good start, but if that’s your goal, realize you will eventually hit limits with this knowledge.
The Wrap Up
Love, love this book. Ruiz is able to articulate some really complex ideas simply and beautifully. If my review just confused the hell out of you, don’t think that’s a representation of the book. I added a lot of my own understanding to what he wrote.
Recommend this book to anyone who is unsatisfied with life for any reason. Not only is this book a great key to happiness, you’re going to watch your external results shoot up as well. Don’t be surprised if your success suddenly starts changing for you in your career, relationships etc. It isn’t the goal, but it is a nice side effect.
*For more reviews of the best self-development books, visit www.aurumreviews.com*
Published by Austin Kourakin