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Wednesday, April 4, 2012
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
I recently re-readThe Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (hereafter: TFA) by Don Miguel Ruiz for probably the fifth or sixth time since I first discovered this gem a couple of years ago. I have read a lot of wonderful books that describe various practices for expanding the human potential; however, none have done so with as much clarity and simplicity as TFA. At 138-pages, TFA could be read in a couple of hours - that is if it weren’t for the numerous pauses taken to reflect upon the breadth of Ruiz’s ideas or his poetic, yet unaffected, style.
From the back cover, we learn that Don Miguel Ruiz grew up in rural Mexico. His family of healers teach esoteric toltec practices that have been passed-down through Ruiz’s ancestors for centuries. With his influence, Ruiz explains that our actions are often the cause of needless suffering in our lives. He presents the antidote for this suffering as The Four Agreements. These Agreements act as a sort of individual code of conduct that, when adhered to diligently, can rapidly transform our lives for the better.
The Four Agreements can be summed up as follows:
Be impeccable with your word.The effectiveness of this first Agreement depends upon the reader having or cultivating a strong relationship with who they are and what they consider to be integral to their sense of self. With this understanding, Ruiz asks us to speak from this honest place and to say only what it is we mean. He encourages readers to understand their words like they understand their actions: with every action or word a metaphoric ripple effect occurs - our words, like our actions, have consequences. Ruiz describes our words as having energy so that, for example, should we gossip about or insult ourselves or others, we are causing harm just as if we had physically injured ourselves or others. He encourages readers to use their energy in the direction of truth and love. Articulating the fallacy that is our perceptions of others, Ruiz employs one of the most meaningful allegories of the book - the smoky mirror: “Three thousand years ago, there was a human just like you and me who lived near a city surrounded by mountains. The human was studying to become a medicine man, to learn the knowledge of his ancestors, but he didn’t completely agree with everything he was learning. In his heart, he felt there must be something more. One day as he slept in a cave, he dreamed that he saw his own body sleeping. He came out of the cave on the night of the new moon. The sky was clear, and he could see millions of stars. Then something happened inside of him that transformed his life forever. He looked at his hands, he felt his body, and he heard his own voice say, “I am made of light; I am made of stars.” He looked at the stars again, and then he realized that it’s not the stars that create light, but rather light that creates the stars. “Everything is made of light,” he said, “and the space in-between isn’t empty.” And he knew that everything that exists is one living being, and that light is the messenger of life, because it is alive and contains all information. Then he realized that although he was made of stars, he was not those stars. “I am in-between the stars,” he thought. So he called the stars the tonal, and the light between the stars the nagual, and he knew that what created the harmony and peace between the two is Life or Intent. Without Life, the tonal and the nagual could not exist. Life is the force of the absolute, the supreme, the Creator who creates everything. This is what he discovered; Everything in existence is a manifestation of the one living being we call God. Everything is God. And he came to the conclusion that human perception is merely light perceiving light. He also saw that matter is a mirror - everything is a mirror that reflects light and creates images of that light - and the world of illusion, the Dream, is just like the smoke which doesn’t allow us to see what we really are. “The real us is pure love, pure light,” he said. This realization changed his life. Once he knew what he really was, he looked around at other humans and the rest of nature, and he was amazed at what he saw. He saw himself in everything - in every human, in every animal, in every tree, in the water, in the rain, in the clouds, in the earth. And he saw that Life mixed the tonal and the nagual in different ways to create billions of manifestations of life. In those few moments he comprehended everything. He was very excited, and his heart filled with peace. He could hardly wait to tell his people what he had discovered. But there were no words to explain it. He tried to tell the others, but they could not understand. They could see that he had changed, that something beautiful was radiating from his eyes and his voice. They noticed that he no longer had judgement about anything or anyone. He was no longer like anyone else. He could understand everyone very well, but no one could understand him. They believed that he was an incarnation of God, and he smiled when he heard this and he said, “It is true. I am God. But you are also God. We are the same, you and I. We are images of light. We are God.” But still the people didn’t understand him. He had discovered that he was a mirror for the rest of the people, a mirror in which he could see himself. “Everyone is a mirror,” he said. He saw himself in everyone, but nobody saw him as themselves. And he realized that everyone was dreaming, but without awareness, without knowing what they really are. They couldn’t see him as themselves because there was a wall of fog or smoke between the mirrors. And that wall of fog was made by the interpretation of images of light - the Dream of humans. Then he knew that he would soon forget all that he had learned. He wanted to remember all the visions he had had, so he decided to call himself the Smokey Mirror so that he would always know that matter is a mirror and the smoke in-between is what keeps us from knowing what we are. He said, “I am the Smokey Mirror, because I am looking at myself in all of you, but we don’t recognize each other because of the smoke in-between us. That smoke is the Dream, and the mirror is you, the dreamer.”
Don’t take anything personallyWith this understanding about the smoky mirror, Ruiz introduces the second Agreement. Asking us to hold firm to our understanding of our undiluted selves, Ruiz explains that the actions and words of others are projections of their realities and, when we can connect to our true selves, their opinions have less and less influence on us.
What may prove the most challenging part of such detachment is that our unwavering self-awareness cannot be swayed by others’ mirrors for better or for worse. It may be easy to comprehend the benefits of remaining unaffected against criticism, insult, or slander, but not taking anything personally means detaching from the approval, compliments, and admiration of others as well.
Don’t make assumptions.
Once we have this connection with our true selves, and we are undisturbed by the opinions of others, Ruiz’s third Agreements asks us to communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, stress, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life. If everyone in the world made this Agreements, there would only be truth. There would be no “reading between the lines”, no subtle hints, no games, no gray areas - just truth - my truth and yours, right here on the table where we can see and respond to it.
I have practiced this Agreement for a very long time and can tell you from experience that, when you start to live as though people should never assume you mean something other than what you said, and you expect the same of them - that you are clear and honest and you actually say and do exactly what you meant to say and do and that the only assumption you make is that other people are doing the same - drama seems to disappear. Dramatic people don’t find it very much fun at all to play with me. I just don’t enable it.
The only conflict that I ever come across practicing this Agreement is when I have spoken my truth and someone else has not. Then, I have acted assuming only that what they have told me (or, more often, NOT told me), was their expression of honest, feedback, feelings, or beliefs. It is only after finding themselves disappointed by the outcome (i.e., bummed that I didn’t say something like, “Are you mad at me?”), that these people expressed their true feelings, which I then continued to respond to honestly and openly. More often than not, people can see that you say what you mean and that you ask the same of them. So, they better start talking! One caveat about why this has been so successful from my experience is that you have to be a safe person for people to speak their truths to. If it weren’t for my open mind and patience as well as my instance on honest communication, I don’t think that this Agreement would have had such a positive impact on my life.
Always do your best.
Finally, Ruiz asks us to agree to do the best that we can in every situation, moment to moment. I think of this is kind of like saying, “Be impeccable with your actions”. Ruiz reminds us that our best might vary from day to day, and situation to situation. He asks us to understand that this is the best you can be right now - sick, tired, and unfocused or thriving, in your element, and strong. Doing so will mean that we have a little patience with ourselves and can avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, or regret. We can look back at a choice that we made and recognize that there are things that we will do differently next time we’re faced with that situation, but that can’t change what happened then, so why stress about it?
Ruiz also reminds us that, “Action is about living fully. Inaction is the way that we deny life. Inaction is sitting in front of the television every day for years because you are afraid to be alive and to take the risk of expressing what you are. Expressing what you are is taking action. You can have many great ideas in your head, but what makes the difference is the action. Without action upon an idea, there will be no manifestation, no results, and no reward.” (p.82)
Though summarized here, the full power of this little book is lost without Ruiz’s personal anecdotes, examples, and endearing writing style. If you have not yet read The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, I hope that this summary influences you to pick it up at your local bookstore (or borrow it from our Lending Library!). It really will change the way that you look at your life.
Thanks for reading,
P.S.: don’t forget to keep sending your question, comments, and future blog ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.