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The Four Agreements
 by Don Miguel Ruiz
Book review by Jody, NDERF

 

The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, Amber-Allen Publishing, San Rafael, CA (1997).

This is one of the most spiritually powerful books packed into 138 easy to read and understand pages.  As my friend William Fitzhugh points out, A summary is possible, but you really need to read the whole thing to do it justice.  And, I might add, it's definitely worth taking the time to read.  I have read a whole lot of "great" books in the past 25 some odd years that deal with expanding human potential.  I have to say that this one is the clearest, cleanest and simplest I have ever read.

The Four Agreements can be summed up as follows:

(1) Be Impeccable With Your Word.  The broad scope of this concept is to avoid sin against yourself by what you think.  Sinning against the self takes many forms: such as, putting yourself down, gossiping, or putting anybody else down because you don't agree with what they think.  Actions and words need to be consistent as part of being impeccable with yourself.  The other side of the coin is the smoky mirror concept.  Ruiz makes the point that our perceptions of others are merely reflections of ourselves.  Therefore, to put another down or project negative words or energy towards another person, is to lash out at the other person because of our own insecurities. 

(2) Don't Take Anything Personally.  There is an awful lot of negative energy out there and some of it is directed at us by other people.  If you take it personally and take on the poison of another's words, it becomes a very negative agreement you have with yourself.  What anybody thinks about you, or says about you, is really about them.  Not taking it personally allows you to be in relationship with anyone and not get trapped in their stuff.  This agreement can also pertain to things that we take personally that cause us to go into upset.

(3) Don't Make Assumptions.  What we think we understand about what someone says, how someone looks at us, what someone means by what they do, etc, may often not reflect reality at all, and more often than not lead us to think badly of ourselves or of others, and reinforce not being impeccable with our word. 

(4) Always Do Your Best.  Your "best" is a variable thing from moment to moment.  "When you do your best, you don't give the Judge the opportunity to find you guilty or to blame you.�  You can always say, �I did my best."  There are no regrets. (p.80)  The other key to doing your best revolves about being in action.  "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)

I could really relate to the mirror analogy and the concept that perception is the way that people see light (truth & spirit) through their own smoky mirror. 

The first agreement was probably the most powerful for me.  I never conceived of how much power (energy) that words have.  The story of the little girl who stopped singing was especially touching.  I recall many in the legal field and the power their words had on the lives of children.  With one pompous, statement out of wrongful use of power, I saw so many children further abused by Judges. Judges who were so cloaked in either laziness or narcissistic power and promoting a corrupted buddy system, they can't see the truth or protect the innocents who have no representation.   Further, they knew there is rarely any retribution because few people can afford an appeal.  I reflected on how many unkind words had drastically changed my life.  I also reflected on how one, "I love you mommy", and a hug from your baby girls can make even the worst year worth living.  

"Being impeccable with your word is the correct use of energy; it means to use your energy in the direction of love and truth for yourself." (pg 32)  I would also add "for yourself . . . and others."  This is a powerful concept about using free will to make correct choices that lead one closer to God.  This is one of the main premises in NDERF�s talk at the IANDS conference when talking about soulmates and relationships.

The second agreement is very close to the Buddhism concept of non-attachment.  Don't take anything personally.  (I�m still struggling with this concept, so any Buddhists who can comment on my perceptions regarding non-attachment would be most helpful)  I like the concept that there can be no fear if you don't take anything someone says as personal.  

However, I like to take love personally.  From my perspective, In order to live, you have to feel.  Without feeling emotions, you wouldn't be able to feel or understand love.  I think perhaps Ruiz needed to emphasize that he was talking of the negative emotions.  While this is good advice for most people, the more you understand, the more you can refine the concept.  I think that adversity and negative emotions can bring about some of the most powerful reformations and social change.  Many times, change happens because the emotions provide the motivation behind the movement.  It is not necessarily a bad thing to be angry or use that energy in a constructive manner.  I think that many times the science of non-attachment or not taking things personally has a leads to passivism.  Passivism or beliefs resulting in passivism, in my opinion, can be another form of evil because people tend to ignore problems in society and their own lives - rather than try to change them.

Don't make assumptions.  This is where the book starts to get a bit contradictory.  I find the concept of not making assumptions at odds with the concept on page 58, where he talks about paying attention to someone's actions that don't match their words.  While I agree it is healthy not to take someone's lies personally, I also think that there are some people you can't clarify lies with.  They may not even realize they live in a world based on lies.  Many times, I think our preconceived notions (assumptions) may be a behavioral shorthand that keeps us safe.  I missed the distinction between a gut feeling and an assumption.  Both can turn out to be wrong - but initially, I don't think you should ignore them.  It would seem more of a distinction to say that a misunderstanding is one of those shades of gray.  If the reality is wrong, then the core assumption needs to be changed.  Generally, a good easy rule to remember and follow is to not make assumptions.  However, sometimes, it is not only necessary, but it is a key process by which we can quickly gauge our outside world. 

Do your best at everything.  I espouse the 4th agreement in just about everything I do, and whole-heartedly endorse this concept.  This was a wonderful chapter until the last paragraph.  It is silly for a person to not be concerned about the future.  It's called goal-planning.  While living in the present is truly living, I would think that one would look towards the future to achieve specific ideals.  For example, one may wish to invest in stocks for financial security in old age.

The last part of the book is inspirational and thought provoking.  Particularly intriguing is the inference on pg 113 that a healthy mind is outside normal limits.  I also liked when Ruiz talks of forgiveness, which is not defined in the traditional religious sense.  Rather it is used more like remaining impeccable in your words.  His description of forgiveness is one that I am finding the most empowering when working with blocked emotions.  It is to allow the emotions to flow and ebb, without obstruction, and without judgment.  If something needs to change, then do your best to change it.  Don't take it personally, and don't assume that you personally are the cause of the negative actions.  Again, The Four Agreements is a wonderful book with great concepts!  (I think I'll forgive myself and eat another bowl of ice cream to feel alive and celebrate such a book! :)

Book review by Jody, NDERF.  A special and heartfelt thanks to William Fitzhugh for bring this book to my attention and subsequently exploring the meaning of the book via e-mail exchanges.

 

Copyright1999 by Dr. Jeff and Jody Long