Book cover art for The Four Agreements
The Four Agreements
Don Miguel Ruiz

I wasn't entirely sure what to make of this. The agreements themselves are sound and the core of the philosophy is a useful model for how to approach life, but it's slightly spoiled by unusual generalisations and heapings of new-age drivel. It's good if you don't mind divining the wisdom from the waffle, otherwise it's probably worth avoiding.

'What you are seeing and hearing right now is nothing but a dream. You are dreaming right now in this moment. You are dreaming with the brain awake.'

The Dream of the Planet

The combined dreaming of us all, from the ground up, is what creates the world. The dreams of law, of religion, of culture, of art, of family, of relationships...the Toltec consider them as a dream that we all create together. Paying careful attention lets us know the dream for what it is.

When we are children, we are taught by some system of punishment and reward to act and behave in certain ways and not in others. This creates a belief system that goes with us wherever we go. This belief system is made up of the many hundreds if not thousands of 'agreements' we have accepted and internalised as being true.

'The belief system is like a Book of Law that rules our mind. Without question, whatever is in that Book of Law, is our truth. We base all of our judgments according to the Book of Law, even if these judgments go against our own inner nature.'

We eventually become our own 'domesticators' in that we learn how to modulate ourselves and decide what it is we do, what is right, what is wrong. We do this according to the belief system that we have had imprinted on us, which is something that we do not explicitly choose ourselves.

'That is why we need a great deal of courage to challenge our own beliefs. Because even if we know we didn't choose all these beliefs, it is also true that we agreed to all of them.'

With this belief system we create what Ruiz refers to as a 'Book of Law' inside our heads, for which we also act as the 'Internal Judge', handing down judgments and punishments many times a day.

'If you consider hell as a state of mind, then hell is all around us.'

The definition of hell is where you are punished multiple times for the same thing, again and again and again. Humans punish themselves multiple times, for example, by reliving the things they've done in the past and internally berating themselves for what they perceive to be bad actions.

'Death is not the biggest biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive-the risk to be alive and express what we really are. Just being ourselves is the biggest fear of humans. We have learned to live our lives trying to satisfy other people's demands.'

We start each day with a certain amount of personal power that is depleted throughout the day by the things that happen and the ways we react to those things. The act of simple 'maintaining agreements' takes up a good chunk of this power, especially if those agreements are negative and damaging in their nature.

To gain more of this personal power and to allow ourselves to do more with our lives, we have to break these agreements and forge new ones. The agreements we need to adopt are the four agreements.

Agreement 1: Be Impeccable With Your Word

'Impeccability means "without sin." Impeccable comes from the Latin pecatus, which means "sin." The im in impeccable means "without," so impeccable means "without sin."'

Your intent is created through your word. Your words have the power to destroy or to create. When we say a person is under a 'spell', it is caused by the words that have made them believe or accept a new agreement—often these are negative.

'We use the word to curse, to blame, to find guilt, to destroy. Of course, we also use it in the right way, but not too often. Mostly we use the word to spread our personal poison-to express anger, jealousy, envy, and hate.'

Gossip is particularly bad for everyone involved, and not just the target of the gossiping. We have the power to ruin someone's day in a sentence and hurt ourselves horribly at the same time.

'Your opinion is nothing but your point of view. It is not necessarily true. Your opinion comes from your your own beliefs, ego, and your own dream.'

If you are impeccable with your word, it becomes a shield against the negative words of others.

Agreement 2: Don't Take Anything Personally

'Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about "me."'

Things that others say and do is nothing to do with you. It is about them.

When we take things personally, we take offence. When we take offence, we defend ourselves. When we defend ourselves, we create conflict. When we create conflict, we inflict harm. On ourselves and on others.

'Do not expect people to tell the truth because they also lie to themselves. You have to trust yourself and choose to believe or not to believe what someone says to you.'

When we say 'don't take things personally', we mean this in both positive and negative terms. Don't take anything personally, even compliments. This can work against us, too.

'Whatever people do, feel, think, or don't take say, it personally. If they tell you how wonderful you are, they are not saying that because of you. You know you are wonderful. It is not necessary to believe other people who tell you that you are wonderful.'

Even your own opinions about yourself aren't necessarily true. Don't take them personally, either. When we take things personally, we suffer a lot. not doing so gives us immunity to all sorts of things.

'If you keep this agreement, you can travel around the world with your heart completely open and no one can hurt you. You can say, "I love you," without fear of being ridiculed or rejected. You can ask for what you need. You can say yes, or you can you say no whatever choose -without guilt or you self-judgment.'

Agreement 3: Don't Make Assumptions

The central problem with assumptions is that we believe them to be true, when they likely aren't. We then gossip on this basis, and we create difficulties.

'Making assumptions in our relationships is really asking for problems. Often we make the assumption that our partners know what we think and that we don't have to say what we want. We assume they are going to do what we want, because they know us so well. If they don't do what we assume they should do, we feel so hurt and say, "You should have known."'

We make assumptions in all kinds of circumstances:

  • When we hear
  • When we don't hear
  • Wehen we understand
  • When we don't understand

The way to stop making assumptions is to ask questions, and plenty of them, until you actually know.

'We also make assumptions about ourselves, and this creates a lot of inner conflict. "I think I am able to do this." You make this assumption, for instance, then you discover aren't able to do it. You overyou estimate or underestimate yourself because you haven't taken the time to ask yourself questions and to answer them. Perhaps you need to gather more facts about a particular situation. Or maybe you need to stop lying to yourself about what you truly want.'

Agreement 4: Always Do Your Best

'If you try too hard to do more than your best, you will spend more energy than is needed and in the end your best will not be enough.'

Your 'best' always changes from one moment to the next. if you always do your best, though, there is no way that you can feasibly judge yourself. If you do less than your best, though, you will subject yourself to guilt and growing self judgment.

'Action is about living fully. Inaction is the way that we deny life. Inaction is sitting in front of the television every day for you are afraid to be alive and to take the risk of expressing what years because you are. Expressing what you are is taking action.'

Take joy in the things that you do without any expectation of any kind of your reward. This is truly doing your best.

'Not enjoying what is happening right now is living in the past and being only half alive. This leads to self pity, suffering, and tears.'

Doing your best also means taking action in the present, in the here and now. If you don't, you can't really live.

'If you break an agreement, begin again tomorrow, and again the next day. It will be difficult at first, but each day will become easier and easier.'

Breaking Old Agreements to Dream a New Dream

Our normal human tendencies are to enjoy life, to play, to explore, to love and to be happy. This is what we're like as children before we ever learn any agreements or are 'domesticated' into the way we act and behave in 'normal life'.

'We have memories of long ago, when we used to be free and we loved being free, but we have forgotten what freedom really means.'

What happened to us as adults? We are the result of agreements we gathered, the Book of Law in our heads, the Judge that sits in the court of our mind.

To break old agreements and agree to the four new ones, there are three masteries that we must gain:

  • Awareness - who we are and knowing what the possibilities are
  • Transformation - ability to change, to be free of domestication
  • Intent - life itself, unconditional love

Be aware you are dreaming. Be aware of the fog in your mind. Be aware of the self-limiting, fear-bound beliefs that hold you back.

Occupy the space left by the old agreements with the new ones.

'Just use your imagination and a tremendous thing will happen. Imagine that you have the ability to see the world with different whenever you eyes, choose. Each time you open your eyes, you see the world around you in a different way.'

'To be Toltec is a way of life. It is a of life way where there are no leaders and no followers, where have your own truth and live your own truth. A you Toltec becomes wise, becomes wild, and becomes free again.'

'Moses called it the Promised Land, Buddha called it Nirvana, Jesus called it Heaven, and the Toltecs call it a New Dream.'
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