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The Four Agreements Part One: An Introduction

Posts in this series:

Part One - An Introduction 
Part Two -  Be Impeccable With Your Word 
Part Three - Don't Take Anything Personally
Part Four - Don't Make Assumptions
Part Five -
 Always Do Your Best

 As long as I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been wanting to talk about Don Miguel Ruiz’ book
The Four Agreements.  I’m not sure why I’ve kept putting it off.  Perhaps it just seemed like such a big topic.  Perhaps I was afraid I just wouldn’t do the book justice.  Whatever the reason, I’m getting past it right now.  Because there are four agreements, it seems like a good idea to make this into one of those series of posts like we did with getting organized and taking control of our finances.  Today, we’ll do Something Good by taking  a look at some of the basic ideas presented, and then we’ll delve deeper into the four agreements throughout the week.


I want to start off by sharing that this book has been instrumental in helping me reshape my life into what I want it to be.  More than any other, this piece of writing has actually changed my life.  If you find yourself holding onto crap from your past or being overwhelmed by others in your life, I really recommend that you get a copy.  If you don’t find yourself in those situations, I still really recommend that you read it.  If you decide that you want to buy it, I actually have it listed on this page of the Something Good web site.


The first section of The Four Agreements is sort of an introduction to the thinking used throughout the book, and even that is quite enlightening.  Don Miguel Ruiz introduces us briefly to the Toltec, a group of ancient South Americans who he describes as “scientists and artists.”  According to the author, these teachers of ancient wisdom had to start concealing it from those who would misuse it.  The lessons were passed down through the naguals, or masters, for centuries.  Ruiz is part of this lineage and has begun sharing these beliefs with the general populace through his books.


Already you can probably see that the book has kind of a mystical bent.  If that’s not your cup of tea, I still encourage you to read it.  The teaching are not religious, rather they’re somewhat philosophical.  The first couple of sections get a little ethereal, but stick with it because it gives you a really good background for when you get to the meat of the actual four agreements.


Basically, the idea is that we’re all living in our own dreams and that all of these dreams together create “The Dream of the Planet.”  Ruiz says that we’re all dreaming all the time, even when we’re awake:


“Dreaming is the main function of the mind, and the mind dreams twenty-four hours a day.  It dreams when the brain is awake, and it also dreams when the brain is asleep.  The difference is that when the brain is awake, there is a material frame that makes us dream in a linear way.  When we go to sleep we do not have the frame, and the dream has the tendency to change constantly.”


Along with this is the thought that our dream is very much shaped by those around us.  As a child we have parents or siblings or teachers that are constantly telling us what to believe.  Because we trust them (and also because we don’t want to be punished), we buy into their beliefs.  We make agreements about how things are.  This is how we learn to define our reality.  Think of how everyone used to know that the earth was flat, for example.  It was agreed upon.  It was also untrue.


Other agreements can be really useful.  If I type the word “dog,” each of us is going to picture a dog, although it won’t be the same dog.  Still, we have an agreement about what the word means.  The meanings of words can be a really useful agreement (says the woman who shares her ideas by writing them!), although it can get us into a little trouble when we have different beliefs about what a particular word means.


Ruiz calls the process of learning all these agreements “the domestication of humans.”  By accepting these agreements, we are buying into how things are and even how they should be.  If someone else’s beliefs don’t fall into line with our agreements, we’re probably going to judge them pretty harshly for it.  After a while, we don’t even need other people to reward and punish us because we’ve learned how to do it to ourselves.  We create a “Book of Law” that resides in our minds so that we can judge, not only others, but also ourselves.


In order to protect this Book of Law, we end up being our own Judge.


“Every time we do something that goes against the Book of Law, the Judge says we are guilty, we need to be punished, we should be ashamed.  This happens many times a day, day after day, for all the years of our lives.”


In addition to being the Judge, we are also the Victim.  We take the criticism of the Judge and carry it around as guilt and shame.  We believe the Judge when that voice says we’re bad or unworthy.


“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.  The agreement is so strong that even if we understand the concept of it not being true, we feel the blame, the guilt, and the shame that occur if we go against these rules.”


He goes on to explain that we end up suffering not just once for each mistake, but repeatedly because humans have long memories.  If you think of something you’ve done that broke one of your agreements and how ashamed the Victim felt when the Judge pointed out that you’d broken a rule in the Book of Law, you relive that shame.


Part of the problem is that we create this idea of how we should be.  We think, “If I get straight As or a promotion at work, everyone will love me.”  The problem is that perfection is unattainable.  We’re so often striving for perfection, and not one of us will ever reach it.  Doesn’t that seem like a silly thing to do?  Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do your best in your endeavors . .  . ah, but that probably won’t show up here until Friday.


The Four Agreements is about creating new agreements with yourself and breaking many of the old ones.  As humans, we have a lot of personal power.  Unfortunately, we use a lot of that power first in creating agreements and then in keeping them.  We don’t have power (or energy) left to create what we want in life.  We’re too busy making sure it stays the same!


OK, I know that was a really long introduction, and there is so much more to it in the book; but I think we’ve at least got some of the basics to move on to the four agreements this week.  Today’s suggestion for Something Good is to take a look at yourself and try to identify some agreements you’ve made that might be keeping you from creating your life as the dream you want.  Think about the way you were raised, your culture, your religion.  The Four Agreements Companion Book (yes, I own that, too) suggests:


“Consider any agreements that tell you what you can and cannot do, what you can and cannot be, and what you can and cannot have.”


Some possible agreements:


  1. Men should _____________, and women should ______________.
  2. I am so ____________ that no one would ever want me.
  3. I am unsuccessful because I didn’t become a_______________.
  4. My life is limited by my inability to _________________.


We’ll continue on with this series by looking at each of the four agreements this week.  Of course, I can only give an overview of this stuff.  If you find it interesting, you should seriously do Something Good for yourself by getting a copy of the book.


Ooooh... I like that analogy. I might just have to pick up the book! Thanks for the recommendation!
If I hadn't already given my copy away to Neva, you probably would have gotten one when we swapped packages! I need to just buy a bunch of used copies so that I always have plenty on hand to give away.


Scary How Timely!

I just got done commenting on Alex's post about paradigm shifts and choosing how we react and I thought I'd look at who else commented. i clicked on your link and had an AH HA moment! I have this book. I read it long ago and seeing your post hit me hard - I NEED to find it tonight and read it with my husband. It will bring us something good - this I know! Thanks. Sue Olson