Revisiting The Four Agreements

Years ago I read this book and wrote an article for a statewide paper about and around it. The following is a reworked and shortened version, which I thought to share with you while on a month’s vacation which has taken me away from a regular writing schedule. I hope you find it helpful!

In The Four Agreements, don Miguel Ruiz, a surgeon- turned-Toltec medicine man describes how we are “domesticated” when young to obey laws and elders (parents, teachers). We might not agree with these laws; nevertheless we are virtually powerless as children to challenge them. Sadly they are too often the way we receive acceptance and approval from significant others. Discovering our own voice and cultivating self respect are life changing processes. Along the way, we learn the importance of keeping our word and honoring obligations.

Integrity, or the impeccability of our word described in Ruiz’ first agreement demands that we say what we mean and mean what we say. Follow through with commitments. Life can get so full at times, it’s hard to prioritize and say no. However  it makes sense to promise only what can actually be delivered. This is a process, though getting clear on what can be committed to while remaining impeccable in word and deed allows us to feel better about ourselves, don’t you agree? In this way, everybody wins.

We all know the frustration of being lied to, of having friends and family failing their commitments and forgetting to honor their word. This is, in fact, where Ruiz’ second agreement comes in: Don’t take things personally. And this can be tough. Yet if we understand that we all see things from different perspectives, we learn to be clearer in asking for what we need. Recognizing that we have no control over other people’s feelings, actions and responses can be liberating. Change only happens through an individual’s strong will and desire, over which we have no control. Focusing on our own personal growth fosters self respect as well as providing positive role modeling for others in the grip of their own illusions. Again, a win/win situation.

This naturally leads to Ruiz’ third agreement, don’t make assumptions. We can never know what another is thinking, no matter how long we have known them. We can never accurately predict another’s actions, though we might come close now and again. This is why striving for clear communication is important – an ongoing process.

The fourth and final of Ruiz’ agreements is to always do our best. When learning what it takes to maintain personal integrity, we make mistakes. A lie slips out or we make one more commitment we struggle to keep. Doing our best might simply mean going back and forgiving ourselves for repeating an old habit. And yet when we forge on with a new behavior, a different neural pathway is created in the brain. Repeating the new behavior is now known to strengthen this pathway until actual patterns are altered. How exciting to know that science has actually demonstrated what ancient civilizations such as the Toltecs have known for some time – that the road to peace of mind truly does lie within, and that we have the power to change ourselves for the better!

4 thoughts on “Revisiting The Four Agreements

  1. Bela,

    You indeed have succeeded in encapsulating the essence of self discovery and empowerment in this post. Simple tenets, maybe even easy to understand but extremely tough to follow. Why is that I wonder. In your post you have beautifully clarified this using science. As I realise what it takes to create new neural pathways of my behaviour, I at once see the difficulty of following the path as also the empowering possibilities this allows.

    I believe as we shift our focus to look inwards, we start developing intentions to improve aspects of our own selves. This can become the most significant event in our lives. As we journey along this pathway, we gain clarity of ‘who we are’ in terms of our values and beliefs. Alignment of our behaviour to these brings forth the ultimate liberation and peace that we seek. As you have said, “…the road to peace of mind truly does lie within, and that we have the power to change ourselves for the better.”

    Loved the post, Bela. Thank you.


  2. Shakti, you have clarified a key element of happiness, to my mind – which is that “alignment of our behavior to [our values and beliefs] brings forth the ultimate liberation and peace that we seek.” Bingo.

    Your comment also causes me to wonder at the levels of looking inward a person is capable of, depending on the time in life, their circumstances, etc. I think people like you and I might be more naturally inclined to pursue deep reflection, while for others, it is a frightening thing to sit with themselves for any length of time. Distractions abound, and they seem preferable to a path of inner attentiveness. Too scary.

    It is to those people I would say take heart – what you most fear, when looked in the eye, becomes a shattered illusion. I know these are only words, but I well remember when I began to pry into those corners of terror. With each encounter, I called forth an inner strength I never knew existed.

    That being said, what has also surfaced and continues to surface are more and more questions about the nature and rightness of reality as I perceive it, which I suppose will erupt in consciousness until the end of time. This leads to my current undestanding that human existence seems to be about how to exist in harmony with the flow of life on its own terms. Which, once again, is so beautifully depicted in your (Shakti’s) statement quoted in the first paragraph of this comment 😉

    Blessings, dear one.

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