Book Review - During my bar orientation, one speaker gave an impassioned speech about the importance of maintaining one’s good character. She mentioned The Four Agreements, a book by Don Miguel Ruiz, so I decided to give it a read. I had never heard of the Toltec people, but learned in the Introduction that they are “scientists and artists who formed a society to explore and conserve the spiritual knowledge and practices of the ancient ones.” Miguel is a “nagual,” a master of spiritual knowledge, and he is concerned with the many false beliefs we have about ourselves and the world: “During the process of domestication, we form an image of what perfection is in order to try to be good enough. We create an image of how we should be in order to be accepted by everybody.” The aim of the book is to “reveal the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering.” The four agreements, Miguel says, are life affirming.
Ruiz uses lofty spiritual language that does not appeal to me, and my overall impression was that this “practical guide to personal freedom” is New Age fluff. On the other hand, I think it’s good and healthy to be aware of irrational and limiting thoughts, and if you strip away some of the distracting language, the book may serve as a basic reminder of how best to think about ourselves and interact with others. To give you an idea, I’ve distilled the basic principles from the four agreements and included them below. If you do read the book, I’d be interested to know what you think.
1. Be impeccable with your word – "All the magic you possess is based on your word. Depending upon how it is used, the word can set you free, or it can enslave you even more than you know" - We should be truthful and say things that have a positive influence on ourselves and others
2. Don’t take anything personally – "All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you" - We should acknowledge the subjective realities of other people and realize that the way others treat us says as much about them and their belief system as it does about us
3. Don’t make assumptions – "We have the tendency to make assumptions about everything. The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth. We make an assumption, we misunderstand, we take it personally, and we end up creating a whole big drama for nothing" - Assuming you know what people are thinking or feeling is limiting and leads to undesirable consequences – the antidote is to ask for evidence before concluding what people are thinking
4. Always do your best – "In your everyday moods your best can change from one moment to another, from one hour to the next, from one day to another. Your best will change over time. As you build the habit of using The Four Agreements, your best will become better than it used to be" - We can’t achieve our goals by being lazy, and if we do our best we avoid criticism from our “inner judge”