Book Review: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

For a bit of context, I have been an active student of spirituality for 8 years. By that, I mean that I’ve taken countless classes, participated in countless activities and events, read countless books, and spent countless hours actively working on myself, and on my relationship with the world around me. The books I’ve read, for instance, haven’t been solely focused on the specific practice that I follow and study, Kabbalah, but also on various different traditions and approaches from across the globe and through the ages. One thing that became very apparent to me, very early on in my active/conscious spiritual journey, is that they all say the same thing. All traditions, from all over the world say the same things. They say them in different ways, that’s for sure, but the core message and intention is pretty much the same.

So, when I started reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, I wasn’t necessarily expecting to read anything new, or anything that I hadn’t already read. Through the years, I have also had several discussions with my flatmate, and other friends, who also tend to read every book on spirituality and personal growth they can find, and we often say that at some point, we need to stop reading, and just start being the things that we read about. Knowledge without action and integration into one’s life, is frankly pointless, and this is something that I always need to remind myself of.

But back to The Four Agreements. I received this from a dear friend on my birthday this year, and its size – 138 pages – and large, clear font, appealed to me as a book that I could easily, and swiftly, get through.

The main premise is that these agreements were tools used by the Toltec, a society originating in southern Mexico thousands of years ago, which aimed to preserve the spiritual knowledge of even more ancient inhabitants of that region. This knowledge was passed down from generation to generation, surviving times of great turmoil and chaos, mainly the European colonisation. The author, a descendant of this lineage, openly says that the Toltec knowledge “arises from the same essential unity of truth as all the sacred esoteric traditions found around the world”, which relates to my point above.

Whilst the message wasn’t mind-blowing or necessarily life-changing, I very much enjoyed the first chapter called “Domestication and the Dream of the Planet”, as it was very clear and poignant. In this chapter, Ruiz describes the formation of what he calls the dream of the planet. This dream is basically society’s dream: a dream composed of all the collective dreams of everyone who has ever lived, and still lives. These dreams give us the dream of family, of community, of cities, of countries, and of the whole of humanity. The dream of the planet includes all of society’s rules, beliefs, laws, religions, cultures, governments, schools, and holidays. We are born with the ability to create our own dreams, but the dream of the planet has so many rules, that they quickly overwhelm anyone’s capacity to create their own.

We learn this dream through Mom, Dad, schools, and religions. We learn them so well, that we become domesticated by them, and forget that, often, they are not even our dreams. Moreover, they become such an integral part of our lives, that we begin to defend them against anyone who dares to think, say, or do something different about them. This is why it’s so hard to wake up from this dream and realise that there are other alternatives for every single aspect of our lives, because even though we may perceive this dream of the planet as wrong, there is a strong and overwhelming sense of safety about it.

To break away from it, to challenge our own beliefs, requires great courage, effort, practice, and consistency. Any therapist, mentor, spiritual leader, coach, can tell you this.

“If you want to live a life of joy and fulfilment, you have to find the courage to break those agreements that are fear-based and claim your personal power.”

How to do this? That’s right, by using the four agreements.

1.       Be impeccable with your word

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

A very interesting fact about the word impeccable that I learned in the book, is that it comes from the Latin ‘pecatus’, which means ‘sin’. The ‘im’ means ‘without’, and so impeccable means ‘without sin’. As sin is a very loaded word because of religions connotations, Ruiz helpfully reframes it as anything that includes rejection of the self.

2.       Don’t take anything personally

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

3.       Don’t make assumptions

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.

4.       Always do your best

Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstances, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.

I learned through my many years of active spiritual and therapy practice that Truth is very simple. Not easy, but simple. Wouldn’t you agree that these four agreements are simple? To me, they sound pretty straightforward. But easy? Not at all! Try to do all of these for at least a day! One day! Changing is the greatest paradox there is because it is essential to survival and the most consistent aspect of life, and yet, it is one of the hardest things to do. I don’t mean changing jobs, or houses, or even countries. To change yourself, to your core! Personal change always triggered this fear in me: if I completely change certain aspects about myself, who will I be? And yet, if I want to see real change in certain areas of my life, this is what is required: unrecognisable change and transformation, and consistency. Otherwise, how will I get different results if I don’t do things differently?