The Four Agreements

The Four Agreements

A “book report” by don Miguel Ruiz

It touches on many teachings, especially self-differentiation.
The Four Agreements, by don Miguel Ruiz. Copyright 1997 by Miguel Angel Ruiz, MD
Published by Amber-Allen Publishing, Inc. San Rafael, CA.


The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz is a book about awareness and the personal liberty of self-differentiation. [His book is based upon the Toltec way…he explains that the Toltec as people throughout Southern Mexico known as “women and men of knowledge.” “They came together as masters (naguals) and students at Teotihuacan, the ancient city of pyramids outside Mexico City known as the place where “Man Becomes God.”  “Over the millennia, the naguals were forced to conceal the ancestral wisdom and maintain its existence in obscurity.”   “Now, don Miguel Ruiz, a nagual from the Eagle Knight lineage, has been guided to share with us the powerful teachings of the Toltec.”

The Context:

It begins with a legend of a person, three thousand years ago, who was studying to become a medicine man. “He” didn’t completely agree with what he was being taught and “felt there must be something more.”  Through a vision he realized that it wasn’t stars that made light, but that all-including the stars-were created by the light.  There are more metaphysical nuances but, most importantly, “In those few moments he comprehended everything. He was very excited, and his heart was filed with peace. He could hardly wait to tell his people what he had discovered.  But there were no words to explain it.” “They noticed that he no longer had judgment about anything or anyone.”
 “He could understand everyone very well, but no one could understand him.” At this point where, “He could understand everyone very well, but no one could understand him”, I am struck with a sense of what it’s like to be highly differentiated and more alone as a result. Although he is more empowered and free, he is free in his aloneness. With, “They noticed that he no longer had judgment about anything or anyone”,  I am reminded of the words of Anthony DeMello, that whatever we judge we cannot be aware of, we cannot understand. And if we cannot be understanding-an aspect of love-we cannot love. This nagual had entered the Kingdom of Love.

The introduction:

Chapter one is all about Family of Origin and Culture of Origin and what don Miguel Ruiz calls the domestication of humans. The book is based upon two major premises.  The first is that we are each of us enculturated in childhood with a view of life that is at once efficient in that it accelerates us into a convenient and very workable way of (modern) life and, at the same time, it is a view of life that limits us from any further discovery and understanding of life.  The world view that we have sooner or later agreed to is the dream of the planet.  Characteristic of the dream of the planet is dependence, or addiction, to the attention and/or approval of others; basing our personal self-worth on the acceptance of others; and fear-based rules of interaction that result in such things as victimization and blaming. We are overwhelmed as infants and children by the prevailing dream of the planet, and our domestication to it, but as Ruiz states, “all our normal tendencies are lost in the process of domestication.” And this domestication results in a mental/spiritual fog known as “mitote”-known in India as maya–that inhibits our perception of truth, of reality.

The second and final major premise is that we “have to find the courage to break those agreements (our domestication to the world dream) that are fear-based and claim (our) personal power.”  The Four Agreements are bold, new agreements we can make to break away from our domestication to become freed into personal and perhaps social empowerment.

The Agreements:

 1. Be Impeccable with Your Word. This agreement is not, to my relief, about legalistically holding to your word once you’ve spoken it. To the contrary, in order to “be impeccable with your word” you may need to change course as you become more aware of yourself, others, and life in general. Being impeccable with your word is actually about creating, magically, with your word “beauty, love, and heaven on earth.” It is about avoiding “sin”,  which is “anything you do which goes against yourself.” When you love yourself, and consequently life and others around you, you will not speak “black magic” which is reactive, negative, and often derogatory.  As in the Buddhist concept of pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional, using “white magic” is about “breaking all those tiny agreements that make you suffer. It follows then, that when suffering and it’s attendant reactivity is eliminated, your word, as well as your other actions, will be life enhancing.

Agreement Two:

Don’t Take Anything Personally. Don Miguel states that, Taking things personally is about self-importance, “the maximum expression of selfishness,” where we, “assume everything is about me.”  This is a great chapter introducing and building self-differentiation. He states (perhaps radically), “Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”  While such a statement taken to an extreme could dismiss the systemic nature of human behavior, Ruiz seems to boldly “tear us” from the undifferentiated ego mass and set us to where we can see ourselves interdependent, both influenced and influencing.

His statement, “If you do not take it personally, you are immune in the middle of hell” is very reminiscent of Bowen, who showed us that it is having an immune system that distinguishes self from other; it is an “immune system that not only wards off enemies, but also allows us to touch, that is to love.” And the “immun(ity) in the middle of hell” vividly describes how a personal stance in the face of the sometimes great pressure of others can be.  He writes, “Either way, it does not affect me because I know what I am.  I don’t have the need to be accepted.”  He also shows the working of self differentiation in that, “it is not what I am saying that is hurting you; it is that you have wounds that I touch by what I have said. You are hurting yourself.”

Finally, he shows that being freed of undifferentiation and reactivity, “you are loving everything that is around you, because you are loving yourself.”  This path, he says, leads to love and joy.

In the midst of the Second Agreement Ruiz says something interesting that reminds me of VoiceDialogue-a psychodynamic viewpoint (what little I know of it). He writes, “The programming of the mind-all of those agreements we have made-are not necessarily compatible with each other. Every agreement is like a separate living being; it has its own personality and its own voice. There are conflicting agreements that go against other agreements and on and on until it becomes a big war in the mind.   A these little living beings create inner conflict because they are alive and they each have a voice.  Only by making an inventory of our agreements will we uncover all of the conflicts in the mind and eventually make order out of the chaos”

The Third Agreement:

Don’t Make Assumptions.

This chapter is all about how we are so desperate to “know”, or be certain, that we make up stories, we trust our interpretations to be the Truth. When don Miguel says, “we make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions,” I conclude that we generally lack the courage to “not know”, to remain child-like. He seems to point toward the “beginner’s mind”, and clearly shows the virtue in “asking questions”, remaining curious and willing to lean in.

The Fourth Agreement:

Always Do Your Best is about integrity and here Ruiz makes an interesting statement, “doing your best, you are going to live you life intensely.”  Once again the author broke my assumption. Whereas I’d  thought his reference to “doing your best” was about work and effort and doing, over being, he shows us here in his reference to “intensity”, as well as the context he further builds, that he is speaking of passion.

In my opinion Ruiz, in the Fourth Agreement, shows us the way of passion-living for the intrinsic value, the sheer enjoyment of it. And how one must be free of attachments in order to pull this off.  He says, “whatever life takes away from you, let it go. When you surrender and let go of the past, you allow yourself to be fully alive in the moment.”

The remaining chapters discuss ways of this path, the breaking of old agreements, and taking on the new agreements that replace them. Ruiz points out obstacles and rewards.  He speaks of “Mastery of Awareness”, “Mastery of Transformation”, and “Mastery of Intent.”  

Obviously, I highly recommend it for its insight and I give it high marks for its cultural perspective as well. I hope anyone who’s read this has gotten something for the journey and I hope I’ve done Ruiz justice in describing his work.

Kurt Treftz, MA ABS  Fall `99