It was during a time when I felt myself going in circles around the things I wanted, the things I was doing, and the path I wanted to create for myself moving forward. In other words, my thoughts were not matching my actions, and my frustrations didn’t help me get any closer. Usually, someone’s frustration is translated into action in an attempt to get out of the situation that is causing the frustration in the first place. But in my case, it was paralyzing me. Work wasn’t going where I imagined it would be by this time in my life and my career. Having a graduate education isn’t always enough to get you where you desire to be. I know this now, and I truly am in awe of the people who do reach their goals because it takes courage, dedication, and sweat. And my social relationships were flourishing slowly, but I still struggled (still do) to ground myself in my feelings and stick to my merit. My boundaries weren’t solidified enough to give that “she means business” vibe or simply not a force to be reckoned with. Safe and peaceful vibes here. It’s all peace.
Regardless, I find myself still shying or dimming my light, questioning my confidence, and owning my own when faced with any challenging force.
- I don’t want confrontation – I’m not a fighter at all.
- I tend to sometimes have a bitchy tone when trying to prove a point or speak confidently – I haven’t yet learned how to manage such confrontations that when I do try, I let my fear take over and the result is a bitchy one, which is rarely welcomed with open arms, hence confrontation.
- Even though in moments I am 100% confident in my knowledge, my voice doesn’t always get the memo and I let others’ confidence override my own. And to not stir the conversation to an unpleasant confrontation, I just let them “win”. Sometimes it’s not worth the stress, and other times I simply chicken out.
So with that said, and if you’ve already read this book, you can imagine how it speaks to the empowerment of just being you, not letting other people, things, and vibes stain your own and such.
If you haven’t already read this book, you will find properties and reminders that kind of slap you back into your soul. Or ground your feet on the floor you walk on. If you are being swept away or pulled by what others do or by things you can’t control, this is the book for you. It’ll transcend you to where you need to be and redirect your energy and mindset to where it works for you, not against you. Where it should be.
And alas, The Four Agreements.
The Four Agreements is a small enough book you can get through in a week of causal reading. But don’t let the size fool you. I think the beauty of this type of writing is that you don’t need a lot of words to get a strong message across. And this book does that quite well. I read this book once, bought it myself, and went back to highlight all the notes I felt were important. I’m happy to share those notes and highlights with you here.
I will say that I don’t agree with everything in this book. It may be the cultural barrier or the translation that causes some of the examples used in the book to sound a bit off, harsh, or completely unrealistic. I found myself silently laughing at some of the examples the author uses to get his point across. However, despite the off-ness of these examples, they are successful in getting the point across. They are simple, almost unrealistically simple, but I came to find that this is the whole point. It’s simple and there is beauty in that. Remembering that life is simple kind of slaps us or me out of this complicated mindset that tangles everything in my mind and nearly paralyzes me from the dizziness that I create for myself. Being confident or strong enough to just do you in all your awareness and simplicity is as important as is difficult. Probably why mediation is so hard to master. It’s all in the flick of the wrist. Just kidding, it’s in the letting go of what isn’t important where true living is lived. Well, in my opinion.
Let’s unpack, shall we?
Here is a list of quotes that helped guide me through the process of The Four Agreements and made an impact. So much so that I had to highlight them with the most reachable highlighter at the time, orange.
Introduction: The Smokey Mirror
The author, Miguel Ruiz, uses the introduction to shine a light on the effect that we all fall and live under. The smokey mirror effect. The smokey mirror effect is essentially a dream we are illusioned by in the span of our life. It impacts the way we view, think, and live in the world. It determines the relationship we have with ourselves and others, but it isn’t fully real. It’s all an illusion, just like looking at yourself in a smokey mirror. It’s not clear and it’s not 100% real.
“The Dream is just like smoke which doesn’t allow us to see what we really are. ‘The real us is pure love, pure light.’” (xvii)
This section goes further into describing our relationship to the world around us via the understanding of a student in the mountain on his personal journey to becoming a medicine man.
“He saw himself in everything — in every human, in every animal, in every tree, in the water, in the rain, in the clouds, in the earth.”(xvii)
“And he realized that everyone was dreaming, but without awareness, without knowing what they really are. They couldn’t see him as themselves because there was a wall of fog or smoke between the mirrors. And that wall of fog was made by the interpretation of images of light — the Dream of humans.” (xix)
Domestication and the Dream of the Planet
I almost skipped this chapter completely. Well not almost, I did skip this chapter out of the eagerness of getting to the agreements this whole book is written for. But looking back through these pages, I realized this chapter was the most highlighted one. It sets the tone for us to understand what is to come. In order to be willing to absorb and apply the following teachings, we must be aware of the water in which we swim in, aware of our surroundings and our role in and through it.
The first sentence in this chapter is “WHAT YOU ARE SEEING AND HEARING RIGHT NOW IS nothing but a dream.” (1)
The dream here is kind of painted like a continuous dream, it doesn’t end or begin as we know it or can understand it. Because the dream is society. We are all in it, born into, indoctrinated into its systems of simply doing life which includes thinking, mannerisms, cultures, beliefs, and every single little thing else in between.
Ruiz simplifies this concept as, “The dream of the planet is the collective dream of billions of smaller, personal dreams, which together create a dream of a family, a dream of a community, a dream of a city, a dream of a country, and finally a dream of the whole humanity.” (2)
He then continues explaining that within this societal dream there are a collection of rules to live by, governments, cultures, and just other governing properties that make up humanity as we know it. As we accept it. Remember, it’s all an acceptance. An indoctrination of sorts.
So in other direct words, “We are born with the capacity to learn how to dream, and the humans who live before us teach us how to dream the way society dreams.” (2)
Believing in the way of life is then called faith – which is to believe unconditionally. Since we, as children, believe everything adults say it naturally controls our whole “dream of life” (5)
And this is where agreement comes into play. We agree, regardless of how much or how hard we have rebelled, we inevitably lose and agree with this societal dream.
I don’t want to dive too deep into this chapter because I do think it’s valuable to read it yourselves and 1. I don’t want to write everything about it because it’s a little rich in information and 2. I don’t want to spoil this process for you. A little bit of laziness, a little bit of looking out for you. You’re welcome.
He goes on to talk about how the Book of Law plays the role of our “belief system” and this system controls everything from our judgment of ourselves and others to victimizing ourselves which lends way to so many other things.
But, “Even if the Book of Law is wrong, it makes you feel safe.” (11)
“That is why we need a great deal of courage to challenge our own beliefs.” (11)
“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.” (11)
He talks about something that really resonated with me. It was about paying the price for our mistakes.
“True justice is paying only once for each mistake. True injustice is paying more than once for each mistake.” (12)
“The human is the only animal on earth that pays a thousand themes for the same mistake.” (12)
“We make a mistake, we judge ourselves, we find ourselves guilty, and we punish ourselves.” (12)
“If you consider hell as a state of mind, then hell is all around us.” (14)
How many times do we put blame on others or ourselves for mistakes we’ve made? Sometimes I can’t forget it and that anger or resentment festers and I take it out on whoever did the mistake more than once. Continuing to blame and remind X person of the damage they’ve caused through their mistake. I know I’m guilty of this. Not intentionally, but subconsciously I know I’ve replayed moments in my mind and either punished myself by making me go down that rollercoaster ride of guilt all over again after correcting the mistake in my own life and way of living. It just isn’t fair, yet we do this all the time. Our government does this, our cultures or religions don’t let us forget it. Our partners remind us of our misdoings time and time even after asking for forgiveness and meaning it, never having done it again.
I can be years without doing a mistake and I could still be paying for it. Part of it is because people are still hurt. Part of it is because it gives us the power to hold something over someone else’s head. But this, this is true misery. This book really slapped me in the face with this teaching and we’re not even at the first agreement yet. We’re only on page 12 of 138.
Have I mentioned this is a small yet really deep book?
“Our personal dream can also become an ongoing nightmare where we suffer and live in a state of fear.” (15)
“We keep searching and searching when everything is already within us. There is no truth to find. Wherever we turn our heads, all we see is the truth, but with the agreements and beliefs we have stored in our mind, we have no eyes for this truth.” (15)
“We trust what we believe, and our beliefs set us up for suffering. It is as if we live in the middle of a fog that doesn’t let us see any further than our own nose.” (16)
“This fog is a dream, your personal dream of life — what you believe, all the concepts you have about what you are, all the agreements you have made with others, with yourself, and even with God.” (16)
Because of this fog that distorts our view of reality to something that isn’t necessarily real but rather made up in our mind and reinforced by society, it makes the idea of living, truly being alive and free the biggest fear we could face because it would mean going against everything we know and everyone we love (who is also in the dream) to look at who we really are (a clean mirror) and living as we are and not what we are conditioned to be.
“Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive — the risk to be alive and express what we really are.” (17)
“During the process of domestication, we form an image of what perfection is in order to try to be good enough.” (17)
When speaking about perfection and the constant internal battle to become this idea of perfect, the author strongly makes the point that…
“We create this image, but this image is not real. We are never going to be perfect from this point of view. Never!” (17)
The idea or image of perfection here is described as being good enough to please everyone around us, especially those we love and who love us. Which we know is inherently impossible in this world. And through this idea of being “perfect,” we limit our own creativity, and our own flexibility to explore our inner depths of us. It’s like an eternal emotional game we create with ourselves that keeps us in constant limbo. And evidently, by “Not being perfect, we reject ourselves.” (18)
“After domestication, it is no longer about being good enough for anybody else. We are not good enough for ourselves because we don’t fit with our own image of perfection.” (18).
“The limit of your self-abuse is exactly the limit that you will tolerate from someone else.” (20)
The First Agreement: Be Impeccable With Your Word
“Your word is the power that you have to create.” (26)
“But like a sword with two edges, your word can create the most beautiful dream, or your word can destroy everything around you.” (26)
Giving examples of powerful leaders who have moved people and created wars through their words, the author further describes the power we each hone with that our words and our language. So, being impeccable with our word reiterates that we must be honest, and true to ourselves with our words. We must take responsibility for our words and actions, but not place shame or judge ourselves because we have remained impeccable with our word. We believed what we said.
“The human mind is like a fertile ground where seeds are continually being planted. The seeds are opinions, ideas, and concepts.” (28)
He continues to describe that upon our growing up in this world, we are domesticated through the thoughts and words of our parents, our cultures, and so forth. We then agree with these words and opinions, whether it’s something about us like “you suck” or something around us like “Christianity is the best”. When we agree with these words, we adopt them as part of our being, hence contributing to the illusion of the smokey mirror.
“Use your energy in the direction of truth and love for yourself.” (32)
The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally
This one is a great one because as a typical human being with feelings, aspirations, and hopes, and of course the belief that I should be pleasing everyone around me and therefore everyone must have a positive opinion of me, this agreement can go a long way in either direction depending on how I choose to adopt it. Do I take nothing others say about me seriously, or do I take it so seriously that it infiltrates into everything else in my world? It’s a silver lining in my opinion but it doesn’t always have to be. And I hope to get better at identifying those moments.
“Nothing other people do is because of you.” (48)
“Taking things personally makes you easy prey for these predators.” (49)
Although someone may wish to send you poison by saying something hurtful to you, it doesn’t hold power unless you accept it. In other words, If you take the poison others give you it becomes yours, making you easy prey.
We don’t want to eat up or consume someone else’s emotional garbage, because then it becomes our garbage.
“Immunity to poison in the middle of hell [the dream] is the gift of this agreement.” (50)
I’m going to completely copy down this entire next paragraph because it sums this agreement up very nicely.
“When you take things personally, then you feel offended, and your reaction is to defend your beliefs and create conflicts. You make something big out of something so little because you have the need to be right and make everybody else wrong. You also try hard to be right by giving them your own opinions. In the same way, whatever you feel and do is just a projection of your own personal dream, a reflection of your own agreements. What you say, what you do, and the opinions you have are according to the agreements you have made — and these opinions have nothing to do with me.” (50)
The author goes on and breaks down this idea into digestible examples, a lot of those examples I won’t talk about here but do know that they are extremely helpful in understanding the complexity and the simplicity of each agreement through tangible and realistic examples, some examples are minuscule and others are grand. Regardless, I’m sure you will find a few examples used throughout the book that you personally relate to.
“When we really see other people as they are without taking it personally, we can never be hurt by what they say or do. Even if others lie to you, it is okay. They are lying because they are afraid. They are afraid you will discover that they are not perfect. It is painful to take the social mask off. If others say one thing, but do another, you are lying to yourself if you don’t listen to their actions.” (57-58)
“Taking nothing personally helps you to break many habits and routines that trap you in the dream of hell and cause needless suffering.” (59)
“You will only need to trust yourself to make responsible choices.” (60)
The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions
“…whenever we make assumptions, we’re asking for problems.” (64)
Badabing-Badaboom, welcome to the third agreement.
If you thought that the previous quote was good, check this one out.
“All the sadness and drama you have lived in your life was rooted in making assumptions and taking things personally.” (64)
Don’t make assumptions, “It is always better to ask questions than to make an assumption.” (65)
“These assumptions are made so fast and unconsciously most of the time because we have agreements to communicate this way. We have agreed that it is not safe to ask questions; we have agreed that if people love us, they should know what we want or how we feel. When we believe something, we assume we are right about it to the point that we will destroy relationships in order to defend our position.
We make assumptions that everyone sees life the way we do. We assume that others think the way we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge, and abuse the way we abuse.” (68-69)
“We also make assumptions about ourselves and this creates inner conflict.” (69)
“The way to keep yourself from making assumptions is to ask questions. Make sure the communication is clear. If you don’t understand, ask” (72)
“All human problems would be resolved if we could just have good, clear communication.” (73)
I don’t know how applicable these are to bigger problems like world war or poverty, but I feel that for the individual at an individual level, these teachings are remarkably transformative.
The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best
If you’ve made it this far, pat yourself on the back because this is a long blog post. And if you’ve read this far and don’t even like reading, I’ll go ahead and pat myself on the back for the compliment. Gracias.
Okay, the final agreement is – always do your best.
“But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next.” (75-76)
I love this. Our best doesn’t always look the same for everything. Today my best may be checking off everything on my to-do list and tomorrow it may be checking off only one thing. Every day is different. Energies, and illness, are a part of life processes and need to be considered. Maybe today my best is writing one or two sentences, but at least I did my best. Right? Who’s with me!?
“If you try too hard to do more than your best, you will spend more energy than is needed, and in the end, your best will not be enough.” (76)
“It doesn’t matter if you are sick or tired, if you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself.” (77)
“When you do your best you learn to accept yourself.” (81)
“You do your best because doing your best all the time makes you so happy.” (81)
“When you practice giving love to every part of your body, you plant seeds of love in your mind, and when they grow, you will love, honor, and respect your body immensely.” (87)
Basically, you can’t do any of the other three agreements without doing your best. Be impeccable with your words, be true to yourself, don’t make assumptions and ask questions and be the best version of yourself. When you do your best you are inherently happy. Because who isn’t happy when they know they are doing the best they can with what they’ve got?
Okay, it’s better explained in the book but you get the gist. Always do and be the best version of yourself. People see that. And you will feel YOU.
The Toltec Path to Freedom: Breaking Old Agreements
What is freedom? Are we free in the “free” world? If you’ve looked at your banking statement or arrived late to work and got scolded or any of the realities we face that literally remind us daily of our “unfreedoms” then you should straight away realize that we are NOT free. Not in this society. Although I strive to be, I know I’m not…right now.
The author uses the analogy of a two-year-old child to describe some qualities of freedom.
“They are exploring the world. They are not afraid to play. They are afraid when they are hurt when they are hungry when some of their needs are not met, but they don’t worry about the past, don’t care about the future, and only live in the present moment.” (95)
Damn, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t do any of those things. Literally, I can not. All the thinking this brain does… it doesn’t get a break.
“Our normal human tendency is to enjoy life, to play, to explore, to be happy, and to love.” (95)
But as adults, we are conditioned to live under the Book of Law. The author goes on to argue that as adults, “We are no longer free because the Judge, the Victim, and the belief system don’t allow us to be who we really are.”(96) and this “garbage” manipulates us into being unhappy because happiness, under the “Book of Law”, is impossible. In other words, the rules are unattainable and therefore we will never be happy while living under this rule/mindset/societal norm.
And I believe there is immense truth to that. I can’t remember the last time I just lived in the world without thinking of others’ perceptions of me. How would this look or be perceived, what if I’m overstepping boundaries, etc., etc., etc? It’s exhausting and never-ending but I succumb to it constantly with no remorse. And now that I think of it because I’m constantly judging myself based on these invisible rules I must somehow be 100% knowledgeable about but no one ever teaches you about them, I tend to live life based on these unknown ideas of what ifs, that person might not like it, blah blah blah while simultaneously putting my own freedoms and my own will aside. I don’t live based off of my beliefs or what feels true to me, I live based on how I think I will be judged by others and those around me. Loved ones and not. It’s a damn trap and I’ve been willingly walking into it every morning of every day.
This is making a lot of sense. You see the greatness that comes from 1. Reading and 2. Unpacking and processing what you’ve read.
The first verdict, I want to become a Toltec. A self-prescribed one, anyway.
“To be Toltec is a way of life. It is a way of life where there are no leaders and no followers, where you have your own truth and live your own truth. A Toltec becomes wise, becomes wild, and becomes free again.” (100)
But it’s not that simple apparently, as most good things never are. The author Miguel Ruiz describes that there are three masteries one must achieve in order to become a Toltec.
Mastery 1. Mastery of Awareness: awareness of who we are
Mastery 2. Mastery of Transformation: transforming into a free being and adopting all the changes this requires in your way of life
Mastery 3. Mastery of Intent: this makes it all possible. It’s the energy behind the transformation.
“Intent is life itself; it is unconditional life. The Mastery of Intent is, therefore, the Mastery of Love.” (100)
He goes on to talk about the parasite which is an analogy for the Victim and the Judge and all these restrictions created by man that fog up our dream of reality. It’s as if these ideas are a parasite, distort our dream of reality and live it out through us while feeding on suffering and drama and all this noise that is essentially unnecessary. If we master living through the Four Agreements we evidently kill the parasite and this fog that distorts our mirror/reality. Remember the smokey mirror concept from earlier?
I won’t go over the “how” to destroy the parasite because it’s quite long. But basically, by taking inventory of your beliefs, and choosing to change your agreements you are using your awareness and self-prescribed power that comes with being an adult; choosing for yourself; to transform your beliefs, the system in which you operate, and the happiness you are allowing yourself to experience through your lens of life. One way of doing this is adopting an alternative form of agreement such as these four agreements the author suggests.
I’ll leave this with a few quotes from the final pages of the book that helped me get started in this process. This very long personal journey.
“Every day we wake with a certain amount of mental, emotional, and physical energy that we spend throughout the day. If we allow our emotions to deplete our energy, we have no energy to change our lives or to give to others.” (111)
“We must forgive those we feel have wronged us, not because they deserve to be forgiven, but because we love ourselves so much we don’t want to keep paying for the injustice. Forgiveness is the only way to heal.” (114)
“The problem with most people is that they lose control of their emotions. It is the emotions that control the behavior of the human, not the human who controls the emotions. When we lose control we say things that we don’t want to say, and do things that we don’t want to do. That is why it is so important to be impeccable with our word and to become a spiritual warrior.” (116)
Embracing the Angel of Death
“The angel of death can teach us to live every day as if it is the last day of our lives, as if there may be no tomorrow.” (119)
“If we surrender to the angel of death we will be happy forever and ever. Why? Because the angel of death takes the past away in order to make it possible for life to continue. For every moment that is past, the angel of death keeps taking the part that is dead and we keep living in the present.” (121-122)
“Maybe we cannot escape from the destiny of the human, but we have a choice: to suffer our destiny or to enjoy our destiny.” (129)