A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
The Four Agreements is a practical guide to personal freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz, who became an apprentice under a shaman. He has expert knowledge of the ancient Toltecs, an indigenous Mexican culture of noble warriors and artists that lived around 1,000 years ago. The book is based on Toltecs’ attitude to freedom from self-limiting beliefs that may cause suffering in a person’s life.
The Four Agreements is a highly influential book. It was first published in 1997 and has been an ever-popular book since Oprah Winfrey endorsed it in 2001 and 2013. The book has been translated into 46 languages, sold over 8 million copies in the US, and spent over a decade on the New York Times bestseller list.
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About Don Miguel Ruiz
Don Miguel Ruiz is a Mexican author whose work is inspired by Toltec spiritualist and neoshamanistic texts. He was born into a family of healers and raised in rural Mexico by a curandera (healer) mother and a nagual (shaman) grandfather. His family assumed he would take on their centuries-old legacy of healing and teaching, and carry forward the Toltec knowledge. Instead, distracted by modern life, Ruiz attended medical school and became a surgeon.
A near-death experience changed his life. Stunned by this experience, he began an intensive practice of self-inquiry. He devoted himself to the mastery of ancient ancestral wisdom. He studied earnestly with his mother and completed an apprenticeship with a powerful shaman in the Mexican desert. In 2018, he was listed as one of Watkins’ 100 most spiritually influential living people.
StoryShot #1: The Outside World Negatively Domesticates You
The outside world has a significant impact on how we live our lives. Ruiz calls this “domestication.”
Domestication is not generally positive, pushing us toward being fearful and judgmental. As we are punished for bad actions and rewarded for obeying the outside world, we get obsessed with rewards. This is not good for us as it teaches us to pursue good actions to receive rewards. We should pursue good actions for the action itself. The punishment of not obeying leaves us feeling like we are not good enough.
Based on this, Ruiz believes our biggest fear in life is not death, but being who we truly are. To be genuinely happy, we must break free of our shackles.
StoryShot #2: You Are Shackled from a Young Age
These shackles develop from a young age. We are born into social norms that dictate the dreams we can have in life. The collective dream of the planet influences our individual dreams. Our parents, schools, religion, and politicians teach us this collective dream.
Through this education, we learn:
- How to behave ‘properly’
- What we should believe
- The difference between good and bad
Our acceptance of these societal agreements is our domestication. If we tried to rebel during childhood or adolescence, we were punished and suppressed by more powerful parents and teachers. Just like an animal, we were also rewarded when we obeyed these more powerful individuals. Subsequently, we all surrendered and followed the collective dream, not our individual dreams. But as we grow older, we no longer need a more powerful person to domesticate and control us.
These ideas from our upbringing are so in-built that we domesticate ourselves as adults. We can break free from this structure and establish new agreements for ourselves. These are the four agreements.
StoryShot #3: You Are Living in a Dream
Societal conditioning and cultural expectations shape much of human behavior. Ruiz calls this “domestication.” Domestication leads to us all living in a dream. We base our decisions on irrational and incorrect assumptions about ourselves. We grow up judging and blaming ourselves and others. We aspire to gain rewards from a system we didn’t choose.
This conditioning shapes our understanding of ourselves and the world. It leads us to live our lives by a set of internalized rules we have learned from our culture, family, and society, rather than our own true nature.
Dreams make us struggle with:
- Our personal reality
- The way we see ourselves
- The expectations we have for ourselves
- The judgments we have about ourselves and others
By recognizing that we are living in a dream, we can:
- Question the beliefs that shape our behavior
- Change our perception of reality
- Let go of limiting beliefs and judgments
- Start to live our lives in a more authentic way
By recognizing the ways we’re conditioned, we can live in a more fulfilling way, free from the expectations of society and our inner voice.
StoryShot #4: You Can Wake Up from Dreams
It is possible to wake up from the dream we’re living in. It is possible to re-engineer your reality without endlessly striving to be better. It is possible to live without suffering. To achieve this, you will need to master three skills in order:
- Awareness – You must be aware that you are living in a dream-like state full of illusions; you must see these illusions for what they are.
- Forgiveness – You must accept the consequences of these illusions—how the illusions impact you and those around you.
- Action – You need to dissolve this dream and shape it into something more reflective of reality.
If you master all three skills, you will have reached enlightenment. This is a state of no suffering and can also be described as the second awakening.
StoryShot #5: Accept Both Death and Life
We must accept death, and the concept of death will teach us how to live our lives.
Accepting death allows us to understand that life doesn’t last forever and we should make the most of the time we have. By recognizing the fleeting nature of life, we can let go of our fears and attachments and start to live our lives the way we truly want to.
We can also let go of the expectations of others and live life true to our own values and beliefs. Instead of worrying about what others might think, we can focus on living our lives.
Listening to the angels of death allows us to live in the present as much as possible. We can enjoy life without being attached to the concept of life. When we live in the present, we don’t waste time worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Instead, we can focus on enjoying and making the most of the time we have.
StoryShot #6: Awareness Is the Starting Line for Your Journey
Ruiz wants us to know that our life is like a dream, and death is essential for living our lives. That said, awareness is required to recognize that our life is like a dream, and we will one day die.
Your awareness can fade, though, as you go about your life. One moment, you are no longer in the dream-like state. Next, you are no longer aware of how you live. As well as developing awareness, we must also learn how to maintain awareness. Train your awareness like a muscle. Doing this is the only way to true, consistent enlightenment.
Two ways to elevate and maintain your awareness are meditation and fasting. The Buddha laid a clear path of meditation, fasting, and mindfulness. Ruiz believes we should follow in his footsteps. He also suggests a plant-based diet is important. Plants have altered the experiences of all humans throughout history. Indigenous American shaman traditions guide this suggestion.
StoryShot #7: If You Develop Awareness, You Will Develop Forgiveness
The forgiveness Ruiz links with awareness relates to forgiving our past and ongoing failures caused by our beliefs. It is also forgiveness for causing ourselves and those around us to suffer because of our illusions. Finally, it is forgiveness for the suffering others produce through their dreams.
Universal love is based on acceptance by all. If you accept the world and the surrounding people, you will feel a huge weight lift off your shoulders. This greater acceptance does not mean you will always live up to your expectations. You will fail, and so will others. But accepting these mistakes and the fact that you are human will help you maintain awareness.
We rate this deceptively-short and simple but powerful book by Don Miguel Ruiz 4.6/5.
How would you rate The Four Agreements?
The Four Agreements Infographic
This article was first published in early 2021. It was updated and carefully revised on 14/1/23.
The content is an unofficial summary and analysis.
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