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The Four Agreements is a practical guide to personal freedom written by Don Miguel Ruiz. Don Miguel became an apprentice under a shaman and has extensive knowledge of ancient Toltecs. The Toltecs were an indigenous Mexican culture of great warriors and artists that lived around 1000 years ago. The book is based on the Toltec belief of 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 it has been an ever-popular book since Oprah Winfrey endorsed the book in 2001 and did so again in 2013. The book has since been translated into 46 languages, sold over 8.2 million copies in the US, and spent over a decade on the New York Times bestseller list. 

About Don Miguel Ruiz

Don Miguel Ruiz is a Mexican author whose work is inspired by Toltec spiritualist and neoshamanistic texts. He uses ancient teachings to strive for spiritual enlightenment. In 2018, he was listed as one of Warkins’ 100 most spiritually influential living people. 

The Outside World Domesticates You In a Negative Way

“Our biggest fear is not dying, it’s being ourselves.”

– Don Miguel Ruiz

In this book, Don Miguel points out that the outside world has a significant impact on how we live our lives. Don Miguel calls this domestication. Domestication is generally not very positive. Instead, it pushes us towards being fearful and judgemental. As we are punished for bad actions and rewarded when we obey 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 be pursuing good actions for the action itself. The punishment of not obeying leaves us feeling like we are not good enough. Based on this, Don Miguel believes that our biggest fear in life is not death. Instead, our biggest fear is being who we truly are. So, to be genuinely happy, we have to break away from our shackles.

These shackles are developed 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. This collective dream is taught to us by our parents, schools, religions, and politicians. Through this education, we learn how to behave ‘properly,’ what we should believe, and the difference between good and bad. Our acceptance of these societal agreements should be known as 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 decided to follow the collective dream rather than our individual dreams. However, as we grow older, we no longer need a more powerful person there to domesticate and control us. These ideas are so in-built that we domesticate ourselves. Don Miguel suggests that we can break free from this structure and establish new agreements for ourselves. These are the four agreements.

You Are Living In a Dream

“Ninety-five percent of the beliefs we have stored in our minds are nothing but lies, and we suffer because we believe all the lies.”

– Don Miguel Ruiz

Don Miguel believes that 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 also aspire to gain rewards based on a system we didn’t even choose. 

But It Is a Dream You Can Wake Up From

Importantly, it is possible to wake up from this dream. It is possible to re-engineer your reality without the endless striving to be better. It is possible to live without suffering. To do this, you will need to master three skills:

  1. Awareness – You must be aware that you are living in a dream-like state full of illusions; see these illusions for what they are
  2. Forgiveness – You then must accept the consequences of these illusions; how the illusions impact on you and those around you
  3. Action – You now need to dissolve this dream and shape it into something more reality-like

If you manage to master all three of these skills, you are said to have reached enlightenment. This is a time with no suffering and can also be described as the second awakening. 

Accepting Death Is as Important as Accepting Life

We must accept death, and the concept of death will teach us how to live our lives. Death, when honestly thought about, allows us to accept that life doesn’t last forever. When we accept this, we begin to care less about what others might think and start to live our life the way we want. 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.  

Awareness Is the Starting Line For Your Journey

Don Miguel wants us to be aware that our life is like a dream. He also wants us to accept that death is essential for living our lives. However, awareness is required for us to recognize 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 are living. As well as developing awareness in the first place, 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. Buddha laid a clear path of meditation, fasting, and mindfulness. Don Miguel states we should follow in his footsteps. Don Miguel also suggests that a plant-based tradition is hugely important. Plants have altered the experiences of all humans. Indigenous American shaman traditions guide this suggestion. 

If You Develop Awareness, You Will Develop Forgiveness

The forgiveness that Don Miguel associates with awareness relates to forgiving our past and ongoing failures against agreements we still hold. It is also forgiveness for causing ourselves and those around us to suffer based on our accepted illusions. Plus, forgiveness for the suffering others produce because of their dreams.

Don Miguel believes that universal love is based on acceptance by all. If you are willing to accept the world and people around you, you will feel a huge weight lifted off your shoulders. 

This greater acceptance does not mean you will always live up to your expectations. You will fail, and so will others. However, accepting these mistakes and accepting that we are merely human will help you maintain awareness.

Once You Can Forgive, You Can Take Action

In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel points out that forgiveness unlocks the space, energy, and strength needed to reshape your reality. Forgiveness encourages three actions:

  1. Preventing new, unwanted agreements from taking root
  2. Eliminating old, damaging agreements already in place
  3. Programming new agreements that slowly eliminate suffering

We Are All Living In Our Own Dream

As well as accepting our dream-like living, we must also be understanding of others. Don Miguel reminds us that we are not responsible for others; we are only responsible for ourselves. If we accept we are no longer responsible for others, we will no longer be hurt by others’ actions. We take actions against us less personally when we know that others are only behaving based on their own dream-like living. Don Miguel describes this as being immune to other people’s emotional poison. If you avoid this emotional poison, you can move through the world with ease. 

Not taking things personally also opens up the possibility for us to start trusting our hearts more to guide our lives. You will be less controlled by the opinions and actions of others. Your objective reality will guide you.

Based on all these ideas, Don Miguel introduced four clear takeaway messages that should be implemented. 

Be Impeccable With Your Word

“The big difference between a warrior and a victim is that the victim represses and the warrior refrains.”

– Don Miguel Ruiz

Don Miguel believes that this first agreement is the most important, but is often the most difficult one to adhere to. He points out that the word impeccable has its root in the Latin word for sin and a Latin prefix for without. Don Miguel explains that sin is anything that goes against who you are. Therefore, being impeccable with your word involves taking responsibility for your actions and remaining non-judgemental. Non-judgemental towards others and yourself. Don Miguel describes words as more powerful than we realize. They are the building blocks of labels, concepts, and beliefs. Therefore, we must be cautious before using words as we could potentially create new, harmful illusions. The easiest way to do this is to get into the habit of only saying what you mean and meaning only what you say. If in doubt, say nothing. 

Don’t Take Anything Personally

“Comments are a reflection of the commentator’s reality, not yours.”

– Don Miguel Ruiz

As already spoken about, not taking things personally allows you to avoid harm from hurtful treatment. It prevents you from taking others’ words upon yourself. Having a strong sense of self means you don’t have to rely on others’ opinions to feel content or satisfied. We must become less reactive and more detached from other people’s actions. We must acknowledge that we would do the same if we were in that person’s reality. Don Miguel believes that if we stop taking things personally, anger, jealousy, envy, and sadness can disappear. 

Don Miguel also explains that taking things personally can lead to personal importance. Personal importance is a state where we believe everything is about us, leading to us taking more things personally. In the end, you are left with a cycle of worrying about what other people think. Don Miguel reminds readers that absolutely nothing people say or do to you is about you. Instead, all of their actions are actually about them. Often insults are tied to personal issues or beliefs that an individual is having. Hence, Don Miguel suggests that we don’t seek out information from others, as their views are never actually relevant. Instead, focus on accepting and improving yourself. 

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.”

– Don Miguel Ruiz

In Don Miguel’s eyes, making assumptions leads to suffering. Assumptions often have very little basis in reality and are only real in our imaginations. Thinking about others’ thoughts has the potential to produce stress or conflicts. Often people will see their assumption as the truth, which is why assumptions often lead to negative consequences. To overcome this expectation, Don Miguel recommends asking questions and maintaining clear communication with others. This transparent communication prevents assumptions from taking hold. Don Miguel states that keeping to this agreement will help you avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. The simplest way to include this agreement in your life is to consider this: when someone or something surprises you, the failing isn’t theirs, it’s yours.

Out-of-control assumptions can often harm our relationships. For example, people often assume that their partners know what they’re thinking. Subsequently, people believe their partners will do what they want. When this isn’t the case, they are often disappointed or angry with their partner. Again, Don Miguel suggests that we ask more questions to succeed. 

Always Do Your Best

“Enjoy the path and the destination will take care of itself.”

– Don Miguel Ruiz

Doing your best does not mean doing the best that is physically possible. It means doing the best that you can individually manage, which can vary by situation and your current circumstances. One way to do your best is to adopt the previous three agreements into your daily life. If you do this, you can avoid feelings of regret and accept that people do their best at every moment. You will come to enjoy the action itself, rather than just enjoying the rewards associated with actions. Similarly, Don Miguel suggests that we should work hard because it makes us happy rather than external motivation. Don Miguel provides an example of salaries. If the primary motivation in our job is money, we will never do our best. Additionally, we will be stuck in jobs that pay well, but lack fulfillment and joy. Due to the lack of fulfillment in their jobs, these people will then spend their weekends partying, drinking, and doing other things that harm their lives. 

If doing your best means working hard because you love the task, your work will begin to feel effortless. In this way, the final agreement – to always do your best – will increase all the other agreements’ power while helping you free yourself.

The Book Can Be Summarized by Three Paths to Freedom

In the book, Don Miguel outlines three basic pathways to freedom:

  1. Awareness
  2. Discipline
  3. Death

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