Beautifully simple and immediately accessible, Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements offers a practical guide to personal freedom. Kelsey J. Patel explores this tiny volume’s startling powers and invites us to use the tome’s teachings to make a pact with ourselves in 2017. Artwork: Charlotte Rawlings
In an endless sea of spiritual self-help guides, Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements is consistently at the top of must-read lists. Yet, for some strange reason, I resisted its call for many years. But like all necessary teachings, the tome finally found me when I was ready to be found. About a year and a half ago, I finally saw it on my bookshelf staring down at me, and I knew it was the moment to open myself to its wisdom. It was brilliant. I felt myself shifting with every turn of the page. The slender volume’s simplicity was startling and empowering, and I quickly made it a magically mandatory reading for my private practice clients. I delighted in watching their own shifts and aha moments that were so similar to mine.
In 2017, I invite you to practice these luminously simple tenets for a fully-engaged life.
The First Agreement: Be Impeccable with Your Word
TRANSLATION: Words carry a powerful vibration that creates your reality, and when used in alignment with the higher good they are magical, forceful builders of your most amazing life. Equally, they can erode your life or the lives of others when not used in alignment with this higher vibration. When you practice an aligned way of speaking, both internally and externally, you take full responsibility for your actions, and release any judgment or blame by speaking from this place of kindness and truth.
MY AHA MOMENT: This became a big deal for me when I noticed how I would always say things like, “Oh, you know me, I love to sleep in. I’m not good at waking up early,” or “I’m not very good at relaxing.” Suddenly I realized I was creating my reality with those words and phrases, and as I kept telling myself and others these stories, I came to believe them. Being impeccable with my word has taught me to distinguish between the things I’ve “always said” and the things that are actually true.
YOUR PACT: Listen closely to your words and the words of those around you. Write a list of the most common words and phrases you say about yourself that are somewhat judgmental or unkind. Then, write a list of the words and phrases you want to create, feel, and activate in your life this year. Start saying those words and phrases out loud and silently, and watch how things begin to unfold differently.
The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally
TRANSLATION: We each come to the table with distinctive life experiences, fears, insecurities, and understandings of the world. Our role is not to take on anyone else’s personal experiences and energies, but rather to give ourselves permission to separate what is mine from what is yours. We can extend great love and compassion to others, but ultimately we must bear sole responsibility for our own lives.
MY AHA MOMENT: When teachers and students of mine would enter our shared practice space, I noticed that I would always unconsciously shift my energy to match theirs or feel myself shut down if they were being cold or short-tempered. This agreement allowed me to start compassionately showing up with other humans who were having a rough time while not letting this energy overtake my own. Whatever I’m bringing up for another person by being myself is not really any of my business. My business is to receive the words and energies of others and use them as a gateway to connect with myself and my own center.
YOUR PACT: Write out a list of the people you currently feel upset with for whatever reason. Start to envision the energy of their hurtful words or actions traveling back to their particular life experience. Understand that what they’re upset with is likely something bigger and deeper that goes way beyond you. Return to the names on your list and write a letter to each person that shares everything you feel. Reread your letters and explore how both their words, and your response to them, stems from each of your distinctive life histories. If you can lovingly send words and feelings back to the ones who have hurt you and not take their pain personally, you can claim your own feelings from your center.
The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Any Assumptions
TRANSLATION: So often, our minds run off with absolutes, beliefs, and assumptions before we actually know anything, and so much of our pain and suffering stems from this process. If each of us gave ourselves permission to curiously look at life without believing we already know the outcome, we would give ourselves the chance to experience our lives and each other in all of our surprising complexity.
MY AHA MOMENT: From assuming the pushy woman on the train is a rude person to assuming the annoying chatty guy on the bus is completely unaware of other people’s space, I’ve had many moments of superficial judgment that deny others their fullest complexity. One of the most difficult assumptions I made in my life was thinking that I could transform my mother’s severe depression and create her happiness. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I was able to realize that this assumption was causing so much of my own suffering in life. She is now happy and healthy, but all of her own doing.
YOUR PACT: Write out a list of the daily assumptions you make; from the way you assume things about people you don’t know to assumptions you make about your own life in its past, present, and future incarnations. Sit for a 10-15 minute meditation and look at each assumption one by one. Close your eyes, and see your assumption dissolving. Spend a minute or two on each item until you complete your list. How does it feel to let go of these absolutes and open up to the experience of living as it reveals itself to you?
The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best
TRANSLATION: This agreement serves as a pillar for the first three because it reminds us that we do not need to be perfect, not even when implementing the agreements. Instead, we can always do our best to meet ourselves exactly where we are. Some days your best will feel amazing and other days your best will feel drained. That’s ok. It’s about allowing yourself to do your best from whatever space you’re in without demanding anything more or less than what you are in that moment.
MY AHA MOMENT: As a business owner, I’ve been very hard on myself over the years. This agreement has given me so much permission to keep showing up, even when the business is not succeeding. I’ve used this agreement many times as I prepared to teach some of my very first classes and workshops, when I was nervous and frightened about how my teachings would be received. In those moments, I would take a deep breath and see this agreement scrolling across my mind and suddenly I could relax and just do what I came to do. Now, I have so much compassion for myself and have learned to let go of my desire to control any situation. I simply show up and do my best, and allow that to be enough.
YOUR PACT: Write this agreement on your mirror or post it on the fridge. Take this agreement with you, every day this year. Especially when you’re nervous or unclear or you feel fear coming up inside. Notice when you start to create demands or use phrases like “I should,” or “I’m supposed to,” and say to yourself, “I give myself permission to simply do my best in this moment.”