April 19, 2003

The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz

This book is subtitled "A practical guide to personal freedom". My therapist suggested I read it after our first session. I'm not sure if this recommendation was specifically in response to my personal neuroses or if he just recommends it to all his patients. I'll have to ask him. The latter is certainly possible because the "Agreements" of the title are high-level axioms for a fulfilling life. The author is a Toltec shaman and the book claims to be a presentation of a part of the wisdom of that tradition.

The "four agreements" are printed on the flyleaf of this small book, so I'm not giving much away by listing them here:

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don't take anything personally
  3. Don't make assumptions
  4. Always do your best

2-4 mean pretty much literally what they say (though 4 comes with the understanding that "best" is relative, so your best on Monday may not be the same as your best on Thursday), but 1 isn't that clear. By "be impeccable with your word", Ruiz means the obvious "say what you mean and mean what you say," but also the more abstract admonition that you should use the power of language only for good. This means shutting down any internal monologue of self-derision as well as any externally-focused negative communication like gossip or other verbal abuse.

It's hard not to be glib when reviewing a book like this. Hard not to call it, for example, "new age solipsism". Yet the seeming self-evidentness of these principles may also point to the presence of some fundamental truth. Ruiz's overall premise is that in the process of learning to be human beings from infancy to adulthood we accept a vast number of things on faith, and an enormous number of them are not necessarily true. They may have only been assumed to be true by the people who taught them to us, or told to us in place of a truth that was inconvenient to our teachers. The four agreements are supposed to help you to start the process of filtering out the sludge of wrong assumptions by which we live our lives.

Like many fundamental truths, these are easily stated, but perhaps not so easily implemented in one's life. Ruiz could have spent a bit less time in the book explaining what he meant, and a bit more explaining how to implement. I'll certainly play with them as a framework for self improvement on a trial basis and see how it goes.

Posted by jeffy at April 19, 2003 10:08 PM