I’m not one for really sticking to expected protocols re professional/personal rendezvous in the sense that if I get a gut feeling or my intuition tells me that something is right or wrong, I will tend to ask that person regardless of why I am there originally. Possibly it is because I am English and living in France I can get away with this de-categorisation or perhaps it is just me as I tend to treat everyone as an equal human first and then their job category or status second, I don’t know, but either way it has led to some very interesting conversations and meaningful moments of connection. One such conversation led to my introduction to The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz about 15 years ago via my physiotherapist.
The Four Agreements suggest a simple but powerful code of conduct that can help transform our lives by stopping judging (mainly ourselves) and help us practice a new way of life and in so doing experience freedom, true happiness, and love. This simple code is apparently based on wisdom, from the Pre-Columbian Toltecs, an ancient, indigenous people of Mexico and reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering by making assumptions and taking things personally. The Four Agreements are Native American in its spiritual origin though makes references to Christianity and other beliefs and current psychological therapies and practices.
The ancient Toltechs created ‘three masteries’ as a guide:
The Mastery of Awareness (The Mastery of Truth) because we cannot be free unless we know what we are, where we are or what freedom we are looking for.
The Mastery of Transformation which is achieved by reprogramming our mind from old distorted beliefs. The Four agreements are a summary of this:
The third Mastery is The Mastery of Love (or The Mastery of Intent) which transforms our energy and is about unconditional love.
So what exactly are the Four Agreements?
The First Agreement: Be Impeccable With Your Word Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
The first agreement simply encourages us to choose our words thoughtfully and for good; both the internal words we use to ourselves, and those words that we use to others. It is the first way to replace our old ‘agreements’ with new ones. To love ourselves, we need to use kind words to ourselves and take responsibility for our actions, without judging or blaming ourselves. To love others, we mustn’t gossip or talk badly to or about them; rather we should share our common humanity.
This first agreement has strong connections to both the concept of a 'growth mindset’, as proposed by psychologist Carol Dweck (which states that we can develop and alter our abilities through dedication and work) and with the fundamentals of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) that focuses on the power of language and how we use it internally, to impact how we view and experience ourselves and the world.
The Second Agreement: Don't Take Anything Personally Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.
When we stop taking things personally, and find ways of communication that are non-confrontational, then we can’t be hurt and we will find it easier to keep the first agreement. This concept has links with Non-Violent Communication or NVC developed by Marshall Rosenberg. NVC suggests that if people can identify their own needs, the needs of others, and the feelings that surround these needs, then we can live more in harmony. NVC focuses on three aspects of communication:
· self-empathy (awareness of one's own experience)
· empathy (awareness of the other person)
· honest self-expression (expressing oneself authentically in a way that is likely to inspire compassion in others)
The Third Agreement: 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. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
Most of our suffering stems from our tendency to make assumptions when we jump to conclusions or believe that we know what someone else is thinking without asking questions and making sure that we do clearly understand. This notion is similar to Cognitive Therapy, and the research of Aaron Beck who states that we have cognitive distortions, or thinking patterns, that interfere with how we perceive an event. Cognitive distortions can feed so called negative emotions and impair communication.
It is also important to examine the assumptions we make about ourselves. In order to come happier, we need to become more mindful of the things we tell ourselves about our capabilities or lack of them, and not make assumptions about what others mean.
The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
The fourth agreement is the one that struck home to me on first reading. I have a natural tendency towards being a perfectionist and used to constantly ‘beat myself up’ with the idea that what I was doing ‘wasn’t good enough’, ‘it should be better’, ‘I should be doing more’, ‘However hard I am trying, I seem to be ‘failing’’ etc etc The one statement ‘Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick’ was like a sudden release from self-imposed pressure.
If we allow ourselves to stop judging, and don’t make assumptions about what ‘should’ or ‘ought’ to be happening, we can increase our happiness dramatically by default. This notion is similar to that discussed under O is for the Observing self. Thoughts are not facts they are judgments, evaluations and opinions by the Thinking Self but by ‘defusing’ our thoughts we can become more objective and see things more accurately which gives us greater freedom in how we respond to the feelings associated with them and avoids jumping to conclusions and making decisions based on all-or-none thinking. As it doesn’t judge or attach any values, the Observing Self can also being described as ‘pure awareness’ or ‘pure acceptance’.
There is also a fifth agreement co- authored with Don Miguel Ruiz’s son, Don Jose Ruiz in 2009/10. It reinforced the 4 agreements but introduced the new idea to apply to everything
The Fifth Agreement: Be Skeptical, But Learn to Listen Don’t believe yourself or anybody else. Use the power of doubt to question everything you hear: Is it really the truth? Listen to the intent behind the words, and you will understand the real message.
When anyone tells you their point of view, they usually believe it is the truth. Being sceptical isn’t about judging whether that this is the case or not, but rather it is about listening to the way other people express themselves, listening to the intent behind their words, while acknowledging that their point of view will be coloured by their beliefs and accepting that whatever they say is simply a ‘subjective story’ about what is going on in their ‘virtual world’.
The second part of this statement is about listening properly which doesn’t mean naively accepting everything you hear, rather it encourages you to look behind the ‘symbols’ that people are using to fully understand what people are communicating, their intentions and their point of view. By listening in this way, it’s easier to keep all the other agreements as you give yourself the space to choose how to respond.
Our perceptions of our true selves are clouded by society and the people around us. The Five Agreements, together, make a simple code of living that can be transformative and help to strip away misconceptions and uncover the truth about who we really are – without the need to spend a life in silence, soul searching like a hermit.
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
What negative words do you use toward yourself and how do these negative words affect self-love?
What steps do you need to take in order to change the way you speak to yourself and others?
How can you avoid taking something personally? How can you apply this agreement to your life?
Do you make assumptions? How can you learn to listen more carefully and learn to communicate more effectively?
If you want to explore this subject further, here are a few links to get you started: