Last week I wrote about making New Years resolutions for 2017 and one of them was reading more book club books. Over the holidays I read one that a friend sent, but it wasn’t a book club book. So, I accomplished half a resolution.
The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, isn’t a current book; it was written in 1997. It's a small book and it doesn't take long to read so it was perfect for me over the holidays. The sub-title is "A practical guide to personal freedom" and it's a self-help book of sorts, and beautiful in its simplicity.
The book suggests four simple ways to change your outlook and your approach to life. Spoiler alert, I suppose, that I'm going to tell you what they are, but you'll need to read the book on your own to understand the concepts and ideas in a more complete way. At first as I describe them they may seem oversimplified, but really their strength is in their simplicity:
1. Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of words for truth and love.
2. Don't take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others do and say is the production of their own reality in the world. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others you won't be the victim of needless suffering.
3. Don't make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstanding, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement you can transform your life in many ways.
4. Always do your best. Your best will change from time to time and be different when you are healthy versus sick or strong versus weak at different points, but if under any circumstance you simply do your best, you'll avoid self-judgments, self-abuse and regret.
The book describes how we are conditioned into a number of ways of thinking about the world, and how we can create our own reality by accepting these four simple agreements. They seem easy but actually are laden with bad habits we’ve set up over the years without even being aware of them. For example, if someone says something negative about us, we’re hurt. But if we accept the agreement not to take anything personally because when someone tries to hurt us it’s more about them than it is about us, we don’t allow ourselves to be damaged because we’re practicing self-love. It’s about embracing an attitude of taking care of ourselves instead of expecting our needs to be met by others.
There’s a fascinating description on “Breaking Old Agreements” about the “parasitic fear” that lives in our minds. How to become free from old ways of thinking, “rebelling against the poisonous thinking of others” and embrace new, healthier patterns of behavior, especially as we face a new year, I found a refreshing read.