The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz offers a way of being. They are called “agreements” because there is an element of the social contract about them. The four agreements can be adhered to by one person alone but they start to be truly impactful in a society when they are adopted and observed by couples, and small groups of friends and colleagues and families and ultimately the whole of society.
In this summary I shall address the four agreements and seek to demonstrate how they may play out.
Agreement 1 – Be Impeccable with your Word
In the first agreement, Ruiz echoes the yamas and the notion of satya (truthfulness) as well as the golden rule. Being impeccable with your word means to be truthful but also thoughtful in what you say. It means to speak not just from one’s own point of view but to be conscious of the recipient of one’s words and how one’s words will land with them.
Our thoughts, our words and our emotions become our reality. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
For me, words come easily in a constant stream where there is no apparent separation between the awakening of an idea and the verbalisation of that idea. My work is to establish filters between the idea and the statement so that the ideas that have harmful potential can be censored.
Censorship is no bad thing. In 1516 Thomas More wrote Utopia in which he described an island with a system of government and religious and social customs that he cast as being ideal. Censorship was one of the features of this ideal world.
To be impeccable with one’s word one must be present, aware and must come from a state of connection with the person/people with or to whom one is speaking. Impeccability in your word means to censor thoughtless, careless, inconsiderate language. It means to be intentional in what you say.
Agreement 2 – Don’t take anything Personally
The second agreement sates “Do not take anything personally”. The second agreement works hand-in-glove with the first agreement. The second agreement acknowledges that not everyone will, on all occasions, observe the first agreement. When they do not, or when we hear something that we do not like, or something is done to us that we do not like, we must not take it personally.
What others say and do does not need to affect you. You can choose where you focus your thoughts and ensure they are coming from your spirit and not from external influences. Ultimately, what someone else says or does is not definitive of you. Ultimately, what others say and do is a reflection of them and their story.
Some of you will recall Cameron Shayne, the founder of the Budokon® Yoga practice. Cameron is a provocative person and will, deliberately, make statements that trigger reactivity in others. When they do, he just fixes them in the eye and says, “That’s just your story, sister”.
It is important that we understand our own reactivity, our own fragilities and raw nerves and not allow someone else’s words or actions to cause us unhappiness. Easier said than done! Being aware of our weaknesses and the way we behave when our weaknesses are threatened is the ground work of not taking things personally.
With awareness, build the fire of your inner spirit such that when external factors impinge upon you, that inner fire is strong enough to withstand the external forces. The inner you is bigger than anyone else’s words or actions.
Agreement 3 – Don’t make Assumptions
The third agreement says do not make any assumptions. This agreement addresses our tendency to be absent-minded and to short-circuit thought processes by way of assumption, prejudice and stereotype.
It is easy to use assumptions. They are a substitute for actual knowledge. That person is short so they must have a chip on their shoulder. That person is Asian so they are good at mathematics. That person is physically attractive so they must be a nice person. That person has that job so they must be… That person went to that school so they must be…
Be curious. Doubt your preconceptions and be prepared to ask questions. Assumptions are often at the root of miscommunication. In a Hollywood depiction of this concept, the Peter Weir movie Gallipoli shows officers agreeing that a bombardment of the Turkish trenches would commence at a certain time and finish at a certain time. With the Turks driven from their trenches or hunkered down defensively in their trenches the ANZAC troops would go over the top and attack.
What was assumed was that everyone was operating on the same time. Watches were not synchronised with the result that there was a time lag between the cessation of the bombardment and the order to go over the top and attack. In that lag time the Turks recovered their positions and the infantry were massacred by machine gun fire. The assumption was disastrous.
A lack of awareness of the people with whom we communicate can cause us to assume that they will understand what we are speaking about. At Apollo Power Yoga we have a two-week starter pass. I used to often refer to this pass as being a “fortnight pass” and assumed everyone knew what a fortnight was. In fact, many people do not, especially people from other countries or people for whom English is not their first language. I have abandoned my assumption and now refer to two weeks for the sake of clarity.
Communicate clearly. Make yourself understood and choose to understand the people with whom you are communicating.
Agreement 4 – Always do your Best
Always doing your best is the fourth agreement. This does not mean always being the best. We know with respect to our asana practice that there are days when we show up lower on energy than others. There are days when we are carrying an injury or when we are tired.
Even when we are not feeling at our best we can still do our best with what we have. We can put a knee down to reduce the impact of crescent lunge or side plank. We can take child’s pose rather than downward facing dog. We can do bridge instead of wheel. But whatever we do, we do our best.
When we do not do our best we abdicate responsibility and inevitably break the first and second, and quite probably also the third, agreements. Avoid regret by doing your best. I can recall a running race when I was at primary school when a fear of not winning caused me to not try and I chose to be well out of the race. I finished back in the pack with my schoolmates and I rue to this day, 40-odd years on, not having given my best.
No one, most importantly yourself, can fault you for doing your best. It is only when you fail to show up as your best you can that you let yourself and others down. It is only when you do not give your best that you lay yourself open to negative self-criticism and judgement.
The Four Agreements are simple enough. Living them in real time is less easy. Be present, reflect rather than react and carry the Four Agreements with you to create a powerful shift in your way of being.