04 December 2012

Four Agreements

A few weeks ago, quite by chance, I came across The Four Agreements.

What are they? Well that depends on who you are and how you view them.

According to Everyday Wisdom they are based on ancient Toltec (an archaeological Mesoamerican culture) wisdom and
offer a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives and our work into a new experience of effectiveness, balance and self supporting behaviour.

Everything we do is based on agreements we have made. In these agreements we tell ourselves who we are, what everyone else is, how to act, what is possible and what is impossible. What we have agreed to believe creates what we experience. When these agreements come from fear obstacles develop keeping us from realizing our greatest potential.

According to others they are four principles to practice in order to create love and happiness in your life or for stress management and personal growth.

Yeah OK, that's what they all say!

What is clear is that they are based on the thinking of Mexican shaman and new age spiritualist Don Miguel Ángel Ruiz and they seem to be the cornerstones of whatever wacknut religious beliefs he holds. They have made him lots of money as he sells "self-help" books about thee agreements by the million.

All of which leaves me feeling very sceptical and mis-trusting.

However when you read the four agreements they do make a lot of sense and they aren't too far apart from my own personal modus vivendi (see here and here).

Now I don't propose that anyone goes out and lines Ruiz's pocket with more money by buying his books. It should be enough to lay out the four agreements and leave you to think about them. They are:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.

What's so special about them? Actually very little. They are pretty much what most belief systems boil down to if you analyse them deeply enough. They can also be pretty damn difficult to adhere to! Not making assumptions is especially hard — the whole of western culture is based upon everyone making assumptions.

Not taking things personally is hard too. I know, from recent experience, that it is all too easy to get upset when someone close reacts emotionally apparently as a result of something you did. But you have to be able to stand back and realise that their emotions are their problem to deal with, not yours, and come from within them. They are not your emotions; you cannot control the other person's emotions, nor are you responsible for them. Yes that can be hard.

But none of that means the four agreements aren't worthwhile. Indeed if everyone could just strive towards them society would be a whole bunch better. And you don't need to believe in some peculiar religious practice to make sense of them; they fit atheists just as well (maybe better?) than they do believers — atheists have no overlying dogma to contend with.

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