Book Review: The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz

July 23, 2015

Years ago, some friends recommended The Four Agreements to my husband and I. We bought the audiobook so that we could listen to it together. On our recent drive to South Dakota, Scott suggested that we listen to it again. I thought this was a fabulous idea since it was a 3,000 mile trip with lots of time and not a lot to do!

After we got home, Scott did a quick write-up to post on the wall of his office, to help him remember the important parts. When he shared his notes with me, I realized that learning these four agreements would make life so much easier for patients living with chronic illnesses, and their friends and family.

Below, you will find Scott’s write-up, with my additional notes on how this applies to fibromyalgia. If you find these ideas helpful, buy the book and/or audiobook. Share it those around you. Discuss it, read it, absorb it. These four agreements apply to everyone and can make every relationship better.

You can find more information about don Miguel and The Four Agreements on his website: MiguelRuiz.com.

Note from Scott: I have tried to put direct quotes in double quote marks.  The rest is my interpretation, which could be off.

The Four Agreements, by don Miguel Ruiz

Summary and review by: Scott Stackelhouse, with additional notes from Tami

The Four Agreements, by don Miguel RuizEach of us lives in our own dream, our own narrative or movie we create in our minds interpreting what is happening around us, to us and within us.  Our dreams may be similar, but they are each our own reality.  Information is passed from one dreamer to another through agreements with our words.  If someone says something and you don’t agree, you don’t take it in and it doesn’t become part of your dream.  If you do agree, you have accepted their word.  And it may be poison.  Your dream is altered because you accepted what they sent to you.

The decisions you make in your actions and what you accept determine whether you exist in a dream of Hell or a dream of Heaven.

There are four agreements that can guide us in our dream to immunity from the stress, hate, anger, and gossip all around us.  None of these are easy, but can be accomplished through practice and repetition.

Be Impeccable With Your Word

Impeccable means “without sin,” and in the context of this book, it means without going against your true self.  Not your dream, but your true self.  This is two fold.

The first aspect is this: don’t judge or condemn others.  Recognize that what you think about someone is just your opinion, it may not be true, and in all likelihood is, at least, partially untrue due to assumptions.

Gossiping is sharing opinions about people.  This is a primary form of communication among people.  It is to be avoided because you are likely spreading untruths, and you don’t know the motivation of others in the opinions they share.  If you spread an untruth, even unknowingly, you have done “black magic.”  If the other person accepts it, it will forever color their thoughts about that person.

The second aspect is your internal dialog.  We have many facets inside of our minds.  One is the “Big Judge,” ready to condemn at a moment’s notice.  The other is the “Victim,” ready to take the blame.  The Victim agrees with the Judge’s condemnation and feels ‘I really am stupid, I do deserve this.’  Be impeccable with yourself, as well as others.  Don’t accept the Judge’s condemnation of yourself, or the Victim’s readiness to take the blame.

Tami’s notes on the first agreement:

The relationships a chronically ill patient has with those around them can be complex. If you can “be impeccable with your word” then things become a little easier.

As someone suffering from fibromyalgia, I want to be honest and loving in my communication with myself and others. This means that I don’t say I can do something when I might not be able to. Let’s say a friend asks me to a party on a weekend and I know my week is super busy. To me, being impeccable with my word means saying, “I’d love to come, and I’ll try, but I’m not promising anything.”

As for my internal dialog, I want to be kind to myself and honor my body. I have a lot to say about this in my blog article First Commandment of Healing: Don’t be an Ass. Honor Your Body.

Here’s an example of how this first agreement applies to a caregiver:

Let’s say that Scott accepts a friend’s invitation to dinner for the two of us. And let’s say that he has to cancel because I’m in a fibromyalgia flare. He can be impeccable with his word by how he talks about my illness to his friend. He could say, “I’m sorry my wife is such a flake!” (Uh, NO!) Or he could say, “My wife has fibromyalgia. She’s in so much pain that she hasn’t been out of bed for a week. Can you believe it?” (Again, NO! That sounds a lot like gossip. Not to mention the fact that maybe I don’t want his friends to know that about me! That one statement could forever color how his friends think of me.)

Don’t Take Anything Personally

Because we are all in our own dream, our own slightly different reality, we must recognize that we don’t all see or hear the same thing, even when listening or looking at the same source.  One need look no further than politics to see this in action.  Nothing others do is because you; it is a projection of their own dream and reality.  Because our dreams exist only for us, it is impossible for someone else’s dream to have anything to do with us.

When someone flips you the bird or is tailgating you, don’t take it personally.  They are in their own world, and it has nothing to do with you.  You have the right to accept or reject the emotional poison they are sending to you.

Tami’s notes on the second agreement:

Remember that how people respond to our illness isn’t about us, it’s about them. If someone gives you a hard time about parking in a handicapped parking space, don’t take it personally. If your spouse isn’t as supportive as you’d like, don’t take it personally. If your doctor is a jerk, don’t take it personally. It has nothing to do with you.

For those of you who have friends or family with fibromyalgia, don’t take it personally if we cancel plans. We might be in a fibromyalgia flare and too tired. Don’t take it personally if we don’t call you. We might be having brain fog and forgot. Don’t take it personally if we snap at you. We could simply be in so much pain that we aren’t acting like ourselves.

Don’t Make Assumptions

Our minds and imaginations are masters at filling in blanks.  We make assumptions all the time.  We need answers, because they make us feel safe, and if we don’t have an answer, our mind will fill in the blank.  Often, we don’t even know we have done it, and will take our own assumption as truth.  But it is merely a part of the construction of our dream, and may not have anything in common with the truth.

Not only do we make assumptions about things we are trying to understand, but we make assumptions about what is going on in the dream of others.  ‘Oh, they think I am ugly,’ or ‘They must really think I’m stupid,’ are assumptions we make about the dream of others.  Sometimes we think someone should know us so well we don’t have to tell them what we want.  This is common in relationships and can lead to a lot of drama.

Learn to know when you are filling in the blanks, simply by paying attention to your own thoughts.  Mindfulness meditation can be a big help here.  Miguel says we need to, “Find the courage to ask questions, and to express what we really want.  Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.”

Tami’s notes on the third agreement:

For me, this is the Siamese twin of the second agreement. Most of the time we take things personally because we have made assumptions.

As patients, we assume all sorts of motives why our friends and family do or don’t do certain things. We think they don’t believe us when we say we’re sick. We think they’re selfish for not taking better care of us. Or even worse, we may assume that the people we love no longer love us or want to be around us because of our illness

At the same time, caregivers assume all sorts of things about our illness, our moods, our motives.

A husband may think that his wife no longer loves him or is attractive to him because she continually pushes him away. At the same time, the wife may be assuming that he doesn’t really mean that he loves her or finds her attractive because she’s so ill, has gained weight, and can no longer do the things she could do when they were dating.

A fibromyalgia patient may assume that her friends think she’s a flake because she continually cancels plans. At the same time, those friends may be thinking that she must not like them anymore because she never comes to visit.

Don’t assume, and don’t take it personally.

Always Do Your Best

I personally struggle with this one because I don’t know what my best is.  And according to Miguel, it’s a moving target.  From moment to moment, what your best is will be different.  When you are healthy, it will be different when you are sick.  But whatever the circumstance, “simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”

I sort of understand what Miguel is getting at, but frankly, this must be the most difficult agreement.  If I am lifting weights, what is my best?  How do I know I can’t do better than what I’ve done?

Tami’s notes on the fourth agreement:

Once you start comparing yourself to others — or even to your past self — you’re in trouble. Our capacity for compassion, our energy, and our pain levels all vary from day to day and moment to moment. There are some days that my best isn’t as good as usual — but sometimes it’s better! The same goes for Scott. He generally is very supportive and takes awesome care of me… but he’s not perfect and neither am I.

When you always do your best, you can rest in that. As I often say, “all you can do is all you can do and that’s all that you can do.” This is particularly true for those of us with limited energy and brain power.

On the other side of that coin, expecting perfection (better than your best) from yourself or those around you isn’t realistic, or fair.

If you’re familiar with The Spoon Theory, by Christine Miserandino, consider this agreement in that context. You only have so many “spoons” (energy) each day. You can’t spend more than you have, and some days you have more — or less. Just do your best.

Action Steps

You can purchase The Four Agreements in several formats on Amazon.

Trying to tackle all four of these at once is a perfect recipe for becoming overwhelmed.

Pick one, and try to practice it as often as you can. Remember that you won’t be perfect. Just do your best. (See what I did there?)

Which of the four agreements do you want to start with?

Let me know in the comments below or send me an email. I’d love to know how this changes things for you!”

Dawn July 25, 2015 at 10:34 am

Thank you. That was interesting the way you showed the perspectives from all sides. It helped to form a better picture/understanding.

Tami July 27, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Thanks, Dawn. Scott & I have had some really great conversations after listening to the audiobook together. He has had some great insights about how the fourth agreement (Always do your best) applies to The Spoon Theory, by Christine Miserandino.

Previous post:

Next post: