Sunday, November 2, 2008

Book Review: The Four Agreements

Every once in a while, I read a book that really resonates with me. It gives me insights that are relevant to that moment in my life. I want to shout to everyone I know about how great that book is, but I do not. That same book might not have an impact on another person because he is different from me, or is just in a different place in life. The same, I suppose, can be said about any idea, or cause, or hobby. What might ring true for one person at any given time may not be what another person needs. We are all constitutionally different, and even universal ideas affect us to a greater or lesser degree depending on where we are in life.

With all this said, I am going to tell you about a book I read. Perhaps it will resonate with you; perhaps it will not. It is not a book I read recently, but it has stayed with me. The book is The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz. The premise is that if we follow these four agreements, we will find ourselves more in harmony with the world around us.

Before introducing the agreements, I would like to use a story to illustrate. Let’s say a father loves to fish, and he takes his young son to the mountains camping. He proudly introduces his son to the art of fishing, but his young son is more interested in skipping stones and soon loses interest. Instead of enjoying his son’s active boyhood, the father becomes despondent because he is unable to share his passion for fishing with his boy. The weekend is nothing like he anticipated. He becomes irritable, and finds fault with his son often throughout their time together. The son is confused by his father’s behavior, and assumes that it is his own fault. Instead of nourishing their relationship, the weekend has damaged it.

Let us look at this story in light of the four agreements. The first agreement is to be impeccable with your word. This is a difficult agreement to make with yourself. Words are powerful. They have the ability to create, destroy, heal, condemn, inspire, and corrupt. If the words coming from our mouths always reflect our integrity, and are used for the highest and best, then we are truly being impeccable with our word. Had the father in our story been more impeccable with his word, his son would have been nurtured by their interaction instead of being brought down.

The second agreement is to not take anything personally. Everyone comes from a different perspective. Nothing that anyone does or says is because of you; rather it is because of who they are. We each have our own reality within which we live, and remembering that helps us to not take anything personally. The father took his son’s disinterest personally, and interpreted it as rejection. When we cannot connect with another on something deeply vital to us, we need to remember that we all come from different perspectives, and in that way acceptance can be achieved.

The third agreement is to not make assumptions. Assuming you know what others want, or that you understand the intentions of others can lead to misunderstanding. We develop pre-conceived ideas about how something will play out, and when it does not go exactly as planned, we become discouraged. Asking questions and communicating with those around us helps to dispel assumptions. The father in our story had an idea about how the weekend should go, and it affected his ability to be flexible with the desires of his son.

The fourth agreement is to always do your best. Does that mean that we always need to be perfect and high performing? No, rather it means that we always need to do the best that we can do given our momentary circumstances. If we are sick, our best will look different from when we are well. Yet if we always do our best, then we will avoid judging ourselves and regretting the past. The father in our story will never be the perfect father who only does what nurtures his son, but he can certainly try his best.

The reason this book came to mind today is because I tried to make a loved one “go fishing” without success. I took their lack of enthusiasm personally, since I made the assumption that they would be just as passionate about what interests me as I am. Fortunately, the thoughts in my head about their “stubbornness” did not come out of my mouth, so the situation never escalated. I was able to gain some distance and reflect on the situation. Applying several of these agreements in my reflection gave me the perspective that I needed to dispel my ill feelings. If I can remember and apply ideas from a book that I read years ago, I put it on my list of personal classics. So here I shout!

No comments: