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1-Page Summary of The Four Agreements
Miguel Ruiz begins The Four Agreements with a brief description of the Toltec people, an ancient society from southern Mexico. They studied how humans can connect to God and live in harmony. Ruiz is named as a nagual, or master of the Toltec way of life. He says that he will share “the powerful teachings” in this book.
Ruiz begins by describing a parable that he heard from someone else. In this story, there was once a student of medicine who went into a cave three thousand years ago and realized that all beings in the universe are made up of “pure light” or “pure love.” This includes people, stars, and God. He decided to call himself the “Smokey Mirror” because everyone is like a mirror for one another but we can’t see it because of the smoke between us.
Ruiz makes a point to say that everything we see is not real. He says that our reality is just like dreaming, and when we are awake, we are still dreaming. Our dreams of the planet include what society teaches us as children about how to act and how things work in the world. Children learn from their parents, teachers, caregivers and other authority figures in society how they should behave. They are taught by being punished for bad behavior or rewarded for good behavior so that they will adjust their own beliefs to match those of others around them (the “dream of the planet”). Eventually children come up with an internal dream/worldview including beliefs about themselves based on what others think (which can be harsh). This leads people into living a life where they constantly criticize themselves because nothing is ever perfect enough for them to please everyone else’s standards but their own. Ruiz calls this experience hellish because it causes constant self-criticism which can lead people down a path towards depression or suicide if left unchecked.
The author argues that humans don’t have to live miserable lives, but they suffer because of the beliefs they learned as children. These lies cause us to reject ourselves and others for not living up to society’s expectations. However, we can change our agreements by changing our beliefs, which will allow us to view the world in a different way that is more like heaven rather than hell.
The first agreement Ruiz wants people to accept is not to say anything negative or judgmental about themselves and others. They should only express positive things that will not harm or dishonor themselves. The first agreement is important because it recognizes that people love themselves, and they won’t speak words that are harmful to them. Practicing the first agreement means a person will also refrain from gossiping about others, as this invites criticism back, which harms self-acceptance and self-love.
The second agreement is to not take things personally. When people take things personally, they assume that a comment or action is directed at them when in reality it’s about somebody else’s perception. This makes people feel offended and defensive. Instead, we should recognize that negative comments from others aren’t true because if you love yourself then no matter what anybody says you’ll remain calm and ignore their criticism.
The third agreement is not to make assumptions. People are taught to fill in gaps in their knowledge with assumptions, and they tend to believe those assumptions. This leads them into unnecessary suffering because they might dream up a relationship based on an assumption that the other person likes them, or assume that their partner knows what they desire (say, emotional support) and become upset when their partner doesn’t provide it. Ruiz argues that it’s best to ask questions and communicate our needs instead of assuming things about others without asking.