I’m not sure who or when I was given the information about the book, “The Four Agreements”. In this crazy time of pandemics, political strife and injustices, it arrived from Amazon, a small, tidy book with long front a back flaps, which made it easy to mark my place. It’s 5” x 7” size guarantees that it can be thrown into a beach bag, and that’s where it has been for the duration of the summer of 2020.
While we have all created different iterations of our lives during this time—we’ve heard of software engineers trying their hands at artisanal baking, or people “puzzling” (yes puzzling is now a verb), until their entire living room looks like the lounge of an assisted living facility, or in my case an obsession with flowers and my “crops”. My crops are 6, 20-gallon buckets filled with tomatoes, cucumber, eggplant, cilantro, basil and more. I have morphed into Don Corleone and Mr. Macgregor both. I have chased, and threatened to death, a fat groundhog with a broom after he helped himself to my tomatoes. I have stopped just short of wearing baggy overalls and a straw hat.
While all those physical activities marked our time, books, real books, have experienced a renaissance. My daughter, who had practiced a strict quarantine in her apartment in Brooklyn, handed me a shopping bag of books, representing only a small sampling of the ones that she read. There were 25 in the bag.
I have read a few—our literary tastes differ a bit, but it was so enjoyable to pick up a book and thumb through actual pages. It was in this period that I received and read “The Four Agreements.” This book written by Don Miguel Ruiz, is billed as a “Practical Guide to Personal Freedom,” and although I haven’t achieved the aforementioned freedom (I’m working on it), I did find it to be a wonderful and appropriate read for this crazy 2020.
The book is also billed as a “Toltec Wisdom Book,” in that it is based on the ancient men and women of knowledge, who traveled through Mexico. They were scientists and artists who formed a society to preserve the ways of the “Ancient Ones.”
For me the book is infinitely practical and has been my “handbook” for navigating 2020. It labels the “four agreements” and how they should be incorporated in your thinking—again, common sense with a higher vision.
The First Agreement—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.
Wow-this first one was a tough one. The force of gossip, of talking about others, was the commerce of teen years. Information about others was a commodity that could elevate or diminish you in your universe.
Even as a child, I remember my mother talking on the phone, or with a cup of tea and a friend at our kitchen table “dishing” about people we knew. As an inquisitive child, I would listen and form opinions about those that I heard about, whether fact-based or not.
As we get older, we know that “gossip” is wrong, and attempt to avoid the temptation, but it can be tough.
But the integrity of your word can be used against you, by yourself. The self-validating or self-deprecating narrative that you have running in your head, according to Ruiz, is as destructive as gossip, because it is your own gossip.
“I’m not good at math”,” I can’t run to save my own life” are all things that we tell ourselves, which are not true. We take a thought and make it a reality and live within that reality because we are comfortable with it.
When in college, on the crew team, a major component of off-season training was running. For me, running was incredibly hard. Even as a child, I often felt winded and awkward. I could ride a bicycle like the wind, but was definitely not breaking any land speed records on foot.
During one particularly awful five-mile timed run, I was lamenting about not being able to run. “I’m not a runner,” I said to a younger teammate, who asked why.
“I don’t know. I’m slow.” That was only part of the problem, I was told I was slow and couldn’t run by a host of kids growing up. From my friends it was a gentle jibe, from those that didn’t like me, it was something to be sneered at.
“You just don’t run well, because you don’t know how. I’m exhausted just looking at you,” my teammate said in exasperation. After a few adjustments, most of which involved “relaxation” which admittedly I had resisted, I started running the way she did. “Let your arms flow out of your body, don’t hold everything so tight.” I learned to run that day. I still don’t like to run, but I no longer think, “I can’t run.”
The Second Agreement-Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say or 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.
I frequently tell my kids, and sometimes myself, “It’s not about you.” In answer to a negative response from someone.
Making negative things from others about you, is the ultimate selfishness. When we bump into someone in the store and they don’t say hello, or they give us an unfriendly look, it is not about us. When we know that we break free of negative thoughts.
I wanted to have a t-shirt made,”I’m not a bitch, I’m just blind,” because I would hear from people that I didn’t say hello to them at the beach or at my gym. The truth was, without my prescription glasses, I can’t see much. I would tell people this over and over, but human nature makes you want to make it about you. “Is Claudia mad at me, she walked right by me.” No, I’m just blind!
It’s just not about you. What a liberating thought.
The Third Agreement-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 this one little agreement, you can completely transform your life.
When you assume you make an ass of u and me!
This one hit home recently. I had a small dinner party to introduce a new boyfriend to my sister and brother-in-law, my version of “Meet the Parents.” When my sister and BIL left, I was cleaning up the outside table with the intent of creating a quiet space for me and my BF to talk and recap the night. It had gone really well and I knew that my sister and BIL liked him a lot. He offered to help me and I told him that he didn’t have to. The next moment he is saying goodnight and walking out the door. He assumed that I wanted him to leave because I was cleaning up. After a few texts, the misunderstanding was cleared up and a small bit of drama put behind us. The reality is had he not ASSUMED that I wanted him to leave, or had I just communicated that I expected him to remain, we would have avoided the misunderstanding.
How many times do we assume something only to find it is 100% the opposite of what we believed. When we make assumptions, according to Ruiz, we misunderstand, we take things personally and end up creating drama for no reason.
The need to justify “everything” to explain and understand everything is rooted in our need to feel safe. But by not having all the information, we do ourselves a disservice. We need to ask questions, and listen to the answers. Once you have the information you can truly accept or reject the situation based on fact and not assumptions.
The Fourth Agreement—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.
I love this agreement because I think it is the easiest to understand and to incorporate into our lives. Just do your best—that doesn’t mean perfection, it means do your personal best.
I recently had a job interview for a position that I really wanted. I studied everything I could about the company, the principals and the position itself. I prepared ideas and suggestions based on what I knew I could do for the company. My technology was in place and tested, and I was dressed appropriately.
The interview involved speaking to two people, and it was challenging. My strength is
“In person” and I hoped that my energy would translate via Zoom. At the end of the hour session, I was drained and uncertain as to whether I would make it to the next round. I was however, gratified and at peace, with whatever the outcome because I had done my personal best. I had prepared, executed and completed the interview at the top of my game. I left it all on the table—MY personal best. It is now for the company to determine if that is what they are looking for, and so I have no regrets.
According to Ruiz, doing your best is to take action—to live productively, to reach. Doing your best is taking action because you love it, not because you expect a reward. Doing your best is it’s own reward. You achieve much more than if you didn’t act at all It is the action of doing our best that brings us satisfaction.
Work in Progress
The beauty of this little book and its simple wisdom, is that it compliments any religion or life path that embraces wisdom, understanding and most importantly—love. Love of self, others, and the world around you is the cornerstone of this very enjoyable book.
I’m a work in progress. There are a lot of habits (agreements) that are hard to break, but it is exciting to try to do better. I certainly have the time.
Claudia Lucey is a widowed mother of four, mostly adult children. Her “happy place” is the beach, where she spends every waking moment in the Summer. But spending time with her children is her greatest joy. Her philosophy is that laughter, even through tears, is the greatest emotional outlet. Nothing makes her happier than a good laugh, even at her own expense. She is a Director of Marketing for a construction company, yet she is a trained journalist who loves to write and photograph buildings of any size or sh