I read The Four Agreements after receiving it as a loaner from a colleague. He told me how he read this book while on a flight, and that he loved it so much he read it three more times on the same trip, and that it had helped transform his life. That is pretty hefty praise for such a little book, so I humbly sat down with it this weekend, wondering what precious gems it had offered that transformed the life of my older, wiser colleague.
The Four Agreements was a quick read at only 138 pages, and took me less than a few hours to get through. The chapters of this book are laid out in logical sequence, with each lesson building on its predecessor, and the concepts are simple to understand.
I noticed immediately that there is a religious overtone in the message, which alerted my skepticism as to the content right away. Anytime I see that faith is a part of the basis of a lesson that someone is trying to teach, I become irrevocably skeptical and the logic in me demands to see proof behind the claims that are being made. This book was no different. In his prose, Ruiz comes off as an expert on the subject of how best to live your life, and he bases this in the teachings of the ancient Toltec society, but without much further context to provide credibility to the finality of his statements.
Whatever position you take on matters of religion and spirituality, though, it is possible to accept what you can believe, and simply read between the lines of the rest while setting judgment aside. I am someone who doesn’t believe in ‘god,’ but I can still appreciate that believing in something bigger than ourselves is helpful to many people, and that the philosophy behind the faith often still holds some important messages on how we can strive to live our lives in a good way.
So I continued reading, ignoring the statements that ‘God is in everything,’ ‘God is life,’ etc., etc.. The efficacy of any self-help book is going to depend on the openness of the mind who reads it, and how ripe your mind is for incorporating a new philosophy, so I put aside those points that I immediately disagreed with the author on, and focused on what I could gain from this book. In taking note of the lessons therein, rather than passing judgment on the religious aspects of the book, I resolved to take the lessons for what they are and what they can do for me, and leave the rest.
Thankfully, the lessons offered are sound.
Some of the primary takeaways of this book are that you should practice trusting yourself (because you are already the perfect version of you), learn to communicate in a healthy and positive way, and not allow others to influence your own personal happiness. That all sounds like good advice, right? I think so, but I remained lost in the author’s presentation as an expert, someone who has already somehow transcended human suffering. If the statement is ‘do this and don’t do that, then your life will be transformed,’ sorry, not sorry, but I am going to need quite a bit more convincing than these short chapters offer.
Ruiz claims with conviction that if you let go of your self-limiting beliefs, understand that others’ judgments of you are a result of their own unique belief system that actually has nothing to do with you whatsoever, then you can achieve personal freedom and happiness. Whatever you think is holding you back in life is only in your own mind, so release those chains, put your best effort into everything you do, and you will be happy.
All of these things are easier said than done. Of course many of us have heard that practicing forgiveness will have endless positive benefits, but that doesn’t mean that we can simply hear that and then forgive those people who have harmed us. Forgiveness is a journey that is unique to each situation, and true forgiveness will not come overnight. To this, Ruiz says just do your best. According to Ruiz, if you always do your best, then you will see that guilt and self-doubt have no place to settle down in your life.
If you are seeking a new strategy to the way you live your life, and don’t mind that you will only learn what to do, but not how to do it, then give this book a try. If you are not wholeheartedly ready to accept a new philosophy on life, or you will expect to see supporting facts to back up the claims of this new philosophy, you may want to pass this one by.
If nothing else, this book provides a good reminder to live your life with integrity, don’t be your own worst enemy (as we so often are), and do all that you do with love.