The Four Agreements: Impressions

Book review of The Four Agreements – by Don Miguel Ruiz

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.

The Beauty of September

Summer has come to a close and autumn is on our doorstep.

While there are some I know who regret the coming of September as it reminds them that the long, care-free days of summer have passed for another year, I just can’t fathom entering this time of year without the sense of calm grounding that stirs in me every year at this time. For me, September signifies growth. Outwardly, as we look once again to our goals and recommit to them, and inwardly, as we subconsciously root down once again to our work.

Sure, I love summer, too. I love getting outdoors under the hot sun, checking out the festivals and the midways, and taking road trips to the Canadian Rockies. I love to be able to sit out in the backyard on warm summer mornings with a cup of coffee and bask in the quiet morning light.

Still, summer is always full of commitments. We jam the long days full of social events and outdoor activities, always trying to take advantage of what few days of summer we have to enjoy. It often means long, fulfilling days away from home, camping or traveling, living out of our cars and suitcases for a time, getting back to nature, and making lifelong memories.

By the time September does roll around though, I am ready to buckle down and get back to routine. I am ready to have some weekends to myself again and to reorganize our lives after the chaos of summer. As the sultry days of summer pass by, I begin to miss my cozy sweaters and the cool, fresh air. There is even a tiny part of me in this moment of time that looks forward with excitement rather than dread to the clean beauty of a fresh snowfall sure to surprise us any week now.

Every September I find myself reflecting on my younger years when fall meant going back to school, and wading in this nostalgia is a huge part of the draw. The end of summer and going back to school meant new clothes, new supplies, and reconnecting with friends. As kids we would walk to catch our bus down the quarter-mile driveway, passing a half-harvested garden on the right, surrounded by trees that had by now turned to an inspiring variety of golds and reds. Unchaining the long iron gate, we would stand, facing the stead in front of us, but really looking to our right a mile down the straight dirt road until we could see the dust of the coming bus beyond the hilltop. In those first few days of school, everything is fresh, and it always feels like this year is going to be the best one yet.

When I was in university the coming of fall meant I had new classes to take that would help me to propel my career and broaden my mind, and I would gain renewed purpose and responsibility in my days. In these years I would get to buy brand new books, and I could splurge on office supplies (love!), and I knew that the relationships and networks that I would build in the coming year would be of the kind that could last a lifetime.

These days, I am no longer in school (though in my mind, we never really stop being students), and yet I am always brought back to the sentiments of the years that passed before, and it is as though my soul is breathing in the cool air as an elixir of life. After having overwhelmed my senses during the long summer days, the changes of autumn signal a settling of mind and spirit into the routine of success. I look forward every year to the gold leaves and clear blue sky, writing fresh new notes, having interesting new topics and chapters to study, and building up to the excitement and glimmer of Christmas ❤

It’s fulfilling to share that there is something particularly special to me about the new books, pens, paper, and journals that are procured at this time of year, as my sentiment wouldn’t be complete without its mention. A fresh new journal or unmarked notebook is one of my very favourite small pleasures in life. It is an open canvas for learning and reflection and has so much potential within its blank pages, just waiting to be turned into something more. Every time you open up a new notebook to pen it for the first time, you set a purpose, for those pages and for yourself. I just love that feeling, it truly makes my soul sing.

This September, as I begin the merge on to the next great path in my life, I’m going to savour these calm moments of reverence and nostalgia and make use of the renewed focus that the changing of the seasons has offered me. My life is going to change in these coming years, so I am going to appreciate this time of quiet and peace and renew my dedication to how I want to shape my future. I may not ever know by what serendipity things have come together for me this year out of them all, but it feels just right, and there is nowhere in my life I’d rather be right now than this September of 2017.