Have you read Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements? This book is a total life-changer, so if you haven't encountered it yet, order up a copy as soon as you can! The ideas you'll find in its pages are based on ancient Toltec wisdom, and present a powerful code of conduct we can use to transform our lives for the better. Ruiz himself is a shamanic teacher and healer who is dedicated to helping readers create a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love. His ideas have been healed wounds and sparked growth in people all over the world for more than 20 years.
The subtitle to The Four Agreements is “A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom,” and that concept has been rolling around in my head for weeks now. So much life advice is vague or hard to apply, but Ruiz's ideas are refreshingly specific and pragmatic! I wanted to create my own version of the four agreements as a way to honor our four dimensions, the archetypes of Mother, Lover, Warrior, and Sage, and to keep that spirit of truly useful, down-to-earth advice in mind in doing so. As women, we are constantly pushed and pulled in many directions, and remaining true to ourselves can seem impossible. But I believe there are some simple ways to honor our essential selves, and learn and grow in the process.
The First Agreement: Be Impeccable with Your Word
Ruiz says, “Everything you feel or believe or say that goes against yourself is a sin. You go against yourself when you judge or blame yourself for anything. Being without sin is exactly the opposite. Being impeccable is not going against yourself. When you are impeccable, you take responsibility for your actions, but you do not judge or blame yourself.”
What could be more loving than embracing honesty without judgment? And yet this can be so hard to do, especially for women. We are taught that blaming ourselves is natural and normal, even when the true fault lies with someone else. But speaking with integrity and saying only what you mean are powerful ways to remain authentic to your inner beliefs.
To embrace the first agreement in the guise of The Lover, you can:
• Take note of your internal dialogue. When you notice it becoming negative, put it lovingly on pause. Then say an affirmation out loud to re-center yourself.
• Stop apologizing for everything! When you find yourself starting a sentence with “I'm sorry,” consider how else to introduce your ideas. Part of “not going against yourself” is standing tall inside your beliefs.
• Slow down. We're living in a fast-paced world that encourages speaking without thinking. Breathe before you speak, make sure you know exactly what you want to say and why.
The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally
The priceless nugget of truth here is that everyone in the world is self-centered, and their reactions to you are driven by their hopes and fears about themselves. It's so easy to take nasty comments to heart, or be hurt by accusations. But when you become immune to the opinions and actions of other people, you save yourself from needless suffering.
Mothers both know this, and teach it to their children. Understanding the motivations of other people and protecting yourself from their words helps mothers all over the world navigate their own family dynamics and shield their children from emotional pain.
To embrace the second agreement in the guise of The Mother, you can:
• Practice empathy. If someone says something that stings, put yourself in her shoes. What might be motivating this negativity? Instead of feeling hurt, try to understand root causes.
• Remember yourself. Opinions and observations can be especially hard to ignore when they've got a grain of truth in them. Be open to that. If someone tells you you're “stuck-up,” step back from the statement and examine its meaning. If what they're really seeing is pride in your accomplishments, that is nothing to feel ashamed of. Remember who you are to re-contextualize criticism. (You do this for your kids, now do it for yourself!)
• Be patient. Living by this agreement is just plain HARD. Give yourself time to adjust to a new way of understanding people and the things they say. And if you feel wounded by a comment or judgment, go back to the first agreement and remember not to judge or blame yourself.
The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions
It is so easy to slip into assumptions. We lead busy, full lives and often don't have time to investigate things as fully as we should, so we just take the tidbits we know and make some mental leaps. But this is disrespectful, to ourselves and to others. To channel the wisdom of The Sage, we must be patient, ask questions, and never assume that we possess knowledge we haven't earned.
To embrace the third agreement in the guise of The Sage, you can:
• Be curious, not judgmental. This gem of advice comes from poet Walt Whitman! The antidote to judgment is curiosity, so embrace it. Ask questions instead of assuming you know the answers.
• Check your prejudices. Did you know women can be sexist … against other women? Or that most of us have at least a few racist ideas floating around in our brains? If you find yourself jumping to conclusions about another person, be brutally honest with yourself about why. Again, don't judge or punish yourself, just be wholly honest. Then think about what you can do to be more open-minded about an individual or group in the future.
• Listen: Asking questions is an important start, but actually hearing the answers is just as crucial. Don't ask for the sake of asking. Listen actively and intently when someone honors you with a response.
The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best
Of this agreement, Ruiz says, “Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. Everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good.”
So gentle and helpful! Of course you want to give your all to everything in your life, but your all will be different when you're sick, exhausted, or overwhelmed. Commit fully to your life, but with the understanding that your real capacity may vary. Just like that of a warrior, who is capable of ferocious battle at full-strength and far less when weary or injured.
To embrace the fourth agreement in the guise of The Warrior, you can:
• Listen to your body. Our culture values strength and endurance, but sometimes at the expense of actual health! If you are tired, honor that and rest. If you are in pain, get the help you need to heal. And adjust your expectations for yourself when your body tells you you aren't at full capacity.
• Push yourself. Gently. On the flip side, be aware of when you're phoning it in. (You know when and why it happens!) If you can do better, lean into that. If you need help getting motivated to step up your game, ask for it.
• Reflect. Doing your best means understanding what “your best” looks like. Journal, talk with friends, or find some other creative way to self-assess your performance at work, in your hobbies, in relationships, and other important arenas of life. This is especially helpful to people who tend to go-go-go without pausing to process.
The strategies and advice found in The Four Agreements can be used by people of any gender, but I loved looking at this body of wisdom from a woman's perspective. As women we face specific and nearly endless challenges, but given the tools we need to remain true to ourselves, we can refashion those challenges into triumphs. I hope that thinking about how Ruiz's ideas relate to the four foundational archetypes will help you make key changes to how you think, feel, and react so you can be more fully present in your own life!