By Joy Birnbach Dunstan,
MA, LPC, MAC
The Four Agreements
Personal power is the cornerstone of being able to create a positive and fulfilling life. When we feel powerless, we are victims at the mercy of everyone and everything else; life happens to us. When we’re in touch with our personal power, we have the energy to maintain a sense of serenity, competency and loving acceptance despite what is going on around us.
There are as many approaches to conquering victim hood as there are victims. One of my favorites comes from the wisdom of Don Miguel Ruiz in his book called The Four Agreements. These agreements, as he calls them, stem from the teachings of the Toltecs, a powerful empire that lived in the ancient city of pyramids outside Mexico City known as the place where “Man Becomes God.” Born into a family of Toltec healers, Ruiz has dedicated his life to sharing the spiritual knowledge of his people.
Ruiz teaches that as children we learn how to behave in society: what is good and what is bad, what to believe and what not to believe, what is beautiful and what is ugly, what is right and what is wrong. As kids, we don’t choose these beliefs. We learn them from our parents, teachers, religious leaders, friends and the media and become programmed to carry them with us into adulthood. These self-limiting beliefs are deeply ingrained agreements about how to live. Ruiz calls this acceptance of hand-me-down beliefs “the domestication of humans.”
Wanting praise and approval, we value ourselves by our ability to live up to these agreements. Fear powerfully reinforces them: fear of rejection, fear of not being good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, and so on. We develop an Inner Judge who constantly evaluates all we say and do, and we have an Inner Victim who feels guilt, shame and unworthiness if we don’t measure up. Living with fear depletes our energy, or personal power, leaving us feeling hopeless, helpless and exhausted.
If we instead follow Ruiz’s Four Agreements based on love and acceptance, we can maximize our energy thus restoring our personal power and transforming our lives. I consider these the four basic rules of life.
* Be impeccable with your word. This agreement reminds us to have integrity in all we say: say what you mean and mean what you say. Our words are our most powerful and magical tools. They are the seeds of opinions, thoughts and ideas, and they have the power to create or destroy. Never use the power of your words against yourself or others. Through the power of words we can clear up communication problems, heal relationships, and create enough personal power to break our old limiting agreements. Depending on the seeds we sow, we grow feelings of hate and rejection or love and acceptance.
* Don’t take anything personally. Each of us lives in our own personal dream, and what we think, say and do comes from the agreements that we have in our own minds; they have nothing to do with anyone else. By the same token, others’ opinions have nothing to do with us; they stem from the agreements they live by. There is nothing to take personally. When we believe that whatever is said or happens is about us, we feel hurt and take offense from things that are not about us at all. A huge amount of freedom is gained when we take nothing personally.
* Don’t make assumptions. We make assumptions when we think we know what others mean, or when we think they know what we mean. The problem with all those assumptions is that we believe them as the truth and then we blame others for the assumptions we have made. Assumptions set us up for misunderstandings and create big dramas for no reason at all. Have the courage to clarify what someone means rather than assume you know. Clear communication is the foundation of all positive relationships.
* Always do your best. When we do our best, we avoid self-condemnation and blame. Our best is constantly changing. It varies with the knowledge, expertise and other resources we have at the time. Some days our best is better than others. What’s important is simply to do the best we can and forgive ourselves when it is not perfect. When you hear the Inner Judge chastise you against an old self-limiting agreement, you can say to yourself, “I did my best” and move on with no regrets.
What sort of agreements do you live by? Recognize those old agreements based on self-limiting ideas and replace them with the Four Agreements to enhance your personal power and gain true freedom of the spirit.