Joyful Musings

By Joy Birnbach Dunstan

Toltec Wisdom


Personal power is the cornerstone of creating a positive and fulfilling life. Without it, we are victims at the mercy of everyone and everything else; life happens to us because power is perceived to be “out there.”

There are as many approaches to conquering victimhood as there are victims. One of my favorites comes from the wisdom of Don Miguel Ruiz in his book 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.”

Ruiz teaches that as children we learn how to behave in society: what is good or bad, what to believe or not to believe, what is beautiful or ugly, what is right or wrong. As kids, we don’t choose these beliefs; we learn them from our parents, teachers, religious leaders, friends, and the media. We become programmed to carry them with us into adulthood. These 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.

If we instead follow Ruiz’s Four Agreements based on love and acceptance, we maximize our energy thus restoring our personal power and transforming our lives. I consider these the four basic rules of life.

Don’t take anything personally. Each of us lives in our own personal dream, and what we think, say, and do come from the agreements we maintain in our own minds; they reflect only our self. By the same token, others’ opinions and moods have nothing to do with us; they stem from their own agreements and situation. 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. 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.

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. Never use their power 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.

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 ourself 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.

Editor’s Note: Joy is a practicing psychotherapist in Riberas. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 765-4988

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