The Four Agreements is a profoundly beautiful and simple philosophical framework for conscious living and spiritual practice. There is so much to be said about them, and the transformational power of implementing them, that a blog post doesn’t begin to do it justice. I first came across the agreements several years ago, at the outset of my awakening. And I studied them closely during my apprenticeship, and even more intensely in practice over the last few years.
As a very basic introduction, I’d like to outline them here briefly. If you wish to investigate them further, I encourage you to read don Miguel’s extraordinary books. I’ve also written a bunch of posts about different aspects of the agreements. I’ve included links to other posts where appropriate.
The first agreement is Be Impeccable With Your Word
There are many different ways to understand this phrase. It has incredible depth of meaning and application.
Initially, it refers to the great energetic power of words and thoughts. Being impeccable with your word means never using your words against yourself. It means never investing your power and energy in words that are hurtful, critical, or judgmental against yourself or others. This is the essential wisdom of non-judgment and self-acceptance. By using only the kindest, most loving, accepting, and compassionate words with yourself and others, you stop punishing yourself and you allow self-love to flourish within you. (Here are the practical steps).
Another aspect of this agreement refers to authentic expression. In this sense, being impeccable with your word means that you take the time to find your inner-most truth, and you speak that truth to others. You don’t tell people what you think they want to hear. You don’t squash your feelings. You stop worrying about being “nice,” or keeping quiet to maintain the peace, and you are focused entirely on being in your integrity. Saying those things, and only those things, that are in alignment with your inner gut feelings.
This is not carte blanche to send your negative judgments and criticisms to others. This is not about being provocative or hurtful for its own sake. Quite the opposite. At the depth of your being is a tender and fragile vulnerability – your deepest fears and insecurities. That is the inner-most truth that is at issue here. This agreement asks you to find the courage to speak those vulnerable truths.
It also asks you to find the courage to say no, when you wish to say no. This is a lot harder than it sounds. There are a myriad of things that we do each day out of guilt and obligation. Being impeccable means getting really honest about what you want and don’t want, and taking the risk to honor your own wishes, even when others won’t like it. It is an honest yes, and an honest no, and a whole bunch of boundaries along the way. This takes a lot of practice.
The second agreement is Don’t Take Anything Personally
What other people say and do has absolutely nothing to do with you. The mind likes to believe “everything is about me.” But other people are operating on their own beliefs, judgments, and ideas about the world. What they say to you, even if it’s about you, is not the truth. It is perhaps their truth. It is the filter through which they see the world and everything in it. You don’t need to believe other people’s opinions or judgments about you.
A deeper understanding of this requires that we look at the mechanism of how we take something personally. It works like this: We take things personally when we make the interpretation that what someone else is saying or doing is a reflection of our self-worth. For instance, A says “I need some space to be alone.” And B hears “I don’t want to spend time with you because you aren’t interesting, you aren’t good enough, you aren’t worthy.” B has taken A’s request for space, and turned it into a personal attack on her worthiness.
Another example is Z is running late to a lunch meeting, and Y makes the interpretation “he is late because I’m not important enough for him to be on time.” This is how we take innocuous statements or actions, and make the interpretation that they are personal and mean something negative about us. Naturally what follows is hurt feelings and emotional reactions. If instead we can step out of our immediate interpretations, and look with a neutral perspective, we find that there is nothing hurtful happening. We don’t have to make everything an indictment of our self worth.
The third agreement is Don’t Make Assumptions
This agreement refers to the tendency of our mind to fill in the holes in a story with false assumptions. The mind loves to think it knows what’s going on. “I know why he didn’t call; it’s because he doesn’t like me.” Or “I know why she didn’t do what I asked; it’s because she doesn’t love me or care about my feelings.” Often those assumptions are completely wrong. And if we believe them, we find ourselves hurt and angry. When you make assumptions, and jump into a negative reaction, you don’t give the other person the chance to explain what he meant. You think you know, and you are reacting to an illusion in your mind – a false assumption about his motives.
This agreement reminds us to always stay open, without jumping to conclusions and causing ourselves emotional turmoil. It takes some will-power to pause the automatic assumptions, and some courage to ask “how come you didn’t call me?” or “I’m interpreting your silence as disinterest; is that why you haven’t called?” Try as we might, we don’t know what goes on inside the minds of other people. If we don’t ask, we won’t ever know. But if we make assumptions, we are create a lot of unnecessary drama.
The fourth agreement is Always Do Your Best
There are two different meanings to this agreement. The first is that you always do the best you can in a given situation. And you don’t judge yourself about it. Some days your best will be 100%. Other days your best will be 15%. That’s ok. Some days you make it to the gym, and other days you don’t. You just always give as much as you can give (without pushing past your limits), and you allow that to be good enough. This is about dropping the striving for perfection, which causes so much damage and harmful stress in our lives.
The other meaning is that life requires that you actually do your best; and you don’t allow fear and excuses to keep you from it. This means that you acknowledge to yourself when you are making excuses for non-action, and you work through those fears so they don’t stand in the way of necessary action. Life requires that you actually carry out your inspired creative ideas. Sitting around doing nothing is not enough. This means you cannot bury your head in the sand and avoid doing. Life demands that you act. So make sure you aren’t sabotaging yourself and making excuses.