We are all born into the world as a clean slate. Day by day, utilizing our attention, mom, dad, the schools, religion and the media construct the dream that is our life. Ruiz writes:
We learned how to behave in society: what to believe; what is acceptable and what is not acceptable; what is good and what is bad; what is beautiful and what is ugly; what is right and what is wrong.
As children, we don’t choose the beliefs, which he calls agreements, that build our dreams. They are taught to us as “right.” This conceptual foundation becomes ingrained and reinforced by a child’s innate need for attention and approval. If a youngster dares to think independently rebelling against the ruling belief system, they are usually punished, ostracized, or deprived of reward. The “no’s” of a youngster asserting their freedom and individuality are quickly overpowered by adults, which is often necessary, but not always. Ruiz calls this process the “domestication of humans,” and says that, just as animals are trained, we’re taught how to be human.
The result is that we grow up judging and blaming ourselves and others while aspiring to achieve based on a belief system that we didn’t even choose in the first place. The problem is that, according to Ruiz, the whole dream, the domestication of humans, is based on falsehood. “Ninety-five percent of the beliefs we have stored in our minds are nothing but lies, and we suffer because we believe all the lies.” The “You’re no good at math,” proclamation by your seventh grade teacher or the “How could you be so stupid?” question coming from your mom in anger or the “frog face” taunt by the bully on the playground may still be a part your belief system, not to mention all the “shoulds and should nots” placed upon you over the years.
While some agreements are absolutely essential and do serve us and society, many cause us to suffer, live in fear, fail in life, and propagate an outside, collective dream that is a nightmare filled with discrimination,violence and hatred. It’s possible, however, to build a more pleasant and positive dream for yourself and the world.
To live a life of joy and fulfillment and encourage harmony on the planet, you have to find the courage to consciously break the agreements which do not support you in growing into your best self and creating your ideal dream life. Ruiz states: “If we could see it is our agreements which rule our life, and we don’t like the dream of our life, we need to change the agreements.”
He suggests that by letting go of the old agreements and adopting just four new agreements that we can transform our personal and collective dreams. The Four Agreements are:
- Be Impeccable with Your Word – While sounding simple, adopting this agreement can prove to be powerful and profound. Through our words we express, communicate, think and create and, therefore, possess power. Words are seeds that grow in fertile human minds. We can plant seeds of positivity and kindness or fear and discord. This agreement means not to use your word against yourself or others in any way.
- Don’t Take Anything Personally – Because everybody lives in their own dream which is completely different than the one in which you live, nothing other people do is ever about you. Their words and actions are always about them. Taking something personally requires that we make assumptions one of which must be that “everything is always about me.” When something someone else says or does causes you to feel anger or pain, it’s not the current events to which you are reacting. Prior wounds and old agreements have been touched to evoke these feelings. You are only hurting yourself when taking things personally. This edict also includes positive actions and accolades.
- Don’t Make Assumptions – We have a natural tendency to make assumptions because of the brain’s need to anticipate the future to ensure survival. However, in most situations today, doing so creates emotional pain and suffering because we believe our assumptions to be true which inherently requires taking things personally. Because of inattentional blindness and other perceptual biases, we primarily see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear, and don’t perceive things as they are.
- Always Do Your Best – This agreement helps the first three to become deeply ingrained habits and allows you to live without guilt, shame, or regret. Following this philosophy, you’re encouraged to act because you WANT to, not because you HAVE to. When you do your best for the pleasure of it, you stand much greater chances of being successful and will enjoy yourself regardless of the outcome. Ruiz offers the example of Forrest Gump from the movie by the same name. While Forrest was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, he took action to pursue his dreams, gave whatever he undertook his all, and was richly rewarded while expecting no reward. To take action is to be alive and is its own reward.
Becoming aware of the unconscious agreements which create your dream, your life, and understanding their importance and impact is the first step in changing your world for the better. Decide which beliefs support you and further your well being and happiness. Then, get rid of ones that do not serve you and substitute the four agreements or some version of them that feels right to you. By doing this, you can turn the nightmare into a dream on a personal and community level.