Book Review: The Four Agreements.

Don Miguel RuizAmber-Allen Publishing,U.S. (1997)

handschildadultI downloaded The Four Agreements on my Kindle about 24 moons ago.  Admission: I did not get past a few chapters.  It is not the easiest read, full of unusual language and metaphors. It is based on the philosophies of the Toltec people (an ancient civilisation from Central Mexico).

However twice now my Doctor has prescribed it as part of my multiple chronic illness treatment regime.  By ‘Dr’ I mean proper MD sort of Dr, not one of those ‘Drs’ with an online certificate in nutrition from the Great Big Better Nutrition School of Outer Woollomaloo (really what is with the Dr creep going at the minute?)

Although it was with a little reluctance I returned to The Four Agreements – I am glad in did.

It was nice to read something I don’t have to “check the science on”.  It doesn’t even matter how fair a representation of Toltec philosophy it is.  It is simply a presentation of some ideas, that if you tried them on for size, may just make your life better.

I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say the book suggests you make four agreements with yourself.  These are four new agreements to override or replace all the crap agreements you have probably made with yourself throughout life.  Agreements like; “I am x or y” that “fairness is … or isn’t..” that “I do or don’t deserve x or y”.  The agreements we make are almost unlimited.   We each have a Judge, a Victim and series of limiting beliefs that guide so much of our life.  The agreements often result in us punishing ourselves and others with our words and behaviours.

notebookThe first agreement is to be “impeccable with your word”.   I thought – awesome I am a great truth teller I’ll be ticketity-boo.   Oh no, no, no, ….. this is a huge ask, this is not using words (or actions) to every undermine or criticise others or ourselves.  This is the polar opposite of normal human behaviour, which thrives on drama and criticism (just go switch on some reality TV if you don’t believe me).

So my inner critic is screaming “Miguel are you crazy? I can’t do this? This is just setting me up to fail”.   The remaining 3 agreements are a bit more comforting as they set up a framework for you to achieve the first.   The last being ‘to do your best’, no more, no less.  Here is where the stand up, fall down, go slow, be kind to yourself stuff comes in.

A metaphor I did like was that of a Warrior.  That we can be warriors against the parasites that are the judge, victim etc.   That we may not win, but that simply to battle means we are enough, we are warriors.  These parasites are referred to as beasts with a thousand heads, each of which must be killed.  Dear lordy me, so I have parasites in my gut (that are resistant to treatment) and a thousand headed mental parasite in my head, my word.

Could this book change your life? Absolutely. I think even the smallest new habit can change a life.  The challenge is, as always, making this change.

This has come at a good time for me as it has been a time of facing and tackling my own limiting beliefs about mental illness, about me being weak and broken and somehow less worthy because of them (not so with my physical ones).   Miguel offers me a bit of a path out of these beliefs and behaviours.  It just so happens that the path is up the ‘tough’ side of Everest with a pair of summer sandals and a tooth pick.

mountainI am trying not to be daunted.  After all I have climbed many a metaphorical mountain in my intrepid journeys with illness.  The good news is – the summit is not a must.  Every small step forward, every inch higher is progress.  I am doing my best   ….. I am enough …..that is enough.

NB: I have not added stars as I realise any book I read ends up with 4 stars.  Lesser stars get ditched before the end and 5 never feels quite right … what is life without room for improvement?

I am not sure if it is good news, but I have been given my next homework – you guessed it ‘The Fifth Agreement’.  Watch this space. Let me climb this mountain first.

Meanwhile go with integrity in the direction of your dreams,

Yours as ever,

The Wellbeingatwork(nearly)Dr.


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