The Four Agreements – shamanic emotional intelligence?

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Looking through my library of books on personal and organisational development I came across my copy of The 4 agreements: Practical guide to Personal Freedom (Toltec wisdom), and remembered when I first read it 10 years ago.

I had completed my NLP training and was interested in shamanic belief systems including Hawaiian Huna (now being used to assist soldiers with PTSD as part of a UK version of the wounded warrior programme).

Then I came across this book and I was so impressed with it I wrote my first review, and the first review for the book, on Amazon; ” … my initial reading confirmed that here was a powerful tool for anyone wanting a framework for personal change. Even before I’d finished reading it I used the four agreements as a model to contract with a group of new headteachers on a personal development workshop. The model was really well received and provided a robust underpinning for everything we did so successfully that weekend.” 50 other reviewers have since added to this with over 80% giving it a 5 star rating.

In The Four Agreements shamanic teacher and healer Don Michael Ruiz exposes self-limiting beliefs and presents a simple, yet effective code of personal conduct learned from his Toltec ancestors. The four agreements are these:

  1. Be impeccable with your word – Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid speaking against yourself or gossiping about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
  2. Don’t take anything personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be a victim.
  3. Don’t make assumptions – Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
  4. Always do your best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Although he is drawing on Toltec esoteric tradition his ideas are recognisable in modern therapy or coaching. He talks about domestication (=socialisation) and belief systems, about self-limiting beliefs and self-criticism (the inner judge), and about being a victim.

He likens the belief system, judge, and victim to having a parasite sucking away your energy. He also uses modern analogies. For example he likens gossip mongers to computer hackers who install a virus in your head which makes the gossip contagious.

And the role of the shamanic warrior – and this is true throughout the American continent from Canada to Argentina (and probably in parts of Asia too) – is to fight all this. The decision to adopt the 4 agreements is a declaration of war to regain your freedom from the parasite. To be free to be yourself and express yourself.

But breaking old agreements is like breaking from an addiction that we have been domesticated to accept, possibly since childhood, so it is hard work. You can start by first facing all your fears one by one. Secondly, by stopping feeding the parasite and fuelling the emotions that come from fear through gaining control of our emotions. (There is a story I remember about a native American shaman who was asked to help someone who said he had two dogs on his shoulders. One was telling him good things and the other one bad things. The shaman simply asked him which one he was feeding.)

To become a warrior you must have awareness and self-control: and you will recognise these skills as competencies in the emotional intelligence model. Yet the Toltecs pre-dated the Aztecs  and were around at the time of the Norman conquest here in Britain. And there are earlier ideas too. Lao Tzu, the chinese contemporary of Confucius and who wrote the Tao said:

  • Knowing others is intelligence
  • Knowing yourself is true wisdom
  • Mastering others is strength
  • Mastering yourself is true power

It seems there are some universal truths about how humans can learn to be the best they can be which have been around for a very long time..


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15 thoughts on “The Four Agreements – shamanic emotional intelligence?

    kindadukish said:
    August 20, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    The question about the “magic mushrooms” should have been posted here!

      sganda said:
      August 20, 2010 at 4:07 pm

      Well I was reading Castenada at the time!

    kindadukish said:
    August 22, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Do you know I am sure Arthur Toltec played for the same football team as me……..he certainly had some strange pre-match rituals most of which we tolerated but we drew the line when he started biting the heads off live chickens just before running out ointo the pitch……damned good outside left though!!!!

      sganda said:
      August 23, 2010 at 3:39 pm

      Strange as it may seem the Toltecs influenced the Aztecs and they certainly played their version of the beautiful game. Historians aren’t sure whether it was the winners or losers who were sacrificed or whether they used a human head for the ball.

    Dieter Pauwels said:
    September 4, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    I would recommend this book to everyone. Thanks for bringing this book to the attention of all your readers. The Four Agreements advocates personal freedom from erroneous beliefs that we have made with ourselves that are creating limitation and unhappiness in our lives. Ultimately, this book is about finding one’s own integrity, inner peace and a deeper sense of personal fulfillment. Get your copy today!

    weight said:
    September 28, 2010 at 4:51 am

    yeah my dad will like this

    Terry Gregory said:
    October 28, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Don’t take anything personally – Nothing others do is because of you.

    Are you really sure about this……………..you are saying that ABSOLUTELY nothing you say or do impacts upon others which may cause them to behave in a certain way?

      sganda said:
      October 28, 2010 at 10:17 pm

      Thanks for your comment.

      He’s saying that, basically, “sticks and stones…” ie when someone insults you they are doing it from within their own world, their own set of agreements, and assuming that your world is the same as theirs. As he says in the book, is you call someone stupid that’s something about you not them. If they then take it personally because they agree with what you said then they become trapped, believing in “personal importance”. Taking things personally is the maximum expression of selfishness because the assumption is that it’s “all about me” (compare with narcissistic behaviour).

      Ruiz blames our education or socialisation (what he calls domestication) for learning to take things personally and coming to believe we are responsible for everything. So when we take something personally we make the assumption that the other person knows what is in our world whereas in fact they are basing their behaviour on their own feelings, beliefs and opinions.

    Terry Gregory said:
    November 1, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    So the Jews shouldnt have taken the actions of the Nazis personally?
    You state – When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be a victim.
    Following your logic if the Jews had remained immune to the opinions of the Nazis they wouldnt have become victims………or am I missing the point here?

      sganda said:
      November 2, 2010 at 12:13 pm

      Ruiz is saying that if you don’t take things personally you don’t become a victim ie have a victim mentality. So if the Nazis thought Jews or gypsies were sub-huma, that’s their view of the world. If the Jews and the gypsies accept that view of the world and start to believe that they are sub-human then they become victims. People who feel that they are not OK may even blame themselves.

      I can see you are interested in this topic – you should read the book!

    Terry Gregory said:
    November 6, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    The jews were victims……it did not matter how they saw themselves or what they believed, they ended up in the gas ovens, were shot, starved and worked to death. Even if they refused to believe they were “sub human” (and many did) and reamained positive about their religion, culture and heritage it does not change the fact that they were victims of mass genocide. I have to say that I believe that there is a fundemental flaw in the rationale of Ruiz who, I belive is one of Americas leading “self help” proponents!

      sganda said:
      November 7, 2010 at 5:27 pm

      Not sure about Ruiz’s status in the world of personal development but he is concerned about individuals and the way they live their lives. So I might be knocked down and killed, a victim of a hit and run, but that doesn’t mean I am going round thinking of myself as potential road kill and allowing that to control my life.

    My most read posts in 2010 | EI 4u said:
    December 30, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    […] And by far the most popular post, with 4 times more viewers than the second placed one: The Four agreements – shamanic emotional intelligence […]

    My most read posts in 2011 « EI 4u said:
    January 4, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    […] the most read, as many as the rest of the top five together, was: The 4 agreements – shamanic Emotional Intelligence for the second year […]

    My most read posts in 2012 « EI 4u said:
    January 3, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    […] my most read post was: “The four agreements – shamanic emotional intelligence” from August 2010. This has been in first place for 3 years […]

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