There are only a handful of spiritual books that have remained in my possession throughout the decades I’ve studied spirituality and self-help.
1. The Celestine Prophecy, by James Redfield
2. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo
3. Women Who Run With The Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
4. The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, by Debbie Ford
5. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, by Eckhart Tolle
6. Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse
There are others that surely belong on a list like this, but these are my personal selections. I find these books to be eternal in nature as their messages transcend geography, lifestyle, time, or age. They speak to us in any stage of our spiritual growth. They capture the essence of spiritual teachings, rather than some shooting-star, beautiful-but-not-sustainable translation of them. They hold just as much meaning for me today as when I first read them.
Other books become wildly popular when they first come out, but as time goes on, they lose relevancy—I personally would find no value anymore in How to Win Friends and Influence People, for instance. Books like this seem more rooted in the time they were written, or perhaps spoke more to the specific sentiment of the age in which they were written.
One of these books that I don’t think stands the test of time is the ultra-popular The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz.
When this book came out in 1997, it was all the rage. Everyone was reading it and taking these four agreements to heart: be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best.
I know what you’re thinking: “What’s wrong with any of these commitments in the name of personal growth?”
My answer is that nothing is wrong with them per se. They’re just no longer enough.
Here are some ways we might give these agreements an update:
>> Be Impeccable With Your Word
“Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” ~ Don Miguel Ruiz
The Twitter-verse could definitely use a good helping of this agreement! And there’s nothing here that doesn’t still hold up today—except this: it doesn’t go far enough.
Our voice is the most powerful thing we have going for us. We need to use it not only in the direction of truth and love but in our activism and search of justice and human rights. One could argue that these things are indeed rooted in truth and love, but the fact that so many “spiritual” people stay away from politics tells me that this is not a connection clearly made.
Not only this, but if we are growing and empowering our voice, we’re going to make mistakes, and this needs to be okay. We’re going to change our minds, or we’re going to speak out and realize later we were wrong. This should not stop us from speaking; it should only serve to fine-tune the integrity we seek.
For instance, when I was first learning how to respect and appreciate the messages from the emotion of anger, I often said things I didn’t mean. I simply didn’t have the skillset to express my anger in a way that didn’t hurt people. Yet.
Had I followed this agreement, I might never have continued to try. But, because I valued my emotional truth just as much as any other truth, I kept trying, and, through my trial and error, I grew in my ability to express anger in a wiser, clearer way.
Certainly, gossiping about others or saying bad things about ourselves is not helpful on a spiritual path. But stopping at “don’t do it” doesn’t give us room or permission to get curious about what’s behind the gossiping or the self-degradation.
And without that curiosity, we won’t ever actually root it out but instead will continue to suppress and hide these thoughts and beliefs.
An urge to gossip likely has the emotions of envy or disgust behind it. Rather than pushing it back down, why not explore the envy and disgust? What is it we wish we could have, or, on the flip side, what so disgusts us in another that we feel the need to talk about it?
The envy and disgust interest me more than the urge to gossip.
We do not become more whole by hiding our gossipy nature (which we all have from time to time) behind some kind of impenetrable wall. We become more whole by acknowledging it, getting curious as to what’s behind it, and healing from there.
>> 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 the victim of needless suffering.” ~ Don Miguel Ruiz
This is great advice until we have to realize that some things are indeed personal. There’s a reason that the same kind of person comes into your life, time and time again. Perhaps there’s some karma that needs addressing or a lesson that needs learning.
It is likely true that another person’s rant at us is about their own struggles—but there is also a reason we’re the chosen outlet. It’s worth some time exploring, at any rate, because this is what can help us dig deep into important shadow work, as well as claim more of our light. When you live according to the idea that we are interconnected, then how can we truly be immune to the words and actions of others? We’re not computers; we’re human beings, and things will feel personal no matter what we might tell ourselves.
It’s like that idiom: “It’s not personal, it’s business.” I don’t know about you, but a lot of things that happen in “business” teach me something profoundly personal.
I like the answer to the question, “Why did God create humanity?” “So that he could see Himself.”
I think this is true about why we’re not alone in this world. We need each other to work as mirrors, reflecting back both our light and our shadow. Otherwise, how can we see ourselves clearly? We can learn just as much through a mantra of taking everything personally as we can through taking nothing personally.
But personally, I think somewhere in the middle is a sweet spot where there is both an opportunity for growth and learning, as well as for letting go and practicing compassion and forgiveness.
>> 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.” ~ Don Miguel Ruiz
This one is a powerful agreement, and as a Gemini, communication is my most treasured activity on Earth. But words are only one way we communicate. We also speak through our body language, tone of voice, and our behavior.
Likewise, when we listen to another person via their words, we are also, if we’re wise, listening through the lens of our past experience and our intuition.
Even if we could trust the spoken word alone, there is no guarantee we will avoid all misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. Instead, over time, we will question our knowledge of these other ways of speaking and listening until we lose touch with them. And, I could argue, this has happened to us already.
>> 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-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.” ~ Don Miguel Ruiz
I personally don’t know anyone who isn’t trying to do their best work every day, so while this sounds wise, look around: it’s not really giving us more freedom from shame or self-doubt.
For this last agreement, I think it’s more of a challenge to practice self-forgiveness for the times we fall short. I think it’s less important that each day is always about doing our best than it is that we love ourselves and care for ourselves unconditionally. And to do this while we’re practicing showing up with our voice in new ways, doing our shadow work, and trusting our gut is hugely growth-inducing.
On their face, these four agreements are merely the least we can do—not the most daring or the most potent. They encourage us to take the safe route in our interactions, not the risky ones. They’re the rules one follows to abide by society’s laws and cultural norms, not for transforming these things into something better.
By practicing these four agreements, we might keep ourselves out of conflict, but we won’t grow personally or collectively, either. We can withdraw into comfort zones by speaking only when we’re completely certain our word is impeccable, but then we’ll never stretch into discomfort.
At every age, it’s important that we ask more of ourselves than before. Especially in a time like ours, when our political environment and our actual environment are so toxic and endangered, the last thing we need to do is sit back in complacency and practice comfortable routines.
We need to get out, try, risk, speak, acknowledge, absorb, reflect, teach, learn, and grow.
The bottom line: we need to do hard things. Because that is the most important agreement of all.