I noticed The Four Agreement, by Don Miguel Ruiz, sitting on the shelf at a friend's house and have borrowed it. It caught my eye because a post from July 2004 that referenced The Four Agreements has been one of the most common search engine hits on this website.
Essentially, this book is a starting point on a path to a different life. I particularly like the way Ruiz blends the "ancient teachings" of the Toltec with the realities of how people interact today. The book is based on the teachings of the Toltec, a native Mexican people, and the concepts seem to be just as applicable today as they were 1000 years ago.
The basic idea is that one's interactions with people in their life is based on "agreements" that have been built up over time, either through past interactions - or even through assumptions, based on appearances, job, etc, etc. The biggest agreements are the internal agreements one makes with themselves via the "Book of Law," which is handed down through these same interaction. Ruiz talks about how people develop their own Inner Judge and Inner Victim in response to these reactions. Whatever one does is better or worse that they are supposed to be. And then it is all someone else's fault when they don't measure up.
The essence of the book is that we need to recognize these agreements and make and effort to move away from them. The Four Agreements are Ruiz' interpretation of the Toltec teachings (from the summary):
Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in direction of truth and love.
Don't take anything personally. Nothing other 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 other, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.
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.
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 circumstances , simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
So, what does one do to change their life to operate under these agreements? Again, I enjoyed the practical tone in which Ruiz talks about how to proceed. The old agreements are parasites - hundreds or thousands of parasites - fed by the Judge and the Victim. There are three options: 1) Eliminate the parasites one at a time, 2) Starve the parasites by eliminating their food, or 3) the extreme "initiation of the dead" total transformation. This last is the kind of change created through dramatic life-changing events or through the traditional methodical search for something new.
While the discussion of these changes may sound extreme, Ruiz comes back to the basic principle. To change, one has to start somewhere. These agreements, in whatever capacity one has, seem like a reasonable place to me.