Don Miguel Ruiz


for The Nashville City Paper

The Four Agreements: A Toltec Book of Wisdom by Don Miguel Ruiz was on the New York Times best-seller list for over two years. 21st century rat racers are looking for answers and, apparently, they want them clear and uncomplicated.

Ruiz, who is speaking tonight in Nashville, sat down with The City Paper. He is also the author of The Mastery Of Love. Ruiz’s books are based on the esoteric wisdom of the Toltecs, an ancient race of the Indians of Central Mexico where Ruiz was raised as the son of a curandera (healer).

Are there are any Toltecs still living? “Of course,” he will tell you. However, the culture’s demise seems to vary from thousands of years ago to 10th century AD. What is known is that the Toltec culture was plundered by the Aztecs who left little behind historical information.

The problem, as Ruiz sees it, is that as humans became “domesticated” we also became poisoned with what the Toltecs call the “dream of the planet”- in short, culture. In The Four Agreements, culture poisons the human spirit with a punishment and reward system, which we unwittingly agree to from birth. For the merits of a civilization-based on a fear-based belief system, humans trade in their authentic selves. However, says Ruiz, if we can agree to do four things, we can undo the damage of the previous belief system and live more freely. They are:

  • Be impeccable with your word (speak with integrity)
  • Don’t take anything personally (it’s not about you)
  • Don’t make assumptions (communicate)
  • Always do your best (avoid regret)

If these agreements sound primitive, would they not have to be to undo the confusion of a whisper that has gone around the world and back again? All the internal static about the world, the people in it and oneself that goes on in our heads is what the Toltecs call a “mitote,” the result of generations of over-domestication. The Toltecs describe this as “a thousand voices in the marketplace.” Buddhists refer to it as “monkey mind.”

The fourth agreement- the one that looks the most like a rule- is really meant to remove guilt and blame. According to Ruiz, this very simple idea of doing one’s best removes self self-recrimination. One’s best, he said, depends on what we are capable of at any given moment, but is basically a mindfulness that we should try. In the book, being “impeccable” with your word means to be attentive to what you say given that we are the only species imbued with the gift of speech.

“You are in charge of the creation of your life,” Ruiz said. “You are the one who makes the stories and you are the result of your creation.”

If culture is a dream (the book actually calls this dream “hell”) then we cannot begin to know what the people in it are thinking according to the book. Subsequently, taking nothing personally-however difficult-would make sense.

“People will take your image, and they will do whatever they want with it without even knowing you,” Ruiz said. It takes time to master the mind, he admitted, but being vigilant is the first step.

“The hardest thing is just about awareness,” he said. “You have to stay completely aware that other people’s filters are not so clean.”

Admittedly, in relationship, overcoming assumptions requires a partner who is willing to let you ask questions without becoming threatened, Ruiz added.

But what if you don’t have that kind of partner?

“You need to choose a partner that does not punish you. You meet a lot of people who present just what they want to present to you. You need to hear what that person is really up to.”


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