by Steve Roh
Hello, I’m happy to offer my latest article for the Banyan Hypnosis E-Zine. This series is intended to help hypnosis professionals by briefly summarizing books from outside of the field, and describing how the information can be applied within a hypnosis practice.
In this issue, the subject is “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. This is a popular book in the personal development genre and many people will be familiar with it. I think this book will be worth reviewing, even if previously read, because the message of the book resonates well with themes found in hypnotic work. It is an excellent book to recommend to clients; several have mentioned the powerful impact this book has had when read in parallel with a series of sessions.
This book is told in the form of a tale being shared by a Toltec wise-man. When recommending this book to clients, I let them know that the beginning of the book is presented in that manner, but it doesn’t promote or depend upon any specific belief system. Most clients are understandably not interested in the prospect of “ancient shamanic wisdom” being shoved down their throats, and so I do not want them to be put off by thinking that the entire book is like a lecture from a spirit-being of light (although that may in truth be an accurate description of any book!)
Once the reader gets past the metaphorical framework of ancient Toltec wisdom, which for many people can be quite appealing — an excellent example of remarkable marketing, then the concepts can be considered in light of our individual experiences.
The underlying main theme of “The Four Agreements” is that what we think of as daily existence arises within a collective dream or illusion that is known as the “dream of the planet” or society’s dream. These consist of rules and delusions that people have collectively agreed to over time, in the form of culture and other kinds of shared beliefs.
This is a useful perspective to acquire for people who are looking to change something in their life, such as hypnosis clients. It makes apparent that everything is the byproduct of illusions, including our fears and beliefs and judgments. This is an important step in being able to change what is experienced as “reality”.
“The Four Agreements” also explains how humans become trained to go along with the inherited dreams of society and the dreams of the people around them. This process is called “the domestication of humans”, and it leads to humans being led further away from whatever their individual true nature is. The author presents this concept in a way that everyone can relate to, more closely than if it were presented in a dry theoretical explanation of the “socialization process” or “imprinting”.
I think Don Miguel Ruiz is quite brilliant in his use of the phrase “domestication of humans”. Because domestication is a term used in reference to things like dogs or cats or cows, when you are confronted with the reality that we all have been domesticated, some part of us will be repelled by that. Like Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes, you would take offense to being treated like an animal, caged in a set of habitual thoughts, feelings and behaviors, being expected to obey those masters. This can motivate us to reject inherited training or beliefs — “Take your stinking paws off of me, you damned dirty ape!”
Also, just like illusions are malleable, the concept of domestication offers the hope of reversibility and interruption of old patterns and training.
The four agreements themselves are simple yet meaningful. Like many kinds of “Laws” or “Principles” found in this sort of book, they can have the property of appearing too simplistic and banal when viewed with a simplistic and cynical eye, especially when presented in a set of bullet-points. But if one can resist the urge to make things more complicated than they need to be, one can appreciate that this book simply contains a very clear and useful description of human existence, which is a pretty awesome feat.
Since I cannot fairly treat each agreement in depth in this space, I will just briefly relate each agreement to something either a client or hypnotist could understand.
First Agreement: Be Impeccable with Your Word
This is very relatable to hypnotic work. Don Miguel Ruiz describes how the word has the power to shape reality. It can be used as “black magic” or “white magic”. Words can hurt and destroy when used carelessly. If you are a hypnotist you will certainly have seen the effects of negative speech inflicted upon your clients as they were youngsters.
Clients often compound the “black magic” spell that was placed upon them as impressionable children, by continuing to use negative words and language against themselves as adults, even in their attempts to make positive change. “I should’ve been more confident and said something… I’m such a loser.”
I think hypnotists also could benefit from learning to be impeccable with their words, not only in terms of hypnotic suggestions, but also from their marketing — I am thinking specifically of the unfortunate tendency of some people in this field to inflate their credentials or otherwise mislead the public. When someone is not impeccable with their word, uses the word to weave falsehoods that causes emotional poison within the person who is making up the lies (usually out of ignorance or desperation). That kind of poison is repellant to the healthy, successful people that you want to attract to your business, while that poison simultaneously attracts the foolish, the ignorant, and the lazy people in the marketplace.
Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally
When you read the previous paragraph, did you feel a funny feeling? Were you kind of insulted by my implication that some of you, Dear Readers, may be lacking in integrity? Did you then think to yourself: “What a hypocrite, first he warns about the impact of negative speech, and then he talks about foolish ignorant and lazy people”? Did that then give you the comforting feeling that you can now close your mind to further challenging statements?
Well, guess what? I don’t know you, Dear Reader. I have never met you (probably). Even if I have met you or know you personally, I am not writing about you.
YOU are not the center of my world.
The second agreement, Don’t Take Anything Personally, is absolutely necessary for hypnotists, I think. When, on occasion, a client has difficulty with either an induction process or the change-work itself, it is good to remind oneself not to take it personally. They are not trying to “resist” YOU.
This keeps the focus on getting the client wherever they need to go, instead of a hypnotist vs. client mindset, approaching it as if the hypnotist is supposed to “convince” the client to change. How silly!
Clients can directly experience what it means to be able to not take things personally, in the form of hypnotic work that involves releasing anger or bitterness towards people who have hurt them. The hurt and pain cannot be denied but hypnotic work that neutralizes anger can be a stunning experience for people who have never experienced the reality that even the most hurtful, abusive and terrible treatment from others was never personal. In a normal state, that sounds difficult to believe if it’s just offered as comforting advice, but a hypnotic experience is not comparable to just hearing comforting advice like “don’t take it personally”.
Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions
The habit of making assumptions often plays a large role in difficulties that clients have in their lives. For example, people who have tended to let people “walk all over them”, often have a habit of assuming that people should treat them fairly, even if there is prior evidence against that. They assume that other people think and feel and perceive the world the same way that they do, and are hurt and disappointed when they are “let down”. So instead of doing something different, they continue to focus on how the other person (or life in general) should be treating them.
From a hypnotist’s perspective, I think insight-based work, when done properly, has the wonderful property of being based on direct client experiences, and not on guessing or theorizing or assuming. This reduces the reliance on the hypnotist trying to assume some sort of content will have impact on the client — whether it is some metaphor or script that the hypnotist thinks is suitable, or even something like the selection of background music.
This agreement, Don’t Make Assumptions, is also why I think suggestibility tests are very flawed and counterproductive within a client-based context. They create the assumption of some arbitrary level of “hypnotizability” based on absolutely nothing relevant to the particular client and their issue.
Apparently, there is a belief that suggestibility tests are still useful as a means of impressing people who experience or witness them, but from the perspective of a typical person uninterested in “hypnosis” itself, but who just wants to solve a problem via that approach, I have to say that these tests are deeply unimpressive — perhaps they were more awe-inspiring in the era of World Fairs and vaudeville?
Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best
This agreement sounds too simplistic, but the key aspect of this agreement is that your best changes from day to day and moment to moment. You cannot be expected to always outperform your previous performance. It is nonsense to have a great day and expect to have even greater and greater days in a smooth progression.
When people have unrealistic expectations about anything, including hypnotic change-work, then they are more vulnerable to disappointment and frustration. I think hypnotists can do their best by preparing clients for inevitable bad times ahead, instead of leaving them vulnerable by suggesting that life will be a fairy tale from now on. And even hypnotists can benefit by accepting that if they have been “on a roll”, that it’s not going to last — and that’s OK.
This agreement about always doing your best reminds me of a story told by the famous copywriter Gary Halbert. He once spent some length of time in federal prison for some offense. It seems that in prison, there is little room for wishful thinking. Some days were just better than others. Over time, he got to be very self-aware of when he was having an “off” day — if I remember correctly, this process was accelerated because of some incidents where he got into dangerous conflicts with other inmates as a result of carelessness. He learned very quickly that when he was feeling down on a particular day, the best thing to do was just to step back, disengage from the outer world, retreat into a (relatively) safe place, and regroup. He did not question his own strength or confidence or character; he did not berate himself for not getting a grip on himself and his fears. He just took a time-out and escaped for a while.
This is similar to what Napoleon Hill recommended in his later years, the technique of creating an imaginary fortress in your mind. These approaches take into account the fact that people will some days feel weaker and less motivated than other days; allowing for temporary escape as a means of recovery and regrouping is simply good planning. It reduces the compounded mistake of unproductive guilt and frustration towards self.
Well I hope this article has been of interest to you. “The Four Agreements” is an outstanding book and I think it is very relevant to the work that hypnotists do.
PS. The audiobook narration by Peter Coyote is excellent! I highly recommend that you check out the audio version on iTunes. Mr. Coyote has a hypnotic narrative voice, and towards the end of the audiobook there is a wonderful meditative/hypnotic experience that I think cannot be fully experienced through the written word of the physical book.