(1) Be fabulously successful actress Ellen DeGeneres, (2) Stumble upon a book that changes your life, (3) Tell the whole world about it, (4) Sit down with author don Miguel Ruiz and chat about love, freedom, and doing your best no matter what.
Two years ago, Ellen Degeneres picked up a slim volume by an unknown writer named don Miguel Ruiz. He claimed his book, based on wisdom he'd learned from his elders in Mexico, could change lives—and it did, including, in rather short order, his own. So wowed was DeGeneres by The Four Agreements that she recommended it to Oprah on the air. Oprah read the book that night, bought 500 more copies for her friends and colleagues, and then suggested to 10 million or so people that they consider giving it as a holiday gift. 

The Four Agreements, published in 1997 by tiny Amber-Allen Publishing, has sold more than 1.5 million copies. These days Ruiz lectures nonstop and has a newer book, The Mastery of Love, based on the same Toltec wisdom as the first. The Toltecs, Ruiz explains, were artists and spiritual seekers who thrived in Mexico hundreds of years ago, before they were forced to hide their ancestral wisdom from European conquerors. Although Ruiz's grandfather and mother both practiced Toltec healing and teaching, Ruiz rejected the tradition and went to medical school. But in his final year he was in a car accident. Against all logic he was physically unscathed; emotionally, however, he would never be the same. What he calls an out-of-body experience transformed his worldview. Unable to explain what had happened to him, he sought his grandfather's guidance.

Years later Ruiz distilled this Toltec teaching into The Four Agreements, the basic premise of which is that most of the drama and suffering in our lives is self-created—but we can live another way. By refusing to buy into everything we've been taught about who we are, how the world works, and how we must react, and by making four simple pacts with ourselves, we can become dramatically happier regardless of our external circumstances. The agreements are (1) Be impeccable with your word—don't say it unless you mean it, and if it's gossip, keep a lid on it. (2) Don't take anything personally—what other people say or do isn't because of you, it's because of their own life experiences. (3) Don't make assumptions—preconceived ideas about what other people think can get you into trouble, and rigid notions of how things should be lead to disappointment. (4) Always do your best, but no more—post facto browbeating is pointless.

"It's such an easy book to read," DeGeneres says, "that he could even put in a few pages for people to color." It's a joke, but she means it as a compliment of the highest order—that something profound has been delivered with almost childlike simplicity. "I was reading the book on an airplane for about the seventh time," she says, "and the flight attendant came up to me and said, 'Oh, I'm reading that, too.' It makes me so happy when other people are reading it. I feel responsible."

So it seemed high time for DeGeneres and Ruiz to meet. In the spring of 2000, O got them together for a chat in Los Angeles. Here, the Toltec teacher and the comedienne match wits—and trade wisdom.

Start reading Ellen's conversation with don Miguel Ruiz

This article originally appeared in the October 2001 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.


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