Don Miguel now lives in San Diego in California and, when I speak to him on the telephone, he tells me he's in the middle of moving house. However, at no point during the interview does he come across as rushed. In his thick Mexican accent he slowly tells me about his life and his work.
He was born in a large village in rural Mexico, the youngest of 13 children. His mother was a healer (curandera) and from her and his grandfather who was a shaman (nagual), he learnt the Toltec teachings, which guide an individual to personal freedom.
The Toltecs were known throughout southern Mexico as 'men and women of knowledge'. The Toltec culture was at its height around 800-1000CE. Its people came together at Teotihuacan, the ancient city of pyramids near Mexico City, to explore and conserve the ancient spiritual knowledge of the region. Then, for hundreds of years, Don Miguel explains, the Toltec knowledge, although passed on through different lineages of masters, was concealed, so as to not be misused.
His mother and grandfather hoped he would follow in their footsteps and teach the Toltec wisdom, but he decided to go to medical school and become a surgeon, and then went into practice with two of his brothers.
"At a certain point," he tells me, "I became more interested in the human mind than the body." He wanted to understand how the human mind really works and why so often people create their own sicknesses. Then he had a near fatal car accident during which he experienced himself as pure awareness. This changed the direction of Don Miguel's life. He realised that the Toltec wisdom of his family contained all of the tools needed to change the human mind. So he immediately returned to his mother and, training with her, became a shaman.
It was always prophesised that the Toltec wisdom would be returned to the people. Don Miguel, who is a nagual of the Eagle Knight lineage, was guided to share it. The Four Agreements, based on Toltec wisdom, offers a powerful code of conduct to transform our lives from being constricted by self limiting beliefs to an experience of freedom, true happiness and love.
The First Agreement is 'Be Impeccable with Your Word'. Don Miguel believes that this is the most difficult agreement to adhere to, but also the most important one. To be impeccable with your word is to speak with integrity, to say only what you mean and not gossip about other people, or speak against yourself.
"We use the word to create our own story," he explains. "We use the word to create our own identity, and what we believe about our self is what really represents us. If we are impeccable with the word the story will be the most beautiful story. If you are not impeccable with the word you will create dramas and problems, and life will not be as easy as it should be."
The Second Agreement is 'Don't Take Anything Personally'. When we truly understand, he explains, that we create our own reality and everyone else creates their own reality, and that everyone else is only a secondary character in our story and that we are only a secondary character in their story, then we realise they don't really know us, they only know the image they believe us to be.
The Third Agreement is 'Don't Make Assumptions', which is about communicating clearly with others and not being afraid to ask questions and say what you really want.
The Fourth Agreement is 'Always Do Your Best'. Regardless of circumstances this is something that Don Miguel has always observed. Ten years ago he had a major heart attack and was in a coma for nine weeks. When he woke up he only had 16% of his heart capacity, barely enough to maintain his muscles and organs. He was told he would have to give up all his travelling, giving lectures and seminars, and stay at home on the sofa watching television or reading books. His doctor told him he would only be alive for one year, maybe two if he was lucky.
With this prognosis he thought if he was only going to live for such a short time he may as well enjoy it. So, because his passion is to share his knowledge and to teach, that's what he continued to do although he didn't travel as extensively. For the next eight and a half years, despite continuous muscle pain, he kept going. Then, in August 2009, he decided to have a heart transplant.
At midnight on October 8, 2010, he received a call telling him he needed to be in the hospital in Los Angeles in six hours' time. He was in Texas over 2,000km from LA, but he said, "Don't worry, I'll be there." So he woke up his colleagues and family and five or six people were on computers looking for ways to transport him to the hospital.
"We rented a little plane," he explains, "and I got there on time."
When I ask how he is today - 18 months later - he tells me he's getting stronger by the day and since September last year has been travelling as extensively as before his heart attack 10 years ago. He's been to Mexico five times, Canada six, visited Japan, as well as Costa Rica, Columbia, Peru and Ecuador. "And now," he says, "I'm coming to Australia."
In addition to The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz has written a number of other books, including The Voice of Knowledge, a practical guide to inner peace and The Mastery of Love, a guide to the art of relationship and, in 2010, The Fifth Agreement, which he co-authored with his second son, Don Jose Ruiz, was published. The Fifth Agreement is, 'Be Sceptical, but Learn to Listen'.
I ask why Don Miguel waited 13 years after The Four Agreements was first published to bring out a book about the Fifth Agreement. He explains that he tried to teach people about the Fifth Agreement in the 1990s, but they didn't grasp the concept. Then his son Don José, who, along with his older brother, Don Miguel Ruiz Jnr, was an apprentice to his father in the Toltec tradition from childhood, asked to teach the wisdom that his father had put aside. So he started teaching people about the Fifth Agreement, and they understood it. "This book is really my son's," Don Miguel adds.
When asked what is his most important message, Don Miguel replies:
"We are perfect just the way we are, and the idea of imperfection is the biggest lie that we humans believe." His understanding is that as humans we all come to earth with the same mission, which is to enjoy life and be happy.
"Everything is about love. Love is the truth." The opposite of love isn't hate, he adds, but love itself. When we become possessive, jealous, controlling, or sacrifice ourselves in the name of love, this is not love, but its opposite, and creates drama and a living hell."
This morning I notice I'm speaking detrimentally about myself, and later in the day I catch myself making a totally unfounded assumption. Then I realise what a gift these Toltec teachings of Don Miguel Ruiz are, and the power they have to make a profound difference to my life and the lives of so many others.
Sydney based writer Rosamund Burton is the author of Castles, Follies and Four Leaf Clovers