Don Miguel Ruiz, Jr. needs no introduction. He is continuing his father’s work – spreading the wisdom of Toltec teachings through his classes and his books. He is the author of Living a Life of Awareness and The Five Levels of Attachment. Here are some critical points about Toltec philosophy. Further information about Don Miguel Ruiz, Jr. and Toltec philosophy can be found at miguelruizjr.com.
DCHP: I really enjoyed hearing you speak and the energy that you carry with you. It’s very, very positive.
MR: Thank you.
DCHP: If you were to speak to your philosophy, what would you have to say?
MR: Well, you can say that it’s a philosophy that’s transformed across the years. It all depends on the families. The Toltec civilization ceased to exist over 500 years ago. Since then it’s been shared through families throughout Mexico and they teach it in their own way.
There’s no uniform standard – every family is going to teach it differently. Our family, we’re nomads, we changed things here and there but we kept the stories. My father changed it into common sense. He took out the old Toltec symbols but continued to talk [about] and describe the definitions. So he continued to teach it but with totally different symbols.
Those symbols reflect our life. So, in essence, the Toltec tradition is about enjoying life. The word, “Toltec” is a Nahuatl word which in English means “artist.” So basically, if I translate the phrase “Toltec path of transformation” into 100% English, it’s the “artist’s path of transformation.”
DCHP: I see a copy of The Artist’s Way there.
MR: Yes! It’s a good book. I really enjoy her path.
DCHP: Is there a connection between what Julia Cameron describes and the Toltec [teachings]?
MR: I see a lot of resemblance. What I like about her is that she uses the concept of art to find someone [and] to let go of those blocks that hinder their creativity. So she has the writing of pages in the morning and stuff like that.
Toltec [teachings are] exactly that. The difference would be that she teaches it from the point of view of the New York Artist, [but either way,] it’s all about finding your own voice as you’re letting go of all these blocks or beliefs that restrain creativity. At one point she says, “Don’t continue reading if you’re unwilling to do the work,” which I find is phenomenal.
So if you compare it to the Toltec, it’s almost the same exact thing.
Imagine a cookbook, if you only read a cookbook and never actually apply it, you never know what it tastes like. The only way to learn, is if you apply it. It’s all about that thing which allows us to enjoy life. It’s becoming aware of who we are and what we are.
What we are is life. We are the energy that animates these bodies. At the same time, we are the energy that animates our minds. Every thought we have in our belief system has strength because we believe it and we are saying yes to it. So our agreements and disagreements are what allow us to carve life. We shape life to be the way we want it to be. We are the creators of it. No one creates it but us.
We can co-create with someone else. We can carve out a life together be it as husband and wife or as partners or as father-son, family, coworkers, siblings. Right now you and I are co-creating this article together. That basically goes to show how two individuals who have life come together to create something. We are using our bodies to create something new.
That’s incredible. [We are using] not just our bodies but our minds.
DCHP: …and hopefully it doesn’t just stop with you and I. More people will read it and talk about it and it will have a life of its own. It will affect other people.
MR: Which is the whole point of everything we do. Not just with what you and I are doing right now, but my family, my friends, Julia Cameron, the Bible, the creation of Buddha – they all created something that helps someone else.
This article – someone could read it and they could have an epiphany, if they allow it. And that’s what we create. As humans, we can create the most beautiful thing and we can create the most heinous thing…
DCHP: How does the Toltec tradition prescribe that you identify your joy? The reason I ask, is that a lot of times people strive for things or enjoy things because they expect to or have been told to – not because it’s coming from or is an expression of who they really are.
MR: Yeah, yeah. The power of influence is incredibly strong. The reason is that a lot of people look for what they think they want. People forget that they feel the way they do because they give themselves permission.
We’re not stagnant. Things don’t last forever. [If we are unhappy,] our unhappiness will not last a lifetime. Our unhappiness will last only as long as our suffering of that loss, suffering that pain, or suffering that wound [continues].
Like a body does, we are able to heal. We are able to let go. That’s why Alcoholics Anonymous works, that’s why therapy works, that’s why working out or getting into shape works or falling out of shape, doing yoga, or practicing your stroke to create a better painting [work]. [It’s] because we evolve.
If all we’re used to is creating unhappiness in our life, if we’re used to the poison, or eating the poison of the people around us, we think we can’t live without that poison. [We think] that’s all we can do. The first thing is to get over your thoughts, to get rid of the things that are blocking [you]. You can start painting in any given moment. When we see ourselves in the mirror and we see your own reflections, we hear nothing but our own self judgment.
The mirror’s reflecting my truth. If I hear all those self judgments, what I’m hearing is those agreements that you’re only worthy if you live up to expectations. So these judgments are basically this whip that is [hopefully] going to motivate me to change… [but] more importantly, [it motivates me] to not accept myself as I am but to only accept myself if I live up to this expectation.
That’s what judgment is. So if I am used to that all my life, that happiness is completely subject to not only my own opinion but whoever gave me that opinion in the first place. My happiness is not in my own hands. It’s in the hands of someone’s judgment.
Well, if you become aware that those ideas are only there because we believe in them, like the idea of perfection – perfection is something that is completely free of flaw – if our mind grabs that, it wants to domesticate us. In order to be worthy of love, we have to be free of those flaws. We have to be perfect.
The thing is, that we define what a flaw is. A flaw is defined by agreement. So you can say the perfection exists all the time. It is us who judge what is a flaw and what is not a flaw.
When I look at myself in the mirror, I’m judging myself based on my flaws. But my flaws are something that I agree with – I’m judging myself with my own agreements. They only have strength because I say “yes” to them.
DCHP: So then how do you stop that or what do you do about that?
MR: The first thing is to become aware that we’re doing it. Consciously or subconsciously we’re going to have a moment of clarity, like an alcoholic or drug addict has that moment of clarity, in which we become aware of what’s happening. In that moment we have a choice – to continue doing what we’ve been doing, or to change.
Nothing will happen without that desire to change. Without that, it won’t happen. We can go to rehab, doing all sorts of things for other people, but as soon as we are out, we’re going to do it again because we only satisfied someone else’s need [by going to rehab or whatever].
DCHP: …and arguably even while you’re there it’s not going to do you any good.
MR: Exactly. But it does you good if that’s what you want. If you say, “I want to let go. I want to let go of this addiction. I want to stop drinking. I want to stop loving myself conditionally.” That’s enough.
That’s basically the motivator. We’re used to saying “the grass is greener” because my acceptance is over there. I have to get over there. Well what happens if the grass is green right here, which is, “I accept myself the way I am, flaws and all.” Then change looks dramatically different.
It goes from, “I have to,” to “I want to.” We’re used to saying, “I have to change because I want to be worthy of someone’s love.” What happens if I love myself, and I change because I want to, not because I have to?
That’s basically what life is. Life continually changes. The weather changes continuously, the earth shifts continuously, too. Nothing is stagnant. Everything changes. We’re living. Something happens and we learn from that experience and we grow, we evolve, we change.
Change [is determined by] where I want to go in life. Do I pick up the book, The Artist’s Way? Do I pick up a book by Miguel Ruiz? Do I listen to an audiobook biography of Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson, or do I go to a Steelers game, or do I simply sit in front of the fountain in Point State Park and quietly enjoy the water? All of them are simply there to help us transform.
DCHP: I would agree. I would say that all of them are reflections of the same thing or are connected somehow…
MR: Yeah, the connection would be life. Life is being expressed. You can find transcendence in Tai Chi. You can find transcendence in the game of poker. You can have transcendence in a drive from Cleveland to Rochester.
We forget that there are 7 billion human beings each living from their own free will. So when someone does something for us, they are doing it from their own free will. We forget that they don’t have to do that but they’ve done it anyway so we say, “Thank you.”
DCHP: What you are saying reminds me that emotions are a gift. Even the ones that feel horrible, like when you have a small splinter in your hand, you might not notice it…
MR: Yeah exactly.
DCHP: …but the more painful it is, the more it leads you directly to the wound the splinter causes…
MR: …yeah, exactly.
It goes straight to our roots. Sometimes that wound happens when [we’re very young.] All of a sudden, you look at how your heart was broken [back then], you see what happened when that relationship ended, even though it was at the age of 15 or 16 or whatever.
Then, you sit back. You just sit with it. You allow that emotion to flow. You let those memories come in. And all of a sudden, it’s like a domino effect, you start seeing the pattern since then. [You see things] repeated. You see when you repeated a certain behavior in a different relationship. You see how it affected that relationship.
It had nothing to do with that [first] relationship but the emotion crept up and the [current] relationship suffered. All of a sudden you start seeing the pattern throughout relationships. We heal from it when we come to terms with it.
DCHP: I would also assume, although you didn’t use these words, that “coming to terms with it” means becoming conscious of it, whether it was originally conscious or subconscious. That’s healing.
MR: Yes. You accept it. You are no longer hiding it.
There’s an expression that my father loves to say, “Help me to change the world,” the world in here (points to his chest), not the world out there.
I just add one point to that – I can’t change the world, pretending to be something that I’m not. When I am pretending to be something I’m not I’m already rejecting myself. I will be rejecting everything else, subsequently. But in that moment when I come to terms with it, like, “All right, that moment happened,” [things can change].
I’m no longer putting a Band-Aid [over it]. Whatever denial system I went through to cover it up…because we go through [a] denial system to protect us from pain. Someone else is always at fault. [We believe] it’s easy to heal when we are no longer at fault. But [that’s not true. Being aware of what you’ve done,] you’re like, “Okay, I see it, I can’t hide from it anymore.”
Subconsciously, you hide it. But [once you’re aware of it,] you can’t hide it anymore unless you lie about it and [lying carries costs, too]. That’s when you have a choice, to either let it continue or to heal.
It’s like a domino effect. All of a sudden, you have these aha moments about all of the other relationships and then you understand what baggage really means. You realize that “baggage” is something that you retain that’s affecting your current relationship, where it has nothing to do with that relationship.
In fact, that person that we are with is someone we’ve never been with before. That means we’ve never known love like this before. That love that we knew is in the past. That person is gone. I am a totally different person. That means that I’m in love for the first time.
Since it’s a new relationship, we are going to make our own mistakes, mind you. But I don’t have to bring the mistakes of the past [forward] to color this [current] relationship. I can learn from them but there’s a difference between learning from my old mistakes – learning how to avoid them or not to repeat them – and letting that wound color the new relationship, letting it impact it.
DCHP: I would assume that even if there is no relationship, if you carry it forward, if the wound is still there, it’s still affecting your life.
MR: Yeah! Exactly! You can’t run away from it. All of a sudden it stops being something you can project and it has nowhere else to go but yourself. At that point it’s with yourself. [It asks,] “How do you want to continue life with this?”
“Well,” [you might tell yourself,] “hiding it didn’t help. A denial system didn’t help either. It still reared its head.” [The only option open to you is to accept it.] We accept it, which means we forgive.
DCHP: “Forgive.” That’s a good word. I think that I’m hearing [from you] that that’s the essence of healing. Is that right?
MR: Yeah. Basically it’s accepting and letting go. Forgiving. Letting go of that poison.
Life is action\reaction. There’s a consequence for every action we take, and there will always be a consequence. But it’s up to us whether we carry that poison or wound with us.
There are people who continue to hurt themselves in order to say [my wound is alive and hurting. They tell themselves,] “I need to keep this wound alive because it keeps me going.”
But we heal. The [physical] body naturally heals, so does our emotional body. [When it heals,] it allows us to expand. It allows us to see the good in life. And when we finally get to see the good in life, then that guard that keeps the wound fresh, that doesn’t allow it to heal, will give us space.
DCHP: I take it that as you heal wounds that present themselves in your life and get past them, that constitutes essentially coming closer to your natural state – no longer being so domesticated. Is that fair?
MR: Um, hm! [Our] natural state is this living being. So when we have a wound, the wound tends to heal itself, if we allow it to. Which means that what keeps it from healing most of the time is our own beliefs, our own ideas.
In that interior dialogue, that’s where domestication lives. If we go back to the mirror, those judgments, that voice, that internal voice, that’s where we take domestication in. That’s where domestication has power. Life domesticates us with action\reaction. There’s a consequence for every action but that has nothing to do with our emotional acceptance.
If we fail the test, we fail the test. We’ll take it again. But if our domestication says, “Oh, you dumb _______,” – that’s domestication coming in. We reject ourselves. [We can allow a mistake to] become a reason to punish [or we can let] a mistake became a reason to learn. Right there, you can see the difference between domestication and passion.
Basically [you ask,] “I want to do this. How can I get it done? How can I improve my craft?” Versus “I need to get it right.”
At that point [if you’re avoiding condemnation], what motivates you to get better at your craft is not a love for it, but this [other] thing. You try to do your best because you don’t want to feel the sting of your own rejection. That’s night and day.
DCHP: Okay. Punishment is in the realm of domestication. Learning from consequences is in the realm of passion.
MR: Yeah. They both [operate through] our emotions. One is basically in the form of punishment. We’re using our love, our conditional love, to judge, to appraise.
In the other one, the emotion is, “I want to experience this feeling. I want to experience this moment. I’ll do it.”
[In the second case,] if you got into a relationship and it lasted for two years [for example], at the end it would be painful. But you’re not going to judge yourself for going into the relationship. You’re going to be thankful. You are going to say, “Thank you so much for the time. I’m very appreciative but I’m not going to reject myself. I’m going to learn from it, I’m still going to feel the pain, but I’m going to give myself permission to heal.”
DCHP: Right. And by the way, is it possible – this might not be the best way to put it – to enjoy pain?
MR: Yeah. Some of the greatest music ever written has come from pain. Some of the greatest poetry comes from pain. There some artists who try to hold onto their teenage angst, they tried to give themselves pain because they think that’s the only way to give themselves illusion, [the only way] that allows the muse to come in.
But the fact is that pain is just a natural consequence of being hurt. We might shy from it, yes, it’s painful. But it’s just part of experience. It’s something that allows us to enjoy the good times even more.
DCHP: How did the transition from your father to you work? What was involved?
MR: I rebelled against it. (both laugh) My brother, too. My father, too. My grandmother rebelled against it [at first], too.
Tezcatlipocatl is a Nahuatl word, a name, that in English means “the smoky mirror.” Names reflect something in nature and life. So, Tezcatlipocatl is basically reflecting the experience of seeing yourself in the mirror.
For example, when I apply the levels of attachment in my book, I’m telling the story of Tezcatlipocatl. At level 5, the smoke is so thick I can’t see beyond the tip of my nose. The mirror is completely smoky – so much so that I can’t see the mirror.
At level 4, the smoke begins to dissipate and I see my reflection and I believe my reflection is the truth. I’m not the truth, my reflection is the truth.
At level 3, I’ve detached enough to think that the reflection and I am one. That both the reflection is the truth, and I am the truth.
At level 2, I become aware that I am the truth and my reflection is reflecting me.
At level 1, I am the truth whether there is a mirror or not. I can reflect myself in any mirror.
So I just told the story of Tezcatlipocatl. Of course, in the story of Tezcatlipocatl, with him going into the cave, seeing himself in the mirror, and also coming out [of the cave] and seeing all the stars and realizing that he was the stars…
Basically, it’s a different way to tell the story, even though both stories are analogies. In one, I hear it, and it’s this fantastic allegory that it’s hard to see myself in. It’s hard to relate to it. The other one allows me to see myself.
DCHP: Or it demands that you see yourself.
MR: Yeah. The thing about it is that one is my understanding of the teaching, of the original story. I understood that lesson, now how can I teach it in a way that is easily shareable?
So, when I understood that, that’s when I decided to stop rebelling. Because I got it. I understood it. Since then, 9 or 10 years later, I found a way to say it. I’ve gotten better [as I’ve continued to say it]. So, 10 years ago my rebellion ended.
”A Brief View Into Toltec Philosophy: A Conversation With Don Miguel Ruiz, Jr. – Part I” at StoriesToEntertain.com by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.