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The Wounded Mind
Perhaps you have never thought about it, but on one level or another, all of us are masters. We are masters because we have the power to create and to rule our own lives.
Just as societies and religions around the world create incredible mythologies, we create our own. Our personal mythology is populated by heroes and villains, angels and demons, kings and commoners. We create an entire population in our mind, including multiple personalities for ourselves. Then we master the image we are going to use in certain circumstances. We become artists of pretending and projecting our images, and we master whatever we believe we are. When we meet other people, we classify them right away, and assign them a role in our lives. We create an image for others, according to what we believe they are. And wedo the same thing with everyone and everything around us.
You have the power to create. Your power is so strong that whatever you believe comes true. You create yourself, whatever you believe you are. You are the way you are because that is what you believe about yourself. Your whole reality, everything you believe, is your creation. You have the same power as any other human in the world. The main difference between you and someone else is how you apply your power, what you create with your power. You may be similar to others in many ways, but no one in the whole world lives her life the way you do.
You have practiced all of your life to be what you are, and you do it so well that you master what you believe you are. You master your own personality, your own beliefs; you master every action, every reaction. You practice for years and years, and you achieve the level of mastery to be what you believe you are. Once we can see that all of us are masters, we can see what kind of mastery we have.
When we are children, and we have a problem with someone, we get angry. For whatever reason, that anger pushes the problem away; we get the result we want. It happens a second time--we react with anger--and now we know if we get angry we push the problem away. Then we practice and practice, until we become masters of anger.
In the same way, we become masters of jealousy, masters of sadness, masters of self-rejection. All of our drama and suffering is by practice. We make an agreement with ourselves, and we practice that agreement until it becomes a whole mastery. The way we think, the way we feel, and the way we act become so routine that we no longer need to put our attention on what we are doing. It is just by action-reaction that we behave a certain way.
To become masters of love, we have to practice love. The art of relationship is also a whole mastery, and the only way to reach mastery is with practice. To master a relationship is therefore about action. It is not about concepts or attaining knowledge. It is about action. Of course, to have action, we need to have some knowledge, or at least a little more awareness of the way humans operate.
* * *
I want you to imagine that you live on a planet where everyone has a skin disease. For two or three thousand years, the people on your planet have suffered the same disease: Their entire bodies are covered by wounds that are infected, and those wounds really hurt when you touch them. Of course, they believe this is a normal physiology of the skin. Even the medical books describe this disease as a normal condition. When the people are born, their skin is healthy, but around three or four years of age, the first wounds start to appear. By the time they are teenagers, there are wounds all over their bodies.
Can you imagine how these people are going to treat each other? In order to relate with one another, they have to protect their wounds. They hardly ever touch each other's skin because it is too painful. If by accident you touch someone's skin, it is so painful that right away she gets angry and touches your skin, just to get even. Still, the instinct to love is so strong that you pay a high price to have relationships with others.
Well, imagine that a miracle occurs one day. You awake and your skin is completely healed. There are no wounds anymore, and it doesn't hurt to be touched. Healthy skin you can touch feels wonderful because the skin is made for perception. Can you imagine yourself with healthy skin in a world where everyone has a skin disease? You cannot touch others because it hurts them, and no one touches you because they make the assumption that it will hurt you.
If you can imagine this, perhaps you can understand that someone from another planet who came to visit us would have a similar experience with humans. But it isn't our skin that is full of wounds. What thevisitor would discover is that the human mind issick with a disease called fear. Just like the description of the infected skin, the emotional body is full ofwounds, and these wounds are infected with emotional poison. The manifestation of the disease of fear is anger, hate, sadness, envy, and hypocrisy; the result of the disease is all the emotions that make humans suffer.
All humans are mentally sick with the same disease. We can even say that this world is a mental hospital. But this mental disease has been in this world for thousands of years, and the medical books, the psychiatric books, and the psychology books describe the disease as normal. They consider it normal, but I can tell you it is not normal.
When the fear becomes too great, the reasoning mind starts to fail and can no longer take all those wounds with all the poison. In the psychology books we call this a mental illness. We call it schizophrenia, paranoia, psychosis, but these diseases are created when the reasoning mind is so frightened and the wounds so painful, that it becomes better to break contact with the outside world.
Humans live in continuous fear of being hurt, and this creates a big drama wherever we go. The way humans relate to each other is so emotionally painful that for no apparent reason we get angry, jealous, envious, sad. To even say "I love you" can be frightening. But even if it's painful and fearful to have an emotional interaction, still we keep going, we enter into a relationship, we get married, and we have children.
In order to protect our emotional wounds, and because of our fear of being hurt, humans create something very sophisticated in the mind: a big denial system. In that denial system we become the perfect liars. We lie so perfectly that we lie to ourselves and we even believe our own lies. We don't notice we are lying, and sometimes even when we know we are lying, we justify the lie and excuse the lie to protect ourselves from the pain of our wounds.
The denial system is like a wall of fog in front of our eyes that blinds us from seeing the truth. We wear a social mask because it's too painful to see ourselves or to let others see us as we really are. And the denial system lets us pretend that everyone believes what we want them to believe about us. We put up these barriers for protection, to keep other people away, but those barriers also keep us inside, restricting our freedom. Humans cover themselves, and protect themselves, and when someone says, "You are pushing my buttons," it is not exactly true. What is true is that you are touching a wound in his mind, and he reacts because it hurts.
When you are aware that everyone around you has emotional wounds with emotional poison, you can easily understand the relationship of humans in what the Toltecs call the dream of hell. From the Toltec perspective, everything we believe about ourselves, and everything we know about our world, is a dream. If you look at any religious description of hell, it is the same as human society, the way we dream. Hell is a place of suffering, a place of fear, a place of war and violence, a place of judgment and no justice, a place of punishment that never ends. There are humans versus humans in a jungle of predators; humans full of judgment, full of blame, full of guilt, full of emotional poison--envy, anger, hate, sadness, suffering. We create all these little demons in our mind because we have learned to dream hell in our own life.
Each of us creates a personal dream for our own self, but the humans before us created a big outside dream, the dream of human society. The outside Dream, or the Dream of the Planet, is the collective Dream of billions of dreamers. The big Dream includes all the rules of society, its laws, its religions, its different cultures, and ways to be. All of this information stored inside our mind is like a thousand voices talking to us at once. The Toltecs call this the mitote.
The real us is pure love; we are Life. The real us has nothing to do with the Dream, but the mitote keeps us from seeing what we really are. When you see the Dream from this perspective, and if you have the awareness of what you are, you see the nonsense behavior of humans, and it becomes amusing. What for everyone else is a big drama, for you becomes a comedy. You can see humans suffering over something that is not important, that is not even real. But we have no choice. We are born in this society, we grow up in this society, and we learn to be like everyone else, playing nonsense all the time, competing with mere nonsense.
Imagine that you could visit a planet where everyone has a different kind of emotional mind. The way they relate to each other is always in happiness, always in love, always in peace. Now imagine that one day you awake on this planet, and you no longer have wounds in your emotional body. You are no longer afraid to be who you are. Whatever someone says about you, whatever they do, you don't take it personally, and it doesn't hurt anymore. You no longer need to protect yourself. You are not afraid to love, to share, to open your heart. But no one else is like you. How can you relate with people who are emotionally wounded and sick with fear?
* * *
When a human is born, the emotional mind, the emotional body, is completely healthy. Maybe around three or four years of age, the first wounds in the emotional body start to appear and get infected with emotional poison. But if you observe children who are two or three years old, if you see how they behave, they are playing all the time. You see them laughing all the time. Their imagination is so powerful, and the way they dream is an adventure of exploration. When something is wrong they react and defend themselves, but then they just let go and turn their attention to the moment again, to play again, to explore and have fun again. They are living in the moment. They are not ashamed of the past; they are not worried about the future. Little children express what they feel, and they are not afraid to love.
The happiest moments in our lives are when we are playing just like children, when we are singing and dancing, when we are exploring and creating just for fun. It is wonderful when we behave like a child because this is the normal human mind, the normal human tendency. As children, we are innocent and it is natural for us to express love. But what has happened to us? What has happened to the whole world?
What has happened is that when we are children, the adults already have that mental disease, and they are highly contagious. How do they pass this disease to us? They "hook our attention," and they teach us to be like them. That is how we pass our disease to our children, and that is how our parents, our teachers, our older siblings, the whole society of sick people infected us with that disease. They hooked our attention and put information into our mind through repetition. This is the way we learned. This is the way we program a human mind.
The problem is the program, the information wehave stored in our mind. By hooking the attention, we teach children a language, how to read, how to behave, how to dream. We domesticate humans the same way we domesticate a dog or any other animal: with punishment and reward. This is perfectly normal. What we call education is nothing but domestication of the human being.
We are afraid to be punished, but later we are also afraid of not getting the reward, of not being good enough for Mom or Dad, sibling or teacher. The need to be accepted is born. Before that, we don't care whether we are accepted or not. People's opinions are not important. They are not important because we just want to play and we live in the present.
The fear of not getting the reward becomes the fear of rejection. The fear of not being good enough for someone else is what makes us try to change, what makes us create an image. Then we try to project that image according to what they want us to be, just to be accepted, just to have the reward. We learn to pretend to be what we are not, and we practice trying to be someone else, just to be good enough for Mom, for Dad, for the teacher, for our religion, for whatever. We practice and practice, and we master how to be what we are not.
Soon we forget who we really are, and we start to live our images. We create not just one image, but many different images according to the different groups of people we associate with. We create an image at home, an image at school, and when we grow up we create even more images.
This is also true for a simple relationship between a man and a woman. The woman has an outer image that she tries to project to others, but when she is alone, she has another image of herself. The man also has an outer image and an inner image. By the time they are adults, the inner image and outer image are so different that they hardly match anymore. In the relationship between a man and woman, there are four images at least. How can they really know each other? They don't. They can only try to understand the image. But there are more images to consider.
When a man meets a woman, he makes an image of her from his point of view, and the woman makes an image of the man from her point of view. Then he tries to make her fit the image he makes for her, and she tries to make him fit the image she makes for him. Now there are six images between them. Of course, they are lying to each other, even if they don't know they are lying. Their relationship is based on fear; it is based on lies. It is not based on truth, because they cannot see through all that fog.
In the period when we are little children, there is no conflict with the images we pretend to be. Our images are not really challenged until we begin to interact with the outside world and no longer have our parents' protection. This is why being a teenager is particularly difficult. Even if we are prepared to support and defend our images, as soon as we try to project our images to the outside world, the world fights back. The outside world starts proving to us, not just privately but publicly, that we are not what we pretend to be.
Let's take the example of a teenage boy who pretends to be very intelligent. He goes to a debate at school, and in that debate someone who is more intelligent and more prepared wins the debate and makes him look ridiculous in front of everyone. He will try to explain and excuse and justify his image in front of his peers. He will be so kind to everyone and will try to save his image in front of them, but he knows he is lying. Of course, he tries his best not to break in front of his peers, but as soon as he is alone and sees himself in a mirror, he goes and breaks the mirror. He hates himself; he feels that he is so stupid, that he is the worst. There is a big discrepancy between the inner image and the image he tries to project to the outside world. The bigger the discrepancy, the more difficult the adaptation to the society Dream, and the less love he will have for himself.
Between the image he pretends to be and the inner image when he is alone are lies and more lies. Both images are completely out of touch with reality; they are false, but he doesn't see that. Maybe someone else can see that, but he is completely blind. His denial system tries to protect the wounds, but the wounds are real, and he is hurting because he is trying so hard to defend an image.
When we are children, we learn that everyone's opinions are important, and we rule our lives according to those opinions. A simple opinion from someone can put us deeper into hell, an opinion that is not even true: "You look ugly. You are wrong. You are stupid." Opinions have a lot of power over the nonsense behavior of people who live in hell. That is why we need to hear that we are good, that we are doing well, that we are beautiful. "How do I look? How was what I said? How am I doing?"
We need to hear the opinions of others because we are domesticated and we can be manipulated by those opinions. That is why we seek recognition from other people; we need emotional support from other people; we need to be accepted by the outside Dream, via other people. That is why teenagers drink alcohol, take drugs, or start smoking. It is just to be accepted by other people who have all those opinions; it is just to be considered "cool."
So many humans are suffering because of all the false images we try to project. Humans pretend to be something very important, but at the same time we believe we are nothing. We work so hard to be someone in that society Dream, to be recognized and approved by others. We try so hard to be important, to be a winner, to be powerful, to be rich, to be famous, to express our personal dream, and to impose our dream onto other people around us. Why? Because humans believe the Dream is real, and we take it very seriously.
Excerpted from La Maestria del Amor by Don Miguel Ruiz Copyright © 2001 by Don Miguel Ruiz. Excerpted by permission.
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