THE FIVE LEVELS OF ATTACHMENT
By DON MIGUEL RUIZ JR.
Hierophant Publishing Copyright © 2013 don Miguel Ruiz Jr.
All rights reserved.
An Exploration of Perception and Potential
Our point of view creates our reality. When we are stuck in our beliefs, our reality becomes rigid, stagnant, and oppressive. We become bound to our attachments because we have lost our ability to recognize that we have a choice to be free of them.
When we look at ourselves in the mirror, we often hear a narrative in our mind of what we see, a definition of self in the form of an identity that is based on our "agreements"—the thoughts and beliefs we have said yes to. This identity stems from ideological beliefs that have come to us over a period of time from our family, culture, religion, education, friends, and beyond, and these beliefs are encapsulated into a single system that is represented in the reflected image of a physical living being—in my case, a living being named Miguel Ruiz Jr., with a point of view that is uniquely my own.
Each one of my agreements represents an attachment I have created for myself over the course of my lifetime. For example, when I look into the mirror, I perceive myself in this way:
I am ...
a nagual (a spiritual guide)
and so on ...
This list of self-definitions is my reflection, and when I really look at myself, I can hear the narration of my agreements and the conditions that have become my model for self-acceptance. My thoughts are the narrators of my attachments, my belief system.
I project onto the image of myself the values and attributes that reflect my beliefs. The more attached I am to my beliefs, the more difficult it becomes to see myself for who I am at this moment, and the less freedom I have to see life from a fresh perspective and perhaps choose a different path. As my attachments become more intense and more entrenched, I lose the awareness of my Authentic Self as it becomes obscured by the filters of my belief system. In the Toltec tradition, we call this the Smokey Mirror—the smoke that doesn't allow us to perceive our Authentic Self.
What gives these attachments their strength is conditional love. When you look in the mirror, instead of accepting yourself for who you are at this very moment, you likely start telling yourself why you are unacceptable in your current form, and what you need to do to be able to accept yourself: I must meet this expectation to be worthy of my own love.
The desire to obtain the flawless fulfillment of the archetypal model of each one of my agreements distorts my reflection even more. I begin to judge and evaluate myself according to the standards of my agreements, which have turned into the conditions for self-acceptance. I implement a system of reward and punishment to train myself to reach that archetypal model; this is known in the Toltec tradition as domestication.
The primary tool used to domesticate oneself is self-judgment. Using my archetypal model of what "I am Miguel" is supposed to mean, I see upon looking at my reflection all the perceived flaws or inadequacies, and my domestication springs into action:
"I'm not smart enough."
"I'm not attractive enough."
"I don't have enough."
"I'm lacking this or that."
and so on.
Self-judgment resides where self-acceptance wishes to be. Our attachment to these negative beliefs and self-judgments can become so normal that we don't even recognize them as condemnations anymore; we accept them as a part of who we are. But at a very basic level, our self-judgments are all consequences of what we believe about ourselves at our core—whether we accept or reject ourselves.
Of all the beliefs to detach from, this is the most important one: Let go of the attachment that you must obtain some image of perfection in order to be happy. And this isn't only about appearances; it includes the way we think, the philosophy we follow, our spiritual pursuits, and our place in society. All these things are conditions upon which we accept ourselves. We think that in order to be worthy of our own love we must live up to the expectations we place on ourselves—but we need to realize that these expectations are the expression of our agreements, not of our true nature.
Ironically, it is often at the moment that we have the opportunity to see our truth—when we are faced with our reflection, whether in a mirror or outside in the world—that the narrators speak the loudest. I know of people, myself included, who have refused to look at themselves in the mirror because the self-judgments were deafening. It is impossible for people—teens and adults alike—to live up to an illusion.
Of course, it's easy to blame our media, our culture, or our community for perpetuating images of what is expected of us. We are flooded with commercials and archetypal images of heroes and heroines, beautiful damsels in distress and professional athletes, examples of ugliness and how not to be. But at the very core of it, there is no one to blame, because a commercial, like self-judgment, has no power over us unless we agree with its message. It is only when we willingly attach ourselves to these images and distortions that our happiness is compromised.
We do not need to take the blame for these self-judgments. We can simply become aware that they have been developing in our lives since childhood through the process of domestication. Once we are aware of our self-judgments, we can reclaim our freedom by choosing for ourselves to transcend the rewards and punishment model that has been imposed upon us to eventually arrive at a place of self-acceptance.
We have a choice.... That is our power.
When you look into the mirror, you are the only one who can hear your narrators; only you know what those self-judgments are. They take whatever voice and shape you give them, but they are only the expression of something you've already said yes to. You can make the choice to detach yourself from the standards that create an unrealistic image of yourself by knowing that you have the power to say no. When you no longer believe in a self-judgment, it will no longer have any power over you. You can choose to view yourself from a place of acceptance based on the undeniable truth that you are already perfect and complete exactly the way you are right now.
From this point of view, you may still choose to make some life changes; but now the motivation to change is not because you hope to someday love yourself but because you already do love yourself. When the reflection is viewed from this angle, change flows in synchronicity with the trajectory of your life, and the possibilities are limitless. Suffering only occurs when we forget that.
Mistaking Perfection for Imperfection
When my father first tried to get me to understand that I am perfect, I found it impossible to accept. I tried to understand, but I couldn't. I was attached to my belief that perfection is something to be attained through hard work and dedication—and I still had a long way to go. How could I be perfect? I hadn't yet accomplished my goals: I wasn't what I wanted to be. I couldn't attract the girl I wanted. I didn't weigh what I thought I should weigh. On and on I went with my diatribe, managing to ascertain and then judge all of my imperfections.
With this kind of perfection, whenever our story does not match our beliefs, we judge it as imperfect; then we punish ourselves for not living up to our beliefs of how we think we should live. We eventually acquire a definition of perfection that has nothing to do with actual perfection: "being free from all flaws or defects." Most often, we read this definition through the eyes of judgment, from the point of view of someone outside who's trying to live up to the stories we've created about ourselves.
If we do happen to achieve perfection momentarily from this point of view, we reward ourselves with conditional self-love. Then we use conditional self-love as our motivator to pursue this distorted idea of perfection in the future. It's a circuitous problem.
I continued to struggle with this concept as I grew older. Still, my father persisted throughout the years with this message. He told me, "Miguel, when you understand that you are perfect just the way you are, you will see that everything is perfect just the way it is."
It's not easy to just wake up one day and say you're perfect and actually believe it. It requires desire and commitment. First, you leave behind any false ideals of perfection—you release your attachment to what you believe it means to be the perfect you. In order to learn this lesson, I needed to stop judging myself for not meeting my own expectations and accept myself for who I am at this very moment. I began at the beginning, learning to love myself and giving gratitude every morning for being alive.
Second, you view life through the eyes of an artist and accept that everything is a work in progress, a never-ending masterpiece. Every brushstroke is perfect simply because it exists. As the paint hits the canvas, it grows and develops into what it is—even if we don't always have an outline to keep us in the lines. Whether colorful scribbles or a detailed landscape, each element of the piece is fulfilling and complete, even as we continue to paint, changing and evolving with every stroke of life. As my father says, "Our life is a canvas, and we are all Picassos."
From an early age, it is engrained in almost every one of us that we must achieve certain ideals or become "somebody" in order to be worthy of our own acceptance, of our own love. Existing within this as-soon-as-I-have-this or once-I-do-that mentality chains us to the belief that we are not free to live our lives now.
Many of us are familiar with Miguel de Cervantes' great literary masterpiece Don Quixote. In it, retired gentleman Alonso Quijano moves to La Mancha and becomes so caught up in books of chivalry that his sense of reality becomes so distorted his identity transforms into the character of don Quixote. He sees the world through filters of fantasy and adventure. Whatever reality presents, don Quixote redirects the story to fit his own expectations and beliefs. By the end, our hero is defeated and dejected, chasing after an image that forever eludes him.
Like don Quixote, we are constantly investing ourselves into the stories we want to believe. We create our own personas so that we are "somebody." When I was young, I took on various identities. I was Miguel Ruiz Jr., the Goth. Then I became Miguel the Intellectual, then Miguel the Bohemian, then Miguel the Artist, and so on. I gave myself rules the same way don Quixote created his rules—through a distorted perception of who I was. Other people would see their own truth and wonder what I was doing. But all I saw was what I wanted to see. And like don Quixote's faithful servant Sancho Panza, I heard my stories and knew I was being a little crazy, but I believed them just in case I was right.
I spent many years trying to live up to those images I created of myself before discovering that this is who I am—no story needed. It's really me. I am perfect at this very moment, and that is all I need to enjoy my life. Once I learned this, I could change my life in any direction I saw fit at any given moment. I now had the freedom to choose. The possibilities became endless, just as they always had been. I do not make changes in my life today because I feel I must change in order to accept and love myself; I make changes to express myself and experience more of life, because I already accept and love myself for who I am.
Flaws and defects originate from our own ideas and beliefs. In order to recognize perfection—or to see the world and ourselves as is—we become aware of our attachments to our ideas and beliefs and let go of them, even if only briefly, to see beyond them. I have always been perfect, and so have you. When we can't perceive this, it's because we are too busy judging everything for not being something other than what it is. The world and everything in it is perfect simply because it exists at this very moment, in the only manner it can possibly exist. The same is true for me and for you. And that is perfection: "I am because I am at this moment."
This is what freedom is: the ability to enjoy and be exactly who you are without suppressing yourself in the form of judgment. A bird is a bird. A saguaro is a saguaro. A human is a human. Miguel is Miguel. You are you. Perfect.
From that point of view, change is different. If we try to change without first accepting who we are, we risk creating more false images of ourselves. But if we accept ourselves for who we are at this very moment, we change because we want to grow and evolve with life; love is no longer the condition for change, it is the starting point for change. This is the true meaning of unconditional love.
Understanding the Personal Dream and the Dream of the Planet
Our mind's main job is to dream—to perceive and project information onto a linear reality framed by matter when we are awake, and onto a nonlinear reality without a material frame when we are asleep or daydreaming. Our existence continually travels back and forth between these two types of dreams, or forms of perception.
The Personal Dream
First, there is your Personal Dream. No one else will ever know what it is like to live life through your point of view. I might know you for years, but I will never know what it feels like to be you. I cannot know what it feels like to be in your body. I will never know, for example, what coffee tastes like when you drink it; I can only know this from my point of view. I am alone. I was born alone, and I will die alone. There is no one else living in this body, and there is no one seeing life through my eyes. Your beliefs, and your beliefs alone, belong to you. You are the only one who is with you for your entire life. Imagine if you didn't like yourself. That would be a tough life, because there is no escaping yourself. Regardless of how much you may distract yourself, you can never escape your own point of view.
We have many different kinds of relationships in this life, and they last for different durations of time. There are people who have been in my life forever, like my mom and dad. And there are others who I hope will be in my life for a long time, like my wife and my children. Other people might come and go more quickly—friends, coworkers, acquaintances. But no matter what the case may be, eventually we will have to say goodbye someday as the moment to move on arrives.
You perceive and project your life and your dream. This dream is constructed through your thoughts and your experiences of being alive. You experience your dream through the nervous system in your body, through your eyes and ears, through your emotions, through your love. You are the only one who knows how wonderful it is to feel that pleasure of eating a meal you enjoy, of hugging or kissing someone, of simply being alive, through your own perception. This is your Personal Dream. You can make it the most beautiful paradise or the most perfect nightmare; it is all based on what you believe in, what you think, what you know.
The Dream of the Planet
Every living creature is in communion. The communion between us can be as small as you and me or it can be as big as a household, a community, a nation, a continent, and so on. Along this line, the Dream of the Planet can be as small as a dream shared between just two individuals or it can be as large as a dream shared amongst everyone in existence—and anywhere in between.
What constructs the Dream of the Planet? It starts with you and me. Just as I am responsible for me to the tips of my fingers, you are responsible for you to the tips of your fingers. We are two individual dreams, two individual points of perception. This relationship between us, however small it may be, is the dream called us. It happens when we interact with one another and the ideas, concepts, and agreements flow between us.
The Dream of the Planet is composed of our yeses and nos—also known as intention. For every yes, something is created. For every no, there is no creation. With our imagination, we can create things that might be beautiful or ugly, and as soon as we say yes, the action is taken to manifest that thing. The Dream of the Planet is constructed by our collective choices; is the manifestation of our shared intention.
We are all connected because we have a desire to engage one another. We are now sharing a piece of a common dream, and this is the Dream of the Planet. You see, the Dream of the Planet is constructed by that need to share and communicate with one another. We either engage each other in a relationship based on respect, or we impose and subjugate each other disrespectfully with a need to make each other fit the mold of our own beliefs and ideals. (Continues...)
Excerpted from THE FIVE LEVELS OF ATTACHMENT by DON MIGUEL RUIZ JR.. Copyright © 2013 don Miguel Ruiz Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Hierophant Publishing.
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