When I was 14, I began apprenticing under my father, don Miguel Ruiz Sr., and my grandmother, Sara Macias Vasquez, who most people knew as Madre Sarita. She was a well-known healer in San Diego, California, who was born and raised in Mexico. Her grandfather was a Toltec shaman who taught Madre Sarita our culture’s holistic healing traditions.
When we began working together, she asked me to translate her prayers and talks from Spanish into English. I was having a hard time, and she eventually confronted me about it. “Are you controlling knowledge or is knowledge controlling you?” she asked me. “You’re listening to your own thoughts, Miguel. You’re not listening to me. If you were listening to me, you’d be able to translate everything. But if you’re only listening to your mind, then you’re putting into words what you understand while you are trying to understand it and make it right according to your belief. When that happens you’re not paying attention to life. You’re missing out on the experience.”
I eventually understood what she was trying to teach me—that when knowledge controls you, your beliefs control you.
This will not only blind you to the perception of life because it forces its own rhythm—its own projected image— onto the world, but it will also dictate your responses to any situation. In other words, when knowledge controls you, then your will is subjugated.
Your free will doesn’t exist because it’s completely bound by your beliefs.
If I follow the San Diego Chargers football team, for example, and the whole culture says I have to hate the Oakland Raiders, my knowledge has already told me who not to like and who to accept. My knowledge is controlling me. However, when I control knowledge, instead of being an instrument to distort my perception, it's an instrument that allows me to understand the world and converse with it. I'm aware that knowledge exists because I give it life.
If I begin to detach from the conditions of being a Chargers fan, I can then see a Raiders fan as a human being, someone who has a preference for a different team, but who shares my love for the sport. We have something in common, and we can have a friendship based on that. Here, knowledge isn’t blinding me.
This brings us to the concepts I wrote about in my book, The Five Levels of Attachment: Toltec Wisdom for the Modern World (Hierophant Publishing, 2013). These levels are instruments for becoming aware of how attached you are to your own beliefs and ideas (and how open you are to those of others). That’s important because your beliefs create your reality, what Toltec teachings call your Personal Dream, which contributes to our collective reality (the Dream of the Planet). Understanding what level you’re operating on can help you see how your attachment to knowledge and beliefs can lead either to freedom—the ability to express your full potential—or to suffering.
The first level of attachment is the authentic self.
At this level, I am alive and I’m aware of it. I know that I can go in any direction; and just like a little baby, I have my whole life ahead of me. I am infinite possibility. In terms of my grandmother’s question to me about knowledge, I could answer that I’m a living being regardless of my knowledge, regardless of what I think and know.
Level two is preference.
At this level, I will attach to a preferred direction in life, using knowledge as an instrument that will help me make choices and navigate this world. I’m able to attach to some directions, and when the moment is over, I’m able to detach. That’s what makes attachments healthy—the ability to detach when the attachment is no longer necessary or appropriate.
Level three is identity.
At this level, detaching becomes a little more difficult because knowledge and I are one. I become so attached to a particular moment that I give myself the name attached to that moment. I define myself by the game I watch or by the food I eat or by the books I read or by the prayers I give. I see myself not as the experience of life but as a definition I’ve given myself—and the only way to know myself is through this definition.
Level four is internalization.
At this level, I’m so attached to knowledge that I rely on it for the rules by which I will live my life. Knowledge basically becomes a system of reward and punishment, and so here we begin to love each other conditionally. If you live up to my expectation, then you’re worthy of my love; and if you don’t live up to that expectation, then you aren’t. And if I don’t live up to my own expectation, then I’m subject to my own rejection. The attachment to these beliefs becomes so great that I begin to distort knowledge because knowledge now has to live up to my expectation. I have to make it fit my beliefs.
Level five is fanaticism.
At this level, knowledge has total control over me and I have no awareness of my authentic self. I see myself only through this identity that I must live up to—and I see everyone in my life as the identity I have given them that they must live up to, as well. At this level, people become so zealous that they’re violent toward each other and their cultures go to war with one another.
This blinding of perception is like the story of Don Quixote—a man so attached to his books of chivalry that one day he renames himself Don Quixote de la Mancha. From then on, everything he sees is a distortion. He sees windmills as giants because he believes that if he sees giants then he is worthy of the name Don Quixote, but if he sees windmills then he sees the truth—that he is not Don Quixote de la Mancha. When he finally sees that the windmills are really just windmills, he concocts a story about a magician changing the windmills to make him look bad. In other words, he tries to continue the illusion.
When we have a moment of clarity like that, we become aware of what we’ve created—aware that those ideas exist only because we believe them. When that happens, we then realize we have a choice. We can continue to believe our illusion or we can let go and allow ourselves to have the experience of being who we truly are without illusion.
That’s what the Toltec tradition is about—realizing that we are the creators of our own Personal Dream and that we are all cocreators of the Dream of the Planet. We are continually engaged and manifesting things within our own life as well as in our community. The point of all this work is to enjoy life, which we do by accepting ourselves just the way we are. That allows us to love all people unconditionally.
As creators, we can choose for our voice to manifest a nightmare or a beautiful dream. Which will you choose?