“The Mastery of Love” by Don Miguel Ruiz is an exploration into the relationships that make up our lives. It is considered, as stated on the cover, to be a practical guide to the art of relationship and addresses this topic with respect to the ancient wisdom of the Toltecs. The Toltecs were known long ago, throughout Southern Mexico, as the “women and men of knowledge.” In fact, they were a society made of artists and scientists that explored the spiritual knowledge of the ancient ones.
Don Miguel Ruiz sets the stage of the book with the quote, “A Toltec is an artist of Love, an artist of the Spirit, someone who is creating every moment, every second, the most beautiful art – the Art of Dreaming. Life is nothing but a dream, and if we are artists, then we can create our life with Love, and our dream becomes a masterpiece of art.” He acknowledges that we are all masters in the sense that we have the power to create both the lives we have always wished for and the ones we wished not. The dream, or life, we experience is consistently being co-created by all of humanity, wherein as a collective we decide on the set of rules to operate by. The only issue, however, is that many of these rules are grounded in fear and harsh judgment. Challenging the rules or offering alternative solutions becomes unwelcomed, thus creating a perpetual cycle of self-abuse and a system that enslaves us all. Unless of course, we realize it’s just a dream.
Just as religions and societies have developed mythologies of heroes and villains, so do we create stories around our lives, about our lives. These stories can be inspiring and empowering or grounded in a defeatist manner. As children we receive a certain set of programing past down by our parents and family. Don Miguel Ruiz refers to this programing as “Domestication.” Domestication is essentially the idea that we are influenced and/or dictated by the world around us to the point of being kept from living and expressing ourselves authentically, without regard to fear. In this book, we are shown how this domestication creates fear-based beliefs that lead to emotional wounds and self-rejection from our relationships and how we can heal them through the practice of self-love and forgiveness. Furthermore, he explores the differences between living from a place of love versus living from a place of fear and how this impacts the dream, or life, we choose to create.
When you watch children interact with their environment, you begin to notice that they do so with such ease of novelty; with such love. As children we did not place judgments on everything we encountered. Things were not necessarily perceived to be bad or good, they just were what they were. But eventually over time, we began to experience domestication, where we quickly learned what the world thinks about everything and how things ought to be. This marks the loss of innocence and the beginning stages of our sense of self. Our self-concept is the overall perception of who we are and is based on the beliefs, attitudes, and values we hold about ourselves. This is essentially the story we tell ourselves, about ourselves.
Consider for example, 17-year-old Bobby who grew up with avoidant parents, struggling with school and getting teased for it, convincing him he was too stupid and not capable of being successful or going to college. Because of this defeatist attitude he embodies, Bobby will go on to prove everyone correct and be miserable and unfulfilled in life. We can refer to this as self-fulfilling prophecy. Self-fulfilling prophecies are when predictions of future interactions lead us to subconsciously ensuring the interaction unfolds that way. This is a great example that the thoughts we have affect our feelings and attitudes, which then ultimately affect our actions.
This programing, or domestication, of Bobby has resulted in the fear-based mindset he applies to his life, causing perpetual self-abuse, to which he feels helpless against. This can also be referred to as the looking-glass self, which is defined as the concept of self being based on how others define you. Conversely, if Bobby had the awareness that no matter the situation, self-autonomy was always possible, then he would have a greater sense of self-love, to which would manifest itself as having a higher self-esteem. He would decide that he is deserving and worthy of the happiness and success of pursuing further education despite his difficult up-bringing.
Don Miguel Ruiz speaks of how our domestication allows for us to develop several images, or versions of ourselves, that we present to others in different situations. This idea commonly known as self-presentation, where we present ourselves in certain ways so that others perceive us as being a specific type of person. We feel the need to do this primarily because of the degree of uncertainty we experience when in unfamiliar situations. It has become an almost unspoken agreement of false authenticity, where we present an image of ourselves that we believe will be acceptable or attractive by others; only to hook them long enough before we begin expose the true versions of ourselves. This is most similar to the concept of social penetration theory, where there are multiple layers of the self that are slowly exposed over time as relationships progresses.
Fundamental Attribution Error is the tendency to attribute others’ behaviors solely to internal causes rather than the social or environmental forces. When we have allowed ourselves to think from a place of fear, we are quick to place judgments and criticisms on the people, places, and things we encounter. This practice can set us up for failure in our relationships by perpetuating the state of dishonesty, hurtfulness, and avoidance. Consider the example of driving in traffic when a nearby car quickly maneuvers into your lane while you are distracted with radio. You react safely to avoid collision but then immediately feel irate as you honk and yell “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Because you were ill prepared, the situations caused you to panic and fear for your life momentarily, but you followed that up by placing blame on driver of the other car. However, because you were distracted you failed to see the sudden accident a couple lanes over that caused the driver to evasively maneuver into your lane. Because of your distraction you failed to consider the possibilities as to why the driver swerved in front of you. The is a great example of fundamental attribution error where you attributed the driver’s actions to being incompetent or bad person. This was made possible by acting from a place of fear and a lack of empathy.
The dynamics of the relationships we experience in life are vast. One aspect that can causes great conflict is that of Power. Power is defined as the ability to influence or control people and events. When power is balanced in a relationship, this can be referred to as symmetrical. Conversely, when the power is imbalanced, this yields a complementary relationship. The need for power stems from fear, as is most similarly the case with the dyadic power theory. In this theory, those of having a moderate amount of power tend to abuse it more it an attempt to preserve it. The power exchange of relationships focuses more on scarcity and selfishness and less on kindness and growth. Nonetheless, has be come a norm of the life we live today and cause for friction between people.
Conflict has become an inevitable part of this life we all co-create. It arises from situations where there are misconceptions between two peoples’ goals and/or expectations. The ways people handle conflict are typically through avoidance, accommodation, competition, reactivity, or collaboration. When your thoughts and beliefs stem from a place of fear, your choice in handling conflict will be either avoidance, accommodation, competition, or reactivity. Despite accommodation being the only method that doesn’t invalidate your partner, you still are sacrificing your needs or expectations by being afraid of the conflict itself. On the other hand, when we are able to operate from a place of love we choose to be collaborative. This is because we understand that we are only responsible for our half of the relationship. Successful relationships are possible through active practice of expectation management. This can be achieved with the application of the four agreements Don Miguel Ruiz writes of. They are to be impeccable with your word; don’t take anything personally; never make assumptions; and always do your best. This practice can eliminate conflict in relationships.
Despite all that we encounter in our life, the one thing that remains constant is our control over ourselves. When we can accept that we cannot control the people, places, and things but only influence them, we allow ourselves a certain degree of relief from the pressure of feeling constantly responsible for the world outside of us. This has the ability to bring us great clarity and to liberate our focus onto our immediate thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Through this awareness of our self-autonomy, the difference of love and fear, we choose to communicate in a manner that best serves both others and ourselves as we intentionally create the dream we desire most; one where we live from and with love for ourselves and for others.
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