Don Miguel Ruiz has become my favorite author on the subject of personal development and reaching enlightenment.
I recently read his book The Mastery of Love on my Kindle. Here’s some of the big learnings I got from from it.
The Pizza Guy
In the book he tells two parallel stories.
In the first I have a magical kitchen where I can cook any food I wish for. I can prepare the most wonderful treats, delightful desserts, and even feasts for any friends who come to visit. One day, someone comes to the door with a pizza box and says, “I’ll give you this Pizza, if you will do anything I say.” Naturally, this seems absurd - I can easily make my own pizza in my magical kitchen. So I say no.
The second story is a bit different. Now I’m poor, my kitchen is bare, and I don’t know where my next meal will come from. The same pizza guy shows up and says “I’ll give you this Pizza, if you will do anything I say, and be anyone I want.” Now the offer seems a lot more tempting.
Most people in the world act as if they are starving for love. They will do all kinds of things to get their hands on that love, including to do things they don’t want to to do and pretend to be things they are not.
I certainly have been down this road and I know my wife has been a big “pizza guy” for me. But I also do and say things for imaginary people - when I was single I would try to look and act in a way that I thought that “women in general” would want me to. When I was going to a job interview I would dress in a way that I thought that “interviewers in general” would approve of. I try to do and say things and look in a way that I think “people in general” will like.
Why do all this? I want their love and admiration.
The truth he is trying to reveal is that we do have a “magical kitchen” of love and we can give ourselves all the love that we need. And, in fact, the only love we can ever receive is from ourselves.
From Self-Criticism to Self-Love
I tend to be sensitive to criticism and judgement; at a recent relationship workshop with my wife I listed “acceptance” (i.e. no judgement and criticism) as one of my top needs for healing in a relationship. I believe this started as a child where my older siblings picked on me a lot. There must have been a similar dynamic with my parents although I’ve lost all memory of that.
What I realized while reading this book is that the criticism only bothers me because I “agree” to it - I take the words of others and turn them on myself. When my wife said impatiently “Drive faster!” because she was afraid we would be late to a certain event I felt bad. I took her words and ran with it, coming up with something along the lines of “I’m not driving fast enough, I’m a bad driver. I can never be good enough, she will never accept me as I am”. This happens in the blink of an eye and mostly unconsciously - but then I get this bad feeling in my gut from it. I feel “criticized”. But what wasn’t clear at that moment that I was the one who was really criticizing myself.
An alternative response to “Drive faster!” would be a recognition that she is worried about something and she is dealing with some of her own garbage over there. She has some underlying fear of being late, of failure, and that making mistakes might mean the end of love. I get it - I have the exact same program running in my own head. So I can feel compassion for her in that moment. She’s not really talking about me, it’s not personal.
I realized that if I practice loving, honoring, respecting, and accepting myself in the face of criticism then I won’t take these things personally. I must see myself as perfect exactly the way that I am now. I must recognize that I’ve been doing my best and the results are the best results I could achieve. Therefore, if someone is not satisfied with the way things are, it must be related to their own wounds and fears, and I don’t need to take it personally at all. It’s not about me - it’s about them.
Mind my Own Garbage
One thing that stood out for me in the descriptions of love and respect in the book was his suggestion that if I respect someone I won’t try and clean up their emotional garbage for them. If someone has issues, it’s not my job to jump in and “fix them up”.
I know sometimes I feel compelled to give people unsolicited advice and register them in my favorite personal development course. I really prefer to be around people who are actively cleaning up their emotional garbage and this shows up as me trying to help people do that - whether they want it or not. But if this isn’t something they were asking for, it’s not respect. In doing so I am judging them as lacking something and pushing them to fix a problem with them that I perceive but they might not (yet). At times like that they probably feel annoyed, criticized, or unworthy.
Sometimes, of course, someone’s garbage is troublesome for me to deal with. Maybe they are someone I’m working with on something and their issues are hampering their performance. One way of being respectful might be to have a fierce conversation about the ways in which their issues are troubling me - to tell them what I’m dealing with as a result of it and what future I see coming if nothing changes. If the relationship is at stake, I can make that clear. Then we can explore together what kinds of solutions might work best.
The Lacerated Emotional Body
In the book he describes a hypothetical race where through their life they develop wounds on their skin, all over their body. Some of these wounds heal but many of them do not - they stay open and painful throughout life. Because their bodies are covered in painful wounds, they have to be careful around each other. Any touch could inflict a lot of pain. Intimate relationships require great care because you have to kind of line up one another’s wounds in order to be close. People have all sorts of specific ways to interact with one another that avoid touching each others’ wounds. They wear special clothing, even armor, to protect themselves from the pain.
As you can probably guess, this is a story about humanity, and the wounds are emotional wounds. As we go through life, and especially in childhood, we get hurt emotionally. And often we don’t understand the truth of the situation and we feel like we were not loved at that time. We hold the wounds open so that we remember - because we’re afraid to get hurt again. We have to be very careful around one another, especially in intimate relationships, to avoid hitting those wounds or the person whose wound got touched will be upset, moody, fearful, guilty, ashamed, angry, and so on. The original powerful emotions from childhood are triggered suddenly and what seemed like a small thing - a gentle touch - hits the wrong spot and causes massive pain and drama.
Where I’ve gone wrong is that I don’t see the truth behind these reactions. I take it personally when someone gets upset with me. I thought that my upsets are completely appropriate and that they just relate to current events rather than to childhood traumas and a lack of self-love.
The healing process for the wounds we have, according to the book, is first to re-examine past events to find out the truth - that it was nothing personal, that the intentions of people were not what they seemed at the time. Then, we must forgive the person(s) who hurt us and forgive ourselves for reacting the way we did and holding a grudge for so long. Finally, we must practice self-love to love and respect ourself and see ourselves and perfect.
This process can heal those wounds and make us whole again so that we can really love without fear of getting hurt. Without being needy and starving for love. And without having to be so careful and deceptive about who we really are to protect ourselves from having our wounds reactivated.
There many other insights I got from the book and I benefitted greatly from reading it. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone who is interested in having love in their life - for themselves and for others.