don Miguel Ruiz Jr. is the author of the Five Levels of Attachment which deals with how people can become attached to ideas, beliefs, practices, relationships and more that create unhealthy and less than happy experiences. It expands on the ideas put forth in his father's book, The Four Agreements.
The Five Levels of Attachment; Book partially written in Seattle is about letting go of what hurts us
Editors Note: This story was written for our sister publication, the Ballard News Tribune but has relevance for many people, so it is shared here.
If happiness is all a matter of a shift of perspective and a deeper understanding of what genuine unconditional love means, then a new book, partially written in Ballard will likely sell very well. The Ballard News-Tribune did an exclusive interview with the author.
The Five Levels of Attachment by don Miguel Ruiz Jr. from Hierophant Publishing explores the idea of "attachments" that we form about people, beliefs and the world that can lead to suffering. If the author's name seems familiar it's because his father don Miguel Ruiz is the best selling author of The Four Agreements that was first published in 1997.
Ruiz Jr. knows Ballard. He spent a month here with his wife Susan in 2009 and got to know the area coffee shops, bookstores, and neighborhood cafes very well. In fact some of the key concepts and chapters of his book were written here. He shared this at a live appearance he made at the Center for Spiritual Living on March, 16. He almost moved here and came very close, but the winter of 2009 (which saw cold and snow) convinced Susan that the Sacramento, California area was a better choice.
The Five Levels of Attachment builds on his father's work and ideas. In the Four Agreements Ruiz Sr. suggests that the path to personal freedom is found by keeping these simple to understand (but harder to follow) "agreements" in mind:
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word.
2. Don't Take Anything Personally.
3. Don't Make Assumptions.
4. Always Do Your Best.
These phrases or concepts are not necessarily unique. But they do represent a practical distillation of teachings found in religious and spiritual writings from the Bible to The Bhagavad Gita and in some respect borrow from ideas advanced by Carlos Castaneda the Peruvian/American author whose books The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge; A Separate Reality; and Journey to Ixtlan explored his "apprenticeship" with a Yaqui, Indian "Man of Knowledge". The simple ideas, explored and explained in the Four Agreements, counsel that integrity, unconditional self love, and personal honesty have the power to change your life for the better rapidly. Though simple, the tone and style of The Four Agreements is somewhat mystical. Ruiz Sr. is a Medical Doctor but is also a Nagual, a term meaning in Mesoamerican folk religion one who can transform into an animal, but whose more modern definition has evolved to mean an experienced spiritual teacher.
The Five Levels of Attachment, since it comes from a younger generation, is very different in tone yet aims at a similar kind of spiritual understanding.
The levels are:
- Authentic Self
To illustrate these ideas Ruiz Jr. uses his own love for a soccer team, and other stories from his life, as a lens through which to see what "attachments" can mean and how at higher levels they can lead to unhappiness. You'll have to read the book (or listen to the audio book) to see how his simple fandom grew to fanaticism and in the process he lost his humanity.
He expands on his father's idea that everything we know about the world we call "knowledge", is in fact nothing but an agreement. We agree about what things are called, about societal norms (something referred to as the "dream of the planet") but along with those we also come to accept (or agree) that many other aspects of life are "true" but, as Ruiz Jr. points out, the truth exists on its own. It doesn't need us to confirm it. Many if not all of of these ideas, these agreements are not the truth, especially when they are about ourselves.
His time in Ballard helped him refine the ideas in the book. "Originally there were seven levels," he said, "but we decided to combine levels two and three since they make the same argument. Then six and seven were combined to make the total five." Preference and Internalization as the names for these levels of attachment were christened in Ballard.
He explained that coming out of his famous father's shadow is, "Something my dad had to do too since my grandmother Madre Sarita was a faith healer in San Diego and part of a San Diego Women's Hall of Fame. When my dad started teaching she had a very strong community and temple where she gave lectures and did healings and consultations. My Grandmother was the first with that name. He started teaching with the lessons my grandmother taught him. As he evolved he began to have his own name."
Ruiz Jr. explained that his father's early teachings were deeply based on traditional Toltec teaching but, "he shifted in the way he saw things. He called it common sense from his point of view. So, me and my brother Jose, who wrote a book called the Fifth Agreement (Be skeptical, but learn to listen) with my dad. The way we became teachers in our own right is to allow these teachings to come alive. The way it does, is us processing it in our own way and expressing in the way we understand it. When I first started it was about living the Four Agreements. The equivalent of a band that only played cover songs. Then like any band that learns the basics they start coming up with their own songs. The story of the levels of attachment, when my grandmother taught them to me she spoke of how if you are least attached you are in the kingdom of God and the more attached you are the closer to hell you are. She described it from the point of view of angels and demons because her upbringing was very much Catholic. When she taught me it was like something that belonged in a museum and I didn't relate. When you learn an oral tradition it's hard to see it function in our lives mostly because we're young but also because those stories come from before we were born. I then saw it in my own life in my deep attachment to a soccer team and all of a sudden I understood my grandmother's teaching. She described it as an action, which is something I still do but I came up with names for it. In naming them I knew them all. It allowed us to have a clear separation. With soccer, when I was detached, I could simply enjoy the game but winning or losing did not matter (Authentic Self). Then slowly my preference grew for one team (Preference) and over time that grew until I became this tyrant with this team (Fanaticism) and at one point I got so tired of this thing being a wedge between me and my friends." That kind of fierce attachment can be applied to many things in life from politics to personal relationships. He argues that at the extreme is becomes a denial of our common humanity and is destructive.
"How we walked out of the shadow of my dad is to have those lessons become alive in us."
His grandmother asked him a pointed question. "Are you using knowledge or is your knowledge using you?"
That became a point of initiation for Ruiz and set him on a path of self discovery.
The basis for all of these teachings is a foundation of self acceptance. Unconditional love of yourself, just as you are. But that doesn't mean complacency. "When we are so used to having the motivator of a drive toward perfection, through the eyes of "the judge," Ruiz Jr. explained, referring to that part of ourselves that is constantly judging what we do," the question is how we use the word perfection. ˆIf we look at perfection through the point of view of the judge, "in order for it (or me) to be perfect it has to live up to my standards. When we look it from that point of view nothing is perfect. Absolutely nothing because we have those standards and we push toward it. Sometimes we succeed and we give it a huge value but when we use perfection from that point of view it's a carrot that we will never catch. This is because we're always changing. Life always changes. When you look at perfection not from the point of view of the judge but from unconditional love then your perfection is everything that exists at this moment because it's the only moment of truth. The past does not exist except in our memory (and it probably didn't happen the way we think it happened) and the future exists only in our imagination. So the only place in which anything exists is the present. From that point of view if we see action and that intent can only be manifested in this moment because I can't change the past and the future is the consequence of the decisions I make right now then the only moment to make any changes is right now. If I see perfection as what exists at this moment we've got two ways of seeing things. One, the motivator to change is the application of reward and punishment. In order to be accepted we have to live up to the expectation and not taking action is complacency. We judge ourselves. But, if we see life as this moment I can look in the mirror and say, "You know my truth is right now…I have a belly and a receding hairline and I look the way I do. This who I am right now. Accepting myself as I am right now. Then a moment of choice comes in. Do I want to stay here or do I want to shift? It's fine as it is or, I want to be healthier. In one we look at ourselves and we judge ourselves because we're not perfect. in the other we accept ourselves but the motivator to change is, "I want to."
"It's the difference between living life for the passions you have and not letting the motivator become the goal."
"If a musician could not enjoy the music if they were not a virtuoso they would never play. Even practicing is a pleasure. My acceptance is not about perfection. I'm thinking about Eddie Van Halen and while everyone would go out and party he would just sit in his room practicing. It was a pleasure. You can tell the difference between the musicians who love playing and those who are playing to be famous."
Ruiz Jr. talks about how he learned from his grandmother that all of these ideas are based in the hard work of self discipline. In the early teachings she taught him to, "resist the temptations of the body" meaning he would sit as still as possible for fifteen minutes and if he felt an itch, to resist the temptation to scratch it. Eventually he had to work up to three hours of focused stillness. If he failed at any point he would have to start again. Through that simple, yet difficult, process he developed self discipline and the ability to concentrate. That's not to say he wasn't rebellious in his youth. He went through a "goth" phase and did his share of "acting out" but as the teachings of his family came to have increasing relevance for him, he found himself transformed.
He also surprisingly is an admirer of etiquette expert Emily Post whose books on courtesy and social behavior he sees as expressions of self discipline and respect. "It's the same discipline a guitar player applies in learning his craft. If you are taught Emily Post as conditions then these are very oppressive rules. But if you read her work as how to navigate a social setting then these rules become instruments. When I don't need them I let them go. When I do I engage them and it becomes my art."
The Five Levels of Attachment is really a set of keys to unlock various insights into how you see your knowledge, beliefs and relationship with the world and the people in it. Once you unlock them it's still up to you to apply it but armed with the confidence that comes from self acceptance, the path is easier, more purposeful, and a lot more fun.
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