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Positive Psychoanalysis in a Modern Toltec Voice
Reviewed in the United States on June 26, 2018
Do you remember the Four Agreements?
Be impeccable with your word.
Don't take anything personally.
Don't make assumptions.
Always do your best.
How have you been doing with them? They make a lot of sense. They also simplify your responsibilities. With regard to the second, I read somewhere, "What you think of me is none of my business!" What wisdom!
Is it that the four agreements are not enough, or is it that they describe perfectly one aspect of life? I ask because for one, I learned that there has arisen a "fifth agreement," and also because now we have The Three Questions!
The fifth agreement is The Power of Doubt: Be skeptical, but learn to listen.
The three questions are
Who am I?
What is real?
How do I express love?
So now we need to think about it a bit. What service to us do the five agreements provide and how does that differ from the three questions. A total of 7 phrases and we've got life mastered. What is going on here? The agreements suggest a way to behave in the world that eliminates the false and the unreal, and leaves you with the true, real task... being yourself, true to yourself, and sharing it widely. Toltec or Tolstoy, whatever the source, good advice. Now what about the three questions--we get into much heavier dimension of reality.
To ask "who am I?" is a big question. What part of yourself do you identify with? Your body, your consciousness, your behavior, your reputation? It's a good question.
One of the special features of Ruiz' approach is the use of negation. He says that you'll come to know what is your real self when you learn what is false--what is the real you comes from learning what is not real. Are we here approaching closely to the Hindu idea of pure consciousness as the only reality, the rest Maya? He writes,
"Your body is real, but me is fictional. And yet me is running the show."
That single sentence expresses well the underlying philosophy and therapeutic approach to the goal (as stated in the sub-title): How to discover and master the power within you.
"Master." "Power." Do these words, and the ideas they generate, seem to belong more to the yang, or masculine world, than to the yin, or feminine world? Might we also consider, "Empathize with the Spirit Within"? Does the surfer master the wave? No. But the surfer may master some inconvenient fear responses when on the board. Mastery of self, having to do with personal will, certainly has its place. What aspect of ourselves need we master in order to be capable of free association, mastering what might interfere with a free flow of thought?
I ask this question because the book's approach to the fictional "me" is somewhat that of a relational approach--other people teach you that there's a "you," and that folks play politics with what they regard as your acceptable and non-acceptable aspects. Sigmund Freud, in his Civilization and its Discontents, spelled out the inevitable, and obvious (were we not inclined to ignore it for peace of mind) aspect of life: Although we may have been born into this world as a wild genius direct from God, we soon learn that folks would prefer that we were well behaved citizens. Our natural instincts succumb to socialization over time, as we enter the world dependent upon our caregivers and we must pay the price of the ticket.
And so, like in the spiritual world view of psychoanalysis, the holy grail, what makes the first question worth asking, lies somewhere in the vicinity of learning the nature of the "real you" by discovering the false things we tell ourselves about ourselves and learning the truth.
Perhaps the compassionate element in the 3-Q approach comes from the co-author, Barbara Emrys. She was a co-author with Ruiz on an earlier book, The Toltec Art of Life and Death. Emrys has her own theme as being "an artist of life". The compassionate approach comes in when we realize that we have internalized the judgmental, critical, scolding, love-withholding attitudes of our caretakers, and we need to give ourselves a hug, instead.
I think the two approaches can be explored in the context of mindfulness meditation. This particular meditation process, as is the case with some other meditation processes, presents itself as a miniaturization, or simplification, of an ideal approach to life generally, not just the 20 minutes of sitting. Set the intention to be aware of the breathing, AND when becoming aware that attention has drifted, to return focus of attention to the breathing. When you become aware that your attention has wandered, and you return your focus to the breathing, you have fulfilled the definition of mindfulness meditation. One can develop mastery over the response to becoming aware that the attention has wandered, returning to the focus (will power) smoothly and without self-criticism (self-compassion). How long your mind wanders before you become aware of it--that has to do with the development, not of your will power, but of your will, as the awareness of your wandering attention is always present to a certain deep part of yourself, the real self that Ruiz wants you to discover.
The ability to free associate, to have the mind flow freely, requires mastery over elements of self-inhibition and self-judgment. The ability to notice and respond to the wandering mind during meditation is something that grows with the will, the real you. The spontaneous reaction to becoming aware that the mind has wandered is important to consider. To be aware of and connected to the "real you" requires a special relationship to love. The ability to work and to love was Sigmund Freud's bottom line in describing ideal mental health. Modest, yet profound, finding relection in a modern Toltec philosophy.
To be able to create a simple scaffolding of principles that support a workable philosophy of life is one of Ruiz's wonderful abilities. It is a satisfying experience to explore significant truths dressed in different clothing. It is another dimension of the aesthetic sense to approach truth artfully, as if the artistic expression may be capable of sparking a feeling for truths that ideas alone can't quite scratch.