Before they learn how to speak, children are wild, living in their true nature, like all other healthy animals. They live in a world of feelings. Life is very cool for the first few years, until the domesticated culture reduces them to domesticated neurotics. By and by, domesticated adults teach them names, and then language, and then abstract concepts, like good and bad, trendy and dorky. Young children believe whatever we tell them, even if it’s irrational or toxic. In this manner, their minds are filled with knowledge, and innocence gets tossed out the window.
Knowledge is made of words, and can only be shared with others via words. Knowledge is opinions, stories, or gossip, but never truth. Truth can only be experienced via feelings, never with words. Anyone who offers you truth is a liar. Almost all knowledge is lies, and these lies make everyone miserable and crazy, according to Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Voice of Knowledge. We reside in an insane society, and it’s no wonder that our knowledge is faulty. The elders who load our minds with dodgy knowledge are not evil; they simply pass on what they were loaded with — it’s all they know.
The deity of the Judeo-Christian stories was perfect, and humankind was created in his image. We are the crown of creation. But not long after we became fruitful, multiplied, and subdued paradise, the deity experienced an embarrassing bout of creator’s remorse. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” (Genesis 6:5-6) Obviously, the final solution was to drown them all. He was a complicated deity, and more than a little abusive.
This dark tone dominates the knowledge of our society. You smell bad. Your clothes are dumb. You’re stupid and ugly. You’ll never succeed. You’re flawed in every way. You don’t deserve to be loved. Ruiz doesn’t explore green issues, but it’s easy to see that our toxic knowledge is the driving force behind the spectacular ecocide of our era. We never doubt that compulsive shopping is the silver bullet cure for whatever ails us. People will respect us, and life will be grand, if we continuously accumulate trendy status trinkets. Yet no matter how hard we shop, inner peace is never achieved. Sigh!
Our world is swarming with beliefs of self-rejection. If I choose to agree with a belief, it becomes a part of my story. “My name is Richard, I live in Oregon, I like to learn and write, and I’m a bad person who will never succeed.” If I choose not to agree, the unwanted belief harmlessly swirls down the drain. My story is nothing but software, a collection of agreements. It’s not carved in stone; it’s always changing as the years pass.
The voice of knowledge is the storyteller inside your head. The thinker never stops jabbering at you, and it never hesitates to disapprove or belittle. It’s a common mistake to presume that it’s speaking the truth. Ruiz warns us: “Don’t believe yourself, and don’t believe others.” In reality, you are far better than what you imagine. Listen with great care, have an open mind, and deflect incoming lies with the shield of your skepticism. “The greatest gift you can give yourself is the gift of doubt.”
The heart of Ruiz’s message is that (1) we are ridiculously screwed up, and (2) we can heal ourselves. Life does not have to be sad and painful. All humans are artists, and we all have the power to create a really sweet life story, a masterpiece — and we should. We change the world by changing ourselves.
There are two types of artists: aware and unaware. The unaware are oblivious to the multitude of lies that contaminate their lives. Confronting these lies is unpleasant work. It’s much easier and safer to just believe in them, because everyone else does, too. They zoom through life on autopilot. Artists who are unaware bear a striking resemblance to the living dead.
Artists who are aware understand that the path to healing is a process of unlearning, hurling toxic agreements overboard. Beneath the sludge of lies is the happy wild animal you were as a child. Young children have no choice, they uncritically absorb the knowledge they are fed. Older folks do have a choice. We don’t have to be dead. We can create a far better story based on nontoxic beliefs, deleting the self-defeating. Then we can gird ourselves to thrash the super lies: human superiority, materialism, perpetual growth, the glory of civilization, and so on.
Science-oriented folks may have an impulse to dismiss Ruiz following a quick glance at the cover. From my point of view, the book is maybe 15 percent sugarcoated woo-woo, but its strengths are the reason why you’re reading about it here. The scope of the discussion is narrow, focusing on how you can fix your story, extremely useful for some. But on the far side of the fence, there are other monsters. (Don’t bother looking for love if you aren’t happily in love with yourself.)
Ruiz presents us with a different model for perceiving reality. This model reframes the notion of denial. People who are in denial are not stupid, stubborn, or evil. They’re just paralyzed by a headful of lies, because they live in a culture foaming with lies, hence they’re perfectly normal. More importantly, it reframes the integrity of mainstream reality. “Normal” = crazy. This is a brilliant and powerful twist. Luckily, normal is not a life sentence without parole. He gives you the key to freedom — doubt. Off with the chains! Fly away! Be happy!
Most importantly, Ruiz has found a way to communicate stimulating knowledge in a form that many normal people can hear. His first book, The Four Agreements, has sold four million copies. It’s in the top 100 at Amazon. His books are short, simple, clear, and deep. For more than a few people, they are mind-altering. Despite the fact that they will be filed in the New Age box, they are not fluffy, flaky joyrides in magical thinking. He is not a get-rich-quick quack. There is power in his words.
Ruiz, Don Miguel, The Voice of Knowledge, Amber-Allen Publishing, San Rafael, California, 2004.