Friday, November 25, 2016

Booknote: The Mastery of Self

Miguel Ruiz, Jr, The Mastery of Self: a Toltec Guide to Personal Freedom. San Antonio, TX: Hierophant Publishing, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-938289-53-8.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: spirituality, self-help
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library

I have read the father's book, The Four Agreements. I initially thought the book was written by that same author due to the very similar cover styles, but it turns out the son writes too, and he has written two other books.

The main idea of The Mastery of Self is to help readers let of of past beliefs and restraints, created by  domestication, so you can make choices that reflect who you truly are thus creating harmony withing yourself and the world around you. That is a tall order, but the author leads you through it step by  step. The author argues that we are architects of of our reality, of our personal dream, which we can change if we so choose. If you've read other books in this series, you'll know the idea of the personal dream is very important. Ruiz Sr. and Ruiz Jr. are not the only ones who use this theme. You can also find it in the writings of Paulo Coelho.

The book is arranged as follows:

  • a short message from the publisher
  • an explanation of key terms. This is basically a small glossary
  • a short introduction from the author
  • nine chapters that have the lessons
  • his wish for readers, where he summarizes and concludes the book

While I do like the concepts presented in the book, my main issue with  the book is that the author may seem way too optimistic for the world we live in. I'll admit that part of it may be me living in the U.S. during the lousiest election season ever combined with the fact that I've met and/or witnessed one idiot too many. For those folks, I cannot help but wonder what kind of personal nightmare they are living in. So, based on that, the author comes across as either way too optimistic or outright naive.

Yet, for those who want to change and make things better for themselves, you can find some good advice in this book. His analogy of the dinner party is a  good teaching tool. Though he can also be repetitive at times, he does take you step by step to build the mastery of self in order to have a better life. At the end of the day, much of the lesson boils down to the only one you control is yourself, so work on yourself and gradually make the world around you better. It's not a new lesson; I've read it before, but I will grant for some readers this could be the book to help learn it.

To aid with learning, in addition to his short stories and commentaries, the author offers specific exercises you can try out to put theory into practice. These exercises can range from a simple meditation to short writing exercises to help with reflection. If readers have the time, these may be the best part of the book.

For me, the book was just OK. The pace could be slow at times, and the content can be a bit repetitive. But the exercises are worth trying out. For other readers, I think their mileage may vary. If you have read Ruiz Sr.'s books, this can be a good follow-up. Personally, I liked The Four Agreements better.

2 out of 5 stars.

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Additional reading notes:

The author assumes that you do go out and about in the world. Solitude is good, but we thrive with others:

"Since you are reading this book, it's likely that you don't live in a cloistered monastery or ashram, or all alone high atop a mountain. You have chosen to engage in the world, and you want to enjoy yourself in the process. Solitude can be a great tool for healing and communion with oneself, but it is our interactions with others that will allow us to thrive and enjoy an active life. If life is like a carnival, you have come to ride the rides" (3). 

As a highly functioning introvert, I treasure and appreciate my solitude. I also live and work in the world as librarian and educator, my work in helping others, so I appreciate the point he makes.

Defining domestication. This is a concept I appreciate and makes sense to me. As I've grown over time, especially as I came to my heathen path, I've found the need to be aware of ways in which adults in my life domesticated me. I need that awareness in order to let go of those restraints so I can live a better and happier life. It is an ongoing journey. The author defines the term as follows:

"Domestication is the system of control in the Dream of the Planet; it is the way we learn conditional love. Starting when we are very young, we are presented with either a reward or punishment for adopting the beliefs and behaviors of  others in the Dream. This system of reward and punishment, or domestication, is used to control our behavior. The result of domestication is that many of us give up who we really are in exchange for who we think we should be, and consequently we end up living a life that is not our own. Learning how to spot and release our domestication, and reclaiming who we really are in the process, is a hallmark of a Master of Self" (5). 

The author goes on to point out that in the Toltec tradition two powerful forces, types of love, shape our agreements, attachments, and domestication. These are unconditional love and conditional love. We need to seek living with  unconditional love for ourselves and others. Unconditional love is defined:

"When unconditional love flows from our hearts, we move through life and engage other living beings with compassion. Unconditional love is recognizing the divinity in every human being we meet, regardless of his or her role in life or agreement with our particular way of thinking. A Master of Self sees all beings through the eyes of unconditional love, without any projected image or distortion" (32).

I will be the first to admit that seeing the divinity in certain people can be extremely hard. You honestly wonder if some folks even have any to start with.

You are responsible for having integrity in what you say, not for how others take it. This is not a new maxim, but it is an important one to remember: 

"Thus, I am only responsible for the clarity and integrity of what I say-- not what others hear and feel-- because I don't control others' perception" (40). 


"Of course, this truth is not meant to be a license to say or do something is unkind or intentionally hurtful (to be considerate of others is a also a choice we have), but we understand that when we break the chains of our domestication, this news can be hard for our domesticators and those trying to domesticate us to handle, especially at first" (55-56). 

A most dangerous idea is that of scarcity and the illusion that you are deficient or not good enough. It is an ancient idea; religion has often imposed it; for example, the Christian myth of Eden and Original Sin. It has domesticated so many into believing they have an inherent internal deficiency, causing all sorts of grief and damage in the process. It was something even I had to let go, and once I did, became a heathen, and learned to love myself, a bit of liberation came. It's still a work in progress. The author writes on this, and this I believe is important, especially if you want a more peaceful, harmonious life:

"Of all the false ideas that you have been domesticated to, the idea that  you are not enough may be the most damaging, so let me be absolutely clear on this matter: You are more than enough. You are perfect and complete as you are. You are not flawed, damaged, or irredeemable. Much of the suffering you experience is self-inflicted, and it can be traced back to believing this untruth. This feeling of unworthiness is the primary reason you withhold unconditional love for yourself. The most effective thing you can do to bring about change in your life is to let this flawed idea go. Once this false belief is replaced with unconditional self-love and self-acceptance, the myth of scarcity crumbles, and comparison and competition with others in its wake" (146).

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This book qualifies for the these 2016 Reading Challenges:

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