Whenever I have been challenged that my choices or beliefs in life would land me straight in hell, I have always said that I can’t go to hell because I am already there. Ruiz reiterates this point in Part 3 of the Four Agreements as he discusses how the human dream, the dream of our society, is one of suffering, violence, fear, war, and injustice. The belief system, or our personal “Book of Law” that we have established through the agreements we make is controlled by fear – fear that we won’t be accepted, loved or wanted by others. It can create a state of mind like “hell”, as we continually punish ourselves (or are punished by others) for making even the smallest mistake.
Because so many of the beliefs that we have stored in our minds were not originally of our own choosing, but handed down to us by our elders, we are constantly at odds with ourselves. We were given a set of rules for achieving someone else’s idea of perfection, but what is perfection??
perfection |pərˈfekSHən| noun
the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects
As yourself, how realistic is it for any of us to believe that we will be free from all flaws or defects? And what do we consider to be a flaw or a defect anyway? These images of perfection that we form, based on our belief system, are generally unachievable because they were made in someone else’s image of perfection, instead of our own. When we try to fit into this image, we become frustrated because the image feels false, as though we are living behind a mask. Ruiz says that, “human beings are always searching for the truth, but that is only because we believe the lies” from our faulty belief system.
He compares this Book of Law, or all of our beliefs and agreements we have stored up in our minds, to that of a marketplace. There is too much chatter in the human mind of what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad, that we actually begin to FEAR being ALIVE, “it isn’t death that we fear the most.” We can’t forgive ourselves for being perfect. When our loved one punish us for a mistake over-and-over, they also send the message that they, too, cannot forgive us for not being perfect. This shame and guilt blinds us from taking the risk to truly be ourselves. We live in a fog because we believe all of these lies.
How many times have you examined your thoughts? When you do, how many of your thoughts are positive or compassionate? How many of your thoughts are negative or critical? For most of us, we are our own worst judge and we generally do not judge others as harshly as we judge ourselves. We treat ourselves far worse, but we will also only allow others to treat us as badly, or as well, as we treat ourselves. I have often chosen relationships that were either verbally or physically abusive. Most people have wondered how that could be so when I am smart, successful, etc. As Ruiz explains it, this is an act of karma. If I am willing to judge myself harshly and berate myself for my mistakes, then I make it easier to allow someone else to do the same – because this is the belief system I have integrated into my thinking. Thus, I created a state of mind, likened to that of hell.
Once you begin to examine your belief system and challenge the validity of your thoughts, many people find that most of what we think about ourselves (and others) is bullshit. Our Book of Law is controlled by fear. Fear is a powerful motivator and the only way to truly counter fear is with love. Challenging the validity of your thoughts is a way to shift your state of mind to focus on a more pleasant dream. When we ask ourselves, with tenderness and compassion, how much truth is in a statement like, “I am no good” or “I am a loser”, we generally find that 95%+ is not true. If you were to examine the facts of a statement like that, you can usually come up with many instances where you did “do good”, and you had some successes as well.
For three months, I kept a daily log of my negative thoughts/statements about myself. Along with those thoughts, I looked for five facts that made that negative statement true and I also looked for five facts that made that statement false. Inevitably, there were far more facts to prove the statement false than true. The karmic thought patterns began to shift in my mind so that as negative thoughts arose in my mind so did the question as to how true was the thought and could that be replaced with a kinder view of myself. I call this kinder view of the world “Sweetness of Mind” – it is where we are going to as we start to change our relationship to suffering.
And the storm begins to quiet, the sun shines in the mind…