Anyway, Don Miguel Ruiz' The Voice of Knowledge: A Practical Guide to Inner Peace finally worked its way to the upper reaches of my to-be-read piles, and I got into it … still somewhat expecting that it was a later expression of the materials I'd already read. Now, while it was from a few years after The Four Agreements, it certainly preceded the later book … “my bad”, I guess. This is something of an autobiography, with a “shamanic tale” unfolding along the personal arc of the author's life … weaving in and out of teaching stories and mythic elements, hooked into that somewhat odd core element of “how to recover the silent voice of our integrity and find inner peace”. The essence of the Ruiz's model is, to the Western mind, quite counter-intuitive, casting knowledge as the enemy, in favor of some preliterate (or, perhaps, post-literate?) state:
Much of this is sort of “out there” (especially for folks not grounded in Shamanic materials – especially the Castaneda books, whose internal “Toltec” mythologies set up, or at least parallel, much of what Ruiz is presenting), but one structural element here I really appreciate. At the end of each chapter, there is a “Points to Ponder” section which presents “discussion topics”, much different in tone from the main text, which are sort of like having a follow-up to a lecture in a class setting – which might be the origin of these from Ruiz's workshops.As little children, we are completely authentic. Our actions are guided by instinct and emotions, we listen to the silent voice of our integrity. Once we learn a language, the people around us hook our attention and program us with knowledge. But that knowledge is contaminated with lies.
The book starts out in the Garden of Eden, and I found the following (slightly condensed for focus) quite interesting:
Again, this feeds into an autobiographical story line, and Ruiz writes of when he was a small child and is told he has to work hard to become somebody, a message that comes through as “I am not good enough.” because he's not perfect, “and in that moment, like most of us, I start searching for perfection”. This then leads to not being oneself, and pretending to be what one is not. Next the child is trying to be something to meet every demand, his parents, his extended family, his community, and of course, ongoing, his teachers … “With enough practice, I even begin to believe what I pretend.”According to the story, the Prince of Lies was living in the Tree of Knowledge, and the fruit of that tree, which was knowledge, was contaminated with lies. We went to that tree, and we had the most incredible conversation with the Prince of Lies. ….
That fallen angel talked and talked and talked, and we listened and listened and listened. … We learn, and it's very seductive; we want to know more. … we were seduced by the lies.
In the “A Night In The Desert” chapter, he gets into a bit of cosmology, and how we process the reality of the world around us:
He gets into the concept of “art”, as in making our own realities: “You live in your own world, and that world is so private. Nobody knows what you have in your world. … Your world is your creation, and it's a masterpiece of art.” This then leads into how each person not only has their own individual dream regarding themselves, but will “create an image for every secondary character who lives in my story”, which means that for every person out there, there are dozens, hundreds, of images being held by people for whom the person is a “secondary character”. Ruiz circles back to the second of the Four Agreements in this (“Don't take anything personally.”) with the following:Once I interpret, qualify, or judge what I perceive, it is no longer real; it is a virtual world. This is what the Toltec call dreaming. … The Toltec believe that humans are living in a dream. The dream is a world of illusion …
Needless to say, this is pretty heady stuff, if drifting off in the direction of classic Solipsism, and is the sort of thing that I find makes Don Ruiz's work so attractive … it's not standard issue Newage woo-woo, but a lot deeper and makes a very enticing bridge between shamanic work and deep-end philosophy. Of course, the flip side of this is that it becomes quite challenging to try to summarize the details of what's presented in a book like this, as it's filled with fascinating twists of what most people would hold to be reality, all of which are supported internally, but though pages of material (that I'm not going to re-type as blockquotes).Once I discovered that people are creating and living in their own story, how could I judge them any longer? How could I take anything personally when I know that I am only a secondary character in their story? I know that when they talk to me they are really talking to the secondary character in their story. And whatever people say about me is just a projection of their image of me.
One piece in the “Emotions Are Real” chapter (a concept that had me being quite reactive) stood out to me, it's a quote from Ruiz's grandfather when he was a youth: “Miguel, you will know that you are free when you no longer have to be you.” … in the sense that he no longer had to comply to others' views of him, or even follow the dictates of his own lies of who he should be.
In the “Common Sense and Blind Faith” chapter there is a very telling passage. In the book, “knowledge” is pretty much equated with lies, but:
This almost sounds like the Native American concept of the “Beauty Way”, although in this context drawing a lot on how emotions conflict with “knowledge”, and end up with us all “acting against ourselves”. Interestingly, there is a place here where the Fifth Agreement (“Be skeptical, but learn to listen.”) is foreshadowed the better part of a decade before that book appeared, in the context of introducing Ruiz's Four Agreements:Common sense is wisdom, and wisdom is different from knowledge. You are wise when you no longer act against yourself. You are wise when you live in harmony with yourself, with your own kind, with all of creation.
The book ends up in the outer reaches of this all. Ruiz describes the moment that the whole “dreaming” thing became real to him – at the time of a near-fatal (or fatal, but he “came back”) car crash, when his consciousness was hovering outside of his body, looking down on his physical form. This leads him to reconsider pretty much all of reality, and bringing his questions to his grandfather and his mother (his was a family of healers, and obviously of practicing shamans). His mother tells him: “The only way for you to experience that reality is to master dreaming. To do this, you have to completely detach from what you believe you are; you have to let go of the story of your life.” To help him with this, she does something very Castaneda-esque – assembling a working group of 21 people to train, who met every Sunday for three years to go “into dreaming for eight to twelve hours”. His subsequent stories of attempting to maintain that state full-time while working as a medical doctor are fascinating. He describes normal experience like being bats echolocating, we form words to define things, but those are just sounds, and when we awake from the dream, we “see” a world of color and beauty that is beyond the grasp of words.If you want to know the truth, if you are ready to take your faith out of the lies, then remember: Don't believe yourself, and don't believe anybody else. This will give you clarity about many things. …
The best moments of your life are when you are authentic, when you are being yourself. When you are in your creation and doing what you love to do, you become what you really are again. You are not thinking in that moment; you are expressing.
As you might expect, the paperback of The Voice of Knowledge is still in print, and could probably be had at your local book vendor. The cover price on it is quite reasonable, which is good, because the on-line big boys don't have it at much of a discount, and, oddly, the new/used guys don't have it for particularly cheap either.
To reiterate, I have a substantial background in similar material to this, so I probably connected with it on a more expansive level than most readers might. I'm also, of course, a cynical old coot, so I didn't have the “ooooh, this is so wonderful!” reaction that the patchouli crowd could be suspected of exhibiting. I do, however, recommend this for the wisdom it offers … if the whole package being a bit hard to swallow – definitely a “your mileage may vary” nod, as this may well be too “out there” for many.