In 2002, don Miguel Ruiz suffered a near-fatal heart attack that left him in a nine-week-long coma. The inward journey he experienced while suspended between this world and the next forms the heart of The Toltec Art of Life and Death, a profound and mystical tale of spiritual discovery. As his body lies unconscious, Ruiz dreams about the people, ideas, and events that shaped him, and shares his remarkable insights into the nature of life and death – or energy and matter.
The Toltec Art of Life and Death invites readers into the mind of a spiritual master, offering an unparalleled and intimate glimpse into his own evolution. In this culmination of a lifetime’s learning, don Miguel Ruiz shares with us the innermost workings of his heart and mind, and allows us a deeper understanding of the ancient Toltec masteries of Awareness and Transformation.
Interview with don Miguel & Barbara
I have enjoyed reading this book, which has been co-authored with Barbara Emrys, so much, that I like to use Miguel’s own expression—a masterpiece of art! I am therefore thrilled to share this beautiful and important in view with you.
Dirk Terpstra: Barbara, you are the co-author of the book The Toltec Art of Life and Death. I am really curious to learn more about your contribution to this amazing book.
Barbara Emrys: Miguel was gracious in trusting me to deliver a message. We’ve been together as teachers, but I actually started as his student over twenty years ago. So, we’ve been together for a long time, and I like to think we have the same perspective on life at this point, although it wasn’t always the same. At this stage of our relationship and interaction, I was so glad that he could trust me to deliver this message. Of course my mastery over English is a little better than his, but for the most part these were stories that I have heard for so many years, but the challenge was to turn them into lessons. A biography is really not of any value to anyone, because it’s just one side of a story, and if you told it the next day it would be another kind of story — it’s not the events that matter, but what we can learn from those events. And that’s what we wanted to do with this book.
Dirk: And that’s what I personally like the most about this book: I am reading a very impressive and beautiful story, but at the same time, I feel that I learned so much, so I think you accomplished this in a very special way. I also highly resonate with your philosophy of life and with the stories that we keep telling ourselves. It was a true delight to read your book.
Dirk: Miguel, when you found yourself between life and death during your 9 week coma after you suffered from a heart attack, your spirit continued to have a deep connection with your mom’s spirit. It seemed that you were ready to leave your body, while your mom (Sarita), who always had so much influence on you, used all her seduction techniques to bring you back. Beside of the fact that your mom didn’t want to lose you, what was the deeper intention of Sarita to connect with you in this way?
Miguel Ruiz: Well, Sarita, of course she’s my mother and also my mentor, has taught me a legacy, which also comes from my grandfather. At the point that I had my heart attack, actually just a moment before I had my heart attack, I was speaking with her and she told me: “You don’t have the right to die. You cannot die before I do, and I will do everything that lies in my power to bring you back.”
I was of course excited because then I could keep experiencing my physical body, even though my body was in such a pain. It really hurt so much in the chest. I was also really excited that I would be able to share this story some day. Then, I went into a coma with this conversation that I had with my mother. I think it is important to understand that the story that we live — our creation — we populate that with secondary characters. The secondary characters that we think we really know. And these characters make our reality. Because it’s true that my mother is alive, the fact that I have children, that I have friends and so on, are the ones who live in my mind. But they are just a copy of them, they are not them. Every character that lives in our story is an extension of the first character, of the main character. Then, in my story, really everybody is Miguel. Sarita is Miguel, Lala, which is all my mother, is Miguel. All the ancestors are Miguel.
This is only the story about Miguel. This is not just so for me, but this is the truth for every single human being. You live your story and you have all those people that you know, but they are your story and not the real ones. They are just a copy from the ones that are real. Then, your mother for example, she is not really your mother, she’s the image you have of her. You hear for example her voice in your head, but that’s not really your mother, it’s an extension of you, because you are the main character which is a reflection of life.
Life is being reflected in your neurons, which creates an entire reality which is the human mind. We share this reality with words, which becomes a language, and that’s how we explain everything. That’s how we try to understand everything, by using the words that we learn. That is how we master an entire language. Every time that you dream, you dream it in the language you know, and you cannot dream or think in another language. The great part of the story is that we face the conflict that is seen in every single human mind. This conflict is seen in entire humanity. When you can understand this conflict in your mind, you can see that entire humanity is exactly the same. The conflict that is in Miguel’s story, is not really between good and bad, like the way we are already thinking for millenniums. The entire conversation is based on lies and this is how Miguel is facing Lala (= a representation for knowledge), who based everything on knowledge in everything that she learned. We then understand that knowledge is being created by words and these words are a reflection of the truth, and therefore Lala is just a reflection of the truth.
We accumulate all those lies in our mind but it’s important to understand that we can corrupt our own mind and this leads to the fact that we create superstitions. Then we start defending the superstitions that we create. This is the conflict that exists in everyone’s mind. But the truth that we have to get out of the conflict is the truth itself. By understanding that the lies create our superstitions, we begin understand humans the way they are. But we will also understand the reason of injustice, the reason of violence and even the reason of war, because we try to impose our superstitions onto everybody else.
It’s important to understand that we now see the core of the problem, and the problem is that we learn to love exactly the same way everybody else loves —the way our parents love, the way our own friends love. We love with conditions – I love you, if you let me control you. If I can control you, and you obey, then everything will be perfect. If you speak the language I speak, think the way I like you to think, dress the way I like you to dress, everything will be fine and we can always be happy. This is how we love everybody, but everybody also loves us in that same way. They love us, if they can control us. If we become what they want us to become, then they love us, and otherwise they will reject us.
Wherever we go, we see the interaction between people and how they love each other. They love each other with conditions. The real problem with this is that we learn to love ourself in exactly the same way — we love ourself with conditions. We have to be the way we wish to be, in order to accept ourself. This is how we create all those intentions, all the fear and all the anger. We can now learn that when we operate from the truth, all the superstitions are falling apart — when Lala completely surrendered, there were no more superstitions, and Lala went into truth, into life.
Dirk: During a conversation you had with your grandfather don Leonardo, you write that your self-confidence was shattered, because he explained to you that you had been constructing a world based on the faith in your opinions and the rumours that you heard. You believed in an image of yourself based on the many things that aren’t true.
How can we better learn to understand, without a doubt, who we truly are?
Miguel: We can see that this is a wonderful example. I went to my grandfather with all my superstitions, and I tried to defend all of my own opinions. But I learned that these were not my own opinions. These were options I learned from somebody else. I was repeating the superstitions and even defending them, until my grandfather, just listened with a smile. That was enough for me to understand that he was not believing anything of what I shared with him. This really happened with my grandfather, but it’s also good to know that my grandfather is an extension of me.
I can see, that just having this conversation with him, broke a lot of my superstitions, and I realized that the only way to keep talking with him, was to be completely authentic. The humiliation, the shame and the guilt happened, because all of those superstitions were falling apart. Because they couldn’t survive the presence of the truth. It was a great lesson that I received from him.
Dirk: This is another story that I love so much—You describe a scene around the dinner table with the entire family, and suddenly you noticed how everyone was completely absorbed by their seemingly random emotions and how the emotions could suddenly come and go, without obvious reasons. It seems, even though we might begin to understand who we truly are, that the body is still so addicted to this kind of emotions. What’s the path to follow here?
Barbara: The body follows the narrative. It’s a very good servant to our thought process and our belief system. Rather than think “what do we do about this body that’s leading us into all these conflicting emotions”, let’s think about the thought process and the belief system that drives it to respond chemically and emotionally in certain ways. We don’t take enough time to listen to what we’re thinking and what we’re believing.
This is the example Miguel was just talking about, of having this encounter with truth with his grandfather, without really any words or judgements. It was just: “Do you listen to yourself? Where do these ideas come from?” What Miguel is calling superstition, may not be what the rest of us call superstition. We need to look more closely, because I believe that what has control over you, affects and persuades you to construct your reality in certain ways, is a superstition that you give all the power to. It may be very small and it may be very subtle, but you have given it power over your thoughts and your behaviour. So a well meaning grandson comes to his grandfather and says: “This is what I know.” And the grandfather says: “This is not who you are.” You are something other than your knowledge. This is of course borrowed knowledge at best, so that’s a little jolt of truth. You are not the sum of your opinions or your beliefs, and what are you going to do with that? I am going to stop believing myself and I am going to start seeing myself as life, as this force that moves matter and also creates the ability to think and believe. This of course, expands our awareness into an idea of ourselves which is eternal. Everything that is not eternal is temporal, something familiar, but it doesn’t really speak to the truth of us.
“When I no longer felt bound to the past, life became increasingly effortless.”
Dirk: Your book is about meeting life and death. Can you describe the reality of death for me?
Miguel: I love this question because we are always searching for the truth, since the very beginning of humanity. This is also how we have created religions for example. We are searching for the truth.
We all will die, sooner or later. Life is a fact and death is a fact. Death is nothing but matter. We can only move, if a force moves the matter. Matter reflects a force that is limited. Life is energy, and energy cannot be destroyed. It can only be transformed, and life is giving shape to matter.
Since the moment of conception, our body is dead. Matter is reflecting the force of life — we see a copy of life which is the main character. Miguel is just a reflection of life. The reflection is not real, it’s an image. For all of my life, I used to believe that Miguel was real. But Miguel is just my own creation that I created with the help of everyone that I know. Because everybody has an opinion of Miguel. By trying to please everybody and trying to please myself, is how I create my own identity: Miguel Ruiz. I didn’t even chose my own name. My parents chose my name and all of my life I must practice to be Miguel Ruiz. I did it so well, that for a long time I really believed that I am Miguel Ruiz.
Dirk: I really get what you are saying, and Barbara you can maybe elaborate on that — We obviously live in a world where most of us don’t think this way. What is your personal experience of dealing with life and the interaction with other people who are not thinking and feeling that way?
Barbara: [chuckles now] The most important lesson I think I learned from Miguel, is to respect all realities. However they are shaped, whatever beliefs make them possible. We build our reality according to our beliefs and you can see how believing in yourself as Barbara or Dirk or Miguel gets you into a very small space of perception. You believe your memories. You believe the way people identify with you. You believe all the little facts and data about your life. You believe your own emotional state of being right now, in stead of seeing yourself as the force that made that state of being. So, it doesn’t really matter how people shape their realities.
I once didn’t understand any of this. I once thought of myself as poor, and rejected, and victimized, and little by little, I expanded my awareness what it meant to be Barbara and how I could make that literally my art. Not my identity but my art. This is a chance through her words, through her speech, through her beliefs, and through her ability to love, to make something wonderful out of matter. So, little by little, the awareness expands. Only if we want it that way. If we want to be compressed into a very small idea of ourselves, then that’s okay too. There’s no good or bad to this. There’s no reason in any of spiritual teaching, to reject or to disrespect another human being. They deserve all of the respect we can give them for being alive. For being that wonderful reflection Miguel was talking about — the Truth. However we think how corrupt that reflection is, that is no excuse to disrespect or disregard the value of any other human being.
Dirk: Miguel, we’ve been speaking about life, love and death. What does love mean to you?
Miguel: The love that we learn, is exactly the opposite of what love really is. Unconditional love is, think of something between gratitude and generosity.
When you remember having your baby, you just love it without conditions. Also, in interactions with others, when you receive, you have the gratitude for what you receive, and that triggers generosity in you. What others receive from you, they also create their own generosity, and we can see that we can rise in love.
Now we find inspiration. And with inspiration you find yourself. You will find what you really are. You find that unconditional love, which is to live inspired all of the time. And this is what love really is.
Dirk: Is there anything you would like to add to our conversation?
Miguel: I would like to invite everybody to help change the world. I refer to entire humanity and the story we create. The only world we can change, is our own. And the way to change our world, is not to change the secondary character, but to change the main character. If everybody would do this, how beautiful would that be?!
INTERVIEW BY: DIRK TERPSTRA – SOUL LOVE FOUNDER
This interview also appeared on OMTimes.