The Mastery of Self: A Toltec Guide to Personal Freedom (2016)
Unconditional Love for Yourself
IN THE DREAM OF the Planet there are two powerful forces that shape all our agreements, attachments, and domestication. In the Toltec tradition, we call these forces the two types of love: unconditional love and conditional love.
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.
Conditional love, on the other hand, is the linchpin of domestication and attachment. It only allows you to see what you want to see and to domesticate anyone who doesn't fit your projected image. It's the primary tool used to subjugate those around us and ourselves. Every form of domestication can be boiled down to “If you do this, then I will give you my love” and “If you do not do this, then I will withhold my love.” Every form of attachment starts with “If this happens, then I will be happy and feel love” and “If this does not happen, then I will suffer.” The key word in all of these statements is if, which, as you will see, has no place in unconditional love.
As we construct the Dream of the Planet, we have a choice to love each other unconditionally or conditionally. When we love each other unconditionally, our mirror is clean; we see others and ourselves as we really are: beautiful expressions of the Divine. But when the fog of attachment and domestication clouds our perception and we put conditions on our love, we are no longer able to see the divinity in others and ourselves. We are now competing for a commodity that we have mistaken as love.
At its core, domestication is a system of control, and conditional love is its primary tool. Consequently, the moment you start trying to control others is the same moment you place conditions on your love and acceptance of them. Because you can only give what you have, the conditions you try to impose on others are the same conditions that you impose upon yourself.
When you self-domesticate, you are attempting to control your own actions based on shame, guilt, or perceived reward rather than unconditional self-love. As we saw in the example with the man who continues to eat even after he is full, this is neither a healthy nor happy way to live.
Unconditional love is the antidote to domestication and attachment, and tapping into its power is a key step in becoming a Master of Self. In this chapter we will look at the practice of having unconditional love for ourselves first and foremost, as you cannot give to others what you don't have for yourself.
The Parasite and the Ally
In the Toltec tradition, we refer to the voice in your mind as the narrator, the one that speaks to you throughout your day. When you are self-domesticating, we say that the narrator is acting as a parasite, draining your energy through internal negative self-talk. The voice of the parasite uses your beliefs, formed through domestication and attachment, to hold power over you by placing conditions on your own self-love and self-acceptance. The parasite keeps you trapped in the fog, unable to see the truth of who you really are and the potential that you hold in your heart.
When the voice shares commentary that inspires you to live, create, and love unconditionally, this is constructive self-talk; and in the Toltec tradition we say that the narrator is now acting as an ally, helping you navigate the Dream of the Planet in a peaceful and productive way. When the narrator is your ally, it points out the truth in every situation, reminding you that you are in control of your own life and that you have the ability to make a positive difference in the world. Although the ally is still a reflection of the truth, it is what you see in the mirror when the fog has cleared.
If you are like most people, the narrator in your mind is constantly alternating between parasite and ally, sometimes going back and forth many times during the course of a single day. When the narrator becomes the parasite, doubt sets in, and you question the choices you make. Inspiration and creativity are gone, replaced by self-doubt and conditional self-love. When the ally takes over, you feel confident in your abilities, and the chatter that fills your mind is joyful.
It's important to understand that neither the parasite nor the ally speaks as the Authentic Self. The Authentic Self is the Divine, the energy or spirit that gives life to your body and mind. When you identify with the voice in your head, you confuse the narrator for who you really are and become its slave in the process. When the narrator speaks as your ally, you feel happy, and when the voice of the parasite takes over, you become sad or depressed. But as a Master of Self, you know that neither voice is ultimately you, as neither represents the whole of your Authentic Self.
No words can adequately describe this power that you are, and consequently any voice in your head is not actually you, despite its insistence to the contrary. I'll say it again: you are not your thoughts. Remembering this is important, because when that voice turns ugly and transforms from an ally into a parasite you can recognize it as something learned from some tucked-away experience of domestication and have the confidence to detach from its words. This is the Mastery of Self in action.
Living with the ally is obviously much more pleasant than living with the parasite, and the antidote to spotting and releasing the parasite is having unconditional love for yourself at all times. This, of course, is much easier said than done. The roots of domestication and attachment run deep, and the parasite uses them to stay in control of your mind. Some of you have listened to the parasite for so long you no longer recognize it as a voice of narration that you can disagree with. You have accepted its conclusions as facts, and thereby limit your potential. To undo this, you start by learning how to spot any negative words that enter your field of awareness. As my father taught in the first of the Four Agreements, there is great power in the word, and a Master of Self does not use the power of the word against him- or herself.
Spotting the Parasite
While the parasite operates internally, it strengthens itself by paying attention and latching onto the negative external talk in the Dream of the Planet. Negative external talk is anything you hear in conversation that attempts to impose conditional love. When someone is using the power of his or her words to try to subjugate you, or fill your mind with doubt, this can in turn feed your parasite. Even an offhand remark, in the right (or in this case wrong) tone, can have a powerful effect. “Nice shirt,” someone might say sarcastically. The moment before that, you may have been perfectly happy with your shirt; but all of a sudden you begin to internalize the other person's projection, and self-doubt creeps in. Your internal voice becomes negative, and you lose confidence in your choice. You look down and think, “They're right—I don't really like this shirt either.” You are now judging yourself based on someone else's opinion. The easiest way for someone to control your will is for you to give them permission to do so, because you doubt your own capacity to make a choice. This is why domestication is so effective.
To be clear, this doesn't mean you don't welcome other people's perspectives and listen to constructive criticism. The difference is in intent. When you are aware of the power of the word, you are careful to separate fact from opinion, and as a Master of Self you decide if the opinion of another is also true for you. When domestication occurs, you listen to others' opinions and mislabel them as facts, accepting them as truth without fully examining them.
The parasite is also strengthened through negative internal talk. This occurs in your Personal Dream when you speak against yourself in your own mind and is commonly referred to as “beating yourself up.” In the Toltec tradition, it's understood as the act of using the words of the parasite as conditions for your own self-love and self-acceptance. This internal negativity stems from within. For example, you might look at yourself in the mirror and decide that you're having a bad hair day, or that your pants are looking too tight, or you might find some other physical characteristic to take issue with. Your inner voice may tell you that you don't look good, and you're not going to impress anyone out there.
Without awareness of how you are speaking to yourself you may spiral out of control, and that simple bad hair day can turn into a tirade of negative self-judgments, with you calling yourself ugly, fat, unworthy, etc. In that moment, the parasite has taken over your attention and pulled you deep into the fog, using the power of your word against yourself. If unrecognized, negative talk, both external and internal, can inhibit the power of your intent and lead you deeper into the fog. If you accept the negative talk as fact, without separating truth from opinion, this can become a part of your personal story, leaving the parasite in charge the majority of the time and thereby limiting who you think you are and what you believe you are capable of.
A Master of Self is adept at spotting and releasing the voice of the parasite, and can actually change that voice to one of an ally. Doing so begins with making a commitment to unconditional self-love. This means you become willing to love every aspect of yourself without judgment or conditions—especially the parts of yourself that you often wish were different. Unconditional self-love lies within each and every one of us, regardless of our past circumstances and domestication.
We will look at some specific ways to bring unconditional love to yourself in a moment; but before we do, let's be clear on what does not work. First, the parasite cannot defeat itself. In other words, negative self-talk cannot be overcome with more negative self-talk. For example, at my workshops and lectures, people in the past have approached me with a look of consternation and said something like, “I'm so disappointed in myself. I can't believe I have been on the Toltec path for years and I am still taking things personally.”
Implicit in the comment is the idea that the speaker is failing in their practice, and you can hear the sneaky voice of the parasite in the background. Were this statement coming through the eyes of unconditional self-love, this person would approach me with a smile instead and say, “You know, I have been on the Toltec path for years, and I notice that I still take things personally sometimes. I am doing my best, but do you have any thoughts on overcoming this hurdle?” The change in the latter is apparent, as the ally is talking instead of the parasite.
The ally speaks from a place of unconditional love, while the parasite speaks from a place of conditional love. Because negative self-talk is based on conditional love, any attempt to transform the parasite with more negative self-talk is a subtle way for the parasite to actually strengthen itself. The key to transforming the parasite into an ally is to bring unconditional love to all of yourself—including the parasite. When you feed the parasite with unconditional love, you transform it into your ally, using the power of your word to change your mind and your life.
The Dream of the Planet is a world of polarities, where something is known only in relation to its opposite. Light is defined in relation to dark, up in relation to down, night to day, etc. Without one, we wouldn't know the other. In instances of opinion, like hot and cold, tall and short, good and bad, assessments are based on our perception, as what is deemed good by one person may be interpreted as bad by someone else. I am aware that when I say something I am both right and wrong at the same time, because the perception of the individual who listens to me will determine the validity of what I say according to their point of view, and they are free to do so. I celebrate that. 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. This is the incredible power inherent in our minds, and the vehicle we use to express that power is our word.
A Master of Self recognizes the power of the word and knows that every single judgment the parasite utters can be transformed and used by the ally. Making the switch to do so is unconditional self-love in action. While many people choose to listen to and focus on the voice of the parasite, it's critical that you train your mind to see through the eyes of the ally. There is no better place to do this than in your own personal story.
My friend and teaching partner, HeatherAsh Amara, has a beautiful example in her book Warrior Goddess Training of how she consciously changed her narrator from the parasite to the ally. Here is the parasite perspective she began with:
I was traumatized as a child by how often my family moved. I went to eight different schools and lived in four countries—Singapore, Hong Kong, the United States, and Thailand—by the time I was sixteen. We would move every two years or so. I started off at each school feeling painfully shy, disconnected, and alone. By the second year I would have made friends and found my groove, and then we would move again and the cycle would start over. Because of the many times I moved away from friends, I have a hard time connecting with people intimately and I'm afraid of being abandoned.
Every time I told my story, I felt depressed. Wouldn't you?
After HeatherAsh began her apprenticeship with my father, she began to see and tell her story through the eyes of the ally. Notice the shift in perspective, based on the same facts:
I was blessed as a child with an adventurous family. We moved every two years and traveled around the world every summer. I spent most of my childhood going to great international schools in Southeast Asia, and by the time I was sixteen my family had visited or lived in twenty different countries, including Thailand, Singapore, India, Egypt, Italy, and Spain. Because of the many times we moved and traveled, I learned to be incredibly flexible and to deeply love the diversity and creativity of humans. My childhood experiences helped me relate to many different perspectives, to make friends easily, and to celebrate change.
Each time I told this new story, I felt a sense of adventure and lots of gratitude.
As you can see, the facts stay the same, but the story is dramatically different. Do you see the power of perception?
The following exercises will help you practice transforming your parasite into your ally.
Look at yourself in the mirror and notice all the self-judgments that arise in the next few moments. Does a voice inside you say that your nose is too big? Too small? Do you not like your body size? Or your complexion? Take a moment to listen to those judgments. Your emotions will let you know which ones affect you the most, as the stronger the negative feeling the more attached you are to that judgment.
Write the judgment that incites the strongest emotional response on a piece of paper. It's very important that you write this down (you'll understand why in a moment). Next, take a moment to remember the many instances when you have used this judgment against yourself. Perhaps this thought has been repeating in your mind for years and years.
Now you can investigate the source of this judgment, and identify how it has affected your actions in the Dream of the Planet. Underneath the judgment, write down your answers to the following questions:
· Is this a judgment you learned from someone else? Can you remember when you learned it, and from whom?
· Have you repeated this judgment about yourself to someone else?
· How has this judgment shaped your actions? Have you denied yourself opportunities or failed to take risks because of it?
Read your responses and then ask yourself this very important question:
· Do you still want to let this judgment control your life?
If after reading all of your responses you answer yes to this last question, then this is an attachment that has become a part of your identity. It shapes who you are, and you are not ready to let it go. This is fine, if it is truly what you want. Perhaps you will come back to this at a later point to find that you no longer need this belief.
If you answered no to this last question, then you see the written judgment as something that is not a part of you; it is a piece of paper with words on it, nothing more. Realize that this judgment is only in front of you now because you have implicitly agreed with it all along. Now, the time has come to let this go, and the first step is to forgive yourself for using it against you all those times.
When you are ready to release this judgment, say the following statement out loud:
“I, __________, have used my negative self-talk to subjugate myself with conditional love. I forgive myself for doing so, and I will now let this false belief go.”
Crumple up the paper and throw it in the trash. This is a sacred act of letting this false belief go because you no longer believe it. Remember, beliefs don't exist “out there” in the world; they exist only in your mind and only as long as you continue to believe.
Every time find yourself falling back into self-judgment on this issue, repeat this statement of forgiveness again. Doing so is the act of bringing unconditional love to yourself. You have already paid the price for this self-judgment; you don't need to do so anymore. As my father says, true justice is paying for something once; injustice is paying for it over and over again. Through self-forgiveness you can stand up and start fresh. Self-forgiveness is always the key, and unconditional self-love gives you that opportunity. Repeat this exercise when you are ready for each and every judgment you listed initially.
Changing the Attributes
What stories are you carrying around about past events? Do you recount these stories through the eyes of your parasite or your ally? Think about the story of your life for a moment. What are the main elements? How do you tell that story to yourself and others? Notice the places in your story that you often tell through the eyes of the parasite, and write that portion of your story down.
Next, rewrite that same portion of your story, but this time through the eyes of your ally. (See the excerpt from my friend Heather-Ash Amara earlier in the chapter as an example.) If you are like most people, you'll find it's often easier to write through the eyes of the parasite than the ally, and this demonstrates the power that domestication, attachment, and conditional love have over you. Writing from the ally's perspective can be more difficult, but reframing your life events in this way allows you to see the gifts in every past experience.
In the end, our narrators are simply storytellers. They tell stories about the events in our lives and interpret them in either a positive or negative way, depending upon which one is in charge. A Master of Self sees the events of life through the eyes of the ally instead of the parasite, as doing so is a way of expressing unconditional self-love; this is the power you have to direct and redirect your attention to and from different focal points. Once you have unconditional love for yourself, you can then offer it to others. This is the subject of the next chapter.