Do you have the same beliefs as you did two years, five years, or even 10 or 20 years ago? If your thoughts or opinions are different today, how much do you think they will change five, 10, or 20 years from now? Do you believe you’ll think differently then? The answer is mostly yes.
Now that begs the question; is who you were before wrong, bad, or ignorant? Because each year brings new ideas, thoughts, and beliefs, how do you know your current belief is the right one?
Let me give you an example; The death penalty. Yeah, that’s me, jumping right into the meat of the inquiry.
When I was younger, I held firm to my belief in the death penalty—an Eye for an Eye and all that. Something interesting about me also is that I have been drawn to the military and law enforcement types all my life. I’ve been married 4 times. Yeah, I know, don’t judge me. My first husband was a marine, the next was a cop, and my current husband is Army. I know that’s just three; somewhere in the middle, I decided to go for a blue-collar worker. I had to try something different. My current Army husband is an exciting, eclectic biker type. We’ve been married 11 years this year! Ha! I feel like I had enough practice and finally got it right!
But as usual, I digress. My point being, “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” has been my identity most of my life. Fast forward to the death of my mom and daughter, the closest dearest people to me. Gone. My mom at 59, and my daughter at 23. This was about 5 years apart. These losses brought a different perspective on life and death into my world.
By the time I was 36 or so, someone asked about the death penalty, and when I thought about it. The words I said were, “If there were no doubts, kill the mother fucker.” But something turned inside of me. It occurred to me that I just repeated what my family, friends, and colleagues always say. I’ve never really taken the time to address how I feel about it and why. This inquiry came and went over the years. The best I could come up with was if I was chosen for jury duty that had the death penalty attached to it, and they asked how I felt about the death penalty, I would have to say, “I don’t know.” This did not settle well with me, but thank goodness my conviction or lack thereof never came into question. I, however, was intrigued by my lack of concrete belief one way or the other.
I finally sat in earnest contemplation, meditation, and self-inquiry. My conclusion was, I do not support the death penalty. There are many reasons why I came to that conclusion. Here are the two main reasons; number one, its final, and number two, it’s final. The deeper reasons for this current belief are unimportant. What’s important is that had I been on a jury in my twenties through my thirties, I would have supported putting someone to death. Now I would not. Which belief is correct? Was my younger self right, or is my older self right?
Our life is in a constant state of evolution. My current belief that our purpose here on this earthly plane is to evolve. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience. We have incarnated many times. In each lifetime, we have been the victim, the abuser, the saint, the sinner, the mother, father, husband, or wife. All of this is to experience physical life from every possible perspective and evolve.
Why? Well, all that’s for another discussion. Suffice it to say that every single one of us, the saint and the sinner, is perfectly perfect in every way at this moment.
I’ve been studying and gaining knowledge and establishing my beliefs, and changing them regularly since I was a child, as have most of us. The one common denominator I have found in nearly all personal development or spiritual practice teachings is the value of detachment. You can call it by any label, let go, let God, Surrender, or whatever works for you, but the meaning is the same. Detachment in action is “Living fully in the Now.” Letting go of the past and releasing our future expectations may not only be the most common lesson. I would agree with you if you said it was also the most difficult one to learn.
I just finished reading for the second time Don Miguel Ruiz Jr’s book the 5 levels of attachment. It’s funny. The first time I read it, I could not comprehend the message he was teaching. But this time, it resonated clearly with me. Note: if you ever have had this experience with the book or teacher, perhaps you can revisit and see how differently the message hits you. This is not the first time it has happened to me, and I’ve heard of it happening to others also. Anyway, here are the 5 levels of attachment Don Miguel describes.
Level 1 – Authentic
Level 2 – Preference
Level 3 – Identity
Level 4 – Internalization
Level 5 – Fanaticism
Don Miguel Ruiz JR., like his father, is a Toltec Master. Toltec literally translated means Art. The Toltecs view life as the canvas. At each moment as creators, everything is perfect. That does not mean that the painting does not change or evolve, each moment, the artwork is perfect as it is. I personally use the analogy of a flower as it goes from sprout to bud, to bloom and finally decay. Each moment is perfection.
There is no moment that the flower is not a flower. It is simply in different stages of its life.
I really like how he broke down the 5 levels of attachment and want to share my understanding of each. Perhaps you will resonate with this line of description as I did.
Level 1 – Authentic
This is pure freedom of attachment. We can choose at every moment what we prefer. Knowing it may not be the same as yesterday or tomorrow. This level is a “Being in the moment” state of mind, without conditions or expectations. There is a complete sense of harmony of mind, body, and soul. It does not matter what the external circumstances are. Being in this state allows no judgment of self; therefore, we do not judge others. This is a state of total unconditional love. We have all experienced this state of mind at one time or another. Where all thinking stops, and we are indeed entirely in the moment. However, constantly living in this pure state of the authentic self is not realistic for most of us. Yeah, some enlightened ones are walking the planet. But as these people are far and few between, and probably do not include you and I, we can gain the knowledge and be aware of this pure potentiality and consciously know that living at any one level is a choice. We know of it, but our human emotions get in the way. That’s OK, you and I are still perfect. This is all part of the mosaic of the life experience. Knowing the potential of the authentic self is knowledge, not a goal. You are already perfect.
Level 2 – Preference
At this level, there is engagement in the experience. But attachment to a particular outcome is not involved. Knowledge is used as a tool, not as a judge and jury.
Here’s a quick example, based on your preference. Let’s imagine you and your partner decide to go out to dinner. Your preference for the meal is Chinese food. However, upon arriving, you find that the restaurant is closed. You quickly adapt and change your preference and suggest going to the Italian restaurant down the road. You are feeling unperturbed and not disappointed. Your partner, however, is very upset and disappointed. You feel no need to judge or even fix your partner’s state of mind. Because you know it’s just part of life. We each have a path, yours is to detach and adapt, and your partner’s path at this moment is to become agitated and disappointed. You accept your partner’s point of view and let it go. You can easily adapt to the moment, not control it, yourself, or others.
Level 3 – Identity
At this level, we accept who we are primarily by what we see ourselves as or how others see us.
If asked, “Who are you?” The response would be; I’m a teacher, soldier, salesman, parent, coach, or whatever work it is that you do. If asked to dig deeper, the answer would be something like; I am a Christian, Buddhist, Atheist. Or perhaps, I am kind, intelligent, funny, etc.
At this level, we have forgotten our authentic selves most of the time. Knowledge and experience on this earthly plane have defined who we are. We have forgotten that we are the artist creating every moment. We become the paint or the brush instead of the art or the artist. We identify with race politics and tribes, even our activities. Instead of experiencing a moment for what it is, we align with those just like us. We can accept others’ notions and ideas but are much more comfortable with people and circumstances that align with our personal identity.
Level 4 – Internalization
This level is where self-worth is based on the identity we have adopted. We firmly hold to our beliefs. We accept and reject others based on those beliefs. We cling to old ideas, at least on the outside, because to believe otherwise would make us wrong. In order to make ourselves right, we must impose our beliefs on others. And never release the old judgments that were ingrained in us, and in return, we imposed those beliefs on those around us. Suppose by chance, we find someone with the same views but see that they are better at it than we are. In that case, we can quickly become a subjugated followers of the person. You can see this in celebrity and athlete worship. They want to be as good or better than that celebrity. Believing that if they feel the same way as the superstar, then they must be right. These beliefs will be imposed on those around them. Insisting that to be accepted, they must admire and agree with this celebrity or this athlete or team. The perceived lessons and knowledge gained by this celebrity becomes a fact in the mind of the follower. Anyone who does not align with those “facts of life” will be judged and possibly even ejected from the follower’s life.
Level 5 – Fanaticism
This is where knowledge controls every action. Fighting even to the death of anyone who does not hold the same beliefs.
Don Miguel shared this analogy. Imagine a vegan who is married and has a child. One day she asked the child what he would like for dinner. “Carne Asada!” he says. She states, “We don’t eat meat in this house!” The child asserts that he is not a vegan and wants carne asada. The mother admonishes him, “If you eat meat, you will have to leave this house!” However, if the child concedes to veganism, he is rewarded with conditional love and acceptance.
The true fanatic would possibly disown or even kill a family member who does not hold the same beliefs. This may be perceived as hate or anger. But the reality is, they know only conditional love. The only way to feel love is to gain followers. This is perceived as true love.
In his book, The 5 Levels of Attachment, Don Miguel states that most of the planet resides at levels 3 and 4. In his own experience, he’s not encountered many level fives. I have to agree with him that most people live at and around Levels 3 and 4. This is not to say any level is right or wrong or that our goal should be to attain level one. This information is for the purpose of knowledge only. Knowledge is but a tool and should not be considered Art.
When we are aware of the level we are reacting from, we can then be the Art and the Artist. We can choose what we are doing, being, and having at any moment, under any circumstance.
Please understand that we each occupy any one of these levels at any given time. Rarely does anyone stay at a level permanently. But with the knowledge of these levels, when we encounter an obstacle or difficult situation, we can consciously choose our actions and reactions instead of blindly taking action without conscious awareness. Taking a moment to decide is not always an easy practice. In the throes of some obstacle, we have been programmed since birth to act and react, emulating our teachers. Your parents, siblings, extended family, community, and country are all our teachers. Becoming aware of the truth of who we are and taking conscious action is but one brushstroke of the thousands in our life.
In my program, the “5 Steps to the Path to Peace”, the first step is to be Present. This means, for just a moment, practice letting go of everything, past, and future. Turning off our judgments and expectations and fully immersing ourselves in the purest present moment. Doing this practice several times throughout the day.
In our busy, chaotic, and woefully programmed lives, this practice can sometimes be daunting. That is why I invite you to do this for mere moments throughout the day versus sitting in meditation for long periods. Practice is the key.
If you practice this step, when an obstacle presents itself, like a closed restaurant or a difference of opinion. In that case, you can more easily stop for a moment, be present, evaluate your reaction, and choose at which level you would like to proceed.
Another step on the Path to Peace is nonjudgment. This begins with you. Some of my clients judge their initial reaction as wrong. Or feel that past experiences are bad and feel guilt, remorse, or disappointment for what they have done or thought. Sadly, this feeling is so strong they often are unable to be present and not judge themselves. This often leads to them abandoning the idea of becoming aware, because the emotion is too painful. They then, stop attempting to walk the path to peace. If they can realize that they were not wrong, but simply having an experience that is not right or wrong they would be able to choose their next experience vs. being at the mercy of past beliefs and mindsets. They are so wrapped up in Level 3 and 4 they cannot let go. Which is yet another step on the path to peace, Surrender. By accepting a new perspective, they feel that what they have done or thought in the past is wrong. So instead of being wrong, they choose to stay at the level they are most comfortable with. It does not have to be this way. Remember, each of us, the saint and the sinner, are perfect just the way we are. Life is Art in constant creation. We are each teacher and student learning as we paint this beautiful canvas that we call life.
In conclusion, I invite you to investigate your actions and emotional reactions to the different circumstances that are encountered daily. Do you find yourself unconsciously reacting and acting? Do you feel as if you are at the mercy of the circumstances in your life? Perhaps horrible things have been done to you or you feel that life is all about suffering? Has this perspective been taught or is this really how you believe? Everything in our lives, in my belief, is perfect. How we respond is the experience and why we are here. With every experience or brushstroke, there is knowledge to be learned which then allows us to evolve and take the next step on our path in life. Like a flower, each phase is in itself perfection.