Truth or Fiction
The following is excerpted and adapted from The Fifth Agreement: A Toltec Wisdom Book by don Miguel Ruiz and don Jose Ruiz with Janet Mills, available from Amber-Allen Publishing.
For centuries, even millennia, humans have believed that a conflict exists in the human mind -- a conflict between good and evil. But this isn't true. Good and evil are just the result of the conflict, because the real conflict is between the truth and lies. Perhaps we should say that all conflict is the result of lies, because the truth has no conflict at all. The truth existed long before humans; it exists whether we believe in it or not. Lies only exist if we create them, and they only survive if we believe in them. Lies are just a distortion of the word, a distortion of the meaning of a message, and that distortion is in the human mind.
Humans are always distorting the truth with words, but that's not the problem. The problem is when we believe that distortion, because some lies are innocent, and others are deadly. Let's consider how we can use the word to create a story, a superstition, about a chair. What do we know about a chair? We can say that a chair is made of wood, or metal, or cloth, but we're just using words or symbols to express a point of view. The truth is that we don't really know what the object is. But we can use the word with all of our authority to deliver a message to ourselves and to everyone around us: "This chair is ugly. I hate this chair."
The message is already distorted, but this is just the beginning. We can say, "It's a stupid chair, and I think that whoever sits in the chair might become stupid also. I think we have to destroy the chair because if someone sits in the chair and it falls apart, that person will fall and break a hip. Oh yes, the chair is evil! Let's create a law against the chair so that everybody knows that it's a danger to society. From now on, it's prohibited to get near the evil chair!"
If we deliver this message, then whoever receives the message and agrees with the message starts to become afraid of the evil chair. Very soon, there are people who are so afraid of the chair that they start having nightmares about it. They become obsessed with the evil chair, and of course they have to destroy the chair before it destroys them.
Do you see what we can do with the word? The chair is just an object. It exists, and that's the truth. But the story we create about the chair is not the truth; it's a superstition. It's a distorted message, and that message is the lie. If we don't believe the lie, no problem. If we believe the lie and try to impose that lie on other people, it can lead to what we call evil. Of course, what we call evil has many levels, depending on our personal power. Some people can lead the whole world into a great war where millions of people die. There are tyrants all around the world who invade other countries and destroy their people because the tyrants believe in lies.
Now we can easily understand why there is a conflict in the human mind, and only in the human mind, because it doesn't exist in the rest of nature. There are billions of humans who distort all those words in their heads and deliver distorted messages. That's what really happened to humanity. I think that answers why all the wars exist, why all the conflict, injustice, and abuse exist in the world of humans. Humans create the lies, and then the lies control the humans. But sooner or later the truth arrives, and the lies cannot survive the presence of the truth.
Centuries ago, people believed that the earth was flat. Some said that elephants were supporting the earth, and that made them feel safe. "Good, now we know that the earth is flat." Well, now we know that it isn't flat! The belief that the earth was flat was considered the truth, and almost everybody agreed, but did that make it true? It was nothing but a superstition, and I can assure you that we still live in a world of superstition. The question is: are we aware of it?
Just imagine waking up tomorrow morning in fourteenth-century Europe, knowing what you presently know, believing what you believe today. Imagine what those people would think of you, how they would judge you. They would put you on trial for taking a bath every day. Everything you believe would threaten what they believe. How long would it take before they accused you of being a witch? They would torture you, make you confess to being a witch, and finally kill you because of their fear of your beliefs. You can easily see that those people lived their lives immersed in superstition. Hardly anything they believed was true, and you can easily see that because of what you believe today. But those people were not aware of their superstitions. Their way of life was completely normal for them; they didn't know any better because they never learned anything else.
Then perhaps what we believe about ourselves is just as full of superstition as the beliefs of those people long ago. The way that most of us relate to our own body is still barbarian, though not as much as seven hundred years ago. Our body is completely loyal to us, but we judge our body and abuse our body; we treat it as if it's the enemy when it's our ally. Our society places a lot of importance on being attractive according to the images we see on television, in movies, in fashion magazines. If we believe that we are not attractive enough according to these images, then we believe a lie, and we are using the word against ourselves, against the truth.
What is the truth and what is the lie? To be aware of the difference is so important, because the truth doesn't come with words, with knowledge. But lies do, and there are billions of lies. Humans believe so many lies because we aren't aware. We ignore the truth or we just don't see the truth. When we are educated, we accumulate a lot of knowledge, and all that knowledge is just like a wall of fog that doesn't allow us to perceive the truth, what really is. We only see what we want to see; we only hear what we want to hear. Our belief system is just like a mirror that only shows us what we believe. In our development, as we grow throughout our lives, we learn so many lies that the whole structure of our lies becomes very complicated. And we make it even more complicated because we think, and we believe in what we think. We make the assumption that what we believe is the absolute truth, and we never stop to consider that our truth is a relative truth. Usually, it's not even close to any kind of truth, but it's the closest we can get without awareness.
Using our awareness, we can easily see all the assumptions we make, and we can see how easy it is to make them. Humans have a powerful imagination, very powerful, and there are so many ideas and stories that we can imagine. We listen to the words talking in our head, and we create a whole drama of possibilities. We start imagining what other people are doing, what they're thinking, what they're saying about us, and we dream things up in our imagination. We invent a whole story that's only truth for us, but we believe it. One assumption leads to another assumption; we jump to conclusions, and we take our story very personally. Making assumptions and then taking them personally creates a lot of drama for nothing. Almost all of our conflicts are based on this, and it's easy to understand why. Assumptions are nothing more than lies that we are telling ourselves -- they're not the truth; they're fiction. Making assumptions is all about thinking. We think too much, and thinking leads to assumptions. Just thinking "What if?" can create a huge drama in our lives. Every human can think a lot, and thinking brings fear. We have no control over all that thinking, all those words that we distort in our head. When the truth arrives and all the lies are dispelled, we realize that we were simply torturing ourselves for nothing.
Why do we make assumptions? Humans have a need to explain and justify everything; we have a need for knowledge, and we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know. We don't care whether the knowledge is true or not. Truth or fiction, we believe 100 percent in what we believe, and we go on believing it, because just having knowledge makes us feel safe. There are so many things that the mind cannot explain; we have all these questions that need answers. But instead of asking questions when we don't know something, we make all sorts of assumptions. If we just ask questions, then we don't make assumptions. If we just stop thinking, we no longer try to explain anything to ourselves, and this keeps us from making assumptions. Then we can focus our attention on the truth, not on what we think is the truth, and we see life the way it is, not the way we want to see it.
© Miguel Angel Ruiz, M.D., Jose Luis Ruiz, and Janet Mills. Reprinted by Permission of Amber-Allen Publishing, Inc., San Rafael, California. Photo courtesy of NASA.