It is rare when I find a book that I literally cannot put down until it is finished, but this is one of them. Tossing and turning tonight, I thought I would read the first chapter of the book, and the next thing I knew it was over.
It is also rare when you read a book that gives you an epiphany, a revelation, but again this is one of them. This book made me feel ashamed and hopeful at the same time, the former for my preconceived notions of love, and the latter because I was provided the awareness to change it. The following are the best messages I took from it:
1. The most crucial component to love is first loving yourself: Ruiz explains a relationship between two people as two halves. You can only control your half, not the other half. Likewise only you should control your happiness, and no one else. The reason so many get hurt with love is that they expect the other person to bring them happiness, and without question that person will ultimately fail. Therefore, it is most important to work on keeping your own half perfect, or you will never experience great love.
2. Because of what we learn from society and family, love comes from fear: Ruiz explains that the best example of true love is in watching children: they laugh, play, have fun, do not have expectations of other children. And if one hurts another, they are upset for a short period of time, quickly forgive, and forget. He also likens this to a dog who gives unconditional love regardless. If you decide to ignore the dog that day, he does not take it personally. Now, fast forward this to adulthood. Adults who are in a relationship forget to laugh and play, are quick to judge, and do not easily forgive. Should one partner have a bad day and want to be alone, the other partner may think that he is being rejected, which makes him upset. Or, if the partner does not fulfill expectations A-Z perfectly, the other partner will feel disappointed. We learn this from society and our parents, who teach us that these expectations should exist. In the reward/punish system, we learn to always punish ourselves, which in turn causes us to always punish our partner.
3. True love is not selfish: This is the one I struggled with the most, because it certainly exposed my greatest downfall. Ruiz explains that love is not selfish, that is, it is not jealous or possessive. To say that one’s love is “mine” and for no one else is entirely selfish, and it makes the other person feel like they have to do things for you instead of wanting to do things for you. He likens this to a drug addict and a provider. The drug addict is constantly worried that he will not get his next dose of drugs, and therefore he becomes possessive of the provider. He questions what the provider does, who the provider is with, and any activity that may jeopardize the next dose of drugs. Likewise, with two people in a relationship it is often the case that one person has greater power over the other because he does not need the love as much as the other. For the person who takes the role of the addict, this is not showing true love. To truly love someone else is to trust that they are making the right decisions, and to love them even if they reject you. It is the ability to love them so much you set them free, where you love them for them, not for what they provide you.
4. True love does not desire to change someone: Ruiz explains this in terms of pets. When you get a dog, you do not later get mad at it for not being a cat. Likewise, when you enter a relationship with someone you should not want or expect to change them later. Changing people is not a right we have, and it is selfish. The way we get around this is by seeing what we want to see in the initial stages, and denying what we do not want to see. Later on, when the infatuation fades, we get mad at our partner for the things we previously denied. This is not true love. Real love sees the person completely for what and who they are, and has no desire to change them.
6. We should not feel bad about sexual desires: One chapter discusses the difference between mind and body. The body has basic needs: shelter, water, food and sex. The mind has none of these needs. Rather than sex, the mind craves love. However, the mind does not need anything. Society tells us based on cultural or religious standards that sexual feelings are only acceptable in certain circumstances. This causes us to feel guilty and punish ourselves when we have sexual feelings outside of these circumstances, which in turn can allow us to obsess even more about it. Instead, if we accepted the division between mind and body, we could recognize our sexual feelings for what they are, and then move on with no problem. Also, if we strip away the expectations society has for us in terms of sexual relationships, we could likely enjoy it much more.
7. The power of God is within: Everyone has a true inner self that is contained by a body. Our genes dictate how that is, plain and simple. But, society imposes expectations on how we should or should not be. Ruiz explains that this is why someone can have a closet full of clothes and say they have nothing to wear, or why one can be healthy but deprive themselves of food to be thin, etc. If we could release ourselves of these expectations and truly be just ourselves, we would see God.
8. We don’t have to punish ourselves for our past: Kids do not do this. A 3 year old can barely remember a wrong doing from a day ago, let alone weeks or years ago. But, adults tend to take on a victim mentality, where they feel they must be punished for things that happened in the past. He gives an example of someone who is raped 10 years ago. Does that woman need to punish herself and have problems with sexuality for the rest of her life? Absolutely not. If she does, she is instead choosing to punish and abuse herself. Instead, she should accept it for what it was and not allow the attacker to have any more power over her. Similarly, if we adopt this Victim Mentality, we allow the attackers in our lives to take control over them, which is not indicative of self love.
Although I have yet to review a book I have not liked, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a different approach to love that is based on trust and being real.