The beginning of human suffering

The beginning of human suffering

by don Miguel Ruiz and Janet Mills

When you are one, two, or three years old, you cannot see yourself. The only way to see yourself is to look at your image in a mirror, and other people act as that mirror, which means they tell you what they believe you are. You don’t know what you are, but your mother tells you what you are, and your father tells you what you are, and your brothers and sisters do the same thing.

Of course, what your mother tells you is not exactly what your father tells you that you are, or what your siblings, or the television, or the church, or the whole society tells you that you are. Every human in your life projects a completely different image onto you, and none of these images are accurate.

What you believe you are is a distorted image of yourself that came from other people — from mirrors that always distort images. You cannot see yourself, so you believe them, you agree, and as soon as you agree, the image is programmed in your memory.

What were the images others projected onto you? When you say, “I am smart, I am stupid, I am beautiful, I am ugly,” these images are only knowledge or a lot of concepts. You form an image of perfection, an image of how you should be in order to be good enough, but you don’t fit that image.

In the same way, other people teach you to judge the way they judge, to gossip the way they gossip, to create dramas the way they create dramas. You begin to play with all these concepts, all this knowledge, and that is how you learn to dream.

The Toltec call this the dream of the first attention because it is the first time you used your attention to create a whole reality. And because your attention is hooked from the outside, your whole world is projected to the outside. You begin to search for yourself outside of you because you no longer trust who you are. You search for what you believe you don’t have: justice, beauty, happiness, and love, when all of these were always inside you.

After years and years of trying to please other people’s images of what you should be, after trying to find who you really are, you finally give up and accept other people’s images of what you are. But there is something inside you that longs to be free; it is always telling you, “This is not who I really am. This is not what I really want.” You are not free to be who you really are because you are trapped by images of what you think you should be.

Can you see the beginning of suffering and drama in your life? You agree with the image others create for you, but that image isn’t you. Of course you modify the image all the time, but where is the real you? It gets lost because there isn’t a clear mirror to reflect what you really are.

Your whole point of view of your whole reality is based on what you believe you are, but what you believe about yourself is just a concept; it’s knowledge, but knowledge doesn’t mean it’s the truth. Knowledge only means it’s what you know.


Adapted from The Four Agreements Companion Book: Using The Four Agreements to Master the Dream of Your Life. Copyright © 2000 by Miguel Angel Ruiz, M.D. and Janet Mills. Reprinted by Permission of Amber-Allen Publishing, Inc., San Rafael, California.

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