Being the grandson of a great healer and the son of a renowned Toltec teacher, one would think that he would find it easy to follow in their footsteps and carry on their legacy. But don Jose Ruiz walked a lesser known path, learning his lessons while stumbling a few times over, until he finally found himself.
Manoj Khatri met up with Jose Ruiz to talk about his latest book My Good Friend The Rattlesnake, in which he reveals breathtaking details of an extraordinary life that made him the messenger of love that he is today.
Here are excerpts of the chat.
Manoj Khatri: What made you write My Good Friend the Rattlesnake after co-authoring The Fifth Agreement and Ripples of Wisdom with your father?
don Jose Ruiz: I’ve been fortunate to be able to share the Toltec teachings in conferences and lectures around the world. After one point, I started sharing my experiences, rather than standing on a pedestal and preaching. I started opening my heart out to the audiences. When I began doing that, it was like a cleansing for me. Sometimes people from the audience would come to me after the session and ask me to make my lectures into a book, but I didn’t think about it much. One day someone came to me and said, “When you share your story I feel that enlightenment is reachable. Before that I always felt that it was a point I could not reach, that it was not for me. But when I listen to you I feel that we are all the same.” And when I heard that I told my partner we have to make this happen, we have to bring out the book.
Writing this book would have taken a lot of courage; you have revealed a lot of uncomfortable stories about your past. Was it difficult to be so open?
Yes, initially I found it challenging. But when we were putting it onto paper we said, “You know what, this is powerful. As we are voicing it out, we are able to listen to ourselves. If we are aware of what we want to let go of and delete, it will be deleted. But if we’re not honest and just pretend, the negative will always remain inside of us.” I have learned that no one else can judge me if I don’t judge myself. I have realised that judgements are mere illusions. With this awareness, I began voicing out my past. I said to myself that if I’m able to voice my life honestly, no one can step on my tail. At that moment I became free from my past.
What made you choose such a unique title?
I believe that we are all a bit like the rattlesnake. When the rattlesnake is young it cannot control its poison. Even a small bite and its poison can kill you. But when it grows and becomes mature, it learns to control its poison.
In the same way, when we are young we are full of anger or hurt, we say things we don’t really mean and we cannot control our negativity. But later, just like the rattlesnake, we also mature; we learn to control our poison. To be honest, there is negativity inside my head even now—the difference is that now I can control it. I’m in charge of it, so it cannot get out and hurt me or others.
Tell us more…
When I began writing the book, it was for me. Later, I felt that this book will help anyone who is willing to see their own past—all the judgements and all the shame—they can look at them and let it all go. They will learn that it is possible for them to let it go, as I did.
When I was going through a rough patch my father asked me, “Why are you living this kind of life?” and I gave him all kinds of excuses. And he said to me, “You are suffering because you are addicted to suffering.” And when I heard that, a part of me wanted to defend myself. It was the mask I was wearing that was defensive. But the truth was that I was indeed addicted to suffering.
When the rattlesnake sheds its skin in the desert, it leaves its skin behind and goes forward. It doesn’t look back at that skin. One day I was thinking to myself that if I was a rattlesnake, I would not appear as a little snake crawling, but a big mountain of dead skins. Because I had been collecting all my dead skins in the form of negative past memories [laughs]. When I used to speak to a person who is going through some suffering at the moment, I would go back in my memory and pull out one of my dead skins—lets say skin number 67. And then I would just speak about myself and not even listen to the other person. That’s what addiction of suffering means.
How do we drop this addiction? How do we let go of the shame and guilt we feel for the past?
The first cure for suffering is to admit that you are addicted to it and that you have hurt yourself with the things that you may have done [or not done]. And in the Toltec tradition, there is nothing to learn but there are things to unlearn. The word Toltec means artist. Artists do away with everything that takes their inspiration away—so that they can deliver the purest and divine art that they create from the heart. While writing these books with my partner, I discovered the meaning of my life is to take care of ‘Jose’. Because I know what makes Jose happy and I know what makes Jose suffer. And how do I speak for Jose? Because I am Jose! [laughs]. Like everyone is himself or herself.
So when we are suffering, we have to look at it with honesty and acceptance. And ask: what can I do to change it? That’s how we bring the light where there was darkness. With this we are able to reach a level where we can have respect, both for what’s in us and what’s outside us. From that point on, we can live the ultimate dream, which is service. But we cannot give what we don’t have. Only when we serve ourselves we can serve others. Because when we serve others but we don’t serve ourselves, we are preparing something that is going to end up poisoning us. When we build love inside of our heart and make peace, then it is the resurrection of the embodiment of love. And this is the whole point of this book—to show that anyone can resurrect the embodiment of the love because that’s what we really are. It is just to let go the illusion of the past.
What was your turning point in life?
I was born with an open happy heart, but then every little kid wants to grow up fast and hang out with the older kids. The first time I got invited to a shamanatic ceremony, I was accompanying my father. I was the only kid there, so I thought, “Wow, now I’m like one of the adults.” And I noticed that everyone was doing a ceremony. There was a large stick with eagle feathers on top of it and they passed it around. The person with the stick would get a chance to talk. And everyone told a story of suffering. As the stick was passed on, it seemed as if they were competing on who was suffering the most. And then when it came to me, I didn’t have any such story. But it planted a seed in my head—that in order to be an adult, you need to have drama, suffering and pain in your life. So my little mind went to look for it and I started hanging out with the negative crowd. And all of a sudden I became lost in this crowd; I became a part of it. I went into drug addiction and gangs until one incident that changed my life.
I was planning to go with my friends to the beach one day when my father came to pick me up. I told him that I didn’t want to go with him, that I wanted to go with my friends. But he took me home with him and later I heard the news about my friends’ car being involved in an accident; my best friend passed away in that accident. That’s when it got me thinking—it could have been me. And that incident represents a line in my life, a line where I made the jump from the negative side to the positive side.
Are you saying that suffering is like an infection we acquire from the adults around us?
Yes, it is something that is passed on to us; especially the stories. Because, the emotions are real, but the stories are not. And we go to war for our stories. But they’re just stories, you know. When we wake up, we will know that there is nothing to debate on, we just have to accept everybody’s art because we all are artists.
You mean, we have to appreciate the differences
Absolutely! We can’t be promoting competition or nurturing envy—we have to just accept one another. We have to accept that individuals express art in different ways—in action, words, songs, actions, paintings, our work or in anything we ‘be’ or ‘do’.
In your teenage and young adulthood, there seemed to be a pattern of destructive behaviour. When you look back, do you think those things were necessary for you to arrive at where you are today?
Every negative event in my life was supposed to happen. First of all, because it happened; I cannot say it was not meant to happen. But thanks to them, I know how we create suffering and pain when we go against ourselves. Every morning I have a tickle in my brain when I think, “Oh my God! I survived that kind of life.” So what does that make me? It makes me grateful to be alive and to know that there is nothing to do but to serve. Because this body is lent to us to serve the divine; even those who serve negativity are, in one sense, serving the divine. How is that, you ask? Because it helps the divine wake up and gather the courage to stand up—that’s what my negativity did for me.
And how do we deal with the negativity inside us?
I can tell you how I deal with it. There’s a story of Jesus of Nazareth going to the dessert to talk to the serpent, who represents the devil. I know from my understanding that that serpent was his own negativity. So when I get into a moment of negativity, I move away from my loved ones. I don’t want to say things I don’t mean; for, when we are in pain, we say things that we do not mean [that’s our way of calling for help]. So I go away and wait till I get calmer, and when I’m completely calm, when I can feel it in my body, it’s time to take action. Your body is like a pet—it’s loyal to you no matter what you do.
You share a wonderful relationship with your father but at any point of time did he find it challenging to raise you?
My father always had unconditional love for me, he was very supportive. It was me who was running away, wanting to get attention. Once I read an interview of my father in Oprah Winfrey’s magazine where Ellen DeGeneres asked my father, “Is there something that makes you react, may be when someone cuts you off in a traffic?” And my father said, “It’s my son Jose, he’s 17 years old. As a parent, having the patience is tough.”
When I read that, I realised I’m hurting my father so much. My father was always present. I can say that it was me trying to get attention and manipulating his love. For when he would talk, I pretended not to listen, but I always listened.
Can you share some experience where you witnessed the power of the four agreements that your father teaches?
One of the things that my father teaches is to be impeccable with your word, which I now practise. I know that it is a gift to be able to think impeccably. But you have to apply this in a disciplined way.
Once I wanted to die and I jumped into the ocean. I was being tossed around in the waves; the current was so strong that it seemed to pull me down further and further under the surface. My body felt like a rag doll, and the ocean threw me around, beating me up as if it were angry at me. I struggled and struggled until I finally gave up and relaxed my body. I felt myself becoming submerged, and I knew I was drowning, so I began praying to Mother Ocean. “I don’t want to die, I want to live. If you let me go, I give my word that I will spend my life serving others by doing what my family does.” And at that moment, something magical happened. I know that the ocean is alive because I spoke to it, and it listened and it pulled me out and it saved my life. Each time after that, if I went off my life’s path, my life would turn into complete chaos. That’s when I really understood the first agreement of my father—to say what we mean—because when we say what we don’t mean, that’s going to happen. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, we blurt out mean things to a loved one: “I don’t want to be with you” and “I don’t love you anymore”—then that is going to become a reality. You are going to hurt your dream just because of one petty negative moment. That’s why it is so important to be impeccable with our words.
What’s your advice to parents?
We have to have the awareness that if we don’t mould our own children, somebody else will. So it’s better to give what you have in our heart, share the positive—if they listen, they listen; if they don’t, they don’t. I can tell you that I was a very rebellious kid and did a lot of things that my family didn’t approve of. I was in the dark and going against myself and in those times the things that they had taught me stayed in my head. My father had given me those tools to return back home.
Another thing is to always remember that you are your child’s parent—not her friend. And this is crucial in the growing up years, before they become adults.
What, according to you, is wrong with humanity today?
We don’t value our authenticity, we don’t value our love for creativity, we are programmed to put ourselves down, to judge ourselves. Its like my grandma once said, “We’re like the scorpion that stings itself with its own tail. It paralyses itself with its own poison.” This will stop the moment humanity wakes up. And I’m very happy to say that humanity is waking up and now, with the power of technology at our disposal, it’s even better. You know, when the young boys from the villages speak up—about the abuses and the injustices they face—they speak with courage. And that courage wouldn’t come alive if fear wasn’t present. When I was growing up, fear was a big teacher—it taught me to stand up for myself. And when I stood up for myself, fear became an ally; it warned me now to take care of myself and not to paralyse myself.
In your book you say, “The world is getting more and more aware of and open to the idea that humanity is a whole and there is no separation”. What makes you so optimistic?
We all have dark moments, but those who go through darkness and return, bring the light with them. They bring answers of how to deal with the negativity. There are only two languages spoken around the world—negative and positive. And if you speak the negative language, everything will be negative. But the moment you get tired of speaking the negative language, [that could happen by an experience that wakes you up] then you choose to speak the positive language. And then your whole world begins to light up.
It is my belief that all of us will get to that point; some may take longer. Take my own example: every time I made a mistake and then rectified it, my father would say to me, “Welcome back home.” And then, when I made more mistakes, he would keep saying “Welcome back home”…again and again and again. No matter how dark our past, no matter what horrific thing we have done, we can always return home. Because we’re always home, we just didn’t want to believe it.
Someone once said to my father that I wish humanity would make it. And my father replied, “But it is making it”. Especially in the last 150 years, changes are happening. And when everyone becomes authentic to themselves, the world will completely change.
You visited India when you were 17. Tell us what you remember most about that experience?
During one of my last days in India, as I was preparing to travel home, Master Kaleshwar said to me, “Do you want a spiritual name?” I said, “I’m just happy to be in your presence and it is enough for me.” And he asked me, “Do you love India?” I said I love India very much and it’s funny because that day I was wearing an ‘I Love India’ t-shirt and I showed it to him [laughs]. And he said, “With great honour I would like to give you the name Kaleshwar.”
Other than the Toltec teachings, who else has had an influence on your spiritual growth?
Many masters. I remember having an altar in my home where I have idols of different masters and deities from different cultures. One friend came to visit me and said, “Jose, you’re contradicting yourself right here.” I said, “No I’m not, I’m just being grateful to all the messengers of love that have different gardens of love. Because they all represent how to deal with negativity and suffering. They all help us to go back to the heart. Some people like roses and others like daisies—you just embrace whatever inspires you. There is no competition or separation.
It has been a pleasure talking to you Jose. Thank you for sharing your insights with us.
Thank you for the opportunity, brother.
This was first published in the February 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.