Don Miguel Ruiz, Jr. calls himself “a border town boy” — born and raised in Chula Vista, Calif. and going back and forth to neighboring Tijuana, Mexico. He was an ordinary Mexican-American boy, except there was one difference — he was also born into a Toltec family (a Mesoamerican culture which preceded the Aztecs), and his grandmother was a curandera (faith healer). Because of this, he often found himself teetering between his ancestor’s ancient roots and modern-day American culture.
Continuing on the Toltec principles in his father’s bestselling book, “The Four Agreements,” Ruiz, Jr.’s first book, “The Five Levels of Attachment: Toltec Wisdom for the Modern World,” hits shelves today. In it, he explains the ways in which we attach ourselves unhealthily to beliefs structures we have created over time, and how to go about re-evaluating — or even severing — these harmful attachments.
“I would like everyone to enjoy life and enjoy the relationships with the people we love — enjoy being ourselves,” says the 37-year-old about why he wrote the book. “All of my family’s work is for that moment where we [attain] unconditional love for ourselves, because we are alive right now.”
Enjoyment of the present, as well as of life and relationships are a few of the important tenets of the Toltec tradition of the Ruiz family.
“The tradition I am a part of is an oral tradition passed from generation to generation,” says Ruiz, Jr. about his Toltec heritage. “My grandmother really began to open things up. Before that, it was really inside the family only.”
He says his grandmother, known to the community as Madre Sarita, would have mass on Sundays in a temple and tell stories. She was inducted into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007 for continuing the Toltec tradition and helping so many. Ruiz’ dad, a former neurosurgeon from Mexico, began to apprentice her in the 1970’s – when he was ready to take on and learn the family tradition.
“He found a lot of people were missing the message,” says Ruiz, Jr. about why his dad decided to leave physical medicine to heal people emotionally. “Every generation teaches in their own unique way — in a way you can understand.”
Ruiz, Jr. says he didn’t always want to understand his family’s tradition. When he was younger, feelings of rebellion consumed him as a result of living in juxtaposition between the ancient culture he was born into and wanting to fit in with his friends in the modern world.
“I grew up a little goth kid listening to Depeche Mode — I rebelled in that way,” he says. “I wanted my own voice and to be my own self. The rebellion ended when I went through a hard phase, and I went out and began to practice my grandmother’s teachings — not as something that they told me to do, but something that helped me.”
He says he didn’t even read his father’s “The Four Agreements” until 2002 — five years after it was published.
“All of a sudden, it went from being a history lesson to a life lesson,” says Ruiz, Jr. “When I was rebelling, I saw it as history, and then it came to a point where I was processing my own crossroads, and it became alive.”
Ruiz, Jr. says it was then that he began an almost 20-year apprenticeship with his grandmother.
“At 14, my first lesson was translating for her — she would give lectures at the University of San Diego, and she knew no English,” says Ruiz, Jr. “My community really embraced my grandmother…people from all around went to see her. She did healings, and even used the egg sometimes.”
He says he doesn’t practice faith healing, however.
“The way my grandmother taught me was different,” says Ruiz, Jr. “She was grooming me to do what I’m doing now. She didn’t groom me to heal – she taught my cousins that. She saw what our interest was and taught people what they wanted to learn.”
Ruiz, Jr. says he also had an interest in film and studied that in college, but after a short career in film, he decided to pursue the lessons his grandmother taught him full-time.
Today, Ruiz, Jr. lives in Sacramento, with his wife and two kids (5 and 7), where he gives lectures, workshops and online classes. He even has an online radio show called “The Way of the Desert,” which is available on iTunes as a podcast. He says he’s doing what his father always taught him — to bridge what their family taught with the lessons taught in school. That way, they could be functional, and not only live as if in a museum.
“It’s about love and relationships,” says Ruiz, Jr. who is already working on his next book deadline in December. “The juxtaposition is always going to be present. When we let go of that attachment , we see a perfect reflection of ourselves. This is the way I was taught.”