This blog refers to the best 5 books I read in 2021 and goes deep on the matter. You can find the list of my best readings here.
Complete title – The Three Questions: How to Discover and Master the Power Within You
Author – Don Miguel Ruiz, Barbara Emrys
These last years I have spent a great deal of time improving myself by focusing on the acquisition or remodelling of skills. However, the word “skill” describes a modern concept that is per se aseptic, especially when compared to the one of “learning”.
The idea of skill is one of commodity, something that makes us appealing and marketable for society. We need new skills, or we improve some, in order to not become redundant in the workplace and have a better chance in life.
What happened, however, is that I worked with pleasure more on skills related to my hobbies and my side hustle.
For example, observation and deduction have more to do with my passion for detective stories rather than my primary job.
Memory training, and memory techniques, attracted me because I wanted to make my learning experience more fun, all while improving retention.
Situation awareness interested me because I can be a very distracted person and I did not want to be a smartphone zombie anymore.
But other than that, everything else had to do with getting a better job, a bigger pay, a prestigious position away from the slavery of entry-level corporate jobs.
Learning, on the other side, has a different connotation. It is the process rather than the goal, and so it is our companion in our existence. Because we learn, we can improve ourselves and enjoy it on the go. That is why I learned to play ocarina: to enjoy myself.
As you may have understood, here I am considering skills from a purely capitalistic perspective. Of course, the world is not just black and white. You can learn Portuguese to achieve a cultural full immersion on a vacation, but then you come to find it useful when the only worthy course on ETL runs in that language alone, and with no English subtitles.
At the same time, you can work on your leadership skills for years, only to find out that you aren’t cut to perform manager duties and change direction at the last minute.
So, while there is no distinct separation between the process (of learning) and the achievement (the skills), often the drivers of our learning experiences are extrinsic (money, success, etc.), and they influence the way we prioritize what we learn, which in turn it relates to how we live our lives and upon what we make decisions.
Why all this digression on learning and skills? First of all, because a great deal of my blogs is about that. Second, I believe that learning drives our life more than we actually think. We learn continuously, whether we want it or not. It makes us build habits, bias, and take decisions for life.
Which brings me to my point. these last years in which I focused on upskilling also influenced what I was becoming and how I decide to live my life.
But with all this focus on what to learn, many times I found myself reflecting on WHO I am. On my lacks, my defects, and on what I can give back to the people I love through the journey of life – and mine is populated of learning journeys.
And so, once again, I ended up with a book in my hands. A present that my loved one handed me while 2021’s sunset was already on the horizon. This gift came with a recommendation: to take it easy and reflect on the impact I have on myself and others with my thoughts, words, acts, and even non-acts.
The Three Questions is a spiritual guide of self-understanding that uses the simplest words to deliver complex reasoning to the evergreen dilemmas that mankind keeps asking about since it achieved self-consciousness.
The purpose of the titular three questions is to help the reader achieve peace of mind: something that many are looking for, too often in vain, as they seek answers in the outer world, or perhaps because they do not answer themselves with due honesty and transparency.
This book attempts to free the reader from self-deceiving behaviors and mental constructs, with an approach of spiritual inquiry that leads to a cathartic experience.
Exactly the book I needed to stop everything for a moment and recover my mental energies with a graceful meditation.
Here’s what you’ll find inside the book:
Who am I?
We believe things about ourselves that are not. We think of our life as the most incredible story, which is told by an unreliable narrator. Sometimes, we recall events in the wrong way so many times, that we end up replacing more correct recalls.
Two things here. One is that our stories will never be impartial. Our emotions, learning, and cultural references give color to the events we live. We can’t be impartial and we should accept our imperfections.
Second, is that we let the unreliable narrator of past tales control our present.
My interpretation is that we often become the very villain of a story in which we tell we are the hero, and that is because we are actually hurting that hero. The boundaries that society provides us with end up becoming inflexible rules to our existence.
How many times do we stop enjoying something just because it seems socially unacceptable? But then I reflect that society is not necessarily right, and its way to average situations is flawed upon certain stereotypes and the need for simplified patterns. These do not want to account for diversity.
Diversity has too long been a problem for this kind of society, to the point that it is punished with demeaning behaviors and made-up rules that are too tight for the complexity of human beings.
This tentative of moral control leads us to deny who we are and to feel pressured about it. And so, it becomes important to remind ourselves who is living the story: the protagonist, not the unreliable narrator that seeks a morbid form of acceptance.
What is real?
As the emotional being we are, once we demonstrate incapable of understanding our feelings toward someone or something, we let our vision going blurred.
That means that not only we can be deceived about our true self; we are also able to alter our memory of things, changing the course of events, and thus transforming the other characters in our “story” based on liking and disliking.
Hate, in particular, is the meanest feeling of them all, for it widens the cracks between people and finds delight in preventing healing. I think of when we envy others based on the role they have in our life, disgruntled for their successes that could be ours, but also when our admiration for certain character makes us dislike those who goes against them.
We fail to acknowledge how the people we admire are just “characters” especially in this world that runs on branding. We do not understand that they wear a mask. These characters lose our favors the day they do something unexpected. Meanwhile, we still long for their achievements, something that we desire, too.
Today’s society is built on the race for achievement, but that can sicken individuals if the goal becomes more important than the journey. In what decisively seems a Buddhist inflection, our desires cause us pain: we wish for things that aren’t meant to be.
We end up betraying ourselves in name of a “dream reality” as we let our emotions govern us. And so, it is important to discipline our emotional self, harnessing the best energy out of it and finding enjoyment even in the smallest achievement.
What is love?
I think that this question cannot be answered properly if we first do not come to terms with the previous two.
As our lives become more complicated, so we also complicate the way we see (and feel) love. It isn’t a case, then, that the idea of love presents itself in many twisted forms, while hardly we experience its purity.
To begin with, if we torture ourselves, if we do not accept and therefore love ourselves, how can we love another person?
How do we understand when we do not just love something, but are obsessed with it?
This is not only a matter of emotional intelligence, though. It is, first of all, a common sense of acceptance.
Acceptance is different from tolerance, as the latter builds upon conditions and expectations. When we accept someone (the self-included) we let go of fears and we really welcome reality – as an added bonus, we stop worrying about many illusions we have preemptively constructed in our heads.
Generally, we assume that we know things and we can predict them, and when that occurs we start making assumptions, all while stopping to observe what really happens around us.
We shan’t allow ourselves to fall victim to this vicious circle. The greatest enemy of love is expectation. And if we cannot control ourselves for good, how dare we pretend to clip the other one’s wings?
My favourite quotes from this book
“Stop thinking – and you’re able to observe, listen, and feel.”Don Miguel Ruiz
If you aren’t new to my writing, then you will know how devoted I am to observation as much as to critical thinking.
The “thinking” in the case of this quote refers to a wide range of thoughts that go from mindless assumptions to semi-paranoid overthinking.
I, like everyone else, am prone to end up wandering in this toxic wave of thoughts. These words are a mantra that reminds me that thinking is important, but that is only a part of the game. Thinking too much is not helpful, if it prevents us from living our life.
What I learned from reading this book
Assume that you lie to yourself. A lot. Today it is increasingly difficult to take decisions without being influenced by externalities that have no interest in your well-being. If there is something we really want, we should let it sit and understand how it aligns with us, not vice-versa. If it is true that we define ourselves by what we do, let’s at least do what we truly love.
Accepting the diverse begins at home. It means to acknowledge that we are all different, and we can exploit our differences to move forward together instead of parting ways. It isn’t that philosophical. Anger and annoyance are my worst enemies, but I am my greatest ally because I do not want them to dictate my life.
Opinions are just other stories. Which means, my truth is just an opinion to someone else. The best is to just collect the facts and ask for interpretation. To listen, a lot. It may actually open our minds and make us realize our ignorance.