Journey to Ixtlan

Many readers of Carlos Castaneda stop reading after A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. Some read on to A Separate Reality. As I’ve stated before, Castaneda admits later on that his compulsive obsession on non ordinary reality as produced by hallucinogenic plants was the wrong area to fixate, and in Journey to Ixtlan, he recapitulates on many of the notes previously discarded.

It is in this wonderful story that Carlos introduces many concepts, or rather elucidates on many concepts, which Don Juan had introduced since their initial encounter; not-doing, stopping the world, living as a warrior, and dreaming.

What baffles me the most is that skeptics-and I was one-fixate on the impossibility of the story without so much as trying any of the prescribed techniques.

I remember being a small child. When I went to my grandparents’ house, I used to spend countless hours just lying on the couch staring at the popcorn ceiling. After a while, the ceiling appeared to invert and the little pieces of stucco, or whatever, seemed to be holes rather than protuberances. When I did that, all my regular thoughts slowly subsided until I had none whatsoever…that was my not-doing, and I think we forget those kinds of incidents. Furthermore, we obsess over the information that we only use some 10% of our brains and ask ourselves what can we accomplish if we focus the totality of ourselves on only one thought? Well…that is what stopping the world entails; shutting off our constant description of the world as reiterated by all those around us for just long enough to focus on nothing at all…or to focus ourselves on just one thing.

Yes, I think the teachings are real. No, I don’t think they apply to all of us in particular. We are all so very different and unique, that nothing is truly the same for any us. If you have not read any of these books, you may want to consider doing so. If you have read them and think they are phony, you may want to consider quieting your mind tonight when you lay down in bed, and try to find your hands in your dreams. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you can accomplish.

Here’s another on of those little exchanges that pleases me to no end:

“What’s the use of having beautifully polished crystals if you never find the spirit giver of power?” he said. “On the other hand, if you don’t have the crystals but do find the spirit you may put anything in his way to be touched. You could put your dicks in the way if you can’t find anything else.”

The whole story is replete with power, emotion, revelations, and touched lightly with such grace and humor that it is just so pleasant to read over and over again. I also like Juan’s counterpart, Genaro. His antics and personality are so like myself that I cannot help but love the character. In later books, Juan describes that there are only so many kinds of men, and that Genaro is a man of action. This doesn’t mean much to those who have not read any of the books, and it doesn’t mean much to those who only give the stories a cursory read, but I promise you, if you find your path with heart, you will see plainly that it doesn’t matter how much of the story is real; the people’s names, the area in question (both of which Carlos admits were made up in an effort to follow Juan’s instructions), the point is that many of us are plain dormant. You can keep doing everything you do. Maybe you’re happy, maybe you’re not, but why not try something new and see if the universe can’t show you something unknown?

Thanks for reading.

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A Separate Reality

A Separate Reality is the second book written by Carlos Castaneda, and while still practically mired in the realm of hallucinogenic mixtures, a few new topics are brought to life; seeing, living like a warrior, and shutting off the internal dialogue.

It is those three concepts, which bring a rather large change to the narrative presentation. Some people argue that it is because the book veers away from the initial inspections of the first book that it must all be fake. Okay, very possible. It is also possible, as Castaneda states later on, that his conglomeration of notes were mostly tossed aside because he  believed the teachings were predicated on tripping balls.

So, it isn’t that the story or characters have changed, it’s that Castaneda uses previously unused notes in his story.

I want to stop here and state firmly that I am not trying to convince anyone that we can be sorcerers. It’s simply that these stories have had an overwhelming impact on my life and I see how stale everyone else around me is, yet I see the world as something new and fresh everyday…

Anyway, if nothing else, the story if used as an allegory can still show us what many books, T.V. programs, movies, etc., shows us; ways to enrich our lives. The actual events don’t have to be true or accurate. The bible may well not be real, but the teachings are still valid, no? Once more, I’m not saying the bible is fake, but it is written by God’s fallible man. The only thing God ever wrote was the 10 commandments, and if you look into the real commandments, not the ones altered in the 19th century, they are very powerful and actually fit quite well with Don Juan’s living as a warrior.

So here’s a little exchange that I really enjoy:

Juan looked at me with an air of disbelief then broke into laughter.

“What would you do?” I urged him.

“If someone is waiting for me with a rifle with a telescopic sight?” he said, obviously mocking me.

“If someone is hiding out of sight, waiting for you. You won’t have a chance. You can’t stop a bullet.”

“No. I can’t, but I still don’t understand your point.”

“My point is that all your strategy cannot be of any help in a situation like that.”

“Oh, but it can. If someone is waiting for me with a powerful rifle with a telescopic sight I simply will not come around.”

There you have it. This is key for martial artists. The first line of defense is not be in the way of danger; to not be pinned down by routines. In essence, this is living as a warrior.

As a whole, the book is nearly perfect; funny and lighthearted at times, filled with anticipation at others, it paints beautiful pictures, and will take you to another world…even if it is only in your mind.

A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge is the first of many books written by Carlos Castaneda. While there is, and has been, a great deal of controversy over the author and his books, the story itself-his alleged apprenticeship-is beyond fascinating.

A Yaqui Way of Knowledge is Castaneda’s reportage of his first four years  of friendship with an old Indian shaman. Most of the book focuses on Castaneda’s experiences with a variety of hallucinogenics; this is because at the beginning of the teachings the author was under the impression that these altered states of reality were in fact the knowledge imparted by the old shaman.

I have read all of the books many times over during my eight or so years of owning them. Here and now, I just want to touch on the first book.

The one issue I have is my issue with many literary works; passive phrasing. All too often it is written that something could happen or something would happen; a personal pet peeve. The saving grace is that the whole of the book is essentially one big narrative; the apprenticeship as experienced by the author, and we do tend to talk in a sort of passive way. It’s just more natural.

That aside, the imagery-sounds, scents, sights, vivid descriptions of things for which we have no known inventory-is masterfully depicted, and the characters…they are simply astounding.

Fact or fiction, the method in which Castaneda openly presents himself as a pompous thick headed dummy reduced to tears every fifteen minutes makes for a great read, and the old Indian, Juan, appears to be the archetype of the wise and aged Indian medicine man. there’s also a great deal of humor.

“So I did have a body, as I do now?” I asked.

“No, you did not have a body the way you do now,” Don Juan answered. “The smoke took it away.”

“Then where did it take my body?”

“How in hell am I supposed to know that?”

Maybe it’s just me, but I find those kinds of exchanges absolutely hilarious. Unfortunately, it seems that most people want to dismiss the whole topic as fiction, and again, it may be, but for those who read beyond the first book and actually read through all the books over and over again, it becomes exceedingly evident that Castaneda admits that he mistook the hallucinogenic experiences as lessons, when they were not. I won’t get into the teachings with this post. Instead, I just want to invite you to try something new.

Create

Life isn’t about finding yourself.
Life is about creating yourself.

George Bernard Shaw

Only a writer can be recipient to lines like that…

I think all of us-writers-whether poets, novelists, play wrights, etc., have a bit of a deeper feel for the universe.

You can call it God, or spirituality, or sliced peaches for all I care, but writers tend to be tuned in to some vibratory force from sights unseen, and it spills into our works.

You see it when a hero reaches in to find some aspect of himself he did not think he possessed, or when a villain is exceptionally evil, or even when cold winds blow over tall grasses forcing them to sway as though dancing to an aria of despondency.

We-the fiction writers-set off to create something from nothing, and yet that nothing is actually something just outside the scope of tangible. Our craft, if we’re good at it, is to relay that something intangible to our audience.

Sometimes it’s humorous, other times it’s horrifying, or elating, valiant, etc. Regardless, we want our readers to feel what we feel, and we feel deeply.

Give every writer a chance. Leave preconceived notions at the door, and if we don’t blow you away within the first few pages, know that we tried.

Thank you.