Archive for the ‘Carlos Castaneda’ Tag

Toggling Our Spirituality   Leave a comment

One of the often ironic tests of a spiritual path is that it doesn’t comfortably “turn off” just because we may want it to. Many have “left” Christianity or another religion, only to find it still tugs at them, especially at vulnerable moments when our hearts stand unguarded, or broken open by events most of us face in simply living. A death, a love lost, a talent explored and trampled, a friendship severed, a dream deferred too long. The heart’s desire. J. K. Rowlings’ Mirror of Erised — desire, reflected back to us.

This is high on most lists of inconvenient human truths: a god or gods don’t release me from commitments I’ve made, just because I tire of them; the discipline I began that over time has shaped my awareness, habits, and life choices isn’t something I can smoothly abandon at whim, or even in the face of deep and ongoing challenges; the realm “outside the box” that I poured time and energy into doesn’t vanish just because bugs and snakes start to creep in from across the border.

If a path “has heart” (to use words from that curious 60’s classic series, which author Carlos Castaneda gave to his Yaqui teacher Don Juan), that heart beats with or without me, and asserts its own claims regardless of my feelings about the matter. (Of course, if the path doesn’t have heart, I’m riding a long con, and have an equivalent set of painful lessons to learn.)

And yet. To look deeply and honestly into this matter, I need to set these next words of Castaneda side by side with what I’ve said above:

Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary.

For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length — and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly (The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge).

And in the best style of answering one quotation with another, here is Gildor Inglorion counseling Frodo in the The Fellowship of the Ring. To set the scene for those not versed in the “secular scripture” that is Tolkien, Frodo is leaving the Shire with Sam, and has encountered dark intimations of the path he has set himself to walk:

Gildor was silent for a moment. ‘I do not like this news,’ he said at last. ‘That Gandalf should be late, does not bode well. But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. The choice is yours: to go or wait.’

‘And it is also said,’ answered Frodo: ‘Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.’

‘Is it indeed?’ laughed Gildor. ‘Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you? You have not told me all concerning yourself; and how then shall I choose better than you? But if you demand advice, I will for friendship’s sake give it.’

Well, what did I expect? A one-sided and definitive answer will never spur me to use my own understanding, or kick me out of the spiritual immaturity where I’ve been lounging, waiting for someone else to make my big decisions. Even if another “knows all concerning myself”, how then can that person choose better than I can? Don’t most of my troubles issue from allowing another to do just that? I’m not talking about childhood, but about assuming the mantle of adulthood which modern society conspires to discourage us from ever doing, if we can avoid it with the pretty toys it serves up to distract us.

Instead, wise counsel generally arrives in harmony with what we already know in our marrow, and may be resisting — it confirms what we suspected all along. “To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life”, Don Juan notes. When I yearn deeply enough for what is my birthright, a way opens. Often that’s our first taste of a kind of discipline not much talked-about: the kind we earn by living, and suffering when necessary to clear the crap away. Clarity has arrived, usually at some cost. Nothing, finally, can keep it from me. “When the student is ready, the master appears”, goes the ancient proverb. That master may be partner, friend, the stray who takes up residence and opens my heart, the neighbor whose children cross into my yard, fall from my fruit trees, and teach me compassion for others. It may be a stubborn refusal to give up, give in, give out. Whatever guise you take, Mystery, may I know and welcome you again.

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The Four Powers: Know, Dare, Will, Keep Silent–Part 2   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5]

This is the second in a series of posts about magic.  The first looked at two kinds of knowledge, one of which we often discount in a world where knowledge of a thing counts for more:  “Just the facts, ma’am.  Just the facts.”  Other kinds of knowing exist beyond these two, but we build on these.

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In the past, for almost anyone who sought out magical training, a teacher offered the surest guidance.  Few people were literate, so other than learning through trial and error, a guide or mentor was immensely useful.  Little was committed to writing anyway — too risky, impractical, wasteful of materials for a minuscule readership — pointless really.  Shaman, witch, hoodoo man or woman, conjurer, curandera, priestess, mystic, sorcerer, mage, wizard, druid — a panoply of names to call what a seeker might be looking for.

magicbookNowadays, as an aspiring mage, I can locate and open a beginning magic textbook — one that actually sets out a course of training for new magicians, as opposed to one that assuages the ego by offering vague reassurances and “instant magic.” When I do, I run head-long into the hidden first lesson:  my undisciplined attention needs training and focus. But I skim the chapter, or look ahead at one that seems to promise more.  Soon the first excitement of a promising title or author — or, gods help us, a flashy cover with a robed figure — begins to wane.  I want The Big Secret; instead, the first chapter sets me to doing a couple of modest-seeming exercises I am to practice for a month and record the results.  Too much like work.  Where are the glowing runes and mysterious passwords to infinite realms of gold and shadow and silver?  Where are the guardians with amethyst crowns and rings of adamant?  I want the symphony, and this book has me practicing scales.

More than anything else it does, magic even half-practiced bring me face to face with myself.  “Gnothi seauton,” said Socrates. “Know yourself.”  We aren’t altogether what we think we are — both more and less, we discover the prime tool of magic: the self.  All other powers pale in comparison to what we already are, what we bring right now to the art of magic.  We are marvelous beings, with dimensions, capacities and talents unexplored.  Discovering the truth of this firsthand ideally will not puff up the ego, but engage the curiosity, another tool the mage never stops using.  I will need that curiosity to help me through the first month.  By the end of the first week or so, if I’ve actually stuck with the exercises that long, the first aura of wonder has dimmed.  But in its place, a glimmer, usually no more, of things I didn’t know I knew, of aspects of consciousness, of a window opening where before there was only a wall, of passage through, where before was only cul-de-sac.  It’s faint, that sense of expansion, and if I don’t write it down, it dwindles to nothing.  Gone.  Easy to forget, easy to minimize, discount, ignore altogether.  Hence the advice to record it.  The hard evidence of pages of experience accumulates into a consistent realm of action and reaction and consequence that the mind cannot so easily argue away any longer.  A house divided against itself cannot stand.  I need to unify my forces if I am to accomplish anything worth doing.

doglisteningThe first lessons of magic use and highlight abilities we possess in the service of clarifying the task ahead.  Knowledge, memory, discipline, attention, imagination.  And persistence.  I discover both more — and less — than I’d hoped for.  I learn what a slippery, supple and potent thing consciousness is.  I learn in spite of myself and in spite of the biases of many current cultures that consciousness isn’t all I am, and it may not even be the most valuable or striking aspect of my identity.  Or rather I learn that day-to-day consciousness is to the full spectrum of possible consciousness what the visible wavelengths of light are to the full electromagnetic spectrum — a small slice out of an enormous bandwidth.  I learn that other beings may prefer and reside in other portions of the spectrum, the way insects can see ultraviolet and infrared beyond the human range, the way dogs hear pitches of sound and smell an olfactory melange  we never register, the way countless worlds are stuffed with possibilities we never notice at all.

Some knowing is remembering, is recollection.  Where did I encounter this before? And who was with me when I did?

Read about any of this too soon, however, and instead of learning it, I’m convinced I already “know” it.  Next cool thing, please, says the mind.  Next one.  As if magic, somehow different from eating or love-making or listening to music, were a matter of hurrying to the end, rather than practicing the delight of being present in the moment, noticing all we can, taking it in, marveling.

So I begin to know differently, more broadly.  Go slow, says the Master.  What’s the rush?

castaneda1962Don Juan, the Yaqui shaman or brujo made famous in Carlos Castaneda‘s controversial book series*, remarks of the magical journey, “For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length–and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly.”

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*Castaneda, Carlos. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968; 1998 (30th edition).

images:  book; dog; Castaneda.

Updated 8 May 2013

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