Updated: 7 days ago
Carlos Castaneda was a Peruvian/ American anthropologist whose life was as shrouded in mystery as the books and work he published. Before I delve into exactly what this all means I would like to state that this post presents the work of Castaneda – the teachings and insights contained within his books. This is in no way a commentary on the man, his life, the authenticity of his writing or any other controversy that so closely followed the man from the publications of his novels right up until (and even beyond) the time of his death. In fact, merely referring to his books as novels rather than journals is sure to stir some waters.
As a brief introduction – most of Castaneda’s work revolves around the time he spent with a native Yaqui Indian shaman named Don Juan Matus (the first title in his series of books is called The Teachings of Don Juan). Castaneda spent a significant time meticulously taking notes of Don Juan’s instructions, teachings and insights – much to the chagrin of the shaman.
Castaneda was seen of as a sort of apprentice in the lineage of warriors and sorcerers. It is through these communications between teacher and student that Castaneda learned of ways in which he could strive toward the knowledge and impeccability that a warrior/sorcerer possesses (Don Juan often stressed impeccability as a main staple of the warrior).
In the immediate years following the publications of his writing, heavy scrutiny fell on the work of Castaneda, including claims of plagiarism and even the question of whether or not Don Juan had actually existed was put forward. This was all despite the honorary doctorate he received from the University of California Los Angeles’s school of anthropology – the organisation that was partly responsible for first publishing The Teachings of Don Juan.
As previously mentioned, I am in no way making any comment regarding any of these claims – I am however, looking at the wealth of insight and knowledge that exists throughout Castaneda’s entire catalogue.
Teacher and student.
Throughout Castaneda’s books, many instruction and practices were detailed as means of achieving impeccability: a strive for self-actualization (not all were expressed or instructed by Don Juan). The following is a tiny sample of these insights. Stalking Stalking is slightly reminiscent of the modern day adaptation of mindfulness, coupled with an intent and focus aimed at dissolving victimhood and deeply understanding our motivations behind our actions and behaviours. An observational practice coupled with intent, albeit with a tad more discipline and rigour. It is the means by which we may become clearly observant of modus operandi. It is only ever ourselves that we stalk, and in doing so, uncover self-limiting beliefs, motivations, intents and habits. As Don Juan puts it:
“It doesn’t matter what anybody says or does. You must be an impeccable man yourself. The fight is right here in this chest. It takes all the time and all the energy we have to conquer the idiocy in us. And that’s what matters. The rest is of no importance. To be an impeccable warrior will give you vigour and youth and power.” - The Second Ring of Power
Seven principles for stalking are outlined by Don Juan:
1. Choosing the field of battle.
This entails a confident knowledge of one's surroundings and environment. This needs to be done with a sense of detachment.
To discard anything that is unnecessary – often in the form of mindless mental chatter that often seems ceaseless and purposeless. Finding our concentration adrift with these mental movements swiftly loosens our focus.
3. Affirm intent.
This is akin to aligning our motivation. Knowing what it is we are attempting to stalk and thus see allows us to keep our focus and concentration transfixed on its movements.
“Abandon yourself and fear nothing”. There are many times throughout life where it is only ourselves that stand in the way of our goals and aspirations. It is only when we remove ourselves (and self importance) from the process that things become achievable.
5. Momentary retreat.
We do not force. In times of necessary retreat or stress overload, we rest.
Attention is placed on what is occurring, in the immediate experience – moment to moment.
7. Move covertly.
We need not display our believed progress or prowess. This only bolsters the ego, and creates more unnecessary distractions. Remaining silently vigilant, humble and modest is the key. Unbending Intent
“Impeccability begins with a single act that has to be deliberate, precise and sustained. If that act is repeated long enough, one acquires a sense of unbending intent which can be applied to anything else. If that is accomplished the road is clear. One thing will lead to another until the warrior realizes his/her full potential.” - The Fire From Within
As the name suggests – unbending intent is a focus on repeated deliberate action moving in accordance towards that which we wish to achieve. It is akin to uncovering our core values and principles, and making sure our actions and motivations are aligned with them. It is an internal GPS system from which we can navigate life, utilised as a personal compass, it forever points us in the right direction. Unbending intent is the underlying spirit/attitude one must adopt on the path of knowledge. Accumulation of inner silence
"Don Juan Matus taught the hard line of his lineage: that inner silence must be gained by a consistent pressure of discipline. It has to be accrued or stored, bit by bit, second by second. In other words, one has to force oneself to be silent, even if it is only for a few seconds. According to don Juan, it was common knowledge among sorcerers that if one persists in this, persistence overcomes habit, and thus, it is possible to arrive at a threshold of accrued seconds or minutes, which differs from person to person. If the threshold of inner silence is ten minutes for a given individual, for instance, then once this threshold is reached, inner silence happens by itself, of its own accord, so to speak." - Tensegrity
Don Juan repeatedly stressed to Castaneda that he took himself too seriously, and that it was his own self-importance that stood in the way of true knowledge. It was through rigid and persistent discipline that Castaneda was able to find his freedom; despite the incessant protests from his mind and habits that rallied against the sentiment, every step of the way. Inner silence was a state that permitted Castaneda to truly see.
The Sonoran Desert - the environment in which most of the dialogue between Castaneda and Don Juan took place.
It is easy to see parallels between the works and writing of Castaneda and various religions and philosophies the world over – from Christianity in the West to Buddhism in the East (this is in fact the basis for some of the claims of plagiarism). Whatever the case, Castaneda had a certain knack of presenting the work in a mysteriously inviting way; most of the dialogue between he and Don Juan occurs in the Sonoran desert in Northern Mexico; a vast arid landscape back dropped by picturesque, rugged mountains.
I will leave this post with a few quotes from Don Juan – quotes that I believe perfectly express Castaneda’s knack for richness in writing:
"A warrior must learn to make every act count, since he is going to be here in this world for only a short while, in fact, too short for witnessing all the marvels of it." - Journey to Ixtlan "Feeling important makes one heavy, clumsy and vain. To be a warrior one needs to be light and fluid." - A Seperate Reality A warrior takes his lot, whatever it may be, and accepts it in ultimate humbleness. He accepts in humbleness what he is, not as grounds for regret but as a living challenge." - Tales of Power