Mine for truths, question motives

I got a Kindle awhile back. I avoided it for years. Like a stage coach railing at a steam locomotive, I clung to my paper books. In my work life, I find myself in a lot of hurry up and wait situations, and most of these in dim lit rooms, so the Kindle has significantly increased the amount of reading I do. It has also decreased the amount of mindless social media consumption I do, but more on that later. Last night, I started thinking about the Carlos Casteneda books I loved when i was but a wee weirdo, and decided it might be fun to re-read them. If you're not familiar, Casteneda wrote a series of books, published as non-fiction, about his apprenticeship to a Yaqui Shaman named Don Juan. It's been awhile (25+ years) since my Mom gave me a trade paperback of "Journey to Ixtlan". I'm fairly certain she didn't read it, but she did have an uncanny knack for passing me books at just the time I was ready for them. I devoured the mysticicm and lay philosophy and wondered about the peyote visions. I questioned the non-ficition classification even then. Anyway, thanks to the Internet, no one has to be ignorant (or, at least, feel that way), so off i went to see where I should start retracing my wide eyed 15 year old self's steps into the books that shaped a lot of my thoughts in a pretty critical period. I still hear phrases in my head from those books, like when someone who has attained some level of success starts condescending to others on the same path they followed, and stopped at what they thought was the pinnacle to look down, effectively ending their knowledge journey. Don Juan would have said this was just "the masters indulging in being the masters". I have chuckled this to myself as an explanation for someone's behavior, and a reminder to myself that it could happen to me. I bet if I do ever re-read them, I will find the forgotten source of several ideas I hold dear.


My journey started innocently enough. I  wanted to go in order, so i would need to see which book came first. I should have stopped there, but I got sucked in to the controversy of whether or not he had made all of it up, was it actually Yaqui teachings, blah blah blah. Now, I'm a big believer in not letting facts get in the way of a good story, or, as I like to say it, "Don't let the truth get in the way of a truth.”  (This is not an original thought but I don't remember where I got it, so no credit given.) I could have stopped there, but you know how it is, one article links to another, to another, and a few hours later, you're wikki-jacked and stranded miles from where you started, or your original destination. What I found was that later in his life, what could have been kind of a benign hoax repackaging of Eastern philosophy as Native mysticism evolved in to something much darker that was basically a cult. That's not the point of this little thought share, but if you want to explore you can read an excellent article published in Salon HERE


It seems like every day we find out another admired public figure has been hiding behind their fame to commit atrocities. To be honest, I'm not terribly surprised when its an actor, a newscaster, or the like. I guess its a prejudice of mine, but I'm suspicious of the motives of anyone who has stayed the course and made the ethical and moral compromises required to achieve fame in these arenas. Am I saying that every famous person is a dirt bag? Of course not (maybe most of them), but like I said, I'm not surprised. What about when its an author? A beloved songwriter? The best of these know our feelings and put them into words. They share wisdom of the ages in ways we can digest. They inadvertently become spiritual mentors, that we probably only know through their works. These hit me the hardest. The question is, what do we do with their works? Is the wisdom any less relevant in light of their human failings? In the case of Casteneda, did he initially believe in what he was doing, and the power and affluence go to his head? Was he always a manipulative sociopath, and these books merely the building blocks to making a demagogue? Want my theory? He broke Tony Manard's number one rule: "Don't believe your own bullshit." I think he played fast and loose with the truth for the sake of sharing his philosophy, through a compelling story that would appeal to the times. The first book was published in 1968, and the public ate up the Native American (actually Mexican) spiritualism through the use of psychedelics (Peyote and Jimson weed). It didn't stop there. These books have NEVER gone out of print and are steady sellers to this day. Did it just get out of hand and turn dark? Could be. Does it negate the truth's contained in his works? Absolutely not, but it does mean they require examination. First, there are very few original truths to be had. Things that are true tend to be universally so, and have been since the beginnings of man. This is why you find so many of the same precepts across most religions. Where the waters get murky is motivation. Example, in modern history, the bible has been used as justification for slavery, genocide, misogyny and bigotry. Does this negate the good lessons inside? Of course not. If that were the case, we would have to invalidate every religion that ever was. Thoughts are not inherently dangerous until they are made into weapons to support people's agendas. What I'm saying is, we need to glean the truths,  while always questioning the motives. We're seeing a lot of this in the current news and political cycle, but it’s

 nothing new. What is particularly troubling about the modern version is that we are buying it without question. I want you to pay close attention to anything that divides us or pits one of us against the other. Look for false equivalences, selective facts, and oversimplification. Read something longer than a meme or slogan. Don't believe stuff because it rhymes, or is satisfyingly simple. Have an opinion you formed from carefully considered facts and not because it holds with your social circle. Be able to articulately discuss it without resorting to name calling or storming off. Read a damn book.  Mine for truths, but question motives.
PS - As I was getting ready to post this, I realized that the nudge to revisit Casteneda might have come from my old friend, Louis Magnifico, contacting me out of the blue last week. He and his wife Char are musicians too. I went and sat in with their band and had a blast! Louis and I tripped down memory lane to when we were in Paulette Reagan's (also a Memphis musician) speech class at White Station High School. Both of us were big fans of The Doors. It was around the time that ridiculous movie came out. It was a good exercise in what the photographer Sally Mann calls "keeping on nodding terms with your old self". That was from her book "Hold Still", that my daughter,Chessie, passed me at the exact right time.

1 comment

  • Cheryl
    Well said. You have a keen insight into people and ideas that I hope I encouraged. By the way, I did read Journey, but I stopped there.

    Well said. You have a keen insight into people and ideas that I hope I encouraged. By the way, I did read Journey, but I stopped there.

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