My coworker, whom I’d just given a ride home from work, invited me in to his father’s apartment for a beer. We were both working a summer painting job. I was in high school between my junior and senior year, and my coworker/friend was on break from college. His father’s apartment was in a large brick house that had been divided up into separate units. It sat on the corner lot, overlooking a park with beautiful trees that took up the entire block, kitty-corner from the house. The inside of the apartment was sparse and bohemian. I liked it very much. As we sat drinking our beers, I scanned the small bookshelf next to the table filled with his father’s books. There, I discovered an interesting looking book entitled “Journey to Ixtlan” by Carlos Castaneda, and I asked if I could borrow it. My friend said I could, provided I promised not to crease the binding or damage it in any way, as his father was a stickler about that. I agreed. My friend then told me what his father had said about Carlos Castaneda’s work. He said that all his books told the same story but from a different perspective.
My friend was a well-grounded person who was very comfortable with himself, which are qualities I’m sure his father played a part in developing. I never met his father, but I could tell my friend thought very highly of him. He told me his father was an exceptional pool player who, when broke, would use that skill to put food on the table. He would walk down to the local bar and bet on games of pool, at times, without even enough money to cover the initial bet.
I went home and read the book and it shot straight over my head. I found it baffling. I was still interested enough, however, to go on and read his first book, too. After which, I wrote the whole thing off to drug-induced fantasy and I lost interest. It was several years later, while I was piecing my life back together, that I again felt drawn to Carlos Castaneda’s work. And this time around I found such a wealth of useful knowledge that I became, for lack of a better word, addicted. What Carlos Castaneda provided was the opportunity for his readers to vicariously share in his apprenticeship with don Juan, his teacher. As don Juan empowered his pupil, Carlos Castaneda, he also empowered many many others, myself included.
It’s impossible to talk about the works of Carlos Castaneda without broaching the issue of drugs. Even though he disavowed their primacy in relation to other factors in his apprenticeship, it cannot be denied that they played a very big part, not only in his apprenticeship, but in sorcery in general. The problem arises, and I am speaking mainly from personal experience, when this emphasis on drugs lends itself to the asinine assumption that getting stoned on a regular basis has a spiritual benefit. The opposite is true. Drug experiences, if not recovered from adequately, can sap us of our spiritual strength. Drugs do have their efficacy in shifting us out of the mundane and into the spectacular, but they must be used with utmost caution and reserve, and only a very disciplined person is capable of that, so, for most of us, it’s best to leave them alone.
There is the personal impact of Carlos Castaneda’s work, I feel, where each reader can benefit from what is shared, and then, I believe, there is the impersonal impact: the impact on humanity as a whole. And this impact has yet to be truly felt. This is also where we—indirect disciples of don Juan ourselves—fit in to the scheme of things. A given knowledge, or way of looking at the world, will not prevail until it has seeped into the fabric of every aspect of culture, whether that be art, politics, education, or religion. Yes, we have the responsibility to empower ourselves, and those with whom we are personally involved. However, we also have the responsibility to be an aid in Carlos Castaneda’s task—of moving the assemblage point of the world.