“A warrior must cultivate the feeling that he has everything needed for the extravagant journey that is his life. What counts for a warrior is being alive. Life in itself is sufficient, self-explanatory and complete. Therefore, one may say without being presumptuous that the experience of experiences is being alive.” (Castaneda)
“When a warrior learns to stop the internal dialogue, everything becomes possible; the most far-fetched schemes become attainable.” (Don Juan)
Often it takes a life-time before we can look back at the many events and decisions in our lives, before we can see the pathway which has led us to where we are today. In my own life, one of the most significant turning-point events occurred when I was around 15 years old. There is no doubt whatsoever that my intellectual, psychological and spiritual life journey, the “Call to Adventure” which I have been following my entire life, began following a serendipitous meeting with a youth counsellor around 1974/1975 who introduced me to the writings of Carlos Castaneda. This was also the start of my life-long interest in psychology, consciousness, altered states, psychedelics and other plant medicines. From that day forward on a bus back in 1974/75 headed to Camp Byng on the Sunshine Coast of BC, I have been deeply connected to and curious about, the mystical and transcendent aspects of human consciousness and how these experiences related to wellness. This early introduction to shamanic and indigenous teachings led to decades of informal meditation and contemplative practices, experimentation with psychedelic drugs, personal exploration and study of shamanic practices, psychology, Eastern spirituality/philosophy, comparative religion and between 2012 – 2019, graduate studies in Transpersonal & Spiritual Psychology through Sofia University and Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology through Middlesex University But the greatest personal impact of this early introduction to shamanism, spirituality, meditation and non-ordinary consciousness, was in providing me with the psychological tools to survive and eventually escape, severe childhood abuse and trauma. And of course to plant the seeds of a life-long curiosity about psychology, non-ordinary consciousness and spirituality.
Carlos Arana Castaneda (1925-1998) was a Peruvian-American anthropologist who wrote a series of books detailing his experiences with, and supplementary education under, a Yagui Shaman or “Man of Knowledge” called Don Jaun Matus in the deserts of Arizona. In the Fall of 1957, while an undergrad at Los Angeles Community College (LACC), Castaneda turns in a paper on Aldus Huxley after reading The Doors of Perception which prominently features Huxley’s use of, and experimentations with, mescaline. In 1959 Castaneda graduates from LACC with an Associate of Arts degree in psychology. He later attends UCLA and obtains a BA, MA and PhD in anthropology. In the late spring of 1960, while Castaneda was still an anthropology graduate student at UCLA and (I believe) studying the various plants used for medicinal purposes, and during the rituals of the indigenous peoples of the American South West, he accidently meets Don Juan Matus, an ageing member of the Yaqui tribe, at a bus station in Nogales, Arizona. Intrigued with the manner in which this ageing Shaman spoke, and the wealth of knowledge he had on various plants of interest to Castaneda such as datura (jimsonweed) and mescaline, he continued to meet with Don Juan and soon became an apprentice to his teachings.
The books by Carlos Castaneda, including his anthropology Master’s thesis The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge and PhD thesis Journey to Ixtlan, are essentially a journal of his experiences with, and education under, Don Juan which took place I believe, between around 1960 and 1972. Although there has been some controversy over Castaneda’s writings, and various claims they are works of fiction, I tend to avoid judgement on this debate. It matters not to me whether these personally influential books are works of fiction or not. Their profound and life-long impact on my life and way of thinking, remains the same.
Stealing Wisdom – A Journey Begins
In 1974/75 (38/37 years ago), while travelling on a bus to Camp Byng on the Sunshine Coast of BC, an older (16/17) youth counsellor asked me if I had read Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Castaneda. I am not sure if it was the description of indigenous people, mythology, shamanism, hallucinogenic plant use or the student/mentor/shaman journey story-line that caught my attention, but after he described the book, his words just captivated me and I was compelled to read this book as soon as I got home.
Shortly after returning home from this week-long youth camp, I believe I checked out the school library at Argyle Secondary in Lynn Valley where I was in grade 8 or 9, but they had nothing by Castaneda. Bryan Adams attended Argyle at this time as well and although I knew who he was, we never hung out. Anyway, the next weekend or so I headed to one of the public libraries in North Vancouver and stole the Carlos Castaneda books A Separate Reality, Tales of Power, The Teachings of Don Juan and I believe Journey to Ixtlan, by tossing them out an open window and picking them up on my way out. I am pretty sure I stole them one-at-a-time after finishing reading each one. I don’t recall what my exact reasons were for stealing them since I could have easily obtained a library card and checked them out legitimately. Maybe I just wanted to make sure I could keep such powerful books for myself, or maybe this was the early stages of what later became a skilful and popular “career” of school-aged thievery. I later became so good at stealing that other kids would leave me notes in my locker asking for things from the Mall across the street. During lunch I would go to the Mall, fill their orders which were often records (big CD’s) and bring them back. I am not sure if I got their lunch money, or what I received in return other than a feeling of FINALLY fitting in just a little, and having people that liked me for something that I seemed to have a knack for. Fortunately I grew out of this early “career”.
Anyway, I have had these (stolen) books on my shelves for 37/38 years (at the time this article was first written in 2012) and never once had I considered returning them! I don’t know why exactly, but possibly I hoped to keep them since they hold a very significant and personal meaning to me. The books by Castaneda healed and changed my (early) life and put me on a path of internal, contemplative, spiritual, meditative and wilderness exploration which has lasted my entire life and which has brought me to the new (formal) educational and spiritual path I am now following. However, when my partner mentioned to me a couple of days ago “why don’t you return them now?”, I was surprised that I had never thought of this myself!
So now I plan to take all three books (not sure where the stolen library version of JTI is), walk up to the counter at the North Vancouver Public Library and say “I would like to return these books which I stole in 1974 and are very much long overdue”. Assuming they don’t call the cops, or levy a 37/38 year overdue library book charge, I will than ask if I could purchase them after explaining what they mean to me, and the role they have played in my life-long journey of psychological, consciousness, spiritual and contemplative matters. If I cannot legitimately buy them, then I will just apologize for stealing them, say goodbye and purchase new copies online. Returning these books should be an interesting experience. I will post the details when I get the chance to drive into North Vancouver and return them.
Righting a 37 Year Old Wrong
On December 5th 2012 I walked into the Capilano Branch of the North Vancouver Library with the books A Separate Reality, Tales of Power and The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda. I asked to speak with the head librarian and was directed to a desk at the far end of the library where I was introduced to Susan Larsen, the Capilano Branch Manager. I had the books in a bag so she could not see them but I asked her if she had a few minutes for me to share a story about some books that I stole from the library around 37 years ago. Right off the bat she had a puzzled look on her face but told me to pull up a chair. I proceeded to share with her the story of a young 14/15 year old boy from a troubled and abusive family environment who was first introduced to the books of Carlos Castaneda by a youth counsellor back in 1974/75. I described how I was just captivated by these stories of wilderness indoctrination, shamanism, spirituality, ritual and hallucinogenic drug use by the indigenous Yaqui tribe of Northern Mexico. I described how my mind was preoccupied the entire trip and I was anxious to get home to find the books by Carlos Castaneda that this youth counsellor had described in vivid detail. I told Susan that since I was unable to locate the books at my high school, I skipped out one day, took the bus to the Capilano Branch and promptly tossed the first one out the window and picked it up outside when I left. I had not yet learned the sequence the books were written, so I first stole Journey to Ixtlan and I started reading the book on the bus home and then stayed up all night until I was finished. I was hooked now. I then learned of Castaneda’s first two books, The Teachings of Don Juan and A Separate Reality, and promptly skipped out school the next day and returned to the Capilano Branch to steal them as well. Within a few months I had read multiple times, the first 4 books and over the years read each successive book written by Castaneda. Nothing I had ever read before then had captivated my attention as much. Since I also spent as great deal of time in the mountains behind our home in Lynn Valley, I would often practice many of the same teachings that Don Juan passed on to Carlos Castaneda, with the exception of the hallucinogenic drug use which would come later.
I explained to Susan that as a young boy lacking in healthy male role models, the fantasy notion of becoming a student of a wise old man, a “Man of Knowledge”, a Shaman such as Don Juan Matus caught my interest like nothing I had ever come across before. Not only was I captivated by the stories, the nature-based education, the spiritual and shamanistic aspects, but I was likely drawn to the mentoring relationship that Castaneda had with Don Juan – something sorely lacking my life at the time. I then described to Susan that this early introduction to spiritual, mystical and psychological experiences laid the foundation for an interest in consciousness, mystical states, psychedelics and psychology in general. The interest in altered states of consciousness I read about in Castaneda’s books likely played a role in my willingness to experiment with hallucinogens in my late teens. Then, in my mid twenties likely contributed to the start of a 25 year long educational, spiritual and psychological journey which has culminated in my current pursuit of graduate studies in transpersonal and spiritual psychology.
After more then 25 years of dabbling in a variety of personal, physical, spiritual and educational activities at the edges of the various psychological, consciousness and spiritual insights contained in Castaneda’s books, I have determined that pursuing spiritual and transpersonal psychology, has ALWAYS been my life journey, my ONLY path. But until recently it has been informal and I did not know there was an academic discipline which embraced not only the works of Carlos Castaneda, but nearly every single spiritual, mythological, philosophical and psychological interest and writer I have come across over more than two decades of reading and education. Spiritual and transpersonal psychology is something I have been pursuing informally my entire life ever since stealing and reading these books. I have been pursing this interest haphazardly, incompletely and indirectly for most of my life but never even knew there was an academic discipline which embraced all of these area of human psychology and spirituality. I explained to Susan that in January of 2012 I learned of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (now Sofia University) in Palo Alto California and after applying to the Master’s program, was eventually accepted and began my new graduate studies in August of 2012. I am now part-way into the first year of the program and once I complete the Master’s, I hope to teach, write, research and possibly carry on with a PhD program in transpersonal & spiritual psychology. In my opinion, applying to and getting accepted into this graduate program, and where I am now in my life both personally and spiritually, is a direct result of that serendipitous conversation with a youth counsellor while I headed to Camp Byng on the Sunshine Coast of BC, and reading the books I stole from the North Vancouver library, back in 1974/75.
Susan was very patient while I shared the story and she seemed quite intrigued. I then pulled out the three books from my bag, apologised for stealing them, and asked if it were possible to purchase them since they clearly hold a very deep and personal meaning to me now. She said that buying them should not be a problem and to come back in a few days after she confirms they were not still listed in any of the current catalogs. I also contacted the North Shore News to see if they might be interested in an abbreviated version of this tale as a “human interest” story for the paper, but they were not interested. But on Thursday, December 13th 2012, I walked back into the Capilano Branch of the North Vancouver Library, paid $2.00 each for three books which literally changed and launched my entire life. I can now proudly, and without shame or quilt, place them back on my bookshelf to re-read again in the very near future. I want to sincerely thank Susan Larsen for allowing me to share this personal story and life-journey with her, and for her willingness to allow me to purchase legitimately, the books which not only saved my young life, but built one as well.
I am now walking an educational and spiritual path where the stones under my feet were first laid down when I stole, and then read that first book, Journey to Ixtlan, over 37/38 years ago. The subsequent books I stole from the library changed my life. What was initially a criminal and unethical act by a misguided young man, became not only a psychological escape and distraction for a troubled young boy growing up in an abusive home, but planted the psychological seeds of mystical, spiritual, metaphysical curiosity and non-ordinary states of consciousness which exist to this day. I can’t help but reflect on at least two quotes by another author and scholar who has also had a significant influence on my life, and how I think about mythology and religion, Joseph Campbell. His quotes below on “following your bliss” and looking back at one’s life and seeing the “composition of a consistent plot“, seem very relevant to my own life story. A story, a life, which is still very much unfolding and evolving in many ways. Should this story, this adventure have a moral? Well if I had to give it one, there really can only be one moral, one message:
“FOLLOW YOUR BLISS“
“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” (Joseph Campbell)
“Schopenhauer, in his splendid essay called “On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual,” points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. So who composed that plot? Schopenhauer suggests that just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself of which your consciousness is unaware, so, too, your whole life is composed by the will within you. And just as people whom you will have met apparently by mere chance became leading agents in the structuring of your life, so, too, will you have served unknowingly as an agent, giving meaning to the lives of others, The whole thing gears together like one big symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else. And Schopenhauer concludes that it is as though our lives were the features of the one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature.” (Joseph Campbell)