July 12, 2011


In the 1980s I began reading the works of Carlos Castaneda, a Peruvian born citizen who, several years earlier, was studying anthropology at the University of California at Los Angeles. His first work, “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge” was drafted from his research log while he was doing field work in northern Mexico. In it, he recounts his apprenticeship to a shaman known as Juan Matus. Castaneda wrote eight books about his adventures with Matus. Two others deal with physical exercises taught to him by his mentor which increase awareness. 

Much has been written about the authenticity of these works but in the foreword of his first book, the author admits what he writes is part academic study and part allegory. Sorting out what is true from what is myth never disturbed me. Taken in total, the books invite one into strange worlds where one can experience the extremes of the human experience — something akin to taking peyote without actually imbibing it.  

(Summit School District 54-6) 

One of the stories Juan Matus reveals to his student is about an all-powerful eagle — the agent of death — that forces us to relive every second of our lives before it devours us. 

I find the notion of recollection fearful to contemplate. Most of us have some memories we would not care to endure a second time. In the Yaqui world, the eagle is taken as fact. In my world, it is a reminder to live each moment as happily as possible so that recapitulation in whatever form it takes comes to us with pleasure and not regret. The question is how does one accomplish this?