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A Separate Reality
Carlos Castaneda
Further Conversations with Don Juan
Published by Simon&Schuster in 1971

A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002


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This second book of Carlos's encounters with Don Juan is about "seeing," as Don Juan Matus calls it and the two chapter headings testify. Carlos had a one-track mind which was constantly being derailed by Don Juan's multi-track mind. Here's how their differences were aired out in the beginning pages: [Carlos, as usual, is the narrator.]

[page 12] We were talking about my interest in knowledge; but, as usual, we were on two different tracks. I was referring to academic knowledge that transcends experience, while he was talking about direct knowledge of the world.

Carlos brought his maps of the world to the table and Don Juan ridiculed him for his blatant density and stupidity. Carlos argued for keeping his cherished views of the world, and these views were like clay pigeons at a Skeet Shoot - doomed to be shattered as quickly as they took flight. Carlos began his career as an Oreo - a mass-produced Ph.D. product of the university factory - but by the end of his stay with Don Juan, he would turn into a unique home-baked cookie. The argument is between Carlos and Don Juan, but it is really the argument of the university and the shaman playing itself out before your eyes, dear Reader.

[page 12, 13] "Do you know anything about the world around you?" he asked.
"I know about all kinds of things," I said.
"I mean do you ever feel the world around you?"
"I feel as much of the world around me as I can."
"That's not enough. You must feel everything, otherwise the world loses its sense."
I voiced the classical argument that I did not have to taste the soup in order to know the recipe, nor did I have to get an electric shock in order to know about electricity.
"You make it sound stupid," he said. "The way I see it, you want to cling to your arguments, despite the fact that they bring nothing to you; you want to remain the same even at the cost of your well-being."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"I am talking about the fact that you're not complete. You have no peace."

Thus the argument goes. Don Juan tells Carlos that he thinks about himself too much and Carlos tries to defend himself. First lesson Carlos needs to learn is the difference between "looking" and "seeing" and it is in these two definitions that we have the theme of the book revealed to us.

[page 16, 17] "Looking" referred to the ordinary way in which we are accustomed to perceive the world, while "seeing" entailed a very complex process by virtue of which a man of knowledge allegedly perceives the "essence" of the things of the world.

It was many years later that I encountered Owen Barfield's concept of "final participation" which aptly describes the same process pointed to by Don Juan in his definition of "seeing." This is the process of directly seeing the world in its material and spiritual forms that Rudolf Steiner spoke so eloquently about. In Carlos and Don Juan we eavesdrop on a conversation between the Intellectual Soul and the Consciousness Soul; the Intellectual Soul which is the logical thinking intellect, and the Consciousness Soul which is the human who thinks logically, but who also "perceives the essence of the things of the world." Unbeknownst to me, don Juan in those early years of my studies was laying down a foundation of readiness in me for the ideas of Barfield and Steiner which I only many discovered years later; these two writers helped me comprehend don Juan's meanings, not as a shaman, but as a spiritual scientist.

Carlos protested that he could see, but don Juan averred, "You don't see, you only look at the surface of things." Well, this conversation went on for a quite a few pages, till Don Juan finally told Carlos that when one "sees," one sees human beings as "fibers of light."

[page 33] "Yes. Fibers, like white cobwebs. Very fine threads that circulate from the head to the navel. Thus a man looks like an egg of circulating fibers. And his arms and legs are like luminous bristles, bursting out in all directions."

The tête-à-tête continued as Carlos tried to change himself and to understand Don Juan. Each time Carlos got close, don Juan would move a meta-step above him, as in this next passage. Carlos had noticed something don Juan couldn't do and laid a verbal trap for him, by saying in effect, "There is something you can't do anything about."

[page 96, 97] "No. Unfortunately there is no way to make bones for a jellyfish. It was only my folly."
"You've told me time and time again, don Juan, that a sorcerer cannot have follies. I've never thought you could have any."
"... we must know first that our acts are useless and yet we must proceed as if we didn't know it. That's a sorcerer's controlled folly."

What is controlled folly? Carlos became obsessed with finding out. The answer was again an answer in process, not content, but Carlos noted after this next explanation, "I found his explanation delightful although I did not quite understand it."

[page 99] "I am happy that you finally asked me about my controlled folly after so many years, and yet it wouldn't have mattered to me in the least if you had never asked. Yet I have chosen to feel happy, as if I cared, that you asked, as if it would matter that I care. That is controlled folly!"

This kind of serious banter goes on for pages and pages, maybe a semester's worth for Carlos, who was being serious while don Juan was either telling him it's unimportant or laughing at him. This drove Carlos a little crazy or something. Don Juan told him, "Our eyes look so we may laugh, or cry or rejoice, or be sad, or be happy." In short, when don Juan encounters a sad thing he "sees it" and it becomes unimportant; when he encounters a funny thing, he looks at it and laughs.

[page 105] "One must always choose the path with heart in order to be at one's best, perhaps so one can always laugh."

Carlos saw a series of maneuvers of Genaro at a waterfall that he couldn't understand, so he asked don Juan. The answer he got didn't help him one bit. Carlos was to don Juan at this stage as the South American Indians were to Darwin's crewmen who asked them if they saw their ship, the Beagle, moored offshore. The Indians said, "What ship? All that I see is a large bird floating on the water." Never having seen a ship or boat that large before all they could see was something that fit in with what they had seen before. Don Juan told Carlos:

[page 131] "You think everything in the world is simple to understand," he said, "because everything you do is a routine that is simple to understand." At the waterfall, when you looked at Genaro moving across the water, you believed that he was a master of somersaults, because somersaults was all you could think about. And that's all you will ever believe he did. . . . Pablito saw nearly all of Genaro's movements. Nestor, on the other hand, saw only the most obvious maneuvers. He missed the delicate details. But you, you saw nothing at all."

Once in a Bandler and Grinder seminar the co-leaders told us to imagine the two of them sitting on our right shoulder and death sitting on our left shoulder. If we were ever in doubt about what to do, we were to look to our right shoulder and ask them what to do. If we were then in doubt about whether or not to take some action, we were to look to our left shoulder and see death sitting there waiting to take us. That would give us the stark reminder that we are human beings and we must act immediately lest death take us before we do. The key point is that we have as free humans the power of our decisions. Here is don Juan teaching Carlos this lesson about death:

[page 184] "A detached man, who knows he has no possibility of fencing off his death, has only one thing to back himself with: the power of his decisions. He has to be, so to speak, the master of his choices. He must fully understand that his choice is his responsibility and once he makes it there is no longer time for regrets or recriminations. He decisions are final, simply because death does not permit him time to cling to anything. . . . The knowledge of his death guides him and makes him detached and silently lusty; the power of his final decisions makes him able to choose without regrets and what he chooses is always strategically the best; and so he performs everything he has to with gusto and lusty efficiency.

If you could not feel a large WOW! building up within you as you read the words of that last passage, check your pulse to see if you are still alive.

The next passage from page 220 has stuck with me in the twenty-five years since I first read it. It has to do with whether accidents are avoidable or not. While agreeing with Carlos that "No man can control everything around him," don Juan said, "But not everything is an unavoidable accident. Life for a warrior is an exercise in strategy."

[page 220] I argued that he had misunderstood me. I had meant to point out that it was impossible for any single individual to foresee all the variables involved in his day-to-day actions.
"All I can say to you," don Juan said, "is that a warrior is never available; never is he standing on the road waiting to be clobbered. Thus he cuts to a minimum his chances of the unforeseen. What you call accidents are, most of the time, very easy to avoid, except for fools who are living helter-skelter."
"It is not possible to live strategically all the time," I said. "Imagine that someone is waiting for you with a powerful rifle with a telescopic sight; he could spot you accurately five hundred yards away. What would you do?"
Don Juan looked at me with an air of disbelief and then broke into laughter.
"What would you do?" I urged him.
"If someone is waiting for me with a rifle with a telescopic sight?" he said, obviously mocking me.
"If someone is hiding out of sight, waiting for you. You won't have a chance. You can't stop a bullet."
"No. I can't. But I still don't understand your point."
"My point is that all your strategy cannot be of any help in a situation like that."
"Oh, but it can. If someone is waiting for me with a powerful rifle with a telescopic sight I simply will not come around."

The world is a mystery; it is more than we can ever know. What we can know of the world is only in our maps, while outside our maps, the world lives as a huge, throbbing mystery all around us. A warrior treats the world as the "sheer mystery" it is.

[page 264] An average man doesn't do this, though. The world is never a mystery for him, and when he arrives at old age he is convinced he has nothing more to live for. An old man has not exhausted the world. He has exhausted only what people do. But in his stupid confusion he believes that the world has no more mysteries for him. . . . The things people do cannot under any conditions be more important than the world. And thus a warrior treats the world as an endless mystery and what people do as an endless folly.

It comes to me as I end this review, that I have caught glimpses of the tectonic plates that began to move within me some quarter of a century ago, whose movements have re-shaped my continents of today. A today in which I have little time for people without a sense of humor, and endeavor to remove them from my presence as quickly as possible. Let them take their folly elsewhere - somewhere where people exist who will respect them and support them in their folly. There is folly enough in the world without me having to keep them company.

As I wrote in my poem "Fully Alone" in Flowers of Shanidar:

When I live partially
I have lots of company

When I live fully
I am alone
In the best of company.


Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne


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