Archive for the 'Carlos Castaneda' Category

Writing books

August 2, 2011

Before my son left for New Hampshire today, he handed me a copy of Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan:  A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, and said something like, “I started reading this and thought you might like it better.”  (He got it from a friend’s father who was de-accessioning possessions before moving out of state.)

I started looking at it and got faced with a familiar feeling of antipathy towards books about spiritual stuff.  I’m thinking maybe I can finally name what bothers me about writing books about this stuff, especially after reading the Opinionator piece in the NYTimes called “Poetry, Medium and Message” by Ernie Lepore today.

It’s not just that it seems to me that spiritual experiences need to be experienced rather than learned about, need to be had rather than heard about;  it’s that they’re ephemeral, at least the way I have them.  Books are meant to last.  So, I think I perceive a disjunction between the medium (is that a pun?) and the content, and I think that’s the first step in what bothers me.

The next step is how their being ephemeral functions.  When I have the experience, let’s say some understanding or perception in which the veil seems pierced and I can see behind the usual scrim, I “get” it in a very thorough way, like Athena bursting from Zeus’s head fully formed.  I don’t get partial understandings, but once the perception fades, all I have left is the memory that I had it, and often I forget what the perception itself was (I think if it serves for me to have it again, I do).  The memory of it is not the vivid understanding that is so fleeting, and to transmit such memories seems to be of questionable value — like describing how candy tastes instead of popping a piece in the listener’s mouth.

Finally, if I have a spiritual perception, I’m ready for it, it’s appropriate to my state of development (I don’t use artificial means to have them).  This means there’s something like a “need to know” security clearance built into the situation.  Telling someone who doesn’t have such readiness a simulacrum of my experience could leave them open to being overwhelmed by it or to doing something inappropriate with it.  It could also result in an only partial understanding (in the person being told) of what was communicated in the experience itself, and hence lead to a misinterpretation by that person of what the understanding meant, as well.

Which brings me round to my initial issue: why do people write these books?  To me, they suggest an agenda that may not be consonant with what serves.  Maybe the misunderstanding lies with me, and these books do serve in a way that I just don’t understand, but I have this sense that the medium is inapt for the message.