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Carlos Castaneda’s Tensegrity Dreaming Castaneda Images of A 20th-Century Sorcerer


by Celeste Fremon: For me the world is bizarre as a result of it’s stupendous, superior, mysterious…

unfathomable; my curiosity has been to persuade you that you will need to assume
duty for being right here on this marvelous world, on this marvelous desert, at
this marvelous time. I need to persuade you that it’s essential to study to make each act
rely since you will be right here for less than a short time; in truth, too brief for
witnessing all of the marvels of it. — from Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Castaneda

The demise of Carlos Castaneda was formally introduced on the night of June 18.
In line with his dying certificates, the best-known proponent of “non-ordinary
actuality” handed out of this world almost two months earlier, on April 27, at his
residence in Westwood. Based on his lawyer, Deborah Drooz, Castaneda had been unwell
with liver most cancers for a while, and it was his want to depart his dying
unpublicized. The information leaked out when Adrian Vashon, the son of his former spouse,
acquired a courtroom letter indicating he was talked about in Castaneda’s will. Vashon
subsequently referred to as the Los Angeles Occasions.

“Carlos Castaneda left the world the identical approach that his instructor, Don Juan Matus, did:
with full consciousness,” learn a ready assertion that appeared 4 days afterward the
Site maintained by Cleargreen (, the company shaped by
Castaneda and his associates. “The cognition of our world of on a regular basis life doesn’t
present for an outline of a phenomenon resembling this. So in line with the phrases
of legalities and record-keeping that the world of on a regular basis life requires, Carlos
Castaneda was declared to have died.”

I first met Carlos Castaneda within the spring of 1972. I used to be 24 years previous and dealing
for Seventeen journal. Carlos was a doctoral scholar within the UCLA Division of
Anthropology and already well-known. His first two books, The Teachings of Don Juan: A
Yaqui Means of Information (his grasp’s thesis) and A Separate Actuality, each detailing
his apprenticeship to Don Juan Matus, a Mexican Indian shaman, had bought almost half
one million copies in paperback. Journey to Ixtlan, the doctoral dissertation he was
finishing on the time we met, would later put him, or a drawing of him — he would
permit no recognizable pictures – on the duvet of Time.

At this level, the Vietnam Struggle was nonetheless in full swing, and Nixon was about to be
re-elected. Like many younger women and men of the interval, I used to be terrified and
alienated by the actions of the prevailing tradition, which appeared to have gone mad;
the Castaneda books have been a desperately wanted antidote to a world view that felt
more and more mechanistic and dispiriting.

Most of the ideas within the books – the notion of turning off one’s inner
dialogue with a purpose to apprehend an expanded actuality, shelling out with one’s ego in
order to comply with “a path with coronary heart,” having an consciousness of 1’s dying so as to
stay life absolutely – every had direct parallels in different philosophical and non secular
disciplines. But there was an aggressive emotional crucial with which Castaneda
wrote that suited the tenor of the occasions. He painted himself in his tales as a
frightened naif bumbling by way of a magical but deeply moral religious system that
could possibly be taught and transferred. For a era making an attempt to account for its
spiritual emotions outdoors the constrictions of typical dogma, Castaneda’s work
had immense attraction.

Anxious to satisfy him, I talked my bosses at Seventeen into letting me interview
Castaneda. By then he was already refusing all interviews, but I used to be naively
satisfied he would see me. I badgered his editor at Simon & Schuster, Michael Korda,
till his secretary took pity and pointed me to Castaneda’s literary agent, a person
named Ned Brown, whose workplace was in Beverly Hills. The curmudgeonly Brown agreed to
move the message on to Castaneda solely as a result of, he stated, I reminded him of his
daughter, including that there was no hope of Carlos replying. Two weeks later,
nevertheless, Brown referred to as again to say that Carlos had consented to see me. Castaneda
by no means confirmed for the assembly, however every week later, he referred to as me on the workplace. “My
cousin used to learn Seventeen!” he stated brightly. “So I assumed the message from you
was an excellent omen. When would you want to satisfy?”

Although he turned a distinguished-looking man with age, in these days Castaneda would
have been exhausting to select in a crowd. He was, in line with his personal description, “a
plain, brown man,” 5-foot-5 and durable, with an unremarkable kind of face. His eyes
– supremely watchful, intensely alive, typically projecting an unbelievable mixture of
grief and amusement — have been probably the most exceptional factor about him.

Our preliminary interview – at Cafe Figaro, or was it the Supply? – stretched right into a
year-and-a-half-long dialog, in the course of the course of which Castaneda turned a
mentor, uncle and pal. Platonic in his attentions, he was elaborately mysterious
concerning the machinations of our conferences. I might solely attain him by leaving messages
on the anthropology division. He would name me again from some pay telephone so as
to rearrange a time. On the appointed second, I might stand outdoors my West Hollywood
condominium constructing and watch for him to drive up in his dusty tan van – inevitably at
least half an hour late.

It was additionally typical that sooner or later in the course of the afternoon or night he would gasp
with alarm, slap his palm to his brow with sitcom-style dismay and rush to the
nearest pay telephone. Then he would name somebody – typically a college colleague – with
whom he had an appointment. He was all the time enormously apologetic, providing an
impressively dramatic excuse for the oversight. “I’m calling you from Mexico Metropolis,”
he may shout into the receiver, from a fuel station in Pacific Palisades. “I really feel
horrible! However I used to be unexpectedly detained by energy!”

Usually, although, our outings appeared fairly atypical. We might typically go to the
films. Typically we merely went for lunch or dinner, then for a stroll. As soon as he took me
to see a show of masks at UCLA, and afterward introduced me with two Yaqui masks.
However every encounter was the truth is a educating train. Alongside the bluffs above the
ocean, he taught me the right way to run at the hours of darkness with out tripping, lecturing me genially
on the need of dwelling my life extra “impeccably.” As we emerged into the
brightness of a theater foyer after seeing Auntie Mame, he turned to me and stated
with nice poignancy: “I took you to see this film as a result of I needed you to know
that it’s essential to use the world. The truth is, it’s completely important to take action! However you
should keep in mind to make use of it with love.”

Within the mouth of anybody else, these phrases would have sounded hopelessly sentimental.
However Carlos imbued such pronouncements with a ferociously poetic drive. A few of his
sorcerer’s ideas have been extra sensible than philosophical. Once I complained to him how
I’d run out of fuel the night time earlier than, for instance, he informed me that Don Juan had informed
him that if he anthropomorphized his automotive, it might by no means run out of fuel once more. (I
took the recommendation to coronary heart and chatted up my Karmann Ghia, which obliged me by operating
on fumes, if needed, for the subsequent 13 years.) One other day, he gave me a compass
and informed me I ought to flip my mattress round, head to the west (or was it the east?) to
improve my power.

Different directions weren’t fairly so simple. At some point, he gave me an
unpolished rock the colour of ochre, half the dimensions of my hand. He stated Don Juan had
given it to him to provide to me with specific instructions as to how I need to polish it.
With nice seriousness, I polished the rock for hours till I handed right into a kind of
waking dream state. The long-term significance of this occasion, I couldn’t inform you.
However I nonetheless have the rock.

Along with making an attempt to assist me “collapse the parameters of regular notion,”
Castaneda talked about private considerations, akin to his fear that his doctoral thesis
won’t be permitted. He typically appeared to be in a state of super anguish over
his apprenticeship. “Don Juan needs me to aim to cease the world, but when I don’t
have the power to do it I’ll die,” he would say. In Don Juanian phrases, “stopping
the world” was letting go of the final vestiges of cultural preconceptions. “Perhaps I
ought to keep right here in L.A. However how can I?”

There was a wildly humorous aspect to Carlos as nicely. He was a depraved gossip and beloved
regaling me with tales of his encounters with different luminaries of the so-called
consciousness motion. He recounted how well-known gestalt therapist and “sexy previous
goat” Fritz Perls had barged unwittingly into Castaneda’s darkened bed room at Huge
Sur’s Esalen Institute, mistakenly considering it empty, and proceeded to have a loud,
amorous tryst with a younger acolyte – a lot to Castaneda’s amusement. On one other
event, he gleefully described a dinner that he and the guru Ram Dass (former Tim
Leary affiliate Richard Alpert) had each attended, at which Ram Dass had gotten
roaring drunk and begun shouting boisterously, “That’s what they name me, ‘Baba ram
de ass!’ Get it? ‘Baba ram de ass!’”

Within the spring of 1973, the article appeared in Seventeen, and shortly after, I left the
journal. With the publication of Journey to Ixtlan, Castaneda was swept additional
into the maelstrom of his fame and subject work, and have become a lot more durable to succeed in.
Ultimately we misplaced contact.

Throughout on a regular basis I spent with Castaneda, it by no means occurred to me that he wasn’t
representing himself and his apprenticeship honestly. Not that I took each
wrinkle of his tales to be literal reality. A couple of of my buddies who knew of our
acquaintance requested if I assumed he had actually become a crow, as was advised
in one of many books. Such questions struck me, even on the time, as ridiculous. His
work wasn’t about metaphysical parlor tips, I might reply, nor was it about
psychotropic medicine. It was a system for dwelling, a approach of deconstructing consensus
actuality in an effort to conceive of a world of unimaginable prospects.

There had been occasional mutterings within the mainstream press about Castaneda’s books
being metaphorical in nature, however the first critical try and debunk his work got here
in 1976, when author-psychologist Richard de Mille (son of Cecil B.) wrote a e-book
referred to as Castaneda’s Journey: The Energy and the Allegory. De Mille painstakingly
combed by way of Castaneda’s 4 revealed volumes, trolling them for
inconsistencies, cross-referencing his ethnographic knowledge with different religious and
philosophical disciplines from which de Mille felt Carlos had stolen. He additionally
recommended that the requirements utilized by Castaneda’s doctoral committee had not been
sufficiently rigorous.

Castaneda followers and a majority of his colleagues at UCLA dismissed the de Mille guide
as ax grinding. Nevertheless, by 1978 there was rising disagreement in anthropology
circles. Yaqui skilled Dr. Ralph Beals requested to see Castaneda’s area notes and was
sad when Carlos regularly dodged the request. Dr. Jacques Maquet, then head of
UCLA’s Division of Anthropology, additionally objected to the truth that no arduous proof
had ever been introduced to again up Castaneda’s accounts. “What is important isn’t
merely to have the expertise,” says Maquet in the present day, “however, whether it is anthropology, to
make it potential for different anthropologists to repeat the expertise. Castaneda by no means
did that. He by no means introduced Don Juan. What he has carried out is just not anthropology merely
as a result of he has stored it secret. He has created an excellent fiction based mostly on one thing
actual, however fiction nonetheless.”

Additional complicating issues, in 1982, a lady named Florinda Donner revealed a
guide referred to as Shabono, through which she described dramatic, Castaneda-like experiences
with the Yanomama Indians of Venezuela. The usually reclusive Carlos wrote a
glowing blurb on the jacket cowl, and shortly the information circulated that Donner was
claiming to even be an apprentice to Don Juan. A single educational apprenticed to an
unseen sorcerer was one factor; a second started to stretch the credulity of all however
probably the most ardent believers.

I met Donner in 1982 when she accompanied Castaneda to a cocktail party given by
Jacques Barzaghi, Jerry Brown’s longtime adviser. Carlos, whom I hadn’t seen in
years, was distant; Donner wasn’t, and we chatted for a lot of the night. I discovered
her tales of her time with the Yanomama convincing.

Once I noticed her a number of years later at Barzhagi’s wedding ceremony, she confided that each one the
apprentices – Castaneda, herself and a number of other different Anglo ladies – have been in a horrible
emotional state. She described implausible incidents – about how, for instance, one in every of
their sorcery academics had turned previous earlier than their eyes, she stated. “Like the image
of Dorian Grey. It was like one thing you’d think about seeing in a science-fiction
film, however we truly noticed it occur.” Now Carlos was very ailing and dwelling in
Arizona. “We don’t know what to do,” she stated. “We’re ready for him to steer us.
However he doesn’t know what to do both, so we simply have to attend.”

It was troublesome to know what to make of such a narrative. As with Castaneda, Donner’s
emotional turmoil appeared intense and real. However these more and more incredible
tales of a number of sorcerer’s apprentices have been arduous to swallow entire, main some
to conclude that lots of Castaneda’s tales additionally might have been stupendous
falsehoods. Even these of us who’d been believers, or almost so, couldn’t assist however
marvel if we hadn’t, in reality, merely been viewers members to a kind of Truman Present
in reverse, a troupe of actors who had infiltrated the actual world, staging a magical
theater that had lasted for many years.

After years of inaccessibility, Castaneda started making public appearances in what
can be the final decade of his life. At first they have been small interactive
gatherings held with out fanfare at numerous bookstores; later he led occasional
martial-arts courses and seminars in a type of motion Castaneda referred to as
“tensegrity,” billed as historic “shamanistic” workouts designed to extend
consciousness. These have been introduced by Donner and the varied different ladies who surrounded
Castaneda. By way of Cleargreen, these ladies have introduced that they are going to be holding
the work going. With company effectivity, Tensegrity seminars are scheduled for
July and August, with extra seminars and movies deliberate for the longer term.

If something, the controversies surrounding Castaneda are larger than ever. However some
of those that knew him properly have arrived at a provisional reply. “He had a genius
for introducing individuals to the potential of seeing different realities,” says Gloria
Garvin, a former member of Castaneda’s inside circle, “however there was by no means a Don
Juan. He knew shamans. He did quite a lot of analysis through the years, typically underneath
different names. And he would journey and dream, and stimulate superb journeys and
goals within the individuals round him. ”

“I had astonishing experiences with Carlos which are troublesome to elucidate,” says
Douglass Worth-Williams, professor emeritus in anthropology and psychiatry at UCLA.
“You see, you’ll be able to’t say his work is factual, however you possibly can’t say it’s false both.
It’s a lot extra complicated than that. He did have profound experiences of his personal.
And he had a substantial amount of ethnographic information. He additionally engaged in elaborate
role-playing that he pushed to the purpose that I feel he might not inform the
distinction. However the factor that set Carlos aside was his genius for taking all this
and speaking it in a means that really moved individuals.”

Larry Peters, an anthropologist and psychotherapist who has accomplished in depth subject
work with Nepalese shamans, places it one other approach: “Carlos was an professional navigator of
that different world. Frankly I consider Don Juan was an entity – a spirit, if you’ll –
that Carlos encountered whereas dreaming. There’s a deep knowledge in his texts that
can’t be considered both fiction or educated fabrication.”

The final time I noticed Castaneda, in late 1993, it was at a type of bookstore
occasions. “We’re all beings who’re going to die,” he advised an attentive invited group
(which included Tom Hayden). “We should stay our lives with that information, with that
harshness. Don Juan used to say to me, ‘What have they finished to you? What have they
achieved to you?’ He meant that I used to be so captured by my ideologies that I couldn’t be a
man. I couldn’t really reside the marvel that it’s to be a human being. We’re
vacationers, as people. We’re adventurers, struggling to perpetuate, to raised, to
evolve our species. However until we break freed from the jail of our ideologies, we
will come to the top of our lives and marvel what we now have lived for.”

I returned house that night feeling woke up, as if my most important self had been
dashed with ice water. Not that I imagined I might ever wholly comply with his sorceric
dictums; understanding the secrets and techniques of the universe is one factor, getting one’s child
to mattress on the correct time is sort of one other. And but, for weeks after, I used to be higher
capable of handle my particular person days and nights with much less worry, fewer preconceptions,
extra readability and compassion.

In the long run, it’s the work that mattered, no matter its provenance. In the long run, it was
the person who mattered; for these of us fortunate sufficient to return inside his vary, nothing
was ever the identical once more.

And if, in the long run, Don Juan by no means existed?

For my very own provisional reply, I consider Peter A. Bien, translator of Nikos
Kazantzakis’ The Final Temptation of Christ, who handled an analogous query when
requested whether or not he believed in all of the miracles related to Jesus. “I understand a lot
of what we find out about him is novelistic,” stated Bien. “However I act as if it isn’t.”


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