Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
(This piece was originally published on July 13th, 2017 )
A few weeks ago, while scrolling through my LinkedIn news feed, I came upon a most interesting article. The lead image was a picture of a handsome gentleman somewhere in his late forties/ early fifties. He was wearing a suit and was in a private jet. He had important papers strewn in front of him, and bright sun was beaming in through the windows of the plane. In the article, it was explained to us that the gentleman was the author himself. The author had been an extremely successful businessman and was now a life coach/ self-help guru. His lesson for us in the article was the importance of never changing. He found that sticking to his diet, workout routine, schedule, and sales pitch was his recipe for super success. He insisted that never changing—regardless of what was going on with your life or the world at large—was a key discipline for super success. It was implied that super success meant flying on a private jet one day and having important looking papers strewn in front of you. Down in the comments, there was a woman who was following him and his advice, who said that she was trying her hardest to never change her routine but that it was a really difficult thing to do. It was clear she was not yet riding in private jets yet. He did include a brief caveat that if what you were doing was not working—then, of course, one must change. However, the big issue (and thrust of his article) was to just keep what you are doing and stay the course.
Today, I am going to give you another path to success. I will call this path ‘The Veer Off the Road Path.’ Also, I would like to give you another image of success that I’m afraid may not deliver private jet rides or important papers strewn about where you are seated. It might not even provide happiness or friends or lovers or even a good marriage. It might even put you in jail or in a ditch or in the company of talking, giant moths. During the late sixties and seventies, a young anthropologist named Carlos Castaneda went to Mexico and became a student to a Yaqui shaman named Don Juan. Through many adventures, often under the influence of strong hallucinogenic drugs, Carlos learned an extraordinary amount regarding himself, the mind, and the true nature of reality. There is a lengthy series of his books that chronicle his experiences with Don Juan, and I heartily recommend them. They are weird, fascinating, and frightening. They will push your sense of good, bad, up, and down far out from the deepest convictions you hold.
It was this lesson that immediately came to mind as I read my jet-setting, self-help guru’s article on stay the course. One night, Don Juan led Carlos Castaneda deep out into the desert. As they were progressing, Don Juan disappeared, and Carlos became distinctly aware that he was being hunted. As the night dragged on, Carlos became increasingly desperate with fear and dread as he felt firsthand what it was like to be an animal stalked in mortal danger. Finally, Carlos came upon a fire where Don Juan was sitting. Carlos felt immediately relieved. Don Juan explained to him that if one wanted to follow the ‘Warrior Way,' then one had to understand the true nature of the mind and the material world. We humans are always being stalked by our desires, fears, and obsessions. Additionally, in the material world, we are stalked by other men and other forces such as political and religious authority to become a means to their ends. There is a human tendency to create and fall into deep ruts in order to cope with this internal and external pressure of wanting pleasure and avoiding pain. Once we fall into a rut, whether in our thinking or lifestyle, we simultaneously fall into a kind of trance. When in a trance, we not only are pretty close to dead—we are also outrageously vulnerable to the world at large—becoming nothing more than a blood and fleshed stuffed tool.
Don Juan then went on to teach Carlos that to avoid falling into ruts (which deadens our spirit and makes us incredibly vulnerable to the external world) we should avoid making them. Don Juan insisted that to become completely conscious and alive, one should become ‘invisible.’ The best way to become invisible is to never make a trail of tracks. One should never stick to a routine. One should never return to the same places—at the very least not as the same person and not in the same way. One should never hang out exclusively with the same people or from the same class and background. Don Juan insisted that Carlos should stop believing in his same worldview that he had been narrating to himself—that Carlos should instead see his worldview more like an ever-growing tree. Likewise, with people, Don Juan pointed out that Carlos had very rigid assumptions regarding people and that regardless of the different names and faces, he was always liking the same people and disliking the same people. Carlos was, in reality, meeting the same people over and over because his internal assumptions (ruts) kept him in a trance—making it impossible for him to see people clearly. Don Juan insisted that to see people, places, things, morality, unfolding events, and ourselves with any kind of clarity (which is the only way a warrior can afford—otherwise he risks possible death—figuratively and literally) one must live invisibly without any traceable tracks or ruts.
Now, maybe if one does plot a course towards fitness, fame, and success and sticks to it no matter what, then perhaps fitness, fame, and success will be yours. It is not my argument that the handsome, jet-setting gentleman was offering faulty advice. However, what is the point of it if you are a zombie?
Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.”
Check out Jennifer’s book. You can read the first short story for free on Amazon here.