"Tools and Traps:" from The Teachings of Don Juan"

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An essay donated by Susan Humphreys

"Tools and Traps:" from
"The Teachings of Don Juan -
A Yaqui Way of Knowledge"

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I got snowed in these last few days. I had several mystery novels I could read but I felt like reading something with more meat. So I picked out a set of books I had read years before and felt I hadn’t fully understood them at the time. I do this occasionally -- reread something I read a while back knowing I have learned much more, my eyes have been opened and I can see things I couldn’t see back then. My understanding and knowledge have increased and I have a better chance of making sense of what once left me bewildered.

The books I decided to reread were the three written by Carlos Castaneda about Don Juan, the Yaqui sorcerer and his Yaqui Way of Knowledge. “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, “A Separate Reality and “Journey to Ixtlan.

Some people look at the books and think they are just about the hallucinogenic experiences of a drugged-out hippie of the 60s. They miss much of what the books have to teach us. I picked up three lessons this time that I hadn’t fully grasped earlier and have written a trilogy of essays about each of them. The first lesson I picked up this time that I missed before is this one about “Tools and Traps. The second lesson is about the “Controlled Folly of the Warrior and the third is about “Stopping the World. The third might help some returning soldiers understand how their experience has “Stopped the World causing a shift in their perception of the World, themselves and others.

Just to be clear, I have taken what I have read and interpreted it for my world, my way of understanding life and reality. A way I hope will resonate with others. This may not be at all what Carlos Castaneda intended for us to get from his books.

Traps are the pitfalls that we humans (all of us, Popes and paupers, Ministers and their minions) are subject to fall into and that some can’t get out of. These Traps hold us back, stop our growth and development, keep us from becoming all that we can be. AND in my way of understanding life, becoming the best that we can be is what life is all about. It is our reason for why there is “something rather than nothing (a reason some give for proof that God exists), why we are here on this planet, why we are different from all other creatures, our purpose for living.

There are four traps but I will list them a bit later. Each of these Traps are also Tools. A tool is something that we use to help us accomplish some task. A shovel is a tool we use to dig holes so that we can plant a tree or put up a fence (to keep things in or keep things out). A book is a tool we use to help us get out of the metaphorical holes we dig ourselves into!

Whew! I better watch myself or I will get “trapped by the metaphors! Metaphors are also tools.

The problem we face is that the traps are hierarchical in one sense. We use the second Trap as a tool to help us get out of the first Trap and many find themselves Trapped by it. We use the third Trap to help us get out of the second Trap and many get stuck there. The fourth trap is the dead end trap. If you can’t get yourself out of it you might as well tell St. Peter to “beam you up, there is nothing more you can learn or do on this planet and there is no reason to hang around here any longer.

Actually I see the Traps as not being arranged in the hierarchy of a ladder, one above another that we have to meet and conquer, one at a time, each in its turn. I see them as being four sides of a ball. Sometimes the ball rolls one way and we find ourselves in one or another of the traps. Then it rolls another way and we find ourselves in a position where all four traps meet at one point and we are constrained by all at once.

What are these Traps? The first is FEAR. This is the primal emotion that drives most of our actions. We are naturally afraid of what we don’t understand, of what seems different or “odd to our way of thinking or behaving, of what confuses us. Education is the tool we use to overcome our fears. Unfortunately there are some that are too afraid to learn anything new. They cling to what they have been told and never have the courage to think, or investigate, or explore, or figure things out for themselves.

The words I used to describe the Traps as being the four sides of a ball are a good example of how the FEAR Trap works. Balls don’t have sides, boxes have sides. Some people read those words and simply declare it as nonsense and refuse to read any further. Others may well be confused but will continue reading figuring the rest of this essay will help them understand what I mean, while others grasp my image immediately and chuckle.

Fear is actually a good thing, in small doses and when we are able to control our reaction to it. It keeps us from doing stupid things, from taking unnecessary and foolish risks. It also works against us by trying to tell us we shouldn’t do anything that makes us uncomfortable or that causes stress. The problem is the only way we grow and develop is by pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. Fear is also a great deceiver, it will tell us that our fears are justified and pragmatic, even when they aren’t, so that we will do what they tell us to do, even if it isn’t in our own best interest, in the greater scheme of things. Fear also fills us with false bravado, so we won’t think we are being fearful when we are. People who are controlled by their fears never think that they are and will often be very belligerent and aggressive towards those that make them uncomfortable.

The Bible is a complicated book to read. Some passages contradict other passages. Some passages use the tools of myth, metaphor, or allegory"all of these require a person to THINK as the trite but true phrase says “outside the box.

Because of their fears some people try to read the Bible literally, as though every word means exactly what it says, no innuendo or metaphorical statements here. Every action happened exactly as it says it happened, no mythological archetype, no hidden messages. If something doesn’t seem to fit they ignore the passage and pretend it doesn’t exist or they try to manipulate the passage to make it fit.

Those of us that aren’t controlled by our fears and can read the Bible as it was meant to be read as myth and metaphor. We have educated ourselves about the history of the book and the history of the places and times in which it was written. We have discovered that it is a wonderful book, full of great wisdom for those that read it thoughtfully and critically, and a must read for those that want to understand world history.

There are Atheists that are afraid of the book and declare it EVIL and would ban it or burn all copies if they could. They are caught in the FEAR Trap just as thoroughly as the fundamentalist that attempts to read the book literally.

It is easy to spot those folks that are controlled by their fears. They are the ones that discourage or belittle or demean Education. They are the ones that seek news outlets that tell them what they want to hear, that confirm what they “know is true, not what actually is TRUE. In online chat rooms or in the halls of Congress or on radio and TV talk shows, they are the ones that resort to name calling, belittling and demeaning comments about a person’s character, they are the Bullies. Their purpose is to shut down the free and open discussion of ideas that they are too afraid to consider. They are the ones that wrap themselves in the flag of patriotism and accuse any that disagree with them of being unpatriotic or un-American. They are the ones that accuse other Christians of not being “true Christians because their doctrines are different from their own. They are the ones that scream that the “sky is falling--that Obama care will ruin the country and lead to a Communistic/Socialistic government, that they want to take away your guns, that they are trampling on your religious freedom even though they seem to think they have the right to trample on other people’s freedoms (religious or secular).

They are too afraid to learn and will do all that they can to keep others from learning and growing and demean and belittle those that do.

The second Trap is HUBRIS. Hubris is knowing that you and you alone have all the answers. There isn’t anything anyone else can tell you or teach you, you know all there is to know about everything AND what you know is right, moral, virtuous and the one and only TRUTH. Don Juan in Carlos Castaneda’s books calls this trap Clarity. It is thinking that you have been able to free your vision, your understanding, your perception, from bias and fears and can see everything clearly.

It is Hubris that says that Christianity is the ONLY TRUTH, all other religious beliefs are wrong, or lies or misguided. Hubris is what blinds one to the goodness and TRUTH of other beliefs and other people and leads to the lack of clarity when one thinks that one has it! As Jesus is reported to have said in the Bible, you have eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear. And I might add a heart that cannot feel.

There are many passages in the Bible that allude to these traps and warn us of the dangers of getting ourselves caught by them. For example the passage about “let he who has not sinned cast the first stone is a warning about the trap of Hubris or as some might call it Self-righteousness! Other world religions and secular philosophies by the way, also teach us about these traps, each in their own way.

Hubris is actually a tool that can help us out of the first trap. It takes a bit of hubris (pride in ones knowledge and abilities) to help you realize that you can learn, that you can think for yourself, that your thoughts and ideas are worthy of being considered. It can give you the strength and courage to persevere when faced with obstacles in your path.

Hubris however is the extreme version of self-pride, of narcissism. It has trapped more than one famous man. It is what led (in my opinion) to Donald Rumsfeld’s downfall in the last Bush administration. It is the trap of “infallibility that has ensnared the Catholic CHURCH.

The entire foundation for the Catholic CHURCH, its sanctification and justification, its reason for existing, rests on this doctrine of “infallibility. This starts with the belief that The CHURCH"which includes all those in authority, and all of the doctrines and teachings, all the pronouncements of Popes, is the work of God not of man. God is infallible and thus the CHURCH is infallible. It can’t accept or fathom that this very doctrine is the work of men, not of a Perfect God, and is the trap of Hubris and fallible and thus its downfall. It has fallen into the second trap and there is no way out for it.

At least IF the Pope admits that his predecessors made mistakes, or that the decisions they made were their own opinions not the opinion of God, that the pronouncements against birth control, against the ordination of women, against homosexuality and same sex marriage are wrong he is admitting that there is an error in the doctrine of Infallibility and undermines the whole authority of everything the CHURCH has said and done over the centuries. It undermines their very teachings about God and Jesus and the Trinity and salvation and…..

But IF the Pope fails to admit that his predecessors made mistakes He loses all credibility. Which leads to the third Trap, POWER/FORCE. Power without credibility is nothing more than the brute force of the tyrant.

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POWER/FORCE is the seductive and all consuming, demanding mistress or lover. It demands that we sacrifice anything and everything to get and keep it, and tells us it is okay to twist and distort anything and everything in order to justify and sanctify our actions.

There is a fine distinction between Power and Force, although few understand it. POWER is the control we exert over our selves, over our Fears, over our Hubris, over our Ego. FORCE is what we exert (or attempt to exert) over others. The tools of force are bribery, coercion, lies, innuendo, manipulation, exploitation, fear.

The tools of Power are self-control, self-discipline, self-motivation, self-restraint, patience, perseverance, delaying gratification, generosity (as opposed to greed), graciousness (as opposed to condescension), humility (as opposed to hubris), …. I think many of you can add more to this list.

As Don Juan puts it in the first book, “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge:

“Power is the strongest of all enemies. And naturally the easiest thing to do is to give in; after all, the man is truly invincible. He commands; he begins by taking calculated risks, and ends in making rules, because he is a master.

The enemy Don Juan refers to is what I call a Trap.

I hope you are beginning to see how these Traps intertwine, how HUBRIS is connected to POWER and FEAR, how as I put it they are the four sides of a ball that intersect at some places. Dualism is where FEAR and HUBRIS combine, join forces. The FEAR element is seeing all things in terms of black and white, moral or immoral, right or wrong, good and evil. The HUBRIS element has the Dualist seeing themselves as the ONLY good guys.

Sectarianism is an example of where these four intersect"where a person or group get trapped by all four. Safety in numbers, our FEAR of being alone, draws us to join groups of like minded individuals. These groups build a mythos and logos about their identity that unites and fortifies them (sanctifies their beliefs and actions) against all others leading to HUBRIS. At this point the group sees themselves as invincible, their cause as righteous and try to FORCE their will, their beliefs and rules upon others showing a total lack of INDIFFERENCE towards the needs, and/or wisdom, and/or goodness of others.

Sectarianism by the way, is the belief that our group is better than your group, that our beliefs are TRUTH your beliefs are lies, that our words and actions are justified and sanctified by God (or some other authority) , your actions not only aren’t they are the work of the Devil or demons (or are anti-American or un-patriotic)! Sectarianism isn’t just a problem with religious folk!

The fourth Trap is what Don Juan calls Old Age, I call it APATHY/INDIFFERENCE for lack of a single or better word that encompasses the very different ways this Trap works.

Don Juan isn’t referring to physical age but to the feelings that come upon some old people, they have seen it all, they know it all and they give up, see no use in doing anything, it all (as the common saying goes) “washes out in the end so what’s the use, why bother?

This is the Trap that Narcissists fall into, nothing matters to them but their own self-gratification. They are indifferent to the problems and pains of others. You can see it at work in the arguments some make in support of Capitalism and their denial that the extreme differences between the haves and have nots, the great wealth of the few at the expense of the many is a problem for our society.

This is the problem of Anomie, where we get anonymous from, the feeling of being disenfranchised, unable to control ones destiny, a raft adrift on a vast ocean of despair, totally at the mercy and whims of an unforgiving and indifferent power. Oh my, I got carried away there, but I hope you get my drift! It isn’t a life lived by fear, these folks have partially moved past their fears and simply give up, they no longer care about what happens to them or to others because there is nothing they can do to change the course of events. They aren’t responsible for their own actions and have no responsibilities towards others.

This is also a Trap that some new age Gurus fall into. These are the ones that insist that what we see and hear and feel aren’t real, they are all illusions and as such simply don’t matter, are of no importance. ALL that matters for them, is being at one with the Universe, or the Ultimate reality. They drop out and tune out in search of the ULTIMATE experience of Oneness or of Nothingness (as some might put it).

I however can’t say that the hunger, or pain, or fear of a child (or anyone) is just an illusion, that it doesn’t really matter. Those who do I think have gotten themselves caught in two traps, HUBRIS and this trap of APATHY/INDIFFERENCE.

Some can’t or refuse to acknowledge that they, like all the rest of us, as long as we are alive, are part of this earthly plane. That our here and now are under the control of space and time. As I put it once before"

“Even the most enlightened Souls or adept Adepts, need to eat and drink and defecate if they want to continue to pontificate about what is real and what isn’t!

Eventually we may, upon the physical death of our earthly body, move beyond space and time. But for now, we are tied to our earthly existence and we can either make the best of it or make the worst of it.

I choose to make the best of whatever life brings and to do what little I can to help others find their way through the Traps so that they can become the best that they can be and so that we together, can help this world become a better place for ALL of us.

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Originally posted: 2014-JAN-03
Latest update: 2014-JAN-03
Author: Susan Humphreys


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