Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Conversations with Don Carlos

Far be it from me to drop names, but I did run into Carlos Casteneda while hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains in the late 70's...apparently we both liked to go there through the years and this time we just happened to meet. I knew what CC looked like, having attended his UCSB lecture around 1970, surrounded as he was by stern-looking local Chicano activists trying to bask in his glory. That was such a joke considering how anti-political the Don Juan teachings are. Campus political activists hated mystics and gurus who diverted people's attention away from supposed horrible social conditions to meditate on their navel and realize inner peace. And this was exactly what CC really represented to most hippies.

On this occasion in the morning I had driven up to Mulholland Drive and parked my pickup near Fireroad 25, which was my favorite jumping off place. I had come especially to practice some of Don Juan's teachings, believing them valid in those days. More specifically, I had come to try to "stop the world", which in real terms means stopping the mind, from a meditative point of view. I found myself a secluded spot off the main road and sat down for hours staring off to the east, down at Sullivan Canyon and the ridge beyond. At a certain point I seemed to achieve a certain stillness of mind combined with a sharp focusing of the view in front of me, (with a little chemical help I must admit, well, let us say, a BIG chemical help), and by the late afternoon, I got up and starting walking back in the direction of Mulholland Drive. At this point I met Carlos Castenada, accompanied by a young blonde woman, probably Kylie, one of the 4 or 5 gringa "witches" that formed the inner circle around CC from this time to his death in 1998. I recognized him right away, from the lecture, but did not show that I did. I recall how he joked in Santa Barbara how people thought he should have "long mystical feet", but being a short Peruvian with equally short feet, this was his way of kidding himself, which put people off their guard. "Anyone who makes a joke at their own expense cannot be a big liar" etc.

Anyway, I just nodded and maybe said hi and tried to walk by, being by this time worn out, dehydrated and hungry, but Carlos started talking to me. He claimed he wanted to know where the fireroad went. I really didn't know at that time, except that if you took it south and veered left you would end up, after following a narrow ridge, at Will Rogers State Park. But I knew you could take it to the right and arrive around Eagle Rock, a midpoint in the Santa Monica trail system, and from there you could find your way down to Sunset Blvd. near the ocean. So I just summerized all this by saying, "It goes to the ocean."

But then Carlos started arguing no, no, no that can't be true, and kept arguing and arguing. I just stared at him in surprise. I really didn't care. At this point I recalled an episode in one of CC's books where his supposed teacher Don Juan just looks at him and says something like, "You know I can't stand the sight of you." And CC starts whining until DJ pretends to take it back. Now I could understand this event quite well, as I was beginning to feel quite annoyed. But I did not say much, and walked away, feeling sorry for someone so cunningly obnoxious.

Since I had a buddhist teacher at that point, I was less likely to fall under his spell. Apparently CC started conducting classes at a Santa Monica bookstore around this time. It is a good thing I did not hear of it and feel tempted to participate. As it turned out in the succeeding years, during this teaching period Castenda created a classic cult consciousness among his students. Amy Wallace's The Sorceror's Apprentice is a must for an insight into the sick group psychology of those years. Geuter's Filming Castenda adds more data.

The positive result of this odd encounter was that I determined to find out once and for all where the fireroad went. So another weekend day I hiked south on Fireroad 25, veered right, and kept going down along some newly developed housing, and finally ended up at Sunset Dr. exactly at the Self Realization Fellowship lake/temple founded by Yogi Yogananda. This mystical place is only a stone's throw from the ocean. So I felt justified by my answer to Castenada after all. By this time it was near dusk and I had to call my brother to drive all the way from the San Fernando Valley to Pacific Palisades to pick me up and take me back to Mulholland Dr. so I could retreive my vehicle.

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