The last few weeks my mind has been buzzing around discovering details of my own ethnography while somewhat walking/sprinting/pacing through new works of art. It's been a whirlwind of ideas and thoughts, fortunately most are falling into positive categories. The most recent addition to the cluster of visions/thoughts happens to be this beautiful book: Carlos Castaneda The Teachings of Don Juan : A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.
The books begins with Carlos Castaneda asking don Juan questions about his experience with hallucinogenic plants.
"The importance of the plants was, for don Juan, their capacity to produce stages of peculiar perception in a human being. Thus he guided me into experiencing a sequence of these stages for the purpose of unfolding and validating his knowledge. I have called them "states of nonordinary reality," meaning unusual reality as opposed to the ordinary reality of everyday life. This distinction is based on the inherent meaning of the states of nonordinary reality. In the context of don Juan's knowledge they were considered as real, although their reality was differentiated from ordinary reality."
Soon, Carlos becomes don Juan's apprentice and proceeds to discuss his first hand experiences with each of three plants, all eliciting a peculiar perception and as Carlos discusses a "non ordinary reality". The hallucinogenic plants that were experienced are: peyote (lopophora williamsii), Jimson weed (Datura inoxia), and a mushroom (possibly Psilocybe mexicana). The last sentence of the above paragraph is really where most of the book lives, in a space where what is real is called into question.
One theme that appears is how the line between the human world and the nonordinary world is quite blurry. All of the experiences Carlos has allow him to access a world that he would not normally be able to access and at the end of the book Carlos is very academic in his style of writing about his experiences, but it's his personal writing of these experiences that allows your imagination to soar and your mind to believe the reality that don Juan refers to.
"I moved forward. The motion of my body was slow and shaky; it was more like a tremor forward and up. I looked down and saw don Juan sitting below me, way below me. The momentum carried me forward one more step, which was even more elastic and longer than the preceding one. And from there I soared. I remember coming down once; then I pushed up with both feet, sprang backward, and glided on my on my back. I saw the dark sky above me, and the clouds going by me."
After each experience Carlos tries in vain to procure some definitive answer about the literal possibility of his adventure, to which don Juan almost never directly answers him. At one point don Juan states, "What you want to know makes no sense. Birds fly like birds and a man who has taken the devil's weed (Datura) flies as such." don Juan illustrates that there is not a language that exists by which to describe the kind of flight Carlos had. Carlos' attempt to identify his experience highlights the very existence of both ordinary and non ordinary reality - and that part of understanding and learning the power of these experiences is acknowledging that there is no language to describe the blurry gray area between the two, that these worlds can cross over to one another.
This book is full of beautifully written passages of experience after experience - each lending their own magic to your imagination. What I found most compelling was the kind of meaning that Carlos was able to perceive from each episode and the kind of wisdom that don Juan relates to him. There is a wealth of knowledge in this text, not for it's factual evidence, but for it's ability to connect the reader to a man's journey through the gray area between the world of man and a deeper more spiritual world - one that can be and is accessible to the select few who seek it.
"For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length. And there I travel, looking, breathlessly." - Don Juan