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1. Been lazy, was also ill for about 2 – 3 weeks, tired all the time, sleeping massively when not at work, in a vile despond. Each summer is difficult for me, as i am not naturally given to follies such as sunlight and heat. i am a distinctly autumnal elberry,
– and so was surprised that autumn began with this long exhaustion. i have very little work and also feel a sudden disengagement from my social circles in Munich. For some, for example the dandy bohemian underground, i have merely had no energy; my other principle form of social interaction is with my fellow teachers and due to mainly teaching Arbeitsamt (JobCentre) groups, in the shitty McLingua building dedicated to the unemployed, i have been forced into company with two teachers i mistrust: the Prima Donna and Californian-Jesus. Prima Donna’s animosity towards me has heightened over the last few months, to the point where we can’t even be in the same room without her attempting to ridicule or boss me around (accusing me of being “gay”; ordering me to hand photocopies out like a serf) – the last time this happened i just laughed “yeah, sure” and walked out.
Californian-Jesus is a classic American type, mid-30s, favours a hippy-Jesus look, could pass for Brad Pitt in a dark alleyway, utterly feckless and unreliable and superficial, most of his students adore him and think he’s their friend (and are shocked when he fails to come to their parties or won’t tutor them for free), like many American males of my sordid acquaintance (also Toddball) he is a thief, and told the teacher room an amusing anecdote about stealing a bicycle, pimping it up, and then by chance coming across the owner, who reclaimed it – C-Jesus’s comment “I wanted to say, what the fuck man, I fucking painted this shit up and fucking made it fucking badass! Man, Germans is such losers!”
Californian-Jesus is very much in the Prima Donna mould, a superficial charmer who despises most of his students as “lame” and “losers” and is all “hey man how’s it going? we should grab a beer sometime!” when he passes them in the corridor. i can tolerate him, because he’s not as nastily domineering as the Prima Donna, but i don’t trust him an inch. The Prima Donna i never trusted and have now grown to dislike with a settled, easy loathing. She and C-Jesus both have an effortless and glib charisma, a quality i have learnt to distrust.
2. Unfortunately, the Prima Donna & Californian-Jesus are the main Arbeitsamt teachers, C-J because he can’t teach anywhere else (Arbeitsamt are the only classes where charm alone suffices), Prima Donna because she lives close by and doesn’t want to travel to companies; i think also because in companies one is always a visitor, on the students’ territory, and in the Arbeitsamt centre (which usually has no McLingua admin staff or bosses) the teachers are boss – and she must always be Boss. Prima Donna is actually a very good teacher, much better than me i would say, though a few students have responded negatively, or been untouched, by her facile charisma and technique, and preferred me – a good example of how character is inseparable from this job.
Prima Donna monopolizes the teacher room, bellowing like a maddened cow, so it’s impossible to even talk quietly with another teacher if she is present. i have had several run-ins with Prima Donna, until i found myself telling her “i don’t listen to people like you”, and then decided enough was enough, and i then avoided even being in the same room. Two other teachers adopted this policy months ago – an elegant MILF from Chicago, and a black Brooklyn pimp both avoid her as much as possible, the latter telling another teacher the Prima Donna is “fake, she ain’t what she presents.”
3. During my illness, i was lying in bed one weekend, after a 12-hour sleep, incapable of getting up due to sloth, and felt a need to read esoteric literature. Most of this is frankly shit but i’ve always found Carlos Castaneda stimulating so began re-reading his works. He’s a funny-strange-and-ha-ha writer, one i came to via William Burroughs 20 years ago. Even in my puny youth i felt unsure if his books were other than fictive. i now feel that he was probably initiated but that his books are heavily edited and probably even invented. His initiator, a Yacqui Indian called Juan Matus, or Don Juan, i think existed either as a real person or a non-physical being (who could have been a product of Castaneda’s subconscious, or an independent entity). But i note that over a 20 year stretch Castaneda wrote several books in which he is always a bumbling beginner, much as if Plato had written his Socratic dialogues from the perspective of an unchanging ephebe. i suspect that there was a real but brief initiation and after this Castaneda just continued using Don Juan as a literary figure. My own magical tradition is so far removed that i can do little other than surmise and suggest.
4. i Googled some Castanedry and inevitably ended up wading through forums with earnest seekers and hipsters arguing about things they would, i think, not understand without an initiator – certainly not by sitting at home reading the internet. It reminded me a little of the Hippy in Kassel, who was convinced my Indian father had passed on esoteric Indian doctrines, which i was refusing to share, so i told the Hippy’s irritating Buddhist-bullshit friend Gordon about a kind of meditation technique i had created, and the Hippy later drooled at me “elberry, the Gordon had me said you have a uh meditation, ja? It is from your Indienisch father, or? Is very good Indienisch meditation, or?” and so on, while i kept saying flatly “no”.
One of these internet “sorcerers” had cut out all the Castaneda narrative and compiled the “sermon”-like passages, a mistake i felt. There are many good passages but the seemingly trivial narratives are also significant. For example, in The Power of Silence, the sermons stress that the sorcerer must attain “the place of no pity”
‘I’ve been trying to make clear to you that the only worthwhile course of action, whether for sorcerers or average men, is to restrict our involvement with our self-image,’ he continued. ‘What a nagual aims at with his apprentices is the shattering of their mirror of self-reflection.’
The place of no pity entails a lack of compassion for others and oneself. Castaneda the ephebe arrives at this in a curious way – Don Juan demands C drive him to a town in Mexico, becomes progressively feebler en route until he seems to be suffering from a stroke and senility, then on the street by their car he screams that Castaneda is trying to murder him; a mob threaten Castaneda, who flees, hides in a tourist shop, then decides to buy tourist kitsch as a guise, then returns to find Don Juan mysteriously normal once more.
Don Juan was on the sidewalk, by my car, looking at me absentmindedly. I stared at him with a thoroughly uncharacteristic coldness. Never in my life had I had such a feeling. It was not hatred I felt, or even anger. I was not even annoyed with him. What I felt was not resignation or patience, either. And it was certainly not kindness. Rather it was a cold indifference, a frightening lack of pity. At that instant, I could not have cared less about what happened to don Juan or myself.
Don Juan shook his upper body the way a dog shakes itself dry after a swim. And then, as if all of it had only been a bad dream, he was again the man I knew. He quickly turned his jacket inside out. It was a reversible jacket, beige on one side and black on the other. Now he was wearing a black jacket. He threw his straw hat inside the car and carefully combed his hair. He pulled his shirt collar over the jacket collar, instantly making himself look younger. Without saying a word, he helped me put the rest of the packages in the car. When the two policemen ran back to us, blowing their whistles, drawn by the noise of the car doors being opened and closed, don Juan very nimbly rushed to meet them. He listened to them attentively and assured them they had nothing to worry about. He explained that they must have encountered his father, a feeble old Indian who suffered from brain damage.
Re-reading this, I felt a subtle shock: Don Juan’s literally turncoat behaviour forces Castaneda to disengage his trust from the mentor, and rather than bewailing his personal fate he experiences instead “the place of no pity”. He has become an actor in this play and realises his own personal fate is of no significance, that one must ultimately attach no significance to personal relations, or to one’s own apparent self. These narratives most likely mean nothing to most New Age self-declared “warriors” who want, at the worst, talk of psychedelic plants, or at the best direct sermons. But one can learn a great deal from stories; that they are indirect and unexplicated does not detract from their power – it means that the uncurious and uninitiated will impatiently turn the page, deterred by theatricality and deception; but a chosen few read and go beyond the veil. i think this is why Wittgenstein wrote Philosophical Investigations as he did – it deters the uninitiated, but those who are prepared learn far more than they would through straightforward exposition.
Theory and explication afford intellectual diversion and can become integrated into one’s understanding, but i seem to learn rather through experience and stories. When i can take something from explication or philosophy, it is typically poetic and inseparable from a certain turn of phrase. Stories communicate differently, presenting a concentrated form of our diffuse and vague daily experience. In the case of Castaneda, i think if one truly enters into the stories they have the power to jolt & adjust one’s perspective; so in the above-quoted anecdote, i felt the narrator’s distress as his mentor becomes abruptly senile, the narrator’s confusion, the narrator’s sudden & ice-cold realisation that Don Juan had played and manipulated him, and in the reading i felt a shiver of cold disengagement from all i have trusted & feared & longed for & been otherwise bound up with. It was a faint shock but because i was ready, in my own life, i immediately stopped and allowed this ice to expand, estuarial, until when i arrived at work i felt absolutely nothing for these people, that they, and i, were alike insignificant. And, perhaps surprisingly, the lessons i then gave were some of my best, however profoundly alone i may then have been.
5. In the last 18 months, i disengaged, or was disengaged from, two friends – one was Toddball, who became increasingly crazed and belligerent after the birth of his daughter in April 2013, the other a very old friend from England, who just stopped writing, and i decided not to send unanswered emails, and so we dropped out of contact for a good year. Of course i saw Toddball from time to time in McLingua but i felt he was just another American asshole, his natural rage amplified by sleep deprivation and the frustration of an American kidult (he’s 39) who suddenly has responsibilities and can’t stay up drinking, taking coke, stealing & fighting, as seems normal with American males. Recently – after his main drinking buddy moved to Berlin – we’ve drifted again into socialising, and we’re playing a game called Stronghold Kingdoms together, brutally ganging up on anyone we don’t like and burning their villages (we recently destroyed a village owned by “Killer Chick”). Likewise, in the last couple of months i was drawn into email contact with the friend from England, with whom a year’s unexplained silence means nothing.
i would once have either refused to resume contact with either, or have harboured resentment and boiling distrust. i feel instead a total lack of personal involvement, and simply acknowledge whatever energies draw us together. Both are truly turncoats, but then consistency is rare and perhaps not even human – in fact my only consistent friend has been the Viking, who is distinctly abnormal.
6. One of the hardest lessons of the Castaneda books is to accept that most or even all the things you care about are insignificant. i feel that the stories are important because they illustrate how one could be, without pity:
“As I have told you before, many times,” don Juan said, jolting me out of my concentration, “every sorcerer I know, male or female, sooner or later arrives at a breaking point in their lives.”
“Do you mean that they have a mental breakdown or something like that?” I asked.
“No, no,” he said, laughing. “Mental breakdowns are for persons who indulge in themselves. Sorcerers are not persons.”
The distinction between personality and true being is subtle but vital. For Casteneda, what we call the personality, our everyday thoughts & feeling, are an implanted virus, what he calls the foreign installation. i had a similar feeling when i began to awake, 20 years ago – that my surface personality often seems at odds with my realer being; the mental technique i created when i was 24 was designed to wedge a knife between personality and being, and to widen the gap until one could see them as two different modes of being. It worked and for a while i assumed it was what Buddhists call meditation, until i talked about it with such folk – my tai chi tutor said it was mere “stupefaction”, then told me i was a liar and hypocrite and apple polisher and asshole; and Gordon said it had nothing to do with Buddhist practice.
For me, the crucial thing is firstly not to be like Gordon or my tai chi tutor, or the Prima Donna or California-Jesus; but more, to cease to be a person at all. The Castaneda story above has become a widening chasm in my mind – on the other side, i perceive the Prima Donna, my old tai chi tutor, Gordon, and also all my friends, and then myself; and on this side, there is something like a minuscule dot of awareness, which is far realer, and yet scarcely to be observed.