Carlos Castaneda on Seeing

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Seeing Anew: Exploring Perception

From the Writings of Carlos Castaneda

"Para me solo recorrer los caminos ue tienen corazon, cualquier camino que tenga corazon. Por ahi yo recorro, y la unica prueba que vale es atravesar todo su largo. Y por ahi yo recorro mir ando, sin aliento."

(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, looking, breathlessly.)
- DON JUAN -

A Separate Reality page 8.
Don Juan's particular interest in his second cycle of apprenticeship was to teach me to "see". Apparently in his system of knowledge there was the possibility of making a semantic difference between "seeing" and "looking" as two distinct manners of perceiving.

"Looking" referred to the ordinary way in which we are accustomed to perceive the world, while "seeing" entailed a very complex process by virtue of which a man of knowledge alledgedly perceives the "essence" of the things of the world'...

S.R.p. 37 " ...you must do it yourself. Once you learn, you can see every single thing in the world in a different way."

"Then Don Juan you don't see the world in the usual way any more."

"I see both ways. When I want to look at the world I see it the way you do. Then when I want to see it I look at it the way I know and I perceive it in a different way."

"Do things look consistently the same every time you see them?"

"Things don't change.. You change your way of looking that's all."

"I mean don Juan, that if you see, for instance, the same tree, does it remain the same every time you see it?"

"No, it changes and yet it is the same."

"But if the same tree changes every time you seeit, your seeing may be an illusion."

Finally he said, "Whenever you look at things you don't see them. You just look at them, I suppose to make sure that something is there."

"Since you're not concerned with seeing, things look very much the same every time you look at them."

"When you learn to see, on the other hand, a thing is never the same every time you see it, and yet it is the same. I told you for instance that a man is like an egg, yet is is not the same egg."

"But you won't be able to recognize anything, since nothing is the same: so what's the advantage of learning to see?"

"You can tell things apart. You can see them for what they really are."

"Don't I see things as they really are?"

"No. your eyes have learned only to look..."

A Separate Reality p. 80 ...After a long pause I thought of a good point. I told him that in my opinion some of the acts of my fellow men were of supreme importance.

I pointed out that a nuclear war was definitely the most dramatic example of such an act. I said that for me destroyng life on the face of earth was an act of staggering enormity.

"You believe that because you're thinking. You're thinking about life," don Juan said with a glint in his eyes, "You're not seeing."

"Would I feel differently if I could see?" I asked.

"Once a man learns to see he find himself alone in the world with nothing but folly," don Juan said cryptically.

He paused for a moment and looked at me as if he wanted to judge the effect of his words.

"Yours acts, as well as the acts of your fellow men in general, appear to be important to you because you have learned to think they are important."

He used the word "learned" with such a peculiar inflection that it forced me to ask what he meant by it.

He stopped handling his plants and looked at me.
"We learn to think about everything," he said, "and then we train our eyes to look as we think about the things we look at."

"We look at ourselves already thinking that we are important. And therefore we've got to feel important!"

"But then when a man learns to see, he realizes that he can no longer think about the things he looks at, and if he cannot think about what he looks at everything becomes unimportant."

Don Juan must have notice my puzzled look and repeated this statement three times, as if to make me understand them.

What he said sounded to me like gibberish at first, but upon thinking about it, his words loomed more like a sophisticated statement about some facet of perception...

A Separate Reality p. 82 "...For example, don Juan, do you mean that once a man learns to see, everything in the whole world is worthless?"

"I didn't say worthless. I said unimportant. Everything is equal and therefore unimportant."

"For example, there is no way for me to say that my acts are more important than yours, or that one thing is more essential than another, therefore all things are equal and by being equal they are unimportant."

I asked him if his statements were a pronouncement that what he had called "seeing" was in effect a "better way" than merely "looking at things."

He said that the eyes of man could perform both functions, but neither of them was better than the other; however, to train the eyes only to look was, in his opinion, an unnecessary loss.

"For instance, we need to look with our eyes to laugh," he said, "because only when we look at things can we catch the funndy edge of the world. On the other hand, when our eyes see, everything is so equeal that nothing is funny."

He remained silent for some time.

"Perhaps there are men of knowledge who never laugh," he said. "I don't know any of them, though. Those I know see and also look, so they laugh."


"Would a man of knowledge cry as well?"

"I suppose so. Our eyes look so we may laugh, or cry, or rejoice, or be sad, or be happy. I personally don't like to be sad, so whenever I witness something that would ordinarily make me sad, I simply shift my eyes and see it instead of looking at it. But when I encounter something funny I look and I laugh..."

A Separate Reality p. 84 "...I have said this countless times. One must always choose the path with heart in order to be at one's best, perhaps so one can always laugh."

"The reason I say I choose is because I see, but it isn't that I choose to live; my will makes me go on living in spite of anything I may see."

"You don't understand me now because of your habit of thinking as you look and thinking as you think."

This statement intrigued me very much. I asked him to explain what he meant by it.

He repeated the same construct various times, as if giving himself time to arrange it in different terms, and then delivered his point, saying that by "thinking" he meant the constant idea that we have of everything in the world.

He said that "seeing" dispelled that habit and until I learned to "see" I could not really understand what he meant.

"But if nothing matters, don Juan, why should it matter that I learn to see?"

"I told you once that our lot as men is to learn, for good or bad," he said.

"I have learned to see and I tell you that nothing really matters; now it is your turn; perhaps some day you will see and you will know then whether things matter or not."

"For me nothing matters, but perhaps for you everything will."

"You should know by now that a man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting, nor by thinking about what he will think when he has finished acting."

"A man of knowledge chooses a path with heart and follows it; and then he looks and rejoices and laughs; and then he sees and knows."

"He knows that his life will be over altogether too soon; he knows that he, as well as everybody else, is not goiong anywhere; he knows, because he sees, that nothing is more important than anything else."

"In other words, a man of knowledge has no honor, no dignity, no family, no name, no country, but only life to be lived, and under these circumstances his only tie to his fellow men is his controlled folly."

"Thus a man of knowledge endeavors, and sweats, and puffs, and if one looks at him he is just like any ordinary man, except that the folly of his life is under control. Nothing being more important than anything else, a man of knowledge chooses any act, and acts it out as if it matters to him..."

A Separate Reality p.86 "...It would be simple to die; that's what you say and believe, because you're thinking about life, just as you're thinking now what seeing would be like."

"You wanted me to describe it to you so you could begin to think about it, the way you do with everything else. In the case of seeing, however, thinking is not the issue at all, so I cannot tell you what it is like to see."

"Now you want me to describe the reasons for my controlled folly and I can only tell you that controlled folly is very much like seeing; it is something you cannot think about..."

A Separate Reality p.88 "If nothing really matters," I said, "upon becoming a man of knowledge one would find oneself, perforce, as empty as my friend and in no better posiiton."

"That's not so," do Juan said cuttingly. "Your friend is lonely because he will die without seeing. In his life he just grew old and now he must have more self-pity than ever before. He feels he threw away forty years because he was after victories and found only defeats. He'll never know that to be victorious and to be defeated are equal."

"So now you're afraid of me because I've told you that you're equal to everything else. You're being childish. Our lot as men is to learn and one goes to knowledge as one goes to war; I have told you this countless times."

"In order to become a man of knowledge one must be a warrior, not a whimpering child. One must strive without giving up, without a complaint, without flinching, until one sees, only to realize that nothing matters..."

A Separate Reality p. 89 ...He smiled; his eyes were shining as if he were truly enjoying my presence...

A Separate Reality p. 90 "...I shifted my eyes so I would see his personal life disintegrating, expanding uncontrollably beyond its limits, like a fog of crystals , because that is the way life and death mix and expand."

"That is what I did at the time of my son's death. That's all one could ever do, and that is controlled folly. Had I looked at him I would have watched him becoming immobile and I would have felt a cry inside of me, because never again would I look at his fine figure pacing the earth."

"I saw his death instead, and there was no sadness, no feeling. His death was equal to everything else."

"So you may say that when it comes to the death of a person I love, my controlled folly is to shift my eyes."

I thought about the people I love myself and a terribly oppressive wave of self-pity enveloped me.

"Lucky you, don Juan," I said, "You can shift your eyes, while I can only look."

He found the statement funny and laughed.

"Lucky, bull!" he said. "It's hard work."...

A Separate Reality p.95 "...You fail to understand that a sorcerer is not joking," he said severely. "When a sorcerer attempts to see, he attempts to gain power..."

A Separate Reality p. 96 ...The two of them had another moment of mirth, then don Juan became serious again and said that if I did not think of my death, my entire life would be only a personal chaos. He looked very stern.
"What else can a man have, except his life and his death?" he said to me...

A Separate Reality p. 105 ..."Seeing is very difficult," he said.

I begged him to explain his statement.
" Seeing" is not a matter of talk," he said imperatively.

Sitting on his head was one of such movements and with it he had attempted to show me that it was impossible to "see" while I took notes.

In don Genaro's opinion, writing about "seeing" was the same; that is, it was a precarious maneuver, as odd and as unnecessary as sitting on one's head...

A Separate Reality p. 112 ..."The world, when you see, is not as you think it is now. It's rather a fleeting world that moves and changes..."

A Separate Reality p. 129 ...I strained myself to fix my gaze on it and then became fully aware that I could not look at it in the same way I look at ordinary things.

I had a strange thought; looking at the guardian's body I felt that every single part of it was independently alive, as the eyes of men are alive.

I realized then for the first time in my life that the eyes were the only part of a man that could show, to me, whether or not he was alive. The guardian, on the other hand, had a "million eyes..."

A Separate Reality p. 143 "...There you go again. I've told you, there's no point in talking about what seeing is like. It is nothing..."

A Separate Reality p. 150 "...By the time knowledge becomes a frightening affair the man also realizes that death is the irreplaceable partner that sits next to him on the mat."

"Every bit of knowledge that becomes power has death as its central force. Death lends the ultimate touch, and whatever is touched by death indeed becomes power."

"A man who follows the paths of sorcery is confronted with imminent annihilation every turn of the way, and unavoidably he becomes keenly aware of his death."

"Without the awareness of death he would be only an ordinary man involved in ordinary acts. He would lack the necessary potency, the necessary concentration that transforms one's ordinary time on earth into magical power."

"Thus to be a warrior a man has to be, first of all, and rightfully so, keenly aware of his own death. But to be concerned with death would force any one of us to focus on the self and that would be debilitating."

"So the next thing one needs to be a warrior is detachment. The idea of imminent death, instead of becoming an obsession, becomes an indifference..."

A Separate Reality p. 151 "Only the idea of death makes a man sufficiently detached so he is incapable of abandoning himself to anything."

"Only the idea of death makes a man sufficiently detached so he can't deny himself anything. A man of that sort, however, does not crave, for he has acquired a silent, lust for life and for all things of life. He knows his death is stalking him and won't give him time to cling to anything, so he tries, without craving, all of everything."

"A detached man, who knows he has no possibility of fencing off his death, has only one thng to be back himself with: the power of his decisions. He has to be, so to speak, the master of his choices."

"He must fully understand that his choice is his responsibiity and once he makes it there is no longer time for regrets or recriminations. His decisions are final, simply because his death does not permit him time to cling to anything..."

A Separate Reality p.151 "...His death advises him, in mysterious ways, how to choose, how to live strategically. And the warrior waits!"

"I would say that the warrior learns without any hurry because he knows he is waiting for his will; and one day he succeeds in performing something ordinarily quite impossible to accomplish."

"He may not even notice his extraordinary deed. But as he keeps on performing impossible acts, or as impossible tings keep on happening to him, he becomes aware that a sort of power is emerging."

" A power that comes out of his body as he progresses on the path of knowledge. At first it is like an itching on the belly,or a warm spot that cannot be soothed; then it becomes a pain, a great discomfort."

"Sometimes the pain and discomfort are so great that the warrior has convulsions for months, the more severe the convulsions the better for him. A fine power is always heralded by great pain..."

A Separate Reality p.153 ..."My benefactor was a sorcerer of great powers," he went on. "He was a warrior through and through. His will was indeed his most magnificent accomplishment."

"But a man can go still further than that; a man can learn to see. Upon learniong to see he no longer needs to live like a warrior, nor be a sorcerer."

"Upon learning to see a man becomes everyting by becoming nothing. He, so to speak, vanishes and yet he's there. I would say that this is the time when a man can be or can get anything he desires."

"But he desires nothing, and instead of playing with his fellow men like they were toys, he meets them in the midst of their folly. The only difference between them is that a man who sees controls his folly, which his fellow men can't."

"A man who sees has no longer an active interest in his fellow men. Seeing has already detached him from absolutely everything he knew before."

"The sole idea of being detached from everything I know gives me the chills," I said.

"You must be joking! The thing which should give you the chills is not to have anything to look forward to but a lifetime of doing that which you have always done."

"Think of the man who plants corn year after year until he's too old and tired to get up, so he lies around like an old dog. His thoughts and feelings, the best of him, ramble aimlessly to the only things he has ever done, to plant corn. For me that is the most frigtening waste there is."

"We are men and our lot is to learn and to be hurled into inconceibable new worlds."

"Are there any new worlds for us really?" I asked half in jest.

"We have exhausted nothing, you fool," he said imperatively. "Seeing is for impeccable men. Temper your spirit now, become a warrior, learn to see, and then you'll know that there is no end to the new worlds for our vision..."

A Separate Reality p. 159 ..."But in what way would seeing be different?"

"When you see there are no longer familiar features in the world. Everything is new. Everything has never happened before. The world is incredible!"

"Why do you say incredible, don Juan? What makes it incredible?"

"Nothing is any longer familiar. Everything you gaze at becomes nothing! Yesterday you didn't see. You gazed at my face and since you like me, you noticed my glow."

"I was not monstrous, like the guardian, but beautiful and interesting. But you did not see me. I didn't become nothing in front of you."

"And yet you did well. You took the first real step toward seeing. The only drawback was that you focused on me, an in that case I'm no better than the guardian for you. You succumbed in both instances and didn't see."

"Do things disappear? How do they become nothing?"

"Things don't disappear. They don't vanish, if that's what you mean; the simply become nothing and yet they are still there..."

A Separate Reality p. 163 ...I tried to focus my gaze on the water but its movement distracted me.

My mind and my eyes began to wander onto other features of the immediate surroundings.

Don Juan bobbed my head up and down and ordered me again to gaze only at the water and not think at all.

He said it was difficult to stare at the moving water and that one had to keep on trying. I tried three times and every time I became distracted by something else.

Don Juan very patiently shook my head every time.

Finally I noticed that my mind and my eyes were focusing on the water; in spite of its movement I was becoming immersed in my view of its liquidness. The water became slightly different.

It seemed to be heavier and uniformly grayish green. I could notice the ripples it made as it moved. The ripples were extremely sharp.

And then, suddenly I had the sensation that I was not looking at a mass of moving water but at a picture of water; what I had in front of my eyes was frozen segment of the running water.

The ripples were immobile. I could look at every one of them. Then they began to acquire a green phsophorescence and a sort of green fog ooozed out of them.

The fog expanded in ripples and as it moved,its greenness became more brilliant until it was a dazzling radiance that covered everything.

I don't know how long I stayed by the irrigation ditch. Don Juan did not interrupt me. I was immersed in the green glow of the fog. I could sense it all around me. It soothed me.

I had no thoughts, no feelings. All I had was a quiet awareness, the awareness of a briliant, soothing greenness...

A Separate Reality p.164 ... "Seeing is not a matter of looking and keeping quiet," he said. "Seeing is a technique one has to learn. Or maybe it is a technique some of us already know..."

A Separate Reality p. 167 ..."How is it," I said, "that the techniques of seeing have no effect on our fellow men?"

"I've told you already," he said, "Seeing is not sorcery...
"Besides, seeing is contrary to sorcery. Seeing makes one realize the unimportance of it all."

"The unimportance of what, don Juan?"

"The unimportance of everything..."

A Separate Reality p. 169 "...Is the green fog, like the guardian, something that one has to overcome in order to see?" I asked don Juan as soon as we sat down under his ramada on August 8, 1969.

"Yes. One must overcome everything." he said.

"How can I overcome the green fog?"

"The same way you should have overcome the guardian, by letting it turn into nothing..."

A Separate Reality p. 170 ..."You thought the guardian was something you know, that's what I mean."

"But I didn't think it was something I knew."

"You thought it was ugly. Its size was awesome. It was a monster. You know what all those things are."

"So the guardian was always something you knew, and as long as it was something you knew you did not see it."

"I have told you already, the guardian had to become nothing and yet it had to stand in front of you. It had to be there and had at the same time, to be nothing."

"How could that be, don Juan? What you say is absurd."

"it is. But that is seeing. There is really no way to talk about it. Seeing, as I said before, is learned by seeing."

"Apparently you have no problem with water. You nearly saw it the other day. Water is your "hinge." All you need now is to perfect your technique of seeing. You have a powerful helper in the spirit of the water hole..."

A Separate Reality p.172 I heard and understood him with extraordinary clarity. I began looking at the water fixedly, and had a very peculiar sensation of physical pleasure; and itch; an undefined happiness.

I stared for a long time but did not detect the green fog. I felt that my eyes were getting out of focus and I had to struggle to keep looking at the water; finally I could not control my eyes any longer and I must have closed them, or blinked, or perhaps I just lost my capacity to focus; at any rate, at that very moment the water became fixed; it ceased to move.

It seemed to be a painting. The ripples were immobile. Then the water began to fizzle; it was as if it had carbonated particles that exploded at once...

A Separate Reality p. 179 ...He seemed to be thinking, judging by the penetrating look in his eyes, which were fixed above the horizon...

A Separate Reality p. 180 "...A warrior does not abandon himself to anything, not even his death. A warrior is not a willing partner; a warrior is not available, and if he involves himself with something, you can be sure that he is aware of what he is doing..."

A Separate Reality p. 181 ..."It seems to me it is impossible to avoid accidents," I said. "No man can control everything around him."

"True," don Juan said cuttingly. "But not everything is an unavoidable accident. Lucas doesn't live like a warrior."

"If he did, he'd know that he is waiting and what he is waiting for; and he wouldn't have driven that truck while he was drunk. He crashed against the rock side of the road because he was drunk and mangled his body for nothing."

"Life for a warrior is an exercise in strategy," Don Juan went on. "But you want to find the meaning of life. A warrior doesn't care about meanings."

"If Lucas lived like a warrior - and he had a chance to, as we all have a chance to - he would set his life strategically. Thus if he couldn't avoid an accident that crushed his ribs, he would have found means to offset that handicap, or avoid its consequences, or battle against them."

"If Lucas were a warrior he wouldn't be sitting in his dingy house dying of starvation. He would be battling to the end..."

A Separate Reality p. 182 ..."All I can say to you," don Juan said, "is that a warrior is never available; never is he standing on the road waiting to be clobbered."

"Thus he cuts to a minimum his chances of the unforeseen. What you call accidents are, most of the time, very easy to avoid, except for fools who are living helter-skelter..."

A Separate Reality p. 185
...Don Juan must have turned my head around, for next I was looking at the chaparral. He told me not to gaze but look "lightly" at things and scan over them.

He said that he was going to stand a short distance in front of me and then walk toward me, and that I should gaze at him until I saw his glow...

A Separate Reality p. 191 ...I told him that I had almost seen him as a "luminous egg." He said that "almost" was not enough and that seeing was going to take me a great deal of time and work..

A Separate Reality p. 194 ..."I don't understand why those people talk about death as if death were like life," he said softly.

"Maybe that's the way they understand it. Do you think the Tibetans see?"

"Hardly. When a man learns to see, not a single thing he knows prevails. Not a single one."

"If the Tibetans could see they could tell right away that not a single thing is any longer the same. Once we see, nothing is known; nothing remains as we used to know it when we ddin't see."

"Perhaps, don Juan, seeing is not the same for everyone."

"True. It's not the same. Still, that does not mean that the meanings of life prevail. When one learns to see, not a single thing is the same..."

A Separate Reality p. 199 "I've told you that is is much better to learn to see. A man who sees is everything; in comparison, the sorcerer is a sad fellow..."

A Separate Reality p. 214 "It is my commitment to teach you to see. Not because I personally want to do so but because you were chosen; you were pointed out to me by Mescalito."

"I am compelled by my personal desire, however, to teach you to feel and act like a warrior. I personally believe that to be a warrior is more suitable than anything else."

"...To see without first being a warrior, would make you weak; it would give you a false meekness, a desire to retreat; your body would decay because you would become indifferent. It is my personal commitment to make you a warrior so you won't crumble."

...."The spirit of a warrior is not geared to indulging and complaining, nor is it geared only to struggle, and every struggle is a warrior's last battle on earth."

"Thus the outcome matters very little to him. In his last battle on earth a warrior lets his spirit flow free and clear. And as he wages his battle, knowing that his will is impeccable, a warrior laughs and laughs."

"It doesn't matter," he said, "If you ever learn to see. I suppose you must do it your own weird way."

A Separate Reality p. 220 "An average man doesn't do this, though. The world is never a mystery for him, and when he arrives at old age he is convinced he has nothing more to live for."

"An old man has not exhausted the world. He has exhausted only what people do. But in his stupid confusion he believes that the world has no more mysteries for him. What a wretched price to pay for our shields!"

"A warrior is aware of this confusion and learns to treat things properly. The things that people do cannot under any conditions be more important than the world.
And thus a warrior treats the world as an endless mystery and what people do as an endless folly..."

A Separate Reality p. 252 "...I told him that it had never occurred to me to associate 'seeing' with the strange noises I had heard at that time."

"And why not?" he asked flatly.

"Seeing means the eyes to me," I said.

He scrutinized me for a moment as if there were something wrong with me.

"I never said that seeing is a matter of the eyes alone," he said and shook his head in disbelief...

THE SECOND RING OF POWER"..instead of teaching me to focus my view, as gazers did, he taught me to open it, to flood my awareness by not focusing my sight on anything.

I had to sort of feel with my eyes everything in the 180-degree range in front of me, while I kept my eyes unfocused just above the line of the horizon...

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