A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda is a continuation of Castaneda’s sorcery apprenticeship begun in The Teachings of Don Juan. However, it has a very different feel to it, and is concerned primarily with the act of seeing. Like the first book, it contains further incidences of don Juan’s wisdom, and Castaneda’s stupidity. It begins with a short introduction about how Castaneda met don Juan, and is divided into two parts, the Preliminaries of “Seeing”, and the Task of “Seeing”, then ends with an epilogue.
In the introduction, Castaneda recaps the topics covered in the first book, then writes about visiting don Juan to show him the first book, which reestablished the apprenticeship, starting a second cycle which was more relaxed than the first. The goal was to teach him to “see,” which was different from “looking” in that “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 allegedly perceives the “essence” of the things of the world” (page 8). He ends the introduction with an account of a visit he made to a friend of don Juan’s, Sacateca.
Part one begins on April 2, 1968, with the details of Castaneda’s visit to don Juan after more than two years. In this first chapter Castaneda relates some observations he had made about some poor mexican children and don Juan points out his hypocrisy, then explains how a man looks when one can see him: “men are fibers of light… In touch with everything else, not through his hands, though, but through a bunch of long fibers that shoot out from the center of his abdomen. Those fibers join a man to his surroundings; they keep his balance; they give him stability” (page 23).
In chapter two we learn that “the darkness of the day” is the best time to “see.” Don Juan and Castaneda discuss why Castaneda is so fearful, why he ran, and using the “smoke” (mushroom pipe mix that gives one hallucinations). Castaneda tells of meeting don Vicente, and discovers he has wasted a gift of power. He struggles with the concept of “seeing.” Don Juan believes Castaneda has seen allies, and he is unable to grasp that allies could be seen as people in a normal setting, such as on the street.
In chapter 3, they go to another peyote mitote. Castaneda is fearful and apprehensive, and don Juan reminds him, “worry and think before you make any decision, but once you make it, be on your way free from worries or thoughts; there will be a million other decisions still awaiting you. That’s the warrior’s way” (page 47). Castaneda does not take any peyote during the mitote, yet on the third night he hears buzzing and his mother’s voice, and sees a pink glow about the participants. He comes to a realization about his feelings for his mother. Don Juan had seen light all around him during these experiences, and saw it as an omen of Mescalito’s blessing on him.
Chapter 4 is when they go to visit don Juan’s grandson, Lucio. They talk about Mescalito, and don Juan gives a nice overview of working with him. One of his friends chooses to take peyote. This strikes Castaneda, and in chapter 5 he begins by asking about it. Don Juan discusses controlled folly, which brings him to this point: when we learn to see, everything becomes equal and unimportant in its equality.
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 going anywhere; he knows, because he sees, that nothing is more important than anything else… 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 man is his controlled folly (page 85).
They visit don Genaro, a friend of don Juan, for the first time in chapter 6. They have agreed to team teach Castaneda in an effort to get him to see. They collect plants, and don Juan teaches “You must talk to the plants before you pick them… In order to see the plants you must talk to them personally… You must get to know them individually; then the plants can tell you anything you care to get to know about them” (page 94). Don Genaro pokes fun at him for taking notes. They discuss the other world, and what forms they take, and how it will be when he goes. They go on a trip, and he sees Genaro dance. He asks don Juan to teach him more about the true form of men, and the fibrous tentacles. Castaneda fails don Genaro’s final lesson.
Part two is titled The Task of “Seeing,” and begins in chapter 7 in November of 1968. Castaneda has become obsessed with his inability to see and decided that he wants to try the smoking mixture again. Don Juan thinks he is plugged up, and that this is the only way he will ever truly see and begins to introduce him to the guardian. This guardian is the gnat, and despite it’s tiny physical size, Castaneda sees it as 100 feet high. He tries it twice, and is told that “the little smoke removes the body and one is free, like the wind; better than the wind, the wind can be stopped by a rock or a wall or a mountain. The little smoke makes one as free as the air; perhaps even freer, the air can be locked in a tomb and become stale, but with the aid of the little smoke one cannot be stopped or locked in” (page 124).
In 8 they resume these these attempts, and Castaneda tries to see the guardian, learning an important lesson. 9 begins some personal work, and the discovery of an important promise made and forgotten as a child that has been causing the blockage. From it he learns something we all can take away:
It is up to us as single individuals to oppose the forces of our lives. I have said this to you countless times: Only a warrior can survive. A warrior knows that he is waiting and what is he waiting for; and while he waits he wants nothing and thus whatever little thing he gets is more than he can take. If he needs to eat he finds a way, because he is not hungry; if something hurts his body he finds a way to stop it, because he is not in pain. To be hungry or to be in pain means that the man has abandoned himself and is no longer a warrior; and the forces of his hunger and pain will destroy him (page 142).
The 10th chapter is a return to what it is to be a man of knowledge, and the warrior’s way, as well as an addition of the sorcerer’s way. This changes things; “you have no more time for retreats or for regrets. You only have time to live like a warrior and work for patience and will, whether you like it or not” (page 145). Several types of men are described, including a man of courage, a detached man, and a man who follows the path of sorcery, and a sense he gains from it- being keenly aware of his death. In 11 he sees don Juan’s face, and begins on the true path. He then encounters a water spirit, and hears a spirit catcher for the first time. He also discovers the green fog. In the next one he begins learning to face the green fog. 13th we’re back to the smoking mixture experiments, and Castaneda has a bad trip. They then discuss death, and we find out the answer to”What is Sorcery.”
“Sorcery is to apply one’s will to a key joint,” he said. “Sorcery is interference. A sorcerer searches and finds the key joint of anything he wants to affect and then he applies his will to it. A sorcerer doesn’t have to see to be a sorcerer, all he has to know is how to use his will” (page 199).
In chapter 14, Castaneda squares off once more with la Catalina (a sorceress), and is told to get a shotgun. He fails to shoot her, and tries again. He becomes fearful and is admonished:
The path of knowledge is a forced one. In order to learn we must be spurred. In the path of knowledge we are always fighting something, avoiding something, prepared for something; and that something is always inexplicable, greater, more powerful than us. The inexplicable forces will come to you (page 213).
There are a lot of little lessons in this chapter, and it explains why the next one is so short. Chapter 15 is about learning to hear sounds and communicate with nature. 16 is about seeing spirits and allies. They go on a journey to catch a spirit catcher and Castaneda had a bad experience and does not return for some time. When he finally does, don Genaro is there and they are determined to make Castaneda see- and he does.