I think of all three of these books (The Teachings of Don Juan, and A Separate Reality come before this one), this one is my favorite. Fun side-note is that my copy came with a stock card listing the date it was originally received by the bookstore as 8-25-75, which means that the book is older than I am. It details the totality of his apprenticeship, and why he ultimately stepped away from working with Don Juan. For those of you familiar with his other two books, yes, a lot of it is repetition, but the impotant thing to note is that it is almost entirely without mention of the plants he emphasized so thoroughly. The book is divided up into an Introduction, Part One: Stopping the World (which contains the first 17 chapters), and Part Two: Journey to Ixtlan (containing chapters 18-20). A noticible difference in this one from the other two as well is the division of the chapters. In previous books he had simply numbered the chapters, including dates where relevant for his records. In this book he also numbers and includes dates, but he has also chosen to title each chapter.
In the Introduction Castaneda mentions that his apprenticeship lasted from 1961- 1971, and discusses his previous books and some of the differences he currently held from them. Originally he was intent on the drug aspect of shamanism, however in this book he talks far less about the plant use and far more about the process of altering his own reality. He discusses the indoctrination that everyone receives as a child, and that “our reality is merely one of many descriptions” (pg ix). The main premise of this book is the idea of stopping the world, the very thing that Don Juan has been trying to teach Castaneda all along. The intent behind it is to “break the dogmatic certainty, which we all share, that the validity of our preceptions, or our reality of the world, is not to be questioned” (pg xiv).
Chapter 1 is titled “Reaffirmations from the world around us,” and begins with a tale about Juan Matus, or Don Juan, and then about his first real encounters with him. The second chapter is “Erasing personal history,” and details the struggles that Castaneda had with dropping his own self-importance. The key to it is to “Begin with simple things, such as not revealing what you really do. Then you must leave everyone who knows you well. This way you’ll build up a fog around yourself” (pg 15). Chapter 3 is “Losing Self-importance.” They talk about omens, and again about the way that Castaneda feels he is the most important person in the world, with Don Juan saying “As long as you feel that you are the most important thing in the world you cannot really appreciate the world around you” (pg 23). Chapter 4 is “Death is an adviser,” in which Don Juan tries to convince him again to change.
Death is the only wise adviser that we have. Whenever you feel as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, ‘I haven’t touched you yet’ (page 34)
“Assuming responsibility” is chapter 5, and they discuss Castaneda’s relationship with his father, his doubts about his apprenticeship, and went on a hike. He reminds Castaneda that “In a world where death is the hunter, my friend, there is not time fr regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions” (pg 40), something I think we all need to remember from time to time. In chapter 6 Castaneda begins the work of “Becoming a hunter,” beginning with the challenge of finding either a beneficial or enemy spot, and the importance of feeling with the eyes. Castaneda has a knack at hunting that seems to alleviate some of his discomfort. In the 7th chapter, “Being inaccessible,” they are hunting again, and Castaneda has an encounter with an unruly wind.
Chapter 8 is “Disrupting the routines of life,” and again they are hunting, as Don Juan tries to convince Castaneda that he should break his habitual routines (such as eating at noon), and be more like a hunter, who matches his day to the habits of his prey. In the 9th chapter, “The last battle on earth,” they walk around the desert discussing Castaneda’s need for change. They confront Castaneda’s resistance to change, in particular his hesitation that seems to pervade everything he does.
A hunter gives his last battle its due respect. It’s only natural that his last act on earth should be the best of himself. It’s pleasurable that way. It dulls the edge of his fright. (pg 85)
The 10th chapter is “Becoming accessible to power,” which is accessible through dreaming. A lot of this chapter really strikes the same as lucid dreaming methods. In the 11th chapter, “The mood of a warrior,” they wander the desert again, and Castaneda is buried. More lucid dreaming techniques are covered; progress from looking at your hands to travelling to different places in particular. Chapter 12 is “A battle of power,” and Castaneda and Don Juan go hunting for power. A dream power headband is created, and Castaneda sees a bridge where no bridge existed.
“A warrior’s last stand” is Chapter 13, and they journey to a very special location for power. They seek out an omen of power, and Castaneda is suspended by a web of invisible strings Don Juan creates from strategically placed rocks. This place becomes Castaneda’s special place of power. He is told that he needs to travel there periodically for his power, and that it is the location he needs to travel to when he is dreaming, and that the place will be the place he will dance to his death. In the 14th chapter, “The gait of power,” they talk about death some more. It seems like Castaneda had as much trouble grasping the idea that death was waiting as he did everything else. They hike and spend a night out in the wild, where Castaneda learns the “gait of power,” and has a close encounter with some sort of spirit.
“Not-Doing” is chapter 15, and once again they travel to the special hilltop. Castaneda talks about his life and Don Juan recommends that he “should not have remorse for anything I had done, because to isolate one’s acts as being mean, or ugly, or evil was to place an unwarranted importance on the self” (pg 183). Not only that, but that “The trick is in what one emphasizes… We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same” (pg 184). They climb into the mountains and begin the work of not-doing, which takes quite some time for Castaneda to grasp. Eventually he is able to see the lines of power that run all over the mountains. Chapter 16 is “The Ring of Power,” and picks up where chapter 15 leaves off, still in the mountains. He again is able to see the web of light fibers or lines of power, collect a power rock, and meet some others training in the arts of power. These apprentices seem far more disciplined and dedicated than Castaneda is. “A Worthy Opponent” appears in chapter 17, the final chapter of part one. The worthy opponent is “la Catalina,” a female sorceress set by don Juan to oppose Castaneda. This chapter covers several interactions between the two, including a solo trip that Castaneda takes to a Yaqui community.
Chapter 18 is “The sorcerer’s ring of power,” and is a record of Castaneda’s interactions with don Juan and his friend, don Genaro. Don Juan brought him on in the last book (a separate reality), in an attempt to help Castaneda. He returns again here, to play a hand in helping Castaneda again. This time they take Castaneda’s car away, and no matter how hard he searches he is unable to find it, until Genaro’s hat lands on it. “Stopping the World,” is chapter 19. Castaneda comes to the conclusion that he is on par with a beetle, and has a conversation with a bi-lingual coyote. Both are evidence he has stopped the world according to don Juan.
What stopped inside you yesterday was what people have been telling you the world is like. You see, people tell us from the time we are born that the world is such and such and so and so, and naturally we have no choice but to see the world the way people have been telling us it is. (page 254)
In chapter 20, “Journey to Ixtlan,” the three of them go to the valley. Don Genaro tells Castaneda of his first time meeting his ally. For Genaro, this was the journey to Ixtlan, his home. He encounters numerous ghosts along the way that tried to sway him. They tell Castaneda that Genaro can never make it to Ixtlan, for he has left behind Ixtlan. “”Spinning with your ally will change your idea of the world,” don Juan said. “That idea is everything; and what that changes, the world itself changes”” (page 266). The book ends with the two dons leaving Castaneda to choose for himself whether he wants to face his ally or not.