Human beings are creatures of habit. We seek refuge in an uncertain world by developing all kinds of humdrum routines – big and small. We impart stability and coherence to our life by staying plugged into some social network, eating at regular hours, engaging in small-talk with loved ones or even strangers, meticulously scheduling daily chores – all in the desperate desire to fill that void within. One of the object lessons that we gain from Castaneda’s books is the necessity of giving up attachment to such routines. That doesn’t necessarily imply that one must become erratic in conduct; it’s just that one must stop being an automaton.
Every habit is an example of the subjugation of one part of the consciousness to another. When the mind is tired, it recedes and lets the body unconsciously eat or drink with abandon. Similarly when the body is tired, the mind seeks to unwind itself in incoherent chatter. There is conscious energy locked up in such habits which has to be recovered in order to establish a concrete immobility throughout the consciousness.
Early on in their association, Don Juan relates to Carlos Castaneda the importance of breaking down such routines. This is from the chapter “Disrupting the routines of life” in the book Journey to Ixtlan
He (Don Juan) explained that he had deliberately tried to scare me out of my wits with the heaviness of his unexpected behavior because I myself was driving him up the walls with the heaviness of my expected behavior….
“You worry about eating every day around noontime, and around six in the evening, and around eight in the morning,” he said with a malicious grin. “You worry about eating at those times even if you’re not hungry.”…
“You have observed the habits of animals in the desert. They eat or drink at certain places, they nest at specific spots, they leave their tracks in specific ways; in fact, everything they do can be foreseen or reconstructed by a good hunter. As I told you before, in my eyes you behave like your prey. Once in my life someone pointed out the same thing to me, so you’re not unique in that. All of us behave like the prey we are after. (1)
Don Juan suggests starting the process of breaking habits by not taking lunch at a fixed hour. One could eat only after hunger builds up in the body, manifesting in the form of salivation in the mouth, the eager contraction of the stomach muscles, and the twitching in the throat. Some of these aspects have been discussed in previous posts (Transcending the work-leisure cycle, How to eat like a Yogi, How to cultivate the state of witness consciousness)
The energy locked up in sustaining routines gradually gets depleted as one starts touching the vast immobility within during deeper phases of meditation. Later on in his apprenticeship, Carlos Castaneda experienced the unsettling effect that such spiritual progress can have on social life. In the passage below, he discusses the quandary he found himself in when, after having left the house of his teacher to go back to his previous “normal life”, he had the sudden realization that his old habits had been purged from his consciousness. This episode recalls to mind the verse from the Gita, pregnant with meaning, which states “That which is day to the many is night to the sage; that which is night to the many is day to the sage“. (Gita 2:69). Day and night become reversed when the inner life comes alive (like the day) and, consequently, the outer life begins to feel dull (as the night). This verse has been discussed in a previous post.
The following passage is from Castaneda’s Tales of Power
I left his (Don Juan’s) house and drove away with a mixture of sadness and happiness. I was sad to leave Don Juan and yet I was happy to be through with all his disconcerting activities. I thought of Los Angeles and my friends and all the routines of my daily life which were waiting for me, those little routines that had always given me so much pleasure. For a while I felt euphoric. The weirdness of don Juan and his life was behind me and I was free.
My happy mood did not last long, however. My desire to leave Don Juan’s world was untenable. My routines had lost their power. I tried to think of something I wanted to do in Los Angeles, but there was nothing. Don Juan had once told me that I was afraid of people and had learned to defend myself by not wanting anything. He said that not wanting anything was a (spiritual) warrior’s finest attainment. In my stupidity, however, I had enlarged the sensation of not wanting anything and made it lapse into not liking anything. Thus, my life was boring and empty.
He was right and as I zoomed north on the highway the full impact of my own unsuspected madness finally hit me. I began to realize the scope of my choice. I was actually leaving a magical world of continual renewal for my soft, boring life in Los Angeles. I began to recollect my empty days. I remembered one Sunday in particular. I had felt restless all day with nothing to do. No friends had come to visit me. No one had invited me to a party. The people I wanted to see were not home, and worst of all, I had seen all the movies in town. In the late afternoon, in ultimate despair, I searched the list of movies again and found one I had never wanted to see. It was being shown in a town thirty-five miles away. I went to see it, and hated it, but even that was better than having nothing to do.
Under the impact of Don Juan’s world, I had changed. For one thing, since I had met him I had not had time to be bored. That in itself was enough for me; don Juan had indeed made sure I would choose the warrior’s world. I turned around and drove back to his house. (2)
- Jnana Yoga : the ego blocks that have to be dissolved
- Developing one’s own spiritual atmosphere (Gita 3:17)
- The rationale behind vegetarianism
- Stabilizing the body before meditation
- The transmutation of sexual energy
- Sublimating the sexual urge through Yoga
- Signs of spiritual apitude
- Why does Yoga give you a “high”?