April 13, 2021

A Path with a Heart


Many of you have probably read the Carlos Castaneda series about his apprenticeship to a Yaqui Indian shaman, "Don Juan." Although Carlos' critics attacked the books for being fictional, I personally know from an inside source that the first two in the series were real, although Don Juan was actually living on the outskirts of LA, and that Carlos would visit him on weekends while he was a student at UCLA. That notwithstanding, many of us were taken by the epistemological challenge posed by the first book (late sixties), The Teachings of Don Juan. Carlos began with a quote from DJ:

"Before you embark on any path ask the question: Does this path have a heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose another path. The trouble is nobody asks the question; and when a man finally realizes that he has taken a path without a heart, the path is ready to kill him. At that point very few men can stop to deliberate, and leave the path."

As I demonstrate in Why America Failed,settlers on the American continent, several centuries ago, came to Robert Frost's "Road Not Taken," and sad to say, they, and what became the United States, took the path without a heart. And so we are witnessing the results today; the chickens are coming home to roost. Not only are we killing each other off with a vengeance that is breathtaking, and imposing this violent way of life on other nations (or trying to); it is also the case that every day seems to turn up another murder that is gruesome. We stuff babies into garbage cans, or snuff out innocent animals, or the cops gun down unarmed civilians and then lie about it. The list goes on and on. Meanwhile, as Ronald Dworkin and Paul Fussell pointed out years ago, we are wallowing in corruption: literally every institution is riddled with fraud, and the sabotaging of those institutions for personal gain.

Our path without a heart is hustling, competition, and personal advantage. You can even see this in popular sitcoms, or in the way high school students relate to one another. There was no interest in the Yaqui path, or any Native American path; instead, we just butchered all of those people and stuck them in reservations, out of sight, so we could get on with 'progress'. That, as a few dissident voices tried to tell us, was a path with a heart; we weren't interested. And thus, as Don Juan told Carlos, the path is ready to kill us; is killing us, to be more precise. You don't destroy the sacred and get off scot-free; that's not how the world works. America is just now discovering how the world works, and it is hardly working in its favor. Our time, and our way of life, are fast running out.

Happily, for the few who still care, there are voices out there who talk about the path with a heart. And although, as DJ said, there are very few who can leave the heartless path and switch courses in midstream, at least they exist--as E.M. Forster told us in his essay, "What I Believe." Beat poet Lew Welch put it this way:

"What strange pleasures do they get who’d Wipe whole worlds out, ANYTHING To end our lives, our wild idleness? But we have charms against their rage– must go on saying 'Look, if no one tried to live this way, All the work of the world would be in vain.' And now and then a son, a daughter hears it. Now and then a son, a daughter gets away."

You be that son, that daughter, amigo/a; you get away.