Don Juan’s words can guide Seekers like the North Star
Then Jesus goes with them to a place called Gethsemane and he says to the disciples, “Sit down here while I go over there and pray.”
And taking Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to feel dejected and full of anguish. He says to them, “I’m so sad I could die. You stay with me and be alert!”
“Sorcerers believed that there is a sadness in the universe, as a force, a condition, like light, like intent, and that this perennial force acts especially on sorcerers because they no longer have any defensive shields. They cannot hide behind their friends or their studies. They cannot hide behind love, or hatred, or happiness or misery. . . .
Sadness is abstract. It doesn’t come from coveting or lacking something or from self-importance. It doesn’t come from me. It comes from infinity.”
quoting Don Juan from
“Active Side of Infinity” by Carlos Castaneda, pg. 101
Many spiritual seekers have at one time or another been slammed against a wall by a wave of sadness and under that pressure they have let go of their spiritual practices. Sadness is a common experience on the spiritual path and it is difficult to understand or to overcome. Many times we are unable to understand even what we are sad about. When we are able to feel a connection between our sadness and an event or a memory of an event we may notice that the emotion seems out of proportion to the event. Even when we have some clarity about the sadness that we are experiencing we are mostly unable to control it.
Sometimes spiritual seekers experience a strong burst of sadness that knocks them out of a newly created habit of meditation or some other yogic practice. All the enthusiasm for their new habit and for even for life itself suddenly disappear or get sucked up into some void. During these times a spiritual seeker may find him or herself slipping backwards into old habit patterns that were already recognized as unhealthy.
In my life as a spiritual seeker I have experienced this wave of sadness many times. Often it felt like a kick-back given to my spiritual life by my ego. Instead of throwing things around the room, like a two year old might, I was overwhelmed by a deep sadness that threatened to undermine everything I was working so hard to change in my life. Many times I tried to figure out what the sadness was about and where it came from. Sometimes that seemed to work. I remember, about 10 years ago, being suddenly hit by a wave of sadness after a particularly upbeat period. I had been practicing a new type of sadhana or spiritual exercise and I was happy with it and the results. Then suddenly I was weeping almost continually for three days.
That was certainly an extreme example but I remember many other times that I was meditating very strongly and regularly and then suddenly, bamb! I got hit with sadness and it made me stop my new practice. After I while I started to distrust the apparent reasons that I was feeling the sadness. Many times the reasons my emotions gave for the sadness didn’t quite add up or make sense. Often the sadness was overblown and so, it didn’t fit the reasons my mind gave. Other times the sadness was pegged to something someone else experienced. Sometimes it was connected to insults from people I didn’t even know or particularly like. Other times I felt sad because I felt I was losing something but I couldn’t identify what that was.
I had become suspicious of the excuses that my emotions were giving for my feelings of sadness. And that’s when I stumbled across this quote of Don Juan from Carlos Castaneda’s book. The more I read, thought about and analyzed this quote about sadness the more I liked it. It made sense to me. It solved so many questions I had about these experiences of sadness. It helped me to begin to view my emotional episodes from an impersonal standpoint. There is a force called sadness that exists as part of all of life. Most of the normal habits we are given by our conventional (nonspiritual) training help us to shield us from this force of sadness. It isn’t pleasant and so, we block it. But sadness is there, nonetheless, waiting for us to come out from behind our defenses. Don Juan explains that spiritual seekers voluntarily relinquish their defenses against the cosmic forces of the universe and so, we become vulnerable to bouts of intense sadness when we are most strongly engaged in our spiritual practices.
Of course, sadness is not actually harmful. Once I started to see the sadness that I would feel as a type of mud that I had walked through and that had clung to my shoes and my pants then I could experience it without much discomfort. My lack of concern over it unplugged its energy and it would soon dissipate on its own. And then I could laugh about how ridiculous the excuses had been that my mind gave for it.