Don Juan’s take on Maya and Perception
“The first truth of awareness is that the world out there is not really as we think it is. We think it is a world of objects and it’s not.”
“It’s not as solid and real as our perception has been led to believe, but it’s not a mirage either. The world is not an illusion as it has been said to be; it’s real on the one hand, and unreal on the other.”
“We perceive. This is a hard fact. But what we perceive is not a fact of the same kind because we learn what to perceive. Something out there is affecting our senses. This is the part that is real. The unreal part is what our sense tell us is there. . . . our senses perceive the way they do because a specific feature of our awareness forces them to do so.”
From The Fire Within by Carlos Castaneda from pg. 49.
As modern humans we know a lot about perception. Science tells us that what we consider to be our environment is not actually there in the way that our senses tell us. Something stimulates our senses and a signal is sent to our brain and that signal is interpreted as feeling water or seeing the moon. But the fact is that the snapshot which our senses take of our environment is always in the past by the time our brains interpret it as some reality or another. What we see may be already gone by the time we “see” it.
Additionally we already know that our senses can be wrong. Our nose may tell us that the food in front of us is edible and wholesome despite the fact that it contains some poison. Our eyes may send our brain signals telling us that a snake is approaching us when actually we are looking at a rolled up newspaper. Our senses can be wrong, sometimes very wrong. When ancient mariners looked out over the ocean their senses told them that there was nothing but ocean there. They didn’t know that the earth curves thereby hiding what is ahead. They didn’t know there was an island straight ahead of them because their senses couldn’t see it.
Modern science has taken this awareness of the limitations of the senses even further. We now know that our eyes see light of a very small range of possible spectrum; therefore there are many, many colors which our eyes cannot see. We call those colors radio waves or X-rays or ultraviolet and we can’t see any of them. The science of neurology today is also telling us that we can’t trust our senses with even the small spectrum of sensations that they claim to be able to see. Neurology has uncovered many types of situations in which the brain doesn’t function normally and interprets things wrongly because of a “bad wiring” so to speak. Some people who had their arm amputated are known to still “feel” and “touch” things with that arm. No, the arm is not there according to our eyes but according to their other senses it is.
Don Juan says that it all boils down to a single fact that we “perceive.” Beyond that, he says, there is a broad range of possibilities. And the most important thing about perception, Don Juan teaches, is that it is limited by our ideas about what is possible to perceive. Something in our minds, our conditioning, controls the scope of our perception in a way that is more important than the limitations of the tools of perception, our sense organs.
So Don Juan maintains that there is a real world to perceive but it is not as limited as we think. He teaches that in order to see more of this world we need to change our minds: to turn around our conditioned beliefs about what is possible, what we, as humans, are capable of. But what do we need in order to be able to do that? Faith, of course.
We must have some faith in order to leave behind the limited but cozy-because-familiar picture of what the world actually is. And where does this faith come from? For Don Juan, faith is the logical conclusion to a careful consideration of the facts of life. He teaches that if you look closely at life you see two main things. First you see that death is the irrevocable end of life and second you see that your life doesn’t seem to be worth very much in the big picture of things. You live and you die, and life goes on, virtually unaffected. The only rational response to this situation is faith, Don Juan teaches, because anything else is in alignment with death. To come into alignment with death makes no sense, Don Juan teaches, because death is already the only thing we know for sure coming, so to hasten it is to bargain away our only asset.
Out of those conclusions Don Juan teaches that we must choose faith, drop our sense of self-importance, become humble, take responsibility for our life and carefully review our conditioning in order to root out its weeds. Don Juan taught that a careful review of our life can see where we have been given ideas that are limiting, dogmatic and arbitrary. Without these ideas and without the heavy ballast of our self-importance, Don Juan teaches, our senses can take a leap into the unknown.