How do we deal with the “realness” of our lives? Don Juan advises us.
“Maya” is a concept many of us are familiar with. If we are learning and studying spirituality within an Eastern (India-originating) milieu we may get hit with this idea over and over, so much so we might become frustrated with it and it’s obscurity. So here’s another take on it that may help.
“Maya” is the idea that the world that our senses perceive is an illusion. Going beyond “maya” is synonymous with “waking up” or “liberation” in that it means that we are no longer fooled by our senses. But understanding exactly what this all means is no easy task as many who have tried can testify. It really seems that our lives are “real” and if they are not, then what is?
If you have heard of “maya” and have wondered about it then perhaps Don Juan’s take on the idea can help. Don Juan also taught Carlos Castaneda (as he reported in his books) that the world is not real in the sense that we take it to be but his explanation is a little different than others. The crux of Don Juan’s argument about the “reality” of the world hinges on the importance of perception. Don Juan said that perception is everything and if we perceive something in a certain way we are fixing it in that way but it is not that way inherently. Therefore, according to Don Juan, we are a victim of our our way of perceiving if we perceive ourselves to be limited in some way or if we perceive the world to be against us in some way. Neither we are nor is the world necessarily so, but our perception creates that “reality.” So, Don Juan explains that the world is not “real” in the way that we perceive it to be. It is, in fact, much more flexible, inclusive than our perception may define it.
Don Juan attributed the pattern of our perception to a particular attribute that we each carry called the “assemblage point.” For Don Juan, all sensory data goes through this point and how we interpret that data is the determined by the point’s functioning. If that assemblage point is locked into place, the same place for everyone, then life takes on the appearance of a fixed “reality” that everyone can universally verify. This is what “maya” means for Don Juan: the illusion of a fixed set of possibilities for life, shared by everyone and defended by everyone. Don Juan’s actual words were,
“The position of the assemblage point is everything, and that the world it makes us perceive is so real that it does not leave room for anything except realness.” pg. 216
This is a beautiful way of describing “maya.” Because perception has been almost universally fixed to the same methods and parameters, the world has taken on fantastically solid, incredibly “real,” qualities. That “realness” is, however, nothing other than the product of our choices to live within carefully defined limitations. As a species we have chosen to limit ourselves in order to bond together within a common “reality.” We therefore now live within a prison of our own chosen patterns of perception.
Don Juan doesn’t stop there, fortunately, leaving us helplessly depressed by the knowledge that it is our own inherited patterns of perception that doom us to a life tricked by “maya.” He teaches the importance of sadhana, or sustained spiritual practice in order to accomplish a switch in the way that we perceive.
The real obstacle to “switching” in this way, ironically, is another inherited element of our consciousness that does not want to switch. In other words, a very strong part of our mind is addicted to the solidity of the “reality” in which we live and doesn’t want to “realize” its illusive nature. Don Juan says,
“The strangest part of this mystery [of “maya”] is that the change [“waking up”] is so easy to accomplish [at least momentarily]. But what is not so easy, is to convince ourselves that it is possible. There, right there, is our safety catch. We have to be convinced [that life is more than what we have been taught it is]. And none of us wants to be.”
Don Juan identifies our need for “safety” as the main obstacle to switching our perception into a more expanded one. We have agreed not to expand our consciousness in exchange for a sense of “safety.” Possibly, this can be summarized by that age old saying, “The devil that we know is better than the devil that we don’t.” We don’t want an expanded consciousness because the one we have feels difficult enough.