Path With A Heart [83]

By Dr. Keith Witt
April 24, 2013
Back in the 60’s there was a UCLA anthropology student named Carlos Casteneda who wrote his master’s thesis about his many conversations and psychedelic adventures with a Native American shaman named Don Juan. This work turned into The Teachings of Don Juan which became a cult classic and started a franchise of sequels that got progressively more far out as Carlos and Don Juan journeyed through bizarre and over-the-top peyote/mushroom/iayuasca landscapes peopled by mythical beings–all hanging out in the deserts of the Southwest. Spirituality plus psychedelics magnetized hippies, thrill seekers, and spiritual yearners of all sorts. To many of us disenchanted boomers, The Teachings of Don Juan woke deep hungers for wisdom traditions with balls. The organized religions we grew up with seemed weak, false and impotent in the sixties, as the media culture uncovered one institutional hypocrisy, lie, and scandal after another. Hypocritical and dogmatic BS didn’t seem to address the alarming modern world. Religious assembles couldn’t stop–and for years didn’t even condemn–racism, the draft, or the war in Viet Nam, and certainly didn’t guide us towards timeless, enchanting archetypes like warrior, healer, divine lover, woman/man of wisdom, etc. Many of us felt deep pools of knowledge rising from antiquity into the present age, and we wanted to plunge into these pools–be transformed by them. I’m staggered by the number of new wisdom traditions arising and multiplying these last seventy years. I suspect modern communication, freedom of expression, and shared universal knowledge generates cornucopias of joyful collaboration and creative friction–guaranteeing new spiritual perspectives. Occasionally, a new perspective permanently affects culture. I believe Carlos Casteneda’s worlds laid down some enduring evolutionary tracks. Ask your favorite spiritual teacher about The Teachings of Don Juan, and he or she will probably admit to being influenced in one way or another. One of my favorite stories begins with Don Juan and Carlos Casteneda talking about paths, and how warriors need deep principles and meaningful work. Carlos asks Don Juan how to find the right path. Don Juan laughs and replies he’s walked many paths, and that they’ve led him into the middle of the desert with this crazy gringo. Then he gets more serious: “A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.” I’ve played this story forward countless times to people struggling to find meaning and direction. Follow your interests and opportunities and keep paying attention to how it all feels. If a job or dream feels real and good, we’re in path-with-a-heart territory. People seem to always instinctively get this–who isn’t down with a path with a heart? I think there is an evolutionary impulse in all of us that yearns to offer joyful service, and the path-with-a-heart standard can be a North Star, guiding towards who we’re meant to be. Remember, just let yourself yearn for a path with a heart. Simply yearning moves you into path-with-a-heart territory–territory that’s not just good for you, but for all the rest of us too when you go there.

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