All too often when we set our sights to working for lofty goals like social and economic justice and human rights, we get tangled up in the web of ‘should’ …. Woulda, coulda, shoulda … ugh. And then we start to trip over our own feet, and get mired down in guilt, frustration and anger. Well, I do anyway. Sometimes.
And then, on my better days, I remember this wonderful series of books that I read in my hippy, trippy youth. They were written by Carlos Castaneda. They were anthropology, or they were fiction; they were self help, mysticism, or not. They were a life line for me at moments, that much I am sure of. Here is an extended excerpt from “Don Juan’s Teaching”
Don Juan said: Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is that your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition.
I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question. This question is one that only a very old person asks. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young, and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is: Does this path have a heart?
All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long, long paths, but I am not anywhere. My benefactor’s question has meaning now. Does this path have a heart?
If it does, the path is good; if it does not, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart the other does not. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you. The trouble is nobody asks the question; and when a person finally realizes that she has taken a path without a heart, the path is ready to kill her. At that point very few people can stop to deliberate, and leave the path.
A path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it. For me there is only the traveling on paths that have a heart, or on any path that may have heart. There I travel… and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length. And there I travel looking, looking, breathlessly.
Don Juan, a Yaqui Sorcerer