Real Fiction

Exploring the nexus of reading and writing

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When Does Boyhood End?

Over the years, I have read and re-read these books:

Robert Pirsig (b. 1928) and his son Chris (1956 - 1979)

Robert Pirsig (1928-2017) and his son Chris (1956 – 1979)

There may be a common thread among all these, and there certainly is in the last two. In each of these two, an old Greek teaches a much younger Englishman how to grow up, according to each mentor’s way. In The Magus, the pupil never quite gets there.

I recently was perusing the editor’s introduction to the revised 1978 edition of The Magus where I read that Fowles was influenced in his life, generally, and for the writing of this book, by his childhood love of three books:

This lead me to look for these books on the Internet and this search brought me to an obituary of Fowles, he having died in November 2005. I hadn’t heard of his death and it briefly saddened me. I was fascinated by this obit and a book review of his biography by Eileen Warburton. Then I came upon this 1996 article by John Fowles, himself, on the influences underlying The Magus. What riches the Internet brings us!

John Fowles

John Fowles

I read the three favorite books of Fowles’s youth, the first two being much quicker reads than Great Expectations. As I began this last of the three, I was surprised to see that I had not previously read the book, despite (or perhaps because) my father carried richly-bound Dickens books with us whenever we moved, which was often. How many times have we read in general literature reference to “Miss Havisham”?

I was prepared to hurry through ‘Expectations’ as I had the other two but found myself bound to slow down to closely read the rich dialog and unsurpassed characterizations. And what characters with such names: Mr. Pumblechook, Mr. Wopsle, the heartless Miss Estella, Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt whose name we are never shown, “Old” Orlick who is not much older than Pip the young principal of this story, the hapless Pocket family, the lawyer Mr. Jaggers, and many more.

Through the reading of these books, articles, and obits I am now able to appreciate The Magus even more fully. As a sometimes writer, I find it enlightening to learn how an author’s life experiences affect his writing.

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No, I don’t mean being well-dressed and -coiffed,

or never having violated any social code. What I mean is being true, as in:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78–82

Why am I bringing this subject up here and now? A house guest, a young woman, left her book in our living room, forgetting to pack it for her trip back home to San Jose, California: The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by don Miguel Ruiz. Despite it being a best-selling book in a realm I’m interested in, I hadn’t heard of it nor of don Miguel.

As I read through it, I was instantly familiar with the “Toltec” words and phrases. This is because I had read all the books of Carlos Castaneda, the first one being, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. I had not known, or had since forgotten, that don Juan Matus, the Yaqui brujo who takes Carlos as his student, was inculcating him in ancient Toltec traditions. Now I am indelibly reminded.

One of the words and concepts I have retained from Castaneda’s books is that of “impeccability.” Paraphrasing don Juan Matus in Castaneda’s books (from memory), “a warrior must be impeccable; he must conduct himself with impeccability.” This word and concept is the first and “most important” of the “Four Agreements” which don Ruiz puts forth in his book. He states it thus: “Be Impeccable With Your Word.”

Impeccable comes from the Latin pecatus, and means “without sin.” A sin is anything you do which goes against yourself. Everything you feel or believe or say which goes against yourself is a sin. You go against yourself when you judge or blame yourself for anything. Being without sin is exactly the opposite. Being impeccable is not going against yourself. When you are impeccable, you take responsibility for your actions, but you do not judge or blame yourself…

Being impeccable with your word is not using the word against yourself… Being impeccable with your word is the correct use of your energy; it means to use your energy in the direction of truth and love for yourself…

Looking at  everyday human interactions, imagine how many times we cast spells on each other with our word. Over time this interaction has become the worst form of black magic, and we call it gossip

There is more, with plenty of advice on how to live correctly. Fundamentally, if one is true to oneself, one will not be false to others, just as in the advice cited above from Hamlet. The remaining three of the “Four Agreements” are: don’t take anything personally; don’t make assumptions; always do your best.

"The Wisdom of don Juan Matus" Xreiazomai Community

“The Wisdom of don Juan Matus”
Xreiazomai Community

Carlos Castaneda’s teacher, don Juan Matus, has much more to say about being impeccable, and carries it into extra-ordinary life, the life of a warrior and a sorcerer—but still within the same Toltec framework within which don Miguel Ruiz operates. Here are but a very few of the instructions and admonitions given by don Juan Matus to his student Carlos:

The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything either as a blessing or as a curse. A warrior must be impeccable.

Impeccability is to do your best in whatever you’re engaged in. A warrior always makes sure that everything is in proper order, not because he believes that he is going to survive the ordeal he is about to undertake, but because that is part of his impeccable behavior.

Impeccability is nothing else but the proper use of energy.

Part of being impeccable for a warrior is never to hinder others with his thoughts. The hardest thing in the world is for a warrior to let others be. The lets them be and supports them in what they are; you trust them to be impeccable warriors themselves. If they are not then it’s your duty to be impeccable yourself and not say a word. Every effort to help on our part is an arbitrary act guided by our own self-interest alone.

The only freedom warriors have is to behave impeccably. A warrior is a prisoner of power; a prisoner who has one free choice: the choice to act either like an impeccable warrior, or to act like an ass. He cannot act in any other way but impeccably. To act like an ass would drain him and cause his demise.

The self-confidence of a warrior is not the self-confidence of the average man. The average man seeks certainty in the eyes of the onlooker and calls that self-confidence. The warrior seeks impeccability in his own eyes and calls that humbleness.

A warrior is never under siege. To be under siege implies that one has personal possessions that could be blockaded. A warrior has nothing in the world except his impeccability, and impeccability cannot be threatened.

A warrior cannot be helpless, or bewildered or frightened, not under any circumstances. For a warrior there is time only for his impeccability; everything else drains his power, impeccability replenishes it.

Don Juan’s lessons to Carlos include what it is to be a sorcerer, who must also be impeccable, but he or she will not be a “prisoner” of that impeccability. These lessons go far beyond what don Miguel presents in his small but valuable book on “The Four Agreements.”

It is pleasing to know that a friend of my granddaughter, she who left her book behind, is already studying in a realm which can lead her to be a warrior, or even a sorcerer. In Castaneda’s later books it is the women he meets who are the most powerful sorcerers.

“The Four Agreements” is a worthy primer for young people who may wish later to read more deeply into the Toltec tradition, as presented by Carlos Castaneda in his books.

A compilation of all don Juan Matus’s teachings to Carlos Castaneda can be viewed here, at the site of Rick Mace.

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The Law of Service…

… and Other Findings in Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East

This is the law propounded by “Leo,” the “servant” to “H.H.” in the short novel, The Journey to the East, by Hermann Hesse. (It should be noted that “Leo” is loved by animals, as well as by his fellow humans). This is one of the books I occasionally re-read to my continuing edification and pleasure. Almost all of Hesse’s works fall into this category. Here is the passage in full regarding this “law:”

I (‘H.H.’) asked the servant Leo why it was that artists sometimes appeared half-alive, while their creations seemed so irrefutably alive. Leo looked at me, surprised at my question. Then he released the poodle he was holding in his arms and said: “It is just the same with mothers. When they have borne their children and given them their milk and beauty and strength, they themselves become insignificant and no one asks about them any more.” ‘But that is sad,’ I said, without really thinking very much about it. ‘I do not think it is more sad than all other things,’ said Leo. ‘Perhaps it is sad and yet also beautiful. The law ordains it should be so.’ ‘The law?’ I asked curiously. ‘Which law is that, Leo?’ ‘It is the law of service. He who wishes to live long must serve, but he who wishes to rule does not live long.’ ‘Then why do so many strive to rule?’ ‘Because they do not understand. There are few who are born to be masters; they remain happy and healthy. But all the others who have only become masters through endeavour, end in nothing.’

Timothy Leary, 1920-1996

The “Journey” this story nominally chronicles is a mystical one, through time and earthly space, populated with historical figures and events. This edition’s “Introductory Chapter” by Timothy Leary of LSD fame (Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out), although quite useful as a review and commentary on much of Hesse’s work, is somewhat spoiled by a clumsy attempt to imply Hesse might have used psychedelic drugs to achieve certain states depicted in some of Hesse’s writings. It seems clear to me Leary used this Introduction as a vehicle for his endless proselytizing for the asserted “spiritual” benefits of ingesting the drug. I am, reminded, however, of the statement attributed to “Don Juan Matus” in Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Castaneda, that hallucinogenic drugs were used primarily in the early stages of training because Carlos was, “really dumb,” and needed to be shocked out of his normal reality in order to accept that there may be more to the world than meets the eye. Once the reality of magic became accepted in Carlos, drug use stopped. The lion’s share of a sorcerer’s development, it was explained, could only be achieved with the clearest and most sober frames of mind. (Source). I am inclined to believe that if, indeed, Hesse achieved the transcendental states he so vividly describes, he did it through the exercise of eastern or other disciplines he is known to have studied. (A compilation of all don Juan Matus’s teachings to Carlos Castaneda can be viewed here, at the site of Rick Mace.) Here is more to consider from The Journey to the East:

The whole of world history portrays humanity’s most powerful and senseless desire—the desire to forget. Does not each generation, by means of suppression, concealment and ridicule, efface what the previous generation considered most important? Have we not just had the experience that a long, horrible, monstrous war* has been forgotten, distorted and dismissed by every nation? And nor that they have had a short respite, are not the same nations trying to recall by means of exciting war novels what they themselves caused and endured a few years ago? [*The Great War, later call World War I, or the war to end all wars].

After the first world war, Hesse moved from his home in Germany to Switzerland and remained there, becoming a citizen. He was terribly affected by the war, as was another writer of the time, Thomas Mann, evident in the latter’s novel The Magic Mountain. “H.H.” meets a writer who is writing about the Great War, just concluded. Here is what the writer tells him:

I finally wrote my war-book and…it is now read and discussed a great deal. But do you know, I do not think that ten books like it, each one ten times better and more vivid than mine, could convey any real picture of the war to the most serious reader, if he had not himself experienced the war.

Here is more that touches on how “history” is interpreted and presented:

I imagine that every historian…when he he begins to record the events of some period…wishes to portray them sincerely. Where is the center of events, the common standpoint around which they revolve and which gives them cohesion? In order for something like cohesion, something like causality, that some kind of meaning might be revealed and that it can in some way be told, the historian must invent units, a hero, a nation, an idea, and he must allow to happen to this invented unit what has in reality happened to the nameless.

The above notwithstanding, Hesse quotes himself, through his character “H.H.” from his (Hesse’s) novel Siddhartha, thus: “Words do not express thoughts very well; everything becomes immediately a little different, a little distorted, a little foolish. And yet it also pleases me and seems right that what is of value and wisdom to one man seems nonsense to another.” (The character “Siddhartha,” in the book of the same name, was a holy man who achieved enlightenment). The book ends quietly, playing a recurrent theme: “…the creations of poetry (are) more vivid and real than the poets themselves.” I wonder if the artists and others that serve us best are those that live longest? If so, does Hesse imply corporeal life as the measure? Or is the proper measure how long the “servants” live within the nervous systems of those that follow, no matter how many decades, centuries and millennia may ensue from the end of their physical lives? Many musicians (e.g., Chopin, Schubert, Mozart) lived less than 40 years, but who is to say they are not still living within us?