97: Erasing Personal History; The Immense Effort Needed To Establish Self-Pity As A Feature Of Your Island

(Tales of Power by Carlos Castaneda)

He explained that in order to help erase personal history three other techniques were taught. They were: losing self-importance, assuming responsibility, and using death as an adviser. The idea was that, without the beneficial effect of those three techniques, erasing personal history would involve the apprentice in being shifty, evasive and unnecessarily dubious about himself and his actions.

Don Juan asked me to tell him what had been the most natural reaction I had had in moments of stress, frustration and disappointment before I became an apprentice. He said that his own reaction had been wrath. I told him that mine had been self-pity.

“Although you’re not aware of it, you had to work your head off to make that feeling a natural one,” he said. “By now there is no way for you to recollect the immense effort that you needed to establish self-pity as a feature of your island. Self-pity bore witness to everything you did. It was just at your fingertips, ready to advise you. Death is considered by a warrior to be a more amenable adviser, which can also be brought to bear witness on everything one does, just like self-pity, or wrath. Obviously, after an untold struggle you had learned to feel sorry for yourself. But you can also learn, in the same way, to feel your impending end, and thus you can learn to have the idea of your death at your fingertips. As an adviser, self-pity is nothing in comparison to death.”

Don Juan pointed out then that there was seemingly a contradiction in the idea of change; on the one hand, the sorcerers’ world called for a drastic transformation, and on the other, the sorcerers’ explanation said that the island of the tonal was complete and not a single element of it could be removed. Change, then, did not mean obliterating anything but rather altering the use assigned to those elements.

“Take self-pity for instance,” he said. “There is no way to get rid of it for good; it has a definite place and character in your island, a definite facade which is recognizable. Thus, every time the occasion arises, self-pity becomes active. It has history. If you then change the facade of self-pity, you would have shifted its place of prominence.”

I asked him to explain the meaning of his metaphors, especially the idea of changing facades. I understood it as perhaps the act of more than one role at the same time.

“One changes the facade by altering the use of the elements of the island,” he replied. “Take self-pity again. It was useful to you because you either felt important and deserving of better conditions, better treatment, or because you were unwilling to assume responsibility for the acts that brought you to the state that elicited self-pity, or because you were incapable of bringing the idea of your impending death to witness your acts and advise you.

“Erasing personal history and its three companion techniques are the sorcerers’ means for changing the facade of the elements of the island. For instance, by erasing your personal history, you have denied use to self-pity; in order for self-pity to work you had to feel important, irresponsible, and immortal. When those feelings were altered in some way, it was no longer possible for you to feel sorry for yourself.”

“The same was true with all the other elements which you’ve changed on your island. Without using those four techniques you never could’ve succeeded in changing them. But changing facades means only that one has assigned a secondary place to a formerly important element. Your self-pity is still a feature of your island; it will be there in the back in the same way that the idea of your impending death, or your humbleness, or your responsibility for your acts were there, without ever being used.”

Don Juan said that once all those techniques had been presented, the apprentice arrived at a crossroad. Depending on his sensibility, the apprentice did one of two things. He either took the recommendations and suggestions made by his teacher at their face value, acting without expecting rewards; or he took everything as a joke or an aberration.

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(Encounters with the Nagual by Armando Torres)

“One piece of advice Don Juan gave us was that, during our training as warriors, we should abstain from using what he called ‘tools for the perpetuation of the self’. This category included such objects as mirrors, the exhibition of academic titles, and albums of pictures with our personal history. The sorcerers of his group took this advice literally, but we, the apprentices, didn’t care. However, for some reason, I interpreted his command in an extreme way, and from then on I did not even allow anyone to take pictures of me.”

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