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49: The Great Garrick; Sadness in the Universe as a Perennial Force

(The Wheel of Time by Carlos Castaneda)

“Sorcerers face things in a different way,” don Juan continued. “Since they don’t have any time to spare, they give themselves fully to what’s in front of them. Your turmoil is the result of your lack of sobriety. You didn’t have the sobriety to thank your friend properly. That happens to every one of us. We never express what we feel, and when we want to, it’s too late, because we have run out of time. It’s not only your friend who ran out of time. You, too, ran out of it. You should have thanked him profusely in Arizona. He took the trouble to take you around, and whether you understand it or not, in the bus depot he gave you his best shot. But the moment when you should have thanked him, you were angry with him – you were judging him, he was nasty to you, whatever. And then you postponed seeing him. In reality, what you did was to postpone thanking him. Now you’re stuck with a ghost on your tail. You’ll never be able to pay what you owe him.”

I understood the immensity of what he was saying. Never had I faced my actions in such a light. In fact, I had never thanked anyone, ever. Don Juan pushed his barb even deeper. “Your friend knew that he was dying,” he said. “He wrote you one final letter to find out about your doings. Perhaps unbeknownst to him, or to you, you were his last thought.”

The weight of don Juan’s words was too much for my shoulders. I collapsed. I felt that I had to lie down. My head was spinning. Maybe it was the setting. I had made the terrible mistake of arriving at don Juan’s house in the late afternoon. The setting sun seemed astoundingly golden, and the reflections on the bare mountains to the east of don Juan’s house were gold and purple.

The sky didn’t have a speck of a cloud. Nothing seemed to move. It was as if the whole world were hiding, but its presence was overpowering. The quietness of the Sonoran desert was like a dagger. It went to the marrow of my bones. I wanted to leave, to get in my car and drive away. I wanted to be in the city, get lost in its noise.

“You are having a taste of infinity,” don Juan said with grave finality. “I know it, because I have been in your shoes. You want to run away, to plunge into something human, warm, contradictory, stupid, who cares? You want to forget the death of your friend. But infinity won’t let you.” His voice mellowed. “It has gripped you in its merciless clutches.”

“What can I do now, don Juan?” I asked.

“The only thing you can do,” don Juan said, “is to keep the memory of your friend fresh, to keep it alive for the rest of your life and perhaps even beyond. Sorcerers express, in this fashion, the thanks that they can no longer voice. You may think it is a silly way, but that’s the best sorcerers can do.”

It was my own sadness, doubtless, which made me believe that the ebullient don Juan was as sad as I was. I discarded the thought immediately. That couldn’t be possible.

“Sadness, for sorcerers, is not personal,” don Juan said, again erupting into my thoughts. “It is not quite sadness. It’s a wave of energy that comes from the depths of the cosmos, and hits sorcerers when they are receptive, when they are like radios, capable of catching radio waves.”

“The sorcerers of olden times, who gave us the entire format of sorcery, believed that there is sadness in the universe, as a force, a condition, like light, like intent, and that this perennial force acts especially on sorcerers because they no longer have any defensive shields. They cannot hide behind their friends or their studies. They cannot hide behind love, or hatred, or happiness, or misery. They can’t hide behind anything.”

“The condition of sorcerers,” don Juan went on, “is that sadness, for them, is abstract. It doesn’t come from coveting or lacking something, or from self-importance. It doesn’t come from me. It comes from infinity. The sadness you feel for not thanking your friend is already leaning in that direction.”

“My teacher, the nagual Julian,” he went on, “was a fabulous actor. He actually worked professionally in the theater. He had a favorite story that he used to tell in his theater sessions. He used to push me into terrible outbursts of anguish with it. He said that it was a story for warriors who had everything and yet felt the sting of the universal sadness. I always thought he was telling it for me, personally.”

Don Juan then paraphrased his teacher, telling me that the story referred to a man suffering from profound melancholy. He went to see the best doctors of his day and every one of those doctors failed to help him. He finally came to the office of a leading doctor, a healer of the soul.

The doctor suggested to his patient that perhaps he could find solace, and the end of his melancholy, in love. The man responded that love was no problem for him, that he was loved perhaps like no one else in the world. The doctor’s next suggestion was that maybe the patient should undertake a voyage and see other parts of the world. The man responded that, without exaggeration, he had been in every corner of the world. The doctor recommended hobbies like the arts, sports, etc. The man responded to every one of his recommendations in the same terms: He had done that and had had no relief. The doctor suspected that the man was possibly an incurable liar. He couldn’t have done all those things, as he claimed. But being a good healer, the doctor had a final insight. “Ah!” he exclaimed. “I have the perfect solution for you, sir. You must attend a performance of the greatest comedian of our day. He will delight you to the point where you will forget every twist of your melancholy. You must attend a performance of the Great Garrick!”

Don Juan said that the man looked at the doctor with the saddest look you can imagine, and said, “Doctor, if that’s your recommendation, I am a lost man. I have no cure. I am the Great Garrick.”


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