Consult Your Death

“Death is our eternal companion,” explains Don Juan to Carlos Castaneda while hunting in the desert.  “It is always to our left, at an arm’s length . . . It has always been watching you.  It always will, until the day it taps you.”

Carlos Castaneda wrote a trilogy of books as part of his doctoral dissertation in anthropology at UCLA in the 1960s.  The books were a narration of his apprenticeship to Don Juan, an old Yaqui Indian, a shaman who lived in northern Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico.  The book, Journey to Itxlan, from which the quote is taken, is a summary of the lessons Castaneda learned while apprenticed to Don Juan.

Castaneda’s thought provoking books, which were not originally intended for publication, became wildly popular with youth in the 60s.  Lately, critics have claimed that his writings are inaccurate, if not complete fabrications.  Castaneda himself acknowledged that he took some poetic license in his writings.  Regardless of whether everything in his books is “true” or “accurate,” the writing is fantastical, poetic, mystical, and very dramatic.  I find his works quite thought provoking as to how we should live our lives.

“The thing to do when you’re impatient,” Don Juan continued, “is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death.  An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you.”

I was reminded of this passage the other day when a friend quite suddenly and unexpectedly died.

We all get caught up in the details and dramas of our lives, often forgetting the big, important things. As Don Juan states, “The trick is in what one emphasizes.  We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy.  The amount of work is the same.”

If you knew you were going to be “tapped” by death at any time, what would you focus on?  Family, friends, loved ones, of course.  How about enjoying the moment – the night sky, the natural landscape, a body of water.  How about your body – letting it feel like a kid, full of energy, experiencing joyful happiness in movement and sensation while doing something like making love.

While everyone knows we could be tapped by death at any time, it helps to be reminded on occasion.  We should all live as if we might die at any time.  Let’s put energy and time into activities and relationships that are most important, and discard the rest.  Let’s be aware of our very limited time in this mysterious, incomprehensible world and keep things in perspective!  Be happy, do good, and live life to the fullest!

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