2. Fact or fiction?

Did he ‘dream it all up’ or did it all ‘actually’ happen, i.e. were the accounts in Carlos’s Castaneda’s books of the extraordinary encounters and events he experiences pure ‘fiction’ or ‘verifiable’ fact? The problem is that in the entire history of this so-called ‘controversy’ it does not seem to have occurred to any would be Castaneda critic or debunker – or even most Castaneda fans or followers - that the question itself runs directly counter to what is perhaps the most essential and important message of the teachings he imparts. This message is that so-called ordinary ‘objective’, ‘factual’ or ‘waking life’ events, which I will  term here ‘outer events’, are - just like dream events themselves - nothing but surface expressions and symbols of what can be called ‘inner events’, i.e. events occurring at a deeper level of awareness than either the waking or dream state. 

Just as dream events may soon fade in our recollection without our ever having recalled them in full – let alone learned  from all their inner dimensions of meaning – so too can waking life events. Indeed a principal reason why we dream at all is precisely to gain a deeper awareness of the inner meaning of even the most apparently mundane or insignificant elements of waking life events. In other words, it is precisely through dreaming that we gain access to those inner events, experiences and dimensions of reality of which so-called ‘real life’ waking events are also an expression – albeit a far more superficial and perceptually restricted one.

The most important ‘fact’ pointed to by the teachings communicated by Carlos Castaneda therefore, is that except in states of what he calls “heightened awareness” we are for the most part not awake at all but rather entirely asleep to the inner dimensions of meaning and reality expressed in so-called ‘real life’ or ‘waking life’ events.

That is why we need great philosophers and mystics, great sorcerers or ‘seers’ – and not least great artists, musicians and writers – in short, great ‘men of wisdom’ (‘Toltecs’) who perceive and conceive from a state of heightened awareness. They are needed precisely to help us to more fully recollect the true nature of reality and the true meaning of everyday encounters, events and experiences.

That is also why ‘recollection’ becomes such a central word, concept - and practice - in the Castaneda books. For in his books themselves, Castaneda admits to it having taken him years just to fully recollect the enormous and mysterious inner dimensions of his first brief and seemingly casual bus-station encounter with the Yacqui-Indian-Toltec ‘sorcerer’ called ‘Don Juan’ or ‘Juan Matus’.

From this perspective it makes not a whit of difference whether Castaneda can or cannot be ‘proved’, for example, to not ‘actually’ have ‘been’ in Mexico at the time of some of his reported meetings with the shaman or ‘nagual’ Juan Matus and those belonging to his party of apprentice sorcerers. For as Castaneda himself writes in the preface to his book ‘The Fire Within’:

“…an inherent quality of heightened awareness is that it is not susceptible to normal recall. What transpires in such a state becomes part of the sorcerer’s everyday awareness only through a staggering effort of recovery.”

“My interaction with the nagual’s party was an example of this difficulty of recall. With the exception of don Genaro, I had contact with them only when I was in a state of heightened awareness; hence in my normal everyday life I could not remember them, not even as vague characters in dreams.”

He goes on to write that:

“The manner in which I met with them every time was almost a ritual. I would drive to don Genaro’s house in a small town in the southern part of Mexico. Don Juan would join us immediately … make me change levels of awareness and then we would drive to a larger nearby town where he and the other fifteen seers were living.”

If there is a deep and genuine question left to us by the legacy of Castaneda’s literature and lineage it has the nature of a fundamental and seemingly insurmountable paradox which not even Castaneda himself is able to entirely escape from in his writings. The paradox is that if waking life events are no more essentially ‘real’ than dream events, but merely a specific type of ‘dream within a dream’, then even the seemingly everyday side of Castaneda’s accounts (for example driving to don Genaro’s house in southern Mexico at certain times) can no more be ‘factually’ proven or disproven than can a dream – or any experienced or recalled event. For all experiencing is, by its nature, essentially subjective - and therefore not subject to proof or disproof by another individual’s experiencing. Thus even Castaneda’s own apparent distinction between everyday events and those occurring in states of “heightened awareness” serves essentially and principally to distinguish two basic modes or states of awareness - only one of which however (everyday waking consciousness) is taken as the standard or measure (Latin ratio) for what constitutes reality as such or per se (this being seen, for example as more fundamentally ‘real’ than dreaming consciousness). All the more interesting then, that in Castaneda’s definition of ‘sorcery’ as “the mastery of awareness”, a key practice is called “the art of dreaming” or “dreaming awake”. This is what is generally referred to as ‘lucid dreaming’ – the aim of which is to come awake within one’s dreams in the sense of coming to a full awareness that one is dreaming - and thus also far greater freedom to influence the course of one’s dreams. And yet what most essentially characterises the ‘lucidity’ of a ‘dream’ is not only its vivid intensity or even the freedom of action it facilitates but something that this ‘art of dreaming’ shares with our experience of all that we call ‘art’. For whether we choose to view a painting or sculpture in the space of a gallery, to listen to music in the space of a concert hall, to participate in a religious ritual in a sacred space - or simply and consciously take time - even in the space of our own rooms or houses, to immerse ourselves in any form of aesthetic experiencing – one thing is shared in common by all these forms of intentional activity and experiencing. This is that we do not simply ‘lose ourselves’ in whatever we may choose to experience, as we may lose ourselves in more mundane activities. Instead, and by virtue of allotting the experience a specific time and space, we remain both strongly aware of experiencing and at the same time able to more consciously and deeply immerse ourselves in whatever it is we choose to turn into a fixation point of awareness.

I would suggest that this combination of experiencing something on the one hand and, on the other hand, being in a state of heightened awareness of experiencing it - is central to what we call ‘art’ or ‘aesthetic’ experiencing in general.  It is like the difference between anything going on or present within a given space and that space as such.  For just as space is both absolutely inseparable from everything within it and the same time absolutely distinct from it, so also is awareness per se both absolutely inseparable and absolutely distinct from everything we experience or are aware ‘of’.  Indeed we experience awareness per se or ‘as such’ as space – which is essentially nothing ‘objective’ and no ‘thing’ but a spacious field of awareness, of subjectivity, surrounding and pervading everything we experience within it. That is why, in the course of lucid or ‘aware’ dreaming, space as such attains a heightened significance – whether through broad and often stunning spatial vistas and the lucid visions beheld within them, or through the experience of flying dreams. 

Note: Awareness, as emphasised in Castaneda’s books, embraces many worlds and dimensions beyond what we take as ‘the’ world. It is in these other dimensions of awareness that he now dwells. Long after his ‘death’ however I myself used methods uniquely my own to attune to and enter the dimension of awareness in which he continues his journey and engage in trance communication with his living soul. In the course of this wordless communication he revealed to me that the very ‘controversy’ around his books, which continued after his death, was - even before his birth – anticipated and even pre- intended to offer a riddle to his readers, one which actually held the key to the inner message and inner truth of his life and works.  


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