bq: Carlos Castanedas

This is a piece of a book that I have been reading. This is one of the neater sections; IMHO. Anyone got any thoughts?


Excerpt from “Assuming Responsibility” from Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Castaneda. Published 1972 by Touchstone Press.

Don Juan smiled and began humming a Mexican tune.

“When a man decides to do something he must go all the way,” he said, “but he must take responsibility for what he does. No matter what he does, he must know first why he is doing it, and then he must proceed with his actions without having doubts or remorse about them.”

He examined me, I did not know what to say. Finally I ventured an opinion, almost as a protest.

“That’s an impossibility!” I said.

He asked me why, and I said that perhaps ideally that was what everybody thought they should do. In practice, however, there was no way to avoid doubts and remorse.

“Of course there is a way,” he replied with conviction.

“Look at me,” he said. “I have no doubts or remorse. Everything I do is my decision and my responsibility. The simplest thing I do, to take you for a walk in the desert, for instance, may well mean my death. Death is stalking me. Therefore, I have no room for doubts or remorse. If I have to die as a result of taking you for a walk, then I must die.

“You on the other hand, feel that you are immortal, and the decisions of an immortal man can be canceled or regretted or doubted. In a world where death is the hunter, my friend, there is no time for regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions.”

I argued, in sincerity, that in my opinion that was an unreal world, because it was arbitrarily made by taking an idealized form of behavior and saying that that was the way to proceed.

I told him the story of my father, who used to give me endless lectures about the wonders of a healthy mind in a healthy body, and how young men should temper their bodies with hardships and with feats of athletic competition. He was a young man; when I was eight years old he was only twenty-seven. During the summertime, as a rule, he would come from the city, where he taught school, to spend at least a month with me at my grandparents’ farm, where I lived. It was a hellish month for me. I told don Juan one instance of my father’s behavior that I thought would apply to the situation at hand.

Almost immediately upon arriving at the farm my father would insist on taking a long walk with me at his side, so we could talk things over, and while we were talking he would make plans for us to go swimming, every day at six A.M. At night he would set the alarm for five-thirty to have plenty of time, because at six sharp we had to be in the water. And when the alarm would go off in the morning, he would jump out of bed, put on his glasses, go to the window and look out.

I had even memorized the ensuing monologue.

“Uhm… A bit cloudy today. Listen, I’m going to lie down again for just five minutes. O.K.? No more than five! I’m just going to stretch my muscles and fully wake up.”

He would invariably fall asleep again until ten, sometimes until noon.

I told don Juan that what annoyed me was his refusal to give up his phony resolutions. He would repeat this ritual every morning until finally I would hurt his feelings by refusing to set the alarm clock.

“They were not phony resolutions,” don Juan said, obviously taking sides with my father. “He just didn’t know how to get out of bed, that’s all.”

“At any rate,” I said, “I’m always leary of unreal resolutions.”

“What would be a resolution that is real then?” don Juan asked with a coy smile.

“If my father would have said to himself that he could not go swimming at six in the morning but perhaps at three in the afternoon.”

“Your resolutions injure the spirit,” don Juan said with an air of great seriousness.

I thought I even detected a note of sadness in his tone. We were quiet for a long time. My peevishness had vanished. I thought of my father.

“He didn’t want to swim at three in the afternoon. Don’t you see?” don Juan said.

His words made me jump.

I told him that my father was weak, and so was his world of ideal acts that he never performed. I was almost shouting.

Don Juan did not say a word. He shook his head slowly in a rhythmical way. I felt terribly sad. Thinking of my father always gave me a consuming feeling.

“You think you were stronger, don’t you?” he asked in a casual tone.

I said I did, and I began to tell him all the emotional turmoil that my father had put me through, but he interrupted me.

“Was he mean to you?” he asked.


“Was he petty with you?”


“Did he do all he could for you?”


“Then what was wrong with him?”

“Again I began to shout that he was weak, but I caught myself and lowered my voice. I felt a bit ludicrous being cross-examined by don Juan.

“What are you doing all this for?” I said. “We were supposed to be talking about plants.”

I felt more annoyed and despondent than ever. I told him that he has no business or the remotest qualification to pass judgement on my behavior, and he exploded into a belly laugh.

“When you get angry you always feel righteous, don’t you?” he said and blinked like a bird.

He was right. I had the tendency to feel justified at being angry.

“Let’s not talk about my father,” I said, feigning a happy mood. “Let’s talk about plants.”

“No, let’s talk about your father,” he insisted. “That is the place to begin today. If you think that you were so much stronger than he, why didn’t you go swimming at six in the morning in his place?”

“I told him that I could not believe that he was seriously asking me that. I had always thought that swimming at six in the morning was my father’s business and not mine.

“It was also your business from the moment you accepted his idea,” don Juan snapped at me.

I said that I had never accepted it, that I had always known my father was not truthful to himself. Don Juan asked me matter-of-factly why I had not voiced my opinions at the time.

“You don’t tell your father things like that,” I said as a weak explanation.

“Why not?”

“That was not done in my house, that’s all.”

“You have done worse things in your house,” he declared like a judge from the bench. “The only thing you never did was to shine your spirit.”

There was such devastating force in his words that they echoed in my mind. He brought all my defenses down. I could not argue with him. I took refuge in writing my notes.

I tried a last feeble explanation and said that all my life I had encountered people of my father’s kind, who had, like my father, hooked me somehow into their schemes, and as a rule I had always been left dangling.

“You are complaining,” he said softly. “You have been complaining all your life because you don’t assume responsibility for your decisions. If you would have assumed responsibility for your father’s idea of swimming at six in the morning, you would have swum, by yourself if necessary, or you would have told him to go to hell the first time he opened his mouth after you knew his devices. But you didn’t say anything. Therefore, you were as weak as your father.

“To assume the responsibility of one’s decisions means that one is ready to die for them.”

“Wait, wait!” I said. “You are twisting this around.”

He did not let me finish. I was going to tell him that I had used my father only as an example of an unrealistic way of acting, and that nobody in his right mind would be willing to die for such an idiotic thing.

“It doesn’t matter what the decision is,” he said. “Nothing could be more or less serious than anything else. Don’t you see? In a world where death is the hunter there are no small or big decisions. There are only decisions that we make in the face of our inevitable death.”

I could not say anything. Perhaps an hour went by. Don Juan was perfectly motionless on his mat though he was not sleeping.

“Why do you tell me all this, don Juan?” I asked. “Why are you doing this to me?”

“You came to me,” he said. “No, that was not the case, you were brought to me. And I have had a gesture with you.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You could have had a gesture with your father by swimming with him, but you didn’t, perhaps because you were too young. I have lived longer than you. I have nothing pending. There is no hurry in my life, therefore I can properly have a gesture with you.”

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