Teachings of a Shaman: Drive Hybrids and Smart Cars

I’ve read how small car sales, including hybrids and Smart cars, are declining disproportionately to larger less fuel-efficient models in this economic downturn. As gas prices drop it seems so too go our good intentions to buy fuel-efficient vehicles to help others and the planet. As I filled my Smart car with gas this morning ($10 for about 2-3 weeks of driving), it made me think how easy it is to be lulled into complacency. It happens all the time, especially when we feel anxious as in the current climate of financial stress. In times like this, we seek what we are used to, that which is most comfortable, that which we know well.

It reminded me of a lesson found in the Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda. In that book, Don Juan, a Yaqui shaman from Mexico tells Carlos (his student) that there are four enemies of Knowledge. The four enemies of knowledge are those challenges we must overcome to gain true understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe. To Don Juan these enemies are fear, clarity, power, and ‘old age’. It is the last enemy I’ve been thinking about lately.

What is the enemy of ‘old age’? Don Juan describes it as “This is the time when a man has no more fears, no more impatient clarity of mind, a time when all his power is in check, but also the time when he has an unyielding desire to rest” (p. 65; Castaneda, 1998).

Perhaps that last enemy might also be called becoming ‘complacent in life’. As I’ve passed the 50 year mark in age, I’ve noticed times when I’m quick to ‘give up’, accept things as they are, and let things go. In Taoist teachings, ‘letting go’ may lead to following the Way, a virtue not an enemy of Knowledge. There is a subtle difference between the two. With the former there is an abandonment of interest, a complacency to just let things go because they are too difficult or challenging. With the latter there is an acceptance of things as they are that brings with it a curiosity of knowing and a connection beyond a self-centered view. The former is what Don Juan called the enemy, a ‘desire to rest’ that seduces you to cling to comfort.

We face the fourth enemy of knowledge all the time, not merely in the later stages of life. It is what may make us cease to be interested in how our actions can harm others, or cease to be curious to discover, or cease to engage in the world, reverting to a self-centered comfort zone. Today our shifting behavior of reverting back to old buying patterns in the automotive industry because gas prices have dropped may reflect ‘complacency’, this fourth enemy of Knowledge.

Perhaps if we turn our attention to what we drive especially when gas prices are dropping, it might be a valuable reminder to not let the fourth enemy of Knowledge overcome us.