This is a rough summary of a path described by the Yaqui Native American known as Don Juan, and related by a young anthropologist, Carlos Castaneda in The Teachings of Don Juan.
Don Juan describes four stages of development as four enemies. He calls the person who has surpassed all four a person of knowledge, a kind of sage. In words from another philosophy, an enlightened one.
The first enemy is fear.
Fear is a terrible enemy that betrays and entangles one like brambles, thorns, and thistles. It hides at every turn, at every bend in the road, stalking, waiting for us.
A person who runs from fear, who fails to undertake anything worthwhile because they are afraid, becomes wicked, or cowardly, or simply inoffensive and without consequence– in any case, a person defeated.
To defeat fear, we must not run. We must face our fear and follow one step after the other in learning. One step, and then another, always forward, advancing in spite of our fear. We must be full of fear and not stop. This is a rule.
There comes a time when fear retreats. We begin to feel sure of ourselves. Our purposes are fortified. Learning is no longer a terrifying task. We are no longer afraid to attempt new undertakings. Our attempts are no longer terrifying.
Once we have conquered our fear, we are free from it forever, for the rest of our lives. In its place we acquire a clarity of mind that erases fear. We know our desires and how to satisfy them. We are able to foresee new paths to learning. A crystal clarity surrounds everything. We feel that nothing is hidden from us.
The next enemy is clarity.
Clarity, hard won, conquers fear but also dazzles. It causes a person to lose self doubt. It provides confidence and assurance because everything is seen clearly. We have courage and are not deterred.
Yet all is an error. All that is clearly seen is also incomplete. When we achieve this illusion of power, we might succumb to this second enemy and become unable to learn.
A person who has succumbed to clarity will hurry when they should be patient, or act patiently when they should make haste. They toy with learning until they finish, incapable of learning anything more. They become either warlike, violent and impulsive; or foolish, like a clown, giddy. They never lose their hard won clarity or fearlessness, but they lose their longing to learn.
To defeat clarity we must do the same as with fear. We must challenge our clarity and use it only to see, to be patient and measure our steps. We must be conscious above all that our clarity is an illusion.
There will come a moment when we understand that clarity is only a point before our eyes. Then we will have vanquished our second enemy, and arrive at a place of resiliency, where nothing can harm us.
This is not error nor illusion, not solely a point before our eyes, but true agency. We know that the agency to accomplish things is ours at last. We can do with it what we want. It is available at our service. Our desire is the rule.
With agency comes the enemy of power.
As clarity was dazzling, so is power. One feels invincible, begins to take calculated risks, and stops following the rules. One becomes enchanted by one’s power.
Thus a person can again be defeated and become cruel or capricious. They end without ever knowing truly how to manage their power. Power is a burden on our destiny. A person who does not attain control over it cannot know how or when to use it.
We must defeat power with intention. We must arrive at the realization that the power we have acquired is nothing in truth. We have to keep it corralled at all times, managed with care and faith in all that we have learned. We must see that, without control over them, clarity and power become the worst of our errors. Then we know how to use our power.
Our fourth and final enemy is age.
Age is the cruelest of all enemies and the only one that we cannot defeat completely. We can only scare it off for a short time.
We feel a constant desire for rest. A person who gives in to the desire to lie down and forget becomes lulled to sleep. They might feel the desire to coast, to let the world take care of itself. They might feel that their aims are not so important after all. They become reduced to weak old creatures, finished and abandoned.
To defeat this last enemy, we must shake off our fatigue and live our destiny. Only then can clarity, power, and knowledge serve.
Know that these things face us at every undertaking. First fear of beginning, of taking the first steps. Once we have taken the first steps and fear subsides, clarity can blind us and make us act without measure. Measuring our steps, we find mastery. In mastery, we can become capricious. When we remember our good intentions and apply our mastery with control, we face the constant desire to rest. Not letting go, we remain on the path to fulfillment.
If we give in to fear, we will never conquer it. We will be afraid to learn and never return to the test. But if we face our fear and continue daring ourselves to take the first steps, to learn, to see where it takes us, then we have not lost.
And what is the thing, I will add? Here fear is our friend. That thing that we most fear, the worthwhile undertaking that we are most afraid to start, that’s it. That’s the thing. Our fear points the way.