I mostly read science-fiction and fantasy with the odd dip into horror, westerns, or war books. On very rare occasions I’ll read about something real (history) and then it’s always because I’m researching something for a novel. While I read primarily as an escape from reality, a great book is not one that simply takes me away. A great book is one that either teaches me something, or at least gets me thinking. It might be a new idea or a new way of looking at an old idea.
I’m currently rereading Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan series as research for a book. I read them many years ago in my twenties. They had a huge impact on me back then and it’s interesting to read them again from the viewpoint of a middle-aged dude living in suburbia with his family.
This is a series with many fantastic ideas, but there is one that has always resonated. It’s the concept of controlled folly.
One of the ideas the book discusses is that one must come to understand that importance—like beauty—is in the eye of the beholder. Nothing is in-and-of-itself important. Nothing. Not religion, not politics, not family, not the burrito you’re planning on eating for dinner. None of these things/ideas is more important than the others.
The thing is that most people don’t understand this. They don’t know that they’re making choices and believe these choices have been made for them. Which, if you don’t understand that can choose, becomes true. You hear it in their speech.
“It’s really important that Trump isn’t President.”
“It’s important I get my mortgage paid off before I’m fifty.”
“Never underestimate the importance of…”
Now believing everything is unimportant, that nothing matters, could be taken as an extremely nihilistic philosophy. It isn’t. Quite the opposite. What Castaneda suggests is that—knowing that nothing is any more important than anything else—you choose the things that are important to you. Knowing that nothing matters, you are free to pick and choose whatever you want and then pretend that it matters.
The importance lies in the understanding that none of these things matter and that you’re intentionally pretending that they do.
Understanding this will change the way you look at the world.
Step back. I’m going to stomp on some toes here. This might upset you, but it shouldn’t. You have no reason to care what I think.
Religion is unimportant. God is unimportant. Patriotism is unimportant. It doesn’t matter than you’re an American or a Canadian or a Ugandan. If you accept this, understand that these ideas hold no intrinsic importance, will you go to war for them? Of course not! Strife comes from people believing that these ideas are real, that they truly are important.
Take a look at your own life. What ideas/things are you already pretending are important? Are those choices making you happy? If not, might I suggest changing your choices, pretending other things are important. After all, if nothing is any more important and you get to choose and pretend, why not make that choice consciously?
So what books have moved you? What thoughts and ideas have stuck with you over the years?