Controlled Folly: Namaste: If Not Now, When? Chapter 23
Author’s Note: Each chapter of this book can be read as a stand-alone and it is not necessary that they be read in numerical order. All of the previous chapters are posted here in my Diaries or at my blog.
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In the previous chapter regarding laughter, I said,
“Because of his focus and detachment, however, a warrior also understands that his equally important acts are all equally unimportant.”
This statement warrants further explanation because it is so critical to a complete understanding of the warrior. It raises the following question. If all of our acts are equally important and unimportant, why should we bother with the Golden Rule? Why not be like Gordon Gecko and worship at the altar of greed, if it does not matter what we choose to do? What about morality and ethics?
The answer is controlled folly.
Although Carlos Castaneda has been discredited, he was a good writer and storyteller who had a way of expressing basic concepts that I like. Using the storyteller’s technique of a conversation between a teacher (the Yaqui shaman don Juan Matus) and his student (the author Carlos Castaneda), this is how he described controlled folly in Journey to Ixtlan (Simon & Schuster 1972).
Don Juan is speaking:
“I am happy that you finally asked me about my controlled folly after so many years, and yet it wouldn’t have mattered to me in the least if you had never asked. Yet I have chosen to feel happy, as if I cared, that you asked, as if it would matter that I care. That is controlled folly!”
We both laughed very loudly. I hugged him. I found his explanation delightful although I did not quite understand it…
“With whom do you exercise controlled folly, don Juan?” I asked after a long silence.
He chuckled. “With everybody!” he exclaimed, smiling.
When do you choose to exercise it, then?”
“Every single time I act.”
I felt I needed to recapitulate at that point and I asked him if controlled folly meant that
his acts were never sincere but were only acts of an actor.
“My acts are sincere,” he said, “but they are only acts of an actor.”
“Then everything you do must be controlled folly!” I said truly surprised.
“Yes, everything,” he said.
“But it can’t be true,” I protested, “that every one of your acts is only a controlled folly.”
“Why not?” he replied with a mysterious look.
“That would mean that nothing matters to you and you don’t really care about anything or anybody. Take me, for example. Do you mean that you don’t care whether or not I become a man of knowledge, or whether I live, or die, or do anything?”
“True!” I don’t. You are like Lucio [another one of don Juan’s students] or everybody else in my life, my controlled folly.”
“I experienced a peculiar feeling of emptiness…”
Controlled folly does not mean that nothing matters to a warrior. On the contrary, it means that a warrior acknowledges that he does not know all the questions, much less the answers to all of life’s complexities and mysteries.
He embraces the unknown and unknowable, remaining fluid and flexible instead of pretending that he knows everything as he exhausts his power building and maintaining castles made of fog.
A warrior gathers power by acting impeccably. He chooses what to be and what to do, according to a set of values and principles that he chooses for himself, just as I have chosen to make the Golden Rule the centerpiece of my value system.
He plays for keeps using his personal power in a clear and focused manner to accomplish his goals because, with death at his shoulder he knows that it does not make any sense to spend this precious lifetime acting in an unfocused and haphazard way.
Yet, at the same time, because he knows that he does not have all the answers, he realizes that nothing he does may matter in the big picture. To use another example, he chooses to regard a glass as half-full rather than half-empty, because that choice is empowering and gives him hope.
It is about perspective, in other words. He chooses the empowering optimistic perspective without regret assuming full responsibility for his choices and acts even as he realizes that it may be folly to do so.
Thus, a warrior chooses to live his life on the brink of death and he laughs as he leaps into the unknown.
Cross-Posted at my blog and the Smirking Chimp.
Namaste: If Not Now, When? Is my intellectual property. I retain full rights to my own work. You may copy it and share it with others, but only if you credit me as the author. You may not sell or offer to sell it for any form of consideration. I retain full rights to publication.
My real name is Frederick Leatherman. I was a criminal-defense lawyer for 30 years specializing in death-penalty defense and forensics. I also was a law professor for three years.
Now I am a writer and I haul scrap for a living in this insane land.