"I interrupted him: 'If I were to tell you that I have discovered the fundamental way of life, and I could explain to you exactly how to achieve it, it would be very difficult for you to accept.' Byron nodded. Carlos nodded. And I continued, 'But if I tell you what a mysterious teacher has revealed to me, who has initiated me into some great mysteries, then it will seem more interesting. Itís much easier to accept.' LikeThe Razorís Edge, said Allen. Like Siddhartha, said Byron. Carlos nodded as if understanding perfectly."
MARGARET RUNYAN CASTANEDA: A Magical Journey With Carlos Castaneda
In the Fall of 2005 I had the opportunity to meet with and interview Margaret Runyan Castaneda, the former wife of the author Carlos Castaneda, near her home in Peoria, Arizona. The primary intent of the meeting, at least for me personally, was to erase some doubts regarding a variety of inconsistancies that continually crop up in or around almost any serious discussion related to the Informant and Carlos Castaneda as well as Castaneda's 1960 Paper on Datura.
Even though I had met Carlos Castaneda prior to Don Juan Matus ever entering the picture, that is, during the late 1950s and just into the 1960s, the same period of time Runyan met and then married Castaneda, I had never seen or talked to her prior to our 2005 meeting --- and, as fate or karma would have it, a totally unplanned meeting that came about initially through what seemed no more than a long string of unrelated events --- and far as I know, her last interview related to anything Castaneda.
In early August of 2005 a few wispy clouds, like thousands of others have over the millenniums, slauntered off the west coast of Africa into the Atlantic developing into a low pressure system that eventually formed into a tropical depression around Bermuda. From there it turned into a hurricane that crossed over Florida into the Gulf of Mexico after having been given the name Katrina. On the morning of Monday, August 29, 2005 the center of the eyewall of Katrina passed little bit east of 50 miles due south of New Orleans, Louisiana, crossing directly over the small communities of Buras-Triumph on the western side of the Mississippi River.
Watching the storm-track as it raced across the Gulf aimed directly towards New Orleans, all the while anticipating the enormous devastation and loss of lives that would eventually befall the city and the surrounding area, I volunteered with the American Red Cross to join their relief efforts in any way possible. After a medical OK, shots, fingerprints, interviews, and a couple of required, albeit quickly done back-to-back courses, in a day or two I was deployed as a national level DSHR worker in conjunction with Katrina. No sooner had I begun getting the swing of actual feet-on-the-ground intricacies involved with deployment than Hurricane Rita hit. Because of the on-rushing of Rita, already in place Katrina shelters in her potential path were evacuated and shut down. A good portion of the shelter crews from the closed sites near the area I was deployed were sent to Austin, then reassigned. Some went to the mega-shelters in Houston and Austin, others like myself put into crews starting and running short term emergency shelters north of Austin near Round Rock then, when they were no longer needed, on to new shelters being set up in the hurricane's inland destruction path along the Texas side of the Texas-Louisiana border.
Eventually my original three week deployment was edging toward six. After working three shelters putting in 18 hour plus days with no days off for Rita, I was about to be sent to Houston when I was assigned to a Red Cross Service Center in Austin. I had just come out of shelter duty from what the Red Cross calls a "primative area" because it had no running water, electricity, phones, air conditioning, showers, or gasoline. When I told the person at the assignment desk in Austin I could really make use of a laundrymat and a shower before I was reassinged, rather than send me to the mega-shelter in Houston he assigned me to the Service Center --- I mean only nine hour days with Sundays off! Talk about plush.
Finally, as things began to wind down and return to as normal as they could considering the situation, and people began regaining some manner of control over their lives, the Red Cross began finding itself with a redundant amount of material, equipment, and personnel. Some of that redundant equipment was what the Red Cross calls ERVs ---Emergency Response Vehicles. Hundreds and hundreds of ERVs had been driven from cities and areas all around the U.S. to the areas of devastation --- then, when the original crews had been rotated out with new crews made up of volunteers from almost anyplace taking over, and over time eventually less and less ERVs needed, without the original crews to return them to their homebase, hundreds of ERVs began to stack up. So said, because those ERVs without original crews needed to be returned and the cost of flying down hundreds of original drivers was way to expensive, the Red Cross began requesting already inplace individuals that were scheduled to rotate out, and willing to drive an ERV rather than fly, to do so. Since my deployment time had long since passed and driving an ERV across country sounded like a potential adventure I headed down to Houston to see if I could bag one off.
The person in charge of hooking drivers up with ERVs told me the last two ready-to-go ERVs headed in the same direction I was had just been assigned. One just left for the San Diego area, the other was leaving the next morning for northern California. He said it would be at least four, possibly five days before another west coast ERV would be fully checked out and ready to go, unless I was interested in going in some other direction, I would just have to hang out for a few days.
Before I had a chance to mull over going in another direction, the driver of the ERV heading toward northern California, overhearing my dilemma, suggested I go with him and share driving responsibilities since the distance to the ERV homebase was nearly 2000 miles away. The only thing, he said, I would have to make do sitting in the back until Kerrville, Texas, as he had promised to drop off a fellow volunteer somewhere around there who had lost her ride --- telling me in the process that she had promised him Kerrville was right on the way, somewhere up along the I-10 north of San Antonio. Since I was actually assigned to Red Cross National in Austin and not Houston, to make things uncomplicated, that night, after I happened upon two or three volunteers hiding out amongst the ERVs waiting for their rides to come up and sharing a couple of beers with them, I curled up the best I could inside an unlocked ERV and fell asleep. The next morning early I was headed north on the I-10 out of Houston.
Volunteers returning ERVs for the Red Cross have gas, food, and lodging paid for by the agency. There are a couple of hitches involved however, one being a few rules that they really don't emphasize a whole lot before you sign up to deliver an ERV. Since I wasn't an official driver I wasn't given the rules, but I was told they include such things as that you can only drive so many miles a day and then only in daylight hours. You can't purchase gas just anywhere, you can only use certain select station brands. Same with motels. If you expect the Red Cross to pick up the tab you can only stay in certain approved chains, which means one of the chain motels has to be where you end your day's travel, etc., etc., all of which requires a certain amount of planning and timing, undercutting any idea of a pure breeze in your face king of the road approach.
Two-hundred-and-sixty miles west along I-10 from Houston, all the while following the rules as layed out by the Red Cross, we arrived in Kerrville. After bidding adieu to the other volunteer I moved into the much more comfortable passenger seat. About an hour out of Kerrville, after mostly back and forth banter and small talk, the driver started telling me he had only just graduated from a major California university in June, as did his girlfriend. She went on to graduate school while he selected to go do Katrina and Rita stuff before moving on, he hoped, to a stint in the Peace Corps. His girlfriend was attending the University of Arizona in Tucson, a city we would be going through by staying on I-10. What he wanted to know was, hinting for whatever reason he didn't think I was one much for rules, would I be willing to speed up the process to get into Tucson early, stay a couple of days so he could see his girlfriend, then pick up speed on the otherside afterwards so we could catch up to be on schedule.
Seeing no real problem with his plan I just kicked back and watched mile after mile of the Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona countryside roll by. It had been well over 45 years since I had traveled across all the same states by motor vehicle, only going east then rather than west, and long before Interstate 10 was even started, let alone completed. It was the day after Thanksgiving 1958. I was riding in the cab on the passenger side of a tractor-trailer race car transporter carrying Ferraris and Maseratis to Nassau in the Bahamas for Speed Week. The driver of the transporter was none other than the top race car mechanic Joe Landaker, as reported in Of Cobras, Scarabs, Maseratis and Zen. Even though the roads and highways were nothing anywhere like the Interstates of today, and the transporter was loaded with vehicles, tires, and tools, Landaker seldom ever let the speedometer needle drop under 100 miles per hour for any length of time.
Although we traveled at nearly half the speed of Landaker on his way to Nassau, we still arrived in Tucson well ahead of schedule. I was soon introduced to the driver's girlfriend and her roommate, a longtime friend of the girlfriend that the driver knew as well. Before I had a chance to beat a hasty departure the roommate's boyfriend showed up, who of which she had only just met that September when she started graduate school. So, while the driver, his girlfriend and the roommate dwelled on-and-on into oldtimes, the roommate's boyfriend and I were left to fend for ourselves. Typically, I wouldn't care one way or the other, however when the boyfriend walked in an interesting thing happened. As he tossed his backpack onto the couch a well-worn copy of Carlos Castaneda's third book, Journey to Ixtlan, fell to the floor. When I asked him about the book he told me he was a heavy duty Castaneda fan, and an anthropology major. When I told him a onetime professor Edward H. Spicer, now deceased, and a longtime critic of Castaneda, practically founded the Anthropology Department at the University of Arizona, he told me he knew of Spicer and his works and that Spicer was one of the reasons he was doing his graduate work there. He told me he was working on a term paper on Castaneda for one of his classes and in the process of doing research discovered Castaneda's ex-wife, Margaret Runyan, lived a little over 100 miles north in the outskirts of Phoenix. Not only that he said, he had talked to her on the phone and had met her once AND was going to meet with her again in a couple of days. My jaw fell open. The last I heard Runyan had basically disappeared from the public-light, living somewhere in West Virginia. I told the boyfriend that I would very much like to go with him as Runyan and I had mutual friends and I would at least like to say hello if possible.
The boyfriend shrugged his shoulders in a it really didn't matter to him sort of way and the driver of the ERV said he had no problem staying an extra day, so on the day of the meeting I joined the roommate's boyfriend on the trip north. We left Tucson early in the morning arriving around 10:30 AM, our destination being a stripmall Starbucks adjacent to a larger mall northwest of Phoenix on W. Union Hills Drive near the 101 Freeway --- selected I was told because it was close to where Runyan lived. Runyan had already arrived, sitting at a table alone. Glancing out across the room as I walked in I didn't recognize her nor guess anybody to be her, but, since the boyfriend had met with her before he walked right up to her table.
Where I had stayed the night before there was a crime drama on TV in which the lead detective said a suspect's car was 30 years old. In my mind's eye I pictured something like a big black 1940s four-door Ford with big bulbous fenders and long running boards all along the sides. Instead, the suspect's car turned out to be a 1975 Chevy. A similar, albeit reverse misconception transpired when I first laid eyes on Runyan. While it is true years had passed since her heydays with Castaneda in the early 1960s I was actually set aback seeing her being 84 years old.
My feeling was she wasn't at Starbucks alone, that someone brought her and whoever it was, was still there or lurking close by, although all the time we talked, which was a good part of the day, nobody came up to the table nor did she look at her watch or seem to make eyecontact with anybody else in the room as though she knew them.
After introductions the boyfriend went to get iced teas all around leaving Runyan and I at the table alone for a brief time. I told her nothing of knowing Castaneda, only emphasizing having known Louis L'Amour, who she had been engaged to for a year and a half between her second marriage and her marriage to Castaneda, how L'Amour and I met and when I saw him last. I also told her I had met Clement Meighan, the person Castaneda's foremost acknowledgment went to in his first book. Just as I was to answer how Meighan and I met through a friend of my uncle, movie actress Rochelle Hudson, the boyfriend returned with the iced teas ending the conversation.
Runyan seemed to take me innocently enough from the very beginning and seemed most happy to discuss openly and freely her views on things relative to Castaneda with a graduate student so enthusiastically bent on writing a paper simply for a class. What cinched it though between the two of us, knowing she was versed in Buddhism and known at one time to be able to converse for hours on the subject, I told her I had studied under the noted Japanese Zen master Yasutani Hakuun Roshi, without favorable results I ensured her, as well as doing hard time in a Zen Monastery situated high up along the southern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau --- with a totally different set of results. With that she relaxed, seemingly as I looked at her, as though years flowed from her face, suddenly radiating a youthful ambience and giving off a striking demeanor totally undermining all of the years of her chronological age.
During the day or so period before going to see Runyan, without revealing any major connections to Castaneda, all the while trying to exhibit nothing more than a casual curiosity on my part, albeit spiking the drink, I briefed the boyfriend about a number of inconsistencies he never thought of found in Castaneda's early works that would be interesting to see how Runyan would resolve them. In the time that the two of us and Runyan talked, except for continuing interjections or questions on my part culled from things she had said --- or didn't say --- in her book during the regular flow of the conversation, the boyfriend did most of the work for me. When we got back to Tucson he dropped me off at his apartment along with his notes and took off to catch up with his girlfriend. That night, since I was crashing at his place sleeping on the floor, I had the opportunity to go over and over his notes. The next morning the ERV driver picked me up and we headed toward California and points north, never to see any of them, including the driver after I was left off, again.
What I came away with from our meeting was that Runyan did not see herself as an author, in the classical or otherwise. She was just a person caught up in events like most of us are, only in her case Carlos Castaneda was a major part of those events --- and because it was Carlos Castaneda she was caught up with, and there was so much disinformation about him she just wanted to set the record straight.
How she told it to me was that over the years she had been approached many times, some positively, some negatively, some for mere exploitation, to write a book on her association with Castaneda, some offers with pretty good up-front fees attached. Turning them all down, sometime in the early 1990s, using 8-1/2 x 14 lined yellow legal pads, she started writing stuff down as she remembered them, eventually numbering the pads as she went along 1, 2, 3, etc. As she was writing something in a higher number pad she would remember something that should have been in a lower number pad, say number 1, so she started a 1-B, 2-B, etc. After a year or two she had a whole stack of completely full pads, maybe 15 or 20, that only she could make any sense of, so she began seriously thinking she should start putting the information into actual book form. That was done by reading what she had written on the yellow pads out loud, in order, one-by-one, while somebody else typed it, then going over and over it until it sounded right.
The logistics of it all was all very interesting, but what I really wanted to know about was Clement Meighan. Meighan died in 1997. Runyan's book was published in 1996. In Runyan's case, as with almost everybody else who writes a book, there is usually a significant lead time between the time a person starts writing a book and when it gets published. Since her book was published in 1996, that would have put the main thrust of Runyan's lead time at the exact same time that Meighan and I had our face-to-face discussions. Because of those discussions, the 1960s datura information would have been right on the forefront on Meighan's thoughts --- fully resolved and hacked out, where previously it had really never carried much weight. It is quite the coincidence that the discussions Meighan and I had eventually showed up so strongly in her book AND, since publication, so many people have run with it where previously the depth of the concept layed fallow. If Runyan contacted or inteviewed Meighan regarding material prior to the publication of her book, for her book, I wanted to know.
Runyan told me she was living on the east coast with family members at the time she started her book and still did so when she seriously began devoting herself to it. At the sametime Meighan had since retired and living clear across the country in Oregon. With money short, traveling and staying any length of time to conduct any sort of an interview was prohibitive so, in lieu of a face-to-face interview, she wrote him. Although during our discussion neither of us had the full and comprehensive quote below in it's entirety with us or quickly at our fingertips, the roomate, using his laptop, Googled The Informant and Carlos Castaneda. After seeing the partial quotes used in context found in that paper, she was able to clarify for me in our discussion that the full paragraph below that she uses in quotes in her book is from Meighan personally and was something he had written himself in a several page response to her request for an interview:
"His informant knew a great deal about Datura, which was a drug used in initiating ceremonies in some California groups, but had been presumed by me and I think most other anthropologists to have passed out of the picture forty or fifty years ago," Meighan reccalls. "So he found an informant who still actively knew something about this and still had used it. He turned in a term paper which had alot of information in it that wouldn't have been possible to get, unless you had an informant who was knowledgeable about this plant and material. It was a very good paper and I encouraged him to continue his research. He reported the fact that there was still an Indian who knew about the use and practice of Datura as a power plant. A lot of this came about in his first book. He talked about the fact that it is very important what part the root comes from. There's alot of symbolism and fantasy about the male and the female plants and whether it is a deep root. I doubt whether any of that had any pharmacological value whatsoever, although he investigated that. He went around and talked to various people about their beliefs. But that business about Datura, so far as I know, wasn't published in literature anywhere. I read most of the California stuff very carefully and that's where the resistance comes in, when you start asking people about a whole set of beliefs and use of a drug, when you start dealing with ceremonial knowledge and stuff that's hard to get and not supposed to be revealed. I was very impressed with his paper. Obviously, he was getting information that anthropologists had not gotten before."
So, now I knew when and where her information came from ... Meighan himself ... and done so at the sametime she was writing her book. As well, I felt much better recounting what she wrote in my works because of being a recent acquisition rather than remembered and presented as if verbatim from something she overheard thirty years before.
Notice the paragraph so presented as found in her book is in quotes, that is, she didn't just write it out of whole cloth, it is quoted from somewhere or someone. That someone is Meighan. Notice at the end of the first sentence she specifically states Meighan reccalls. Meighan recalls ... not that she recalled it, or that Castaneda recalled it, or that somebody else recalled it, but that Meighan recalled it. She doesn't say he SAID it or TOLD her either. For her to know he recalled it and quote him she had to get the information from somewhere. That somewhere was his written response to her request. If you read carefully what is presented in the quote it is fairly casual, especially for a professor, or former professor as the case may have been. Notice the use of the word "stuff" several times in a sort of shortcut way to get across what he is relating to Runyan. There are run on sentences and the use of words using apostrophes and a few words later not using them. It is written that way and then quoted that same way by Runyan because when Meighan wrote it, it was being written as to a friend, not for publication in some scientific journal.
Over the years Runyan had taken a lot of heat for just being nothing else but the wife come ex-wife of Carlos Castaneda, especially so after her book came out. So, over time ... and possibly even learned from Castaneda himself ... she seemed to display a demeanor that I perceived as a tendency to hold her cards close to her vest. Although she was quite open regarding corresponding with Meighan up to a point she did so in such a fashion that she left you feeling unclear as to if it was a rather lenghty correspondence or a just onetime happenstance. She also hinted around, giving an air about but without directly saying it, that there was more than written correspondence between the two regarding all issues Castaneda.
MAYAN RUINS AND THE SPRING EQUINOX
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
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