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Stories

Here are some of my favorite teaching stories:

What Would Jesus Drive?


A conference of Bible scholars has recently concluded that in the early days God drove an old Plymouth, because "the Bible says God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden in a Fury."

Later, it appears He gets around in a Dodge pickup, as Moses' followers are warned not to go up a mountain "until the Ram's horn sounds a long blast."

Moses himself is thought to have gotten around on a British motorcycle, for "the roar of Moses' Triumph is heard in the hills."

Still later He appears to own both a Pontiac and a Geo, as a passage in Psalm 83 urges the Lord to "pursue Your enemies with Your Tempest and terrify them with Your Storm."

Some scholars think Jesus drove a Honda, but didn't like to talk about it. In John, Jesus tells a crowd, "For I did not speak of my own Accord."


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Food for Thought



If the earth's population were a village of 100 people:
57 would be Asians
21 would be Europeans
14 would be from the Western Hemisphere
8 would be Africans

Of this group of 100:
52 would be female
48 would be male
70 would be non-white
30 would be white
70 would be non-Christian
30 would be Christian
89 would be heterosexual
11 would be homosexual
6 people would possess 59% of the entire world's wealth and all 6 would be from the United States
80 would live in substandard housing
70 would be unable to read
50 would suffer from malnutrition
1 would be near death; 1 would be near birth
1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education
1 would own a computer

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are better off than the million who will not survive this week.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.

If you can attend a religious meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more fortunate than three billion people in the world.

If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the world's wealthy.

If your parents are still alive and still married, you are very rare, even in the United States and Canada.

If you can read this message, you are more fortunate than over two billion people in the world who can't read.


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"So, Grasshopper, you have been my disciple for many years now. You have mastered every test I have put to you except for one. You will never be a master until you snatch this stone from my ha.... Hey! Wait a minute! I wasn't ready."


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A scientist wished to catalog the fish in the sea. He took a net of two-inch mesh and cast it into the sea repeatedly. After carefully cataloging his findings, he concluded that there are no fish smaller than two inches in the sea.


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A man was passing through a dark night of the soul, and he looked up and saw a star. The star didn't mean anything to him. The only thing that was meaningful to him was the thorny path he had to walk along. But he thought maybe he would give a meaning to the star, so he called it a wishing star, and wished for a pair of boots.

It was only two days later that he found a pair of boots by the roadside, with a good deal of wear left in them. That night he looked up in the sky to thank his wishing star, but it was a cloudless night, and in the incredible abundance of stars he couldn't find it.


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Once there was a man with a bad temper. He went to a woman of knowledge for advice, and she told him to go to a certain crossroads and offer water to everyone going by. The man did this, and many days passed peacefully.

But one day a traveler in a hurry ignored his offer and scurried on down the road. The man with the temper called after him, and still receiving no reply, lost control completely and shot the traveler dead.

A withered tree nearby burst into bloom, because the traveler had been a serial killer on his way to commit the most heinous crime of his career.


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"A big, tough samurai once went to see a little monk. "Monk," he said, in a voice accustomed to instant obedience, "teach me about heaven and hell!"

The monk looked up at this mighty warrior and replied with utter disdain, "Teach you about heaven and hell? I couldn't teach you about anything. You're dirty. You smell. Your blade is rusty. You 're a disgrace, an embarrassment to the samurai class. Get out of my sight. I can't stand you."

The samurai was furious. He shook, got all red in the face, was speechless with rage. He pulled out his sword and raised it above him, preparing to slay the monk.

"That's hell," said the monk softly.

The samurai was overwhelmed. The compassion and surrender of this little man who had offered his life to give this teaching to show him hell! He slowly put down his sword, filled with gratitude, suddenly peaceful.

"And that's heaven," said the monk softly.



From: Ram Dass & Gordon, Paul. (1986). How Can I Help? Stories and Relections on Service. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., pp. 99-100


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In 1927, a 32-year-old man stood on the edge of the lake in Chicago's Lincoln Park, planning to drop into the dark water and drown. His daughter had died, his company had gone bankrupt, his reputation had been ruined, and he was becoming an alcoholic. Looking into the lake, he asked himself what one small man in his position could possibly do.

Then an answer came to him: since he had lost everything, he was now free to take risks, to intiate action on his own, and by doing so to help other people.

He returned home and committed himself to the work that he believed the universe wanted him to do, instead of what he had been taught to do. He watched the laws of the natural world, and altered his own living patterns accordingly, eventually changing his life completely. Those laws were to inspire and support him in his greatest achievements. But without taking a chance, his contributions to humanity would never have been made, and no one would have come to respect the name of Buckminster Fuller.



From The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff


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Failure List
(from Ann Landers, 7-3-00)


Einstein was 4 years old before he could speak.

Isaac Newton did poorly in grade school and was considered "unpromising."

Beethoven's music teacher once said of him, "As a composer, he is hopeless."

When Thomas Edison was a youngster, his teacher told him he was too stupid to learn anything. He was counseled to go into a field where he might succeed by virtue of his pleasant personality.

F.W.Woolworth got a job in a dry goods store when he was 21, but his employer would not permit him to wait on customers because he "didn't have enough sense to close a sale."

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Boston Celtics Hall of Famer Bob Cousy suffered the same fate.

A newspaper editor fired Walt Disney because he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas."

Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade and had to repeat it because he did not complete the tests that were required for promotion.


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When Milton Erickson was a young man, a horse wandered into his family's yard. Although the horse had no identifying marks, Erickson volunteered to return the horse to its owners. He got on the horse, guided it onto the road, and gave it its head. He intervened only when the horse stopped to graze or wandered off the road. When the horse arrived at the yard of a neighbor several miles down the road, the neighbor asked, "How did you know the horse came from here and was our horse?"

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No one at Worcester Hospital could handle Ruth, a twelve-year-old who acted sweet and winsome until a nurse was within reach, and then Ruth would break the nurse's arm or stomp on her feet. She also liked to tear the plaster off the walls.

Milton Erickson made a plan. One day when she was on a binge, he joined her. He helped her destroy a bed, break windows, tear a steam register away from the wall and break it off its pipe. He attacked a nurse (with whom he had arranged things ahead of time), and tore off her uniform and her slip. This was finally too much for Ruth, who said, "Dr. Erickson, you shouldn't do a thing like that," and wrapped the torn bedsheets around the nurse. After that Ruth was a good girl. Erickson said, "I really showed her what her behavior was like."


From: Rosen, Sidney. (1982). My Voice Will Go With You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson. New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company., pp. 229-231


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"A young woman came to Milton Erickson because she was alarmed about her possessive parents. What was most upsetting to her was that they'd built rooms onto their house so that when she married she could live there.

Erickson saw the parents together, and they had a series of pleasant talks. He congratulated them on being willing to put up with toddlers, with the way toddlers get into everything, and the way that everything breakable has to be put away. He praised them for their solicitude, for being available as baby-sitters. He asked if they'd soundproofed the walls so the babies crying in the night wouldn't bother them?

No, as a matter of fact, they hadn't thought of that.

The parents decided they really didn't want their daughter living with them. They decided to rent the rooms to a quiet person and bank the money for their grandchildren's' future education.



From: Haley, Jay. (1973). Uncommon Therapy. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co. Inc., pp. 280-282)


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A woman who worked in an office was being sexually harrassed by a man named Henry. She formed an alliance with another man in the office, named Bill.

Whenever Henry was in Bill's office, she would come in and flirt outrageously with Bill. Henry's face would turn purple. He got so upset he turned Bill and the woman in on some charge or other.

At the hearing, Bill and the woman were all innocence. "We have no idea what he's talking about," they said. Henry looked the fool and was demoted out of the office.


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Bob was camping once in Colorado with his girlfriend. She was an ex-hooker and an ex-stripper, as were most of the women Bob knew in those days. That was the crowd he hung out with.

They heard some bikes go by on the main road, and a couple hours later 5 or 6 bikers walked into their camp. Not big guys, more your skinny meth bikers. They were cheerful and laughing.

It became apparant what they wanted, so Bob said, "You guys want me and my girlfriend to cook you a good meal, and then you're going to steal whatever you want and go, right?" The bikers giggled and said, sure, he was right. Nobody said out loud what else they would do before they went.

So Bob suggested they go get their bikes. "We'll cook you up the best meal we can. We'll start while you're gone," he said. So they went off to get their bikes.

Bob told his girlfriend to get in the van and lock the doors and crouch down out of sight. He got out his 38 revolver, and he got out 3 clips of ammunition. He had the gun in one pocket and the ammo in the other when the bikers arrived on their bikes.

"Don't even get off your bikes," Bob said. "Just keep going."

They argued about it awhile, and then one got off his bike and started toward Bob. Bob pulled out his gun in a motion he'd rehearsed thousands of times on the firing range and started firing. He put the first two bullets into the gas tank of the guy's bike, and then two into the engine block. He put the next one an inch from the guy's toe, and the next one over his head.

He dumped out the empty shells, slapped another clip in, and kept firing. He shot over the heads of the other bikers and near their feet. They were scrambling to get their bikes started, and they got out of there as fast as they could. Bob was on his third clip and still firing over their heads as they drove out of sight.

Bob's girlfriend was impressed. "I didn't have to tell her," he said, "that it was an act of desperation and I was scared to death."


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A disputatious married couple went to see their esteemed rabbi for advice. The wife, who was the first to consult the rabbi, told a long tale of woe about her insensitive, selfish and uncouth husband who was entirely to blame for their marital problems. The rabbi sagely and patiently listened to the woman's long harangue and then said, "You know, I think you're right." Feeling vindicated, the wife left.

The husband, who next consulted with the rabbi, excoriated his wife by referring to her as an inconsiderate, unkempt and half-witted shrew who was entirely at fault for their marital difficulties. The rabbi once again listened with forbearance and then replied, "You know, you're right." The husband then left the rabbi's study feeling quite satisfied.

The rabbi's assistant came to him and said, "Rabbi, how could they both be right?" The rabbi looked at him and said, "You know, you're right."


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I had a friend, a chemotherapy nurse in a children's cancer ward, whose job it is to pry for any available vein in an often emaciated arm to give infusions of chemicals that sometimes last as long as twelve hours and which are often quite discomforting to the child. He is probably the greatest pain giver the children meet in their stay in the hospital.

Because he has worked so much with his own pain, his heart is very open. He works with his responsibilities in the hospital as a "laying on of hands with love and acceptance." There is little in him that causes him to withdraw, that reinforces the painfulness of the experience for the children. He is a warm, open space which encourages them to trust whatever they feel.

And it is he whom the children most often ask for at the time they are dying. Although he is the main pain-giver, he is also the main love-giver.



From: Ram Dass & Gordon, Paul. (1986). How Can I Help?
Stories and Relections on Service. New York, NY:
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., pp. 86-87


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The Bear Who Let It Alone, by James Thurber



In the woods of the Far West there once lived a brown bear who could take it or leave it alone. He would go into a bar where they sold mead, a fermented drink made of honey, and he would have just two drinks. Then he would put some money on the bar and say, "See what the bears in the back room will have," and he would go home.

But finally he took to drinking by himself most of the day. He would reel home at night, kick over the umbrella stand, knock down the bridge lamps, and ram his elbows through the windows. Then he would collapse on the floor and lie there until he went to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed, and his children were very frightened.

At length the bear saw the error of his ways and began to reform. In the end he became a famous teetotaller and a persistant temperence lecturer. He would tell everybody who came to his house about the awful effects of drink, and he would boast about how strong and well he had become since he gave up touching the stuff. To demonstrate this, he would stand on his head and on his hands, and he would turn cartwheels in the house, kicking over the umbrella stand, knocking down the bridge lamps, and ramming his elbows through the windows. Then he would lie down on the floor, tired by his healthful exercise, and go to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed, and his children were very frightened.


Moral: you might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward.


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The Glass in the Field, by James Thurber



A short time ago some builders, working on a studio in Connecticut, left a large square of plate glass standing upright in a field one day. A goldfinch flying swiftly across the field struck the glass and was knocked cold. When he came to, he hastened to his club, where an attendant bandaged his head and gave him a stiff drink. "What the hell happened?" asked a sea gull.

"I was flying across a meadow when all of a sudden the air crystallized on me," said the goldfinch. The sea gull and a hawk and an eagle all laughed heartily. A swallow listened gravely.

"For fifteen years, fledgling and bird, I've flown this country," said the eagle, "and I assure you there is no such thing as air crystallizing. Water, yes; air, no."

"You were probably struck by a hailstone," the hawk said to the goldfinch.

"Or he may have had a stroke," said the sea gull. "What do you think, swallow?"

"Why, I-- I think maybe the air crystallized on him," said the swallow. The large birds laughed so loudly that the goldfinch became annoyed and bet each of them a dozen worms that they couldn't follow the course he had flown across the field without encountering the hardened atmosphere. They all took his bet; the swallow went along to watch. The sea gull, the eagle, and the hawk decided to fly together over the route the goldfinch had indicated. "You come, too," they said to the swallow.

"I-- I-- well, no," said the swallow. "I don't think I will." So the three large birds took off together and they hit the glass together, and they were all knocked cold.


Moral: He who hesitates is sometimes saved.



From: The Thurber Carnival, page 263.


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THE UNICORN IN THE GARDEN, by James Thurber



Once upon a sunny morning, a man who sat in a breakfast nook looked up from his scrambled eggs to see a white unicorn with a gold horn quietly cropping the roses in the garden.

The man went down to the bedroom where his wife was still asleep and woke her. "There's a unicorn in the garden," he said. "Eating roses." She opened one unfriendly eye and looked at him. "The unicorn is a mythical beast," she said, and turned her back on him.

The man walked slowly downstairs and out into the garden. The unicorn was still there; he was now browsing among the tulips. "Here unicorn," said the man, and he pulled up a lily and gave it to him. The unicorn ate it gravely.

With a high heart, because there was a unicorn in his garden, the man went upstairs and roused his wife again. "The unicorn," he said, "ate a lily." His wife sat up in bed and looked at him coldly. "You are a booby," she said, "and I am going to have you put in the booby-hatch."

The man, who had never liked the words "booby" and "booby-hatch," and who liked them less on a shining morning when there was a unicorn in the garden, thought for a moment. "We'll see about that," he said. He walked over to the door. "He has a golden horn in the middle of his forehead," he told her.

Then he went back to the garden to watch the unicorn, but the unicorn had gone away. The man sat down among the roses and went to sleep.

As soon as the husband had gone out of the house, the wife got up and dressed as fast as she could. She was very excited, and there was a gloat in her eye. She telephoned the police, and she telephoned a psychiatrist; she told them to hurry to her house and bring a straight-jacket.

When the police and psychiatrist arrived, they sat down in chairs and looked at her, with great interest. "My husband," she said, "saw a unicorn this morning." The police looked at the psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist looked at the police. "He told me it ate a lily," she said. The psychiatrist looked at the police, and the police looked at the psychiatrist. "He told me it had a golden horn in the middle of its forehead," she said.

At a solemn signal from the psychiatrist, the police leaped from their chairs and seized the wife. They had a hard time subduing her, for she put up a terrific struggle, but they finally subdued her.

Just as they got her into the straight-jacket, the husband came back into the house. "Did you tell your wife you saw a unicorn?" asked the police.

"Of course not," said the husband. "The unicorn is mythical beast."

"That's all I wanted to know," said the psychiatrist. "Take her away. I'm sorry sir, but your wife is as crazy as a jay-bird." So they took her away, cursing and screaming, and shut her up in an institution. The husband lived happily ever after.


Moral: Don't count your boobies before they are hatched.


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Once upon a time there was an old zen master named Nonoko who lived alone in a hut in the woods. One night while Nonoko was sitting in meditation, a powerful stranger came to the door and, brandishing a sword, asked Nonoko for all his money.

Nonoko continued to count his breaths while saying to the stranger, "All my money is on the shelf behind the books. Take all you need, but leave me ten yen. I need to pay my taxes this week."

The stranger went to the shelf and removed all the money except ten yen. He also took a lovely urn from the shelf. "Be careful how you carry that urn," said Nonoko. "It can easily crack."

The stranger looked once more around the small barren hut and began to leave.

"You have forgotten to say thank you," said Nonoko.

The stranger said thank you and left.

The next day the whole village was in an uproar. Half a dozen people claimed they'd been robbed. When a friend noticed that Nonoko's urn was missing, he asked Nonoko if he too had been a victim of the thief.

"Oh no," said Nonoko. "I loaned the urn to a stranger, along with some money. He said thank you and left. He was pleasant enough, but a bit careless with his sword."



From: The Book of EST, by Luke Rhinehart, page 140.


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The train clanked and rattled through the suburbs of Tokyo on a drowsy spring afternoon. Our car was comparatively empty-- a few housewives with their kids in tow, some old folks going shopping. I gazed absently at the drab houses and dusty hedgerows.

At one station the doors opened, and suddenly the afternoon quiet was shattered by a man bellowing violent, incomprehensible curses. The man staggered into our car. He wore laborer's clothing, and he was big, drunk, and dirty. Screaming, he swung at a woman holding a baby. The blow sent her spinning into the laps of an elderly couple. It was a miracle that the baby was unharmed.

Terrified, the couple jumped up and scrambled toward the other end of the car. The laborer aimed a kick at the retreating back of the old woman but missed as she scuttled to safety. This so enraged the drunk that he grabbed the metal pole in the center of the car and tried to wrench it out of its stanchion. I could see that one of his hands was cut and bleeding. The train lurched ahead, the passengers frozen with fear. I stood up.

I was young then, some twenty years ago, and in pretty good shape. I'd been putting in a solid eight hours of Aikido training nearly every day for the past three years. I liked to throw and grapple. I thought I was tough. The trouble was, my martial skill was untested in actual combat. As students of Aikido, we were not allowed to fight.

'Aikido,' my teacher had said again and again, 'is the art of reconciliation. Whoever has the mind to fight has broken his connection with the universe. If you try to dominate people, you are already defeated. We study how to resolve conflict, not how to start it.'

I listened to his words. I tried hard. I even went so far as to cross the street to avoid the chimpira, the pinball punks who lounged around the train station. My forbearance exalted me. I felt both tough and holy. In my heart, however, I wanted an absolutely legitimate opportunity whereby I might save the innocent by destroying the guilty.

'This is it,' I said to myself as I got to my feet. 'People are in danger. If I don't do something fast, somebody will probably get hurt.

Seeing me stand up, the drunk recognized a chance to focus his rage. 'Aha!' he roared, 'A foreigner! You need a lesson in Japanese manners!'
I held on tightly to the commuter strap overhead and gave him a slow look of disgust and dismissal. I planned to take this turkey apart, but he had to make the first move. I wanted him mad, so I pursed my lips and blew him an insolent kiss.

'Alright!' he hollered. 'You're gonna get a lesson.' He gathered himself for a rush at me.

A fraction of a second before he could move, someone shouted, 'Hey!' It was earsplitting. I remember the strangely joyous, lilting quality of it-- as though you and a friend had been searching diligently for something, and he had suddenly stumbled upon it. 'Hey!'

I wheeled to my left. The drunk spun to his right. We both stared down at a little, old Japanese man. He must have been well into his seventies, this tiny gentleman, sitting there immaculate in his kimono. He took no notice of me, but beamed delightedly at the laborer, as though he had a most important, most welcome secret to share.

'C'mere,' the old man said in an easy vernacular, beckoning to the drunk. 'C'mere and talk with me.' He waved his hand lightly.

The big man followed, as if on a string. He planted his feet belligerently in front of the old gentleman and roared above the clacking wheels, 'Why the hell should I talk to you?' The drunk now had his back to me. If his elbow moved so much as a millimeter, I'd drop him in his socks.

The old man continued to beam at the laborer. 'What'cha been drinkin'?' he asked, his eyes sparkling with interest. 'I been drinkin' sake,' the laborer bellowed back, 'and it's none of your business!' Flecks of spittle spattered the old man.

'Oh, that's wonderful,' the old man said, 'absolutely wonderful! You see, I love sake too. Every night, me and my wife (she's seventy-six, you know), we warm up a little bottle of sake and take it out into the garden, and we sit on an old wooden bench. We watch the sun go down, and we look to see how our persimmon tree is doing. My great-grandfather planted that tree, and we worry about whether it will recover from those ice storms we had last winter. Our tree has done better than I expected, though, especially when you consider the poor quality of the soil. It is gratifying to watch when we take our sake and go out to enjoy the evening-- even when it rains!' He looked up at the laborer, eyes twinkling.

As he struggled to follow the old man's conversation, the drunk's face began to soften. His fists slowly unclenched. 'Yeah,' he said, 'I love persimmons, too....' His voice trailed off.

'Yes,' said the old man, smiling, 'and I'm sure you have a wonderful wife.'

'No,' replied the laborer. 'My wife died.' Very gently, swaying with the motion of the train, the big man began to sob. 'I don't got no wife, I don't got no home, I don't got no job. I'm so ashamed of myself.' Tears rolled down his cheeks; a spasm of despair rippled through his body.

Now it was my turn. Standing there in my well-scrubbed, youthful innocence, my make-this-world-safe-for-democracy righteousness, I suddenly felt dirtier than he was.

Then the train arrived at my stop. As the doors opened, I heard the old man cluck sympathetically. 'My, my,' he said, 'that is a difficult predicament, indeed. Sit down here and tell me about it.'

I turned my head for one last look. The laborer was sprawled on the seat, his head in the old man's lap. The old man was softly stroking the filthy, matted hair.

As the train pulled away, I sat down on a bench. What I had wanted to do with muscle had been accomplished with kind words. I had just seen Aikido tried in combat, and the essence of it was love. I would have to practice the art with an entirely different spirit. It would be a long time before I could speak about the resolution of conflict."


From: Ram Dass & Gordon, Paul. (1986). How Can I Help? Stories and Relections on Service. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., pp. 167-171.


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Carlos' Test


[Castaneda, Carlos. (1987). The Power of Silence. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, pp. 92-98]


Don Juan told me to drive into Nogales, Mexico. He asked me to stop in front of a one-story, light-beige house in a well to do neighborhood. To all appearances it was a typical suburban dwelling.

We got out of the car. Don Juan led the way. He didn't knock or open the door with a key, but when we go to it, the door opened silently on oiled hinges-- all by itself, as far as I could detect.

Don Juan quickly entered. He didn't invite me in. I just followed him. I was curious to see who had opened the door from inside, but there was no one there.

We were in a narrow hall that opened into a spacious living room. Half the room was empty, but next to the fireplace was a semicircle of expensive furniture.

Two men, perhaps in their mid-fifties, stood when we entered. One of them was Indian, the other Latin American. Don Juan introduced me first to the Indian.

'This is Silvio Manuel,' don Juan said to me. 'He's the most powerful and dangerous sorcerer of my party, and the most mysterious too.'

I smiled and extended my hand to Silvio Manuel, but he didn't take it. He nodded perfunctorily.

'And this is Vicente Madrano,' don Juan said, turning to the other man. 'He is the most knowledgeable and the oldest of my companions.' Vicente nodded just as perfunctorily as Silvio Manuel had, and also didn't say a word.

'I think that you already know that Carlos is the biggest indulger that I have ever met,' don Juan told them with a serious expression. 'Bigger even than our benefactor. I assure you that if there is someone who takes indulging seriously, this is the man.'

I laughed, but no one else did. The two men observed me with a strange glint in their eyes. Then Vicente broke the silence.

'I don't know why you brought him inside the house,' he said in a dry, cutting tone. 'He's of little use to us. Put him out in the backyard.'

'And tie him,' Silvio Manuel added.

Don Juan turned to me. 'Come on,' he said in a soft voice, and pointed with a quick sideways movement of the head to the back of the house.

We walked into the back yard. Don Juan casually picked up a leather rope and twirled it around my neck with tremendous speed. His movements were so fast and so nimble that an instant later, before I could realize what was happening, I was tied at the neck, like a dog, to one of the two cinder-block columns supporting the heavy roof over the back porch.

Don Juan shook his head from side to side in a gesture of resignation or disbelief and went back into the house as I began to yell at him to untie me. The rope was so tight around me neck it prevented me from screaming as loud as I would have liked.

I could not believe what was taking place. Containing my anger, I tried to undo the knot at my neck. It was so compact that the leather strands seemed glued together. I hurt my nails trying to pull them apart.

I had an attack of uncontrollable wrath and growled like an impotent animal. Then I grabbed the rope, twisted it around my forearms, and bracing my feet against the cinder-block column, pulled. But the leather was too tough for the strength of my muscles. I felt humiliated and scared. Fear brought me a moment of sobriety. I knew I had let don Juan's false aura of reasonableness deceive me.

I assessed my situation as objectively as I could and saw no way to escape except by cutting the leather rope. I frantically began to rub it against the sharp corner of the cinder-block column. I thought that if I could rip the rope before any of the men came to the back, I had a chance to run to my car and take off, never to return.

I puffed and sweated and rubbed the rope until I had nearly worn it through. Then I braced one foot against the column, wrapped the rope around my forearms again, and pulled it desperately until it snapped, throwing me back into the house.

As I crashed backward through the open door, don Juan, Vicente and Silvio Manuel were standing in the middle of the room, applauding.

'What a dramatic re-entry,' Vicente said, helping me up. 'You fooled me. I didn't think you were capable of such explosions.'

Don Juan came to me and snapped the know open, freeing my neck from the piece of rope around it.

I was shaking with fear, exertion and anger. In a faltering voice, I asked don Juan why he was tormenting me like this. The three of them laughed and at that moment seemed the farthest thing from threatening.

'We wanted to test you and find out what sort of man you really are,' don Juan said.

He led me to one of the couches and politely offered me a seat. Vicente and Silvio Manuel sat in the armchairs, and don Juan sat on the other couch.

I laughed nervously but was no longer apprehensive about my situation, nor about don Juan and his friends. All three regarded me with frank curiosity. Vicente could not stop smiling, although he seemed to be trying desperately to appear serious. Silvio Manuel shook his head rhythmically as he stared at me. His eyes were unfocused, but fixed on me.

'We tied you down,' don Juan went on, 'because we wanted to know whether you are sweet or patient or ruthless or cunning. We found out you are none of those things. Rather you're a king-sized indulger, just as I had said.

'If you hadn't indulged in being violent, you would certainly have noticed that the formidable know in the rope around your neck was false. It snaps. Vicente designed that knot to fool his friends.'

'You tore the rope violently,' said Silvio Manuel. 'You're certainly not sweet.'

They were all quiet for a moment, and then began to laugh.

'You're neither ruthless nor cunning,' don Juan went on. 'If you were, you would have easily snapped open both knots and run away with a valuable leather rope. You're not patient either. If you were, you would have whined and cried until you realized that there was a pair of clippers by the wall with which you could have cut the rope in two seconds and saved yourself all the agony and exertion.

'You can't be taught, then, to be violent or obtuse. You already are that. But you can learn to be ruthless, cunning, patient and sweet.'


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Life Instructions


Taken from a Tibetan Good-luck Mantra


1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

2. When you lose, don't lose the lesson.

3. Follow the three Rs:
Respect for self,
Respect for others, and
Responsibility for all your actions.

4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

6. Don't let a little dispute injure a great friendship.

7. When you realize you've made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

8. Spend some time alone every day.

9. Open your arms to change, but don't let go of your values.

10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a second time.

12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.

13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don't bring up the past.

14. Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality.

15. Be gentle with the earth.

16. Once a year, go some place you've never been before.

17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.

18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

19. Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.


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