A Day in a Life: Recapitulation & The Shadow

In The Active Side of Infinity Carlos Castaneda writes about the time when don Juan first introduced him to the concept of recapitulation. Don Juan describes recapitulation, on pages 142-143, thus:

The old sorcerers used to call it recounting the events in your life, and for them, it started as a simple technique, a device to aid them in remembering what they were doing and saying to their disciples. For their disciples, the technique had the same value: It allowed them to remember what their teachers had said and done to them. It took terrible social upheavals, like being conquered and vanquished several times, before the old sorcerers realized that their technique had far-reaching effects.”

He goes on to say that, as time passed and events took place in the history of ancient Mexico and the old sorcerers disappeared, a new crop of sorcerers, disciples of the old, came along and renamed the old technique recapitulation. The essence and main point of recapitulation shifted to a process for making space within.

Don Juan explained to a bewildered Carlos that in order for him to teach him everything he knew he had to first make space within Carlos:

The challenge I am faced with,” he says to Carlos, “is that in a very compact unit of time I must cram into you everything there is to know about sorcery as an abstract proposition, but in order to do that I have to build the necessary space within you.” He goes on to say: “The premise of sorcerers is that in order to bring something in, there must be a space to put it in. If you are filled to the brim with the items of everyday life, there’s no space for anything new. That space must be built. Do you see what I mean? The sorcerers of olden times believed that the recapitulation of your life made that space. It does, and much more, of course.”

What don Juan was proposing to Carlos, in actuality, was that he must go into his shadow, into the dark side of his unconscious, the same shadow side of ourselves that Carl Jung suggests we must all deal with in order to become whole. Don Juan went on to explain the technique of recapitulation to Carlos as a process of making lists of all the people he had ever encountered and then recollecting every encounter he had ever had with each person on his list. He suggested that he accompany each memory with a breathing practice of slowly fanning the head from side to side while slowly and naturally inhaling and exhaling.

As Carlos dutifully began the process of making his lists and recollecting the events of his life he discovered that the process took on a life of its own. He writes, on page 144 in The Active Side of Infinity:

Ordinarily, my recapitulation took me every which way. I let the events decide the direction of my recollection. What I did, which was volitional, was to adhere to a general unit of time. For instance, I had begun with the people in the anthropology department, but I let my recollection pull me to anywhere in time, from the present to the day I started attending school at UCLA.”

When I read this I was struck by how accurately it explained my own process. My own unconscious led me on my recapitulation journey and often my biggest challenge became acquiescence to where it suggested I must go. Sometimes, like Carlos, I went whining and complaining. As he says on page 141 in The Active Side of Infinity:

There was some part of me that resented immensely being bothered. I wanted to sleep for days and not think about don Juan’s sorcery concepts anymore. Thoroughly against my will, I got up and followed him.” As don Juan says on page 146 in the same book: “The power of recapitulation is that it stirs up all the garbage of our lives and brings it to the surface.”

Sometimes I just did not want to sift through any more garbage and I would turn away, tell Chuck I was done, and attempt to walk away. I too just wanted to sleep for days, but my unconscious, that most helpful partner, always found a way to drag me back to awareness of the process, its meaningfulness becoming more apparent each day. As I had experiences within the context of recapitulation in cahoots with my shadow, and the process took on a life of its own, I began to quite readily take the journey I was being shown was my true journey in this life, because as don Juan suggested, it does more than just make space within.

When I began my recapitulation I didn’t even know that such a thing existed. I hadn’t read any of Castaneda’s books after the first three when I was in my twenties and I wasn’t at all versed in the language or concepts of the sorcerers of ancient Mexico when I began working with Chuck. I was only slightly familiar with the work of Carl Jung at the time as well, though I had also read some of his works when I was in my early twenties. However, with awareness that I had perhaps planted the seeds of this convergence of the sorcerers world and the psychological during my twenties, I understood that my unconscious and a whole series of synchronistic events were leading me to the moment when I could no longer avoid my shadow, the dark side of myself that I had been running from for most of my life. As the process of this confrontation with my shadow unfolded, under Chuck’s guidance, the idea of recapitulation began to emerge.

Now, many years after I did the bulk of that work of encountering my shadow through the process of recapitulation, I am taking the time to read the later works of Castaneda. My own experiences are being further clarified in terms of a shamanic journey as I read of his encounters with don Juan and his line of sorcerers, and the apprentices of his own generation. More often than not, the shamanic terms, as presented by don Juan, mirror the psychological terms, as presented by Jung.

These two concepts, the recapitulation and the shadow of the unconscious work hand-in-hand. Using the technique of recapitulation, in whatever way it unfolds as guided by the unconscious, together with daring to look into the shadows of the self, the concept of emptying in order to be filled with new energy becomes clearer. It does indeed work as a means to achieving wholeness, and much more.

I do not mean to imply that the shadow ever rests or that recapitulation is ever done, because if we are going to constantly grow and evolve they must remain active participants in our lives. Personally, I have found these to be two most interesting and inviting companions as I continue my journey.

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Sending you all love and good wishes,

NOTE: The Active Side of Infinity is available for purchase through our Store in the Shamanism category.

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