Author Jay Cradeur shares how Ayn Rand, Carlos Castaneda, and the mystic poet Rumi influenced his masculinity.
Exuberance is defined as being full of energy, of being ebullient, of growing profusely. Feeling this way is a tell tale sign that I am on a path toward greater freedom and knowledge. I have often felt exuberance while reading a book. I remember reading Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan and feeling so full of energy, life, and expectancy. I was exuberant as I realized I had discovered wisdom that spoke to me, and inspired me, and in some degree, woke me up. Over my lifetime, I have had hundreds of such revelatory, exuberant reading experiences. However as I look back, there are five that have stood the test of time, and continue to speak to me and guide me on my masculine path.
During the summer of 1979, I took a job selling books door to door in upstate New York. I had just completed my sophomore year at UC Berkeley. The owner of the Southwestern Book Company had given a very persuasive presentation just off campus, and I said Yes to the bold adventure. After driving across the country with three other collegiate dare devils for one week of training in Nashville, Tennessee, we headed to the Finger Lakes region hamlet of Seneca Falls, New York, our new home for the summer.
During our training, we were handed two books, The Greatest Salesman In The World by Og Mandino, and The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz. Being lonely and quite isolated in upstate New York, I found solace in my books. The Magic of Thinking Big began my masculine search into the capacity and power of my mind. This book was the first book in a long line of personal development books and cassette tapes, cds and videos, and now podcasts and MP3s. The Magic of Thinking Big was the first book to express the concept that thoughts become things. This book initiated me into the world of visualization as a tool for creating my life that way I want. It was the first book to stir my inner masculine magician.
“Look at things not as they are, but as they can be. Visualization adds value to everything. A big thinker always visualizes what can be done in the future. He isn’t stuck with the present”
This book also taught me how to deal with fear. At an early age, I learned that only action diffused fear. At that time in my life, I had applied and been denied acceptance to the Business Administration major at Cal. With my door-to-door experience and newfound knowledge from the summer, I committed to persevere and apply again. I did, and I did again, and I was accepted on my third attempt.
“Action cures fear.”
In 1985, I read my first Don Juan book. I can remember it like it was yesterday. This was the first book that spoke to me in such a way that I could not think about anything else. There were so many concepts, and ideas, and truths presented in this first of the Carlos Castaneda series of books. The first concept I related to was the idea that I was arrogant and felt superior over those that had less than me, and I had absolutely no right to be so. I found humility in this book, as does Carlos, the student, who makes judgments about a few poor Mexican boys.
“Do you feel sorry for them?” Don Juan exclaimed in a questioning tone.
“I certainly do,” I said.
“Because I am concerned with the well-being of my fellow man. Those are children and their world is ugly and cheap.”
“Wait wait. How can you say their world is ugly and cheap?” Don Juan said mocking my statement. “You think you are better off, don’t you?”
I argued my point for a while longer and then Don Juan asked me bluntly. “Didn’t you once tell me that in your opinion man’s greatest accomplishment was to become a man of knowledge?”
“Do you think that your very rich world would ever help you to become a man of knowledge?”, Don Juan asked with slight sarcasm.
“No!” I said emphatically.
“Then how could you feel sorry for those children?” he said seriously. “Any of them could become a man of knowledge. All of the men of knowledge I know were kids like those you saw eating leftovers and licking the tables.”
It was through this book that I also developed my appreciation and respect for the impact of death on my life. I began to see death as a great leveler and teacher. As a man, I found a larger peaceful center, a wider place that I could call home. I became more comfortable in my own skin once I accepted the inevitability of my own death. I found myself less concerned with the superficial aspects of my life. The inevitability of death grounded me. Don Juan spoke of this is some detail:
“… How can anyone feel so important when we know that death is stalking us?”
“… The thing to do when you are impatient is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death. An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you.”
“Without the awareness of death everything is ordinary, trivial. It is only because death is stalking us that the world is an unfathomable mystery.”
“You have little time and no time for crap. A wonderful state! The best of us always comes out when we are against the wall, when we feel the sword dangling overhead. … I wouldn’t have it any other way.”.
In 1989, my life was in chaos. I was raised a Catholic, however I discovered I no longer believed anything I had been taught. I married early, had 2 children, and was miserable and depressed. I found solace in the arms of another woman, and soon divorced. My work life was also in transition. I was selling television time for a firm in San Francisco. I was on a fixed salary, and soon realized that no matter how well I did my job, I would earn the same as everyone else with my position. Then on the advice of a senior co-worker, I read Atlas Shrugged.
It is a long book, and I consumed it within a few days. Never had I felt so validated as a producer rather than a taker. I was a guy who got things done. I am wired to produce results. Consequently, I began to obtain some clarity around my work life. If I was going to be fairly compensated for my results, I would need to take on a commission sales job. In January of 1990, I began a 100% commission sales position selling advertising on shopping carts inside of grocery stores, and made more money in my first year than I had ever made before. The words of Ayn Rand provided the nudge I needed.
Atlas Shrugged also showed me the importance of personal responsibility in everything I did. I still remember a scene in which John Galt makes an impeccable meal of scrambled eggs. This book also reinforced the importance of not settling for mediocrity and going for my dreams. And of course, as the title suggests, I learned there are times when I need to back down, reassess and walk away. I developed the ability to shrug.
“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.”
“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – What would you tell him?”
I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”
As a result of my affair and the phenomenal sex I was experiencing for the first time in my life, I began to think about relationships, women, and my preferences. What did I like in a woman and what did I dislike in a woman? This is a question all men need to ask themselves. Up to this point in my life, I never thought about it. Atlas Shrugged has several relationships of note, and each one gave me a bit of insight into the masculine feminine dynamics. As I read the following excerpt some 30 years ago, the failure of my divorce, and the desire for a new woman began to make some sense to me. I did not feel like a failure in the face of these words.
“A man’s sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions…. He will always be attracted to the woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself, the woman whose surrender permits him to experience a sense of self-esteem. The man who is proudly certain of his own value, will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer–because only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense of an achievement.”
In 1995, I stumbled across this little book, which still travels with me everywhere I go. The mystic poet Rumi speaks to my masculine heart. This is a book I can open to any page, read the poem and feel a wave of beauty and delight wash over me. When I first read the poem, To Clutch At Madness, I knew I had read the words of a Master:
Conventional opinion is the ruin of our souls,
Something borrowed which we mistake as our
Ignorance is better than this; clutch at madness
Always run from what seems to benefit your self:
Sip the poison and spill the water of life.
Revile those who flatter you;
Lend both interest and principal to the poor.
Let security go and be at home amid dangers.
Leave your good name behind
and accept disgrace.
I have lived with cautious thinking;
Now I’ll make myself mad.
After reading this, I realized I had diverted off a traditional path of the masculine. Fame and fortune were definitely not my end game. Inner wisdom and knowledge have been and continue to be my senior goals in life. Carlos Castaneda pushed any ideals about money leading to happiness out of my head. Rumi here says the same thing, albeit far more poetically. But Rumi goes farther, inviting the reader to embrace insecurity and go a bit mad. This raises a seminal masculine question, how far does one go to seek redemption and reclaim his soul? If you go this route, as Rumi suggest, you will be alone like a salmon swimming upstream.
Rumi also spoke to me about women, and once again, I divert from the standard masculine path. In all my work with men, I still find that, in general, and very subtlety, men do not take women seriously. Most men, in general, do not fully appreciate and honor the power and wisdom of the feminine. Having worked closely with strong and wise women over the last decade in the production of weekend men’s events, I have seen the incredible energy of the feminine. I stand in awe, as does Rumi in his poem Woman Is A Ray of God:
“Woman prevails over the wise and intelligent;
while the ignorant dominate over her.”
They lack tenderness and affection
because their animality prevails.
Love and gentleness are human qualities;
aggressiveness and lust are bestial.
Woman is a ray of God.
She is not that earthly beloved.
You could say;
she is creative, not created.
In 2004, I was living in a room in my friend’s home in Oakland, California. While my financial situation was challenging, my inner world was bursting forth. I was leading a weekly men’s group. I was attending a weekly Native American sweat lodge ritual. I was organizing and leading weekend men’s events. I was writing and posting on my blog. I was making an impact. I was heading toward something, compelled to keep moving forward, although unsure how it would all turn out. Then I read Jed McKenna’s first book in his epic trilogy. My roommate suggested I read it. I started at 6 PM and finished at 6AM the following morning. I don’t think I have ever felt such simpatico with an author. My experiences began to have a context. I now knew where I was going. The nebulous topic of enlightenment now became tangible and obtainable. Here with Jed McKenna I had found a map and a guide.
“Enlightenment isn’t when you go there; it’s when there comes here.”
“All fear is ultimately fear of no-self. “And what is enlightenment,” I ask Sarah, “but a swan dive into the abyss of no-self?”
This book, as much as any other, also reinforced the importance of writing in my life. I was not much of a writer in school. I showed flairs of competency at university. It wasn’t until I started blogging about my journey and the journey of men that I found my voice. However, Jed McKenna’s book also pointed out the profound impact writing had on my personal and spiritual development. No wonder all my heroes are writers!
“writing it down on paper or on a computer where you can see it is because the brain, unlikely as it may sound, is no place for serious thinking. Any time you have serious thinking to do, the first step is to get the whole shootin’ match out of your head and set it up someplace where you can walk around it and see it from all sides. Attack, switch sides and counter-attack. You can’t do that while it’s still in your head. Writing it out allows you to act as your own teacher, your own critic, your own opponent. By externalizing your thoughts, you can become your own guru; judging yourself, giving feedback, providing a more objective and elevated perspective.”
What a ride that was! These are the seminal books that influenced me not just as a man, but also as a spiritual seeker bent on enlightenment. I found it difficult to narrow this list to just five books. Honorable mentions go to Walden by Henry David Thoreau, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, Whispering Winds of Change by Stuart Wilde, The Book of Secrets by Osho, and Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. I have great respect for anyone that looks at a blank piece of paper, and then proceeds to create a book. It may be a compulsion. It may be a job. It may be therapy. Whatever it is, it takes courage to speak your truth and share it with the world. How fortunate we are today when we can think of any one of millions of books in print and within minutes, read that very book on our phone, tablet or computer. It’s a great time to be alive.
Image provided by the author from the cover of his book, Radical Freedom.