Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

The Lost Book Club: A Separate Reality

Carlos Castaneda’s A Separate Reality appeared in the Season 5 episode of Lost: “He’s Our You.” It’s the second book in Castaneda’s allegedly nonfiction series that begins with The Teachings of Don Juan. I actually own this book, though I had never read it. I picked it up at a garage sale in a volume that also contains the first book and the fourth, Tales of Power. Why the 3rd isn’t included, I don’t know.

I read The Teachings back when I got the book in the mid-’90s, and while it was interesting, I never intended to keep reading. The books are about Castaneda’s supposed apprenticeship with a Yaqui Indian sorcerer named Don Juan Matus. The Teachings of Don Juan was Castenada’s grad school thesis in anthropology, though many now believe he made up the whole thing.

A Separate Reality tells of Castaneda’s second apprenticeship in which he attempts to learn to “see” the world as “a man of knowledge” does. Seeing is more than looking. It is a heightened perception that allows the warrior or the sorcerer to truly know the world as well as perform seeming impossible acts. Being a rational and scientific-minded man, Castaneda finds this to be quite difficult, though he does make some progress on his journey.

Ultimately, it is about the need to shed a hyperrational world view in order to come to terms with the mystical/spiritual side of our nature.

This, of course, is the story of Lost.

The tension between the rational physician Jack Shepard and the spiritual seeker John Locke drives more of Lost‘s plotlines than any other conflict on the show. In Season 5, we see Jack beginning to shed some of his rationalism and begin to have faith in the island and his destiny. Jack is, like Castaneda, a long way from becoming a man of knowledge in the mystical sense, but with Locke seemingly dead/evil/possessed, I suspect Jack’s ability to reconcile the opposing forces of reason and faith will decide the fate of the island.

The book is passed to an imprisoned Sayid by a young Ben Linus in “He’s Our You.” It seems appropriate that a book that deals extensively with the shamanistic use of psychotropic plants should appear in the episode in which Sayid is made to “talk” by being fed psychedelics. It also calls to mind Locke’s use of island psychedelics in Season 1 and Season 3. Both times, he partakes in order to commune with the island.

Through most of Lost, we are meant to see Locke as a man on a quest to become that man of knowledge. This makes it particularly interesting that it is Ben Linus who is the book’s owner. I suspect Ben sees more than we think and may even be more of a man of knowledge than Locke or anyone else suspects.

I have no great theories at this point, but there is a quote worth noting from A Separate Reality:

The world is incomprehensible. We won’t ever understand it; we won’t ever unravel its secrets. Thus we must treat it as it is, a sheer mystery!

Toward the end of the book, don Juan goes on to emphasize that one must break free of the prison of reason to become a man of knowledge. Trying to understand only prevents true seeing.

I suspect we’ll never really understand everything we want to know about the island, and quite frankly, that’s okay with me.

This will be my last Lost Book Club post until January when the 6th and final season commences. I am caught up with the exception of Flannery O’Connor’s Everything that Rises Must Converge, which appeared in the season finale. I’ll read that and report back as I gear up for the Lost season premiere in January.

Check out the rest of my Lost Book Club posts. I’ve read all 37 of the books references or shown on the show with the exception of the O’Connor book. It’s an amazing list too.

And for the best theorizing around, check out these two excellent Lost blogs and their analyses of the end of Season 5:

Lost… and Gone Forever

EYE M SICK (which also has a cool 3 sentence theory challenge)


  1. A very nice summary, James. On one hand I’m pretty bummed that LOST is over until January, but on the other hand, I’ve got stuff to do on Wednesdays!

    Anyway, you raise some very good points, and I hope that the quote you pulled from the book doesn’t get brought to the attention of the LOST writers – I do have a bit of a fear that the show will end with a dull thump and that we’ll end up being disappointed. I have no doubt that some things will go unanswered, but I hope that number of things will be small.

    You might be right about Ben being one who “sees” more than any of us know. Even though he’s been portrayed as such an evil character, I really like him, and I think he may have a chance to redeem himself in the final season. As for Jack coming around to having more faith in the Island since the O6’s return to the Island, I feel that whole direction of his story to be lacking in sincerity. I was, quite frankly, annoyed with him in the finale episode, and I hope his character can regain some integrity in the final season.

  2. I read that line and thought, ‘uh-oh.’ It will be interesting to see (or if) they are able to resolve it. Honestly, I’d watch an episode of Jacob lecturing for the whole hour on the history of the island.

    I do believe in Ben, and I really like him too. I can’t help but think that his killing Jacob was yet another test, just as Isaac was commanded to kill Jacob to prove his loyalty to God. I can’t help but wonder if Ben has now proven his loyalty to the island.

    I agree about Jack. His character has sort of drifted lately as if he’s been lost (har-har).

    January seems so far away.

    • Some years later, I know, but I’m finally exploring the books of LOST. Enjoying you’re discussions of correlations of plot and character development to the referenced literary works.

      Wanted to offer one correction for subsequent readers: It was Abraham who was asked to sacrifice his son Issac. Jacob and Esau were Issac’s sons, and Jacob (the 2nd born) tricked an aged Issac into bestowing the 1st-born blessing onto him, rather than Esau. Jacob is later renamed Israel and is the father of the 12 tribes of Israel, via his 12 sons.

      I definitely found myself thinking about a few different sets of brothers from the old testament: Cain who killed Abel (one’s sacrifice was displeasing, the other’s not), Ishmael (Abraham’s 1st born illegitimate son) driven into the wilderness versus Issac (2nd born son of God’s promise), and Jacob (also 2nd born) who tricked his brother Esau and father Issac so he could take a blessing meant for the 1st-born.

      I felt like there were elements of all three sets existing in the relationship of Jacob and the Man In Black. I like Ben, too, but I don’t quite fit him into the brotherly dynamics that involve Jacob, as that relationship already exists with TMIB.

      I’m late to the LOST deconstruction party and only get to dip in occasionally, but it’s great intellectual playtime for me.

      LOST really is the Moby Dick of onscreen entertainment, open to such vast and fascinating study. Definitely my favorite show… still.

      (Btw, I read the CC trilogy in the early 90’s, too. Love that it popped up in LOST. Enjoyed your perspective on the connections to it. Thanks!)


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