Petty Tyrants, according to Carlos Castaneda, are people who make our lives impossible—tormentors. They hold positions of power. We can’t control them. I don’t like to think of myself as a person with enemies. Gosh, I’m too nice, too enlightened. But, I’ve got one, and it’s time I faced that ugly truth.
The apartment I live in is part of a government subsidized complex for people with mental disorders. We’re a quiet lot, mostly, until the apartment manager comes around. This woman (let’s call her PT) bullies, lies, loses paperwork, ignores requests for information and basically does whatever she can to get out of work and cover her ass. She takes advantage of the renters because of their disabilities, treats them in a sickening, condescending manner, and never follows through. It breaks my heart to see how some of my neighbors spin out of control because of her ignorance and incompetence. She really hurts them. I try everything I can to stay out of her way and off her radar, but there are times I still have to deal with her.
Encounters with PT make me so mad, so frustrated, so indignant that I make bad choices. The rage is so uncomfortable that I scramble to feel better by stuffing my feelings with food or by watching non-stop TV. I don’t like how I react to her. And I don’t like how I let my reactions spin me into unhealthy behavior. I’m long overdue for a change in tactics.
Castaneda says the damage from Petty Tyrants comes from the humiliation and offense that results from taking ourselves too seriously. Instead of raging over the PT’s behavior, instead of feeling victimized and helpless, Castaneda suggests working with Petty Tyrants as a form of Stalking. The twist is that we don’t stalk the PT, we stalk ourselves in relation to the PT. We use encounters with the PT to develop strategic control of our own conduct, which helps break us of self-importance. Stalking also returns all that emotional energy wasted on the PT to be used more effectively elsewhere.
Unlike Castaneda’s mentor, Don Juan, I’m not out to destroy PT (though it sure would be nice to get her fired). I just want to unhook. Castaneda says this requires control, the ability to tune the spirit while being trampled. ”A warrior is self-oriented,” he wrote, “not in a selfish way, but in the sense of total and continuous examination of the self.”
Control, like balance, is a rare commodity in my life with bipolar disorder. But, I think I can start observing my thoughts and emotions in my encounters with PT like I observe them during an episode of my illness. If I watch, I’ll be able to see when my sense of self-importance flares up, when I get offended and self-righteous. Seeing is always the beginning of change.