What do we do when something stressful occurs to us? Do we react by getting frustrated, thinking it shouldn’t have happened? Or do we respond by remaining curious, thinking it’s an opportunity to learn?

Don Juan taught Carlos Castaneda how to live as a warrior. One of his main lessons was how one deals with others–petty tyrants–who cause us stress.

Carlos describes don Juan’s lesson in The Fire From Within:

“Don Juan had a beaming smile as he spoke to me. ‘A petty tyrant is a tormentor,’ he said. ‘Someone who either holds the power of life and death over warriors or simply annoys them to distraction.'”

Don Juan continued: “We know that nothing can temper the spirit of a warrior as much as the challenge of dealing with impossible people in positions of power. Only under those conditions can warriors acquire the sobriety and serenity to stand the pressure of the unknowable.

“My benefactor used to say that the warrior who stumbles on a petty tyrant is a lucky one. He meant that you’re fortunate if you come upon one in your path, because if you don’t, you have to go out and look for one.”

Carlos writes about his reaction: “I vociferously disagreed with him. I told him that in my opinion tyrants can only render their victims helpless or make them as brutal as they themselves are.” Then don Juan retorted: “The difference is in something you just said. They are victims, not warriors.” Our choice is always: do we react as victims or respond as warriors?

Extend the concept of petty tyrants to anything that stresses us.

We can extend the concept of petty tyrants to anything that stresses us. Unexpected things occur to us continually. They can be major stressors, like the breakup of a relationship, or minor stressors, like our computers not operating as usual.

We can react to stressors saying, “There’s always something.” What we mean by this is that there’s always some stressor that occurs and we think it shouldn’t occur. Victims tend to live lives unconsciously, reacting to stress and desiring comfort. They constantly lean backward, away from growth that is a natural part of life. They don’t realize that there will always be some stress to challenge us to learn and grow.

Warriors live consciously, responding to stress. They know stress is required for learning so they lean into it. They realize that there will always be stress that challenges us to learn and grow. Therefore, warriors honor stress, their petty tyrants. If petty tyrants are absent in their lives, they go out and find one, because, without one, they don’t learn.

Petty tyrants annoy us to distraction, as don Juan indicated. This means that they hold the power to distract our attention, which causes us to lose our power. Knowing there’s always something, that there will always be petty tyrants, allows us to choose how to focus our attention. Warriors choose to focus their attention on learning from petty tyrants, so their attention is focused, not distracted.

Finally, don Juan stated:

“The idea of using a petty tyrant is not only for perfecting the warrior’s spirit, but also for enjoyment and happiness.”

Humor helps warriors take a lighthearted approach to petty tyrants. They can laugh at how they react to stress and not take themselves so seriously. Or, they can simply smile when they catch themselves reacting. That smile is a conscious acknowledgment that there’s always something. Then, with that moment of awareness, warriors can honor the stress the petty tyrant provides and remain curious to learning. They can be thankful for how lucky they are to have petty tyrants in their lives.

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