An Appointment with knowledge
“It doesn’t matter what one reveals or what one keeps to oneself,” he said.
“Everything we do, everything we are, rests on our personal power. If we have enough of it, one word uttered to us might be sufficient to change ‘the course of our lives. But if we don’t have enough personal power, the most magnificent piece of wisdom can be revealed. to us and that revelation won’t make a damn bit of difference.”
He then lowered his voice as if he were disclosing a confidential matter to me.
“I’m going to utter perhaps the greatest piece of knowledge anyone can voice,” he said. “Let me see what you can do with it.
“Do you know that at this very moment you are surrounded by eternity? And do you know that you can use that eternity, if you so desire?”
After a long pause, during which he urged me with a subtle movement of his eyes to make a statement, I said that I did not understand what he was talking about.
“There! Eternity is there!” he-said, pointing to the horizon.
Then he pointed to the zenith. “Or there, or perhaps we can say that eternity is like this.” He extended both arms to point to the east and west.
We looked at each other. His eyes held a question.
“What do you say to that?” he asked, coaxing me to ponder upon his words.
I did not know what to say.
“Do you know that you can extend yourself forever in any of the directions I have pointed to?” he went on. “Do you know that one moment can be eternity? This is not a riddle; it’s a fact, but only if you mount that moment and use it to take the totality of yourself for ever in any direction.”
He stared at me.
“You didn’t have this knowledge before,” he said,’smiling. “Now you do. I have revealed it to you, but it doesn’t make a ‘bit of difference, because you don’t have enough personal power to utilize my revelation. Yet if you did have enough power, my words alone would serve as the means for you to round up the totality of yourself and to get the crucial part of it out of the ‘boundaries in which it is contained.”
He came to my side and poked my chest with his fingers; it was a very light tap.
“These are the boundaries I’m talking about,” he said. “One can get out of them. We area feeling, an awareness encased here.”
He slapped my shoulders with both hands. My pad and pencil fell to the ground. Don Juan put his foot on the pad and stared at me and then laughed.
I asked him if he minded my taking notes. He said no in ‘a reassuring tone and moved his foot away.
“We are luminous beings,” he said, shaking his head rhythmically. “And for a luminous being only personal power matters. But if you ask me what personal power is, I have to tell you that my explanation will not explain it.”
Don Juan looked at the western horizon and said that there were still a few hours of daylight left.
“We have to be here for a long time,” he explained. ‘So, we either sit quietly or we talk. It is not natural for you to be silent, so let’s keep on talking. This spot is a power place and it must become used to us ‘before nightfall. You must sit here, as naturally as possible, without fear or impatience. It seems that the easiest way for you to relax is to take notes, so write to your heart’s content.
“And now, suppose you tell me about your dreaming,’.
His sudden shift caught me unprepared. He repeated his request. There was a ‘great deal to say about it.
“Dreaming” entailed cultivating a peculiar control over one’s dreams to the extent that the experiences undergone in them and those lived in one’s waking hours acquired the same pragmatic valence. The sorcerers’ allegation was that under the impact of “dreaming” the ordinary criteria to differentiate a dream from reality became inoperative.
Don Juan’s praxis of “dreaming” was an exercise that consisted of finding one’s hands in a dream. In other words, one had to deliberately dream that one was looking for and could find one’s hands in a dream by simply dreaming that one lifted one’s bands to the level of the eyes.
After years of unsuccessful attempts I had finally accomplished . the task. Looking at it in retrospect, it had become evident to me that I had succeeded only after I had gained a degree of control over the world of my everyday life.
Don Juan wanted to know the salient points. I began telling him that the difficulty of setting up the command to look at my hands seemed to be, quite often, insurmountable. He had warned me that the early stage of the preparatory’ facet, which he called “setting up dreaming,” consisted of a deadly game that one’s mind played with itself, and that some part of myself was going to do. everything it could to prevent the fulfillment of my task. That could include, don Juan bad said, plunging me into a loss of meaning, melancholy, or even a suicidal depression. I did not go that far, however. My experience was rather on the light, comical side; nonetheless, the result was equally frustrating. Every time I was about to look at my hands in a dream something extraordinary would happen; I would begin to fly, or my dream would turn into a nightmare, or it would simply become a very pleasant experience of bodily excitation; everything in the dream would extend far beyond the “normal” in matters of vividness and, therefore, be terribly absorbing. My original intention of observing my hands was always forgotten in light of the new situation.
One night, quite unexpectedly, I found my hands in my dreams. I dreamt that I was walking on an unknown street in a foreign city and suddenly I lifted up my hands and placed them in front of my face. It was as if something within myself had given up and had permitted me to watch the backs of my hands.
Don Juan’s instructions had been that as soon as the sight of my hands would begin to dissolve or change into something else, I had to shift my view from my hands to any other element in the surroundings of my dream. In that particular dream I shifted my view to a building at the end of the street. When the sight of the building began to dissipate I focused my attention on the other elements of the surroundings in my dream. The end result was an incredibly clear composite picture Of a deserted street in some unknown foreign city.
Don Juan made me continue with my account of other experiences in “dreaming.” We talked for a long time.
At the end of my report he stood up and went to the bushes. I also stood up. I was nervous. It was an unwarranted sensation since ,there was nothing precipitating fear or concern. Don Juan returned shortly. He noticed my agitation.
Calm down,” he said, holding my arm gently. He made me sit down and put my notebook on my Lap. He coaxed me to write. His argument was that I should not disturb the power place with unnecessary feelings of fear or hesitation.
“Why do I get so nervous?” I asked.
“It’s natural,” he said. “Some1hing in you is threatened by your activities in dreaming. As long as you did not think about those activities, you were all right. But now that you have revealed your actions you’re about to faint.
“Each warrior has his own way of dreaming. Each way is different. The only thing which we all have in common is that we play tricks in order to force ourselves to abandon the quest. The countermeasure is to persist in spite of all the ‘barriers and disappointments.”
He asked me then if I was capable of selecting topics for “dreaming.” I said that I did not have the faintest idea of how to do that.
“The sorcerers explanation of how to select ‘a topic for dreaming,” he said, “is that a warrior chooses the topic by deliberately holding an image in his mind while he shuts off his internal dialogue. In other words, if he is capable of not talking to himself for a moment and then holds the image or the thought of what he wants in dreaming, even if only for an instant, then the desired topic will come to him. I’m sure you’ve done that, although you were not aware of it.”
There was a long pause and then don Juan began to sniff the air. It was as if he were cleaning his nose; he exhaled three or four times through his nostrils with great force. The muscles of his abdomen contracted in spasms, which he controlled by taking in short gasps of air.
“We won’t talk about dreaming any more,” he said. “You might become obsessed. If one is to succeed in anything, the success must come gently, with a great deal of effort but with no stress or obsession.”
He stood up and walked to the edge of the bushes. He leaned forward and peered into the foliage. He seemed to be examining something in the leaves, without getting too close to them.
“What are you doing?” I asked, unable to contain my curiosity.
He turned to me, smiled and raised his brow. “The bushes are filled with strange things,” he said as he sat down again.
His tone was so casual that it scared me more than if he had let out a sudden yell. My notebook and pencil fell from my hands. He laughed and mimicked me and said that my exaggerated reactions were one of the loose ends that still existed in my life.
I wanted to raise a point but he would not let me talk.
“There’s only a bit of daylight left,” he said. “There are other things we ought to touch upon before the twilight sets in.”
He then added that judging by my production in “dreaming” I must have learned how to stop my internal dialogue at will. I told him that I had.
At the beginning of our association don Juan had delineated another procedure: walking for long stretches without focusing the eyes on anything. His recommendation had been to not look at anything directly but, by slightly crossing the eyes, to keep a peripheral view of everything that presented itself to the eyes. He had insisted, although I had not understood at the time, that if one kept one’s unfocused eyes at a point just above the horizon, it was possible to notice, at once, everything in almost the total 18O-degree range in front of one’s eyes. He had assured me that that exercise was the only way of shutting off the internal dialogue. He used to ask me for reports on my progress, and then he Stopped inquiring about it.
I told don Juan that I had practiced the technique for years without noticing any change, but I had expected none anyway. One day, however, I had the shocking realization that I had just walked for about ten minutes without having said a single word to myse1f.
I mentioned to don Juan that on that occasion I also became cognizant that stopping the internal dialogue involved more than merely curtailing the words I said to myself. My entire thought processes had stopped and I had felt I was practically suspended, floating. A sensation of panic had ensued from that awareness and I had to resume my internal dialogue as an antidote.
“I’ve told you that the internal dialogue is what grounds us,” don Juan said. “The world is such and such or so and so, only because we talk to ourselves about its being such and such or so and so.”
Don Juan explained that the passageway into the world of sorcerers opens up after the warrior has learned to shut off the internal dialogue.
“To change our idea of the world is the crux of sorcery,” he said. “And stopping the internal dialogue is the only way to accomplish it. The rest is just padding. Now you’re in the position to know that nothing of what you’ve seen or done, with the exception of stopping the internal dialogue, could by itself have changed anything in you, or in your idea of the world. The provision is, of course, that that change should not be deranged. Now you can understand why a teacher doesn’t clamp down on his apprentice. That would only breed obsession and morbidity.”
The Day of the Tonal
“I was concerned with those jolts you have had, because that is the way the nagual surfaces. At those moments the tonal becomes aware of the totality of oneself. It is always a jolt because that awareness disrupts the lull. I call that awareness the totality of the being that is going to die. The idea is that at the moment of death the other member of the true pair, the nagual, becomes fully operative and the awareness and memories and perceptions stored in our calves and thighs, in our back and shoulders and neck, begin to expand and disintegrate. Like the beads Of an endless broken necklace, they fall asunder without the binding force of life.”
He looked at me. His eyes were peaceful. I felt ill at ease, stupid.
“The totality of ourselves is a very tacky affair,” he said. “We need only a very small portion of it to fulfill the most complex tasks of life. Yet when we die, we die with the totality of ourselves. A sorcerer asks the question, ‘If we’re going to die with the totality of ourselves, why not, then live with that totality?'”
He signaled me with his head to watch the scores of people that went by.
“They’re all tonal,” he said. “I am going to single some of them out so your tonal will assess them, and in assessing them it will assess itself.”
He directed my attention to two old ladies that had emerged from the church. They stood at the top of the limestone steps for a moment and then began to walk down with infinite care, resting on every step.
“Watch those two women very carefully,” be said. “But don’t see them as persons, or as faces that hold things in common with us; see them as tonals.”
The two women got to the bottom of the steps. They moved as if the rough gravel were marbles and they were about to roll and lose their balance on them. They walked arm in arm, propping each other up with the weight of their bodies.
“Look at them!” don Juan said in a low voice.
“Those women are the best example of the most miserable tonal one can find.”
I noticed that the two women were small-boned but fat. They were perhaps in their early fifties. They had a painful look in their faces as if walking down the church steps had been beyond their strength.
They were in front of us; they vacillated for a moment and then they came to a halt. There was one more step on the gravel walk.
“Watch your step, ladies,” don Juan shouted as he stood up dramatically.
The women looked at him, apparently confused by his sudden outburst.
“My mom broke her hip right there the other day,” he added and dashed over to help them.
They thanked him profusely and he advised them that if they ever lost their balance and fell down, they had to remain motionless on the spot until the ambulance came. His tone was sincere and convincing. The women crossed themselves.
Don Juan sat down again. His eyes were beaming. He spoke softly.
“Those women are not that old and their bodies are not that weak, and yet they are decrepit. Everything about them is dreary-their Clothes. their smell, their attitude. Why do you think that’s so?”
“Maybe they were born that way,” I said.
“No one is born that way. We make ourselves that way The tonal of those women is weak and timid.
“I said that today was going to be the day of the tonal. I meant that today I want to deal with it exclusively. I also said that I had put on my suit for that specific purpose. With it I wanted to show you that a warrior treats his tonal in a very special manner. I’ve pointed out to you that my suit has been made to order and that everything I have on today fits me to perfection. It is not my vanity that I wanted to show, but my warrior’s spirit. my warrior’s tonal.”
“Those two women gave you your first view of the tonal today. Life can be as merciless with you as it is with them, if you are careless with your tonal. I put myself as the counterpoint. If you understand correctly I should not need to stress this point.”
I had a sudden attack of uncertainty and asked him to spell out what I should have understood.
I must have sounded desperate. He laughed out loud. “Look at that young man in green pants and a pink shirt,” don Juan whispered, pointing to a very thin and very dark complexioned, sharp-featured young man who was standing almost in front of us. He seemed to be undecided whether to go towards the church or towards the street. Twice he raised his hand in the direction of the church as though he were talking to himself and were about to start moving towards it. Then he stared at me with a blank expression.
“Look at the way he’s dressed,” don Juan said in a whisper. “Look at those shoes!”
The young man’s clothes were tattered and wrinkled, and his shoes were in absolute pieces.
“He’s obviously very poor,” I said.
“Is that all you can say about him?” he asked.
I enumerated ‘a series of reasons that might have accounted for the young man’s shabbiness: poor health, bad luck, indolence, indifference to his personal appearance, or the chance that he may have just been released from prison.
Don Juan said that I was merely speculating, and that he was not interested in justifying anything by suggesting that the man was a victim of unconquerable forces.
“Maybe he’s a secret agent made to look like a bum,” I said jokingly.
The young man walked away towards the street with a disjointed gait.
“He’s not made to look like a bum; he is a bum,” don Juan said. “Look how weak his body is. His arms and legs are thin. He can hardly walk. No one can pretend to look that way. There is something definitely wrong with him, not his circumstances, though. I have to stress again that I want you to see that man as a tonal”
“What does it entail to see a man as a tonal?”
“It entails to cease judging him in a moral sense, or excusing him on the grounds that he is like a leaf at the mercy of the wind. In other words, it entails seeing a man without thinking that he is hopeless or helpless.
“You know exactly what I am talking about. You can assess that young man without condemning or forgiving him.”
“He drinks too much,” I said.
My statement was not volitional. I just made it without really knowing why. For an instant I even felt that someone standing behind me had voiced the words. I was moved to explain that my statement was another of my speculations.
“That was not the case,” don Juan said. “Your tone of voice had a certainty that you lacked before. You didn’t say, ‘Maybe he’s a drunkard.'”
I felt embarrassed although I could not exactly determine why. Don Juan laughed.
“You saw through the man,” he said. “That was seeing. Seeing is like that. Statements are made with great certainty, and one doesn’t know how it happened.
“You know that young man’s tonal was shot, but you don’t know how you know it.” .
I had to admit that somehow I had that impression.
“You’re right,” don Juan said. “It doesn’t really matter that he’s young, he’s as decrepit as the two women. Youth is in no way a barrier against the deterioration of the tonal.
“You thought that there might be a great many reasons for that man’s condition. I find that there is only one, his tonal. It is not that his tonal is weak because he drinks; it is the other way around, he drinks because his tonal is weak. That weakness forces him to be what he is. But the same thing happens to all of us, in one form or another.”
“But aren’t you also justifying his behavior by saying that it’s his tonal?”
“I’m giving you an explanation that you have never encountered before. It is not a justification or a condemnation, though. That young man’s tonal is weak and timid. And yet he’s not unique. All of us are more or less in the same boat.”
At that moment a very large man passed in front of us heading towards the church. He was wearing an expensive dark gray business suit and was carrying a briefcase. The collar of his shirt was unbuttoned and his necktie loose. He was sweating profusely. He had a very light complexion which made the perspiration all the more obvious.
“Watch him!” don Juan ordered me.
The man’s steps were small but heavy. There was awobbling quality to his walking. He did not go up to the church; he circumvented it and disappeared behind it.
“There is no need to treat the body in such an awful manner,” don Juan said with a note of scorn. “But the sad fact is that all of us have learned to perfection how to make our tonal weak. I have called that indulging.”
He put his band on my notebook and did not let me write any more. His rationale was that as long as I kept on taking notes I was incapable of concentrating. He suggested I should relax, shut off the internal dialogue, and let go, merging with the person being observed.
I asked him to explain what he meant by “merging.” He said there was no way to explain it, that it was something that the body felt or did when put in observational contact with other bodies. He then clarified the issue by saying that in the past he had called that process “seeing,” and that it consisted of a lull of true silence within followed by an outward elongation of something in the self, an elongation that met and merged with the other body, or with anything within one’s field of awareness.
At that point I wanted to get back to my writing pad, but he stopped me and began to single out different people from the crowd that passed by.
He pointed out dozens of persons covering a wide range of types among men, women and children of various ages. Don Juan said that he had selected persons whose weak “tonal” could fit into a categorization scheme, and thus he had acquainted me with a preconceived variety of indulging.
I did not remember all the people he had pointed out and discussed. I complained that if I had taken notes I could have at least sketched out the intricacies of his schemata on indulging. As it was he did not want to repeat it or perhaps he did not remember it either.
He laughed and said that he did not remember it, because in the life of a sorcerer it was the “nagual” that was accountable for creativity.
He looked at the sky and said that it was getting late, and that from that moment on we were going to change direction. Instead of weak “tonals” we were going to wait for the appearance of a “proper tonal.” He added that only a warrior had a “proper tonal,” and that the average man, at best, could have a “right tonal.”
After a few minutes’ wait he slapped his thigh and chuckled.
“Look who’s coming now,” he said, pointing to the street with a movement of his chin.
“It is as if they were made to order.”
I saw three male Indians approaching. They had on some short brown woolen ponchos, white pants that came to their mid calf, tong-sleeved White tops, dirty worn-out sandals and old straw hats. Each of them carried a bundle tied to his back.
Don Juan stood up and went to meet them. He spoke to them. They seemed surprised and surrounded him. They smiled at him. He was apparently telling them something about me; the three of them turned around and smiled at me. They were about ten or twelve feet away; I listened carefully but I could not hear what they were saying.
Don Juan reached in his pocket and handed them some bills. They appeared to be pleased; they moved their feet nervously. I liked them very much. They looked like children. All of them had small white teeth and very pleasing mild features. One, by all appearances the oldest, had whiskers. His eyes were tired but very kind. He took off his hat and came closer to the bench. The others followed him. The three of them greeted me in unison. We shook hands. Don Juan told me to give them some money. They thanked me and after a polite silence they said good.-by. Don Juan sat back on the bench and we watched them disappear in the crowd.
I told don Juan that for some strange reason I had liked them very much.
“It isn’t so strange,” he said. “You must’ve felt that their tonal is just right. It is right, but not for our time.
“You probably felt they were like children. They are. And that is very tough. I understand them better than you, thus I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of Sadness. Indians are like dogs, they have nothing. But that is the nature of their fortune and I shouldn’t feel sad. My sadness, of course, is my own way of indulging.”
“Where are they from, don Juan?”
“From the Sierras. They’ve come here to seek their fortune. They want to become merchants. They’re brothers. I told them that I ‘also came from the Sierras and I’am a merchant myself. I said that you were my partner. The money we gave them was a token; a warrior should give tokens like that all the time. They no doubt need the money, but need should not be an essential consideration for a token. The thing to look for is feeling. I personally was moved by those three.
“Indians are the losers of our time. Their downfall began with the Spaniards and now under the reign of their descendants the Indians have lost everything. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Indians have lost their tonal.”
“Is that a metaphor, don Juan?”
“No. It is a fact. The tonal is very vulnerable. It can not withstand maltreatment. The white man, from the day he set foot on this land, has systematica11y destroyed not only the Indian tonal of the time, but also the personal tonal of every Indian. One can easily surmise that for the poor average Indian the reign of the white man has been sheer hell. And yet the irony is that for another kind of Indian it has been sheer bliss.”
“Who are you talking about? What kind of Indian is that?”
“The sorcerer. For the sorcerer the Conquest was the challenge of a lifetime. They were the only ones who were not destroyed by it but adapted to it and used it to their ultimate advantage.”
“How was that possible, don Juan? I was under the impression that the Spaniards left no stone unturned.”
“Let’s say that they turned over all the stones that were within the limits of their own tonal. In the Indian life, however, there were things that were incomprehensible to the white man; those things he did not even notice. Perhaps it was the sheer luck of the sorcerers, or perhaps it was their knowledge that saved them. After the tonal of the time and the personal tonal of every Indian was obliterated, the sorcerers found themselves holding onto the only thing left uncontested, the nagual. In other words, their tonal took refuge in their nagual. This couldn’t have happened had it not been for the excruciating conditions of a vanquished people. The men of knowledge of today are the product of those conditions and are the ultimate connoisseurs of the nagual since they were left there thoroughly alone. There, the white man has never ventured. In fact, he doesn’t even have the idea it exists.”
I felt compelled at that point to present an argument. I sincerely contended that in European thought we had accounted for what be called the “nagual.” I brought in
the concept of the Transcendental Ego, or the unobserved observer present in all our thoughts, perceptions, and feelings. I explained to don Juan that the individual could perceive or intuit himself, as a self, through the Transcendental Ego, because this was the only thing capable of judgment, capable of disclosing reality within the rea1m of its consciousness.
Don Juan was unruffled. He laughed.
“Disclosing reality,” he said, mimicking me. “That’s the tonal”
I argued that the “tonal” may be called the Empirical Ego found in one’s passing stream of consciousness or experience, while the Transcendental Ego was found behind that stream.
“Watching, I suppose,” he said mockingly.
“That’s right. Watching itself,” I said.
“I hear you talking,” he said. “But you’re saying nothing. The nagual is not experience or intuition or consciousness. Those terms and everything else you may care to say are only items on the island of the tonal. The nagual, on the other hand, is only effect. The tonal begins at birth and ends at death, but the nagual never ends. The nagual has no limit. I’ve said that the nagual is where power hovers; that was only a way of alluding to it. By reasons of its effect, perhaps the nagual can be best understood in terms of power. For instance, when you felt numb and couldn’t talk earlier today, I was actually soothing you; that is, my nagual was acting upon you.”
“How was that possible, don Juan?”
“You won’t believe this, but no one knows how. All I know is that I wanted your undivided attention and then my nagual went to work on you. I know that much because I can witness its effect, but I don’t know how it works.”
He was quiet for a while. I wanted to keep on the same topic. I attempted to ask a question; he silenced me.
“One can say that the nagual accounts for creativity,” he finally said ,and looked at me piercingly. “The nagual is the only part of us that can create.”
He remained quiet, looking at me. I felt he was definitely leading me into an area I had wished he would elucidate furtl1er. He had said that the “tonal” did not create anything, but only witnessed and assessed. I asked how he explained the fact that we construct superb structures and machines.
“That’s not creativity,” he said. “That’s only molding. We can mold anything with our hands, personally or in conjunction with the hands of other tonals. A group of tonals can mold anything, superb structures as you said.”
The Whispering of the Nagual
“Through the air?”
“No. For the nagual there is no land, or air, or water. At this point you yourself can agree with that. Twice you were in that limbo and you were only at the door of the nagual. You’ve told me that everything you encountered was uncharted. So the nagual glides, or flies, or does whatever it may do, in nagual’s time, and that has nothing to do with tonal’s time. The two things don’t jibe.”
As don Juan spoke I felt a tremor in my body. My jaw dropped and my mouth opened involuntarily. My ears unplugged and I could hear a barely perceptible tingle or vibration. While I was describing my sensations to don Juan I noticed that when I talked it sounded ,as if someone else were talking. It was a complex sensation that amounted to my hearing what I was going to say before I said it.
My left ear was a source of extraordinary sensations. I felt that it was more powerful and more accurate than my right ear. There was something in it that had not been there before. When I turned around to face don Juan, who was to my right, I became aware that I had a range of clear auditory perception around that ear. It was a physical space, a range within which I could hear everything with incredible fidelity. By turning my head around I could scan the surroundings with my ear.
“The Whispering of the nagual did that to you,” don Juan said when I described my sensorial experience. “It’ll come at times and then vanish. Don’t be afraid of it, or of any unusual sensation that you may have from now on. But above all, don’t indulge and become 0bsessed with those sensations. I know you will succeed. The time for your splitting was right. Power fixed all that. Now everything depends on you. If you are powerful enough you will sustain the great shock of being split. But if you’re incapable of holding on, you will perish. You will begin to wither away, lose weight, become pale, absent-minded, irritable, quiet.”
“Perhaps if you would have told me years ago,” I said, “What you and don Genaro were doing, I would have enough. . .”
He raised his hand and did not let me finish.
“That’s a meaningless statement,” he said. “You once told me that if it wouldn’t be for the fact that you’re stubborn and given to rational explanations you would be a sorcerer by now. But to be a sorcerer in your case means that you have to overcome stubbornness and the need for rational explanations, which stand in your way. What’s more, those shortcomings are your road to power. You can’t say that power would flow to you if your life would be different.
“Genaro and I have to act the same way you do, within certain limits. Power sets up those limits and a warrior is, let’s say, a prisoner of power; a prisoner Who has one free choice: the choice to act either like an impeccable warrior, or to act like an ass. In the final analysis, perhaps the warrior is not a prisoner but a slave Of power, because that choice is no longer a choice for him. Genaro cannot act in any other way but impeccably. To act like an ass would drain him and cause his demise.
“The reason why you’re afraid of Genaro is because he has to use the avenue of fright to shrink your tonal. Your body knows that, although your reason may not, and thus your body wants to run away every time Genaro is around.”
I mentioned that I was curious to know if don Genaro deliberately set out to scare me. He said that the “nagual” did strange things, things which were not foreseeable. He gave me, as an example, what had happened between us in the morning when he prevented my turning to my left to look at don Genaro in the tree. He said that he was aware of what his “nagual” had done although he had no way of knowing about it ahead of time. His explanation of the whole affair was that my sudden movement to the left was a step towards my death, which my “tonal” was deliberately taking as a suicidal plunge. That movement stirred his “nagual” and the result was that some part of him fell on top of me.
I made an involuntary gesture of perplexity.
“Your reason is telling you again that you’re immortal,” he said.
“What do you mean by that, don Juan?”
“An immortal being has all the time in the world for doubts and bewilderment and fears. A warrior, on the other hand, cannot cling to the meanings made under the tonals order, because be knows for a fact that the totality 01 himself has but a little time on this earth.”
I wanted to make a serious point. My fears and doubts and bewilderment were not on a conscious level and, no matter how hard I tried to control them, every time I was confronted with don Juan and don Genaro I felt helpless.
“A warrior cannot be helpless,” he said. “Or bewildered or frightened, not under any circumstances. For a warrior there is time only for his impeccability; everything else drains his power, impeccability replenishes it.”
“We’re back again to my old question, don Juan.
“Yes, we’re back again to your old question and consequently we’re back again to my Old answer: ‘Impeccability is to do your best in whatever you’re engaged in’ “
“But don Juan, my point is that I’m always under the impression I’m doing my best, and obviously I’m not. “
“It’s not as complicated as you make it appear. The key to all these matters of impeccability is the sense of having or not having time. As a rule of thumb, when you feel and act like an immortal being that has all the time in the world you are not impeccable; at those times you should turn, look around, and then you will realize that your feeling of having time is an idiocy. There are no survivors on this earth!”
The Wings of Perception
Don Juan moved closer to me. He leaned over and whispered in my right ear, “Don’t you think it’s funny?” Don Genaro also leaned over towards me and whispered in my left ear, “What did he say?” I had an automatic reaction to both questions and made an involuntary synthesis.
“Yes. I thought he asked it’s funny,” I said.
They were obviously aware of the effect of their maneuvers; they laughed until tears rolled down their cheeks. Don Genaro, as usual, was more exaggerated than don Juan; be fell backwards and rolled on his back a few yards away from me. He lay on his stomach, extending his arms and legs out, and whirled around on the ground as though he were lying on a swivel. He whirled until he got close to me and his foot touched mine. He sat up abruptly and smiled sheepishly.
Don Juan was holding his sides. He was laughing very hard and it seemed that his stomach hurt.
After a while they both leaned over and kept on whispering into my ears. I tried to memorize the sequence of their utterances but after a futile effort I gave up. There were too many.
They whispered in my ears until I again had the sensation that I had been split in two. I became a mist, like the day before, a yellow glow that sensed everything directly. That is, I could “know” things. There were no thoughts involved; there were only certainties. And when i came into contact with a soft, spongy, bouncy feeling, which was outside of me and yet was part of me, I “knew” it was a tree. I sensed it was a tree by its odor. It did not smell like any specific tree I could remember, nonetheless something in me “knew” that that peculiar odor was the “essence” of tree. I did not have just the feeling that I knew, nor did i reason my knowledge out, or shuffle clues around. I simply knew that there was something there in contact with me, all around me, a friendly, warm, compelling smell emanating from something which was neither solid nor liquid but an undefined something else, which I “knew” was a tree. I felt that by “knowing” it in that manner I was tapping its essence. I was not repelled by it. It rather invited me to melt with it. It engulfed me or I engulfed it. There was a bond between us which was neither exquisite nor displeasing.
The next sensation I could recollect with clarity was a wave of wonder and exultation. All of me vibrated. It was as if charges of electricity were going through me. They were not painful. They were pleasing, but in such an undetermined form that there was no way of categorizing them. I knew, nevertheless, that whatever I was in contact with was the ground. Some part of me acknowledged with concise certainty that it was the ground. But the instant I tried to discern the infinitude of direct perceptions I was having, I lost all capacity to differentiate my perceptions.
Then all of a sudden I was myself again. I was thinking. It was such an abrupt transition that I thought I had woken up. Yet there was something in the way I felt that was not quite myself. I knew that there was indeed something missing before I fully opened my eyes. I looked around. I was still in a dream, or having a vision of some sort. My thought processes, however, were not only unimpaired but extraordinarily clear. I made a quick assessment. I had no doubt that don Juan and don Genaro had induced my dreamlike state for a specific purpose. I seemed to be on the verge of understanding what that purpose was when something extraneous to me forced me to pay attention to my surroundings. It took me a long moment to orient myself. I was actually lying on my stomach and what I was lying on was a most spectacular floor. As I examined it, I could not avoid a feeling of awe and wonder. I could not conceive what it was made of. Irregular slabs of some unknown substance had been placed in a most intricate yet simple fashion. They had been put together but were not stuck to the ground or to each other. They were elastic and gave when I attempted to pry them apart with my fingers, but once I released the tension they went right back to their original position.
I tried to get up and was seized by the most outlandish sensory distortion. I had no control over my body; in fact, my body did not seem to be my own. It was inert; I had no connection to any of its parts and when I tried to stand up I could not move my arms and I wobbled helplessly on my stomach, rolling on my side. The momentum of my wobbling almost made me do a complete turn onto my stomach again. My outstretched arms and legs prevented me from turning over and I came to rest on my back. In that position I caught a glimpse of two strangely shaped legs and the most distorted feet I bad ever seen. It was my body! I seemed to be wrapped up in a tunic. The thought that came to my mind was that I was experiencing a scene of myself as a cripple or an invalid of some sort. I tried to curve my back and look at my legs but I could only jerk my body. I was looking directly at a yellow sky, a deep, rich lemon-yellow sky.
It had grooves or canals of a deeper yellow tone and an endless number of protuberances that hung like drops of water. The total effect of that incredible sky was staggering. I could not determine if the protuberances were clouds. There were also areas of shadows and areas of different tones of yellow which I discovered as I moved my head from side to side.
Then something else attracted my attention: a sun at the very zenith of the yellow sky, right over my head, a mild sun-judging by the fact that I could stare into it-that cast a soothing, uniform whitish light.
Before I had had time to ponder upon all these unearthly sights, I was violently shaken; my head jerked and bobbed back and forth. I felt I was being lifted. I heard a shrill voice and giggling and I was confronted by a most astounding sight: a giant barefoot female. Her face was round and enormous. Her black hair was cut in pageboy fashion. Her arms and legs were gigantic. She picked me up and lifted me to her shoulders as if I were a doll. My body hung limp. I was looking down her strong back. She had a fine fuzz around her shoulders and down her spine. Looking down from her shoulder, I saw the magnificent floor again. I could hear it giving elastically under her enormous weight and I could see the pressure marks that her feet left on it.
She put me down on my stomach in front of a structure, some sort of building. I noticed then that there was something wrong with my depth perception. I could not figure out the size of the building by looking at it. At moments it seemed ridiculously small, but then after I seemingly adjusted my perception, I truly marveled at its monumental proportions.
The giant girl sat next to me and made the floor squeak. I was touching her enormous knee. She smelled like candy or strawberries. She talked to me and I understood everything she said; pointing to the structure, she told me that I was going to live there.
My prowess of observation seemed to increase as I got over the initial shock ‘of finding myself there. I noticed then that the building had four exquisite dysfunctional columns. They did not support anything; they were On top of the building. Their shape was simplicity itself; they were long and graceful projections that seemed to be reaching far that awesome, incredibly yellow sky. The effect Of those inverted columns was sheer beauty to me. I had a seizure of aesthetic rapture.
The columns seemed to have been made in one piece; I could not even conceive how. The two columns in front were joined by a slender beam, a monumentally long rod that I thought may have served as a railing of some sort, or a veranda overlooking the front.
The giant girl made me slide On my back into the structure. The roof was black and flat and was covered with symmetric holes that let the yellowish glare of the sky show through, creating the most intricate patterns. I was truly awed with the utter simplicity and beauty that had been achieved by those dots of yellow sky showing through those precise holes in the roof, and the patterns Of shadows that they created on that magnificent and intricate floor. The structure was square,and outside of its poignant beauty it was incomprehensible to me.
My state of exultation was so intense at that moment that I wanted to weep, or stay there forever. But some force, or tension, or something undefinable began to pull me.
Suddenly I found myself out of the structure, still lying on my back. The giant girl was there, but there was another being with her, a woman so big that she reached to the sky and eclipsed the sun. Compared to her the giant girl was just a little girl.
The big woman was angry; she grabbed the structure by one of its columns, lifted it up, turned it upside down, and set it on the floor. It was a chair!
That realization was like a catalyst; it triggered some overwhelming perceptions. I went through a series of images that were disconnected but could be made to stand as a sequence. In successive flashes I saw or realized that the magnificent and incomprehensible floor was a straw mat; the yellow sky was the stucco ceiling of a room; the sun was a light bulb; the structure that had evoked such rapture in me was a chair that a child had turned upside down to play house.
I had one more coherent and sequential vision of another mysterious architectural structure of monumental proportions. It stood by itself. It looked almost like a shell of a pointed snail standing with its tail up. The walls were made of concave and convex plates of some strange purple material; each plate had grooves that seemed more functional than ornamental.
I examined the structure meticulously and in detail and found that it was, like in the case of the previous one, thoroughly incomprehensible. I expected to suddenly adjust my perception to disclose the “true” nature of the structure. But nothing of the sort happened. I then had a conglomerate of alien and inextricable “awarenesses,” or “findings,” about the building and its function, which did not make sense, because I had no frame of reference for them.
I regained my normal awareness all of a sudden. Don Juan and don Genaro were next to me. I was tired. I looked for my watch; it was gone. Don Juan and don Genaro giggled in unison. Don Juan said that I should not worry about time and that I should concentrate on following certain recommendations that don Genaro had made to me.
I turned to don Genaro and he made a joke. He said I that the most important recommendation was that I should learn to write with my finger, to save on pencils and to show off.
They teased me about my notes for a while longer and then I went to sleep.
Don Juan and don Genaro listened to the detailed account of my experience, which I gave them at don Juan’s request after I woke up the next day.
“Genaro feels that you’ve got enough for the time being,” don Juan said after I finished talking.
Don Genaro assented with a nod.
“What was the meaning of what I experienced last night?” I asked.
“You caught a glimpse of the most important issue of sorcery,” don Juan said. “Last night you peeked into the totality of yourself. But that’s of course a meaningless statement for you at this moment. Obviously, arriving at the totality of oneself is not a matter of one’s desire to agree, or of one’s willingness to learn. Genaro thinks that your body needs time to let the whispering of the nagual sink into you.”
Don Genaro nodded again.
“Plenty of time,” he said, shaking his head up and down. “Twenty or thirty years perhaps.”
I did not know how to react. I looked at don Juan for clues. They both had serious expressions.
“Do I really have twenty or thirty years?” I asked.
“Of course not!” don Genaro yelled and they broke into laughter.
Don Juan said that I should return whenever my inner voice told me to, and that in the meantime I should try to assemble all the suggestions that they had made while I was split.
“How do I do that? I asked.
“By turning off your internal dialogue and letting something in you flow out and expand,” don Juan said. “That something is your perception, but don’t try to figure out what I mean. Just let the whispering of the nagual guide you.”
Then he said that the night before I had had two sets at intrinsically different views. One was inexplicable, the other was perfectly natural, and the order in which they had happened pointed to a condition that was intrinsic to all of us.
“One view was the nagual, the other the tonal,” don Genaro added.
I wanted him to explain his statement. He looked at me and patted me on the back.
Don Juan stepped in and said that the first two views were the “nagual,” and that don Genaro had selected a tree and the ground as the points for emphasis. The other two were views of the “tonal” that he himself had selected; one of them was my perception of the world as an infant.
“It appeared to bean alien world to you, because your perception had not been trimmed yet to fit the desired mold,” he said.
“Was that the way I really saw the world?” I asked. “Certainly,” he said. “That was your memory.”
I asked don Juan whether the feeling of aesthetic appreciation that had enraptured me was also part of my memory.
“We go into those views as we are today,” he said. “You were seeing that scene as you would see it now. Yet the exercise was one of perception. That was the scene of a time when the world became for you what it is now. A time when a chair became a chair.”
He did not want to discuss the other scene.
“That wasn’t a memory of my childhood,” I said. “That’s right,” he said. “It was something else.
“Was it something I will see in the future?” I asked. “There’s no future! he exclaimed cuttingly. “The future is only a way of talking. For a sorcerer there is only the here and now.”
He said that there was essentially nothing to say about it because the purpose of the exercise had been to open the wings of my perception, and that although I had not flown on those wings I had nonetheless touched four points which would be inconceivable to reach from the point of view of my ordinary perception.
The Strategy of the Sorcerer
“Let me begin by telling you that a teacher never seeks apprentices and no one can solicit the teachings,” he said. “It’s always an omen which points out an apprentice. A warrior who may be in the position of becoming a teacher must be alert in order to catch his cubic centimeter of chance. I saw you just before we met; you had a good tonal, like that girl we encountered in Mexico City. After I saw you I waited, very much like what we did with the girl that night in the park. The girl went by without paying attention to us. But you were brought to me by a man who ran away after babbling inanities. You were left there, facing me, also babbling inanities. I knew I had to act fast and hook you; you yourself would’ve had to do something of that sort if that girl would’ve talked to you. What I did was to grab you with my will.”
Don Juan was alluding to the extraordinary way he had looked at me the day we met. He had fixed his gaze on me and I had had an inexplicable feeling of vacuity, or numbness. I could not find any logical explanation for my reaction and I have always believed that after our first meeting I went back to see him only because I had become obsessed with that look.
“That was my quickest way of hooking you,” he said. “It was a direct blow to your tonal. I numbed it by focusing my will on it.”
“How did you do that?” I asked.
“The warrior’s gaze is placed on the right eye of the other person,” he said. “And what it does is to stop the internal dialogue, then the nagual takes over; thus, the danger of that maneuver. Whenever the nagual prevails,even if it is only for an instant, there is no way of describing the feeling that the body experiences. I know that you have spent endless hours trying to figure out what you felt and that to this day you haven’t been able to. I accomplished what I wanted, though. I hooked you.”
I told him that I could still remember him staring at me.
“The gaze on the right eye is not a stare,” he said. “It’s rather a forceful grabbing that one does through the eye of the other person. In other words, one grabs something that is behind the eye. One has the actual physical sensation that one is holding something with the will”
He scratched his head, tilting his hat to the front,over his face.
“This is, naturally, only a way of talking,” he continued. “A way of explaining weird physical sensations.”
He ordered me to stop writing and look at him. He said that he was going to “grab” my “tonal” gently with his “will.” The sensation I experienced was a repetition of what I had felt on that first day we had met and on other occasions when don Juan had made me feel that his eyes were actually touching me, in a physical sense.
“But, how do you make me feel you’re touching me, don Juan? What do you actually do?” I asked.
“There’s no way of exactly describing what one does,” he said. “Something snaps forward from someplace below the stomach; that something has direction and can be focused on anything.”
I again felt something like soft tweezers clasping some undefined part of me.
“It works only when the warrior learns to focus his will.” don Juan explained after he moved his eyes away. “There’s no way of practicing it, therefore I have not recommended or encouraged its use. At a given moment in the life of a warrior it simply happens. No one knows how.”
He remained quiet for a while. I felt extremely apprehensive. Don Juan suddenly began to speak again.
“The secret is in the left eye,” he said. “As a warrior progresses on the path of knowledge his left eye can clasp anything. Usually the left eye of a warrior has a strange appearance; sometimes it becomes permanently crossed, or it becomes smaller than the other, or larger, or different in some way.”
He glanced at me and in a joking manner pretended to examine my left eye. He shook his head in mock disapproval and chuckled.
“Once the apprentice has been hooked, the instruction begins,” he continued. “The first act of a teacher is to introduce the idea that the world we think we see is only a view, a description of the world. Every effort of a teacher is geared to prove this point to his apprentice. But accepting it seems to be one of the hardest things one can do; we are complacently caught in our particular view of the world, which compels us to feel and act as if we knew everything about the world. A teacher, from the very first act he performs, aims at stopping that view. Sorcerers call it stopping the internal dialogue, and they are convinced that it is the single most important technique that an apprentice can learn.
“In order to stop the view of the world which one has held since the cradle, it is not enough to just wish or make a resolution. One needs a practical task; that practical task is called the right way of walking. It seems harmless and nonsensical. As everything else which has power in itself or by itself, the right way of walking does not attract attention. You understood it and regarded it, at least for several years, as a curious way of behaving. It didn’t dawn on you until very recently that that was the most effective way to stop your internal dialogue.”
“How does the right way of walking stop the internal dialogue?” I asked.
“Walking in that specific manner saturates the tonal,” he said. “It floods it. You see, the attention of the tonal has to be placed on its creations. In fact, it is that attention that creates the order of the world in the first place; so, the tonal must be attentive to the elements of its world in order to maintain it, and must, above all, uphold the view of the world as internal dialogue.”
He said that the right way of walking was a subterfuge. The warrior, first by curling his fingers, drew attention to the arms; and then by looking, without focusing his eyes, at any point directly in front of him on the arc that started at the tip of his feet and ended above the horizon, he literally flooded his “tonal” with information. The “tonal,” without its one-to-one relation with the elements of its description, was incapable of talking to itself and thus one became silent.
Don Juan explained that the position of the fingers did not matter at all, that the only consideration was to draw attention to the arms by clasping the fingers in various unaccustomed ways, and that the important thing was the manner in which the eyes, by being kept unfocused, detected an enormous number of features of the world without being clear about them. He added that the eyes in that state were capable of picking out details which were too fleeting for normal vision.
“Together with the right way of walking” don Juan went on, “a teacher must teach his apprentice another possibility, which is even more subtle: the possibility of acting without believing, without expecting rewards acting just for the hell of it. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I told you that the success of a teacher’s enterprise depends on how well and how harmoniously he guides his apprentice in this specific respect.”
I told don Juan that I did not remember him ever discussing “acting just for the hell of it” as a particular technique; all I could recollect were his constant but loose comments about it.
He laughed and said that his maneuver had been so subtle that it had bypassed me to that day. He then reminded me of all the nonsensical joking tasks that he used to give me every time I had been at his house. Absurd chores such as arranging firewood in patterns, encircling his house with an unbroken chain of con. centric circles drawn in the dirt with my finger, sweeping debris from one place to another, and so forth. The tasks also included acts that I had to perform by myself at home, such as wearing a black cap, or tying my left shoe first, or fastening my belt from right to left.
The reason I had never taken them in any other vein except as jokes was that he would invariably tell me to forget about them after I had established them as regular routines.
As he recapitulated all the tasks he had given me I realized that by making me perform senseless routines he had indeed implanted in me the idea of acting without really expecting anything in return.
“Stopping the internal dialogue is, however, the key to the sorcerers’ world,” he said. “The rest of the activities are only props; all they do is accelerate the effect of stopping the internal dialogue.”
He said that there were two major activities or techniques used to accelerate the stopping of the internal dialogue: erasing personal history and “dreaming.” He reminded me that during the early stages of my apprenticeship he had given me a number of specific methods for changing my “personality.” I had recorded them in my notes and had forgotten about them for years until I realized their importance. Those specific methods seemed at first to be highly idiosyncratic devices to coerce me into modifying my behavior.
He explained that the art of a teacher was to deviate the apprentice’s attention from the main issues. A poignant example of that art was the fact that I had not realized until that day that he had actually tricked me into learning a most crucial point: to act without expecting rewards.
He said that in line with that rationale he had rallied my interest around the idea of “seeing,” which, properly understood, was the act of dealing directly with the “nagual,” an act that was an unavoidable end result of the teachings but an unattainable task as a task per se.
“What was the point of tricking me that way?” I asked.
“Sorcerers are convinced that all of us are a bunch of nincompoops,” he said. “We can never relinquish our crummy control voluntarily, thus we have to be tricked.”
His contention was that by making me focus my attention on a pseudo task, learning to “see,” he had successfully accomplished two things. First he had outlined the direct encounter with the “nagual,” without mentioning it, and second he had tricked me into considering the real issues of his teachings as inconsequential affairs. Erasing personal history and “dreaming” were never as important to me as “seeing.” I regarded them as very entertaining activities. I even thought that they were the practices for which I had the greatest facility.
Greatest facility,” he said mockingly when he heard my comments. “A teacher must not leave anything to chance. I’ve told you that you were correct in feeling that you were being tricked. The problem was that you were convinced that that tricking was directed at fooling your reason. For me, tricking meant to distract your attention, or to trap it as the case required.”
He looked at me with squinting eyes and pointed all around us with a sweeping gesture of his arm.
“The secret of all this is one’s attention,” he said. “What do you mean, don Juan?”
“All of this exists only because of our attention. This very rock where we’re sitting is a rock because we have been forced to give our attention to it as a rock.”
I wanted him to explain that idea. He laughed and raised an accusing finger at me.
“This is a recapitulation,” he said. “We’ll get to that later.”
He asserted that because of his decoy maneuver I became interested in erasing personal history and “dreaming.” He said that the effects of those two techniques were ultimately devastating if they were exercised in their totality, and that then his concern was the concern of every teacher, not to let his apprentice do
anything that would plunge him into aberration and morbidity.
“Erasing personal history and dreaming should only be a help,” he said. “What any apprentice needs to buffer him is temperance and strength. That’s why a teacher introduces the warrior’s way, or living like a warrior. This is the glue that joins together everything in a sorcerer’s world. Bit by bit a teacher must forge and develop it. Without the sturdiness and level-headedness of the warrior’s way there is no possibility of withstanding the path of knowledge.”
Don Juan said that learning the warrior’s way was an instance when the apprentice’s attention had to be trapped rather than deviated, and that he had trapped my attention by pushing me out of my ordinary circumstances every time I had gone to see him. Our roaming around the desert and the mountains had been the means to accomplish that.
The maneuver of altering the context of my ordinary world by taking me for hikes and hunting was another instance of his system that had bypassed me. Context disarrangement meant that I did not know the ropes and my attention had to be focused on everything don Juan did.
“What a trick! Uh?” he said and laughed.
I laughed with awe. I had never realized that he was so aware.
He then enumerated his steps in guiding and trapping my attention. When he had finished his account he added that a teacher had to take into consideration the personality of the apprentice, and that in my ,case he had to be careful because I was violent and would have thought nothing of killing myself out of despair.
“What a preposterous fellow you are, don Juan,” I said in jest, and he exploded in a giant laugh.
He explained that in order to help erase personal history three other techniques were taught. They were: losing self-importance, assuming responsibility, and using death as an adviser. The idea was that, without the beneficial effect of those three techniques, erasing personal history would involve the apprentice in being shifty, evasive, and unnecessarily dubious about himself and his actions.
Don Juan asked me to tell him what had been the most natural reaction I had had in moments of stress, frustration, and disappointment before I became an apprentice. He said that his own reaction had been wrath. I told him that mine had been self-pity.
“Although you’re not aware of it, you had to work your head off to make that feeling a natural one,” he said. “By now there is no way for you to recollect the immense effort that you needed to establish self-pity as a feature of your island. Self-pity bore witness to everything you did. It was just at your fingertips, ready to advise you. Death is considered by a warrior to be a more amenable adviser, which can also be brought to bear witness on everything one does, just like self-pity, or wrath. Obviously, after an untold struggle you had learned to feel sorry for yourself. But you can also learn, in the same way, to feel your impending end, and thus you can learn to have the idea of your death at your fingertips. As an adviser, self-pity is nothing in comparison to death.”
Don Juan pointed out then that there was seemingly a contradiction in the idea of change; on the one hand, the sorcerers’ world called for a drastic transformation, and on the other, the sorcerers’ explanation said that the island of the “tonal” was complete and not a single element of it could be removed. Change, then, did not mean obliterating anything but rather altering the use assigned to those elements.
“Take self-pity for instance,” he said. “There is no way to get rid of it for good; it has a definite place and character in your island, a definite facade which is recognizable. Thus, every time the occasion arises, self-pity becomes active. It has history. If you then change the facade of self-pity, you would have shifted its place of prominence.”
I asked him to explain the meaning of his metaphors,especially the idea of changing facades. I understood it as perhaps the act of playing more than one role at the same time.
“One changes the facade by altering the use of the elements of the island,” he replied. “Take self-pity again. It was useful to you because you either felt important and deserving of better conditions, better treatment, or because you were unwilling to assume responsibility for the acts that brought you to the state that elicited self-pity, or because you were incapable of bringing the idea of your impending death to witness your acts and advise you.
“Erasing personal history and its three companion techniques are the sorcerers’ means for changing the facade of the elements of the island. For instance, by erasing your personal history, you have denied use to self-pity; in order for self-pity to work you had to feel important, irresponsible, and immortal. When those
feelings were altered in some way, it was no longer possible for you to feel sorry for yourself.
“The same was true with all the other elements which you’ve changed on your island. Without using those four techniques you never could’ve succeeded in changing them. But changing facades means only that one has assigned a secondary place to a formerly important
element. Your self-pity is still a feature of your island; it will be there in the back in the same way that the idea of your impending death, or your humbleness, or your responsibility for your acts were there, without ever being used.”
Don Juan said that once all those techniques had been presented, the apprentice arrived at a crossroad. Depending on his sensibility, the apprentice did one of two things. He either took the recommendations and suggestions made by his teacher at their face value, acting without expecting rewards; or he took everything as a joke or an aberration.
I remarked that in my own case I was confused by the word “techniques.” I always expected a set of precise directions, but he had given me only vague suggestions; and I was incapable of taking them seriously or acting in accordance with his stipulations.
“That was your mistake,” he said. “I had to decide then whether or not to use power plants. You could’ve used those four techniques to clean and reorder your island of the tonal. They would’ve led you to the nagual. But not all of us are capable of reacting to simple recommendations. You, and I for that matter, needed something else to shake us; we needed those power plants.”
It had indeed taken me years to realize the importance of those early suggestions made by don Juan. The extraordinary effect that psychotropic plants had had on me was what gave me the bias that their use was the key feature of the teachings. I held onto that conviction and it was only in the later years of my apprenticeship that I realized that the meaningful transformations and findings of sorcerers were always done in states of sober consciousness.
“What would have happened if I had taken your recommendations seriously?” I asked.
“You would have gotten to the nagual,” he replied.
“But would I have gotten to the nagual without a benefactor?”
“Power provides according to your impeccability,” he said. “If you had seriously used those four techniques, you would’ve stored enough personal power to find a benefactor. You would’ve been impeccable and power would have opened all the necessary avenues. That is the rule.”
“Why didn’t you give me more time?” I asked. “You had all the time you needed,” he said. “Power showed me the way. One night I gave you a riddle to work out; you had to find your beneficial spot in front of the door of my house. That night you performed marvelously under pressure and in the morning you fell asleep over a very special rock that I had put there. Power showed me that you had to be pushed mercilessly or you wouldn’t do a thing.”
“Did the power plants help me?” I asked.
“Certainly,” He said. “They opened you up by stopping your view of the world. In this respect power plants have the same effect on the tonal as the right way of walking. Both flood it with information and force the internal dialogue to come to a stop. The plants are excellent for that, but very costly. They cause untold damage to the body. This is their drawback, especially with the devil’s weed.”
“If you knew that they were so dangerous, why did you give me so many of them, so many times?” I asked.
He assured me that the details of the procedure were decided by power itself. He said that although the teachings were supposed to cover ,the same issues with all apprentices, the order was different for each one, and that he had gotten repeated indications that I needed a great deal of coercion in order to bother with anything.
“I was dealing with a sassy immortal being that had no respect for his life or his death,” he said, laughing.
I brought up the fact that he had described and discussed those plants in terms of anthropomorphic qualities. His references to them were always as if the plants had personalities. He replied that that was a prescribed means for deviating the apprentice’s attention away from the real issue, which was stopping the internal dialogue.
“If they are used only to stop the internal dialogue, what’s their connection with the ally?” I asked.
“That’s a difficult point to explain,” he said. “Those plants lead the apprentice directly to the nagual, and the ally is an aspect of it. We function at the center of reason exclusively, regardless of who we are or where we come from. Reason can naturally account in one way or another for everything that happens within its view of the world. The ally is something which is outside of that view, outside the realm of reason. It can be witnessed only at the center of will at times when our ordinary view has stopped, therefore it is properly the nagual. Sorcerers, however, can learn to perceive the ally in a most intricate way, and in doing so they get too deeply immersed in a new view. So, in order to protect you from that fate, I did not emphasize the ally as sorcerers usually do. Sorcerers have learned after generations of using power plants to account in their views for everything that is accountable about them. I would say that sorcerers, by using their will, have succeeded in enlarging their views of the world. My teacher and benefactor were the clearest examples of that. They were men of great power, but they were not men of knowledge. They never broke the bounds of their enormous views and thus never arrived at the totality of themselves, yet they knew about it. It wasn’t that they lived aberrant lives, claiming things beyond their reach; they knew that they had missed the boat and that only at their death would the total mystery be revealed to them. Sorcery had given them only a glimpse but never the real means to get to that evasive totality of oneself.
“I gave you enough of the sorcerers’ view without letting you get hooked by it. I said that only if one pits two views against each other can one weasel between tem to arrive at the real world. I meant that one can arrive at the totality of oneself only when one fully understands that the world is merely a view, regardless of whether that view belongs to an ordinary man or to a sorcerer.
“Here is where I varied from the tradition. After a lifelong struggle I know that what matters is not to learn a new description but to arrive at the totality of oneself. One should get to the nagual without maligning the tonal, and above all, without injuring one’s body.
You took those plants following the exact steps I followed myself. The only difference was that instead of plunging you into them I stopped when I judged that you had stored enough views of the nagual. That is the reason why I never wanted to discuss your encounters with power plants, or let you talk obsessively about them; there was no point in elaborating about the unspeakable. Those were true excursions into the nagual, the unknown.”
I mentioned that my need to talk about my perceptions under the influence of psychotropic plants was due to an interest in elucidating a hypothesis of my own. I was convinced that with the aid of such plants he had provided me with memories of inconceivable ways of perceiving. Those memories, which at the time I experienced them may have seemed idiosyncratic and disconnected from anything meaningful, were later assembled into units of meaning. I knew that don Juan had artfully guided me each time, and that any assembling of meaning was made under his guidance.
“I don’t want to emphasize those events, or explain them,” he said dryly. “The act of dwelling on explanations will put us right back where we don’t want to be; that is, we’ll be thrown back into a view of the world, this time a much larger view.”
Don Juan said that after the apprentice’s internal dialogue has been stopped by the effect of power plants, an unavoidable impasse develops. The apprentice begins to have second thoughts about his whole apprenticeship. In don Juan’s opinion, even the most willing apprentice at that point would suffer a serious loss of interest.
“Power plants shake the tonal and threaten the solidity of the whole island,” he said. “It is at this time that the apprentice retreats, and wisely so; he wants to get out of the whole mess. It is also at this time that the teacher sets up his most artful trap, the worthy opponent. This trap has two purposes. First, it enables the teacher to hold his apprentice, and second, it enables the apprentice to have a point of reference for further use. The trap is a maneuver that brings forth a worthy opponent into the arena. Without the aid of a worthy opponent, who’s not really an enemy but a thoroughly dedicated adversary, the apprentice has no possibility of
continuing on the path of knowledge. The best of men would quit at this point if it were left up to them to decide. I brought to you as a worthy opponent the finest warrior one can find, la Catalina.”
Don Juan was talking about a time, years before, when he had led me into a long-range battle with an Indian sorceress.
“I put you in bodily contact with her,” he proceeded. “I chose a woman because you trust women. To disarrange that trust was very difficult for her. She confessed to me years later that she would’ve liked to quit, because she liked you. But she’s a great warrior and in spite of her feelings she nearly blasted you off the planet. She disarranged your tonal so intensely that it was never the same again. She actually changed features on the face of your island so deeply that her acts sent you into another realm. One may say that she could’ve become your benefactor herself, had it not been that you were not cut out to be a sorcerer like she is. There was something amiss between you two. You were incapable of being afraid of her. You nearly lost your marbles one night when she accosted you, but in spite of that you were attracted to her. She was a desirable woman to you no matter how scared you were. She knew that. I caught you one day in town looking at her, shaking in your boots with fear and yet drooling at her.
“Because of the acts of a worthy opponent, then, an apprentice can be either blasted to pieces or changed radically. La Catalina’s actions with you, since they did not kill you-not because she did not try hard enough but because you were durable-had a beneficial effect on you, and also provided you with a decision.
“The teacher uses the worthy opponent to force the apprentice into the choice of his life. The apprentice must choose between the warrior’s world and his ordinary world. But no decision is possible unless the apprentice understands the choice; thus a teacher must have a thoroughly patient and understanding attitude and must lead his man with a sure hand to that choice, and above all he must make sure that his apprentice chooses the world and the life of a warrior. I accomplished this by asking you to help me overcome la Catalina. I told you she was about to kill me and that I needed your help to get rid of her. I gave you fair warning about the consequences of your choice and plenty of time to decide whether or not to make it.”
I clearly remembered that don Juan had set me loose that day. He told me that if I did not want to help him I was free to leave and never come back. I felt at that moment that I was at liberty to choose my own course and had no further obligation to him.
The Predilection of Two Warriors
My eyes began to cross at one moment and then without any transition I was watching a ball of luminosity sliding back and forth on something that appeared to be the floor of an ice-skating rink with a thousand lights shining on it.
The sight was sublime. Then the ball of fire came to rest and stayed motionless. A voice shook me and dispelled my attention. It was don Juan talking. I could not understand at first what he was saying. I looked again at the ball of fire; I could distinguish only don Genaro lying on the ground with his arms and legs spread out.
Don Juan’s voice was very clear. It seemed to trigger something in me and I began to write.
“Genaro’s love is the world,” he said. “He was just now embracing this enormous earth but since he’s so little all he can do is swim in it. But the earth knows that Genaro loves it and it bestows on him its care. That’s why Genaro’s life is filled to the brim and his state, wherever he’ll be, will be plentiful. Genaro roams on the paths of his love and, wherever he is, he is complete. “
Don Juan squatted in front of us. He caressed the ground gently.
“This is the predilection of two warriors,” he said. “This earth, this world. For a warrior there can be no greater love.”
Don Genaro stood up and squatted next to don Juan for a moment while both of them peered fixedly at us, then they sat in unison, cross-legged.
“Only if one loves this earth with unbending passion can one release one’s sadness,” don Juan said. “A warrior is always joyful ‘because his love is unalterable and his beloved, the earth, embraces him and bestows upon him inconceivable gifts. The sadness belongs only to those who hate the very thing that gives shelter to their beings.”
Don Juan again caressed the ground with tenderness. “This lovely being, which is alive to its last recesses and understands every feeling, soothed me, it cured me of my pains, and finally when I had fully understood my love for it, it taught me freedom.”
He paused. The silence around us was frightening. The wind hissed softly and then I heard the distant barking of a lone dog.
“Listen to that barking,” don Juan went on. “That is the way my beloved earth is helping me now to bring this last point to you. That barking is the saddest thing one can hear.”
We were quiet for a moment. The barking of that lone dog was so sad and the stillness around us so intense that I experienced a numbing anguish. It made me think of my own life, my sadness, my not knowing where to go, what to do.
“That dog’s barking is the nocturnal voice of a man,” don Juan said. “It comes from a house in that valley towards the south. A man is shouting through his dog, since they are companion slaves for life, his sadness, his boredom. He’s begging his death to come and release him from the dull and dreary chains of his life.”
Don Juan’s words had caught a most disturbing line in me. I felt he was speaking directly to me.
“That barking, and the loneliness it creates, speaks of the feelings of men,” he went on. “Men for whom an entire life was like one Sunday afternoon, an afternoon which was not altogether miserable, but rather hot and dull and uncomfortable. They sweated and fussed a great deal. They didn’t know where to go, or what to do. That afternoon left them only with the memory of petty annoyances and tedium, and then suddenly it was over; it was already night.”
He recounted a story I had once told him about a seventy-two-year-old man who complained that his life had been so short that it seemed to him that it was only the day before that he was a boy. The man had said to me, “I remember the pajamas I used to wear when I was ten years old. It seems that only one day has passed. Where did the time go?”
“The antidote that kills that poison is here,” don Juan said, caressing the ground.
“The sorcerers’ explanation cannot at all liberate the spirit. Look at you two. You have gotten to the sorcerers’ explanation, but it doesn’t make any difference that you know it. You’re more alone that ever, because without an unwavering love for the being that gives you shelter, aloneness is loneliness.
“Only the love for this splendorous being can give freedom to a warrior’s spirit; and freedom is joy, efficiency, and abandon in the face of any odds. That is the last lesson. It is always left for the very last moment, for the moment of ultimate solitude when a man faces his death and his aloneness. Only then does it make sense.”
Don Juan and don Genaro stood up and stretched their arms and arched their backs, as if sitting had made their bodies stiff. My heart began to pound fast. They made Pablito and me stand up.
“The twilight is the crack between the worlds,” don Juan said. It is the door to the unknown.”
He pointed with a sweeping movement of his hand to the mesa where we were standing.
“This is the plateau in front of that door.”
He pointed then to the northern edge of the mesa. “There is the door. Beyond, there is an abyss and beyond that abyss is the unknown.”
Don Juan and don Genaro then turned to Pablito and said good-by to him. Pablito’s eyes were dilated and fixed; tears were rolling down his cheeks.
I heard don Genaro’s voice saying good-by to me, but I did not hear don Juan’s.
Don Juan and don Genaro moved towards Pablito and whispered briefly in his ears. Then they came to me. But before they had whispered anything I already had that peculiar feeling of being split.
“We will now be like dust on the road,” don Genaro said. “Perhaps it will get in your eyes again, someday.”