(Journey to Ixtlan)
“Now it’s time for you to become accessible to power, and you are going to begin by tackling dreaming.”
The tone of voice he used when he said “dreaming” made me think that he was using the word in a very particular fashion. I was pondering about a proper question to ask when he began to talk again.
“I’ve never told you about dreaming, because until now I was only concerned with teaching you how to be a hunter,” he said. “A hunter is not concerned with the manipulation of power, therefore his dreams are only dreams. They might be poignant but they are not dreaming.”
“A warrior, on the other hand, seeks power, and one of the avenues to power is dreaming. You may say that the difference between a hunter and a warrior is that a warrior is on his way to power, while a hunter knows nothing or very little about it.”
“The decision as to who can be a warrior and who can only be a hunter is not up to us. That decision is in the realm of the powers that guide men. That’s why your playing with Mescalito was such an important omen. Those forces guided you to me; they took you to that bus depot, remember? Some clown brought you to me. A perfect omen, a clown pointing you out. So, I taught you how to be a hunter. And then the other perfect omen, Mescalito himself playing with you. See what I mean?”
His weird logic was overwhelming. His words created visions of myself succumbing to something awesome and unknown, something which I had not bargained for, and which I had not conceived existed, even in my wildest fantasies.
“What do you propose I should do?” I asked.
“Become accessible to power; tackle your dreams,” he replied, “You call them dreams because you have no power. A warrior, being a man who seeks power, doesn’t call them dreams, he calls them real.”
“You mean he takes his dreams as being reality?”
“He doesn’t take anything as being anything else. What you call dreams are real for a warrior. You must understand that a warrior is not a fool. A warrior is an immaculate hunter who hunts power; he’s not drunk, or crazed, and he has neither the time nor the disposition to bluff, or to lie to himself, or to make a wrong move. The stakes are too high for that. The stakes are his trimmed orderly life which he has taken so long to tighten and perfect. He is not going to throw that away by making some stupid miscalculation, by taking something for being something else.”
“Dreaming is real for a warrior because in it he can act deliberately, he can choose and reject, he can select from a variety of items those which lead to power, and then he can manipulate them and use them, while in an ordinary dream he cannot act deliberately.”
“Do you mean then, don Juan, that dreaming is real?”
“Of course it is real.”
“As real as what we are doing now?”
“If you want to compare things, I can say that it is perhaps more real. In dreaming you have power, you can change things; you may find out countless concealed facts; you can control whatever you want.”
Don Juan’s premises always had appealed to me at a certain level. I could easily understand his liking the idea that one could do anything in dreams, but I could not take him seriously. The jump was too great.
We looked at each other for a moment. His statements were insane and yet he was, to the best of my knowledge, one of the most level-headed men I had ever met.
I told him that I could not believe he took his dreams to be reality. He chuckled as if he knew the magnitude of my untenable position, then he stood up without saying a word and walked inside his house.
I sat for a long time in a state of stupor until he called me to the back of his house. He had made some corn gruel and handed me a bowl.
I asked him about the time when one was awake. I wanted to know if he called it anything in particular. But he did not understand or did not want to answer.
“What do you call this, what we’re doing now?” I asked, meaning that what we were doing was reality as opposed to dreams.
“I call it eating,” he said and contained his laughter.
“I call it reality,” I said. “Because our eating is actually taking place.”
“‘Dreaming also takes place,” he replied, giggling. “And so does hunting, walking, laughing.”
“I am going to teach you right here the first step to power,” he said as if he were dictating a letter to me. “I am going to teach you how to set up dreaming.”
He looked at me and again asked me if I knew what he meant. I did not. I was hardly following him at all. He explained that to “set up dreaming ” meant to have a concise and pragmatic control over the general situation of a dream, comparable to the control one has over any choice in the desert, such as climbing up a hill or remaining in the shade of a water canyon.
“You must start by doing something very simple,” he said. “Tonight in your dreams you must look at your hands.”
I laughed out loud. His tone was so factual that it was as if he were telling me to do something commonplace.
“Why do you laugh? ” he asked with surprise.
“How can I look at my hands in my dreams?”
“Very simple, focus your eyes on them just like this.”
He bent his head forward and stared at his hands with his mouth open. His gesture was so comical that I had to laugh.
“Seriously, how can you expect me to do that?” I asked.
“The way I’ve told you,” he snapped. “You can, of course, look at whatever you goddamn please – your toes, or your belly, or your pecker, for that matter. I said your hands because that was the easiest thing for me to look at. Don’t think it’s a joke. Dreaming is as serious as seeing or dying or any other thing in this awesome, mysterious world.”
“Think about it as something entertaining. Imagine all the inconceivable things you could accomplish. A man hunting for power has almost no limits in his dreaming.”
I asked him to give me some pointers.
“There aren’t any pointers,” he said. “Just look at your hands.”
“There must be more that you could tell me,” I insisted.
He shook his head and squinted his eyes, staring at me in short glances.
“Every one of us is different,” he finally said. “What you call pointers would only be what I myself did when I was learning. We are not the same; we aren’t even vaguely alike.”
“Maybe anything you’d say would help me.”
“It would be simpler for you just to start looking at your hands.”
He seemed to be organizing his thoughts and bobbed his head up and down.
“Every time you look at anything in your dreams it changes shape,” he said after a long silence. “The trick in learning to set up dreaming is obviously not just to look at things but to sustain the sight of them. Dreaming is real when one has succeeded in bringing everything into focus. Then there is no difference between what you do when you sleep and what you do when you are not sleeping. Do you see what I mean?”
I confessed that although I understood what he had said I was incapable of accepting his premise. I brought up the point that in a civilized world there were scores of people who had delusions and could not distinguish what took place in the real world from what took place in their fantasies. I said that such persons were undoubtedly mentally ill, and my uneasiness increased every time he would recommend I should act like a crazy man.
After my long explanation don Juan made a comical gesture of despair by putting his hands to his cheeks and sighing loudly.
“Leave your civilized world alone,” he said. “Let it be! Nobody is asking you to behave like a madman. I’ve already told you, a warrior has to be perfect in order to deal with the powers he hunts; how can you conceive that a warrior would not be able to tell things apart?”
“On the other hand, you, my friend, who know what the real world is, would fumble and die in no time at all if you would have to depend on your ability for telling what is real and what is not.”
I obviously had not expressed what I really had in mind. Every time I protested I was simply voicing the unbearable frustration of being in an untenable position.
“I am not trying to make you into a sick, crazy man,” don Juan went on. “You can do that yourself without my help. But the forces that guide us brought you to me, and I have been endeavoring to teach you to change your stupid ways and live the strong clean life of a hunter. Then the forces guided you again and told me that you should learn to live the impeccable life of a warrior. Apparently you can’t. But who can tell? We are as mysterious and as awesome as this unfathomable world, so who can tell what you’re capable of?”
There was an underlying tone of sadness in don Juan’s voice. I wanted to apologize, but he began to talk again.
“You don’t have to look at your hands,” he said. “Like I’ve said, pick anything at all. But pick one thing in advance and find it in your dreams. I said your hands because they’ll always be there.”
“When they begin to change shape you must move your sight away from them and pick something else, and then look at your hands again. It takes a long time to perfect this technique.”
“I’m going to remind you of all the techniques you must practice,” he said. “First you must focus your gaze on your hands as the starting point. Then shift your gaze to other items and look at them in brief glances. Focus your gaze on as many things as you can. Remember that if you only glance briefly the images do not shift. Then go back to your hands.
“Every time you look at your hands you renew the power needed for dreaming, so in the beginning don’t look at too many things. Four items will suffice every time. Later on, you may enlarge the scope until you can cover all you want, but as soon as the images begin to shift and you feel you are losing control go back to your hands.”
“When you feel you can gaze at things indefinitely you will be ready for a new technique. I’m going to teach you this new technique now, but I expect you to put it to use only when you are ready.”
He was quiet for about fifteen minutes. Finally he sat up and looked at me.
“The next step in setting up dreaming is to learn to travel,” he said. “The same way you have learned to look at your hands you can will yourself to move, to go places. First you have to establish a place you want to go to. Pick a well-known spot – perhaps your school, or a park, or a friend’s house – then, will yourself to go there.”
“This technique is very difficult. You must perform two tasks: you must will yourself to go to the specific locale; and then, when you have mastered that technique, you have to learn to control the exact time of your traveling.”
As I wrote down his statements I had the feeling that I was really nuts. I was actually taking down insane instructions, knocking myself out in order to follow them. I experienced a surge of remorse and embarrassment.
“What are you doing to me, don Juan?” I asked, not really meaning it.
He seemed surprised. He stared at me for an instant and then smiled.
“You’ve been asking me the same question over and over. I’m not doing anything to you. You are making yourself accessible to power; you’re hunting it and I’m just guiding you.”
After a moment’s pause he casually asked, “How is your dreaming?”
I explained to him how difficult it had become for me to give myself the command to look at my hands. At first it had been relatively easy, perhaps because of the newness of the concept. I had had no trouble at all in reminding myself that I had to look at my hands. But the excitation had worn off and some nights I could not do it at all.
“You must wear a headband to sleep,” he said. “Getting a headband is a tricky maneuver. I cannot give you one, because you yourself have to make it from scratch. But you cannot make one until you have had a vision of it in dreaming. See what I mean? The headband has to be made according to the specific vision. And it must have a strip across it that fits tightly on top of the head. Or it may very well be like a tight cap. Dreaming is easier when one wears a power object on top of the head. You could wear your hat or put on a cowl, like a friar, and go to sleep, but those items would only cause intense dreams, not dreaming.”
He was silent for a moment and then proceeded to tell me in a fast barrage of words that the vision of the headband did not have to occur only in dreaming but could happen in states of wakefulness and as a result of any far-fetched and totally unrelated event, such as watching the flight of birds, the movement of water, the clouds, and so on.
“A hunter of power watches everything,” he went on. “And everything tells him some secret.”
“But how can one be sure that things are telling secrets?” I asked.
I thought he may have had a specific formula that allowed him to make “correct” interpretations.
“The only way to be sure is by following all the instructions I have been giving you, starting from the first day you came to see me,” he said. “In order to have power one must live with power.”
I had begun to dream about specific places, such as the school and the houses of a few friends.
“Were you at those places during the day or during the night?” he asked.
My dreams corresponded to the time of the day when I ordinarily was accustomed to being at those places – in the school during the day, at my friends’ houses at night.
He suggested that I should try dreaming while I took a nap during the daytime and find out if I could actually visualize the chosen place as it was at the time I was dreaming. If I were dreaming at night, my visions of the locale should be of nighttime. He said that what one experiences in dreaming has to be congruous with the time of the day when dreaming was taking place; otherwise the visions one might have were not dreaming but ordinary dreams.
“In order to help yourself you should pick a specific object that belongs to the place you want to go and focus your attention on it,” he went on. “On this hilltop here, for instance, you now have a specific bush that you must observe until it has a place in your memory. You can come back here while dreaming simply by recalling that bush, or by recalling this rock where we are sitting, or by recalling any other thing here. It is easier to travel in dreaming when you can focus on a place of power, such as this one. But if you don’t want to come here you may use any other place. Perhaps the school where you go is a place of power for you. Use it. Focus your attention on any object there and then find it in dreaming.”
“From the specific object you recall, you must go back to your hands and then to another object and so on.”
(Tales of Power)
“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 hands 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 had 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. “Something 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 counter-measure 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.”