How to Select a Topic for Dreaming

(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.”

***

(Journey to Ixtlan)

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.”

***