(The Second Ring of Power by Carlos Castaneda)
“I’ve told you already what the Nagual told me about attention,” she said. “We hold the images of the world with our attention. A male sorcerer is very difficult to train because his attention is always closed, focused on something. A female, on the other hand, is always open because most of the time she is not focusing her attention on anything. Especially during her menstrual period. The Nagual told me and then showed me that during that time I could actually let my attention go from the images of the world. If I don’t focus my attention on the world, the world collapses.”
“How is that done, Gorda?”
“It’s very simple. When a woman menstruates she cannot focus her attention. That’s the crack the Nagual told me about. Instead of fighting to focus, a woman should let go of the images, by gazing fixedly at distant hills, or by gazing at water, like a river, or by gazing at the clouds.
“If you gaze with your eyes open, you get dizzy and the eyes get tired, but if you half-close them and blink a lot and move them from mountain to mountain, or from cloud to cloud, you can look for hours, or days if necessary.
“The Nagual used to make us sit by the door and gaze at those round hills on the other side of the valley. Sometimes we used to sit there for days until the crack would open.”
“The attention under the table is the key to everything sorcerers do,” she went on. “In order to reach that attention the Nagual and Genaro taught us dreaming, and you were taught about power plants. I don’t know what they did to you to teach you how to trap your second attention with power plants, but to teach us how to do dreaming, the Nagual taught us gazing. He never told us what he was really doing to us. He just taught us to gaze. We never knew that gazing was the way to trap our second attention. We thought gazing was just for fun. That was not so. Dreamers have to be gazers before they can trap their second attention.
“The first thing the Nagual did was to put a dry leaf on the ground and make me look at it for hours. Every day he brought a leaf and put it in front of me. At first I thought that
it was the same leaf that he saved from day to day, but then I noticed that leaves are different. The Nagual said that when we realized that, we are not looking anymore, but gazing.
“Then he put stacks of dry leaves in front of me. He told me to scramble them with my left hand and feel them as I gazed at them. A dreamer moves the leaves in spirals, gazes at them and then dreams of the designs that the leaves make. The Nagual said that dreamers can consider themselves as having mastered leaf gazing when they dream the designs of the leaves first and then find those same designs the next day in their pile of dry leaves.
“The Nagual said that gazing at leaves fortifies the second attention. If you gaze at a pile of leaves for hours, as he used to make me do, your thoughts get quiet. Without thoughts the attention of the tonal wanes and suddenly your second attention hooks onto the leaves and the leaves become something else. The Nagual called the moment when the second attention hooks onto something stopping the world. And that is correct, the world stops. For this reason there should always be someone around when you gaze. We never know about the quirks of our second attention. Since we have never used it, we have to become familiar with it before we could venture into gazing alone.
“The difficulty in gazing is to learn to quiet down the thoughts. The Nagual said that he preferred to teach us how to do that with a pile of leaves because we could get all the leaves we needed any time we wanted to gaze. But anything else would do the same job.
“Once you can stop the world you are a gazer. And since the only way of stopping the world is by trying, the Nagual made all of us gaze at dry leaves for years and years. I think it’s the best way to reach our second attention.
“He combined gazing at dry leaves and looking for our hands in dreaming. It took me about a year to find my hands, and four years to stop the world. The Nagual said that once you have trapped your second attention with dry leaves, you do gazing and dreaming to enlarge it. And that’s all there is to gazing.”
“You make it sound so simple, Gorda.”
“Everything the Toltecs do is very simple. The Nagual said that all we needed to do in order to trap our second attention was to try and try. All of us stopped the world by gazing at dry leaves. You and Eligio were different. You yourself did it with power plants, but I don’t know what path the Nagual followed with Eligio. He never wanted to tell me. He told me about you because we have the same task.”
“Was the pile of dry leaves the only thing the Nagual made you gaze at?”
“Once dreamers know how to stop the world, they can gaze at other things; and finally when the dreamers lose their form altogether, they can gaze at anything. I do that. I can go into anything. He made us follow a certain order in gazing, though.
“First we gazed at small plants. The Nagual warned us that small plants are very dangerous. Their power is concentrated; they have a very intense light and they feel when dreamers are gazing at them; they immediately move their light and shoot it at the gazer. Dreamers have to choose one kind of plant to gaze at.
“Next we gazed at trees. Dreamers also have a particular kind of tree to gaze at. In this respect you and I are the same; both of us are eucalyptus gazers.”
By the look on my face she must have guessed my next question.
“The Nagual said that with his smoke you could very easily get your second attention to work,” she went on. “You focused your attention lots of times on the Nagual’s predilection, the crows. He said that once, your second attention focused so perfectly on a crow that it flew away, like a crow flies, to the only eucalyptus tree that was around.”
For years I had dwelled upon that experience. I could not regard it in any other way except as an inconceivably complex hypnotic state, brought about by the psychotropic mushrooms contained in don Juan’s smoking mixture in conjunction with his expertise as a manipulator of behavior. He suggested a perceptual catharsis in me, that of turning into a crow and perceiving the world as a crow. The result was that I perceived the world in a manner that could not have possibly been part of my inventory of past experiences. La Gorda’s explanation somehow had simplified everything.
She said that the Nagual next made them gaze at moving, living creatures. He told them that small insects were by far the best subject. Their mobility made them innocuous to the gazer, the opposite of plants which drew their light directly from the earth.
The next step was to gaze at rocks. She said that rocks were very old and powerful and had a specific light which was rather greenish in contrast with the white light of plants and the yellowish light of mobile, living beings. Rocks did not open up easily to gazers, but it was worthwhile for gazers to
persist because rocks had special secrets concealed in their core, secrets that could aid sorcerers in their “dreaming.”
“What are the things that rocks reveal to you?” I asked.
“When I gaze into the very core of a rock,” she said, “I always catch a whiff of a special scent proper to that rock. When I roam around in my dreaming, I know where I am because I’m guided by those scents.”
She said that the time of the day was an important factor in tree and rock gazing. In the early morning trees and rocks were stiff and their light was faint. Around noon was when they were at their best, and gazing at that time was done for borrowing their light and power. In the late afternoon and early evening trees and rocks were quiet and sad, especially trees. La Gorda said that at that hour trees gave the feeling that they were gazing back at the gazer.
A second series in the order of gazing was to gaze at cyclic phenomena: rain and fog. She said that gazers can focus their second attention on the rain itself and move with it, or focus it on the background and use the rain as a magnifying glass of sorts to reveal hidden features. Places of power or places to be avoided are found by gazing through rain. Places of power are yellowish and places to be avoided are intensely green.
La Gorda said that fog was unquestionably the most mysterious thing on earth for a gazer and that it could be used in the same two ways that rain was used. But it did not easily yield to women, and even after she had lost her human form, it remained unattainable to her. She said that the Nagual once made her “see” a green mist at the head of a fog bank and told her that was the second attention of a fog gazer who lived in the mountains where she and the Nagual were, and that he was moving with the fog. She added that fog was used to uncover the ghosts of things that were no longer there and that the true feat of fog gazers was to let their second attention go into whatever their gazing was revealing to them.
I told her that once while I was with don Juan I had seen a bridge formed out of a fog bank. I was aghast at the clarity and precise detail of that bridge. To me it was more than real. The scene was so intense and vivid that I had been incapable of forgetting it. Don Juan’s comments had been that I would have to cross that bridge someday.
“I know about it,” she said. “The Nagual told me that some-day when you have mastery over your second attention you’ll cross that bridge with that attention, the same way you flew like a crow with that attention. He said that if you become a sorcerer, a bridge will form for you out of the fog and you will cross it and disappear from this world forever. Just like he himself has done.”
“Did he disappear like that, over a bridge?”
“Not over a bridge. But you witnessed how he and Genaro stepped into the crack between the worlds in front of your very eyes. Nestor said that only Genaro waved his hand to say good-bye the last time you saw them; the Nagual did not wave because he was opening the crack. The Nagual told me that when the second attention has to be called upon to assemble itself, all that is needed is the motion of opening that door. That’s the secret of the Toltec dreamers once they are formless.”
I wanted to ask her about don Juan and don Genaro step-ping through that crack. She made me stop with a light touch of her hand on my mouth.
She said that another series was distance and cloud gazing. In both, the effort of gazers was to let their second attention go to the place they were gazing at. Thus, they covered great distances or rode on clouds. In the case of cloud gazing, the Nagual never permitted them to gaze at thunderheads. He told them that they had to be formless before they could attempt that feat, and that they could not only ride on a thunderhead but on a thunderbolt itself.
La Gorda laughed and asked me to guess who would be daring and crazy enough actually to try gazing at thunderheads. I could think of no one else but Josefina. La Gorda said that Josefina tried gazing at thunderheads every time she could when the Nagual was away, until one day a thunderbolt nearly killed her.
“Genaro was a thunderbolt sorcerer,” she went on. “His first two apprentices, Benigno and Nestor, were singled out for him by his friend the thunder. He said that he was looking for plants in a very remote area where the Indians are very private and don’t like visitors of any kind. They had given Genaro permission to be on their land since he spoke their language. Genaro was picking some plants when it began to rain. There were some houses around but the people were un-friendly and he didn’t want to bother them; he was about to crawl into a hole when he saw a young man coming down the road riding a bicycle heavily laden with goods. It was Benigno, the man from the town, who dealt with those Indians. His bicycle got stuck in the mud and right there a thunderbolt struck him. Genaro thought that he had been killed. People in the houses had seen what happened and came out. Benigno was more scared than hurt, but his bicycle and all his merchandise were ruined. Genaro stayed with him for a week and cured him.
“Almost the same thing happened to Nestor. He used to buy medicinal plants from Genaro, and one day he followed him into the mountains to see where he picked his plants, so he wouldn’t have to pay for them anymore. Genaro went very far into the mountains on purpose; he intended to make Nestor get lost. It wasn’t raining but there were thunderbolts, and suddenly a thunderbolt struck the ground and ran over the dry ground like a snake. It ran right between Nestor’s legs and hit a rock ten yards away.
“Genaro said that the bolt had charred the inside of Nestor’s legs. His testicles were swollen and he got very ill. Genaro had to cure him for a week right in those mountains.
“By the time Benigno and Nestor were cured, they were also hooked. Men have to be hooked. Women don’t need that. Women go freely into anything. That’s their power and at the same time their drawback. Men have to be led and women have to be contained.”
She giggled and said that no doubt she had a lot of maleness in her, for she needed to be led, and that I must have a lot of femaleness in me, for I needed to be contained.
The last series was fire, smoke and shadow gazing. She said that for a gazer, fire is not bright but black, and so is smoke. Shadows, on the other hand, are brilliant and have color and movement in them.
There were two more things that were kept separate, star and water gazing. Stargazing was done by sorcerers who have lost their human form. She said that she had fared very well at stargazing, but could not handle gazing at water, especially running water, which was used by formless sorcerers to gather their second attention and transport it to anyplace they needed to go.
“All of us are terrified of water,” she went on. “A river gathers the second attention and takes it away and there is no way of stopping. The Nagual told me about your feats of water gazing. But he also told me that one time you nearly disintegrated in the water of a shallow river and that you can’t even take a bath now.”
Don Juan had made me stare at the water of an irrigation ditch behind his house various times while he had me under the influence of his smoking mixture. I had experienced inconceivable sensations. Once I saw myself all green as if I were covered with algae. After that he recommended that I avoid water.
“Has my second attention been injured by water?” I asked.
“It has,” she replied. “You are a very indulging man. The Nagual warned you to be cautious, but you went beyond your limits with running water. The Nagual said that you could’ve used water like no one else, but it wasn’t your fate to be moderate.
La Gorda stood up and went into the house. She came back a moment later with a small, thick, round cushion made out of the same natural fiber used in making nets. Without saying a word she led me again to the front porch. She said that she had made that cushion herself for her comfort when she was learning to gaze, because the position of the body was of great importance while one was gazing. One had to sit on the ground on a soft mat of leaves, or on a cushion made out of natural fibers. The back had to be propped against a tree, or a stump, or a flat rock. The body had to be thoroughly relaxed. The eyes were never fixed on the object, in order to avoid tiring them. The gaze consisted in scanning very slowly the object gazed at, going counterclockwise but without moving the head. She added that the Nagual had made them plant those thick poles so they could use them to prop themselves.
She had me sit on her cushion and prop my back against a pole. She told me that she was going to guide me in gazing at a power spot that the Nagual had in the round hills across the valley. She hoped that by gazing at it I would get the necessary energy to round up my second attention.
She sat down very close to me, to my left, and began giving me instructions. Almost in a whisper she told me to keep my eyelids half closed and stare at the place where two enormous round hills converged. There was a narrow, steep water canyon there. She said that that particular gazing consisted of four separate actions. The first one was to use the brim of my hat as a visor to shade off the excessive glare from the sun and allow only a minimal amount of light to come to my eyes; then to half-close my eyelids; the third step was to sustain the opening of my eyelids in order to maintain a uniform flow of light; and the fourth step was to distinguish the water canyon in the background through the mesh of light fibers on my eyelashes.
I could not follow her instructions at first. The sun was high over the horizon and I had to tilt my head back. I tipped my hat until I had blocked off most of the glare with the brim. That seemed to be all that was needed. As soon as I half closed my eyes, a bit of light that appeared as if it were coming from the tip of my hat literally exploded on my eyelashes, which were acting as a filter that created a web of light. I kept my eyelids half closed and played with the web of light for a moment until I could distinguish the dark, vertical outline of the water canyon in the background.
La Gorda told me then to gaze at the middle part of the canyon until I could spot a very dark brown blotch. She said that it was a hole in the canyon which was not there for the eye that looks, but only for the eye that “sees.” She warned me that I had to exercise my control as soon as I had isolated that blotch, so that it would not pull me toward it. Rather, I was supposed to zoom in on it and gaze into it. She suggested that the moment I found the hole I should press my shoulders on hers to let her know. She slid sideways until she was leaning on me.
I struggled for a moment to keep the four actions coordinated and steady, and suddenly a dark spot was formed in the middle of the canyon. I noticed immediately that I was not seeing it in the way I usually see. The dark spot was rather an impression, a visual distortion of sorts. The moment my control waned it disappeared. It was in my field of perception only if I kept the four actions under control. I remembered then that don Juan had engaged me countless times in a similar activity. He used to hang a small piece of cloth from a low branch of a bush, which was strategically located to be in line with specific geological formations in the mountains in the background, such as water canyons or slopes. By making me sit about fifty feet away from that piece of cloth, and having me stare through the low branches of the bush where the cloth hung, he used to create a special perceptual effect in me. The piece of cloth, which was always a shade darker than the geological formation I was staring at, seemed to be at first a feature of that formation. The idea was to let my perception play without analyzing it. I failed every time because I was thoroughly incapable of suspending judgment, and my mind always entered into some rational speculation about the mechanics of my phantom perception.
This time I felt no need whatsoever for speculations. La Gorda was not an imposing figure that I unconsciously needed to fight, as don Juan had obviously been to me.
The dark blotch in my field of perception became almost black. I leaned on la Gorda’s shoulder to let her know. She whispered in my ear that I should struggle to keep my eyelids in the position they were in and breathe calmly from my abdomen. I should not let the blotch pull me, but gradually go into it. The thing to avoid was letting the hole grow and suddenly engulf me. In the event that that happened I had to open my eyes immediately.
I began to breathe as she had prescribed, and thus I could keep my eyelids fixed indefinitely at the appropriate aperture.
I remained in that position for quite some time. Then I noticed that I had begun to breathe normally and that it had not disturbed my perception of the dark blotch. But suddenly the dark blotch began to move, to pulsate, and before I could breathe calmly again, the blackness moved forward and enveloped me. I became frantic and opened my eyes.
La Gorda said that I was doing distance gazing and for that it was necessary to breathe the way she had recommended. She urged me to start all over again. She said that the Nagual used to make them sit for entire days rounding up their second attention by gazing at that spot. He cautioned them repeatedly about the danger of being engulfed because of the jolt the body suffered.
It took me about an hour of gazing to do what she had delineated. To zoom in on the brown spot and gaze into it meant that the brown patch in my field of perception lightened up quite suddenly. As it became clearer I realized that something in me was performing an impossible act. I felt that I was actually advancing toward that spot; thus the impression I was having that it was clearing up. Then I was so near to it that I could distinguish features in it, like rocks and vegetation. I came even closer and could look at a peculiar formation on one rock. It looked like a roughly carved chair. I liked it very much; compared to it the rest of the rocks seemed pale and uninteresting.
I don’t know how long I gazed at it. I could focus on every detail of it. I felt that I could lose myself forever in its detail because there was no end to it. But something dispelled my view; another strange image was superimposed on the rock, and then another one, and another yet. I became annoyed with the interference. At the instant I became annoyed I also realized that la Gorda was moving my head from side to side from behind me. In a matter of seconds the concentration of my gazing had been thoroughly dissipated.
La Gorda laughed and said that she understood why I had caused the Nagual such an intense concern. She had seen for herself that I indulged beyond my limits. She sat against the pole next to me and said that she and the little sisters were going to gaze into the Nagual’s power place. She then made a piercing birdcall. A moment later the little sisters came out of the house and sat down to gaze with her.
Their gazing mastery was obvious. Their bodies acquired a strange rigidity. They did not seem to be breathing at all. Their stillness was so contagious that I caught myself half closing my eyes and staring into the hills.
Gazing had been a true revelation to me. In performing it I had corroborated some important issues of don Juan’s teachings. La Gorda had delineated the task in a definitely vague manner. “To zoom in on it” was more a command than a description of a process, and yet it was a description, providing that one essential requirement had been fulfilled; don Juan had called that requirement stopping the internal dialogue. From la Gorda’s statements about gazing it was obvious to me that the effect don Juan had been after in making them gaze was to teach them to stop the internal dialogue. La Gorda had expressed it as “quieting down the thoughts.” Don Juan had taught me to do that very same thing, although he had made me follow the opposite path; instead of teaching me to focus my view, as gazers did, he taught me to open it, to flood my awareness by not focusing my sight on anything. I had to sort of feel with my eyes everything in the 180 – degree range in front of me, while I kept my eyes unfocused just above the line of the horizon.
It was very difficult for me to gaze, because it entailed reversing that training. As I tried to gaze, my tendency was to open up. The effort of keeping that tendency in check, however, made me shut off my thoughts. Once I had turned off my internal dialogue, it was not difficult to gaze as la Gorda had prescribed.
Don Juan had asserted time and time again that the essential feature of his sorcery was shutting off the internal dialogue. In terms of the explanation la Gorda had given me about the two realms of attention, stopping the internal dialogue was an operational way of describing the act of disengaging the attention of the tonal.
Don Juan had also said that once we stop our internal dialogue we also stop the world. That was an operational description of the inconceivable process of focusing our second attention. He had said that some part of us is always kept under lock and key because we are afraid of it, and that to our reason, that part of us was like an insane relative that we keep locked in a dungeon. That part was, in la Gorda’s terms, our second attention, and when it finally could focus on something the world stopped. Since we, as average men, know only the attention of the tonal, it is not too farfetched to say that once that attention is canceled, the world indeed has to stop. The focusing of our wild, untrained second attention has to be, perforce, terrifying. Don Juan was right in saying that the only way to keep that insane relative from bursting in on us was by shielding ourselves with our endless internal dialogue.
“In my dreaming. Dreamers must gaze in order to do dreaming and then they must look for their dreams in their gazing. For example, the Nagual made me gaze at the shadows of rocks, and then in my dreaming I found out that those shadows had light, so I looked for the light in the shadows from then on until I found it. Gazing and dreaming go together. It took me a lot of gazing at shadows to get my dreaming of shadows going. And then it took me a lot of dreaming and gazing to get the two together and really see in the shadows what I was seeing in my dreaming. See what I mean? Everyone of us does the same. Rosa’s dreaming is about trees because she’s a tree gazer and Josefina’s is about clouds because she’s a cloud gazer. They gaze at trees and clouds until they match their dreaming”
Rosa and Josefina shook their heads in agreement.
“What about la Gorda?” I asked.
“She’s a flea gazer,” Rosa said, and all of them laughed.
“La Gorda doesn’t like to be bitten by fleas,” Lidia explained. “She is formless and can gaze at anything, but she used to be a rain gazer.”
“What about Pablito?”
“He gazes at women’s crotches,” Rosa answered with a deadpan expression.
They laughed. Rosa slapped me on the back.
“I understand that since he’s your partner he’s taking after you,” she said.
They banged on the table and shook the benches with their feet as they laughed.
“Pablito is a rock gazer,” Lidia said. “Nestor is a rain and plant gazer and Benigno is a distance gazer. But don’t ask me any more about gazing because I will lose my power if I tell you more.”
“How come la Gorda tells me everything?”
“La Gorda lost her form,” Lidia replied. “Whenever I lose mine I’ll tell you everything too. But by then you won’t care to hear it. You care only because you’re stupid like us. The day we lose our form we’ll all stop being stupid.”