(Journey to Ixtlan)
“There are no diseases,” don Juan replied calmly. “There is only indulging.”
“I’ve told you that the secret of a strong body is not in what you do to it but in what you don’t do.”
(The Second Ring of Power)
“A hunter just hunts,” she said. “A stalker stalks anything, including himself.”
“How does he do that?”
“An impeccable stalker can turn anything into prey. The Nagual told me that we can even stalk our own weaknesses.”
I stopped writing and tried to remember if don Juan had ever presented me with such a novel possibility: to stalk my weaknesses. I could not recall him ever putting it in those terms.
“How can one stalk one’s weaknesses, Gorda?”
“The same way you stalk prey. You figure out your routines until you know all the doing of your weaknesses and then you come upon them and pick them up like rabbits inside a cage.”
Don Juan had taught me the same thing about routines, but in the vein of a general principle that hunters must be aware of. Her understanding and application of it, however, were more pragmatic than mine.
Don Juan had said that any habit was, in essence, a “doing,” and that a doing needed all its parts in order to function. If some parts were missing, a doing was disassembled. By doing, he meant any coherent and meaningful series of actions. In other words, a habit needed all its component actions in order to be a live activity.
La Gorda then described how she had stalked her own weakness of eating excessively. She said that the Nagual had suggested she first tackle the biggest part of that habit, which was connected with her laundry work; she ate whatever her customers fed her as she went from house to house delivering her wash. She expected the Nagual to tell her what to do, but he only laughed and made fun of her, saying that as soon as he would mention something for her to do, she would fight not to do it. He said that that was the way human beings are; they love to be told what to do, but they love even more to fight and not do what they are told, and thus they get entangled in hating the one who told them in the first place.
For many years she could not think of anything to do to stalk her weakness. One day, however, she got so sick and tired of being fat that she refused to eat for twenty-three days. That was the initial action that broke her fixation. She then had the idea of stuffing her mouth with a sponge to make her customers believe that she had an infected tooth and could not eat. The subterfuge worked not only with her customers, who stopped giving her food, but with her as well, as she had the feeling of eating as she chewed on the sponge. La Gorda laughed when she told me how she had walked around with a sponge stuffed in her mouth for years until her habit of eating excessively had been broken.
“Was that all you needed to stop your habit?” I asked.
“No. I also had to learn how to eat like a warrior.”
“And how does a warrior eat?”
“A warrior eats quietly, and slowly, and very little at a time. I used to talk while I ate, and I ate very fast, and I ate lots and lots of food at one sitting. The Nagual told me that a warrior eats four mouthfuls of food at one time. A while later he eats another four mouthfuls and so on.
“A warrior also walks miles and miles every day. My eating weakness never let me walk. I broke it by eating four mouthfuls every hour and by walking. Sometimes I walked all day and all night. That was the way I lost the fat on my buttocks.”
She laughed at her own recollection of the nickname don Juan had given her.
“But stalking your weaknesses is not enough to drop them,” she said. “You can stalk them from now to doomsday and it won’t make a bit of difference. That’s why the Nagual didn’t want to tell me what to do. What a warrior really needs in order to be an impeccable stalker is to have a purpose.”
La Gorda recounted how she had lived from day to day, before she met the Nagual, with nothing to look forward to. She had no hopes, no dreams, no desire for anything. The opportunity to eat, however, was always accessible to her; for some reason that she could not fathom, there had been plenty of food available to her every single day of her life. So much of it, in fact, that at one time she weighed two hundred and thirty-six pounds.
“Eating was the only thing I enjoyed in life,” la Gorda said. “Besides, I never saw myself as being fat. I thought I was rather pretty and that people liked me as I was. Everyone said that I looked healthy.
“The Nagual told me something very strange. He said that I had an enormous amount of personal power and due to that I had always managed to get food from friends while the relatives in my own house were going hungry.
“Everybody has enough personal power for something. The trick for me was to pull my personal power away from food to my warrior’s purpose.”
“And what is that purpose, Gorda?” I asked half in jest.
“To enter into the other world,” she replied with a grin and pretended to hit me on top of my head with her knuckles, the way don Juan used to do when he thought I was indulging.
(Journey to Ixtlan)
We remained quiet for a moment and then began walking again. The slopes were very steep and climbing them was very difficult and extremely tiring for me. On the other hand, there seemed to be no end to don Juan’s stamina. He did not run or hurry. His walking was steady and tireless. I noticed that he was not even perspiring, even after having climbed an enormous and almost vertical slope. When I reached the top of it, don Juan was already there, waiting for me.
As I sat down next to him I felt that my heart was about to burst out of my chest. I lay on my back and perspiration literally poured from my brows. Don Juan laughed out loud and rolled me back and forth for a while. The motion helped me catch my breath.
I told him that I was simply awed by his physical prowess.
“I’ve been trying to draw your attention to it all along,” he said.
“You’re not old at all, don Juan!”
“Of course not. I’ve been trying to make you notice it.”
“How do you do it?”
“I don’t do anything. My body feels fine, that’s all. I treat myself very well, therefore, I have no reason to feel tired or ill at ease. The secret is not in what you do to yourself but rather in what you don’t do.”
We gathered some sticks and proceeded to build the hunting contraptions. I had mine almost finished and was excitedly wondering whether or not it would work when suddenly don Juan stopped and looked at his left wrist, as if he were checking a watch which he had never had, and said that according to his timepiece it was lunchtime. I was holding a long stick, which I was trying to make into a hoop by bending it in a circle, I automatically put it down with the rest of my hunting paraphernalia.
Don Juan looked at me with an expression of curiosity. Then he made the wailing sound of a factory siren at lunchtime. I laughed. His siren sound was perfect. I walked towards him and noticed that he was staring at me. He shook his head from side to side.
“I’ll be damned,” he said.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
He again made the long wailing sound of a factory whistle.
“Lunch is over,” he said.” Go back to work.”
I felt confused for an instant, but then I thought that he was joking, perhaps because we really had nothing to make lunch with. I had been so engrossed with the rodents that I had forgotten we had no provisions. I picked up the stick again and tried to bend it. After a moment don Juan again blew his “whistle”.
“Time to go home,” he said.
He examined his imaginary watch and then looked at me and winked.
“It’s five o’clock,” he said with an air of someone revealing a secret.
I thought that he had suddenly become fed up with hunting and was calling the whole thing off. I simply put everything down and began to get ready to leave. I did not look at him. I presumed that he also was preparing his gear. When I was through I looked up and saw him sitting cross-legged a few feet away.
“I’m through,” I said.” We can go anytime.”
He got up and climbed a rock. He stood there, five or six feet above the ground, looking at me. He put his hands on either side of his mouth and made a very prolonged and piercing sound. It was like a magnified factory siren. He turned around in a complete circle, making the wailing sound.
“What are you doing, don Juan?” I asked.
He said that he was giving the signal for the whole world to go home. I was completely baffled. I could not figure out whether he was joking or whether he had simply flipped his lid. I watched him intently and tried to relate what he was doing to something he may have said before. We had hardly talked at all during the morning and I could not remember anything of importance. Don Juan was still standing on top of the rock. He looked at me, smiled and winked again. I suddenly became alarmed. Don Juan put his hands on both sides of his mouth and let out another long whistle-like sound.
He said that it was eight o’clock in the morning and that I had to set up my gear again because we had a whole day ahead of us.
I was completely confused by then. In a matter of minutes my fear mounted to an irresistible desire to run away from the scene. I thought don Juan was crazy. I was about to flee when he slid down from the rock and came to me, smiling.
“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” he asked.
I told him that he was frightening me out of my wits with his unexpected behavior.
He said that we were even. I did not understand what he meant. I was deeply preoccupied with the thought that his acts seemed thoroughly insane. He explained that he had deliberately tried to scare me out of my wits with the heaviness of his unexpected behavior because I myself was driving him up the walls with the heaviness of my expected behavior. He added that my routines were as insane as his blowing his whistle.
I was shocked and asserted that I did not really have any routines. I told him that I believed my life was in fact a mess because of my lack of healthy routines.
Don Juan laughed and signaled me to sit down by him. The whole situation had mysteriously changed again. My fear had vanished as soon as he had begun to talk.
“What are my routines?” I asked.
“Everything you do is a routine.”
“Aren’t we all that way?”
“Not all of us. I don’t do things out of routine.”
“What prompted all this, don Juan? What did I do or what did I say that made you act the way you did?”
“You were worrying about lunch.”
“I did not say anything to you; how did you know that I was worrying about lunch?”
“You worry about eating every day around noontime, and around six in the evening, and around eight in the morning,” he said with a malicious grin. “You worry about eating at those times even if you’re not hungry.
“All I had to do to show your routine spirit was to blow my whistle. Your spirit is trained to work with a signal.”
He stared at me with a question in his eyes. I could not defend myself.
“Now you’re getting ready to make hunting into a routine,” he went on. “You have already set your pace in hunting; you talk at a certain time, eat at a certain time, and fall asleep at a certain time.”
(The Secret of the Plumed Serpent)
One is What One Eats
One day I accompanied doña Silvia to town, to the market where some friends had a stall with medicinal herbs. While she chatted with people there, I took the opportunity of buying a soft drink and cookies. I was about to start eating them, when doña Silvia noticed and immediately came over, chiding in an angry tone:
“You motherfucking bastard!”
I looked at her in amazement, not understanding the reason for her anger. I noticed that the people around me were laughing.
Pointing at my food, she went on:
“You’re poisoning yourself! You are still in the recovery stage, and you are not allowed to eat that shit.”
She urged me to throw it all into the dustbin. A minute later, we were walking from the market to the square in front of the church. I was still stunned from her rebuke, but she spoke to me kindly, introducing me to what she called “a healthy way of eating.”
“Healers can eat anything,” doña Silvia said, answering one of my questions, “but they avoid processed foods whenever they can. How much energy can there be in food processed by machines and never touched by human hands? Today, people are guided by what they see on telly. They feed on crap, which is why they are always unwell.
If, after a food advert, they have to advise you to eat fruit and vegetables, it means that the advertised food is harmful. It is the same type of advert as the ones where they are obliged by law to state that their product may cause cancer or contains a chemical of some kind. For us, food has to be fresh and freshly cut; either beef or chicken butchered on the day, or freshly picked fruit. Not that frozen junk or animal carcasses dead for who knows how long.”
Her face showed a strange smile that made me shudder. With shining eyes, and lowering her voice, she added:
“If they can, the witches drink the blood of sacrificed animals. They try to take the best possible advantage of the gift of the life that has been extinguished.”
I felt a slight twitch in the pit of my stomach as I imagined myself having to drink animal blood. But doña Silvia’s stern voice brought me back.
“And you don’t need to stuff your belly like a desperate son of a whore who only lives to eat. There are assholes who transfer all their frustrations, fears, and other emotional states to food, then remain fixated on the food and, even when they’re not hungry, still keep gobbling and gobbling it down, like pigs with nothing else to do.
You need to give your guts a break from time to time. Occasionally you have to spend a few days on water alone, without any food. Now, for a more thorough cleansing of the stomach, one occasionally needs emetics and enemas.
After such cleansing, one must be careful and start eating not for the taste, not because
one is hungry, but to feed on the energy of the things you eat.”
She discreetly pointed out a group of people milling before a stand with barbecued pork.
“Did you see the amount of fat that people ingest with their food?”
I had to agree, with some guilt, that in effect, the people were accustomed to eating whatever was before them.
She imperceptibly pointed at a man and said:
“Look! He looks like a pig that gobbles up everything it is thrown.” She was referring to a fat gentleman walking on the other side of the park right in front of us. A fat lady came by from the opposite direction, carrying a paper bag full of bread loaves under her arm. The man greeted her as she walked by with difficulty, her enormous buttocks wobbling.
Shaking her head and clicking her tongue in disapproval, doña Silvia murmured:
“I can’t look at her anymore! And then she doesn’t understand why she’s so fat and has such high blood pressure. People abuse bread and pastry to the point where they get ill, and then come crying to us to cure them.”
“But we eat tortillas; isn’t that the same thing?”
“No!” she replied categorically. “Our tortillas are made with corn ground there and then, by the hands that prepare them, so they preserve their energy level very well. The same applies to all the other food we eat. All of it is chosen and selected to produce maximum yield and vigour.”
She explained that food fell into the categories of cold, hot, or neutral, and that those were in their turn classified according to their energy levels. Once she had explained the difference between one food and another, she took me to various food stalls in the area and, to test my understanding, ordered me to classify the food they served according to the energy scheme she had explained. I could see that, with rare exception, there was little quality in the food the people ate there.
From then on, I started paying more attention to what I ate, so much so that my body learned to demand exactly what it needed, when it needed it and in the necessary quantity.
On one occasion she told me about one of the basic requirements of dreaming. She said, “Eating habits can greatly influence one’s capacity for entering dreaming, especially in novices. Whenever you eat after six in the evening, it actually interferes with the transition to dreaming, so it is best not to eat anything before going to bed.”