Not Doing

(Journey to Ixtlan)

I was jotting down my impressions of the surroundings when don Juan, after a long silence, suddenly spoke in a dramatic tone. “I have brought you here to teach you one thing,” he said and paused. “You are going to learn not-doing. We might as well talk about it because there is no other way for you to proceed. I thought you might catch on to not-doing without my having to say anything. I was wrong.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, don Juan.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I am going to tell you about something that is very simple but very difficult to perform; I am going to talk to you about not-doing, in spite of the fact that there is no way to talk about it, because it is the body that does it.”
He stared at me in glances and then said that I had to pay the utmost attention to what he was going to say. I closed my notebook, but to my amazement he insisted that I should keep on writing.
Not-doing is so difficult and so powerful that you should not mention it,” he went on. “Not until you have stopped the world; only then can you talk about it freely, if that’s what you’d want to do.”
Don Juan looked around and then pointed to a large rock. “That rock over there is a rock because of doing” he said.
We looked at each other and he smiled. I waited for an explanation but he remained silent. Finally I had to say that I had not understood what he meant.
“That’s doing!” he exclaimed.
“Pardon me?”
“That’s also doing.”
“What are you talking about, don Juan?”
Doing is what makes that rock a rock and that bush a bush. Doing is what makes you yourself and me myself.”
I told him that his explanation did not explain anything. He laughed and scratched his temples.
“That’s the problem with talking,” he said. “It always makes one confuse the issues. If one starts talking about doing, one always ends up talking about something else. It is better to just act.
“Take that rock for instance. To look at it is doing, but to see it is not-doing
I had to confess that his words were not making sense to me. “Oh yes they do!” he exclaimed. “But you are convinced that they don’t because that is your doing. That is the way you act towards me and the world.”
He again pointed to the rock.
“That rock is a rock because of all the things you know how to do to it,” he said. “I call that doing. A man of knowledge, for instance, knows that the rock is a rock only because of doing, so if he doesn’t want the rock to be a rock all he has to do is not-doing. See what I mean?”
I did not understand him at all. He laughed and made another attempt at explaining.
“The world is the world because you know the doing involved in making it so,” he said. “If you didn’t know its doing, the world would be different.”
He examined me with curiosity. I stopped writing. I just wanted to listen to him. He went on explaining that without that certain doing there would be nothing familiar in the surroundings. He leaned over and picked up a small rock between the thumb and index of his left hand and held it in front of my eyes.
“This is a pebble because you know the doing involved in making it into a pebble,” he said.
“What are you saying?” I asked with a feeling of bona fide confusion.
Don Juan smiled. He seemed to be trying to hide a mischievous delight.
“I don’t know why you are so confused,” he said. “Words are your predilection. You should be in heaven.”
He gave me a mysterious look and raised his brows two or three times. Then he pointed again to the small rock he was holding in front of my eyes.
“I say that you are making this into a pebble because you know the doing involved in it,” he said. “Now, in order to stop the world you must stop doing.” He seemed to know that I still had not understood and smiled, shaking his head. He then took a twig and pointed to the uneven edge of the pebble.
“In the case of this little rock,” he went on, “the first thing which doing does to it is to shrink it to this size. So the proper thing to do, which a warrior does if he wants to stop the world, is to enlarge a little rock, or any other thing, by not-doing.”
He stood up and placed the pebble on a boulder and then asked me to come closer and examine it. He told me to look at the holes and depressions in the pebble and try to pick out the minute detail in them. He said that if I could pick out the detail, the holes and depressions would disappear and I would understand what not-doing meant.
“This damn pebble is going to drive you crazy today,” he said.
I must have had a look of bewilderment on my face. He looked at me and laughed uproariously. Then he pretended to get angry with the pebble and hit it two or three times with his hat.
I urged him to clarify his point. I argued that it was possible for him to explain anything he wanted to if he made an effort.
He gave me a sly glance and shook his head as if the situation were hopeless.
“Sure I can explain anything,” he said, laughing. “But could you understand it?” I was taken aback by his insinuation. “Doing makes you separate the pebble from the larger boulder,” he continued. “If you want to learn not-doing, let’s say that you have to join them.”
He pointed to the small shadow that the pebble cast on the boulder and said that it was not a shadow but a glue which bound them together. He then turned around and walked away, saying that he was coming back to check on me later. I stared at the pebble for a long time. I could not focus my attention on the minute detail in the holes and depressions, but the tiny shadow that the pebble cast on the boulder became a most interesting point. Don Juan was right; it was like a glue. It moved and shifted. I had the impression it was being squeezed from underneath the pebble.
When don Juan returned I related to him what I had observed about the shadow
“That’s a good beginning,” he said. “A warrior can tell all kinds of things from the shadows.” He then suggested that I should take the pebble and bury it somewhere.
“Why?” I asked.
“You’ve been watching it for a long time,” he said. “It has something of you now. A warrior always tries to affect the force of doing by changing it into not-doing. Doing would be to leave the pebble lying around because it is merely a small rock. Not-doing would be to proceed with that pebble as if it were something far beyond a mere rock. In this case, that pebble has soaked in you for a long time and now it is you, and as such, you cannot leave it lying around but must bury it. If you would have personal power, however, not-doing would be to change that pebble into a power object.”
“Can I do that now?”
“Your life is not tight enough to do that. If you would see, you would know that your heavy concern has changed that pebble into something quite unappealing, therefore the best thing you can do is to dig a hole and bury it and let the earth absorb its heaviness.”
“Is all this true, don Juan?”
“To say yes or no to your question is doing. But since you are learning not-doing I have to tell you that it really doesn’t matter whether or not all this is true. It is here that a warrior has a point of advantage over the average man. An average man cares that things are either true or false, but a warrior doesn’t. An average man proceeds in a specific way with things that he knows are true, and in a different way with things that he knows are not true.
If things are said to be true, he acts and believes in what he does. But if things are said to be untrue, he doesn’t care to act, or he doesn’t believe in what he does. A warrior, on the other hand, acts in both instances. If things are said to be true, he would act in order to do doing.
If things are said to be untrue, he still would act in order to do not-doing. See what I mean?”
“No, I don’t see what you mean at all,” I said. Don Juan’s statements put me in a belligerent mood. I could not make sense of what he was saying. I told him it was gibberish, and he mocked me and said that I did not even have an impeccable spirit in what I liked to do the most, talking.
He actually made fun of my verbal command and found it faulty and inadequate.
“If you are going to be all mouth, be a mouth warrior,” he said and roared with laughter. I felt dejected. My ears were buzzing. I experienced an uncomfortable heat in my head. I was actually embarrassed and presumably red in the face. I stood up and went into the chaparral and buried the pebble.
“I was teasing you a little bit,” don Juan said when I returned and sat down again. “And yet I know that if you don’t talk you don’t understand. Talking is doing for you, but talking is not appropriate and if you want to know what I mean by not-doing you have to do a simple exercise. Since we are concerned with not-doing it doesn’t matter whether you do the exercise now or ten years from now.”
He made me lie down and took my right arm and bent it at my elbow. Then he turned my hand until the palm was facing the front; he curved my fingers so my hand looked as if I were holding a doorknob, and then he began to move my arm back and forth with a circular motion that resembled the act of pushing and pulling a lever attached to a wheel.
Don Juan said that a warrior executed that movement every time he wanted to push something out of his body, something like a disease or an unwelcome feeling. The idea was to push and pull an imaginary opposing force until one felt a heavy object, a solid body, stopping the free movements of the hand. In the case of the exercise, not-doing consisted in repeating it until one felt the heavy body with the hand, in spite of the fact that one could never believe it was possible to feel it. I began moving my arm and in a short while my hand became ice cold. I had begun to feel a sort of mushiness around my hand. It was as if I were paddling through some heavy viscous liquid matter.
Don Juan made a sudden movement and grabbed my arm to stop the motion. My whole body shivered as though stirred by some unseen force. He scrutinized me as I sat up, and then walked around me before he sat back down on the place where he had been.
“You’ve done enough,” he said. “You may do this exercise some other time, when you have more personal power.”
“Did I do something wrong?”
“No. Not-doing is only for very strong warriors and you don’t have the power to deal with it yet. Now you will only trap horrendous things with your hand. So do it little by little, until your hand doesn’t get cold any more. Whenever your hand remains warm you can actually feel the lines of the world with it.”
He paused as if to give me time to ask about the lines. But before I had a chance to, he started explaining that there were infinite numbers of lines that joined us to things. He said that the exercise of not-doing that he had just described would help anyone to feel a line that came out from the moving hand, a line that one could place or cast wherever one wanted to. Don Juan said that this was only an exercise, because the lines formed by the hand were not durable enough to be of real value in a practical situation.
“A man of knowledge uses other parts of his body to produce durable lines,” he said.
“What parts of the body, don Juan?”
“The most durable lines that a man of knowledge produces come from the middle of the body,” he said. “But he can also make them with his eyes.”
“Are they real lines?”
“Can you see them and touch them?”
“Let’s say that you can feel them. The most difficult part about the warrior’s way is to realize that the world is a feeling. When one is not-doing, one is feeling the world, and one feels the world through its lines.”
He paused and examined me with curiosity. He raised his brows and opened his eyes and then blinked. The effect was like the eyes of a bird blinking. Almost immediately I felt a sensation of discomfort and queasiness. It was actually as if something was applying pressure to my stomach.
“See what I mean?” don Juan asked and moved his eyes away.
I mentioned that I felt nauseated and he replied in a matter-of-fact tone that he knew it, and that he was trying to make me feel the lines of the world with his eyes. I could not accept the claim that he himself was making me feel that way. I voiced my doubts. I could hardly conceive the idea that he was causing my feeling of nausea, since he had not, in any physical way, impinged on me. “Not-doing is very simple but very difficult,” he said. “It is not a matter of understanding it but of mastering it. Seeing, of course, is the final accomplishment of a man of knowledge, and seeing is attained only when one has stopped the world through the technique of not-doing.”
I smiled involuntarily. I had not understood what he meant. “When one does something with people,” he said, “the concern should be only with presenting the case to their bodies. That’s what I’ve been doing with you so far, letting your body know. Who cares whether or not you understand?”
“But that’s unfair, don Juan. I want to understand everything, otherwise coming here would be a waste of my time.”
“A waste of your time!” he exclaimed parodying my tone of voice. “You certainly are conceited.” He stood up and told me that we were going to hike to the top of the lava peak to our right. The ascent to the top was an excruciating affair. It was actual mountain climbing, except that there were no ropes to aid and protect us. Don Juan repeatedly told me not to look down; and he had to actually pull me up bodily a couple of times, after I had begun to slide down the rock. I felt terribly embarrassed that don Juan, being so old, had to help me. I told him that I was in poor physical condition because I was too lazy to do any exercise. He replied that once one had arrived at a certain level of personal power, exercise or any training of that sort was unnecessary, since all one needed, to be in an impeccable form, was to engage oneself in not-doing
When we arrived at the top I lay down. I was about to be sick. He rolled me back and forth with his foot as he had done once before. Little by little the motion restored my balance. But I felt nervous. It was as if I were somehow waiting for the sudden appearance of something. I involuntarily looked two or three times to each side. Don Juan did not say a word but he also looked in the direction I was looking.
“Shadows are peculiar affairs,” he said all of a sudden. “You must have noticed that there is one following us.”
“I haven’t noticed anything of the sort,” I protested in a loud voice.
Don Juan said that my body had noticed our pursuer, in spite of my stubborn opposition, and assured me in a confident tone that there was nothing unusual about being followed by a shadow.
“It is just a power, ” he said. “These mountains are filled with them. It is just like one of those entities that scared you the other night.”
I wanted to know if I could actually perceive it myself. He asserted that in the daytime I could only feel its presence. I wanted an explanation of why he called it a shadow when obviously it was not like the shadow of a boulder. He replied that both had the same lines, therefore both were shadows.
He pointed to a long boulder standing directly in front of us.
“Look at the shadow of that boulder, “He said. “The shadow is the boulder, and yet it isn’t. To observe the boulder in order to know what the boulder is, is doing, but to observe its shadow is not-doing.
“Shadows are like doors, the doors of not-doing. A man of knowledge, for example, can tell the innermost feelings of men by watching their shadows.”
“Is there movement in them?” I asked.
“You may say that there is movement in them, or you may say that the lines of the world are shown in them, or you may say that feelings come from them.”
“But how could feelings come out of shadows, don Juan?”
“To believe that shadows are just shadows is doing” he explained. “That belief is somehow stupid. Think about it this way: There is so much more to everything in the world that obviously there must be more to shadows too. After all, what makes them shadows is merely our doing.”
There was a long silence. I did not know what else to say.
“The end of the day is approaching, ” don Juan said, looking at the sky. “You have to use this brilliant sunlight to perform one last exercise.”
He led me to a place where there were two peaks the size of a man standing parallel to each other, about four or five feet apart. Don Juan stopped ten yards away from them, facing the west. He marked a spot for me to stand on and told me to look at the shadows of the peaks. He said that I should watch them and cross my eyes in the same manner I ordinarily crossed them when scanning the ground for a place to rest.
He clarified his directions by saying that when searching for a resting place one had to look without focusing but in observing shadows one had to cross the eyes and yet keep a sharp image in focus. The idea was to let one shadow be superimposed on the other by crossing the eyes. He explained that through that process one could ascertain a certain feeling which emanated from shadows. I commented on his vagueness, but he maintained that there was really no way of describing what he meant.
My attempt to carry out the exercise was futile. I struggled until I got a headache. Don Juan was not at all concerned with my failure. He climbed to a dome-like peak and yelled from the top, telling me to look for two small long and narrow pieces of rock. He showed with his hands the size rock he wanted. I found two pieces and handed them to him. Don Juan placed each rock about a foot apart in two crevices, made me stand above them facing the west, and told me to do the same exercise with their shadows.
This time it was an altogether different affair. Almost immediately I was capable of crossing my eyes and perceiving their individual shadows as if they had merged into one. I noticed that the act of looking without converging the images gave the single shadow I had formed an unbelievable depth and a sort of transparency. I stared at it, bewildered. Every hole in the rock, on the area where my eyes were focused, was neatly discernible; and the composite shadow, which was superimposed on them, was like a film of indescribable transparency.
I did not want to blink, for fear of losing the image I was so precariously holding. Finally my sore eyes forced me to blink, but I did not lose the view of the detail at all. In fact, by remoistening my cornea the image became even clearer. I noticed at that point that it was as if I were looking from an immeasurable height at a world I had never seen before. I also noticed that I could scan the surroundings of the shadow without losing the focus of my visual perception. Then, for an instant, I lost the notion that I was looking at a rock. I felt that I was landing in a world, vast beyond anything I had ever conceived. This extraordinary perception lasted for a second and then everything was turned off. I automatically looked up and saw don Juan standing directly above the rocks, facing me. He had blocked the sunlight with his body. I described the unusual sensation I had had, and he explained that he had been forced to interrupt it because he “saw” that I was about to get lost in it. He added that it was a natural tendency for all of us to indulge ourselves when feelings of that nature occur, and that by indulging myself in it I had almost turned not-doing into my old familiar doing. He said that what I should have done was to maintain the view without succumbing to it, because in a way doing was a manner of succumbing.
I complained that he should have told me beforehand what to expect and what to do, but he pointed out that he had no way of knowing whether or not I would succeed in merging the shadows.
I had to confess I was more mystified than ever about not-doing. Don Juan’s comments were that I should be satisfied with what I had done, because for once I had proceeded correctly, that by reducing the world I had enlarged it, and that, although I had been far from feeling the lines of the world, I had correctly used the shadow of the rocks as a door into not-doing.
The statement that I had enlarged the world by reducing it intrigued me to no end. The detail of the porous rock, in the small area where my eyes were focused, was so vivid and so precisely defined that the top of the round peak became a vast world for me; and yet it was really a reduced vision of the rock. When don Juan blocked the light and I found myself looking as I normally would do, the precise detail became dull, the tiny holes in the porous rock became bigger, the brown color of the dried lava became opaque, and everything lost the shiny transparency that made the rock into a real world.
Don Juan then took the two rocks, laid them gently into a deep crevice, and sat down cross-legged facing the west, on the spot where the rocks had been. He patted a spot next to him to his left and told me to sit down.
We did not speak for a long time. Then we ate, also in silence. It was only after the sun had set that he suddenly turned and asked me about my progress in “dreaming.” I told him that it had been easy in the beginning, but that at the moment I had ceased altogether to find my hands in my dreams.
“When you first started dreaming you were using my personal power, that’s why it was easier, ” he said. “Now you are empty. But you must keep on trying until you have enough power of your own. You see, dreaming is the not-doing of dreams, and as you progress in your not-doing you will also progress in dreaming. The trick is not to stop looking for your hands, even if you don’t believe that what you are doing has any meaning. In fact, as I have told you before, a warrior doesn’t need to believe, because as long as he keeps on acting without believing he is not-doing.” We looked at each other for a moment.
“There is nothing else I can tell you about dreaming.” he continued. “Everything I may say would only be not-doing. But if you tackle not-doing directly, you yourself would know what to do in dreaming. To find your hands is essential, though, at this time, and I am sure you will.” “I don’t know, don Juan. I don’t trust myself.”
“This is not a matter of trusting anybody. This whole affair is a matter of a warrior’s struggle; and you will keep on struggling, if not under your own power, then perhaps under the impact of a worthy opponent, or with the help of some allies, .like the one which is already following you.” I made a jerky involuntary movement with my right arm.
Don Juan said that my body knew much more than I suspected, because the force that had been pursuing us was to my right. He confided in a low tone of voice that twice that day the ally had come so close to me that he had had to step in and stop it.
“During the day shadows are the doors of not-doing” he said. “But at night, since very little doing prevails in the dark, everything is a shadow, including the allies. I’ve already told you about this when I taught you the gait of power.” I laughed out loud and my own laughter scared me.
“Everything I have taught you so far has been an aspect of not-doing” he went on. “A warrior applies not-doing to everything in the world, and yet I can’t tell you more about it than what I have said today. You must let your own body discover the power and the feeling of not-doing.” I had another fit of nervous cackling.
“It is stupid for you to scorn the mysteries of the world simply because you know the doing of scorn,” he said with a serious face. I assured him that I was not scorning anything or anyone, but that I was more nervous and incompetent than he thought. “I’ve always been that way, ” I said. “And yet I want to change, but I don’t know how. I am so inadequate.”
“I already know that you think you are rotten, ” he said.
“That’s your doing. Now in order to affect that doing I am going to recommend that you learn another doing. From now on, and for a period of eight days, I want you to lie to yourself. Instead of telling yourself the truth, that you are ugly and rotten and inadequate, you will tell yourself that you are the complete opposite, knowing that you are lying and that you are absolutely beyond hope.”
“But what would be the point of lying like that, don Juan?”
“It may hook you to another doing and then you may realize that both doings are lies, unreal, and that to hinge yourself to either one is a waste of time, because the only thing that is real is the being in you that is going to die. To arrive at that being is the not-doing of the self.”