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8: The Attention under the Table

(From The Second Ring of Power by Carlos Castaneda)

“The Nagual and Genaro are sorcerers. Their two attentions are so tightly together that perhaps they’ll never die.”

“Did the Nagual say that, Gorda?”

“Yes. He and Genaro both told me that. Not too long before they left, the Nagual explained to us the power of attention. I never knew about the tonal and the nagual until then.”

La Gorda recounted the way don Juan had instructed them about that crucial tonal-nagual dichotomy. She said that one day the Nagual had all of them gather together in order to take them for a long hike to a desolate, rocky valley in the mountains. He made a large, heavy bundle with all kinds of items; he even put Pablito’s radio in it. He then gave the bundle to Josefina to carry and put a heavy table on Pablito’s shoulders and they all started hiking. He made all of them take turns carrying the bundle and the table as they hiked nearly forty miles to that high, desolate place. When they arrived there, the Nagual made Pablito set the table in the very center of the valley. Then he asked Josefina to arrange the contents of the bundle on the table. When the table was filled, he explained to them the difference between the tonal and the nagual, in the same terms he had explained it to me in a restaurant in Mexico City, except that in their case his example was infinitely more graphic.

He told them that the tonal was the order that we are aware of in our daily world and also the personal order that we carry through life on our shoulders, like they had carried that table and the bundle. The personal tonal of each of us was like the table in that valley, a tiny island filled with the things we are familiar with. The nagual, on the other hand, was the inexplicable source that held that table in place and was like the vastness of that deserted valley.

He told them that sorcerers were obligated to watch their tonals from a distance in order to have a better grasp of what was really around them. He made them walk to a ridge from where they could view the whole area. From there the table was hardly visible. He then made them go back to the table and had them all loom over it in order to show that an average man does not have the grasp that a sorcerer has because an average man is right on top of his table, holding onto every item on it.

He then made each of them, one at a time, casually look at the objects on the table, and tested their recall by taking some thing and hiding it, to see if they had been attentive. All of them passed the test with flying colors. He pointed out to them that their ability to remember so easily the items on that table was due to the fact that all of them had developed their attention of the tonal, or their attention over the table.

He next asked them to look casually at everything that was on the ground underneath the table, and tested their recall by removing the rocks, twigs or whatever else was there. None of them could remember what they had seen under the table.

The Nagual then swept everything off the top of the table and made each of them, one at a time, lie across it on their stomachs and carefully examine the ground underneath. He explained to them that for a sorcerer the nagual was the area just underneath the table. Since it was unthinkable to tackle the immensity of the nagual, as exemplified by that vast, desolate place, sorcerers took as their domain of activity the area directly below the island of the tonal, as graphically shown by what was underneath that table. That area was the domain of what he called the second attention, or the attention of the nagual, or the attention under the table. That attention was reached only after warriors had swept the top of their tables clean. He said that reaching the second attention made the two attentions into a single unit, and that unit was the totality of oneself.

La Gorda said that his demonstration was so clear to her that she understood at once why the Nagual had made her clean her own life, sweep her island of the tonal, as he had called it. She felt that she had indeed been fortunate in having followed every suggestion that he had put to her. She was still a long way from unifying her two attentions, but her diligence had resulted in an impeccable life, which was, as he had assured her, the only way for her to lose her human form. Losing the human form was the essential requirement for unifying the two attentions.

“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.”


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