Taking Responsibility

A warrior takes responsibility for his acts; for the most trivial of his acts

(A Separate Reality)

For three months don Juan systematically avoided talking about the guardian. I paid him four visits during these months; he involved me in running errands for him every time, and when I had performed the errands he simply told me to go home. On April 24, 1969, the fourth time I was at his house, I finally confronted him after we had eaten dinner and were sitting next to his earthen stove. I told him that he was doing something incongruous to me; I was ready to learn and yet he did not even want me around. I had had to struggle very hard to overcome my aversion to using his hallucinogenic mushrooms and I felt, as he had said himself, that I had no time to lose.

Don Juan patiently listened to my complaints.

“You’re too weak,” he said. “You hurry when you should wait, but you wait when you should hurry. You think too much. Now you think that there is no time to waste. A while back you thought you didn’t want to smoke any more. Your life is too damn loose; you’re not tight enough to meet the little smoke. I am responsible for you and I don’t want you to die like a goddamn fool.”

I felt embarrassed.

“What can I do, don Juan? I’m very impatient.”

“Live like a warrior! I’ve told you already, a warrior takes responsibility for his acts; for the most trivial of his acts.”

***

“A man who follows the paths of sorcery is confronted with imminent annihilation every turn of the way, and unavoidably he becomes keenly aware of his death. Without the awareness of death he would be only an ordinary man involved in ordinary acts. He would lack the necessary potency, the necessary concentration that transforms one’s ordinary time on earth into magical power.”

“Thus to be a warrior a man has to be, first of all, and rightfully so, keenly aware of his own death. But to be concerned with death would force any one of us to focus on the self and that would be debilitating. So the next thing one needs to be a warrior is detachment. The idea of imminent death, instead of becoming an obsession, becomes an indifference.”

Don Juan stopped talking and looked at me. He seemed to be waiting for a comment.

“Do you understand?” he asked.

I understood what he had said but I personally could not see how anyone could arrive at a sense of detachment. I said that from the point of view of my own apprenticeship I had already experienced the moment when knowledge became such a frightening affair. I could also truthfully say that I no longer found support in the ordinary premises of my daily life. And I wanted, or perhaps even more than wanted, I needed, to live like a warrior.

“Now you must detach yourself,” he said.

“From what?”

“Detach yourself from everything.”

“That’s impossible. I don’t want to be a hermit.”

“To be a hermit is an indulgence and I never meant that. A hermit is not detached, for he willfully abandons himself to being a hermit.”

“Only the idea of death makes a man sufficiently detached so he is incapable of abandoning himself to anything. Only the idea of death makes a man sufficiently detached so he can’t deny himself anything. A man of that sort, however, does not crave, for he has acquired a silent lust for life and for all things of life. He knows his death is stalking him and won’t give him time to cling to anything, so he tries, without craving, all of everything.”

“A detached man, who knows he has no possibility of fencing off his death, has only one thing to back himself with: the power of his decisions. He has to be, so to speak, the master of his choices. He must fully understand that his choice is his responsibility and once he makes it there is no longer time for regrets or recriminations. His decisions are final, simply because his death does not permit him time to cling to anything.”

“And thus with an awareness of his death, with his detachment, and with the power of his decisions a warrior sets his life in a strategical manner. The knowledge of his death guides him and makes him detached and silently lusty; the power of his final decisions makes him able to choose without regrets and what he chooses is always strategically the best; and so he performs everything he has to with gusto and lusty efficiency.”

***

We went back and sat down again underneath his ramada. There were so many things I wanted to ask, but he did not give me time to say anything before he spoke again.

“This brings us to the last point you must know about a warrior,” he said. “A warrior selects the items that make his world.”

“The other day when you saw the ally and I had to wash you twice, do you know what was wrong with you?”

“No.”

“You had lost your shields.”

“What shields? What are you talking about?”

“I said that a warrior selects the items that make his world. He selects deliberately, for every item he chooses is a shield that protects him from the onslaughts of the forces he is striving to use. A warrior would use his shields to protect himself from his ally, for instance.”

“An average man who is equally surrounded by those inexplicable forces is oblivious to them because he has other kinds of special shields to protect himself.”

He paused and looked at me with a question in his eyes. I had not understood what he meant.

“What are those shields?” I insisted.

“What people do,” he repeated.

“What do they do?”

“Well, look around. People are busy doing that which people do. Those are their shields. Whenever a sorcerer has an encounter with any of those inexplicable and unbending forces we have talked about, his gap opens, making him more susceptible to his death than he ordinarily is; I’ve told you that we die through that gap, therefore if it is open one should have his will ready to fill it; that is, if one is a warrior. If one is not a warrior, like yourself, then one has no other recourse but to use the activities of daily life to take one’s mind away from the fright of the encounter and thus to allow one’s gap to close. You got angry with me that day when you met the ally. I made you angry when I stopped your car and I made you cold when I dumped you into the water. Having your clothes on made you even colder. Being angry and cold helped you close your gap and you were protected. At this time in your life, however, you can no longer use those shields as effectively as an average man. You know too much about those forces and now you are finally at the brink of feeling and acting as a warrior. Your old shields are no longer safe.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

“Act like a warrior and select the items of your world. You cannot surround yourself with things helter-skelter any longer. I tell you this in a most serious vein. Now for the first time you are not safe in your old way of life.”

“What do you mean by selecting the items of my world?”

“A warrior encounters those inexplicable and unbending forces because he is deliberately seeking them, thus he is always prepared for the encounter. You, on the other hand, are never prepared for it. In fact if those forces come to you they will take you by surprise; the fright will open your gap and your life will irresistibly escape through it. The first thing you must do, then, is be prepared. Think that the ally is going to pop in front of your eyes any minute and you must be ready for him. To meet an ally is no party or Sunday picnic and a warrior takes the responsibility of protecting his life. Then if any of those forces tap you and open your gap, you must deliberately strive to close it by yourself. For that purpose you must have a selected number of things that give you great peace and pleasure, things which you can deliberately use to take your thoughts from your fright and close your gap and make you solid.”

“What kind of things?”

“Years ago I told you that in his day-to-day life a warrior chooses to follow the path with heart. It is the consistent choice of the path with heart which makes a warrior different from the average man. He knows that a path has heart when he is one with it, when he experiences a great peace and pleasure traversing its length. The things a warrior selects to make his shields are the items of a path with heart.”

“But you said I’m not a warrior, so how can I choose a path with heart?”

“This is your turning point. Let’s say that before you did not really need to live like a warrior. Now it is different, now you must surround yourself with the items of a path with heart and you must refuse the rest, or you will perish in the next encounter. I may add that you don’t need to ask for the encounter any longer. An ally can now come to you in your sleep; while you are talking to your friends; while you are writing.”

“For years I have truly tried to live in accordance with your teachings,” I said. “Obviously I have not done well. How can I do better now?”

“You think and talk too much. You must stop talking to yourself.”

“What do you mean?”

“You talk to yourself too much. You’re not unique at that. Every one of us does that. We carry on an internal talk. Think about it. Whenever you are alone, what do you do?”

“I talk to myself.”

“What do you talk to yourself about?”

“I don’t know; anything, I suppose.”

“I’ll tell you what we talk to ourselves about. We talk about our world. In fact we maintain our world with our internal talk.”

“How do we do that?”

“Whenever we finish talking to ourselves the world is always as it should be. We renew it, we kindle it with life, we uphold it with our internal talk. Not only that, but we also choose our paths as we talk to ourselves. Thus we repeat the same choices over and over until the day we die, because we keep on repeating the same internal talk over and over until the day we die.”

“A warrior is aware of this and strives to stop his talking. This is the last point you have to know if you want to live like a warrior.”

“How can I stop talking to myself?”

“First of all you must use your ears to take some of the burden from your eyes. We have been using our eyes to judge the world since the time we were born. We talk to others and to ourselves mainly about what we see. A warrior is aware of that and listens to the world; he listens to the sounds of the world.”

I put my notes away. Don Juan laughed and said that he did not mean I should force the issue, that listening to the sounds of the world had to be done harmoniously and with great patience.

“A warrior is aware that the world will change as soon as he stops talking to himself,” he said, “and he must be prepared for that monumental jolt.”

“What do you mean, don Juan?”

“The world is such-and-such or so-and-so only because we tell ourselves that that is the way it is. If we stop telling ourselves that the world is so-and-so, the world will stop being so-and-so. At this moment I don’t think you’re ready for such a momentous blow, therefore you must start slowly to undo the world.”

“I really do not understand you!”

“Your problem is that you confuse the world with what people do. Again you’re not unique at that. Every one of us does that. The things people do are the shields against the forces that surround us; what we do as people gives us comfort and makes us feel safe; what people do is rightfully very important, but only as a shield. We never learn that the things we do as people are only shields and we let them dominate and topple our lives. In fact I could say that for mankind, what people do is greater and more important than the world itself.”

“What do you call the world?”

“The world is all that is encased here,” he said, and stomped the ground. “Life, death, people, the allies, and everything else that surrounds us. The world is incomprehensible. We won’t ever understand it; we won’t ever unravel its secrets. Thus we must treat it as it is, a sheer mystery!”

“An average man doesn’t do this, though. The world is never a mystery for him, and when he arrives at old age he is convinced he has nothing more to live for. An old man has not exhausted the world. He has exhausted only what people do. But in his stupid confusion he believes that the world has no more mysteries for him. What a wretched price to pay for our shields!

“A warrior is aware of this confusion and learns to treat things properly. The things that people do cannot under any conditions be more important than the world. And thus a warrior treats the world as an endless mystery and what people do as an endless folly.”

***