(A Separate Reality)
“ —Some day perhaps you’ll be able to see men in another mode and then you’ll realize that there’s no way to change anything about them.”
“What’s this other mode of seeing men, don Juan?”
“Men look different when you see. The little smoke will help you to see men as fibers of light”
“Fibers of light?”
“Yes. Fibers, like white cobwebs. Very fine threads that circulate from the head to the navel. Thus a man looks like an egg of circulating fibers. And his arms and legs are like luminous bristles, bursting out in all directions.”
“Is that the way everyone looks?”
“Everyone. Besides, every man is in touch with everything else, not through his hands, though, but through a bunch of long fibers that shoot out from the center of his abdomen. Those fibers join a man to his surroundings; they keep his balance; they give him stability. So, as you may see some day, a man is a luminous egg whether he’s a beggar or a king and there’s no way to change anything; or rather, what could be changed in that luminous egg? What?”
Don Juan casually mentioned that he was going to make another trip to central Mexico in the near future.
“Are you going to visit don Genaro?” I asked.
“Perhaps,” he said without looking at me.
“He’s all right, isn’t he, don Juan? I mean nothing bad happened to him up there on top of the waterfall, did it?”
“Nothing happened to him; he is sturdy.”
We talked about his projected trip for a while and then I said I had enjoyed don Genaro’s company and his jokes. He laughed and said that don Genaro was truly like a child. There was a long pause; I struggled in my mind to find an opening line to ask about his lesson. Don Juan looked at me and said in a mischievous tone:
“You’re dying to ask me about Genaro’s lesson, aren’t you?”
I laughed with embarrassment. I had been obsessed with everything that took place at the waterfall. I had been hashing and rehashing all the details I could remember and my conclusions were that I had witnessed an incredible feat of physical prowess. I thought don Genaro was beyond doubt a peerless master of equilibrium; every single movement he had performed was highly ritualized and, needless to say, must have had some inextricable, symbolic meaning.
“Yes,” I said. “I admit I’m dying to know what his lesson was.”
“Let me tell you something,” don Juan said. “It was a waste of time for you. His lesson was for someone who can see. Pablito and Nestro got the gist of it, although they don’t see very well. But you, you went there to look. I told Genaro that you are a very strange plugged-up fool and that perhaps you’d get unplugged with his lesson, but you didn’t. It doesn’t matter, though. Seeing is very difficult.”
“I didn’t want you to speak to Genaro afterwards, so we had to leave. Too bad. Yet it would have been worse to stay. Genaro risked a great deal to show you something magnificent. Too bad you can’t see.”
“Perhaps, don Juan, if you tell me what the lesson was I may find out that I really saw.”
Don Juan doubled up with laughter.
“Your best feature is asking questions,” he said.
He was apparently going to drop the subject again. We were sitting, as usual, in the area in front of his house; he suddenly got up and walked inside. I trailed behind him and insisted on describing to him what I had seen. I faithfully followed the sequence of events as I remembered it. Don Juan kept on smiling while I spoke. When I had finished he shook his head.
“Seeing is very difficult,” he said.
I begged him to explain his statement
“Seeing is not a matter of talk,” he said imperatively.
Obviously he was not going to tell me anything more, so I gave up and left the house to run some errands for him.
When I returned it was already dark; we had something to eat and afterwards we walked out to the ramada; we had no sooner sat down than don Juan began to talk about don Genaro’s lesson. He did not give me any time to prepare myself for it. I did have my notes with me, but it was too dark to write and I did not want to alter the flow of his talk by going inside the house for the kerosene lantern.
He said that don Genaro, being a master of balance, could perform very complex and difficult movements. Sitting on his head was one of such movements and with it he had attempted to show me that it was impossible to “see” while I took notes. The action of sitting on his head without the aid of his hands was, at best, a freakish stunt that lasted only an instant. In don Genaro’s opinion, writing about “seeing” was the same; that is, it was a precarious maneuver, as odd and as unnecessary as sitting on one’s head.
Don Juan peered at me in the dark and in a very dramatic tone said that while don Genaro was horsing around, sitting on his head, I was on the very verge of “seeing.” Don Genaro noticed it and repeated his maneuvers over and over, to no avail, because I had lost the thread right away.
Don Juan said that afterwards don Genaro, moved by his personal liking for me, attempted in a very dramatic way to bring me back to that verge of “seeing.” After very careful deliberation he decided to show me a feat of equilibrium by crossing the waterfall. He felt that the waterfall was like the edge on which I was standing and was confident I could also make it across. Don Juan then explained don Genaro’s feat. He said that he had already told me that human beings were, for those who “saw,” luminous beings composed of something like fibers of light, which rotated from the front to the back and maintained the appearance of an egg. He said that he had also told me that the most astonishing part of the egg-like creatures was a set of long fibers that came out of the area around the navel; don Juan said that those fibers were of the uttermost importance in the life of a man. Those fibers were the secret of don Genaio’s balance and his lesson had nothing to do with acrobatic jumps across the waterfall. His feat of equilibrium was in the way he used those “tentacle-like” fibers.
Don Juan dropped the subject as suddenly as he had started it and began to talk about something thoroughly unrelated.
I cornered don Juan and told him I intuitively felt that I was never going to get another lesson in equilibrium and that he had to explain to me all the pertinent details, which I would otherwise never discover by myself. Don Juan said I was right, in so far as knowing that don Genaro would never give me another lesson.
“What else do you want to know?” he asked.
“What are those tentacle-like fibers, don Juan?”
“They are the tentacles that come out of a man’s body which are apparent to any sorcerer who sees. Sorcerers act toward people in accordance to the way they see their tentacles. Weak persons have very short, almost invisible fibers; strong persons have bright, long ones. Genaro’s, for instance, are so bright that they resemble thickness. You can tell from the fibers if a person is healthy, or if he is sick, or if he is mean, or kind, or treaoherous. You can also tell from the fibers if a person can see. Here is a baffling problem. When Genaro saw you he knew, just like my friend Vicente did, that you could see; when I see you I see that you can see and yet I know myself that you can’t. How baffling! Genaro couldn’t get over that. I told him that you were a strange fool. I think he wanted to see that for himself and took you to the waterfall.”
“Why do you think I give the impression I can see?”
Don Juan did not answer me. He remained silent for a long time. I did not want to ask him anything else.
Finally he spoke to me and said that he knew why but did not know how to explain it.
“You think everything in the world is simple to understand,” he said, “because everything you do is a routine that is simple to understand. At the waterfall, when you looked at Genaro moving across the water, you believed that he was a master of somersaults, because somersaults was all you could think about. And that is all you will ever believe he did. Yet Genaro never jumped across that water. If he had jumped he would have died. Genaro balanced himself on his superb, bright fibers. He made them long, long enough so that he could, let’s say, roll on them across the waterfall. He demonstrated the proper way to make those tentacles long, and how to move them with precision.
“Pablito saw nearly all of Genaro’s movements. Nestor, on the other hand, saw only the most obvious maneuvers. He missed the delicate details. But you, you saw nothing at all.”
“Perhaps if you had told me beforehand, don Juan, what to look for …”
He interrupted me and said that giving me instructions would only have hindered don Genaro. Had I known what was going to take place, my fibers would have been agitated and would have interfered with don Genaro’s.
“If you could see,” he said, “it would have been obvious to you, from the first step that Genaro took, that he was not slipping as he went up the side of the waterfall. He was loosening his tentacles. Twice he made them go around boulders and held to the sheer rock like a fly. When he got to the top and was ready to cross the water he focused them onto a small rock in the middle of the stream, and when they were secured there, he let the fibers pull him. Genaro never jumped, therefore he could land on the slippery surfaces of small boulders at the very edge of the water. His fibers were at all times neatly wrapped around every rock he used.”
“He did not stay on the first boulder very long, because he had the rest of his fibers tied onto another one, even smaller, at the place where the onrush of water was the greatest. His tentacles pulled him again and he landed on it. That was the most outstanding thing he did. The surface was too small for a man to hold onto; and the onrush of the water would have washed his body over the precipice had he not had some of his fibers still focused on the first rock.”
“He stayed in that second position for a long time, because he had to draw out his tentacles again and send them across to the other side of the fall. When he had them secured he had to release the fibers focused on the first rock. That was very tricky. Perhaps only Genaro could do that. He nearly lost his grip; or maybe he was only fooling us, well never know that for sure. Personally, I really think he nearly lost his grip. I know that, because he became rigid and sent out a magnificent shoot, like a beam of light across the water. I feel that beam alone could have pulled him through. When he got to the other side he stood up and let his fibers glow like a cluster of lights. That was the one thing he did just for you. If you had been able to see, you would have seen that.”
“Genaro stood there looking at you, and then he knew that you had not seen.”
I went back to visit don Juan on May 30, 1969, and bluntly told him that I wanted to take another crack at “seeing.” He shook his head negatively and laughed, and I felt compelled to protest. He told me I had to be patient and the time was not right, but I doggedly insisted I was ready.
He did not seem annoyed with my nagging requests. He tried, nevertheless, to change the subject. I did not let go and asked him to advise me what to do in order to overcome my impatience.
“You must act like a warrior,” he said.
“One learns to act like a warrior by acting, not by talking.”
“You said that a warrior thinks about his death. I do that all the time; obviously that isn’t enough.”
He seemed to have an outburst of impatience and made a smacking sound with his lips. I told him that I had not meant to make him angry and that if he did not need me there at his house, I was ready to go back to Los Angeles. Don Juan patted me gently on the back and said that he never got angry with me; he had simply assumed I knew what it meant to be a warrior.
“What can I do to live like a warrior?” I asked.
He took off his hat and scratched his temples. He looked at me fixedly and smiled.
“You like everything spelled out, don’t you?”
“My mind works that way.”
“It doesn’t have to.”
“I don’t know how to change. That is why I ask you to tell me exactly what to do to live like a warrior; if I knew that, I could find a way to adapt myself to it.”
He must have thought my statements were humorous; he patted me on the back as he laughed.
I had the feeling he was going to ask me to leave any minute, so I quickly sat down on my straw mat facing him and began asking him more questions. I wanted to know why I had to wait.
He explained that if I were to try to “see” in a helter-skelter manner, before I had “healed the wounds” I received battling the guardian, chances were that I would encounter the guardian again even though I was not looking for it. Don Juan assured me that no man in that position would be capable of surviving such an encounter.
“You must completely forget the guardian before you can again embark on the quest of seeing” he said.
“How can anyone forget the guardian?”
“A warrior has to use his will and his patience to forget. In fact, a warrior has only his will and his patience and with them he builds anything he wants.”
“But I’m not a warrior.”
“You have started learning the ways of sorcerers. You have no more time for retreats or for regrets. You only have time to live like a warrior and work for patience and will, whether you like it or not.”
“How does a warrior work for them?”
Don Juan thought for a long time before answering.
“I think there is no way of talking about it,” he finally said. “Especially about will. Will is something very special. It happens mysteriously. There is no real way of telling how one uses it, except that the results of using the will are astounding. Perhaps the first thing that one should do is to know that one can develop the will. A warrior knows that and proceeds to wait for it. Your mistake is not to know that you are waiting for your will.”
“My benefactor told me that a warrior knows that he is waiting and knows what he is waiting for. In your case, you know that you’re waiting. You’ve been here with me for years, yet you don’t know what you are waiting for. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for the average man to know what he is waiting for. A warrior, however, has no problems; he knows that he is waiting for his will.”
“What exactly is the will? Is it determination, like the determination of your grandson Lucio to have a motorcycle?”
“No,” don Juan said softly and giggled. “That’s not will. Lucio only indulges. Will is something else, something very clear and powerful which can direct our acts. Will is something a man uses, for instance, to win a battle which he, by all calculations, should lose.”
“Then will must be what we call courage,” I said.
“No. Courage is something else. Men of courage are dependable men, noble men perennially surrounded by people who flock around them and admire them; yet very few men of courage have will. Usually they are fearless men who are given to performing daring common-sense acts; most of the time a courageous man is also fearsome and feared. Will, on the other hand, has to do with astonishing feats that defy our common sense.”
“Is will the control we may have over ourselves?” I asked.
“You may say that it is a kind of control.”
“Do you think I can exercise my will, for instance, by denying myself certain things?”
“Such as asking questions?” he interjected.
He said it in such a mischievous tone that I had to stop writing to look at him. We both laughed.
“No,” he said. “Denying yourself is an indulgence and I don’t recommend anything of the kind. That is the reason why I let you ask all the questions you want. If I told you to stop asking questions, you might warp your will trying to do that. The indulgence of denying is by far the worst; it forces us to believe we are doing great things, when in effect we are only fixed within ourselves. To stop asking questions is not the will I’m talking about. Will is a power. And since it is a power it has to be controlled and tuned and that takes time. I know that and I’m patient with you. When I was your age I was as impulsive as you. Yet I have changed. Our will operates in spite of our indulgence. For example, your will is already opening your gap, little by little.”
“What gap are you talking about?”
“There is a gap in us; like the soft spot on the head of a child which closes with age, this gap opens as one develops one’s will.”
“Where is that gap?”
“At the place of your luminous fibers,” he said, pointing to his abdominal area.
“What is it like? What is it for?”
“It’s an opening. It allows a space for the will to shoot out, like an arrow.”
“Is the will an object? Or like an object?”
“No. I just said that to make you understand. What a sorcerer calls will is a power within ourselves. It is not a thought, or an object, or a wish. To stop asking questions is not will because it needs thinking and wishing. Will is what can make you succeed when your thoughts tell you that you’re defeated. Will is what makes you invulnerable. Will is what sends a sorcerer through a wall; through space; to the moon, if he wants.”
There was nothing else I wanted to ask. I was tired and somewhat tense. I was afraid don Juan was going to ask me to leave and that annoyed me.
“Let’s go to the hills,” he said abruptly, and stood up.
On the way he started talking about will again and laughed at my dismay over not being able to take notes.
He described will as a force which was the true link between men and the world. He was very careful to establish that the world was whatever we perceive, in any manner we may choose to perceive. Don Juan maintained that “perceiving the world” entails a process of apprehending whatever presents itself to us. This particular “perceiving” is done with our senses and with our will.
I asked him if will was a sixth sense. He said it was rather a relation between ourselves and the perceived world. I suggested that we halt so I could take notes. He laughed and kept on walking.
He did not make me leave that night, and the next day after eating breakfast he himself brought up the subject of will.
“What you yourself call will is character and strong disposition,” he said. “What a sorcerer calls will is a force that comes from within and attaches itself to the world out there. It comes out through the belly, right here, where the luminous fibers are.”
He rubbed his navel to point out the area.
“I say that it comes out through here because one can feel it coming out.”
“Why do you call it will?”
“I don’t call it anything. My benefactor called it will, and other men of knowledge call it will.”
“Yesterday you said that one can perceive the world with the senses as well as with the will. How is that possible?”
“An average man can ‘grab’ the things of the world only with his hands, or his eyes, or his ears, but a sorcerer can grab them also with his nose, or his tongue, or his will, especially with his will. I cannot really describe how it is done, but you yourself, for instance, cannot describe to me how you hear. It happens that I am also capable of hearing, so we can talk about what we hear, but not about how we hear. A sorcerer uses his will to perceive the world. That perceiving, however, is not like hearing. When we look at the world or when we hear it, we have the impression that it is out there and that it is real. When we perceive the world with our will we know that it is not as ‘out there’ or ‘as real’ as we think.”
“Is will the same as seeing?”
“No. Will is a force, a power. Seeing is not a force, but rather a way of getting through things. A sorcerer may have a very strong will and yet he may not see; which means that only a man of knowledge perceives the world with his senses and with his will and also with his seeing.” I told him that I was more confused than ever about how to use my will to forget the guardian. That statement and my mood of perplexity seemed to delight him.
“I’ve told you that when you talk you only get confused,” he said and laughed. “But at least now you know you are waiting for your will. You still don’t know what it is, or how it could happen to you. So watch carefully everything you do. The very thing that could help you develop your will is amidst all the little things you do.”
Don Juan was gone all morning; he returned in the early afternoon with a bundle of dry plants. He signaled me with his head to help him and we worked in complete silence for hours, sorting the plants. When we finished we sat down to rest and he smiled at me benevolently.
I said to him in a very serious manner that I had been reading my notes and I still could not understand what being a warrior entailed or what the idea of will meant.
“Will is not an idea,” he said.
This was the first time he had spoken to me the whole day.
After a long pause he continued:
“We are different, you and I. Our characters are not alike. Your nature is more violent than mine. When I was your age I was not violent but mean; you are the opposite. My benefactor was like that; he would have been perfectly suited to be your teacher. He was a great sorcerer but he did not see; not the way I see or the way Genaro sees. I understand the world and live guided by my seeing. My benefactor, on the other hand, had to live as a warrior. If a man sees he doesn’t have to live like a warrior, or like anything else, for he can see things as they really are and direct his life accordingly. But, considering your character, I would say that you may never learn to see, in which case you will have to live your entire life like a warrior.”
“My benefactor said that when a man embarks on the paths of sorcery he becomes aware, in a gradual manner, that ordinary life has been forever left behind; that knowledge is indeed a frightening affair; that the means of the ordinary world are no longer a buffer for him; and that he must adopt a new way of life if he is going to survive. The first thing he ought to do, at that point, is to want to become a warrior, a very important step and decision. The frightening nature of knowledge leaves one no alternative but to become a warrior.”
“By the time knowledge becomes a frightening affair the man also realizes that death is the irreplaceable partner that sits next to him on the mat. Every bit of knowledge that becomes power has death as its central force. Death lends the ultimate touch, and whatever is touched by death indeed becomes power.”
“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.
“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.”
“When a man behaves in such a manner one may rightfully say that he is a warrior and has acquired patience!”
Don Juan asked me if I had anything to say, and I remarked that the task he had described would take a lifetime.
He said I protested too much in front of him and that he knew I behaved, or at least tried to behave, in terms of a warrior in my day-to-day life.
“You have pretty good claws,” he said, laughing. “Show them to me from time to time. It’s good practice.”
I made a gesture of claws and growled, and he laughed. Then he cleared his throat and went on talking.
“When a warrior has acquired patience he is on his way to will. He knows how to wait. His death sits with him on his mat, they are friends. His death advises him, in mysterious ways, how to choose, how to live strategically. And the warrior waits! I would say that the warrior learns without any hurry because he knows he is waiting for his will; and one day he succeeds in performing something ordinarily quite impossible to accomplish. He may not even notice his extraordinary deed. But as he keeps on performing impossible acts, or as impossible things keep on happening to him, he becomes aware that a sort of power is emerging. A power that comes out of his body as he progresses on the path of knowledge. At first it is like an itching on the belly, or a warm spot that cannot be soothed; then it becomes a pain, a great discomfort. Sometimes the pain and discomfort are so great that the warrior has convulsions for months, the more severe the convulsions the better for him. A fine power is always heralded by great pain.”
“When the convulsions cease the warrior notices he has strange feelings about things. He notices that he can actually touch anything he wants with a feeling that comes out of his body from a spot right below or right above his navel. That feeling is the will, and when he is capable of grabbing with it, one can rightfully say that the warrior is a sorcerer, and that he has acquired will.”
Don Juan stopped talking and seemed to await my comments or questions. I had nothing to say. I was deeply concerned with the idea that a sorcerer had to experience pain and convulsions but I felt embarrassed about asking him if I also had to go through that. Finally, after a long silence, I asked him, and he giggled as if he had been anticipating my question. He said that pain was not absolutely necessary; he, for example, had never had it and will had just happened to him.
“One day I was in the mountains,” he said, “and I stumbled upon a puma, a female one; she was big and hungry. I ran and she ran after me. I climbed a rock and she stood a few feet away ready to jump. I threw rocks at her. She growled and began to charge me. It was then that my will fully came out, and I stopped her with it before she jumped on me.”
“I caressed her with my will. I actually rubbed her tits with it. She looked at me with sleepy eyes and lay down and I ran like a son of a bitch before she got over it.”
Don Juan made a very comical gesture to portray a man running for dear life, holding onto his hat.
I told him that I hated to think I had only female mountain lions or convulsions to look forward to, if I wanted will.
“My benefactor was a sorcerer of great powers,” he went on. “He was a warrior through and through. His will was indeed his most magnificent accomplishment. But a man can go still further than that; a man can learn to see. Upon learning to see he no longer needs to live like a warrior, nor be a sorcerer. Upon learning to see a man becomes everything by becoming nothing. He, so to speak, vanishes and yet he’s there. I would say that this is the time when a man can be or can get anything he desires. But he desires nothing, and instead of playing with his fellow men like they were toys, he meets them in the midst of their folly. The only difference between them is that a man who sees controls his folly, while his fellow men can’t. A man who sees has no longer an active interest in his fellow men. Seeing has already detached him from absolutely everything he knew before.”
“The sole idea of being detached from everything I know gives me the chills,” I said.
“You must be joking! The thing which should give you the chills is not to have anything to look forward to but a lifetime of doing that which you have always done. Think of the man who plants corn year after year until he’s too old and tired to get up, so he lies around like an old dog. His thoughts and feelings, the best of him, ramble aimlessly to the only things he has ever done, to plant corn. For me that is the most frightening waste there is.”
“We are men and our lot is to learn and to be hurled into inconceivable new worlds.”
“Are there any new worlds for us really?” I asked half in jest.
“We have exhausted nothing, you fool,” he said imperatively.
“Seeing is for impeccable men. Temper your spirit now, become a warrior, learn to see, and then you’ll know that there is no end to the new worlds for our vision.”