(The Secret of the Plumed Serpent)
In one of our chats, Carlos and I raised the topic of intent. I took the opportunity to ask him what it really was. He replied:
“It is not possible to speak about this topic, not because I wouldn’t want to but because any verbal representation one could come up with would be inadequate for the task. It’s like eating ice cream: it must be experienced directly, and there is no way of describing it.”
“Perhaps you could tell me, then, about the method of calling intent,” I insisted.
“There are as many ways as there are practitioners. It seems to connect with every individual in a unique way, but sorcerers have discovered that yes, in fact, ways of beckoning intent do exist.”
“How do they beckon intent?”
“By being impeccable, but that’s not saying much, is it?” He looked at me, smiling ironically as if to say, I’ve already been there.
“Sorcerers are used to acting with complete detachment and generosity: this is one way of making oneself available to intent; the other is to move the eyes in order to communicate with the spirit.”
“How do they move the eyes?”
“Don Juan taught me many exercises which I’ve already mentioned in my writings. Haven’t you noticed?”
I did not know what he was talking about, so I asked him to give me an example.
“In my books, for example, I describe the methods of rolling the eyes to intend a change, squinting to intend non-ordinary perception, and half-closing them to intend inner silence, and other things of similar kind.”
“Once he’s mastered every single one of these exercises, the warrior’s eyes acquire a singular shine, a sensation that is difficult to describe and needs to be experienced personally. With that sensation, one beckons intent.”
(The Eagle’s Gift)
He told me that he was going to reveal to me a practical maneuver of the second attention, and right then he turned into a luminous egg. He reverted back to his normal appearance and repeated this transformation three or four more times. I understood perfectly well what he was doing. He did not need to explain it to me and yet I could not put into words what I knew.
Silvio Manuel smiled, cognizant of my problem. He said that it took an enormity of strength to let go of the intent of everyday life. The secret that he had just revealed was how to expedite letting go of that intent. In order to do what he had done, one must place one’s attention on the luminous shell.
He turned one more time into a luminous egg and then it became obvious to me what I had known all along. Silvio Manuel’s eyes turned for an instant to focus on the point of the second attention. His head was straight, as if he had been looking ahead of him, only his eyes were askew. He said that a warrior must evoke intent. The glance is the secret. The eyes beckon intent.
I became euphoric at that point. I was at long last capable of thinking about something I knew without really knowing. The reason why seeing seems to be visual is because we need the eyes to focus on intent. Don Juan and his party of warriors knew how to use their eyes to catch another aspect of intent and called this act seeing. What Silvio Manuel had shown me was the true function of the eyes, the catchers of intent.
I then used my eyes deliberately to beckon intent. I focused them on the point of the second attention. All of a sudden don Juan, his warriors, dona Soledad, and Eligio were luminous eggs, but not la Gorda, the three little sisters, and the Genaros. I kept on moving my eyes back and forth between the blobs of light and the people, until I heard a crack in the base of my neck, and everybody in the room was a luminous egg. I felt for an instant that I could not tell them apart, but then my eyes seemed to adjust and I held two aspects of intent, two images at once. I could see their physical bodies and also their luminosities. The two scenes were not superimposed on each other but separate, and yet I could not figure out how. I definitely had two channels of vision, and seeing had everything to do with my eyes and yet was independent of them. I could still see the luminous eggs, but not their physical bodies when I closed my eyes.
I had at one moment the clearest sensation that I knew how to shift my attention to my luminosity. I also knew that to revert to the physical level all I had to do was to focus my eyes on my body.
(The Power of Silence)
“The nagual Elias explained that my difficulty in understanding the spirit was the same as his own,” don Juan continued. “He thought there were two different issues. One, the need to understand indirectly what the spirit is, and the other, to understand the spirit directly.”
“You’re having problems with the first. Once you understand what the spirit is, the second issue will be resolved automatically, and vice versa. If the spirit speaks to you, using its silent words, you will certainly know immediately what the spirit is.”
He said that the nagual Elias believed that the difficulty was our reluctance to accept the idea that knowledge could exist without words to explain it.
“But I have no difficulty accepting that,” I said.
“Accepting this proposition is not as easy as saying you accept it,” don Juan said. “The nagual Elias used to tell me that the whole of humanity has moved away from the abstract, although at one time we must have been close to it. It must have been our sustaining force. And then something happened and pulled us away from the abstract. Now we can’t get back to it. He used to say that it takes years for an apprentice to be able to go back to the abstract, that is, to know that knowledge and language can exist independent of each other.”
Don Juan repeated that the crux of our difficulty in going back to the abstract was our refusal to accept that we could know without words or even without thoughts.
I was going to argue that he was talking nonsense when I got the strong feeling I was missing something and that his point was of crucial importance to me. He was really trying to tell me something, something I either could not grasp or which could not be told completely.
“Knowledge and language are separate,” he repeated softly.
And I was just about to say, “I know it,” as if indeed I knew it, when I caught myself.
“I told you there is no way to talk about the spirit,” he continued, “because the spirit can only be experienced. Sorcerers try to explain this condition when they say that the spirit is nothing you can see or feel. But it’s there looming over us always. Sometimes it comes to some of us. Most of the time it seems indifferent.”
I kept quiet. And he continued to explain. He said that the spirit in many ways was a sort of wild animal. It kept its distance from us until a moment when something enticed it forward. It was then that the spirit manifested itself.
I raised the point that if the spirit wasn’t an entity, or a presence, and had no essence, how could anyone entice it?
“Your problem,” he said, “is that you consider only your own idea of what’s abstract. For instance, the inner essence of man, or the fundamental principle, are abstracts for you. Or perhaps something a bit less vague, such as character, volition, courage, dignity, honor. The spirit, of course, can be described in terms of all of these. And that’s what’s so confusing – that it’s all these and none of them.”
He added that what I considered abstractions were either the opposites of all the practicalities I could think of or things I had decided did not have concrete existence.
“Whereas for a sorcerer an abstract is something with no parallel in the human condition,” he said.
“But they’re the same thing,” I shouted. “Don’t you see that we’re both talking about the same thing?”
“We are not,” he insisted. “For a sorcerer, the spirit is an abstract simply because he knows it without words or even thoughts. It’s an abstract because he can’t conceive what the spirit is. Yet without the slightest chance or desire to understand it, a sorcerer handles the spirit. He recognizes it, beckons it, entices it, becomes familiar with it, and expresses it with his acts.”
I shook my head in despair. I could not see the difference.
“The root of your misconception is that I have used the term “abstract” to describe the spirit,” he said. “For you, abstracts are words which describe states of intuition. An example is the word “spirit”, which doesn’t describe reason or pragmatic experience, and which, of course, is of no use to you other than to tickle your fancy.”
I was furious with don Juan. I called him obstinate and he laughed at me. He suggested that if I would think about the proposition that knowledge might be independent of language, without bothering to understand it, perhaps I could see the light.
“Consider this,” he said. “It was not the act of meeting me that mattered to you. The day I met you, you met the abstract. But since you couldn’t talk about it, you didn’t notice it. Sorcerers meet the abstract without thinking about it or seeing it or touching it or feeling its presence.”