(The Fire from Within by Carlos Castaneda)
“Let’s walk on the road to Oaxaca,” don Juan said to me. “Genaro is waiting for us somewhere along the way.”
His request took me by surprise. I had been waiting all day for him to continue his explanation. We left his house and walked in silence through the town to the unpaved highway.
We walked leisurely for a long time. Suddenly don Juan began to talk.
“I’ve been telling you all along about the great findings that the old seers made,” he said. “Just as they found out that organic life is not the only life present on earth, they also discovered that the earth itself is a living being.”
He waited a moment before continuing. He smiled at me as if inviting me to make a comment.
I could not think of anything to say.
“The old seers saw that the earth has a cocoon,” he went on. “They saw that there is a ball encasing the earth, a luminous cocoon that entraps the Eagle’s emanations. The earth is a gigantic sentient being subjected to the same forces we are.”
He explained that the old seers, on discovering this, became immediately interested in the practical uses of that knowledge. The result of their interest was that the most elaborate categories of their sorcery had to do with the earth. They considered the earth to be the ultimate source of everything we are.
Don Juan reaffirmed that the old seers were not mistaken in this respect, because the earth is indeed our ultimate source.
He didn’t say anything else until we met Genaro about a mile up the road. He was waiting for us, sitting on a rock by the side of the road.
He greeted me with great warmth. He said to me that we should climb up to the top of some small rugged mountains covered with hardy vegetation.
“The three of us are going to sit against a rock,” don Juan said to me, “and look at the sunlight as it is reflected on the eastern mountains. When the sun goes down behind the western peaks, the earth may let you see alignment.”
When we reached the top of a mountain, we sat down, as don Juan had said, with our backs against a rock. Don Juan made me sit in between the two of them.
I asked him what he was planning to do. His cryptic statements and his long silences were ominous. I felt terribly apprehensive.
He didn’t answer me. He kept on talking as if I had not spoken at all.
“It was the old seers who, on discovering that perception is alignment,” he said, “stumbled onto something monumental. The sad part is that their aberrations again kept them from knowing what they had accomplished.”
He pointed at the mountain range east of the small valley where the town is located.
“There is enough glitter in those mountains to jolt your assemblage point,” he said to me. “Just before the sun goes down behind the western peaks, you will have a few moments to catch all the glitter you need. The magic key that opens the earth’s doors is made of internal silence plus anything that shines.”
“What exactly should I do, don Juan?” I asked.
Both of them examined me. I thought I saw in their eyes a mixture of curiosity and revulsion.
“Just cut off the internal dialogue,” don Juan said to me.
I had an intense pang of anxiety and doubt; I had no confidence that I could do it at will. After an initial moment of nagging frustration, I resigned my self just to relax.
I looked around. I noticed that we were high enough to look down into the long, narrow valley. More than half of it was in the late-afternoon shadows. The sun was still shining on the foothills of the eastern range of mountains, on the other side of the valley; the sunlight made the eroded mountains look ocher, while the more distant bluish peaks had acquired a purple tone.
“You do realize that you’ve done this before, don’t you?” don Juan said to me in a whisper.
I told him that I had not realized anything.
“We’ve sat here before on other occasions,” he insisted, “but that doesn’t matter, because this occasion is the one that will count.”
“Today, with the help of Genaro, you are going to find the key that unlocks everything. You won’t be able to use it as yet, but you’ll know what it is and where it is. Seers pay the heaviest prices to know that. You, yourself, have been paying your dues all these years.”
He explained that what he called the key to everything was the firsthand knowledge that the earth is a sentient being and as such can give warriors a tremendous boost; it is an impulse that comes from the awareness of the earth itself at the instant in which the emanations inside warriors’ cocoons are aligned with the appropriate emanations inside the earth’s cocoon. Since both the earth and man are sentient beings, their emanations coincide, or rather, the earth has all the emanations present in man and all the emanations that are present in all sentient beings, organic and inorganic for that matter. When a moment of alignment takes place, sentient beings use that alignment in a limited way and perceive their world. Warriors can use that alignment either to perceive, like everyone else, or as a boost that allows them to enter unimaginable worlds.
“I’ve been waiting for you to ask me the only meaningful question you can ask, but you never ask it,” he continued. “You are hooked on asking about whether the mystery of it all is inside us. You came close enough, though.”
“The unknown is not really inside the cocoon of man in the emanations untouched by awareness, and yet it is there, in a manner of speaking. This is the point you haven’t understood. When I told you that we can assemble seven worlds besides the one we know, you took it as being an internal affair, because your total bias is to believe that you are only imagining everything you do with us. Therefore, you have never asked me where the unknown really is. For years I have circled with my hand to point to everything around us and I have told you that the unknown is there. You never made the connection.”
Genaro began to laugh, then coughed and stood up. “He still hasn’t made the connection,” he said to don Juan.
I admitted to them that if there was a connection to be made, I had failed to make it.
Don Juan restated over and over that the portion of emanations inside man’s cocoon is in there only for awareness, and that awareness is matching that portion of emanations with the same portion of emanations at large. They are called emanations at large because they are immense; and to say that outside man’s cocoon is the unknowable is to say that within the earth’s cocoon is the unknowable. However, inside the earth’s cocoon is also the unknown, and inside man’s cocoon the unknown is the emanations untouched by awareness. When the glow of awareness touches them, they become active and can be aligned with the corresponding emanations at large. Once that happens the unknown is perceived and becomes the known.
“I’m too dumb, don Juan. You have to break it into smaller pieces for me,” I said.
“Genaro is going to break it up for you,” don Juan retorted.
Genaro stood up and started doing the same gait of power that he had done before, when he circled an enormous flat rock in a corn field by his house, while don Juan had watched in fascination. This time don Juan whispered in my ear that I should try to hear Genaro’s movements, especially the movements of his thighs as they went up against his chest every time he stepped.
I followed Genaro’s movements with my eyes. In a few seconds I felt that some part of me had gotten trapped in Genaro’s legs. The movement of his thighs would not let me go. I felt as if I were walking with him. I was even out of breath. Then I realized that I was actually following Genaro. I was in fact walking with him, away from the place where we had been sitting.
I did not see don Juan, just Genaro walking ahead of me in the same strange manner. We walked for hours and hours. My fatigue was so intense that I got a terrible headache, and suddenly I got sick. Genaro stopped walking and came to my side. There was an intense glare around us, and the light was reflected in Genaro’s features. His eyes glowed.
“Don’t look at Genaro!” a voice ordered me in my ear. “Look around!”
I obeyed. I thought I was in hell! The shock of seeing the surroundings was so great that I screamed in terror, but there was no sound to my voice. Around me was the most vivid picture of all the descriptions of hell in my Catholic upbringing. I was seeing a reddish world, hot and oppressive, dark and cavernous, with no sky, no light but the malignant reflections of reddish lights that kept on moving around us, at great speed.
Genaro started to walk again, and something pulled me with him. The force that was making me follow Genaro also kept me from looking around. My awareness was glued to Genaro’s movements.
I saw Genaro plop down as if he were utterly exhausted. The instant he touched the ground and stretched himself to rest, something was released in me and I was able again to look around.
Don Juan was watching me inquisitively. I was standing up facing him. We were at the same place where we had sat down, a wide rocky ledge on top of a small mountain. Genaro was panting and wheezing, and so was I. I was covered with perspiration. My hair was dripping wet. My clothes were soaked, as if I had been dunked in a river.
“My God, what’s going on!” I exclaimed in utter seriousness and concern.
The exclamation sounded so silly that don Juan and Genaro started to laugh.
“We’re trying to make you understand alignment,” Genaro said.
Don Juan gently helped me to sit down. He sat by me.
“Do you remember what happened?” he asked me.
I told him that I did and he insisted that I tell him exactly what I had seen. His request was incongruous with what he had told me, that the only value of my experiences was the movement of my assemblage point and not the content of my visions.
He explained that Genaro had tried to help me before in very much the same fashion as he had just done, but that I could never remember anything. He said that Genaro had guided my assemblage point this time, as he had done before, to assemble a world with another of the great bands of emanations.
There was a long silence. I was numb, shocked, yet my awareness was as keen as it had ever been. I thought I had finally understood what alignment was. Something inside me, which I had been activating without knowing how, gave me the certainty that I had comprehended a great truth.
“I think you’re beginning to gather your own momentum,” don Juan said to me. “Let’s go home. You’ve had enough for one day.”
“Oh, come on,” Genaro said. “He’s stronger than a bull. He’s got to be pushed a little further.”
“No!” don Juan said emphatically. “We’ve got to save his strength. He’s only got so much of it.”
Genaro insisted that we stay. He looked at me and winked.
“Look,” he said to me, pointing to the eastern range of mountains. “The sun has hardly moved an inch over those mountains and yet you plodded in hell for hours and hours. Don’t you find that overwhelming?”
“Don’t scare him unnecessarily!” don Juan protested almost vehemently.
It was then that I saw their maneuvers. At that moment the voice of seeing told me that don Juan and Genaro were a team of superb stalkers playing with me. It was don Juan who always pushed me beyond my limits, but he always let Genaro be the heavy. That day at Genaro’s house, when I reached a dangerous state of hysterical fright as Genaro questioned don Juan whether I should be pushed, and don Juan assured me that Genaro was enjoying himself at my expense, Genaro was actually worrying about me.
My seeing was so shocking to me that I began to laugh. Both don Juan and Genaro looked at me with surprise. Then don Juan seemed to realize at once what was going through my mind. He told Genaro, and both of them laughed like children.
“You’re coming of age,” don Juan said to me. “Right on time; you’re neither too stupid nor too bright. Just like me. You’re not like me in your aberrations. There you are more like the nagual Julian, except that he was brilliant.”
He stood up and stretched his back. He looked at me with the most piercing, ferocious eyes I had ever seen. I stood up.
“A nagual never lets anyone know that he is in charge,” he said to me. “A nagual comes and goes without leaving a trace. That freedom is what makes him a nagual.”
His eyes glared for an instant, and then they were covered by a cloud of mellowness, kindness, humanness, and they were again don Juan’s eyes.
I could hardly keep my balance. I was swooning helplessly. Genaro jumped to my side and helped me to sit down. Both of them sat down flanking me.
“You are going to catch a boost from the earth,” don Juan said to me in one ear.
“Think about the nagual’s eyes,” Genaro said to me in the other.
“The boost will come at the moment you see the glitter on the top of that mountain,” don Juan said and pointed to the highest peak on the eastern range.
“You’ll never see the nagual’s eyes again,” Genaro whispered.
“Go with the boost wherever it takes you,” don Juan said.
“If you think of the nagual’s eyes, you’ll realize that there are two sides to a coin,” Genaro whispered.
I wanted to think about what both of them were saying, but my thoughts did not obey me. Something was pressing down on me. I felt I was shrinking. I had a sensation of nausea. I saw the evening shadows advancing rapidly up the sides of those eastern mountains. I had the feeling that I was running after them.
“Here we go,” Genaro said in my ear.
“Watch the big peak, watch the glitter,” don Juan said in my other ear.
There was indeed a point of intense brilliance where don Juan had pointed, on the highest peak of the range. I watched the last ray of sunlight being reflected on it. I felt a hole in the pit of my stomach, just as if I were on a roller coaster.
I felt, rather than heard, a faraway earthquake rumble which abruptly overtook me. The seismic waves were so loud and so enormous that they lost all meaning for me. I was an insignificant microbe being twisted and twirled.
The motion slowed down by degrees. There was one more jolt before everything came to a halt. I tried to look around. I had no point of reference. I seemed to be planted, like a tree. Above me there was a white, shiny, inconceivably big dome. Its presence made me feel elated. I flew toward it, or rather I was ejected like a projectile. I had the sensation of being comfortable, nurtured, secure; the closer I got to the dome, the more intense those feelings became. They finally overwhelmed me and I lost all sense of myself.
The next thing I knew, I was rocking slowly in the air like a leaf that falls. I felt exhausted. A suction force started to pull me. I went through a dark hole and then I was with don Juan and Genaro.
The next day don Juan, Genaro, and I went to Oaxaca. While don Juan and I strolled around the main square, in the later afternoon, he suddenly started to talk about what we had done the day before. He asked me if I had understood what he was referring to when he said that the old seers had stumbled onto something monumental.
I told him that I did, but that I couldn’t explain it in words.
“And what do you think was the main thing we wanted you to find out on top of that mountain?” he asked.
“Alignment,” a voice said in my ear, at the same time I said it myself.
I turned around in a reflex action and bumped into Genaro, who was just behind me, walking in my tracks. The speed of my movement startled him. He broke into a giggle and then embraced me.
We sat down. Don Juan said that there were very few things that he could say about the boost I had gotten from the earth, that warriors are always alone in such cases, and true realizations come much later, after years of struggle.
I told don Juan that my problem in understanding was magnified by the fact that he and Genaro were doing all the work. I was simply a passive subject who could only react to their maneuvers. I could not for the life of me initiate any action, because I did not know what a proper action should be, nor did I know how to initiate it.
“That’s precisely the point,” don Juan said. “You are not supposed to know yet. You are going to be left behind, by yourself, to reorganize on your own everything we are doing to you now. This is the task every nagual has to face.”
“The nagual Julian did the same thing to me, much more ruthlessly than the way we do it to you. He knew what he was doing; he was a brilliant nagual who was able to reorganize in a few years everything the nagual Elias had taught him. He did, in no time at all, something that would take a lifetime for you or for me. The difference was that all the nagual Julian ever needed was a slight insinuation; his awareness would take it from there and open the only door there is.”
“What do you mean, don Juan, by the only door there is?”
“I mean that when man’s assemblage point moves beyond a crucial limit, the results are always the same for every man. The techniques to make it move may be as different as they can be, but the results are always the same, meaning that the assemblage point assembles other worlds, aided by the boost from the earth.”
“Is the boost from the earth the same for every man, don Juan?”
“Of course. The difficulty for the average man is the internal dialogue. Only when a state of total silence is attained can one use the boost. You will corroborate that truth the day you try to use that boost by yourself.”
“I wouldn’t recommend that you try it,” Genaro said sincerely. “It takes years to become an impeccable warrior. In order to withstand the impact of the earth’s boost you must be better than you are now.”
“The speed of that boost will dissolve everything about you,” don Juan said. “Under its impact we become nothing. Speed and the sense of individual existence don’t go together. Yesterday on the mountain, Genaro and I supported you and served as your anchors; otherwise you wouldn’t have returned. You’d be like some men who purposely used that boost and went into the unknown and are still roaming in some incomprehensible immensity.”
I wanted him to elaborate on that, but he refused. He changed the subject abruptly.
“There’s one thing you haven’t understood yet about the earth’s being a sentient being,” he said. “And Genaro, this awful Genaro, wants to push you until you understand.”
Both of them laughed. Genaro playfully shoved me and winked at me as he mouthed the words, “I am awful.”
“Genaro is a terrible taskmaster, mean and ruthless,” don Juan continued. “He doesn’t give a hoot about your fears and pushes you mercilessly. If it wasn’t for me. . .”
He was a perfect picture of a good, thoughtful old gentleman. He lowered his eyes and sighed.
The two of them broke into roaring laughter.
When they had quieted down, don Juan said that Genaro wanted to show me what I had not understood yet, that the supreme awareness of the earth is what makes it possible for us to change into other great bands of emanations.
“We living beings are perceivers,” he said. “And we perceive because some emanations inside man’s cocoon become aligned with some emanations outside. Alignment, therefore, is the secret passageway, and the earth’s boost is the key.”
“Genaro wants you to watch the moment of alignment. Watch him!”
Genaro stood up like a showman and took a bow, then showed us that he had nothing up his sleeves or inside the legs of his pants. He took his shoes off and shook them to show that there was nothing concealed there either.
Don Juan was laughing with total abandon. Genaro moved his hands up and down. The movement created an immediate fixation in me. I sensed that the three of us suddenly got up and walked away from the square, the two of them flanking me.
As we continued walking, I lost my peripheral vision. I did not distinguish any more houses or streets. I did not notice any mountains or any vegetation either. At one moment I realized that I had lost sight of don Juan and Genaro; instead I saw two luminous bundles moving up and down beside me.
I felt an instantaneous panic, which I immediately controlled. I had the unusual but wellknown sensation that I was myself and yet I was not. I was aware, however, of everything around me by means of a strange and at the same time most familiar capacity. The sight of the world came to me all at once. All of me saw; the entirety of what I in my normal consciousness call my body was capable of sensing as if it were an enormous eye that detected everything. What I first detected, after seeing the two blobs of light, was a sharp violet-purple world made out of something that looked like colored panels and canopies. Flat, screenlike panels of irregular concentric circles were everywhere.
I felt a great pressure all over me, and then I heard a voice in my ear. I was seeing. The voice said that the pressure was due to the act of moving. I was moving together with don Juan and Genaro. I felt a faint jolt, as if I had broken a paper barrier, and I found myself facing a luminescent world. Light radiated from everyplace, but without being glaring. It was as if the sun were about to erupt from behind some white diaphanous clouds. I was looking down into the source of light. It was a beautiful sight. There were no landmasses, just fluffy white clouds and light. And we were walking on the clouds.
Then something imprisoned me again. I moved at the same pace as the two blobs of light by my sides. Gradually they began to lose their brilliance, then became opaque, and finally they were don Juan and Genaro. We were walking on a deserted side street away from the main square. Then we turned back.
“Genaro just helped you to align your emanations with those emanations at large that belong to another band,” don Juan said to me. “Alignment has to be a very peaceful, unnoticeable act. No flying away, no great fuss.”
He said that the sobriety needed to let the assemblage point assemble other worlds is something that cannot be improvised. Sobriety has to mature and become a force in itself before warriors can break the barrier of perception with impunity.
We were coming closer to the main square. Genaro had not said a word. He walked in silence, as if absorbed in thought. Just before we came into the square, don Juan said that Genaro wanted to show me one more thing: that the position of the assemblage point is everything, and that the world it makes us perceive is so real that it does not leave room for anything except realness.
“Genaro will let his assemblage point assemble another world just for your benefit,” don Juan said to me. “And then you’ll realize that as he perceives it, the force of his perception will leave room for nothing else.”
Genaro walked ahead of us, and don Juan ordered me to roll my eyes in a counterclockwise direction while I looked at Genaro, to avoid being dragged with him. I obeyed him. Genaro was five or six feet away from me. Suddenly his shape became diffuse and in one instant he was gone like a puff of air.
I thought of the science fiction movies I had seen and wondered whether we are subliminally aware of our possibilities.
“Genaro is separated from us at this moment by the force of perception,” don Juan said quietly. “When the assemblage point assembles a world, that world is total. This is the marvel that the old seers stumbled upon and never realized what it was: the awareness of the earth can give us a boost to align other great bands of emanations, and the force of that new alignment makes the world vanish.
“Every time the old seers made a new alignment they believed they had descended to the depths or ascended to the heavens above. They never knew that the world disappears like a puff of air when a new total alignment makes us perceive another total world.”