(The Fire from Within by Carlos Castaneda)
Don Juan, don Genaro, and I had just returned from gathering plants in the surrounding mountains. We were at don Genaro’s house, sitting around the table, when don Juan made me change levels of awareness. Don Genaro had been staring at me and began to chuckle. He remarked how odd he thought it was that I had two completely different standards for dealing with the two sides of awareness. My relation with him was the most obvious example. On my right side, he was the respected and feared sorcerer don Genaro, a man whose incomprehensible acts delighted me and at the same time filled me with mortal terror. On my left side, he was plain Genaro, or Genarito, with no don attached to his name, a charming and kind seer whose acts were thoroughly comprehensible and coherent with what I myself did or tried to do.
I agreed with him and added that on my left side, the man whose mere presence made me shake like a leaf was Silvio Manuel, the most mysterious of don Juan’s companions. I also said that don Juan, being a true nagual, transcended arbitrary standards and was respected and admired by me in both states.
“But is he feared?” Genaro asked in a quivering voice.
“Very feared,” don Juan interjected in a falsetto voice.
We all laughed, but don Juan and Genaro laughed with such abandon that I immediately suspected they knew something they were holding back.
Don Juan was reading me like a book. He explained that in the intermediate stage, before one enters fully into the left-side awareness, one is capable of tremendous concentration, but one is also susceptible to every conceivable influence. I was being influenced by suspicion.
“La Gorda is always in this stage,” he said. “She learns beautifully, but she’s a royal pain in the neck. She can’t help being driven by anything that comes her way, including, of course, very good things, like keen concentration.”
Don Juan explained that the new seers discovered that the transition period is the time when the deepest learning takes place, and that it is also the time when warriors must be supervised and explanations must be given to them so they can evaluate them properly. If no explanations are given to them before they enter into the left side, they will be great sorcerers but poor seers, as the ancient Toltecs were.
Female warriors in particular fall prey to the lure of the left side, he said. They are so nimble that they can go into the left side with no effort, often too soon for their own good.
After a long silence, Genaro fell asleep. Don Juan began to speak. He said that the new seers had had to invent a number of terms in order to explain the second truth about awareness. His benefactor had changed some of those terms to suit himself, and he himself had done the same, guided by the seers’ belief that it does not make any difference what terms are used as long as the truths have been verified by seeing.
I was curious to know what terms he had changed, but I didn’t know quite how to word my question. He took it that I was doubting his right or his ability to change them and explained that if the terms we propose originate in our reason they can only communicate the mundane agreement of everyday life. When seers propose a term, on the other hand, it is never a figure of speech because it stems from seeing and embraces everything that seers can attain.
I asked him why he had changed the terms.
“It’s a nagual’s duty always to look for better ways to explain,” he replied. “Time changes everything, and every new nagual has to incorporate new words, new ideas, to describe his seeing.”
“Do you mean that a nagual takes ideas from the world of every day life?” I asked.
“No. I mean that a nagual talks about seeing in ever new ways,” he said. “For instance, as the new nagual, you’d have to say that awareness gives rise to perception. You’d be saying the same thing my benefactor said, but in a different way.”
“What do the new seers say perception is, don Juan?”
“They say that perception is a condition of alignment; the emanations inside the cocoon become aligned with those outside that fit them. Alignment is what allows awareness to be cultivated by every living creature. Seers make these statements because they see living creatures as they really are: luminous beings that look like bubbles of whitish light.”
I asked him how the emanations inside the cocoon fit those outside so as to accomplish perception.
“The emanations inside and the emanations outside,” he said, “are the same filaments of light. Sentient beings are minute bubbles made out of those filaments, microscopic points of light, attached to the infinite emanations.”
He went on to explain that the luminosity of living beings is made by the particular portion of the Eagle’s emanations they happen to have inside their luminous cocoons. When seers see perception, they witness that the luminosity of the Eagle’s emanations outside those creatures’ cocoons brightens the luminosity of the emanations inside their cocoons. The outside luminosity attracts the inside one; it traps it, so to speak, and fixes it. That fixation is the awareness of every specific being. Seers can also see how the emanations outside the cocoon exert a particular pressure on the portion of emanations inside. This pressure determines the degree of awareness that every living being has.
I asked him to clarify how the Eagle’s emanations outside the cocoon exert pressure on those inside.
“The Eagle’s emanations are more than filaments of light,” he replied. “Each one of them is a source of boundless energy. Think of it this way: since some of the emanations outside the cocoon are the same as the emanations inside, their energies are like a continuous pressure. But the cocoon isolates the emanations that are inside its web and thereby directs the pressure.”
“I’ve mentioned to you that the old seers were masters of the art of handling awareness,” he went on. “What I can add now is that they were the masters of that art because they learned to manipulate the structure of man’s cocoon. I’ve said to you that they unraveled the mystery of being aware. By that I meant that they saw and realized that awareness is a glow in the cocoon of living beings. They rightly called it the glow of awareness.”
He explained that the old seers saw that man’s awareness is a glow of amber luminosity more intense than the rest of the cocoon. That glow is on a narrow, vertical band on the extreme right side of the cocoon, running along its entire length. The mastery of the old seers was to move that glow, to make it spread from its original setting on the surface of the cocoon inward across its width.
He stopped talking and looked at Genaro, who was still sound asleep.
“Genaro doesn’t give a fig about explanations,” he said. “He’s a doer. My benefactor pushed him constantly to face insoluble problems. So he entered into the left side proper and never had a chance to ponder and wonder.”
“Is it better to be that way, don Juan?”
“It depends. For him, it’s perfect. For you and for me, it wouldn’t be satisfactory, because in one way or another we are called upon to explain. Genaro or my benefactor are more like the old than the new seers: they can control and do what they want with the glow of awareness.”
He stood up from the mat where we were sitting and stretched his arms and legs. I pressed him to continue talking. He smiled and said that I needed to rest, that my concentration was waning.
There was a knock at the door. I woke up. It was dark. For a moment I could not remember where I was. There was something in me that was far away, as if part of me were still asleep, yet I was fully awake. Enough moonlight came through the open window so that I could see.
I saw don Genaro get up and go to the door. I realized then that I was at his house. Don Juan was sound asleep on a mat on the floor. I had the distinct impression that the three of us had fallen asleep after returning dead tired from a trip to the mountains.
Don Genaro lit his kerosene lantern. I followed him into the kitchen. Someone had brought him a pot of hot stew and a stack of tortillas.
“Who brought you food?” I asked him. “Do you have a woman around here that cooks for you?”
Don Juan had come into the kitchen. Both of them looked at me, smiling. For some reason their smiles were terrifying to me. I was about to scream in terror, in fact, when don Juan hit me on the back and made me shift into a state of heightened awareness. I realized then that perhaps during my sleep, or as I woke up, I had drifted back to everyday awareness.
The sensation I experienced then, once I was back in heightened awareness, was a mixture of relief and anger and the most acute sadness. I was relieved that I was myself again, for I had come to regard those incomprehensible states as being my true self. There was one simple reason for that – in those states I felt complete; nothing was missing from me. The anger and the sadness were a reaction to impotence. I was more aware than ever of the limitations of my being.
I asked don Juan to explain to me how it was possible for me to do what I was doing. In states of heightened awareness I could look back and remember everything about myself; I could give an account of everything I had done in either state; I could even remember my incapacity to recollect. But once I had returned to my normal, everyday level of awareness I could not recall anything I had done in heightened awareness, even if my life depended on it.
“Hold it, hold it there,” he said. “You haven’t remembered anything yet. Heightened awareness is only an intermediate state. There is infinitely more beyond that, and you have been there many, many times. Right now you can’t remember, even if your life depends on it.”
He was right. I had no idea what he was talking about. I pleaded for an explanation.
“The explanation is coming,” he said. “It’s a slow process, but we’ll get to it. It is slow because I am just like you: I like to understand. I am the opposite of my benefactor, who was not given to explaining. For him there was only action. He used to put us squarely against incomprehensible problems and let us resolve them for ourselves. Some of us never did resolve anything, and we ended up very much in the same boat with the old seers: all action and no real knowledge.”
“Are those memories trapped in my mind?” I asked.
“No. That would make it too simple,” he replied. “The actions of seers are more complex than dividing a man into mind and body. You have forgotten what you’ve done, or what you’ve witnessed, because when you were performing what you’ve forgotten you were seeing.”
I asked don Juan to reinterpret what he had just said.
Patiently, he explained that everything I had forgotten had taken place in states in which my everyday awareness had been enhanced, intensified, a condition that meant that other areas of my total being were used.
“Whatever you’ve forgotten is trapped in those areas of your total being,” he said. “To be using those other areas is to see.”
“I’m more confused than ever, don Juan,” I said.
“I don’t blame you,” he said. “Seeing is to lay bare the core of everything, to witness the unknown and to glimpse into the unknowable. As such, it doesn’t bring one solace. Seers ordinarily go to pieces on finding out that existence is incomprehensibly complex and that our normal awareness maligns it with its limitations.”
He reiterated that my concentration had to be total, that to understand was of crucial importance, that the new seers placed the highest value on deep, unemotional realizations.
“For instance, the other day,” he went on, “when you understood about la Gorda’s and your self-importance, you didn’t understand anything really. You had an emotional outburst, that was all. I say this because the next day you were back on your high horse of self-importance as if you never had realized anything.”
“The same thing happened to the old seers. They were given to emotional reactions. But when the time came for them to understand what they had seen, they couldn’t do it. To understand one needs sobriety, not emotionality. Beware of those who weep with realization, for they have realized nothing.”
“There are untold dangers in the path of knowledge for those without sober understanding,” he continued. “I am outlining the order in which the new seers arranged the truths about awareness, so it will serve you as a map, a map that you have to corroborate with your seeing, but not with your eyes.”
There was a long pause. He stared at me. He was definitely waiting for me to ask him a question.
“Everybody falls prey to the mistake that seeing is done with the eyes,” he continued. “But don’t be surprised that after so many years you haven’t realized yet that seeing is not a matter of the eyes. It’s quite normal to make that mistake.”
“What is seeing, then?” I asked.
He replied that seeing is alignment. And I reminded him that he had said that perception is alignment. He explained then that the alignment of emanations used routinely is the perception of the day-to-day world, but the alignment of emanations that are never used ordinarily is seeing.
When such an alignment occurs one sees. Seeing, therefore, being produced by alignment out of the ordinary, cannot be something one could merely look at. He said that in spite of the fact that I had seen countless times, it had not occurred to me to disregard my eyes. I had succumbed to the way seeing is labeled and described.
“When seers see, something explains everything as the new alignment takes place,” he continued. “It’s a voice that tells them in their ear what’s what. If that voice is not present, what the seer is engaged in isn’t seeing.”
After a moment’s pause, he continued explaining the voice of seeing. He said that it was equally fallacious to say that seeing was hearing, because it was infinitely more than that, but that seers had opted for using sound as a gauge of a new alignment.
He called the voice of seeing a most mysterious inexplicable thing.
“My personal conclusion is that the voice of seeing belongs only to man,” he said. “It may happen because talking is something that no one else besides man does. The old seers believed it was the voice of an overpowering entity intimately related to mankind, a protector of man. The new seers found out that that entity, which they called the mold of man, doesn’t have a voice. The voice of seeing for the new seers is something quite incomprehensible; they say it’s the glow of awareness playing on the Eagle’s emanations as a harpist plays on a harp.”
He refused to explain it any further, arguing that later on, as he proceeded with his explanation, everything would become clear to me.
My concentration had been so total while don Juan spoke that I actually did not remember sitting down at the table to eat. When don Juan stopped talking, I noticed that his plate of stew was nearly finished.
Genaro was staring at me with a beaming smile. My plate was in front of me on the table, and it too was empty. There was only a tiny residue of stew left in it, as if I had just finished eating. I did not remember eating it at all, but neither did I remember walking to the table or sitting down.
“Did you like the stew?” Genaro asked me and looked away.
I said I did, because I did not want to admit that I was having problems recollecting.
“It had too much chile for my taste,” Genaro said. “You never eat hot food yourself, so I’m sort of worried about what it will do to you. You shouldn’t have eaten two servings. I suppose you’re a little more piggish when you’re in heightened awareness, eh?”
I admitted that he was probably right. He handed me a large pitcher of water to quench my thirst and soothe my throat. When I eagerly drank all of it, both of them broke into howling laughter.
Suddenly, I realized what was going on. My realization was physical. It was a flash of yellowish light that hit me as if a match had been struck right between my eyes. I knew then that Genaro was joking. I had not eaten. I had been so absorbed in don Juan’s explanation that I had forgotten about everything else. The plate in front of me was Genaro’s.
After dinner don Juan went on with his explanation about the glow of awareness. Genaro sat by me, listening as if he had never heard the explanation before.
Don Juan said that the pressure that the emanations outside the cocoon, which are called emanations at large, exert on the emanations inside the cocoon is the same in all sentient beings. Yet the results of that pressure are vastly different among them, because their cocoons react to that pressure in every conceivable way. There are. however, degrees of uniformity within certain boundaries.
“Now,” he went on, “when seers see that the pressure of the emanations at large bears down on the emanations inside, which are always in motion, and makes them stop moving, they know that the luminous being at that moment is fixated by awareness.”
“To say that the emanations at large bear down on those inside the cocoon and make them stop moving means that seers see something indescribable, the meaning of which they know without a shadow of doubt. It means that the voice of seeing has told them that the emanations inside the cocoon are completely at rest and match some of those which are outside.”
He said that seers maintain, naturally, that awareness always comes from outside ourselves, that the real mystery is not inside us. Since by nature the emanations at large are made to fixate what is inside the cocoon, the trick of awareness is to let the fixating emanations merge with what is inside us. Seers believe that if we let that happen we become what we really are – fluid, forever in motion, eternal.
There was a long pause. Don Juan’s eyes had an intense shine. They seemed to be looking at me from a great depth. I had the feeling that each of his eyes was an independent point of brilliance. For an instant he appeared to be struggling against an invisible force, a fire from within that intended to consume him. It passed and he went on talking.
“The degree of awareness of every individual sentient being,” he continued, “depends on the degree to which it is capable of letting the pressure of the emanations at large carry it.”
After a long interruption, don Juan continued explaining. He said that seers saw that from the moment of conception awareness is enhanced, enriched, by the process of being alive. He said that seers saw, for instance, that the awareness of an individual insect or that of an individual man grows from the moment of conception in astoundingly different ways, but with equal consistency.
“Is it from the moment of conception or from the moment of birth that awareness develops?” I asked.
“Awareness develops from the moment of conception,” he replied. “I have always told you that sexual energy is something of ultimate importance and that it has to be controlled and used with great care. But you have always resented what I said, because you thought I was speaking of control in terms of morality; I always meant it in terms of saving and rechanneling energy.”
Don Juan looked at Genaro. Genaro nodded his head in approval.
“Genaro is going to tell you what our benefactor, the nagual Julian, used to say about saving and rechanneling sexual energy,” don Juan said to me.
“The nagual Julian used to say that to have sex is a matter of energy,” Genaro began. “For instance, he never had any problems having sex, because he had bushels of energy. But he took one look at me and prescribed right away that my peter was just for peeing. He told me that I didn’t have enough energy to have sex. He said that my parents were too bored and too tired when they made me; he said that I was the result of very boring sex, cojida aburrida. I was born like that, bored and tired. The nagual Julian recommended that people like me should never have sex; this way we can store the little energy we have.”
“He said the same thing to Silvio Manuel and to Emilito. He saw that the others had enough energy. They were not the result of bored sex. He told them that they could do anything they wanted with their sexual energy, but he recommended that they control themselves and understand the Eagle’s command that sex is for bestowing the glow of awareness. We all said we had understood.”
“One day, without any warning at all, he opened the curtain of the other world with the help of his own benefactor, the nagual Elias, and pushed all of us inside, with no hesitation whatsoever. All of us, except Silvio Manuel, nearly died in there. We had no energy to withstand the impact of the other world. None of us, except Silvio Manuel, had followed the nagual’s recommendation.”
“What is the curtain of the other world?” I asked don Juan.
“What Genaro said – it is a curtain,” don Juan replied. “But you’re getting off the subject. You always do. We’re talking about the Eagle’s command about sex. It is the Eagle’s command that sexual energy be used for creating life. Through sexual energy, the eagle bestows awareness. So when sentient beings are engaged in sexual intercourse, the emanations inside their cocoons do their best to bestow awareness to the new sentient being they are creating.”
He said that during the sexual act, the emanations encased inside the cocoon of both partners undergo a profound agitation, the culminating point of which is a merging, a fusing of two pieces of the glow of awareness, one from each partner, that separate from their cocoons.
“Sexual intercourse is always a bestowal of awareness even though the bestowal may not be consolidated,” he went on. “The emanations inside the cocoon of human beings don’t know of intercourse for fun.”
Genaro leaned over toward me from his chair across the table and talked to me in a low voice, shaking his head for emphasis.
“The nagual is telling you the truth,” he said and winked at me. “Those emanations really don’t know.”
Don Juan fought not to laugh and added that the fallacy of man is to act with total disregard for the mystery of existence and to believe that such a sublime act of bestowing life and awareness is merely a physical drive that one can twist at will.
Genaro made obscene sexual gestures, twisting his pelvis around, on and on. Don Juan nodded and said that that was exactly what he meant. Genaro thanked him for acknowledging his one and only contribution to the explanation of awareness.
Both of them laughed like idiots, saying that if I had known how serious their benefactor was about the explanation of awareness, I would be laughing with them.
I earnestly asked don Juan what all this meant for an average man in the day-to-day world.
“You mean what Genaro is doing?” he asked me in mock seriousness.
Their glee was always contagious. It took a long time for them to calm down. Their level of energy was so high that next to them, I seemed old and decrepit.
“I really don’t know,” don Juan finally answered me. “All I know is what it means to warriors. They know that the only real energy we possess is a life-bestowing sexual energy. This knowledge makes them permanently conscious of their responsibility.”
“If warriors want to have enough energy to see, they must become misers with their sexual energy. That was the lesson the nagual Julian gave us. He pushed us into the unknown, and we all nearly died. Since everyone of us wanted to see, we, of course, abstained from wasting our glow of awareness.”
I had heard him voice that belief before. Every time he did, we got into an argument. I always felt compelled to protest and raise objections to what I thought was a puritanical attitude toward sex.
I again raised my objections. Both of them laughed to tears.
“What can be done with man’s natural sensuality?” I asked don Juan.
“Nothing,” he replied. “There is nothing wrong with man’s sensuality, it’s man’s ignorance of and disregard for his magical nature that is wrong. It’s a mistake to waste recklessly the life-bestowing force of sex and not have children, but it’s also a mistake not to know that in having children one taxes the glow of awareness.”
“How do seers know that having children taxes the glow of awareness?” I asked.
“They see that on having a child, the parents’ glow of awareness diminishes and the child’s increases. In some supersensitive, frail parents, the glow of awareness almost disappears. As children enhance their awareness, a big dark spot develops in the luminous cocoon of the parents, on the very place from which the glow was taken away. It is usually on the midsection of the cocoon. Sometimes those spots can even be seen superimposed on the body itself.”
I asked him if there was anything that could be done to give people a more balanced understanding of the glow of awareness.
“Nothing,” he said. “At least, there is nothing that seers can do. Seers aim to be free, to be unbiased witnesses incapable of passing judgment; otherwise they would have to assume the responsibility for bringing about a more adjusted cycle. No one can do that. The new cycle, if it is to come, must come of itself.”