(The Fire from Within by Carlos Castaneda)
Never in my life had I had such an attack of melancholy. It was a sadness that had no precise foundation; I associated it with the memory of the depths I had seen in the mirror. It was a mixture of pure longing for those depths plus an absolute fear of their chilling solitude.
Don Juan remarked that in the life of warriors it was extremely natural to be sad for no overt reason. Seers say that the luminous egg, as a field of energy, senses its final destination whenever the boundaries of the known are broken. A mere glimpse of the eternity outside the cocoon is enough to disrupt the coziness of our inventory. The resulting melancholy is sometimes so intense that it can bring about death.
He said that the best way to get rid of melancholy is to make fun of it. He commented in a mocking tone that my first attention was doing everything to restore the order that had been disrupted by my contact with the ally. Since there was no way of restoring it by rational means, my first attention was doing it by focusing all its power on sadness.
I told him that the fact remained the melancholy was real. Indulging in it, moping around, being gloomy, were not part of the feeling of aloneness that I had felt upon remembering those depths.
“Something is finally getting through to you,” he said. “You’re right. There is nothing more lonely than eternity. And nothing is more cozy for us than to be a human being. This indeed is another contradiction – how can man keep the bonds of his humanness and still venture gladly and purposefully into the absolute loneliness of eternity? Whenever you resolve this riddle, you’ll be ready for the definitive journey.”
I knew then with total certainty the reason for my sadness. It was a recurrent feeling with me, one that I would always forget until I again realized the same thing: the puniness of humanity against the immensity of that thing-in-itself which I had seen reflected in the mirror.
“Human beings are truly nothing, don Juan,” I said.
“I know exactly what you’re thinking,” he said. “Sure, we’re nothing, but that’s exactly what makes it the ultimate challenge, that we nothings could actually face the loneliness of eternity.”
(The Active Side of Infinity by Carlos Castaneda)
This book is a a collection of the memorable events in my life. Don Juan revealed to me as time went by that the shamans of ancient Mexico had conceived of this collection of memorable events as a bona-fide device to stir caches of energy that exist within the self. They explained these caches as being composed of energy that originates in the body itself and becomes displaced, pushed out of reach by the circumstances of our daily lives. In this sense, the collection of memorable events was, for don Juan and the shamans of his lineage, the means for redeploying their unused energy.
I gathered them following the recommendation of don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian shaman from Mexico who, as a teacher, endeavored for thirteen years to make available to me the cognitive world of the shamans who lived in Mexico in ancient times. Don Juan Matus’s suggestion that I gather this collection of memorable events was made as if it were something casual, something that occurred to him on the spur of the moment. That was don Juan’s style of teaching. He veiled the importance of certain maneuvers behind the mundane. He hid, in this fashion, the sting of finality, presenting it as something no different from any of the concerns of everyday life.
The prerequisite for this collection was the genuine and all-consuming act of putting together the sum total of one’s emotions and realizations, without sparing anything. According to don Juan, the shamans of his lineage were convinced that the collection of memorable events was the vehicle for the emotional and energetic adjustment necessary for venturing, in terms of perception, into the unknown.
Don Juan described the total goal of the shamanistic knowledge that he handled as the preparation for facing the definitive journey: the journey that every human being has to take at the end of his life. He said that through their discipline and resolve, shamans were capable of retaining their individual awareness and purpose after death. For them, the vague, idealistic state that modem man calls “life after death” was a concrete region filled to capacity with practical affairs of a different order than the practical affairs of daily life, yet bearing a similar functional practicality. Don Juan considered that to collect the memorable events in their lives was, for shamans, the preparation for their entrance into that concrete region which they called the active side of infinity.
“The difficulty with your facing things in terms of time and space,” he continued, “is that you only notice if something has landed in the space and time at your disposal, which is very limited.”
“Sorcerers, on the other hand, have a vast field on which they can notice if something extraneous has landed. Lots of entities from the universe at large, entities that possess awareness but not an organism, land in the field of awareness of our world, or the field of awareness of its twin world, without an average human being ever noticing them. The entities that land on our field of awareness, or the field of awareness of our twin world, belong to other worlds that exist besides our world and its twin. The universe at large is crammed to the brim with worlds of awareness, organic and inorganic.”
Don Juan continued talking and said that those sorcerers knew when inorganic awareness from other worlds besides our twin world had landed in their field of awareness. He said that as every human being on this earth would do, those shamans made endless classifications of different types of this energy that has awareness. They knew them by the general term inorganic beings.
“Do those inorganic beings have life like we have life?” I asked.
“If you think that life is to be aware, then they do have life,” he said. “I suppose it would be accurate to say that if life can be measured by the intensity, the sharpness, the duration of that awareness, I can sincerely say that they are more alive than you and I.”
“Do those inorganic beings die, don Juan?” I asked.
Don Juan chuckled for a moment before he answered. “If you call death the termination of awareness, yes, they die. Their awareness ends. Their death is rather like the death of a human being, and at the same time, it isn’t, because the death of human beings has a hidden option. It is something like a clause in a legal document, a clause that is written in tiny letters that you can barely see. You have to use a magnifying glass to read it, and yet it’s the most important clause of the document.”
“What’s the hidden option, don Juan?”
“Death’s hidden option is exclusively for sorcerers. They are the only ones who have, to my knowledge, read the fine print. For them, the option is pertinent and functional. For average human beings, death means the termination of their awareness, the end of their organisms. For the inorganic beings, death means the same: the end of their awareness. In both cases, the impact of death is the act of being sucked into the dark sea of awareness. Their individual awareness, loaded with their life experiences, breaks its boundaries, and awareness as energy spills out into the dark sea of awareness.”
“But what is death’s hidden option that is picked up only by sorcerers, don Juan?” I asked.
“For a sorcerer, death is a unifying factor. Instead of disintegrating the organism, as is ordinarily the case, death unifies it.”
“How can death unify anything?” I protested.
“Death for a sorcerer,” he said, “terminates the reign of individual moods in the body. The old sorcerers believed it was the dominion of the different parts of the body that ruled the moods and the actions of the total body; parts that become dysfunctional drag the rest of the body to chaos, such as, for instance, when you yourself get sick from eating junk. In that case, the mood of your stomach affects everything else. Death eradicates the dominion of those individual parts. It unifies their awareness into one single unit.”
“Do you mean that after they die, sorcerers are still aware?” I asked.
“For sorcerers, death is an act of unification that employs every bit of their energy. You are thinking of death as a corpse in front of you, a body on which decay has settled. For sorcerers, when the act of unification takes place, there is no corpse. There is no decay. Their bodies in their entirety have been turned into energy, energy possessing awareness that is not fragmented. The boundaries that are set up by the organism, boundaries which are broken down by death, are still functioning in the case of sorcerers, although they are no longer visible to the naked eye.”
“I know that you are dying to ask me,” he continued with a broad smile, “if whatever I’m describing is the soul that goes to hell or heaven. No, it is not the soul. What happens to sorcerers, when they pick up that hidden option of death, is that they turn into inorganic beings, very specialized, high-speed inorganic beings, beings capable of stupendous maneuvers of perception. Sorcerers enter then into what the shamans of ancient Mexico called their definitive journey. Infinity becomes their realm of action.”
“Do you mean by this, don Juan, that they become eternal?”
“My sobriety as a sorcerer tells me,” he said, “that their awareness will terminate, the way inorganic beings’ awareness terminates, but I haven’t seen this happen. I have no firsthand knowledge of it. The old sorcerers believed that the awareness of this type of inorganic being would last as long as the earth is alive. The earth is their matrix. As long as it prevails, their awareness continues. To me, this is a most reasonable statement.”
The continuity and order of don Juan’s explanation had been, for me, superb. I had no way whatsoever in which to contribute. He left me with a sensation of mystery and unvoiced expectations to be fulfilled.
There was only one trail leading to the flat mesa. Once we were on the mesa itself, I realized that it was not as extensive as it had appeared when 1 had looked at it from a distance. The vegetation on the mesa was not different from the vegetation below: faded green woody shrubs that had the ambiguous appearance of trees.
At first, I didn’t see the chasm. It was only when don Juan led me to it that I became aware that the mesa ended in a precipice; it wasn’t really a mesa but merely the flat top of a good-sized mountain. The mountain was round and eroded on its east and south faces; however, on part of its west and north sides, it seemed to have been cut with a knife. From the edge of the precipice, I was able to see the bottom of the ravine, perhaps six hundred feet below. It was covered with the same woody shrubs that grew everywhere.
A whole row of small mountains to the south and to the north of that mountaintop gave the clear impression that they had been part of a gigantic canyon, millions of years old, dug out by a no longer existing river. The edges of that canyon had been erased by erosion. At certain points they had been leveled with the ground. The only portion still intact was the area where I was standing.
“It’s solid rock,” don Juan said as if he were reading my thoughts. He pointed with his chin toward the bottom of the ravine. “If anything were to fall down from this edge to the bottom, it would get smashed to flakes on the rock, down there.”
This was the initial dialogue between don Juan and myself, that day, on that mountaintop. Prior to going there, he had told me that his time on Earth had come to an end. He was leaving on his definitive journey. His statements were devastating to me. I truly lost my grip, and entered into a blissful state of fragmentation, perhaps similar to what people experience when they have a mental breakdown. But there was a core fragment of myself that remained cohesive: the me of my childhood. The rest was vagueness, incertitude. I had been fragmented for so long that to become fragmented once again was the only way out of my devastation.
A most peculiar interplay between different levels of my awareness took place afterward. Don Juan, his cohort don Genaro, two of his apprentices, Pablito and Nestor, and I had climbed to that mountaintop. Pablito, Nestor, and I were there to take care of our last task as apprentices: to jump into an abyss, a most mysterious affair, which don Juan had explained to me at various levels of awareness but which has remained an enigma to me to this day.
Don Juan jokingly said that I should get my writing pad and start taking notes about our last moments together. He gently poked me in the ribs and assured me, as he hid his laughter, that it would have been only proper, since I had started on the warrior-traveler’s path by taking notes.
Don Genaro cut in and said that other warrior-travelers before us had stood on that same flat mountaintop before embarking on their journey to the unknown. Don Juan turned to me and in a soft voice said that soon I would be entering into infinity by the force of my personal power, and that he and don Genaro were there only to bid me farewell. Don Genaro cut in again and said that I was there also to do the same for them.
“Once you have entered into infinity,” don Juan said, “you can’t depend on us to bring you back. Your decision is needed then. Only you can decide whether or not to return. I must also warn you that few warrior-travelers survive this type of encounter with infinity. Infinity is enticing beyond belief. A warrior-traveler finds that to return to the world of disorder, compulsion, noise, and pain is a most unappealing affair. You must know that your decision to stay or to return is not a matter of a reasonable choice, but a matter of intending it.
“If you choose not to return,” he continued, “you will disappear as if the earth had swallowed you. But if you choose to come back, you must tighten your belt and wait like a true warrior-traveler until your task, whatever it might be, is finished, either in success or in defeat.”
Don Juan very patiently explained to me that loneliness is inadmissible in a warrior. He said that warrior-travelers can count on one being on which they can focus all their love, all their care: this marvelous Earth, the mother, the matrix, the epicenter of everything we are and everything we do; the very being to which all of us return; the very being that allows warrior-travelers to leave on their definitive journey.
Don Genaro proceeded to perform then an act of magical intent for my benefit. Lying on his stomach, he executed a series of dazzling movements. He became a blob of luminosity that seemed to be swimming, as if the ground were a pool. Don Juan said that it was Genaro’s way of hugging the immense earth, and that in spite of the difference in size, the earth acknowledged Genaro’s gesture. The sight of Genaro’s movements and the explanation of them replaced my loneliness with sublime joy.
“I can’t stand the idea that you are leaving, don Juan,” I heard myself saying. The sound of my voice and what I had said made me feel embarrassed. When I began to sob, involuntarily, driven by self-pity, I felt even more chagrined. “What is the matter with me, don Juan?” I muttered. “I’m not ordinarily like this.”
“What’s happening to you is that your awareness is on your toes again,” he replied, laughing.
Then I lost any vestige of control and gave myself fully to my feelings of dejection and despair.
“I’m going to be left alone,” I said in a shrieking voice. “What’s going to happen to me? What’s going to become of me?”
“Let’s put it this way,” don Juan said calmly. “In order for me to leave this world and face the unknown, I need all my strength, all my forbearance, all my luck; but above all, I need every bit of a warrior-traveler’s guts of steel. To remain behind and fare like a warrior-traveler, you need everything of what I myself need. To venture out there, the way we are going to, is no joking matter, but neither is it to stay behind.”
I had an emotional outburst and kissed his hand.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” he said. “Next thing you’re going to make a shrine for my guaraches!”
The anguish that gripped me turned from self-pity to a feeling of unequaled loss. “You are leaving!” I muttered. “My god! Leaving forever!”
At that moment don Juan did something to me that he had done repeatedly since the first day I had met him. His face puffed up as if the deep breath he was taking inflated him. He tapped my back forcefully with the palm of his left hand and said, “Get up from your toes! Lift yourself up!”
In the next instant, I was once again coherent, complete, in control. I knew what was expected of me. There was no longer any hesitation on my part, or any concern about myself. I didn’t care what was going to happen to me when don Juan left. I knew that his departure was imminent. He looked at me, and in that look his eyes said it all.
“We will never be together again,” he said softly. “You don’t need my help anymore; and I don’t want to offer it to you, because if you are worth your salt as a warrior-traveler, you’ll spit in my eye for offering it to you. Beyond a certain point, the only joy of a warrior-traveler is his aloneness. I wouldn’t like you to try to help me, either. Once I leave, I am gone. Don’t think about me, for I won’t think about you. If you are a worthy warrior-traveler, be impeccable! Take care of your world. Honor it; guard it with your life!”
He moved away from me. The moment was beyond self-pity or tears or happiness. He shook his head as if to say good-bye, or as if he were acknowledging what I felt.
“Forget the self and you will fear nothing, in whatever level of awareness you find yourself to be,” he said.
He had an outburst of levity. He teased me for the last time on this Earth.
“I hope you find love!” he said.
He raised his palm toward me and stretched his fingers like a child, then contracted them against the palm.
“Ciao,” he said
I knew that it was futile to feel sorry or to regret anything, and that it was as difficult for me to stay behind as it was for don Juan to leave. Both of us were caught in an irreversible energetic maneuver that neither of us could stop. Nevertheless, I wanted to join don Juan, follow him wherever he went. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps if I died, he would take me with him.
I saw then how don Juan Matus, the nagual, led the fifteen other seers who were his companions, his wards, his delight, one by one to disappear in the haze of that mesa, toward the north. I saw how every one of them turned into a blob of luminosity, and together they ascended and floated above the mountaintop like phantom lights in the sky. They circled above the mountain once, as don Juan had said they would do: their last survey, the one for their eyes only; their last look at this marvelous Earth. And then they vanished.