(Journey to Ixtlan)
“You must learn to become deliberately available and unavailable,” he said. “As your life goes now, you are unwittingly available at all times.”
I protested. My feeling was that my life was becoming increasingly more and more secretive.
He said I had not understood his point, and that to be unavailable did not mean to hide or to be secretive but to be inaccessible.
“Let me put it in another way,” he proceeded patiently. ” It makes no difference to hide if everyone knows that you are hiding.”
“Your problems right now stem from that. When you are hiding, everyone knows that you are hiding, and when you are not, you are available for everyone to take a poke at you.”
I was beginning to feel threatened and hurriedly tried to defend myself.
“Don’t explain yourself,” don Juan said dryly. ‘There is no need. We are fools, all of us, and you cannot be different. At one time in my life I, like you, made myself available over and over again until there was nothing of me left for anything except perhaps crying. And that I did, just like yourself.”
Don Juan sized me up for a moment and then sighed loudly.
“I was younger than you, though,” he went on, “but one day I had enough and I changed. Let’s say that one day, when I was becoming a hunter, I learned the secret of being available and unavailable.”
I told him that his point was bypassing me. I truly could not understand what he meant by being available. He had used the Spanish idioms “ponerse al alcance” and “ponerse en el medio del camino“, “to put oneself within reach”, and “to put oneself in the middle of a trafficked way”.
“You must take yourself away,” he explained. “You must retrieve yourself from the middle of a trafficked way. Your whole being is there, thus it is of no use to hide; you would only imagine that you are hidden. Being in the middle of the road means that everyone passing by watches your comings and goings.”
His metaphor was interesting, but at the same time it was also obscure.
“You are talking in riddles,” I said.
He stared at me fixedly for a long moment and then began to hum a tune. I straightened my back and sat attentively. I knew that when don Juan hummed a Mexican tune he was about to clobber me.
“Hey,” he said, smiling, and peered at me. “Whatever happened to your blonde friend? That girl that you used to really like.”
I must have looked at him like a confounded idiot. He laughed with great delight. I did not know what to say.
“You told me about her,” he said reassuringly.
But I did not remember ever telling him about anybody, much less about a blonde girl.
“I’ve never mentioned anything like that to you,” I said.
“Of course you have,” he said as if dismissing the argument.
I wanted to protest, but he stopped me, saying that it did not matter how he knew about her, that the important issue was that I had liked her.
I sensed a surge of animosity towards him building up within myself.
“Don’t stall,” don Juan said dryly. “This is a time when you should cut off your feelings of importance.”
“You once had a woman, a very dear woman, and then one day you lost her.”
I began to wonder if I had ever talked about her to don Juan. I concluded that there had never been an opportunity. Yet I might have. Every time he drove with me we had always talked incessantly about everything. I did not remember everything we had talked about because I could not take notes while driving. I felt somehow appeased by my conclusions. I told him that he was right. There had been a very important blonde girl in my life.
“Why isn’t she with you?” he asked.
“There were many reasons.”
“There were not so many reasons. There was only one. You made yourself too available.”
I earnestly wanted to know what he meant. He again had touched me. He seemed to be cognizant of the effect of his touch and puckered up his lips to hide a mischievous smile.
“Everyone knew about you two,” he said with unshaken conviction.
“Was it wrong?”
“It was deadly wrong. She was a fine person.”
I expressed the sincere feeling that his fishing in the dark was odious to me, especially the fact that he always made his statements with the assurance of someone who had been at the scene and had seen it all.
“But that’s true,” he said with a disarming candor. “I have seen it all. She was a fine person.”
I knew that it was meaningless to argue, but I was angry with him for touching that sore spot in my life and I said that the girl in question was not such a fine person after all, that in my opinion she was rather weak.
“So are you,” he said calmly. “But that is not important. What counts is that you have looked for her everywhere; that makes her a special person in your world, and for a special person one should have only fine words.”
I felt embarrassed; a great sadness had begun to engulf me.
“What are you doing to me, don Juan?” I asked. “You always succeed in making me sad. Why?”
“You are now indulging in sentimentality,” he said accusingly.
“What is the point of all this, don Juan?”
“Being inaccessible is the point,” he declared. “I brought up the memory of this person only as a means to show you directly what I couldn’t show you with the wind.”
“You lost her because you were accessible; you were always within her reach and your life was a routine one.”
“No!” I said. “You’re wrong. My life was never a routine.”
“It was and it is a routine,” he said dogmatically. “It is an unusual routine and that gives you the impression that it is not a routine, but I assure you it is.”
I wanted to sulk and get lost in moroseness, but somehow his eyes made me feel restless; they seemed to push me on and on.
“The art of a hunter is to become inaccessible,” he said. “In the case of that blonde girl it would’ve meant that you had to become a hunter and meet her sparingly. Not the way you did. You stayed with her day after day, until the only feeling that remained was boredom. True?”
I did not answer. I felt I did not have to. He was right.
“To be inaccessible means that you touch the world around you sparingly. You don’t eat five quail; you eat one. You don’t damage the plants just to make a barbecue pit. You don’t expose yourself to the power of the wind unless it is mandatory. You don’t use and squeeze people until they have shriveled to nothing, especially the people you love.”
“I have never used anyone,” I said sincerely. But don Juan maintained that I had, and thus I could bluntly state that I became tired and bored with people.
“To be unavailable means that you deliberately avoid exhausting yourself and others,” he continued. “It means that you are not hungry and desperate, like the poor bastard that feels he will never eat again and devours all the food he can, all five quail!”
Don Juan was definitely hitting me below the belt. I laughed and that seemed to please him.
He touched my back lightly.
“A hunter knows he will lure game into his traps over and over again, so he doesn’t worry. To worry is to become accessible, unwittingly accessible. And once you worry you cling to anything out of desperation; and once you cling you are bound to get exhausted or to exhaust whoever or whatever you are clinging to.”
I told him that in my day-to-day life it was inconceivable to be inaccessible. My point was that in order to function I had to be within reach of everyone that had something to do with me.
“I’ve told you already that to be inaccessible does not mean to hide or to be secretive,” he said calmly. “It doesn’t mean that you cannot deal with people either. A hunter uses his world sparingly and with tenderness, regardless of whether the world might be things, or plants, or animals, or people, or power. A hunter deals intimately with his world and yet he is inaccessible to that same world.”
“That’s a contradiction,” I said. “He cannot be inaccessible if he is there in his world, hour after hour, day after day.”
“You did not understand,” don Juan said patiently. “He is inaccessible because he’s not squeezing his world out of shape. He taps it lightly, stays for as long as he needs to, and then swiftly moves away leaving hardly a mark.”