Impeccability

(Tales of Power)

“A warrior cannot be helpless,” he said. “Or bewildered or frightened, not under any circumstances. For a warrior there is time only for his impeccability; everything else drains his power, impeccability replenishes it.”

“We’re back again to my old question, don Juan. What’s impeccability?”

“Yes, we’re back again to your old question and consequently we’re back again to my old answer: ‘Impeccability is to do your best in whatever you’re engaged in.'”

“But don Juan, my point is that I’m always under the impression I’m doing my best, and obviously I’m not.”

“It’s not as complicated as you make it appear. The key to all these matters of impeccability is the sense of having or not having time. As a rule of thumb, when you feel and act like an immortal being that has all the time in the world you are not impeccable; at those times you should turn, look around, and then you will realize that your feeling of having time is an idiocy.

There are no survivors on this earth!”

***

“In the life of a warrior there is only one thing, one issue alone which is really undecided: how far one can go on the path of knowledge and power. That is an issue which is open and no one can predict its outcome. I once told you that the freedom a warrior has is either to act impeccably or to act like a nincompoop. Impeccability is indeed the only act which is free and thus the true measure of a warrior’s spirit.”

 ***

(The Second Ring of Power)

She told me how the Nagual had insisted that all of them understand that not only was impeccability freedom but it was the only way to scare away the human form.

I narrated to her the way don Juan made me understand what was meant by impeccability. He and I were hiking one day through a very steep ravine when a huge boulder got loose from its matrix on the rock wall and came down with a formidable force and landed on the floor of the canyon, twenty or thirty yards from where we were standing. The size of the boulder made its fall a very impressive event. Don Juan seized the opportunity to create a dramatic lesson. He said that the force that rules our destinies is outside of ourselves and has nothing to do with our acts or volition. Sometimes that force would make us stop walking on our way and bend over to tie our shoelaces, as I had just done. And by making us stop, that force makes us gain a precious moment. If we had kept on walking, that enormous boulder would have most certainly crushed us to death. Some other day, however, in another ravine the same outside deciding force would make us stop again to bend over and tie our shoelaces while another boulder would get loose precisely above where we are standing. By making us stop, that force would have made us lose a precious moment. That time if we had kept on walking, we would have saved ourselves. Don Juan said that in view of my total lack of control over the forces which decide my destiny, my only possible freedom in that ravine consisted in my tying my shoelaces impeccably.

***

We sat down. La Gorda sat next to me. After a moment’s pause Lidia explained that she was afraid I was going to do to them what I had done to Pablito. La Gorda laughed and said that she would never let me help any of them in that manner. I told her that I could not understand what I had done to Pablito that was so wrong. I had not been aware of what I had done, and if Nestor had not told me I would never have known that I had actually picked Pablito up. I even wondered if Nestor had perhaps exaggerated a bit, or that maybe he had made a mistake.

La Gorda said that the Witness would not make a stupid mistake like that, much less exaggerate it, and that the Witness was the most perfect warrior among them.

“Sorcerers don’t help one another like you helped Pablito,” she went on. “You behaved like a man in the street. The Nagual had taught us all to be warriors. He said that a warrior had no compassion for anyone. For him, to have compassion meant that you wished the other person to be like you, to be in your shoes, and you lent a hand just for that purpose. You did that to Pablito.

The hardest thing in the world is for a warrior to let others be. When I was fat I worried because Lidia and Josefina did not eat enough. I was afraid that they would get ill and die from not eating.

I did my utmost to fatten them and I meant only the best. The impeccability of a warrior is to let them be and to support them in what they are. That means, of course, that you trust them to be impeccable warriors themselves.”

“But what if they are not impeccable warriors?” I said.

“Then it’s your duty to be impeccable yourself and not say a word,” she replied. “The Nagual said that only a sorcerer who sees and is formless can afford to help anyone. That’s why he helped us and made us what we are. You don’t think that you can go around picking people up off the street to help them, do you?”

Don Juan had already put me face to face with the dilemma that I could not help my fellow beings in any way. In fact, to his understanding, every effort to help on our part was an arbitrary act guided by our own self-interest alone.

One day when I was with him in the city, I picked up a snail that was in the middle of the sidewalk and tucked it safely under some vines. I was sure that if I had left it in the middle of the sidewalk, people would sooner or later have stepped on it. I thought that by moving it to a safe place I had saved it.

Don Juan pointed out that my assumption was a careless one, because I had not taken into consideration two important possibilities. One was that the snail might have been escaping a sure death by poison under the leaves of the vine, and the other possibility was that the snail had enough personal power to cross the sidewalk. By interfering I had not saved the snail but only made it lose whatever it had so painfully gained.

I wanted, of course, to put the snail back where I had found it, but he did not let me. He said that it was the snail’s fate that an idiot crossed its path and made it lose its momentum. If I left it where I had put it, it might be able again to gather enough power to go wherever it was going.

***

(The Eagle’s Gift)

His benefactor told don Juan that a warrior is never under siege. To be under siege implies that one has personal possessions that could be blockaded. A warrior has nothing in the world except his impeccability, and impeccability cannot be threatened.

***

(The Fire from Within)

He said that seers, old and new, are divided into two categories. The first one is made up of those who are willing to exercise self-restraint and can channel their activities toward pragmatic goals, which would benefit other seers and man in general. The other category consists of those who don’t care about self-restraint or about any pragmatic goals. It is the consensus among seers that the latter have failed to resolve the problem of self-importance.

“Self-importance is not something simple and naive,” he explained. “On the one hand, it is the core of everything that is good in us, and on the other hand, the core of everything that is rotten.

To get rid of the self-importance that is rotten requires a masterpiece of strategy. Seers, through the ages, have given the highest praise to those who have accomplished it.”

I complained that the idea of eradicating self-importance, although very appealing to me at times, was really incomprehensible; I told him that I found his directives for getting rid of it so vague I could not follow them.

“I’ve said to you many times,” he said, “that in order to follow the path of knowledge one has to be very imaginative. You see, in the path of knowledge nothing is as clear as we’d like it to be.”

My discomfort made me argue that his admonitions about self-importance reminded me of  Catholic postulates. After a lifetime of being told about the evils of sin, I had become callous.

“Warriors fight self-importance as a matter of strategy, not principle,” he replied. “Your mistake is to understand what I say in terms of morality.”

“I see you as a highly moral man, don Juan,” I insisted.

“You’ve noticed my impeccability, that’s all,” he said.

“Impeccability, as well as getting rid of self-importance, is too vague a concept to be of any value to me,” I remarked.

Don Juan choked with laughter, and I challenged him to explain impeccability.

“Impeccability is nothing else but the proper use of energy,” he said. “My statements have no inkling of morality. I’ve saved energy and that makes me impeccable. To understand this, you have to save enough energy yourself.”

We were quiet for a long time. I wanted to think about what he had said. Suddenly, he started talking again.

“Warriors take strategic inventories,” he said. “They list everything they do. Then they decide which of those things can be changed in order to allow themselves a respite, in terms of expending their energy.”

I argued that their list would have to include everything under the sun. He patiently answered that the strategic inventory he was talking about covered only behavioral patterns that were not essential to our survival and well-being.

I jumped at the opportunity to point out that survival and well-being were categories that could be interpreted in endless ways, hence, there was no way of agreeing what was or was not essential to survival and well-being.

As I kept on talking I began to lose momentum. Finally, I stopped because I realized the futility of my arguments.

Don Juan said then that in the strategic inventories of warriors, self-importance figures as the activity that consumes the greatest amount of energy, hence, their effort to eradicate it.

“One of the first concerns of warriors is to free that energy in order to face the unknown with it,” don Juan went on. “The action of rechanneling that energy is impeccability.”

***

“The conviction that the new seers have,” he continued, “is that a life of impeccability by itself leads unavoidably to a sense of sobriety, and this in turn leads to the movement of the assemblage point.

“I’ve said that the new seers believed that the assemblage point can be moved from within.

They went one step further and maintained that impeccable men need no one to guide them, that by themselves, through saving their energy, they can do everything that seers do. All they need is a minimal chance, just to be cognizant of the possibilities that seers have unraveled.”

I told him that we were back in the same position we had been in in my normal state of awareness. I was still convinced that impeccability or saving energy was something so vague that it could be interpreted by anyone in whatever whimsical way he wanted.

I wanted to say more to build my argument, but a strange feeling overtook me. It was an actual physical sensation that I was rushing through something. And then I rebuffed my own argument. I knew without any doubt whatsoever that don Juan was right. All that is required is impeccability, energy, and that begins with a single act that has to be deliberate, precise, and sustained. If that act is repeated long enough, one acquires a sense of unbending intent, which can be applied to anything else. If that is accomplished the road is clear. One thing will lead to another until the warrior realizes his full potential.

***

(The Power of Silence)

Years before, I had been both very moved and very confused by don Juan’s tremendous dedication to helping me. I could not imagine why he should show me such kindness. It was evident that he did not need me in any way in his life. He was obviously not investing in me. But I had learned, through life’s painful experiences, that nothing was free; and being unable to foresee what don Juan’s reward would be made me tremendously uneasy.

One day I asked don Juan point-blank, in a very cynical tone, what he was getting out of our association. I said that I had not been able to guess.

“Nothing you would understand,” he replied.

His answer annoyed me. Belligerently I told him I was not stupid, and he could at least try to explain it to me.

“Well, let me just say that, although you could understand it, you are certainly not going to like it,” he said with the smile he always had when he was setting me up. “You see, I really want to spare you.”

I was hooked, and I insisted that he tell me what he meant.

“Are you sure you want to hear the truth?” he asked, knowing I could never say no, even if my life depended on it.

“Of course I want to hear whatever it is you’re dangling in front of me,” I said cuttingly.

He started to laugh as if at a big joke; the more he laughed, the greater my annoyance.

“I don’t see what’s so funny,” I said.

“Sometimes the underlying truth shouldn’t be tampered with,” he said. “The underlying truth here is like a block at the bottom of a big pile of things, a cornerstone. If we take a hard look at the bottom block, we might not like the results. I prefer to avoid that.”

He laughed again. His eyes, shining with mischievousness, seemed to invite me to pursue the subject further. And I insisted again that I had to know what he was talking about. I tried to sound calm but persistent.

“Well, if that is what you want,” he said with the air of one who had been overwhelmed by the request. “First of all, I’d like to say that everything I do for you is free. You don’t have to pay for it. As you know, I’ve been impeccable with you. And as you also know, my impeccability with you is not an investment. I am not grooming you to take care of me when I am too feeble to look after myself. But I do get something of incalculable value out of our association, a sort of reward for dealing impeccably with that bottom block I’ve mentioned. And what I get is the very thing you are perhaps not going to understand or like.”

He stopped and peered at me, with a devilish glint in his eyes.

“Tell me about it, don Juan!” I exclaimed, irritated with his delaying tactics.

“I want you to bear in mind that I am telling you at your insistence,” he said, still smiling.

He paused again. By then I was fuming.

“If you judge me by my actions with you,” he said, “you would have to admit that I have been a paragon of patience and consistency. But what you don’t know is that to accomplish this I have had to fight for impeccability as I have never fought before. In order to spend time with you, I have had to transform myself daily, restraining myself with the most excruciating effort.”

Don Juan had been right. I did not like what he said. I tried not to lose face and made a sarcastic comeback.

“I’m not that bad, don Juan,” I said.

My voice sounded surprisingly unnatural to me.

“Oh, yes, you are that bad,” he said with a serious expression. “You are petty, wasteful, opinionated, coercive, short-tempered, conceited. You are morose, ponderous, and ungrateful. You have an inexhaustible capacity for self-indulgence. And worst of all, you have an exalted idea of yourself, with nothing whatever to back it up.”

“I could sincerely say that your mere presence makes me feel like vomiting.”

I wanted to get angry. I wanted to protest, to complain that he had no right to talk to me that way, but I could not utter a single word. I was crushed. I felt numb.

My expression, upon hearing the bottom truth, must have been something, for don Juan broke into such gales of laughter I thought he was going to choke.

“I told you you were not going to like it or understand it,” he said. “Warriors’ reasons are very simple, but their finesse is extreme. It is a rare opportunity for a warrior to be given a genuine chance to be impeccable in spite of his basic feelings. You gave me such a unique chance. The act of giving freely and impeccably rejuvenates me and renews my wonder. What I get from our association is indeed of incalculable value to me. I am in your debt.”

His eyes were shining, but without mischievousness, as he peered at me

***