(Journey to Ixtlan)
A Battle of Power
Thursday, 28 December 1961
We started on a journey very early in the morning. We drove south and then east to the mountains. Don Juan had brought gourds with food and water. We ate in my car before we started walking.
“Stick close to me,” he said. “This is an unknown region to you and there is no need to take chances. You are going in search of power and everything you do counts. Watch the wind, especially towards the end of the day. Watch when it changes directions, and shift your position so that I always shield you from it.”
“What are we going to do in these mountains, don Juan?”
“You’re hunting power.”
“I mean what are we going to do in particular?”
“There’s no plan when it comes to hunting power. Hunting power or hunting game is the same. A hunter hunts whatever presents itself to him. Thus he must always be in a state of readiness. You know about the wind, and now you may hunt power in the wind by yourself. But there are other things you don’t know about which are, like the wind, the centre of power at certain times and at certain places.”
“Power is a very peculiar affair,” he said. “It is impossible to pin it down and say what it really is. It is a feeling that one has about certain things. Power is personal. It belongs to oneself alone. My benefactor, for instance, could make a person mortally ill by merely looking at him. Women would wane away after he had set eyes on them. Yet he did not make people sick all the time but only when his personal power was involved.”
“How did he choose who to make sick?”
“I don’t know that. He didn’t know it himself. Power is like that. It commands you and yet it obeys you. A hunter of power entraps it and then stores it away as his personal finding. Thus, personal power grows, and you may have the case of a warrior who has so much personal power that he becomes a man of knowledge.”
“How does one store power, don Juan?”
“That again is another feeling. It depends on what kind of a person the warrior is. My benefactor was a man of violent nature. He stored power through that feeling. Everything he did was strong and direct. He left me a memory of something crushing through things. And everything that happened to him took place in that manner.”
I told him I could not understand how power was stored through a feeling.
“There’s no way to explain it,” he said after a long pause. “You have to do it yourself.”
He picked up the gourds with food and fastened them to his back. He handed me a string with eight pieces of dry meat strung on it and made me hang it from my neck.
“This is power food,” he said.
“What makes it power food, don Juan?”
“It is the meat of an animal that had power. A deer, a unique deer. My personal power brought it to me. This meat will sustain us for weeks, months if need be. Chew little bits of it at a time, and chew it thoroughly. Let the power sink slowly into your body.”
We began to walk. It was almost eleven A.M. Don Juan reminded me once more of the procedure to follow.
“Watch the wind,” he said. “Don’t let it trip you. And don’t let it make you tired. Chew your power food and hide from the wind behind my body. The wind won’t hurt me; we know each other very well.”
He led me to a trail that went straight to the high mountains. The day was cloudy and it was about to rain. I could see low rain clouds and fog up above in the mountains descending into the area where we were.
We hiked in complete silence until about three o’clock in the afternoon. Chewing the dry meat was indeed invigorating. And watching for sudden changes in the direction of the wind became a mysterious affair, to the point that my entire body seemed to sense changes before they actually happened. I had the feeling that I could detect waves of wind as a sort of pressure on my upper chest, on my bronchial tubes. Every time I was about to feel a gust of wind my chest and throat would itch.
Don Juan stopped for a moment and looked around. He appeared to be orienting himself and then he turned to the right. I noticed that he was also chewing dry meat. I felt very fresh and was not tired at all. The task of being aware of shifts in the wind had been so consuming that I had not been aware of time.
We walked into a deep ravine and then up one side to a small plateau on the sheer side of an enormous mountain. We were quite high, almost to the top of the mountain. Don Juan climbed a huge rock at the end of the plateau and helped me up to it. The rock was placed in such a way as to look like a dome on top of precipitous walls. We slowly walked around it. Finally I had to move around the rock on my seat, holding on to the surface with my heels and hands. I was soaked in perspiration and had to dry my hands repeatedly.
From the other side I could see a very large shallow cave near the top of the mountain. It looked like a hall that had been carved out of the rock. It was sandstone which had been weathered into a sort of balcony with two pillars. Don Juan said that we were going to camp there, that it was a very safe place because it was too shallow to be a den for lions or any other predators, too open to be a nest for rats, and too windy for insects. He laughed and said that it was an ideal place for men, since no other living creatures could stand it.
He climbed up to it like a mountain goat. I marveled at his stupendous agility.
I slowly dragged myself down the rock on my seat and then tried to run up the side of the mountain in order to reach the ledge. The last few yards completely exhausted me. I kiddingly asked don Juan how old he really was. I thought that in order to reach the ledge the way he had done it one had to be extremely fit and young.
“I’m as young as I want to be,” he said. “This again is a matter of personal power. If you store power your body can perform unbelievable feats. On the other hand, if you dissipate power you’ll be a fat old man in no time at all.”
The length of the ledge was oriented along an east-west line. The open side of the balcony-like formation was to the south. I walked to the west end. The view was superb. The rain had circumvented us. It looked like a sheet of transparent material hung over the low land.
Don Juan said that we had enough time to build a shelter. He told me to make a pile of as many rocks as I could carry on to the ledge while he gathered some branches for a roof.
In an hour he had built a wall about a foot thick on the east end of the ledge. It was about two feet long and three feet high. He wove and tied some bundles of branches he had collected and made a roof, securing it on to two long poles that ended in forks. There was another pole of the same length that was affixed to the roof itself and which supported it on the opposite side of the wall. The structure looked like a high table with three legs.
Don Juan sat cross-legged under it, on the very edge of the balcony. He told me to sit next to him, to his right. We remained quiet for a while.
Don Juan broke the silence. He said in a whisper that we had to act as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I asked if there was something in particular that I should do. He said that I should get busy writing and do it in such a way that it would be as if I were at my desk with no worries in the world except writing. At a given moment he was going to nudge me and then I should look where he was pointing with his eyes. He warned me that no matter what I saw I should not utter a single word. Only he could talk with impunity because he was known to all the powers in those mountains.
I followed his instructions and wrote for over an hour. I became immersed in my task. Suddenly I felt a soft tap on my arm and saw don Juan’s eyes and head move to point out a bank of fog about two hundred yards away which was descending from the top of the mountain. Don Juan whispered in my ear with a tone barely audible even at that close range.
“Move your eyes back and forth along the bank of fog,” he said. “But don’t look at it directly. Blink your eyes and don’t focus them on the fog. When you see a green spot on the bank of fog, point it out to me with your eyes.”
I moved my eyes from left to right along the bank of fog that was slowly coming down to us. Perhaps half an hour went by. It was getting dark. The fog moved extremely slowly. At one moment I had the sudden feeling that I had detected a faint glow to my right. At first I thought that I had seen a patch of green shrubbery through the fog. When I looked at it directly I did not notice anything, but when I looked without focusing I could detect a vague greenish area. I pointed it out to don Juan. He squinted his eyes and stared at it.
“Focus your eyes on that spot,” he whispered in my ear. “Look without blinking until you see.”
I wanted to ask what I was supposed to see but he glared at me as if to remind me that I should not talk.
I stared again. The bit of fog that had come down from above hung as if it were a piece of solid matter. It was lined up right at the spot where I had noticed the green tint. As my eyes became tired again and I squinted, I saw at first the bit of fog superimposed on the fog bank, and then I saw a thin strip of fog in between that looked like a thin unsupported structure, a bridge joining the mountain above me and the bank of fog in front of me. For a moment I thought I could see the transparent fog, which was being blown down from the top of the mountain, going by the bridge without disturbing it. It was as if the bridge were actually solid. At one instant the mirage became so complete that I could actually distinguish the darkness of the part under the bridge proper, as opposed to the light sandstone colour of its side.
I stared at the bridge, dumbfounded. And then I either lifted myself to its level, or the bridge lowered itself to mine. Suddenly I was looking at a straight beam in front of me. It was an immensely long, solid beam, narrow and without railings, but wide enough to walk on.
Don Juan shook me by the arm vigorously. I felt my head bobbing up and down and then I noticed that my eyes itched terribly. I rubbed them quite unconsciously. Don Juan kept on shaking me until I opened my eyes again. He poured some water from his gourd into the hollow of his hand and sprinkled my face with it. The sensation was very unpleasant. The coldness of the water was so extreme that the drops felt like sores on my skin. I noticed then that my body was very warm. I was feverish.
Don Juan hurriedly gave me some water to drink and then splashed water on my ears and neck. I heard a very loud, eerie and prolonged bird cry. Don Juan listened attentively for an instant and then pushed the rocks of the wall with his foot and collapsed the roof. He threw the roof into the shrubs and tossed all the rocks, one by one, over the side.
He whispered in my ear, “Drink some water and chew your dry meat. We cannot stay here. That cry was not a bird.”
We climbed down the ledge and began to walk in an easterly direction. In no time at all it was so dark that it was as if there were a curtain in front of my eyes. The fog was like an impenetrable barrier. I had never realized how crippling the fog was at night. I could not conceive how don Juan walked. I held on to his arm as if I were blind.
Somehow I had the feeling I was walking on the edge of a precipice. My legs refused to move on. My reason trusted don Juan and I was rationally willing to go on, but my body was not, and don Juan had to drag me in total darkness.
He must have known the terrain to ultimate perfection. He stopped at a certain point and made me sit down. I did not dare let go of his arm. My body felt, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I was sitting on a barren domelike mountain and if I moved an inch to my right I would fall beyond the tolerance point into an abyss. I was absolutely sure I was sitting on a curved mountainside, because my body moved unconsciously to the right. I thought it did so in order to keep its verticality, so I tried to compensate by leaning to the left against don Juan, as far as I could.
Don Juan suddenly moved away from me and without the support of his body I fell on the ground. Touching the ground restored my sense of equilibrium. I was lying on a flat area. I began to reconnoitre my immediate surroundings by touch. I recognized dry leaves and twigs.
There was a sudden flash of lightning that illuminated the whole area and tremendous thunder. I saw don Juan standing to my left. I saw huge trees and a cave a few feet behind him. Don Juan told me to get into the hole. I crawled into it and sat down with my back against the rock.
I felt don Juan leaning over to whisper that I had to be totally silent.
There were three flashes of lightning, one after the other. In a glance I saw don Juan sitting cross-legged to my left. The cave was a concave formation big enough for two or three persons to sit in. The hole seemed to have been carved at the bottom of a boulder. I felt that it had indeed been wise of me to have crawled into it, because if I had been walking I would have knocked my head against the rock.
The brilliancy of the lightning gave me an idea of how thick the bank of fog was. I noticed the trunks of enormous trees as dark silhouettes against the opaque light grey mass of the fog. Don Juan whispered that the fog and the lightning were in cahoots with each other and I had to keep an exhausting vigil because I was engaged in a battle of power. At that moment a stupendous flash of lightning rendered the whole scenery phantasmagorical. The fog was like a white filter that frosted the light of the electrical discharge and diffused it uniformly; the fog was like a dense whitish substance hanging between the tall trees, but right in front of me at the ground level the fog was thinning out. I plainly distinguished the features of the terrain. We were in a pine forest. Very tall trees surrounded us. They were so extremely big that I could have sworn we were in the redwoods if I had not previously known our whereabouts.
There was a barrage of lightning that lasted several minutes.
Each flash made the features I had already observed more discernible. Right in front of me I saw a definite trail. There was no vegetation on it. It seemed to end in an area clear of trees. There were so many flashes of lightning that I could not keep track of where they were coming from. The scenery, however, had been so profusely illuminated that I felt much more at ease. My fears and uncertainties had vanished as soon as there had been enough light to lift the heavy curtain of darkness. So when there was a long pause between the flashes of lightning I was no longer disoriented by the blackness around me.
Don Juan whispered that I had probably done enough watching, and that I had to focus my attention on the sound of thunder. I realized to my amazement that I had not paid any attention to thunder at all, in spite of the fact that it had really been tremendous. Don Juan added that I should follow the sound and look in the direction where I thought it came from.
There were no longer barrages of lightning and thunder but only sporadic flashes of intense light and sound. The thunder seemed to always come from my right. The fog was lifting and I, already being accustomed to the pitch black, could distinguish masses of vegetation. The lightning and thunder continued and suddenly the whole right side opened up and I could see the sky.
The electrical storm seemed to be moving towards my right. There was another flash of lightning and I saw a distant mountain to my extreme right. The light illuminated the background, silhouetting the bulky mass of the mountain. I saw trees on top of it; they looked like neat black cutouts superimposed on the brilliantly white sky. I even saw cumulus clouds over the mountains.
The fog had cleared completely around us. There was a steady wind and I could hear the rustling of leaves in the big trees to my left. The electrical storm was too distant to illuminate the trees, but their dark masses remained discernible. The light of the storm allowed me to establish, however, that there was a range of distant mountains to my right and that the forest was limited to the left side. It seemed that I was looking down into a dark valley, which I could not see at all.
The range over which the electrical storm was taking place was on the opposite side of the valley. Then it began to rain. I pressed back against the rock as far as I could. My hat served as a good protection. I was sitting with my knees to my chest and only my calves and shoes got wet. It rained for a long time. The rain was lukewarm. I felt it on my feet. And then I fell asleep. The noises of birds woke me up. I looked around for don Juan. He was not there; ordinarily I would have wondered whether he had left me there alone, but the shock of seeing the surroundings nearly paralyzed me.
I stood up. My legs were soaking wet, the brim of my hat was soggy and there was still some water in it that spilled over me. I was not in a cave at all, but under some thick bushes. I experienced a moment of unparalleled confusion. I was standing on a flat piece of land between two small dirt hills covered with bushes. There were no trees to my left and no valley to my right.
Right in front of me, where I had seen the path in the forest, there was a gigantic bush. I refused to believe what I was witnessing. The incongruency of my two versions of reality made me grapple for any kind of explanation. It occurred to me that it was perfectly possible that I had slept so soundly that don Juan might have carried me on his back to another place without waking me.
I examined the spot where I had been sleeping. The ground there was dry, and so was the ground on the spot next to it, where don Juan had been. I called him a couple of times and then had an attack of anxiety and bellowed his name as loud as I could. He came out from behind some bushes. I immediately became aware that he knew what was going on. His smile was so mischievous that I ended up smiling myself.
I did not want to waste any time in playing games with him. I blurted out what was the matter with me. I explained as carefully as possible every detail of my night-long hallucinations. He listened without interrupting. He could not, however, keep a serious face and started to laugh a couple of times, but he regained his composure right away.
I asked for his comments three or four times; he only shook his head as if the whole affair was
also incomprehensible to him. When I ended my account he looked at me and said, “You look awful. Maybe you need to go to the bushes.”
He cackled for a moment and then added that I should take off my clothes and wring them out so they would dry. The sunlight was brilliant. There were very few clouds. It was a windy brisk day.
Don Juan walked away, telling me that he was going to look for some plants and that I should compose myself and eat something and not call him until I was calm and strong. My clothes were really wet. I sat down in the sun to dry. I felt that the only way for me to relax was to get out my notebook and write. I ate while I worked on my notes.
After a couple of hours I was more relaxed and I called don Juan. He answered from a place near the top of the mountain. He told me to gather the gourds and climb up to where he was. When I reached the spot, I found him sitting on a smooth rock. He opened the gourds and served himself some food. He handed me two big pieces of meat.
I did not know where to begin. There were so many things I wanted to ask. He seemed to be aware of my mood and laughed with sheer delight.
“How do you feel?” he asked in a facetious tone.
I did not want to say anything. I was still upset. Don Juan urged me to sit down on the flat slab. He said that the stone was a power object and that I would be renewed after being there for a while.
“Sit down,” he commanded me dryly.
He did not smile. His eyes were piercing. I automatically sat down.
He said that I was being careless with power by acting morosely, and that I had to put an end to it or power would turn against both of us and we would never leave those desolate hills alive. After a moment’s pause he casually asked, “How is your dreaming?”
I explained to him how difficult it had become for me to give myself the command to look at my hands. At first it had been relatively easy, perhaps because of the newness of the concept. I had had no trouble at all in reminding myself that I had to look at my hands. But the excitation had worn off and some nights I could not do it at all.
“You must wear a headband to sleep,” he said. “Getting a headband is a tricky maneuver. I cannot give you one, because you yourself have to make it from scratch. But you cannot make one until you have had a vision of it in dreaming. See what I mean? The headband has to be made according to the specific vision. And it must have a strip across it that fits tightly on top of the head. Or it may very well be like a tight cap. Dreaming is easier when one wears a power object on top of the head. You could wear your hat or put on a cowl, like a friar, and go to sleep, but those items would only cause intense dreams, not dreaming.”
He was silent for a moment and then proceeded to tell me in a fast barrage of words that the vision of the headband did not have to occur only in dreaming but could happen in states of wakefulness and as a result of any far-fetched and totally unrelated event, such as watching the flight of birds, the movement of water, the clouds, and so on.
“A hunter of power watches everything,” he went on. “And everything tells him some secret.”
“But how can one be sure that things are telling secrets?” I asked.
I thought he may have had a specific formula that allowed him to make “correct” interpretations.
“The only way to be sure is by following all the instructions I have been giving you, starting from the first day you came to see me,” he said. “In order to have power one must live with power.”
He smiled benevolently. He seemed to have lost his fierceness; he even nudged me lightly on the arm.
“Eat your power food,” he urged me.
I began to chew some dry meat and at that moment I had the sudden realization that perhaps the dry meat contained a psychotropic substance, hence the hallucinations. For a moment I felt almost relieved. If he had put something in the meat my mirages were perfectly understandable. I asked him to tell me if there was anything at all in the “power meat”.
He laughed but did not answer me directly. I insisted, assuring him that I was not angry or even annoyed, but that I had to know so I could explain the events of the previous night to my own satisfaction. I urged him, coaxed him, and finally begged him to tell me the truth.
“You are quite cracked,” he said, shaking his head in a gesture of disbelief. “You have an insidious tendency. You persist in trying to explain everything to your satisfaction. There is nothing in the meat except power. The power was not put there by me or by any other man but by power itself. It is the dry meat of a deer and that deer was a gift to me in the same way a certain rabbit was a gift to you not too long ago. Neither you nor I put anything in the rabbit. I didn’t ask you to dry the rabbit’s meat, because that act required more power than you had. However, I did tell you to eat the meat. You didn’t eat much of it, because of your own stupidity.
“What happened to you last night was neither a joke nor a prank. You had an encounter with power. The fog, the darkness, the lightning, the thunder and the rain were all part of a great battle of power. You had the luck of a fool. A warrior would give anything to have such a battle.”
My argument was that the whole event could not be a battle of power because it had not been real.
“And what is real?” don Juan asked me very calmly.
“This, what we’re looking at is real,” I said, pointing to the surroundings.
“But so was the bridge you saw last night, and so was the forest and everything else.”
“But if they were real where are they now?”
“They are here. If you had enough power you could call them back. Right now you cannot do that because you think it is very helpful to keep on doubting and nagging. It isn’t, my friend. It isn’t. There are worlds upon worlds, right here in front of us. And they are nothing to laugh at. Last night if I hadn’t grabbed your arm you would have walked on that bridge whether you wanted to or not. And earlier I had to protect you from the wind that was seeking you out.”
“What would have happened if you hadn’t protected me?”
“Since you don’t have enough power, the wind would have made you lose your way and perhaps even killed you by pushing you into a ravine. But the fog was the real thing last night. Two things could have happened to you in the fog. You could have walked across the bridge to the other side, or you could have fallen to your death. Either would have depended on power. One thing, however, would have been for sure. If I had not protected you, you would have had to walk on that bridge regardless of anything. That is the nature of power. As I told you before, it commands you and yet it is at your command. Last night, for instance, the power would have forced you to walk across the bridge and then it would have been at your command to sustain you while you were walking. I stopped you because I know you don’t have the means to use power, and without power the bridge would have collapsed.”
“Did you see the bridge yourself, don Juan?”
“No. I just saw power. It may have been anything. Power for you, this time, was a bridge. I don’t know why a bridge. We are most mysterious creatures.”
“Have you ever seen a bridge in the fog, don Juan?”
“Never. But that’s because I’m not like you. I saw other things. My battles of power are very different from yours.”
‘What did you see, don Juan ? Can you tell me?”
“I saw my enemies during my first battle of power in the fog. You have no enemies. You don’t hate people. I did at that time. I indulged in hating people. I don’t do that any more. I have vanquished my hate, but at that time my hate nearly destroyed me.
“Your battle of power, on the other hand, was neat. It didn’t consume you. You are consuming yourself now with your own crappy thoughts and doubts. That’s your way of indulging yourself.”
“The fog was impeccable with you. You have an affinity with it. It gave you a stupendous bridge, and that bridge will be there in the fog from now on. It will reveal itself to you over and over, until someday you will have to cross it.”
“I strongly recommend that from this day on you don’t walk into foggy areas by yourself until you know what you’re doing.
“Power is a very weird affair. In order to have it and command it one must have power to begin with. It’s possible, however, to store it, little by little, until one has enough to sustain oneself in a battle of power.”
“What is a battle of power?”
“What happened to you last night was the beginning of a battle of power. The scenes that you beheld were the seat of power. Someday they will make sense to you; those scenes are most meaningful.”
“Can you tell me their meaning yourself, don Juan?”
“No. Those scenes are your own personal conquest which you cannot share with anyone. But what happened last night was only the beginning, a skirmish. The real battle will take place when you cross that bridge. What’s on the other side? Only you will know that. And only you will know what’s at the end of that trail through the forest. But all that is something that may or may not happen to you. In order to journey through those unknown trails and bridges one must have enough power of one’s own.”
“What happens if one doesn’t have enough power?”
“Death is always waiting, and when the warrior’s power wanes death simply taps him. Thus, to venture into the unknown without any power is stupid. One will only find death.”
I was not really listening. I kept on playing with the idea that the dry meat may have been the agent that had caused the hallucinations. It appeased me to indulge in that thought.
“Don’t tax yourself trying to figure it out,” he said as if he were reading my thoughts. “The world is a mystery. This, what you’re looking at, is not all there is to it. There is much more to the world, so much more, in fact, that it is endless. So when you’re trying to figure it out, all you’re really doing is trying to make the world familiar. You and I are right here, in the world that you call real, simply because we both know it. You don’t know the world of power, therefore you cannot make it into a familiar scene.”
“You know that I really can’t argue your point,” I said. “But my mind can’t accept it either.”
He laughed and touched my head lightly.
“You’re really crazy,” he said. “But that’s all right. I know how difficult it is to live like a warrior. If you would have followed my instructions and performed all the acts I have taught you, you would by now have enough power to cross that bridge. Enough power to see and to stop the world.”
“But why should I want power, don Juan?”
“You can’t think of a reason now. However, if you would store enough power, the power itself will find you a good reason. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?”
“Why did you want power yourself, don Juan?”
“I’m like you. I didn’t want it. I couldn’t find a reason to have it. I had all the doubts that you have and never followed the instructions I was given, or I never thought I did; yet in spite of my stupidity I stored enough power, and one day my personal power made the world collapse.”
“But why would anyone wish to stop the world?”
“Nobody does, that’s the point. It just happens. And once you know what it is like to stop the world you realize there is a reason for it. You see, one of the arts of the warrior is to collapse the world for a specific reason and then restore it again in order to keep on living.”
I told him that perhaps the surest way to help me would be to give me an example of a specific reason for collapsing the world.
He remained silent for some time. He seemed to be thinking what to say.
“I can’t tell you that,” he said. “It takes too much power to know that. Someday you will live like a warrior, in spite of yourself; then perhaps you will have stored enough personal power to answer that question yourself.
“I have taught you nearly everything a warrior needs to know in order to start off in the world, storing power by himself. Yet I know that you can’t do that and I have to be patient with you. I know for a fact that it takes a lifelong struggle to be by oneself in the world of power.”
Don Juan looked at the sky and the mountains. The sun was already on its descent towards the west and rain clouds were rapidly forming on the mountains. I did not know the time; I had forgotten to wind my watch. I asked if he could tell the time of the day and he had such an attack of laughter that he rolled off the slab into the bushes. He stood up and stretched his arms, yawning.
“It is early,” he said. “We must wait until the fog gathers on top of the mountain and then you must stand alone on this slab and thank the fog for its favors. Let it come and envelop you. I’ll be nearby to assist, if need be.”
Somehow the prospect of staying alone in the fog terrified me. I felt idiotic for reacting in such an irrational manner.
“You cannot leave these desolate mountains without saying your thanks,” he said in a firm tone. “A warrior never turns his back to power without atoning for the favors received.”
He lay down on his back with his hands behind his head and covered his face with his hat.
“How should I wait for the fog?” I asked. “What should I do?”
“Write!” he said through his hat. “But don’t close your eyes or turn your back to it.”
I tried to write but I could not concentrate. I stood up and moved around restlessly. Don Juan lifted his hat and looked at me with an air of annoyance.
“Sit down!” he ordered me.
He said that the battle of power had not yet ended, and that I had to teach my spirit to be impassive. Nothing of what I did should betray my feelings, unless I wanted to remain trapped in those mountains.
He sat up and moved his hand in a gesture of urgency. He said that I had to act as if nothing was out of the ordinary, because places of power, such as the one in which we were, had the potential of draining people who were disturbed. And thus one could develop strange and injurious ties with a locale.
“Those ties anchor a man to a place of power, sometimes for a lifetime,” he said. “And this is not the place for you. You did not find it yourself. So tighten your belt and don’t lose your pants.”
His admonitions worked like a spell on me. I wrote for hours without interruption. Don Juan went back to sleep and did not wake up until the fog was perhaps a hundred yards away, descending from the top of the mountain. He stood up and examined the surroundings. I looked around without turning my back. The fog had already invaded the lowlands, descending from the mountains to my right. On my left side the scenery was clear; the wind, however, seemed to be coming from my right and was pushing the fog into the lowlands as if to surround us.
Don Juan whispered that I should remain impassive, standing where I was without closing my eyes, and that I should not turn around until I was completely surrounded by the fog; only then was it possible to start our descent.
He took cover at the foot of some rocks a few feet behind me.
The silence in those mountains was something magnificent and at the same time awesome. The soft wind that was carrying the fog gave me the sensation that the fog was hissing in my ears. Big chunks of fog came downhill like solid clumps of whitish matter rolling down on me. I smelled the fog. It was a peculiar mixture of a pungent and fragrant smell. And then I was enveloped in it.
I had the impression the fog was working on my eyelids. They felt heavy and I wanted to close my eyes. I was cold. My throat itched and I wanted to cough but I did not dare. I lifted my chin up and stretched my neck to ease the cough, and as I looked up I had the sensation I could actually see the thickness of the fog bank. It was as if my eyes could assess the thickness by going through it. My eyes began to close and I could not fight off the desire to fall asleep. I felt I was going to collapse on the ground any moment. At that instant don Juan jumped up and grabbed me by the arms and shook me. The jolt was enough to restore my lucidity.
He whispered in my ear that I had to run downhill as fast as I could. He was going to follow behind because he did not want to get smashed by the rocks that I might turn over in my path. He said that I was the leader, since it was my battle of power, and that I had to be clear-headed and abandoned in order to guide us safely out of there.
“This is it,” he said in a loud voice. “If you don’t have the mood of a warrior, we may never leave the fog.”
I hesitated for a moment. I was not sure I could find my way down from those mountains.
“Run, rabbit, run!” don Juan yelled and shoved me gently down the slope.
A Warrior’s Last Stand
Sunday, 28 January 1962
Around ten A.M. don Juan walked into his house. He had left at the crack of dawn. I greeted him. He chuckled and in a clowning mood he shook hands with me and greeted me ceremoniously.
“We’re going to go on a little trip,” he said. “You’re going to drive us to a very special place in search of power.”
He unfolded two carrying nets and placed two gourds filled with food in each of them, tied them with a thin rope, and handed me a net.
We leisurely drove north some four hundred miles and then we left the Pan American highway and took a gravel road towards the west. My car seemed to have been the only car on the road for hours. As we kept on driving I noticed that I could not see through my windshield. I strained desperately to look at the surroundings but it was too dark and my windshield was overlaid with crushed insects and dust.
I told don Juan that I had to stop to clean my windshield. He ordered me to go on driving even if I had to crawl at two miles an hour, sticking my head out of the window to see ahead. He said that we could not stop until we had reached our destination.
At a certain place he told me to turn to the right. It was so dark and dusty that even the headlights did not help much. I drove off the road with great trepidation. I was afraid of the soft shoulders, but the dirt was packed.
I drove for about one hundred yards at the lowest possible speed, holding the door open to look out. Finally don Juan told me to stop. He said that I had parked right behind a huge rock that would shield my car from view.
I got out of the car and walked around, guided by the headlights. I wanted to examine the surroundings because I had no idea where I was. But don Juan turned off the lights. He said loudly that there was no time to waste, that I should lock my car so we could start on our way. He handed me my net with gourds. It was so dark that I stumbled and nearly dropped them.
Don Juan ordered me in a soft firm tone to sit down until my eyes were accustomed to the darkness. But my eyes were not the problem. Once I got out of my car I could see fairly well.
What was wrong was a peculiar nervousness that made me act as if I were absent-minded. I was glossing over everything.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“We’re going to hike in total darkness to a special place,” he said.
“To find out for sure whether or not you’re capable of continuing to hunt power.”
I asked him if what he was proposing was a test, and if I failed the test would he still talk to me and tell me about his knowledge.
He listened without interrupting. He said that what we were doing was not a test, that we were waiting for an omen, and if the omen did not come the conclusion would be that I had not succeeded in hunting power, in which case I would be free from any further imposition, free to be as stupid as I wanted. He said that no matter what happened he was my friend and he would
always talk to me.
Somehow I knew I was going to fail.
“The omen will not come,” I said jokingly. “I know it. I have a little power.”
He laughed and patted me on the back gently.
“Don’t you worry,” he retorted. “The omen will come. I know it. I have more power than you.”
He found his statement hilarious. He slapped his thighs and clapped his hands and roared with laughter.
Don Juan tied my carrying net to my back and said that I should walk one step behind him and step in his tracks as much as possible.
In a very dramatic tone he whispered, “This is a walk for power, so everything counts.”
He said that if I would walk in his footsteps the power that he was dissipating as he walked would be transmitted to me.
I looked at my watch; it was eleven P.M.
He made me line up like a soldier at attention. Then he pushed my right leg to the front and made me stand as if I had just taken a step forward. He lined up in front of me in the same position and then began to walk, after repeating the instructions that I should try to match his footsteps to perfection. He said in a clear whisper that I should not concern myself with anything else except stepping in his tracks; I should not look ahead or to the side but at the ground where he was walking.
He started off at a very relaxed pace. I had no trouble at all following him; we were walking on relatively hard ground. For about thirty yards I maintained his pace and I matched his steps perfectly; then I glanced to the side for an instant and the next thing I knew I had bumped into him. He giggled and assured me that I had not injured his ankle at all when I had stepped on it with my big shoes, but if I were going to keep on blundering one of us would be a cripple by morning.
He said, laughing, in a very low but firm voice, that he did not intend to get hurt by my stupidity and lack of concentration and that if I stepped on him again I would have to walk barefoot.
“I can’t walk without shoes,” I said in a loud raspy voice.
Don Juan doubled up with laughter and we had to wait until he had stopped.
He assured me again that he had meant what he said. We were journeying to tap power and things had to be perfect.
The prospect of walking in the desert without shoes scared me beyond belief. Don Juan joked that my family were probably the type of farmers that did not take off their shoes even to go to bed. He was right, of course. I had never walked barefoot and to walk in the desert without shoes would have been suicidal for me.
“This desert is oozing power,” don Juan whispered in my ear. “There is no time for being timid.”
We started walking again. Don Juan kept an easy pace. After a while I noticed that we had left the hard ground and were walking on soft sand. Don Juan’s feet sank into it and left deep tracks. We walked for hours before don Juan came to a halt. He did not stop suddenly but warned me ahead of time that he was going to stop so I would not bump into him. The terrain had become hard again and it seemed that we were going up an incline.
Don Juan said that if I needed to go to the bushes I should do it, because from then on we had a solid stretch without a single pause. I looked at my watch; it was one A.M.
After a ten- or fifteen-minute rest don Juan made me line up and we began to walk again. He was right, it was a dreadful stretch. I had never done anything that demanded so much concentration. Don Juan’s pace was so fast and the tension of watching every step mounted to such heights that at a given moment I could not feel that I was walking any more. I could not feel my feet or my legs. It was as if I were walking on air and some force were carrying me on and on.
My concentration had been so total that I did not notice the gradual change in light. Suddenly I became aware that I could see don Juan in front of me. I could see his feet and his tracks instead of half guessing as I had done most of the night.
At a given moment he unexpectedly jumped to the side and my momentum carried me for about twenty yards further. As I slowed down my legs became weak and started to shake until finally I collapsed on the ground.
I looked up at don Juan, who was calmly examining me. He did not seem to be tired. I was panting for breath and soaked in cold perspiration.
Don Juan twirled me around in my lying position by pulling me by the arm. He said that if I wanted to regain my strength I had to lie with my head towards the east. Little by little I relaxed and rested my aching body. Finally I had enough energy to stand up. I wanted to look at my watch, but he prevented me by putting his hand over my wrist. He very gently turned me around to face the east and said that there was no need for my confounded timepiece, that we were on magical time, and that we were going to find out for sure whether or not I was capable of pursuing power.
I looked around. We were on top of a very large high hill. I wanted to walk towards something that looked like an edge or a crevice in the rock, but don Juan jumped and held me down.
He ordered me imperatively to stay on the place I had fallen until the sun had come out from behind some black mountain peaks a short distance away.
He pointed to the east and called my attention to a heavy bank of clouds over the horizon. He said that it would be a proper omen if the wind blew the clouds away in time for the first rays of the sun to hit my body on the hilltop.
He told me to stand still with my right leg in front, as if I were walking, and not to look directly at the horizon but look without focusing.
My legs became very stiff and my calves hurt. It was an agonizing position and my leg muscles were too sore to support me. I held on as long as I could. I was about to collapse. My legs were shivering uncontrollably when don Juan called the whole thing off. He helped me to sit down.
The bank of clouds had not moved and we had not seen the sun rising over the horizon.
Don Juan’s only comment was, “Too bad.”
I did not want to ask right off what the real implications of my failure were, but knowing don Juan, I was sure he had to follow the dictum of his omens. And there had been no omen that morning. The pain in my calves vanished and I felt a wave of well-being. I began to trot in order to loosen up my muscles. Don Juan told me very softly to run up an adjacent hill and gather some leaves from a specific bush and rub my legs in order to alleviate the muscular pain.
From where I stood I could very plainly see a large lush green bush. The leaves seemed to be very moist. I had used them before. I never felt that they had helped me, but don Juan had always maintained that the effect of really friendly plants was so subtle that one could hardly notice it, yet they always produced the results they were supposed to.
I ran down the hill and up the other. When I got to the top I realized that the exertion had almost been too much for me. I had a hard time catching my breath and my stomach was upset. I squatted and then crouched over for a moment until I felt relaxed. Then I stood up and reached over to pick the leaves he had asked me to. But I could not find the bush. I looked around. I was sure I was on the right spot, but there was nothing in that area of the hilltop that even vaguely resembled that particular plant. Yet that had to be the spot where I had seen it. Any other place would have been out of range for anyone looking from where don Juan was standing.
I gave up the search and walked to the other hill. Don Juan smiled benevolently as I explained my mistake.
“Why do you call it a mistake?” he asked.
“Obviously the bush is not there,” I said.
“But you saw it, didn’t you?”
“I thought I did.”
“What do you see in its place now?”
There was absolutely no vegetation on the spot where I thought I had seen the plant. I attempted to explain what I had seen was a visual distortion, a sort of mirage. I had really been exhausted, and because of my exhaustion I may have easily believed I was seeing something that I expected to be there but which was not there at all.
Don Juan chuckled softly and stared at me for a brief moment.
“I see no mistake,” he said. “The plant is there on that hilltop.”
It was my turn to laugh. I scanned the whole area carefully. There were no such plants in view and what I had experienced was, to the best of my knowledge, a hallucination.
Don Juan very calmly began to descend the hill and signaled me to follow. We climbed together to the other hilltop and stood right where I thought I had seen the bush.
I chuckled with the absolute certainty I was right. Don Juan also chuckled.
“Walk to the other side of the hill,” don Juan said. “You’ll find the plant there.”
I brought up the point that the other side of the hill had been outside my field of vision, that a plant may be there, but that that did not mean anything.
Don Juan signaled me with a movement of his head to follow him. He walked around the top of the hill instead of going directly across, and dramatically stood by a green bush without looking at it.
He turned and looked at me. It was a peculiarly piercing glance.
“There must be hundreds of such plants around here,” I said.
Don Juan very patiently descended the other side of the hill, with me trailing along. We looked everywhere for a similar bush. But there was none in sight. We covered about a quarter of a mile before we came upon another plant.
Without saying a word, don Juan led me back to the first hilltop. We stood there for a moment and then he guided me on another excursion to look for the plant but in the opposite direction. We combed the area and found two more bushes, perhaps a mile away. They had grown together and stuck out as a patch of intense rich green, more lush than all the other surrounding bushes.
Don Juan looked at me with a serious expression. I did not know what to think of it.
“This is a very strange omen,” he said.
We returned to the first hilltop, making a wide detour in order to approach it from a new direction. He seemed to be going out of his way to prove to me that there were very few such plants around there. We did not find any of them on our way. When we reached the hilltop we sat down in complete silence. Don Juan untied his gourds.
“You’ll feel better after eating,” he said.
He could not hide his delight. He had a beaming grin as he patted me on the head. I felt disoriented. The new developments were disturbing, but I was too hungry and tired to really ponder upon them.
After eating I felt very sleepy. Don Juan urged me to use the technique of looking without focusing in order to find a suitable spot to sleep on the hilltop where I had seen the bush.
I selected one. He picked up the debris from the spot and made a circle with it the size of my body. Very gently he pulled some fresh branches from the bushes and swept the area inside the circle. He only went through the motions of sweeping, he did not really touch the ground with the branches. He then removed all the surface rocks from the area inside the circle and placed them in the centre after meticulously sorting them by size into two piles of equal number.
“What are you doing with those rocks?” I asked.
“They are not rocks,” he said. “They are strings. They will hold your spot suspended.”
He took the smaller rocks and marked the circumference of the circle with them. He spaced them evenly and with the aid of a stick he secured each rock firmly in the ground as if he were a mason.
He did not let me come inside the circle but told me to walk around and watch what he did. He counted eighteen rocks, following a counterclockwise direction.
“Now run down to the bottom of the hill and wait,” he said. “And I will come to the edge and see if you are standing in the appropriate spot.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to toss each of these strings to you,” he said, pointing to the pile of bigger rocks.
“And you have to place them in the ground at the spot I will indicate in the same manner I have placed the other ones.
“You must be infinitely careful. When one is dealing with power, one has to be perfect. Mistakes are deadly here. Each of these is a string, a string that could kill us if we leave it around loose; so you simply can’t make any mistakes. You must fix your gaze on the spot where I will throw the string. If you get distracted by anything at all, the string will become an ordinary rock and you won’t be able to tell it apart from the other rocks lying around.”
I suggested that it would be easier if I carried the “strings” downhill one at a time.
Don Juan laughed and shook his head negatively.
“These are strings,” he insisted. “And they have to be tossed by me and have to be picked up by you.”
It took hours to fulfill the task. The degree of concentration needed was excruciating. Don Juan reminded me every time to be attentive and focus my gaze. He was right in doing so. To pick out a specific rock that came hurtling downhill, displacing other rocks in its way, was indeed a maddening affair.
When I had completely closed the circle and walked to the top, I thought I was about to drop dead. Don Juan had picked some small branches and had matted the circle. He handed me some leaves and told me to put them inside my pants, against the skin of my umbilical region. He said that they would keep me warm and I would not need a blanket to sleep. I tumbled down inside the circle. The branches made a fairly soft bed and I fell asleep instantly.
It was late afternoon when I woke up. It was windy and cloudy. The clouds overhead were compact cumulus clouds, but towards the west they were thin cirrus clouds and the sun shone on the land from time to time.
Sleeping had renewed me. I felt invigorated and happy. The wind did not bother me. I was not cold. I propped my head up with my arms and looked around. I had not noticed before but the hilltop was quite high. The view towards the west was impressive. I could see a vast area of low hills and then the desert. There was a range of dark brown mountain peaks towards the north and east, and towards the south an endless expanse of land and hills and distant blue mountains.
I sat up. Don Juan was not anywhere in sight. I had a sudden attack of fear. I thought he may have left me there alone, and I did not know the way back to my car. I lay down again on the mat of branches and strangely enough my apprehension vanished. I again experienced a sense of quietness, an exquisite sense of well-being. It was an extremely new sensation to me; my thoughts seemed to have been turned off. I was happy. I felt healthy. A very quiet ebullience filled me. A soft wind was blowing from the west and swept over my entire body without making me cold. I felt it on my face and around my ears, like a gentle wave of warm water that bathed me and then receded and bathed me again. It was a strange state of being that had no parallel in my busy and dislocated life. I began to weep, not out of sadness or self-pity but out of some ineffable, inexplicable joy.
I wanted to stay in that spot forever and I may have, had don Juan not come and yanked me out of the place.
“You’ve had enough rest,” he said as he pulled me up.
He led me very calmly on a walk around the periphery of the hilltop. We walked slowly and in complete silence. He seemed to be interested in making me observe the scenery all around us. He
pointed to clouds and mountains with a movement of his eyes or with a movement of his chin.
The scenery in the late afternoon was superb. It evoked sensations of awe and despair in me. It reminded me of sights in my childhood.
We climbed to the highest point of the hilltop, a peak of igneous rock, and sat down comfortably with our backs against the rock, facing the south. The endless expanse of land towards the south was truly majestic.
“Fix all this in your memory,” don Juan whispered in my ear. “This spot is yours. This morning you saw, and that was the omen. You found this spot by seeing. The omen was unexpected, but it happened. You are going to hunt power whether you like it or not. It is not a human decision, not yours or mine.
“Now, properly speaking, this hilltop is your place, your beloved place; all that is around you is under your care. You must look after everything here and everything will in turn look after you.”
In a joking way I asked if everything was mine. He said yes in a very serious tone. I laughed and told him that what we were doing reminded me of the story of how the Spaniards that conquered the New World had divided the land in the name of their king. They used to climb to the top of a mountain and claim all the land they could see in any specific direction.
“That’s a good idea,” he said. “I’m going to give you all the land you can see, not in one direction but all around you.”
He stood up and pointed with his extended hand, turning his body around to cover a complete circle.
“All this land is yours,” he said.
I laughed out loud.
He giggled and asked me, “Why not? Why can’t I give you this land?”
“You don’t own this land,” I said.
“So what? The Spaniards didn’t own it either and yet they divided it and gave it away. So why can’t you take possession of it in the same vein?”
I scrutinized him to see if I could detect the real mood behind his smile. He had an explosion of laughter and nearly fell off the rock.
“All this land, as far as you can see, is yours,” he went on, still smiling. “Not to use but to remember. This hilltop, however, is yours to use for the rest of your life. I am giving it to you because you have found it yourself. It is yours. Accept it.”
I laughed, but don Juan seemed to be very serious. Except for his funny smile, he appeared to actually believe that he could give me that hilltop.
“Why not?” he asked as if he were reading my thoughts.
“I accept it,” I said half in jest.
His smile disappeared. He squinted his eyes as he looked at me.
“Every rock and pebble and bush on this hill, especially on the top, is under your care,” he said. “Every worm that lives here is your friend. You can use them and they can use you.”
We remained silent for a few minutes. My thoughts were unusually scarce. I vaguely felt that his sudden change of mood was foreboding to me, but I was not afraid or apprehensive. I just did not want to talk any more. Somehow, words seemed to be inaccurate and their meanings difficult to pinpoint. I had never felt that way about talking, and upon realizing my unusual mood I hurriedly began to talk.
“But what can I do with this hill, don Juan?”
“‘Fix every feature of it in your memory. This is the place where you will come in dreaming. This is the place where you will meet with powers, where secrets will someday be revealed to you.
“You are hunting power and this is your place, the place where you will store your resources. “It doesn’t make sense to you now. So let it be a piece of nonsense for the time being.”
We climbed down the rock and he led me to a small bowl-like depression on the west side of the hilltop. We sat down and ate there. Undoubtedly there was something indescribably pleasant for me on that hilltop. Eating, like resting, was an unknown exquisite sensation.
The light of the setting sun had a rich, almost copperish, glow, and everything in the surroundings seemed to be dabbed with a golden hue. I was given totally to observing the scenery; I did not even want to think.
Don Juan spoke to me almost in a whisper. He told me to watch every detail of the surroundings, no matter how small or seemingly trivial. Especially the features of the scenery that were most prominent in a westerly direction. He said that I should look at the sun without focusing on it until it had disappeared over the horizon.
The last minutes of light, right before the sun hit a blanket of low clouds or fog, were, in a total sense, magnificent. It was as if the sun were inflaming the earth, kindling it like a bonfire. I felt a sensation of redness in my face.
“Stand up!” don Juan shouted as he pulled me up. He jumped away from me and ordered me in an imperative but urging voice to trot on the spot where I was standing.
As I jogged on the same spot, I began to feel a warmth invading my body. It was a copperish warmth. I felt it in my palate and in the roof of my eyes. It was as if the top part of my head were burning with a cool fire that radiated a copperish glow. Something in myself made me trot faster and faster as the sun began to disappear. At a given moment I truly felt I was so light that I could have flown away. Don Juan very firmly grabbed my right wrist. The sensation caused by the pressure of his hand brought back a sense of sobriety and composure. I plunked down on the ground and he sat down by me.
After a few minutes’ rest he quietly stood up, tapped me on the shoulder, and signaled me to follow him. We climbed back again to the peak of igneous rock where we had sat before. The rock shielded us from the cold wind. Don Juan broke the silence.
“It was a fine omen,” he said. “How strange 1 It happened at the end of the day. You and I are so different. You are more a creature of the night. I prefer the young brilliancy of the morning. Or rather the brilliancy of the morning sun seeks me, but it shies away from you. On the other hand, the dying sun bathed you. Its flames scorched you without burning you. How strange!”
“Why is it strange?”
“I’ve never seen it happen. The omen, when it happens, has always been in the realm of the young sun.”
“Why is it that way, don Juan?”
“This is not the time to talk about it,” he said cuttingly. “Knowledge is power. It takes a long time to harness enough power to even talk about it.”
I tried to insist, but he changed the topic abruptly. He asked me about my progress in dreaming.
I had begun to dream about specific places, such as the school and the houses of a few friends.
“Were you at those places during the day or during the night?” he asked.
My dreams corresponded to the time of the day when I ordinarily was accustomed to being at those places – in the school during the day, at my friends’ houses at night.
He suggested that I should try dreaming while I took a nap during the daytime and find out if I could actually visualize the chosen place as it was at the time I was dreaming. If I were dreaming at night, my visions of the locale should be of nighttime. He said that what one experiences in dreaming has to be congruous with the time of the day when dreaming was taking place; otherwise the visions one might have were not dreaming but ordinary dreams.
“In order to help yourself you should pick a specific object that belongs to the place you want to go and focus your attention on it,” he went on. “On this hilltop here, for instance, you now have a specific bush that you must observe until it has a place in your memory. You can come back here while dreaming simply by recalling that bush, or by recalling this rock where we are sitting, or by recalling any other thing here. It is easier to travel in dreaming when you can focus on a place of power, such as this one. But if you don’t want to come here you may use any other place. Perhaps the school where you go is a place of power for you. Use it. Focus your attention on any object there and then find it in dreaming.
“From the specific object you recall, you must go back to your hands and then to another object and so on.
“But now you must focus your attention on everything that exists on this hilltop, because this is the most important place of your life.”
He looked at me as if judging the effect of his words.
“This is the place where you will die,” he said in a soft voice.
I fidgeted nervously, changing sitting positions, and he smiled.
“I will have to come with you over and over to this hilltop,” he said. “And then you will have to come by yourself until you’re saturated with it, until the hilltop is oozing you. You will know the time when you are filled with it. This hilltop, as it is now, will then be the place of your last dance.”
“What do you mean by my last dance, don Juan?”
“This is the site of your last stand,” he said. “You will die here no matter where you are. Every warrior has a place to die. A place of his predilection which is soaked with unforgettable memories, where powerful events left their mark, a place where he has witnessed marvels, where secrets have been revealed to him, a place where he has stored his personal power.”
“A warrior has the obligation to go back to that place of his predilection every time he taps power in order to store it there. He either goes there by means of walking or by means of dreaming.”
“And finally, one day when his time on earth is up and he feels the tap of his death on his left shoulder, his spirit, which is always ready, flies to the place of his predilection and there the warrior dances to his death.”
“Every warrior has a specific form, a specific posture of power, which he develops throughout his life. It is a sort of dance. A movement that he does under the influence of his personal power.”
“If a dying warrior has limited power, his dance is short; if his power is grandiose, his dance is magnificent. But regardless of whether his power is small or magnificent, death must stop to witness his last stand on earth. Death cannot overtake the warrior who is recounting the toil of his life for the last time until he has finished his dance.”
Don Juan’s words made me shiver. The quietness, the twilight, the magnificent scenery, all seemed to have been placed there as props for the image of a warrior’s last dance of power.
“Can you teach me that dance even though I am not a warrior?” I asked.
“Any man that hunts power has to learn that dance,” he said. “Yet I cannot teach you now. Soon you may have a worthy opponent and I will show you then the first movement of power. You must add the other movements yourself as you go on living. Every new one must be obtained during a struggle of power. So, properly speaking, the posture, the form of a warrior, is the story of his life, a dance that grows as he grows in personal power.”
“Does death really stop to see a warrior dance?”
“A warrior is only a man. A humble man. He cannot change the designs of his death. But his impeccable spirit, which has stored power after stupendous hardships, can certainly hold his death for a moment, a moment long enough to let him rejoice for the last time in recalling his power. We may say that that is a gesture which death has with those who have an impeccable spirit.”
I experienced an overwhelming anxiety and I talked just to alleviate it. I asked him if he had known warriors that had died, and in what way their last dance had affected their dying.
“Cut it out,” he said dryly. “Dying is a monumental affair. It is more than kicking your legs and becoming stiff.”
“Will I too dance to my death, don Juan?”
“Certainly. You are hunting personal power even though you don’t live like a warrior yet. Today the sun gave you an omen. Your best production in your life’s work will be done towards the end of the day. Obviously you don’t like the youthful brilliancy of early light. Journeying in the morning doesn’t appeal to you. But your cup of tea is the dying sun, old, yellowish, and mellow. You don’t like the heat, you like the glow.”
“And thus you will dance to your death here, on this hilltop, at the end of the day. And in your last dance you will tell of your struggle, of the battles you have won and of those you have lost; you will tell of your joys and bewilderments upon encountering personal power. Your dance will tell about the secrets and about the marvels you have stored. And your death will sit here and watch you.”
“The dying sun will glow on you without burning, as it has done today. The wind will be soft and mellow and your hilltop will tremble. As you reach the end of your dance you will look at the sun, for you will never see it again in waking or in dreaming, and then your death will point to the south. To the vastness.”
The Gait of Power
Saturday, 8 April 1962
“Is death a personage, don Juan?” I asked as I sat down on the porch.
There was an air of bewilderment in don Juan’s look. He was holding a bag of groceries I had brought him. He carefully placed them on the ground and sat down in front of me. I felt encouraged and explained that I wanted to know if death was a person, or like a person, when it watched a warrior’s last dance.
“What difference does it make?” don Juan asked.
I told him that the image was fascinating to me and I want to know how he had arrived at it. How he knew that that was so.
“It’s all very simple,” he said. “A man of knowledge knows that death is the last witness because he sees.”
“Do you mean that you have witnessed a warrior’s last dance yourself?”
“No. One cannot be such a witness. Only death can do that. But I have seen my own death watching me and I have danced to it as though I were dying. At the end of my dance death did not point in any direction, and my place of predilection did not shiver saying goodbye to me. So my time on earth was not up yet and I did not die. When all that took place, I had limited power and I did not understand the designs of my own death, thus I believed I was dying.”
“Was your death like a person?”
“You’re a funny bird. You think you are going to understand by asking questions. I don’t think you will, but who am I to say?
“Death is not like a person. It is rather a presence. But one may also choose to say that it is nothing and yet it is everything. One will be right on every count. Death is whatever one wishes.”
“I am at ease with people, so death is a person for me. I am also given to mysteries, so death has hollow eyes for me. I can look through them. They are like two windows and yet they move, like eyes move. And so I can say that death with its hollow eyes looks at a warrior while he dances for the last time on earth.”
“But is that so only for you, don Juan, or is it the same for other warriors?”
“It is the same for every warrior that has a dance of power, and yet it is not. Death witnesses a warrior’s last dance, but the manner in which a warrior sees his death is a personal matter. It could be anything – a bird, a light, a person, a bush, a pebble, a piece of fog, or an unknown presence.”
Don Juan’s images of death disturbed me. I could not find adequate words to voice my questions and I stammered. He stared at me, smiling, and coaxed me to speak up.
I asked him if the manner in which a warrior saw his death depended on the way he had been brought up. I used the Yuma and Yaqui Indians as examples. My own idea was that culture determined the way in which one would envision death.
“It doesn’t matter how one was brought up,” he said. “What determines the way one does anything is personal power. A man is only the sum of his personal power, and that sum determines how he lives and how he dies.”
“What is personal power?”
“Personal power is a feeling,” he said. “Something like being lucky. Or one may call it a mood. Personal power is something that one acquires regardless of one’s origin. I already have told you that a warrior is a hunter of power, and that I am teaching you how to hunt and store it. The difficulty with you, which is the difficulty with all of us, is to be convinced. You need to believe that personal power can be used and that it is possible to store it, but you haven’t been convinced so far.”
I told him that he had made his point and that I was as convinced as I would ever be. He laughed.
“That is not the type of conviction I am talking about,” he said.
He tapped my shoulder with two or three soft punches and added with a cackle, “I don’t need to be humored, you know.”
I felt obliged to assure him that I was serious.
“I don’t doubt it,” he said. “But to be convinced means that you can act by yourself. It will still take you a great deal of effort to do that. Much more has to be done. You have just begun.”
He was quiet for a moment. His face acquired a placid expression.
“It’s funny the way you sometimes remind me of myself,” he went on. “I too did not want to take the path of a warrior. I believed that all that work, was for nothing, and since we are all going to die what difference would it make to be a warrior? I was wrong. But I had to find that out for myself. Whenever you do realize that you are wrong, and that it certainly makes a world of difference, you can say that you are convinced. And then you can proceed by yourself. And by yourself you may even become a man of knowledge.”
I asked him to explain what he meant by a man of knowledge.
“A man of knowledge is one who has followed truthfully the hardships of learning,” he said. “A man who has, without rushing or faltering, gone as far as he can in unraveling the secrets of personal power.”
He discussed the concept in brief terms and then discarded it as a topic of conversation, saying that I should only be concerned with the idea of storing personal power.
“That’s incomprehensible,” I protested. “I can’t really figure out what you are driving at.”
“Hunting power is a peculiar event,” he said. “It first has to be an idea, then it has to be set up, step by step, and then, bingo! It happens.”
“How does it happen?”
Don Juan stood up. He began stretching his arms and arching his back like a cat. His bones, as usual, made a series of cracking sounds.
“Let’s go,” he said. “We have a long journey ahead of us.”
“But there are so many things I want to ask you,” I said.
“We are going to a place of power,” he said as he stepped inside his house. “Why don’t you save your questions for the time we are there? We may have an opportunity to talk.”
I thought we were going to drive, so I stood up and walked to my car, but don Juan called me from the house and told me to pick up my net with gourds. He was waiting for me at the edge of the desert chaparral behind his house.
“We have to hurry up,” he said.
We reached the lower slopes of the western Sierra Madre mountains around three P.M. It had been a warm day but towards the late afternoon the wind became cold. Don Juan sat down on a rock and signaled me to do likewise.
“What are we going to do here this time, don Juan?”
“You know very well that we’re here to hunt power.”
“I know that. But what are we going to do here in particular?”
“You know that I don’t have the slightest idea.”
“Do you mean that you never follow a plan?”
“Hunting power is a very strange affair,” he said. “There is no way to plan it ahead of time. That’s what’s exciting about it. A warrior proceeds as if he had a plan though, because he trusts his personal power. He knows for a fact that it will make him act in the most appropriate fashion. I pointed out that his statements were somehow contradictory. If a warrior already had personal power, why was he hunting for it?
Don Juan raised his brows and made a gesture of feigned disgust.
“You’re the one who is hunting personal power,” he said. “And I am the warrior who already has it. You asked me if I had a plan and I said that I trust my personal power to guide me and that I don’t need to have a plan.”
We remained quiet for a moment and then began walking again. The slopes were very steep and climbing them was very difficult and extremely tiring for me. On the other hand, there seemed to be no end to don Juan’s stamina. He did not run or hurry. His walking was steady and tireless. I noticed that he was not even perspiring, even after having climbed an enormous and almost vertical slope. When I reached the top of it, don Juan was already there, waiting for me.
As I sat down next to him I felt that my heart was about to burst out of my chest. I lay on my back and perspiration literally poured from my brows. Don Juan laughed out loud and rolled me back and forth for a while. The motion helped me catch my breath.
I told him that I was simply awed by his physical prowess.
“I’ve been trying to draw your attention to it all along,” he said.
“You’re not old at all, don Juan!”
“Of course not. I’ve been trying to make you notice it.”
“How do you do it?”
“I don’t do anything. My body feels fine, that’s all. I treat myself very well, therefore, I have no reason to feel tired or ill at ease. The secret is not in what you do to yourself but rather in what you don’t do.”
I waited for an explanation. He seemed to be aware of my incapacity to understand. He smiled knowingly and stood up.
“This is a place of power,” he said. “Find a place for us to camp here on this hilltop.”
I began to protest. I wanted him to explain what I should not do to my body. He made an imperative gesture.
“Cut the guff,” he said softly. “This time just act for a change. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to find a suitable place to rest. It might take you all night. It is not important that you find the spot either; the important issue is that you try to find it.”
I put away my writing pad and stood up. Don Juan reminded me, as he had done countless times, whenever he had asked me to find a resting place, that I had to look without focusing on any particular spot, squinting my eyes until my view was blurred.
I began to walk, scanning the ground with my half-closed eyes. Don Juan walked a few feet to my right and a couple of steps behind me.
I covered the periphery of the hilltop first. My intention was to work my way in a spiral to the centre. But once I had covered the circumference of the hilltop, don Juan made me stop. He said I was letting my preference for routines take over.
In a sarcastic tone he added that I was certainly covering the whole area systematically, but in such a stagnant way that I would not be able to perceive the suitable place. He added that he himself knew where it was, so there was no chance for improvisations on my part.
“What should I be doing instead?” I asked.
Don Juan made me sit down. He then plucked a single leaf from a number of bushes and gave them to me. He ordered me to lie down on my back and loosen my belt and place the leaves against the skin of my umbilical region. He supervised my movements and instructed me to press the leaves against my body with both hands. He then ordered me to close my eyes and warned me that if I wanted perfect results I should not lose hold of the leaves, or open my eyes, or try to sit up when he shifted my body to a position of power.
He grabbed me by the right armpit and swirled me around. I had an invincible desire to peek through my half-closed eyelids, but don Juan put his hand over my eyes. He commanded me to concern myself only with the feeling of warmth that was going to come from the leaves.
I lay motionless for a moment and then I began to feel a strange heat emanating from the leaves. I first sensed it with the palms of my hands, then the warmth extended to my abdomen, and finally it literally invaded my entire body. In a matter of minutes my feet were burning up with a heat that reminded me of times when I had had a high temperature.
I told don Juan about the unpleasant sensation and my desire to take off my shoes. He said that he was going to help me stand up, that I should not open my eyes until he told me to, and that I should keep pressing the leaves to my stomach until I had found the suitable spot to rest.
When I was on my feet he whispered in my ear that I should open my eyes, and that I should walk without a plan, letting the power of the leaves pull me and guide me.
I began to walk aimlessly. The heat of my body was uncomfortable. I believed I was running a high temperature, and I became absorbed in trying to conceive by what means don Juan had produced it.
Don Juan walked behind me. He suddenly let out a scream that nearly paralyzed me. He explained, laughing, that abrupt noises scare away unpleasant spirits. I squinted my eyes and walked back and forth for about half an hour. In that time the uncomfortable heat of my body turned into a pleasurable warmth. I experienced a sensation of lightness as I paced up and down the hilltop. I felt disappointed, however; I had somehow expected to detect some kind of visual phenomenon, but there were no changes whatsoever in the periphery of my field of vision, no unusual colours, or glare, or dark masses.
I finally became tired of squinting my eyes and opened them. I was standing in front of a small ledge of sandstone, which was one of the few barren rocky places on the hilltop; the rest was dirt with widely spaced small bushes. It seemed that the vegetation had burned sometime before and the new growth was not fully mature yet. For some unknown reason I thought that the sandstone ledge was beautiful. I stood in front of it for a long time. And then I simply sat down on it.
“Good! Good!” don Juan said and patted me on the back.
He then told me to carefully pull the leaves from under my clothes and place them on the rock. As soon as I had taken the leaves away from my skin I began to cool off. I took my pulse. It seemed to be normal.
Don Juan laughed and called me “doctor Carlos” and asked me if I could also take his pulse. He said that what I had felt was the power of the leaves, and that that power had cleared me and had enabled me to fulfill my task.
I asserted in all sincerity that I had done nothing in particular, and that I sat down on that place because I was tired and because I found the colour of the sandstone very appealing.
Don Juan did not say anything. He was standing a few feet away from me. Suddenly he jumped back and with incredible agility ran and leaped over some bushes to a high crest of rocks some distance away.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, alarmed.
“Watch the direction in which the wind will blow your leaves,” he said. “Count them quickly. The wind is coming. Keep half of them and put them back against your belly.”
I counted twenty leaves. I stuck ten under my shirt and then a strong gust of wind scattered the other ten in a westerly direction. I had the eerie feeling as I saw the leaves being blown off that a real entity was deliberately sweeping them into the amorphous mass of green shrubbery.
Don Juan walked back to where I was and sat down next to me, to my left, facing the south. We did not speak a word for a long time. I did not know , what to say. I was exhausted. I wanted to close my eyes, but I did not dare. Don Juan must have noticed my state and said that it was all right to fall asleep. He told me to place my hands on my abdomen, over the leaves, and try to feel that I was lying suspended on the bed of “strings” that he had made for me on the “place of my predilection”. I closed my eyes and a memory of the peace and plenitude I had experienced while sleeping on that other hilltop invaded me. I wanted to find out if I could actually feel I was suspended but I fell asleep.
I woke up just before the sunset. Sleeping had refreshed and invigorated me. Don Juan had also fallen asleep. He opened his eyes at the same time I did. It was windy but I did not feel cold. The leaves on my stomach seemed to have acted as a furnace, a heater of some sort.
I examined the surroundings. The place I had selected to rest was like a small basin. One could actually sit on it as on a long couch; there was enough of a rock wall to serve as a backrest. I also found out that don Juan had brought my writing pads and placed them underneath my head.
“You found the right place,” he said, smiling. “And the whole operation took place as I had told you it would. Power guided you here without any plan on your part.”
“What kind of leaves did you give me?” I asked. The warmth that had radiated from the leaves and had kept me in such a comfortable state, without any blankets or extra thick clothing, was indeed an absorbing phenomenon for me.
“They were just leaves,” don Juan said.
“‘Do you mean that I could grab leaves from any bush and they would produce the same effect on me?”
“No. I don’t mean that you yourself can do that. You have no personal power. I mean that any kind of leaves would help you, providing that the person who gives them to you has power. What helped you today was not the leaves but power.”
“Your power, don Juan?”
“I suppose you could say that it was my power, although that is not really accurate. Power does not belong to anyone. Some of us may gather it and then it could be given directly to someone else. You see, the key to stored power is that it can be used only to help someone else store power.”
I asked him if that meant that his power was limited only to helping others. Don Juan patiently explained that he could use his personal power however he pleased, in anything he himself wanted, but when it came to giving it directly to another person, it was useless unless that person utilized it for his own search of personal power.
“Everything a man does hinges on his personal power,” don Juan went on. “Therefore, for one who doesn’t have any, the deeds of a powerful man are incredible. It takes power to even conceive what power is. This is what I have been trying to tell you all along. But I know you don’t understand, not because you don’t want to but because you have very little personal power.”
“What should I do, don Juan?”
“Nothing. Just proceed as you are now. Power will find a way.”
He stood up and turned around in a complete circle, staring at everything in the surroundings. His body moved at the same time his eyes moved; the total effect was that of a hieratic mechanical toy that turned in a complete circle in a precise and unaltered movement.
I looked at him with my mouth open. He hid a smile, cognizant of my surprise.
“Today you are going to hunt power in the darkness of the day,” he said and sat down.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Tonight you’ll venture into those unknown hills. In the darkness they are not hills.”
“What are they?”
“They are something else. Something unthinkable for you, since you have never witnessed their existence.”
“What do you mean, don Juan? You always scare me with that spooky talk.”
He laughed and kicked my calf softly.
“The world is a mystery,” he said. “And it is not at all as you picture it.”
He seemed to reflect for a moment. His head bobbed up and down with a rhythmical shake, then he smiled and added, “Well, it is also as you picture it, but that’s not all there is to the world; there is much more to it. You have been finding that out all along, and perhaps tonight you will add one more piece.”
His tone sent a chill through my body.
“What are you planning to do?” I asked.
“I don’t plan anything. All is decided by the same power that allowed you to find this spot.”
Don Juan got up and pointed to something in the distance. I assumed that he wanted me to stand up and look. I tried to jump to my feet, but before I had fully stood up, don Juan pushed me down with great force.
“I didn’t ask you to follow me,” he said in a severe voice. Then he softened his tone and added, “You’re going to have a difficult time tonight, and you will need all the personal power you can muster. Stay where you are and save yourself for later.”
He explained that he was not pointing at anything but just making sure that certain things were out there. He assured me that everything was all right and said that I should sit quietly and get busy, because I had a lot of time to write before total darkness had set in the land. His smile was contagious and very comforting.
“But what are we going to do, don Juan?”
He shook his head from side to side in an exaggerated gesture of disbelief.
“Write!” he commanded me and turned his back to me.
There was nothing else for me to do. I worked on my notes until it was too dark to write. Don Juan maintained the same position all the time I was working. He seemed to be absorbed in staring into the distance towards the west. But as soon as I stopped he turned to me and said in a joking tone that the only ways to shut me up were to give me something to eat, or make me
write, or put me to sleep.
He took a small bundle from his knapsack and ceremoniously opened it. It contained pieces of dry meat. He handed me a piece and took another for himself and began to chew on it He casually informed me that it was power food, which both of us needed on that occasion. I was too hungry to think about the possibility that the dry meat may have contained a psychotropic substance. We ate in complete silence until there was no more meat, and by that time it was quite dark.
Don Juan stood up and stretched his arms and back. He suggested I should do the same. He said it was a good practice to stretch the entire body after sleeping, sitting, or walking.
I followed his advice and some of the leaves I had kept under my shirt slid through the legs of my pants. I wondered if I should try to pick them up, but he said to forget about it, that there was no longer any need for them and that I should let them fall as they might.
Then don Juan came very close to me and whispered in my right ear that I was supposed to follow him at very close range and imitate everything he did. He said that we were safe on the spot where we stood, because we were, so to speak, at the edge of the night.
“This is not the night,” he whispered, stomping on the rock where we were standing. “The night is out there.”
He pointed to the darkness all around us.
He then checked my carrying net to see if the food gourds and my writing pads were secured and in a soft voice said that a warrior always made sure that everything was in proper order, not because he believed that he was going to survive the ordeal he was about to undertake, but because that was part of his impeccable behavior.
Instead of making me feel relieved, his admonitions created the complete certainty that my doom was approaching. I wanted to weep. Don Juan was, I was sure, completely aware of the effect of his words.
“Trust your personal power,” he said in my ear. “That’s all one has in this whole mysterious world.”
He pulled me gently and we started to walk. He took the lead a couple of steps ahead of me. I followed him with my eyes fixed on the ground. Somehow I did not dare to look around, and focusing my sight on the ground made me feel strangely calm; it almost mesmerized me.
After a short walk don Juan stopped. He whispered that total darkness was near and that he was going to get ahead of me, but was going to give me his position by imitating the cry of a specific small owl. He reminded me that I already knew that his particular imitation was raspy at the beginning and then it became as mellow as the cry of a real owl. He warned me to be deadly aware of other owl cries which did not bear that mark.
By the time don Juan finished giving me all those instructions I was practically panic-stricken. I grabbed him by the arm and would not let go. It took two or three minutes for me to calm myself enough so I could articulate my words. A nervous ripple ran along my stomach and abdomen and kept me from talking coherently.
In a calm soft voice he urged me to get hold of myself, because the darkness was like the wind, an unknown entity at large that could trick me if I was not careful. And I had to be perfectly calm in order to deal with it.
“You must let yourself go so your personal power will merge with the power of the night,” he said in my ear.
He said he was going to move ahead of me and I had another attack of irrational fear.
“This is insane,” I protested.
Don Juan did not get angry or impatient. He laughed quietly and said something in my ear which I did not quite understand.
“What did you say?” I said loudly through chattering teeth.
Don Juan put his hand over my mouth and whispered that a warrior acted as if he knew what he was doing, when in effect he knew nothing. He repeated one statement three or four times, as if he wanted me to memorize it. He said, “A warrior is impeccable when he trusts his personal power regardless of whether it is small or enormous.”
After a short wait he asked me if I was all right. I nodded and he went swiftly out of sight with hardly a sound.
I tried to look around. I seemed to be standing in an area of thick vegetation. All I could distinguish was the dark mass of shrubs, or perhaps small trees. I concentrated my attention on sounds, but nothing was outstanding. The whizzing of the wind muffled every other sound except the sporadic piercing cries of large owls and the whistling of other birds.
I waited for a while in a state of utmost attention. And then came the raspy prolonged cry of a small owl. I had no doubt it was don Juan. It came from a place behind me. I turned around and began to walk in that direction. I moved slowly because I felt inextricably encumbered by the darkness.
I walked for perhaps ten minutes. Suddenly some dark mass jumped in front of me. I screamed and fell backward on my seat. My ears began buzzing. The fright was so great that it cut my wind. I had to open my mouth to breathe.
“Stand up,” don Juan said softly. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just came to meet you.”
He said that he had been watching my crappy way of walking and that when I moved in the darkness I looked like a crippled old lady trying to tiptoe between mud puddles. He found this image funny and laughed out loud.
He then proceeded to demonstrate a special way of walking in the darkness, a way which he called “the gait of power“. He stooped over in front of me and made me run my hands over his back and knees, in order to get an idea of the position of his body. Don Juan’s trunk was slightly bent forward, but his spine was straight. His knees were also slightly bent.
He walked slowly in front of me so I could take notice that he raised his knees almost to his chest every time he took a step. And then he actually ran out of sight and came back again. I could not conceive how he could run in total darkness.
“The gait of power is for running at night,” he whispered in my ear.
He urged me to try it myself. I told him that I was sure I would break my legs falling into a crevice or against a rock. Don Juan very calmly said that the “gait of power” was completely safe.
I pointed out that the only way I could understand his acts was by assuming he knew those hills to perfection and thus could avoid the pitfalls.
Don Juan took my head in his hands and whispered forcefully, “This is the night! And it is power!”
He let go of my head and then added in a soft voice that at night the world was different, and that his ability to run in the darkness had nothing to do with his knowledge of those hills. He said that the key to it was to let one’s personal power flow out freely, so it could merge with the power of the night, and that once that power took over there was no chance for a slip-up. He added, in a tone of utmost seriousness, that if I doubted it I should consider for a moment what was taking place. For a man of his age to run in those hills at that hour would be suicidal if the power of the night was not guiding him.
“Look!” he said and ran swiftly out into the darkness and came back again.
The way his body moved was so extraordinary that I could not believe what I was seeing. He sort of jogged on the same spot for a moment. The manner in which he lifted his legs reminded me of a sprinter doing preliminary warm-up exercises.
He then told me to follow him. I did it with utter constraint and uneasiness. With extreme care I tried to look where I was stepping but it was impossible to judge distance. Don Juan came back and jogged by my side. He whispered that I had to abandon myself to the power of the night and trust the little bit of personal power that I had, or I would never be able to move with freedom, and that the darkness was encumbering only because I relied on my sight for everything I did, not knowing that another way to move was to let power be the guide.
I tried various times without success. I simply could not let go. The fear of injuring my legs was overpowering. Don Juan ordered me to keep on moving in the same spot and to try to feel as if I were actually using the “gait of power“.
He then said that he was going to run ahead and that I should wait for his owl’s cry. He disappeared in the darkness before I could say anything. I closed my eyes at times and jogged on the same spot with my knees and trunk bent for perhaps an hour. Little by little my tension began to ease up until I was fairly comfortable. Then I heard don Juan’s cry.
I ran five or six yards in the direction where the cry came from, trying to “abandon myself”, as don Juan had suggested. But stumbling into a bush immediately brought back my feelings of insecurity.
Don Juan was waiting for me and corrected my posture. He insisted I should first curl my fingers against my palms, stretching out the thumb and index of each hand. Then he said that in his opinion I was just indulging myself in my feelings of inadequacy, since I knew for a fact I could always see fairly well, no matter how dark the night was, if I did not focus on anything but kept scanning the ground right in front of me. The “gait of power” was similar to finding a place to rest. Both entailed a sense of abandon, and a sense of trust. The “gait of power” required that one keep the eyes on the ground directly in front, because even a glance to either side would produce an alteration in the flow of movement. He explained that bending the trunk forward was necessary in order to lower the eyes, and the reason for lifting the knees up to the chest was because the steps had to be very short and safe. He warned me that I was going to stumble a great deal at first but he assured me that with practice I could run as swiftly and as safely as I could in the daytime.
For hours I tried to imitate his movements and get into the mood he recommended. He would very patiently jog on the same spot in front of me, or he would take off in a short run and return to where I was, so I could see how he moved. He would even push me and make me run a few yards.
Then he took off and called me with a series of owl cries. In some inexplicable way I moved with an unexpected degree of self-confidence. To my knowledge I had done nothing to warrant that feeling, but my body seemed to be cognizant of things without thinking about them. For example, I could not really see the jagged rocks in my way, but my body always managed to step on the edges and never in the crevices, except for a few mishaps when I lost my balance because I became distracted. The degree of concentration needed to keep scanning the area directly in front had to be total. As don Juan had warned me, any slight glance to the side or too far ahead altered the flow.
I located don Juan after a long search. He was sitting by some dark shapes that seemed to be trees. He came towards me and said that I was doing very well, but it was time to quit because he had been using his whistle long enough and was sure that by then it could be imitated by others. I agreed that it was time to stop. I was nearly exhausted by my attempts. I felt relieved and asked him who would imitate his cry.
“Powers, allies, spirits, who knows?” he said in a whisper. He explained that those “entities of the night” usually made very melodious sounds but were at a great disadvantage in reproducing the raspiness of human cries or bird whistling. He cautioned me to always stop moving if I ever heard such a sound and to keep in mind all he had said, because at some other time I might need to make the proper identification. In a reassuring tone he said that I had a very good idea what the “gait of power” was like, and that in order to master it I needed only a slight push, which I could get on another occasion when we ventured again into the night. He patted me on the shoulder and announced that he was ready to leave.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said and began running.
“Wait! Wait!” I screamed frantically. “Let’s walk.”
Don Juan stopped and took off his hat.
“Golly!” he said in a tone of perplexity. “We’re in a fix. You know that I cannot walk in the dark. I can only run. I’ll break my legs if I walk.”
I had the feeling he was grinning when he said that, although I could not see his face. He added in a confidential tone that he was too old to walk and the little bit of the “gait of power” that I had learned that night had to be stretched to meet the occasion.
“If we don’t use the “gait of power ” we will be mowed down like grass,” he whispered in my ear.
“There are things in the night that act on people,” he whispered in a tone that sent chills through my body.
He said that it was not important that I keep up with him, because he was going to give repeated signals of four owl cries at a time so I could follow him.
I suggested that we should stay in those hills until dawn and then leave. He retorted in a very dramatic tone that to stay there would be suicidal; and even if we came out alive, the night would have drained our personal power to the point that we could not avoid being the victims of the first hazard of the day.
“Let’s not waste any more time,” he said with a note of urgency in his voice. “Let’s get out of here.”
He reassured me that he would try to go as slowly as possible. His final instructions were that I should try not to utter a sound, not even a gasp, no matter what happened. He gave me the general direction we were going to go in and began running at a markedly slower pace. I followed him, but no matter how slow he moved I could not keep up with him, and he soon disappeared in the darkness ahead of me.
After I was alone I became aware that I had adopted a fairly fast walk without realizing it. And that came as a shock to me. I tried to maintain that pace for a long while and then I heard don Juan’s call a little bit to my right. He whistled four times in succession.
After a very short while I again heard his owl cry, this time to my far right. In order to follow it I had to make a forty-five-degree turn. I began to move in the new direction, expecting that the other three cries of the set would give me a better orientation.
I heard a new whistle, which placed don Juan almost in the direction where we had started. I stopped and listened. I heard a very sharp noise a short distance away. Something like the sound of two rocks being struck against each other. I strained to listen and detected a series of soft noises, as if two rocks were being struck gently. There was another owl’s cry and then I knew what don Juan had meant. There was something truly melodious about it. It was definitely longer and even more mellow than a real owl’s.
I felt a strange sensation of fright. My stomach contracted as if something were pulling me down from the middle part of my body. I turned around and started to semi-jog in the opposite direction.
I heard a faint owl cry in the distance. There was a rapid succession of three more cries. They were don Juan’s. I ran in their direction. I felt that he must have then been a good quarter of a mile away and if he kept up that pace I would soon be inextricably alone in those hills. I could not understand why don Juan would run ahead, when he could have run around me, if he needed to keep that pace.
I noticed then that there seemed to be something moving with me to my left. I could almost see it in the extreme periphery of my visual field. I was about to panic, but a sobering thought crossed my mind. I could not possibly see anything in the dark. I wanted to stare in that direction but I was afraid to lose my momentum.
Another owl cry jolted me out of my deliberations. It came from my left. I did not follow it because it was without a doubt the most sweet and melodious cry I had ever heard. It did not frighten me though. There was something very appealing, or perhaps haunting, or even sad about it.
Then a very swift dark mass crossed from left to right ahead of me. The suddenness of its movements made me look ahead, I lost my balance and crashed noisily against some shrubs. I fell down on my side and then I heard the melodious cry a few steps to my left. I stood up, but before I could start moving forward again there was another cry, more demanding and compelling than the first. It was as if something there wanted me to stop and listen. The sound of the owl cry was so prolonged and gentle that it eased my fears. I would have actually stopped had I not heard at that precise moment don Juan’s four raspy cries. They seemed to be nearer. I jumped and took off in that direction.
After a moment I noticed again a certain flicker or a wave in the darkness to my left. It was not a sight proper, but rather a feeling, and yet I was almost sure I was perceiving it with my eyes. It moved faster than I did, and again it crossed from left to right, making me lose my balance. This time I did not fall down, and strangely enough not falling down annoyed me. I suddenly became angry and the incongruency of my feelings threw me into true panic. I tried to accelerate my pace. I wanted, to give out an owl cry myself to let don Juan know where I was, but I did not dare to disobey his instructions.
At that moment some gruesome thing came to my attention. There was actually something like an animal to my left, almost touching me. I jumped involuntarily and veered to my right. The fright almost suffocated me. I was so intensely gripped by fear that there were no thoughts in my mind as I moved in the darkness as fast as I could. My fear seemed to be a bodily sensation that had nothing to do with my thoughts. I found that condition very unusual. In the course of my life, my fears had always been mounted on an intellectual matrix and had been engendered by threatening social situations, or by people behaving towards me in dangerous ways. This time, however, my fear was a true novelty. It came from an unknown part of the world and hit me in an unknown part of myself.
I heard an owl cry very close and slightly to my left. I could not catch the details of its pitch, but it seemed to be don Juan’s. It was not melodious. I slowed down. Another cry followed. The raspiness of don Juan’s whistles was there, so I moved faster. A third whistle came from a very short distance away. I could distinguish a dark mass of rocks or perhaps trees. I heard another owl’s cry and I thought that don Juan was waiting for me because we were out of the field of danger. I was almost at the edge of the darker area when a fifth cry froze me on the spot. I strained to see ahead into the dark area, but a sudden rustling sound to my left made me turn around in time to notice a black object, blacker than the surroundings, rolling or sliding by my side. I gasped and jumped away. I heard a clicking sound, as if someone were smacking his lips, and then a very large dark mass lurched out of the darker area. It was square, like a door, perhaps eight to ten feet high.
The suddenness of its appearance made me scream. For a moment my fright was all out of proportion, but a second later I found myself awesomely calm, staring at the dark shape. My reactions were, as far as I was concerned, another total novelty. Some part of myself seemed to pull me towards the dark area with an eerie insistence, while another part of me resisted. It was as if I wanted to find out for sure on the one hand, and on the other I wanted to run hysterically out of there.
I barely heard don Juan’s owl cries. They seemed to be very close by and they seemed to be frantic; they were longer and raspier, as though he was whistling while he ran towards me. Suddenly I seemed to regain control of myself and was able to turn around and for a moment I ran just as don Juan had been wanting me to.
“Don Juan!” I shouted when I found him.
He put his hand on my mouth and signaled me to follow and we both jogged at a very comfortable pace until we came to the sandstone ledge where we had been before. We sat in absolute silence on the ledge for about an hour, until dawn. Then we ate food from the gourds. Don Juan said that we had to remain on the ledge until midday, and that we were not going to sleep at all but were going to talk as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
He asked me to relate in detail everything that had happened to me from the moment he had left me. When I concluded my narration he stayed quiet for a long time. He seemed to be immersed in deep thought.
“It doesn’t look too good,” he finally said. “What happened to you last night was very serious, so serious that you cannot venture into the night alone any more. From now on the entities of the night won’t leave you alone.”
“What happened to me last night, don Juan?”
‘You stumbled on some entities which are in the world, and which act on people. You know nothing about them because you have never encountered them. Perhaps it would be more proper to call them entities of the mountains; they don’t really belong to the night. I call them entities of the night because one can perceive them in the darkness with greater ease. They are here, around us at all times. In daylight, however, it is more difficult to perceive them, simply because the world is familiar to us, and that which is familiar takes precedence. In the darkness, on the other hand, everything is equally strange and very few things take precedence, so we are more susceptible to those entities at night.”
“But are they real, don Juan?”
“Of course! They are so real that ordinarily they kill people, especially those who stray into the wilderness and have no personal power.”
“If you knew they were so dangerous, why did you leave me alone there?”
“There is only one way to learn, and that way is to get down to business. To only talk about power is useless. If you want to know what power is, and if you want to store it, you must tackle everything yourself.”
“The road of knowledge and power is very difficult and very long. You may have noticed that I have not let you venture into the darkness by yourself until last night. You did not have enough power to do that. Now you do have enough to wage a good battle, but not enough to stay in the dark by yourself.”
“What would happen if I did?”
“You’ll die. The entities of the night will crush you like a bug.”
“Does that mean that I cannot spend a night by myself?”
“You can spend the night by yourself in your bed, but not in the mountains.”
“What about the flatlands?”
“It applies only to the wilderness, where there are no people around, especially the wilderness in high mountains. Since the natural abodes of the entities of the night are rocks and crevices, you cannot go to the mountains from now on unless you have stored enough personal power.”
“But how can I store personal power?”
“You are doing it by living the way I have recommended. Little by little you are plugging all your points of drainage. You don’t have to be deliberate about it, because power always finds a way. Take me as an example. I didn’t know I was storing power when I first began to learn the ways of a warrior. Just like you, I thought I wasn’t doing anything in particular, but that was not so. Power has the peculiarity of being unnoticeable when it is being stored.”
I asked him to explain how he had arrived at the conclusion that it was dangerous for me to stay by myself in the darkness.
“The entities of the night moved along your left,” he said. “They were trying to merge with your death. Especially the door that you saw. It was an opening, you know, and it would have pulled you until you had been forced to cross it. And that would have been your end.”
I mentioned, in the best way I could, that I thought it was very strange that things always happened when he was around, and that it was as if he had been concocting all the events himself.
The times I had been alone in the wilderness at night had always been perfectly normal and uneventful. I had never experienced shadows or strange noises. In fact, I had never been frightened by anything.
Don Juan chuckled softly and said that everything was proof he had enough personal power to call a myriad of things to his aid. I had the feeling he perhaps was hinting that he actually had called on some people as his confederates.
Don Juan seemed to have read my thoughts and laughed out loud.
“Don’t tax yourself with explanations,” he said. “What I said makes no sense to you, simply because you still don’t have enough personal power. Yet you have more than when you started, so things have begun to happen to you. You already had a powerful encounter with the fog and lightning. It is not important that you understand what happened to you that night. What’s important is that you have acquired the memory of it. The bridge and everything else you saw that night will be repeated someday when you have enough personal power.”
“For what purpose would all that be repeated, don Juan?”
“I don’t know. I am not you. Only you can answer that. We are all different. That’s why I had to leave you by yourself last night, although I knew it was mortally dangerous; you had to test yourself against those entities. The reason I chose the owl’s cry was because owls are the entities’ messengers. To imitate the cry of an owl brings them out. They became dangerous to you not because they are naturally malevolent but because you were not impeccable. There is something in you that is very chintzy and I know what it is. You are just humoring me. You have been humoring everybody all along and, of course, that places you automatically above everyone and everything. But you know yourself that that cannot be so. You are only a man, and your life is too brief to encompass all the wonders and all the horrors of this marvelous world. Therefore, your humoring is chintzy; it cuts you down to a crappy size.”
I wanted to protest. Don Juan had nailed me, as he had done dozens of times before. For a moment I became angry. But, as it had happened before, writing detached me enough so I could remain impassive.
“I think I have a cure for it,” don Juan went on after a long interval. “Even you would agree with me if you could remember what you did last night. You ran as fast as any sorcerer only when your opponent became unbearable. We both know that and I believe I have already found a worthy opponent for you.”
“What are you going to do, don Juan?”
He did not answer. He stood up and stretched his body. He seemed to contract every muscle. He ordered me to do the same.
“You must stretch your body many times during the day,” he said.” The more times the better, but only after a long period of work or a long period of rest,”
“What kind of opponent are you going to find for me?” I asked.
“Unfortunately only our fellow men are our worthy opponents,” he said. “Other entities have no volition of their own and one must go to meet them and lure them out. Our fellow men, on the
contrary, are relentless.”
“We have talked long enough,” don Juan said in an abrupt tone and turned to me. “Before we leave you must do one more thing, the most important of all. I am going to tell you something right now to set your mind at ease about why you are here. The reason you keep on coming to see me is very simple; every time you have seen me your body has learned certain things, even against your desire. And finally your body now needs to come back to me to learn more. Let’s say that your body knows that it is going to die, even though you never think about it. So I’ve been telling your body that I too am going to die and before I do I would like to show your body certain things, things which you cannot give to your body yourself. For example, your body needs fright. It likes it. Your body needs the darkness and the wind. Your body now knows the gait of power and can’t wait to try it. Your body needs personal power and can’t wait to have it. So let’s say then that your body returns to see me because I am its friend.”
Don Juan remained silent for a long while. He seemed to be struggling with his thoughts.
“I’ve told you that the secret of a strong body is not in what you do to it but in what you don’t do,” he finally said. “Now it is time for you not to do what you always do. Sit here until we leave
“I don’t follow you, don Juan.”
He put his hands over my notes and took them away from me. He carefully closed the pages of my notebook, secured it with its rubber band, and then threw it like a disc far into the chaparral. I was shocked and began to protest but he put his hand over my mouth. He pointed to a large bush and told me to fix my attention not on the leaves but on the shadows of the leaves. He said that running in the darkness did not have to be spurred by fear but could be a very natural reaction of a jubilant body that knew how “to not do“. He repeated over and over in a whisper in my right ear that “to not do what I knew how to do’ was the key to power. In the case of looking at a tree, what I knew how to do was to focus immediately on the foliage. The shadows of the leaves or the spaces in between the leaves were never my concern. His last admonitions were to start focusing on the shadows of the leaves on one single branch and then eventually work my way to the whole tree, and not to let my eyes go back to the leaves, because the first deliberate step to storing personal power was to allow the body to not-do.
Perhaps it was because of my fatigue or my nervous excitation, but I became so immersed in the shadows of the leaves that by the time don Juan stood up I could almost group the dark masses of shadows as effectively as I normally grouped the foliage. The total effect was startling.
I told don Juan that I would like to stay longer. He laughed and patted me on my hat.
“I’ve told you,” he said.” The body likes things like this.”
He then said that I should let my stored power guide me through the bushes to my notebook. He gently pushed me into the chaparral. I walked aimlessly for a moment and then I came upon it. I thought that I must have unconsciously memorized the direction in which don Juan had thrown it. He explained the event, saying that I went directly to the notebook because my body had been soaked for hours in not-doing.