Living Strategically; A Detached Man Has Only the Power of His Decisions

(A Separate Reality)

“My benefactor said that when a man embarks on the paths of sorcery he becomes aware, in a gradual manner, that ordinary life has been forever left behind; that knowledge is indeed a frightening affair; that the means of the ordinary world are no longer a buffer for him; and that he must adopt a new way of life if he is going to survive. The first thing he ought to do, at that point, is to want to become a warrior, a very important step and decision. The frightening nature of knowledge leaves one no alternative but to become a warrior.”

“By the time knowledge becomes a frightening affair the man also realizes that death is the irreplaceable partner that sits next to him on the mat. Every bit of knowledge that becomes power has death as its central force. Death lends the ultimate touch, and whatever is touched by death indeed becomes power.”

“A man who follows the paths of sorcery is confronted with imminent annihilation every turn of the way, and unavoidably he becomes keenly aware of his death. Without the awareness of death he would be only an ordinary man involved in ordinary acts. He would lack the necessary potency, the necessary concentration that transforms one’s ordinary time on earth into magical power.”

“Thus to be a warrior a man has to be, first of all, and rightfully so, keenly aware of his own death. But to be concerned with death would force any one of us to focus on the self and that would be debilitating. So the next thing one needs to be a warrior is detachment. The idea of imminent death, instead of becoming an obsession, becomes an indifference.”

Don Juan stopped talking and looked at me. He seemed to be waiting for a comment.

“Do you understand?” he asked.

I understood what he had said but I personally could not see how anyone could arrive at a sense of detachment. I said that from the point of view of my own apprenticeship I had already experienced the moment when knowledge became such a frightening affair. I could also truthfully say that I no longer found support in the ordinary premises of my daily life. And I wanted, or perhaps even more than wanted, I needed, to live like a warrior.

“Now you must detach yourself,” he said.

“From what?”

“Detach yourself from everything.”

“That’s impossible. I don’t want to be a hermit.”

“To be a hermit is an indulgence and I never meant that. A hermit is not detached, for he willfully abandons himself to being a hermit.”

“Only the idea of death makes a man sufficiently detached so he is incapable of abandoning himself to anything. Only the idea of death makes a man sufficiently detached so he can’t deny himself anything. A man of that sort, however, does not crave, for he has acquired a silent lust for life and for all things of life. He knows his death is stalking him and won’t give him time to cling to anything, so he tries, without craving, all of everything.”

“A detached man, who knows he has no possibility of fencing off his death, has only one thing to back himself with: the power of his decisions. He has to be, so to speak, the master of his choices. He must fully understand that his choice is his responsibility and once he makes it there is no longer time for regrets or recriminations. His decisions are final, simply because his death does not permit him time to cling to anything.”

“And thus with an awareness of his death, with his detachment, and with the power of his decisions a warrior sets his life in a strategical manner. The knowledge of his death guides him and makes him detached and silently lusty; the power of his final decisions makes him able to choose without regrets and what he chooses is always strategically the best; and so he performs everything he has to with gusto and lusty efficiency.”

“When a man behaves in such a manner one may rightfully say that he is a warrior and has acquired patience!”

Don Juan asked me if I had anything to say, and I remarked that the task he had described would take a lifetime.

He said I protested too much in front of him and that he knew I behaved, or at least tried to behave, in terms of a warrior in my day-to-day life.

“You have pretty good claws,” he said, laughing. “Show them to me from time to time. It’s good practice.”

I made a gesture of claws and growled, and he laughed. Then he cleared his throat and went on talking.

“When a warrior has acquired patience he is on his way to will. He knows how to wait. His death sits with him on his mat, they are friends. His death advises him, in mysterious ways, how to choose, how to live strategically. And the warrior waits! I would say that the warrior learns without any hurry because he knows he is waiting for his will; and one day he succeeds in performing something ordinarily quite impossible to accomplish.”

“He may not even notice his extraordinary deed. But as he keeps on performing impossible acts, or as impossible things keep on happening to him, he becomes aware that a sort of power is emerging. A power that comes out of his body as he progresses on the path of knowledge. At first it is like an itching on the belly, or a warm spot that cannot be soothed; then it becomes a pain, a great discomfort. Sometimes the pain and discomfort are so great that the warrior has convulsions for months, the more severe the convulsions the better for him. A fine power is always heralded by great pain.”

“When the convulsions cease the warrior notices he has strange feelings about things. He notices that he can actually touch anything he wants with a feeling that comes out of his body from a spot right below or right above his navel. That feeling is the will, and when he is capable of grabbing with it, one can rightfully say that the warrior is a sorcerer, and that he has acquired will.”

Don Juan stopped talking and seemed to await my comments or questions. I had nothing to say. I was deeply concerned with the idea that a sorcerer had to experience pain and convulsions but I felt embarrassed about asking him if I also had to go through that. Finally, after a long silence, I asked him, and he giggled as if he had been anticipating my question. He said that pain was not absolutely necessary; he, for example, had never had it and will had just happened to him.

***

I raised the point that it was humanly impossible to be controlled at all times. He maintained that for a warrior there was nothing out of control, I brought up the idea of accidents and said that what happened to me at the water canal could certainly be classed as an accident, since I neither meant it nor was I aware of my improper behavior. I talked about different people who had misfortunes that could be explained as accidents; I talked especially about Lucas, a very fine old Yaqui man who had suffered a serious injury when the truck he was driving overturned.

“It seems to me it is impossible to avoid accidents,” I said. “No man can control everything around him.”

“True,” don Juan said cuttingly. “But not everything is an unavoidable accident. Lucas doesn’t live like a warrior. If he did, he’d know that he is waiting and what he is waiting for; and he wouldn’t have driven that truck while he was drunk. He crashed against the rock side of the road because he was drunk and mangled his body for nothing.”

“Life for a warrior is an exercise in strategy,” don Juan went on. “But you want to find the meaning of life. A warrior doesn’t care about meanings. If Lucas lived like a warrior—and he had a chance to, as we all have a chance to—he would set his life strategically. Thus if he couldn’t avoid an accident that crushed his ribs, he would have found means to offset that handicap, or avoid its consequences, or battle against them. If Lucas were a warrior he wouldn’t be sitting in his dingy house dying of starvation. He would be battling to the end.”

I posed an alternative to don Juan, using him as an example, and asked him what would be the outcome if he himself were to be involved in an accident that severed his legs.

“If I cannot help it, and lose my legs,” he said, “I won’t be able to be a man any more, so I will join that which is waiting for me out there.”

He made a sweeping gesture with his hand to point all around him. I argued that he had misunderstood me. I had meant to point out that it was impossible for any single individual to foresee all the variables involved in his day-to-day actions.

“All I can say to you,” don Juan said, “is that a warrior is never available; never is he standing on the road waiting to be clobbered. Thus he cuts to a minimum his chances of the unforeseen. What you call  accidents are, most of the time, very easy to avoid, except for fools who are living helter-skelter.”

“It is not possible to live strategically all the time,” I said. “Imagine that someone is waiting for you with a powerful rifle with a telescopic sight; he could spot you accurately five hundred yards away. What would you do?”

Don Juan looked at me with an air of disbelief and then broke into laughter.

“What would you do?” I urged him.

“If someone is waiting for me with a rifle with a telescopic sight?” he said, obviously mocking me.

“If someone is hiding out of sight, waiting for you. You won’t have a chance. You can’t stop a bullet.”

“No. I can’t. But I still don’t understand your point.”

“My point is that all your strategy cannot be of any help in a situation like that.”

“Oh, but it can. If someone is waiting for me with a powerful rifle with a telescopic sight I simply will not come around.”

***