(Magical Passes by Carlos Castaneda)
Don Juan Matus defined dreaming as the act of using normal dreams as a bona fide entrance for human awareness into other realms of perceiving. This definition implied for him that ordinary dreams could be used as a hatch that led perception into other regions of energy different from the energy of the world of everyday life, and yet utterly similar to it at a basic core. The result of such an entrance was, for sorcerers, the perception of veritable worlds where they could live or die, worlds which were astoundingly different from ours, and yet utterly similar.
Pressed for a linear explanation of this contradiction, don Juan Matus reiterated the standard position of sorcerers: that the answers to all those questions were in the practice, not in the intellectual inquiry. He said that in order to talk about such possibilities, we would have to use the syntax of language, whatever language we spoke, and that syntax, by the force of usage, limits the possibilities of expression. The syntax of any language refers only to perceptual possibilities found in the world in which we live.
Don Juan made a significant differentiation, in Spanish, between two verbs: one was to dream, sonar; and the other was ensoilar, which is to dream the way sorcerers dream. In English, there is no clear distinction between these two states: the normal dreaming, sueno, and the more complex state that sorcerers call ensueflo.
The art of dreaming, according to what don Juan taught, originated in a very casual observation that the shamans of ancient Mexico made when they saw people who were asleep. They noticed that during sleep the assemblage point was displaced in a very natural, easy way from its habitual position, and that it moved anywhere along the periphery of the luminous sphere, or to any place in the interior of it. Correlating their seeing with the reports of the people who had been observed sleeping, they realized that the greater the observed displacement of the assemblage point, the more astounding the reports of events and scenes experienced in dreams.
After this observation took hold of them, those sorcerers began to look avidly for opportunities to displace their own assemblage points. They ended up using psychotropic plants to accomplish this. Very quickly, they realized that the displacement brought about by using these plants was erratic, forced, and out of control. In the midst of this failure, nonetheless they discovered one thing of great value. They called it dreaming attention.
Don Juan explained this phenomenon, referring first to the daily awareness of human beings as the attention placed on the elements of the world of everyday life. He pointed out that human beings took only a cursory and yet sustained look at everything that surrounded them.
More than examining things, human beings simply established the presence of those elements by a special type of attention, a specific aspect of their general awareness. His contention was that the same type of cursory and yet sustained “look,” so to speak, could be applied to the elements of an ordinary dream. He called this other, specific aspect of general awareness dreaming attention or the capacity that practitioners acquire to maintain their awareness unwaveringly fixed on the items of their dreams.
The cultivation of dreaming attention gave the sorcerers of don Juan’s lineage a basic taxonomy of dreams. They found out that most of their dreams were imagery, products of the cognition of their daily world; however, there were some which escaped that classification.
Such dreams were veritable states of heightened awareness in which the elements of the dream were not mere imagery, but energy-generating affairs. Dreams which had energy-generating elements were, for those shamans, dreams in which they were capable of seeing energy as it flowed in the universe.
Those shamans were able to focus their dreaming attention on any element of their dreams, and found out, in this fashion, that there are two kinds of dreams. One is the dreams that we are all familiar with, in which phantasmagorical elements come into play, something which we could categorize as the product of our mentality, our psyche; perhaps something that has to do with our neurological makeup. The other kind of dreams they called energy-generating dreams. Don Juan said that those sorcerers of ancient times found themselves in dreams which were not dreams, but actual visitations made in a dreamlike state to bona fide places other than this world – real places, just like the world in which we live; places where the objects of the dream generated energy, just as trees, or animals, or even rocks generate energy in our daily world, for a seeing sorcerer.
Their visions of such places were, however, for those shamans, too fleeting, too temporary, to be of any value to them. They attributed this flaw to the fact that their assemblage points could not be held fixed for any considerable time at the position to which they had been displaced.
Their attempts to remedy the situation resulted in the other high art of sorcery: the art of stalking. Don Juan defined the two arts very clearly one day when he said to me that the art of dreaming consisted of purposely displacing the assemblage point from its habitual position. The art of stalking consisted in volitionally making it stay fixed on the new position to which it had been displaced.
This fixation allowed the shamans of ancient Mexico the opportunity to witness other worlds in their full extent. Don Juan said that some of those sorcerers never returned from their journeys. In other words, they opted for staying there, wherever “there” might have been.
“When the old sorcerers finished mapping human beings as luminous spheres,” don Juan said to me once, “they had discovered no less than six hundred spots in the total luminous sphere that were the sites of bona fide worlds. Meaning that, if the assemblage point became attached to any of those places, the result was the entrance of the practitioner into a total new world.”
“But where are those six hundred other worlds, don Juan?” I asked.
“The only answer to that question is incomprehensible,” he said, laughing. “It’s the essence of sorcery, and yet it means nothing to the average mind. Those six hundred worlds are in the position of the assemblage point. Incalculable amounts of energy are required to make sense out of this answer. We have the energy. What we lack is the facility or disposition to use it.”
I could add that nothing could be truer than all these statements, and yet, nothing could make less sense.
Don Juan explained usual perception in the terms in which the sorcerers of his lineage understood it: The assemblage point, at its habitual location, receives an inflow of energy fields from the universe at large in the form of luminous filaments, numbering in the trillions. Since its position is consistently the same, it stood to sorcerers’ reasoning that the same energy fields, in the form of luminous filaments, converge on the assemblage point and go through it, giving as a consistent result the perception of the world that we know. Those sorcerers arrived at the unavoidable conclusion that if the assemblage point were displaced to another position, another set of energy filaments would go through it, resulting in the perception of a world that, by definition, was not the same as the world of everyday life.
In don Juan’s opinion, what human beings ordinarily regard as perceiving is rather the act of interpreting sensory data. He maintained that from the moment of birth, everything around us supplies us with a possibility of interpretation, and that with time, this possibility turns into a full system by means of which we conduct all of our perceptual transactions in the world.
He pointed out that the assemblage point is not only the center where perception is assembled, but also the center where the interpretation of sensory data is accomplished, so that if it were to change locations, it would interpret the new influx of energy fields in very much the same terms in which it interprets the world of everyday life. The result of this new interpretation is the perception of a world which is strangely similar to ours, and yet intrinsically different. Don Juan said that energetically, those other worlds are as different from ours as they could possibly be. It is only the interpretation of the assemblage point which accounts for the seeming similarities.
Don Juan called for a new syntax that could be used in order to express this wondrous quality of the assemblage point and the possibilities of perception brought about by dreaming. He conceded, however, that perhaps the present syntax of our language could be forced to cover it if this experience became available to any one of us, and not merely to shaman initiates.
Something related to dreaming that was of tremendous interest to me, but which bewildered me to no end, was don Juan’s statement that there was really no procedure to speak of that would teach anyone how to dream. He said that more than anything else, dreaming was an arduous effort on the part of the practitioners to put themselves in contact with the indescribable all-pervading force that the sorcerers of ancient Mexico called intent. Once this link was established, dreaming also mysteriously became established. Don Juan asserted that this linkage could be accomplished following any pattern that implied discipline.
When I asked him to give me a succinct explanation of the procedures involved, he laughed at
“To venture into the world of sorcerers,” he said, “is not like learning to drive a car. To drive a
car, you need manuals and instructions. To dream, you need to intend it.”
“But how can I intend it?” I insisted.
“The only way you could intend it is by intending it,” he declared. “One of the most difficult things for a man of our day to accept is a lack of procedure. Modern man is in the throes of manuals, praxes, methods, steps leading to. He is ceaselessly taking notes, making diagrams, deeply involved in the ‘know-how.’ But in the world of sorcerers, procedures and rituals are mere designs to attract and focus attention. They are devices used to force a focusing of interest and determination. They have no other value.”
What don Juan considered to be of supreme importance in order to dream is the rigorous execution of the magical passes: the only device that the sorcerers of his lineage used to aid the displacement of the assemblage point. The execution of the magical passes gave those sorcerers the stability and the energy necessary to call forth their dreaming attention, without which there was no possibility of dreaming for them. Without the emergence of dreaming attention, practitioners could aspire, at best, to have lucid dreams about phantasmagorical worlds. They could perhaps have views of worlds that generate energy, but these would make no sense to them whatsoever in the absence of an all-inclusive rationale that would properly categorize them.
Once the shamans of don Juan’s lineage had developed their dreaming attention, they realized that they had tapped on the doors of infinity. They had succeeded in enlarging the parameters of their normal perception. They discovered that their normal state of awareness was infinitely more varied than it had been before the advent of their dreaming attention. From that point on, those sorcerers could truthfully venture into the unknown.
“The aphorism,” don Juan said to me once, “that ‘the sky is the limit’ was most applicable to the sorcerers of ancient times. They certainly outdid themselves.”
“Was it really true for them that the sky was the limit, don Juan?” I asked.
“This question could be answered only by each of us individually,” he said, smiling expansively. “They gave us the tools. It is up to us individually to use them or refuse them. In essence, we are alone in front of infinity, and the issue of whether or not we are capable of reaching our limits has to be answered personally.”