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4: The Senses in Organisms are Nothing but Degrees of Awareness; The Usher; The Foreign Installation

(The Active Side of Infinity)

“It is time that you start on one of the biggest projects of sorcery,” don Juan said.

“What is this project of sorcery that you’re talking about, don Juan?” I inquired.

“It’s called the recapitulation,” he said. “The old sorcerers used to call it recounting the events of your life, and for them, it started as a simple technique, a device to aid them in remembering what they were doing and saying to their disciples. For their disciples, the technique had the same value: It allowed them to remember what their teachers had said and done to them. It took terrible social upheavals, like being conquered and vanquished several times, before the old sorcerers realized that their technique had far-reaching effects.”

“Are you referring, don Juan, to the Spanish conquest?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “That was just the icing on the cake. There were other upheavals before that, more devastating. When the Spaniards got here, the old sorcerers didn’t exist any longer. The disciples of those who had survived other upheavals were very cagey by then. They knew how to take care of themselves. It is that new crop of sorcerers who renamed the old sorcerers’ technique recapitulation.

“There’s an enormous premium on time,” he continued. “For sorcerers in general, time is of the essence. The challenge I am faced with is that in a very compact unit of time I must cram into you everything there is to know about sorcery as an abstract proposition, but in order to do that I have to build the necessary space in you.”

“What space? What are you talking about, don Juan?”

“The premise of sorcerers is that in order to bring something in, there must be a space to put it in,” he said. “If you are filled to the brim with the items of everyday life, there’s no space for anything new. That space must be built. Do you see what I mean? The sorcerers of olden times believed that the recapitulation of your life made that space. It does, and much more, of course.

“The way sorcerers perform the recapitulation is very formal,” he went on. “It consists of writing a list of all the people they have met, from the present to the very beginning of their lives. Once they have that list, they take the first person on it and recollect everything they can about that person. And I mean everything, every detail. It’s better to recapitulate from the present to the past, because the memories of the present are fresh, and in this manner, the recollection ability is honed. What practitioners do is to recollect and breathe. They inhale slowly and deliberately, fanning the head from right to left, in a barely noticeable swing, and exhale in the same fashion.”

He said that the inhalations and exhalations should be natural; if they were too rapid, one would enter into something that he called tiring breaths: breaths that required slower breathing afterward in order to calm down the muscles.

“And what do you want me to do, don Juan, with all this?” I asked.

“You begin making your list today,” he said. “Divide it by years, by occupations, arrange it in any order you want to, but make it sequential, with the most recent person first, and end with Mommy and Daddy. And then, remember everything about them. No more ado than that. As you practice, you will realize what you’re doing.”

On my next visit to his house, I told don Juan that I had been meticulously going through the events of my life, and that it was very difficult for me to adhere to his strict format and follow my list of persons one by one. Ordinarily, my recapitulation took me every which way. I let the events decide the direction of my recollection. What I did, which was volitional, was to adhere to a general unit of time. For instance, I had begun with the people in the anthropology department, but I let my recollection pull me to anywhere in time, from the present to the day I started attending school at UCLA.


“The power of the recapitulation,” don Juan said, “is that it stirs up all the garbage of our lives and brings it to the surface.”

Then don Juan delineated the intricacies of awareness and perception, which were the basis of the recapitulation. He began by saying that he was going to present an arrangement of concepts that I should not take as sorcerers’ theories under any conditions, because it was an arrangement formulated by the shamans of ancient Mexico as a result of seeing energy directly as it flows in the universe. He warned me that he would present the units of this arrangement to me without any attempt at classifying them or ranking them by any predetermined standard.

“I’m not interested in classifications,” he went on. “You have been classifying everything all your life. Now you are going to be forced to stay away from classifications. The other day, when I asked you if you knew anything about clouds, you gave me the names of all the clouds and the percentage of moisture that one should expect from each one of them. You were a veritable weatherman. But when I asked you if you knew what you could do with the clouds personally, you had no idea what I was talking about.

“Classifications have a world of their own,” he continued. “After you begin to classify anything, the classification becomes alive, and it rules you. But since classifications never started as energy-giving affairs, they always remain like dead logs. They are not trees; they are merely logs.”

He explained that the sorcerers of ancient Mexico saw; that the universe at large is composed of energy fields in the form of luminous filaments. They saw zillions of them, wherever they turned to see. They also saw that those energy fields arrange themselves into currents of luminous fibers, streams that are constant, perennial forces in the universe, and that the current or stream of filaments that is related to the recapitulation was named by those sorcerers the dark sea of awareness, and also the Eagle.

He stated that those sorcerers also found out that every creature in the universe is attached to the dark sea of awareness at a round point of luminosity that was apparent when those creatures were perceived as energy. On that point of luminosity, which the sorcerers of ancient Mexico called the assemblage point, don Juan said that perception was assembled by a mysterious aspect of the dark sea of awareness.

Don Juan asserted that on the assemblage point of human beings, zillions of energy fields from the universe at large, in the form of luminous filaments, converge and go through it. These energy fields are converted into sensory data, and the sensory data is then interpreted and perceived as the world we know. Don Juan further explained that what turns the luminous fibers into sensory data is the dark sea of awareness. Sorcerers see this transformation and call it the glow of awareness, a sheen that extends like a halo around the assemblage point. He warned me then that he was going to make a statement which, in the understanding of sorcerers, was central to comprehending the scope of the recapitulation.

Putting an enormous emphasis on his words, he said that what we call the senses in organisms is nothing but degrees of awareness. He maintained that if we accept that the senses are the dark sea of awareness, we have to admit that the interpretation that the senses make of sensory data is also the dark sea of awareness. He explained at length that to face the world around us in the terms that we do is the result of the interpretation system of mankind with which every human being is equipped. He also said that every organism in existence has to have an interpretation system that permits it to function in its surroundings.

“The sorcerers who came after the apocalyptic upheavals I told you about,” he continued, “saw that at the moment of death, the dark sea of awareness sucked in, so to speak, through the assemblage point, the awareness of living creatures. They also saw that the dark sea of awareness had a moment’s, let’s say, hesitation when it was faced with sorcerers who had done a recounting of their lives. Unbeknownst to them, some had done it so thoroughly that the dark sea of awareness took their awareness in the form of their life experiences, but didn’t touch their life force. Sorcerers had found out a gigantic truth about the forces of the universe: The dark sea of awareness wants only our life experiences, not our life force.”

The premises of don Juan’s elucidation were incomprehensible to me. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I was vaguely and yet deeply cognizant of how functional the premises of his explanation were.

“Sorcerers believe,” don Juan went on, “that as we recapitulate our lives, all the debris, as I told you, comes to the surface. We realize our inconsistencies, our repetitions, but something in us puts up a tremendous resistance to recapitulating. Sorcerers say that the road is free only after a gigantic upheaval, after the appearance on our screen of the memory of an event that shakes our foundations with its terrifying clarity of detail. It’s the event that drags us to the actual moment that we lived it. Sorcerers call that event the usher, because from then on every event we touch on is relived, not merely remembered.

“Walking is always something that precipitates memories,” don Juan went on. “The sorcerers of ancient Mexico believed that everything we live we store as a sensation on the backs of the legs. They considered the backs of the legs to be the warehouse of man’s personal history. So, let’s go for a walk in the hills now.” We walked until it was almost dark.

“I think I have made you walk long enough,” don Juan said when we were back at his house, “to have you ready to begin this sorcerers’ maneuver of finding an usher: an event in your life that you will remember with such clarity that it will serve as a spotlight to illuminate everything else in your recapitulation with the same, or comparable, clarity. Do what sorcerers call recapitulating pieces of a puzzle. Something will lead you to remember the event that will serve as your usher.”


The clarity of the usher brought a new impetus to my recapitulation. A new mood replaced the old one. From then on, I began to recollect events in my life with maddening clarity. It was exactly as if a barrier had been built inside me that had kept me holding rigidly on to meager and unclear memories, and the usher had smashed it. My memory faculty had been for me, prior to that event, a vague way of referring to things that had happened, but which I wanted most of the time to forget. Basically, I had no interest whatsoever in remembering anything of my life.

Therefore, I honestly saw absolutely no point in this futile exercise of recapitulating, which don Juan had practically imposed on me. For me, it was a chore that tired me instantly and did nothing but point out my incapacity for concentrating.

I had dutifully made, nevertheless, lists of people, and I had engaged in a haphazard effort of quasi-remembering my interactions with them. My lack of clarity in bringing those people into focus didn’t dissuade me. I fulfilled what I considered to be my duty, regardless of the way I really felt. With practice, the clarity of my recollection improved, I thought remarkably. I was able to descend, so to speak, on certain choice events with a fair amount of keenness that was at once scary and rewarding. After don Juan presented me with the idea of the usher, however, the power of my recollection became something for which I had no name.

Following my list of people made the recapitulation extremely formal and exigent, the way don Juan wanted it. But from time to time, something in me got loose, something that forced me to focus on events unrelated to my list, events whose clarity was so maddening that I was caught and submerged in them, perhaps even more intensely than I had been when I had lived the experiences themselves. Every time I recapitulated in such a fashion, I had a degree of detachment which allowed me to see things I had disregarded when I had really been in the throes of them.


After another long silence, don Juan explained that the sorcerers of ancient Mexico believed that, as he had told me already, we had two minds, and only one of them was truly ours. I had always understood don Juan as saying that there were two parts to our minds, and one of them was always silent because expression was denied to it by the force of the other part. Whatever don Juan had said, I had taken as a metaphorical way to explain, perhaps, the apparent dominance of the left hemisphere of the brain over the right, or something of the like.

“There is a secret option to the recapitulation” , don Juan said.

“Just like I told you that there is a secret option to dying, an option that only sorcerers take. In the case of dying, the secret option is that human beings could retain their life force and relinquish only their awareness, the product of their lives. In the case of the recapitulation, the secret option that only sorcerers take is to choose to enhance their true minds.

“The haunting memory of your recollections,” he went on, “could come only from your true mind. The other mind that we all have and share is, I would say, a cheap model: economy strength, one size fits all. But this is a subject that we will discuss later. What is at stake now is the advent of a disintegrating force. But not a force that is disintegrating you-I don’t mean it that way. It is disintegrating what the sorcerers call the foreign installation, which exists in you and in every other human being. The effect of the force that is descending on you, which is disintegrating the foreign installation, is that it pulls sorcerers out of their syntax.”


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