Right after a late lunch, while we were still at the table, don Juan announced that the two of us were going to spend the night in the sorcerers’ cave and that we had to be on our way. He said that it was imperative that I sit there again, in total darkness, to allow the rock formation and the sorcerers’ intent to move my assemblage point.
I started to get up from my chair, but he stopped me. He said that there was something he wanted to explain to me first. He stretched out, putting his feet on the seat of a chair, then leaned back into a relaxed, comfortable position.
“As I see you in greater detail,” don Juan said, “I notice more and more how similar you and my benefactor are.”
I felt so threatened that I did not let him continue. I told him that I could not imagine what those similarities were, hut if there were any – a possibility I did not consider reassuring – I would appreciate it if he told me about them, to give me a chance to correct or avoid them.
Don Juan laughed until tears were rolling down his cheeks.
“One of the similarities is that when you act, you act very well,” he said, “but when you think, you always trip yourself up. My benefactor was like that. He didn’t think too well.”
I was just about to defend myself, to say there was nothing wrong with my thinking, when I caught a glint of mischievousness in his eyes. I stopped cold. Don Juan noticed my shift and laughed with a note of surprise. He must have been anticipating the opposite.
“What I mean, for instance, is that you only have problems understanding the spirit when you think about it,” he went on with a chiding smile. “But when you act, the spirit easily reveals itself to you. My benefactor was that way.”
“Before we leave for the cave, I am going to tell you a story about my benefactor and the fourth abstract core.”
“Sorcerers believe that until the very moment of the spirit’s descent, any of us could walk away from the spirit; but not afterwards.”
Don Juan deliberately stopped to urge me, with a movement of his eyebrows, to consider what he was telling me.
“The fourth abstract core is the full brunt of the spirit’s descent,” he went on. “The fourth abstract core is an act of revelation. The spirit reveals itself to us. Sorcerers describe it as the spirit lying in ambush and then descending on us, its prey. Sorcerers say that the spirit’s descent is always shrouded. It happens and yet it seems not to have happened at all.”
I became very nervous. Don Juan’s tone of voice was giving me the feeling that he was preparing to spring something on me at any moment. He asked me if I remembered the moment the spirit descended on me, sealing my permanent allegiance to the abstract. I had no idea what he was talking about.
“There is a threshold that once crossed permits no retreat,” he said. “Ordinarily, from the moment the spirit knocks, it is years before an apprentice reaches that threshold. Sometimes, though, the threshold is reached almost immediately. My benefactor’s case is an example.”
Don Juan said every sorcerer should have a clear memory of crossing that threshold so he could remind himself of the new state of his perceptual potential. He explained that one did not have to be an apprentice of sorcery to reach this threshold, and that the only difference between an average man and a sorcerer, in such cases, is what each emphasizes. A sorcerer emphasizes crossing this threshold and uses the memory of it as a point of reference. An average man does not cross the threshold and does his best to forget all about it.
I told him that I did not agree with his point, because I could not accept that there was only one threshold to cross.
Don Juan looked heavenward in dismay and shook his head in a joking gesture of despair. I proceeded with my argument, not to disagree with him, but to clarify things in my mind. Yet I quickly lost my impetus. Suddenly I had the feeling I was sliding through a tunnel.
“Sorcerers say that the fourth abstract core happens when the spirit cuts our chains of self-reflection,” he said. “Cutting our chains is marvelous, but also very undesirable, for nobody wants to be free.”
The sensation of sliding through a tunnel persisted for a moment longer, and then everything became clear to me. And I began to laugh. Strange insights pent up inside me were exploding into laughter.
Don Juan seemed to be reading my mind as if it were a book.
“What a strange feeling: to realize that everything we think, everything we say depends on the position of the assemblage point,” he remarked.
And that was exactly what I had been thinking and laughing about.
“I know that at this moment your assemblage point has shifted,” he went on, “and you have understood the secret of our chains. They imprison us, but by keeping us pinned down on our comfortable spot of self-reflection, they defend us from the onslaughts of the unknown.”
I was having one of those extraordinary moments in which everything about the sorcerers’ world was crystal clear. I understood everything.
“Once our chains are cut,” don Juan continued, “we are no longer bound by the concerns of the daily world. We are still in the daily world, but we don’t belong there anymore. In order to belong we must share the concerns of people, and without chains we can’t.”
Don Juan said that the nagual Elias had explained to him that what distinguishes normal people is that we share a metaphorical dagger: the concerns of our self-reflection. With this dagger, we cut ourselves and bleed; and the job of our chains of self-reflection is to give us the feeling that we are bleeding together, that we are sharing something wonderful: our humanity. But if we were to examine it, we would discover that we are bleeding alone; that we are not sharing anything; that all we are doing is toying with our manageable, unreal, man-made reflection.
“Sorcerers are no longer in the world of daily affairs,” don Juan went on, “because they are no longer prey to their self-reflection.”
Don Juan then began his story about his benefactor and the descent of the spirit. He said that the story started right after the spirit had knocked on the young actor’s door.
I interrupted don Juan and asked him why he consistently used the terms “young man” or “young actor” to refer to the nagual Julian.
“At the time of this story, he wasn’t the nagual,” don Juan replied. “He was a young actor. In my story, I can’t just call him Julian, because to me he was always the nagual Julian. As a sign of deference for his lifetime of impeccability, we always prefix ‘nagual’ to a nagual’s name.”
Don Juan proceeded with his story. He said that the nagual Elias had stopped the young actor’s death by making him shift into heightened awareness, and following hours of struggle, the young actor regained consciousness. The nagual Elias did not mention his name, but he introduced himself as a professional healer who had stumbled onto the scene of a tragedy, where two persons had nearly died. He pointed to the young woman, Talia, stretched out on the ground. The young man was astonished to see her lying unconscious next to him. He remembered seeing her as she ran away. It startled him to hear the old healer explain that doubtlessly God had punished Talia for her sins by striking her with lightning and making her lose her mind.
“But how could there be lightning if it’s not even raining?” the young actor asked in a barely audible voice. He was visibly affected when the old Indian replied that God’s ways couldn’t be questioned.
Again I interrupted don Juan. I was curious to know if the young woman really had lost her mind. He reminded me that the nagual Elias delivered a shattering blow to her assemblage point. He said that she had not lost her mind, but that as a result of the blow she slipped in and out of heightened awareness, creating a serious threat to her health. After a gigantic struggle, however, the nagual Elias helped her to stabilize her assemblage point and she entered permanently into heightened awareness.
Don Juan commented that women are capable of such a master stroke: they can permanently maintain a new position of their assemblage point. And Talia was peerless. As soon as her chains were broken, she immediately understood everything and complied with the nagual’s designs.
Don Juan, recounting his story, said that the nagual Elias – who was not only a superb dreamer, but also a superb stalker – had seen that the young actor was spoiled and conceited, but only seemed to be hard and calloused. The nagual knew that if he brought forth the idea of God, sin, and retribution, the actor’s religious beliefs would make his cynical attitude collapse.
Upon hearing about God’s punishment, the actor’s facade began to crumble. He started to express remorse, but the nagual cut him short and forcefully stressed that when death was so near, feelings of guilt no longer mattered.
The young actor listened attentively, but, although he felt very ill, he did not believe that he was in danger of dying. He thought that his weakness and fainting had been brought on by his loss of blood.
As if he had read the young actor’s mind, the nagual explained to him that those optimistic thoughts were out of place, that his hemorrhaging would have been fatal had it not been for the plug that he, as a healer, had created.
“When I struck your back, I put in a plug to stop the draining of your life force,” the nagual said to the skeptical young actor. “Without that restraint, the unavoidable process of your death would continue. If you don’t believe me, I’ll prove it to you by removing the plug with another blow.”
As he spoke, the nagual Elias tapped the young actor on his right side by his ribcage. In a moment the young man was retching and choking. Blood poured out of his mouth as he coughed uncontrollably. Another tap on his back stopped the agonizing pain and retching. But it did not stop his fear, and he passed out.
“I can control your death for the time being,” the nagual said when the young actor regained consciousness. “How long I can control it depends on you, on how faithfully you acquiesce to everything I tell you to do.”
The nagual said that the first requirements of the young man were total immobility and silence. If he did not want his plug to come out, the nagual added, he had to behave as if he had lost his powers of motion and speech. A single twitch or a single utterance would be enough to restart his dying.
The young actor was not accustomed to complying with suggestions or demands. He felt a surge of anger. As he started to voice his protest, the burning pain and convulsions started up again.
“Stay with it, and I will cure you,” the nagual said. “Act like the weak, rotten imbecile you are, and you will die.”
The actor, a proud young man, was numbed by the insult. Nobody had ever called him a weak, rotten imbecile. He wanted to express his fury, but his pain was so severe that he could not react to the indignity.
“If you want me to ease your pain, you must obey me blindly,” the nagual said with frightening coldness. “Signal me with a nod. But know now that the moment you change your mind and act like the shameful moron you are, I’ll immediately pull the plug and leave you to die.”
With his last bit of strength the actor nodded his assent. The nagual tapped him on his back and his pain vanished. But along with the searing pain, something else vanished: the fog in his mind. And then the young actor knew everything without understanding anything. The nagual introduced himself again. He told him that his name was Elias, and that he was the nagual. And the actor knew what it all meant.
The nagual Elias then shifted his attention to the semiconscious Talia. He put his mouth to her left ear and whispered commands to her in order to make her assemblage point stop its erratic shifting. He soothed her fear by telling her, in whispers, stories of sorcerers who had gone through the same thing she was experiencing. When she was fairly calm, he introduced himself as the nagual Elias, a sorcerer; and then he attempted with her the most difficult thing in sorcery: moving the assemblage point beyond the sphere of the world we know.
Don Juan remarked that seasoned sorcerers are capable of moving beyond the world we know, but that inexperienced persons are not. The nagual Elias always maintained that ordinarily he would not have dreamed of attempting such a feat, but on that day something other than his knowledge or his volition was making him act. Yet the maneuver worked. Talia moved beyond the world we know and came safely back.
Then the nagual Elias had another insight. He sat between the two people stretched out on the ground – the actor was naked, covered only by the nagual Elias’s riding coat – and reviewed their situation. He told them they had both, by the force of circumstances, fallen into a trap set by the spirit itself. He, the nagual, was the active part of that trap, because by encountering them under the conditions he had, he had been forced to become their temporary protector and to engage his knowledge of sorcery in order to help them. As their temporary protector it was his duty to warn them that they were about to reach a unique threshold; and that it was up to them, both individually and together, to attain that threshold by entering a mood of abandon but not recklessness; a mood of caring but not indulgence. He did not want to say more for fear of confusing them or influencing their decision. He felt that if they were to cross that threshold, it had to be with minimal help from him.
The nagual then left them alone in that isolated spot and went to the city to arrange for medicinal herbs, mats, and blankets to be brought to them. His idea was that in solitude they would attain and cross that threshold.
For a long time the two young people lay next to each other, immersed in their own thoughts. The fact that their assemblage points had shifted meant that they could think in greater depth than ordinarily, but it also meant that they worried, pondered, and were afraid in equally greater depth.
Since Talia could talk and was a bit stronger, she broke their silence; she asked the young actor if he was afraid. He nodded affirmatively. She felt a great compassion for him and took off a shawl she was wearing to put over his shoulders, and she held his hand.
The young man did not dare voice what he felt. His fear that his pain would recur if he spoke was too great and too vivid. He wanted to apologize to her; to tell her that his only regret was having hurt her, and that it did not matter that he was going to die – for he knew with certainty that he was not going to survive the day.
Talia’s thoughts were on the same subject. She said that she too had only one regret: that she had fought him hard enough to bring on his death. She was very peaceful now, a feeling which, agitated as she always was and driven by her great strength, was unfamiliar to her. She told him that her death was very near, too, and that she was glad it all would end that day.
The young actor, hearing his own thoughts being spoken by Talia, felt a chill. A surge of energy came to him then and made him sit up. He was not in pain, nor was he coughing. He took in great gulps of air, something he had no memory of having done before. He took the girl’s hand and they began to talk without vocalizing.
Don Juan said it was at that instant that the spirit came to them. And they saw. They were deeply Catholic, and what they saw was a vision of heaven, where everything was alive, bathed in light. They saw a world of miraculous sights.
When the nagual returned, they were exhausted, although not injured. Talia was unconscious, but the young man had managed to remain aware by a supreme effort of self-control. He insisted on whispering something in the nagual’s ear.
“We saw heaven,” he whispered, tears rolling down his cheeks.
“You saw more than that,” the nagual Elias retorted. “You saw the spirit.”
Don Juan said that since the spirit’s descent is always shrouded, naturally, Talia and the young actor could not hold onto their vision. They soon forgot it, as anyone would. The uniqueness of their experience was that, without any training and without being aware of it, they had dreamed together and had seen the spirit. For them to have achieved this with such ease was quite out of the ordinary.
“Those two were really the most remarkable beings I have ever met,” don Juan added.
I, naturally, wanted to know more about them. But don Juan would not indulge me. He said that this was all there was about his benefactor and the fourth abstract core.
He seemed to remember something he was not telling me and laughed uproariously. Then he patted me on the back and told me it was time to set out for the cave.
When we got to the rock ledge it was almost dark. Don Juan sat down hurriedly, in the same position as the first time. He was to my right, touching me with his shoulder. He immediately seemed to enter into a deep state of relaxation, which pulled me into total immobility and silence. I could not even hear his breathing. I closed my eyes, and he nudged me to warn me to keep them open.
By the time it became completely dark, an immense fatigue had begun to make my eyes sore and itchy. Finally I gave up my resistance and was pulled into the deepest, blackest sleep I have ever had. Yet I was not totally asleep. I could feel the thick blackness around me. I had an entirely physical sensation of wading through blackness. Then it suddenly became reddish, then orange, then glaring white, like a terribly strong neon light. Gradually I focused my vision until I saw I was still sitting in the same position with don Juan – but no longer in the cave. We were on a mountaintop looking down over exquisite flatlands with mountains in the distance. This beautiful prairie was bathed in a glow that, like rays of light, emanated from the land itself. Wherever I looked, I saw familiar features: rocks, hills, rivers, forests, canyons, enhanced and transformed by their inner vibration, their inner glow. This glow that was so pleasing to my eyes also tingled out of my very being.
“Your assemblage point has moved,” don Juan seemed to say to me.
The words had no sound; nevertheless I knew what he had just said to me. My rational reaction was to try to explain to myself that I had no doubt heard him as I would have if he had been talking in a vacuum, probably because my ears had been temporarily affected by what was transpiring.
“Your ears are fine. We are in a different realm of awareness,” don Juan again seemed to say to me.
I could not speak. I felt the lethargy of deep sleep preventing me from saying a word, yet I was as alert as I could be.
“What’s happening?” I thought.
“The cave made your assemblage point move,” don Juan thought, and I heard his thoughts as if they were my own words, voiced to myself.
I sensed a command that was not expressed in thoughts. Something ordered me to look again at the prairie.
As I stared at the wondrous sight, filaments of light began to radiate from everything on that prairie. At first it was like the explosion of an infinite number of short fibers, then the fibers became long threadlike strands of luminosity bundled together into beams of vibrating light that reached infinity. There was really no way for me to make sense of what I was seeing, or to describe it, except as filaments of vibrating light. The filaments were not intermingled or entwined. Although they sprang, and continued to spring, in every direction, each one was separate, and yet all of them were inextricably bundled together.
“You are seeing the Eagle’s emanations and the force that keeps them apart and bundles them together,” don Juan thought.
The instant I caught his thought the filaments of light seemed to consume all my energy. Fatigue overwhelmed me. It erased my vision and plunged me into darkness.
When I became aware of myself again, there was something so familiar around me, although I could not tell what it was, that I believed myself to be back in a normal state of awareness. Don Juan was asleep beside me, his shoulder against mine.
Then I realized that the darkness around us was so intense that I could not even see my hands. I speculated that fog must have covered the ledge and filled the cave. Or perhaps it was the wispy low clouds that descended every rainy night from the higher mountains like a silent avalanche. Yet in spite of the total blackness, somehow I saw that don Juan had opened his eyes immediately after I became aware, although he did not look at me. Instantly I realized that seeing him was not a consequence of light on my retina. It was, rather, a bodily sense.
I became so engrossed in observing don Juan without my eyes that I was not paying attention to what he was telling me. Finally he stopped talking and turned his face to me as if to look me in the eye.
He coughed a couple of times to clear his throat and started to talk in a very low voice. He said that his benefactor used to come to the cave quite often, both with him and with his other disciples, but more often by himself. In that cave his benefactor saw the same prairie we had just seen, a vision that gave him the idea of describing the spirit as the flow of things.
Don Juan repeated that his benefactor was not a good thinker. Had he been, he would have realized in an instant that what he had seen and described as the flow of things was intent, the force that permeates everything. Don Juan added that if his benefactor ever became aware of the nature of his seeing he didn’t reveal it. And he, himself, had the idea that his benefactor never knew it. Instead, his benefactor believed that he had seen the flow of things, which was the absolute truth, but not the way he meant it.
Don Juan was so emphatic about this that I wanted to ask him what the difference was, but I could not speak. My throat seemed frozen. We sat there in complete silence and immobility for hours. Yet I did not experience any discomfort. My muscles did not get tired, my legs did not fall asleep, my back did not ache.
When he began to talk again, I did not even notice the transition, and I readily abandoned myself to listening to his voice. It was a melodic, rhythmical sound that emerged from the total blackness that surrounded me.
He said that at that very moment I was not in my normal state of awareness nor was I in heightened awareness. I was suspended in a lull, in the blackness of non-perception. My assemblage point had moved away from perceiving the daily world, but it had not moved enough to reach and light a totally new bundle of energy fields. Properly speaking, I was caught between two perceptual possibilities. This in-between state, this lull of perception had been reached through the influence of the cave, which was itself guided by the intent of the sorcerers who carved it.
Don Juan asked me to pay close attention to what he was going to say next. He said that thousands of years ago, by means of seeing, sorcerers became aware that the earth was sentient and that its awareness could affect the awareness of humans. They tried to find a way to use the earth’s influence on human awareness and they discovered that certain caves were most effective.
Don Juan said that the search for caves became nearly full-time work for those sorcerers, and that through their endeavors they were able to discover a variety of uses for a variety of cave configurations. He added that out of all that work the only result pertinent to us was this particular cave and its capacity to move the assemblage point until it reached a lull of perception.
As don Juan spoke, I had the unsettling sensation that something was clearing in my mind. Something was funneling my awareness into a long narrow channel. All the superfluous half-thoughts and feelings of my normal awareness were being squeezed out.
Don Juan was thoroughly aware of what was happening to me. I heard his soft chuckle of satisfaction. He said that now we could talk more easily and our conversation would have more depth.
I remembered at that moment scores of things he had explained to me before. For instance, I knew that I was dreaming. I was actually sound asleep yet I was totally aware of myself through my second attention – the counterpart of my normal attentiveness. I was certain I was asleep because of a bodily sensation plus a rational deduction based on statements that don Juan had made in the past. I had just seen the Eagle’s emanations, and don Juan had said that it was impossible for sorcerers to have a sustained view of the Eagle’s emanations in any way except in dreaming, therefore I had to be dreaming.
Don Juan had explained that the universe is made up of energy fields which defy description or scrutiny. He had said that they resembled filaments of ordinary light, except that light is lifeless compared to the Eagle’s emanations, which exude awareness. I had never, until this night, been able to see them in a sustained manner, and indeed they were made out of a light that was alive. Don Juan had maintained in the past that my knowledge and control of intent were not adequate to withstand the impact of that sight. He had explained that normal perception occurs when intent, which is pure energy, lights up a portion of the luminous filaments inside our cocoon, and at the same time brightens a long extension of the same luminous filaments extending into infinity outside our cocoon. Extraordinary perception, seeing, occurs when by the force of intent, a different cluster of energy fields energizes and lights up. He had said that when a crucial number of energy fields are lit up inside the luminous cocoon, a sorcerer is able to see the energy fields themselves.
On another occasion don Juan had recounted the rational thinking of the early sorcerers. He told me that, through their seeing, they realized that awareness took place when the energy fields inside our luminous cocoon were aligned with the same energy fields outside. And they believed they had discovered alignment as the source of awareness.
Upon close examination, however, it became evident that what they had called alignment of the Eagle’s emanations did not entirely explain what they were seeing. They had noticed that only a very small portion of the total number of luminous filaments inside the cocoon was energized while the rest remained unaltered. Seeing these few filaments energized had created a false discovery. The filaments did not need to be aligned to be lit up, because the ones inside our cocoon were the same as those outside. Whatever energized them was definitely an independent force. They felt they could not continue to call it awareness, as they had, because awareness was the glow of the energy fields being lit up. So the force that lit up the fields was named will.
Don Juan had said that when their seeing became still more sophisticated and effective, they realized that will was the force that kept the Eagle’s emanations separated and was not only responsible for our awareness, but also for everything in the universe. They saw that this force had total consciousness and that it sprang from the very fields of energy that made the universe.
They decided then that intent was a more appropriate name for it than will. In the long run, however, the name proved disadvantageous, because it does not describe its overwhelming importance nor the living connection it has with everything in the universe.
Don Juan had asserted that our great collective flaw is that we live our lives completely disregarding that connection. The busyness of our lives, our relentless interests, concerns, hopes, frustrations, and fears take precedence, and on a day-to-day basis we are unaware of being linked to everything else.
Don Juan had stated his belief that the Christian idea of being cast out from the Garden of Eden sounded to him like an allegory for losing our silent knowledge, our knowledge of intent.
Sorcery, then, was a going back to the beginning, a return to paradise.
We stayed seated in the cave in total silence, perhaps for hours, or perhaps it was only a few instants. Suddenly don Juan began to talk, and the unexpected sound of his voice jarred me. I did not catch what he said. I cleared my throat to ask him to repeat what he had said, and that act brought me completely out of my reflectiveness. I quickly realized that the darkness around me was no longer impenetrable. I could speak now. I felt I was back in my normal state of awareness.
In a calm voice don Juan told me that for the very first time in my life I had seen the spirit, the force that sustains the universe. He emphasized that intent is not something one might use or command or move in any way – nevertheless, one could use it, command it, or move it as one desires. This contradiction, he said, is the essence of sorcery. To fail to understand it had brought generations of sorcerers unimaginable pain and sorrow. Modern-day naguals, in an effort to avoid paying this exorbitant price in pain, had developed a code of behavior called the warrior’s way, or the impeccable action, which prepared sorcerers by enhancing their sobriety and thoughtfulness.
Don Juan explained that at one time in the remote past, sorcerers were deeply interested in the general connecting link that intent has with everything. And by focusing their second attention on that link, they acquired not only direct knowledge but also the ability to manipulate that knowledge and perform astounding deeds. They did not acquire, however, the soundness of mind needed to manage all that power.
So in a judicious mood, sorcerers decided to focus their second attention solely on the connecting link of creatures who have awareness. This included the entire range of existing organic beings as well as the entire range of what sorcerers call inorganic beings, or allies, which they described as entities with awareness, but no life as we understand life. This solution was not successful either, because it, too, failed to bring them wisdom.
In their next reduction, sorcerers focused their attention exclusively on the link that connects human beings with intent. The end result was very much as before.
Then, sorcerers sought a final reduction. Each sorcerer would be concerned solely with his individual connection. But this proved to be equally ineffective.
Don Juan said that although there were remarkable differences among those four areas of interest, one was as corrupting as another. So in the end sorcerers concerned themselves exclusively with the capacity that their individual connecting link with intent had to set them free to light the fire from within.
He asserted that all modern-day sorcerers have to struggle fiercely to gain soundness of mind. A nagual has to struggle especially hard because he has more strength, a greater command over the energy fields that determine perception, and more training in and familiarity with the intricacies of silent knowledge, which is nothing but direct contact with intent.
Examined in this way, sorcery becomes an attempt to re-establish our knowledge of intent and regain use of it without succumbing to it. And the abstract cores of the sorcery stories are shades of realization, degrees of our being aware of intent.
I understood don Juan’s explanation with perfect clarity. But the more I understood and the clearer his statements became, the greater my sense of loss and despondency. At one moment I sincerely considered ending my life right there. I felt I was damned. Nearly in tears, I told don Juan that there was no point in his continuing his explanation, for I knew that I was about to lose my clarity of mind, and that when I reverted to my normal state of awareness I would have no memory of having seen or heard anything. My mundane consciousness would impose its lifelong habit of repetition and the reasonable predictability of its logic. That was why I felt damned. I told him that I resented my fate.
Don Juan responded that even in heightened awareness I thrived on repetition, and that periodically I would insist on boring him by describing my attacks of feeling worthless. He said that if I had to go under it should be fighting, not apologizing or feeling sorry for myself, and that it did not matter what our specific fate was as long as we faced it with ultimate abandon.
His words made me feel blissfully happy. I repeated over and over, tears streaming down my cheeks, that I agreed with him. There was such profound happiness in me I suspected my nerves were getting out of hand. I called upon all my forces to stop this and I felt the sobering effect of my mental brakes. But as this happened, my clarity of mind began to diffuse. I silently fought – trying to be both less sober and less nervous. Don Juan did not make a sound and left me alone.
By the time I had re-established my balance, it was almost dawn. Don Juan stood, stretched his arms above his head and tensed his muscles, making his joints crack. He helped me up and commented that I had spent a most enlightening night: I had experienced what the spirit was and had been able to summon hidden strength to accomplish something, which on the surface amounted to calming my nervousness, but at a deeper level it had actually been a very successful, volitional movement of my assemblage point. He signaled then that it was time to start on our way back.
The Somersault Of Thought
We walked into his house around seven in the morning, in time for breakfast. I was famished but not tired. We had left the cave to climb down to the valley at dawn. Don Juan, instead of following the most direct route, made a long detour that took us along the river. He explained that we had to collect our wits before we got home.
I answered it was very kind of him to say “our wits” when I was the only one whose wits were disordered. But he replied that he was acting not out of kindness but out of warrior’s training. A warrior, he said, was on permanent guard against the roughness of human behavior. A warrior was magical and ruthless, a maverick with the most refined taste and manners, whose worldly task was to sharpen, yet disguise, his cutting edges so that no one would be able to suspect his ruthlessness.
After breakfast I thought it would be wise to get some sleep, but don Juan contended I had no time to waste. He said that all too soon I would lose the little clarity I still had, and if I went to sleep I would lose it all.
“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there is hardly any way to talk about intent” he said quickly as he scrutinized me from head to toe. “But making this statement doesn’t mean anything. It is the reason why sorcerers rely instead on the sorcery stories. And their hope is that someday the abstract cores of the stories will make sense to the listener.”
I understood what he was saying, but I still could not conceive what an abstract core was or what it was supposed to mean to me. I tried to think about it. Thoughts barraged me. Images passed rapidly through my mind giving me no time to think about them. I could not slow them down enough even to recognize them. Finally anger overpowered me and I slammed my fist on the table.
Don Juan shook from head to toe, choking with laughter.
“Do what you did last night,” he urged me, winking. “Slow yourself down.”
My frustration made me very aggressive. I immediately put forth some senseless arguments; then I became aware of my error and apologized for my lack of restraint.
“Don’t apologize,” he said. “I should tell you that the understanding you’re after is impossible at this time. The abstract cores of the sorcery stories will say nothing to you now. Later – years later, I mean – they may make perfect sense to you.”
I begged don Juan not to leave me in the dark, to discuss the abstract cores. It was not at all clear to me what he wanted me to do with them. I assured him that my present state of heightened awareness could be very helpful to me in allowing me to understand his discussion. I urged him to hurry, for I could not guarantee how long this state would last. I told him that soon I would return to my normal state and would become a bigger idiot than I was at that moment. I said it half in jest. His laughter told me that he had taken it as such, but I was deeply affected by my own words. A tremendous sense of melancholy overtook me.
Don Juan gently took my arm, pulled me to a comfortable armchair, then sat down facing me. He gazed fixedly into my eyes, and for a moment I was incapable of breaking the force of his stare.
“Sorcerers constantly stalk themselves,” he said in a reassuring voice, as if trying to calm me with the sound of his voice.
I wanted to say that my nervousness had passed and that it had probably been caused by my lack of sleep, but he did not allow me to say anything.
He assured me that he had already taught me everything there was to know about stalking, but I had not yet retrieved my knowledge from the depth of heightened awareness, where I had it stored. I told him I had the annoying sensation of being bottled up. I felt there was something locked inside me, something that made me slam doors and kick tables, something that frustrated me and made me irascible.
“That sensation of being bottled up is experienced by every human being,” he said. “It is a reminder of our existing connection with intent. For sorcerers this sensation is even more acute, precisely because their goal is to sensitize their connecting link until they can make it function at will.
“When the pressure of their connecting link is too great, sorcerers relieve it by stalking themselves.”
“I still don’t think I understand what you mean by stalking” I said. “But at a certain level I think I know exactly what you mean.”
“I’ll try to help you clarify what you know, then,” he said. “Stalking is a procedure, a very simple one. Stalking is special behavior that follows certain principles. It is secretive, furtive, deceptive behavior designed to deliver a jolt. And, when you stalk yourself you jolt yourself, using your own behavior in a ruthless, cunning way.”
He explained that when a sorcerer’s awareness became bogged down with the weight of his perceptual input, which was what was happening to me, the best, or even perhaps the only, remedy was to use the idea of death to deliver that stalking jolt.
“The idea of death therefore is of monumental importance in the life of a sorcerer,” don Juan continued. “I have shown you innumerable things about death to convince you that the knowledge of our impending and unavoidable end is what gives us sobriety. Our most costly mistake as average men is indulging in a sense of immortality. It is as though we believe that if we don’t think about death we can protect ourselves from it.”
“You must agree, don Juan, not thinking about death certainly protects us from worrying about it.”
“Yes, it serves that purpose,” he conceded. “But that purpose is an unworthy one for average men and a travesty for sorcerers. Without a clear view of death, there is no order, no sobriety, no beauty. Sorcerers struggle to gain this crucial insight in order to help them realize at the deepest possible level that they have no assurance whatsoever their lives will continue beyond the moment. That realization gives sorcerers the courage to be patient and yet take action, courage to be acquiescent without being stupid.”
Don Juan fixed his gaze on me. He smiled and shook his head.
“Yes,” he went on. “The idea of death is the only thing that can give sorcerers courage. Strange, isn’t it? It gives sorcerers the courage to be cunning without being conceited, and above all it gives them courage to be ruthless without being self-important.”
He smiled again and nudged me. I told him I was absolutely terrified by the idea of my death, that I thought about it constantly, but it certainly didn’t give me courage or spur me to take action. It only made me cynical or caused me to lapse into moods of profound melancholy.
“Your problem is very simple,” he said. “You become easily obsessed. I have been telling you that sorcerers stalk themselves in order to break the power of their obsessions. There are many ways of stalking oneself. If you don’t want to use the idea of your death, use the poems you read me to stalk yourself.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I have told you that there are many reasons I like poems,” he said. “What I do is stalk myself with them. I deliver a jolt to myself with them. I listen, and as you read, I shut off my internal dialogue and let my inner silence gain momentum. Then the combination of the poem and the silence delivers the jolt.”
He explained that poets unconsciously long for the sorcerers’ world. Because they are not sorcerers on the path of knowledge, longing is all they have.
“Let us see if you can feel what I’m talking about,” he said, handing me a book of poems by Jose Gorostiza.
I opened it at the bookmark and he pointed to the poem he liked.
. . . this incessant stubborn dying,
this living death,
that slays you, oh God,
in your rigorous handiwork,
in the roses, in the stones,
in the indomitable stars
and in the flesh that burns out,
like a bonfire lit by a song,
a hue that hits the eye.
. . . and you, yourself,
perhaps have died eternities of ages out there,
without us knowing about it,
we dregs, crumbs, ashes of you;
you that still are present,
like a star faked by its very light,
an empty light without star
that reaches us,
hiding its infinite catastrophe.
“As I hear the words,” don Juan said when I had finished reading, “I feel that that man is seeing the essence of things and I can see with him. I don’t care what the poem is about. I care only about the feeling the poet’s longing brings me. I borrow his longing, and with it I borrow the beauty. And marvel at the fact that he, like a true warrior, lavishes it on the recipients, the beholders, retaining for himself only his longing. This jolt, this shock of beauty, is stalking.”
I was very moved. Don Juan’s explanation had touched a strange chord in me. “Would you say, don Juan, that death is the only real enemy we have?” I asked him a moment later.
“No,” he said with conviction. “Death is not an enemy, although it appears to be. Death is not our destroyer, although we think it is.”
“What is it, then, if not our destroyer?” I asked.
“Sorcerers say death is the only worthy opponent we have,” he replied. “Death is our challenger. We are born to take that challenge, average men or sorcerers. Sorcerers know about it; average men do not.”
“I personally would say, don Juan, life, not death, is the challenge.”
“Life is the process by means of which death challenges us,” he said. “Death is the active force. Life is the arena. And in that arena there are only two contenders at any time: oneself and death.”
“I would think, don Juan, that we human beings are the challengers,” I said.
“Not at all,” he retorted. “We are passive. Think about it. If we move, it’s only when we feel the pressure of death. Death sets the pace for our actions and feelings and pushes us relentlessly until it breaks us and wins the bout, or else we rise above all possibilities and defeat death.
“Sorcerers defeat death and death acknowledges the defeat by letting the sorcerers go free, never to be challenged again.”
“Does that mean that sorcerers become immortal?”
“No. It doesn’t mean that,” he replied. “Death stops challenging them, that’s all.”
“But what does that mean, don Juan?” I asked.
“It means thought has taken a somersault into the inconceivable,” he said.
“What is a somersault of thought into the inconceivable?” I asked, trying not to sound belligerent. “The problem you and I have is that we do not share the same meanings.”
“You’re not being truthful,” don Juan interrupted. “You understand what I mean. For you to demand a rational explanation of a somersault of thought into the inconceivable is a travesty. You know exactly what it is.”
“No, I don’t,” I said.
And then I realized that I did, or rather, that I intuited what it meant. There was some part of me that could transcend my rationality and understand and explain, beyond the level of metaphor, a somersault of thought into the inconceivable. The trouble was that part of me was not strong enough to surface at will.
I said as much to don Juan, who laughed and commented that my awareness was like a yo-yo. Sometimes it rose to a high spot and my command was keen, while at others it descended and I became a rational moron. But most of the time it hovered at an unworthy median where I was neither fish nor fowl.
“A somersault of thought into the inconceivable,” he explained with an air of resignation, “is the descent of the spirit; the act of breaking our perceptual barriers. It is the moment in which man’s perception reaches its limits. Sorcerers practice the art of sending scouts, advance runners, to probe our perceptual limits. This is another reason I like poems. I take them as advance runners. But, as I’ve said to you before, poets don’t know as exactly as sorcerers what those advance runners can accomplish.”
In the early evening, don Juan said that we had many things to discuss and asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. I was in a peculiar state of mind. Earlier I had noticed a strange aloofness in myself that came and went. At first I thought it was physical fatigue clouding my thoughts. But my thoughts were crystal clear. So I became convinced that my strange detachment was a product of my shift to heightened awareness.
We left the house and strolled around the town’s plaza. I quickly asked don Juan about my aloofness before he had a chance to begin on anything else. He explained it as a shift of energy. He said that as the energy that was ordinarily used to maintain the fixed position of the assemblage point became liberated, it focused automatically on that connecting link. He assured me that there were no techniques or maneuvers for a sorcerer to learn beforehand to move energy from one place to the other. Rather it was a matter of an instantaneous shift taking place once a certain level of proficiency had been attained.
I asked him what the level of proficiency was.
“Pure understanding,” he replied. “In order to attain that instantaneous shift of energy, one needed a clear connection with intent, and to get a clear connection one needed only to intend it through pure understanding.”
Naturally I wanted him to explain pure understanding. He laughed and sat down on a bench.
“I’m going to tell you something fundamental about sorcerers and their acts of sorcery,” he went on. “Something about the somersault of their thought into the inconceivable.”
He said that some sorcerers were storytellers. Storytelling for them was not only the advance runner that probed their perceptual limits but their path to perfection, to power, to the spirit. He was quiet for a moment, obviously searching for an appropriate example. Then he reminded me that the Yaqui Indians had a collection of historical events they called “the memorable dates.” I knew that the memorable dates were oral accounts of their history as a nation when they waged war against the invaders of their homeland: the Spaniards first, the Mexicans later. Don Juan, a Yaqui himself, stated emphatically that the memorable dates were accounts of their defeats and disintegration.
“So, what would you say,” he asked me, “since you are a learned man, about a sorcerer storyteller’s taking an account from the memorable dates – let’s say, for example, the story of Calixto Muni – and changing the ending so that instead of describing how Calixto Muni was drawn and quartered by the Spanish executioners, which is what happened, he tells a story of Calixto Muni the victorious rebel who succeeded in liberating his people?”
I knew the story of Calixto Muni. He was a Yaqui Indian who, according to the memorable dates, served for many years on a buccaneer ship in the Caribbean in order to learn war strategy. Then he returned to his native Sonora, managed to start an uprising against the Spaniards and declared a war of independence, only to be betrayed, captured, and executed.
Don Juan coaxed me to comment. I told him I would have to assume that changing the factual account in the manner he was describing would be a psychological device, a sort of wishful thinking on the sorcerer storyteller’s part. Or perhaps it would be a personal, idiosyncratic way of alleviating frustration. I added that I would even call such a sorcerer storyteller a patriot because he was unable to accept bitter defeat.
Don Juan laughed until he was choking.
“But it’s not a matter of one sorcerer storyteller,” he argued. “They all do that.”
“Then it’s a socially sanctioned device to express the wishful thinking of a whole society,” I retorted. “A socially accepted way of releasing psychological stress collectively.”
“Your argument is glib and convincing and reasonable,” he commented. “But because your spirit is dead, you can’t see the flaw in your argument.”
He eyed me as if coaxing me to understand what he was saying. I had no comment, and anything I might have said would have made me sound peevish.
“The sorcerer storyteller who changes the ending of the “factual” account,” he said, “does it at the direction and under the auspices of the spirit. Because he can manipulate his elusive connection with intent, he can actually change things. The sorcerer storyteller signals that he has intended it by taking off his hat, putting it on the ground, and turning it a full three hundred and sixty degrees counter-clockwise. Under the auspices of the spirit, that simple act plunges him into the spirit itself. He has let his thought somersault into the inconceivable.”
Don Juan lifted his arm above his head and pointed for an instant to the sky above the horizon.
“Because his pure understanding is an advance runner probing that immensity out there,” don Juan went on, “the sorcerer storyteller knows without a shadow of doubt that somewhere, somehow, in that infinity, at this very moment the spirit has descended. Calixto Muni is victorious. He has delivered his people. His goal has transcended his person.”
Moving The Assemblage Point
A couple of days later, don Juan and I made a trip to the mountains. Halfway up the foothills we sat down to rest. Earlier that day, don Juan had decided to find an appropriate setting in which to explain some intricate aspects of the mastery of awareness. Usually he preferred to go to the closer western range of mountains. This time, however, he chose the eastern peaks. They were much higher and farther away. To me they seemed more ominous, darker, and more massive. But I could not tell whether this impression was my own or if I had somehow absorbed don Juan’s feelings about these mountains.
I opened my backpack. The women seers from don Juan’s group had prepared it for me and I discovered that they had packed some cheese. I experienced a moment of annoyance, because while I liked cheese, it did not agree with me. Yet I was incapable of refusing it whenever it was made available.
Don Juan had pointed this out as a true weakness and had made fun of me. I was embarrassed at first but found that when I did not have cheese around I did not miss it. The problem was that the practical jokers in don Juan’s group always packed a big chunk of cheese for me, which, of course, I always ended up eating.
“Finish it in one sitting,” don Juan advised me with a mischievous glint in his eyes. “That way you won’t have to worry about it anymore.”
Perhaps influenced by his suggestion, I had the most intense desire to devour the whole chunk. Don Juan laughed so much I suspected that once again he had schemed with his group to set me up.
In a more serious mood, he suggested that we spend the night there in the foothills and take a day or two to reach the higher peaks. I agreed.
Don Juan casually asked me if I had recalled anything about the four moods of stalking. I admitted that I had tried, but that my memory had failed me.
“Don’t you remember my teaching you the nature of ruthlessness?” he asked. “Ruthlessness, the opposite of self-pity?”
I could not remember. Don Juan appeared to be considering what to say next. Then he stopped. The corners of his mouth dropped in a gesture of sham impotence. He shrugged his shoulders, stood up and quickly walked a short distance to a small level spot on top of a hill.
“All sorcerers are ruthless,” he said, as we sat down on the flat ground. “But you know this. We have discussed this concept at length.”
After a long silence, he said that we were going to continue discussing the abstract cores of the sorcery stories, but that he intended to talk less and less about them because the time was approaching when it would be up to me to discover them and allow them to reveal their meaning.
“As I have already told you,” he said, “the fourth abstract core of the sorcery stories is called the descent of the spirit, or being moved by intent. The story says that in order to let the mysteries of sorcery reveal themselves to the man we’ve been talking about, it was necessary for the spirit to descend on that man. The spirit chose a moment when the man was distracted, unguarded, and, showing no pity, the spirit let its presence by itself move the man’s assemblage point to a specific position. This spot was known to sorcerers from then on as the place of no pity. Ruthlessness became, in this way, the first principle of sorcery.
“The first principle should not be confused with the first effect of sorcery apprenticeship, which is the shift between normal and heightened awareness.”
“I don’t understand what you are trying to tell me,” I complained.
“What I want to say is that, to all appearances, having the assemblage point shift is the first thing that actually happens to a sorcery apprentice,” he replied. “So, it is only natural for an apprentice to assume that this is the first principle of sorcery. But it is not. Ruthlessness is the first principle of sorcery. But we have discussed this before. Now I am only trying to help you remember.”
I could honestly have said that I had no idea what he was talking about, but I also had the strange sensation that I did.
“Bring back the recollection of the first time I taught you ruthlessness,” he urged.
“Recollecting has to do with moving the assemblage point.”
He waited a moment to see whether I was following his suggestion. Since it was obvious that I could not, he continued his explanation. He said that, mysterious as the shift into heightened awareness was, all that one needed to accomplish it was the presence of the spirit.
I remarked that his statements that day either were extremely obscure or I was terribly dense, because I could not follow his line of thought at all. He replied firmly that my confusion was unimportant and insisted that the only thing of real importance was that I understand that the mere contact with the spirit could bring about any movement of the assemblage point.
“I’ve told you the nagual is the conduit of the spirit,” he went on. “Since he spends a lifetime impeccably redefining his connecting link with intent, and since he has more energy than the average man, he can let the spirit express itself through him. So, the first thing the sorcerer apprentice experiences is a shift in his level of awareness, a shift brought about simply by the presence of the nagual. And what I want you to know is that there really is no procedure involved in making the assemblage point move. The spirit touches the apprentice and his assemblage point moves. It is as simple as that.”
I told him that his assertions were disturbing because they contradicted what I had painfully learned to accept through personal experience: that heightened awareness was feasible as a sophisticated, although inexplicable, maneuver performed by don Juan by means of which he manipulated my perception. Throughout the years of our association, he had time after time made me enter into heightened awareness by striking me on my back. I pointed out this contradiction.
He replied that striking my back was more a trick to trap my attention and remove doubts from my mind than a bona fide maneuver to manipulate my perception. He called it a simple trick, in keeping with his moderate personality. He commented, not quite as a joke, that I was lucky he was a plain man, not given to weird behavior. Otherwise, instead of simple tricks, I would have had to endure bizarre rituals before he could remove all doubts from my mind, to let the spirit move my assemblage point.
“What we need to do to allow magic to get hold of us is to banish doubt from our minds,” he said. “Once doubts are banished, anything is possible.”
He reminded me of an event I had witnessed some months before in Mexico City, which I had found to be incomprehensible until he had explained it, using the sorcerers’ paradigm.
What I had witnessed was a surgical operation performed by a famous psychic healer. A friend of mine was the patient. The healer was a woman who entered a very dramatic trance tooperate on him.
I was able to observe that, using a kitchen knife, she cut his abdominal cavity open in the umbilical region, detached his diseased liver, washed it in a bucket of alcohol, put it back in and closed the bloodless opening with just the pressure of her hands.
There had been a number of people in the semi-dark room, witnesses to the operation. Some of them seemed to be interested observers like myself. The others seemed to be the healer’s helpers. After the operation, I talked briefly to three of the observers. They all agreed that they had witnessed the same events I had. When I talked to my friend, the patient, he reported that he had felt the operation as a dull, constant pain in his stomach and a burning sensation on his right side. I had narrated all of this to don Juan and I had even ventured a cynical explanation. I had told him that the semidarkness of the room, in my opinion, lent itself perfectly to all kinds of sleight of hand, which could have accounted for the sight of the internal organs being pulled out of the abdominal cavity and washed in alcohol. The emotional shock caused by the healer’s dramatic trance – which I also considered trickery – helped to create an atmosphere of almost religious faith.
Don Juan immediately pointed out that this was a cynical opinion, not a cynical explanation, because it did not explain the fact that my friend had really gotten well. Don Juan had then proposed an alternative view based on sorcerers’ knowledge. He had explained that the event hinged on the salient fact that the healer was capable of moving the assemblage point of the exact number of people in her audience. The only trickery involved – if one could call it trickery – was that the number of people present in the room could not exceed the number she could handle.
Her dramatic trance and the accompanying histrionics were, according to him, either well thought-
out devices the healer used to trap the attention of those present or unconscious maneuvers dictated by the spirit itself. Whichever, they were the most appropriate means whereby the healer could foster the unity of thought needed to remove doubt from the minds of those present and force them into heightened awareness.
When she cut the body open with a kitchen knife and removed the internal organs it was not, don Juan had stressed, sleight of hand. These were bona fide events, which, by virtue of taking place in heightened awareness, were outside the realm of everyday judgment.
I had asked don Juan how the healer could manage to move the assemblage points of those people without touching them. His reply had been that the healer’s power, a gift or a stupendous accomplishment, was to serve as a conduit for the spirit. It was the spirit, he had said, and not the healer, which had moved those assemblage points.
“I explained to you then, although you didn’t understand a word of it,” don Juan went on, “that the healer’s art and power was to remove doubts from the minds of those present. By doing this, she was able to allow the spirit to move their assemblage points. Once those points had moved, everything was possible. They had entered into the realm where miracles are commonplace.”
He asserted emphatically that the healer must also have been a sorceress, and that if I made an effort to remember the operation, I would remember that she had been ruthless with the people around her, especially the patient.
I repeated to him what I could recall of the session. The pitch and tone of the healer’s flat, feminine voice changed dramatically when she entered a trance into a raspy, deep, male voice. That voice announced that the spirit of a warrior of pre-Columbian antiquity had possessed the healer’s body. Once the announcement was made, the healer’s attitude changed dramatically. She was possessed. She was obviously absolutely sure of herself, and she proceeded to operate with total certainty and firmness.
“I prefer the word “ruthlessness” to “certainty” and “firmness”,” don Juan commented, then continued. “That healer had to be ruthless to create the proper setting for the spirit’s intervention.”
He asserted that events difficult to explain, such as that operation, were really very simple. They were made difficult by our insistence upon thinking. If we did not think, everything fit into place.
“That is truly absurd, don Juan,” I said and really meant it.
I reminded him that he demanded serious thinking of all his apprentices, and even criticized his own teacher for not being a good thinker.
“Of course I insist that everyone around me think clearly,” he said. “And I explain, to anyone who wants to listen, that the only way to think clearly is to not think at all. I was convinced you understood this sorcerers’ contradiction.”
In a loud voice I protested the obscurity of his statements. He laughed and made fun of my compulsion to defend myself. Then he explained again that for a sorcerer there were two types of thinking. One was average day-today thinking, which was ruled by the normal position of his assemblage point. It was muddled thinking that did not really answer his needs and left great murkiness in his head. The other was precise thinking. It was functional, economical, and left very few things unexplained. Don Juan remarked that for this type of thinking to prevail the assemblage point had to move. Or at least the day-to-day type thinking had to stop to allow the assemblage point to shift. Thus the apparent contradiction, which was really no contradiction at all.
“I want you to recall something you have done in the past,” he said. “I want you to recall a special movement of your assemblage point. And to do this, you have to stop thinking the way you normally think. Then the other, the type I call clear thinking, will take over and make you recollect.”
“But how do I stop thinking?” I asked, although I knew what he was going to reply.
“By intending the movement of your assemblage point,” he said. “Intent is beckoned with the eyes.”
I told don Juan that my mind was shifting back and forth between moments of tremendous lucidity, when everything was crystal clear, and lapses into profound mental fatigue during which I could not understand what he was saying. He tried to put me at ease, explaining that my instability was caused by a slight fluctuation of my assemblage point, which had not stabilized in the new position it had reached some years earlier. The fluctuation was the result of left-over feelings of self-pity.
“What new position is that, don Juan?” I asked.
“Years ago – and this is what I want you to recollect – your assemblage point reached the place of no pity,” he replied.
“I beg your pardon?” I said.
“The place of no pity is the site of ruthlessness,” he said. “But you know all this. For the time being, though, until you recollect, let’s say that ruthlessness, being a specific position of the assemblage point, is shown in the eyes of sorcerers. It’s like a shimmering film over the eyes. The eyes of sorcerers are brilliant. The greater the shine, the more ruthless the sorcerer is. At this moment, your eyes are dull.”
He explained that when the assemblage point moved to the place of no pity, the eyes began to shine. The firmer the grip of the assemblage point on its new position, the more the eyes shone.
“Try to recall what you already know about this,” he urged me. He kept quiet for a moment, then spoke without looking at me.
“Recollecting is not the same as remembering,” he continued. “Remembering is dictated by the day-to-day type of thinking, while recollecting is dictated by the movement of the assemblage point. A recapitulation of their lives, which sorcerers do, is the key to moving their assemblage points. Sorcerers start their recapitulation by thinking, by remembering the most important acts of their lives. From merely thinking about them they then move on to actually being at the site of the event. When they can do that – be at the site of the event – they have successfully shifted their assemblage point to the precise spot it was when the event took place. Bringing back the total event by means of shifting the assemblage point is known as sorcerers’ recollection.”
He stared at me for an instant as if trying to make sure I was listening.
“Our assemblage points are constantly shifting,” he explained, “imperceptible shifts. Sorcerers believe that in order to make their assemblage points shift to precise spots we must engage intent. Since there is no way of knowing what intent is, sorcerers let their eyes beckon it.”
“All this is truly incomprehensible to me,” I said.
Don Juan put his hands behind his head and lay down on the ground. I did the same. We remained quiet for a long time. The wind scudded the clouds. Their movement almost made me feel dizzy. And the dizziness changed abruptly into a familiar sense of anguish. Every time I was with don Juan, I felt, especially in moments of rest and quiet, an overwhelming sensation of despair – a longing for something I could not describe. When I was alone, or with other people, I was never a victim of this feeling. Don Juan had explained that what I felt and interpreted as longing was in fact the sudden movement of my assemblage point.
When don Juan started to speak, all of a sudden the sound of his voice jolted me and I sat up. “You must recollect the first time your eyes shone,” he said, “because that was the first time your assemblage point reached the place of no pity. Ruthlessness possessed you then. Ruthlessness makes sorcerers’ eyes shine, and that shine beckons intent. Each spot to which their assemblage points move is indicated by a specific shine of their eyes. Since their eyes have their own memory, they can call up the recollection of any spot by calling up the specific shine associated with that spot.”
He explained that the reason sorcerers put so much emphasis on the shine of their eyes and on their gaze is because the eyes are directly connected to intent. Contradictory as it might sound, the truth is that the eyes are only superficially connected to the world of everyday life. Their deeper connection is to the abstract. I could not conceive how my eyes could store that sort of information, and I said as much. Don Juan’s reply was that man’s possibilities are so vast and mysterious that sorcerers, rather than thinking about them, had chosen to explore them, with no hope of ever understanding them.
I asked him if an average man’s eyes were also affected by intent.
“Of course!” he exclaimed. “You know all this. But you know it at such a deep level that it is silent knowledge. You haven’t sufficient energy to explain it, even to yourself.
“The average man knows the same thing about his eyes, but he has even less energy than you. The only advantages sorcerers may have over average men is that they have stored their energy, which means a more precise, clearer connecting link with intent. Naturally, it also means they can recollect at will, using the shine of their eyes to move their assemblage points.”
Don Juan stopped talking and fixed me with his gaze. I clearly felt his eyes guiding, pushing and pulling something indefinite in me. I could not break away from his stare. His concentration was so intense it actually caused a physical sensation in me: I felt as if I were inside a furnace. And, quite abruptly, I was looking inward. It was a sensation very much like being in an absentminded reverie, but with the strange accompanying sensation of an intense awareness of myself and an absence of thoughts. Supremely aware, I was looking inward, into nothingness.
With a gigantic effort, I pulled myself out of it and stood up.
“What did you do to me, don Juan?”
“Sometimes you are absolutely unbearable,” he said. “Your wastefulness is infuriating. Your assemblage point was just in the most advantageous spot to recollect anything you wanted, and what did you do? You let it all go, to ask me what I did to you.”
He kept silent for a moment, and then smiled as I sat down again.
“But being annoying is really your greatest asset,” he added. “So why should I complain?”
Both of us broke into a loud laugh. It was a private joke.
Years before, I had been both very moved and very confused by don Juan’s tremendous dedication to helping me. I could not imagine why he should show me such kindness. It was evident that he did not need me in any way in his life. He was obviously not investing in me. But I had learned, through life’s painful experiences, that nothing was free; and being unable to foresee what don Juan’s reward would be made me tremendously uneasy.
One day I asked don Juan point-blank, in a very cynical tone, what he was getting out of our association. I said that I had not been able to guess.
“Nothing you would understand,” he replied.
His answer annoyed me. Belligerently I told him I was not stupid, and he could at least try to explain it to me.
“Well, let me just say that, although you could understand it, you are certainly not going to like it,” he said with the smile he always had when he was setting me up. “You see, I really want to spare you.”
I was hooked, and I insisted that he tell me what he meant.
“Are you sure you want to hear the truth?” he asked, knowing I could never say no, even if my life depended on it.
“Of course I want to hear whatever it is you’re dangling in front of me,” I said cuttingly.
He started to laugh as if at a big joke; the more he laughed, the greater my annoyance.
“I don’t see what’s so funny,” I said.
“Sometimes the underlying truth shouldn’t be tampered with,” he said. “The underlying truth here is like a block at the bottom of a big pile of things, a cornerstone. If we take a hard look at the bottom block, we might not like the results. I prefer to avoid that.”
He laughed again. His eyes, shining with mischievousness, seemed to invite me to pursue the subject further. And I insisted again that I had to know what he was talking about. I tried to sound calm but persistent.
“Well, if that is what you want,” he said with the air of one who had been overwhelmed by the request. “First of all, I’d like to say that everything I do for you is free. You don’t have to pay for it. As you know, I’ve been impeccable with you. And as you also know, my impeccability with you is not an investment. I am not grooming you to take care of me when I am too feeble to look after myself. But I do get something of incalculable value out of our association, a sort of reward for dealing impeccably with that bottom block I’ve mentioned. And what I get is the very thing you are perhaps not going to understand or like.”
He stopped and peered at me, with a devilish glint in his eyes.
“Tell me about it, don Juan!” I exclaimed, irritated with his delaying tactics.
“I want you to bear in mind that I am telling you at your insistence,” he said, still smiling.
He paused again. By then I was fuming.
“If you judge me by my actions with you,” he said, “you would have to admit that I have been a paragon of patience and consistency. But what you don’t know is that to accomplish this I have had to fight for impeccability as I have never fought before. In order to spend time with you, I have had to transform myself daily, restraining myself with the most excruciating effort.”
Don Juan had been right. I did not like what he said. I tried not to lose face and made a sarcastic comeback.
“I’m not that bad, don Juan,” I said.
My voice sounded surprisingly unnatural to me.
“Oh, yes, you are that bad,” he said with a serious expression. “You are petty, wasteful, opinionated, coercive, short-tempered, conceited. You are morose, ponderous, and ungrateful. You have an inexhaustible capacity for self-indulgence. And worst of all, you have an exalted idea of yourself, with nothing whatever to back it up.”
“I could sincerely say that your mere presence makes me feel like vomiting.”
I wanted to get angry. I wanted to protest, to complain that he had no right to talk to me that way, but I could not utter a single word. I was crushed. I felt numb.
My expression, upon hearing the bottom truth, must have been something, for don Juan broke into such gales of laughter I thought he was going to choke.
“I told you you were not going to like it or understand it,” he said. “Warriors’ reasons are very simple, but their finesse is extreme. It is a rare opportunity for a warrior to be given a genuine chance to be impeccable in spite of his basic feelings. You gave me such a unique chance. The act of giving freely and impeccably rejuvenates me and renews my wonder. What I get from our association is indeed of incalculable value to me. I am in your debt.”
His eyes were shining, but without mischievousness, as he peered at me.
Don Juan began to explain what he had done.
“I am the nagual, I moved your assemblage point with the shine of my eyes,” he said matter-of-factly. “The nagual’s eyes can do that. It’s not difficult. After all, the eyes of all living beings can move someone else’s assemblage point, especially if their eyes are focused on intent. Under normal conditions, however, people’s eyes are focused on the world, looking for food . . . looking for shelter. . . .”
He nudged my shoulder.
“Looking for love,” he added and broke into a loud laugh.
Don Juan constantly teased me about my “looking for love.” He never forgot a naive answer I once gave him when he had asked me what I actively looked for in life. He had been steering me toward admitting that I did not have a clear goal, and he roared with laughter when I said that I was looking for love.
“A good hunter mesmerizes his prey with his eyes,” he went on. “With his gaze he moves the assemblage point of his prey, and yet his eyes are on the world, looking for food.”
I asked him if sorcerers could mesmerize people with their gaze. He chuckled and said that what I really wanted to know was if I could mesmerize women with my gaze, in spite of the fact that my eyes were focused on the world, looking for love. He added, seriously, that the sorcerers’ safety valve was that by the time their eyes were really focused on intent, they were no longer interested in mesmerizing anyone.
“But, for sorcerers to use the shine of their eyes to move their own or anyone else’s assemblage point,” he continued, “they have to be ruthless. That is, they have to be familiar with that specific position of the assemblage point called the place of no pity. This is especially true for the naguals.”
He said that each nagual developed a brand of ruthlessness specific to him alone. He took my case as an example and said that, because of my unstable natural configuration, I appeared to seers as a sphere of luminosity not composed of four balls compressed into one – the usual structure of a nagual – but as a sphere composed of only three compressed balls. This configuration made me automatically hide my ruthlessness behind a mask of indulgence and laxness.
“Naguals are very misleading,” don Juan went on. “They always give the impression of something they are not, and they do it so completely that everybody, including those who know them best, believe their masquerade.”
“I really don’t understand how you can say that I am masquerading, don Juan,” I protested.
“You pass yourself off as an indulgent, relaxed man,” he said. “You give the impression of being generous, of having great compassion. And everybody is convinced of your genuineness. They can even swear that that is the way you are.”
“But that is the way I am!”
Don Juan doubled up with laughter. The direction the conversation had taken was not to my liking. I wanted to set the record straight. I argued vehemently that I was truthful in everything I did, and challenged him to give me an example of my being otherwise. He said I compulsively treated people with unwarranted generosity, giving them a false sense of my ease and openness. And I argued that being open was my nature. He laughed and retorted that if this were the case, why should it be that I always demanded, without voicing it, that the people I dealt with be aware I was deceiving them? The proof was that when they failed to be aware of my ploy and took my pseudo-laxness at face value, I turned on them with exactly the cold ruthlessness I was trying to mask.
His comments made me feel desperate, because I couldn’t argue with them. I remained quiet. I did not want to show that I was hurt. I was wondering what to do when he stood and started to walk away. I stopped him by holding his sleeve. It was an unplanned move on my part which startled me and made him laugh. He sat down again with a look of surprise on his face.
“I didn’t mean to be rude,” I said, “but I’ve got to know more about this. It upsets me.”
“Make your assemblage point move,” he urged. “We’ve discussed ruthlessness before. Recollect it!”
He eyed me with genuine expectation although he must have seen that I could not recollect anything, for he continued to talk about the naguals’ patterns of ruthlessness. He said that his own method consisted of subjecting people to a flurry of coercion and denial, hidden behind sham understanding and reasonableness.
“What about all the explanations you give me?” I asked. “Aren’t they the result of genuine reasonableness and desire to help me understand?”
“No,” he replied. “They are the result of my ruthlessness.”
I argued passionately that my own desire to understand was genuine. He patted me on the shoulder and explained that my desire to understand was genuine, but my generosity was not. He said that naguals masked their ruthlessness automatically, even against their will.
As I listened to his explanation, I had the peculiar sensation in the back of my mind that at some point we had covered the concept of ruthlessness extensively.
“I’m not a rational man,” he continued, looking into my eyes. “I only appear to be because my mask is so effective. What you perceive as reasonableness is my lack of pity, because that’s what ruthlessness is: a total lack of pity.
“In your case, since you mask your lack of pity with generosity, you appear at ease, open. But actually you are as generous as I am reasonable. We are both fakes. We have perfected the art of disguising the fact that we feel no pity.”
He said his benefactor’s total lack of pity was masked behind the facade of an easygoing, practical joker with an irresistible need to poke fun at anyone with whom he came into contact.
“My benefactor’s mask was that of a happy, unruffled man without a care in the world,” don Juan continued. “But underneath all that he was, like all the naguals, as cold as the arctic wind.”
“But you are not cold, don Juan,” I said sincerely.
“Of course I am,” he insisted. “The effectiveness of my mask is what gives you the impression of warmth.”
He went on to explain that the nagual Elias’s mask consisted of a maddening meticulousness about all details and accuracy, which created the false impression of attention and thoroughness. He started to describe the nagual Elias’s behavior. As he talked, he kept watching me. And perhaps because he was observing me so intently, I was unable to concentrate at all on what he was saying. I made a supreme effort to gather my thoughts.
He watched me for an instant, then went back to explaining ruthlessness, but I no longer needed his explanation. I told him that I had recollected what he wanted me to recollect: the first time my eyes had shone. Very early in my apprenticeship I had achieved – by myself – a shift in my level of awareness. My assemblage point reached the position called the place of no pity.
The Place Of No Pity
Don Juan told me that there was no need to talk about the details of my recollection, at least not at that moment, because talk was used only to lead one to recollecting. Once the assemblage point moved, the total experience was relived. He also told me the best way to assure a complete recollection was to walk around.
And so both of us stood up; walked very slowly and in silence, following a trail in those mountains, until I had recollected everything.
We were in the outskirts of Guaymas, in northern Mexico, on a drive from Nogales, Arizona, when it became evident to me that something was wrong with don Juan. For the last hour or so he had been unusually quiet and somber. I did not think anything of it, but then, abruptly, his body twitched out of control. His chin hit his chest as if his neck muscles could no longer support the weight of his head.
“Are you getting carsick, don Juan?” I asked, suddenly alarmed.
He did not answer. He was breathing through his mouth.
During the first part of our drive, which had taken several hours, he had been fine. We had talked a great deal about everything. When we had stopped in the city of Santa Ana to get gas, he was even doing push-outs against the roof of the car to loosen up the muscles of his shoulders.
“What’s wrong with you, don Juan?” I asked.
I felt pangs of anxiety in my stomach. With his head down, he mumbled that he wanted to go to a particular restaurant and in a slow, faltering voice gave me precise directions on how to get there. I parked my car on a side street, a block from the restaurant. As I opened the car door on my side, he held onto my arm with an iron grip. Painfully, and with my help, he dragged himself out of the car, over the driver’s seat. Once he was on the sidewalk, he held onto my shoulders with both hands to straighten his back. In ominous silence, we shuffled down the street toward the dilapidated building where the restaurant was.
Don Juan was hanging onto my arm with all his weight. His breathing was so accelerated and the tremor in his body so alarming that I panicked. I stumbled and had to brace myself against the wall to keep us both from falling to the sidewalk. My anxiety was so intense I could not think. I looked into his eyes. They were dull. They did not have the usual shine.
We clumsily entered the restaurant and a solicitous waiter rushed over, as if on cue, to help don Juan.
“How are you feeling today?” he yelled into don Juan’s ear.
He practically carried don Juan from the door to a table, seated him, and then disappeared.
“Does he know you, don Juan?” I asked when we were seated.
Without looking at me, he mumbled something unintelligible. I stood up and went to the kitchen to look for the busy waiter.
“Do you know the old man I am with?” I asked when I was able to corner him.
“Of course I know him,” he said with the attitude of someone who has just enough patience to answer one question. “He’s the old man who suffers from strokes.”
That statement settled things for me. I knew then that don Juan had suffered a mild stroke while we were driving. There was nothing I could have done to avoid it but I felt helpless and apprehensive. The feeling that the worst had not yet happened made me feel sick to my stomach. I went back to the table and sat down in silence. Suddenly the same waiter arrived with two plates of fresh shrimp and two large bowls of sea-turtle soup. The thought occurred to me that either the restaurant served only shrimp and sea-turtle soup or don Juan ate the same thing every time he was here. The waiter talked so loudly to don Juan he could be heard above the clatter of customers.
“Hope you like your food!” he yelled. “If you need me, just lift your arm. I’ll come right away.”
Don Juan nodded his head affirmatively and the waiter left, after patting don Juan affectionately on the back. Don Juan ate voraciously, smiling to himself from time to time. I was so apprehensive that just the thought of food made me feel nauseous. But then I reached a familiar threshold of anxiety, and the more I worried the hungrier I became. I tried the food and found it incredibly good. I felt somewhat better after having eaten, but the situation had not changed, nor had my anxiety diminished.
When don Juan was through eating, he shot his arm straight above his head. In a moment, the waiter came over and handed me the bill.
I paid him and he helped don Juan stand up. He guided him by the arm out of the restaurant. The waiter even helped him out to the street and said goodbye to him effusively. We walked back to the car in the same laborious way, don Juan leaning heavily on my arm, panting and stopping to catch his breath every few steps. The waiter stood in the doorway, as if to make sure I was not going to let don Juan fall. Don Juan took two or three full minutes to climb into the car.
“Tell me, what can I do for you, don Juan?” I pleaded.
“Turn the car around,” he ordered in a faltering, barely audible voice. “I want to go to the other side of town, to the store. They know me there, too. They are my friends.”
I told him I had no idea what store he was talking about. He mumbled incoherently and had a tantrum. He stamped on the floor of the car with both feet. He pouted and actually drooled on his shirt. Then he seemed to have an instant of lucidity. I got extremely nervous, watching him struggle to arrange his thoughts. He finally succeeded in telling me how to get to the store.
My discomfort was at its peak. I was afraid that the stroke don Juan had suffered was more serious than I thought. I wanted to be rid of him, to take him to his family or his friends, but I did not know who they were. I did not know what else to do. I made a U-turn and drove to the store which he said was on the other side of town.
I wondered about going back to the restaurant to ask the waiter if he knew don Juan’s family. I hoped someone in the store might know him. The more I thought about my predicament, the sorrier I felt for myself. Don Juan was finished. I had a terrible sense of loss, of doom. I was going to miss him, but my sense of loss was offset by my feeling of annoyance at being saddled with him at his worst.
I drove around for almost an hour looking for the store. I could not find it. Don Juan admitted that he might have made a mistake, that the store might be in a different town. By then I was completely exhausted and had no idea what to do next.
In my normal state of awareness I always had the strange feeling that I knew more about him than my reason told me. Now, under the pressure of his mental deterioration, I was certain, without knowing why, that his friends were waiting for him somewhere in Mexico, although I did not know where. My exhaustion was more than physical. It was a combination of worry and guilt. It worried me that I was stuck with a feeble old man who might, for all I knew, be mortally ill. And I felt guilty for being so disloyal to him.
I parked my car near the waterfront. It took nearly ten minutes for don Juan to get out of the car. We walked toward the ocean, but as we got closer, don Juan shied like a mule and refused to go on. He mumbled that the water of Guaymas Bay scared him. He turned around and led me to the main square: a dusty plaza without even benches. Don Juan sat down on the curb. A street-cleaning truck went by, rotating its steel brushes, but no water was squirting into them. The cloud of dust made me cough. I was so disturbed by my situation that the thought of leaving him sitting there crossed my mind. I felt embarrassed at having had such a thought and patted don Juan’s back.
“You must make an effort and tell me where I can take you,” I said softly. “Where do you
want me to go.”
“I want you to go to hell!” he replied in a cracked, raspy voice.
Hearing him speak to me like this, I had the suspicion that don Juan might not have suffered from a stroke, but some other crippling brain condition that had made him lose his mind and become violent.
Suddenly he stood up and walked away from me. I noticed how frail he looked. He had aged in a matter of hours. His natural vigor was gone, and what I saw before me was a terribly old, weak man.
I rushed to lend him a hand. A wave of immense pity enveloped me. I saw myself old and weak, barely able to walk. It was intolerable. I was close to weeping, not for don Juan but for myself. I held his arm and made him a silent promise that I would look after him, no matter what. I was lost in a reverie of self-pity when I felt the numbing force of a slap across my face.
Before I recovered from the surprise, don Juan slapped me again across the back of my neck. He was standing facing me, shivering with rage. His mouth was half open and shook uncontrollably.
“Who are you?” he yelled in a strained voice.
He turned to a group of onlookers who had immediately gathered.
“I don’t know who this man is,” he said to them. “Help me. I’m a lonely old Indian. He’s a foreigner and he wants to kill me. They do that to helpless old people, kill them for pleasure.”
There was a murmur of disapproval. Various young, husky men looked at me menacingly.
“What are you doing, don Juan?” I asked him in a loud voice. I wanted to reassure the crowd that I was with him.
“I don’t know you,” don Juan shouted. “Leave me alone.”
He turned to the crowd and asked them to help him. He wanted them to restrain me until the police came.
“Hold him,” he insisted. “And someone, please call the police. They’ll know what to do with this man.”
I had the image of a Mexican jail. No one would know where I was. The idea that months would go by before anyone noticed my disappearance made me react with vicious speed. I kicked the first young man who came close me, then took off at a panicked run. I knew I was running for my life. Several young men ran after me. As I raced toward the main street, I realized that in a small city like Guaymas there were policemen all over the place patrolling on foot. There were none in sight, and before I ran into one, I entered the first store in my path. I pretended to be looking for curios.
The young men running after me went by noisily. I conceived a quick plan: to buy as many things as I could. I was counting on being taken for a tourist by the people in the store. Then I was going to ask someone to help me carry the packages to my car. It took me quite a while to select what I wanted. I paid a young man in the store to help me carry my packages, but as I got closer to my car, I saw don Juan standing by it, still surrounded by people. He was talking to a policeman, who was taking notes.
It was useless. My plan had failed. There was no way to get to my car. I instructed the young man to leave my packages on the sidewalk. I told him a friend of mine was going to drive by presently to take me to my hotel. He left and I remained hidden behind the packages I was holding in front of my face, out of sight of don Juan and the people around him.
I saw the policeman examining my California license plates. And that completely convinced me I was done for. The accusation of the crazy old man was too grave. And the fact that I had run away would have only reinforced my guilt in the eyes of any policeman. Besides, I would not have put it past the policeman to ignore the truth, just to arrest a foreigner.
I stood in a doorway for perhaps an hour. The policeman left, but the crowd remained around don Juan, who was shouting and agitatedly moving his arms. I was too far away to hear what he was saying but I could imagine the gist of his fast, nervous shouting.
I was in desperate need of another plan. I considered checking into a hotel and waiting there for a couple of days before venturing out to get my car. I thought of going back to the store and having them call a taxi. I had never had to hire a cab in Guaymas and I had no idea if there were any. But my plan died instantly with the realization that if the police were fairly competent, and had taken don Juan seriously, they would check the hotels. Perhaps the policeman had left don Juan in order to do just that.
Another alternative that crossed my mind was to get to the bus station and catch a bus to any town along the international border. Or to take any bus leaving Guaymas any direction. I abandoned the idea immediately. I was sure don Juan had given my name to the policeman and the police had probably already alerted the bus companies. My mind plunged into blind panic. I took short breaths to calm my nerves.
I noticed then that the crowd around don Juan was beginning to disperse. The policeman returned with a colleague, and the two of them moved away, walking slowly toward the end of the street. It was at that point that I felt a sudden uncontrollable urge. It was as if my body were disconnected from my brain. I walked to my car, carrying the packages. Without even the slightest trace of fear or concern, I opened the trunk, put the packages inside, then opened the driver’s door.
Don Juan was on the sidewalk, by my car, looking at me absentmindedly. I stared at him with a thoroughly uncharacteristic coldness. Never in my life had I had such a feeling. It was not hatred I felt, or even anger. I was not even annoyed with him. What I felt was not resignation or patience, either. And it was certainly not kindness. Rather it was a cold indifference, a frightening lack of pity. At that instant, I could not have cared less about what happened to don Juan or myself.
Don Juan shook his upper body the way a dog shakes itself dry after a swim. And then, as if all of it had only been a bad dream, he was again the man I knew. He quickly turned his jacket inside out. It was a reversible jacket, beige on one side and black on the other. Now he was wearing a black jacket. He threw his straw hat inside the car and carefully combed his hair. He pulled his shirt collar over the jacket collar, instantly making himself look younger. Without saying a word, he helped me put the rest of the packages in the car.
When the two policemen ran back to us, blowing their whistles, drawn by the noise of the car doors being opened and closed, don Juan very nimbly rushed to meet them. He listened to them attentively and assured them they had nothing to worry about. He explained that they must have encountered his father, a feeble old Indian who suffered from brain damage. As he talked to them, he opened and closed the car doors, as if checking the locks. He moved the packages from the trunk to the back seat. His agility and youthful strength were the opposite of the old man’s movements of a few minutes ago. I knew that he was acting for the benefit of the policeman who had seen him before. If I had been that man, there would have been no doubt in my mind that I was now seeing the son of the old brain-damaged Indian. Don Juan gave them the name of the restaurant where they knew his father and then bribed them shamelessly.
I did not bother to say anything to the policemen. There was something that made me feel hard, cold, efficient, silent.
We got in the car without a word. The policemen did not attempt to ask me anything. They seemed too tired even to try. We drove away.
“What kind of act did you pull out there, don Juan?” I asked, and the coldness in my tone surprised me.
“It was the first lesson in ruthlessness,” he said.
He remarked that on our way to Guaymas he had warned me about the impending lesson on ruthlessness.
I confessed that I had not paid attention because I had thought that we were just making conversation to break the monotony of driving.
“I never just make conversation,” he said sternly. “You should know that by now. What I did this afternoon was to create the proper situation for you to move your assemblage point to the precise spot where pity disappears. That spot is known as the place of no pity.
“The problem that sorcerers have to solve,” he went on, “is that the place of no pity has to be reached with only minimal help. The nagual sets the scene, but it is the apprentice who makes his assemblage point move.
“Today you just did that. I helped you, perhaps a bit dramatically, by moving my own assemblage point to specific position that made me into a feeble and unpredictable old man. I was not just acting old and feeble. I was old”
The mischievous glint in his eyes told me that he was enjoying the moment.
“It was not absolutely necessary that I do that,” he went on. “I could have directed you to move your assemblage point without the hard tactics, but I couldn’t help myself, this event will never be repeated, I wanted to know whether or not I could act, in some measure, like my own benefactor. Believe me, I surprised myself as much as I must have surprised you.”
I felt incredibly at ease. I had no problems in accepting what he was saying to me, and no questions, because I understood everything without needing him to explain. He then said something which I already knew, but could not verbalize, because I would not have been able to find the appropriate words to describe it. He said that everything sorcerers did was done as a consequence of a movement of their assemblage points, and that such movements were ruled by the amount of energy sorcerers had at their command.
I mentioned to don Juan that I knew all that and much more. And he commented that inside every human being was a gigantic, dark lake of silent knowledge which each of us could intuit. He told me I could intuit it perhaps with a bit more clarity than the average man because of my involvement in the warrior’s path. He then said that sorcerers were the only beings on earth who deliberately went beyond the intuitive level by training themselves to do two transcendental things: first, to conceive the existence of the assemblage point, and second, to make that assemblage point move.
He emphasized over and over that the most sophisticated knowledge sorcerers possessed was of our potential as perceiving beings, and the knowledge that the content of perception depended on the position of the assemblage point.
At that point I began to experience a unique difficulty in concentrating on what he was saying, not because I was distracted or fatigued, but because my mind, on its own, had started to play the game of anticipating his words. It was as if an unknown part of myself were inside me, trying unsuccessfully to find adequate words to voice a thought. As don Juan spoke, I felt I could anticipate how he was going to express my own silent thoughts. I was thrilled to realize his choice of words was always better than mine could have been. But anticipating his words also diminished my concentration.
I abruptly pulled over to the side of the road. And right there I had, for the first time in my life, a clear knowledge of a dualism in me. Two obviously separate parts were within my being. One was extremely old, at ease, indifferent. It was heavy, dark, and connected to everything else. It was the part of me that did not care, because it was equal to anything. It enjoyed things with no expectation. The other part was light, new, fluffy, agitated. It was nervous, fast. It cared about itself because it was insecure and did not enjoy anything, simply because it lacked the capacity to connect itself to anything. It was alone, on the surface, vulnerable. That was the part with which I looked at the world.
I deliberately looked around with that part. Everywhere I looked I saw extensive farmlands. And that insecure, fluffy, and caring part of me got caught between being proud of the industriousness of man and being sad at the sight of the magnificent old Sonoran desert turned into an orderly scene of furrows and domesticated plants.
The old, dark, heavy part of me did not care. And the two parts entered into a debate. The fluffy part wanted the heavy part to care, and the heavy part wanted the other one to stop fretting, and to enjoy.
“Why did you stop?” don Juan asked.
His voice produced a reaction, but it would be inaccurate to say that it was I who reacted. The sound of his voice seemed to solidify the fluffy part, and suddenly I was recognizably myself. I described to don Juan the realization I had just had bout my dualism. As he began to explain it in terms of the position of the assemblage point I lost my solidity. The fluffy part became as fluffy as it had been when I first noticed my dualism, and once again I knew what don Juan was explaining.
He said that when the assemblage point moves and reaches the place of no pity, the position of rationality and common sense becomes weak. The sensation I was having if an older, dark, silent side was a view of the antecedents of reason.
“I know exactly what you are saying,” I told him. “I know a great number of things, but I can’t speak of what I know. I don’t know how to begin.”
“I have mentioned this to you already,” he said. “What you are experiencing and call dualism is a view from another position of your assemblage point. From that position, you can feel the older side of man. And what the older side of man knows is called silent knowledge. It’s a knowledge that you cannot yet voice.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because in order to voice it, it is necessary for you to have and use an inordinate amount of energy,” he replied. “You don’t at this time have that kind of energy to spare.
“Silent knowledge is something that all of us have,” he went on. “Something that has complete mastery, complete knowledge of everything. But it cannot think, therefore, it cannot speak of what it knows.
“Sorcerers believe that when man became aware that he knew, and wanted to be conscious of what he knew, he lost sight of what he knew. This silent knowledge, which you cannot describe, is, of course, intent – the spirit, the abstract. Man’s error was to want to know it directly, the way he knew everyday life. The more he wanted, the more ephemeral it became.”
“But what does that mean in plain words, don Juan?” I asked.
“It means that man gave up silent knowledge for the world of reason,” he replied. “The more he clings to the world of reason, the more ephemeral intent becomes.”
I started the car and we drove in silence. Don Juan did not attempt to give me directions or tell me how to drive – a thing he often did in order to exacerbate my self-importance. I had no clear idea where I was going, yet something in me knew. I let that part take over.
Very late in the evening we arrived at the big house don Juan’s group of sorcerers had in a rural area of the state of Sinaloa in northwestern Mexico. The journey seemed to have taken no time at all. I could not remember the particulars of our drive. All I knew about it was that we had not talked.
The house seemed to be empty. There were no signs of people living there. I knew, however, that don Juan’s friends were in the house. I could feel their presence without actually having to see them.
Don Juan lit some kerosene lanterns and we sat down at a sturdy table. It seemed that don Juan was getting ready to eat. I was wondering what to say or do when a woman entered noiselessly and put a large plate of food on the table. I was not prepared for her entrance, and when she stepped out of the darkness into the light, as if she had materialized out of nowhere, I gasped involuntarily.
“Don’t be scared, it’s me, Carmela,” she said and disappeared, swallowed again by the darkness. I was left with my mouth open in mid-scream. Don Juan laughed so hard that I knew everybody in the house must have heard him. I half expected them to come, but no one appeared.
I tried to eat, but I was not hungry. I began to think about the woman. I did not know her. That is, I could almost identify her, but I could not quite work my memory of her out of the fog that obscured my thoughts. I struggled to clear my mind. I felt that it required too much energy and I gave up.
Almost as soon as I had stopped thinking about her, I began to experience a strange, numbing anxiety. At first I believed that the dark, massive house, and the silence in and around it, were depressing. But then my anguish rose to incredible proportions, right after I heard the faint barking of dogs in the distance. For a moment I thought that my body was going to explode. Don Juan intervened quickly. He jumped to where I was sitting and pushed my back until it cracked. The pressure on my back brought me immediate relief.
When I had calmed down, I realized I had lost, together with the anxiety that had nearly consumed me, the clear sense of knowing everything. I could no longer anticipate how don Juan was going to articulate what I myself knew.
Don Juan then started a most peculiar explanation. First he said that the origin of the anxiety that had overtaken me with the speed of wildfire was the sudden movement of my assemblage point, caused by Carmela’s sudden appearance, and by my unavoidable effort to move my assemblage point to the place where I would be able to identify her completely.
He advised me to get used to the idea of recurrent attacks of the same type of anxiety, because my assemblage point was going to keep moving.
“Any movement of the assemblage point is like dying,” he said. “Everything in us gets disconnected, then reconnected again to a source of much greater power. That amplification of energy is felt as a killing anxiety.”
“What am I to do when this happens?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said. “Just wait. The outburst of energy will pass. What’s dangerous is not knowing what is happening to you. Once you know, there is no real danger.”
Then he talked about ancient man. He said that ancient man knew, in the most direct fashion, what to do and how best to do it. But, because he performed so well, he started to develop a sense of selfness, which gave him the feeling that he could predict and plan the actions he was used to performing. And thus the idea of an individual self appeared; an individual self which began to dictate the nature and scope of man’s actions.
As the feeling of the individual self became stronger, man lost his natural connection to silent knowledge. Modern man, being heir to that development, therefore finds himself so hopelessly removed from the source of everything that all he can do is express his despair in violent and cynical acts of self-destruction. Don Juan asserted that the reason for man’s cynicism and despair is the bit of silent knowledge left in him, which does two things: one, it gives man an inkling of his ancient connection to the source of everything; and two, it makes man feel that without this connection, he has no hope of peace, of satisfaction, of attainment.
I thought I had caught don Juan in a contradiction. I pointed out to him that he had once told me that war was he natural state for a warrior, that peace was an anomaly.
“That’s right,” he admitted. “But war, for a warrior, doesn’t mean acts of individual or collective stupidity or wanton violence. War, for a warrior, is the total struggle against that individual self that has deprived man of his power.”
Don Juan said then that it was time for us to talk further about ruthlessness – the most basic premise of sorcery. He explained that sorcerers had discovered that any movement of the assemblage point meant a movement away from the excessive concern with that individual self which was the mark of modern man. He went on to say that sorcerers believed it was the position of the assemblage point which made modern man a homicidal egotist, a being totally involved with his self-image. Having lost hope of ever returning to the source of everything, man sought solace in his selfness. And, in doing so, he succeeded in fixing his assemblage point in the exact position to perpetuate his self-image. It was therefore safe to say that any movement of the assemblage point away from its customary position resulted in a movement away from man’s self-reflection and its concomitant: self-importance.
Don Juan described self-importance as the force generated by man’s self-image. He reiterated that it is that force which keeps the assemblage point fixed where it is at present. For this reason, the thrust of the warriors’ way is to dethrone self-importance. And everything sorcerers do is toward accomplishing this goal.
He explained that sorcerers had unmasked self-importance and found that it is self-pity masquerading as something else.
“It doesn’t sound possible, but that is what it is,” he said. “Self-pity is the real enemy and the source of man’s misery. Without a degree of pity for himself, man could not afford to be as self-important as he is. However, once the force of self-importance is engaged, it develops its own momentum. And it is this seemingly independent nature of self-importance which gives it its fake sense of worth.”
His explanation, which I would have found incomprehensible under normal conditions, seemed thoroughly cogent to me. But because of the duality in me, which still pertained, it appeared a bit simplistic. Don Juan seemed to have aimed his thoughts and words at a specific target. And I, in my normal state of awareness, was that target.
He continued his explanation, saying that sorcerers are absolutely convinced that by moving our assemblage points away from their customary position we achieve a state of being which could only be called ruthlessness. Sorcerers knew, by means of their practical actions, that as soon as their assemblage points move, their self-importance crumbles. Without the customary position of their assemblage points, their self-image can no longer be sustained. And without the heavy focus on that self-image, they lose their self-compassion, and with it their self-importance.
Sorcerers are right, therefore, in saying that self-importance is merely self-pity in disguise. He then took my experience of the afternoon and went through it step by step. He stated that a nagual in his role leader or teacher has to behave in the most efficient, but the same time most impeccable, way. Since it is not possible for him to plan the course of his actions rationally, the nagual always lets the spirit decide his course. For example, he said he had had no plans to do what he did until the spirit gave him an indication, very early that morning when we were having breakfast in Nogales. He urged me recall the event and tell him what I could remember. I recalled that during breakfast I got very embarrassed because don Juan had made fun of me.
“Think about the waitress,” don Juan urged me.
“All I can remember about her is that she was rude.”
“But what did she do?” he insisted. “What did she do while she waited to take our order?”
After a moment’s pause, I remembered that she was a hard-looking young woman who threw the menu at me and stood there, almost touching me, silently demanding that I hurry up and order.
While she waited, impatiently tapping her big foot on the floor, she pinned her long black hair up on her head. The change was remarkable. She looked more appealing, more mature. I was frankly taken by the change in her. In fact, I overlooked her bad manners because of it.
“That was the omen,” don Juan said. “Hardness and transformation were the indications of the spirit.”
He said that his first act of the day, as a nagual, was to let me know his intentions. To that end, he told me in very plain language, but in a surreptitious manner, that he was going to give me a lesson in ruthlessness.
“Do you remember now?” he asked. “I talked to the waitress and to an old lady at the next table.”
Guided by him in this fashion, I did remember don Juan practically flirting with an old lady and the ill-mannered waitress. He talked to them for a long time while I ate. He told them idiotically funny stories about graft and corruption in government, and jokes about farmers in the city. Then he asked the waitress if she was an American. She said no and laughed at the question.
Don Juan said that that was good, because I was a Mexican-American in search of love. And I might as well start here, after eating such a good breakfast.
The women laughed. I thought they laughed at my being embarrassed. Don Juan said to them that, seriously speaking, I had come to Mexico to find a wife. He asked if they knew of any honest, modest, chaste woman who wanted to get married and was not too demanding in matters of male beauty. He referred to himself as my spokesman.
The women were laughing very hard. I was truly chagrined. Don Juan turned to the waitress and asked her if she would marry me. She said that she was engaged. It looked to me as though she was taking don Juan seriously.
“Why don’t you let him speak for himself?” the old lady asked don Juan.
“Because he has a speech impediment,” he said. “He stutters horribly.”
The waitress said that I had been perfectly normal when I ordered my food.
“Oh! You’re so observant,” don Juan said. “Only when he orders food can he speak like anyone else. I’ve told him time and time again that if he wants to learn to speak normally, he has to be ruthless. I brought him here to give him some lessons in ruthlessness.”
“Poor man,” the old woman said.
“Well, we’d better get going if we are going to find love for him today,” don Juan said as he stood to leave.
“You’re serious about this marriage business,” the young waitress said to don Juan.
“You bet,” he replied. “I’m going to help him get what he needs so he can cross the border and go to the place of no pity.”
I thought don Juan was calling either marriage or the U.S.A. the place of no pity. I laughed at the metaphor and stuttered horribly for a moment, which scared the women to death and made don Juan laugh hysterically.
“It was imperative that I state my purpose to you then,” Juan said, continuing his explanation. “I did, but it bypassed you completely, as it should have.”
He said that from the moment the spirit manifested itself, every step was carried to its satisfactory completion with absolute ease. And my assemblage point reached the place of no pity, when, under the stress of his transformation, it was forced to abandon its customary place of self-reflection.
“The position of self-reflection,” don Juan went on, “forces the assemblage point to assemble a world of sham compassion, but of very real cruelty and self-centeredness. In that world the only real feelings are those convenient for one who feels them.”
“For a sorcerer, ruthlessness is not cruelty. Ruthlessness is the opposite of self-pity or self-importance. Ruthlessness is sobriety.”