(The Power of Silence by Carlos Castaneda)
In the very late afternoon we reached the top of the high mountains. Even at that altitude it was still very warm. All day we had followed a nearly invisible trail. Finally we reached a small clearing, an ancient lookout post commanding the north and west.
We sat there and don Juan returned our conversation to the sorcery stories. He said that now I knew the story of intent manifesting itself to the nagual Elias and the story of the spirit knocking on the nagual Julian’s door. And I knew how he had met the spirit, and I certainly could not forget how I had met it. All these stories, he declared, had the same structure; only the characters differed. Each story was an abstract tragicomedy with one abstract player, intent, and two human actors, the nagual and his apprentice. The script was the abstract core.
I thought I had finally understood what he meant, but I could not quite explain even to myself what it was I understood, nor could I explain it to don Juan. When I tried to put my thoughts into words I found myself babbling.
Don Juan seemed to recognize my state of mind. He suggested that I relax and listen. He told me his next story was about the process of bringing an apprentice into the realm of the spirit, a process sorcerers called the trickery of the spirit, or dusting the connecting link to intent.
“I’ve already told you the story of how the nagual Julian took me to his house after I was shot and tended my wound until I recovered,” don Juan continued. “But I didn’t tell you how he dusted my link, how he taught me to stalk myself.
“The first thing a nagual does with his prospective apprentice is to trick him. That is, he gives him a jolt on his connecting link to the spirit. There are two ways of doing this. One is through semi-normal channels, which I used with you, and the other is by means of outright sorcery, which my benefactor used on me.”
Don Juan again told me the story of how his benefactor had convinced the people who had gathered at the road that the wounded man was his son. Then he had paid some men to carry don Juan, unconscious from shock and loss of blood, to his own house. Don Juan woke there, days later, and found a kind old man and his fat wife tending his wound.
The old man said his name was Belisario and that his wife was a famous healer and that both of them were healing his wound. Don Juan told them he had no money, and Belisario suggested that when he recovered, payment of some sort could be arranged.
Don Juan said that he was thoroughly confused, which was nothing new to him. He was just a muscular, reckless twenty-year-old Indian, with no brains, no formal education, and a terrible temper. He had no conception of gratitude. He thought it was very kind of the old man and his wife to have helped him, but his intention was to wait for his wound to heal and then simply vanish in the middle of the night.
When he had recovered enough and was ready to flee, old Belisario took him into a room and in trembling whispers disclosed that the house where they were staying belonged to a monstrous man who was holding him and his wife prisoner. He asked don Juan to help them to regain their freedom, to escape from their captor and tormentor. Before don Juan could reply, a monstrous fish-faced man right out of a horror tale burst into the room, as if he had been listening behind the door. He was greenish-gray, had only one unblinking eye in the middle of his forehead, and was as big as a door. He lurched at don Juan, hissing like a serpent, ready to tear him apart, and frightened him so greatly that he fainted.
“His way of giving me a jolt on my connecting link with the spirit was masterful.” Don Juan laughed. “My benefactor, of course, had shifted me into heightened awareness prior to the monster’s entrance, so that what I actually saw as a monstrous man was what sorcerers call an inorganic being, a formless energy field.”
Don Juan said that he knew countless cases in which his benefactor’s devilishness created hilariously embarrassing situations for all his apprentices, especially for don Juan himself, whose seriousness and stiffness made him the perfect subject for his benefactor’s didactic jokes. He added as an afterthought that it went without saying that these jokes entertained his benefactor immensely.
“If you think I laugh at you – which I do – it’s nothing compared with how he laughed at me,” don Juan continued. “My devilish benefactor had learned to weep to hide his laughter. You just can’t imagine how he used to cry when I first began my apprenticeship.”
Continuing with his story, don Juan stated that his life was never the same after the shock of seeing that monstrous man. His benefactor made sure of it. Don Juan explained that once a nagual has introduced his prospective disciple, especially his nagual disciple, to trickery he must struggle to assure his compliance. This compliance could be of two different kinds. Either the prospective disciple is so disciplined and tuned that only his decision to join the nagual is needed, as had been the case with young Talia. Or the prospective disciple is someone with little or no discipline, in which case a nagual has to expend time and a great deal of labor to convince his disciple.
In don Juan’s case, because he was a wild young peasant without a thought in his head, the process of reeling him in took bizarre turns.
Soon after the first jolt, his benefactor gave him a second one by showing don Juan his ability to transform himself. One day his benefactor became a young man. Don Juan was incapable of conceiving of this transformation as anything but an example of a consummate actor’s art.
“How did he accomplish those changes?” I asked.
“He was both a magician and an artist,” don Juan replied. “His magic was that he transformed himself by moving his assemblage point into the position that would bring on whatever particular change he desired. And his art was the perfection of his transformations.”
“I don’t quite understand what you’re telling me,” I said.
Don Juan said that perception is the hinge for everything man is or does, and that perception is ruled by the location of the assemblage point. Therefore, if that point changes positions, man’s perception of the world changes accordingly. The sorcerer who knew exactly where to place his assemblage point could become anything he wanted.
“The nagual Julian’s proficiency in moving his assemblage point was so magnificent that he could elicit the subtlest transformations,” don Juan continued. “When a sorcerer becomes a crow, for instance, it is definitely a great accomplishment. But it entails a vast and therefore a gross shift of the assemblage point. However, moving it to the position of a fat man, or an old man, requires the minutest shift and the keenest knowledge of human nature.”
“I’d rather avoid thinking or talking about those things as facts,” I said.
Don Juan laughed as if I had said the funniest thing imaginable.
“Was there a reason for your benefactor’s transformations?” I asked. “Or was he just amusing himself?”
“Don’t be stupid. Warriors don’t do anything just to amuse themselves,” he replied. “His transformations were strategical. They were dictated by need, like his transformation from old to young. Now and then there were funny consequences, but that’s another matter.”
I reminded him that I had asked before how his benefactor learned those transformations. He had told me then that his benefactor had a teacher, but would not tell me who.
“That very mysterious sorcerer who is our ward taught him,” don Juan replied curtly.
“What mysterious sorcerer is that?” I asked.
“The death defier,” he said and looked at me questioningly.
For all the sorcerers of don Juan’s party the death defier was a most vivid character. According to them, the death defier was a sorcerer of ancient times. He had succeeded in surviving to the present day by manipulating his assemblage point, making it move in specific ways to specific locations within his total energy field. Such maneuvers had permitted his awareness and life force to persist.
Don Juan had told me about the agreement that the seers of his lineage had entered into with the death defier centuries before. He made gifts to them in exchange for vital energy. Because of this agreement, they considered him their ward and called him “the tenant.”
Don Juan had explained that sorcerers of ancient times were expert at making the assemblage point move. In doing so they had discovered extraordinary things about perception, but they had also discovered how easy it was to get lost in aberration. The death defier’s situation was for don Juan a classic example of an aberration.
Don Juan used to repeat every chance he could that if the assemblage point was pushed by someone who not only saw it but also had enough energy to move it, it slid, within the luminous ball, to whatever location the pusher directed. Its brilliance was enough to light up the threadlike energy fields it touched. The resulting perception of the world was as complete as, but not the same as, our normal perception of everyday life, therefore, sobriety was crucial to dealing with the moving of the assemblage point.
Continuing his story, don Juan said that he quickly became accustomed to thinking of the old man who had saved his life as really a young man masquerading as old. But one day the young man was again the old Belisario don Juan had first met. He and the woman don Juan thought was his wife packed their bags, and two smiling men with a team of mules appeared out of nowhere.
Don Juan laughed, savoring his story. He said that while the muleteers packed the mules, Belisario pulled him aside and pointed out that he and his wife were again disguised.
He was again an old man, and his beautiful wife was a fat irascible Indian.
“I was so young and stupid that only the obvious had value for me,” don Juan continued. “Just a couple of days before, I had seen his incredible transformation from a feeble man in his seventies to a vigorous young man in his mid-twenties, and I took his word that old age was just a disguise. His wife had also changed from a sour, fat Indian to a beautiful slender young woman.
The woman, of course, hadn’t transformed herself the way my benefactor had. He had simply changed the woman. Of course, I could have seen everything at that time, but wisdom always comes to us painfully and in driblets.”
Don Juan said that the old man assured him that his wound was healed although he did not feel quite well yet. He then embraced don Juan and in a truly sad voice whispered, “the monster has liked you so much that he has released me and my wife from bondage and taken you as his sole servant.”
“I would have laughed at him,” don Juan went on, “had it not been for a deep animal growling and a frightening rattle that came from the monster’s rooms.”
Don Juan’s eyes were shining with inner delight. I wanted to remain serious, but could not help laughing.
Belisario, aware of don Juan’s fright, apologized profusely for the twist of fate that had liberated him and imprisoned don Juan. He clicked his tongue in disgust and cursed the monster.
He had tears in his eyes when he listed all the chores the monster wanted done daily. And when don Juan protested, he confided, in low tones, that there was no way to escape, because the monster’s knowledge of witchcraft was unequaled.
Don Juan asked Belisario to recommend some line of action. And Belisario went into a long explanation about plans of action being appropriate only if one were dealing with average human beings. In the human context, we can plan and plot and, depending on luck, plus our cunning and dedication, can succeed. But in the face of the unknown, specifically don Juan’s situation, the only hope of survival was to acquiesce and understand.
Belisario confessed to don Juan in a barely audible murmur that to make sure the monster never came after him, he was going to the state of Durango to learn sorcery. He asked don Juan if he, too, would consider learning sorcery. And don Juan, horrified at the thought, said that he would have nothing to do with witches.
Don Juan held his sides laughing and admitted that he enjoyed thinking about how his benefactor must have relished their interplay. Especially when he himself, in a frenzy of fear and passion, rejected the bona fide invitation to learn sorcery, saying, “I am an Indian. I was born to hate and fear witches.”
Belisario exchanged looks with his wife and his body began to convulse. Don Juan realized he was weeping silently, obviously hurt by the rejection. His wife had to prop him up until he regained his composure.
As Belisario and his wife were walking away, he turned and gave don Juan one more piece of advice. He said that the monster abhorred women, and don Juan should be on the lookout for a male replacement on the off chance that the monster would like him enough to switch slaves. But he should not raise his hopes, because it was going to be years before he could even leave the house. The monster liked to make sure his slaves were loyal or at least obedient. Don Juan could stand it no longer. He broke down, began to weep, and told Belisario that no one was going to enslave him. He could always kill himself. The old man was very moved by don Juan’s outburst and confessed that he had had the same idea, but, alas, the monster was able to read his thoughts and had prevented him from taking his own life every time he had tried.
Belisario made another offer to take don Juan with him to Durango to learn sorcery. He said it was the only possible solution. And don Juan told him his solution was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Belisario began to weep loudly and embraced don Juan. He cursed the moment he had saved the other man’s life and swore that he had no idea they would trade places. He blew his nose, and looking at don Juan with burning eyes, said, “Disguise is the only way to survive. If you don’t behave properly, the monster can steal your soul and turn you into an idiot who does his chores, and nothing more. Too bad I don’t have time to teach you acting.” Then he wept even more.
Don Juan, choking with tears asked him to describe how he could disguise himself. Belisario confided that the monster had terrible eyesight, and recommended that don Juan experiment with various clothes that suited his fancy. He had, after all, years ahead of him to try different disguises. He embraced don Juan at the door, weeping openly. His wife touched don Juan’s hand shyly. And then they were gone.
“Never in my life, before or after, have I felt such terror and despair,” don Juan said. “The monster rattled things inside the house as if he were waiting impatiently for me. I sat down by the door and whined like a dog in pain. Then I vomited from sheer fear.”
Don Juan sat for hours incapable of moving. He dared not leave, nor did he dare go inside. It was no exaggeration to say that he was actually about to die when he saw Belisario waving his arms, frantically trying to catch his attention from the other side of the street. Just seeing him again gave don Juan instantaneous relief. Belisario was squatting by the sidewalk watching the house. He signaled don Juan to stay put.
After an excruciatingly long time, Belisario crawled a few feet on his hands and knees toward don Juan, then squatted again, totally immobile. Crawling in that fashion, he advanced until he was at don Juan’s side. It took him hours. A lot of people had passed by, but no one seemed to have noticed don Juan’s despair or the old man’s actions. When the two of them were side by side, Belisario whispered that he had not felt right leaving don Juan like a dog tied to a post. His wife had objected, but he had returned to attempt to rescue him. After all, it was thanks to don Juan that he had gained his freedom.
He asked don Juan in a commanding whisper whether he was ready and willing to do anything to escape this. And don Juan assured him that he would do anything. In the most surreptitious manner, Belisario handed don Juan a bundle of clothes. Then he outlined his plan. Don Juan was to go to the area of the house farthest from the monster’s rooms and slowly change his clothes, taking off one item of clothing at a time, starting with his hat, leaving the shoes for last. Then he was to put all his clothes on a wooden frame, a mannequin-like structure he was to build, efficiently and quickly, as soon as he was inside the house. The next step of the plan was for don Juan to put on the only disguise that could fool the monster: the clothes in the bundle.
Don Juan ran into the house and got everything ready. He built a scarecrow-like frame with poles he found in the back of the house, took off his clothes and put them on it. But when he opened the bundle he got the surprise of his life. The bundle consisted of women’s clothes!
“I felt stupid and lost,” don Juan said, “and was just about to put my own clothes back on when I heard the inhuman growls of that monstrous man. I had been reared to despise women, to believe their only function was to take care of men. Putting on women’s clothes to me was tantamount to becoming a woman. But my fear of the monster was so intense that I closed my eyes and put on the damned clothes.”
I looked at don Juan, imagining him in women’s clothes. It was an image so utterly ridiculous that against my will I broke into a belly laugh.
Don Juan said that when old Belisario, waiting for him across the street, saw don Juan in disguise, he began to weep uncontrollably. Weeping, he guided don Juan to the outskirts of town where his wife was waiting with the two muleteers. One of them very daringly asked Belisario if he was stealing the weird girl to sell her to a whorehouse. The old man wept so hard he seemed on the verge of fainting. The young muleteers did not know what to do, but Belisario’s wife, instead of commiserating, began to scream with laughter. And don Juan could not understand why.
The party began to move in the dark. They took little-traveled trails and moved steadily north. Belisario did not speak much. He seemed to be frightened and expecting trouble. His wife fought with him all the time and complained that they had thrown away their chance for freedom by taking don Juan along. Belisario gave her strict orders not to mention it again for fear the muleteers would discover that don Juan was in disguise. He cautioned don Juan that because he did not know how to behave convincingly like a woman, he should act as if he were a girl who was a little touched in the head.
Within a few days don Juan’s fear subsided a great deal. In fact, he became so confident that he could not even remember having been afraid. If it had not been for the clothes he was wearing, he could have imagined the whole experience had been a bad dream.
Wearing women’s clothes under those conditions, entailed, of course, a series of drastic changes. Belisario’s wife coached don Juan, with true seriousness, in every aspect of being a woman. Don Juan helped her cook, wash clothes, gather firewood. Belisario shaved don Juan’s head and put a strong-smelling medicine on it, and told the muleteers that the girl had had an infestation of lice. Don Juan said that since he was still a beardless youth it was not really difficult to pass as a woman. But he felt disgusted with himself, and with all those people, and, above all, with his fate. To end up wearing women’s clothes and doing women’s chores was more than he could bear.
One day he had enough. The muleteers were the final straw. They expected and demanded that this strange girl wait on them hand and foot. Don Juan said that he also had to be on permanent guard, because they would make passes.
I felt compelled to ask a question.
“Were the muleteers in cahoots with your benefactor? I asked.
“No,” he replied and began to laugh uproariously. “They were just two nice people who had fallen temporarily under his spell. He had hired their mules to carry medicinal plants and told them that he would pay handsomely if they would help him kidnap a young woman.”
The scope of the nagual Julian’s actions staggered my imagination. I pictured don Juan fending off sexual advances and hollered with laughter.
Don Juan continued his account. He said that he told the old man sternly that the masquerade had lasted long enough, the men were making sexual advances. Belisario nonchalantly advised him to be more understanding, because men will be men, and began to weep again, completely baffling don Juan, who found himself furiously defending women.
He was so passionate about the plight of women that he scared himself. He told Belisario that he was going to end up in worse shape than he would have, had he stayed as the monster’s slave.
Don Juan’s turmoil increased when the old man wept uncontrollably and mumbled inanities: life was sweet, the little price one had to pay for it was a joke, the monster would devour don Juan’s soul and not even allow him to kill himself.
“Flirt with the muleteers,” he advised don Juan in a conciliatory tone and manner. “They are primitive peasants. All they want is to play, so push them back when they shove you. Let them touch your leg. What do you care?” And again, he wept unrestrainedly.
Don Juan asked him why he wept like that.
“Because you are perfect for all this,” he said and his body twisted with the force of his sobbing.
Don Juan thanked him for his good feelings and for all the trouble he was taking on his account. He told Belisario he now felt safe and wanted to leave.
“The art of stalking is learning all the quirks of your disguise,” Belisario said, paying no attention to what don Juan was telling him. “And it is to learn them so well no one will know you are disguised. For that you need to be ruthless, cunning, patient, and sweet.”
Don Juan had no idea what Belisario was talking about. Rather than finding out, he asked him for some men’s clothes. Belisario was very understanding. He gave don Juan some old clothes and a few pesos. He promised don Juan that his disguise would always be there in case he needed it, and pressed him vehemently to come to Durango with him to learn sorcery and free himself from the monster for good. Don Juan said no and thanked him. So Belisario bid him goodbye and patted him on the back repeatedly and with considerable force.
Don Juan changed his clothes and asked Belisario for directions. He answered that if don Juan followed the trail north, sooner or later he would reach the next town. He said that the two of them might even cross paths again since they were all going in the same general direction – away from the monster.
Don Juan took off as fast as he could, free at last. He must have walked four or five miles before he found signs of people. He knew that a town was nearby and thought that perhaps he could get work there until he decided where he was going. He sat down to rest for a moment, anticipating the normal difficulties a stranger would find in a small out-of-the-way town, when from the corner of his eye he saw a movement in the bushes by the mule trail. He felt someone was watching him. He became so thoroughly terrified that he jumped up and started to run in the direction of the town; the monster jumped at him lurching out to grab his neck. He missed by an inch. Don Juan screamed as he had never screamed before, but still had enough self-control to turn and run back in the direction from which he had come.
While don Juan ran for his life, the monster pursued him, crashing through the bushes only a few feet away. Don Juan said that it was the most frightening sound he had ever heard. Finally he saw the mules moving slowly in the distance, and he yelled for help.
Belisario recognized don Juan and ran toward him displaying overt terror. He threw the bundle of women’s clothes at don Juan shouting, “Run like a woman, you fool.”
Don Juan admitted that he did not know how he had the presence of mind to run like a woman, but he did it. The monster stopped chasing him. And Belisario told him to change quickly while he held the monster at bay.
Don Juan joined Belisario’s wife and the smiling muleteers without looking at anybody. They doubled back and took other trails. Nobody spoke for days; then Belisario gave him daily lessons.
He told don Juan that Indian women were practical and went directly to the heart of things, but that they were also very shy, and that when challenged they showed the physical signs of fright in shifty eyes, tight mouths, and enlarged nostrils. All these signs were accompanied by a fearful stubbornness, followed by shy laughter.
He made don Juan practice his womanly behavior skills in every town they passed through. And don Juan honestly believed he was teaching him to be an actor. But Belisario insisted that he was teaching him the art of stalking. He told don Juan that stalking was an art applicable to everything, and that there were four steps to learning it: ruthlessness, cunning, patience, and sweetness.
I felt compelled to interrupt his account once more.
“But isn’t stalking taught in deep, heightened awareness?” I asked.
“Of course,” he replied with a grin. “But you have to understand that for some men wearing women’s clothes is the door into heightened awareness. In fact, such means are more effective than pushing the assemblage point, but are very difficult to arrange.”
Don Juan said that his benefactor drilled him daily in the four moods of stalking and insisted that don Juan understand that ruthlessness should not be harshness, cunning should not be cruelty, patience should not be negligence, and sweetness should not be foolishness.
He taught him that these four steps had to be practiced and perfected until they were so smooth they were unnoticeable. He believed women to be natural stalkers. And his conviction was so strong he maintained that only in a woman’s disguise could any man really learn the art of stalking.
“I went with him to every market in every town we passed and haggled with everyone,” don Juan went on. “My benefactor used to stay to one side watching me. ‘Be ruthless but charming,’ he used to say. ‘Be cunning but nice. Be patient but active. Be sweet but lethal. Only women can do it. If a man acts this way he’s being prissy.’ ”
And as if to make sure don Juan stayed in line, the monstrous man appeared from time to time. Don Juan caught sight of him, roaming the countryside. He would see him most often after Belisario gave him a vigorous back massage, supposedly to alleviate a sharp nervous pain in his neck. Don Juan laughed and said that he had no idea he was being manipulated into heightened awareness.
“It took us one month to reach the city of Durango,” don Juan said. “In that month, I had a brief sample of the four moods of stalking. It really didn’t change me much, but it gave me a chance to have an inkling of what being a woman was like.”
Don Juan said that I should sit there at that ancient lookout post and use the pull of the earth to move my assemblage point and recall other states of heightened awareness in which he had taught me stalking.
“In the past few days, I have mentioned many times the four moods of stalking,” he went on. “I have mentioned ruthlessness, cunning, patience, and sweetness, with the hope that you might remember what I taught you about them. It would be wonderful if you could use these four moods as the ushers to bring you into a total recollection.”
He kept quiet for what seemed an inordinately long moment. Then he made a statement which should not have surprised me, but did. He said he had taught me the four moods of stalking in northern Mexico with the help of Vicente Medrano and Silvio Manuel. He did not elaborate but let his statement sink in. I tried to remember but finally gave up and wanted to shout that I could not remember something that never happened.
As I was struggling to voice my protest, anxious thoughts began to cross my mind. I knew don Juan had not said what he had just to annoy me. As I always did when asked to remember heightened awareness, I became obsessively conscious that there was really no continuity to the events I had experienced under his guidance. Those events were not strung together as the events in my daily life were, in a linear sequence. It was perfectly possible he was right. In don Juan’s world, I had no business being certain of anything.
I tried to voice my doubts but he refused to listen and urged me to recollect. By then it was quite dark. It had gotten windy, but I did not feel the cold. Don Juan had given me a flat rock to place on my sternum. My awareness was keenly tuned to everything around. I felt an abrupt pull, which was neither external nor internal, but rather the sensation of a sustained tugging at an unidentifiable part of myself. Suddenly I began to remember with shattering clarity a meeting I had had years before. I remembered events and people so vividly that it frightened me. I felt a chill.
I told all this to don Juan, who did not seem impressed or concerned. He urged me not to give in to mental or physical fear. My recollection was so phenomenal that it was as if I were reliving the experience. Don Juan kept quiet. He did not even look at me. I felt numbed. The sensation of numbness passed slowly.
I repeated the same things I always said to don Juan when I remembered an event with no linear existence.
“How can this be, don Juan? How could I have forgotten all this?”
And he reaffirmed the same things he always did.
“This type of remembering or forgetting has nothing to do with normal memory,” he assured me. “It has to do with the movement of the assemblage point.”
He affirmed that although I possessed total knowledge of what intent is, I did not command that knowledge yet. Knowing what intent is means that one can, at any time, explain that knowledge or use it. A nagual by the force of his position is obliged to command his knowledge in this manner.
“What did you recollect?” he asked me.
“The first time you told me about the four moods of stalking,” I said.
Some process, inexplicable in terms of my usual awareness of the world, had released a memory which a minute before had not existed. And I recollected an entire sequence of events that had happened many years before.
Just as I was leaving don Juan’s house in Sonora, he had asked me to meet him the following week around noon, across the U.S. border, in Nogales, Arizona, in the Greyhound bus depot.
I arrived about an hour early. He was standing by the door. I greeted him. He did not answer but hurriedly pulled me aside and whispered that I should take my hands out of my pockets. I was dumbfounded. He did not give me time to respond, but said that my fly was open, and it was shamefully evident that I was sexually aroused.
The speed with which I rushed to cover myself was phenomenal. By the time I realized it was a crude joke we were on the street. Don Juan was laughing, slapping me on the back repeatedly and forcefully, as if he were just celebrating the joke. Suddenly I found myself in a state of heightened awareness.
We walked into a coffee shop and sat down. My mind was so clear I wanted to look at everything, see the essence of things.
“Don’t waste energy!” don Juan commanded in a stern voice. “I brought you here to discover if you can eat when your assemblage point has moved. Don’t try to do more than that.”
But then a man sat down at the table in front of me, and all my attention became trapped by him.
“Move your eyes in circles,” don Juan commanded. “Don’t look at that man.”
I found it impossible to stop watching the man. I felt irritated by don Juan’s demands.
“What do you see?” I heard don Juan ask.
I was seeing a luminous cocoon made of transparent wings which were folded over the cocoon itself. The wings unfolded, fluttered for an instant, peeled off, fell, and were replaced by new wings, which repeated the same process.
Don Juan boldly turned my chair until I was facing the wall.
“What a waste,” he said in a loud sigh, after I described what I had seen. “You have exhausted nearly all your energy. Restrain yourself. A warrior needs focus. Who gives a damn about wings on a luminous cocoon?”
He said that heightened awareness was like a springboard. From it one could jump into infinity. He stressed, over and over, that when the assemblage point was dislodged, it either became lodged again at a position very near its customary one or continued moving on into infinity.
“People have no idea of the strange power we carry within ourselves,” he went on. “At this moment, for instance, you have the means to reach infinity. If you continue with your needless behavior, you may succeed in pushing your assemblage point beyond a certain threshold, from which there is no return.”
I understood the peril he was talking about, or rather I had the bodily sensation that I was standing on the brink of an abyss, and that if I leaned forward I would fall into it.
“Your assemblage point moved to heightened awareness,” he continued, “because I have lent you my energy.”
We ate in silence, very simple food. Don Juan did not allow me to drink coffee or tea.
“While you are using my energy,” he said, “you’re not in your own time. You are in mine. I
As we were walking back to my car I felt a bit nauseous. I staggered and almost lost my balance. It was a sensation similar to that of walking while wearing glasses for the first time.
“Get hold of yourself,” don Juan said, smiling. “Where we’re going, you’ll need to be extremely precise.”
He told me to drive across the international border into the twin city of Nogales, Mexico.
While I was driving, he gave me directions: which street to take, when to make right or left hand turns, how fast to go.
“I know this area,” I said quite peeved. “Tell me where you want to go and I’ll take you there. Like a taxi driver.”
“O.K.,” he said. “Take me to 1573 Heavenward Avenue.”
I did not know Heavenward Avenue, or if such a street really existed. In fact, I had the suspicion he had just concocted a name to embarrass me. I kept silent. There was a mocking glint in his shiny eyes.
“Egomania is a real tyrant,” he said. “We must work ceaselessly to dethrone it.”
He continued to tell me how to drive. Finally he asked me to stop in front of a one-story, light beige house on a corner lot, in a well-to-do neighborhood.
There was something about the house that immediately caught my eye: a thick layer of ocher gravel all around it. The solid street door, the window sashes, and the house trim were all painted ocher, like the gravel. All the visible windows had closed Venetian blinds. To all appearances it was a typical suburban middle-class dwelling.
We got out of the car. Don Juan led the way. He did not knock or open the door with a key, but when we got to it, the door opened silently on oiled hinges – all by itself, as far as I could detect.
Don Juan quickly entered. He did not invite me in. I just followed him. I was curious to see who had opened the door from the inside, but there was no one there.
The interior of the house was very soothing. There were no pictures on the smooth, scrupulously clean walls. There were no lamps or book shelves either. A golden yellow tile floor contrasted most pleasingly with the off-white color of the walls. We were in a small and narrow hall that opened into a spacious living room with a high ceiling and a brick fireplace. Half the room was completely empty, but next to the fireplace was a semicircle of expensive furniture: two large beige couches in the middle, flanked by two armchairs covered in fabric of the same color. There was a heavy, round, solid oak coffee table in the center. Judging from what I was seeing around the house, the people who lived there appeared to be well off, but frugal. And they obviously liked to sit around the fire.
Two men, perhaps in their mid-fifties, sat in the armchairs. They stood when we entered. One of them was Indian, the other Latin American. Don Juan introduced me first to the Indian, who was nearer to me.
“This is Silvio Manuel,” don Juan said to me. “He’s the most powerful and dangerous sorcerer of my party, and the most mysterious too.”
Silvio Manuel’s features were out of a Mayan fresco. His complexion was pale, almost yellow. I thought he looked Chinese. His eyes were slanted, but without the epicanthic fold. They were big, black, and brilliant. He was beardless. His hair was jet-black with specks of gray in it. He had high cheekbones and full lips. He was perhaps five feet seven, thin, wiry, and he wore a yellow sport shirt, brown slacks, and a thin beige jacket. Judging from his clothes and general mannerisms, he seemed to be Mexican-American.
I smiled and extended my hand to Silvio Manuel, but he did not take it. He nodded perfunctorily.
“And this is Vicente Medrano,” don Juan said, turning to the other man. “He’s the most knowledgeable and the oldest of my companions. He is oldest not in terms of age, but because he was my benefactor’s first disciple.”
Vicente nodded just as perfunctorily as Silvio Manuel had, and also did not say a word.
He was a bit taller than Silvio Manuel, but just as lean. He had a pinkish complexion and a neatly trimmed beard and mustache. His features were almost delicate: a thin, beautifully chiseled nose, a small mouth, thin lips. Bushy, dark eyebrows contrasted with his graying beard and hair. His eyes were brown and also brilliant and laughed in spite of his frowning expression.
He was conservatively dressed in a greenish seersucker suit and open-collared sport shirt. He too seemed to be Mexican-American. I guessed him to be the owner of the house.
In contrast, don Juan looked like an Indian peon. His straw hat, his worn-out shoes, his old khaki pants and plaid shirt were those of a gardener or a handyman.
The impression I had, upon seeing all three of them together, was that don Juan was in disguise. The military image came to me that don Juan was the commanding officer of a clandestine operation, an officer who, no matter how hard he tried, could not hide his years of command.
I also had the feeling that they must all have been around the same age, although don Juan looked much older than the other two, yet seemed infinitely stronger.
“I think you already know that Carlos is by far the biggest indulger I have ever met,” don Juan told them with a most serious expression. “Bigger even than our benefactor. I assure you that if there is someone who takes indulging seriously, this is the man.”
I laughed, but no one else did. The two men observed me with a strange glint in their eyes.
“For sure you’ll make a memorable trio,” don Juan continued. “The oldest and most knowledgeable, the most dangerous and powerful, and the most self-indulgent.”
They still did not laugh. They scrutinized me until I became self-conscious. Then Vicente broke the silence.
“I don’t know why you brought him inside the house,” he said in a dry, cutting tone. “He’s of little use to us. Put him out in the backyard.”
“And tie him,” Silvio Manuel added.
Don Juan turned to me. “Come on,” he said in a soft voice and pointed with a quick sideways movement of his head to the back of the house.
It was more than obvious that the two men did not like me. I did not know what to say. I was definitely angry and hurt, but those feelings were somehow deflected by my state of heightened awareness.
We walked into the backyard. Don Juan casually picked up a leather rope and twirled it around my neck with tremendous speed. His movements were so fast and so nimble that an instant later, before I could realize what was happening, I was tied at the neck, like a dog, to one of the two cinder-block columns supporting the heavy roof over the back porch.
Don Juan shook his head from side to side in a gesture of resignation or disbelief and went back into the house as I began to yell at him to untie me. The rope was so tight around my neck it prevented me from screaming as loud as I would have liked.
I could not believe what was taking place. Containing my anger, I tried to undo the knot at my neck. It was so compact that the leather strands seemed glued together. I hurt my nails trying to pull them apart.
I had an attack of uncontrollable wrath and growled like an impotent animal. Then I grabbed the rope, twisted it around my forearms, and bracing my feet against the cinder-block column, pulled. But the leather was too tough for the strength of my muscles. I felt humiliated and scared.
Fear brought me a moment of sobriety. I knew I had let don Juan’s false aura of reasonableness deceive me. I assessed my situation as objectively as I could and saw no way to escape except by cutting the leather rope. I frantically began to rub it against the sharp corner of the cinder-block column. I thought that if I could rip the rope before any of the men came to the back, I had a chance to run to my car and take off, never to return.
I puffed and sweated and rubbed the rope until I had nearly worn it through. Then I braced one foot against the column, wrapped the rope around my forearms again, and pulled it desperately until it snapped, throwing me back into the house.
As I crashed backward through the open door, don Juan, Vicente, and Silvio Manuel were standing in the middle of the room, applauding.
“What a dramatic re-entry,” Vicente said, helping me up. “You fooled me. I didn’t think you were capable of such explosions.”
Don Juan came to me and snapped the knot open, freeing my neck from the piece of rope around it.
I was shaking with fear, exertion, and anger. In a faltering voice, I asked don Juan why he was tormenting me like this. The three of them laughed and at that moment seemed the farthest thing from threatening.
“We wanted to test you and find out what sort of a man you really are,” don Juan said.
He led me to one of the couches and politely offered me a seat. Vicente and Silvio Manuel sat in the armchairs, don Juan sat facing me on the other couch.
I laughed nervously but was no longer apprehensive about my situation, nor about don Juan and his friends. All three regarded me with frank curiosity. Vicente could not stop smiling, although he seemed to be trying desperately to appear serious. Silvio Manuel shook his head rhythmically as he stared at me. His eyes were unfocused but fixed on me.
“We tied you down,” don Juan went on, “because we wanted to know whether you are sweet or patient or ruthless or cunning. We found out you are none of those things. Rather you’re a king-sized indulger, just as I had said.
“If you hadn’t indulged in being violent, you would certainly have noticed that the formidable knot in the rope around your neck was a fake. It snaps. Vicente designed that knot to fool his friends.”
“You tore the rope violently. You’re certainly not sweet,” Silvio Manuel said.
They were all quiet for a moment, then began to laugh.
“You’re neither ruthless nor cunning,” don Juan went on. “If you were, you would easily have snapped open both knots and run away with a valuable leather rope. You’re not patient either. If you were, you would have whined and cried until you realized that there was a pair of clippers by the wall with which you could have cut the rope in two seconds and saved yourself all the agony and exertion.
“You can’t be taught, then, to be violent or obtuse. You already are that. But you can learn to be ruthless, cunning, patient, and sweet.”
Don Juan explained to me that ruthlessness, cunning, patience, and sweetness were the essence of stalking. They were the basics that with all their ramifications had to be taught in careful, meticulous steps.
He was definitely addressing me, but he talked looking at Vicente and Silvio Manuel, who listened with utmost attention and shook their heads in agreement from time to time.
He stressed repeatedly that teaching stalking was one of the most difficult things sorcerers did. And he insisted that no matter what they themselves did to teach me stalking, and no matter what I believed to the contrary, it was impeccability which dictated their acts.
“Rest assured we know what we’re doing. Our benefactor, the nagual Julian, saw to it,” don Juan said, and all three of them broke into such uproarious laughter that I felt quite uncomfortable. I did not know what to think.
Don Juan reiterated that a very important point to consider was that, to an onlooker, the
behavior of sorcerers might appear malicious, when in reality their behavior was always impeccable.
“How can you tell the difference, if you’re at the receiving end?” I asked.
“Malicious acts are performed by people for personal gain,” he said. “Sorcerers, though, have an ulterior purpose for their acts, which has nothing to do with personal gain. The fact that they enjoy their acts does not count as gain. Rather, it is a condition of their character. The average man acts only if there is the chance for profit. Warriors say they act not for profit but for the spirit.”
I thought about it. Acting without considering gain was truly an alien concept. I had been reared to invest and to hope for some kind of reward for everything I did.
Don Juan must have taken my silence and thoughtfulness as skepticism. He laughed and looked at his two companions.
“Take the four of us, as an example,” he went on. “You, yourself, believe that you’re investing in this situation and eventually you are going to profit from it. If you get angry with us, or if we disappoint you, you may resort to malicious acts to get even with us. We, on the contrary, have no thought of personal gain. Our acts are dictated by impeccability – we can’t be angry or disillusioned with you.”
Don Juan smiled and told me that from the moment we had met at the bus depot that day, everything he had done to me, although it might not have seemed so, was dictated by impeccability. He explained that he needed to get me into an unguarded position to help me enter heightened awareness. It was to that end that he had told me my fly was open.
“It was a way of jolting you,” he said with a grin. “We are crude Indians, so all our jolts are somehow primitive. The more sophisticated the warrior, the greater his finesse and elaboration of his jolts. But I have to admit we got a big kick out of our crudeness, especially when we tied you at the neck like a dog.”
The three of them grinned and then laughed quietly as if there was someone else inside the house whom they did not want to disturb.
In a very low voice don Juan said that because I was in a state of heightened awareness, I could understand more readily what he was going to tell me about the two masteries: stalking and intent. He called them the crowning glory of sorcerers old and new, the very thing sorcerers were concerned with today, just as sorcerers had been thousands of years before. He asserted that stalking was the beginning, and that before anything could be attempted on the warrior’s path, warriors must learn to stalk; next they must learn to intend, and only then could they move their assemblage point at will.
I knew exactly what he was talking about. I knew, without knowing how, what moving the assemblage point could accomplish. But I did not have the words to explain what I knew. I tried repeatedly to voice my knowledge to them. They laughed at my failures and coaxed me to try again.
“How would you like it if I articulate it for you?” don Juan asked. “I might be able to find the very words you want to use but can’t.”
From his look, I decided he was seriously asking my permission. I found the situation so incongruous that I began to laugh.
Don Juan, displaying great patience, asked me again, and I got another attack of laughter.
Their look of surprise and concern told me my reaction was incomprehensible to them. Don Juan got up and announced that I was too tired and it was time for me to return to the world of ordinary affairs.
“Wait, wait,” I pleaded. “I am all right. I just find it funny that you should be asking me to give you permission.”
“I have to ask your permission,” don Juan said, “because you’re the only one who can allow the words pent up inside you to be tapped. I think I made the mistake of assuming you understand more than you do. Words are tremendously powerful and important and are the magical property of whoever has them.
“Sorcerers have a rule of thumb: they say that the deeper the assemblage point moves, the greater the feeling that one has knowledge and no words to explain it. Sometimes the assemblage point of average persons can move without a known cause and without their being aware of it, except that they become tongue-tied, confused, and evasive.”
Vicente interrupted and suggested I stay with them a while longer. Don Juan agreed and turned to face me.
“The very first principle of stalking is that a warrior stalks himself,” he said. “He stalks himself ruthlessly, cunningly, patiently, and sweetly.”
I wanted to laugh, but he did not give me time. Very succinctly he defined stalking as the art of using behavior in novel ways for specific purposes. He said that normal human behavior in the world of everyday life was routine. Any behavior that broke from routine caused an unusual effect on our total being. That unusual effect was what sorcerers sought, because it was cumulative.
He explained that the sorcerer seers of ancient times, through their seeing, had first noticed that unusual behavior produced a tremor in the assemblage point. They soon discovered that if unusual behavior was practiced systematically and directed wisely, it eventually forced the assemblage point to move.
“The real challenge for those sorcerer seers,” don Juan went on, “was finding a system of behavior that was neither petty nor capricious, but that combined the morality and the sense of beauty which differentiates sorcerer seers from plain witches.”
He stopped talking, and they all looked at me as if searching for signs of fatigue in my eyes or face.
“Anyone who succeeds in moving his assemblage point to a new position is a sorcerer,” don Juan continued. “And from that new position, he can do all kinds of good and bad things to his fellow men. Being a sorcerer, therefore, can be like being a cobbler or a baker. The quest of sorcerer seers is to go beyond that stand. And to do that, they need morality and beauty.”
He said that for sorcerers stalking was the foundation on which everything else they did was built.
“Some sorcerers object to the term stalking,” he went on, “but the name came about because it entails surreptitious behavior.
“It’s also called the art of stealth, but that term is equally unfortunate. We ourselves, because of our non-militant temperament, call it the art of controlled folly. You can call it anything you wish. We, however, will continue with the term stalking since it’s so easy to say stalker and, as my benefactor used to say, so awkward to say controlled folly maker.”
At the mention of their benefactor, they laughed like children.
I understood him perfectly. I had no questions or doubts. If anything, I had the feeling that I needed to hold onto every word don Juan was saying to anchor myself. Otherwise my thoughts would have run ahead of him.
I noticed that my eyes were fixed on the movement of his lips as my ears were fixed on the sound of his words. But once I realized this, I could no longer follow him. My concentration was broken. Don Juan continued talking, but I was not listening. I was wondering about the inconceivable possibility of living permanently in heightened awareness. I asked myself what would the survival value be? Would one be able to assess situations better? Be quicker than the average man, or perhaps more intelligent?
Don Juan suddenly stopped talking and asked me what I was thinking about.
“Ah, you’re so very practical,” he commented after I had told him my reveries. “I thought that in heightened awareness your temperament was going to be more artistic, more mystical.”
Don Juan turned to Vicente and asked him to answer my question. Vicente cleared his throat and dried his hands by rubbing them against his thighs. He gave the clear impression of suffering from stage fright. I felt sorry for him. My thoughts began to spin. And when I heard him stammering, an image burst into my mind – the image I had always had of my father’s timidity, his fear of people. But before I had time to surrender myself to that image, Vicente’s eyes flared with some strange inner luminosity. He made a comically serious face at me and then spoke with authority and in professorial manner.
“To answer your question,” he said, “there is no survival value in heightened awareness; otherwise the whole human race would be there. They are safe from that, though, because it’s so hard to get into it. There is always, however, the remote possibility that an average man might enter into such a state. If he does, he ordinarily succeeds in confusing himself, sometimes irreparably.”
The three of them exploded with laughter.
“Sorcerers say that heightened awareness is the portal of intent” don Juan said. “And they use it as such. Think about it.”
I was staring at each of them in turn. My mouth was open, and I felt that if I kept it open I would be able to understand the riddle eventually. I closed my eyes and the answer came to me. I felt it. I did not think it. But I could not put it into words, no matter how hard I tried.
“There, there,” don Juan said, “you’ve gotten another sorcerer’s answer all by yourself, but you still don’t have enough energy to flatten it and turn it into words.”
The sensation I was experiencing was more than just that of being unable to voice my thoughts; it was like reliving something I had forgotten ages ago: not to know what I felt because I had not yet learned to speak, and therefore lacked the resources to translate my feelings into thoughts.
“Thinking and saying exactly what you want to say requires untold amounts of energy,” don Juan said and broke into my feelings.
The force of my reverie had been so intense it had made me forget what had started it. I stared dumbfounded at don Juan and confessed I had no idea what they or I had said or done just a moment before. I remembered the incident of the leather rope and what don Juan had told me immediately afterward, but I could not recall the feeling that had flooded me just moments ago.
“You’re going the wrong way,” don Juan said. “You’re trying to remember thoughts the way you normally do, but this is a different situation. A second ago you had an overwhelming feeling that you knew something very specific.
Such feelings cannot be recollected by using memory. You have to recall them by intending them back.”
He turned to Silvio Manuel, who had stretched out in the armchair, his legs under the coffee table. Silvio Manuel looked fixedly at me. His eyes were black, like two pieces of shiny obsidian.
Without moving a muscle, he let out a piercing birdlike scream.
“Intent!!” he yelled. “Intent!! Intent!!”
With each scream his voice became more and more inhuman and piercing. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I felt goose bumps on my skin. My mind, however, instead of focusing on the fright I was experiencing, went directly to recollecting the feeling I had had. But before I could savor it completely, the feeling expanded and burst into something else. And then I understood not only why heightened awareness was the portal of intent, but I also understood what intent was. And, above all, I understood that that knowledge could not be turned into words.
That knowledge was there for everyone. It was there to be felt, to be used, but not to be explained. One could come into it by changing levels of awareness, therefore, heightened awareness was an entrance. But even the entrance could not be explained. One could only make use of it.
There was still another piece of knowledge that came to me that day without any coaching: that the natural knowledge of intent was available to anyone, but the command of it belonged to those who probed it.
I was terribly tired by this time, and doubtlessly as a result of that, my Catholic upbringing came to bear heavily on my reactions. For a moment I believed that intent was God.
I said as much to don Juan, Vicente and Silvio Manuel. They laughed. Vicente, still in his professorial tone, said that it could not possibly be God, because intent was a force that could not be described, much less represented.
“Don’t be presumptuous,” don Juan said to me sternly. “Don’t try to speculate on the basis of your first and only trial. Wait until you command your knowledge, then decide what is what.”
Remembering the four moods of stalking exhausted me. The most dramatic result was a more than ordinary indifference. I would not have cared if I had dropped dead, nor if don Juan had. I did not care whether we stayed at that ancient lookout post overnight or started back in the pitch dark.
Don Juan was very understanding. He guided me by the hand, as if I were blind, to a massive rock, and helped me sit with my back to it. He recommended that I let natural sleep return me to a normal state of awareness.