(The Eagle’s Gift by Carlos Castaneda)
Florinda said that when she arrived at the curer’s house, she expected to find her perhaps dead, but instead she found Celestino sitting alone. He had sent his men to three different places in the vicinity with orders to bring back the curer, by force if necessary. Florinda saw the same old man she had met the time before; he was trying to calm her husband down, assuring him that any one of his men would be back shortly with the woman.
As soon as Florinda was placed on a cot in the front porch, the curer stepped out of the house. She began to insult Celestino, calling him names, yelling obscenities at him until she got him so angry that he rushed to strike her. The old man held him back and begged him not to hit her. He implored on his knees, pointing out that she was an old woman. Celestino was unmoved. He said that he was going to horsewhip her regardless of her age. He advanced to grab her but was stopped cold. Six awesome-looking men came out from behind the bushes wielding their machetes. Florinda said that fear froze Celestino to the spot. He was ashen. The curer came to him and told him that either he would meekly let her whip him on the buttocks or her helpers would hack him to pieces. As proud a man as he was, he bent over meekly to be whipped. The curer had reduced him in a few moments to a helpless man. She laughed in his face. She knew that he was pinned down and she let him sink. He had walked into her trap, like the careless fool that he was, drunk with his own inflated ideas about his worth.
Florinda looked at me and smiled. She was quiet for a while.
“The first principle of the art of stalking is that warriors choose their battleground,” she said.
“A warrior never goes into battle without knowing what the surroundings are. The woman curer had shown me, through her battle with Celestino, the first principle of stalking.”
“Then she came over to where I was lying down. I was crying. That was the only thing I could do. She seemed concerned. She tucked my blanket around my shoulders and smiled and winked at me.”
“The deal is still on, asshole,” she said. “Come back as soon as you can if you want to live. But don’t bring your master with you, you little whore. Come only with those who are absolutely necessary.”
Florinda fixed her eyes on me for a moment. From her silence I surmised that she wanted my comments.
“To discard everything that is unnecessary is the second principle of the art of stalking,” she said without giving me time to say anything.
Her account had absorbed me so intensely that I had not noticed that the wall of fog had disappeared – or when. I simply realized that it was not there anymore. Florinda got up from her chair and led me to the door. We stood there for awhile, as we had done at the end of our first meeting.
Florinda said that Celestino’s anger had also permitted the curer to point out, not to her reason, but to her body, the first three precepts of the rule for stalkers. Although her mind was focused entirely on herself, since nothing else existed for her outside her physical pain and the anguish of losing her beauty, still her body had acknowledged what had happened, and needed later on only a reminder in order to put everything in place.
“Warriors don’t have the world to cushion them, so they must have the rule,” she went on.
“Yet the rule of stalkers applies to everyone.”
“Celestino’s arrogance was his undoing and the beginning of my instruction and liberation. His self-importance, which was also mine, forced us both to believe that we were above practically everybody. The curer brought us down to what we really are – nothing.”
“The first precept of the rule is that everything that surrounds us is an unfathomable mystery.”
“The second precept of the rule is that we must try to unravel these mysteries, but without ever hoping to accomplish this.”
“The third, that a warrior, aware of the unfathomable mystery that surrounds him and aware of his duty to try to unravel it, takes his rightful place among mysteries and regards himself as one. Consequently, for a warrior there is no end to the mystery of being, whether being means being a pebble, or an ant, or oneself. That is a warrior’s humbleness. One is equal to everything.”
There was a long and forced silence. Florinda smiled, playing with the tip of her long braid.
She said that I had had enough.
The third time I went to see Florinda, don Juan did not leave me at the door but walked in with me. All the members of his party were congregated in the house, and they greeted me as if I were returning home from a long trip. It was an exquisite event; it integrated Florinda with the rest of them in my feelings since that was the first time she had joined them while I was present.
The next time I went to Florinda’s house, don Juan unexpectedly shoved me as he had done before. My shock was immense. Florinda was waiting for me in the hall. I had entered instantly into the state where the wall of fog is visible.
“I’ve told you how the principles of the art of stalking were shown to me,” she said as soon as we sat down on the couch in her living room. “Now, you must do the same for me. How did the Nagual Juan Matus show them to you?”
I told her that I could not remember offhand. I had to think about it, and I could not think. My body was frightened.
“Don’t complicate things,” she said in a tone of command. “Aim at being simple. Apply all the concentration you have to decide whether or not to enter into battle, for any battle is a battle for one’s life. This is the third principle of the art of stalking, A warrior must be willing and ready to make his last stand here and now. But not in a helter-skelter way.”
I simply could not organize my thoughts. I stretched my legs and lay down on the couch. I took deep breaths to relax my midsection, which seemed to be tied in knots.
“Good,” Florinda said. “I see that you’re applying the fourth principle of the art of stalking. Relax, abandon yourself, fear nothing. Only then will the powers that guide us open the road and aid us. Only then.”
I struggled to remember how don Juan had shown me the principles of the art of stalking. For some inexplicable reason my mind refused to focus on my past experience. Don Juan was so vague a memory. I stood up and began to look around.
The room we were in was exquisitely arranged. The floor was made of large buff-colored tiles; excellent craftsmanship had been involved in laying it. I was about to examine the furniture.
I moved toward a beautiful dark-brown table. Florinda jumped to my side and shook me vigorously.
“You’ve correctly applied the fifth principle of the art of stalking” she said. “Don’t let yourself wander away.”
“What is the fifth principle?” I asked.
“When faced with odds that cannot be dealt with, warriors retreat for a moment,” she said.
“They let their minds meander. They occupy their time with something else. Anything would do. “You’ve done just that. But now that you’ve accomplished it, you must apply the sixth principle: Warriors compress time; even an instant counts. In a battle for your life, a second is an eternity; an eternity that may decide the outcome. Warriors aim at succeeding, therefore they compress time. Warriors don’t waste an instant.”
All of a sudden a bulk of memories erupted into my awareness. I excitedly told Florinda that I could certainly remember the first time don Juan had acquainted me with those principles.
Florinda put her fingers to her lips in a gesture that demanded my silence. She said that she had only been interested in bringing me face to face with the principles but she did not want me to relate those experiences to her.
Florinda went on with her story. She said that as the curer was telling her to come back without Celestino, she had her drink a concoction that alleviated her pain almost instantly, and she also whispered in her ear that she, Florinda, had to make a momentous decision by herself, that she should put her mind at ease by doing something else, but that she should not waste a moment once she had reached her decision. At home she stated her desire to go back. Celestino did not see any point in objecting because her conviction was unshakable.
“Almost immediately I went back to see the curer,” Florinda continued. “This time we went on horseback. I took my most trusted servants with me, the girl who had given me the poison and a man to handle the horses. We had a rough time going over those mountains; the horses were very nervous because of the stench of my leg, but we somehow made it. Without knowing I had used the third principle of the art of stalking. I had put my life, or what was left of it, on the line. I was willing and ready to die. It wasn’t such a great decision for me, I was dying anyway. It is a fact that when one is half dead, as in my case, not with great pain but with great discomfort, the tendency is to get so lazy and weak that no effort is possible.
“I stayed at the curer’s house for six days. By the second day I felt better already. The swelling went down. The oozing from the leg had stopped. There was no more pain. I was just a little weak and wobbly in the knees when I tried to walk.
“During the sixth day the curer took me to her room. She was very careful with me and, showing me every consideration, made me sit on her bed and gave me coffee. She sat on the floor at my feet, facing me. I can remember her exact words. ‘You are very, very sick and only I can cure you,’ she said. ‘If I don’t, you’ll die a death that is not to be believed. Since you’re an imbecile, you’ll last to the bitter end. On the other hand, I could cure you in one day but I won’t.
You will have to keep coming here until you have understood what I have to show you. Only then will I cure you completely; otherwise, being the imbecile you are, you will never come back’ Florinda said that the curer, with great patience, explained to her the very delicate points of her decision to help her. She did not understand a word of it. The explanation made her believe more than ever that the curer was a bit touched in the head.
When the curer realized she was not getting through to Florinda, she became more stern and made her repeat over and over, as if Florinda were a child, that without the curer’s help her life was finished, and that the curer could choose to cancel the cure and leave her hopelessly to die.
Finally the woman lost her patience when Florinda begged her to finish healing her and send her home to her family; she picked up a bottle containing the medicine and smashed it on the ground and told Florinda that she was through with her.
Florinda said that she cried then – the only real tears of her life. She told the curer that all she wanted was to be cured and that she was more than willing to pay for it. The woman said it was too late for monetary payment, that what she wanted from Florinda was her attention, not her money.
Florinda admitted to me that she had learned during the course of her life how to get anything she wanted. She knew how to be obstinate, and she raised the point that there must have been thousands of patients that had come to the curer, half dead just like herself, and that the curer took their money – why was her case different? The curer’s reply, which was no explanation at all for Florinda, was that being a seer she had seen Florinda’s luminous body and she and the curer were exactly alike. Florinda thought that the woman had to be mad not to realize that there was a world of difference between them. The curer was a rude Indian, uneducated and primitive, while Florinda was rich and beautiful and white.
Florinda asked the woman what she was planning to do to her. The curer told her that she had been commissioned to heal her and then teach her something of great importance. Florinda wanted to know who had commissioned her. The woman replied that it was the Eagle – a reply which convinced Florinda that the woman was absolutely crazy. And yet Florinda saw no alternative to complying with the woman’s demands. She told her that she was willing to do anything.
The woman changed her belligerent attitude instantly. She gave Florinda some medicine to take home and told her to come back as soon as she could.
“As you yourself know,” Florinda went on, “a teacher must trick the disciple. She tricked me with my cure. She was right. I was such an idiot that if she had cured me right away I would’ve gone back to my stupid life, as if nothing had ever happened to me. Don’t we all do that?”
Florinda returned the following week. Upon arriving she was greeted by the old man she had met before. He talked to her as if they were the best of friends. He said that the curer had been away for several days and would not be back for several more, and that she had entrusted him with some medicine for her in case she showed up. He told Florinda in a very friendly but commanding tone that the curer’s absence had left her with only two alternatives: she could either go back home, possibly in worse physical shape than before due to the strenuous trip, or she could follow the curer’s carefully outlined instructions. He added that if she decided to stay and start her treatment right away, in three to four months she would be as good as new. There was, however, one stipulation: if she decided to stay, she had to remain in the curer’s house for eight consecutive days and had, perforce, to send her servants home.
Florinda said that there was nothing to decide – that she had to stay. The old man immediately gave her the potion that the curer had apparently left for her. He sat up with her most of the night. He was reassuring, and his easy talk kindled Florinda’s optimism and confidence.
Her two servants left the next morning after breakfast. Florinda was not at all afraid. She trusted the old man implicitly. He told her that he had to build a box for her treatment , in accordance with the curer’s instructions. He made her sit on a low chair, which had been placed in the center of a circular area with no vegetation on it. While she was seated there, the old man introduced her to three young men he said were his assistants. Two were Indians and one was white.
It took the four of them less than an hour to construct a crate around the chair where Florinda was sitting. When they were finished, Florinda was encased snugly inside a crate, which had a lattice top to allow for ventilation. One of its sides was hinged in order to serve as a door.
The old man opened the door and helped Florinda to step out of it. He took her to the house and asked her to help him prepare her medicine, in order to have it handy for the time when the curer would return.
Florinda was fascinated with the way he worked. He made a potion out of plants with a pungent odor and prepared a bucket of a hot liquid. He suggested that for her comfort she should immerse her leg in the bucket, and if she felt like it, she should drink the concoction he had prepared before it lost its potency. Florinda obeyed him unquestioningly. The relief she felt was remarkable.
The old man then assigned her a room to herself and had the young men put the crate inside the room. He told her that it might be days before the curer would show up; in the meantime she had to follow meticulously all the instructions left for her. She agreed with him, and he produced a list of tasks. They included a great deal of walking in order to collect the medicinal plants needed for her potions, and her assistance in their actual preparation.
Florinda said that she spent twelve days there instead of eight, because her servants were late due to torrential rains. It was not until the tenth day that she discovered that the woman had never left and that the old man was actually the real curer.
Florinda laughed, describing her shock. The old man had tricked her into actively participating in her own cure. Furthermore, under the pretext that the curer demanded it, he put her inside the crate daily for at least six hours, in order to fulfill a specific task he had called the “recapitulation.”
At that point in her account, Florinda scrutinized me and concluded that I had had enough and that it was time for me to leave.
On our next meeting, she explained that the old man was her benefactor, and that she was the first stalker that the women of her benefactor’s party had found for the Nagual Juan Matus. But none of that was known to her then. Even though her benefactor made her shift levels of awareness and revealed this to her, it was to no avail. She had been raised to be beautiful and that had created a shield around her so impenetrable that she was impervious to change.
Her benefactor concluded that she needed time. He devised a plan to draw Celestino to Florinda’s battleground. He made her see things about Celestino’s personality that she herself knew to be true but had not had the courage to face on her own. Celestino was very possessive of everything he owned; his wealth and Florinda ranked high among his possessions. He had been forced to swallow his pride over his humiliation at the hands of the curer because the curer was cheap and Florinda was actually recuperating. He was biding his time, waiting for a moment when the cure would be complete in order to seek revenge.
Florinda said that her benefactor told her that the danger was that her complete recovery was going to be too quick and Celestino would decide, since he made all the decisions in the house, that there was no longer any need for Florinda to see the curer. Her benefactor then gave her a potion to apply on her other leg. The unguent was terribly pungent and produced an irritation on the skin that resembled the spreading of the disease. Her benefactor advised her to use the unguent every time she wanted to come back to see him, even though she did not need a treatment.
Florinda said that it took a year to be cured. In the course of that time, her benefactor acquainted her with the rule and drilled her like a soldier in the art of stalking. He made her apply the principles of stalking to the things she did daily; small things at first, leading up to the major issues of her life.
In the course of that year, her benefactor also introduced her to the Nagual Juan Matus, whom she described as very witty and thoughtful but still the most unruly and terrifying young man she had ever met. She said that it was the Nagual Juan Matus who helped her escape from Celestino. He and Silvio Manuel smuggled her out of the city through police and army roadblocks. Celestino had filed a legal complaint for desertion, and being an influential man, he had used his resources to try to stop her from leaving him.
Florinda said that her benefactor gave all of them the example of what he meant, first by acting out his premises, and then by giving them the warrior’s rationales for his actions. In her own case, he, being a master of the art of stalking, acted out the ploy of her disease and cure which not only was congruous with the warrior’s way, but was a masterful introduction to the seven basic principles of the art of stalking. He first drew Florinda to his own battleground where she was at his mercy; he forced her to discard what was not essential; he taught her to put her life on the line with a decision; he taught her how to relax; in order to help her regroup her resources, he made her enter into a new arid different mood of optimism and self-confidence; he taught her to compress time; and finally he showed her that a stalker never pushes himself to the front.
Florinda was most impressed by the last principle. To her it summarized everything she wanted to tell me in her last-minute instructions.
“My benefactor was the chief,” Florinda said. “And yet, looking at him, no one would’ve ever believed it. He always had one of his female warriors as a front, while he freely mingled with the patients, pretending to be one of them, or he posed as an old fool who was constantly sweeping dry leaves with a handmade broom.”
Florinda explained that in order to apply the seventh principle of the art of stalking, one has to apply the other six. Thus her benefactor was always looking on from behind the scenes. Thanks to that he was capable of avoiding or parrying conflicts. If there was strife, it was never directed toward him, but towards his front, the female warrior.
“I hope that you have realized by now,” she went on, “that only a master stalker can be a master of controlled folly. Controlled folly doesn’t mean to con people. It means, as my benefactor explained it, that warriors apply the seven basic principles of the art of stalking to whatever they do, from the most trivial acts to life and death situations.
“Applying these principles brings about three results. The first is that stalkers learn never to take themselves seriously; they learn to laugh at themselves. If they’re not afraid of being a fool, they can fool anyone. The second is that stalkers learn to have endless patience. Stalkers are never in a hurry; they never fret. And the third is that stalkers learn to have an endless capacity to improvise.”
Florinda stood up. We had been sitting, as usual, in her living room. I immediately assumed that our conversation was over. She said that there was one more topic to present to me before we said goodbye. She took me to another patio inside her house. I had never been in that part of her house before. She called someone softly and a woman stepped out from a room. I did not recognize her at first. The woman called my name and then I realized that she was dona Soledad.
Her change was stupendous. She was younger and more powerful. Florinda said that Soledad had been inside a recapitulating crate for five years, that the Eagle had accepted her recapitulation in place of her awareness and had let her go free. Dona Soledad assented with a movement of her head. Florinda abruptly ended the meeting and told me that it was time for me to leave because I had no more energy.
I went to Florinda’s house many more times afterward. I saw her every time but only for a few moments. She told me that she had decided not to instruct me anymore because it was to my advantage that I deal only with dona Soledad.
Dona Soledad and I met several times, but whatever took place during our meetings is something quite incomprehensible to me. Every time we were together she would make me sit at the door of her room facing the east. She would sit to my right, touching me; then we would make the wall of fog stop rotating and both of us would be left facing the south, into her room.
I had already learned with la Gorda to stop the rotation of the wall; it seemed that dona Soledad was helping me to realize another aspect of that perceptual capacity. I had correctly detected with la Gorda that only a portion of us stopped the wall. It was as if suddenly I had become divided in two. A portion of my total self was looking straight ahead and saw an immobile wall to my right; while another larger portion of my total self had turned ninety degrees to the right and was staring at the wall.
Every time dona Soledad and I stopped the wall we remained staring at it; we never entered into the area between the parallel lines as the Nagual woman, la Gorda and I had done scores of times. Dona Soledad would make me gaze every time into the fog as if the fog were a reflective glass. I would experience then the most extravagant disassociation. It was as if I were racing at breakneck speed. I would see bits of a landscape forming in the fog, and suddenly I was in another physical reality; it was a mountainous area, rugged and inhospitable. Dona Soledad was always there in the company of a lovely woman who laughed uproariously at me.
My incapacity to remember what we did beyond that point was even more acute than my incapacity to remember what the Nagual woman and la Gorda and I did in the area between the parallel lines. It seemed that dona Soledad and I entered into another area of awareness that was unknown to me. I was already in what I thought was my keenest state of consciousness, and yet there was something even keener. The aspect of the second attention that dona Soledad was obviously showing me was more complex and more inaccessible than anything I had witnessed so far. All I could recollect was a sense of having moved a great deal, a physical sensation comparable to having walked for miles, or to having hiked on rugged mountain trails. I also had a clear bodily certainty, although I could not fathom why, that dona Soledad, the woman, and I exchanged words, thoughts, feelings; but I could not pinpoint them.
After every meeting with dona Soledad, Florinda would immediately make me leave. Dona Soledad gave minimal verbal feedback. It appeared to me that being in a state of such heightened awareness affected her so profoundly she could hardly talk. There was something that we were seeing in that rugged landscape besides the lovely woman, or something we were doing together that left us breathless. She could not remember anything, although she tried.
I asked Florinda to clarify the nature of my journeys with dona Soledad. She said that a part of her last-minute instruction was to make me enter into the second attention as stalkers do, and that dona Soledad was more capable than she herself was to usher me into the stalker’s dimension.
On the meeting that was to be our last, Florinda, as she had done at the beginning of our instruction, was waiting for me in the hall. She took my arm and led me to the living room. We sat down. She warned me not to try as yet to make sense of my journeys with dona Soledad. She explained that stalkers are inherently different than dreamers in the way they use the world around them, and that what dona Soledad was doing was trying to help me to turn my head.
When don Juan had described the concept of turning a warrior’s head to face a new direction, I had understood it as a metaphor that depicted a change in attitude. Florinda said that that description was true, but it was no metaphor. It was true that stalkers turn their heads; however, they do not turn them to face a new direction, but to face time in a different way. Stalkers face the oncoming time. Normally we face time as it recedes from us. Only stalkers can change that and face time as it advances on them.
Florinda explained that turning the head did not mean that one sees into the future, but that one sees time as something concrete, yet incomprehensible. It was superfluous, therefore, for me to try to think out whatever dona Soledad and I were doing. All of it would make sense when I could perceive the totality of myself and would then have the energy necessary to unravel that mystery.
Florinda told me, in the spirit of someone giving a bonus, that dona Soledad was a supreme stalker; she called her the greatest of them all. She said that dona Soledad could cross the parallel lines anytime. Furthermore, none of the warriors of don Juan Matus’ party had been able to do what she had done. Dona Soledad, through her impeccable stalking techniques, had found her parallel being.
Florinda explained that whatever I had experienced with the Nagual Juan Matus, or Silvio Manuel, or Genaro, or Zuleica were only minute portions of the second attention; whatever dona Soledad was helping me witness was still another minute, but different portion.
Dona Soledad had not only made me face the oncoming time, but she had taken me to her parallel being. Florinda defined the parallel being as the counterbalance that all living creatures have by the fact that they are luminous beings filled with inexplicable energy. A parallel being of any person is another person of the same sex who is intimately and inextricably joined to the first one. They coexist in the world at the same time. The two parallel beings are like the two ends of the same pole.
It is nearly impossible for warriors to find their parallel being, because there are too many distracting factors in the life of a warrior, other priorities. But whoever is capable of accomplishing this feat would find, in his parallel being, just as dona Soledad had, an endless source of youth and energy.
Florinda stood up abruptly and took me to dona Soledad’s room. Perhaps because I knew that it was going to be our last meeting, I was taken by a strange anxiety. Dona Soledad smiled at me when I told her what Florinda had just told me. She said, with what I thought to be a true warrior’s humbleness, that she was not teaching me anything, that all she had aspired to do was to show me her parallel being, because that would be where she would retreat when the Nagual Juan Matus and his warriors left the world. However, something else had happened which was beyond her understanding. Florinda had explained to her that we had boosted each other’s energy and that had made us face the oncoming time, not in small doses as Florinda would have liked us to, but in incomprehensible gobbles as my unruly nature wanted it.
The result of our last meeting was even more baffling. Dona Soledad, her parallel being and I remained for what I felt was an extraordinarily long time together. I saw every feature of the parallel being’s face. I felt she was trying to tell me who she was. She also seemed to be cognizant that this was our last meeting. There was such an overpowering sense of frailty in her eyes. Then a windlike force blew us away into something that held no meaning for me.
Florinda suddenly helped me to stand up. She took me by the arm and led me to the door. Dona Soledad walked with us. Florinda said that I would have a hard time remembering all that had transpired because I was indulging in my rationality, a condition that could only worsen because they were about to leave and I would have no one to help me to shift levels of awareness.
She added that someday dona Soledad and I would meet again in the world of everyday life. It was then that I turned to dona Soledad and begged her to drive me out of my indulging; I told her that if she failed she should kill me. I did not want to live in the meagerness of my rationality.
“It’s wrong to say that,” Florinda said. “We’re warriors, and warriors have only one thing in mind – their freedom. To die and be eaten by the Eagle is no challenge. On the other hand, to sneak around the Eagle and be free is the ultimate audacity.”