(The Second Ring of Power by Carlos Castaneda)
Is it possible, I thought to myself, that I am unconsciously selecting what I recall? Or is it la Gorda who is creating all this? If it was true that I had selected my recall at first and then released what I had censored, then it also had to be true that I must have perceived much more of don Juan’s and don Genaro’s actions, and yet I could only recall a selective part of my total perception of those events.
“It’s hard to believe,” I said to la Gorda, “that I can remember now something I didn’t remember at all a while ago.”
“The Nagual said that everyone can see, and yet we choose not to remember what we see,” she said. “Now I understand how right he was. All of us can see; some, more than others.”
I told la Gorda that some part of me knew that I had found then a transcendental key. A missing piece had been handed down to me by all of them. But it was difficult to discern what it was.
She announced that she had just “seen” that I had practiced a good deal of “dreaming,” and that I had developed my attention, and yet I was fooled by my own appearance of not knowing anything.
“I’ve been trying to tell you about attention,” she proceeded, “but you know as much as we do about it.”
I assured her that my knowledge was intrinsically different from theirs; theirs was infinitely more spectacular than mine. Anything they might say to me in relation to their practices, therefore, was a bonus to me.
“The Nagual told us to show you that with our attention we can hold the images of a dream in the same way we hold the images of the world,” la Gorda said. “The art of the dreamer is the art of attention.”
Thoughts came down on me like a landslide. I had to stand up and walk around the kitchen. I sat down again. We remained quiet for a long time. I knew what she had meant when she said that the art of dreamers was the art of attention. I knew then that don Juan had told me and showed me everything he could. I had not been able, however, to realize the premises of his knowledge in my body while he was around. He had said that my reason was the demon that kept me chained, and that I had to vanquish it if I wanted to achieve the realization of his teachings.
The issue, therefore, had been how to vanquish my reason. It had never occurred to me to press him for a definition of what he meant by reason. I presumed all along that he meant the capacity for comprehending, inferring or thinking, in an orderly, rational way. From what la Gorda had said, I knew that to him reason meant attention.
Don Juan said that the core of our being was the act of perceiving, and that the magic of our being was the act of awareness. For him perception and awareness were a single, functional, inextricable unit, a unit which had two domains. The first one was the “attention of the tonal”; that is to say, the capacity of average people to perceive and place their awareness on the ordinary world of everyday life. Don Juan also called this form of attention our “first ring of power,” and described it as our awesome but taken-for-granted ability to impart order to our perception of our daily world.
The second domain was the “attention of the nagual”; that is to say, the capacity of sorcerers to place their awareness on the non-ordinary world. He called this domain of attention the “second ring of power,” or the altogether portentous ability that all of us have, but only sorcerers use, to impart order to the non-ordinary world.
La Gorda and the little sisters, in demonstrating to me that the art of dreamers was to hold the images of their dreams with their attention, had brought in the pragmatic aspect of don Juan’s scheme. They were the practitioners who had gone beyond the theoretical aspect of his teachings. In order to give me a demonstration of that art, they had to make use of their “second ring of power,” or the “attention of the nagual.” In order for me to witness their art, I had to do the same. In fact it was evident that I had placed my attention on both domains. Perhaps all of us are continually perceiving in both fashions but choose to isolate one for recollection and discard the other or perhaps we file it away, as I myself had done. Under certain conditions of stress or acquiescence, the censored memory surfaces and we can then have two distinct memories of one event.
What don Juan had struggled to vanquish, or rather suppress in me, was not my reason as the capacity for rational thought, but my “attention of the tonal,” or my awareness of the world of common sense. His motive for wanting me to do so was explained by la Gorda when she said that the daily world exists because we know how to hold its images; consequently, if one drops the attention needed to maintain those images, the world collapses.
“The Nagual told us that practice is what counts,” la Gorda said suddenly. “Once you get your attention on the images of your dream, your attention is hooked for good. In the end you can be like Genaro, who could hold the images of any dream.”
“We each have five other dreams,” Lidia said. “But we showed you the first one because that was the dream the Nagual gave us.”
“Can all of you go into dreaming any time you want?” I asked.
“No,” la Gorda replied. “Dreaming takes too much power. None of us has that much power. The reason the little sisters had to roll on the floor so many times was that in rolling the earth was giving them energy. Maybe you could also remember seeing them as luminous beings getting energy from the light of the earth. The Nagual said that the best way of getting energy is, of course, to let the sun inside the eyes, especially the left eye.”
I told her that I knew nothing about it, and she described a procedure that don Juan had taught them. As she spoke I remembered that don Juan had also taught the same procedure to me. It consisted in moving my head slowly from side to side as I caught the sunlight with my half- closed left eye. He said that one could not only use the sun but could use any kind of light that could shine on the eyes.
La Gorda said that the Nagual had recommended that they tie their shawls below their waists in order to protect their hipbones when they rolled.
I commented that don Juan had never mentioned rolling to me. She said that only women could roll because they had wombs and energy came directly into their wombs; by rolling around they distributed that energy over the rest of their bodies. In order for a man to be energized he had to be on his back, with his knees bent so that the soles of his feet touched each other. His arms had to be extended laterally, with his forearms raised vertically, and the fingers clawed in an upright position.
“We have been dreaming those dreams for years,” Lidia said. “Those dreams are our best, because our attention is complete. In the other dreams that we have, our attention is still shaky.”
La Gorda said that holding the images of dreams was a Toltec art. After years of consuming practice each one of them was able to perform one act in any dream. Lidia could walk on anything, Rosa could dangle from anything, Josefina could hide behind anything and she herself could fly. But they were only beginners, apprentices of the art. They had complete attention for only one activity. She added that Genaro was the master of “dreaming” and could turn the tables around and have attention for as many activities as we have in our daily life, and that for him the two domains of attention had the same value.
I felt compelled to ask them my usual question: I had to know their procedures, how they held the images of their dreams.
“You know that as well as we do,” la Gorda said. “The only thing I can say is that after going to the same dream over and over, we began to feel the lines of the world. They helped us to do what you saw us doing.”
Don Juan had said that our “first ring of power” is engaged very early in our lives and that we live under the impression that that is all there is to us. Our “second ring of power,” the “attention of the nagual,” remains hidden for the immense majority of us, and only at the moment of our death is it revealed to us. There is a pathway to reach it, however, which is available to every one of us, but which only sorcerers take, and that pathway is through “dreaming.” “Dreaming” was in essence the transformation of ordinary dreams into affairs involving volition. Dreamers, by engaging their “attention of the nagual” and focusing it on the items and events of their ordinary dreams, change those dreams into “dreaming.”
Don Juan said that there were no procedures to arrive at the attention of the nagual. He only gave me pointers. Finding my hands in my dreams was the first pointer; then the exercise of paying attention was elongated to finding objects, looking for specific features, such as buildings, streets and so on. From there the jump was to “dreaming” about specific places at specific times of the day. The final stage was drawing the “attention of the nagual” to focus on the total self.
Don Juan said that that final stage was usually ushered in by a dream that many of us have had at one time or another, in which one is looking at oneself sleeping in bed. By the time a sorcerer has had such a dream, his attention has been developed to such a degree that instead of waking himself up, as most of us would do in a similar situation, he turns on his heels and engages himself in activity, as if he were acting in the world of everyday life. From that moment on there is a breakage, a division of sorts in the otherwise unified personality. The result of engaging the “attention of the nagual” and developing it to the height and sophistication of our daily attention of the world was, in don Juan’s scheme, the other self, an identical being as oneself, but made in “dreaming.”
Don Juan had told me that there are no definite standard steps for reaching that double, as there are no definite steps for us to reach our daily awareness. We simply do it by practicing. He contended that in the act of engaging our “attention of the nagual,” we would find the steps. He urged me to practice “dreaming” without letting my fears make it into an encumbering production.
He had done the same with la Gorda and the little sisters, but obviously something in them had made them more receptive to the idea of another level of attention.
“Genaro was in his body of dreaming most of the time,” la Gorda said. “He liked it better. That’s why he could do the weirdest things and scare you half to death. Genaro could go in and out of the crack between the worlds like you and I can go in and out a door.”
Don Juan had also talked to me at great length about the crack between the worlds. I had always believed that he was talking in a metaphorical sense about a subtle division between the world that the average man perceives and the world that sorcerers perceive.
La Gorda and the little sisters had shown me that the crack between the worlds was more than a metaphor. It was rather the capacity to change levels of attention. One part of me understood la Gorda perfectly, while another part of me was more frightened than ever.
“You have been asking where the Nagual and Genaro went,” la Gorda said. “Soledad was very blunt and told you that they went to the other world; Lidia told you they left this area; the Genaros were stupid and scared you. The truth is that the Nagual and Genaro went through that crack.”
For some reason, undefinable to me, her statements plunged me into profound chaos. I had felt all along that they had left for good. I knew that they had not left in an ordinary sense, but I had kept that feeling in the realm of a metaphor. Although I had even voiced it to close friends, I think I never really believed it myself. In the depths of me I had always been a rational man. But la Gorda and the little sisters had turned my obscure metaphors into real possibilities. La Gorda had actually transported us half a mile with the energy of her “dreaming.”
La Gorda stood up and said that I had understood everything, and that it was time for us to eat. She served us the food that she had cooked. I did not feel like eating. At the end of the meal she stood up and came to my side.
“I think it’s time for you to leave,” she said to me.
That seemed to be a cue for the little sisters. They also stood up.
“If you stay beyond this moment, you won’t be able to leave anymore,” la Gorda went on. “The Nagual gave you freedom once, but you chose to stay with him. He told me that if we all survive the last contact with the allies I should feed all of you, make you feel good and then say good-bye to all of you. I figure that the little sisters and myself have no place to go, so there is no choice for us. But you are different.”
The little sisters surrounded me and each said good-bye to me.
There was a monstrous irony in that situation. I was free to leave but I had no place to go. There was no choice for me, either. Years before don Juan gave me a chance to back out, I stayed because already then I had no place to go.
“We choose only once,” he had said then. “We choose either to be warriors or to be ordinary men. A second choice does not exist. Not on this earth.”