(The Fire From Within by Carlos Castaneda)
Don Juan told me that the two of us were going to drive to the city of Oaxaca for the last time.
He made it very clear that we would never be there together again. Perhaps his feeling might return to the place, he said, but never again the totality of himself.
In Oaxaca, don Juan spent hours looking at mundane, trivial things, the faded color of walls, the shape of distant mountains, the pattern on cracked cement, the faces of people. Then we went to the square and sat on his favorite bench, which was unoccupied, as it always was when he wanted it.
During our long walk in the city, I had tried my best to work myself into a mood of sadness and moroseness, but I just could not do it. There was something festive about his departure. He explained it as the unrestrainable vigor of total freedom.
“Freedom is like a contagious disease,” he said. “It is transmitted; its carrier is an impeccable nagual. People might not appreciate that, and that’s because they don’t want to be free. Freedom is frightening. Remember that. But not for us. I’ve groomed myself nearly all my life for this moment. And so will you.”
He repeated over and over that at the stage where I was, no rational assumptions should interfere with my actions. He said that the dreaming body and the barrier of perception are positions of the assemblage point, and that that knowledge is as vital to seers as knowing how to read and write is to modern man. Both are accomplishments attained after years of practice.
“It is very important that you remember, right now, the time when your assemblage point reached that position and it created your dreaming body,” he said with tremendous urgency.
Then he smiled and remarked that time was extremely short; he said that the recollection of the main journey of my dreaming body would put my assemblage point in a position to break the barrier of perception in order to assemble another world.
“The dreaming body is known by different names,” he said after a long pause. “The name I like the best is, the other. That term belongs to the old seers, together with the mood. I don’t particularly care for their mood, but I have to admit that I like their term, the other. It’s mysterious and forbidden. Just like the old seers, it gives me the feeling of darkness, of shadows. The old seers said that the other always comes shrouded in wind.”
Over the years don Juan and other members of his party had tried to make me aware that we can be in two places at once, that we can experience a sort of perceptual dualism.
As don Juan spoke, I began to remember something so deeply forgotten that at first it was as if I had only heard about it. Then, step by step, I realized that I had lived that experience myself.
I had been in two places at once. It happened one night in the mountains of northern Mexico. I had been collecting plants with don Juan all day. We had stopped for the night and I had nearly fallen asleep from fatigue when suddenly there was a gust of wind and don Genaro sprang up from the darkness right in front of me and nearly scared me to death.
My first thought was one of suspicion. I believed that don Genaro had been hiding in the bushes all day, waiting for darkness to set in before making his terrifying appearance. As I looked at him prancing around, I noticed that there was something truly odd about him that night.
Something palpable, real, and yet something I could not pinpoint.
He joked with me and horsed around, performing acts that defied my reason. Don Juan laughed like an idiot at my dismay. When he judged that the time was right, he made me shift into heightened awareness and for a moment I was able to see don Juan and don Genaro as two blobs of light. Genaro was not the flesh-and-blood don Genaro that I knew in my state of normal awareness but his dreaming body. I could tell, because I saw him as a ball of fire that was above the ground. He was not rooted as don Juan was. It was as if Genaro, the blob of light, were on the verge of taking off, already up in the air, a couple of feet off the ground, ready to zoom away.
Another thing I had done that night, which suddenly became clear to me as I recollected the event, was that I knew automatically that I had to move my eyes in order to make my assemblage point shift. I could, with my intent, align the emanations that made me see Genaro as a blob of light, or I could align the emanations that made me see him as merely odd, unknown, strange.
When I saw Genaro as odd, his eyes had a malevolent glare, like the eyes of a beast in the darkness. But they were eyes, nonetheless. I did not see them as points of amber light.
That night don Juan said that Genaro was going to help my assemblage point shift very deeply, that I should imitate him and follow everything he did. Genaro stuck out his rear end and then thrust his pelvis forward with great force. I thought it was an obscene gesture. He repeated it over and over again, moving around as if he were dancing.
Don Juan nudged me on the arm, urging me to imitate Genaro, and I did. Both of us sort of romped around, performing that grotesque movement. After a while, I had the feeling that my body was executing the movement on its own, without what seemed to be the real me. The separation between my body and the real me became even more pronounced, and then at a given instant I was looking at some ludicrous scene where two men were making lewd gestures at each other.
I watched in fascination and realized that I was one of the two men. The moment I became aware of it I felt something pulling me and I found myself again thrusting my pelvis backward and forward in unison with Genaro. Almost immediately, I noticed that another man standing next to don Juan was watching us. The wind was blowing around him. I could see his hair being ruffled. He was naked and seemed embarrassed. The wind gathered around him as if protecting him, or perhaps the opposite, as if trying to blow him away.
I was slow to realize that I was the other man. When I did, I got the shock of my life. An imponderable physical force pulled me apart as if I were made out of fibers, and I was again looking at a man that was me, romping around with Genaro, gaping at me while I looked. And at the same time, I was looking at a naked man that was me, gaping at me while I made lewd gestures with Genaro. The shock was so great that I broke the rhythm of my movements and fell down.
The next thing I knew, don Juan was helping me to stand up. Genaro and the other me, the naked one, had disappeared.
I had also remembered that don Juan had refused to discuss the event. He did not explain it except to say that Genaro was an expert in creating his double, or the other, and that I had had long interactions with Genaro’s double in states of normal awareness without ever detecting it. “That night, as he has done hundreds of times before, Genaro made your assemblage point
shift very deep into your left side,” don Juan commented after I had recounted to him everything I had remembered. “His power was such that he dragged your assemblage point to the position where the dreaming body appears. You saw your dreaming body watching you. And his dancing did the trick.”
I asked him to explain to me how Genaro’s lewd movement could have produced such a drastic effect.
“You’re a prude,” he said. “Genaro used your immediate displeasure and embarrassment at having to perform a lewd gesture. Since he was in his dreaming body, he had the power to see the Eagle’s emanations; from that advantage it was a cinch to make your assemblage point move.”
He said that whatever Genaro had helped me to do that night was minor, that Genaro had moved my assemblage point and made it produce a dreaming body many, many times, but that those events were not what he wanted me to remember.
“I want you to realign the proper emanations and remember the time when you really woke up in a dreaming position,”‘ he said.
A strange surge of energy seemed to explode inside me and I knew what he wanted me to
remember. I could not, however, focus my memory on the complete event. I could only recall a fragment of it.
I remembered that one morning, don Juan, don Genaro and I had sat on that very same bench while I was in a state of normal awareness. Don Genaro had said, all of a sudden, that he was going to make his body leave the bench without getting up. The statement was completely out of the context of what we had been discussing. I was accustomed to don Juan’s orderly, didactic words and actions. I turned to don Juan, expecting a clue, but he remained impassive, looking straight ahead as if don Genaro and I were not there at all.
Don Genaro nudged me to attract my attention, and then I witnessed a most disturbing sight. I actually saw Genaro on the other side of the square. He was beckoning me to come. But I also saw don Genaro sitting next to me, looking straight ahead, just as don Juan was.
I wanted to say something, to express my awe, but I found myself dumbstruck, imprisoned by some force around me that did not let me talk. I again looked at Genaro across the park. He was still there, motioning to me with a gesture of his head to join him.
My emotional distress mounted by the second. My stomach was getting upset, and finally I had tunnel vision, a tunnel that led directly to Genaro on the other side of the square. And then a great curiosity, or a great fear, which seemed to be the same thing at that moment, pulled me to where he was. I actually soared through the air and got to where he was. He made me turn around and pointed to the three people who were sitting on a bench in a static position, as if time had been suspended.
I felt a terrible discomfort, an internal itching, as if the soft organs in the cavity of my body were on fire, and then I was back on the bench, but Genaro was gone. He waved goodbye to me from across the square and disappeared among the people going to the market.
Don Juan became very animated. He kept on looking at me. He stood up and walked around me. He sat down again and could not keep a straight face as he talked to me.
I realized why he was acting that way. I had entered into a state of heightened awareness without being helped by don Juan. Genaro had succeeded in making my assemblage point move by itself.
I laughed involuntarily upon seeing my writing pad, which don Juan solemnly put inside his pocket. He said that he was going to use my state of heightened awareness to show me that there is no end to the mystery of man and to the mystery of the world.
I focused all my concentration on his words. However, don Juan said something I did not understand. I asked him to repeat what he had said. He began talking very softly. I thought he had lowered his voice so as not to be overheard by other people. I listened carefully, but I could not understand a word of what he was saying; he was either speaking in a language foreign to me or it was mumbo jumbo. The strange part of it was that something had caught my undivided attention, either the rhythm of his voice or the fact that I had forced myself to understand. I had the feeling that my mind was different from usual, although I could not figure out what the difference was. I had a hard time thinking, reasoning out what was taking place.
Don Juan talked to me very softly in my ear. He said that since I had entered into heightened awareness without any help from him my assemblage point was very loose, and that I could let it shift into the left side by relaxing, by falling half asleep on that bench. He assured me that he was watching over me, that I had nothing to fear. He urged me to relax, to let my assemblage point move.
I instantly felt the heaviness of being deeply asleep. At one moment, I became aware that I was having a dream. I saw a house that I had seen before. I was approaching it as if I were walking on the street. There were other houses, but I could not pay any attention to them.
Something had fixed my awareness on the particular house I was seeing. It was a big modern stucco house with a front lawn.
When I got closer to that house, I had a feeling of familiarity with it, as if I had dreamed of it before. I walked on a gravel path to the front door; it was open and I walked inside. There was a dark hall and a large living room to the right, furnished with a dark-red couch and matching armchairs set in a corner. I was definitely having tunnel vision; I could see only what was in front of my eyes.
A young woman was standing by the couch as if she had just stood up as I came in. She was lean and tall, exquisitely dressed in a tailored green suit. She was perhaps in her late twenties. She had dark-brown hair, burning brown eyes that seemed to smile, and a pointed, finely chiseled nose. Her complexion was fair but had been tanned to a gorgeous brown. I found her ravishingly beautiful. She seemed to be an American. She nodded at me, smiling, and extended her hands with the palms down as if she were helping me up.
I clasped her hands in a most awkward movement. I scared myself and tried to back away, but she held me firmly and yet so gently. Her hands were long and beautiful. She spoke to me in Spanish with a faint trace of an accent. She begged me to relax, to feel her hands, to concentrate my attention on her face and to follow the movement of her mouth. I wanted to ask her who she was, but I could not utter a word.
Then I heard don Juan’s voice in my ear. He said, “Oh, there you are,” as if he had just found me. I was sitting on the park bench with him. But I could also hear the young woman’s voice. She said, “Come and sit with me.” I did just that and began a most incredible shifting of points of view. I was alternately with don Juan and with that young woman. I could see both of them as clearly as anything.
Don Juan asked me if I liked her, if I found her appealing and soothing. I could not speak, but somehow I conveyed to him the feeling that I did like that lady immensely. I thought, without any overt reason, that she was a paragon of kindness, that she was indispensable to what don Juan was doing with me.
Don Juan spoke in my ear again and said that if I liked her that much I should wake up in her house, that my feeling of warmth and affection for her would guide me. I felt giggly and reckless. A sensation of overwhelming excitation rippled through my body. I felt as if the excitation were actually disintegrating me. I did not care what happened to me. I gladly plunged into a blackness, black beyond words, and then I found myself in the young woman’s house. I was sitting with her on the couch.
After an instant of sheer animal panic, I realized that somehow I was not complete. Something was missing in me. I did not, however, find the situation threatening. The thought crossed my mind that I was dreaming and that I was presently going to wake up on the park bench in Oaxaca with don Juan, where I really was, where I really belonged.
The young woman helped me to get up and took me to a bathroom where a large tub was filled with water. I realized then that I was stark naked. She gently made me get into the tub and held my head up while I half floated in it.
After a while she helped me out of the tub. I felt weak and flimsy. I lay down on the living- room couch and she came close to me. I could hear the beating of her heart and the pressure of blood rushing through her body. Her eyes were like two radiant sources of something that was not light, or heat, but curiously in between the two. I knew that I was seeing the force of life projecting out of her body through her eyes. Her whole body was like a live furnace; it glowed.
I felt a weird tremor that agitated my whole being. It was as if my nerves were exposed and someone was plucking them. The sensation was agonizing. Then I either fainted or fell asleep. When I woke up, someone was putting face towels soaked in cold water on my face and the back of my neck. I saw the young woman sitting by my head on the bed where I was lying. She
had a pail of water on a night table. Don Juan was standing at the foot of the bed with my clothes draped over his arm.
I was fully awake then. I sat up. They had covered me with a blanket. “How’s the traveler?” don Juan asked, smiling. “Are you in one piece now?”
That was all I could remember. I narrated this episode to don Juan, and as I talked, I recalled another fragment. I remembered that don Juan had taunted and teased me about finding me naked in the lady’s bed. I had gotten terribly irritated at his remarks. I had put on my clothes and stomped out of the house in a fury.
Don Juan had caught up with me on the front lawn. In a very serious tone he had remarked that I was my ugly stupid self again, that I had put myself together by being embarrassed, which had proved to him that there was still no end to my self-importance. But he had added in a conciliatory tone that that was not important at the moment; what was significant was the fact that I had moved my assemblage point very deeply into the left side and consequently I had traveled an enormous distance.
He had spoken of wonders and mysteries, but I had not been able to listen to him, for I had been caught in the crossfire between fear and self-importance. I was actually fuming. I was certain that don Juan had hypnotized me in the park and had then taken me to that lady’s house, and that the two of them had done terrible things to me.
My fury was interrupted. Something out there in the street was so horrifying, so shocking to me, that my anger stopped instantaneously. But before my thoughts became fully rearranged, don Juan hit me on my back and nothing of what had just taken place remained. I found myself back in my blissful everyday-life stupidity, happily listening to don Juan, worrying about whether or not he liked me.
As I was telling don Juan about the new fragment that I had just remembered I realized that one of his methods for handling my emotional turmoil was to make me shift into normal awareness.
“The only thing that soothes those who journey into the unknown is oblivion,” he said. “What a relief to be in the ordinary world!
“That day, you accomplished a marvelous feat. The sober thing for me to do was not to let you focus on it at all. Just as you began to really panic I made you shift into normal awareness; I moved your assemblage point beyond the position where there are no more doubts. There are two such positions for warriors. In one you have no more doubts because you know everything. In the other, which is normal awareness, you have no doubts because you don’t know anything.
“It was too soon then for you to know what had really happened. But I think the right time to know is now. Looking at that street, you were about to find out where your dreaming position had been. You traveled an enormous distance that day.”
Don Juan scrutinized me with a mixture of glee and sadness. I was trying my best to keep under control the strange agitation I was feeling. I sensed that something terribly important to me was lost inside my memory, or, as don Juan would have put it, inside some unused emanations that at one time had been aligned.
My struggle to keep calm proved to be the wrong thing to do. All at once, my knees wobbled and nervous spasms ran through my midsection. I mumbled, unable to voice a question. I had to swallow hard and breathe deeply before I regained my calmness.
“When we first sat down here to talk, I said that no rational assumptions should interfere with the actions of a seer,” he continued in a stern tone. “I knew that in order to reclaim what you’ve done, you’d have to dispense with rationality, but you’d have to do it in the level of awareness you are in now.”
He explained that I had to understand that rationality is a condition of alignment, merely the result of the position of the assemblage point. He emphasized that I had to understand this when I was in a state of great vulnerability, as I was at that moment. To understand it when my assemblage point had reached the position where there are no doubts was useless, because
realizations of that nature are commonplace in that position. It was equally useless to understand it in a state of normal awareness; in that state, such realizations are emotional outbursts that are valid only for as long as the emotion lasts.
“I’ve said that you traveled a great distance that day,” he said calmly. “And I said that because I know it. I was there, remember?”
I was sweating profusely out of nervousness and anxiety.
“You traveled because you woke up at a distant dreaming position,” he continued. “When Genaro pulled you across the plaza, right here from this bench, he paved the way for your assemblage point to move from normal awareness all the way to the position where the dreaming body appears. Your dreaming body actually flew over an incredible distance in the blink of an eyelid. Yet that’s not the important part. The mystery is in the dreaming position. If it is strong enough to pull you, you can go to the ends of this world or beyond it, just as the old seers did.
They disappeared from this world because they woke up at a dreaming position beyond the limits of the known. Your dreaming position that day was in this world, but quite a distance from the city of Oaxaca.”
“How does a journey like that take place?” I asked.
“There is no way of knowing how it is done,” he said. “Strong emotion, or unbending intent, or great interest serves as a guide; then the assemblage point gets powerfully fixed at the dreaming position, long enough to drag there all the emanations that are inside the cocoon.”
Don Juan said then that he had made me see countless times over the years of our association, either in states of normal awareness or in states of heightened awareness; I had seen countless things that I was now beginning to understand in a more coherent fashion. This coherence was not logical or rational, but it clarified, nonetheless, in whatever strange way, everything I had done, everything that was done to me, and everything I had seen in all those years with him. He said that now I needed to have one last clarification: the coherent but irrational realization that everything in the world we have learned to perceive is inextricably tied to the position where the assemblage point is located, if the assemblage point is displaced from that position, the world will cease to be what it is to us.
Don Juan stated that a displacement of the assemblage point beyond the midline of the cocoon of man makes the entire world we know vanish from our view in one instant, as if it had been erased – for the stability, the substantiality, that seems to belong to our perceivable world is just the force of alignment. Certain emanations are routinely aligned because of the fixation of the assemblage point on one specific spot; that is all there is to our world.
“The soundness of the world is not the mirage,” he continued, “the mirage is the fixation of the assemblage point on any spot. When seers shift their assemblage points, they are not confronted with an illusion, they are confronted with another world; that new world is as real as the one we are watching now, but the new fixation of their assemblage points, which produces that new world, is as much of a mirage as the old fixation.
“Take yourself, for example; you are now in a state of heightened awareness. Whatever you are capable of doing in such a state is not an illusion; it is as real as the world you will face tomorrow in your daily life, and yet tomorrow the world you are witnessing now won’t exist. It exists only when your assemblage point moves to the particular spot where you are now.”
He added that the task warriors are faced with, after they finish their training, is one of integration. In the course of training, warriors, especially nagual men, are made to shift to as many individual spots as possible. He said that in my case I had moved to countless positions that I would have to integrate someday into a coherent whole.
“For instance, if you would shift your assemblage point to a specific position, you’d remember who that lady is,” he continued with a strange smile. “Your assemblage point has been at that spot hundreds of times. It should be the easiest thing for you to integrate it.”
As though my recollection depended on his suggestion, I began to have vague memories, feelings of sorts. There was a feeling of boundless affection that seemed to attract me; a most pleasant sweetness filled the air, exactly as if someone had just come up from behind me and poured that scent over me. I even turned around. And then I remembered. She was Carol, the nagual woman. I had been with her only the day before. How could I have forgotten her?
I had an indescribable moment in which I think all the feelings of my psychological repertory ran through my mind. Was it possible, I asked myself, that I had woken up in her house in Tucson, Arizona, two thousand miles away? And are each of the instances of heightened awareness so isolated that one cannot remember them?
Don Juan came to my side and put his arm on my shoulder. He said that he knew exactly how I felt. His benefactor had made him go through a similar experience. And just as he himself was now trying to do with me, his benefactor had tried to do with him: soothe with words. He had appreciated his benefactor’s attempt, but he doubted then as he doubted now that there is a way to soothe anyone who realizes the journey of the dreaming body.
There was no doubt in my mind now. Something in me had traveled the distance between the cities of Oaxaca, Mexico, and Tucson, Arizona. I felt a strange relief, as if I had been purged of guilt at long last.
During the years I had spent with don Juan, I had had lapses of continuity in my memory. My being in Tucson with him on that day was one of those lapses. I remembered not being able to recall how I had gotten to Tucson. I did not pay any attention to it, however. I thought the lapse was the result of my activities with don Juan. He was always very careful not to arouse my rational suspicions in states of normal awareness, but if suspicions were unavoidable he always curtly explained them away by suggesting that the nature of our activities fostered serious disparities of memory.
I told don Juan that since both of us had ended up that day in the same place, I wondered whether it was possible for two or more people to wake up at the same dreaming position.
“Of course,” he said. “That’s the way the old Toltec sorcerers took off into the unknown in packs. They followed one another. There is no way of knowing how one follows someone else. It’s just done. The dreaming body just does it. The presence of another dreamer spurs it to do it. That day you pulled me with you. And I followed because I wanted to be with you.”
I had so many questions to ask him, but every one of them seemed superfluous.
“How is it possible that I didn’t remember the nagual woman?” I muttered, and a horrible anguish and longing gripped me. I was trying not to feel sad anymore, but suddenly sadness ripped through me like pain.
“You still don’t remember her,” he said. “Only when your assemblage point shifts can you recollect her. She is like a phantom to you, and so are you to her. You’ve seen her once while you were in normal awareness, but she’s never seen you in her normal awareness. To her you are as much a personage as she is to you. With the difference that you may wake up someday and integrate it all. You may have enough time to do that, but she won’t. Her time here is short.”
I felt like protesting a terrible injustice. I mentally prepared a barrage of objections, but I never voiced them. Don Juan’s smile was beaming. His eyes shone with sheer glee and mischief. I had the sensation that he was waiting for my statements, because he knew what I was going to say.
And that sensation stopped me, or rather I did not say anything because my assemblage point had again moved by itself. And I knew then that the nagual woman could not be pitied for not having time, nor could I rejoice for having it.
Don Juan was reading me like a book. He urged me to finish my realization and voice the reason for not feeling sorry or for not rejoicing. I felt for an instant that I knew why. But then I lost the thread.
“The excitation of having time is equal to the excitation of not having it,” he said. “It’s all the same.”
“To feel sad is not the same as feeling sorry ” I said. “And I feel terribly sad.”
“Who cares about sadness?” he said. “Think only of the mysteries; mystery is all that matters. We are living beings; we have to die and relinquish our awareness. But if we could change just a tinge of that, what mysteries must await us! What mysteries!”