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3: Reason versus Silent Knowledge

Silent Knowledge
(Encounters with the Nagual by Armando Torres)

In another conversation, Carlos said that our reason is a byproduct of the foreign mind, and that we shouldn’t trust it. For someone with my mental make-up, this was very difficult to accept.
When I asked him about this, he explained that what sorcerers reject is not the capacity of reason to reach conclusions, but the way it is imposed on our life as if it is the only alternative.
“Rationality makes us feel like a solid block, and we begin to grant the greatest importance to concepts like ‘reality’. When we face unusual situations, like those which assault the sorcerer, we tell ourselves: ‘It is not reasonable’, and it seems we have said everything there is to say.”
“The world of our mind is dictatorial, but fragile. After some years of continuous use, the self becomes so heavy that it is just common sense to give it a rest in order to continue ahead.”
“A warrior fights to break the description of the world which has been injected into him, in order to open up a space for new things. His war is against the self. For that purpose, he tries to be permanently aware of his potential. Since the content of perception depends on the position of the assemblage point, a warrior tries with all his might to loosen the fixation of that point. Instead of creating a cult out of his speculations, he pays attention to certain premises of the path of sorcerers.”
“Those premises say that, in the first place, only a high level of energy can enable one to deal adequately with the world. And second: Rationality is a consequence of the fixation of the assemblage point in the position of reason, and that point moves when we achieve internal silence. Third: In our luminous field, there are other positions every bit as pragmatic as rationality. Fourth: When we achieve a point of view which includes reason as well as its twin center, silent knowledge, concepts like truth and lies stop being operative, and it becomes patently clear that man’s true dilemma is to have energy, or not have it.”
“Sorcerers reason in a different way to ordinary people. For them, to anchor attention is insanity, and to make it flow is common sense. They call the fixing of the assemblage point in non-habitual areas ‘seeing ‘. Staying sane is imperative, but they have found out that rationality is not always sane. To stay sane is a voluntary act, while to be reasonable is just to fix our attention on an area of collective consent.”
“Are sorcerers opposed to reason, then?”
“I have already told you: They are opposed to its dictatorship. They know the center of reason can take us very far. Absolute reason is merciless, it doesn’t stop halfway; that’s why people are afraid of it. When we are able to focus on it with inflexibility, it generates an obligation to be impeccable, because not to be so is not reasonable. To do things with impeccability is to do all that is humanly possible, and a little more. Therefore, reason also takes you to a movement of the assemblage point.”
“To act within the precepts of the warrior’s path, you need clarity of purpose, the courage to take on the task, and an unbending intent. If you look around, you will see that most people ‘of reason’ are not, in fact, located in that center, but on its periphery.”
“Because they lack energy. Their holes prevent them from having any objectivity. Their attention always fluctuates, and because of that their perception is hybrid, it is ambiguous. They drift like a rudderless boat in the current, at the mercy of their emotions and without a clear view of either shore – the bank of pure reasoning on one side, the bank of the abstract on the other.”
“What is required of a modern warrior is a condition of sustained energy gain, until his attention can flow between reason and silent knowledge. When moving in that way, he is more sane than ever, and yet he is not a rational being. From whichever position he assumes, he will always be sighting the other side, and his vision acquires perspective and depth. Sorcerers describe this condition as ‘being double’ or ‘losing the mind’.”
“We can arrive at silent knowledge in exactly the same way as our teachers taught us to arrive at reason: By induction. It is like controlling both sides of a bridge. From one side, you can see reason like a net of agreements, which transforms collective interpretations into common sense through the customs of concern. From the other side, you can sense silent knowledge as an unfathomable, creative darkness which extends beyond the threshold of non-pity. Upon crossing this threshold, the ancient sorcerers arrived at the source of pure understanding.”
“To be double is to make a connection with oneself, to flow between two points. It is something practically indescribable, but an apprentice experiences it as soon as he saves enough energy. Starting from there, he learns how to deal with reason like a free being, neither reverent nor abject. He acquires what don Juan called ‘intensity’; that is, the capacity to store information in a perceptual block.”
I found the concept of ‘intensity’ totally obscure. I asked him to explain it further.
He answered that perception is composed of content and intensity. Extreme situations, like a sharp awareness of danger, proximity of death, or the effect of power plants, generate great intensity. A sorcerer learns how to store those experiences in the movement of the assemblage point.
He added that what is proposed by the way of knowledge is a change of values in how we understand our social interaction as a species, pulling our energy out from everyday life and concentrating it on situations which require that intensive way of living.
“It is about returning man to marvel, to power, to what he has dreamt about; to reconnect him with astonishment and the capacity to create. That rupture is the only thing which can liberate our luminosity from our perceptual uniformity.”


(The Power of Silence by Carlos Castaneda)

The Place Of No Pity

Don Juan told me that there was no need to talk about the details of my recollection, at least not at that moment, because talk was used only to lead one to recollecting. Once the assemblage point moved, the total experience was relived. He also told me the best way to assure a complete recollection was to walk around.

And so both of us stood up; walked very slowly and in silence, following a trail in those mountains, until I had recollected everything.

We were in the outskirts of Guaymas, in northern Mexico, on a drive from Nogales, Arizona, when it became evident to me that something was wrong with don Juan. For the last hour or so he had been unusually quiet and somber. I did not think anything of it, but then, abruptly, his body twitched out of control. His chin hit his chest as if his neck muscles could no longer support the weight of his head.

“Are you getting carsick, don Juan?” I asked, suddenly alarmed.

He did not answer. He was breathing through his mouth.

During the first part of our drive, which had taken several hours, he had been fine. We had talked a great deal about everything. When we had stopped in the city of Santa Ana to get gas, he was even doing push-outs against the roof of the car to loosen up the muscles of his shoulders.

“What’s wrong with you, don Juan?” I asked.

I felt pangs of anxiety in my stomach. With his head down, he mumbled that he wanted to go to a particular restaurant and in a slow, faltering voice gave me precise directions on how to get there.

I parked my car on a side street, a block from the restaurant. As I opened the car door on my side, he held onto my arm with an iron grip. Painfully, and with my help, he dragged himself out of the car, over the driver’s seat. Once he was on the sidewalk, he held onto my shoulders with both hands to straighten his back. In ominous silence, we shuffled down the street toward the dilapidated building where the restaurant was.

Don Juan was hanging onto my arm with all his weight. His breathing was so accelerated and the tremor in his body so alarming that I panicked. I stumbled and had to brace myself against the wall to keep us both from falling to the sidewalk. My anxiety was so intense I could not think. I looked into his eyes. They were dull. They did not have the usual shine.

We clumsily entered the restaurant and a solicitous waiter rushed over, as if on cue, to help don Juan.

“How are you feeling today?” he yelled into don Juan’s ear.

He practically carried don Juan from the door to a table, seated him, and then disappeared.

“Does he know you, don Juan?” I asked when we were seated.

Without looking at me, he mumbled something unintelligible. I stood up and went to the kitchen to look for the busy waiter.

“Do you know the old man I am with?” I asked when I was able to corner him.

“Of course I know him,” he said with the attitude of someone who has just enough patience to answer one question. “He’s the old man who suffers from strokes.”

That statement settled things for me. I knew then that don Juan had suffered a mild stroke while we were driving. There was nothing I could have done to avoid it but I felt helpless and apprehensive. The feeling that the worst had not yet happened made me feel sick to my stomach.

I went back to the table and sat down in silence. Suddenly the same waiter arrived with two plates of fresh shrimp and two large bowls of sea-turtle soup. The thought occurred to me that either the restaurant served only shrimp and sea-turtle soup or don Juan ate the same thing every time he was here.

The waiter talked so loudly to don Juan he could be heard above the clatter of customers.

“Hope you like your food!” he yelled. “If you need me, just lift your arm. I’ll come right away.”

Don Juan nodded his head affirmatively and the waiter left, after patting don Juan affectionately on the back.

Don Juan ate voraciously, smiling to himself from time to time. I was so apprehensive that just the thought of food made me feel nauseous. But then I reached a familiar threshold of anxiety, and the more I worried the hungrier I became. I tried the food and found it incredibly good.

I felt somewhat better after having eaten, but the situation had not changed, nor had my anxiety diminished.

When don Juan was through eating, he shot his arm straight above his head. In a moment, the waiter came over and handed me the bill.

I paid him and he helped don Juan stand up. He guided him by the arm out of the restaurant.

The waiter even helped him out to the street and said goodbye to him effusively.

We walked back to the car in the same laborious way, don Juan leaning heavily on my arm, panting and stopping to catch his breath every few steps. The waiter stood in the doorway, as if to make sure I was not going to let don Juan fall.

Don Juan took two or three full minutes to climb into the car.

“Tell me, what can I do for you, don Juan?” I pleaded.

“Turn the car around,” he ordered in a faltering, barely audible voice. “I want to go to the other side of town, to the store. They know me there, too. They are my friends.”

I told him I had no idea what store he was talking about. He mumbled incoherently and had a tantrum. He stamped on the floor of the car with both feet. He pouted and actually drooled on his shirt. Then he seemed to have an instant of lucidity. I got extremely nervous, watching him struggle to arrange his thoughts. He finally succeeded in telling me how to get to the store.

My discomfort was at its peak. I was afraid that the stroke don Juan had suffered was more serious than I thought. I wanted to be rid of him, to take him to his family or his friends, but I did not know who they were. I did not know what else to do. I made a U-turn and drove to the store which he said was on the other side of town.

I wondered about going back to the restaurant to ask the waiter if he knew don Juan’s family. I hoped someone in the store might know him. The more I thought about my predicament, the sorrier I felt for myself. Don Juan was finished. I had a terrible sense of loss, of doom. I was going to miss him, but my sense of loss was offset by my feeling of annoyance at being saddled with him at his worst.

I drove around for almost an hour looking for the store. I could not find it. Don Juan admitted that he might have made a mistake, that the store might be in a different town. By then I was completely exhausted and had no idea what to do next.

In my normal state of awareness I always had the strange feeling that I knew more about him than my reason told me. Now, under the pressure of his mental deterioration, I was certain, without knowing why, that his friends were waiting for him somewhere in Mexico, although I did not know where.

My exhaustion was more than physical. It was a combination of worry and guilt. It worried me that I was stuck with a feeble old man who might, for all I knew, be mortally ill. And I felt guilty for being so disloyal to him.

I parked my car near the waterfront. It took nearly ten minutes for don Juan to get out of the car. We walked toward the ocean, but as we got closer, don Juan shied like a mule and refused to go on. He mumbled that the water of Guaymas Bay scared him.

He turned around and led me to the main square: a dusty plaza without even benches. Don Juan sat down on the curb. A street-cleaning truck went by, rotating its steel brushes, but no water was squirting into them. The cloud of dust made me cough.

I was so disturbed by my situation that the thought of leaving him sitting there crossed my mind. I felt embarrassed at having had such a thought and patted don Juan’s back.

“You must make an effort and tell me where I can take you,” I said softly. “Where do you want me to go.”

“I want you to go to hell!” he replied in a cracked, raspy voice.

Hearing him speak to me like this, I had the suspicion that don Juan might not have suffered from a stroke, but some other crippling brain condition that had made him lose his mind and become violent.

Suddenly he stood up and walked away from me. I noticed how frail he looked. He had aged in a matter of hours. His natural vigor was gone, and what I saw before me was a terribly old, weak man.

I rushed to lend him a hand. A wave of immense pity enveloped me. I saw myself old and weak, barely able to walk. It was intolerable. I was close to weeping, not for don Juan but for myself. I held his arm and made him a silent promise that I would look after him, no matter what.

I was lost in a reverie of self-pity when I felt the numbing force of a slap across my face. Before I recovered from the surprise, don Juan slapped me again across the back of my neck. He was standing facing me, shivering with rage. His mouth was half open and shook uncontrollably.

“Who are you?” he yelled in a strained voice.

He turned to a group of onlookers who had immediately gathered.

“I don’t know who this man is,” he said to them. “Help me. I’m a lonely old Indian. He’s a foreigner and he wants to kill me. They do that to helpless old people, kill them for pleasure.”

There was a murmur of disapproval. Various young, husky men looked at me menacingly.

“What are you doing, don Juan?” I asked him in a loud voice. I wanted to reassure the crowd that I was with him.

“I don’t know you,” don Juan shouted. “Leave me alone.”

He turned to the crowd and asked them to help him. He wanted them to restrain me until the police came.

“Hold him,” he insisted. “And someone, please call the police. They’ll know what to do with this man.”

I had the image of a Mexican jail. No one would know where I was. The idea that months would go by before anyone noticed my disappearance made me react with vicious speed. I kicked the first young man who came close me, then took off at a panicked run. I knew I was running for my life. Several young men ran after me. As I raced toward the main street, I realized that in a small city like Guaymas there were policemen all over the place patrolling on foot. There were none in sight, and before I ran into one, I entered the first store in my path. I pretended to be looking for curios.

The young men running after me went by noisily. I conceived a quick plan: to buy as many things as I could. I was counting on being taken for a tourist by the people in the store. Then I was going to ask someone to help me carry the packages to my car. It took me quite a while to select what I wanted. I paid a young man in the store to help me carry my packages, but as I got closer to my car, I saw don Juan standing by it, still surrounded by people. He was talking to a policeman, who was taking notes.

It was useless. My plan had failed. There was no way to get to my car. I instructed the young man to leave my packages on the sidewalk. I told him a friend of mine was going to drive by presently to take me to my hotel. He left and I remained hidden behind the packages I was holding in front of my face, out of sight of don Juan and the people around him.

I saw the policeman examining my California license plates. And that completely convinced me I was done for. The accusation of the crazy old man was too grave. And the fact that I had run away would have only reinforced my guilt in the eyes of any policeman. Besides, I would not have put it past the policeman to ignore the truth, just to arrest a foreigner.

I stood in a doorway for perhaps an hour. The policeman left, but the crowd remained around don Juan, who was shouting and agitatedly moving his arms. I was too far away to hear what he was saying but I could imagine the gist of his fast, nervous shouting.

I was in desperate need of another plan. I considered checking into a hotel and waiting there for a couple of days before venturing out to get my car. I thought of going back to the store and having them call a taxi. I had never had to hire a cab in Guaymas and I had no idea if there were any. But my plan died instantly with the realization that if the police were fairly competent, and had taken don Juan seriously, they would check the hotels. Perhaps the policeman had left don Juan in order to do just that.

Another alternative that crossed my mind was to get to the bus station and catch a bus to any town along the international border. Or to take any bus leaving Guaymas any direction. I abandoned the idea immediately. I was sure don Juan had given my name to the policeman and the police had probably already alerted the bus companies. My mind plunged into blind panic. I took short breaths to calm my nerves.

I noticed then that the crowd around don Juan was beginning to disperse. The policeman returned with a colleague, and the two of them moved away, walking slowly toward the end of the street. It was at that point that I felt a sudden uncontrollable urge. It was as if my body were disconnected from my brain. I walked to my car, carrying the packages. Without even the slightest trace of fear or concern, I opened the trunk, put the packages inside, then opened the driver’s door.

Don Juan was on the sidewalk, by my car, looking at me absentmindedly. I stared at him with a thoroughly uncharacteristic coldness. Never in my life had I had such a feeling. It was not hatred I felt, or even anger. I was not even annoyed with him. What I felt was not resignation or patience, either. And it was certainly not kindness. Rather it was a cold indifference, a frightening lack of pity. At that instant, I could not have cared less about what happened to don Juan or myself.

Don Juan shook his upper body the way a dog shakes itself dry after a swim. And then, as if all of it had only been a bad dream, he was again the man I knew. He quickly turned his jacket inside out. It was a reversible jacket, beige on one side and black on the other. Now he was wearing a black jacket. He threw his straw hat inside the car and carefully combed his hair. He pulled his shirt collar over the jacket collar, instantly making himself look younger. Without saying a word, he helped me put the rest of the packages in the car.

When the two policemen ran back to us, blowing their whistles, drawn by the noise of the car doors being opened and closed, don Juan very nimbly rushed to meet them. He listened to them attentively and assured them they had nothing to worry about. He explained that they must have encountered his father, a feeble old Indian who suffered from brain damage. As he talked to them, he opened and closed the car doors, as if checking the locks. He moved the packages from the trunk to the back seat. His agility and youthful strength were the opposite of the old man’s movements of a few minutes ago. I knew that he was acting for the benefit of the policeman who had seen him before. If I had been that man, there would have been no doubt in my mind that I was now seeing the son of the old braindamaged Indian.

Don Juan gave them the name of the restaurant where they knew his father and then bribed them shamelessly.

I did not bother to say anything to the policemen. There was something that made me feel hard, cold, efficient, silent.

We got in the car without a word. The policemen did not attempt to ask me anything. They seemed too tired even to try. We drove away.

“What kind of act did you pull out there, don Juan?” I asked, and the coldness in my tone surprised me.

“It was the first lesson in ruthlessness,” he said.

He remarked that on our way to Guaymas he had warned me about the impending lesson on ruthlessness.

I confessed that I had not paid attention because I had thought that we were just making conversation to break the monotony of driving.

“I never just make conversation,” he said sternly. “You should know that by now. What I did this afternoon was to create the proper situation for you to move your assemblage point to the precise spot where pity disappears. That spot is known as the place of no pity.

“The problem that sorcerers have to solve,” he went on, “is that the place of no pity has to be reached with only minimal help. The nagual sets the scene, but it is the apprentice who makes his assemblage point move.

“Today you just did that. I helped you, perhaps a bit dramatically, by moving my own assemblage point to a specific position that made me into a feeble and unpredictable old man. I was not just acting old and feeble. I was old”

The mischievous glint in his eyes told me that he was enjoying the moment.

“It was not absolutely necessary that I do that,” he went on. “I could have directed you to move your assemblage point without the hard tactics, but I couldn’t help myself, this event will never be repeated, I wanted to know whether or not I could act, in some measure, like my own benefactor. Believe me, I surprised myself as much as I must have surprised you.”

I felt incredibly at ease. I had no problems in accepting what he was saying to me, and no questions, because I understood everything without needing him to explain. He then said something which I already knew, but could not verbalize, because I would not have been able to find the appropriate words to describe it. He said that everything sorcerers did was done as a consequence of a movement of their assemblage points, and that such movements were ruled by the amount of energy sorcerers had at their command.

I mentioned to don Juan that I knew all that and much more. And he commented that inside every human being was a gigantic, dark lake of silent knowledge which each of us could intuit.

He told me I could intuit it perhaps with a bit more clarity than the average man because of my involvement in the warrior’s path. He then said that sorcerers were the only beings on earth who deliberately went beyond the intuitive level by training themselves to do two transcendental things: first, to conceive the existence of the assemblage point, and second, to make that assemblage point move.

He emphasized over and over that the most sophisticated knowledge sorcerers possessed was of our potential as perceiving beings, and the knowledge that the content of perception depended on the position of the assemblage point.

At that point I began to experience a unique difficulty in concentrating on what he was saying, not because I was distracted or fatigued, but because my mind, on its own, had started to play the game of anticipating his words. It was as if an unknown part of myself were inside me, trying unsuccessfully to find adequate words to voice a thought. As don Juan spoke, I felt I could anticipate how he was going to express my own silent thoughts. I was thrilled to realize his choice of words was always better than mine could have been. But anticipating his words also diminished my concentration.

I abruptly pulled over to the side of the road. And right there I had, for the first time in my life, a clear knowledge of a dualism in me. Two obviously separate parts were within my being. One was extremely old, at ease, indifferent. It was heavy, dark, and connected to everything else. It was the part of me that did not care, because it was equal to anything. It enjoyed things with no expectation. The other part was light, new, fluffy, agitated. It was nervous, fast. It cared about itself because it was insecure and did not enjoy anything, simply because it lacked the capacity to connect itself to anything. It was alone, on the surface, vulnerable. That was the part with which I looked at the world.

I deliberately looked around with that part. Everywhere I looked I saw extensive farmlands. And that insecure, fluffy, and caring part of me got caught between being proud of the industriousness of man and being sad at the sight of the magnificent old Sonoran desert turned into an orderly scene of furrows and domesticated plants.

The old, dark, heavy part of me did not care. And the two parts entered into a debate. The fluffy part wanted the heavy part to care, and the heavy part wanted the other one to stop fretting, and to enjoy.

“Why did you stop?” don Juan asked.

His voice produced a reaction, but it would be inaccurate to say that it was I who reacted. The sound of his voice seemed to solidify the fluffy part, and suddenly I was recognizably myself.

I described to don Juan the realization I had just had bout my dualism. As he began to explain it in terms of the position of the assemblage point I lost my solidity. The fluffy part became as fluffy as it had been when I first noticed my dualism, and once again I knew what don Juan was explaining.

He said that when the assemblage point moves and reaches the place of no pity, the position of rationality and common sense becomes weak. The sensation I was having if an older, dark, silent side was a view of the antecedents of reason.

“I know exactly what you are saying,” I told him. “I know a great number of things, but I can’t speak of what I know. I don’t know how to begin.”

“I have mentioned this to you already,” he said. “What you are experiencing and call dualism is a view from another position of your assemblage point. From that position, you can feel the older side of man. And what the older side of man knows is called silent knowledge. It’s a knowledge that you cannot yet voice.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because in order to voice it, it is necessary for you to have and use an inordinate amount of energy,” he replied. “You don’t at this time have that kind of energy to spare.

“Silent knowledge is something that all of us have,” he went on. “Something that has complete mastery, complete knowledge of everything. But it cannot think, therefore, it cannot speak of what it knows.

“Sorcerers believe that when man became aware that he knew, and wanted to be conscious of what he knew, he lost sight of what he knew. This silent knowledge, which you cannot describe, is, of course, intent – the spirit, the abstract. Man’s error was to want to know it directly, the way he knew everyday life. The more he wanted, the more ephemeral it became.”

“But what does that mean in plain words, don Juan?” I asked.

“It means that man gave up silent knowledge for the world of reason,” he replied. “The more he clings to the world of reason, the more ephemeral intent becomes.”

I started the car and we drove in silence. Don Juan did not attempt to give me directions or tell me how to drive – a thing he often did in order to exacerbate my self-importance. I had no clear idea where I was going, yet something in me knew. I let that part take over.

Very late in the evening we arrived at the big house don Juan’s group of sorcerers had in a rural area of the state of Sinaloa in northwestern Mexico. The journey seemed to have taken no time at all. I could not remember the particulars of our drive. All I knew about it was that we had not talked.

The house seemed to be empty. There were no signs of people living there. I knew, however, that don Juan’s friends were in the house. I could feel their presence without actually having to see them.

Don Juan lit some kerosene lanterns and we sat down at a sturdy table. It seemed that don Juan was getting ready to eat. I was wondering what to say or do when a woman entered noiselessly and put a large plate of food on the table. I was not prepared for her entrance, and when she stepped out of the darkness into the light, as if she had materialized out of nowhere, I gasped involuntarily.

“Don’t be scared, it’s me, Carmela,” she said and disappeared, swallowed again by the darkness.

I was left with my mouth open in mid-scream. Don Juan laughed so hard that I knew everybody in the house must have heard him. I half expected them to come, but no one appeared.

I tried to eat, but I was not hungry. I began to think about the woman. I did not know her. That is, I could almost identify her, but I could not quite work my memory of her out of the fog that obscured my thoughts. I struggled to clear my mind. I felt that it required too much energy and I gave up.

Almost as soon as I had stopped thinking about her, I began to experience a strange, numbing anxiety. At first I believed that the dark, massive house, and the silence in and around it, were depressing. But then my anguish rose to incredible proportions, right after I heard the faint barking of dogs in the distance. For a moment I thought that my body was going to explode. Don Juan intervened quickly. He jumped to where I was sitting and pushed my back until it cracked.

The pressure on my back brought me immediate relief.

When I had calmed down, I realized I had lost, together with the anxiety that had nearly consumed me, the clear sense of knowing everything. I could no longer anticipate how don Juan was going to articulate what I myself knew.

Don Juan then started a most peculiar explanation. First he said that the origin of the anxiety that had overtaken me with the speed of wildfire was the sudden movement of my assemblage point, caused by Carmela’s sudden appearance, and by my unavoidable effort to move my assemblage point to the place where I would be able to identify her completely.

He advised me to get used to the idea of recurrent attacks of the same type of anxiety, because my assemblage point was going to keep moving.

“Any movement of the assemblage point is like dying,” he said. “Everything in us gets disconnected, then reconnected again to a source of much greater power. That amplification of energy is felt as a killing anxiety.”

“What am I to do when this happens?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said. “Just wait. The outburst of energy will pass. What’s dangerous is not knowing what is happening to you. Once you know, there is no real danger.”

Then he talked about ancient man. He said that ancient man knew, in the most direct fashion, what to do and how best to do it. But, because he performed so well, he started to develop a sense of selfness, which gave him the feeling that he could predict and plan the actions he was used to performing. And thus the idea of an individual self appeared; an individual self which began to dictate the nature and scope of man’s actions.

As the feeling of the individual self became stronger, man lost his natural connection to silent knowledge. Modern man, being heir to that development, therefore finds himself so hopelessly removed from the source of everything that all he can do is express his despair in violent and cynical acts of self-destruction. Don Juan asserted that the reason for man’s cynicism and despair is the bit of silent knowledge left in him, which does two things: one, it gives man an inkling of his ancient connection to the source of everything; and two, it makes man feel that without this connection, he has no hope of peace, of satisfaction, of attainment.

I thought I had caught don Juan in a contradiction. I pointed out to him that he had once told me that war was he natural state for a warrior, that peace was an anomaly.

“That’s right,” he admitted. “But war, for a warrior, doesn’t mean acts of individual or collective stupidity or wanton violence. War, for a warrior, is the total struggle against that individual self that has deprived man of his power.”

Don Juan said then that it was time for us to talk further about ruthlessness – the most basic premise of sorcery. He explained that sorcerers had discovered that any movement of the assemblage point meant a movement away from the excessive concern with that individual self which was the nark of modern man. He went on to say that sorcerers believed it was the position of the assemblage point which made modern man a homicidal egotist, a being totally involved with his self-image. Having lost hope of ever returning to the source of everything, man sought solace in his selfness. And, in doing so, he succeeded in fixing his assemblage point in the exact position to perpetuate his self-image. It was therefore safe to say that any movement of the assemblage point away from its customary position resulted in a movement away from man’s self-reflection and its concomitant: self-importance.

Don Juan described self-importance as the force generated by man’s self-image. He reiterated that it is that force which keeps the assemblage point fixed where it is at present. For this reason, the thrust of the warriors’ way is to dethrone self-importance. And everything sorcerers do is toward accomplishing this goal.

He explained that sorcerers had unmasked self-importance and found that it is self-pity masquerading as something else.

“It doesn’t sound possible, but that is what it is,” he said. “Self-pity is the real enemy and the source of man’s misery. Without a degree of pity for himself, man could not afford to be as selfimportant as he is. However, once the force of self-importance is engaged, it develops its own momentum. And it is this seemingly independent nature of self-importance which gives it its fake sense of worth.”

His explanation, which I would have found incomprehensible under normal conditions, seemed thoroughly cogent to me. But because of the duality in me, which still pertained, it appeared a bit simplistic. Don Juan seemed to have aimed his thoughts and words at a specific target. And I, in my normal state of awareness, was that target.

He continued his explanation, saying that sorcerers are absolutely convinced that by moving our assemblage points away from their customary position we achieve a state of being which could only be called ruthlessness. Sorcerers knew, by means of their practical actions, that as soon as their assemblage points move, their self-importance crumbles. Without the customary position of their assemblage points, their self-image can no longer be sustained. And without the heavy focus on that self-image, they lose their self-compassion, and with it their self-importance. Sorcerers are right, therefore, in saying that self-importance is merely self-pity in disguise.

He then took my experience of the afternoon and went through it step by step. He stated that a nagual in his role leader or teacher has to behave in the most efficient, but the same time most impeccable, way. Since it is not possible for him to plan the course of his actions rationally, the nagual always lets the spirit decide his course. For example, he said he had had no plans to do what he did until the spirit gave him an indication, very early that morning when we were having breakfast in Nogales. He urged me to recall the event and tell him what I could remember. I recalled that during breakfast I got very embarrassed because don Juan made fun of me.

“Think about the waitress,” don Juan urged me.

“All I can remember about her is that she was rude.”

“But what did she do?” he insisted. “What did she do while she waited to take our order?”

After a moment’s pause, I remembered that she was a hard-looking young woman who threw the menu at me and stood there, almost touching me, silently demanding that I hurry up and order.

While she waited, impatiently tapping her big foot on the floor, she pinned her long black hair up on her head. The change was remarkable. She looked more appealing, more mature. I was frankly taken by the change in her. In fact, I overlooked her bad manners because of it.

“That was the omen,” don Juan said. “Hardness and transformation were the indication of the spirit.”

He said that his first act of the day, as a nagual, was to let me know his intentions. To that end, he told me in very plain language, but in a surreptitious manner, that he was going to give me a lesson in ruthlessness.

“Do you remember now?” he asked. “I talked to the waitress and to an old lady at the next table.”

Guided by him in this fashion, I did remember don Juan practically flirting with an old lady and the ill-mannered waitress. He talked to them for a long time while I ate. He told them idiotically funny stories about graft and corruption in government, and jokes about farmers in the city. Then he asked the waitress if she was an American. She said no and laughed at the question.

Don Juan said that that was good, because I was a Mexican-American in search of love. And I might as well start here, after eating such a good breakfast.

The women laughed. I thought they laughed at my being embarrassed. Don Juan said to them that, seriously speaking, I had come to Mexico to find a wife. He asked if they knew of any honest, modest, chaste woman who wanted to get married and was not too demanding in matters of male beauty. He referred to himself as my spokesman.

The women were laughing very hard. I was truly chagrined. Don Juan turned to the waitress and asked her if she would marry me. She said that she was engaged. It looked to me as though she was taking don Juan seriously.

“Why don’t you let him speak for himself?” the old lady asked don Juan.

“Because he has a speech impediment,” he said. “He stutters horribly.”

The waitress said that I had been perfectly normal when I ordered my food.

“Oh! You’re so observant,” don Juan said. “Only when he orders food can he speak like anyone else. I’ve told him time and time again that if he wants to learn to speak normally, he has to be ruthless. I brought him here to give him some lessons in ruthlessness.”

“Poor man,” the old woman said.

“Well, we’d better get going if we are going to find love for him today,” don Juan said as he stood to leave.

“You’re serious about this marriage business,” the young waitress said to don Juan.

“You bet,” he replied. “I’m going to help him get what he needs so he can cross the border and go to the place of no pity.”

I thought don Juan was calling either marriage or the U.S.A. the place of no pity. I laughed at the metaphor and stuttered horribly for a moment, which scared the women to death and made don Juan laugh hysterically.

“It was imperative that I state my purpose to you then,” Juan said, continuing his explanation.

“I did, but it bypassed you completely, as it should have.”

He said that from the moment the spirit manifested itself, every step was carried to its satisfactory completion with absolute ease. And my assemblage point reached the place of no pity, when, under the stress of his transformation, it was forced to abandon its customary place of self-reflection.

“The position of self-reflection,” don Juan went on, “forces the assemblage point to assemble a world of sham compassion, but of very real cruelty and self-centeredness. In that world the only real feelings are those convenient for one who feels them.

“For a sorcerer, ruthlessness is not cruelty. Ruthlessness is the opposite of self-pity or self-importance.

Ruthlessness is sobriety.”


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