(Journey to Ixtlan)
“I’ve told you that the secret of a strong body is not in what you do to it but in what you don’t do,” he finally said. “Now it is time for you not to do what you always do. Sit here until we leave and not-do.”
“I don’t follow you, don Juan.”
He put his hands over my notes and took them away from me. He carefully closed the pages of my notebook, secured it with its rubber band, and then threw it like a disc far into the chaparral. I was shocked and began to protest but he put his hand over my mouth. He pointed to a large bush and told me to fix my attention not on the leaves but on the shadows of the leaves. He said that running in the darkness did not have to be spurred by fear but could be a very natural reaction of a jubilant body that knew how “to not do“. He repeated over and over in a whisper in my right ear that “to not do what I knew how to do’ was the key to power. In the case of looking at a tree, what I knew how to do was to focus immediately on the foliage. The shadows of the leaves or the spaces in between the leaves were never my concern. His last admonitions were to start focusing on the shadows of the leaves on one single branch and then eventually work my way to the whole tree, and not to let my eyes go back to the leaves, because the first deliberate step to storing personal power was to allow the body to not-do.
Perhaps it was because of my fatigue or my nervous excitation, but I became so immersed in the shadows of the leaves that by the time don Juan stood up I could almost group the dark masses of shadows as effectively as I normally grouped the foliage. The total effect was startling.
I told don Juan that I would like to stay longer. He laughed and patted me on my hat.
“I’ve told you,” he said.” The body likes things like this.”
He then said that I should let my stored power guide me through the bushes to my notebook. He gently pushed me into the chaparral. I walked aimlessly for a moment and then I came upon it. I thought that I must have unconsciously memorized the direction in which don Juan had thrown it. He explained the event, saying that I went directly to the notebook because my body had been soaked for hours in not-doing.
“Shadows are peculiar affairs,” he said all of a sudden. “You must have noticed that there is one following us.”
“I haven’t noticed anything of the sort,” I protested in a loud voice.
Don Juan said that my body had noticed our pursuer, in spite of my stubborn opposition, and assured me in a confident tone that there was nothing unusual about being followed by a shadow.
“It is just a power,” he said. “These mountains are filled with them. It is just like one of those entities that scared you the other night.”
I wanted to know if I could actually perceive it myself. He asserted that in the daytime I could only feel its presence.
I wanted an explanation of why he called it a shadow when obviously it was not like the shadow of a boulder. He replied that both had the same lines, therefore both were shadows.
He pointed to a long boulder standing directly in front of us.
“Look at the shadow of that boulder,” he said. “The shadow is the boulder, and yet it isn’t. To observe the boulder in order to know what the boulder is, is doing, but to observe its shadow is not-doing.
“Shadows are like doors, the doors of not-doing. A man of knowledge, for example, can tell the innermost feelings of men by watching their shadows.”
“Is there movement in them?” I asked.
“You may say that there is movement in them, or you may say that the lines of the world are shown in them, or you may say that feelings come from them.”
“But how could feelings come out of shadows, don Juan?”
“To believe that shadows are just shadows is doing,” he explained. “That belief is somehow stupid. Think about it this way: There is so much more to everything in the world that obviously there must be more to shadows too. After all, what makes them shadows is merely our doing.”
There was a long silence. I did not know what else to say.
“The end of the day is approaching,” don Juan said, looking at the sky. “You have to use this brilliant sunlight to perform one last exercise.”
He led me to a place where there were two peaks the size of a man standing parallel to each other, about four or five feet apart. Don Juan stopped ten yards away from them, facing the west. He marked a spot for me to stand on and told me to look at the shadows of the peaks. He said that I should watch them and cross my eyes in the same manner I ordinarily crossed them when scanning the ground for a place to rest. He clarified his directions by saying that when searching for a resting place one had to look without focusing but in observing shadows one had to cross the eyes and yet keep a sharp image in focus. The idea was to let one shadow be superimposed on the other by crossing the eyes. He explained that through that process one could ascertain a certain feeling which emanated from shadows. I commented on his vagueness, but he maintained that there was really no way of describing what he meant.
My attempt to carry out the exercise was futile. I struggled until I got a headache. Don Juan was not at all concerned with my failure. He climbed to a dome-like peak and yelled from the top, telling me to look for two small long and narrow pieces of rock. He showed with his hands the size rock he wanted.
I found two pieces and handed them to him. Don Juan placed each rock about a foot apart in two crevices, made me stand above them facing the west, and told me to do the same exercise with their shadows.
This time it was an altogether different affair. Almost immediately I was capable of crossing my eyes and perceiving their individual shadows as if they had merged into one. I noticed that the act of looking without converging the images gave the single shadow I had formed an unbelievable depth and a sort of transparency. I stared at it, bewildered. Every hole in the rock, on the area where my eyes were focused, was neatly discernible; and the composite shadow, which was superimposed on them, was like a film of indescribable transparency.
I did not want to blink, for fear of losing the image I was so precariously holding. Finally my sore eyes forced me to blink, but I did not lose the view of the detail at all. In fact, by re-moistening my cornea the image became even clearer. I noticed at that point that it was as if I were looking from an immeasurable height at a world I had never seen before. I also noticed that I could scan the surroundings of the shadow without losing the focus of my visual perception.
Then, for an instant, I lost the notion that I was looking at a rock. I felt that I was landing in a world, vast beyond anything I had ever conceived. This extraordinary perception lasted for a second and then everything was turned off. I automatically looked up and saw don Juan standing directly above the rocks, facing me. He had blocked the sunlight with his body.
I described the unusual sensation I had had, and he explained that he had been forced to interrupt it because he saw that I was about to get lost in it. He added that it was a natural tendency for all of us to indulge ourselves when feelings of that nature occur, and that by indulging myself in it I had almost turned not-doing into my old familiar doing. He said that what I should have done was to maintain the view without succumbing to it, because in a way doing was a manner of succumbing.
I complained that he should have told me beforehand what to expect and what to do, but he pointed out that he had no way of knowing whether or not I would succeed in merging the shadows.
I had to confess I was more mystified than ever about not-doing. Don Juan’s comments were that I should be satisfied with what I had done, because for once I had proceeded correctly, that by reducing the world I had enlarged it, and that, although I had been far from feeling the lines of the world, I had correctly used the shadow of the rocks as a door into not-doing.
The statement that I had enlarged the world by reducing it intrigued me no end. The detail of the porous rock, in the small area where my eyes were focused, was so vivid and so precisely defined that the top of the round peak became a vast world for me; and yet it was really a reduced vision of the rock. When don Juan blocked the light and I found myself looking as I normally would do, the precise detail became dull, the tiny holes in the porous rock became bigger, the brown colour of the dried lava became opaque, and everything lost the shiny transparency that made the rock into a real world.
Don Juan then took the two rocks, laid them gently into a deep crevice, and sat down cross-legged facing the west, on the spot where the rocks had been. He patted a spot next to him to his left and told me to sit down.
We did not speak for a long time. Then we ate, also in silence. It was only after the sun had set that he suddenly turned and asked me about my progress in dreaming.
I told him that it had been easy in the beginning, but that at the moment I had ceased altogether to find my hands in my dreams.
“When you first started dreaming you were using my personal power, that’s why it was easier,” he said. “Now you are empty. But you must keep on trying until you have enough power of your own. You see, dreaming is the not-doing of dreams, and as you progress in your not-doing you will also progress in dreaming. The trick is not to stop looking for your hands, even if you don’t believe that what you are doing has any meaning. In fact, as I have told you before, a warrior doesn’t need to believe, because as long as he keeps on acting without believing he is not-doing.”
We looked at each other for a moment.
“There is nothing else I can tell you about dreaming” he continued. “Everything I may say would only be not-doing. But if you tackle not-doing directly, you yourself would know what to do in dreaming. To find your hands is essential, though, at this time, and I am sure you will.”
“I don’t know, don Juan. I don’t trust myself.”
“This is not a matter of trusting anybody. This whole affair is a matter of a warrior’s struggle; and you will keep on struggling, if not under your own power, then perhaps under the impact of a worthy opponent, or with the help of some allies, like the one which is already following you.”
I made a jerky involuntary movement with my right arm. Don Juan said that my body knew much more than I suspected, because the force that had been pursuing us was to my right. He confided in a low tone of voice that twice that day the ally had come so close to me that he had had to step in and stop it.
“During the day shadows are the doors of not-doing,” he said. “But at night, since very little doing prevails in the dark, everything is a shadow, including the allies. I’ve already told you about this when I taught you the gait of power.”
I laughed out loud and my own laughter scared me.
“Everything I have taught you so far has been an aspect of not-doing,” he went on. “A warrior applies not-doing to everything in the world, and yet I can’t tell you more about it than what I have said today. You must let your own body discover the power and the feeling of not-doing.”
I had another fit of nervous cackling.
“It is stupid for you to scorn the mysteries of the world simply because you know the doing of scorn,” he said with a serious face.
I assured him that I was not scorning anything or anyone, but that I was more nervous and incompetent than he thought.
“I’ve always been that way,” I said. “And yet I want to change, but I don’t know how. I am so inadequate.”
“I already know that you think you are rotten,” he said. “That’s your doing. Now in order to affect that doing I am going to recommend that you learn another doing. From now on, and for a period of eight days, I want you to lie to yourself. Instead of telling yourself the truth, that you are ugly and rotten and inadequate, you will tell yourself that you are the complete opposite, knowing that you are lying and that you are absolutely beyond hope.”
“But what would be the point of lying like that, don Juan?”
“It may hook you to another doing and then you may realize that both doings are lies, unreal, and that to hinge yourself to either one is a waste of time, because the only thing that is real is the being in you that is going to die. To arrive at that being is the not-doing of the self.”
(The Second Ring of Power)
La Gorda and the little sisters stood up after perhaps thirty minutes of gazing. La Gorda signaled me with her head to follow them. They went to the kitchen. La Gorda pointed to a bench for me to sit on. She said that she was going up the road to meet the Genaros and bring them over. She left through the front door.
The little sisters sat around me. Lidia volunteered to answer anything I wanted to ask her. I asked her to tell me about her gazing into don Juan’s power spot, but she did not understand me.
“I’m a distance and shadow gazer,” she said. “After I became a gazer the Nagual made me start all over again and had me gaze this time at the shadows of leaves and plants and trees and rocks. Now I never look at anything anymore; I just look at their shadows. Even if there is no light at all, there are shadows; even at night there are shadows. Because I’m a shadow gazer I’m also a distance gazer. I can gaze at shadows even in the distance.”
“The shadows in the early morning don’t tell much. The shadows rest at that time. So it’s useless to gaze very early in the day. Around six in the morning the shadows wake up, and they are best around five in the afternoon. Then they are fully awake.”
“What do the shadows tell you?”
“Everything I want to know. They tell me things because they have heat, or cold, or because they move, or because they have colors. I don’t know yet all the things that colors and heat and cold mean. The Nagual left it up to me to learn.”
“How do you learn?”
“In my dreaming. Dreamers must gaze in order to do dreaming and then they must look for their dreams in their gazing. For example, the Nagual made me gaze at the shadows of rocks, and then in my dreaming I found out that those shadows had light, so I looked for the light in the shadows from then on until I found it. Gazing and dreaming go together. It took me a lot of gazing at shadows to get my dreaming of shadows going. And then it took me a lot of dreaming and gazing to get the two together and really see in the shadows what I was seeing in my dreaming. See what I mean? Every one of us does the same. Rosa’s dreaming is about trees because she’s a tree gazer and Josefina’s is about clouds because she’s a cloud gazer. They gaze at trees and clouds until they match their dreaming”
(The Sorcerers’ Crossing)
She stood up and asked me to observe her shadow carefully.
I noticed that it was perfectly still.
Then she told me to stand and look at my own shadow.
I couldn’t help detecting a slight quiver, like the shadow of the trees when the leaves were touched by a breeze.
“Why is my shadow shaking?” I asked. “I thought I was standing perfectly still.”
“Your shadow quivers because the winds of emotion are blowing through you,” Clara replied.
“You’re more quiet than when you first began to recapitulate, but. there is still a great deal of agitation left inside you.”
She told me to stand on my left leg with my right leg raised and bent at the knee.
I wobbled as I tried to keep my balance.
I marveled that she stood on one leg as easily as she had stood on two, and her shadow was absolutely motionless.
“You seem to have a hard time keeping your balance,” Clara noted, setting down her leg and raising the other one.”
“That means that your thoughts and feelings are not at ease, and neither is your breathing.”
I raised my other leg to try the exercise again.
This time my balance was better, but when I saw how still Clara’s shadow was, I experienced a sudden pang of envy and I had to lower my leg to keep from falling.
“Whenever we have a thought,” Clara explained, setting down her leg again, “our energy moves in the direction of that thought.”
“Thoughts are like scouts; they cause the body to move along a certain path.”
“Now, look at my shadow again,” she ordered. “But try not to regard it as merely my shadow. Try to see into the essence of Clara as shown in her shadow-picture.”
Immediately I tensed. I was on trial and my performance was going to be evaluated. My childhood competitive feelings of having to outdo my brothers surfaced.
“Don’t tense up,” Clara said sternly. “This is not a contest. This is merely a delight. Do you understand? A delight!”
I had been thoroughly conditioned to react to words. The word ‘delight’ threw me into total confusion, and finally into panic.
She’s not using the word correctly, was all I could think. She must mean something else.
But Clara repeated the word over and over, as if she wanted it to sink in. I kept my eyes on her shadow. I had the impression that it was beautiful, serene, full of power. It wasn’t merely a dark area, it seemed to have depth, intelligence and vitality.
Then suddenly I thought I saw Clara’s shadow move independent of any movement of Clara’s body. The movement was so incredibly fast that it almost went unnoticed.
I waited, holding my breath, peering at it, pouring on it all my attention.
Then it happened again, and this time I was certainly prepared for it.
It quivered and then stretched, as if its shoulders and chest had suddenly been inflated. The shadow seemed to have come alive.
I let out a shriek and jumped up. I shouted to Clara that her shadow was alive.
I was ready to run away, terrified that the shadow would run after me, but Clara restrained me by holding my shoulder.
When I had calmed down enough to talk again, I told her what I had seen, all the while keeping my eyes averted from the ground for fear of catching another glimpse of Clara’s sinister shadow.
“To see the movement of shadows means that you have obviously freed a huge portion of energy with your recapitulation,” Clara remarked.
“Are you sure I didn’t just imagine this, Clara?” I said, hoping she would say I had.
“It was your intent that made it move,” she said authoritatively.
“But don’t you think that recapitulating also disturbs the mind?” I asked. “I must be very disturbed in order to see shadows moving by themselves.”
“No. The purpose of the recapitulation is to break basic assumptions we have accepted throughout our lives,” Clara explained patiently:
“Unless they are broken, we can’t prevent the power of remembering from clouding our awareness.”
“What exactly do you mean by the power of remembering, Clara?”
“The world is a huge screen of memories. If certain assumptions are broken,” she said, “the power of remembering is not only held in check, but even canceled out.”
I didn’t understand what she was saying and I resented her being so obscure.
“It probably was the wind that stirred the dirt on which your shadow was projected,” I said, offering a reasonable explanation.
Clara shook her head. “Try looking at it again and find out for sure,” she suggested.
I felt goose bumps on my arms. Nothing was going to make me stare at her shadow again.
“You insist that shadows of people don’t move by themselves,” Clara said, “because that’s what your ability to remember tells you.”
“Do you remember ever seeing them move?”
I replied, “No. I certainly do not.”
“There you are. What happened to you just now is that your normal ability to remember was held in check for an instant and you saw my shadow move.”
Clara shook a finger at me and chuckled. “And it wasn’t the wind stirring the dirt, either,” she said.
Then she hid her head with her arm, as if she were a timid child.
It struck me as odd that even though she was a grown woman, she never looked ridiculous performing childish gestures.
“I have news for you,” Clara continued. “You’ve seen shadows move before as a child, but then you were not yet rational so it was all right to see them move.”
“As you grew up, your energy was harnessed by social constraints, and so you forgot you had seen them moving, and only remember what you think is permissible to remember.”
I was trying to appreciate the scope of what Clara was saying when I suddenly remembered that as a child I used to see shadows wiggle and twist on the sidewalks; especially on hot, clear days. I always thought they were trying to pull themselves free from people they belonged to. It terrified me to see the shadows curl sideways to peek behind them. It always seemed odd that adults would be so totally oblivious of their shadows’ antics. I mentioned this to her.
Clara concluded that my being terrified was a product of the conflict between what I really saw, and what I had already been told was possible and permissible to see.
“I don’t think I follow you, Clara,” I said.
“Try to imagine yourself as a giant memory warehouse,” she suggested:
“In that warehouse, someone other than yourself has stored feelings, ideas, mental dialogues and behavior patterns.”
“Since it is your warehouse, you can go in there and rummage around any time you want and use whatever you find there.”
“The problem is that you have absolutely no say over the inventory, for it was already established
before you came into possession of the warehouse.”
“Thus you are drastically limited in your selection of items.”
She added that our lives seem to be an uninterrupted time line because in our warehouses the inventory never changes.
She stressed that unless this storehouse is cleared out, there is no way for us to be what we really are.
Overwhelmed by my memories and by what Clara was explaining, I sat down on a large rock. From the corner of my eye, I saw my shadow and experienced a jolt of panic as I asked myself, What if my shadow wouldn’t quite sit the way I do?
“I can’t take this, Clara,” I said, jumping up. “Let’s go back to the house.”
Clara ordered me to stay put. “Calm the mind,” she said, staring at me, “and the body too will become tranquil; otherwise you’re going to burst.”
Clara held her left hand in front of her body with the wrist resting just above her navel and her palm faced sideways. The fingers were pressed together, pointed downward to the ground. She told me to adopt this hand position and gaze at the tip of my middle finger.
I looked over the bridge of my nose, which forced me to look downward while slightly crossing my eyes.
She explained that to gaze fixedly in that manner places our awareness outside of us onto the ground, thus diminishing our inner agitation.
Then she said I was to inhale deeply while pointing at the ground; intending to get from it a sparkle of energy, like a drop of glue, on my middle finger.
Next, I was to rotate my hand up at the wrist until the base of my thumb touched my breastbone. I was to gaze at the tip of my middle finger for a count of seven and then shift my awareness immediately to my forehead, to a spot in between the eyes and just above the bridge of the nose.
This shift, she said, must be accompanied by the intent of transferring the sparkle of energy from the middle finger to that spot between the eyes.
If the transfer is accomplished, a light appears on the dark screen behind the closed eyes.
She said that we can send this luminous spot of energy to any part of our body to counteract pain, disease, apprehension or fear.
She then moved her hand and gently pressed my solar plexus. “If you need a quick surge of energy, as you do now, do the power breath I am about to show you and I guarantee that you will feel recharged.”
I watched Clara do a series of short inhalations and exhalations through her nose in rapid succession, vibrating her diaphragm. I imitated her and after twenty or so breaths, contracting and relaxing my diaphragm, I felt warmth spreading throughout my midsection.
“We’re going to sit here doing the power breath and gazing at the light behind the eyes,” she said, “until you’re no longer frightened.”
“I wasn’t really that scared,” I lied.
“You didn’t see yourself,” Clara retorted. “From where I’m sitting, I saw someone who was just about to faint.”
She was absolutely right. Never had I experienced such total fright as when I saw Clara’s shadow stretching itself out.
Lost memories had surfaced from such forgotten depths that, for a second or two, I had felt I was actually a child again.
The human body can be turned into an instrument capable of gathering, storing and directing energy.
“We can regard the body either as a biological organism or as a source of power,” Clara explained: “It all depends on the state of the inventory in our warehouse. The body can be hard and rigid, or soft and pliant.”
“If our warehouse is empty, the body itself is empty, and energy from infinity can flow through it.”
Clara reiterated that in order to empty ourselves, we have to sink into a state of profound recapitulation and let energy flow through us unimpeded.
Only in quiescence, she stressed, can we give the seer in us full reign; or can the impersonal energy of the universe turn into the very personal force of intent.
“When we have emptied ourselves sufficiently of our obsolete and encumbering inventory,” she went on, “energy comes to us and gathers itself naturally. When enough of it coalesces, it turns into power. Anything can announce intent’s presence: a loud noise, a soft voice, a thought that isn’t yours, an unexpected surge of vigor or well-being.”
Clara emphasized that in the final analysis, it made no difference whether power descends on us in a state of wakefulness or in dreams.
It is equally valid in both cases; dreaming being, however, more elusive and potent.
“What we experience in wakefulness in terms of power should be put into practice in dreams,” she continued.
“And whatever power we experience in dreams should be used while we are awake.”
“What really counts is being aware regardless of whether we are awake or asleep.”
She peered at me and repeated, “What counts is being aware.”
Clara was silent for a moment.
Then she told me something I considered to be completely irrational. She said, “Being aware of time, for example, can make a man’s life span several hundred years.”
“That’s absurd,” I said. “How can a man live that long?”
“Being aware of time is a special state of awareness that prevents us from aging quickly and dying in a few decades,” Clara explained:
“There is a belief handed down from the ancient sorcerers, that if we would be able to use our bodies as weapons- or, put in modern terms, if we would empty our warehouses- we would be able to slip out of the world to roam elsewhere.”
“Where would we go?” I asked.
Clara looked at me in surprise, as if I ought to know the answer. “To the realm of not-being; to the shadows’ world,” she replied:
“It is believed that once our warehouse is empty, we would become so light that we could soar through the void and nothing would hinder our flight.”
“Then we could return to this world youthful and renewed.”
I shifted on the uncomfortable rock numbing my tailbone. “But this is just a belief, isn’t it, Clara?” I asked. “A legend handed down from ancient time.”
“At this moment, it is just a belief,” she acknowledged.
“But moments, like all things, are known to change.”
“Nowadays, more than ever, man needs to renew himself and experience emptiness and freedom.”
For a moment I wondered what it would be like to be as vaporous as a cloud and float up into the air, with nothing to bar my coming and going.
It was almost dark then and everything was absolutely still to the point of being eerie. The birds were silent. Everything had quieted down. Even the wind, which had been so annoying earlier while I was trying to rake the leaves, had settled.
“It’s the time of no shadows,” Clara whispered. “Let’s sit under this tree in the dark and find out if you can summon the shadows’ world.”
“Wait a moment, Clara,” I said in a loud whisper that bordered on a screech. “What are you going to do to me?”
Waves of nervousness were cramping my stomach, and in spite of the cold, my forehead was perspiring.
Clara asked me then outright if I had been practicing the breaths and the sorcery passes she had taught me.
I wanted more than anything to tell her that I had, yet that would have been a lie. In truth, I had practiced them minimally, just so I wouldn’t forget them; because recapitulating took all of my available energy and left me no time for anything else. At night I was too tired to do anything, so I just went to bed.
“You haven’t been doing them regularly or you wouldn’t be in this sorry state now,” Clara said, leaning closer. “You’re trembling like a leaf.
“There’s one secret to the breathing and the passes I’ve taught you that makes them invaluable.”
“What is that?” I stammered.
Clara tapped me on the head. “They have to be practiced every day or else they’re worthless.”
“You wouldn’t think of going without eating or drinking water, would you? The exercises I’ve taught you are even more important than food and water.”
She had made her point. I silently vowed that every night before going to bed I would do them, and again upon awakening in the morning before going to the cave.
“The human body has an extra energy system that comes into play when we are under stress,” Clara explained. “And stress happens any time we do anything to excess; like being overly concerned with yourself and your performance, as you are now.”
“That’s why one of the fundamental precepts of the art of freedom is to avoid excesses.”
She said that the movements she was teaching me, whether she called them breaths or sorcery passes, were important because they operate directly on the reserve system; and that the reason they can be called indispensable passes is because they allow added energy to pass into and through our reserve pathways.
Then when we are summoned to action, instead of becoming depleted from stress, we become stronger, and have surplus energy for extraordinary tasks.
“Now, before we summon the shadows’ world, I’ll show you two more indispensable sorcery passes which combine breathing and movements,” she went on.
“Do them every day and you not only won’t get tired or sick, but you’ll have plenty of surplus energy for your intending.”
“For my what?”
“Your intending,” Clara repeated. “For intending the result of anything you do. Remember?”
She held my shoulders and twisted me around so that I was facing north.
“This movement is particularly important for you, Taisha, because your lungs are weakened from excessive weeping,” she said:
“A lifetime of feeling sorry for yourself certainly has taken its toll on your lungs.”
Her statement jolted me to attention.
I watched her bend her knees and ankles and assume a martial art posture called the ‘straight horse,’ because it simulates the sitting position of a rider mounted on a horse, with his legs a shoulders’ width apart and slightly bowed.
The index finger of her left hand was pointed down, while her other fingers were curled at the second joint.
As she began to inhale, she gently but forcefully turned her head to the right as far as she could, and rotated her left arm at the shoulder joint over her head in a full circle all the way to the back, ending up with the heel of her left palm resting on her tailbone.
Simultaneously she brought her right arm around her waist to her back and placed her right fist over the back of her left hand, wedging it against her bent left wrist.
Using her right fist, she pushed up her left arm along her spinal column, her left elbow bent akimbo, and finished her inhalation.
She held her breath for a count of seven, then released the tension on her left arm, lowered it to her tailbone again and rotated it at the shoulder joint straight overhead to the front, ending up with the heel of her left palm resting on her pubis.
Simultaneously she brought her right arm around her waist to the front and placed that fist on the back of her left hand, and pushed the left arm up her abdomen as she finished exhaling.
“Do this movement once with your left arm, and again with your right one,” she said. “That way you will balance your two sides.”
To demonstrate, she repeated the same movements, alternating arms, and this time turning her head to the left.
“Now you try it, Taisha,” she said, stepping aside to give me room to circle my arm backward. I replicated her movements.
As I swung my left arm back, I felt a painful tension along the underside of my extended arm, running all the way from my finger to my armpit.
“Relax and let the breath’s energy flow through your arm and out of the tip of your index finger,” she said. “Keep it extended and the other fingers curved. That way you’ll release any blockage of energy along the pathways in your arm.”
The pain grew even more acute as I pushed my bent arm upward along my back.
Clara noticed my pinched expression. “Don’t push too hard,” she warned, “or you’ll strain your tendons. And round your shoulders a bit more as you push.”
After performing the movement with my right arm, I felt a burning in my thigh muscles from standing with my knees and ankles bent.
Even though I stood in the same position every day while practicing kung fu, my legs seemed to vibrate as if an electric current were running through them.
Clara suggested I stand up and shake my legs a few times to release the tension.
Clara emphasized that in this sorcery pass, rotating and pushing the arms up in conjunction with breathing moves energy to the organs in the chest and vitalizes them.
It massages deep, underlying centers that rarely are activated.
Turning the head massages the glands in the neck and also opens energy passageways to the back of the head.
She explained that if awakened and nourished by the energy from breathing, these centers could unravel mysteries beyond anything we can imagine.
“For the next sorcery pass,” Clara said, “stand with your feet together and look straight ahead as if you were facing a door that you are going to open.”
Clara told me to raise my hands to eye level and to curl my fingers as if I were placing them inside the recessed handles of sliding doors that open in the middle.
“What you are going to open is a crack in the energy lines of the world,” she explained.
“Imagine those lines as rigid vertical cords that make a screen in front of you.”
“Now grab a bunch of the fibers and pull them apart with all your might.
“Pull them apart until the opening is big enough for you to step through.”
She told me that once I had made that hole, I should step forward with my left leg and then quickly, using my left foot as a pivot, rotate one hundred and eighty degrees counterclockwise to face the direction from which I had come.
By my turning in this manner, the energy lines I had pushed apart would wrap around me.
To return, she said, I had to open the lines again by pulling them apart the same way I had done before, then step out with the right foot and quickly turn one hundred and eighty degrees clockwise as soon as I had taken the step. In this fashion, I would have unwrapped myself and would again be facing the direction in which I had begun the sorcery pass.
“This is one of the most powerful and mysterious of all the sorcery passes,” Clara cautioned. “With it we can open doors to different worlds, provided of course that we have stored a surplus of internal energy and are able to realize the intent of the pass.”
Her serious tone and expression made me ill at ease.
I didn’t know what to expect if I succeeded in opening that invisible door.
In a brusque tone, she then gave me some final instructions.
“When you step in,” she said, “your body has to feel rooted, heavy, full of tension.”
“But once you are inside and have turned around, you should feel light and airy, as if you were floating upward.
“Exhale sharply as you first lunge forward through the opening, then inhale slowly and deeply, filling your lungs completely with the energy from behind that screen.”
I practiced the pass several times as Clara looked on, but it was as if I were only going through the outward motions.
I couldn’t feel the energy fibers forming the screen that Clara was talking about.
“You’re not pulling the door open hard enough,” Clara corrected me. “Use your internal energy, not just your arm muscles. Expel the stale air and pull in your stomach as you lunge forward. Once inside, breathe as many times as you can, but be on the alert. Don’t stay longer than you need to.”
I mustered up all my strength and grabbed the air. Clara stood behind me, held my forearms and gave them a tremendous pull sideways.
Instantly I felt as if some sliding doors had opened.
Exhaling sharply, I lunged through it, or rather Clara had given me a shove from behind, pushing me forward.
I remembered to turn around and breathe deeply, but for a moment I worried that I wouldn’t know when to come out. Clara sensed this and told me when to stop breathing and when to step out.
“As you practice this sorcery pass by yourself,” Clara said, “you’ll learn to do it perfectly, but be careful.”
“All sorts of things can happen once you go through that opening.”
“Remember, you have to be cautious and at the same time bold.”
“How will I know which is which?” I asked.
Clara shrugged. “For a while, you won’t. Unfortunately, prudence comes to us only after we’ve gotten blasted.”
She added that cautiousness without cowardice is hinged on our ability to control our internal energy; and to divert it into the reserve channels so that it is available to us when we need it for extraordinary actions.
“With enough internal energy, anything can be accomplished,” Clara said, “but we need to store and refine it.
“So let’s both practice some of the sorcery passes you’ve learned and see if you can be cautious without being cowardly and summon up the shadows’ world.”
I experienced a surge of energy that began as small circles in my stomach. At first I thought it was fear, but my body didn’t feel frightened.
It was as if an impersonal force, void of desires or sentiment, was stirring inside me; moving from the inside out. As it ascended, my upper back jerked involuntarily.
Clara moved to the center of the patio, and I followed her.
She began doing some of the sorcery passes, slowing herself down to allow me to follow her.
“Close your eyes,” she whispered. “When your eyes are closed, it’s easier to use energy lines that are already there to keep your balance.”
I shut my eyes and started to move in unison with Clara.
I had no trouble following her cues for changing positions, yet I had difficulty in keeping my balance.
I knew it was because I was trying too hard to do the movements correctly. It was like the time I had tried walking with my eyes shut, and kept stumbling because I desperately wanted to succeed. But gradually my desire to excel diminished and my body became more limber and subtle. As we kept on moving, I became so relaxed that I felt I had no bones or joints.
If I raised my arms overhead, it seemed I could stretch them all the way to the tops of the trees. If I bent my knees and lowered my weight, a surge of energy rushed downward through my feet. I felt I had grown roots. Lines were extending from the soles of my feet deep into the earth, giving me an unprecedented stability.
Gradually the boundary between my body and its surroundings dissolved. With every pass I did, my body seemed to melt and merge with the darkness until it began to move and breathe all by itself.
I could hear Clara breathing beside me, performing the same passes.
With my eyes closed, I sensed her shape and postures.
At one point, the strangest thing yet happened.
I felt a light turning on inside my forehead.
But as I looked up, I became aware that the light wasn’t really inside me at all. It came from the top of the trees, as if a huge panel of electric lights had been turned on at night, illuminating an outdoor stadium.
I had no trouble seeing Clara and everything on the patio, and what was around it.
The light had the strangest hue, and I couldn’t decide if it was rose-tinted, pinkish or peach, or like pale terra-cotta.
In places, it seemed to change its glare depending on where I looked.
Clara, peering at me curiously, said, “Don’t move your head, and continue keeping your eyes closed. Just concentrate on your breathing.”
I didn’t know why she had said to continue keeping my eyes closed since she saw that my eyes were wide open: I was trying to determine the coloration of the light, for it seemed to change with every movement of my head, and its intensity fluctuated depending on how hard I stared at it.
I became so involved with the glow around me that I lost the rhythm of the breaths.
Then as suddenly as the light had turned on, it switched off again and I was left in total darkness.
“Let’s go into the kitchen and heat up some stew,” Clara said, nudging me. ‘
I hesitated. I felt disoriented; out of place. My body was so heavy I thought I must be sitting down.
“You can open your eyes now,” Clara said.
I never remembered having had such a difficult time opening my eyes as I did at that moment. It seemed to take me forever to do it, for just as I got them open, they would droop shut again. This opening and closing seemed to go on for a long time, until I felt Clara shaking my shoulders.
“Taisha, open your eyes!” she commanded. “Don’t you dare pass out on me. Do you hear?”
I shook my head to clear it and my eyes popped open.
They had been closed all the time.
It was pitch black, but there was enough moonlight coming through the foliage to see Clara’s silhouette. We were sitting under the tree on the two rattan armchairs in the patio.
“How did I get here?” I asked dazed.
“You walked over here and sat down,” Clara said matter-of-factly.
“But what happened? A moment ago it was light. I could see everything clearly.”
“What happened is that you entered into the shadows’ world,” Clara said with a congratulatory tone.
“I could tell by the rhythm of your breathing that you had gone there, but I didn’t want to frighten you then by asking you to look at your shadow.”
“If you had looked, you would have known that…”
I instantly understood what Clara was intimating.
I gasped, “There were no shadows. There was light but nothing had a shadow.”
Clara nodded. “Tonight you’ve found out something of real value, Taisha. In the worlds outside this one, there are no shadows!”