(The Fire From Within by Carlos Castaneda)
The next time don Juan resumed his explanation of the mastery of awareness we were again in his house in southern Mexico. That house was actually owned by all the members of the nagual’s party, but Silvio Manuel officiated as the owner and everyone openly referred to it as Silvio Manuel’s house, although I, for some inexplicable reason, had gotten used to calling it don Juan’s house.
Don Juan, Genaro, and I had returned to the house from a trip to the mountains. That day, as we relaxed after the long drive and ate a late lunch, I asked don Juan the reason for the curious deception. He assured me that no deception was involved, and that to call it Silvio Manuel’s house was an exercise in the art of stalking to be performed by all the members of the nagual’s party under any circumstances, even in the privacy of their own thoughts. For any of them to insist on thinking about the house in any other terms was tantamount to denying their links to the nagual’s party.
I protested that he had never told me that. I did not want to cause any dissension with my habits.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, smiling at me and patting my back. “You can call this house whatever you want. The nagual has authority. The nagual woman, for instance, calls it the house of shadows.”
Our conversation was interrupted, and I did not see him until he sent for me to come to the back patio a couple of hours later.
He and Genaro were strolling around at the far end of the corridor; I could see them moving their hands in what seemed to be an animated conversation.
It was a clear sunny day. The midafternoon sun shone directly on some of the flower pots that hung from the eaves of the roof around the corridor and projected their shadows on the north and east walls of the patio. The combination of intense yellow sunlight, the massive black shadows of the pots, and the lovely, delicate, bare shadows of the frail flowering plants that grew in them was stunning. Someone with a keen eye for balance and order had pruned those plants to create such an exquisite effect.
“The nagual woman has done that,” don Juan said as if reading my thoughts. “She gazes at these shadows in the afternoons.”
The thought of her gazing at shadows in the afternoons had a swift and devastating effect on me. The intense yellow light of that hour, the quietness of that town, and the affection that I felt for the nagual woman conjured up for me in one instant all the solitude of the warriors’ endless path.
Don Juan had defined the scope of that path when he said to me that the new seers are the warriors of total freedom, that their only search is the ultimate liberation that comes when they attain total awareness. I understood with unimpaired clarity, as I looked at those haunting shadows on the wall, what it meant to the nagual woman when she said that to read poems out loud was the only release that her spirit had.
I remember that the day before she had read something to me, there in the patio, but I had not quite understood her urgency, her longing. It was a poem by Juan Ramon Jimenez, “Hora Inmensa,” which she told me synthesized for her the solitude of warriors who live to escape to total freedom.
Only a bell and a bird break the stillness ….
It seems that the two talk with the setting sun
Golden colored silence, the afternoon is made of crystals
A roving purity sways the cold trees
and beyond all that
a transparent river dreams that trampling over pearls
it breaks loose
and flows into infinity
Don Juan and Genaro came to my side and looked at me with an expression of surprise.
“What are we really doing, don Juan?” I asked. “Is it possible that warriors are only preparing themselves for death?”
“No way,” he said, gently patting my shoulder. “Warriors prepare themselves to be aware, and full awareness comes to them only when there is no more self-importance left in them. Only when they are nothing do they become everything.”
We were quiet for a moment. Then don Juan asked me if I was in the throes of self-pity. I did not answer because I was not sure.
“You’re not sorry that you’re here, are you?” don Juan asked with a faint smile.
“He’s certainly not,” Genaro assured him. Then he seemed to have a moment of doubt. He scratched his head, then looked at me and arched his brows. “Maybe you are,” he said. “Are you?”
“He’s certainly not,” don Juan assured Genaro this time. He went through the same gestures of scratching his head and arching his brows. “Maybe you are,” he said. “Are you?”
“He’s certainly not!” Genaro boomed, and both of them exploded into uncontrolled laughter.
When they had calmed down, don Juan said that self-importance is the motivating force for every attack of melancholy. He added that warriors are entitled to have profound states of sadness, but that sadness is there only to make them laugh.
“Genaro has something to show you which is more exciting than all the self-pity you can muster up,” don Juan continued, “it has to do with the position of the assemblage point.”
Genaro immediately began to walk around the corridor, arching his back and lifting his thighs to his chest.
“The nagual Julian showed him how to walk that way,” don Juan said in a whisper, “it’s called the gait of power. Genaro knows several gaits of power. Watch him fixedly.”
Genaro’s movements were indeed mesmeric. I found myself following his gait, first with my eyes and then irresistibly with my feet. I imitated his gait. We walked once around the patio and stopped.
While walking, I had noticed the extraordinary lucidity that each step brought to me. When we stopped, I was in a state of keen alertness. I could hear every sound; I could detect every change in the light or in the shadows around me. I became enthralled with a feeling of urgency, of impending action. I felt extraordinarily aggressive, muscular, daring. At that moment I saw an enormous span of flat land in front of me; right behind me I saw a forest. Huge trees were lined up as straight as a wall. The forest was dark and green; the plain was sunny and yellow.
My breathing was deep and strangely accelerated, but not in an abnormal way. Yet it was the rhythm of my breathing that was forcing me to trot on the spot. I wanted to take off running, or rather my body wanted to, but just as I was taking off something stopped me.
Don Juan and Genaro were suddenly by my side. We walked down the corridor with Genaro to my right. He nudged me with his shoulder. I felt the weight of his body on me. He gently shoved me to the left and we angled off straight for the east wall of the patio. For a moment I had the weird impression that we were going to go through the wall, and I even braced myself for the impact, but we stopped right in front of the wall.
While my face was still against the wall, they both examined me with great care. I knew what they were searching for; they wanted to make sure that I had shifted my assemblage point. I knew that I had because my mood had changed. They obviously knew it too. They gently took me by the arms and walked in silence with me to the other side of the corridor, to a dark passageway, a narrow hall that connected the patio with the rest of the house. We stopped there. Don Juan and Genaro moved a few feet away from me.
I was left facing the side of the house that was in dark shadows. I looked into an empty dark room. I had a sense of physical weariness. I felt languid, indifferent, and yet I experienced a sense of spiritual strength. I realized then that I had lost something. There was no strength in my body. I could hardly stand. My legs finally gave in and I sat down and then I lay down on my side. While I lay there, I had the most wonderful, fulfilling thoughts of love for God, for goodness.
Then all at once I was in front of the main altar of a church. The bas-reliefs covered with gold leaf glittered with the light of thousands of candles. I saw the dark figures of men and women carrying an enormous crucifix mounted on a huge palanquin. I moved out of their way and stepped outside the church. I saw a multitude of people, a sea of candles, coming toward me. I felt elated. I ran to join them. I was moved by profound love. I wanted to be with them, to pray to the Lord. I was only a few feet away from the mass of people when something swished me away.
The next instant, I was with don Juan and Genaro. They flanked me as we walked lazily around the patio.
While we were having lunch the next day, don Juan said that Genaro had pushed my assemblage point with his gait of power, and that he had been able to do that because I had been in a state of inner silence. He explained that the articulation point of everything seers do is something he had talked about since the day we met: stopping the internal dialogue. He stressed over and over that the internal dialogue is what keeps the assemblage point fixed to its original position.
“Once silence is attained, everything is possible,” he said.
I told him I was very conscious of the fact that in general I had stopped talking to myself, but did not know how I had done it. If asked to explain the procedure I would not know what to say.
“The explanation is simplicity itself,” he said. “You willed it, and thus you set a new intent, a new command. Then your command became the Eagle’s command.
“This is one of the most extraordinary things that the new seers found out: that our command can become the Eagle’s command. The internal dialogue stops in the same way it begins: by an act of will. After all, we are forced to start talking to ourselves by those who teach us. As they teach us, they engage their will and we engage ours, both without knowing it. As we learn to talk to ourselves, we learn to handle will. We will ourselves to talk to ourselves. The way to stop talking to ourselves is to use exactly the same method: we must will it, we must intend it.”
We were silent for a few minutes. I asked him to whom he was referring when he said that we had teachers who taught us to talk to ourselves.
“I was talking about what happens to human beings when they are infants,” he replied, “a time when they are taught by everyone around them to repeat an endless dialogue about themselves. The dialogue becomes internalized, and that force alone keeps the assemblage point fixed.
“The new seers say that infants have hundreds of teachers who teach them exactly where to place their assemblage point.”
He said that seers see that infants have no fixed assemblage point at first. Their encased emanations are in a state of great turmoil, and their assemblage points shift everywhere in the band of man, giving children a great capacity to focus on emanations that later will be thoroughly disregarded. Then as they grow, the older humans around them, through their considerable power over them, force the children’s assemblage points to become more steady by means of an increasingly complex internal dialogue. The internal dialogue is a process that constantly strengthens the position of the assemblage point, because that position is an arbitrary one and needs steady reinforcement.
“The fact of the matter is that many children see,” he went on. “Most of those who see are considered to be oddballs and every effort is made to correct them, to make them solidify the position of their assemblage points.”
“But would it be possible to encourage children to keep their assemblage points more fluid?” I asked.
“Only if they live among the new seers,” he said. “Otherwise they would get entrapped, as the old seers did, in the intricacies of the silent side of man. And, believe me, that’s worse than being caught in the clutches of rationality.”
Don Juan went on to express his profound admiration for the human capacity to impart order to the chaos of the Eagle’s emanations. He maintained that every one of us, in his own right, is a masterful magician and that our magic is to keep our assemblage point unwaveringly fixed.
“The force of the emanations at large,” he went on, “makes our assemblage point select certain emanations and cluster them for alignment and perception. That’s the command of the Eagle, but all the meaning that we give to what we perceive is our command, our gift of magic.”
He said that in the light of what he had explained, what Genaro had made me do the day before was something extraordinarily complex and yet very simple. It was complex because it required a tremendous discipline on everybody’s part; it required that the internal dialogue be stopped, that a state of heightened awareness be reached, and that someone walk away with one’s assemblage point. The explanation behind all these complex procedures was very simple; the new seers say that since the exact position of the assemblage point is an arbitrary position chosen for us by our ancestors, it can move with a relatively small effort; once it moves, it forces new alignments of emanations, thus new perceptions.
“I used to give you power plants in order to make your assemblage point move,” don Juan continued. “Power plants have that effect; but hunger, tiredness, fever, and other things like that can have a similar effect. The flaw of the average man is that he thinks the result of a shift is purely mental. It isn’t, as you yourself can attest.”
He explained that my assemblage point had shifted scores of times in the past, just as it had shifted the day before, and that most of the time the worlds it had assembled had been so close to the world of everyday life as to be virtually phantom worlds. He emphatically added that visions of that kind are automatically rejected by the new seers.
“Those visions are the product of man’s inventory,” he went on. “They are of no value for warriors in search of total freedom, because they are produced by a lateral shift of the assemblage point.”
He stopped talking and looked at me. I knew that by “lateral shift” he had meant a shift of the point from one side to the other along the width of man’s band of emanations instead of a shift in depth. I asked him if I was right.
“That’s exactly what I meant,” he said. “On both edges of man’s band of emanations there is a strange storage of refuse, an incalculable pile of human junk. It’s a very morbid, sinister storehouse. It had great value for the old seers but not for us.”
“One of the easiest things one can do is to fall into it. Yesterday Genaro and I wanted to give you a quick example of that lateral shift; that was why we walked your assemblage point, but any person can reach that storehouse by simply stopping his internal dialogue. If the shift is minimal, the results are explained as fantasies of the mind. If the shift is considerable, the results are called hallucinations.”
I asked him to explain the act of walking the assemblage point. He said that once warriors have attained inner silence by stopping their internal dialogue, the sound of the gait of power, more than the sight of it, is what traps their assemblage points. The rhythm of muffled steps instantly catches the alignment force of the emanations inside the cocoon, which has been disconnected by inner silence.
“That force hooks itself immediately to the edges of the band,” he went on. “On the right edge we find endless visions of physical activity, violence, killing, sensuality. On the left edge we find spirituality, religion, God. Genaro and I walked your assemblage point to both edges, so as to give you a complete view of that human junk pile.”
Don Juan restated, as if on second thought, that one of the most mysterious aspects of the seers’ knowledge is the incredible effects of inner silence. He said that once inner silence is attained, the bonds that tie the assemblage point to the particular spot where it is placed begin to break and the assemblage point is free to move.
He said that the movement ordinarily is toward the left, that such a directional preference is a natural reaction of most human beings, but that there are seers who can direct that movement to positions below the customary spot where the point is located. The new seers call that shift “the shift below.”
“Seers also suffer accidental shifts below,” he went on. “The assemblage point doesn’t remain there long, and that’s fortunate, because that is the place of the beast. To go below is counter to our interest, although the easiest thing to do.”
Don Juan also said that among the many errors of judgment the old seers had committed, one of the most grievous was moving their assemblage points to the immeasurable area below, which made them experts at adopting animal forms. They chose different animals as their point of reference and called those animals their nagual. They believed that by moving their assemblage points to specific spots they would acquire the characteristics of the animal of their choice, its strength or wisdom or cunning or agility or ferocity.
Don Juan assured me that there are many dreadful examples of such practices even among the seers of our day. The relative facility with which the assemblage point of man moves toward any lower position poses a great temptation to seers, especially to those whose inclination leans toward that end. It is the duty of a nagual, therefore, to test his warriors.
He told me then that he had put me to the test by moving my assemblage point to a position below, while I was under the influence of a power plant. He then guided my assemblage point until I could isolate the crows’ band of emanations, which resulted in my changing into a crow.
I again asked don Juan the question I had asked him dozens of times. I wanted to know whether I had physically turned into a crow or had merely thought and felt like one. He explained that a shift of the assemblage point to the area below always results in a total transformation. He added that if the assemblage point moves beyond a crucial threshold, the world vanishes; it ceases to be what it is to us at man’s level.
He conceded that my transformation was indeed horrifying by any standards. My reaction to that experience proved to him that I had no leanings toward that direction. Had it not been that way, I would have had to employ enormous energy in order to fight off a tendency to remain in that area below, which some seers find most comfortable.
He further said that an unwitting downshift occurs periodically to every seer, but that such a downshift becomes less and less frequent as their assemblage points move farther toward the left. Every time it occurs, however, the power of a seer undergoing it diminishes considerably. It is a drawback that takes time and great effort to correct.
“Those lapses make seers extremely morose and narrow-minded,” he continued, “and in certain cases, extremely rational.”
“How can seers avoid those downshifts?” I asked.
“It all depends on the warrior,” he said. “Some of them are naturally inclined to indulge in their quirks – yourself, for instance. They are the ones who are hard hit. For those like you, I recommend a twenty-four-hour vigil of everything they do. Disciplined men or women are less prone to that kind of shift; for those I would recommend a twenty-three-hour vigil.”
He looked at me with shiny eyes and laughed.
“Female seers have downshifts more often than males,” he said. “But they are also capable of bouncing out of that position with no effort at all, while males linger dangerously in it.”
He also said that women seers have an extraordinary capacity to make their assemblage points hold on to any position in the area below. Men cannot. Men have sobriety and purpose, but very little talent; that is the reason why a nagual must have eight women seers in his party. Women give the impulse to cross the immeasurable vastness of the unknown. Together with that natural capacity, or as a consequence of it, women have a most fierce intensity. They can, therefore, reproduce an animal form with flare, ease, and a matchless ferocity.
“If you think about scary things,” he continued, “about something unnameable lurking in the darkness, you’re thinking, without knowing it, about a woman seer holding a position in the immeasurable area below. True horror lies right there. If you ever find an aberrant woman seer, run for the hills!”
I asked him whether other organisms were capable of shifting their assemblage points.
“Their points can shift,” he said, “but the shift is not a voluntary thing with them.”
“Is the assemblage point of other organisms also trained to appear where it does?” I asked.
“Every newborn organism is trained, one way or another,” he replied. “We may not understand how their training is done – after all, we don’t even understand how it is done to us – but seers see that the newborn are coaxed to do what their kind does. That’s exactly what happens to human infants: seers see their assemblage points shifting every which way and then they see how the presence of adults fastens each point to one spot. The same happens to every other organism.”
Don Juan seemed to reflect for a moment and then added that there was indeed one unique effect that man’s assemblage point has. He pointed to a tree outside.
“When we, as serious adult human beings, look at a tree,” he said, “our assemblage points align an infinite number of emanations and achieve a miracle. Our assemblage points make us perceive a cluster of emanations that we call tree.”
He explained that the assemblage point not only effects the alignment needed for perception, but also obliterates the alignment of certain emanations in order to arrive at a greater refinement of perception, a skimming, a tricky human construct with no parallel.
He said that the new seers had observed that only human beings were capable of further clustering the clusters of emanations. He used the Spanish word for skimming, desnate, to describe the act of collecting the most palatable cream off the top of a container of boiled milk after it cools. Likewise, in terms of perception, man’s assemblage point takes some part of the emanations already selected for alignment and makes a more palatable construct with it.
“The skimmings of men,” don Juan continued, “are more real than what other creatures perceive. That is our pitfall. They are so real to us that we forget we have constructed them by commanding our assemblage points to appear where they do. We forget they are real to us only because it is our command to perceive them as real. We have the power to skim the top off the alignments, but we don’t have the power to protect ourselves from our own commands. That has to be learned. To give our skimmings a free hand, as we do, is an error of judgment for which we pay as dearly as the old seers paid for theirs.”