(The Fire from Within by Carlos Castaneda)
Right after lunch, don Juan and I sat down to talk. He started without any preamble. He announced that we had come to the end of his explanation. He said that he had discussed with me, in painstaking detail, all the truths about awareness that the old seers had discovered. He stressed that I now knew the order in which the new seers had arranged them. In the last sessions of his explanation, he said, he had given me a detailed account of the two forces that aid our assemblage points to move: the earth’s boost and the rolling force. He had also explained the three techniques worked out by the new seers – stalking, intent, and dreaming – and their effects on the movement of the assemblage point.
“Now, the only thing left for you to do before the explanation of the mastery of awareness is completed,” he went on, “is to break the barrier of perception by yourself. You must move your assemblage point, unaided by anyone, and align another great band of emanations.”
“Not to do this will turn everything you’ve learned and done with me into merely talk, just words. And words are fairly cheap.”
He explained that when the assemblage point is moving away from its customary position and reaches a certain depth, it breaks a barrier that momentarily disrupts its capacity to align emanations. We experience it as a moment of perceptual blankness. The old seers called that moment the wall of fog, because a bank of fog appears whenever the alignment of emanations falters.
He said that there were three ways of dealing with it. It could be taken abstractly as a barrier of perception; it could be felt as the act of piercing a tight paper screen with the entire body; or it could be seen as a wall of fog.
In the course of my apprenticeship with don Juan, he had guided me countless times to see the barrier of perception. At first I had liked the idea of a wall of fog. Don Juan had warned me that the old seers had also preferred to see it that way. He had said that there is great comfort and ease in seeing it as a wall of fog, but that there is also the grave danger of turning something incomprehensible into something somber and foreboding; hence, his recommendation was to keep incomprehensible things incomprehensible rather than making them part of the inventory of the first attention.
After a short-lived feeling of comfort in seeing the wall of fog I had to agree with don Juan that it was better to keep the transition period as an incomprehensible abstraction, but by then it was impossible for me to break the fixation of my awareness. Every time I was placed in a position to break the barrier of perception I saw the wall of fog.
On one occasion, in the past, I had complained to don Juan and Genaro that although I wanted to see it as something else, I couldn’t change it. Don Juan had commented that that was understandable, because I was morbid and somber, that he and I were very different in this respect. He was lighthearted and practical and he did not worship the human inventory. I, on the other hand, was unwilling to throw my inventory out the window and consequently I was heavy, sinister, and impractical. I had been shocked and saddened by his harsh criticism and became very gloomy. Don Juan and Genaro had laughed until tears rolled down their cheeks.
Genaro had added that on top of all that I was vindictive and had a tendency to get fat. They had laughed so hard I finally felt obliged to join them.
Don Juan had told me then that exercises of assembling other worlds allowed the assemblage point to gain experience in shifting. I had always wondered, however, how to get the initial boost to dislodge my assemblage point from its usual position. When I’d questioned him about it in the past he’d pointed out that since alignment is the force that is involved in everything, intent is what makes the assemblage point move.
I asked him again about it.
“You’re in a position now to answer that question yourself,” he replied. “The mastery of awareness is what gives the assemblage point its boost. After all, there is really very little to us human beings; we are, in essence, an assemblage point fixed at a certain position. Our enemy and at the same time our friend is our internal dialogue, our inventory. Be a warrior; shut off your internal dialogue; make your inventory and then throw it away. The new seers make accurate inventories and then laugh at them. Without the inventory the assemblage point becomes free.”
Don Juan reminded me that he had talked a great deal about one of the most sturdy aspects of our inventory: our idea of God. That aspect, he said, was like a powerful glue that bound the assemblage point to its original position. If I were going to assemble another true world with another great band of emanations, I had to take an obligatory step in order to release all ties from my assemblage point.
“That step is to see the mold of man,” he said. “You must do that today unaided.”
“What’s the mold of man?” I asked.
“I’ve helped you see it many times,” he replied. “You know what I’m talking about.”
I refrained from saying that I did not know what he was talking about. If he said that I had seen the mold of man, I must have done that, although I did not have the foggiest idea what it was like. He knew what was going through my mind. He gave me a knowing smile and slowly shook his head from side to side.
“The mold of man is a huge cluster of emanations in the great band of organic life,” he said.
“It is called the mold of man because the cluster appears only inside the cocoon of man.”
“The mold of man is the portion of the Eagle’s emanations that seers can see directly without any danger to themselves.”
There was a long pause before he spoke again.
“To break the barrier of perception is the last task of the mastery of awareness,” he said. “In order to move your assemblage point to that position you must gather enough energy. Make a journey of recovery. Remember what you’ve done!”
I tried unsuccessfully to recall what was the mold of man. I felt an excruciating frustration that soon turned into real anger. I was furious with myself, with don Juan, with everybody.
Don Juan was untouched by my fury. He said matter-of-factly that anger was a natural reaction to the hesitation of the assemblage point to move on command.
“It will be a long time before you can apply the principle that your command is the Eagle’s command,” he said. “That’s the essence of the mastery of intent. In the meantime, make a command now not to fret, not even at the worst moments of doubt. It will be a slow process until that command is heard and obeyed as if it were the Eagle’s command.”
He also said that there was an unmeasurable area of awareness in between the customary position of the assemblage point and the position where there are no more doubts, which is almost the place where the barrier of perception makes its appearance. In that unmeasurable area, warriors fall prey to every conceivable misdeed. He warned me to be on the lockout and not lose confidence, for I would unavoidably be struck at one time or another by gripping feelings of defeat.
“The new seers recommend a very simple act when impatience, or despair, or anger, or sadness comes their way,” he continued. “They recommend that warriors roll their eyes. Any direction will do; I prefer to roll mine clockwise.
“The movement of the eyes makes the assemblage point shift momentarily. In that movement, you will find relief. This is in lieu of true mastery of intent.”‘
I complained that there was not enough time for him to tell me more about intent.
“It will all come back to you someday,” he assured me. “One thing will trigger another. One key word and all of it will tumble out of you as if the door of an overstuffed closet had given way.”
He went back then to discussing the mold of man. He said that to see it on my own, unaided by anyone, was an important step, because all of us have certain ideas that must be broken before we are free; the seer who travels into the unknown to see the unknowable must be in an impeccable state of being.
He winked at me and said that to be in an impeccable state of being is to be free of rational assumptions and rational fears. He added that both my rational assumptions and my rational fears were preventing me at that moment from realigning the emanations that would make me remember seeing the mold of man. He urged me to relax and move my eyes in order to make my assemblage point shift. He repeated over and over that it was really important to remember having seen the mold before I see it again. And since he was pressed for time there was no room for my usual slowness.
I moved my eyes as he suggested. Almost immediately I forgot my discomfort and then a sudden flash of memory came to me and I remembered that I had seen the mold of man. It had happened years earlier on an occasion that had been quite memorable to me, because from the point of view of my Catholic upbringing, don Juan had made the most sacrilegious statements I had ever heard.
It had all started as a casual conversation while we hiked in the foothills of the Sonoran desert. He was explaining to me the implications of what he was doing to me with his teachings. We had stopped to rest and had sat down on some large boulders. He had continued explaining his teaching procedure, and this had encouraged me to try for the hundredth time to give him an account of how I felt about it. It was evident that he did not want to hear about it anymore. He made me change levels of awareness and told me that if I would see the mold of man, I might understand everything he was doing and thus save us both years of toil.
He gave me a detailed explanation of what the mold of man was. He did not talk about it in terms of the Eagle’s emanations, but in terms of a pattern of energy that serves to stamp the qualities of humanness on an amorphous blob of biological matter. At least, I understood it that way, especially after he further described the mold of man using a mechanical analogy. He said that it was like a gigantic die that stamps out human beings endlessly as if they were coming to it on a mass-production conveyor belt. He vividly mimed the process by bringing the palms of his hands together with great force, as if the die molded a human being each time its two halves were clapped.
He also said that every species has a mold of its own, and every individual of every species molded by the process shows characteristics particular to its own kind.
He began then an extremely disturbing elucidation about the mold of man. He said that the old seers as well as the mystics of our world have one thing in common – they have been able to see the mold of man but not understand what it is. Mystics, throughout the centuries, have given us moving accounts of their experiences. But these accounts, however beautiful, are flawed by the gross and despairing mistake of believing the mold of man to be an omnipotent, omniscient creator; and so is the interpretation of the old seers, who called the mold of man a friendly spirit, a protector of man.
He said that the new seers are the only ones who have the sobriety to see the mold of man and understand what it is. What they have come to realize is that the mold of man is not a creator, but the pattern of every human attribute we can think of and some we cannot even conceive. The mold is our God because we are what it stamps us with and not because it has created us from nothing and made us in its image and likeness. Don Juan said that in his opinion to fall on our knees in the presence of the mold of man reeks of arrogance and human self-centeredness.
As I heard don Juan’s explanation I got terribly worried. Even though I had never considered myself to be a practicing Catholic, I was shocked by his blasphemous implications. I had been politely listening to him, yet I had been yearning for a pause in his barrage of sacrilegious judgments in order to change the subject. But he went on drumming his point in a merciless way.
I finally interrupted him and told him that I believed that God exists.
He retorted that my belief was based on faith and, as such, was a secondhand conviction that did not amount to anything; my belief in the existence of God was, like everyone else’s, based on hearsay and not on the act of seeing, he said.
He assured me that even if I was able to see, I was bound to make the same misjudgment that mystics have made. Anyone who sees the mold of man automatically assumes that it is God. He called the mystical experience a chance seeing, a one-shot affair that has no significance whatsoever because it is the result of a random movement of the assemblage point. He asserted that the new seers are indeed the only ones who can pass a fair judgment on this matter, because they have ruled out chance seeings and are capable of seeing the mold of man as often as they please.
They have seen, therefore, that what we call God is a static prototype of humanness without any power. For the mold of man cannot under any circumstances help us by intervening in our behalf, or punish our wrongdoings, or reward us in any way. We are simply the product of its stamp; we are its impression. The mold of man is exactly what its name tells us it is, a pattern, a form, a cast that groups together a particular bunch of fiberlike elements, which we call man.
What he had said put me in a state of great distress. But he seemed unconcerned with my genuine turmoil. He kept on needling me with what he called the unforgivable crime of the chance seers, which makes us focus our irreplaceable energy on something that has no power whatsoever to do anything. The more he talked, the greater my annoyance. When I became so annoyed that I was about to shout at him, he had me change into yet a deeper state of heightened awareness. He hit me on my right side, between my hipbone and my rib cage. That blow sent me soaring into a radiant light, into a diaphanous source of the most peaceful and exquisite beatitude. That light was a haven, an oasis in the blackness around me.
From my subjective point of view, I saw that light for an immeasurable length of time. The splendor of the sight was beyond anything I can say, and yet I could not figure out what it was that made it so beautiful. Then the idea came to me that its beauty grew out of a sense of harmony, a sense of peace and rest, of having arrived, of being safe at long last. I felt myself inhaling and exhaling in quietude and relief. What a gorgeous sense of plenitude! I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that I had come face to face with God, the source of everything. And I knew that God loved me. God was love and forgiveness. The light bathed me, and I felt clean, delivered. I wept uncontrollably, mainly for myself. The sight of that resplendent light made me feel unworthy, villainous.
Suddenly, I heard don Juan’s voice in my ear. He said that I had to go beyond the mold, that the mold was merely a stage, a stopover that brought temporary peace and serenity to those who journey into the unknown, but that it was sterile, static. It was at the same time a flat reflected image in a mirror and the mirror itself. And the image was man’s image.
I passionately resented what don Juan was saying; I rebelled against his blasphemous, sacrilegious words. I wanted to tell him off, but I could not break the binding power of my seeing. I was caught in it. Don Juan seemed to know exactly how I felt and what I wanted to tell him.
“You can’t tell the nagual off,” he said in my ear. “It is the nagual who’s enabling you to see. It is the nagual’s technique, the nagual’s power. The nagual is the guide.”
It was at that point that I realized something about the voice in my ear. It was not don Juan’s, although it sounded very much like his voice. Also, the voice was right. The instigator of that seeing was the nagual Juan Matus. It was his technique and his power that was making me see God. He said it was not God, but the mold of man; I knew that he was right. Yet I could not admit that, not out of annoyance or stubbornness, but simply out of a sense of ultimate loyalty to and love for the divinity that was in front of me.
As I gazed into the light with all the passion I was capable of, the light seemed to condense and I saw a man. A shiny man that exuded charisma, love, understanding, sincerity, truth. A man that was the sum total of all that is good.
The fervor I felt on seeing that man was well beyond anything I had ever felt in my life. I did fall on my knees. I wanted to worship God personified, but don Juan intervened and whacked me on my left upper chest, close to my clavicle, and I lost sight of God.
I was left with a tantalizing feeling, a mixture of remorse, elation, certainties, and doubts. Don Juan made fun of me. He called me pious and careless and said I would make a great priest; now I could even pass for a spiritual leader who had had a chance seeing of God. He urged me, in a jocular way, to start preaching and describe what I had seen to everyone.
In a very casual but seemingly interested manner he made a statement that was part question, part assertion.
“And the man?” he asked. “You can’t forget that God is a male.”
The immensity of something indefinable began to dawn on me as I entered into a state of great clarity.
“Very cozy, eh?” don Juan added, smiling. “God is a male. What a relief”
After recounting to don Juan what I had remembered, I asked him about something that had just struck me as being terribly odd. To see the mold of man, I had obviously gone through a shift of my assemblage point. The recollection of the feelings and realizations I had had then was so vivid that it gave me a sense of utter futility. Everything I had done and felt at that time I was feeling now. I asked him how it was possible that having had such a clear comprehension, I could have forgotten it so completely. It was as if nothing of what had happened to me had mattered, for I always had to start from point one regardless of how much I might have advanced in the past.
“That’s only an emotional impression,” he said. “A total misapprehension. Whatever you did years ago is solidly enclosed in some unused emanations. That day when I made you see the mold of man, for instance, I had a true misapprehension myself. I thought that if you saw it, you would be able to understand it. It was a true misunderstanding on my part.”
Don Juan explained that he had always regarded himself as being very slow to understand. He had never had any chance of testing his belief, because he did not have a point of reference. When I came along and he became a teacher, which was something totally new to him, he realized that there is no way to speed up understanding and that to dislodge the assemblage point is not enough. He had thought that it would be sufficient. Soon he became aware that since the assemblage point normally shifts during dreams, sometimes to extraordinarily distant positions, whenever we undergo an induced shift we are all experts at immediately compensating for it. We rebalance ourselves constantly and activity goes on as if nothing has happened to us.
He remarked that the value of the new seers’ conclusions does not become evident until one tries to move someone else’s assemblage point. The new seers said that what counts in this respect is the effort to reinforce the stability of the assemblage point in its new position. They considered this to be the only teaching procedure worth discussing. And they knew that it is a long process that has to be carried out little by little at a snail’s pace.
Don Juan said then that he had used power plants at the beginning of my apprenticeship in accordance with a recommendation of the new seers. They knew by experience and by seeing that power plants shake the assemblage point way out of its normal setting. The effect of power plants on the assemblage point is in principle very much like that of dreams: dreams make it move; but power plants manage the shift on a greater and more engulfing scale. A teacher then uses the disorienting effects of such a shift to reinforce the notion that the perception of the world is never final.
I remembered then that I had seen the mold of man five more times over the years. With each new time I had become less passionate about it. I could never get over the fact, however, that I always saw God as a male. At the end it stopped being God for me and became the mold of man, not because of what don Juan had said, but because the position of a male God became untenable.
I could then understand don Juan’s statements about it. They had not been blasphemous or sacrilegious in the least; he had not made them from within the context of the daily world. He was right in saying that the new seers have an edge in being capable of seeing the mold of man as often as they want. But what was more important to me was that they had sobriety in order to examine what they saw.
I asked him why it was that I always saw the mold of man as a male. He said that it was because my assemblage point did not have the stability then to remain completely glued to its new position and shifted laterally in man’s band. It was the same case as seeing the barrier of perception as a wall of fog. What made the assemblage point move laterally was a nearly unavoidable desire, or necessity, to render the incomprehensible in terms of what is most familiar to us: a barrier is a wall and the mold of man cannot be anything else but a man. He thought that if I were a woman I would see the mold as a woman.
Don Juan stood up then and said that it was time for us to take a stroll in town, that I should see the mold of man among people. We walked in silence to the square, but before we got there I had an uncontainable surge of energy and ran down the street to the outskirts of town. I came to a bridge, and right there, as if it had been waiting for me, I saw the mold of man as a resplendent, warm, amber light.
I fell on my knees, not so much out of piety, but as physical reaction to awe. The sight of the mold of man was more astonishing than ever. I felt, without any arrogance, that I had gone through an enormous change since the first time I had seen it. However, all the things I had seen and learned had only given me a greater, more profound appreciation for the miracle that I had in front of my eyes.
The mold of man was superimposed on the bridge at first, then I refocused my eyes and saw that the mold of man extended up and down into infinity; the bridge was but a meager shell, a tiny sketch superimposed on the eternal. And so were the minute figures of people who moved around me, looking at me with unabashed curiosity. But I was beyond their touch, although at that moment I was as vulnerable as I could be. The mold of man had no power to protect me or spare me, yet I loved it with a passion that knew no limits.
I thought that I understood then something that don Juan had told me repeatedly, that real affection cannot be an investment. I would have gladly remained the servant of the mold of man, not for what it could give me, for it has nothing to give, but for the sheer affection I felt for it. I had the sensation of something pulling me away, and before I disappeared from its presence I shouted a promise to the mold of man, but a great force whisked me away before I could finish stating what I meant. I was suddenly kneeling at the bridge while a group of peasants looked at me and laughed.
Don Juan got to my side and helped me up and walked me back to the house.
“There are two ways of seeing the mold of man,” don Juan began as soon as we sat down. “You can see it as a man or you can see it as a light. That depends on the shift of the assemblage point. If the shift is lateral, the mold is a human being; if the shift is in the midsection of man’s band, the mold is a light. The only value of what you’ve done today is that your assemblage point shifted in the midsection.”
He said that the position where one sees the mold of man is very close to that where the dreaming body and the barrier of perception appear. That was the reason the new seers recommend that the mold of man be seen and understood.
“Are you sure you understand what the mold of man really is?” he asked with a smile.
“I assure you, don Juan, that I’m perfectly aware of what the mold of man is,” I said.
“I heard you shouting inanities to the mold of man when I got to the bridge,” he said with a most malicious smile.
I told him that I had felt like a worthless servant worshiping a worthless master, and yet I was moved out of sheer affection to promise undying love.
He found it all hilarious and laughed until he was choking.
“The promise of a worthless servant to a worthless master is worthless,” he said and choked again with laughter.
I did not feel like defending my position. My affection for the mold of man was offered freely without thought of recompense. It did not matter to me that my promise was worthless.