(Tales of Power by Carlos Castaneda)
On Wednesday morning I left my hotel around nine forty-five. I walked slowly, allowing myself fifteen minutes to reach the place where don Juan and I had agreed to meet. He had picked a corner on the Paseo de la Reforma, five or six blocks away, in front of the ticket office of an airline.
I had just finished eating breakfast with a friend of mine. He had wanted to walk with me but I had insinuated that I was going to meet a girl. I deliberately walked on the opposite side of the street from where the airline office was. I had the nagging suspicion that my friend, who had always wanted me to introduce him to don Juan, knew that I was going to meet him and might be following me. I was afraid that if I turned around I would find him behind me.
I saw don Juan at a magazine stand, on the other side of the street. I started to cross over but had to stop on the divider and wait there until it was safe to walk all the way across the wide boulevard. I turned around casually to see if my friend was following me. He was standing on the corner behind me. He smiled sheepishly and waved his hand, as if telling me that he had been incapable of controlling himself. I dashed across the street without giving him time to catch up with me.
Don Juan seemed to be aware of my predicament. When I reached him, he gave a furtive glance over my shoulder.
“He’s coming,” he said. “We’d better go down the side street.”
He pointed to a street which cut diagonally into the Paseo de la Reforma at the point where we were standing. I quickly oriented myself. I had never been on that street, but two days before I had been in the airline ticket office. I knew its peculiar layout. The office was on the pointed corner made by the two streets. It had a door opening onto each street, and the distance between the two doors must have been about ten to twelve feet. There was an aisle through the office from door to door, and one could easily go from one street to the other. There were desks on one side of that pathway and a large round counter with clerks and cashiers on the other side. The day I had been there, the place had been filled with people.
I wanted to hurry up, perhaps even run, but don Juan’s pace was relaxed. As we reached the office door, on the diagonal street, I knew, without having to turn around, that my friend had also run across the boulevard and was about to turn into the street where we were walking. I looked at don Juan, hoping that he had a solution. He shrugged his shoulders. I felt annoyed and could not think of anything myself, short of punching my friend in the nose. I must have sighed or exhaled at that very moment, because the next thing I felt was sudden loss of air due to a formidable shove that don Juan had given me, which sent me whirling through the door of the airline office. Propelled by his tremendous push, I practically flew into the room. Don Juan had caught me so unprepared that my body had not offered any resistance; my fright merged with the actual jolt of his thrust. I automatically put my arms in front of me to protect my face. The force of don Juan’s shove had been so great that saliva flew out of my mouth and I experienced a mild vertigo as I stumbled inside the room. I nearly lost my balance and had to make a supreme effort not to fall down. I twirled around a couple of times; it seemed that the speed of my movements made the scene blurry. I vaguely noticed a crowd of customers conducting their business. I felt extremely embarrassed. I knew that everyone was looking at me as I reeled across the room. The idea that I was making a fool out of myself was more than discomforting. A series of thoughts flashed through my mind. I had the certainty that I was going to fall on my face. Or I would bump into a customer, perhaps an old lady, who would be injured by the impact. Or worse yet, the glass door at the other end would be closed and I would smash against it.
In a dazed state I reached the door to the Paseo de la Reforma. It was open and I stepped out. My preoccupation of the moment was that I had to keep cool, turn to my right and walk on the boulevard towards downtown as if nothing had happened. I was sure that don Juan would join me and that perhaps my friend might have kept on walking along the diagonal street.
I opened my eyes, or rather I focused them on the area in front of me. I had a long moment of numbness before I fully realized what had happened. I was not on the Paseo de la Reforma, as I should have been, but in the Lagunilla market one and a half miles away.
What I experienced at the moment of that realization was such an intense astonishment that all I could do was stare, stupefied.
I looked around in order to orient myself. I realized that I was actually standing very close to where I had met don Juan on my first day in Mexico City. Perhaps I was even on the same spot. The stands that sold old coins were five feet away. I made a supreme effort to take hold of myself. Obviously I had to be experiencing a hallucination. It could not possibly be any other way. I quickly turned to go back through the door into the office, but behind me there was only a row of stands with secondhand books and magazines. Don Juan was standing next to me, to my right. He had an enormous smile on his face.
There was a pressure in my head, a tickling feeling, as if carbonated soda were going through my nose. I was speechless. I tried to say something without success.
I clearly heard don Juan say that I should not try to talk or think, but I wanted to say something, anything. An awful nervousness was building up inside my chest. I felt tears rolling down my cheeks.
Don Juan did not shake me, as he usually does when I fall prey to an uncontrollable fear.
Instead he patted me gently on the head.
“Now, now, little Carlos,” he said. “Don’t lose your marbles.” He held my face in his hands for an instant.
“Don’t try to talk,” he said.
He let my face go and pointed to what was taking place all around us.
“This is not for talking,” he said. “This is only for watching. Watch! Watch everything!”
I was really crying. My reaction to my crying was very strange, however; I kept on weeping without any concern. It did not matter to me, at that moment, whether or not I was making a fool out of myself.
I looked around. Right in front of me there was a middle-aged man wearing a pink short- sleeved shirt and dark gray pants. He seemed to be an American. A chubby woman, apparently his wife, was holding on to his arm. The man was handling some coins, while a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old boy, perhaps the son of the proprietor, watched him. The boy followed every movement the older man made. Finally, the man put the coins back on the table and the boy immediately relaxed.
“Watch everything!” don Juan demanded again.
There was nothing unusual to watch. People were passing by, going in every direction. I turned around. A man, who appeared to run the magazine stand, was staring at me. He blinked repeatedly as if he were about to fall asleep. He seemed tired or sick and looked seedy.
I felt that there was nothing to watch, at least nothing of real consequence. I stared at the scene. I found that it was impossible to concentrate my attention on anything. Don Juan walked in a circle around me. He acted as if he were assessing something in me. He shook his head and puckered his lips.
“Come, come,” he said, grabbing me gently by the arm. “It’s time to walk.”
As soon as we began to move I noticed that my body was very light. In fact, I felt that the soles of my feet were spongy. They had a peculiar rubbery, springing quality.
Don Juan must have been aware of my sensations; he held me tightly, as if not to let me escape; he pressed down on me, as though he were afraid I would move upwards beyond his reach, like a balloon.
Walking made me feel better. My nervousness gave way to a comfortable easiness.
Don Juan insisted again that I should observe everything. I told him that there was nothing I wanted to watch, that it made no difference to me what people were doing in the market, and that I did not want to feel like an idiot dutifully observing some moronic activity of someone buying coins and old books, while the real thing was escaping through my fingers.
“What is the real thing?” he asked.
I stopped walking and vehemently told him that the important thing was whatever he had done to make me perceive that I had covered the distance between the ticket office and the market in seconds.
At that point I began to shiver and felt I was going to get ill. Don Juan made me put my hands against my stomach.
He pointed all around him and stated again, in a matter-of-fact tone, that the mundane activity around us was the only thing of importance.
I felt annoyed with him. I had the physical feeling of spinning. I took a deep breath. “What did you do, don Juan?” I asked with forced casualness.
With a reassuring tone he said that he could tell me about that any time, but that whatever was happening all around me was not ever going to be repeated. I had no quarrel with that. The activity I was witnessing obviously could not be repeated again in all its complexity. My point was that I could observe a very similar activity any time. On the other hand, the implication of having been transported over the distance, in whatever form, was of immeasurable significance.
When I voiced these opinions don Juan made his head shiver as if what he had heard me say was actually painful to him.
We walked in silence for a moment. My body was feverish. I noticed that the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet were burning hot. The same unusual heat also seemed to be localized in my nostrils and eyelids.
“What did you do, don Juan?” I asked him pleadingly.
He did not answer me but patted me on the chest and laughed. He said that men were very frail creatures, who made themselves even more frail with their indulging. In a very serious tone he exhorted me not to feel that I was about to perish but to push myself beyond my limits and to simply engage my attention on the world around me.
We continued walking at a very slow pace. My preoccupation was paramount. I could not pay attention to anything. Don Juan stopped and seemed to deliberate whether or not to speak. He opened his mouth to say something, but then he appeared to change his mind and we began to walk again.
“What happened is that you came here,” he said abruptly as he turned and stared at me. “How did that happen?”
He said that he did not know, and that the only thing he did know was that I had selected that place myself.
Our impasse became even more hopeless as we kept on talking. I wanted to know the steps and he insisted that the selection of the place was the only thing we could discuss, and since I did not know why I had chosen it, there was essentially nothing to talk about. He criticized, without getting angry, my obsession to reason out everything as an unnecessary indulging. He said that it was simpler and more effective just to act, without seeking explanations, and that by talking about my experience and by thinking about it I was dissipating it.
After a few moments he said that we had to leave that place because I had spoiled it and it would become increasingly injurious to me.
We left the market and walked to the Alameda Park. I was exhausted. I plunked down on a bench. It was only then that it occurred to me to look at my watch. It was 10:20 A.M. I had to make quite an effort in order to focus my attention. I did not remember the exact time when I had met don Juan. I calculated that it must have been around ten. And it could not have taken us more than ten minutes to walk from the market to the park, which left only ten minutes unaccounted for.
I told don Juan about my calculations. He smiled. I had the certainty that his smile hid his contempt for me, yet there was nothing in his face to betray that feeling.
“You think I’m a hopeless idiot, don’t you, don Juan?” “Ah ha!” he said and jumped to his feet.
His reaction was so unexpected that I also jumped up at the same time. “Tell me exactly what you think my feelings are,” he said emphatically.
I felt I knew his feelings. It was as if I were feeling them myself. But when I tried to say what I felt, I realized I could not talk about it. To speak required a tremendous effort.
Don Juan said that I did not have enough power yet to see him. But I could certainly see enough to find myself suitable explanations for what was happening. “Don’t be bashful,” he said. “Tell me exactly what you see.”
I had a sudden and strange thought, very similar to thoughts that usually come to my mind just before falling asleep. It was more than a thought; a complete image would be a better description of it. I saw a tableau containing various personages. The one which was directly in front of me was a man sitting behind a window frame. The area beyond the frame was diffuse, but the frame and the man were crystal clear. He was looking at me; his head was turned slightly to his left, so he was actually looking askance at me. I could see his eyes moving to keep me within focus. He was leaning on the windowsill with his right elbow. His hand was clenched into a fist and his muscles were contracted.
To the left of the man there was another image in the tableau. It was a flying lion. That is, the head and the mane were those of a lion but the lower part of its body belonged to a curly white French poodle.
I was about to focus my attention on it, when the man made a smacking sound with his lips and stuck his head and trunk out of the window. His whole body emerged as if something were pushing him. He hung for a moment, grabbing the windowsill with the tips of his fingers as he swung like a pendulum. Then he let go.
I experienced in my own body the sensation of falling. It was not a plummeting down, but a soft descent, and then a cushioned floating. The man was weightless. He remained stationary for a moment and then he went out of sight as if an uncontrollable force had sipped him away through a crack in the tableau. An instant later he was back at the window looking askance at me. His right forearm was resting on the windowsill, only this time his hand was waving good-by to me.
Don Juan’s comment was that my seeing was too elaborate.
“You can do better than that,” he said. “You want me to explain what happened. Well, I want you to use your seeing to do that. You saw, but you saw crap. That kind of information is useless to a warrior. It would take too long to figure out what’s what. Seeing must be direct, for a warrior can’t use his time to unravel what he himself is seeing. Seeing is seeing because it cuts through all that nonsense.”
I asked him if he thought that my vision had only been a hallucination and not really seeing. He was convinced it had been seeing because of the intricacy of detail, but that it was inappropriate for the occasion.
“Do you think that my visions explain anything?” I asked.
“Sure they do. But I wouldn’t try to unravel them if I were you. In the beginning seeing is confusing and it’s easy to get lost in it. As the warrior gets tighter, however, his seeing becomes what it should be, a direct knowing.”
As don Juan spoke I had one of those peculiar lapses of feelings and I clearly sensed that I was about to unveil something which I already knew, a thing which eluded me by turning into something very blurry. I became aware that I was involved in a struggle. The more I tried to define or reach that elusive piece of knowledge the deeper it sank.
“That seeing was too… too visionary,” don Juan said. The sound of his voice shook me.
“A warrior asks a question, and through his seeing he gets an answer, but the answer is simple, never embellished to the point of flying French poodles.”
We laughed at the image. And half jokingly I told him that he was too strict, that anyone going through what I had gone through that morning deserved a bit of leniency.
“That is the easy way out,” he said. “That is the indulging way. You hinge the world on the feeling that everything is too much for you. You’re not living like a warrior.”
I told him that there were so many facets of what he called a warrior’s way that it was impossible to fulfill all of them, and that the meaning of it became clear only as I encountered new instances where I had to apply it.
“A rule of thumb for a warrior,” he said, “is that he makes his decisions so carefully that nothing that may happen as a result of them can surprise him, much less drain his power.
“To be a warrior means to be humble and alert. Today you were supposed to watch the scene which was unfolding in front of your eyes, not to ponder how all that was possible. You focused your attention on the wrong place. If I wanted to be lenient with you I could easily say that since this was the first time it had happened to you, you were not prepared. But that’s not permissible, because you came here as a warrior, ready to die; therefore, what happened to you today shouldn’t have caught you with your pants down.”
I conceded that my tendency was to indulge in fear and bewilderment.
“Let’s say that a rule of thumb for you should be that when you come to see me you should come prepared to die,” he said. “If you come here ready to die, there shouldn’t be any pitfalls, or any unwelcome surprises, or any unnecessary acts. Everything should gently fall into place because you’re expecting nothing.”
“That’s easy to say, don Juan. I am on the receiving end, though. I am the one who has to live with all this.”
“It is not that you have to live with all this. You are all this. You’re not just tolerating it for the time being. Your decision to join forces with this evil world of sorcery should have burned all the lingering feelings of confusion and should give you the spunk to claim all this as your world.”
I felt embarrassed and sad. Don Juan’s actions, no matter how prepared I was, taxed me in such a way that every time I came in contact with him I was left with no other recourse but to act and feel like a half-rational, nagging person. I had a surge of wrath and did not want to write any more. At that moment I wanted to rip my notes and throw everything in the trash can. And I would have done that had it not been for don Juan, who laughed and held my arm, restraining me.
In a mocking tone he said that my tonal was about to fool itself again. He recommended that I should go to the fountain and splash water on my neck and ears. The water soothed me. We were quiet for a long time.
“Write, write,” don Juan coaxed me in a friendly tone. “Let’s say that your notebook is the only sorcery you have. To rip it up is another way of opening yourself to your death. It will be another of your tantrums, a flashy tantrum at best, not a change. A warrior doesn’t ever leave the island of the tonal. He uses it.”
He pointed all around me with a quick movement of his hand and then touched my notebook. “This is your world. You can’t renounce it. It is useless to get angry and feel disappointed with
oneself. All that that proves is that one’s tonal is involved in an internal battle; a battle within one’s tonal is one of the most inane contests I can think of. The tight life of a warrior is designed to end that struggle. From the beginning I have taught you to avoid wear and tear. Now there is no longer a war within you, not as it used to be, because the warrior’s way is harmony – the harmony between actions and decisions, at first, and then the harmony between tonal and nagual. “Throughout the time I have known you, I have talked to both your tonal and your nagual. That is the way the instruction should be conducted.”
“In the beginning, one has to talk to the tonal. It is the tonal that has to relinquish control. But it should be made to do so gladly. For example, your tonal has relinquished some controls without much struggle, because it became clear to it that, had it remained the way it was, the totality of you would be dead by now. In other words, the tonal is made to give up unnecessary things like self-importance and indulging, which only plunge it into boredom. The whole trouble is that the tonal clings to those things when it should be glad to rid itself of that crap. The task then is to convince the tonal to become free and fluid. That’s what a sorcerer needs before anything else, a strong, free tonal. The stronger it gets the less it clings to its doings, and the easier it is to shrink it. So what happened this morning was that I saw the opportunity to shrink your tonal. For an instant, you were absent-minded, hurrying, not thinking, and I grabbed that moment to shove you.
“The tonal shrinks at given times, especially when it is embarrassed. In fact, one of the features of the tonal is its shyness. Its shyness is not really an issue. But there are certain instances when the tonal is taken by surprise, and its shyness unavoidably makes it shrink.
“This morning I plucked my cubic centimeter of chance. I noticed the open door of that office and gave you a shove. A shove is then the technique for shrinking the tonal. One must shove at the precise instant; for that, of course, one must know how to see.
“Once the man has been shoved and his tonal has shrunk, his nagual, if it is already in motion, no matter how small this motion is, will take over and achieve extraordinary deeds. Your nagual took over this morning and you ended up in the market.”
He remained silent for a moment. He seemed to be waiting for questions. We looked at each other.
“I really don’t know how,” he said as if reading my mind. “All I know is that the nagual is capable of inconceivable feats.”
“This morning I asked you to watch. That scene in front of you, whatever it may have been, had an incalculable value for you. But instead of following my advice, you indulged in self-pity and confusion and did not watch.
“For a while you were all nagual and could not talk. That was the time to watch. Then, little by little, your tonal took over again; and rather than plunging you into a deadly battle between your tonal and nagual, I walked you here.”
“What was there in that scene, don Juan? What was so important?” “I don’t know. It wasn’t happening to me.”
“What do you mean?”
“It was your experience, not mine.” “But you were with me. Weren’t you?”
“No. I wasn’t. You were alone. I repeatedly told you to watch everything, because that scene was only for you.”
“But you were next to me, don Juan.”
“No. I wasn’t. But it’s useless to talk about it. Whatever I may say doesn’t make sense, because during those moments we were in nagual’s time. The affairs of the nagual can be witnessed only with the body, not the reason.”
“If you were not with me, don Juan, who or what was the person I witnessed as you?” “It was me and yet I wasn’t there.”
“Where were you then?”
“I was with you, but not there. Let’s say that I was around you but not in the particular place where your nagual had taken you.”
“You mean you didn’t know that we were at the market?” “No, I didn’t. I just tagged along in order not to lose you.” “This is truly awesome, don Juan.”
“We were in nagual’s time, and there is nothing awesome about it. We are capable of much more than that. That is the nature of us as luminous beings. Our flaw is to insist on remaining on our monotonous, tiring, but convenient island. The tonal is the villain and it shouldn’t be.”
I described the little bit I remembered. He wanted to know if I had witnessed any features of the sky, such as daylight, clouds, the sun. Or if I had heard noises of any sort. Or if I had caught sight of unusual people or events. He wanted to know if there had been any fights. Or if people were yelling, and if they were, what they had said.
I could not answer any of his questions. The plain truth was that I had accepted the event at its apparent face value, admitting as a truism that I had “flown” over a considerable distance in one or two seconds, and that thanks to don Juan’s knowledge, whatever it may have been, I had landed in all my material corporeality inside the market.
My reactions were a direct corollary of such an interpretation. I wanted to know the procedures, the member’s knowledge, the “how to do it.” Therefore, I did not care to observe what I was convinced were the ordinary happenings of a mundane event.
“Do you think that people saw me in the market?” I asked.
Don Juan did not answer. He laughed and tapped me lightly with his fist.
I tried to remember if I had actually had any physical contact with people. My memory failed me.
“What did the people in the airline office see when I stumbled in?” I asked. “They probably saw a man staggering from one door to the other.”
“But did they see me disappear into thin air?”
“That is taken care of by the nagual. I don’t know how. All I can tell you is that we are fluid, luminous beings made out of fibers. The agreement that we are solid objects is the tonal’s doing. When the tonal shrinks, extraordinary things are possible. But they are only extraordinary for the tonal.
“For the nagual, it’s nothing to move the way you did this morning. Especially for your nagual, which is already capable of difficult ploys. As a matter of fact, it has plunged into something terribly weird. Can you feel what it is?”
A million questions and feelings came to me all at once. It was as if a gust of wind had blown off my veneer of composure. I shivered. My body felt it was at the edge of an abyss. I struggled with some mysterious but concrete piece of knowledge. It was as if I were on the verge of being shown something, and yet some stubborn part of me insisted on blowing a cloud over it. The struggle made me numb by degrees, until I could not feel my body. My mouth was open and my eyes were half closed. I had the feeling I could see my face getting harder and harder until it was the face of a dried corpse with the yellowish skin stuck tight to the skull.
The next thing I felt was a jolt. Don Juan was standing by me holding an empty bucket of water. He had soaked me. I coughed and wiped the water from my face and felt another cold seizure in my back. I jumped up from the bench. Don Juan had poured some water down my neck.
There was a group of children looking at me and laughing. Don Juan smiled at me. He held my notebook and said that we had better go to my hotel so I could change my clothes. He led me out of the park. We stood on the curb for a moment before a cab came along.
Hours later, after eating lunch and resting, don Juan and I sat on his favorite bench in the park by the church. In an oblique manner we got to the topic of my strange reaction. He seemed to be very cautious. He did not confront me directly with it.
“Things like that are known to happen,” he said. “The nagual, once it learns to surface, may cause a great damage to the tonal by coming out without any control. Your case is special, though. You are given to indulging in such an exaggerated manner that you would die and not even mind it, or worse yet, not even be aware that you’re dying.”
I told him that my reaction began when he had asked me if I could feel what my nagual had done I thought I knew exactly what he was alluding to, but when I tried to describe what it was, I found I could not think clearly. I experienced a sensation of lightheadedness, almost an indifference, as if I did not really care about anything. Then that sensation grew into a mesmerizing concentration. It was as though all of me was slowly being sucked out. What attracted and trapped my attention was the clear sensation that a portentous secret was about to be revealed to me and I did not want anything to interfere with such a revelation.
“What was going to be revealed to you was your death,” don Juan said. “That’s the danger of indulging. Especially for you, since you are naturally so exaggerated. Your tonal is so given to indulging that it threatens the totality of you. This is a terrible way of being.”
“What can I do?”
“Your tonal has to be convinced with reasons, your nagual with actions, until one props the other. As I have told you, the tonal rules, and yet it is very vulnerable. The nagual, on the other hand, never, or almost never, acts out; but when it does, it terrifies the tonal.
“This morning your tonal got frightened and began to shrink by itself, and then your nagual began to take over.”
“I had to borrow a bucket from one of the photographers in the park in order to whip your nagual like a bad dog back to its place. The tonal must be protected at any cost. The crown has to be taken away from it, but it must remain as the protected overseer.”
“Any threat to the tonal always results in its death. And if the tonal dies, so does the whole man. Because of its inherent weakness the tonal is easily destroyed, and thus one of the balancing arts of the warrior is to make the nagual emerge in order to prop up the tonal. I say it is an art, because sorcerers know that only by boosting the tonal can the nagual emerge. See what I mean? That boosting is called personal power.”
Don Juan stood up, stretched his arms and arched his back. I started to stand up myself, but he gently pushed me down.
“You must stay on this bench until twilight,” he said. “I have to leave right away. Genaro is waiting for me in the mountains. So come to his house in three days and we will meet there.”
“What are we going to do at don Genaro’s house?” I asked.
“Depending on whether you have enough power,” he said, “Genaro may show you the nagual.”
There was one more thing that I had to voice at that point. I had to know whether his suit was a shocking device for me alone or was it actually part of his life. Never had any of his acts caused so much havoc in me as his wearing a suit. It was not only the act in itself that was so awesome to me, but the fact that don Juan was elegant. His legs had a youthful agility. It was as if wearing shoes had shifted his point of balance and his steps were longer and more firm than usual.
“Do you wear a suit all the time?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied with a charming smile. “I have others, but I didn’t want to wear a different suit today, because it would’ve scared you even more.”
I did not know what to think. I felt that I had arrived at the end of my path. If don Juan could wear a suit and be elegant in it, anything was possible.
He seemed to enjoy my confusion and laughed.
“I’m a stockholder,” he said in a mysterious but unaffected tone and walked away.