Gazing At The Leaves Of A Mesquite Tree; A Phenomenon Outside The Parameters Of Reason

(The Art of Dreaming by Carlos Castaneda)

He said then that it was time for me to have a practical application of what I had learned in dreaming. Without giving me a chance to ask anything, he urged me to focus my attention, as if I were in a dream, on the foliage of a desert tree growing nearby: a mesquite tree.

“Do you want me to just gaze at it?” I asked.

“I don’t want you to just gaze at it; I want you to do something very special with that foliage,” he said. “Remember that, in your dreams, once you are able to hold the view of any item, you are really holding the dreaming position of your assemblage point. Now, gaze at those leaves as if you were in a dream, but with a slight yet most meaningful variation: you are going to hold your dreaming attention on the leaves of the mesquite tree in the awareness of our daily world.”

My nervousness made it impossible for me to follow his line of thought. He patiently explained that by staring at the foliage, I would accomplish a minute displacement of my assemblage point. Then, by summoning my dreaming attention through staring at individual leaves, I would actually fixate that minute displacement, and my cohesion would make me perceive in terms of the second attention. He added, with a chuckle, that the process was so simple it was ridiculous.

Don Juan was right. All I needed was to focus my sight on the leaves, maintain it, and in one instant I was drawn into a vortex-like sensation, extremely like the vortexes in my dreams. The foliage of the mesquite tree became a universe of sensory data. It was as if the foliage had swallowed me, but it was not only my sight that was engaged; if I touched the leaves, I actually felt them. I could also smell them. My dreaming attention was multisensorial instead of solely visual, as in my regular dreaming.

What had begun as gazing at the foliage of the mesquite tree had turned into a dream. I believed I was in a dreamt tree, as I had been in trees of countless dreams. And, naturally, I behaved in this dreamt tree as I had learned to behave in my dreams; I moved from item to item, pulled by the force of a vortex that took shape on whatever part of the tree I focused my multisensorial dreaming attention. Vortexes were formed not only on gazing but also on touching anything with any part of my body.

In the midst of this vision or dream, I had an attack of rational doubts. I began to wonder if I had really climbed the tree in a daze and was actually hugging the leaves, lost in the foliage, without knowing what I was doing. Or perhaps I had fallen asleep, possibly mesmerized by the fluttering of leaves in the wind, and was having a dream. But just like in dreaming, I didn’t have enough energy to ponder for too long. My thoughts were fleeting. They lasted an instant; then the force of direct experience blanketed them out completely. A sudden motion around me shook everything and virtually made me emerge from a clump of leaves, as if I had broken away from the tree’s magnetic pull. I was facing then, from an elevation, an immense horizon. Dark mountains and green vegetation surrounded me. Another jolt of energy made me shake from my bones out; then I was somewhere else. Enormous trees loomed everywhere. They were bigger than the Douglas firs of Oregon and Washington State. Never had I seen a forest like that. The scenery was such a contrast to the aridness of the Sonoran desert that it left me with no doubt that I was having a dream.

I held on to that extraordinary view, afraid to let go, knowing that it was indeed a dream and would disappear once I had run out of dreaming attention. But the images lasted, even when I thought I should have run out of dreaming attention. A horrifying thought crossed my mind then: what if this was neither a dream nor the daily world?

Frightened, as an animal must experience fright, I recoiled into the clump of leaves I had emerged from. The momentum of my backward motion kept me going through the tree foliage and around the hard branches. It pulled me away from the tree, and in one split second I was standing next to don Juan, at the door of his house, in the desert in Sonora.

I instantly realized I had entered again into a state in which I could think coherently, but I could not talk. Don Juan told me not to worry. He said that our speech faculty is extremely flimsy and attacks of muteness are common among sorcerers who venture beyond the limits of normal perception.

My gut feeling was that don Juan had taken pity on me and had decided to give me a pep talk. But the voice of the dreaming emissary, which I clearly heard at that instant, said that in a few hours and after some rest I was going to be perfectly well.

Upon awakening I gave don Juan, at his request, a complete description of what I had seen and done. He warned me that it was not possible to rely on my rationality to understand my experience, not because my rationality was in any way impaired but because what had taken place was a phenomenon outside the parameters of reason.

I, naturally, argued that nothing can be outside the limits of reason; things can be obscure, but sooner or later reason always finds a way to shed light on anything. And I really believed this.

Don Juan, with extreme patience, pointed out that reason is only a by-product of the habitual position of the assemblage point; therefore, knowing what is going on, being of sound mind, having our feet on the ground, sources of great pride to us and assumed to be a natural consequence of our worth, are merely the result of the fixation of the assemblage point on its habitual place. The more rigid and stationary it is, the greater our confidence in ourselves, the greater our feeling of knowing the world, of being able to predict.

He added that what dreaming does is give us the fluidity to enter into other worlds by destroying our sense of knowing this world. He called dreaming a journey of unthinkable dimensions, a journey that, after making us perceive everything we can humanly perceive, makes the assemblage point jump outside the human domain and perceive the inconceivable.

“We are back again, harping on the most important topic of the sorcerers’ world,” he went on, “the position of the assemblage point. The old sorcerers’ curse, as well as mankind’s thorn in the side.”

“Why do you say that, don Juan?”

“Because both, mankind in general and the old sorcerers, fell prey to the position of the assemblage point: mankind, because by not knowing that the assemblage point exists we are obliged to take the by-product of its habitual position as something final and indisputable. And the old sorcerers because, although they knew all about the assemblage point, they fell for its facility to be manipulated.

“You must avoid falling into those traps,” he continued. “It’d be really disgusting if you sided with mankind, as if you didn’t know about the existence of the assemblage point. But it’d be even more insidious if you sided with the old sorcerers and cynically manipulate the assemblage point for gain.”

“I still don’t understand. What is the connection of all this with what I experienced yesterday?” “Yesterday, you were in a different world. But if you ask me where that world is, and I tell you that it is in the position of the assemblage point, my answer won’t make any sense to you.”

Don Juan’s argument was that I had two choices. One was to follow mankind’s rationales and be faced with a predicament: my experience would tell me that other worlds exist, but my reason would say that such worlds do not and cannot exist. The other choice was to follow the old sorcerers’ rationales, in which case I would automatically accept the existence of other worlds, and my greed alone would make my assemblage point hold on to the position that creates those worlds. The result would be another kind of predicament: that of having to move physically into vision-like realms, driven by expectations of power and gain.

I was too numb to follow his argument, but then I realized I did not have to follow it because I agreed with him completely, despite the fact that I did not have a total picture of what I was agreeing about. Agreeing with him was rather a feeling that came from far away, an ancient certainty I had lost, which was now slowly finding its way back to me.

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