(A Separate Reality by Carlos Castaneda)
I don’t remember what prompted don Genaro to tell me about the arrangement of the “other world,” as he called it. He said that a master sorcerer was an eagle, or rather that he could make himself into an eagle. On the other hand, an evil sorcerer was a “tecolote,” an owl. Don Genaro said that an evil sorcerer was a child of the night and for such a man the most useful animals were the mountain lion or other wild cats, or the night birds, especially the owl. He said that the “brujos liricos,” lyric sorcerers, meaning the dilettante sorcerers, preferred other animals—a crow, for example. Don Juan laughed; he had been listening in silence.
Don Genaro turned to him and said, “That’s true, you know that, Juan.”
Then he said that a master sorcerer could take his disciple on a journey with him and actually pass through the ten layers of the other world. The master, provided that he was an eagle, could start at the very bottom layer and then go through each successive world until he reached the top. Evil sorcerers and dilettantes could at best, be said, go through only three layers.
Don Genaro gave a description of what those steps were by saying, “You start at the very bottom and then your teacher takes you with him in his flight and soon, boom! You go through the first layer. Then a little while later, boom! You go through the second; and boom! You go through the third…”
Don Genaro took me through ten booms to the last layer of the world. When he had finished talking don Juan looked at me and smiled knowingly.
“Talking is not Genaro’s predilection,” he said, “but if you care to get a lesson, he will teach you about the equilibrium of things.”
Don Genaro nodded affirmatively; he puckered up his mouth and closed his eyelids halfway. I thought his gesture was delightful. Don Genaro stood up and so did don Juan. “All right,” don Genaro said. “Let’s go, then. We could go and wait for Nestor and Pablito. They’re through now. On Thursdays they’re through early.”
Both of them got into my car; don Juan sat in the front. I did not ask them anything but simply started the engine. Don Juan directed me to a place he said was Nestor’s home; don Genaro went into the house and a while later came out with Nestor and Pablito, two young men who were his apprentices. They all got in my car and don Juan told me to take the road toward the western mountains.
We left my car on the side of the dirt road and walked along the bank of a river, which was perhaps fifteen or twenty feet across, to a waterfall that was visible from where I had parked. It was late afternoon. The scenery was quite impressive. Directly above us there was a huge, dark, bluish cloud that looked like a floating roof; it had a well-defined edge and was shaped like an enormous half-circle. To the west, on the high mountains of the Cordillera Central, the rain seemed to be descending on the slopes. It looked like a whitish curtain falling on the green peaks. To the east there was the long, deep valley; there were only scattered clouds over the valley and the sun was shining there. The contrast between the two areas was magnificent. We stopped at the bottom of the waterfall; it was perhaps a hundred and fifty feet high; the roar was very loud.
Don Genaro fastened a belt around his waist. He had at least seven items hanging from it. They looked like small gourds. He took off his hat and let it hang on his back from a cord tied around his neck. He put on a headband that he took from a pouch made of a thick wool fabric. The headband was also made of wool of various colors; a sharp yellow was the most prominent of them. He inserted three feathers in the headband. They seemed to be eagle feathers. I noticed that the places where he had inserted them were not symmetrical. One feather was above the back curve of his right ear, the other was a few inches to the front, and the third was over his left temple. Then he took off his sandals, hooked or tied them to the waist of his trousers, and fastened his belt over his poncho. The belt seemed to be made of woven strips of leather. I could not see whether he tied it or buckled it. Don Genaro walked toward the waterfall.
Don Juan manipulated a round rock into a steady position and-sat down on it. The other two young men did the same with some rocks and sat down to his left. Don Juan pointed to the place next to him, on his right side, and told me to bring a rock and sit by him”.
“We must make a line here,” he said, showing me that the three were sitting in a row.
By then don Genaro had reached the very bottom of the waterfall and had begun climbing a trail on the right side of it. From where we were sitting the trail looked fairly steep. There were a lot of shrubs he used as railings.
At one moment he seemed to lose his footing and almost slid down, as if the dirt were slippery. A moment later the same thing happened and the thought crossed my mind that perhaps don Genaro was too old to be climbing. I saw him slipping and stumbling several times before he reached the spot where the trail ended.
I experienced a sort of apprehension when he began to climb tihe rocks. I could not figure out what he was going to do.
“What’s he doing?” I asked don Juan in a whisper.
Don Juan did not look at me.
“Obviously he’s climbing,” he said.
Don Juan was looking straight at don Genaro. His gaze was fixed. His eyelids were half-closed. He was sitting very erect with his hands resting between his legs, on the edge of the rock.
I leaned over a little bit to see the two young men. Don Juan made an imperative gesture with his hand to make me get back in line. I retreated immediately. I had only a glimpse of the young men. They seemed to be as attentive as he was.
Don Juan made another gesture with his hand and pointed to the direction of the waterfall.
I looked again. Don Genaro had climbed quite a way on the rocky wall. At the moment I looked he was perched on a ledge, inching his way slowly to circumvent a huge boulder. His arms were spread, as if he were embracing the rock. He moved slowly toward his right and suddenly he lost his footing. I gasped involuntarily.
For a moment his whole body hung in the air. I was sure he was going to fall but he did not. His right hand had grabbed onto something and very agilely his feet went back on the ledge again. But before he moved on he turned to us and looked. It was only a glance. There was, however, such a stylization to the movement of turning his head that I began to wonder. I remembered then that he had done the same thing, turning to look at us, every time he slipped. I had thought that don Genaro must have felt embarrassed by his clumsiness and turned to see if we were looking.
He climbed a bit more toward the top, suffered another loss of footing, and hung perilously on the overhanging rock face. This time he was supported by his left hand. When he regained his balance he turned and looked at us again. He slipped twice more before he reached the top. From where we were sitting, the crest of the waterfall seemed to be twenty to twenty-five feet across.
Don Genaro stood motionless for a moment. I wanted to ask don Juan what don Genaro was going to do up there, but don Juan seemed to be so absorbed in watching that I did not dare disturb him.
Suddenly don Genaro jumped onto the water. It was such a thoroughly unexpected action that I felt a vacuum in the pit of my stomach. It was a magnificent, outlandish leap. For a second I had the clear sensation that I had seen a series of superimposed images of his body making an elliptical flight to the middle of the stream.
When my surprise receded I noticed that he had landed on a rock on the edge of the fall, a rock which was hardly visible from where we were sitting.
He stayed perched there for a long time. He seemed to be fighting the power of the onrushing water. Twice he hung over the precipice and I could not determine what he was clinging to. He gained his balance and squatted on the rock. Then he leaped again, like a tiger. I could barely see the next rock where he landed; it was like a small cone on the very edge of the fall.
He remained there almost ten minutes. He was motionless. His immobility was so impressive to me that I was shivering. I wanted to get up and walk around. Don Juan noticed my nervousness and told me imperatively to be calm.
Don Genaro’s stillness plunged me into an extraordinary and mysterious terror. I felt that if he remained perched there any longer I could not control myself.
Suddenly he jumped again, this time all the way to the other bank of the waterfall. He landed on his feet and hands, like a feline. He remained in a squat position for a moment, then he stood up and looked across the fall, to the other side, and then down at us. He stayed dead still looking at us. His hands were clasped at his sides, as if he were holding onto an unseen railing.
There was something truly exquisite about his posture; his body seemed so nimble, so frail. I thought that don Genaro with his headband and feathers, his dark poncho and his bare feet was the most beautiful human being I had ever seen.
He threw his arms up suddenly, lifted his head, and flipped his body swiftly in a sort of lateral somersault to his left. The boulder where he had been standing was round and when he jumped he disappeared behind it.
Huge drops of rain began to fall at that moment. Don Juan got up and so did the two young men. Their movement was so abrupt that it confused me. Don Genaro’s masterful feat had thrown me into a state of profound emotional excitement. I felt he was a consummate artist and I wanted to see him right then to applaud him.
I strained to look on the left side of the waterfall to see if he was coming down, but he was not. I insisted on knowing what had happened to him. Don Juan did not answer.
“We better hurry out of here,” he said. “It’s a real downpour. We have to take Nestor and Pablito to their house and then we’ll have to start on our trip back.”
“I didn’t even say goodbye to don Genaro,” I complained.
“He already said goodbye to you,” don Juan answered harshly.
He peered at me for an instant and then softened his frown and smiled.
“He has also wished you well,” he said. “He felt happy with you.”
“But aren’t we going to wait for him?”
“No!” don Juan said sharply, “Let him be, wherever he is. Perhaps he is an eagle flying to the other world, or perhaps he has died up there. It doesn’t matter now.”
Don Juan casually mentioned that he was going to make another trip to central Mexico in the near future.
“Are you going to visit don Genaro?” I asked.
“Perhaps,” he said without looking at me.
“He’s all right, isn’t he, don Juan? I mean nothing bad happened to him up there on top of the waterfall, did it?”
“Nothing happened to him; he is sturdy.”
We talked about his projected trip for a while and then I said I had enjoyed don Genaro’s company and his jokes. He laughed and said that don Genaro was truly like a child. There was a long pause; I struggled in my mind to find an opening line to ask about his lesson. Don Juan looked at me and said in a mischievous tone:
“You’re dying to ask me about Genaro’s lesson, aren’t you?”
I laughed with embarrassment. I had been obsessed with everything that took place at the waterfall. I had been hashing and rehashing all the details I could remember and my conclusions were that I had witnessed an incredible feat of physical prowess. I thought don Genaro was beyond doubt a peerless master of equilibrium; every single movement he had performed was highly ritualized and, needless to say, must have had some
inextricable, symbolic meaning.
“Yes,” I said. “I admit I’m dying to know what his lesson was.”
“Let me tell you something,” don Juan said. “It was a waste of time for you. His lesson was for someone who can see. Pablito and Nestor got the gist of it, although they don’t see very well. But you, you went there to look. I told Genaro that you are a very strange plugged-up fool and that perhaps you’d get unplugged with his lesson, but you didn’t. It doesn’t matter, though. Seeing is very difficult.
“I didn’t want you to speak to Genaro afterwards, so we had to leave. Too bad. Yet it would have been worse to stay. Genaro risked a great deal to show you something magnificent. Too bad you can’t see.”
“Perhaps, don Juan, if you tell me what the lesson was I may find out that I really saw.”
Don Juan doubled up with laughter.
“Your best feature is asking questions,” he said.
He was apparently going to drop the subject again. We were sitting, as usual, in the area in front of his house; he suddenly got up and walked inside. I trailed behind him and insisted on describing to him what I had seen. I faithfully followed the sequence of events as I remembered it. Don Juan kept on smiling while I spoke. When I had finished he shook his head.
“Seeing is very difficult,” he said.
I begged him to explain his statement
“Seeing is not a matter of talk,” he said imperatively.
Obviously he was not going to tell me anything more, so I gave up and left the house to run some errands for him.
When I returned it was already dark; we had something to eat and afterwards we walked out to the ramada; we had no sooner sat down than don Juan began to talk about don Genaro’s lesson. He did not give me any time to prepare myself for it. I did have my notes with me, but it was too dark to write and I did not want to alter the flow of his talk by going inside the house for the kerosene lantern.
He said that don Genaro, being a master of balance, could perform very complex and difficult movements. Sitting on his head was one of such movements and with it he had attempted to show me that it was impossible to “see” while I took notes. The action of sitting on his head without the aid of his hands was, at best, a freakish stunt that lasted only an instant. In don Genaro’s opinion, writing about “seeing” was the same; that is, it was a precarious maneuver, as odd and as unnecessary as sitting on one’s head.
Don Juan peered at me in the dark and in a very dramatic tone said that while don Genaro was horsing around, sitting on his head, I was on the very verge of “seeing.” Don Genaro noticed it and repeated his maneuvers over and over, to no avail, because I had lost the thread right away.
Don Juan said that afterwards don Genaro, moved by his personal liking for me, attempted in a very dramatic way to bring me back to that verge of “seeing.” After very careful deliberation he decided to show me a feat of equilibrium by crossing the waterfall. He felt that the waterfall was like the edge on which I was standing and was confident I could also make it across. Don Juan then explained don Genaro’s feat. He said that he had already told me that human beings were, for those who “saw,” luminous beings composed of something like fibers of light, which rotated from the front to the back and maintained the appearance of an egg. He said that he had also told me that the most astonishing part of the egg-like creatures was a set of long fibers that came out of the area around the navel; don Juan said that those fibers were of the uttermost importance in the life of a man. Those fibers were the secret of don Genaro’s balance and his lesson had nothing to do with acrobatic jumps across the waterfall. His feat of equilibrium was in the way he used those “tentacle-like” fibers.
Don Juan dropped the subject as suddenly as he had started it and began to talk about something thoroughly unrelated.
I cornered don Juan and told him I intuitively felt that I was never going to get another lesson in equilibrium and that he had to explain to me all the pertinent details, which I would otherwise never discover by myself. Don Juan said I was right, in so far as knowing that don Genaro would never give me another lesson.
“What else do you want to know?” he asked.
“What are those tentacle-like fibers, don Juan?”
“They are the tentacles that come out of a man’s body which are apparent to any sorcerer who sees. Sorcerers act toward people in accordance to the way they see their tentacles. Weak persons have very short, almost invisible fibers; strong persons have bright, long ones. Genaro’s, for instance, are so bright that they resemble thickness. You can tell from the fibers if a person is healthy, or if he is sick, or if he is mean, or kind, or treacherous. You can also tell from the fibers if a person can see. Here is a baffling problem. When Genaro saw you he knew, just like my friend Vicente did, that you could see; when I see you I see that you can see and yet I know myself that you can’t. How baffling! Genaro couldn’t get over that. I told him that you were a strange fool. I think he wanted to see that for himself and took you to the waterfall.”
“Why do you think I give the impression I can see?”
Don Juan did not answer me. He remained silent for a long time. I did not want to ask him anything else. Finally he spoke to me and said that he knew why but did not know how to explain it.
“You think everything in the world is simple to understand,” he said, “because everything you do is a routine that is simple to understand. At the waterfall, when you looked at Genaro moving across the water, you believed that he was a master of somersaults, because somersaults was all you could think about. And that is all you will ever believe he did. Yet Genaro never jumped across that water. If he had jumped he would have died. Genaro balanced himself on his superb, bright fibers. He made them long, long enough so that he could, let’s say, roll on them across the waterfall. He demonstrated the proper way to make those tentacles long, and how to move them with precision.
“Pablito saw nearly all of Genaro’s movements. Nestor, on the other hand, saw only the most obvious maneuvers. He missed the delicate details. But you, you saw nothing at all.”
“Perhaps if you had told me beforehand, don Juan, what to look for …”
He interrupted me and said that giving me instructions would only have hindered don Genaro. Had I known what was going to take place, my fibers would have been agitated and would have interfered with don Genaro’s.
“If you could see,” he said, “it would have been obvious to you, from the first step that Genaro took, that he was not slipping as he went up the side of the waterfall. He was loosening his tentacles. Twice he made them go around boulders and held to the sheer rock like a fly. When he got to the top and was ready to cross the water he focused them onto a small rock in the middle of the stream, and when they were secured there, he let the fibers pull him. Genaro never jumped, therefore he could land on the slippery surfaces of small boulders at the very edge of the water. His fibers were at all times neatly wrapped around every rock he used.”
“He did not stay on the first boulder very long, because he had the rest of his fibers tied onto another one, even smaller, at the place where the onrush of water was the greatest. His tentacles pulled him again and he landed on it. That was the most outstanding thing he did. The surface was too small for a man to hold onto; and the onrush of the water would have washed his body over the precipice had he not had some of his fibers still focused on the first rock.”
“He stayed in that second position for a long time, because he had to draw out his tentacles again and send them across to the other side of the fall. When he had them secured he had to release the fibers focused on the first rock. That was very tricky. Perhaps only Genaro could do that. He nearly lost his grip; or maybe he was only fooling us, we’ll never know that for sure. Personally, I really think he nearly lost his grip. I know that, because he became rigid and sent out a magnificent shoot, like a beam of light across the water. I feel that beam alone could have pulled him through. When he got to the other side he stood up and let his fibers glow like a cluster of lights. That was the one thing he did just for you. If you had been able to see, you would have seen that.”
“Genaro stood there looking at you, and then he knew that you had not seen.”