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21: Reaching the only exit we have: The breaking of our perceptual barrier.

(Encounters with the Nagual)

Over the years, the need to understand the world had led me to store a lot of scientific or religious explanations on almost everything, which all had one common denominator: A great trust in the continuity of man. By helping me to see the universe with the eyes of a sorcerer, Carlos destroyed that sensation in me. He made me see that death is an irrevocable reality, and that to avoid acknowledging it by applying second-hand beliefs is shameful.

On one occasion, somebody asked him:

“Carlos, what expectations do you have for the future?”

He jumped: “There are no expectations! Sorcerers don’t have a tomorrow!”


 That night, a large group of interested people had gathered in the auditorium of a private residence, near the area of San Jeronimo. When I arrived, Carlos was already there. He was smiling, busily answering questions.

His initial topic was what he called ‘not-doing’, an activity specially designed to banish any trace of every-day habits from our lives. He affirmed that not-doing is the favorite exercise of apprentices, because it introduces them to a marvelous environment and creates a very refreshing bewilderment for one’s energy. The effect this has on one’s awareness they call ‘stopping the world.’

In response to some questions, he explained that not-doing cannot be reasoned out. Any effort applied towards understanding it, is in fact an interpretation of the teaching – and goes automatically into the field of ‘doing’.

“The premise of sorcerers for dealing with this kind of practice is inner silence, and the quality of silence required for something so enormous as stopping the world can only come from direct contact with the great truth of our existence: That we are all going to die.”

He advised us: “If you want to know yourselves, be aware of your personal death. It’s not negotiable, it is the only thing that you can seriously own. Everything else may fail, but not death, you can take that as a fact. Learn how to use it to produce real effects in your lives.”

“Also, stop believing in fairy tales. Nobody needs you out there. None of us is so important that it justifies inventing something as fantastic as immortality. A humble sorcerer knows that his destiny is the same as that of any other living being on Earth. So, instead of having false hopes, he works concretely and with great effort to escape the human condition, and to reach the only exit we have: The breaking of our perceptual barrier.”

“While you listen to death’s advice, make yourself responsible for your lives, for the totality of your actions. Explore yourself, recognize yourself, and live intensely, like sorcerers live. Intensity is the only thing that can save us from boredom.”

“Once aligned with death, you will be able to take the next step: Reducing your baggage to a minimum. This is a prison world, and we must leave it as fugitives; we can’t take anything with us. Human beings are travelers by nature. To fly and to know other horizons is our destiny. Do you take your bed or your dining table with you on a trip? Synthesize your life!”

He made the comment that humanity in our time has acquired a strange habit that is symptomatic of the mental state we live in.

When we travel, we buy all kinds of useless devices in other countries, things that we certainly would never buy in our own country. Once we return home, we store them in a comer and end up forgetting their existence – until one day we notice them by chance, and toss them in the garbage.

“And we behave this way on the journey that is our life. We are like donkeys carrying a bale of useless stuff, there is nothing valuable there. Everything we did, at the end, when old age assaults us, only serves to endlessly repeat some sentence or other, like a scratched record.”

“A sorcerer asks himself: What is the sense of all this? Why invest my resources in something which won’t help me at all? The appointment of a sorcerer is with the unknown, he cannot commit his energy to nonsense. While you walk the Earth, collect something of true value from it, otherwise it wasn’t worth it.”

“The power that governs us has granted us a choice. Either we spend life prowling around our familiar habits, or we encourage ourselves to get to know other worlds. The only thing which can give us the necessary jolt is the awareness of death.”

“An ordinary person spends his whole existence without ever stopping to reflect, because he thinks that death is at the end of life; after all, we will always have time for it! But a warrior has discovered that this is not true. Death lives beside us, an arm’s length away, permanently alert, looking at us, ready to jump at the smallest provocation. The warrior transforms his animal fear of extinction into an opportunity for joy, because he knows that all he has is this moment. Think as warriors, we are all going to die!”

One of the present asked him: “Carlos, in another lecture you told us that having the spirit of a warrior means seeing death as a privilege. What does that mean?”

He answered: “It means to leave our mental habits behind.”

“We are so accustomed to coexistence that, even face to face with death, we continue thinking in group terms. Religions don’t tell us about the individual in contact with the absolute, but of flocks of sheep and goats, who go to heaven or to hell according to their fortune. Even if we are atheists and don’t believe that anything happens after death, that ‘anything’ is generic, we assume it is the same for everybody. We cannot conceive of the idea that the power of an impeccable life can change things.”

“In the view of such ignorance, it is normal for an ordinary man to feel panic regarding his end, and try to deal with it with prayers and medicines, or confuse himself with the noise of the world.”

“Human beings have an egocentric and extremely simplistic vision of the universe. We never stop to consider our destiny as transitory beings. However, our obsession with the future betrays us.”

“The sincerity or cynicism of our convictions makes no difference, because deep down we all now what is going to happen. That’s why we all leave signs behind. We build pyramids, skyscrapers, make children, write books, or, at the very least, we draw our initials in the bark of a tree. It is the ancestral fear, the silent knowledge of death, which is behind that subconscious impulse.”

“But there is one group of human beings who have been able to face that fear. As opposed to ordinary people, sorcerers eagerly seek out any situation that will take them beyond social interpretations. What better opportunity than their own extinction! Thanks to their frequent excursions into the unknown, they know that death is not natural; it is magical. Natural things are subject to laws, but death is not. To die is always a personal event, and for that sole reason, it is an act of power.”

“Death is the gateway to infinity. A door made to the exact measure of each of us, which we will all pass through someday, returning to our origin. Our lack of understanding impels us to see it as a common reducer. But no, there is nothing common about it.”

A girl who took part in this conversation was clearly affected by his words, and commented that the obsessive presence of death in his teachings was a detail that contributed to darken them. She would have liked a more optimistic emphasis, more focused on life and its accomplishments.

Carlos smiled and replied:

“Oh sweetheart! Your words show a lack of deep experience with life. Sorcerers are not negative, they don’t seek the end. But they know that what gives value to life is having an objective worth dying for.”

“The future is unpredictable and inevitable. Some day you won’t be here anymore, like this, you will be gone. Do you know that the tree for your coffin has probably been cut already?”

“For the warrior and for an ordinary man, the urgency of living is the same, because neither knows when they will take the last step. For that reason we have to be attentive to death, it can jump at us from any corner. I knew a guy who went up on a bridge and urinated above a passing electric train. The urine touched the high voltage cables, which gave him an electrical shock and burned him to cinders on the spot.”

“Death is not a game, it is reality. Without death, there would not be any power in what sorcerers do. It involves you personally, whether you want it to or not. You can be so cynical that you discard other topics of these teachings, but you cannot make fun of your end, because it is beyond your power to decide, and it is implacable.”

“Destiny’s coach will take all of us, without distinction. But there are two kinds of travelers: warriors who can leave with the totality of themselves, because they have fine-tuned every detail of their lives, and ordinary people, with boring existences, without creativity, whose only hope is in the repetition of their stereotypes until the end; people whose end won’t make any difference, whether this end happens today or in thirty years. We are all there, waiting on the platform of eternity, but not everyone knows it. Awareness of death is a great art.”

“When a warrior has put an end to his routines, when he doesn’t care anymore whether he has company or is alone, because he has heard the silent whisper of the spirit; then you can say that, truly, he has died. From that point on, even the simplest things in life become extraordinary for him.”

“For this, a sorcerer learns how to live again. He tastes each moment as if it were the last one. He doesn’t waste any effort on feeling dissatisfied, nor does he throw away his energy. He doesn’t wait until he becomes old to ponder the mysteries of the world. He is ahead, he explores, he knows and marvels.”

“If you want to make space for the unknown, you must be aware of your personal extinction. Accept your destiny as the unavoidable fact that it is. Purify that feeling, become responsible for the incredible event of being alive. Don’t beg in the presence of death; it will not condescend to those who give in. Invoke it, aware that you came to this world to know it. Challenge it, even knowing that whatever we do, we don’t have the smallest chance of conquering it. She is as gentle with the warrior as it is merciless with the ordinary man.”

After this lecture, Carlos gave us an exercise.

“It concerns an inventory of your loved ones, of everybody who concerns you. Once you have classified them according to the degree of feeling that you have for each, you will take them, one by one, and pass them through death.”

A murmur of consternation rippled through the listeners.

Making a soothing gesture, Carlos added:

“Don’t get scared! There is nothing macabre about death. What is macabre is that we cannot face it with deliberation.”

“You should do this exercise at midnight, when the fixation of our assemblage point is loosened and we are willing to believe in ghosts. It is very simple; you will evoke your dear beings through their inevitable end. Don’t think about how or when they will die. Simply make yourself aware that some day they won’t be there anymore. One by one they will leave, God knows in which order, and it doesn’t matter what you try to do to avoid it.”

“When evoking them in this way, you won’t harm them; on the contrary! You will be seeing them in the appropriate perspective. The focal point of death is prodigious, it restores the true values of life.”


(The Power of Silence)

I felt a pang of fear, and then a strange peace took possession of me. I told don Juan that if death was going to take me in that desert chaparral I hoped it would be painless.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Death is painful only when it happens in one’s bed, in sickness. In a fight for your life, you feel no pain. If you feel anything, it’s exultation.”

He said that one of the most dramatic differences between civilized men and sorcerers was the way in which death came to them. Only with sorcerer-warriors was death kind and sweet. They could be mortally wounded and yet would feel no pain. And what was even more extraordinary was that death held itself in abeyance for as long as the sorcerers needed it to do so.

“The greatest difference between an average man and a sorcerer is that a sorcerer commands his death with his speed,” don Juan went on. “If it comes to that, the jaguar will not eat me. He’ll eat you, because you don’t have the speed to hold back your death.”

He then elaborated on the intricacies of the sorcerers’ idea of speed and death. He said that in the world of everyday life our word or our decisions could be reversed very easily. The only irrevocable thing in our world was death. In the sorcerers’ world, on the other hand, normal death could be countermanded, but not the sorcerers’ word. In the sorcerers’ world decisions could not be changed or revised. Once they had been made, they stood forever.

I told him his statements, impressive as they were, could not convince me that death could be revoked. And he explained once more what he had explained before. He said that for a seer human beings were either oblong or spherical luminous masses of countless, static, yet vibrant fields of energy, and that only sorcerers were capable of injecting movement into those spheres of static luminosity. In a millisecond they could move their assemblage points to any place in their luminous mass. That movement and the speed with which it was performed entailed an instantaneous shift into the perception of another totally different universe. Or they could move their assemblage points, without stopping, across their entire fields of luminous energy. The force created by such movement was so intense that it instantly consumed their whole luminous mass.

He said that if a rockslide were to come crashing down on us at that precise moment, he would be able to cancel the normal effect of an accidental death. By using the speed with which his

assemblage point would move, he could make himself change universes or make himself burn from within in a fraction of a second. I, on the other hand, would die a normal death, crushed by the rocks, because my assemblage point lacked the speed to pull me out.

I said it seemed to me that the sorcerers had just found an alternative way of dying, which was not the same as a cancellation of death. And he replied that all he had said was that sorcerers commanded their deaths. They died only when they had to.


“Death enters through the belly,” he continued. “Right through the gap of the will. That area is the most important and sensitive part of man. It is the area of the will and also the area through which all of us die. I know it because my ally has guided me to that stage. A sorcerer tunes his will by letting his death overtake him, and when he is fiat and begins to expand, his impeccable will takes over and assembles the fog into one person again.”

Don Juan made a strange gesture. He opened his hands like two fans, lifted them to the level of his elbows, turned them until his thumbs were touching his sides, and then brought them slowly together at the center of his body over his navel. He kept them there for a moment. His arms shivered with the strain. Then he brought them up until the tips of his middle fingers touched his forehead, and then pulled them down in the same position to the center of his body.

It was a formidable gesture. Don Juan had performed it with such force and beauty that I was spellbound.

“It is his will which assembles a sorcerer,” he said, “but as his old age makes him feeble his will wanes and a moment unavoidably comes when he is no longer capable of commanding his will. He then has nothing with which to oppose the silent force of his death, and his life becomes like the lives of all his fellow men, an expanding fog moving beyond its limits.”


“This brings us to the last point you must know about a warrior,” he said. “A warrior selects the items that make his world.”

“The other day when you saw the ally and I had to wash you twice, do you know what was wrong with you?” “No.”

“You had lost your shields.”

“What shields? What are you talking about?”

“I said that a warrior selects the items that make his world. He selects deliberately, for every item he chooses is a shield that protects him from the onslaughts of the forces he is striving to use. A warrior would use his shields to protect himself from his ally, for instance.”

“An average man who is equally surrounded by those inexplicable forces is oblivious to them because he has other kinds of special shields to protect himself.”

He paused and looked at me with a question in his eyes. I had not understood what he meant.

“What are those shields?” I insisted.

“What people do,” he repeated.

“What do they do?”

“Well, look around. People are busy doing that which people do. Those are their shields. Whenever a sorcerer has an encounter with any of those inexplicable and unbending forces we have talked about, his gap opens, making him more susceptible to his death than he ordinarily is; I’ve told you that we die through that gap, therefore if it is open one should have his will ready to fill it; that is, if one is a warrior. If one is not a warrior, like yourself, then one has no other recourse but to use the activities of daily life to take one’s mind away from the fright of the encounter and thus to allow one’s gap to close. You got angry with me that day when you met the ally. I made you angry when I stopped your car and I made you cold when I dumped you into the water. Having your clothes on made you even colder. Being angry and cold helped you close your gap and you were protected.

At this time in your life, however, you can no longer use those shields as effectively as an average man. You know too much about those forces and now you are finally at the brink of feeling and acting as a warrior. Your old shields are no longer safe.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

“Act like a warrior and select the items of your world. You cannot surround yourself with things helter-skelter any longer. I tell you this in a most serious vein. Now for the first time you are not safe in your old way of life.”

“What do you mean by selecting the items of my world?”

“A warrior encounters those inexplicable and unbending forces because he is deliberately seeking them, thus he is always prepared for the encounter. You, on the other hand, are never prepared for it. In fact if those forces come to you they will take you by surprise; the fright will open your gap and your life will irresistibly escape through it. The first thing you must do, then, is be prepared. Think that the ally is going to pop in front of your eyes any minute and you must be ready for him. To meet an ally is no party or Sunday picnic and a warrior takes the responsibility of protecting his life. Then if any of those forces tap you and open your gap, you must deliberately strive to close it by yourself. For that purpose you must have a selected number of things that give you great peace and pleasure, things which you can deliberately use to take your thoughts from your fright and close your gap and make you solid.”

“What kind of things?”

“Years ago I told you that in his day-to-day life a warrior chooses to follow the path with heart. It is the consistent choice of the path with heart which makes a warrior different from the average man. He knows that a path has heart when he is one with it, when he experiences a great peace and pleasure traversing its length. The things a warrior selects to make his shields are the items of a path with heart.”

“But you said I’m not a warrior, so how can I choose a path with heart?”

“This is your turning point. Let’s say that before you did not really need to live like a warrior. Now it is different, now you must surround yourself with the items of a path with heart and you must refuse the rest, or you will perish in the next encounter. I may add that you don’t need to ask for the encounter any longer. An ally can now come to you in your sleep; while you are talking to your friends; while you are writing.”

“For years I have truly tried to live in accordance with your teachings,” I said. “Obviously I have not done well. How can I do better now?”

“You think and talk too much. You must stop talking to yourself.”

“What do you mean?”

“You talk to yourself too much. You’re not unique at that. Every one of us does that. We carry on an internal talk. Think about it. Whenever you are alone, what do you do?”

“I talk to myself.”

“What do you talk to yourself about?”

“I don’t know; anything, I suppose.”

“I’ll tell you what we talk to ourselves about. We talk about our world. In fact we maintain our world with our internal talk.”

“How do we do that?”

“Whenever we finish talking to ourselves the world is always as it should be. We renew it, we kindle it with life, we uphold it with our internal talk. Not only that, but we also choose our paths as we talk to ourselves. Thus we repeat the same choices over and over until the day we die, because we keep on repeating the same internal talk over and over until the day we die.”

“A warrior is aware of this and strives to stop his talking. This is the last point you have to know if you want to live like a warrior.”

“How can I stop talking to myself?”

“First of all you must use your ears to take some of the burden from your eyes. We have been using our eyes to judge the world since the time we were born. We talk to others and to ourselves mainly about what we see. A warrior is aware of that and listens to the world; he listens to the sounds of the world.”

I put my notes away. Don Juan laughed and said that he did not mean I should force the issue, that listening to the sounds of the world had to be done harmoniously and with great patience.

“A warrior is aware that the world will change as soon as he stops talking to himself,” he said, “and he must be prepared for that monumental jolt.”

“What do you mean, don Juan?”

“The world is such-and-such or so-and-so only because we tell ourselves that that is the way it is. If we stop telling ourselves that the world is so-and-so, the world will stop being so-and-so. At this moment I don’t think you’re ready for such a momentous blow, therefore you must start slowly to undo the world.”

“I really do not understand you!”

“Your problem is that you confuse the world with what people do. Again you’re not unique at that. Every one of us does that. The things people do are the shields against the forces that surround us; what we do as people gives us comfort and makes us feel safe; what people do is rightfully very important, but only as a shield. We never learn that the things we do as people are only shields and we let them dominate and topple our lives. In fact I could say that for mankind, what people do is greater and more important than the world itself.”

“What do you call the world?”

“The world is all that is encased here,” he said, and stomped the ground. “Life, death, people, the allies, and everything else that surrounds us. The world is incomprehensible. We won’t ever understand it; we won’t ever unravel its secrets. Thus we must treat it as it is, a sheer mystery!”

“An average man doesn’t do this, though. The world is never a mystery for him, and when he arrives at old age he is convinced he has nothing more to live for. An old man has not exhausted the world. He has exhausted only what people do. But in his stupid confusion he believes that the world has no more mysteries for him. What a wretched price to pay for our shields!”

“A warrior is aware of this confusion and learns to treat things properly. The things that people do cannot under any conditions be more important than the world. And thus a warrior treats the world as an endless mystery and what people do as an endless folly.”


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