(The Power of Silence by Carlos Castaneda)
One day, however, don Juan thought his luck was beginning to change. He found temporary work with a team of farm laborers during the harvest season. But the spirit had other designs for him. A couple of days after he started work, someone stole his hat. It was impossible for him to buy a new one, but he had to have one to work under the scorching sun.
He fashioned a protection of sorts by covering his head with rags and handfuls of straw. His coworkers began to laugh and taunt him. He ignored them. Compared to the lives of the three people who depended on his labor, how he looked had little meaning for him. But the men did not stop. They yelled and laughed until the foreman, fearing that they would riot, fired don Juan.
A wild rage overwhelmed don Juan’s sense of sobriety and caution. He knew he had been wronged. The moral right was with him. He let out a chilling, piercing scream, and grabbed one of the men, and lifted him over his shoulders, meaning to crack his back. But he thought of those hungry children. He thought of their disciplined little bodies as they sat with him night after night awaiting death. He put the man down and walked away.
Don Juan said that he sat down at the edge of the field where the men were working, and all the despair that had accumulated in him finally exploded. It was a silent rage, but not against the people around him. He raged against himself. He raged until all his anger was spent.
“I sat there in view of all those people and began to weep,” don Juan continued. “They looked at me as if I were crazy, which I really was, but I didn’t care. I was beyond caring.
“The foreman felt sorry for me and came over to give a word of advice. He thought I was weeping for myself. He couldn’t have possibly known that I was weeping for the spirit.”
Don Juan said that a silent protector came to him after his rage was spent. It was in the form of an unaccountable surge of energy that left him with the clear feeling that his death was imminent. He knew that he was not going to have time to see his adopted family again. He apologized to them in a loud voice for not having had the fortitude and wisdom necessary to deliver them from their hell on earth.
The farm workers continued to laugh and mock him. He vaguely heard them. Tears swelled in his chest as he addressed and thanked the spirit for having placed him in the nagual’s path, giving him an undeserved chance to be free. He heard the howls of the uncomprehending men. He heard their insults and yells as if from within himself. They had the right to ridicule him. He had been at the portals of eternity and had been unaware of it.
“I understood how right my benefactor had been,” don Juan said. “My stupidity was a monster and it had already devoured me. The instant I had that thought, I knew that anything I could say or do was useless. I had lost my chance. Now, I was only clowning for those men. The spirit could not possibly have cared about my despair. There were too many of us – men with our own petty private hells, born of our stupidity – for the spirit to pay attention.”
“I knelt and faced the southeast. I thanked my benefactor again and told the spirit I was ashamed. So ashamed. And with my last breath I said goodbye to a world which could have been wonderful if I had had wisdom. An immense wave came for me then. I felt it, first. Then I heard it, and finally I saw it coming for me from the southeast, over the fields. It overtook me and its blackness covered me. And the light of my life was gone. My hell had ended. I was finally dead! I was finally free!”
Don Juan’s story devastated me. He ignored all my efforts to talk about it. He said that at another time and in another setting we were going to discuss it. He demanded instead that we get on with what he had come to do: elucidate the mastery of awareness.
A couple of days later, as we were coming down from the mountains, he suddenly began to talk about his story. We had sat down to rest. Actually, I was the one who had stopped to catch my breath. Don Juan was not even breathing hard.
“The sorcerers’ struggle for assuredness is the most dramatic struggle there is,” don Juan said. “It’s painful and costly. Many, many times it has actually cost sorcerers their lives.”
He explained that in order for any sorcerer to have complete certainty about his actions, or about his position in the sorcerers’ world, or to be capable of utilizing intelligently his new continuity, he must invalidate the continuity of his old life. Only then can his actions have the necessary assuredness to fortify and balance the tenuousness and instability of his new continuity.
“The sorcerer seers of modern times call this process of invalidation the ticket to impeccability, or the sorcerers’ symbolic but final death,” don Juan said. “And in that field in Sinaloa, I got my ticket to impeccability. I died there. The tenuousness of my new continuity cost me my life.”
“But did you die, don Juan, or did you just faint?” I asked, trying not to sound cynical.
“I died in that field,” he said. “I felt my awareness flowing out of me and heading toward the Eagle. But as I had impeccably recapitulated my life, the Eagle did not swallow my awareness. The Eagle spat me out. Because my body was dead in the field, the Eagle did not let me go through to freedom. It was as if it told me to go back and try again.
“I ascended the heights of blackness and descended again to the light of the earth. And then I found myself in a shallow grave at the edge of the field, covered with rocks and dirt.”
Don Juan said that he knew instantly what to do. After digging himself out he rearranged the grave to look as if a body were still there, and slipped away. He felt strong and determined. He knew that he had to return to his benefactor’s house. But, before he started on his return journey, he wanted to see his family and explain to them that he was a sorcerer and for that reason he could not stay with them. He wanted to explain that his downfall had been not knowing that sorcerers can never make a bridge to join the people of the world. But, if people desire to do so, they have to make a bridge to join sorcerers.
“I went home,” don Juan continued, “but the house was empty. The shocked neighbors told me that farm workers had come earlier with the news that I had dropped dead at work, and my wife and her children had left.”
“How long were you dead, don Juan?” I asked. “A whole day, apparently,” he said.
Don Juan’s smile played on his lips. His eyes seemed to be made of shiny obsidian. He was watching my reaction, waiting for my comments.
“What became of your family, don Juan?” I asked.
“Ah, the question of a sensible man,” he remarked. “For a moment I thought you were going to ask me about my death!”
I confessed that I had been about to, but that I knew he was seeing my question as I formulated it in my mind, and just to be contrary I asked something else. I did not mean it as a joke, but it made him laugh.
“My family disappeared that day,” he said. “My wife was a survivor. She had to be, with the conditions we lived under. Since I had been waiting for my death, she believed I had gotten what I wanted. There was nothing for her to do there, so she left.”
“I missed the children and I consoled myself with the thought that it wasn’t my fate to be with them. However, sorcerers have a peculiar bent. They live exclusively in the twilight of a feeling best described by the words “and yet . . .” When everything is crumbling down around them, sorcerers accept that the situation is terrible, and then immediately escape to the twilight of “and yet. . .”
“I did that with my feelings for those children and the woman. With great discipline – especially on the part of the oldest boy – they had recapitulated their lives with me. Only the spirit could decide the outcome of that affection.”
He reminded me that he had taught me how warriors acted in such situations. They did their utmost, and then, without any remorse or regrets, they relaxed and let the spirit decide the outcome.
“What was the decision of the spirit, don Juan?” I asked.
He scrutinized me without answering. I knew he was completely aware of my motive for asking. I had experienced a similar affection and a similar loss.
“The decision of the spirit is another basic core,” he said. “Sorcery stories are built around it.
We’ll talk about that specific decision when we get to discussing that basic core. “Now, wasn’t there a question about my death you wanted to ask?”
“If they thought you were dead, why the shallow grave?” I asked. “Why didn’t they dig a real grave and bury you?”
“That’s more like you,” he said laughing. “I asked the same question myself and I realized that all those farm workers were pious people. I was a Christian. Christians are not buried just like that, nor are they left to rot like dogs. I think they were waiting for my family to come and claim the body and give it a proper burial. But my family never came.”
“Did you go and look for them, don Juan?” I asked.
“No. Sorcerers never look for anyone,” he replied. “And I was a sorcerer. I had paid with my life for the mistake of not knowing I was a sorcerer, and that sorcerers never approach anyone.”
“From that day on, I have only accepted the company or the care of people or warriors who are dead, as I am.”
Don Juan said that he went back to his benefactor’s house, where all of them knew instantly what he had discovered. And they treated him as if he had not left at all.
The nagual Julian commented that because of his peculiar nature don Juan had taken a long time to die.
“My benefactor told me then that a sorcerer’s ticket to freedom was his death,” don Juan went on. “He said that he himself had paid with his life for that ticket to freedom, as had everyone else in his household. And that now we were equals in our condition of being dead.”
“Am I dead too, don Juan?” I asked.
“You are dead,” he said. “The sorcerers’ grand trick, however, is to be aware that they are dead. Their ticket to impeccability must be wrapped in awareness. In that wrapping, sorcerers say, their ticket is kept in mint condition.
“For sixty years, I’ve kept mine in mint condition.”