(The Art of Dreaming by Carlos Castaneda)
During one of our conversations, don Juan stated that, in order to appreciate the position of dreamers and dreaming, one has to understand the struggle of modern-day sorcerers to steer sorcery away from concreteness toward the abstract.
“What do you call concreteness, don Juan?” I asked.
“The practical part of sorcery,” he said. “The obsessive fixation of the mind on practices and techniques, the unwarranted influence over people. All of these were in the realm of the sorcerers of the past.”
“And what do you call the abstract?”
“The search for freedom, freedom to perceive, without obsessions, all that’s humanly possible. I say that present-day sorcerers seek the abstract because they seek freedom; they have no interest in concrete gains. There are no social functions for them, as there were for the sorcerers of the past. So you’ll never catch them being the official seers or the sorcerers in residence.”
“Do you mean, don Juan, that the past has no value to modern-day sorcerers?”
“It certainly has value. It’s the taste of that past which we don’t like. I personally detest the darkness and morbidity of the mind. I like the immensity of thought. However, regardless of my likes and dislikes, I have to give due credit to the sorcerers of antiquity, for they were the first to find out and do everything we know and do today. Don Juan explained that their most important attainment was to perceive the energetic essence of things. This insight was of such importance that it was turned into the basic premise of sorcery. Nowadays, after lifelong discipline and training, sorcerers do acquire the capacity to perceive the essence of things, a capacity they call seeing.
“What would it mean to me to perceive the energetic essence of things?” I once asked don Juan.
“It would mean that you perceive energy directly,” he replied. “By separating the social part of perception, you’ll perceive the essence of everything. Whatever we are perceiving is energy, but since we can’t directly perceive energy, we process our perception to fit a mold. This mold is the social part of perception, which you have to separate.”
“Why do I have to separate it?”
“Because it deliberately reduces the scope of what can be perceived and makes us believe that the mold into which we fit our perception is all that exists. I am convinced that for man to survive now, his perception must change at its social base.”
“What is this social base of perception, don Juan?”
“The physical certainty that the world is made of concrete objects. I call this a social base because a serious and fierce effort is put out by everybody to guide us to perceive the world the way we do.”
“How then should we perceive the world?”
“Everything is energy. The whole universe is energy. The social base of our perception should be the physical certainty that energy is all there is. A mighty effort should be made to guide us to perceive energy as energy. Then we would have both alternatives at our fingertips.”
“Is it possible to train people in such a fashion?” I asked.
Don Juan replied that it was possible and that this was precisely what he was doing with me and his other apprentices. He was teaching us a new way of perceiving, first, by making us realize we process our perception to fit a mold and, second, by fiercely guiding us to perceive energy directly. He assured me that this method was very much like the one used to teach us to perceive the world of daily affairs.
Don Juan’s conception was that our entrapment in processing our perception to fit a social mold loses its power when we realize we have accepted this mold, as an inheritance from our ancestors, without bothering to examine it.
“To perceive a world of hard objects that had either a positive or a negative value must have been utterly necessary for our ancestors’ survival,” don Juan said. ‘”After ages of perceiving in such a manner, we are now forced to believe that the world is made up of objects.”
“I can’t conceive the world in any other way, don Juan,” I complained. “It is unquestionably a world of objects. To prove it, all we have to do is bump into them.”
“Of course it’s a world of objects. We are not arguing that.” “What are you saying then?”
“I am saying that this is first a world of energy; then it’s a world of objects. If we don’t start with the premise that it is a world of energy, we’ll never be able to perceive energy directly. We’ll always be stopped by the physical certainty of what you’ve just pointed out: the hardness of objects.”
His argument was extremely mystifying to me. In those days, my mind would simply refuse to consider any way to understand the world except the one with which I was familiar. Don Juan’s claims and the points he struggled to raise were outlandish propositions that I could not accept but could not refuse either.
“Our way of perceiving is a predator’s way,” he said to me on one occasion. “A very efficient manner of appraising and classifying food and danger. But this is not the only way we are able to perceive. There is another mode, the one I am familiarizing you with: the act of perceiving the essence of everything, energy itself, directly.
“To perceive the essence of everything will make us understand, classify, and describe the world in entirely new, more exciting, more sophisticated terms.” This was don Juan’s claim. And the more sophisticated terms to which he was alluding were those he had been taught by his predecessors, terms that correspond to sorcery truths, which have no rational foundation and no relation whatsoever to the facts of our daily world but which are self-evident truths for the sorcerers who perceive energy directly and see the essence of everything.
For such sorcerers, the most significant act of sorcery is to see the essence of the universe. Don Juan’s version was that the sorcerers of antiquity, the first ones to see the essence of the universe, described it in the best manner. They said that the essence of the universe resembles incandescent threads stretched into infinity in every conceivable direction, luminous filaments that are conscious of themselves in ways impossible for the human mind to comprehend.
From seeing the essence of the universe, the sorcerers of antiquity went on to see the energy essence of human beings. Don Juan stated that they depicted human beings as bright shapes that resembled giant eggs and called them luminous eggs.
“When sorcerers see a human being,” don Juan said, “they see a giant, luminous shape that floats, making, as it moves, a deep furrow in the energy of the earth, just as if the luminous shape had a taproot that was dragging.”
Don Juan had the impression that our energy shape keeps on changing through time. He said that every seer he knew, himself included, saw that human beings are shaped more like balls or even tombstones than eggs. But, once in a while, and for no reason known to them, sorcerers see a person whose energy is shaped like an egg. Don Juan suggested that people who are egglike in shape today are more akin to people of ancient times.
In the course of his teachings, don Juan repeatedly discussed and explained what he considered the decisive finding of the sorcerers of antiquity. He called it the crucial feature of human beings as luminous balls: a round spot of intense brilliance, the size of a tennis ball, permanently lodged inside the luminous ball, flush with its surface, about two feet back from the crest of a person’s right shoulder blade.
Since I had trouble visualizing this the first time don Juan described it to me, he explained that the luminous ball is much larger than the human body, that the spot of intense brilliance is part of this ball of energy, and that it is located on a place at the height of the shoulder blades, an arm’s length from a person’s back. He said that the old sorcerers named it the assemblage point after seeing what it does.
“What does the assemblage point do?” I asked.
“It makes us perceive,” he replied. “The old sorcerers saw that, in human beings, perception is assembled there, on that point. Seeing that all living beings have such a point of brilliance, the old sorcerers surmised that perception in general must take place on that spot, in whatever pertinent manner.”
“What did the old sorcerers see that made them conclude that perception takes place on the assemblage point?” I asked.
He answered that, first, they saw that out of the millions of the universe’s luminous energy filaments passing through the entire luminous ball, only a small number pass directly through the assemblage point, as should be expected since it is small in comparison with the whole.
Next, they saw that a spherical extra glow, slightly bigger than the assemblage point, always surrounds it, greatly intensifying the luminosity of the filaments passing directly through that glow.
Finally, they saw two things. One, that the assemblage points of human beings can dislodge themselves from the spot where they are usually located. And, two, that when the assemblage point is on its habitual position, perception and awareness seem to be normal, judging by the normal behavior of the subjects being observed. But when their assemblage points and surrounding glowing spheres are on a different position than the habitual one, their unusual behavior seems to be the proof that their awareness is different, that they are perceiving in an unfamiliar manner.
The conclusion the old sorcerers drew from all this was that the greater the displacement of the assemblage point from its customary position, the more unusual the consequent behavior and, evidently, the consequent awareness and perception.
“Notice that when I talk about seeing, I always say “having the appearance of” or “seemed like,” don Juan warned me. “Everything one sees is so unique that there is no way to talk about it except by comparing it to something known to us.”
He said that the most adequate example of this difficulty was the way sorcerers talk about the assemblage point and the glow that surrounds it. They describe them as brightness, yet it cannot be brightness, because seers see them without their eyes. They have to fill out the difference, however, and say that the assemblage point is a spot of light and that around it there is a halo, a glow. Don Juan pointed out that we are so visual, so ruled by our predator’s perception, that everything we see must be rendered in terms of what the predator’s eye normally sees.
After seeing what the assemblage point and its surrounding glow seemed to be doing, don Juan said that the old sorcerers advanced an explanation. They proposed that in human beings the assemblage point, by focusing its glowing sphere on the universe’s filaments of energy that pass directly through it, automatically and without premeditation assembles those filaments into a steady perception of the world.
“How are those filaments you talk about assembled into a steady perception of the world?” I asked.
“No one can possibly know that,” he emphatically replied. “Sorcerers see the movement of energy, but just seeing the movement of energy cannot tell them how or why energy moves.”
Don Juan stated that, seeing that millions of conscious energy filaments pass through the assemblage point, the old sorcerers postulated that in passing through it they come together, amassed by the glow that surrounds it. After seeing that the glow is extremely dim in people who have been rendered unconscious or are about to die, and that it is totally absent from corpses, they were convinced that this glow is awareness.
“How about the assemblage point? Is it absent from a corpse?” I asked.
He answered that there is no trace of an assemblage point on a dead being, because the assemblage point and its surrounding glow are the mark of life and consciousness. The inescapable conclusion of the sorcerers of antiquity was that awareness and perception go together and are tied to the assemblage point and the glow that surrounds it.
“Is there a chance that those sorcerers might have been mistaken about their seeing?” I asked. “I can’t explain to you why, but there is no way sorcerers can be mistaken about their seeing,”
don Juan said, in a tone that admitted no argument. “Now, the conclusions they arrive at from their seeing might be wrong, but that would be because they are naive, uncultivated. In order to avoid this disaster, sorcerers have to cultivate their minds, in whatever form they can.”
He softened up then and remarked that it certainly would be infinitely safer for sorcerers to remain solely at the level of describing what they see, but that the temptation to conclude and explain, even if only to oneself, is far too great to resist.
The effect of the assemblage point’s displacement was another energy configuration the sorcerers of antiquity were able to see and study. Don Juan said that when the assemblage point is displaced to another position, a new conglomerate of millions of luminous energy filaments come together on that point. The sorcerers of antiquity saw this and concluded that since the glow of awareness is always present wherever the assemblage point is, perception is automatically assembled there. Because of the different position of the assemblage point, the resulting world, however, cannot be our world of daily affairs.
Don Juan explained that the old sorcerers were capable of distinguishing two types of assemblage point displacement. One was a displacement to any position on the surface or in the interior of the luminous ball; this displacement they called a shift of the assemblage point. The other was a displacement to a position outside the luminous ball; they called this displacement a movement of the assemblage point. They found out that the difference between a shift and a movement was the nature of the perception each allows.
Since the shifts of the assemblage point are displacements within the luminous ball, the worlds engendered by them, no matter how bizarre or wondrous or unbelievable they might be, are still worlds within the human domain. The human domain is the energy filaments that pass through the entire luminous ball. By contrast, movements of the assemblage point, since they are displacements to positions outside the luminous ball, engage filaments of energy that are beyond the human realm. Perceiving such filaments engenders worlds that are beyond comprehension, inconceivable worlds with no trace of human antecedents in them.
The problem of validation always played a key role in my mind in those days. “Forgive me, don Juan,” I said to him on one occasion, “but this business of the assemblage point is an idea so farfetched, so inadmissible that I don’t know how to deal with it or what to think of it.”
“There is only one thing for you to do,” he retorted. “See the assemblage point! It isn’t that difficult to see. The difficulty is in breaking the retaining wall we all have in our minds that holds us in place. To break it, all we need is energy. Once we have energy, seeing happens to us by itself. The trick is in abandoning our fort of self-complacency and false security.”
“It is obvious to me, don Juan, that it takes a lot of knowledge to see. It isn’t just a matter of having energy.”
“It is just a matter of having energy, believe me. The hard part is convincing yourself that it can be done. For this, you need to trust the nagual. The marvel of sorcery is that every sorcerer has to prove everything with his own experience. I am telling you about the principles of sorcery not with the hope that you will memorize them but with the hope that you will practice them.”
Don Juan was certainly right about the need for trusting. In the beginning stages of my thirteen-year apprenticeship with him, the hardest thing for me was to affiliate myself with his world and his person. This affiliating meant that I had to learn to trust him implicitly and accept him without bias as the nagual.
Don Juan’s total role in the sorcerers’ world was synthesized in the title accorded to him by his peers; he was called the nagual. It was explained to me that this concept refers to any person, male or female, who possesses a specific kind of energy configuration, which to a seer appears as a double luminous ball. Seers believe that when one of these people enters into the sorcerers’ world, that extra load of energy is turned into a measure of strength and the capacity for leadership. Thus, the nagual is the natural guide, the leader of a party of sorcerers.
At first, to feel such a trust for don Juan was quite disturbing to me, if not altogether odious. When I discussed it with him, he assured me that to trust his teacher in such a manner had been just as difficult for him.
“I told my teacher the same thing you are saying to me now,” don Juan said. “He replied that without trusting the nagual there is no possibility of relief and thus no possibility of clearing the debris from our lives in order to be free.”
Don Juan reiterated how right his teacher had been. And I reiterated my profound disagreement. I told him that being reared in a stifling religious environment had had dreadful effects on me, and that his teacher’s statements and his own acquiescence to his teacher reminded me of the obedience dogma that I had to learn as a child and that I abhorred.
“It sounds like you’re voicing a religious belief when you talk about the nagual,” I said.
“You may believe whatever you want,” don Juan replied undauntedly. “The fact remains, there is no game without the nagual. I know this and I say so. And so did all the naguals who preceded me. But they didn’t say it from the standpoint of self-importance, and neither do I. To say there is no path without the nagual is to refer totally to the fact that the man, the nagual, is a nagual because he can reflect the abstract, the spirit, better than others. But that’s all. Our link is with the spirit itself and only incidentally with the man who brings us its message.”
I did learn to trust don Juan implicitly as the nagual, and this, as he had stated it, brought me an immense sense of relief and a greater capacity to accept what he was striving to teach me.
In his teachings, he put a great emphasis on explaining and discussing the assemblage point. I asked him once if the assemblage point had anything to do with the physical body.
“It has nothing to do with what we normally perceive as the body,” he said. “It’s part of the luminous egg, which is our energy self.”
“How is it displaced?” I asked.
“Through energy currents. Jolts of energy, originating outside or inside our energy shape. These are usually unpredictable currents that happen randomly, but with sorcerers they are very predictable currents that obey the sorcerer’s intent.”
“Can you yourself feel these currents?”
“Every sorcerer feels them. Every human being does, for that matter, but average human beings are too busy with their own pursuits to pay any attention to feelings like that.”
“What do those currents feel like?”
“Like a mild discomfort, a vague sensation of sadness followed immediately by euphoria. Since neither the sadness nor the euphoria has an explainable cause, we never regard them as veritable onslaughts of the unknown but as unexplainable, ill-founded moodiness.”
“What happens when the assemblage point moves outside the energy shape? Does it hang outside? Or is it attached to the luminous ball?”
“It pushes the contours of the energy shape out, without breaking its energy boundaries.”
Don Juan explained that the end result of a movement of the assemblage point is a total change in the energy shape of a human being. Instead of a ball or an egg, he becomes something resembling a smoking pipe. The tip of the stem is the assemblage point, and the bowl of the pipe is what remains of the luminous ball. If the assemblage point keeps on moving, a moment comes when the luminous ball becomes a thin line of energy.
Don Juan went on to explain that the old sorcerers were the only ones who accomplished this feat of energy shape transformation. And I asked him whether in their new energetic shape those sorcerers were still men.
“Of course they were still men,” he said. “But I think what you want to know is if they were still men of reason, trustworthy persons. Well, not quite.”
“In what way were they different?”
“In their concerns. Human endeavors and preoccupations had no meaning whatsoever to them.
They also had a definite new appearance.”
“Do you mean that they didn’t look like men?”
“It’s very hard to tell what was what about those sorcerers. They certainly looked like men. What else would they look like? But they were not quite like what you or I would expect. Yet if you pressed me to tell in what way they were different, I would go in circles, like a dog chasing its tail.”
“Have you ever met one of those men, don Juan?” “Yes, I have met one.”
“What did he look like?”
“As far as looks, he looked like a regular person. Now, it was his behavior that was unusual.” “In what way was it unusual?”
“All I can tell you is that the behavior of the sorcerer I met is something that defies the imagination. But to make it a matter of merely behavior is misleading. It is really something you must see to appreciate.”
“Were all those sorcerers like the one you met?”
“Certainly not. I don’t know how the others were, except through sorcerers’ stories handed down from generation to generation. And those stories portray them as being quite bizarre.”
“Do you mean monstrous?”
“Not at all. They say that they were very likable but extremely scary. They were more like unknown creatures. What makes mankind homogeneous is the fact that we are all luminous balls. And those sorcerers were no longer balls of energy but lines of energy that were trying to bend themselves into circles, which they couldn’t quite make.”
“What finally happened to them, don Juan? Did they die?”
“Sorcerers’ stories say that because they had succeeded in stretching their shapes, they had also succeeded in stretching the duration of their consciousness. So they are alive and conscious to this day. There are stories about their periodic appearances on the earth.”
“What do you think of all this yourself, don Juan?”
“It is too bizarre for me. I want freedom. Freedom to retain my awareness and yet disappear into the vastness. In my personal opinion, those old sorcerers were extravagant, obsessive, capricious men who got pinned down by their own machinations.”
“But don’t let my personal feelings sway you. The old sorcerers’ accomplishment is unparalleled. If nothing else, they proved to us that man’s potentials are nothing to sneeze at.”