(The Second Ring of Power by Carlos Castaneda)
As I looked at the sky, I felt a surge of optimism. Somehow the stars looked festive to me. The southeast was indeed a lovely direction to face.
I had a sudden urge that I felt obliged to satisfy. I wanted to see how different the view of the sky was from dona Soledad’s window, which faced the north. I took Lidia by the hand with the intention of leading her there, but a ticklish sensation on top of my head stopped me. It went like a ripple down my back to my waist, and from there it went to the pit of my stomach. I sat down on the mat. I made an effort to think about my feelings. It seemed that at the very moment I had felt the tickling on my head my thoughts had diminished in strength and number. I tried, but I could not involve myself in the usual mental process that I call thinking.
My mental deliberations made me oblivious to Lidia. She had knelt on the floor, facing me. I became aware that her enormous eyes were scrutinizing me from a few inches away. I automatically took her hand again and walked to dona Soledad’s room. As we reached the door I felt her whole body stiffening. I had to pull her. I was about to cross the threshold when I caught sight of the bulky, dark mass of a human body huddled against the wall opposite the door. The sight was so unexpected that I gasped and let go of Lidia’s hand. It was dona Soledad. She was resting her head against the wall. I turned to Lidia. She had recoiled a couple of steps. I wanted to whisper that dona Soledad had returned, but there were no sounds to my words although I was sure I had vocalized them. I would have tried to talk again had it not been that I had an urge to act. It was as if words took too much time and I had very little of it. I stepped into the room and walked over to dona Soledad. She appeared to be in great pain. I squatted by her side, and rather than asking her anything, I lifted her face to look at her. I saw something on her forehead; it looked like the plaster of leaves that she had made for herself. It was dark, viscous to the touch. I felt the imperative need to peel it off her forehead. In a very bold fashion I grabbed her head, tilled it back and yanked the plaster off. It was like peeling off rubber. She did not move or complain about pain. Underneath the plaster there was a yellowish-green blotch. It moved, as if it were alive or imbued with energy. I looked at it for a moment, unable to do anything. I poked it with my finger and it stuck to it like glue. I did not panic as I ordinarily would have; I rather liked the stuff. I stirred it with the tips of my fingers and all of it came off her forehead. I stood up. The gooey substance felt warm. It was like a sticky paste for an instant and then it dried up between my fingers and on the palm of my hand. I then felt another jolt of apprehension and ran to don Juan’s room. I grabbed Rosa’s arm and wiped the same fluorescent, yellowish-green stuff from her hand that I had wiped from dona Soledad’s forehead.
My heart was pounding so hard that I could hardly stand on my feet. I wanted to lie down, but something in me pushed me to the window and made me jog on the spot. I cannot recall how long I jogged there. Suddenly I felt that someone was wiping my neck and shoulders. I became aware then that I was practically nude, perspiring profusely. Lidia had a cloth around my shoulders and was wiping the sweat off my face. My normal thought processes came back to me all at once. I looked around the room. Rosa was sound asleep. I ran to dona Soledad’s room. I expected to find her also asleep, but there was no one there. Lidia had trailed behind me. I told her what had happened. She rushed to Rosa and woke her up while I put on my clothes. Rosa did not want to wake up. Lidia grabbed her injured hand and squeezed it. In one single, springing movement Rosa stood up and was fully awake.
They began to rush around the house turning off the lanterns. They seemed to be getting ready to run away. I wanted to ask them why they were in such a hurry, when I realized that I had dressed in a great hurry myself. We were rushing together; not only that, but they seemed to be waiting for direct commands from me.
We ran out of the house carrying all the packages I had brought. Lidia had advised me not to leave any of them behind; I had not yet assigned them and they still belonged to me. I threw them in the back seat of the car while the two girls crammed into the front. I started the car and backed up slowly, finding my way in the darkness.
Once we were on the road I was brought face to face with the most pressing issue. Both of them said in unison that I was the leader; their actions were dependent on my decisions. I was the Nagual. We could not just run out of the house and drive away aimlessly. I had to guide them.
But the truth was that I had no idea where to go or what to do. I turned casually to look at them. The headlights cast a glare inside the car and their eyes were like mirrors that reflected it. I remembered that don Juan’s eyes did the same; they seemed to reflect more light than the eyes of an average person.
I knew that the two girls were aware of my impasse. Rather than making a joke about it in order to cover up my incapacity, I bluntly put the responsibility of a solution in their laps. I said that I lacked practice as the Nagual and would appreciate it if they would oblige me with a suggestion or a hint as to where we should go. They seemed disgusted with me. They clicked their tongues and shook their heads. I mentally shuffled through various courses of action, none of which was feasible, such as driving them to town, or taking them to Nestor’s house, or even taking them to Mexico City.
I stopped the car. I was driving toward town. I wanted more than anything else in the world to have a heart-to-heart talk with the girls. I opened my mouth to begin, but they turned away from me, faced each other and put their arms around each other’s shoulders. That appeared to be an indication that they had locked themselves in and were not listening to me.
My frustration was enormous. What I craved for at that moment was don Juan’s mastery over any situation at hand, his intellectual companionship, his humor. Instead I was in the company of two nincompoops.
I caught a gesture of dejection in Lidia’s face and that stopped my avalanche of self-pity. I became overtly aware, for the first time, that there was no end to our mutual disappointment. Obviously they too were accustomed, although in a different manner, to the mastery of don Juan. For them the shift from the Nagual himself to me must have been disastrous.
I sat for a long while with the motor running. Then all at once I again had a bodily shiver that started on the top of my head as a ticklish sensation and I knew then what had happened when I had entered dona Soledad’s room awhile before. I had not seen her in an ordinary sense. What I had thought was dona Soledad huddled against the wall was in fact the memory of her leaving her body the instant after I had hit her. I also knew that when I touched that gooey, phosphorescent substance I had cured her, and that it was some sort of energy I had left in her head and in Rosa’s hand with my blows.
A vision of a particular ravine went through my mind. I became convinced that dona Soledad and la Gorda were there. My knowledge was not a mere conjecture, it was rather a truth that needed no further corroboration. La Gorda had taken dona Soledad to the bottom of that particular ravine and was at that precise moment attempting to cure her. I wanted to tell her that it was wrong to treat the swelling in dona Soledad’s forehead and that there was no longer a need for them to stay there.
I described my vision to the girls. Both of them told me, the way don Juan used to tell me, not to indulge. With him, however, that reaction was more congruous. I had never really minded his criticisms or scorn, but the two girls were in a different league. I felt insulted.
“I’ll take you home,” I said. “Where do you live?”
Lidia turned to me and in a most furious tone said that both of them were my wards and that I had to deliver them to safety, since at the request of the Nagual they had relinquished their freedom to act in order to help me.
I had a fit of anger at that point. I wanted to slap the two girls, but then I felt the curious shiver running through my body once more. It started again as a tickling on top of my head which went down my back until it reached my umbilical region, and then I knew where they lived. The ticklishness was like a shield, a soft, warm sheet of film. I could sense it physically, covering the area between my pubis and the edge of my rib cage. My wrath disappeared and was replaced by a strange sobriety, an aloofness, and at the same time a desire to laugh. I knew then of something transcendental. Under the impact of dona Soledad and the little sisters’ actions, my body had suspended judgment; I had, in don Juan’s terms, stopped the world. I had amalgamated two disassociated sensations. The ticklishness on the very top of my head and the dry cracking sound at the base of my neck: between them lay the means to that suspension of judgment.
As I sat in my car with those two girls, on the side of a deserted mountain road, I knew for a fact that for the first time I had had a complete awareness of stopping the world. That feeling brought to my mind the memory of another, similar, first-time bodily awareness I had had years before. It had to do with the ticklishness on top of the head. Don Juan said that sorcerers had to cultivate such a sensation and he described it at great length. According to him, it was a sort of itching, which was neither pleasurable nor painful, and which occurred on the very top of one’s head. In order to make me aware of it, on an intellectual level, he described and analyzed its features and then, on the practical side, he attempted to guide me in developing the necessary bodily awareness and memory of this feeling by making me run under branches or rocks that protruded on a horizontal plane a few inches above my height.
For years I tried to follow what he was pointing out to me, but on the one hand I was incapable of understanding what he meant by his description, and on the other hand I was incapable of providing my body with the adequate memory by following his pragmatic steps. Never did I feel anything on top of my head as I ran underneath the branches or rocks he had selected for his demonstrations. But one day my body by itself discovered the sensation while I was driving a high panel truck into a three-story parking structure. I entered the gate of the structure at the same speed I usually did in my small, two-door sedan; the result was that from the high seat of the truck I perceived the transverse cement beam of the roof coming at my head. I could not stop the truck in time and the feeling I got was that the cement beam was scalping me. I had never driven a motor vehicle which was as high as that truck, thus I was incapable of making the necessary perceptual adjustments. The space between the roof of the truck and the roof of the parking structure seemed nonexistent for me. I felt the beam with my scalp.
That day I drove for hours inside the structure, giving my body a chance to store the memory of that ticklish sensation.
I faced the two girls and wanted to tell them that I had just found out where they lived. I desisted. There was no way of describing to them that the ticklish sensation had made me remember a casual remark that don Juan had once made as we passed a house on our way to Pablito’s place. He had pointed out an unusual feature in the surroundings and said that that house was an ideal place for quietness but was not a place to rest. I drove them there.
“I will have to tell everybody what I have seen about you so they won’t feel offended by your acts.”
I did not know what to say. I felt that she was undeniably right. The important issue for me was not so much her accurateness but the fact that I had witnessed her arriving at her unquestionable conclusion.
“How did you see all that?” I asked.
“It just came to me,” she replied.
“How did it come to you?”
“I felt the feeling of seeing coming to the top of my head, and then I knew what I’ve just told you.”
I insisted that she describe to me every detail of the feeling of seeing that she was alluding to.
She complied after a moment’s vacillation and gave me an account of the same ticklish sensation I had become so aware of during my confrontations with dona Soledad and the little sisters. La Gorda said that the sensation started on the top of her head and then went down her back and around her waist to her womb. She felt it inside her body as a consuming ticklishness, which turned into the knowledge that I was clinging to my human form, like all the rest, except that my particular way was incomprehensible to them.
“Did you hear a voice telling you all that?” I asked.
“No. I just saw everything I’ve told you about yourself,” she replied.
I wanted to ask her if she had had a vision of me clinging to something, but I desisted. I did not want to indulge in my usual behavior. Besides, I knew what she meant when she said that she “saw.” The same thing had happened to me when I was with Rosa and Lidia. I suddenly “knew” where they lived; I had not had a vision of their house. I simply felt that I knew it.
I asked her if she had also felt a dry sound of a wooden pipe being broken at the base of her neck.
“The Nagual taught all of us how to get the feeling on top of the head,” she said. “But not everyone of us can do it. The sound behind the throat is even more difficult. None of us has ever felt it yet. It’s strange that you have when you’re still empty.”