|"The sorcerers' revolution," he continued, "is that they refuse to honor agreements in which they did not participate. Nobody ever asked me if I would consent to be eaten by beings of a different kind of awareness. My parents just brought me into this world to be food, like themselves, and that's the end of the story."
CARLOS CASTANEDA was the author of ten bestselling books,
including the acknowledged classic The Teachings of Don Juan
and most recently The Art of Dreaming and Magical Passes. He
departed on his definitive journey in 1998.
§ THE ACTIVE SIDE OF INFINITY §
THIS BOOK IS a collection of the memorable events in my life. Don Juan revealed to me as time went by that the shamans of ancient Mexico had conceived of this collection of memorable events as a bona-fide device to stir caches of energy that exist within the self. They explained these caches as being composed of energy that originates in the body itself and becomes displaced, pushed out of reach by the circumstances of our daily lives. In this
sense, the collection of memorable events was, for don Juan and the shamans of his lineage, the means for redeploying their unused energy.
gathered them following the recommendation of don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian shaman from Mexico who, as a teacher, endeavored for thirteen years to make available to me the cognitive world of the shamans who lived in Mexico in ancient times. Don Juan Matus's suggestion that I gather this collection of memorable events was made as if it were something casual, something that occurred to him on the spur of the moment. That was don Juan's style of teaching. He veiled the importance of certain maneuvers behind the mundane. He hid, in this fashion, the sting of finality, presenting it as something no different from any of the concerns of everyday life.
Don Juan revealed to me as time went by that the shamans of ancient Mexico had conceived of this collection of memorable events as a bona-fide device to stir caches of energy that exist within the self. They explained these caches as being composed of energy that originates in the body itself and becomes displaced, pushed out of reach by the circumstances of our daily lives. In this sense, the collection of memorable events was, for don Juan and
the shamans of his lineage, the means for redeploying their unused energy.
The prerequisite for this collection was the genuine and all-consuming act of putting together the sum total of one's emotions and realizations, without sparing anything. According to don Juan, the shamans of his lineage were convinced that the collection of memorable events was the vehicle for the emotional and energetic adjustment necessary for venturing, in terms of perception, into the unknown.
Don Juan described the total goal of the shamanistic knowledge that he handled as the preparation for facing the definitive journey: the journey that every human being has to take at the end of his life. He said that through their discipline and resolve, shamans were capable of retaining their individual awareness and purpose after death. For them, the vague, idealistic state that modem man calls "life after death" was a concrete region filled to capacity with practical affairs of a different order than the practical affairs of daily life, yet bearing a similar functional practicality. Don Juan considered that to collect the memorable events in their lives was, for shamans, the preparation for their entrance into that concrete region which they called the active side of infinity.
Don Juan and I were talking one afternoon under his ramada, a loose structure made of thin poles of bamboo. It looked like a roofed porch that was partially shaded from the sun but that would not provide protection at all from the rain. There were some small, sturdy freight boxes there that served as benches. Their freight brands were faded, and appeared to be more ornament than identification. I was sitting on one of them. My back was against the front wall of the house. Don Juan was sitting on another box, leaning against a pole that supported the ramada. I had just driven in a few minutes earlier. It had been a daylong ride in hot, humid weather. I was nervous, fidgety, and sweaty.
Don Juan began talking to me as soon as I had comfortably settled down on the box. With a broad smile, he commented that overweight people hardly ever knew how to fight fatness. The smile that played on his lips gave me an inkling that he wasn't being facetious. He was just pointing out to me, in a most direct and at the same time indirect way, that I was overweight.
I became so nervous that I tipped over the freight box on which I was sitting and my back banged very hard against the thin wall of the house. The impact shook the house to its foundations. Don Juan looked at me inquiringly, but instead of asking me if I was all right, he assured me that I had not cracked the house. Then he expansively explained to me that his house was a temporary dwelling for him, that he really lived somewhere else. When I asked him where he really lived, he stared at me. His look was not belligerent; it was, rather, a firm deterrent to improper questions. I didn't comprehend what he wanted. I was about to ask the same question again, but he stopped me.
"Questions of that sort are not asked around here," he said firmly. "Ask anything you wish about procedures or ideas. Whenever I'm ready to tell you where I live, if ever, I will tell you, without your having to ask me."
1 instantly felt rejected. My face turned red involuntarily. I was definitely offended. Don Juan's explosion of laughter added immensely to my chagrin. Not only had he rejected me, he had insulted me and then laughed at me.
"I live here temporarily," he went on, unconcerned with my foul mood, "because this is a magical center. In fact, I live here because of you."
That statement unraveled me. I couldn't believe it. I thought that he was probably saying that to ease my irritation at being insulted. "Do you really live here because of me?" I finally asked him, unable to contain my curiosity.
"Yes," he said evenly. "I have to groom you. You are like me. I will repeat to you now what I have already told you: The quest of every nagual, or leader, in every generation of shamans, or sorcerers, is to find a new man or woman who, like himself, shows a double energetic structure; I saw this feature in you when we were in the bus depot in Nogales. When I see your energy, I see two balls of luminosity superimposed, one on top of the other, and that feature binds us together. I can't refuse you any more than you can refuse me." His words caused a most strange agitation in me. An instant before I had been angry, now I wanted to weep.
He went on, saying that he wanted to start me off on something shamans called the warriors' way, backed by the strength of the area where he lived, which was the center of very strong emotions and reactions. Warlike people had lived there for thousands of years, soaking the land with their concern with war.
He lived at that time in the state of Sonora in northern Mexico, about a hundred miles south of the city of Guaymas. I always went there to visit him under the auspices of conducting my fieldwork.
"Do I need to enter into war, don Juan?" I asked, genuinely worried after he declared that the concern with war was something that I would need someday. I had already learned to take everything he said with the utmost seriousness.
"You bet your boots," he replied, smiling. "When you have absorbed all there is to be absorbed in this area, I'll move away."
I had no grounds to doubt what he was saying, but I couldn't conceive of him as living anywhere else. He was absolutely part of everything that surrounded him. His house, however, seemed indeed to be a temporary dwelling. It was a shack typical of the Yaqui farmers; it was made out of wattle and daub with a flat, thatched roof; it had one big room for eating and sleeping and a roofless kitchen.
"It's very difficult to deal with overweight people," he said.
It seemed to be a non sequitur, but it wasn't. Don Juan was simply going back to the subject he had introduced before I had interrupted him by hitting my back on the wall of his house.
"A minute ago, you hit my house like a demolition ball," he said, shaking his head slowly from side to side. "What an impact! An impact worthy of a portly man."
I had the uncomfortable feeling that he was talking to me from the point of view of someone who had given up on me. I immediately took on a defensive attitude. He listened, smirking, to my frantic explanations that my weight was normal for my bone structure.
"That's right," he conceded facetiously. "You have big bones. You could probably carry thirty more pounds with great ease and no one, I assure you, no one, would notice. I would not notice."
His mocking smile told me that I was definitely pudgy. He asked me then about my health in general, and I went on talking, desperately trying to get out of any further comment about my weight. He changed the subject himself.
"What's new about your eccentricities and aberrations?" he asked with a deadpan expression.
I idiotically answered that they were okay. "Eccentricities and aberrations" was how he labeled my interest in being a collector. At that time, I had taken up, with renewed zeal, something that I had enjoyed doing all my life: collecting anything collectible. I collected magazines, stamps, records, World War II paraphernalia such as daggers, military helmets, flags, etc.
"All I can tell you, don Juan, about my aberrations, is that I'm trying to sell my collections," I said with the air of a martyr who is being forced to do something odious.
"To be a collector is not such a bad idea," he said as if he really believed it. "The crux of the matter is not that you collect, but what you collect. You collect junk, worthless objects that imprison you as surely as your pet dog does. You can't just up and leave if you have your pet to look after, or if you have to worry about what would happen to your collections if you were not around."
"I'm seriously looking for buyers, don Juan, believe me," I protested.
"No, no, no, don't feel that I'm accusing you of anything," he retorted. "In fact, I like your collector's spirit. I just don't like your collections, that's all. I would like, though, to engage your collector's eye. I would like to propose to you a worthwhile collection."
Don Juan paused for a long moment. He seemed to be in search of words; or perhaps it was only a dramatic, well-placed hesitation. He looked at me with a deep, penetrating stare. "Every warrior, as a matter of duty, collects a special album," don Juan went on, "an album that reveals the warrior's personality, an album that attests to the circumstances of his life."
"Why do you call this a collection, don Juan?" I asked in an argumentative tone. "Or an album, for that matter?"
"Because it is both," he retorted. "But above all, it is like an album of pictures made out of memories, pictures made out of the recollection of memorable events."
"Are those memorable events memorable in some specific way?" I asked.
"They are memorable because they have a special significance in one's life," he said. "My proposal is that you assemble this album by putting in it the complete account of various events that have had profound significance for you."
"Every event in my life has had profound significance for me, don Juan!" I said forcefully, and felt instantly the impact of my own pomposity.
"Not really," he replied, smiling, apparently enjoying my reactions immensely. "Not every event in your life has had profound significance for you. There are a few, however, that I would consider likely to have changed things for you, to have illuminated your path. Ordinarily, events that change our path are impersonal affairs, and yet are extremely personal."
"I'm not trying to be difficult, don Juan, but believe me, everything that has happened to me meets those qualifications," I said, knowing that I was lying.
Immediately after voicing this statement, I wanted to apologize, but don Juan didn't pay attention to me. It was as if I hadn't said a thing.
"Don't think about this album in terms of banalities, or in terms of a trivial rehashing of your life experiences," he said.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and tried to quiet my mind. I was talking to myself frantically about my insoluble problem: I most certainly didn't like to visit don Juan at all. In his presence, I felt threatened. He verbally accosted me and didn't leave me any room whatsoever to show my worth. I detested losing face every time I opened my mouth; I detested being the fool.
But there was another voice inside me, a voice that came from a greater depth, more distant, almost faint. In the midst of my barrages of known dialogue, I heard myself saying that it was too late for me to turn back. But it wasn't really my voice or my thoughts that I was experiencing; it was, rather, like an unknown voice that said I was too far gone into don Juan's world, and that I needed him more than I needed air.
"Say whatever you wish," the voice seemed to say to me, "but if you were not the egomaniac that you are, you wouldn't be so chagrined."
"That's the voice of your other mind," don Juan said, just as if he had been listening to or reading my thoughts.
My body jumped involuntarily. My fright was so intense that tears came to my eyes. I confessed to don Juan the whole nature of my turmoil.
"Your conflict is a very natural one," he said. "And believe you me, I don't exacerbate it that much. I'm not the type. I have some stories to tell you about what my teacher, the nagual Julian, used to do to me. I detested him with my entire being. I was very young, and I saw how women adored him, gave themselves to . him like anything, and when I tried to say hello to them, they would turn against me like lionesses, ready to bite my head off. They hated my guts and loved him. How do you think I felt?"
"How did you resolve this conflict, don Juan?" I asked with more than genuine interest.
"I didn't resolve anything," he declared. "It, the conflict or whatever, was the result of the battle between my two minds. Every one of us human beings has two minds. One is totally ours, and it is like a faint voice that always brings us order, directness, purpose. The other mind is a foreign installation. It brings us conflict, self-assertion, doubts, hopelessness."
My fixation on my own mental concatenations was so intense that I completely missed what don Juan had said. I could clearly
remember every one of his words, but they had no meaning for me. Don Juan very calmly, and looking directly into my eyes, repeated what he had just said. 1 was still incapable of grasping what he meant. 1 couldn't focus my attention on his words.
"For some strange reason, don Juan, I can't concentrate on what you're telling me," I said.
"1 understand perfectly why you can't," he said, smiling expansively, "and so will you, someday, at the same time that you resolve the conflict of whether you like me or not, the day you cease to be the me-me center of the world.
"In the meantime," he continued, "let's put the topic of our two minds aside and go back to the idea of preparing your album of memorable events. I should add that such an album is an exercise in discipline and impartiality. Consider this album to be an act of war."
Don Juan's assertion-that my conflict of both liking and not liking to see him was going to end whenever I abandoned my egocentrism-was no solution for me. In fact, that assertion made me angrier; it frustrated me all the more. And when 1 heard don Juan speak of the album as an act of war, I lashed out at him with all my poison.
"The idea that this is a collection of events is already hard to understand," I said in a tone of protest. "But that on top of all this, you call it an album and say that such an album is an act of war is too much for me. It's too obscure. Being obscure makes the metaphor lose its meaning."
"How strange! It's the opposite for me," don Juan replied calmly. "Such an album being an act of war has all the meaning in the world for me. I wouldn't like my album of memorable events to be anything but an act of war."
I wanted to argue my point further and explain to him that I did understand the idea of an album of memorable events. I objected to the perplexing way he was describing it. I thought of myself in those days as an advocate of clarity and functionalism in the use of language.
Don Juan didn't comment on my belligerent mood. He only shook his head as if he were fully agreeing with me. After a
while, I either completely ran out of energy, or I got a gigantic surge of it. All of a sudden, without any effort on my part, I realized the futility of my outbursts. I felt embarrassed no end.
"What possesses me to act the way I do?" I asked don Juan in earnest. I was, at that instant, utterly baffled. I was so shaken by my realization that without any volition on my part, I began to weep.
"Don't worry about stupid details," don Juan said reassuringly. "Every one of us, male and female, is like this."
"Do you mean, don Juan, that we are naturally petty and contradictory?"
"No, we are not naturally petty and contradictory," he replied. "Our pettiness and contradictions are, rather, the result of a transcendental conflict that afflicts every one of us, but of which only sorcerers are painfully and hopelessly aware: the conflict of our two minds."
Don Juan peered at me; his eyes were like two black charcoals.
"You've been telling me on and on about our two minds," I said, "but my brain can't register what you are saying. Why?"
"You'll get to know why in due time," he said. "For the present, it will be sufficient that I repeat to you what I have said before about our two minds. One is our true mind, the product of all our life experiences, the one that rarely speaks because it has been defeated and relegated to obscurity. The other, the mind we use daily for everything we do, is a foreign installation."
"I think that the crux of the matter is that the concept of the mind being a foreign installation is so outlandish that my mind refuses to take it seriously," I said, feeling that I had made a real discovery.
Don Juan did not comment on what 1 had said. He continued explaining the issue of the two minds as if I hadn't said a word.
"To resolve the conflict of the two minds is a matter of intending it," he said. "Sorcerers beckon intent by voicing the word intent loud and clear. Intent is a force that exists in the universe. When sorcerers beckon intent, it comes to them and sets up the path for attainment, which means that sorcerers always accomplish what they set out to do."
"Do you mean, don Juan, that sorcerers get anything they want, even if it is something petty and arbitrary?" I asked.
"No, I didn't mean that. Intent can be called, of course, for anything," he replied, "but sorcerers have found out, the hard way, that intent comes to them only for something that is abstract. That's the safety valve for sorcerers; otherwise they would be unbearable. In your case, beckoning intent to resolve the conflict of your two minds, or to hear the voice of your true mind, is not a petty or arbitrary matter. Quite the contrary; it is ethereal and abstract, and yet as vital to you as anything can be."
Don Juan paused for a moment; then he began to talk again about the album.
"My own album, being an act of war, demanded a super-careful selection," he said. "It is now a precise collection of the unforgetable moments of my life, and everything that led me to them. I have concentrated in it what has been and will be meaningful to me. In my opinion, a warrior's album is something most concrete, something so to the point that it is shattering."
I had no clue as to what don Juan wanted, and yet I did understand him to perfection. He advised me to sit down, alone, and let my thoughts, memories, and ideas come to me freely. He recommended that I make an effort to let the voice from the depths of me speak out and tell me what to select. Don Juan told me then to go inside the house and lie down on a bed that I had there. It was made of wooden boxes and dozens of empty burlap sacks that served as a mattress. My whole body ached, and when I lay on the bed it was actually extremely comfortable.
I took his suggestions to heart and began to think about my past, looking for events that had left a mark on me. I soon realized that my assertion that every event in my life had been meaningful was nonsense. As I pressed myself to recollect, I
found that I didn't even know where to start. Through my mind ran endless disassociated thoughts and memories of events that had happened to me, but I couldn't decide whether or not they had had any meaning for me. The impression I got was that nothing had had any significance whatsoever. It looked as if I had gone through life like a corpse empowered to walk and talk, but not to feel anything. Having no concentration whatsoever to pursue the subject beyond a shallow attempt, I gave up and fell asleep.
"Did you have any success?" don Juan asked me when I woke up hours later.
Instead of being at ease after sleeping and resting, I was again moody and belligerent.
"No, I didn't have any success!" I barked.
"Did you hear that voice from the depths of you?" he asked.
"I think I did," I lied.
"What did it say to you?" he inquired in an urgent tone.
"I can't think of it, don Juan," I muttered.
"Ah, you are back in your daily mind," he said and patted me forcefully on the back. "Your daily mind has taken over again. Let's relax it by talking about your collection of memorable events. I should tell you that the selection of what to put in your album is not an easy matter. This is the reason I say that making this album is an act of war. You have to remake yourself ten times over in order to know what to select."
I clearly understood then, if only for a second, that I had two minds; however, the thought was so vague that I lost it instantly. What remained was just the sensation of an incapacity to fulfill don Juan's requirement. Instead of graciously accepting my incapacity, though, I allowed it to become a threatening affair. The driving force of my life, in those days, was to appear always in a good light. To be incompetent was the equivalent of being a loser, something that was thoroughly intolerable to me. Since I didn't know how to respond to the challenge don Juan was posing, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I got angry.
"I've got to think a great deal more about this, don Juan," I said. "I've got to give my mind some time to settle on the idea."
"Of course, of course," don Juan assured me. "Take all the time in the world, but hurry."
Nothing else was said about the subject at that time. At home, I forgot about it completely until one day when, quite abruptly, in the middle of a lecture I was attending, the imperious command to search for the memorable events of my life hit me like a bodily jolt, a nervous spasm that shook my entire body from head to toe
I began to work in earnest. It took me months to rehash experiences in my life that I believed were meaningful to me. However, upon examining my collection, I realized that I was dealing only with ideas that had no substance whatsoever. The events I remembered were just vague points of reference that I remembered abstractly. Once again, I had the most unsettling suspicion that I had been reared just to act without ever stopping
to feel anything.
One of the vaguest events I recalled, which I wanted to make memorable at any cost, was the day I found out I had been admitted to graduate school at UCLA. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't remember what I had been doing that day. There was nothing interesting or unique about that day, except for the idea that it had to be memorable. Entering graduate school should have made me happy or proud of myself, but it didn't.