A couple of days later, don Juan and I made a trip to the mountains. Halfway up the foothills we sat down to rest. Earlier that day, don Juan had decided to find an appropriate setting in which to explain some intricate aspects of the mastery of awareness. Usually he preferred to go to the closer western range of mountains.
This time, however, he chose the eastern peaks. They were much higher and farther away. To me they seemed more ominous, darker, and more massive. But I could not tell whether this impression was my own or if I had somehow absorbed don Juan's feelings about these mountains.
I opened my backpack. The women seers from don Juan's group had prepared it for me, and I discovered that they had packed some cheese. I experienced a moment of annoyance because, while I liked cheese, it did not agree with me. Yet I was incapable of refusing it whenever it was made available.
Don Juan had pointed this out as a true weakness and had made fun of me. I was embarrassed at first, but found that when I did not have cheese around I did not miss it.
The problem was that the practical jokers in don Juan's group always packed a big chunk of cheese for me, which, of course, I always ended up eating.
"Finish it in one sitting," don Juan advised me with a mischievous glint in his eyes. "That way you won't have to worry about it anymore."
Perhaps influenced by his suggestion, I had the most intense desire to devour the whole chunk. Don Juan laughed so much that I suspected once again that he had schemed with his group to set me up.
In a more serious mood, he suggested that we spend the night there in the foothills, and take a day or two to reach the higher peaks. I agreed.
Don Juan casually asked me if I had recalled anything about the four moods of stalking. I admitted that I had tried, but that my memory had failed me.
"Don't you remember my teaching you the nature of ruthlessness?" he asked. "Ruthlessness, the opposite of self-pity?"
I could not remember. Don Juan appeared to be considering what to say next. Then he stopped. The corners of his mouth dropped in a gesture of sham impotence. He shrugged his shoulders, stood up and quickly walked a short distance to a small level spot on top of a hill.
"All sorcerers are ruthless," he said, as we sat down on the flat ground. "But you know this. We have discussed this concept at length."
After a long silence, he said that we were going to continue discussing the abstract cores of the sorcery stories, but that he intended to talk less and less about them because the time was approaching when it would be up to me to discover them and allow them to reveal their meaning.
"As I have already told you," he said, "the fourth abstract core of the sorcery stories is called the descent of the spirit, or being moved by intent. The story says that in order to let the mysteries of sorcery reveal themselves to the man we've been talking about, it was necessary for the spirit to descend on that man.
"The spirit chose a moment when the man was distracted and unguarded; and showing no pity, the spirit let its presence by itself move the man's assemblage point to a specific position. This spot was known to sorcerers from then on as the place of no pity. Ruthlessness became, in this way, the first principle of sorcery.
"The first principle should not be confused with the first effect of sorcery apprenticeship, which is the shift between normal and heightened awareness."
"I don't understand what you are trying to tell me," I complained.
"What I want to say is that, to all appearances, having the assemblage point shift is the first thing that actually happens to a sorcery apprentice," he replied. "So, it is only natural for an apprentice to assume that this is the first principle of sorcery. But it is not.
"Ruthlessness is the first principle of sorcery. But we have discussed this before. Now I am only trying to help you remember."
I could honestly have said that I had no idea what he was talking about, but I also had the strange sensation that I did.
"Bring back the recollection of the first time I taught you ruthlessness," he urged. "Recollecting has to do with moving the assemblage point."
He waited a moment to see whether I was following his suggestion. Since it was obvious that I could not, he continued his explanation. He said that, mysterious as the shift into heightened awareness was, all that one needed to accomplish it was the presence of the spirit.
I remarked that his statements that day were either extremely obscure, or I was terribly dense; because I could not follow his line of thought at all. He replied firmly that my confusion was unimportant and insisted that the only thing of real importance was that I understand that the mere contact with the spirit could bring about any movement of the assemblage point.
"I've told you the nagual is the conduit of the spirit," he went on. "Since he spends a lifetime impeccably redefining his connecting link with intent, and since he has more energy than the average man, he can let the spirit express itself through him.
"So, the first thing the sorcerer apprentice experiences is a shift in his level of awareness; a shift brought about simply by the presence of the nagual. And what I want you to know is, that there really is no procedure involved in making the assemblage point move. The spirit touches the apprentice and his assemblage point moves. It is as simple as that."
I told him that his assertions were disturbing because they contradicted what I had painfully learned to accept through personal experience: that heightened awareness was feasible as a sophisticated, although inexplicable, maneuver performed by don Juan by means of which he manipulated my perception. Throughout the years of our association, he had time after time made me enter into heightened awareness by striking me on my back. I pointed out this contradiction.
He replied that striking my back was more a trick to trap my attention and remove doubts from my mind than a bona fide maneuver to manipulate my perception. He called it a simple trick, in keeping with his moderate personality.
He commented, not quite as a joke, that I was lucky he was a plain man, not given to weird behavior. Otherwise, instead of simple tricks, I would have had to endure bizarre rituals before he could remove all doubts from my mind; to let the spirit move my assemblage point.
"What we need to do to allow magic to get hold of us is to banish doubt from our minds," he said. "Once doubts are banished, anything is possible."
He reminded me of an event I had witnessed some months before in Mexico City; which I had found to be incomprehensible until he had explained it using the sorcerers' paradigm.
What I had witnessed was a surgical operation performed by a famous psychic healer. A friend of mine was the patient. The healer was a woman who entered a very dramatic trance to operate on him.
I was able to observe that, using a kitchen knife, she cut his abdominal cavity open in the umbilical region, detached his diseased liver, washed it in a bucket of alcohol, put it back in and closed the bloodless opening with just the pressure of her hands.
There had been a number of people in the semidark room; witnesses to the operation. Some of them seemed to be interested observers like myself. The others seemed to be the healer's helpers.
After the operation, I talked briefly to three of the observers. They all agreed that they had witnessed the same events I had. When I talked to my friend, the patient, he reported that he had felt the operation as a dull, constant pain in his stomach and a burning sensation on his right side.
I had narrated all of this to don Juan and I had even ventured a cynical explanation. I had told him that the semidarkness of the room, in my opinion, lent itself perfectly to all kinds of sleight of hand which could have accounted for the sight of the internal organs being pulled out of the abdominal cavity and washed in alcohol. The emotional shock caused by the healer's dramatic trance- which I also considered trickery- helped to create an atmosphere of almost religious faith.
Don Juan immediately pointed out that this was a cynical opinion, and not a cynical explanation, because it did not explain the fact that my friend had really gotten well. Don Juan had then proposed an alternative view based on sorcerers' knowledge. He had explained that the event hinged on the salient fact that the healer was capable of moving the assemblage point of the exact number of people in her audience. The only trickery involved- if one could call it trickery- was that the number of people present in the room could not exceed the number she could handle.
Her dramatic trance and the accompanying histrionics were, according to him, either well thought out devices the healer used to trap the attention of those present, or unconscious maneuvers dictated by the spirit itself. Whichever; they were the most appropriate means whereby the healer could foster the unity of thought needed to remove doubt from the minds of those present and force them into heightened awareness.
When she cut the body open with a kitchen knife and removed the internal organs, it was not, don Juan had stressed, sleight of hand. These were bona fide events; which by virtue of taking place in heightened awareness, were outside the realm of everyday judgment.
I had asked don Juan how the healer could manage to move the assemblage points of those people without touching them. His reply had been that the healer's power- a gift, or a stupendous accomplishment- served as a conduit for the spirit. It was the spirit, he had said, and not the healer, which had moved those assemblage points.
"I explained to you then, although you didn't understand a word of it," don Juan went on, "that the healer's art and power was to remove doubts from the minds of those present. By doing this, she was able to allow the spirit to move their assemblage points. Once those points had moved, everything was possible. They had entered into the realm where miracles are commonplace."
He asserted emphatically that the healer must also have been a sorceress, and that if I made an effort to remember the operation, I would remember that she had been ruthless with the people around her; especially the patient.
I repeated to him what I could recall of the session. The pitch and tone of the healer's flat, feminine voice changed dramatically when she entered a trance. It changed into a raspy, deep, male voice. That voice announced that the spirit of a warrior of pre-Columbian antiquity had possessed the healer's body. Once the announcement was made, the healer's attitude changed dramatically. She was possessed. She was obviously absolutely sure of herself, and she proceeded to operate with total certainty and firmness.
"I prefer the word 'ruthlessness' to 'certainty and firmness'," don Juan commented, then continued. "That healer had to be ruthless to create the proper setting for the spirit's intervention."
He asserted that events difficult to explain, such as that operation, were really very simple. They were made difficult by our insistence upon thinking. If we did not think, everything fit into place.
"That is truly absurd, don Juan," I said and really meant it.
I reminded him that he demanded serious thinking of all his apprentices, and even criticized his own teacher for not being a good thinker.
"Of course I insist that everyone around me think clearly," he said. "And I explain, to anyone who wants to listen, that the only way to think clearly is to not think at all. I was convinced you understood this sorcerers' contradiction."
In a loud voice I protested the obscurity of his statements. He laughed and made fun of my compulsion to defend myself. Then he explained again that for a sorcerer there were two types of thinking.
One was average day-today thinking, which was ruled by the normal position of his assemblage point. It was muddled thinking that did not really answer his needs and left great murkiness in his head.
The other was precise thinking. It was functional, economical, and left very few things unexplained. Don Juan remarked that for this type of thinking to prevail the assemblage point had to move. Or at least the day-to-day type thinking had to stop to allow the assemblage point to shift. Thus the apparent contradiction, which was really no contradiction at all.
"I want you to recall something you have done in the past," he said. "I want you to recall a special movement of your assemblage point. And to do this, you have to stop thinking the way you normally think. Then the other, the type I call clear thinking, will take over and make you recollect."
"But how do I stop thinking?" I asked, although I knew what he was going to reply.
"By intending the movement of your assemblage point," he said. "Intent is beckoned with the eyes."
I told don Juan that my mind was shifting back and forth between moments of tremendous lucidity, when everything was crystal clear, and lapses into profound mental fatigue during which I could not understand what he was saying.
He tried to put me at ease, explaining that my instability was caused by a slight fluctuation of my assemblage point, which had not stabilized in the new position it had reached some years earlier. The fluctuation was the result of left-over feelings of self-pity.
"What new position is that, don Juan?" I asked.
"Years ago- and this is what I want you to recollect- your assemblage point reached the place of no pity," he replied.
"I beg your pardon?" I said.
"The place of no pity is the site of ruthlessness," he said. "But you know all this. For the time being, though, until you recollect, let's say that ruthlessness, being a specific position of the assemblage point, is shown in the eyes of sorcerers. It's like a shimmering film over the eyes. The eyes of sorcerers are brilliant. The greater the shine, the more ruthless the sorcerer is. At this moment, your eyes are dull."
He explained that when the assemblage point moved to the place of no pity, the eyes began to shine. The firmer the grip of the assemblage point on its new position, the more the eyes shone.
"Try to recall what you already know about this," he urged me. He kept quiet for a moment, then spoke without looking at me.
"Recollecting is not the same as remembering," he continued. "Remembering is dictated by the day-to-day type of thinking, while recollecting is dictated by the movement of the assemblage point.
"A recapitulation of their lives, which sorcerers do, is the key to moving their assemblage points. Sorcerers start their recapitulation by thinking; by remembering the most important acts of their lives. From merely thinking about them they then move on to actually being at the site of the event. When they can do that- be at the site of the event- they have successfully shifted their assemblage point to the precise spot it was when the event took place. Bringing back the total event by means of shifting the assemblage point is known as sorcerers' recollection."
He stared at me for an instant as if trying to make sure I was listening.
"Our assemblage points are constantly shifting," he explained, "imperceptible shifts. Sorcerers believe that in order to make their assemblage points shift to precise spots we must engage intent. Since there is no way of knowing what intent is, sorcerers let their eyes beckon it."
"All this is truly incomprehensible to me," I said.
Don Juan put his hands behind his head and lay down on the ground. I did the same. We remained quiet for a long time. The wind scudded the clouds. Their movement almost made me feel dizzy. And the dizziness changed abruptly into a familiar sense of anguish.
Every time I was with don Juan, I felt, especially in moments of rest and quiet, an overwhelming sensation of despair- a longing for something I could not describe. When I was alone, or with other people, I was never a victim of this feeling. Don Juan had explained that what I felt and interpreted as longing was in fact the sudden movement of my assemblage point.
When don Juan started to speak, all of a sudden the sound of his voice jolted me and I sat up.
"You must recollect the first time your eyes shone," he said, "because that was the first time your assemblage point reached the place of no pity. Ruthlessness possessed you then. Ruthlessness makes sorcerers' eyes shine, and that shine beckons intent. Each spot to which their assemblage points move is indicated by a specific shine of their eyes. Since their eyes have their own memory, they can call up the recollection of any spot by calling up the specific shine associated with that spot."
He explained that the reason sorcerers put so much emphasis on the shine of their eyes and on their gaze is because the eyes are directly connected to intent. Contradictory as it might sound, the truth is that the eyes are only superficially connected to the world of everyday life. Their deeper connection is to the abstract.
I could not conceive how my eyes could store that sort of information, and I said as much. Don Juan's reply was that man's possibilities are so vast and mysterious that sorcerers, rather than thinking about them, choose to explore them with no hope of ever understanding them.
I asked him if an average man's eyes were also affected by intent.
"Of course!" he exclaimed. "You know all this. But you know it at such a deep level that it is silent knowledge. You haven't sufficient energy to explain it; not even to yourself.
"The average man knows the same thing about his eyes, but he has even less energy than you. The only advantages sorcerers may have over average men is that they have stored their energy- which means a more precise, clearer connecting link with intent. Naturally, it also means they can recollect at will using the shine of their eyes to move their assemblage points."
Don Juan stopped talking and fixed me with his gaze. I clearly felt his eyes guiding, pushing and pulling something indefinite in me. I could not break away from his stare. His concentration was so intense it actually caused a physical sensation in me: I felt as if I were inside a furnace. And, quite abruptly, I was looking inward. It was a sensation very much like being in an absentminded reverie, but with the strange accompanying sensation of an intense awareness of myself, and an absence of thoughts. Supremely aware, I was looking inward, into nothingness.
With a gigantic effort, I pulled myself out of it and stood up.
"What did you do to me, don Juan?"
"Sometimes you are absolutely unbearable," he said. "Your wastefulness is infuriating. Your assemblage point was just in the most advantageous spot to recollect anything you wanted, and what did you do? You let it all go, to ask me what I did to you."
He kept silent for a moment, and then smiled as I sat down again.
"But being annoying is really your greatest asset," he added. "So why should I complain?"
Both of us broke into a loud laugh. It was a private joke.
Years before, I had been both very moved and very confused by don Juan's tremendous dedication to helping me. I could not imagine why he should show me such kindness. It was evident that he did not need me in any way in his life. He was obviously not investing in me. But I had learned, through life's painful experiences, that nothing was free; and being unable to foresee what don Juan's reward would be made me tremendously uneasy.
One day I asked don Juan point-blank, in a very cynical tone, what he was getting out of our association. I said that I had not been able to guess.
"Nothing you would understand," he replied.
His answer annoyed me. Belligerently I told him I was not stupid, and he could at least try to explain it to me.
"Well, let me just say that, although you could understand it, you are certainly not going to like it," he said with the smile he always had when he was setting me up. "You see, I really want to spare you."
I was hooked, and I insisted that he tell me what he meant.
"Are you sure you want to hear the truth?" he asked, knowing I could never say no, even if my life depended on it.
"Of course I want to hear whatever it is you're dangling in front of me," I said cuttingly.
He started to laugh as if at a big joke; the more he laughed, the greater my annoyance.
"I don't see what's so funny," I said.
"Sometimes the underlying truth shouldn't be tampered with," he said. "The underlying truth here is like a block at the bottom of a big pile of things, a cornerstone. If we take a hard look at the bottom block, we might not like the results. I prefer to avoid that."
He laughed again. His eyes, shining with mischievousness, seemed to invite me to pursue the subject further. And I insisted again that I had to know what he was talking about. I tried to sound calm but persistent.
"Well, if that is what you want," he said with the air of one who had been overwhelmed by the request. "First of all, I'd like to say that everything I do for you is free. You don't have to pay for it.
"As you know, I've been impeccable with you. And as you also know, my impeccability with you is not an investment. I am not grooming you to take care of me when I am too feeble to look after myself. But I do get something of incalculable value out of our association, a sort of reward for dealing impeccably with that bottom block I've mentioned. And what I get is the very thing you are perhaps not going to understand or like."
He stopped and peered at me, with a devilish glint in his eyes.
"Tell me about it, don Juan!" I exclaimed, irritated with his delaying tactics.
"I want you to bear in mind that I am telling you at your insistence," he said, still smiling.
He paused again. By then I was fuming.
"If you were to judge me by my actions with you," he said, "you would have to admit that I have been a paragon of patience and consistency. But what you don't know is that to accomplish this I have had to fight for impeccability as I have never fought before. In order to spend time with you, I have had to transform myself daily; restraining myself with the most excruciating effort."
Don Juan had been right. I did not like what he said. I tried not to lose face and made a sarcastic comeback.
"I'm not that bad, don Juan," I said.
My voice sounded surprisingly unnatural to me.
"Oh, yes, you are that bad," he said with a serious expression. "You are petty, wasteful, opinionated, coercive, short-tempered, conceited. You are morose, ponderous, and ungrateful. You have an inexhaustible capacity for self-indulgence. And worst of all, you have an exalted idea of yourself with nothing whatever to back it up.
"I could sincerely say that your mere presence makes me feel like vomiting."
I wanted to get angry. I wanted to protest; to complain that he had no right to talk to me that way, but I could not utter a single word. I was crushed. I felt numb.
My expression, upon hearing the bottom truth, must have been something because don Juan broke into such gales of laughter that I thought he was going to choke.
"I told you you were not going to like it or understand it," he said. "Warriors' reasons are very simple, but their finesse is extreme. It is a rare opportunity for a warrior to be given a genuine chance to be impeccable in spite of his basic feelings.
"You gave me such a unique chance. The act of giving freely and impeccably rejuvenates me and renews my wonder. What I get from our association is indeed of incalculable value to me. I am in your debt."
His eyes were shining, but without mischievousness, as he peered at me.
Don Juan began to explain what he had done.
"I am the nagual, I moved your assemblage point with the shine of my eyes," he said matter-of-factly. "The nagual's eyes can do that. It's not difficult. After all, the eyes of all living beings can move someone else's assemblage point, especially if their eyes are focused on intent. Under normal conditions, however, people's eyes are focused on the world, looking for food... looking for shelter..."
He nudged my shoulder.
"Looking for love," he added and broke into a loud laugh.
Don Juan constantly teased me about my 'looking for love'. He never forgot a naive answer I once gave him when he had asked me what I actively looked for in life. He had been steering me toward admitting that I did not have a clear goal, and he roared with laughter when I said that I was looking for love.
"A good hunter mesmerizes his prey with his eyes," he went on. "With his gaze he moves the assemblage point of his prey, and yet his eyes are on the world, looking for food."
I asked him if sorcerers could mesmerize people with their gaze. He chuckled and said that what I really wanted to know was if I could mesmerize women with my gaze in spite of the fact that my eyes were focused on the world, looking for love. He added, seriously, that the sorcerers' safety valve was that by the time their eyes were really focused on intent, they were no longer interested in mesmerizing anyone.
"But, for sorcerers to use the shine of their eyes to move their own or anyone else's assemblage point," he continued, "they have to be ruthless. That is, they have to be familiar with that specific position of the assemblage point called the place of no pity. This is especially true for the naguals."
He said that each nagual developed a brand of ruthlessness specific to him alone. He took my case as an example, and said that because of my unstable natural configuration, I appeared to seers as a sphere of luminosity not composed of four balls compressed into one- the usual structure of a nagual- but as a sphere composed of only three compressed balls. This configuration made me automatically hide my ruthlessness behind a mask of indulgence and laxness.
"Naguals are very misleading," don Juan went on. "They always give the impression of something they are not, and they do it so completely that everybody, including those who know them best, believe their masquerade."
"I really don't understand how you can say that I am masquerading, don Juan," I protested.
"You pass yourself off as an indulgent, relaxed man," he said. "You give the impression of being generous; of having great compassion. And everybody is convinced of your genuineness. They can even swear that that is the way you are."
"But that is the way I am!"
Don Juan doubled up with laughter. The direction the conversation had taken was not to my liking. I wanted to set the record straight. I argued vehemently [* vehemently- in a manner marked by extreme intensity of emotions or convictions] that I was truthful in everything I did, and challenged him to give me an example of my being otherwise.
He said I compulsively treated people with unwarranted generosity, giving them a false sense of my ease and openness. And I argued that being open was my nature. He laughed and retorted that if this were the case, why should be that I always demanded, without voicing it, that the people I dealt with be aware I was deceiving them? The proof was that when they failed to be aware of my ploy and took my pseudo-laxness at face value, I turned on them with exactly the cold ruthlessness I was trying to mask.
His comments made me feel desperate, because I couldn't argue with them. I remained quiet. I did not want to show that I was hurt. I was wondering what to do when he stood and started to walk away.
I stopped him by holding his sleeve. It was an unplanned move on my part which startled me and made him laugh. He sat down again with a look of surprise on his face.
"I didn't mean to be rude," I said, "but I've got to know more about this. It upsets me."
"Make your assemblage point move," he urged. "We've discussed ruthlessness before. Recollect it!"
He eyed me with genuine expectation although he must have seen that I could not recollect anything, for he continued to talk about the naguals' patterns of ruthlessness. He said that his own method consisted of subjecting people to a flurry of coercion and denial, hidden behind sham understanding and reasonableness.
"What about all the explanations you give me?" I asked. "Aren't they the result of genuine reasonableness and desire to help me understand?"
"No," he replied. "They are the result of my ruthlessness."
I argued passionately that my own desire to understand was genuine. He patted me on the shoulder and explained that my desire to understand was genuine, but my generosity was not. He said that naguals masked their ruthlessness automatically, even against their will.
As I listened to his explanation, I had the peculiar sensation in the back of my mind that at some point we had covered the concept of ruthlessness extensively.
"I'm not a rational man," he continued, looking into my eyes. "I only appear to be because my mask is so effective. What you perceive as reasonableness is my lack of pity, because that's what ruthlessness is: a total lack of pity.
"In your case, since you mask your lack of pity with generosity, you appear at ease; open. But actually you are as generous as I am reasonable. We are both fakes. We have perfected the art of disguising the fact that we feel no pity."
He said his benefactor's total lack of pity was masked behind the facade of an easygoing, practical joker with an irresistible need to poke fun at anyone with whom he came into contact.
"My benefactor's mask was that of a happy, unruffled man without a care in the world," don Juan continued. "But underneath all that he was, like all the naguals, as cold as the arctic wind."
"But you are not cold, don Juan," I said sincerely.
"Of course I am," he insisted. "The effectiveness of my mask is what gives you the impression of warmth."
He went on to explain that the nagual Elias's mask consisted of a maddening meticulousness about all details and accuracy, which created the false impression of attention and thoroughness.
He started to describe the nagual Elias's behavior. As he talked, he kept watching me. And perhaps because he was observing me so intently, I was unable to concentrate at all on what he was saying. I made a supreme effort to gather my thoughts.
He watched me for an instant, then went back to explaining ruthlessness, but I no longer needed his explanation.
I told him that I had recollected what he wanted me to recollect: the first time my eyes had shone. Very early in my apprenticeship I had achieved- by myself- a shift in my level of awareness. My assemblage point reached the position called the place of no pity.