Chapter 16. Mud Shadows
To sit in silence with don Juan was one of the most enjoyable experiences I knew. We were comfortably sitting on some stuffed chairs in the back of his house in the mountains of central Mexico. It was late afternoon. There was a pleasant breeze. The sun was behind the house, at our backs. Its fading light created exquisite shades of green in the big trees in the backyard. There were big trees growing around his house, and beyond it, which obliterated the sight of the city where he lived. This always gave me the impression that I was in the wilderness, a different wilderness than the barren Sonoran desert, but wilderness nonetheless.
“Today, we're going to discuss a most serious topic in sorcery,” don Juan said abruptly, “and we're going to begin by talking about the energy body.”
He had described the energy body to me countless times, saying that it was a conglomerate of energy fields, the mirror image of the conglomerate of energy fields that makes up the physical body when it is seen as energy that flows in the universe. He had said that it was smaller, more compact, and of heavier appearance than the luminous sphere of the physical body.
Don Juan had explained that the body and the energy body were two conglomerates of energy fields compressed together by some strange agglutinizing force. He had emphasized no end that the force that binds that group of energy fields together was, according to the sorcerers of ancient Mexico, the most mysterious force in the universe. His personal estimation was that it was the pure essence of the entire cosmos, the sum total of everything there is.
He had asserted that the physical body and the energy body were the only counterbalanced energy configurations in our realm as human beings. He accepted, therefore, no other dualism than the one between these two. The dualism between body and mind, spirit and flesh, he considered to be a mere concatenation of the mind, emanating from it without any energetic foundation. Don Juan had said that by means of discipline it is possible for anyone to bring the energy body closer to the physical body. Normally, the distance between the two is enormous. Once the energy body is within a certain range, which varies for each of us individually, anyone, through discipline, can forge it into the exact replica of their physical body - that is to say, a three-dimensional, solid being. Hence the sorcerers' idea of the other or the double. By the same token, through the same processes of discipline, anyone can forge their three-dimensional, solid physical body to be a perfect replica of their energy body - that is to say, an ethereal charge of energy invisible to the human eye, as all energy is.
When don Juan had told me all about this, my reaction had been to ask him if he was describing a mythical proposition. He had replied that there was nothing mythical about sorcerers. Sorcerers were practical beings, and what they described was always something quite sober and down-to-earth. According to don Juan, the difficulty in understanding what sorcerers did was that they proceeded from a different cognitive system.
Sitting at the back of his house in central Mexico that day, don Juan said that the energy body was of key importance in whatever was taking place in my life. He saw that it was an energetic fact that my energy body, instead of moving away from me, as it normally happens, was approaching me with great speed.
“What does it mean, that it's approaching me, don Juan?” I asked.
“It means that something is going to knock the daylights out of you,” he said, smiling. “A tremendous degree of control is going to come into your life, but not your control, the energy body's control.”
“Do you mean, don Juan, that some outside force will control me?” I asked.
“There are scores of outside forces controlling you at this moment,” don Juan replied. “The control that I am referring to is something outside the domain of language. It is your control and at the same time it is not. It cannot be classified, but it can certainly be experienced. And above all, it can certainly be manipulated. Remember this: It can be manipulated, to your total advantage, of course, which again, is not your advantage, but the energy body's advantage. However, the energy body is you, so we could go on forever like dogs biting their own tails, trying to describe this. Language is inadequate. All these experiences are beyond syntax.”
Darkness had descended very quickly, and the foliage of the trees that had been glowing green a little while before was now very dark and heavy. Don Juan said that if I paid close attention to the darkness of the foliage without focusing my eyes, but sort of looked at it from the corner of my eye, I would see a fleeting shadow crossing my field of vision.
“This is the appropriate time of day for doing what I am asking you to do,” he said. “It takes a moment to engage the necessary attention in you to do it. Don't stop until you catch that fleeting black shadow.”
I did see some strange fleeting black shadow projected on the foliage of the trees. It was either one shadow going back and forth or various fleeting shadows moving from left to right or right to left or straight up in the air. They looked like fat black fish to me, enormous fish. It was as if gigantic swordfish were flying in the air. I was engrossed in the sight. Then, finally, it scared me. It became too dark to see the foliage, yet I could still see the fleeting black shadows.
“What is it, don Juan?” I asked. “I see fleeting black shadows all over the place.”
“Ah, that's the universe at large,” he said, “incommensurable, nonlinear, outside the realm of syntax. The sorcerers of ancient Mexico were the first ones to see those fleeting shadows, so they followed them around. They saw them as you're seeing them, and they saw them as energy that flows in the universe. And they did discover something transcendental.”
He stopped talking and looked at me. His pauses were perfectly placed. He always stopped talking when I was hanging by a thread.
“What did they discover, don Juan?” I asked.
“They discovered that we have a companion for life,” he said, as clearly as he could. “We have a predator that came from the depths of the cosmos and took over the rule of our lives. Human beings are its prisoners. The predator is our lord and master. It has rendered us docile, helpless. If we want to protest, it suppresses our protest. If we want to act independently, it demands that we don't do so.”
It was very dark around us, and that seemed to curtail any expression on my part. If it had been daylight, I would have laughed my head off. In the dark, I felt quite inhibited.
“It's pitch black around us,” don Juan said, “but if you look out of the corner of your eye, you will still see fleeting shadows jumping all around you.”
He was right. I could still see them. Their movement made me dizzy. Don Juan turned on the light, and that seemed to dissipate everything.
“You have arrived, by your effort alone, to what the shamans of ancient Mexico called the topic of topics,” don Juan said. “I have been beating around the bush all this time, insinuating to you that something is holding us prisoner. Indeed we are held prisoner! This was an energetic fact for the sorcerers of ancient Mexico.”
“Why has this predator taken over in the fashion that you're describing, don Juan?” I asked. “There must be a logical explanation.”
“There is an explanation,” don Juan replied, “which is the simplest explanation in the world. They took over because we are food for them, and they squeeze us mercilessly because we are their sustenance. Just as we rear chickens in chicken coops, gallineros, the predators rear us in human coops, humaneros. Therefore, their food is always available to them.”
I felt that my head was shaking violently from side to side. I could not express my profound sense of unease and discontentment, but my body moved to bring it to the surface. I shook from head to toe without any volition on my part.
“No, no, no, no,” I heard myself saying. “This is absurd, don Juan. What you're saying is something monstrous. It simply can't be true, for sorcerers or for average men, or for anyone.”
“Why not?” don Juan asked calmly. “Why not? Because it infuriates you?”
“Yes, it infuriates me,” I retorted. “Those claims are monstrous!”
“Well,” he said, “you haven't heard all the claims yet. Wait a bit longer and see how you feel. I'm going to subject you to a blitz. That is, I'm going to subject your mind to tremendous onslaughts, and you cannot get up and leave because you're caught. Not because I'm holding you prisoner, but because something in you will prevent you from leaving, while another part of you is going to go truthfully berserk. So brace yourself!”
There was something in me which was, I felt, a glutton for punishment. He was right. I wouldn't have left the house for the world. And yet I didn't like one bit the inanities he was spouting.
“I want to appeal to your analytical mind,” don Juan said. “Think for a moment, and tell me how you would explain the contradiction between the intelligence of man the engineer and the stupidity of his systems of beliefs, or the stupidity of his contradictory behavior. Sorcerers believe that the predators have given us our systems of beliefs, our ideas of good and evil, our social mores. They are the ones who set up our hopes and expectations and dreams of success or failure. They have given us covetousness, greed, and cowardice. It is the predators who make us complacent, routinary, and egomaniacal.”
“But how can they do this, don Juan?” I asked, somehow angered further by what he was saying. “Do they whisper all that in our ears while we are asleep?”
“No, they don't do it that way. That's idiotic!” don Juan said, smiling. “They are infinitely more efficient and organized than that. In order to keep us obedient and meek and weak, the predators engaged themselves in a stupendous maneuver - stupendous, of course, from the point of view of a fighting strategist. A horrendous maneuver from the point of view of those who suffer it. They gave us their mind! Do you hear me? The predators give us their mind, which becomes our mind. The predators' mind is baroque, contradictory, morose, filled with the fear of being discovered any minute now.”
“I know that even though you have never suffered hunger,” he went on, “you have food anxiety, which is none other than the anxiety of the predator who fears that any moment now its maneuver is going to be uncovered and food is going to be denied. Through the mind, which, after all, is their mind, the predators inject into the lives of human beings whatever is convenient for them. And they ensure, in this manner, a degree of security to act as a buffer against their fear.”
“It's not that I can't accept all this at face value, don Juan,” I said. “I could, but there's something so odious about it that it actually repels me. It forces me to take a contradictory stand. If it's true that they eat us, how do they do it?”
Don Juan had a broad smile on his face. He was as pleased as punch. He explained that sorcerers see infant human beings as strange, luminous balls of energy, covered from the top to the bottom with a glowing coat, something like a plastic cover that is adjusted tightly over their cocoon of energy. He said that that glowing coat of awareness was what the predators consumed, and that when a human being reached adulthood, all that was left of that glowing coat of awareness was a narrow fringe that went from the ground to the top of the toes. That fringe permitted mankind to continue living, but only barely.
As if I had been in a dream, I heard don Juan Matus explaining that to his knowledge, man was the only species that had the glowing coat of awareness outside that luminous cocoon. Therefore, he became easy prey for an awareness of a different order, such as the heavy awareness of the predator.
He then made the most damaging statement he had made so far. He said that this narrow fringe of awareness was the epicenter of self-reflection, where man was irremediably caught. By playing on our self-reflection, which is the only point of awareness left to us, the predators create flares of awareness that they proceed to consume in a ruthless, predatory fashion. They give us inane problems that force those flares of awareness to rise, and in this manner they keep us alive in order for them to be fed with the energetic flare of our pseudoconcerns.
There must have been something to what don Juan was saying, which was so devastating to me that at that point I actually got sick to my stomach.
After a moment's pause, long enough for me to recover, I asked don Juan: “But why is it that the sorcerers of ancient Mexico and all sorcerers today, although they see the predators, don't do anything about it?”
“There's nothing that you and I can do about it,” don Juan said in a grave, sad voice. “All we can do is discipline ourselves to the point where they will not touch us. How can you ask your fellow men to go through those rigors of discipline? They'll laugh and make fun of you, and the more aggressive ones will beat the shit out of you. And not so much because they don't believe it. Down in the depths of every human being, there's an ancestral, visceral knowledge about the predators' existence.”
My analytical mind swung back and forth like a yo-yo. It left me and came back and left me and came back again. Whatever don Juan was proposing was preposterous, incredible. At the same time, it was a most reasonable thing, so simple. It explained every kind of human contradiction I could think of. But how could one have taken all this seriously? Don Juan was pushing me into the path of an avalanche that would take me down forever.
I felt another wave of a threatening sensation. The wave didn't stem from me, yet it was attached to me. Don Juan was doing something to me, mysteriously positive and terribly negative at the same time. I sensed it as an attempt to cut a thin film that seemed to be glued to me. His eyes were fixed on mine in an unblinking stare. He moved his eyes away and began to talk without looking at me anymore.
“Whenever doubts plague you to a dangerous point,” he said, “do something pragmatic about it. Turn off the light. Pierce the darkness; find out what you can see.”
He got up to turn off the lights. I stopped him.
“No, no, don Juan,” I said, “don't turn off the lights. I'm doing okay.”
What I felt then was a most unusual, for me, fear of the darkness. The mere thought of it made me pant. I definitely knew something viscerally, but I wouldn't dare touch it, or bring it to the surface, not in a million years!
“You saw the fleeting shadows against the trees,” don Juan said, sitting back against his chair. “That's pretty good. I'd like you to see them inside this room. You're not seeing anything. You're just merely catching fleeting images. You have enough energy for that.”
I feared that don Juan would get up anyway and turn off the lights, which he did. Two seconds later, I was screaming my head off. Not only did I catch a glimpse of those fleeting images, I heard them buzzing by my ears. Don Juan doubled up with laughter as he turned on the lights.
“What a temperamental fellow!” he said. “A total disbeliever, on the one hand, and a total pragmatist on the other. You must arrange this internal fight. Otherwise, you're going to swell up like a big toad and burst.”
Don Juan kept on pushing his barb deeper and deeper into me. “The sorcerers of ancient Mexico,” he said, “saw; the predator. They called it the flyer because it leaps through the air. It is not a pretty sight. It is a big shadow, impenetrably dark, a black shadow that jumps through the air. Then, it lands flat on the ground. The sorcerers of ancient Mexico were quite ill at ease with the idea of when it made its appearance on Earth. They reasoned that man must have been a complete being at one point, with stupendous insights, feats of awareness that are mythological legends nowadays. And then everything seems to disappear, and we have now a sedated man.”
I wanted to get angry, call him a paranoiac, but somehow the righteousness that was usually just underneath the surface of my being wasn't there. Something in me was beyond the point of asking myself my favorite question: What if all that he said is true? At the moment he was talking to me that night, in my heart of hearts, I felt that all of what he was saying was true, but at the same time, and with equal force, all that he was saying was absurdity itself.
“What are you saying, don Juan?” I asked feebly. My throat was constricted. I could hardly breathe.
“What I'm saying is that what we have against us is not a simple predator. It is very smart, and organized. It follows a methodical system to render us useless. Man, the magical being that he is destined to be, is no longer magical. He's an average piece of meat. There are no more dreams for man but the dreams of an animal who is being raised to become a piece of meat: trite, conventional, imbecilic.”
Don Juan's words were eliciting a strange, bodily reaction in me comparable to the sensation of nausea. It was as if I were going to get sick to my stomach again. But the nausea was coming from the bottom of my being, from the marrow of my bones. I convulsed involuntarily. Don Juan shook me by the shoulders forcefully. I felt my neck wobbling back and forth under the impact of his grip. The maneuver calmed me down at once. I felt more in control.
“This predator,” don Juan said, “which, of course, is an inorganic being, is not altogether invisible to us, as other inorganic beings are. I think as children we do see it and decide it's so horrific that we don't want to think about it. Children, of course, could insist on focusing on the sight, but everybody else around them dissuades them from doing so.”
“The only alternative left for mankind,” he continued, “is discipline. Discipline is the only deterrent. But by discipline I don't mean harsh routines. I don't mean waking up every morning at five-thirty and throwing cold water on yourself until you're blue. Sorcerers understand discipline as the capacity to face with serenity odds that are not included in our expectations. For them, discipline is an art: the art of facing infinity without flinching, not because they are strong and tough but because they are filled with awe.”
“In what way would the sorcerers' discipline be a deterrent?” I asked.
“Sorcerers say that discipline makes the glowing coat of awareness unpalatable to the flyer,” don Juan said, scrutinizing my face as if to discover any signs of disbelief. “The result is that the predators become bewildered. An inedible glowing coat of awareness is not part of their cognition, I suppose. After being bewildered, they don't have any recourse other than refraining from continuing their nefarious task.”
“If the predators don't eat our glowing coat of awareness for a while,” he went on, “it'll keep on growing. Simplifying this matter to the extreme, I can say that sorcerers, by means of their discipline, push the predators away long enough to allow their glowing coat of awareness to grow beyond the level of the toes. Once it goes beyond the level of the toes, it grows back to its natural size. The sorcerers of ancient Mexico used to say that the glowing coat of awareness is like a tree. If it is not pruned, it grows to its natural size and volume. As awareness reaches levels higher than the toes, tremendous maneuvers of perception become a matter of course.”
“The grand trick of those sorcerers of ancient times,” don Juan continued, “was to burden the flyers' mind with discipline. They found out that if they taxed the flyers' mind with inner silence, the foreign installation would flee, giving to any one of the practitioners involved in this maneuver the total certainty of the mind's foreign origin. The foreign installation comes back, I assure you, but not as strong, and a process begins in which the fleeing of the flyers' mind becomes routine, until one day it flees permanently. A sad day indeed! That's the day when you have to rely on your own devices, which are nearly zero. There's no one to tell you what to do. There's no mind of foreign origin to dictate the imbecilities you're accustomed to.”
“My teacher, the nagual Julian, used to warn all his disciples,” don Juan continued, “that this was the toughest day in a sorcerer's life, for the real mind that belongs to us, the sum total of our experience, after a lifetime of domination has been rendered shy, insecure, and shifty. Personally, I would say that the real battle of sorcerers begins at that moment. The rest is merely preparation.”
I became genuinely agitated. I wanted to know more, and yet a strange feeling in me clamored for me to stop. It alluded to dark results and punishment, something like the wrath of God descending on me for tampering with something veiled by God himself. I made a supreme effort to allow my curiosity to win.
“What-what-what do you mean,” I heard myself say, “by taxing the flyers' mind?”
“Discipline taxes the foreign mind no end,” he replied. “So, through their discipline, sorcerers vanquish the foreign installation.”
I was overwhelmed by his statements. I believed that don Juan was either certifiably insane or that he was telling me something so awesome that it froze everything in me. I noticed, however how quickly I rallied my energy to deny everything he had said. After an instant of panic, I began to laugh, as if don Juan had told me a joke. I even heard myself saying, “Don Juan, don Juan, you're incorrigible!”
Don Juan seemed to understand everything I was experiencing. He shook his head from side to side and raised his eyes to the heavens in a gesture of mock despair.
“I am so incorrigible,” he said, “that I am going to give the flyers' mind, which you carry inside you, one more jolt. I am going to reveal to you one of the most extraordinary secrets of sorcery. I am going to describe to you a finding that took sorcerers thousands of years to verify and consolidate.”
He looked at me and smiled maliciously. “The flyers' mind flees forever,” he said, “when a sorcerer succeeds in grabbing on to the vibrating force that holds us together as a conglomerate of energy fields. If a sorcerer maintains that pressure long enough, the flyers' mind flees in defeat. And that's exactly what you are going to do: hold on to the energy that binds you together.”
I had the most inexplicable reaction I could have imagined. Something in me actually shook, as if it had received a jolt. I entered into a state of unwarranted fear, which I immediately associated with my religious background.
Don Juan looked at me from head to toe.
“You are fearing the wrath of God, aren't you?” he said. “Rest assured, that's not your fear. It's the flyers' fear, because it knows that you will do exactly as I'm telling you.”
His words did not calm me at all. I felt worse. I was actually convulsing involuntarily, and I had no means to stop it.
“Don't worry,” don Juan said calmly. “I know for a fact that those attacks wear off very quickly. The flyer's mind has no concentration whatsoever.”
After a moment, everything stopped, as don Juan had predicted. To say again that I was bewildered is a euphemism. This was the first time ever, with don Juan or alone, in my life that I didn't know whether I was coming or going. I wanted to get out of the chair and walk around, but I was deathly afraid. I was filled with rational assertions, and at the same time I was filled with an infantile fear. I began to breathe deeply as a cold perspiration covered my entire body. I had somehow unleashed on myself a most godawful sight: black, fleeting shadows jumping all around me, wherever I turned.
I closed my eyes and rested my head on the arm of the stuffed chair. “I don't know which way to turn, don Juan,” I said. “Tonight, you have really succeeded in getting me lost.”
“You're being torn by an internal struggle,” don Juan said. “Down in the depths of you, you know that you are incapable of refusing the agreement that an indispensable part of you, your glowing coat of awareness, is going to serve as an incomprehensible source of nourishment to, naturally, incomprehensible entities. And another part of you will stand against this situation with all its might.”
“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.”
Don Juan stood up from his chair and stretched his arms and legs. “We have been sitting here for hours. It's time to go into the house. I'm gonna eat. Do you want to eat with me?”
I declined. My stomach was in an uproar.
“I think you'd better go to sleep,” he said. “The blitz has devastated you.”
I didn't need any further coaxing. I collapsed onto my bed and fell asleep like the dead.
At home, as time went by, the idea of the flyers became one of the main fixations of my life. I got to the point where I felt that don Juan was absolutely right about them. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't discard his logic. The more I thought about it, and the more I talked to and observed myself and my fellow men, the more intense the conviction that something was rendering us incapable of any activity or any interaction or any thought that didn't have the self as its focal point. My concern, as well as the concern of everyone I knew or talked to, was the self. Since I couldn't find any explanation for such universal homogeneity, I believed that don Juan's line of thought was the most appropriate way of elucidating the phenomenon.
I went as deeply as I could into readings about myths and legends. In reading, I experienced something I had never felt before: Each of the books I read was an interpretation of myths and legends. In each one of those books, a homogeneous mind was palpable. The styles differed, but the drive behind the words was homogeneously the same: Even though the theme was something as abstract as myths and legends, the authors always managed to insert statements about themselves. The homogeneous drive behind every one of those books was not the stated theme of the book; instead, it was self-service. I had never felt this before.
I attributed my reaction to don Juan's influence. The unavoidable question that I posed to myself was: Is he influencing me to see this, or is there really a foreign mind dictating everything we do? I lapsed, perforce, into denial again, and I went insanely from denial to acceptance to denial. Something in me knew that whatever don Juan was driving at was an energetic fact, but something equally important in me knew that all of that was guff. The end result of my internal struggle was a sense of foreboding, the sense of something imminently dangerous coming at me.
I made extensive anthropological inquiries into the subject of the flyers in other cultures, but I couldn't find any references to them anywhere. Don Juan seemed to be the only source of information about this matter. The next time I saw him, I instantly jumped to talk about the flyers.
“I have tried my best to be rational about this subject matter,” I said, “but I can't. There are moments when I fully agree with you about the predators.”
“Focus your attention on the fleeting shadows that you actually see,” don Juan said with a smile.
I told don Juan that those fleeting shadows were going to be the end of my rational life. I saw them everywhere. Since I had left his house, I was incapable of going to sleep in the dark. To sleep with the lights on did not bother me at all. The moment I turned the lights off, however, everything around me began to jump. I never saw complete figures or shapes. All I saw were fleeting black shadows.
“The flyers' mind has not left you,” don Juan said. “It has been seriously injured. It's trying its best to rearrange its relationship with you. But something in you is severed forever. The flyer knows that. The real danger is that the flyers' mind may win by getting you tired and forcing you to quit by playing the contradiction between what it says and what I say.”
“You see, the flyers' mind has no competitors,” don Juan continued. “When it proposes something, it agrees with its own proposition, and it makes you believe that you've done something of worth. The flyers' mind will say to you that whatever Juan Matus is telling you is pure nonsense, and then the same mind will agree with its own proposition, 'Yes, of course, it is nonsense,' you will say. That's the way they overcome us.”
“The flyers are an essential part of the universe,” he went on, “and they must be taken as what they really are - awesome, monstrous. They are the means by which the universe tests us.”
“We are energetic probes created by the universe,” he continued as if he were oblivious to my presence, “and it's because we are possessors of energy that has awareness that we are the means by which the universe becomes aware of itself. The flyers are the implacable challengers. They cannot be taken as anything else. If we succeed in doing that, the universe allows us to continue.”
I wanted don Juan to say more. But he said only, “The blitz ended the last time you were here; there's only so much you could say about the flyers. It's time for another kind of maneuver.”
I couldn't sleep that night. I fell into a light sleep in the early hours of the morning, until don Juan dragged me out of my bed and took me for a hike in the mountains. Where he lived, the configuration of the land was very different from that of the Sonoran desert, but he told me not to indulge in comparison that after walking for a quarter of a mile, every place in the world was just the same.
“Sightseeing is for people in cars,” he said. “They go at great speed without any effort on their part. Sightseeing is not for walkers. For instance, when you are riding in a car, you may see a gigantic mountain whose sight overwhelms you with its beauty. The sight of the same mountain will not overwhelm you in the same manner if you look at it while you're going on foot; it will overwhelm you in a different way, especially if you have to climb it or go around it.”
It was very hot that morning. We walked on a dry riverbed. One thing that this valley and the Sonoran desert had in common was their millions of insects. The gnats and flies all around me were like dive-bombers that aimed at my nostrils, eyes, and ears. Don Juan told me not to pay attention to their buzzing.
“Don't try to disperse them with your hand,” he uttered in a firm tone. “Intend them away. Set up an energy barrier around you. Be silent, and from your silence the barrier will be constructed. Nobody knows how this is done. It is one of those things that the old sorcerers called energetic facts. Shut off your internal dialogue. That's all it takes.”
“I want to propose a weird idea to you,” don Juan went on as he kept walking ahead of me. I had to accelerate my steps to be closer to him so as not to miss anything he said. “I have to stress that it's a weird idea that will find endless resistance in you,” he said. “I will tell you beforehand that you won't accept it easily. But the fact that it's weird should not be a deterrent. You are a social scientist. Therefore, your mind is always open to inquiry, isn't that so?”
Don Juan was shamelessly making fun of me. I knew it, but it didn't bother me. Perhaps due to the fact that he was walking so fast, and I had to make a tremendous effort to keep up with him, his sarcasm just sloughed off me, and instead of making me feisty, it made me laugh. My undivided attention was focused on what he was saying, and the insects either stopped bothering me because I had intended a barrier of energy around me or because I was so busy listening to don Juan that I didn't care about their buzzing around me anymore.
“The weird idea,” he said slowly, measuring the effect of his words, “is that every human being on this earth seems to have exactly the same reactions, the same thoughts, the same feelings. They seem to respond in more or less the same way to the same stimuli. Those reactions seem to be sort of fogged up by the language they speak, but if we scrape that off, they are exactly the same reactions that besiege every human being on Earth. I would like you to become curious about this, as a social scientist, of course, and see if you could formally account for such homogeneity.”
Don Juan collected a series of plants. Some of them could hardly be seen. They seemed to be more in the realm of algae, moss. I held his bag open, and we didn't speak anymore. When he had enough plants, he headed back for his house, walking as fast as he could. He said that he wanted to clean and separate those plants and put them in a proper order before they dried up too much.
I was deeply involved in thinking about the task he had delineated for me. I began by trying to review in my mind if I knew of any articles or papers written on this subject. I thought that I would have to research it, and I decided to begin my research by reading all the works available on “national character.” I got enthusiastic about the topic, in a haphazard way, and I really wanted to start for home right away, for I wanted to take his task to heart, but before we reached his house, don Juan sat down on a high ledge overlooking the valley. He didn't say anything for a while. He was not out of breath. I couldn't conceive of why he had stopped to sit down.
“The task of the day, for you,” he said abruptly, in a foreboding tone, “is one of the most mysterious things of sorcery, something that goes beyond language, beyond explanations. We went for a hike today, we talked, because the mystery of sorcery must be cushioned in the mundane. It must stem from nothing, and go back again to nothing. That's the art of warrior-travelers: to go through the eye of a needle unnoticed. So, brace yourself by propping your back against this rock wall, as far as possible from the edge. I will be by you, in case you faint or fall down.”
“What are you planning to do, don Juan?” I asked, and my alarm was so patent that I noticed it and lowered my voice.
“I want you to cross your legs and enter into inner silence,” he said. “Let's say that you want to find out what articles you could look for to discredit or substantiate what I have asked you to do in your academic milieu. Enter into inner silence, but don't fall asleep. This is not a journey through the dark sea of awareness. This is seeing from inner silence.”
It was rather difficult for me to enter into inner silence without falling asleep. I fought a nearly invincible desire to fall asleep. I succeeded, and found myself looking at the bottom of the valley from an impenetrable darkness around me. And then, I saw something that chilled me to the marrow of my bones. I saw a gigantic shadow, perhaps fifteen feet across, leaping in the air and then landing with a silent thud. I felt the thud in my bones, but I didn't hear it.
“They are really heavy,” don Juan said in my ear. He was holding me by the left arm, as hard as he could.
I saw; something that looked like a mud shadow wiggle on the ground, and then take another gigantic leap, perhaps fifty feet long, and land again, with the same ominous silent thud. I fought not to lose my concentration. I was frightened beyond anything I could rationally use as a description. I kept my eyes fixed on the jumping shadow on the bottom of the valley. Then I heard a most peculiar buzzing, a mixture of the sound of flapping wings and the buzzing of a radio whose dial has not quite picked up the frequency of a radio station, and the thud that followed was something unforgettable. It shook don Juan and me to the core - a gigantic black mud shadow had just landed by our feet.
“Don't be frightened,” don Juan said imperiously. “Keep your inner silence and it will move away.”
I was shivering from head to toe. I had the clear knowledge that if I didn't keep my inner silence alive, the mud shadow would cover me up like a blanket and suffocate me. Without losing the darkness around me, I screamed at the top of my voice. Never had I been so angry, so utterly frustrated. The mud shadow took another leap, clearly to the bottom of the valley. I kept on screaming, shaking my legs. I wanted to shake off whatever might come to eat me. My state of nervousness was so intense that I lost track of time. Perhaps I fainted.
When I came to my senses, I was lying in my bed in don Juan's house. There was a towel, soaked in icy-cold water, wrapped around my forehead. I was burning with fever. One of don Juan's female cohorts rubbed my back, chest, and forehead with rubbing alcohol, but this did not relieve me. The heat I was experiencing came from within myself. It was wrath and impotence that generated it.
Don Juan laughed as if what was happening to me was the funniest thing in the world. Peals of laughter came out of him in an endless barrage.
“I would never have thought that you would take seeing a flyer so much to heart,” he said. He took me by the hand and led me to the back of his house, where he dunked me in a huge tub of water, fully clothed - shoes, watch, everything.
“My watch, my watch!” I screamed.
Don Juan twisted with laughter. “You shouldn't wear a watch when you come to see me,” he said. “Now you've fouled up your watch!”
I took off my watch and put it by the side of the tub. I remembered that it was waterproof and that nothing would happen to it.
Being dunked in the tub helped me enormously. When don Juan pulled me out of the freezing water, I had gained a degree of control. “That sight is preposterous!” I kept on repeating, unable to say anything else.
The predator don Juan had described was not something benevolent. It was enormously heavy, gross, indifferent. I felt its disregard for us. Doubtless, it had crushed us ages ago, making us, as don Juan had said, weak, vulnerable, and docile. I took off my wet clothes, covered myself with a poncho, sat in my bed, and veritably wept my head off, but not for myself. I had my wrath, my unbending intent, not to let them eat me. I wept for my fellow men, especially for my father. I never knew until that instant that I loved him so much.
“He never had a chance,” I heard myself repeating, over and over, as if the words were not really mine. My poor father, the most considerate being I knew, so tender, so gentle, so helpless.