By the time knowledge becomes a frightening affair the man also realizes that death is the irreplaceable partner that sits next to him on the mat. A man who follows the paths of sorcery is confronted with imminent annihilation every turn of the way, and unavoidably he becomes keenly aware of his death. Without the awareness of death he would be only an ordinary man involved in ordinary acts. He would lack the necessary potency, the necessary concentration that transforms one’s ordinary time on earth into magical power.
The only deterrent to our despair is the awareness of our death, the key to the sorcerer’s scheme of things. The awareness of our death is the only thing that can give us the strength to withstand the duress and pain of our lives and our fears of the unknown. Volition alone is the deciding factor; in other words, one has to make up one’s mind to bring that awareness to bear witness to one’s acts.
Thus to be a warrior a man has to be, first of all, and rightfully so, keenly aware of his own death. But to be concerned with death would force any one of us to focus on the self and that would be debilitating. So the next thing one needs to be a warrior is detachment. The idea of imminent death, instead of becoming an obsession, becomes an indifference.
Now you must detach yourself; detach yourself from everything. People’s actions no longer affect a warrior when he has no more expectations of any kind. A strange peace becomes the ruling force in his life. He has adopted one of the concepts of a warrior’s life – detachment.
Detachment does not automatically mean wisdom, but it is, nonetheless, an advantage because it allows the warrior to pause momentarily to reassess situations, to reconsider positions. In order to use that extra moment consistently and correctly, however, a warrior has to struggle unyieldingly for the duration of his life. Detachment is, if anything, a detriment to sobriety and levelheadedness. An aspect of being detached, the capacity to become immersed in whatever one is doing, naturally extends to everything one does, including being inconsistent, and outright petty. The advantage of being detached is that it allows us a moment’s pause, providing that we have the self-discipline and courage to utilize it.
Only the idea of death makes a warrior sufficiently detached so that he is capable of abandoning himself to anything, and so he can’t deny himself anything. A man of that sort, however, does not crave, for he has acquired a silent lust for life and for all things of life. He knows his death is stalking him and won’t give him time to cling to anything, so he tries, without craving, all of everything.
A detached man, who knows he has no possibility of fencing off his death, has only one thing to back himself with: the power of his decisions. He has to be, so to speak, the master of his choices. He must fully understand that his choice is his responsibility and once he makes it there is no longer time for regrets or recriminations. His decisions are final, simply because his death does not permit him time to cling to anything.
In the world of everyday life, one’s word or one’s decisions can be reversed very easily. The only irrevocable thing in the everyday world is death. In the shamans’ world, on the other hand, normal death can be countermanded, but not the shamans’ word. In the shamans’ world decisions cannot be changed or revised. Once they have been made, they stand forever.
A warrior considers himself already dead, so there is nothing for him to lose. The worst that could happen to us is that we have to die, and since that is already our unalterable fate, we are free; those who have lost everything no longer have anything to fear. Thus the worst has already happened to a warrior, therefore he’s clear and calm; judging him by his acts or by his words, one would never suspect that he has witnessed everything.
A warrior thinks of his death when things become unclear. The idea of death is the only thing that tempers our spirit. Every bit of knowledge that becomes power has death as its central force. Death lends the ultimate touch, and whatever is touched by death indeed becomes power.
Death is everywhere. It may be the headlights of a car on a hilltop in the distance behind. They may remain visible for a while, and disappear into the darkness as if they had been scooped away; only to appear on another hilltop, and then disappear again. Those are the lights on the head of death. Death puts them on like a hat and then shoots off on a gallop, gaining on us, getting closer and closer. Sometimes it turns off its lights. But death never stops.
Death is a twirl; death is a shiny cloud over the horizon; death is me talking to you; death is you and your writing pad; death is nothing. Nothing! It is here, yet it isn’t here at all.
Your death can give you a little warning, it always comes as a chill. Death is our eternal companion, it is always to our left, at an arm’s length. How can anyone feel so important when we know that death is stalking us? The thing to do when you’re impatient is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death. An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you.
The issue of our death is never pressed far enough. Death is the only wise adviser that we have. Whenever you feel that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, “I haven’t touched you yet.”
One of us here has to change, and fast. One of us here has to learn again that death is the hunter, and that it is always to one’s left. One of us here has to ask death’s advice and drop the cursed pettiness that belongs to men that live their lives as if death will never tap them.
Think of your death now. It is at arm’s length. It may tap you any moment, so really you have no time for crappy thoughts and moods. None of us have time for that. The only thing that counts is action, acting instead of talking.
Sorcerers never say things idly. I am most careful about what I say to you or to anybody else. The difference between you and me is that I don’t have any time at all, and I act accordingly. You, on the other hand, believe that you have all the time in the world, and you act accordingly. The end result of our individual behaviours is that I measure everything I do and say, and you don’t.
You’re looking for a sorcerer’s medication to remove everything annoying from you, with no effort at all on your part. You want results – one potion and you’re cured. Sorcerers face things in a different way. Since they don’t have any time to spare, they give themselves fully to what’s in front of them. Your turmoil is the result of your lack of sobriety.
Don’t admire people from afar. That is the surest way to create mythological beings. Get close to them, talk to them, see what they are like as people. Test them. If their behavior is the result of their conviction that they are a being who is going to die, then everything they do, no matter how strange, must be premeditated and final. If what they say turns out to be just words, they’re not worth a hoot.
Human beings are beings that are going to die. Sorcerers firmly maintain that the only way to have a grip on our world, and on what we do in it, is by fully accepting that we are beings on the way to dying. Without this basic acceptance, our lives, our doings, and the world in which we live are unmanageable affairs.
The acceptance of this is far-reaching. However, it’s not the mere acceptance that does the trick. We have to embody that acceptance and live it all the way through. Sorcerers throughout the ages have said that the view of our death is the most sobering view that exists. What is wrong with us human beings, and has been wrong since time immemorial, is that without ever stating it in so many words, we believe that we have entered the realm of immortality, We behave as if we were never going to die – an infantile arrogance. But even more injurious than this sense of immortality is what comes with it: the sense that we can engulf this inconceivable universe with our minds.
Sorcerers don’t admire people in a vacuum. They talk to them; they get to know them. They establish points of reference. They compare. Sorcerers view any kind of activity with people, no matter how minute or unimportant, as a battlefield. In that battlefield, sorcerers performed their best magic, their best effort. The trick to being at ease in such situations is to face our opponents openly. Abhorrent are the timid souls who shy away from interaction to the point where even though they interact, they merely infer or deduce, in terms of their own psychological states, what is going on without actually perceiving what is really going on. They interact without ever being part of the interaction.
Always look at the man who is involved in a tug of war with you. Don’t just pull the rope; look up and see his eyes. You’ll know then that he is a man, just like you. No matter what he’s saying, no matter what he’s doing, he’s shaking in his boots, just like you. A look like that renders the opponent helpless, if only for an instant; deliver your blow then.
When the sorcerers talk about the cognitive world of ancient Mexico they are talking about things for which we have no equivalent in the world of everyday life.
For instance, perceiving energy directly as it flows in the universe is a unit of cognition that shamans live by. They see how energy flows, and they follow its flow. If its flow is obstructed, they move away to do something entirely different. Shamans see lines in the universe. Their art, or their job, is to choose the line that will take them, perception-wise, to regions that have no name. You can say that shamans react immediately to the lines of the universe. They see human beings as luminous balls, and they search in them for their flow of energy. Naturally, they react instantly to this sight. It’s part of their cognition.
The practicalities that scientists are interested in are conducive to building more and more complex machines. They are not the practicalities that changed an individual’s life course from within. They are not geared to reaching the vastness of the universe as a personal, experiential affair. The stupendous machines in existence, or those in the making are cultural affairs, the attainment of which has to be enjoyed vicariously, even by the creators of those machines themselves. The only reward for them is monetary.
Perhaps you can recall what I said to you about one of our biggest flaws as average human beings. The big flaw I am talking about is something you ought to bear in mind every second of your existence. For me, it’s the issue of issues, which I will repeat to you over and over until it comes out of your ears.
We are beings on our way to dying. We are not immortal, but we behave as if we were. This is the flaw that brings us down as individuals and will bring us down as a species someday.
The sorcerers’ advantage over their average fellow men is that sorcerers know that they are beings on their way to dying and they don’t let themselves deviate from that knowledge. An enormous effort must be employed in order to elicit and maintain this knowledge as a total certainty.
Why is it so hard for us to admit something that is so truthful? It’s really not man’s fault. Someday, I’ll tell you more about the forces that drive a man to act like an ass. Many of us make sense when we talk because we are prepared to use words accurately. But most of us are not prepared to take ourselves seriously as men who are going to die. Being immortal, we wouldn’t know how to do that. It makes no difference what complex machines scientists can build. The machines can in no way help anyone face the unavoidable appointment: the appointment with infinity.
The nagual Julian used to tell me about the conquering generals of ancient Rome. When they would return home victorious, gigantic parades were staged to honour them. Riding with them was always a slave whose job was to whisper in their ear that all fame and glory is but transitory.
If we are victorious in any way, we don’t have anyone to whisper in our ear that our victories are fleeting. Sorcerers, however, do have the upper hand; as beings on their way to dying, they have someone whispering in their ear that everything is ephemeral. The whisperer is death, the infallible advisor, the only one who won’t ever tell you a lie.
And thus with an awareness of his death, with his detachment, and with the power of his decisions a warrior sets his life in a strategical manner. The knowledge of his death guides him and makes him detached and silently lusty; the power of his final decisions makes him able to choose without regrets and what he chooses is always strategically the best; and so he performs everything he has to with gusto and lusty efficiency.
When a man behaves in such a manner one may rightfully say that he is a warrior and has acquired patience. When a warrior has acquired patience he is on his way to will. He knows how to wait. His death sits with him on his mat, they are friends. His death advises him, in mysterious ways, how to choose, how to live strategically.
And the warrior waits! I would say that the warrior learns without any hurry because he knows he is waiting for his will; and one day he succeeds in performing something ordinarily quite impossible to accomplish. He may not even notice his extraordinary deed. But as he keeps on performing impossible acts, or as impossible things keep on happening to him, he becomes aware that a sort of power is emerging. A power that comes out of his body as he progresses on the path of knowledge. He notices that he can actually touch anything he wants with a feeling that comes out of his body from a spot right below or right above his navel. That feeling is the will, and when he is capable of grabbing with it, one can rightfully say that the warrior is a sorcerer, and that he has acquired will.
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