THE BORDER LIFE
 

A WARRIOR'S LAST STAND - Chapter 13 from Journey to Ixlan, by Carlos Castaneda (Happy Spot passage in Italics) 

Around ten a.m. don Juan walked into his house. He had left at the crack of dawn. I greeted him. He chuckled and in a clowning mood he shook hands with me and greeted me ceremoniously.

"We're going to go on a little trip, " he said. "You're going to drive us to a very special place in search of power." He unfolded two carrying nets and placed two gourds filled with food in each of them, tied them with a thin rope, and handed me a net.

We leisurely drove north some four hundred miles and then we left the Pan American highway and took a gravel road towards the west. My car seemed to have been the only car on the road for hours. As we kept on driving I noticed that I could not see through my windshield. I strained desperately to look at the surroundings but it was too dark and my windshield was overlaid with crushed insects and dust.

I told don Juan that I had to stop to clean my windshield.

He ordered me to go on driving even if I had to crawl at two miles an hour, sticking my head out of the window to see ahead. He said that we could not stop until we had reached our destination.

At a certain place he told me to turn to the right. It was so dark and dusty that even the headlights did not help much. I drove off the road with great trepidation. I was afraid of the soft shoulders, but the dirt was packed.

I drove for about one hundred yards at the lowest possible speed, holding the door open to look out. Finally don Juan told me to stop. He said that I had parked right behind a huge rock that would shield my car from view.

I got out of the car and walked around, guided by the headlights. I wanted to examine the surroundings because I had no idea where I was. But don Juan turned off the lights. He said loudly that there was no time to waste, that I should lock my car so we could start on our way.

He handed me my net with gourds. It was so dark that I stumbled and nearly dropped them. Don Juan ordered me in a soft firm tone to sit down until my eyes were accustomed to the darkness. But my eyes were not the problem. Once I got out of my car I could see fairly well. What was wrong was a peculiar nervousness that made me act as if I were absent minded. I was glossing over everything.

"Where are we going?" I asked. "We're going to hike in total darkness to a special place, " he said.

"What for?"
"To find out for sure whether or not you're capable of continuing to hunt power."

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I asked him if what he was proposing was a test, and if I failed the test would he still talk to me and tell me about his knowledge. He listened without interrupting. He said that what we were doing was not a test, that we were waiting for an omen, and if the omen did not come the conclusion would be that I had not succeeded in hunting power, in which case I would be free from any further imposition, free to be as stupid as I wanted. He said that no matter what happened he was my friend and he would always talk to me.

Somehow I knew I was going to fail.

"The omen will not come, " I said jokingly. "I know it. I have a little power." He laughed and patted me on the back gently. "Don't you worry," he retorted. "The omen will come. I know it. I have more power than you." He found his statement hilarious. He slapped his thighs and clapped his hands and roared with laughter.

Don Juan tied my carrying net to my back and said that I should walk one step behind him and step in his tracks as much as possible.

In a very dramatic tone he whispered, "This is a walk for power, so everything counts." He said that if I would walk in his footsteps the power that he was dissipating as he walked would be transmitted to me. I looked at my watch; it was eleven p.m.

He made me line up like a soldier at attention. Then he pushed my right leg to the front and made me stand as if I had just taken a step forward. He lined up in front of me in the same position and then began to walk, after repeating the instructions that I should try to match his footsteps to perfection. He said in a clear whisper that I should not concern myself with anything else except stepping in his tracks; I should not look ahead or to the side but at the ground where he was walking.

He started off at a very relaxed pace. I had no trouble at all following him; we were walking on relatively hard ground.

For about thirty yards I maintained his pace and I matched his steps perfectly; then I glanced to the side for an instant and the next thing I knew I had bumped into him. He giggled and assured me that I had not injured his ankle at all when I had stepped on it with my big shoes, but if I were going to keep on blundering one of us would be a cripple by morning. He said, laughing, in a very low but firm voice, that he did not intend to get hurt by my stupidity and lack of concentration and that if I stepped on him again I would have to walk barefoot.

"I can't walk without shoes, " I said in a loud raspy voice. Don Juan doubled up with laughter and we had to wait until he had stopped. He assured me again that he had meant what he said. We were journeying to tap power and things had to be perfect.

The prospect of walking in the desert without shoes scared me beyond belief. Don Juan joked that my family were probably the type of farmers that did not take off their shoes even to go to bed. He was right, of course. I had never walked barefoot and to walk in the desert without shoes would have been suicidal for me.

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"This desert is oozing power, " don Juan whispered in my ear. "There is no time for being timid." We started walking again. Don Juan kept an easy pace.

After a while I noticed that we had left the hard ground and were walking on soft sand. Don Juan's feet sank into it and left deep tracks.

We walked for hours before don Juan came to a halt. He did not stop suddenly but warned me ahead of time that he was going to stop so I would not bump into him. The terrain had become hard again and it seemed that we were going up an incline.

Don Juan said that if I needed to go to the bushes I should do it, because from then on we had a solid stretch without a single pause. I looked at my watch; it was one a.m.

After a ten- or fifteen-minute rest don Juan made me line up and we began to walk again. He was right, it was a dreadful stretch. I had never done anything that demanded so much concentration. Don Juan's pace was so fast and the tension of watching every step mounted to such heights that at a given moment I could not feel that I was walking any more. I could not feel my feet or my legs. It was as if I were walking on air and some force were carrying me on and on. My concentration had been so total that I did not notice the gradual change in light. Suddenly I became aware that I could see don Juan in front of me. I could see his feet and his tracks instead of half guessing as I had done most of the night.

At a given moment he unexpectedly jumped to the side and my momentum carried me for about twenty yards further. As I slowed down my legs became weak and started to shake until finally I collapsed on the ground. I looked up at don Juan, who was calmly examining me. He did not seem to be tired. I was panting for breath and soaked in cold perspiration.

Don Juan twirled me around in my lying position by pulling me by the arm. He said that if I wanted to regain my strength I had to lie with my head towards the east. Little by little I relaxed and rested my aching body. Finally I had enough energy to stand up. I wanted to look at my watch, but he prevented me by putting his hand over my wrist. He very gently turned me around to face the east and said that there was no need for my confounded timepiece, that we were on magical time, and that we were going to find out for sure whether or not I was capable of pursuing power.

I looked around. We were on top of a very large high hill. I wanted to walk towards something that looked like an edge or a crevice in the rock, but don Juan jumped and held me down.

He ordered me imperatively to stay on the place I had fallen until the sun had come out from behind some black mountain peaks a short distance away.

He pointed to the east and called my attention to a heavy bank of clouds over the horizon. He said that it would be a proper omen if the wind blew the clouds away in time for the first rays of the sun to hit my body on the hilltop.

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He told me to stand still with my right leg in front, as if I were walking, and not to look directly at the horizon but look without focusing. My legs became very stiff and my calves hurt. It was an agonizing position and my leg muscles were too sore to support me. I held on as long as I could. I was about to collapse.

My legs were shivering uncontrollably when don Juan called the whole thing off. He helped me to sit down.

The bank of clouds had not moved and we had not seen the sun rising over the horizon. Don Juan's only comment was, "Too bad." I did not want to ask right off what the real implications of my failure were, but knowing don Juan, I was sure he had to follow the dictum of his omens. And there had been no omen that morning. The pain in my calves vanished and I felt a wave of. wellbeing. I began to trot in order to loosen up my muscles. Don Juan told me very softly to run up an adjacent hill and gather some leaves from a specific bush and rub my legs in order to alleviate the muscular pain.

From where I stood I could very plainly see a large lush green bush. The leaves seemed to be very moist. I had used them before. I never felt that they had helped me, but don Juan had always maintained that the effect of really friendly plants was so subtle that one could hardly notice it, yet they always produced the results they were supposed to. I ran down the hill and up the other. When I got to the top I realized that the exertion had almost been too much for me. I had a hard time catching my breath and my stomach was upset. I squatted and then crouched over for a moment until I felt relaxed. Then I stood up and reached over to pick the leaves he had asked me to. But I could not find the bush. I looked around. I was sure I was on the right spot, but there was nothing in that area of the hilltop that even vaguely resembled that particular plant. Yet that had to be the spot where I had seen it. Any other place would have been out of range for anyone looking from where don Juan was standing.

I gave up the search and walked to the other hill. Don Juan smiled benevolently as I explained my mistake. "Why do you call it a mistake?" he asked. "Obviously the bush is not there, " I said.

"But you saw it, didn't you?"
"I thought I did."
"What do you see in its place now?" "Nothing."

There was absolutely no vegetation on the spot where I thought I had seen the plant. I attempted to explain what I had seen as a visual distortion, a sort of mirage. I had really been exhausted, and because of my exhaustion I may have easily believed I was seeing something that I expected to be there but which was not there at all.

Don Juan chuckled softly and stared at me for a brief moment. "I see no mistake, " he said. "The plant is there on that hilltop."

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It was my turn to laugh. I scanned the whole area carefully. There were no such plants in view and what I had experienced was, to the best of my knowledge, a hallucination. Don Juan very calmly began to descend the hill and signaled me to follow. We climbed together to the other hilltop and stood right where I thought I had seen the bush.

I chuckled with the absolute certainty I was right. Don Juan also chuckled.

"Walk to the other side of the hill, " don Juan said. "You'll find the plant there."

I brought up the point that the other side of the hill had been outside my field of vision, that a plant may be there, but that that did not mean anything.

Don Juan signaled me with a movement of his head to follow him. He walked around the top of the hill instead of going directly across, and dramatically stood by a green bush without looking at it.

He turned and looked at me. It was a peculiarly piercing glance.

"There must be hundreds of such plants around here, " I said. Don Juan very patiently descended the other side of the hill, with me trailing along. We looked everywhere for a similar bush. But there was none in sight. We covered about a quarter of a mile before we came upon another plant.

Without saying a word, don Juan led me back to the first hilltop. We stood there for a moment and then he guided me on another excursion to look for the plant but in the opposite direction. We combed the area and found two more bushes, perhaps a mile away. They had grown together and stuck out as a patch of intense rich green, more lush than all the other surrounding bushes.

Don Juan looked at me with a serious expression. I did not know what to think of it. "This is a very strange omen, " he said.

We returned to the first hilltop, making a wide detour in order to approach it from a new direction. He seemed to be going out of his way to prove to me that there were very few such plants around there. We did not find any of them on our way. When we reached the hilltop we sat down in complete silence. Don Juan untied his gourds.

"You'll feel better after eating, " he said. He could not hide his delight. He had a beaming grin as he patted me on the head. I felt disoriented. The new developments were disturbing, but I was too hungry and tired to really ponder upon them.

After eating I felt very sleepy. Don Juan urged me to use the technique of looking without focusing in order to find a suitable spot to sleep on the hilltop where I had seen the bush. I selected one. He picked up the debris from the spot and made a circle with it the size of my body. Very gently he pulled some fresh branches from the bushes and swept the area inside the circle. He only went through the motions of sweeping, he did not really touch the ground with the branches. He then removed all the surface rocks from the area inside the circle and placed them in the center after meticulously sorting them by size into two piles of equal number.

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"What are you doing with those rocks?" I asked.

"They are not rocks, " he said. "They are strings. They will hold your spot suspended." He took the smaller rocks and marked the circumference of the circle with them. He spaced them evenly and with the aid of a stick he secured each rock firmly in the ground as if he were a mason. He did not let me come inside the circle but told me to walk around and watch what he did. He counted eighteen rocks, following a counterclockwise direction.

"Now run down to the bottom of the hill and wait, " he said. "And I will come to the edge and see if you are standing in the appropriate spot."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to toss each of these strings to you, " he said, pointing to the pile of bigger rocks. "And you have to place them in the ground at the spot I will indicate in the same manner I have placed the other ones.

"You must be infinitely careful. When one is dealing with power, one has to be perfect. Mistakes are deadly here. Each of these is a string, a string that could kill us if we leave it around loose; so you simply can't make any mistakes. You must fix your gaze on the spot where I, will throw the string. If you get distracted by anything at all, the string will become an ordinary rock and you won't be able to tell it apart from the other rocks lying around."

I suggested that it would be easier if I carried the "strings" downhill one at a time.

Don Juan laughed and shook his head negatively. "These are strings, " he insisted. "And they have to be tossed by me and have to be picked up by you." It took hours to fulfill the task. The degree of concentration needed was excruciating. Don Juan reminded me every time to be attentive and focus my gaze. He was right in doing so. To pick out a specific rock that came hurtling downhill, displacing other rocks in its way, was indeed a maddening affair.

When I had completely closed the circle and walked to the top, I thought I was about to drop dead. Don Juan had picked some small branches and had matted the circle. He handed me some leaves and told me to put them inside my pants, against the skin of my umbilical region. He said that they would keep me warm and I would not need a blanket to sleep. I tumbled down inside the circle. The branches made a fairly soft bed and I fell asleep instantly.

It was late afternoon when I woke up. It was windy and cloudy. The clouds overhead were compact cumulus clouds, but towards the west they were thin cirrus clouds and the sun shone on the land from time to time.

Sleeping had renewed me. I felt invigorated and happy. The wind did not bother me. I was not cold. I propped my head up with my arms and looked around. I had not noticed before but the hilltop was quite high. The view towards the west was impressive. I could see a vast area of low hills and then the desert. There was a range of dark brown mountain

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peaks towards the north and east, and towards the south an endless expanse of land and hills and distant blue mountains.

I sat up. Don Juan was not anywhere in sight. I had a sudden attack of fear. I thought he may have left me there alone, and I did not know the way back to my car. I lay down again on the mat of branches and strangely enough my apprehension vanished. I again experienced a sense of quietness, an exquisite sense of well being. It was an extremely new sensation to me; my thoughts seemed to have been turned off. I was happy. I felt healthy. A very quiet ebullience filled me. A soft wind was blowing from the west and swept over my entire body without making me cold. I felt it on my face and around my ears, like a gentle wave of warm water that bathed me and then receded and bathed me again. It was a strange state of being that had no parallel in my busy and dislocated life. I began to weep, not out of sadness or self-pity but out of some ineffable, inexplicable joy.

I wanted to stay in that spot forever and I may have, had don Juan not come and yanked me out of the place.

"You've had enough rest, " he said as he pulled me up. He led me very calmly on a walk around the periphery of the hilltop. We walked slowly and in complete silence. He seemed to be interested in making me observe the scenery all around us. He pointed to clouds and mountains with a movement of his eyes or with a movement of his chin.

The scenery in the late afternoon was superb. It evoked sensations of awe and despair in me. It reminded me of sights in my childhood. We climbed to the highest point of the hilltop, a peak of igneous rock, and sat down comfortably with our backs against the rock, facing the south. The endless expanse of land towards the south was truly majestic.

"Fix all this in your memory, " don Juan whispered in my ear. "This spot is yours. This morning you saw, and that was the omen. You found this spot by seeing. The omen was unexpected, but it happened. You are going to hunt power whether you like it or not. It is not a human decision, not yours or mine.

"Now, properly speaking, this hilltop is your place, your beloved place; all that is around you is under your care. You must look after everything here and everything will in turn look after you."

In a joking way I asked if everything was mine. He said yes in a very serious tone. I laughed and told him that what we were doing reminded me of the story of how the Spaniards that conquered the New World had divided the land in the name of their king. They used to climb to the top of a mountain and claim all the land they could see in any specific direction.

"That's a good idea, " he said. "I'm going to give you all the land you can see, not in one direction but all around you." He stood up and pointed with his extended hand, turning his body around to cover a complete circle. "All this land is yours, " he said. I laughed out loud.

He giggled and asked me, "Why not? Why can't I give you this land?"

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"You don't own this land, " I said.

"So what? The Spaniards didn't own it either and yet they divided it and gave it away. So why can't you take possession of it in the same vein?"

I scrutinized him to see if I could detect the real mood behind his smile. He had an explosion of laughter and nearly fell of the rock.

"All this land, as far as you can see, is yours, " he went on, still smiling. "Not to use but to remember. This hilltop, however, is yours to use for the rest of your life. I am giving it to you because you have found it yourself. It is yours. Accept it."

I laughed, but don Juan seemed to be very serious. Except for his funny smile, he appeared to actually believe that he could give me that hilltop. "Why not?" he asked as if he were reading my thoughts. "I accept it, " I said half in jest. His smile disappeared. He squinted his eyes as he looked at me.

"Every rock and pebble and bush on this hill, especially on the top, is under your care, " he said. "Every worm that lives here is your friend. You can use them and they can use you."

We remained silent for a few minutes. My thoughts were unusually scarce. I vaguely felt that his sudden change of mood was foreboding to me, but I was not afraid or apprehensive. I just did not want to talk any more. Somehow, words seemed to be inaccurate and their meanings difficult to pinpoint. I had never felt that way about talking, and upon realizing my unusual mood I hurriedly began to talk.

"But what can I do with this hill, don Juan?"

"Fix every feature of it in your memory. This is the place where you will come in dreaming. This is the place where you will meet with powers, where secrets will someday be revealed to you.

"You are hunting power and this is your place, the place where you will store your resources.

"It doesn't make sense to you now. So let it be a piece of nonsense for the time being."

We climbed down the rock and he led me to a small bowl like depression on the west side of the hilltop. We sat down and ate there. Undoubtedly there was something indescribably pleasant for me on that hilltop. Eating, like resting, was an unknown exquisite sensation.

The light of the setting sun had a rich, almost copperish, glow, and everything in the surroundings seemed to be dabbed with a golden hue. I was given totally to observing the scenery; I did not even want to think.

Don Juan spoke to me almost in a whisper. He told me to watch every detail of the surroundings, no matter how small or seemingly trivial. Especially the features of the

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scenery that were most prominent in a westerly direction. He said that I should look at the sun without focusing on it until it had disappeared over the horizon.

The last minutes of light, right before the sun hit a blanket of low clouds or fog, were, in a total sense, magnificent. It was as if the sun were inflaming the earth, kindling it like a bonfire. I felt a sensation of redness in my face.

"Stand up!" don Juan shouted as he pulled me up. He jumped away from me and ordered me in an imperative but urging voice to trot on the spot where I was standing. As I jogged on the same spot, I began to feel a warmth invading my body. It was a copperish warmth. I felt it in my palate and in the "roof" of my eyes. It was as if the top part of my head were burning with a cool fire that radiated a copperish glow.

Something in myself made me trot faster and faster as the sun began to disappear. At a given moment I truly felt I was so light that I could have flown away. Don Juan very firmly grabbed my right wrist. The sensation caused by the pressure of his hand brought back a sense of sobriety and composure.

I plunked down on the ground and he sat down by me. After a few minutes rest he quietly stood up, tapped me on the shoulder, and signaled me to follow him. We climbed back again to the peak of igneous rock where we had sat before. The rock shielded us from the cold wind. Don Juan broke the silence.

"It was a fine omen, " he said. "How strange! It happened at the end of the day. You and I are so different. You are more a creature of the night. I prefer the young brilliancy of the morning. Or rather the brilliancy of the morning sun seeks me, but it shies away from you. On the other hand, the dying sun bathed you. Its flames scorched you without burning you.

How strange!"

"Why is it strange?"

"I've never seen it happen. The omen, when it happens, has always been in the realm of the young sun."

"Why is it that way, don Juan?"

"This is not the time to talk about it," he said cuttingly.

"Knowledge is power. It takes a long time to harness enough power to even talk about it." I tried to insist, but he changed the topic abruptly. He asked me about my progress in "dreaming."

I had begun to dream about specific places, such as the school and the houses of a few friends.

"Were you at those places during the day or during the night?" he asked.

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My dreams corresponded to the time of the day when I ordinarily was accustomed to being at those places - in the school during the day, at my friends' houses at night.

He suggested that I should try "dreaming" while I took a nap during the daytime and find out if I could actually visualize the chosen place as it was at the time I was "dreaming."

If I were "dreaming" at night, my visions of the locale should be of night time. He said that what one experiences in "dreaming" has to be congruous with the time of the day when "dreaming" was taking place; otherwise the visions one might have were not "dreaming" but ordinary dreams.

"In order to help yourself you should pick a specific object that belongs to the place you want to go and focus your attention on if, " he went on. "On this hilltop here, for instance, you now have a specific bush that you must observe until it has a place in your memory. You can come back here while dreaming simply by recalling that bush, or by recalling this rock where we are sitting, or by recalling any other thing here. It is easier to travel in dreaming when you can focus on a place of power, such as this one. But if you don't want to come here you may use any other place. Perhaps the school where you go is a place of power for you. Use it. Focus your attention on any object there and then find it in dreaming.

"From the specific object you recall, you must go back to your hands and then to another object and so on.

"But now you must focus your attention on everything that exists on this hilltop, because this is the most important place of your life."

He looked at me as if judging the effect of his words. "This is the place where you will die, " he said in a soft voice.

I fidgeted nervously, changing sitting positions, and he smiled. "I will have to come with you over and over to this hilltop, " he said. "And then you will have to come by yourself until you're saturated with it, until the hilltop is oozing you.

You will know the time when you are filled with it. This hilltop, as it is now, will then be the place of your last dance."

"What do you mean by my last dance, don Juan?"

"This is the site of your last stand, " he said. "You will die here no matter where you are. Every warrior has a place to die. A place of his predilection which is soaked with unforgettable memories, where powerful events left their mark, a place where he has witnessed marvels, where secrets have been revealed to him, a place where he has stored his personal power.

"A warrior has the obligation to go back to that place of his predilection every time he taps power in order to store it there. He either goes there by means of walking or by means of dreaming.

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"And finally, one day when his time on earth is up and he feels the tap of his death on his left shoulder, his spirit, which is always ready, flies to the place of his predilection and there the warrior dances to his death.

"Every warrior has a specific form, a specific posture of power, which he develops throughout his life. It is a sort of dance. A movement that he does under the influence of his personal power.

"If a dying warrior has limited power, his dance is short; if his power is grandiose, his dance is magnificent. But regardless of whether his power is small or magnificent, death must stop to witness his last stand on earth. Death cannot overtake the warrior who is recounting the toil of his life for the last time until he has finished his dance."

Don Juan's words made me shiver. The quietness, the twilight, the magnificent scenery, all seemed to have been placed there as props for the image of a warrior's last dance of power.

"Can you teach me that dance even though I am not a warrior?" I asked.

"Any man that hunts power has to learn that dance, " he said. "Yet I cannot teach you now. Soon you may have a worthy opponent and I will show you then the first movement of power. You must add the other movements yourself as you go on living. Every new one must be obtained during a struggle of power. So, properly speaking, the posture, the form of a warrior, is the story of his life, a dance that grows as he grows in personal power."

"Does death really stop to see a warrior dance?"

"A warrior is only a man. A humble man. He cannot change the designs of his death. But his impeccable spirit, which has stored power after stupendous hardships, can certainly hold his death for a moment, a moment long enough to let him rejoice for the last time in recalling his power. We may say that that is a gesture which death has with those who have an impeccable spirit."

I experienced an overwhelming anxiety and I talked just to alleviate it. I asked him if he had known warriors that had died, and in what way their last dance had affected their dying.

"Cut it out, " he said dryly. "Dying is a monumental affair. It is more than kicking your legs and becoming stiff."

"Will I too dance to my death, don Juan?"

"Certainly. You are hunting personal power even though you don't live like a warrior yet. Today the sun gave you an omen. Your best production in your life's work will be done towards the end of the day. Obviously you don't like the youthful brilliancy of early light. Journeying in the morning doesn't appeal to you. But your cup of tea is the dying sun, old yellowish, and mellow. You don't like the heat, you like the glow.

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"And thus you will dance to your death here, on this hilltop, at the end of the day. And in your last dance you will tell of your struggle, of the battles you have won and of those you have lost; you will tell of your joys and bewilderments upon encountering personal power. Your dance will tell about the secrets and about the marvels you have stored. And your death will sit here and watch you.

"The dying sun will glow on you without burning, as it has done today. The wind will be soft and mellow and your hilltop will tremble. As you reach the end of your dance you will look at the sun, for you will never see it again in waking or in dreaming, and then your death will point to the south. To the vastness."