Friday, 9 November 2012

The power of suggestion

From where we stood, the top of the hill was not so round and smooth as it had seemed to be from the distance. There was a cave, or a hole, near the top. I looked at it fixedly because don Juan was doing the same. Another strong gust of wind sent a chill up my spine. Don Juan turned towards the south and scanned the area with his eyes.

"There!" he said in a whisper and pointed to an object on the ground. I strained my eyes to see. There was something on the ground, perhaps twenty feet away. It was light brown and as I looked at it, it shivered. I focused all my attention on it.

The object was almost round and seemed to be curled; in fact, it looked like a curled up dog. "What is it?" I whispered to don Juan. "I don't know, " he whispered back as he peered at the object. "What does it look like to you?"

I told him that it seemed to be a dog.

"Too large for a dog, " he said matter-of-factly.

I took a couple of steps towards it, but don Juan stopped me gently. I stared at it again. It was definitely some animal that was either asleep or dead. I could almost see its head; its ears protruded like the ears of a wolf. By then I was definitely sure that it was a curled-up animal. I thought that it could have been a brown calf. I whispered that to don Juan. He answered that it was too compact to be a calf, besides its ears were pointed.

The animal shivered again and then I noticed that it was alive. I could actually see that it was breathing, yet it did not seem to breathe rhythmically. The breaths that it took were more like irregular shivers. I had a sudden realization at that moment.

"It's an animal that is dying, " I whispered to don Juan.

"You're right, " he whispered back. "But what kind of an animal?"

I could not make out its specific features. Don Juan took a couple of cautious steps towards it. I followed him. It was quite dark by then and we had to take two more steps in order to keep the animal in view.

"Watch out, " don Juan whispered in my ear. "If it is a dying animal it may leap on us with its last strength." The animal, whatever it was, seemed to be on its last legs; its breathing was irregular, its body shook spasmodically, but it did not change its curled-up position. At a given moment, however, a tremendous spasm actually lifted the animal off the ground. I heard an inhuman shriek and the animal stretched its legs; its claws were more than frightening, they were nauseating. The animal tumbled on its side after stretching its legs and then rolled on its back. I heard a formidable growl and don Juan's voice shouting,

"Run for your life!"

And that was exactly what I did. I scrambled towards the top of the hill with unbelievable speed and agility. When I was halfway to the top I looked back and saw don Juan standing in the same place. He signalled me to come down. I ran down the hill.

"What happened?" I asked, completely out of breath.

"I think the animal is dead, " he said.

We advanced cautiously towards the animal. It was sprawled on its back. As I came closer to it I nearly yelled with fright. I realized that it was not quite dead yet. Its body was still trembling. Its legs, which were sticking up in the air, shook wildly. The animal was definitely in its last gasps. I walked in front of don Juan. A new jolt moved the animal's body and I could see its head. I turned to don Juan, horrified. Judging by its body the animal was obviously a mammal, yet it had a beak, like a bird.

I stared at it in complete and absolute horror. My mind refused to believe it. I was dumbfounded. I could not even articulate a word. Never in my whole existence had I witnessed anything of that nature. Something inconceivable was there in front of my very eyes. I wanted don Juan to explain that incredible animal but I could only mumble to him. He was staring at me.

I glanced at him and glanced at the animal, and then something in me arranged the world and I knew at once what the animal was. I walked over to it and picked it up. It was a large branch of a bush. It had been burnt, and possibly the wind had blown some burnt debris which got caught in the dry branch and thus gave the appearance of a large bulging round animal. The color of the burnt debris made it look light brown in contrast with the green vegetation.

I laughed at my idiocy and excitedly explained to don Juan that the wind blowing through it had made it look like a live animal. I thought he would be pleased with the way I had resolved the mystery, but he turned around and began walking to the top of the hill.

"What you've done is no triumph, " he said. "You've wasted a beautiful power, a power that blew life into that dry twig." He said that a real triumph would have been for me to let go and follow the power until the world had ceased to exist.

I felt embarrassed. I began to apologize for my tendency of always being so sure of my ways. "It doesn't matter, " he said. "That branch was a real animal and it was alive at the moment the power touched it. Since what kept it alive was power, the trick was, like in dreaming, to sustain the sight of it. See what I mean?" In a controlled fashion, without losing my mind or becoming deranged with excitation or fear, I should have striven to "stop the world."

Carlos Castenda, Journey to Ixtlan

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