Monday, June 13, 2016

Inner Silence

Don Juan defied inner silence as a peculiar state of being in which thoughts were canceled out and one could function from a level other than that of daily awareness. He stressed that inner silence meant the suspension of the internal dialogue -- the perennial companion of thoughts -- and was therefore a state of profound quietude.

"The old sorcerers," don Juan said, "called it inner silence because it is a state in which perception doesn't depend on the senses. What is at work during inner silence is another faculty that man has, the faculty that makes him a magical being, the very faculty that has been curtailed, not by man himself but by some extraneous influence."

"What is this extraneous influence that curtails the magical faculty of man?" I asked. "That is the topic for a future explanation," don Juan replied, "not the subject of our present discussion, even though it is indeed the most serious aspect of the sorcery of the shamans of ancient Mexico."

"Inner silence," he continued, "is the stand from which everything stems in sorcery. In other words, everything we do leads to  that stand, which, like everything else in the world of sorcerers, doesn't reveal itself unless something gigantic shakes us." Don Juan said that the sorcerers of ancient Mexico devised endless ways to shake themselves or other sorcery practitioners at their foundations in order to reach that coveted state of inner silence. They considered the most far-fetched acts, which may seem totally unrelated to the pursuit of inner silence, such as, for instance, jumping into waterfalls or spending nights hanging upside down from the top branch of a tree, to be the key points that brought it into being.

Following the rationales of the sorcerers of ancient Mexico, don Juan stated categorically that inner silence was accrued, accumulated. In my case, he struggled to guide me to construct a core of inner silence in myself, and then add to it, second by second, on every occasion I practiced it. He explained that the sorcerers of ancient Mexico discovered that each individual had a different threshold of inner silence in terms of time, meaning that inner silence must be kept by each one of us for the length of time of our specific threshold before it can work.

"What did those sorcerers consider the sign that inner silence is working, don Juan?" I asked. "Inner silence works from the moment you begin to accrue it," he replied. "What the old sorcerers were after was the final, dramatic, end result of reaching that individual threshold of silence. Some very talented practitioners need only a few minutes of silence to reach that coveted goal. Others, less talented, need long periods of silence, perhaps more than one hour of complete quietude, before they reach the desired result. The desired result is what the old sorcerers called stopping the world, the moment when everything around us ceases to be what it's always been."

"This is the moment when sorcerers return to the true nature of man," don Juan went on. "The old sorcerers also called it total freedom. It is the moment when man the slave becomes man the free being, capable of feats of perception that defy our linear imagination."

Don Juan assured me that inner silence is the avenue that leads to a true suspension of judgment -- to a moment when sensory data emanating from the universe at large ceases to be interpreted by the senses; a moment when cognition ceases to be the force which, through usage and repetition, decides the nature of the world.

"Sorcerers need a breaking point for the workings of inner silence to set in," don Juan said. "The breaking point is like the mortar that a mason puts between bricks. It's only when the mortar hardens that the loose bricks become a structure."

From the beginning of our association, don Juan had drilled into me the value, the necessity, of inner silence. I did my best to follow his suggestions by accumulating inner silence second by second. I had no means to measure the effect of this accumulation, nor did I have any means to judge whether or not I had reached any threshold. I simply aimed doggedly at accruing it, not just to please don Juan but because the act of accumulating it had become a challenge in itself.

-Carlos Castaneda

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