Interview 1995 Castaneda, Bruce Wagner

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Body Mind Spirit - Apr 1995

An Interview with Carlos Castaneda


The Modernization of Ancient Magical Passes

Introduction by Gaylynn Baker

Interview by Bruce Wagner

From the sixties until now, Carlos Castaneda has inspired seekers everywhere.

Unfathomed mysteries unfolded as magical adventures in a series of books that began as "The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge". After each spectacularly simple book, the literary world held its breath, awaiting the next adventure that was sure to be another best seller. Avid readers who wouldn't dream of leaving their armchairs traipsed through baffling worlds of sometimes conflicting, but always fascinating information. Thought of as the most mysterious writer of our time, Castaneda was never accessible to the public, and rarely ever granted interviews. Cynical marketing wizards with knowledge of the way things are "sold" to the soporific public voiced awe at the success of what they assumed was just a "take-away marketing" technique being used to build Castaneda's popularity.

Seekers, on the other hand, felt the books required Castaneda's willingness to disappear into a controversial cloud of smoke. Either way, reclusiveness became an accepted part of the Castaneda story. Finally, in the eighties, even the books stopped.

Then in the first three years of the 1990's, three new books appeared: Castaneda's "The Art of Dreaming", (HarperCollins), "Being-In-Dreaming" (Harper San Francisco) by Florinda Donner- Grau, and "The Sorcerers' Crossing" (Penguin USA) by Taisha Abelar. Each book gave a compellingly different account of apprenticeship in don Juan Matus' legendary world. To add to the excitement, mid-1993 brought the announcement that Florinda and Taisha would join Carol Tiggs, identified in the books as the Nagual Woman, to teach three separate workshops. The locations selected were the Rim Institute in Arizona, Akahi Farms in Maui, and Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. The workshops sold out as quickly as they were announced. A new buzz was on everyone's lips: Tensegrity.

Tensegrity passes were taught in the workshops by demonstration and audience participation. It was announced at the Rim Institute that a video of these movements would be forthcoming. Meanwhile, workshop attendees studied their hastily written notes and crude drawings in a frantic attempt to absorb. Everyone involved in the workshops longed for the video. Now, a year later, the first in a series of videos has appeared. Demonstrated in February at the Phoenix Bookstore in Santa Monica, California, and now being introduced at various workshops around the country, (see listing at the end of this article).

Body Mind Spirit asked writer/director Bruce Wagner to reach Dr. Castaneda for a deeper explanation and understanding of what Tensegrity really means.

Q: While your body of work reflects an enormous generosity towards your readers, you're also well-known for a certain "unavailability". Now you've released a videotape of "energetic movements" called Tensegrity. This seems to us unprecedented. Would you share your reasons behind this spate of availability?

A: There was a time when our teacher, don Juan Matus, imposed on us, his four disciples, Taisha Abelar, Florinda Donner-Grau, Carol Tiggs and myself, a model of behavior patterned on his own life: a model of total unavailability. Things have changed, though, and in this respect, we are no longer bound to follow his steps.

However, our present availability is not our invention but the result of our strict adherence to a concept he himself taught us: fluidity, the essential condition of his world. In other words, nothing in the sorcerers' world is permanent. Nothing in the world of everyday life is permanent either, but people are determined to ignore this fact, hiding behind empty idealities.

Q: Would you care to explain what you mean by empty idealities?

A: Sorcerers believe that we are socialized to hide our true needs behind empty shields, placebos with no meaning whatsoever. For example, our preoccupation with the presentation and defense of the self in everyday life is one of those empty shields. Sorcerers regard it as a placebo because it does not bear at all on our true needs, which are best described by such basic issues as the questions about the nature of awareness, the purpose of our lives, the unchangeable condition of our death. Don Juan taught us the form to address such questions; he called it "the warrior's way".

Throughout my entire work, I have tried nothing else but to live up to a most serious responsibility: to describe the warrior's way. All of don Juan's disciples are deeply concerned about the same issue. Since we believe there is very little time left for us, we have agreed that this is the moment for all of us together to assume responsibility for demonstrating the warrior's way. To present this video is an attempt to do so.

Q: The movements shown in the Tensegrity video were taught to you by don Juan Matus. They explore the dualism between the self and the energy body.

What is the energy body?

A: The movements shown in the Tensegrity video were indeed taught to us not only by don Juan Matus, but by all the other members of his party. These movements, which they called "magical passes", are part of their heritage as sorcerers. These movements are energetic maneuvers designed to isolate and enhance what sorcerers call the "energy body", or the conglomerate of energy fields that they consider to be the counterpart of the physical body.

Q: You've said that men and women who lived in ancient Mexico wished to store enough energy to extend or enhance their awareness. The movements depicted in the Tensegrity video were used to accomplish that end. How were these movements invented?

A: Men and women sorcerers who lived in Mexico in ancient times practiced these series of movements in order to store energy in their bodies and manipulate it. The movements were not really invented by them; the movements were rather discovered by them via their dreaming practices. Dreaming, for sorcerers, is the art of transforming ordinary, normal dreams into bona fide means of enhancing their perception. The explanation we were given was that in dreaming, those men and women were capable of reaching levels of optimum physical balance. In dreaming, they were also able to discover the specific movements that allowed them to replicate, in their hours of vigil, those same levels of optimum physical balance.

The belief of those sorcerers, derived from their dreaming observations, was that awareness is a glow focused on a specific spot on our energy bodies, a spot which is visible when we are seen as fields of energy. The greater the amount of energy the physical body can store and manipulate, the more intense the glow of awareness.

Q: The persons demonstrating the movements are referred to in the video as "chacmools". Who are they? What is their significance?

A: The three persons who present this video are Kylie Lundahl, Reni Murez and Nyei Murez. The three of them have worked with us for many years. Kylie Lundahl and Nyei Murez are Florinda Donner-Grau's wards; Reni Murez is Carol Tiggs'. Don Juan explained to us that the gigantic, reclining figures called chacmools, found in the pyramids of Mexico, were the representations of guardians.

He said that the look of emptiness in their eyes and faces was due to the fact that they were dream-guards, guarding dreamers and dreaming sites.

Following don Juan's tradition, we call Kylie Lundahl, Reni Murez and Nyei Murez chacmools, because the inherent energetic organization of their beings allows them to possess a single- minded purpose, a genuine fierceness and daring which make them the ideal guardians of anything they choose to guard, be it a person, an idea, a way of life, or whatever.

In the instance of our video, these three guardians demonstrate the techniques of Tensegrity because they are best qualified for the task, having the three of them completed the gigantic task of compiling the four individual strands of magical passes taught by don Juan and his people to us, his four disciples. And also because through their practice of Tensegrity, they have been able to transform the idea of routinary compulsive discipline into the art of the disciplined warrior, free of compulsion.

Q: You say that don Juan had only four disciples: Taisha Abelar, Florinda Donner-Grau, Carol Tiggs, and yourself. What happened to the other disciples you mentioned in your earlier books?

A: They are not with us any longer. They have joined don Juan. In terms of energetic configuration, they were dramatically different from us, and because of this, they were incapable of following my guidance; it was not that they did not want to-- it was rather that my actions and goals did not make any sense to them. There have not been any other disciples in don Juan's world. Claims that people have made of having been don Juan's or my students are absurd.

We have been thoroughly unavailable for thirty years. Allegations that anyone has known or worked with any of us are spurious. I am afraid people have made such statements out of sheer insanity, or worse yet, out of the reprehensible need to seek attention.

Q: The movements of Tensegrity are also said to enhance well-being. Does one "feel better" doing them?

A: Don Juan Matus himself said that not only does one feel better practicing the magical passes, but one becomes a better human being; the reason for such an assertion is very simple: increased energy generates calmness, efficiency and purpose. Don Juan used to say that the collective malady of our day is our total lack of purpose. He repeated to us endlessly that without sufficient energy there is no way of even conceiving any kind of genuine purpose in our lives. The magical passes, by helping us to store energy, do help us to grasp the idea of purpose in our thoughts and actions.

Q: How did you come to call the movements "Tensegrity"? What does it mean?

A: As I have said before, thanks to the effort of the three chacmools who compiled all the magical passes, we ended up with a vast system of body maneuvers. After that, all of us worked for years to turn such a system into a workable and veritable unit. I have called this unit "Tensegrity", a term which in architecture means: "the property of skeleton structures that employ continuous tension members and discontinuous compression members in such a way that each member operates with a maximum efficiency and economy".

The agreement among us is unanimous: such a term best describes the nature of this system of movements. Its essence consists of tensing and relaxing selected areas of the body at first, leading to the tension and relaxation of the entire body at the end. What we want is to replicate the efficiency of those men and women sorcerers of ancient times who discovered and practiced the magical passes.

To this effect, don Juan himself urged us to become versed in the practice of Oriental martial arts. He was inspired, no doubt, by one of his cohorts: Clara Boehm, Taisha Abelar's teacher, who had studied martial arts in ChinA: Clara's idea was that the discoverers of the magical passes poured an ominous obsession into the perfect execution of them. She said that in order to match that obsession, we needed the precision and the internal force acquired by the practice of Oriental martial arts: her predilection and bias. Every one of don Juan's disciples has been a student of martial arts at one time or another. The movements of Tensegrity, therefore, are already cushioned in something that would lead the body to develop maximum precision and internal force, in lieu of obsession.

Q: In the video, you eschew the words "magic" or "sorcery", referring to the expertise of those men and women of ancient Mexico as the ability to "handle awareness". Why do "magic" and "sorcery" have negative connotations?

A: "Sorcery" and "magic" are terms that have a negative connotation because of the way Western man faces the unknown. Sorcerers believe that he is imbued with an irrational fear of the unknown, and that in order to free himself of this fear, he has to change his basic orientation: instead of being terrified by the unknown, he must be intrigued by it. To avoid evoking anger or disapproval among the persons who might be interested in this video, I have refrained from arousing their fear at the use of terms like "sorcery" or "magic". What I would like to do is to entice them to suspend judgment and simply practice the movements. After all, if they faced the unknown with the increased energy resulting from practicing the movements of this videotape, they would have simply engaged themselves in handling awareness in a new fashion.

Q: What would you say to those who approach the video as an exercise tape?

In other words, is there something to be gained by using the tape if one isn't up for the "abstract journey"? (Is the idea of gain reprehensible?)

A: The idea of gain is not reprehensible at all. We practice Tensegrity exclusively to gain strength, fortitude, durability, youth. So, the idea that people might take the video as an exercise tape is perfectly acceptable. The grand trick, don Juan used to say, is not believing, but practicing. "You don't have to believe what I say," he told us repeatedly, "but do exactly as I tell you, because I am older than you and I know the road. At the end, what I recommend you to do will have its effect: it will change you."

Q: We've heard through the grapevine that these movements may be offered in a workshop setting, taught by the chacmools".

A: Yes, it is true that the chacmools are going to offer workshops on Tensegrity. The chacmools have deemed it necessary to teach Tensegrity to whomever wants to learn it on a direct basis. They came up with the idea of creating their own institution, "The Chacmool Center for Enhanced Perception".

Their argument is that don Juan's disciples, no matter how available they might want to be, are really inaccessible, by virtue of the practices don Juan left to them as a legacy. The position of the chacmools, on the other hand, is ideal for teaching, since they are young, accessible students of the rather inaccessible, older students.

Q: We've also heard that the tape is the first volume of a projected series. How many movements are there?

A: The tape is indeed the first volume of a projected series. The movements of Tensegrity are quite numerous and it is the chacmools' art to have compressed them into one single unit. Kylie Lundahl, being the chief of the guards, after years of painstaking effort, and in close consultation with don Juan's disciples, has selected for each videotape the most pertinent magical passes, ranging from the most simple to the most complex. In her selection, she has employed her best energetic output, always bearing in mind that what counts in practicing the movements of Tensegrity is the sorcerers' intent of storing energy and not merely their routinary repetition. Kylie Lundahl, in conjunction with all of don Juan's disciples, has organized the movements of Tensegrity for the maximum application to well-being and enhanced awareness.

Q: Do you practice the movements each day yourself? If one applies oneself with abandon, when might one expect "results"?

A: All of us practice the movements each day individually wherever we are. When we are all together, which is very rarely, the three chacmools lead the sessions. The positive results of Tensegrity are almost instantaneous, if one practices the movements meticulously and daily.

Bruce Wagner is a novelist, screenwriter and film director. He directed the first volume of Tensegrity: Twelve Basic Movements to Gather Energy and Promote Well-Being. At present he is the Writer and executive producer of Francis Ford Coppola's upcoming television movie, White Dwarf.

Copyright April 1995 Body Mind Spirit Magazine