Story "The Bird of Liberty", Jacobo Grinberg (1991)
Another translation by Henry Morgan.
(Note: In this chapter one should place an introductory note with the date due to the fact that Grinberg has disappeared since 1992, I believe.)
The Bird of Liberty
By Jacobo Grinberg
We had been having the opportunity of participating in conferences that Carlos Castaneda was giving in different locations in Mexico City (including our home) and a narrow and personal relation had been established with him. Days after our marriage Terita spoke to him by telephone to Los Angeles and he made known her desire to go to visit him with me. The Nahual accepted adding to the list Carlos Hidalgo who was told the next day.
After that conversation it was decided that six of us from Mexico would go. As a gift I brought him a collection of my books which he received with a joyful mocking saying that I wrote books by the kilo. That was his usual manner of reacting every time that someone in his group showed signs of ego. Obviously I was proud of my books. I identified with them and there enormous quantity was for me a sign of my value.
To the Nahual it had cost him sweat and tears to cut himself loose of his personal history and of his ego in order to now reform that of the other. In giving him my books I assumed implicitly that he would be interested in their content and might even help in their publication. Terita, as equally naïve as I, but braver, had said to him that my books said the same as his but used a more scientific language. Later we became aware that all that was a sign of immaturity and that the Nahual had reacted to all that with disdain. In fact, many times he told us that our friendship did not matter at all to him and that we should never think that our relation was based on affection and fondness. The daily world full of structures, conventions, and hypocrisy, was, for the Nahual, contemptible and did not deserve greater attention. It is true; the majority of people were living there, inside of their psychological prisons and their conventions and self importance, but not him nor anyone in his intimate group. This ultimatum he repeated constantly, “The daily world is manageable with the little finger. The energy should be utilized in order to attain liberty.”
The daily world included all the desires of fame, money and position and all the relations of structure. All worldly desire based on the life of needs owed it’s existence to agreement and convention and should be totally rejected. As such Terita like I believe ourselves to be outside of the structures and belong to a stratum of seekers of liberty. Never-the-less, the words of the Nahual depressed us and many times we came to perceive the world and ourselves as something dark and sad, cold and hopeless. The Nahual appeared to encourage such a vision as a preparation in order to arrive to a magnificent state of vitality and optimism in which he appeared to live tirelessly at all hours. What is sure is that we took months to recuperate from the terrible impact that each one of his visits caused us and at the end the fear of seeing him was greater than the desire of finding ourselves with him. His words confirmed our state.
“A contact with the Nahual is a terrible event which takes work to recuperate from. The force of the personality of the Nahual is great and indefinable.”
We were presented with the people of the group of the Nahual and we passed the week with them full of lessons, tests and adventures which I will relate later. Upon saying goodbye, the Nahual had told us that his group wished to receive letters from us. I took it very seriously and when I was back in Mexico I dedicated myself to writing five voluminous letters that I gave to a friend in common that was going to visit the Nahual the following day in Los Angeles.
Several weeks went by without news from the Nahual and his group until one afternoon Carlos Ortiz spoke to Terita by telephone, announcing to her that the next day, the Nahual would be coming to Mexico, but he did not tell her the hour or the flight that he would be taking.
We were enthused with the perspective of seeing him again and we waited all day to hear what his flight number would be, but that never came. That night, Terita and I decided to go out looking for him in Mexico City without knowing where to find him. We went to a hotel and after asking in vain for his room, all of a sudden we knew that he would be found in the Zocalo. We went that way and in an alley a block from there we bumped into him and a group of people accompanying him.
That was a true feat of power that Terita and I had managed to do, finding the Nahual in the gigantic Mexico City at a precise location and exact hour without external clues. I, on a pure whim, planted myself in front of the Nahual and gave a loud greeting, to which he jumped, saying that after all that he had seen, he could still not distinguish what pertained to this or other worlds, and that my sudden presence along with my powerful scream had surprised him. On hugging him I said that finding him in this manner had been an act of power.
Happy and rejoicing the meeting we went towards Café Tacuba and sat at a table. The Nahual spoke with us about his experiences and I asked him if he had received my letters. He looked at me maliciously and said, “Your letters were lost. We never received them.”
My reaction on hearing that was anger against the common friend whom I had entrusted to deliver them and so I expressed myself while he pierced me with his stare.
When we arrived to the house I told Terita that the loss of the letters was so painful that I would have to reproduce them from memory and that is what I did for a good part of the night. The next day Terita had an appointment with the Nahual so that she could give to him the letters. I later found out that in the act of the delivery and upon knowing that I had reproduced the letters, the Nahual had busted up laughing and ridiculing my obsessive compulsion of writing and of my enormous ego. Months later my friend told me that the original letters had been delivered in Los Angeles just as we had arranged and that in a memorable session they had been read to the joy and mocking of everyone.
I couldn’t write a single line for six months after that happened and it took six more months for me to understand and work out its meaning.
The day that we arrived in Los Angeles coincided with two occurrences; the end of the Persian Gulf War and the end of the severe drought that had plunged California in a hell of heat and dryness.
The Nahual and some of his inner group were standing waiting for us in the arrival section of the airport.
They greeted us with a clear and direct affection and after invited us to dine in an Italian restaurant. We were about twelve people and we sat at a large table.
We talked about the ending of the war and of the drought and the Nahual considered those auspicious signs of our arrival.
After, they brought us to a modest old hotel where we were surprised by the hospitality of the staff who received us as if we were old friends.
After arranging our things in the rooms, the Nahual invited the men of the group to accompany him and together we went to pick up his daughter Nuri, a thin extraordinary sensitive girl, dressed like a man, that surprised me in the way that she understood the synergic* (sintergica) theory. She had asked me about my occupation and I told her of my work at the University and of the investigation about the hypothesis of the Synergetic Theory. Her understanding was direct and complete as if my explanation had been planted perfectly in her mind. After the Nahual brought us to the gardens of the University of California, to the house that he had lived in when he began his apprenticeship, and to an enormous commercial center where he took me by the arm and told me that he was very interested in the Kabala and how his ancestors were Jews. I told him that the Kabala to me was a precious teaching. At last the theme of the conversation drifted towards the shamans of Mexico in general and the farmers in particular with their capacity of making rain and their interest in detecting signs and omens from events in nature. He mentioned that don Lucio was an expert in “reading” volcano Popocatepetl. I showed that I was profoundly interested in the theme and at one moment he was about to ask me something about that but for some reason he did not.
On returning to the hotel I found myself with Terita who was furiously demanding why the women had been excluded from the meeting. I explained to her that the decision had not been mine and when she was calmer we went to sleep.
The night was full of strange presences in our room, and (later we would find out) as well of our companions. It was as if subtle eyes and ears were observing us, including the content of our dreams. We knew that it was the Nahual and his people that were watching us so.
In the afternoon we attended a scene in which Florinda Donner, one of the persons closest to the Nahual, scolded him for the separation that he was making between the genders. The Nahual explained that we were many and that his way of interacting with women was very different than with men, but that from now on we would not separate. He told us that in the past he thought of the woman as inferior, but that that no longer existed in his mind.
“The woman is a being with direct knowledge, as opposed to the man that is so closed to the language,” he told us with conviction, and after continued, “The woman is a being of action and possesses an extra organ, the vagina, which permits her feats of perception that the man can’t even imagine,” he told us after lunch.
We were invited to the home of Margarita, a friend of the Nahual, who appeared to belong to his intimate group, but of a distinct for from the rest of the women. Margarita was earthly and cared for the Nahual with a tender and delicate worldliness. Her classical California type house appeared out of place in time, or from the past. We sat around an enormous round table and after a dinner that was also enormous we moved to the living room and the Nahual sat in a high-back chair with Carol, the woman Nahual at his side.
Terita and I told him that we had just gotten married in Totolapan and when they heard the name of the place, they told us, amazed, that they as well had married there completing an order of don Juan.
“We did it,” assured the Nahual, “as a strategy against this world.”
For the Nahual and his group there exist two worlds clearly separated; that of themselves, and that of the rest of the world. Or one belonged to their world, or to the other. Their world was closed and did not admit visitors. We, the group from Mexico were an exception. The doors of their world had opened so that we would penetrate into it. This event was something totally new and only the spirit could decide if we could stay inside or if the doors would shut again, leaving us outside.
“The bird of liberty, the Nahual told us seriously, is flying over your heads. It depends on you if you let it pass, or if you go with it. If you let it pass, it will never appear again, and you will have lost an opportunity that will never repeat itself.”
The explanation of our privileged state was that a debit existed with Mexico and us, the Mexicans, had been the depositors of the debit.
The Nahual and his woman had had a daughter and she was the thin girl that we had met on the first day.
The group closest to the Nahual was formed entirely of women. Some that I knew were Carol the woman Nahual, Nuri her daughter, Florinda Donner, and Ana. All of them had something in common that made them different from the rest of the women that I had known before, except for some of the women of Tepoztlan, a longing for liberty and an energy with a lack of worldly feelings. Ana was the most notorious for these qualities. Florinda was strong and direct and that which appeared the most like the Nahual. Carol appeared from another world, distant and ethereal.
Nuri was intelligent and sharp, like a steel blade. Never the less there was something in her that still was not defined; something still to mature. All were thin and mannish.
During that week the Nahual as well presented us to the members of his peripheral group; students, men and women that attended his classes of “temerity”; physical exercises that the Nahual himself developed and imparted in an enormous hall near the center of Los Angeles. The peripheral group was distinguished from the intimate in not having been direct students of don Juan, and not possessing the characteristics that I have described before of the intimate group.
They were people of various ages and nationalities with the common incentive of wanting to know more about the teachings of the brujos.
The Nahual knew may people and liked to tell us anecdotes about the notable ones that he had met; presidents, ministers, actors and actresses and great spiritual teachers. Of all of them he expressed himself in a similar way; mocking and cruel. He told us that they did not have sufficient energy and that they were some useless good for nothings* (pendejos) with an exaggerated ego and at the end always remembered don Juan as the only being truly free that he had known.
Various statements of the Nahual appeared to me incongruent. He said that the act of presenting us to his intimate group served to convince us that his style of life and his books were true.
Given that I had never doubted that, the statement appeared strange to me. As well he spoke of other members of the group that could present themselves to us in their due time. In particular a woman that only could appear if we manage to make the “leap” towards total liberty.
“She will appear,” he told us an a mysterious tone, “at the precise moment.”
He made contentious references to the exceptional act of being together and its meaning. He told us that in part the doors had opened for us as a tribute to Mexico and a payment for all that don Juan, a Mexican, had done for him. Later he complained of the absence of don Juan, “Damn old man that took off leaving me all alone.”
He said it with sadness, and he expressed a similar sentiment towards Florinda the Elder who had disappeared in front of everyone one memorable afternoon. Florinda Donner had tried to stop her, and the Nahual, upon restraining her with an arm, received an energetic impact so extreme that they had to place him in a hospital in order to save him from acute peritonitis. Florinda the Elder had been his teacher and guide since the disappearance of don Juan and when she left as well, the same day as the earthquake in the City of Mexico of 1985, the group fell into a depression without bottom. They decided then to rent a small airplane in Costa Rica and fly it head on into a volcano with the object of disappearing from this world, something that obviously they did not do.
Of Florinda the Elder, the Nahual told of incredible anecdotes. He said that she was an expert in changing the position of the assemblage point to unlikely positions such as that of a fly. Upon doing that, one changed into that insect that she liked, given that flies live eternally dedicated to making love feeling orgasms without end.
“But there exists a huge price for those changes,” he told us seriously, “and that is that one does not return the same as one left.”
Florinda the Elder had obliged him, as an antidote before his sudden notoriety, to serve as a cook in a diner. For a year the Nahual dedicated himself to cooking hamburgers, accompanied by a woman who was a fanatic reader of the books that he had written. That woman wanted to know Carlos Castaneda personally, without knowing that she had him at her side. On one occasion a big Cadillac parked in front of the restaurant with a man inside that was writing something in a notebook. The woman was sure that this was her idol and she told the cook who accompanied her, dieing from laughter inside.
On another occasion, an friend invited her to a secret meeting in which Carlos Castaneda was signing autographs. At the end of a hall and in a tiny room, the impostor had signed one of his books for him. As well he told us about a congress of anthropology in which his work was bitterly criticized. In the center of the auditorium there was a man wearing an indigenous mask. All the accusers supposed that it was Castaneda and on criticizing him they pointed to the man with an accusing gesture. In reality it was not the Nahual.
The week was full of these stories that the Nahual told without stopping for hours. They all had as the central theme the stupid customs of the world. He spoke to us of his apprenticeship at the side of his teacher and of a series of fantastic events related with himself, with Carol, and with Nuri.
Given that these stories he published in his latest book, The Art of Dreaming, I will not repeat them here. The Nahual doubted if he should publish them, but Florinda Donner convinced him to do it. The reason of the doubt was that they were extraordinary events related in the book and he doubted that they would be understood. What I would like to relate is that which concerns the group of indigenous persons that don Juan tied him to, and Las Gordas.
One morning Florinda called us by telephone informing us the Nahual had had the necessity of traveling in search of the Indians of his group which were found to be bothered and jealous by our presence. When the Nahual returned from that journey he told us that Nuri had been kidnapped and that he had to travel hundreds of kilometers in order to rescue her. The Indians had become aware of our presence and of all the teachings that we were receiving and they wanted revenge. Nury was rescued after a ferocious battle but the Indians had cut her hair as a warning. When we saw her in the home of Margarita her hair was short with a style distinct to the vespers. We were warned to be cautious in the streets because we were being watched and at any moment we could suffer an aggression. The Nahual was referring to the Indians of his group as a bunch of idiots that had not learned anything and were only a dead weight that he was obliged to sustain.
“Compared with you,” he told us, “they are some useless ones that don’t understand anything and who I should set myself apart from, physically.”
Those statements made us feel very good and strengthened our ego. Only Carlos Hidalgo was aware that it was a strategy being used by the Nahual. For sure, after strengthening our self importance he attacked us, making us feel like a bunch of idiots. Those ups and downs between strengthening our ego, and later breaking it to bits, were repeated throughout the week.
As well he spoke of Las Gordas, two women of the inner group who had opposed the leadership of the Nahual. He had had to employ all of his energy in order to subject them, but in place of achieving that he had unchained in them, a crisis of insanity whose outcome had been death. The story was macabre and to me it produced a very unpleasant sensation.
One afternoon we were invited to the home of one of the members of his peripheral group. The Nahual did not attend but the women of his intimate group accompanied us. The house was located in the suburbs and its front was adorned with an enormous American flag that waved in the wind. In Los Angeles those manifestations of nationalism were abundant, motivated by the Persian Gulf War. To see it on the home of one of the supporters of the Nahual produced a sensation of confusion in me. The owner of the home, a husky man with feminine gestures, received us with a great show of affection and boasted of his coin collection, and his Tibetan relics, and the meal that had been prepared in our honor. I felt like I was in Mexico, when one of my aunts makes one of her mediocre meals, and not being able to stand it I went out to the street and sat on the sidewalk waiting for this absurd meeting to end. In the morning the Nahual asked about our impressions of the evening and I told him that it had been intolerable, but that the rest of the group did not agree with me. I felt that I was right, congratulating myself for my perception.
Little by little, I was going to find out that all that happened with the Nahual was premeditated and it was the result of a leader which had it in mind to test us. The Nahual observed our reactions, noting the appearance of our egos, learned structures, and blockages. In addition he was an expert in the mediation of our energetic levels and aberrations.
Continuously he spoke to us of the necessity of leaving our ego behind and instructed us in techniques to erase our personal history. The principal technique of recapitulation consisted in reintegrating events and images of the past, recuperating in them, all of the associated energetic loads, until achieving an equaminious observation in them.
As well he expressed the opinion that the Universe was a place where what rules is violence and the predation of some beings over others. I was opposed to that vision, defending the world as a place regulated by love. The Nahual mocked me saying that what was important is personal energy and power. He stated that the sex act was the best way to lose energy and that it should be avoided at whatever price.
Someone in the group protested because he insisted that he and his girlfriend attained splendid levels of consciousness during their sexual relations. The Nahual thought a moment and told him that in that case he had no objection. But he did not say it because he believed it, but rather to go with the flow. By that time, and the following days of hearing him, I began to distinguish when the Nahual was speaking seriously, and when he was talking along with us, as if saying that it was useless trying to change us. The expert in those detections, however, was Carlos Hidalgo. In the nights when we met to comment on the events of the day, he briefed us about the tactics and strategies of the Nahual. He told us that he almost never talked seriously and that the majority of his actions were simply subterfuges in order to activate our self-centered defenses and our attachments.
In that sense, his main tactic was the invitation to stay with him and his group abandoning everything: work, possessions, home and family. He told us the case of a woman that swore to him to do everything that he demanded as a condition to stay with his group. The Nahual asked her to cut her hair, knowing that that was her most precious possession. The woman, hysterically, begged him for anything except for that. After those stories we stood there looking, and I felt that we were like that woman, desiring to be free, but attached to our prisons without being able to leave.
At last the day came for the return to Mexico. The Nahual brought us to the airport saying to us that he did not know if he would meet again, given that like don Juan, he and his group would be having to disappear into the other world and the moment to do it was already very near.
He needed a critical mass in order to achieve it and he desired our energy. He had invited Terita to stay with Florinda, and to me that he needed my brain in order to help him to understand unexplainable events. Before getting out of the car at the airport, he told me that I should not leave, but I paid no mind and with a feeling of loss we boarded the plain that carried us back to Mexico City.
A few days later the notice arrived that the Nahual was coming to Mexico when the feat occurred that I already told about, of finding him near the Zocalo near the capital.
In the Café Tacuba we agreed to meet the following day in order to take an excursion to the caves of Cacahuamilpa in which the Nahual would give us an initiation into shamanism.
Except for myself, everyone left very early to the caves while I headed to Tepoztlan because I wanted to pick up my daughter so that she could know the Nahual. I did not find her and when I arrived to Cacahuamilpa I found the whole group seated around a table after having eaten and preparing to penetrate the caves. I asked for something to eat and that cause the entrance to be postponed for an hour. The Nahual, in face of the forced delay, manifested strange behavior. He walked back and forth impatiently and nervously and at a certain moment totally impatient at having to wait. I approached him and said to him that it appeared to me that his way of acting was determined by the north American culture that he lives in where everything is predictable. “Here in Mexico,” I dared say, “things don’t always turn out as one plans them.”
He looked at me astonished and answered that that was not the reason of his state, but rather the fact that the signs did not add up. At that moment an Indian woman selling art crafts approached us and the Nahual practically screamed at her to leave us alone.
At last we could enter the caves and the Nahual announced that we should separate us from the rest of the people, from the tourists and the visitors that surrounded us.
“Our mission here is transcendental,” he told us solemnly. “I will show you the statue of the warrior in the same way that don Juan did with me.
We began to walk and my body began to protest because of the suffocating environment and the rarefied air was not enough for me to breath. Furthermore, my mind began to complain. I decided that that was a pagan ceremony in which I should not participate. I felt that I was choking, that the Nahual was a fraud because of his impatience and that I was being obliged to adore a rock, betraying in that all of my Jewishness. At last, not being able to stand it any more, I returned to the exit and left to my house. I waited half the night for the arrival of the group that had decided that we should reunite there, and while I waited, I observed a swallow that approached a nest occupied by other swallows that refused him once and again, until he flew off. That is exactly how I felt. I had separated from the group and now I wished to join it once more, but I was refused. The group did not show up that night, confirming my feeling of being the rejected swallow, and I went to sleep.
On the following day I went to look for the Nahual in his hotel and I found him having breakfast in the company of some of his people. He looked at me indifferently and an obvious disdain that made me feel terribly bad. I excused myself for having left the caves, telling the anecdote of the swallows but feeling like a total stranger. In that moment I tried to remember how I had come to accept Carlos Castaneda as a Nahual, but I couldn’t.
As well I told him that my late arrival had been motivated by the desire to introduce the Nahual to my daughter. The Nahual looked at me with a rare reflection in the eyes and laughed out loud to himself. “He wants to introduce me to his daughter!” he exclaimed between laughter.
That shook me completely. To me, the desire to introduce my daughter to him was motivated by the innocent idea of helping her growth by knowing a person like the Nahual. His mockery and his expression, on the other hand, hid something completely foreign to innocence. In that moment something broke inside of me and I began to see the Nahual with other eyes.
However I did not leave. We were invited to go to Tula and in the middle of the bustle of leaving I forgot my bad feelings.
As always the Nahual began to speak and did not pause a second the whole way. In getting into the car he had prohibited me from putting on music. He told us that he no longer possessed a self, and that all that remained of him were stories of nahuals that came out of his mouth as if by their own accord. He told us how don Juan and obliged him to separate himself from all of his friends and that for months he remained shut in a hotel room without seeing anyone, and going crazy, until something re-accommodated itself inside of him, and that from then on he no longer needed company. When we arrived at Tula, he brought us to the central plaza, and the church where he had had an encounter with the death defier.
“I thought that that had been in Oaxaca,” said someone in the group.
“It was here,” the Nahual replied, “and here as well where I disappeared for nine months into the other world.”
We entered the church in which the Nahual had been interviewed by the death defier, and to me, it appeared like the saddest place in the world. After, we walked around the plaza, and the Nahual pointed out to us the favorite bench of don Juan, and remembered having seen the death of a person from there.
“With don Juan, every story was a lesson,” he told us seriously, “Before having known him, to see a person dieing was a regular event, but with don Juan I saw the death approach, and the whole event acquired a magic and fantastic aspect.”
Later, he told us that the death defier had fused with the woman Nahual and that Carol contained both in one. Everyone turned to look at Carol, and she nodded “yes” with the head.
“With that woman,” said the Nahual, “I have traveled to where nobody can travel.”
We turned once again to see Carol and she once more nodded “yes”.
During the time that the Nahual was in Mexico, in addition to Tula, we also went to Teotihuacan. I remember that upon arriving and seeing the pyramid of the Sun, I felt a chill down my spine and a pressure in the belly. I commented on my sensations, interpreting them as associated with a detection of the energy of the place. The Nahual turned to look at me and laughing said, “Nonsense, it is a fart that is jammed.”
We walked for the path of the dead, and the Nahual jested of such a name. He told us that the Spaniards had found human remains there, and that is why they gave it that name, but in reality what occurred there was fantastic.
Hundreds of stalkers placed themselves on each turn of the avenue, and together the visualized the pyramid of the Moon. When they did it to perfection, and in total synchronization, they disappeared from this world. If someone failed, then he remained mutilated and his remains fell to the ground.
After saying that, the Nahual placed himself on a corner and looked towards the pyramid, as if trying to reproduce the feeling of those men, capable of traveling together to other worlds.
I have not returned to see the Nahual, and at times I ask myself if the “Bird of Liberty” passed over me and I let it pass, or if everything that I lived was one more piece of the lattice of my life; a necessary and valuable piece exactly as such and how I lived it. On occasions I blame myself for not having left everything behind and not having given myself totally to the Nahual and his way. Above all, when I feel trapped in my work, or in this world, I think that I missed the opportunity of my life and that something that I desired for years became reality, but I was not able to grab it. But after the memory of the mocking laughter of the Nahual on mentioning my desire the he might know my daughter, my Beloved dear one, and something tell me that what happened was what should have happened, no more or less.
The Nahual asked us to not divulge the experiences that occurred in our meetings. I have done so for three years, but now I feel that everything formed a part of a strategy in which what mattered was the impact on our consciousness and the capacity to transform them. I am very grateful to the Nahual for everything that he showed me; my dependencies and my indulgences, my ego and my obstinacies, but I cannot accept to keep secrets.
As an example of his teaching and of the value that he gave to the liberty as the ultimate possession and goal to achieve, I have taken the liberty of describing some of the things that I remember of those extraordinary days in which I was a direct witness of the manifestations of one of the most important personalities of our times. Oh that this would serve to who reads it.
One final word. The Nahual stopped communicating with the majority of us, except for one of the women of our group. He spoke to her day and night instigating her to abandon everything and join his group. The problem is that that abandonment implied leaving behind without protection one of her sons who depended emotionally and materially on his mother. She yielded to such pressure that on one occasion she had to had to ask him to not try to establish contact anymore. When she told us of the terrible pressure to which the Nahual was subjecting her, I was profoundly surprised and I still do not understand the event.
The Nahual warned us, various times, that his strategy was not the same as that of don Juan, and that we would never come to think of the nexus of affection or of the emotional dependencies in respect to his person. That was difficult to follow and accept but in the end it proved true. The Nahual disappeared and we have never seen him again. He did not turn out to be a teacher with continuity and a spirit of permanence and protection towards his disciples. He taught us this, to not depend on figures of power in our path, and certainly consisted of a shove towards independence and liberty. I am grateful for that difficult but necessary gesture.