Miguel Ruiz teaches Toltec sorcery

There’s a butterfly on your hat

One night in the late 1970s, Miguel Ruiz, a young Mexican physician, fell asleep at the wheel of his car and crashed it into a concrete retaining wall. He lay near death for some days and had that near-death experience of being out of his body. He saw his body from another vantage point.

But if he saw his body, where was he when he saw it? And if he was not his body, what was he?

The last of 13 children, Ruiz had grown up in rural Mexico and come from a line of curanderos, shaman healers. His mother, Sarita, was such a healer. She’d taught him as a child, but as he’d grown older he’d resisted the ancient tradition. He’d pursued the practice of Western medicine. Now after the accident, Ruiz began to study with Sarita again and he became an apprentice to a powerful nagual (pronounced nah-WAL), a sorcerer in the Toltec tradition.

Today Don Miguel Ruiz trains Toltec naguals in San Diego. He has owned a house here since 1985. His audience ranges from old hippies to academics and professionals who have never before deviated from the approved career path. There are hundreds of his followers in San Diego, but Don Miguel’s work has also spread nationwide and worldwide through the popularity of his books The Four Agreements and The Mastery of Love.

I’ve long been a fan and student of the books of Carlos Castaneda. He popularized Toltec sorcery with a series of nine books, which he began writing in the late 1960s. Castaneda’s teacher, an old Indian sorcerer named Don Juan Matus, made his home in a shack, rambled around the desert, and lived a carefully, deliberately anonymous life. Castaneda also stayed out of the public eye. In contrast, Don Miguel has a website (miguelruiz.com) on which he advertises “power journeys” to Teotihuacán in Mexico, to Machu Picchu in Peru, to the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, to a volcano on Maui. There are links for “wisdom groups” and for “mentors.” There is a discussion of something called the University of Transformation. This is about as far as you can get from rambling in the desert. It seemed clear to me that without the popularity of the Castaneda books, Don Miguel would not have had entrée to the educated and affluent middle class and that his credentials as a medical doctor, a well-educated man in the Western sense, cemented his validity to that audience.

I wondered if Don Miguel was really a sorcerer. I decided to go to see him.

When Don Miguel opened his front door, my feelings about him were immediate. Before me stood a slender Mexican Indian man in his early 50s, of average height, in gray slacks and a maroon velour pullover. Before he opened his mouth or moved a muscle, I liked him and trusted him. Looking into Don Miguel’s eyes is like drowning in warm honey. He grabbed me in a hug, not something they do much where I come from.

We took seats in his comfortable living room. It was severely modern, with glass shelves and tabletops at varying heights and the back wall open to the sunlight. The effect was of being in a silver maze. I set up my tape recorder, then asked, “How did you become a Toltec shaman?”

Don Miguel smiled. His voice was low and soft, accented, but with each word pronounced so carefully that understanding him was never a problem. “Well, it’s a family tradition, really. My mother is a great healer. She’s 93 years old now, and I started to learn from her when I was still a child. Her father, my grandfather, Don Leonardo, he was a powerful nagual too. Leonardo Macías. His father, Don Ezequiel, was also a great nagual. He lived to 117 years.

“I didn’t meet my great-grandfather. I only heard all those great stories about him. I think he was the first nagual in the lineage, in the family. And from him you can trace all the way back to the Mexicas, whom you call the Aztecs.”

“Who were the Toltecs?”

“Well, the Toltecs, the name Toltec means ‘artist.’ A Toltec is an artist, not really a nation. History and anthropology think they were a nation. They have a very strong influence in Mexico. They started more than 2000 years ago, built the pyramids of Teotihuacán 2500 years ago. Before that, there were already Toltecs. It’s a way of living. It comes from what I call just common sense, available to everybody. But very few have the fortune to learn it.”

“I liked your book The Four Agreements,” I said. “I wonder if any of your students have told you ways the book helped them.”

“All the time. I receive a lot of mail from Europe, a lot of mail from the United States, and also from Latin America, from everywhere, really. You know, to write this book, it was a big challenge, to make it very simple and easy and short enough that anyone can read it, can understand it and apply it. To put it in action, that is the key of the book. That everybody can put it in action and see the difference that makes in their lives.

“When they understand what the book says, they start taking action, and right away they start seeing changes in their lives, until they reach a certain point. They’re stuck at that point, and that’s the time to read the book again. Then, it’s like they’re reading another book, because all the limitations that they used to have, they have already dissolved, and they reach another point. They have another ‘Aha!’ And they start shifting again.

“You find out after you read it that you knew all that. It’s something that you knew since you were a child. But for whatever reason, it all shifted, was distorted. When you read that book, little by little you discover that you are not really what you think you are. You are much, much better than that.”

“Do you know how many copies of this book have been sold?”

“More than three million. And the beautiful part is that mainly it’s word of mouth. It’s true that Oprah read it and gave it a big boost. But whoever reads it, right away they think of the people they love, so it keeps growing in that way.”

“I get the impression that your more popular books — The Four Agreements and The Mastery of Love — are for just regular folks. But you seem to be on a double track here in that you’re training people in Toltec nagualism, you’re teaching apprentices.”

“Yes, I teach what I call Dreaming. I have a whole Dream school, and there are teachers there who teach the others.”

I was curious as to how what he called “Dreaming” related to other spiritual practices. I said, “My sister, she’s a magical person. She used to do what she called ‘astral traveling.’ I couldn’t do it. But I do write fiction. My feeling is that when you write fiction, that you are Dreaming.”

“Yes, you are Dreaming. Certainly, right now. Certainly, all the time.”

“That part’s true,” I said. “This is a level of Dreaming. And that’s another level of Dreams.”

He shook his head. “The way your sister approaches it is a different way than you do. You just don’t know that you are Dreaming, and you call it your imagination. That you write science fiction, or whatever you write, is in your imagination. And it’s true that you are traveling into a virtual reality that is real. Because everything here is just a virtual reality that is happening in your brain. It’s not exactly true.”

“So this world is a screen, and we’re just running our movies on it.”


“And what you’re teaching is how to put a happy ending on it.”

“That’s exactly the direction that a Dream Master has. You know, like I told you before, the word Toltec means ‘artist.’ And the art that we practice, really, is the art of Dreams. As with every art, we enjoy the art. That’s why we do it.

“You know, your whole life is really a story that you create. And that includes your parents, your brother. It’s true that they exist. Yes, your father exists. But in the story that you create, you give them…they become characters in your story. It doesn’t mean that they are what you believe.” He smiled and cocked his head.

“In your story your father is a certain way. Your mother is a certain way. That’s what you believe, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s only true in your story. If you compare notes, you will find out your father is not what you believe he is. Your mother is not what you believe she is. Your children are not what you believe they are.

“And even going a little deeper, you find out that you are not what you believe you are. This is a place in Dreams when your whole reality starts coming apart. What you believed you are is not what you are but what you pretended to be for so long.”

“How many Toltec naguals have you trained, do you think?”

“I think there are a lot of them. The main two ones are my own children, but there are many others that are really masters.”

The bookends of Don Miguel’s career are the traffic accident and a massive heart attack in 2002 that nearly killed him. Since then, he has — at least in theory — worked a reduced schedule, laboring to set up his sons, Miguel Jr., who lives in Santa Monica, and José Luis, who lives in San Diego — and in time, his youngest son, Leonardo — to follow in his footsteps.

“What are your students — the actual naguals that you’ve changed — what are they doing with this knowledge?”

“Well, they’re doing so many different things. You know, when you teach them, what you really teach is about themselves. And everybody is completely different. Then, what they do is to have a way of life that makes them happy. Just a few of them try to be teachers. But many others, they are artists, they paint and they draw beautiful art.

“The other kind of artists are the actors. There are medical doctors, lawyers, engineers. They are all kinds of people, and what they are doing, they keep going with their life in their way but with awareness. Now they know what they are doing, and they do it with a purpose. And mainly the purpose that they have is about giving. It’s no longer to receive. That becomes secondary. And by giving they are receiving much more than they give.”

I wondered how this was accomplished. “What is the University of Transformation?”

“It was created because of the need that we had to go to the next level of Dreaming. To have a place specifically where they have a place to sit in a chair, to go into Dreaming, and see their confirmation. This is a very intense work that they do.

“All that started four years ago, on my last journey to Egypt. Then one of my apprentices, she insisted that I teach Dreaming. So I told her no. But she was insisting, and I said, ‘Okay, let’s make a deal. Get 40 people who would really want it so bad that they agree for a whole year not to fail one Dreaming. If you can do that, I will teach Dreaming.’

“When I told her that, I didn’t think that she could get even 5 people who would really commit themselves. And she came back to me with much more than 40 people. To my surprise, they did it. They did four years of Dreaming.”

“Okay,” I said, “University of Transformation. Transform from what to what?”

“From a victim to a warrior. From living without awareness to living fully aware. And that starts with yourself. In order to give, first you must have. And what you don’t have is awareness.”

“In Castaneda,” I said, “I think he hooked his audience in the early ’70s with tales of psychotropic plants and also with tales of miraculous events. Y’know, Don Juan disappeared Carlos’s car under a hat, and…”

“Those were real stories.”

“My question is, are they metaphorical or are they…”

“Okay, this is a great question for Don Carlos. But I can make an assumption that, yes, that was real. And, yes, they are metaphoric, but they are real at the same time. Like, in front of my apprentices, I perform so many miracles.”

“Describe one, please.”

“Well, for example, I took, like, 40 people to Peru. We were in Machu Picchu, at the very top. It was during the night. We were outside, just relaxing. There were around 20 people with me at that time. The night was very clear. Crystal clear. You could see far away. I told them, ‘What would you guys think if in less than one minute the whole environment becomes covered by fog, so that you cannot see anything?’

“They said, ‘Well, that would be cool.’ That’s what they said.

“And when I said that, you could see from the mountains the fog coming. In less than one minute it was so dense we could not see each other. And then, when we were like that, I told them, ‘And now, what would you guys think if in less than one minute the fog just dissipates?’ And as soon as I said that, the fog started going away. You saw it going away, and the night was as clear as in the beginning. And if you ask me how I did that, the answer is, I have no idea.”

“How does Toltec Dreaming differ from normal dreaming?”

“Awareness, that is the difference. You know, we live in a world with six billion people. And those people are not aware that they’re dreaming. They’re born, they grow up, they get old, they die, and they didn’t know that their whole life was just a dream. Once you are aware, you find out that it isn’t exactly true that life has all the power over you.”

I had read about a Toltec technique called “The Art of Stalking.” I thought of it as using the attitude of a hunter to analyze and master your own will. I asked Don Miguel to describe it.

“Well, once you have awareness, and once you master transformation, then you find out that you have control over every single belief that exists in your head. You can choose every action, and by choosing the action, you can see the possible reaction. Then you see that your whole life you were victimized by your beliefs. You find that you have an advantage over the rest of the people because you are no longer naïve.”

“You mean you track down your misconceptions and change them?”

“Oh, definitely. Yes.”

In the Castaneda books, one becomes a sorcerer by capturing an “ally spirit.” The way it’s described, it’s like capturing a demon and taming it into an angel. But in reading other Toltec writings and about other disciplines, I’d come to believe it meant getting a handle on the lousy attitudes that ruin our lives: greed, lust, vanity, all that stuff. “I wanted to ask you about the ally spirits. I think they’re a metaphor for what in our culture we call neuroses.”


“And also they’re a metaphor for archetypes. I wanted to know if you think that surmise is correct.”

“You know, there’s a lot of what I call inorganic beings that exist. And they are in many ways available to us. All that comes from emotions, concepts, beliefs. If you see in your brain, it’s full of information, but it’s information that doesn’t exist in the material world. It’s a kind of energy that you can’t touch, you can’t measure, you can’t weigh it. It will not survive the scientific method. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. You hear so many voices in your head. Who are you talking to? Who is talking to you? And all that is not matter but exists.”

“Because it has effects?”

“Exactly. It exists and makes you act in certain ways. Okay, then, with imagination, we try to express the existence of this kind of life to everybody. We can draw them, or whatever, whatever our imagination says they look like. It’s not exactly true, but those things exist.”

Don Miguel told me that the only way to experience what he was talking about was to go with him to Teotihuacán, an ancient ruin 33 miles northeast of Mexico City. He and José Luis were leading a group there in a week. The five-day trip was already full, but he would give his assistants directions to make a place for me.

Before we left for Teotihuacán I wanted to meet José Luis. He and his wife, Judy Segal, have a house in an upscale neighborhood of Chula Vista. Plain in front, the house is roomy inside, with a two-story atrium living room.

I sat on a couch, and Segal, slender, big-eyed, dark, and intense, sat on another couch across a huge glass coffee table. To my left was a print of a Klimpt painting, The Kiss, a stylized couple embracing under a blanket shot through with gold. On the far wall, across the living and dining rooms, next to glass doors to the back yard, was an enormous Buddha, lacquered deep maroon. Along the right wall of the dining room, a small table held a large statue of the Chinese goddess Kwan Yin.

José Luis, a stocky young man of about 25, sat against the wall on a low stool that curved upward around his hips. His mahogany face is both innocent and strong, and his long, thick hair hangs to the middle of his back. He has his father’s eyes. Segal and I looked as if we were San Diegans. José Luis looked like a holographic projection from another time and place.

“So, I wanted to ask you, José Luis, did you grow up in San Diego?”

“No, I grew up in Tijuana. My father staged back and forth, went to medical school.” He speaks with a staccato Mexican accent, the same cadence as Tijuana Spanish.

“Here in the States?”

“In Mexico City, to be a doctor. I basically grew up in Tijuana, and about five years ago I completely moved to San Diego. So I was going, before that, back and forth. I’d spend the week with my mom and weekends with my dad, when he was available, because he was traveling all the time.”

“I wanted to ask you how it was growing up as the son of a Toltec nagual.”

“It was very magical. Magic happened all around us all the time. For example, coming from school, my grandma grabbed an egg and a glass of water. And when she breaks that, she does an egg reading. She reads your life, so whatever you do, it appeared there. There was nothing I could hide. My grandmother always says, ‘Come here!’ I’m always hiding from the egg.

“When I Dreamed, first, I started experiencing, like, fear, ’cause I woke up in the dream and my body was paralyzed. I was very aware, because I knew I was Dreaming. Yet I didn’t have control of the dream.”

“Did your father explain what was happening to you, as you went along?”

“Yes. But many times he left it for me to figure out. He just smiled — looked at me and smiled. When I was, like, 11 years old we went to Mata Grande. Mata Grande is some mountains, like an hour from here, near Tecate. He did the initiation with my brother and me, my older brother.

“Before we went up there, I had a dream that I was coming up there with my father in the high mountains. Then all of a sudden, in the dream, he fell, in the mountains. I looked down, and I could see he was unconscious, and I was so scared. So in the dream, I started to run, looking for safety. I went to my mother’s home. I went, ‘Mom, Mom! My father is dead. He fell down the mountain.’ And in the dream, he came up from the back of the house, and he said, ‘No, I was only playing with you.’

“In that moment I woke up. So from that, like a week later, I said, ‘Would you take me to Mata Grande?’ It was strange for him that I would ask to go to that place. I was so little. He saw it as a sign of power, a sign of power in the Toltec tradition. It’s a sign from God. The doors are opening, and it gives you a signal to take action.

“So he took us to Mata Grande, my brother and I, and he gave the initiation. That initiation was very difficult. Very magic happened, and we took a walk in this place of male energy.”

“Male energy?”

“Yes, we were with my stepsister, Kimberly, but it was an initiation for us boys. He left my sister and took us up by ourselves. I remember him saying at that time about male energy. It was all between the three of us. So in the mountains, he put us to see the beauty around. And to see his shadow, because he was behind us. The sun was hitting so you could see his shadow, and all of a sudden, his shadow turned to, like, a serpent form. And all around the mountains you could see rattlesnakes. Lots of noise, high up, rattlesnakes, all round the mountains.

“It was a very powerful personal feeling of having the communication of nature. That was the initiation, which brought many Dreams. So that was a lot of discovery. And I’m learning from that discovery.”

“How do you feel about stepping into your father’s shoes?”

“Right now, I feel it’s so normal, it’s a way of life. I get excited. But before, it was a lie to think…you know how a kid always resists what the parents want.”

“Your father resisted it as well.”

“Yes, he did. In the Dream, many times I can escape and resist. But it came to a point where there was nothing to resist. And so it came to a completely joyful moment. It’s about sharing love. When going into that feeling, we realize that we are children of God, so when I teach I don’t see color, I just go into heightened love. I put everything in the human form into unconditional love.”

“Do you teach these seminars south of the border also?”

“Yes, yes. When I was little, when I was going to junior high school, and in high school, I always had an altar, wherever I lived. For my friends, it was kind of weird to see these things, because in Mexico, normally you have just Catholic and Pentecostal. So they would say, ‘What is your father?’ I say, ‘Oh, he’s a nagual.’ We were at my grandma’s, so they have to listen.

“So at one point, I’m at a party. They come to me and say, ‘Okay, you want to show us what you can do, teach us something.’ So — it was very funny — when I start talking, the noise got lower, lower, and then all my friends, all the people from the party, were in front of me. So I started sharing what my father had been teaching, and my grandmother. To my father and grandmother, it was quite extraordinary. How everyone, with no practice at all on my part, received a message. I was inspired.”

“I wanted to talk to Judy for a while. You came into this…how?”

“I met a person who had just been working with Mother Sarita. The feeling of this person’s energy — I had to meet Mother Sarita. In fact, I didn’t even want to talk to them. I ran to the phone to call. I said, ‘I’d like to come meet you.’ There was a workshop coming up in two weeks, so I went and met Miguel and Mother Sarita.

“Very shortly after that, Miguel asked me to start working with him, to teach yoga at his workshop. So I’d been working with him for a year, and I became one of his students, one of his Dream students. I met everyone in José’s family, and I was traveling around, pretty much everywhere Miguel went. A year later, on the way to New York, to catch a flight to Egypt, I finally met José.

“When I met José, he was in that point of resistance he shared with you. And when I saw him at the airport in New York with his father, he intimidated me so much. He had these headphones on that were so loud with heavy metal, and on his head was, like, a gangster hat, and he wore bug-eyed glasses. And this huge shield that said, ‘Don’t mess with me.’ In fact, his character was so good — if you could see the face — he was like this mask. He was the type of fellow that if I saw him on the street, I would have crossed the street.

“And after I got over the shock that Miguel was with this character, it took my breath. I almost didn’t want to, but I couldn’t not go over and say hi to Miguel. And Miguel said to me, ‘This is my son, José.’ And I’d heard that name forever. So, I pushed up these little bug-eyed glasses, and the moment I saw the eyes, I went, ‘Oh, my God! You’re the same as your father. I love you. You are my family.’

“I saw him, and I saw his mask and what he was doing, and I saw his beauty. We’ve been together ever since.”

I asked José, “Do you have anything that you would like to say, to add on your own, without answering questions?”

He said, “Yes, it was, like, two years ago, I went to the dentist, and I go home, and when I was coming back, I noticed that my eyes started hurting, hurting in the [contact] lens, and I removed them, because it was hurting in the lens, for hours, in the rain.

“I got to the house. I said, ‘Oh, honey, I’m very tired. My eyes hurt very much. I’m going to go to sleep, and tomorrow will be better.’ So I went to sleep, and the next day I saw everything blurry. My eyesight was gone. I could just see a little light. It was very scary, because the pressure kept increasing. The pressure in my eyes, and I couldn’t see.

“So I went to Tijuana. My family, all my uncles, are doctors. So they took me there. And in the beginning, when I see my aunt — she’s an eye doctor — she was very scared. And she put light in my eyes and asked me if I could see this. I know there was bad trouble. She was accidentally showing her fear.

“So we went to another doctor, and he said, ‘Well, if you’re gonna see again, you’re gonna see again. At first we thought you might have brain damage.’ So, after a while, they put in an IV, and the pressure went away. But I was like that for a week. At first I was feeling bad, feeling scared. But then I see loved ones having more suffering and pain, crying, feeling these things. And I said to myself, ‘Wow! I’m the one who’s supposed to be like that. I’m here taking care of them, and I’m the blind one.’

“And right there I knew I had a choice, in that moment. I could become the greatest victim, or I could become the greatest warrior in life and accept what God had given me. And in that, I noticed that there’s a whole world inside. But I loved to…I like to watch eyes. But when that was taken away, I knew I had to proceed. And I could perceive the whole…it was like the whole infinity inside.

“So one day I wake up and finally start making peace. And accepting, this is the way I’m going to live now. And I go to the mirror, and I see for the first time. I wake up and I see my sideburns — the first thing I see was my sideburns. I was so happy.

“And I know the gift of God that was given to us, everything, life. So from that experience, it is so amazing, so amazing to see that we don’t need a sign of God to know that He is listening to us. The very moment that we wake up, every morning we open our eyes and take a deep breath, it’s a sign of power to know that He is there.

“And from that we receive all gifts, a true love for the Creator and the creation that is one. And from that you fall in love more and more with this stuff, and you fall more and more in love with God. And everything starts making more sense, to listen to yourself and see the whole Dream around you. And to see, wherever you put your attention, you will perceive.

“Whenever you go to church and see the altar, you know that’s a house of God. You go to Buddhist temple and see the Buddha, you know that’s a house of God. And also I know that when I opened my eyes and could see, I know the world is a house of God.

“So going beyond the language and going beyond the way of being is a complete accepting of the way life is. And it’s so beautiful, to surrender to that.”

In Teotihuacán I set out to write an objective account of how a nagual works, but then a miracle happened to me. Teotihuacán translates, The Place Where Man Becomes God.

It’s hard to grasp the enormity of Teotihuacán. According to Don Miguel, 2500 years ago it was a city of a quarter million people. But the consciousness that built it was more different from ours than ours is from that of the Martians of old-time space-opera science fiction. It was a society in which science, religion, and art were not separate. The engineering has mystical significance. The stone façades are heavy, ominous, and weird. This city of huge pyramids and giant plazas was conceived by a spiritual, poetic sensibility to induce an altered state of consciousness. One might even say an “altared” state of consciousness. It towers and sprawls and envelops. It overwhelms.

Our first morning there, we walked from the hotel, a Club Med, to the ancient city of pyramids, reconstructed stone walls twice as tall as a man, and plazas with immense stone platforms at their centers. The leaders were stunningly beautiful women: Nancy Coleman, from Los Angeles, a mom in her 30s; and Rebecca Haywood, from San Diego, probably in her late 20s.

The 150 or so of us had been split into groups of 7 or 8. My group included Rosalie Garcia, a San Diego corporate exec; Brian and June Foy, from Australia, who were maybe in their late 50s or early 60s; James Golden, an American SNAG (sensitive new-age guy) and Leslie Gilbertie, his pretty blond wife, from Northern California; and Carol Brooks, a young Australian woman who lived and worked in London. Brooks was in her early 30s, tall and easygoing, her dark pageboy haircut capped by a black Clint Eastwood hat with a silver-and-turquoise band.

We headed that morning for the Sea of Hell, a huge stone quadrangle with a grass floor and a stone platform, or island, in the center. When we arrived, Haywood did most of the talking. She had the same gift as Don Miguel. In a low, soft, crooning voice, she led us into a heightened state of consciousness.

We were given 20 minutes to wander in the quadrangle, to drop our emotional baggage. I walked around the edges counterclockwise, to all four corners, marking each with Reiki symbols, enclosing the plaza in my consciousness, the better to discard my accumulated emotional detritus in the middle.

Rosalie Garcia returned to the island crying. Haywood held her from behind and pounded her back in a ritual way that I recognized from the Castaneda books. The couples were crying too. We all talked about our experiences. Talking seemed to make them more real. By the time we left, the two couples were arm in arm, like teenagers in love. Only Brooks and I seemed unmoved. But we weren’t. I felt the load of grief and greed, lust and guilt lifted.

Next Haywood and Coleman took us to a pyramid in the quadrangle, the Feathered Serpent Pyramid. Many stone heads of Quetzalcoatl were carved on it. The leaders told us to pick one and stare at it until we entered it. At Teotihuacán we would be symbolically digested by Quetzalcoatl, to emerge on the last day in the light of the sun, at the Pyramid of the Sun.

The Avenue of the Dead is the mile-and-a-half-long axis of the city. It was here that it hit Brooks. She started screaming. Whatever emotional load she was carrying, whatever demon, it was on the way out, and it did not go gentle. Coleman led her to stone steps, and Brooks lay in Coleman’s arms sobbing. Then, just when you thought it had passed, it started again, gut-wrenching screams from the bottom of her soul. That night, in the hotel bar, Brooks was radiant.

The second day I hooked up with Rosalie Garcia. I wanted to talk to her about her experience the day before. She said her tears were cathartic tears of happiness, and she showed me an entry in her journal that explained how she felt: “What is so agonizing about this kind of work is that — despite one’s willingness to grow and make changes in one’s life, it’s our own resistance to release, to let go of the familiar distortions (our domestication) of life — it’s our fear of the new and unfamiliar that keeps us stuck in our own stuff.”

As we stood atop a stone wall on the Avenue of the Dead, Garcia looked off to the Pyramid of the Moon straight ahead and the Pyramid of the Sun to the right and said, “If this is a dream, it’s a keeper.”

Later, she reminded me of her favorite Don Miguel quote. “You are given two choices in life: you can be happy or you can be stupid.”

Rebecca Haywood led us, there on the steps of that wall, in a ceremony to rectify our relationship with our beloved. Then we were released to wander and ponder in the Place of the Air. She said we were to proceed without judgment but with discernment.

Usually your beloved means your life partner. But a writer has another beloved, his audience. I’m a Vietnam veteran. The audience for my writing has been other Vietnam vets, soldiers, and a few civilians. But I’ve said everything I have to say about war and soldiering three times over. I had a practical need to graduate to larger issues and a new fan base.

What stood in my way was that I had never come home from Vietnam. The young men who went to Vietnam thought that if we were willing to die for our country, put our very lives on the line, our countrymen would be grateful. And, oh, how wrong we were! We came home to a wall that separated us from the civilians. I’ve seen that flinch behind the eyes when someone I liked but would never get to know thought, “How many babies has this guy killed?” The answer is none, but there was no way for them to ask, so I never got to say. I was gun-shy of that hurtful flinch behind the eyes, and to reach an audience, you have to love it, to sing to it in its own language. The worst thing you can do is fear it.

I felt dazed, staggered. I walked to a low wall and sat leaning against it. I thought, Jimmy, you have to love them. Maybe some of them will never get it, but maybe some of them will, that you signed on to protect their lives with yours. My decision to sacrifice myself for America had been an act of love, and the only way to be true to it was to keep loving, whether it was recognized or rewarded or not. And I was crying. Brooks came striding across the courtyard, black flat-crowned cowboy hat on the back of her head. She sat beside me and held my hand, not saying a word. We sat there a long time. She reached in a pocket and took out a curiously shaped crystal, flat on one end, jagged peaks on the other. She placed it on my heart. In that moment, I came home.

Everybody there experienced something cataclysmic. I saw people so entranced that they cried or cried out or shook all over like jackhammers.

The next morning, in my just-before-waking dreams, I turned into a falcon, unfurled powerful wings, and pumped them into the sky, then soared to the top of the Pyramid of the Moon, flaring to alight. I stood on stalky bird legs, hopping, looking out at the first line of light as the sun rose and the sky turned pastel blues and lavenders. The east side of the bushes in the plain below became rough gray-green crescents. From the villages around, the smells of smoke and coffee rose from the first fires of the day.

It was a dream. But in memory it is clearer and more vivid than driving over the bridge to Coronado. It has more meaning.

The closing ceremony was at the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. The climb itself was structured as a ceremony. All 150 of us walked around the pyramid at every level, men clockwise, women counterclockwise. We could see for miles in all directions. By the time we got to the top we were in an altered space.

I felt like an astronaut in orbit around the sun. Then it occurred to me that I really was in orbit around the sun.

On top of the pyramid, we gathered in a group around José Luis, who was preaching. José Luis is a stem-winder of a preacher, with his baby face and his hair flowing from under a battered fedora to the middle of his back. He believes and feels so deeply that the words just roll out of him.

The sun shone on us, and monarch butterflies fluttered around. One lit on a clip in a blond girl’s hair. I couldn’t see who she was through the crowd. I thought, that is so cool! It should happen to all of us.

Erika Kalter, a San Diego yoga instructor who had been teaching a free, optional class every morning, stood behind me. She cracked up. She started laughing so hard she bent over and slapped her thigh. I turned and said, “What?”

“There’s a butterfly on your hat.”

I’m at the University of Transformation, which has its campus in a two-story suite in an office park in Sorrento Mesa. I’ve come to go over some questions I have about my interview with José Luis.

There’s a meeting tonight of the San Diego Dream group. Don Miguel, José Luis, and Barbara Emrys, another San Diego shaman, will speak, and then the group will spend the weekend Dreaming. We’re upstairs in a large open room with a lot of folding chairs. Not wooden chairs. These are canvas chairs with steel-tube frames, chairs that one can sit on for hours without moving, feet flat on the floor, hands on knees, back straight.

It’s an affluent crowd of well-dressed people, mostly but not exclusively Caucasian. I notice that there’s no sign of attitude anywhere. There are no macho guys and no wimpy guys. The women are all attractive. Not movie star or model beautiful, necessarily, but beautiful in the way that any woman who is nice and has a sense of self is beautiful.

Along the far wall is a couch with a wire and clip-on microphone on it. Erika Kalter is running the PA system. I go over to greet her and to tell her that I’m still doing most of the yoga she taught me and that Brian Foy took a picture of me and the butterfly on my cap.

Don Miguel, José Luis, and Emrys enter and sit on the couch. Don Miguel clips on the mike. He looks fondly around the room, with his warm smile and liquid eyes, and says, “I am in love, and there is no doubt.”

Someone in the back of the room missed that last. He says, “What?”

Don Miguel smiles, “I said, ‘There is no doubt.’ ”

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