The Warrior’s Last Stand
Excerpt from Journey to Ixtlan: Lessons of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda
“What do you mean by my last dance don Juan?”
“This is the site of your last stand, ” he said. “You will; die here no matter where you are. Every warrior has a place to die. A place of his predilection which is soaked with unforgettable memories, where powerful events left their mark, a place where he has witnessed marvels, where secrets have been revealed to him, a place where he has stored his personal power.
“A warrior has the obligation to go back to that place of his predilection every time he taps power in order to store it there. He either goes there by means of walking or by means of dreaming.
“And finally, one day when his time on earth is up and he feels the tap of his death: on his left shoulder his spirit, which is always ready, flies to the place of his predilection and there the warrior dances to his death.
“Every warrior has a specific form, a specific posture of power, which he develops throughout his life. It is a sort of dance. A movement that he does under the influence of his personal power.
“If a dying warrior has limited power, his dance is short; if his power is grandiose, his dance is magnificent. But regardless of whether his power is small or magnificent, death must stop to witness his last stand on earth. Death cannot overtake the warrior who is recounting the toil of his life for the last time until he has finished his dance.”
Don Juan’s words made me shiver. The quietness, the twilight, the magnificent scenery, all seemed to have been placed there as props for the image of a warrior’s last dance of power.
“Can you teach me that dance even though I am not a warrior?” I asked.
“Any man that hunts power has to learn that dance, ” he said. “Yet I cannot teach you now. Soon you may have a worthy opponent and I will show you then the first movement of power. You must add the other movements yourself as you go on living. Every new one must be obtained during a struggle of power. So, properly speaking, the posture, the form of a warrior, is the story of his life, a dance that grows as he grows in personal power.”
“Does death really stop to see a warrior dance?”
“A warrior is only a man. A humble man. He cannot change the designs of his death. But his impeccable spirit, which has stored power after stupendous hardships, can certainly hold his death for a moment, a moment long enough to let him rejoice for the last time in recalling his power. We may say that is a gesture which death has with those who have an impeccable spirit.”
I experienced an overwhelming anxiety and I talked just to alleviate it. I asked him if he had known warriors that had died, and in what way their last dance had affected their dying.
“Cut it out, ” he said dryly. “Dying is a monumental affair. It is more than kicking your legs and becoming stiff.”
“Will I too dance to my death don Juan?”
“Certainly. You are hunting personal power even though you don’t live like a warrior yet. Today the sun gave you an omen. Your best production in your life’s work will be done towards the end of the day. Obviously you don’t like the youthful brilliancy of early light. Journeying in the morning doesn’t appeal to you. But your cup of tea is the dying sun, old yellowish, and mellow. You don’t like the heat, you like the glow.
“And thus you will dance to your death here, on this hilltop, at the end of the day.
And in your last dance you will tell of your struggle, of the battles you have won and of those you have lost; you will tell of your joys and bewilderment upon encountering personal power. Your dance will tell about the secrets and about the marvels you have stored. And your death will sit here and watch you.
“The dying sun will glow on you without burning, as it has done today. The wind will be soft and mellow and your hilltop will tremble. As you reach the end of your dance you will look at the sun, for you will never see it again in waking or in dreaming, and then your death will point to the south. To the vastness.