Tensegrity is the modem version of the magical passes of the shamans of ancient Mexico. The word Tensegrity is a most appropriate definition, because it is a mixture of two terms, tension and integrity: terms which connote the two driving forces of the magical passes. The activity created by contracting and relaxing the tendons and muscles of the body is tension. Integrity is the act of regarding the body as a sound, complete, perfect unit.
Tensegrity is taught as a system of movements, because that is the only manner in which the mysterious and vast subject of the magical passes could be faced in a modem setting. The people who now practice Tensegrity are not shaman practitioners in search of shamanistic alterna- that involve rigorous discipline, exertion, and hardships. Therefore, the emphasis of the magical passes has to be on their value as movements, and all the consequences that such movements bring forth.
Don Juan Matus had explained that the first drive of the sorcerers of his lineage who lived in Mexico in ancient times, in relation to the magical passes, was to saturate themselves with movement. They arranged every posture, every movement of the body that they could remember, into groups. They believed that the longer the group, the greater its effect of saturation, and the greater the need for the practitioners to use their memory to recall it.
The shamans of don Juan's lineage, after arranging the magical passes into long groups and practicing them as sequences, deemed that this criterion of saturation had fulfilled its purposes, and they dropped it. From then on, what was sought was the opposite: the fragmentation of the long groups into single segments, which were practiced as individual, independent units. The manner in which don Juan Matus taught the magical passes to his four disciples-Taisha Abelar, Florinda DonnerGrau, Carol Tiggs, and myself-was the product of this drive for fragmentation.
Don Juan's personal opinion was that the benefit of practicing the long groups was patently obvious; such practice forced the shaman initiates to use their kinesthetic memory. He considered the use of kinesthetic memory to be a real bonus, which those shamans had stumbled upon accidentally, and which had the marvellous effect of shutting off the noise of the mind: the internal dialogue.
Don Juan had explained to me that the way in which we reinforce our perception of the world and keep it fixed at a certain level of efficiency and function is by talking to ourselves.
"The entire human race," he said to me on one occasion, "keeps a determined level of function and efficiency by means of the internal dialogue. The internal dialogue is the key to maintaining the assemblage point stationary at the position shared by the entire human race: at the height of the shoulder blades, an arm's length away from them.
"By accomplishing the opposite of the internal dialogue," he went on, "that is to say inner silence, practitioners can break the fixation of their assemblage points, thus acquiring an extraordinary fluidity of perception."
The practice of Tensegrity has been arranged around the performance of the long groups, which in Tensegrity have been renamed series to avoid the generic implication of calling them just groups, as don Juan called them. In order to accomplish this arrangement, it was necessary to reestablish the criteria of saturation which had prompted the creation of the long groups. It took the practitioners of Tensegrity years of meticulous and concentrated work to reassemble a great number of the dismembered groups.
Reestablishing the criteria of saturation by performing the long series gave, as a result, something which don Juan had already defined as the modem goal of the magical passes: the redeployment of energy. Don Juan
was convinced that this had always been the unspoken goal of the magical passes, even at the time of the old sorcerers, The old sorcerers didn't seem to have known this, but even if they did, they never conceptualized it in those terms. By all indications, what the old sorcerers sought avidly and experienced as a sensation of well-being and plenitude when they performed the magical passes was, in essence, the effect of unused energy being reclaimed by the centers of vitality in the body.
In Tensegrity, the long groups have been reassembled, and a great number of the fragments have been kept as single, functioning units. These units have been strung together by purpose-for instance, the purpose of intending, or the purpose of recapitulation, or the purpose of inner silence, and so on-creating in this fashion the Tensegrity series. In this manner, a system has been achieved in which the best results are obtained by performing long sequences of movements that definitely tax the kinesthetic memory of the practitioners.
In every other respect, the way Tensegrity is taught is a faithful reproduction of the way in which don Juan taught the magical passes to his disciples. He inundated them with a profusion of detail and let their minds be bewildered by the number and variety of magical passes taught to them, and by the implication that each of them individually was a pathway to infinity.
His disciples spent years overwhelmed, confused, and above all despondent, because they felt that being inundated in such a manner was an unfair onslaught on them.
"When I teach you the magical passes," he explained to me once when I questioned him about the subject, "I am following the traditional sorcerers' device of clouding your linear view. By saturating your kinesthetic memory, I am creating a pathway for you to inner silence.
"Since all of us, ", he continued, "are filled to the brim with the doings and undoings of the world of everyday life, we have very little room for kinesthetic memory. You may have noticed that you have none. When you want to imitate my movements, you cannot remain facing me. You have to stand side by side with me in order to establish in your own body what's right and what's left. Now, if a long sequence of movements were presented to you, it would take you weeks of repetition to remember all the movements. While you're trying to memorize the movements, you have to make room for them in your memory by pushing other things out of the way. That was the effect that the old sorcerers sought."
Don Juan's contention was that if his disciples kept on doggedly practicing the magical passes, in spite of their confusion, they would arrive at a threshold when their redeployed energy would tip the scales, and they would be able to handle the magical passes with absolute clarity.
When don Juan made those statements, I could hardly believe them. Nevertheless, at one moment, just as he had said, I ceased to be confused and despondent. In a most mysterious way, the magical passes, since they are magical, arranged themselves into extraordinary sequences that cleared up everything. Don Juan explained that the clarity I was experiencing was the result of the redeployment of my energy.
The concern of people practicing Tensegrity nowadays matches exactly my concern and the concern of don Juan's other disciples when we first began to perform the magical passes. They feel bewildered by the number of movements. I reiterate to them what don Juan reiterated to me over and over: that what is of supreme importance is to practice whatever Tensegrity sequence is remembered. The saturation that has been carried on will give, in the end, the results sought by the shamans of ancient Mexico: the redeployment of energy, and its three concomitants-the shutting off of the internal dialogue, the possibility for inner silence, and the fluidity of the assemblage point.
As a personal assessment, I can say that by saturating me with the magical passes, don Juan accomplished two formidable feats: One, he brought to the surface a flock of hidden resources that I had but didn't know existed, such as the ability to concentrate and the ability to remember detail; and two, he gently broke my obsession with my linear mode of interpretation.
"What is happening to you," don Juan explained to me when I questioned him about what I was experiencing in this respect, "is that you are feeling the advent of inner silence, once your internal dialogue has been minimally offset. A new flux of things has begun to enter into your field of perception. These things were always there, on the periphery of your general awareness, but you never had enough energy to be deliberately conscious of them. As you chase away your internal dialogue, other items of awareness begin to fill in the empty space, so to speak.
"The new flux of energy," he went on, "which the magical passes have brought to your centers of vitality is making your assemblage point more fluid. It's no longer rigidly palisaded. You're no longer driven by our ancestral fears, which make us incapable of taking a step in any
direction. Sorcerers say that energy makes us free, and that is the absolute truth."
The ideal state of Tensegrity practitioners, in relation to the Tensegrity movements, is the same as the ideal state of a practitioner of shamanism in relation to the execution of the magical passes. Both are being led by the movements themselves into an unprecedented culmination. From there, the practitioners of Tensegrity will be able to execute, by themselves, for whatever effect they see fit, without any coaching from outside sources, any movement from the bulk of movements with which they have been saturated; they will be able to execute them with precision and speed, as they walk, or eat, or rest, or do anything, because they will have the energy to do so.
The execution of the magical passes, as shown in Tensegrity, doesn't necessarily require a particular space or prearranged time. However, the movements should be done away from sharp currents of air. Don Juan dreaded currents of air on a perspiring body. He firmly believed that not every current of air was caused by the rising or lowering of temperature in the atmosphere, and that some currents of air were actually caused by conglomerates of consolidated energy fields moving purposefully through space.
Don Juan was convinced that such conglomerates of energy fields possessed a specific type of awareness, particularly deleterious because human beings cannot ordinarily detect them, and become exposed to them indiscriminately. The deleterious effect of such conglomerates of energy fields is especially prevalent in a large metropolis, where they could be easily disguised as, if nothing else, the momentum created by the speed of passing automobiles.
Something else to bear in mind when practicing Tensegrity is that since the goal of the magical passes is something foreign to Western man, an effort should be made to keep the practice of Tensegrity detached from the concerns of our daily world. The practice of Tensegrity should not be mixed with elements with which we are already thoroughly familiar, such as conversation, music, or the sound of a radio or TV newsman reporting the news, no matter how muffled the sound might be.
The setting of modem urban life facilitates the formation of groups, and under these circumstances, the only manner in which Tensegrity can be taught and practiced in the seminars and workshops is in groups
of practitioners. Practicing in groups is beneficial in many aspects and deleterious in others. It is beneficial because it allows the creation of a consensus of movement and the opportunity to learn by examination and comparison. It is deleterious because it fosters the reliance on others, and the emergence of syntactic commands and solicitations dealing with hierarchy.
Don Juan conceived that since the totality of human behaviour was ruled by language, human beings have learned to respond to what he called syntactic commands, praising or deprecatory formulas built into language-for example, the responses that each individual makes, or elicits in others, with slogans such as No problem, Piece of cake, It's time to worry, You could do better, I can't do it, My butt is too big, I'm the best, I'm the worst in the world, I could live with that, I'm coping, Everything's going to be okay, etc., etc. Don Juan maintained that what sorcerers have always wanted, as a basic rule of thumb, is to run away from activities derived from syntactic commands.
Originally, as don Juan described it, the magical passes were performed by the shamans of ancient Mexico individually and in solitariness, on the spur of the moment or as the necessity arose. He taught them to his disciples in the same fashion. Don Juan stated that for the shaman practitioners, the challenge of performing the magical passes has always been to execute them perfectly, holding in mind only the abstract view of their perfect execution. Ideally, Tensegrity should be taught and practiced in the same fashion. However, the conditions of modern life and the fact that the goal of the magical passes has been formulated to apply to a great number of people make it imperative that a new approach be taken. Tensegrity should be practiced in whatever form is easiest: either in groups, or alone, or both.
In my particular case, the practice of Tensegrity in very large groups has been more than ideal, because it has given me the unique opportunity of witnessing something which don Juan Matus and all the sorcerers of his lineage never did: the effects of human mass. Don Juan and all the shamans of his lineage, which he considered to be twenty-seven generations long, never were capable of witnessing the effects of human mass. They practiced the magical passes alone, or in groups of up to five practitioners. For them, the magical passes were highly individualistic.
If the number of Tensegrity practitioners is in the hundreds, an energetic current is nearly instantaneously formed among them. This energetic current, which a shaman could easily see, creates in the practitioners a sense of urgency. It is like a vibratory wind that sweeps through them, and gives them the primary elements of purpose. I have been privileged to see something I considered to be a portentous sight: the awakening of purpose, the energetic basis of man. Don Juan Matus used to call this unbending intent. He taught me that unbending intent is the essential tool of those who journeyed into the unknown.
A very important issue to consider when practicing Tensegrity is that the movements must be executed with the idea that the benefit of the magical passes comes by itself. This idea must be stressed at any cost. At the beginning, it is very difficult to discern the fact that Tensegrity is not a standard system of movements for developing the body. It indeed develops the body, but only as a by-product of a more transcendental effect. By redeploying unused energy, the magical passes can conduce the practitioner to a level of awareness in which the parameters of normal, traditional per, ception are cancelled out by the fact that they are expanded. The practitioner can thus be allowed even to enter into unimaginable worlds.
"But why would I want to enter into those worlds?" I asked don Juan when he described this post-effect of the magical passes.
"Because you are a creature of awareness, a perceiver, like the rest of us," he said. "Human beings are on a journey of awareness, which has been momentarily interrupted 'by extraneous forces. Believe me, we are magical creatures of awareness. If we don't have this conviction, we have nothing."
He further explained that human beings, from the moment their journey of awareness was interrupted, have been caught in an eddy, so to speak, and are spinning around, having the impression of moving with the current, and yet remaining stationary.
"Take my word," don Juan went on, "because mine are not arbitrary statements. My word is the result of corroborating, for myself, what the shamans of ancient Mexico found out: that we human beings are magical beings."
It has taken me thirty years of hard discipline to come to a cognitive
plateau in which don Juan's statements are recognizable and their validity
is established beyond the shadow of a doubt. I know now that human beings
are creatures of awareness, involved in an evolutionary journey of awareness,
indeed unknown to themselves, filled to the brim with incredible resources
that are never used.