The Toltec Arts

The sense of self was a concept that my uncle, the Cabicacmotz, had acquainted me with. It consisted of tracing backwards to where my sense of self originated. To even notice is difficult. While it sounds simple, it is difficult to do because we do not wish to expend the effort. Keeping a thought at the forefront of our minds is an exertion of will.

If a man sees that the sight of a mountaintop gives him a sense of joy and he wishes to replicate that feeling, he must move his awareness from the point before his eyes that he associates with the joy. The joy does not come from the mountaintop; it comes from the sight acting upon the man. He traces it back to the point behind his eyes that emitted the joy. Joy is a burst that erupts from a man. Recently I had followed the Cabicacmotz’ advice and followed the source to come from behind my heart. How odd it was to discover that my sense of self was not always located right behind my eyes or even connected to them. The place of self could be anywhere.

Both the Cabicacmotz and the Balam Ch’ab gave me instructions to perform the check upon my sense of self whenever I felt or encountered strangeness. If I could feel where Chahel was, without the use of my eyes or hearing, I was to trace my sense of self to determine where that sense of knowing came from. I was lazy and could not remember to do it, however, unless I was relaxing and remembering what my teachers spoke to me. Finding the burst of joy was a fluke for me. Most times, I forgot the technique existed.



“When the jaguar runs, it hunts prey. He is a creature of efficiency and purpose. His focus is on what he must do. If stalking, he creeps. When chasing, he runs. His shoulders lead his forward movement and his sense of self confines itself to the tight wire of his spine. Usually the sense of self is where his skull meets his neck, but it can be anywhere. He is balance incarnate and can easily switch his awareness from the right to the left. With that, he maintains balance. That movement is connected to his shoulders and eyes. Remember that the sense of self is separate from awareness.”

His words confused me and I began to ask him to explain.

The Balam Ch’ab told me that only action could resolve my questions and he demonstrated the actions I should perform on the wall. “For now, you must tuck your feet behind you, so they rest on the wall.” He pulled his legs up and rested the front of his feet on the rounded edge, soles to the sky. What I thought was a carved line of adornment in the wall was a ridge that was three hand-lengths from the top of the wall. The Balam Ch’ab put his hands on the line and pulled himself forward, going counterclockwise on the wall.

I ran along the perimeter path beside him while he used his hands to slide along the wall. The training camp was enormous. We passed a stream twice that flowed in and out of the camp through a shallow hole in the wall. The rest was trees, pasture and gardens. It resembled the estate I shared with Maricua, my sister.

When the Balam Ch’ab completed his circuit around the camp, he did not appear out of breath. His ride ended at the other side of the ladder. I was anxious to get up and try it. I waited for him to climb back down.

Instead, he sat up and said, “One of the most important things for the transformation is the knowledge of where the jaguar’s sense of self resides. As men, we feel that our sense of self is often dependent upon a line that is vertical. We are upright beings. The jaguar is not, it is a horizontal creature. It parallels the ground. We are earth to sky; he is earth to earth in forward motion.”

He climbed down from the ladder and came to where I stood. “All right, Zaki. You need to get up there and position yourself the same as I showed you. Remember to tuck your feet up on the back.”

I climbed the ladder as quickly as possible and positioned myself. It was a relief to discover that the line for the hands was at a comfortable distance for me. He decided that I needed to apply some lard to the front of my feet to avoid blisters. From a small pouch hanging from the ladder, he found some lard and applied it to my feet. I was ready to go and almost pushed off, when he grabbed my ankle and held me there.

I wanted to get going, but he wanted to bore me with more talk about the jaguar’s sense of self.

He crouched down, resting on his haunches, and drew a straight dotted line in the sand of the perimeter walk. There was an arrow at one point. Next, he drew an inverted arrow, a vee, whose point originated midway along the dotted line. The ends of the vee extended a small bit from the end of the line with the arrow.

He stood up, brushing dirt from his hands. With his toe, he pointed at the dotted line and said, “This is the spine and tail of the jaguar.” The arrow indicated the advancing movement of the jaguar. The vee was a difficult concept for me to grasp.

“Always,” the Balam Ch’ab said, “the two separate lines of the vee flow from the origin of the spine. Physically, they are attached to the shoulders of the jaguar. The jaguar leads with its shoulders. Watch Chahel sometime and you will see the truth of my words. Even when she walks in that languid way of hers, she leads with her shoulders. The difficult thing is to keep in mind that the awareness is attached to the movement of the shoulders and alternates with the shoulders. Right, front and back while the left does the same. The sense of self shifts slightly, though not as largely as the sense of awareness shifts. It will feel as though it is moving in a half circle. Its forward motion is balanced at the spine. When the cat runs, the balance can be anywhere along the spine.”

I pretended to know what he meant since I was restless and eager to push off. I nodded with a serious look on my face as if I was weighing his words, when all I could think of was the fast ride he took upon the wall and how it looked like incredible fun.

“The jaguar’s sense of self is parallel to the ground and is always at the level of his spine. It moves forward and back along that level. A man’s sense of self can be anywhere and strives to go up as far as it can. The jaguar’s strives to move forward. Our natural inclination is to move upwards, the jaguar’s is to go forward.”

I needed to put a stop to his explanations and said, “I’m having a bit of trouble imaging what you said. Maybe I have to feel it while I am moving.”

He gave me a sly half-smile and said, “Perhaps. One final piece of advice: imagine that your hands are claws while you use them to grasp hold of the ridges along the wall.”

Without waiting for him to change his mind, I grabbed hold of the ridged line and pulled myself forward.


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