Journey to Teotihuacan

By Steve Hasenberg

This short story was written after I had met the Nagual, don Miguel Ruiz and traveled with him to Teotihuacan, Mexico. It was a life changing experience in very unexpected ways. It is also  important to note, that no drugs were taken at any time during this journey. 

Night had fallen. The small stucco room was illuminated with the glow of white votive candles. I was sitting with three strangers around a small rectangular table. When the shaman entered the room, his presence shattered our uncomfortable silence. His thick flowing hair, dropping in silver curls, accented the intricate beadwork that adorned his buckskin jacket. He was a handsome man, massively built. His graceful movements reminded me of a large cat, a leopard or a jaguar. His poised and elegant manner was a provocative backdrop to the husky, powerful voice that seemed to shake the room as he began his teaching.

“Let go of your dreams,” he said. “These dreams about your life are not real, they are distractions. They are based on memories or false assumptions about the future. These dream images may appear hopeful or sentimental or inspiring, but they are nothing but a creation of mind, agreed upon personally and collectively. They obscure the radiance of God and the sanctity of the moment. We all live false lives captivated by our own fantasies, oblivious to the true nature of existence. This room, for instance, does not exist. The four of us have agreed upon its reality, its relativity.”

With a wave of his hand, a light wind began blowing from a dark corner. It picked up speed and soon blew fiercely through the windowless room.

“Look with your other eyes,” the shaman said. I didn’t know what he meant, but then I saw a thousand sparks dance through the darkness. I realized that these sparks were light particles spinning and colliding with each other. The sparks coalesced and transformed into long waves of luminescent fibers and then disappeared into wind.

“Keep seeing. Don’t take your eyes off me,” the shaman implored.

The shaman turned his large, powerful frame toward the left. Simultaneously a double of his body appeared toward the right. There were now two profiles, two shamans, one the mirror image of the other. I was confused; my senses felt deceived.

“How did you do that?” I asked.

The shaman smiled at me. “You already have this power,” he said, “but you have forgotten the magnitude of your own nature. Sorcery was once as close to you as your beating heart.”

The shaman moved toward me. With a forceful grip he took hold of my hands and peered deeply into my eyes. “You are a shaman, and this is your knowledge,” he said. I awoke with a start.

 “Describe his face,” Don Miguel said.

Suddenly, I was back in my car driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. Don Miguel was to my right and my sister-in-law, Tita, was listening attentively in the back seat. This was my first meeting with the nagual Don Miguel Ruiz, and I thought it was a fitting occasion to describe the profound dream which had lingered with me for months.

Tita had been studying with Don Miguel, a Mexican shaman, for more than a year. During that time I had noticed a distinct change in her temperament. She had a glow about her and exhibited a greater equanimity and self-assurance. Her new mood, at once serene and powerful, had aroused my curiosity about Don Miguel, and I had asked her to introduce us.

Don Miguel Ruiz is a Toltec whose spiritual lineage harkens back to Mexico’s antiquity. The Toltecs were recognized as supreme artists of the human spirit. They were the individuals who made a connection between the humans, the gods and God. They occupied a place of importance and influence in such thriving cities as Teotihuacán, Chichén Itzá, Palenque, Monte Alban, Tula, and Tenochtitlán, thousands of years ago.

The esoteric and sacred philosophy of the Toltecs has been described with clarity and insight by Carlos Castaneda in his numerous books about the teachings of Don Juan. Yet Don Juan’s teachings differ dramatically from the knowledge conveyed by Don Miguel in one important respect. Don Miguel told me that the nagual Don Juan taught the Warrior Path of knowledge, whereas he was teaching the Healing or Medicine path. These two distinct pathways represent the historical split in the Toltec tradition.

Both approaches led an apprentice toward personal freedom, but the Warrior path was a more rigorous and arduous journey. It demanded a radical and at times nightmarish confrontation with fear and the demons of the mind. In fact, fear was used to jolt an apprentice into alternative states of reality. There are endless examples of this technique in Castaneda’s descriptions of his labors with Don Juan. Whether being pursued by 100-foot-tall gnats, caught in a life or death battle with La Catalina, or made nauseous with hallucinogenic mushrooms, Carlos’s journey was a gruesome adventure, filled with shock, confusion and dread. It followed a path into the heart of darkness, leading an apprentice to a place where he could be free from his false assumptions and fears.

The Healing path taught by Don Miguel relies on the power and magnitude of divine love rather than fear or drugs to shift the apprentice into a higher lever of awareness. Don Miguel’s teachings focus on the release of negative self-judgments, the opening of the heart center and the overcoming of fear through the irresistible impact of love.

Attaining the mastery of life is the goal and end point of both pathways, one through a radical confrontation with fear and the other through a radical interaction with love. In both cases the apprentice becomes a spiritual warrior, one who is no longer battling the outer circumstances of life but who is at war with the false beliefs and limits of his or her own mind. The spiritual warrior is in a life or death battle not only to shatter the limits of a personal dream but also to transcend the boundaries of the world.

“I need more detail about the face,” Don Miguel said again. 

“The facial lines were deep like ravines, each one etched by a compelling experience. His skin was golden amber, and his eyes blazed like two polished obsidians. He looked like a Mayan Indian or a Navajo medicine man,” I answered.

“Describe his manner,” directed Don Miguel, “anything that stands out.”

Each scene rolled through my mind with a startling clarity.

“His manner was decisive, I replied. “Yet he carried himself with a sublime grace. His hands moved like the wind. At times he appeared more like a wild animal than a man. His stare penetrated through my being, not with judgment, but as if he could look through me, directly to my soul.”

Don Miguel nodded but did not speak. I was so insistent that he tell me the identity of this mythological character that I must have asked a half a dozen times. Each time he refused to answer me.

Finally, feeling foolish and increasingly agitated, I asked one more time.

Sensing my frustration, Don Miguel said, “You know very well who he is.”

“No, I don’t!” I implored, “Please, you must tell me, Don Miguel.”

He hesitated for a moment and said, “He is you!”

Noticing that I was startled, Don Miguel continued, “He is you from another lifetime. The dream that you had was a sign of power. It is time for you to come home.”

I was moved by Don Miguel’s words. It thrilled me to have something in common with the shaman, but something inside me rejected the identification. I was not a shaman, I thought; I was not that powerful.

The next time Don Miguel and I were together, we were seated in a simple family restaurant in Teotihuacán, Mexico. The restaurant was built on stilts to take advantage of the second story view of a grove of orange trees and bougainvillea. It was a quaint, rectangular sort of tree house that served the best mole in Teo. Our table faced a large window that looked out over the grassy Mexican plains to the 10,000 foot peaks of Cerro Gordo and the Toltec Pyramid of the Moon.

During his visit to Los Angeles, Don Miguel had asked me to travel with him to Teotihuacán and join a small group of his apprentices who were meeting him there. He had told me that Teotihuacán was a place of sacred power where he had attained the mastery of a nagual under the tutelage of his grandfather. He also said that I had an appointment with power and that I would understand much of my past there.

This journey to Teotihuacán was not just an outward expedition to an ancient pre-Columbian city. It was also an inward journey guided more by the prompting of my soul than the dictates of my reason. It represented the culmination of a myriad of spiritual pursuits and would prove to be a true homecoming.

As we sat at breakfast, a passage came to mind from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I related it to Don Miguel.

“In the Tibetan book,” I said, “Sogyal Rinpoche says that each year in Tibet, the lamas make a special pilgrimage to a northern corner of their country where the great masters of all ages are said to appear. It has been described as a very joyful and remarkable celebration. Christ comes, and Baba Gi, Buddha and Moses. Why don’t you take a group of people there sometime so we can witness this astounding event?”

Miguel turned to me with a smile and said, “We are there. There are two places in the world where the masters incarnate, Tibet and Teotihuacán. The rocks are alive here, alive with spirit, divine knowledge and divine energies.”

Built in the first century B.C., Teotihuacán was a sacred metropolis, for centuries the center of the pre-Columbian classical world. The name ‘Teotihuacán’ means the city where humans awake and become God. Its grassy landscape framed by towering extinct volcanoes is populated by the greatest expanse of monumental architecture in the new world -- massive and imposing pyramids, elegant palaces, ceremonial chambers, grand esplanades, temples and sanctuaries. The largest structures were built over a span of two centuries from limestone and volcanic rock with insets of smaller stones of red, white, grey, black, gold and mauve, arranged in artful geometric patterns. Each large edifice is adorned with magical sculptures and bas-reliefs, depicting living animals and mythical creatures. The Toltec religion is portrayed as a kind of idyllic paradise, guided by sacred priests and celebrated in grand and sacred ritual.

Our first morning in Teotihuacán was stunning. The sunlight danced against the sky, sparkling like a polished jewel. Aside from the trinket sellers who were hawking crystals, mythical figurines, and thin bracelets of hammered silver, the vast plains of Teotihuacán were silent, given over to the hushed music tall grasses make in the early morning breeze.

An ancient calm hung over the Quetzalpapalotl Palace (the Jaguar Palace), one that has been cultivated through two thousand years of prayer, meditation and ritual. Here was where the priests of Teotihuacán spoke directly to the gods and where the gods themselves whispered into the hearts of those pure enough to hear.

We had been meditating in the astronomy room of the Palace of the Jaguars. The stone courtyard was bordered with freestanding pillars carved with intricate bas-reliefs of quetzal birds and butterflies. The ceiling framed by antique magenta tile opened to the cobalt blue Mexican sky. Don Miguel had asked us to sit around the edge of the courtyard floor and close our eyes.

Suddenly, a blood-curdling scream rang through the palace. My heart was racing as I jumped up and looked to my right. I saw Don Miguel and three apprentices running toward Mary who was holding herself, sobbing uncontrollably. Mary, a psychologist from Las Vegas, later told me that while she was meditating, she found herself climbing a white rope that was leading her back to her soul.

“I was in an ecstatic state of awareness,” she said, “but then I noticed how far away my body was. I could barely make out its form, and I freaked out!”

As the air began to settle, I turned and noticed two people in the center of the courtyard. Gaia and her son Tré were sitting face to face, holding hands. As I watched them, the white stucco floor began to evaporate, its concrete hardness giving way to a golden yellow light. The brilliance of the light was so blinding that the two figures were swallowed in its radiance. As I looked around the room, it appeared that the other members of the group were sitting on the edge of eternity.

I was so overwhelmed with this vision that I lost myself in a reverie. I was sitting in the middle of the same courtyard at night, suspended in open space. I was a sky traveler embarked on a magnificent starlit journey into the dark night. I was charting star patterns, planetary movements and rotations. I was with a group of ancient astrologers whose job it was to make enlightened decisions about events in the Earth’s future, important events in Teotihuacán in the first century A.D.

My daydream was abruptly ended with a tap on my shoulder.

“Quickly, we must go,” Tré commanded.

I ran to catch up with him. As I made my way down the labyrinthine stairways of the palace, I heard Tré speaking loudly.

“Down three steps, four feet forward, down six steps, six feet forward, down ten steps. Now continue walking flat.”

In bewilderment I looked to Tré’s right and saw Michael, one of our group members walking with his eyes closed.

Tré then turned to me saying, “Michael went out of his body while he was meditating. Miguel told me to take him downstairs.”

Miguel reached our group and led us into a dark, empty room that appeared to be carved from the thick palace walls. We stood in a long hallway of private rooms that were the ancient sleeping quarters of the Teotihuacán priests.

“Michael, open your eyes. Please, open your eyes and look in the room!” Miguel shouted. “Look into the room, Michael!”

I was standing behind the group to the right, feeling anxious and a bit lost.

Suddenly, I was hit with something so powerful that I doubled over and clutched at my stomach. I began sobbing, as wave after wave of invisible energy struck me like the onrushing of a flood. I was being engulfed with love. But this love was foreign to me. It was so tender, so overwhelming and so sublime that it was nearly unbearable. It was the quintessence and root of every sensation we call love. The container of my heart, unaccustomed to the intensity of emotion and too small to accommodate its transcendent joy, broke open, over and over again.

Pulling myself upright, my shirt wet from a deluge tears, I walked toward the doorway of the dark room where Miguel, Michael and Tré were standing. Instantly, another wave of love washed over me, more forceful than before. I was in a torrential downpour of sensation and, losing my balance, I fell to the ground. The curtain between heaven and earth lifted, and I was cast into the kingdom of God. My consciousness was an ocean of sublime peace and joy. I was a fire burning with love.

From that exalted pinnacle, I perceived myself on earth. My normal life appeared insignificant and petty, not because the circumstances lacked depth or substance, but because the degree of aliveness, joy and love appeared diminutive by comparison. My days seemed a pale reflection of what I knew now to be the grandeur of my own nature.

I sensed a presence moving toward me from inside of the room. At first the figure was vague, but as it came closer I could discern the outlines of his garments. I realized -- and this came as a tremendous shock -- that Christ was walking toward me. A barrage of skeptical notions flew across my mind. I am Jewish; Jewish people don’t believe that Christ was the Messiah; Christ was just an ordinary man, elevated through superstition and the intense desire of others into the savior of the world.

My thoughts ceased. I was overtaken with an ineffable longing, and I crawled on my hands and knees and fell at His feet. Supernal electricity ran through my body as Christ stood over me. I was in the shining world, the heart of heaven, and I cried as He embraced me for what seemed like an eternity.

As if from a great distance, I heard someone whispering into my ear. I recognized the gentle voice of Miguel.

“Now you remember being here with Christ. You remember playing with him during the full moon.”

And I was lost in a profound joy. I no longer felt human; my thinking and feeling were forever altered. I had become one with the divine.

Opening my eyes after all of that joyous weeping, I had the odd sensation of not knowing how to use them. When I looked around me I sensed that I was seeing the earth for the first time. It was as if I was being initiated into the secret desire of Earth, to be viewed in her splendor, freed from the strain and pull of humanity. Liberated and uninhibited, Earth revealed her beauty to me. She blossomed as a wondrous world, suffused with color, exalted, wild with love.

I had transcended the boundaries of the world, and the world had taken flight with me. Each object was illuminated from within. The atoms of rock were dancing with the electricity of daylight. Every breath was suffused with pleasure, with poetry. I was making love with the most beautiful and beguiling woman on earth, the Goddess. The saffron aura of stones mixed with the jet blue of air. Raucous, unruly laughter rolled out of me and merged with tears. Everything was floating and free.

I saw the joy in people’s faces, and the delicious heartfelt sadness. Every sight I gazed at made profound sense. Nature was in extreme balance. Each movement was danced with an amorous passion, every touch was thrilling. The earth was singing a passionate song, alive and in love.

As I sat against the ancient Toltec walls, I knew that I had come home. This was the moment that my life had longed for, sensed in the deepest imprint of my being. It was the holy moment that I sought in each new romance, the desire that drove me from woman to woman, from teacher to teacher. It represented the end of my wandering, the end of separation, and the end of my spiritual homelessness.

When my daughter was born I felt a glimmer of this miracle. I also experienced a piece of it on mountain tops, at twilight near the sea, at the foot of cascading waterfalls. I realized that every desire that carried me through the world was a desire for this love, this ecstasy, this flowering. And I knew for certain that all other human beings were also seeking this experience, and that our earthly lives were but a shadow of the clear, vibrant, infinite love of heaven, and of the truth of our own obscured nature.

Miguel had returned. His dark brown eyes were bright and beckoning.

“Please, come with me. I want to show you something remarkable.”

To Miguel’s left there was an attractive Mexican woman named Mataji, which in Hindi means “great mother.” She was speaking in tongues, and her face was beatific. Miguel took my left hand, and the three of us began our descent into the heart of the palace. Mataji and I, in our alternating states of laughter, tears, and strange vocalizations, must have appeared to any casual observer to be mad.

Miguel led us through dark cavernous passageways to an Islamic-type doorway that was carved into the stone. It stood seven feet high and led nowhere. At the foot of the doorway was a stone platform, and then seven wide steps that descended to the floor where we were standing. Miguel told us to look at the circle of light in the middle of the doorway.

I remember laughing to myself, thinking how absurd it was to perceive a light in this unlit, shadowy darkness. There was barely enough illumination to make out the doorway. But within seconds a flash of lightning appeared. It was dim at first, but as I concentrated on it, it began spinning. As it spun, it became brighter until it burst into filaments of streaming brilliant light.

I was struck by a tidal wave of love that made me shudder. I doubled over and began sobbing. I became obsessed with climbing the steps and standing in the doorway. Since I was incapable of walking, I began hoisting myself up, stair by stair. Halfway up, I was thrown backwards by an onrushing force to the cold floor below. Hitting the ground, I had a vision. I saw the light in the middle of the doorway become matter, transforming itself into the form and flesh of Christ, who gazed at me, immersed in an unforgettable shining aura. As I met the piercing stare of his eyes, his body burst into light, and he vaporized into darkness again. I was speechless.

The next thing that I remember was daylight and the sounds of screaming.

“Medico! Medico!”

The guards of Teotihuacán were yelling at Miguel to get me medical assistance. Miguel was hollering back that I was not suffering from a physical collapse but rather an emotional catharsis. I felt jubilant and thought that despite my exterior appearance, I had never felt happier. We were sitting on the exterior steps of the Palace of the Jaguars and Miguel was holding me in his arms. He was the most loving father, the most comforting friend.

Later that night, Miguel would tell our group that the “Islamic doorway” that I experienced was called the Portal. It was an energy arc that connected our world with other dimensions. It was very common for great masters such as Christ, Baba Gi, and Buddha to materialize in that spot and live among the priests of Teotihuacán in the early centuries of its theocratic origin.

“The three of you are in the second attention,” Miguel said. I looked around and saw my sister-in-law, Tita, for the first time. She had apparently been with us all along, but I had not noticed her.

“There are other apprentices who need my help,” Miguel said. “You three stay here. When you feel up to it, I want you to climb the Pyramid of the Moon. I will wait for you at the top. Take your time.”

The thought of climbing a two hundred foot pyramid was so ridiculous that the three of us burst into a simultaneous, almost hysterical fit of laughter. Clutching each other for support, we made our way to the foot of the Pyramid of the Moon.

About one hundred yards in front of the pyramid was a gigantic boulder cast upright in the ground. This eight-foot-tall black boulder was called the Guardian Stone. Mataji told Tita and I to put our arms around the stone and embrace it. As soon as my hands touched the cool surface of the rock, I was drawn into it the way Alice must have been as she tumbled through the opening of the rabbit hole. I fell into the interior of the stone. I perceived vast grids of light that disappeared into the distance. I was traveling at phenomenal speed into the microscopic, atomic world of rock, and, most surprisingly, I was unafraid. In fact, I felt blessed.

A gentle calmness had overtaken me. The boulder exhibited an anthropomorphic tenderness toward me that was so heartfelt that I thought I was being embraced by a human being or a god.

When I opened my eyes, I was looking directly at the Pyramid of the Moon. It gleamed in the midday sun with a breathtaking, vaporous aura that danced twelve feet above its apex. Just as the guardian stone was animate with consciousness and exhibited a profound kindness toward me, this great towering edifice was also alive.

As I watched groups of Mexican adults and children climb its steep face, I realized that the monument was constructed from layers of intelligent light as well as from stone and mortar. I remembered Miguel’s words during our first breakfast in Teotihuacán. He said that the rocks were alive with energy and creative intelligence and were blueprinted for future generations by the master builders who first set foot here. In some inextricable way, everyone who made the pilgrimage up the pyramid was being redeemed and healed.

In attempting to make sense of this with my Western mind, I thought back to my first trip to Florence, Italy in 1978. I had come upon Donatello’s seven-foot marble saint in the Cathedral Museum. The delicacy of spring was urging its birth with the first blossoms and shoots that pushed their way through winter’s cold soil. In this fertile atmosphere, I had discovered Donatello’s sculpture and was caught off guard when I noticed that the veins in the statue’s right arm began to pulse with life. There was a mysterious breath to the stone, a palpable vibrancy to the skin.

The power of Donatello’s consciousness had cut into the marble five hundred years before, capturing forever his artistic spirit. Just as the love of the artist for his creation caused consciousness to transfer from hand and chisel into the heavy marble, so too the conscious love of the sacred architect priests of Teotihuacán caused heaven to emanate from cold stone. It is that divine love that is the bridge between heaven and earth. And it is that love that is the real mortar and limestone of Teotihuacán.

Arriving atop the Pyramid of the Moon, I was amazed at my agility as I literally leaped up its vertical wall. Miguel greeted me with a broad smile, his childlike enthusiasm spilling in every direction. He took my hand and said, “Look at Hell. Look at it with your other eyes.”

Miguel told us that Hell in Teotihuacán cosmology was symbolized as the Earth, a place where human beings dreamed that they were not God. Human emotions, he said, were so dominating that they severely limited an individual’s ability to attain freedom or mastery over life or death. In other words, Hell existed on Earth by virtue of man’s inability to master his emotions. Yet Hell was a dream, a collective and personal delusion that each one of us had agreed to maintain. And because it was a dream, it could be changed. In fact, if we were able to release judgment about ourselves and others, the dream of Hell could transform into the dream of Heaven.

The Pyramid of Hell was three miles to the south, past the Pyramid of the Sun, the largest monument in Teotihuacán, down the broad avenue coined by the 16th century Aztecs as the Avenue of the Dead, and further south through the five large grassy courtyards each of which symbolized a different element: air, water, fire, earth and temptation.

The Rio San Juan divided the Ciudadela, the city of Hell, from the rest of Teotihuacán. The Ciudadela was the center of commercial and political life for seven centuries, with the Rio San Juan serving as the border between the general population of Teotihuacán and the sacred college of priests.

A lay person in the first century A.D. could only traverse the river by invitation of a priest.

Walking through the rushing waters of its river signaled the start of an individual’s spiritual journey. It marked the beginning of an ascent from the false self and its limited dream of life, back to the godhead, which in Teotihuacán was the Sun, the source of all energy and intelligent life on the Earth.

As I observed Hell from this two hundred foot summit, I heard frightful screams. I heard the voices of friends and clients, I heard my wife’s voice, I heard my own voice. I heard thousands of strangers screaming. 

The howling was overwhelming. Each person was in pain. In that moment, I had a profound realization that the louder the screaming, the more distant an individual was from God.

The screams symbolized a separation from God, from spirit, from one’s own nature. And the greater the distance from God, the greater the fear, confusion and suffering one experienced on Earth. Encoded in each scream was a solution to the pain. But each individual solution demanded a turning inward, a turning toward blazing fire, toward horrible fear, toward self-doubt and self-judgment. It is this interior movement that is so difficult. But as the haunting pain of fear is within, so too is the comforting balm of salvation. I remembered a line from the Persian mystic Rumi, which reads, “Move inside but don’t move the way fear makes you move.”

The interior, self-created pain causes one to reach outward toward the world for comfort, safety and security. But the world itself is impermanent, always changing, always shifting. The facing of one’s interior darkness is the only true pathway toward light.

Hearing those cries made me weep. I had the greatest compassion for all of Earth’s suffering. My love for humanity, for the Earth herself, was forcing me back to Hell. I understood the urgency of descending the pyramid to collect the parts of myself that were still asleep and suffering, and to attempt to help others who were also lost. I understood how difficult it would be to maintain my perception of freedom and how quickly I would be ensnared by the temptations of the world. Yet I felt compelled to travel back to Hell and the prison of my false self with a vision from Heaven.

The winds picked up. As I looked out over the vast Teotihuacán plains, billowing white clouds were hurrying through the heavens. The next morning our group would walk to the Pyramid of Hell and begin the arduous yet precious process of personal redemption. I would have to face Quetzalcoatl, the serpent of the dead and in my own unique way breathe life into the parts of myself that were still dreaming.