On the cusp of June, baby rabbits skitter in and out of the garden’s delphiniums blue as the Virgin’s robes. The rabbits are fleet but not fleet enough to escape my terrier whose collar I hold when one of the rabbits hurries past, jumping up the jagged flagstone porch before disappearing into a hole beneath the small house.
If your mind is empty, a Zen proverb says, it is always ready for anything, open to anything. Emptiness is the luxuriant potential within the porcelain cup on the windowsill, the cup my grandmother carried with her from Europe after the war. Though I have drunk tea from this cup, I’d rather gaze into its whiteness. Only when it is empty does it suggest possibility, the unknown.
We humans are left-brained creatures. The left brain fills spaces, holes, voids; it fills them with word and thought. Whereas the right brain is silent, spacious, undulant as the New Mexico sky buffeted by the ancient mountains the Spaniards crossed and named, the left brain is always interpreting, counseling, and chattering. It is quick to remind that language requires a speaker and a listener, communication, yes, but a joining that comes with the separation of I and you.
This evening, three hundred miles from home, I sit on the flagstone porch, my terrier beside me. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains’ colors, in this light, at this hour, resemble the blue delphiniums, though in the time it would take to cook a pot of rice, the mountains will have purpled, the sky behind them incarnadining to a pink I have seen only in roses at that crepuscular hour before dark. My terrier and I have come back from a four mile run. I stretch my muscles on the mat; she sits beside me, her hazel eyes watchful, attentive. She seems to expect nothing more than the sound of the wind and the arrival of the day’s last birds. It is only when a baby rabbit pops up in the tall grass that her ears prick, and I reach for her collar.
The right brain is at peace with the emptiness I hear in the wind tonight, the wind coursing through this parched land where the forest fire signal is “high.” This country is known as the Land of Enchantment, but enchantment comes at a high price. Real estate prices are high, and most of the cars here are imports, SUVs. Bears rummage through the garbage bins, their own wildness increasingly encroached upon. (And don’t get me started on the deer.) Downtown, in the Plaza, Indians hawk their wares in a courtyard, spreading silver and turquoise jewelry and other handmade objects on rough-hewn blankets. “You buy?” one woman asked me earlier when I stopped before silver droplets like tears. “No,” I said smiling, “but thank you.”
Consider again the baby rabbits skittering in and out of the blue delphiniums, the baby rabbits jumping up the jagged flagstones and then disappearing into a hole beneath the house.
We could ally the left brain with reason and the right with energy, what the Chinese call Chi. When the Chi is flowing freely, one arrives at a feeling of unity, wholeness. How does one arrive at this wholeness? By following the energy—by trusting in it—moment to moment.
Energy is not matter. One should not try to contain it—think atomic bombs, oil spills, the vertigo of cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix. Energy is not matter, though we recognize it in the fleetness of the rabbits and in the openness of my own body tonight. Breathing in, I close my eyes, imagine the breath loosening the tight places between my shoulders, that knot at the base of my spine.
Well before darkness enfolds the mountains, the rabbits will have found shelter for the night, but for now I can see one amid the irises, already past their purple bloom. The rabbit’s ears twitch in the wind, and although the rabbit is not looking at me or my dog, this creature small enough to fit in the palm of my mind is conscious of our presence. Were the terrier or I to move, the rabbit would bolt from the flowers.
Energetic will requires that one focus her energy by visualizing the end result before she begins. However, this is not the same thing as being invested in an outcome.
When I was seven years old, the neighbor’s calico cat killed a wild rabbit, orphaning her babies. My father found the nest while working in the garden. By the time he reached it, all the baby rabbits but one had died. “Look at what I have here,” he said, uncapping his palms so that I could see the tiny creature, all eyes and ears and pounding heart. “Do you think we can care for it?” “Yes,” I told him. “Oh, yes.” All summer, we fed the rabbit with an eyedropper, proceeded to a tiny bottle. We kept the rabbit in a hutch near the roses, and near summer’s end, once it was big enough, my father told me that we had to let it go. I could not argue against keeping this twitching, fleet being in a box, and so despite my tears, I was the one to unlatch the door. For months afterwards, even years, I became convinced that a particular rabbit that appeared in the garden was the very rabbit we had saved. And when the calico cat killed a rabbit in our yard, I likewise believed that she had killed our rabbit.
If your mind is empty, a Zen proverb says, it is always ready for anything, open to anything.
The rabbit’s death happened more than three decades ago. And I am still learning how to be at peace with the emptiness I hear in the wind moving through the branches of the trees and in the fleetness of the rabbits that, once gone, leave no trace that they were ever here.