My house is on a low mesa at the edge of the desert. Well...that's stretching it a bit. I'm still pretty close to Santa Fe, so the 'desert' is really a large patch of undeveloped hillside, covered with cactus and sage and piņons. But l like to think of it as the desert. Consider it an amusing affectation - my friends do.
Anyway, because there is this empty desert-like patch behind my house, I wind up sharing the mesa with any number of interesting critters. Since I've been living here, I have seen crows, coyotes, chipmunks, prairie dogs and the occasional javalina (kind of a wild pot-bellied pig). I even had a hawk take a fancy to my roof for a while. Every time I would come home, there he would be perched on the roof, checking me out. I haven't seen him in a while, though. He probably found a righteous babe hawk to soar the skies with. And I have already mentioned don Genaro in a couple of these stories. He's the jackrabbit who lives out behind my house and who has come to consider my garden his private cafeteria. He has grown so used to me that when I am sitting out on the patio, he just hops right in through the cast-iron gate, ignoring me completely, and proceeds to munch away at my newly-planted herbs and flowers. I don't get much company here, so I always let him.
Most of these critters are extremely well-behaved. They have obviously read Emily Post and as a result rarely intrude on my personal space, as I try to avoid intruding on theirs. So I never have to think twice about leaving my doors open on hot days to allow a little breeze to blow through the house.
Today was such a day. I was sitting in my front room, windows and doors wide open as I sat at the computer finishing up a story. I was into the final wordsmithing phase - reading the piece over and over, deleting a word here, adding one there, trying to come up with just the right syntax to convey just the right feeling - when I heard this weird scritching sound.
The sound caught my attention because I couldn't identify it. I have gotten pretty used to the normal sounds around my house - the calling of birds, the whistle of wind through the piņons, the cute little thump thump thump as don Genaro runs by carrying off a big mouthful of my most expensive basil. But this wasn't one of those normal sounds, so I kept looking up from the computer to try to figure out what it was. I would sit there looking out the window and listening, but whenever I did this, the scritching sound would stop and I couldn't see a thing out of the ordinary. So I would go back to typing and the scritching would start up again.
This went on for some time, until I finally realized that the scritching wasn't coming from outside my window. It was coming from inside the house. I slowly turned around in my seat and looked behind me.
There, standing in the doorway looking at me, was a roadrunner. He had obviously wandered in through one of the open doors, and the scritching sound had been made by his little feet running across the tile floors. He noticed me looking at him and tilted his head to one side. I tilted my head the same way. He straightened his head up; I straightened my head up. We repeated this dance a couple of times. Finally I said, "Hi there," and - no shit - he chirped twice in reply.
And no, it wasn't quite "Beep Beep," but it was close.
We kept this act going for awhile - tilting heads, talking, getting to know each other. He would run away down the hall for a bit, and I would hear the scritching sound, and then he would come back and look at me again. This was Serious Fun, but after a while I started to notice that he never quite wandered out of the house, and I became worried that he might hurt himself while running around like this.
So I got up from my chair and walked towards him, with the intention of shooing him in the general direction of the front door. Well, he took one look at me and took off just like...well...uh...just like the roadrunner from the cartoon series.
There was no cartoon cloud of dust left hanging in midair, but there could have been. This sucker was fast. I walked out into the hall, just in time to see him disappearing around the corner into my kitchen. I walked to the kitchen door and caught a glimpse of his tail feathers disappearing into the dining room. By this time I was really getting into this, so I started running a little. It didn't help. I ran around the corner into the dining room, only to find him zooming across the living room and back down the hall again. I ran faster, thinking, "I've got him now. If he just keeps running down the hall, he will run right out the front door." But instead of making for the door, he hung a left and ran into my bedroom. There is only one door into that room, so I knew I finally had him. I careened around the corner and into the bedroom, but then stopped dead in my tracks when I saw him.
He was standing in the middle of my bedroom, staring at the only cute stuffed animal I have in the house. It's a stuffed Wile E. Coyote. No shit. I saw him years ago at a booth in a fair, and fell so in love with him that I stood there throwing darts at balloons for almost an hour until I finally won him. I probably spent far more than his retail value, but it didn't matter. I just saw him and knew that I had to take him home.
And so here he sits, on one of my bedside tables, big yellow eyes checking out the room. And the roadrunner is standing in the center of the room, checking out the coyote. The roadrunner looks at the stuffed animal and tilts his head to one side. Wile E., being somewhat...uh...stuffed, doesn't respond. The roadrunner turns and looks at me. Then he turns and looks back at the coyote. Then he turns back to me and - no shit - issues this single chirp, as if to say, "What's up, dude? I've been having fun with you, but this guy doesn't seem to want to play."
I lose it completely. The whole scene is so ridiculous that I am almost literally rolling on the floor laughing. The roadrunner, completely unafraid, stands there watching me laugh until tears roll down my face.
Finally, I pull myself together and walk out of the bedroom. Realizing that I am never going to catch the little sucker, I walk back to the front room and leave him to find his own way out. I sit back down at the computer and do a File Search to find a particular quote. I retrieve it, and start typing this story.
The quote is from notes I took one of the first times I saw Rama. The setting is the Los Angeles Convention Center. I am sitting in the audience, thinking that I am going to see yet another spiritual teacher clone. You know what I mean. Boy! am I in for a surprise. Rama comes out wearing slacks and a sweater and sits down on this day-glo afghan that is draped over a folding table. Within five minutes he has the entire room rolling in the aisles with laughter. I soon get that this is no spiritual teacher clone. Who could they have cloned to come up with someone this outrageous?
He talks about meditation, but interweaves it with talk of fast cars, of great restaurants, of the weird billboard he saw today on Sunset Boulevard. I am seriously perplexed. I just can't figure this guy out. Then we meditate, and I am even more lost. The guy clowning around in the front of the room closes his eyes and I close mine and the room just goes away. There is no Rama, there is no audience, there is no me - there is only the pure, absolute silence of eternity.
After the meditation, he begins to talk about enlightenment, and I listen pretty closely, because based on my subjective experience of meditating with him, I'm kinda interested in what he has to say about the subject. Some of what he says I have heard before. There are few surprises, but that is as it should be. The messenger may be different - in this case, very different - but the message is the same.
So what most impresses me is not the subject matter but the clarity and ease with which Rama discusses incredibly complex and sophisticated subjects. He just lays things on the line, without a lot of confusing spiritual doublespeak. I find myself liking this guy a lot. Then he tells the roadrunner story, and I realize that I have found my teacher.
Someone in the audience asks him to describe enlightenment. He sits for a moment in silence, and then replies, "That's a tough one. This is one of the ultimate unanswerable questions - Buddha refused to even try."
Rama pauses for another moment, and then responds by talking about the Roadrunner cartoon he'd seen at the movies the other night. At first I think he is avoiding the subject altogether, and is off on a total non-sequitur. But somehow he manages to turn the Roadrunner cartoon into an extended metaphor for the spiritual quest.
"Wile E. Coyote," he explained, "is a great seeker. He has spent many cartoon lifetimes chasing this bird, and he never quite catches it. He is obviously a fairly accomplished siddha master, because he keeps getting killed in the most horrible ways, only to reappear after the fade with yet another plot and a box of Acme products to implement it. You can tell that he's even begun to understand that the ground rules of the cartoon universe he inhabits dictate that he will never catch the roadrunner, yet he never gives up. He has great dedication to the path.
"The point of all this is simply that the coyote, try as he may, can never catch the roadrunner. Not as long as he's still a coyote. He has to change into something else - escape the laws ruling the cartoon universe - to achieve his goal. And what happens then? The coyote becomes a roadrunner."
Rama paused for effect and then continued, "Not one of you in the audience will ever achieve enlightenment. No one achieves enlightenment, but they can become it. You have to give up your limited, fixed notions of self, merge with the light that you seek, and become enlightenment itself."
Sitting here at the computer, typing this, the truth of these words resonates as deeply within me as it did that night so many years ago. It's a cool moment, so I just sit with it for a while. Finally, I look up and notice that it has grown dark. I get up and walk around the house, turning on lights, looking for the roadrunner, but he is nowhere to be found. He must have found his own way out. Remembering the scene in the bedroom, I smile again, and for a moment I kinda miss him. I had fun chasing him.
I walk to the front door and start to close it, but then I stop, leaving it open. He'll probably be back. I think we are going to be friends.