May 4, 2012

Another Way to Think About Nothing. ~ Amy Jirsa

Photo: Flickr

I was surprisingly moved by a recent article featured on NPR.

I say surprisingly because I had prematurely judged the article, based on its focus: art of a blank canvas. I’d always thought “that kind of art” to be self-important minimalism and, frankly, rather a depressing view of the world.

However, this article changed my opinion, at least on this particular piece of art. You should read the article and form your own opinion. But, here is my summary: The article points out a small bit of outer space which seem to contain nothing. It observes the same in a blank canvas. However, it tell us that blank bit of space contains “a mysterious ‘dark’ energy that is pressing out in all directions” that we don’t understand.

The canvas,”Erased de Kooning Drawing” by Robert Rauschenberg, is blank, yes, but at one time it wasn’t. As its title suggest, it contained a Willem de Kooning drawing which Rauschenberg then erased in his effort to illustrate emptiness.

Photo: Flickr

This got me thinking about the mind.

As a yoga instructor, I’m always encouraging my students to clear their minds, to empty their minds, to release attachment and desire. To most of my students (myself included) this, seems an impossible task. How does one think of nothing?

Well, you can’t, really. What’s going on is that you cease to project the mind into the future, into the past, or into fantasy. This is what we mean by nothing.

Get rid of that, then what’s left? Well, the moment, right? Your breath is what’s left. What about attachment, desire? Many of my students (again, myself included) don’t want to give up desire.

What’s left if you desire nothing? Again, I bring us to the moment. The moment unfolding before us—the fact that we breathe, we feel, we observe, the sun comes up and from moment to moment it changes the way we see the world, this is what’s left. We are left with this incredible, ongoing moment in which everything is perfect.

Imagine your worries, anxieties, and desires. How often do they effect you in the absolute moment? Most of the time, these desires and anxieties stem from projecting ourselves into a world that doesn’t yet exist except within our minds. By bringing ourselves into the moment, away from the projection, we find that everything is at peace.

Photo: Flickr

Our eyes are open to the miraculous around us, to what is so much bigger and what we have taken for granted for so long.

It’s such a simple thought, yet so hard to realize (much like Rauschenberg’s attempt to paint emptiness—how does one go about creating that which was never there?). So, in this way, we readdress our own sense of emptiness. In order to find peace in emptiness, we need to erase what has been engraved into us from early childhood, namely a sense of fear, of being unsafe. According to Buddhist master and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh;

“All kinds of desires are the continuation of our original desire to be safe…In the present moment there’s no problem, no threat. If we don’t have a problem in the present moment, it means we don’t have a problem.”

There is an art to emptiness and, just as de Kooning told Rauchenberg, when he gave away the drawing to be erased;

“I want it to be very hard to erase, I’m going to make it so hard for you to erase this.”

Fear is not easy to erase. It took Rauchenberg a month and several erasers to rub out the drawing; it can take us years to do the same. But in the end we have peace. We have art.

Read more: Vices: Yoga Props for Life?

Amy Jirsa is a writer, wanderer, yoga instructor and master herbalist. She makes her home at her studio, Quiet Earth Yoga, in Lincoln, Nebraska and on her blog. And if that’s not enough, you can also find her at Twitter @QuietEarthYoga or on Facebook (Quiet Earth Yoga). 

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Editor: Tanya L. Markul

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