Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There.
You’ve probably heard someone say this, or maybe even said it yourself. But it was Sylvia Boorstein whose turn of phrase reintroduced us to the idea that just being, instead of doing, might help provide solutions to some of the problems we create for ourselves today: the frenetic striving for perfection, the avoidance of uncomfortable truths, etc. The gift of this concept came as the title of one of Boorsteins books, a kind of guide to creating your own meditation retreat.
As a representation of one of the main concepts of Buddhism, Boorstein’s exhortation is truth-in-a-nutshell.
Since humans generally do not see things in the most uncomplicated way possible, we often exhaust ourselves making up our own version of reality on a platform of our individual histories, fears, memories etc. We frighten or discourage ourselves before we even get going. It is believed that animals do not burden themselves with such destructively creative forms of perception.
Mindfulness is seeing things as they actually are, not as we imagine them to be….Pleasant and unpleasant experiences, the Buddha explained, the joys and pains of everyday life, are not the problem. The yearning and despising—the imperative in the mind that things be different—the extra tension in the mind that disappears when things are seen clearly and understood fully, is what the Buddha called suffering. Mindfulness—the relaxed, non-clinging, non-aversive awareness of present experience—is a skill that, like any other skill, requires developing.
Years ago, Boorstein developed a kind of do-it-yourself mindfulness retreat for people who weren’t yet ready or able to take the plunge and visit a mindfulness center. I love this idea of setting aside time to care for our selves in a kind of constructive restfulness. Not only for the mind, but also for the body as we ride.
As we ride???? Yes!
Sally Swift employed ideokinesis (the use of imagery to effect changes in the body) very creatively in Centered Riding®. Riders can use the tool of ideokinesis to imagine an active resting state in the saddle.
Active resting? Yes again!
Try this first at home. For five or ten minutes, lie down on your back on the floor. Don’t drift off into the mind-numbing daydreams you might be tempted to allow. Put your arms by your side, palms up or down, whichever is comfortable. If you need a towel under your knees or a pillow under your neck for comfort, get one. Imagine gravity as the active entity it is. Watch it work on your body as it helps your muscles release tension. During the process of release, notice any areas of tension that have become patterns in your body. You will recognize those spots where gravity has to work harder. Send messages of gratitude to those areas, for they will be your teachers. Also, send gratitude to gravity for assisting you in releasing them. You may find that you have to be very clear in giving suggestions to your body to assist gravity in its task: “allow my neck to be free of tension,” or “I’m noticing the rise and fall of my breath, but this makes me breathe faster.” The most important thing about active resting is doing nothing. Don’t just do something, lie there. Do not cling to any idea of what you must accomplish during the exercise, even if it is relaxation. You might find that this is even more refreshing than a short nap.
With practice, you will begin to develop more awareness of your body and its relation to the earth. “Well what do you know? It’s not my body’s job to resist gravity! I can allow my body to move within the earth’s gravitational field without undue stress on my muscles! All I have to do is allow it!”
Remember that the path of least resistance is always available to you, because it will be important when you try this exercise in the saddle.
Now that you have set up the conditions for awareness of your body in space and maintaining a space of least resistance, you can try this active rest in the saddle. Your horse will be thrilled. At first you may worry about this idea of some kind of floppy-muscled Zen session in the saddle: is it safe? Think about the last time you stopped getting in your horse’s way, and your muscles stopped competing with his to get the job done. There was a much better flow, wasn’t there? That’s what this exercise is all about. You can set up an active resting retreat in the saddle anytime you want.
Make sure you are in an enclosed area, such as a fenced arena or round pen, just in case anything goes wrong, or your horse is really fresh or extra delighted to be liberated from the constraints of your muscular control.
Swing yourself into the saddle, make sure to give your horse a good rub on the neck, and explain to him what you are doing. This is important.
Keep your eyes open (you’d be nuts to close them!!!). Be aware of your surroundings but try not to focus on any one thing. Hear the sounds around you but don’t listen. Alertness without that laser-like focus of the straight-line, left-brain thinker is the goal. You can do it. It’s only a few minutes’ worth.
Remove your feet from the stirrups, let go your vice grip on the reins, and practice the same non-doing that you tried at home. If you are willing to let go of any desired outcome, you will feel gravity work to join you and your horse together as one being.
Being physically together without an agenda, allowing the stress of your muscles’ resistance to gravity (and to the horse) to melt away. Remember those resistant muscles in the active resting exercise at home on the floor? Recognize them now, give them the extra attention they deserve, and your will feel your horse do the same.
Notice what you feel beneath you. Has the horse’s back come up beneath the saddle to meet you? Perhaps it has shrunk away? Does his breathing match your own or is it slower?
In time, each of you will learn to allow your bodies to stop resisting one another. Your mutual awareness can flourish and grow in this space.
Active resting can be expanded to include riding, as in the practice of walking meditation. But that’s a post for another day.
The active resting retreat is a useful tool because the rider is setting up conditions where insights are likely to arise. In this intimate encounter with your horse, you rely on perception rather than action, receiving rather than sending. It’s like becoming a child all over again. Bringing a “beginner’s mind” to being with your horse can awaken us to a fuller, wiser understanding of what riding him really is.
© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch and Kim Cox Carneal
NB Thanks to Debra Crampton who wrote Nothing Doing in this month’s Centered Riding eBulletin for giving me the impetus to finish this this post (started many months ago) as well as the term, ideokinesis, which I add to my working vocabulary with delight. It’s interesting to note that the “Construcive Rest,” “Active Rest,” and other techniques for generating attentive stillness do not trace back simply to the Alexander Technique or to any school of Ideokinesis, but to Buddhist meditation techniques as described by the historical Buddha more than 2,500 years ago.
I learned of Sylvia Boorstein’s DIY Meditation Retreat concept in a recorded interview at Shamhala Sunspace.
What on earth is she talking about?
What does that have to do with horsemanship?
Don’t click away. Let me explain. Or let me begin and then you can apply this concept to horsemanship. You won’t need my help.
The Dedication of Merit is chanted at the end of meditation or other positive actions with the intention to help all beings become enlightened.
Here is one English translation:
By this merit, may all attain omniscience. May it defeat the enemy, wrongdoing. From the stormy waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death, may I free all beings.
When we work so hard, emotionally, phusically, mentally, dedicating our work to a cause that is greater than we are, that encompasses the object of our effort and the entire universe as well, has a grounding, solidifying effect. Though it is not its intended purpose exactly, I am comforted by the dedication of merit I offer at the beginning and end of each work session. It offers the greatest gift to the horses I touch, the lives I encounter, and to my own faltering human form.
I am thinking today as well of Tamara of the Barb Wire, and her efforts with her horses Consolation and Aaruba, as well as her own recent injury and the cause of it. We can so often get swamped by the need to get things done, to solve problems, to cause others to take responsibility for their actions or the lack thereof, that we fail to remember what it is we are working for.
Take a moment and think what it is you are really working for.
At the moment, I am working for my own salvation from anger and victimhood and the continuing positive feedback loop that anger engenders. May my efforts to conquer anger defeat the enemy, wrongdoing. From my own efforts and existence in human form, may all beings find freedom.
In general, I work for the well-being and liberation of all animals through working with horses.
Obviously, I have written here a Buddhist dedication of merit. But there are many ways this might be altered to fit your own intention. Intention is everything, isn’t it? If the Buddhist source version doesn’t ring your bell, then make up your own.
It’s all about being aware of what we do and why we do it.
If you come up with your own personal version of the Dedication of Merit, particularly as it relates to your horse work, please post it here or in your own blog and linkback. I am very interested in reading how mindful horsepeople might interpret this ultimate call to mindfulness.
© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch
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Mindful Monday: Intent, or Know What You Want, and What You Have to Give in an Interaction With Your Horse
Commonly referred to as the Power of Intention by modern-day gurus of new-age retail, this phrase is usually about manifesting what you want, from money to relationships to personal actualization. BUT
New-age spiritual gurus such as Wayne Dyer and Eckhart Tolle, while their messages are to be respected because of their sources, repackage the original ancient wisdom of the Buddha, with a little Christianity, Sufism, Judaism, Islam and other traditions thrown in when they fit. It’s no wonder their thoughts resonate with so many people. Picking and choosing and creating a whole new world view based on eons of teachings is tempting. It has been suggested to me that because of the powers of modern marketing, the messages of these gurus reach many who might ordinarily be closed to such ideas. I understand that. It doesn’t stop me from distrusting anyone who benefits financially from doctoring up old ideas, distancing them from their original context, and disseminating them as their own. The Buddha never made a dime from showing the world how to awaken from misery.
Ok, now on the the real content. Sorry for the pedantic rant.
There is a Lojong Slogan (no, not the Chariman Mao-type Slogan, just a thought to bring you back to your intent for living each moment) that says, “All activities should be done with one intention.”
Of course, this slogan refers to the intention of awakening compassion to all living things. On a more practical level, we as horse people might apply this slogan to a given work period with our horses. When I go to the barn to spend time with Maira, I will often just go. I haven’t formed in my mind any special intent, other than to love her, and to ride, or to work in the ring.
This lack of forethought does us both an injustice. For my part, I haven’t nailed down what I need to get out of this interaction. Bonding? Improving a particular skill? Working on Maira’s skills alone? Clear formulation of my goals will prevent me from feeling that amorphous sense of failure I often get after a session. This feeling of failure comes from not having met equally ill-defined goals. Maira will feel a similar sense of dissatisfaction. Horses know your intent. First and foremost they must feel our delight in being in their company. Our acceptance of them at whatever stage they occupy on the training scale. When we are clear with them about what we want, and equally clear with them when they have achieved it, they feel safer. They understand the boundaries of the session. A horse who understands the boundaries is more likely to enjoy the session and to achieve the intended skill.
Given that you never know what will come up when you work with horses, you may be presented with something altogether different from what you planned. For instance, I might enter the round pen hoping to work on some speedy backing up. But I may have to postpone backing up because Maira does not see the wisdom of yielding her head to me, which must occur first. I will, in effect, have to be okay with starting over.
Number one on my list of intents for any session should be: a willingness to start at the beginning. Start where you are, no whining about missed opportunities. Each day you get a new horse, with new issues.
Number two on my list of intents for any session should be a single, all-encompassing goal of working with the horse I get. Accepting the situation that is. So Maira is a little bullish in the round pen. “What do you mean, yield my head?” I have to be willing to accept that this is what is. No “You knew how to do this yesterday and you will do it today!”
Number three on my list of intents is to follow through on my original plan, to the best of my ability. If I’d planned on working on backing, I will stick with it until I get a good, solid back up. Once that’s done, it’s all I need. Mission accomplished. Even if I’ve spent the last hour working on the steps that lead to a clumsy reverse gear on the ground, I will still get a back up. Accept the gift of a few steps in reverse and call it a success. It is amazing how many people do not know when to say when. It’s because they haven’t clearly defined their goals beforehand, and thus cannot see that they have reached them. Open minded compassion for the animal and their relationship with it goes by the wayside as they keep pushing. It’s easy to turn this around once you have established your goal and stuck with it. Quit while you’re ahead.
On a plane that encompasses the practical and the spiritual, the underlying intention of all work with horses should be to see them for who they really are and to cooperate with them to build a working relationship. Manifesting your intention becomes second nature when you stay open to what occurs, and to all possibilities. Remaining mindful of the fact that you are working with a living, breathing being full of power and mystery, with whom you cooperate in achieving any goal you set out, will keep you grounded and ultimately lead to greater success.
In Soap Making for Horses I wrote, I have only a hazy, and ill-defined idea of that shifting point in space where spirituality and horsemanship collide. If I can keep my eye on that bullseye, that’s what I want to write about. That eye has been a-wandering of late, and I”m going to bring it back to the bullseye on Mondays. With that in mind, I bring you Mindful Mondays.
Today’s subject is an article I read this morning.
Verena von Eichborn, P1, of Vernon B.C. wrote of using the Buddhist technique of sharing compassion called Tonglen with her fearful Dachshund in the July-September issue of TTEAM Connections. Understandably, von Eichborn’s exploration of Buddhist thought and the practice of Tonglen was limited and aimed narrowly toward the application of human/canine interaction.
Of her relationship with her fearful and depressed Dachshund, Disa, von Eichborn says,
I couldn’t disconnect the ‘unholy umbilical cord’ that connected the two of us, each reacting to the feelings of the other before we even showed them.
The unholy umbilical cord von Eichborn speaks of seemed to transmit more pain and suffering than joy. Von Eichborn reports that through an intuitive veterinarian, she learned that Disa was using the practice of Tonglen. I cannot dispute this statement; however, I must dispute the implication that Disa was suffering from a “blockage” of the negative energy she had absorbed from others. Unless somewhere Disa received improper instruction in the practice of Tonglen, or was failing to breathe out the peace and joy dogs seem universally to share, the so-called blockage must come from another source. My intuitive feeling is that Disa was mirroring von Eichborn’s own fear.
Von Eichborn says
…the major help for her was to be reminded of joy because we are so much stronger healers when we come from a place of joy.
She goes on to say that learning of Tonglen has made a tremendous difference in her life. I believe that if she had a clearer view of traditional Tonglen practice, von Eichborn might find it even more liberating. Using Tonglen, von Eichborn might learn to open her heart to everything Disa feels, to allow it to touch her heart, and yet not to be destroyed by it. One of the benefits of her brush with Tonglen practice was that Von Eichborn realized that her dog’s depression and fearfulness paralleled her own. It illuminated the way in which all beings are equal; all animal condition is the same.
Though all her emotional buttons were pressed in the period in which von Eichborn learned this practice, the thimbleful of courage it took to get started multiplied into a bucketful by the end of the process. Von Eichborn describes a transformation in her abilities to deal with humans and animals in bad situations. Fearlessness and open heartedness took the place of the umbilical cord. With qualified instruction in Tonglen techniques, Von Eichborn would be able to make changes in her life based on the realization that fear alone has prevented her from moving forward. I do not suggest that I am in any way qualified to teach anyone Tonglen. I can only relate to readers the way in which I was taught, and provide reference to reading materials and avenues of further learning.
Tonglen, as described by Pema Chödron in her book The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness is the practice of sending and receiving compassion. According to Chödron, practicing Tonglen cultivates fearlessness and opens the heart more fully.
Learning to use Tonglen can develop beneficial Heart Coherence, because in a situation where there is potential emotional or physical pain, you begin to realize that fear for a beloved animal or person has something to do with wanting to protect your own heart. If you are afraid that harm will come to your heart, then your reluctance to open it and to use it fully in the service of healing another being will be impaired. This is harmful to both of you. For more information on Heart Coherence, visit http://www.cap-coherence.com/html/cardiac_or_heart_coherence.html.
When you do Tonglen, you invite pain in. That’s what opens your eyes…seeing pain, seeing pleasure, seeing everything with gentleness and accuracy, without judging it, without pushing it away, becoming more open to it…In Tonglen, not only are we willing to breathe in painful things, we are also willing to breathe out our feelings of well-being, pace and joy. We are willing to give these away, to share them with others.
What exactly is this Tonglen Practice, anyway? Put simply, it is breathing.
According to Chödron, the essence of the practice is that on your in-breath, you become willing to accept the pain and suffering of the creature you are working with: for example, your horse is injured and anxious; your dog is ill; your child is upset. You become willing to acknowledge the suffering of the world with the suffering of the individual. Your own bravery and willingness to feel that part of being alive cultivates heart coherence and compassion. You become less afraid of damaging your own heart while bearing witness to the pain of others.
No running away.
You breathe it in, feeling it completely. It’s the opposite of avoidance: being completely willing to acknowledge pain (yours, that of a stranger, your animal, your child). That’s the in-breath. You don’t get completely trapped in that because the out-breath is coming! This is a great reminder of the way life is: breathe in, breathe out. No dwelling on pain. No need to prefer the pleasure to the pain or vice versa because each has its place.
The essence of the out-breath mirrors the flip side of the condition of living creatures. With every out-breath, your heart opens more, connecting with your own joy in living, well being, and tenderheartedness. Your own experience of pleasure and pain become a means for connecting with all sentient beings. The out-breath is about all the good stuff of life. What we would want life to be if the suffering did not get in the way. You breathe it out so that it spreads and can be experienced by the other. This is not merely esoteric. It’s useful and practical, for you and your subject. Try it and see.
All you need in order to do Tonglen is to have experienced suffering and to have experienced happiness.
In other words, if you are an ordinary human being, you can use your breath to share pain and happiness with another being. Breathing in, breathing out is a technique for being completely awake to the needs of others and of showing compassion: “I will accept and witness your suffering, and share with you my joy.” It is important that the in-breath not be used to assume the suffering of a subject. You are offering your open heart and awareness. That is everything, and that is enough.
Tonglen is not merely a practical tool for dealing with immediate circumstances of the suffering of horses and companion animals. It has far-reaching implications in life. Buddhists who do Tonglen practice expand its focus to include all sentient beings. It cultivates a fearless heart that does not turn away from any circumstance. It is always wide open so we can be touched by anything.
At the same time, it draws boundaries that prevent too much emotional harm from the pain of others. For those with few boundaries, those who suffer from an excess of empathy, and who feel the pain of others too sharply without being able to breathe out the joy of existence, learning to locate and share that freedom and joy shows them a way to experience it more fully without being waylaid by the pain. That’s what we all seek: the enjoyment and mutual sharing of spirit with our loved ones without becoming overwhelmed by the everyday sorrow that is the Buddha’s First Noble Truth: Life is Suffering. It is how we respond to it in our hearts that makes a difference in how we live.
In my practice as an equine massage therapist, Tonglen is integral. Each time I lay my hands on a horse, I take a metaphorical and literal in-breath. I accept the physical pain, confusion, and stress into my hands and body. I bear witness to it. It cannot hurt me, because I know that the out-breath is coming. With my hands and breath, I will ease that pain, confusion, and stress, and remind the horse of the joy of living. In this way, my work with horses keeps me inspired to live in constant contact with these beings and the whole of the animal kingdom. One of the things that differentiate the effective bodyworker from the purely mechanical body worker is the concept of Heart Coherence. Without it, you’re just moving the muscles around. Same goes for training and groundwork. If you’re not willing to see into the heart of the animal, to share intimately the experience, then you’re moving four feet and imposing your will on another, and that’s all.
I was delighted to read of von Eichborn’s discovery of the concept of Tonglen practice. I really hope she and others who read her article and mine will be moved to learn more about it and to give it a try.
According to Pema Chödron,
This practice will introduce to you the whole idea that you can feel both suffering and joy—that both are part of being human. If people are willing even for one second a day to make an aspiration to use their own pain and pleasure to help others, they are actually able to do it that much more.
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