Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Horses as a Spiritual Practice

Now there's a post title . . .

What is a spiritual practice?  This is my definition - yours might be different.  To me, a spiritual practice is something - a behavior, activity or  situation, deliberately undertaken or encountered, that deepens one's awareness of one's self in relation to everything else - what one might consider to be the deepest connection one might have to the fundamentals of what there is.  This might be religious or spiritual or just plain deep - those things mean about the same thing to me.  I've been thinking about some of these things recently, since I'm working through the series about developing a rule for your life, put out by the monks at the Society of St. John the Evangalist in Cambridge Massachusetts. This series of short videos - they run two or at most three minutes, and there are 49 of them - have some religious overtones, but there's a lot in them that would benefit people who consider themselves non-religious.  The purpose of the series is to assist you in developing your own rule of life - note this is a rule, not rules, although rules might be part of it.  Each short video poses a question for your consideration, and some of them are pretty challenging - they make you think a lot about where you are and where you're going, and what's important to you.

It's pretty clear to me that horses are a central aspect of my life.  And, for me, this is a reversion back to my younger years - my teens and early 20s - when horses were really central to me.  I suppose horses are in some sense a way for my to recapture the best parts of my youth and young adulthood, as I'm almost ready to turn 60.  I lost horses for a long while in my life, but they're very much back again - my children get the credit for leading me back to something I'd lost that was of great value.

Now why are horses such a central part of my life, and why are they a spiritual practice for me?  Horses, and horsemanship - in the good sense - have the potential to make me realize who I really am, right now, good and bad, and the possibility to give me a path to where I want to be, in terms of who I am with the horses and in the world.  This has almost nothing to do with particular achievements, activities or goals - it has to do with a state of being, a state of relationship between the deepest parts of my being and the horse.

There's a lot to this, for me.  It ranges from simple chores - picking a stall, grooming a horse - I love grooming and will never understand people who don't care for it - it's the most calming and centering activity I know - to interacting with another being, from another species, in a way that is calm, and centered and respectful.  Horses see me for who I really am, deep inside.  There's no artifice, no faking, no pretending - horses know exactly who I am.  This is an enormous incentive to me to improve - my kindness, my ability to listen, my clarity, my attention, my direction - directing another living being is a huge responsibility, not to be undertaken lightly or without care.  I have to reach beyond myself to become better than I am, to work with my horses - they require this of me, not in a demanding manner, but in a matter of fact way.  My riding is increasingly "alive" - there's a very strong current and connection between me and each of my horses, and I can only describe it as in some sense transcendent. My hope is that, over time, some of that experience with my horses - the spiritual experience - will benefit other areas of my life.

Now this is a very approximate way of saying what I mean, but maybe some of you who spend time with horses will understand what I'm trying to say . . .

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