The Warrior and The Horse
And the reason I”m posting it here is because it responds to a common problem that people have with meditation, which can be summed up in one word: ‘IMPATIENCE’.
Remember, when you meditate, you’re not dealing with the persona you project – you’re dealing with the sense of self that hides behind that persona – the vulnerable, sensitive and often emotional self, which we all to often forget we are. In this, when we meditate, it’s as if we were dealing with someone else who lives inside us, who struggles and reacts in often surprising ways.
So we must be patient with this self, and kind, and try to build an understanding of who and what we are.
In ‘Love & Imagination‘, to illustrate the way we need to treat our self’ in meditation, I use the analogy of the unique relationships that the native American Indians formed with their horses, and how they created those relationships.
‘A short while ago a client rang me to complained meditation was ‘just not working!’ and he was on the point of giving up.
“…my mind keeps getting lost…thoughts about today, yesterday, all kinds of inconsequential garbage…”
“So what do you do?” I asked, “Do you try to control the thinking?”
He paused, and I sensed confusion on the other end of the line.
“Um…well, of course I’m trying to control it.” he said after a pause, “…isn’t that the idea?”
I explained to him then, as I had explained to many others, that meditation has nothing to do with control. While certainly we gain more control as a result of the practice, it is given to us by the mind as a result of the meditation training. We should never try to assert control. Any attempt to control the mind only makes the mind more restless, and the body more tense.
This difference between attempting to take control and being given control of our mind is exemplified in a story I heard when I was in America. It is to do with how American Indians caught and tamed their horses.
It was well known throughout 18th century America that the indigenous Indians were master horsemen. They rode without saddles, yet because of some extraordinary empathy between horse and man, like Pegasus, man and horse seemed fused as one in a way that white men had never seen before.
It seems this strong bond between the Indians and their horses arose out of the way they formed their initial relationship with their horses. Where the whites sought to subjugate their horses by breaking their spirit with whips and fear, the Indians sought to make friends with their horses, to become one with them in a marriage of the spirit.
The courtship of this marriage would take place over many months, during which the warrior, having decided he needed a horse, would follow the herd wherever they roamed. When the herd moved, he would move with them. And when the herd stopped to graze he would sit down at a fair distance to wait and watch.
As the days passed he would gradually move closer and closer to the herd until eventually, one of the horses would get curious about this strange human who was always there, but who was always silent and respectful. The horse would perhaps come to sniff the warrior, who would allow himself to be sniffed. Over the following days, all the rest of the herd would follow suit, each coming to investigate this benign visitor. Eventually, the horses would accept the warrior almost as one of their own – he would be able to walk and sit within the herd as it grazed, and he would talk to them softly and sing them songs.
By this time he would have chosen the horse he wanted, so he would always make sure he was around that particular horse, before attempting tactile contact. And then one day he would reach out to stroke its back. The horse might shy away but the warrior would keep trying until it was used to his touch. Over time the warrior would extend the area of his touch, patting the horses nose and scratching its head, talking softly to it all the while.
From that point on he would constantly follow that horse, like a love-sick suitor after a woman, feeding it, whispering to it, stroking it, calling it by the name he had given it, and singing songs he had created for it. In this way the horse and man would gradually become friends.
Then, over time and by degrees, the Indian would slowly insinuate his weight onto the horse until one day he could climb up on its back and begin training it. From that time the man and the horse were profoundly bonded, each knowing the other intimately, moving as one.
To me, the way the warrior tames the horse by winning its friendship forms a perfect analogy with the kind of attitude we need to take with our skittish and untrained minds in meditation.
For many of us, in much the same way as the white men tried to break the will of horses to control them, we try to dominate and control our mind and body in meditation. Unfortunately, this need to subjugate and control ourselves and the meditation is an extension of the same attitudes we often use in our life. In the competitive arena of urban living, we have gotten used to treating our mind and body like slaves. So it is understandable then that when it comes to meditation, the same Self-abusive habits ultimately come into play.
These habits cause us to unknowingly try to make meditation conform to the very habits we are seeking to change – we are impatient with ourselves, usually meditating in a hurry – we demand results, we are manipulating, controlling and repressive. We bully ourselves to practise every day, yet meditate reluctantly, glancing at our watch and using the methods mindlessly. Yet still we are surprised when we find that meditating makes us anxious, conflicted and uncomfortable.
“Of course you are finding meditation impossible.” I find myself saying to yet another frazzled meditator. “After all, you are in a relationship with your mind and body. If you don’t give them the love and patience they deserve, why should they reciprocate? Wouldn’t you be difficult if you were treated in such a cursory and impatient way as you have been treating your Self as you meditate?”
In meditation your mind and body will always tell you whether you are doing the right or wrong thing. Using the carrot and stick of pleasure and pain, they show you what is needed, so long as you remain aware. When you are meditating with the right balance of love and effort, you will experience ease, awareness and bliss. When you are impatient, or abusive in some way, you will suffer in any number of ways – tension, shortness of breath, uncontrollable thinking, boredom, anxiety. These things are not there to annoy you. They are your body and mind telling you that you need to change the attitudes you are slipping into when you meditate. So instead of getting frustrated and impatient with meditation, try using the methods to pay proper attention, and treat each meditation as an opportunity to practise love in this relationship with your Self.
When you see your pain and discomfort as signals and communications from inner space instead of obstacles, you see then that all the things that seem wrong in meditation are in fact right. They are your mind and body directing you to take care of business. And if you listen, accept and understand, meditation will happen automatically. You don’t have to force anything.’
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)