December 04, 2010

Riding the Horse (MDIV 555)

This is the last journal for MDIV 555 Spiritual Formation, posted late (sorry). For the last few weeks, we have been reading Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior and Journey Without Goal both by Chogyam Trungpa. As you may have noted, I have not written in response to these materials as I did for the previous books by Fowler, Brazier, and Kornfield. There is a reason for this.

Journal for November 30, 2010

I have not explored the vajrayana materials in these journals. By temperament, I don’t think I’m suited for them, at least at this time in my life. I have a predilection to want to figure things out on my own, but I believe the warnings that say when it comes to tantra, this is a bad idea. I certainly haven’t mastered the preliminaries anyway.

However, in addition to the warnings, tantra has always seemed a bridge too far. My people are very practical and pragmatic. Complexity is acceptable as long as it’s orderly. Learning through direct experience is emphasized, but only where the initial instructions are fairly simple. Everything else operates under the KISS principle, not because it’s easier, but because it’s less wasteful.

It takes years to learn how to ride a horse. But where I come from, if you get an hour-long lecture before being tossed into the saddle, that was too much talk. You’ll never learn how to ride with your boots on the ground. No matter how skilled your teacher, she can’t ride the horse for you. You can’t wait to trot until after you learn to post.

Every horse is different. They all have their own personalities and they are very intuitive. You have to be able to listen to them, with your body and your mind, the same way they are listening to you. Mastering a horse is a matter of will. My mother is not a woman who goes gooey over her children. The only time I ever heard her brag about my riding to a relative, she wasn’t praising my form or technique. She was proud that I was not afraid. To her, this was the most important thing a person could learn about horses.

The average horse weighs close to a thousand pounds. You can’t master a horse through strength of arm. The saddle and the bridle help, but in the end they’re just tools, like the cushion and the bell. Sitting on the cushion and ringing the bell doesn’t mean you’re meditating (as an expert at not meditating, I ought to know). However, unlike the gomden, if you’re not paying attention, the horse is likely to toss you in the dirt.

Everyone gets thrown. You know that the moment you climb into the saddle, but you do it anyway. The best advice for getting thrown anyone can give you is to not let go of the reins. If you let go of the reins, you’re going to have a long painful walk home. But if that happens, there’s no use sitting there grumbling, you might as well pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start walking.

You might get hurt. In fact, at some point, it’s likely you will. When I was ten, Aunt Donalee broke her upper arm coming off a horse. They put a rod in it. She borrowed my Mom’s English saddle. It was a little small for her but it was also light enough to fling up on a horse with one hand. Work doesn’t wait to be done until bones have knit. She got back up on the very horse that had thrown her.

Four years ago, cousin Jim came off a horse. No one saw it happen. They just found his horse wandering with grass in its saddle and Jim on the ground nearby. He was in a comma for several weeks and when he woke, he exhibited the symptoms of a stroke. He had to learn how to speak, walk, eat, and dress all over again. He got back up on the horse and is still ranching cattle in southern Colorado.

What got them back on the horse wasn’t bravado or stupidity. Courage is not ignoring the consequences, but knowing them and doing anyway. No amount of teaching can prevent those consequences, though experience helps. The number of commands any horse knows is limited, but their moods are infinite. There are all kinds of techniques you can apply, but in the end, horses are actually simple. All you have to do is pay attention.

I often think the dharma is like that. Tantra just seems like a bunch of different techniques to learn how to pay attention. In that way, it’s valuable, but until (unless) I learn those techniques, I can’t comment on them. It’s like trying to learn to ride without the horse. You’ll never understand how the instruction to push your heels down is going to help keep your ass in the saddle while you trot until you actually do it. It doesn’t make much sense and that makes it easy to criticize.

For now, I think I’ll learn to ride the horse before I teach it to fly.

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