Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chop Wood, Carry Water

This is a famous Zen story, and I excerpt it here from the book "Zen Mind, Zen Horse", by Allan J. Hamilton, MD.
"In a famous Zen story, a pupil approaches a great teacher and asks what activities he should undertake in order to reach 'satori', or enlightenment.
The old Zen master answers: 'Chop wood and carry water.'
After ten years of faithfully carrying out these duties, the frustrated pupil returns and tells his master, 'I've done as you asked. I have chopped wood and carried water for ten years, but still I have not attained enlightenment! What should I do now, O Sage One?'
The master answers, 'Continue to chop wood and carry water, my son.'
The pupil faithfully returns to his duties. Another ten years pass. During that decade, the student matures and reaches satori. He returns to see his old master wearing a simple smile on his face.
'Master,' he says, 'I have reached satori, and now I am an enlightened being. What should I do now?'
The master answers, 'Continue to chop wood and carry water then, O Enlightened One.' The pupil bows deeply and retires to his wood and water."
You see, dressage(horsemanship, good riding, et al) is not a destination. It is a journey. It is day in and day out of chopping wood and carrying water. Just because riders like Steffen Peters and Edward Gal have achieved greatness at the highest levels of dressage competition does not mean that each and every day they don't have to go out and start each horse from the beginning. They start with rhythm, relaxation, and connection. They build on those qualities to develop impulsion, suppleness, straightness and collection. Every day. Every ride. Every half halt. If you go out and run your horse through all of its tricks every day and never chop your wood and carry your water first, you will very quickly have a sore, bored, tight, clever horse who knows how to do only enough to end the ride as soon as possible. Take the time it takes, skip no steps. Neither should you languish...there is no such thing as perfection, so don't stifle your horse's enthusiasm and playfulness with demands of robotic perfection. But if you go out every single ride and make sure your horse's muscles are supple and loose, and that it  moves freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bridle, you will be well on your way to achieving satori. Namaste, my friends.