Sunday, December 6, 2009

a moving stillness

When did I begin to pay attention to what being a “quiet” rider means? It seems fairly recent, but seeds are always sown well ahead of the bloom. Of course, I have heard the quality praised over and over again – this rider has a quiet seat, this one quiet hands, this one a quiet presence -- but with so much else to learn and to “do,” apparently it took some time before I was ready to reflect on what quiet really means – to me, and to my horse.
Late August, Gail Field’s annual Centered Riding Clinic out at Lord Stirling Stable, my only written notes state: “DO NOTHING, learn to surrender to the horse. First do nothing – any tension or holding tells the horse something.” Hummmmm.
Early October, ah yes, there was that particularly vivid experience at Mio Morales’ weekend intensive Alexander Technique workshop. Sitting “still” in our seats, we practiced what became a kind of meditation – we gently and repeatedly brought our attention to the possibility of ease in our head/neck area. The ease ebbed and flowed with our awareness, and I was freshly reminded how much subtle movement is really taking place as we simply sit on our chairs. How interesting and refreshing it was to turn down the extraneous “noise” of excess tension and unnecessary movement. Hummmmm.
Next, a wonderful article by Elizabeth Reese, “The Alexander Technique and Classical Equitation” really got me thinking about what I have been telling my horse as I sometimes fidget around, trying to find just the right organization of myself as I ride. A few choice quotes:
* “. . . any action that the rider does make can [should] be both intentional and momentary.”
* “We must first find a place of quiet listening in order to act. Without listening, all of our actions are really reactions.”
* “The rider needs to discover a neutral place where she or he is not interfering with or disrupting the horse’s balance.”
November, Aikido Winter Camp in Florida: the image of Shibata Sensei’s “calm-before-the-storm” way of being. We quickly came to know that without any discernible movement or clue he could in a split second somehow draw an unsuspecting attacker into the center of the action. This produced a profound sense of aliveness on the mat -- magical in a way. You never knew where he would appear and you never quite knew what to expect. He captured our attention, with his quietness. His movements seemed to carry even more impact as they emerged out of a calm stillness. Hummmmm.
And periodically throughout the autumn I visited philosophical realms with “Dressage in the Fourth Dimension” written by Dr. Sherry Ackerman, a professor of philosophy who is also a dressage rider. An excerpt on sacred geometry:
“All movement begins with its antithesis, immobility. The dot, in ancient cosmologies, represented universal consciousness – the source of all things . . . in . . . dressage, we participate in the dot through the fully engaged halt. We sit, perfectly motionless in poised collection . . . as long as we do not disturb the collection, the horse remains prepared . . . for instantaneous movement in any direction . . . we sit in a stream of consciousness: the motion of immobility.”
So, lately when I get on a horse, or step onto the aikido mat, or find myself in a crowded subway or on a congested New York City street, I am very interested in the component of stillness within the activity -- how to be still without becoming tense. How does my presence affect my horse, or my training partners on the mat? Do others become more manageable or react differently to me when I stay quietly in touch with my center? Where is the neutral place where harmony begins? Hummmmm.
Shown above, Annelie sits quietly connected to the canter of one of the largest horses I have seen her ride, an enormous Cleveland Bay she rode at his owners request at the Centered Riding Clinic at Thorncroft Therapeutic Riding Center. She recently attempted to describe to me the sense of stillness that is possible on a beautifully moving horse; apparently you feel that you are doing nothing, but in reality there is a lot going on!

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