A woman was sitting beside the road when a horse suddenly came galloping around the corner.
It was going so fast it seemed as though the man riding the horse had somewhere important to go. As the horse passed by, the woman stood and shouted “Where are you going?” The man on the horse replied: “I don’t know! Ask the horse!”
What do you think is happening here?
There are three characters in this story: the woman, the man and the horse. The horse represents the energy of the world, our habits, and the ongoing succession of events that seemingly move us along through life. The man riding the horse is “I” or “Me,” the personality that is a result of innumerable causes and conditions. The woman represents “Me” in practice — the observer of events and the one who steadily asks “what is going on here?”
With which of these three characters do you most relate?
When we are caught up in the business of life then we’re sticking to the script of doing and becoming. We go to school, get a job, get a family, and work until we die. We push away our restlessness with periodic pleasures, mindless activities and stale religious ideologies.
When we are more settled in our identity, we have affirmed the body-mind as the limits of our self. In this place, we not only have a job but a career that we use to define us. Our family is used as an outward reflection of internal hopes and dreams. Image and branding means a lot in this place –we are actively playing our role. It is important to note that although it seems like we have taken control of life (the horse) we’re still just as much at its mercy as ever. A sudden accident or change in economic conditions can completely rearrange our role and cause us to question the previously infallible identity we’ve created.
When we spend time on the side of the road, in meditation or contemplative practice, we begin questioning the entire experience altogether. We begin to see that Life is happening; that our seemingly solid identity (“Me”) is actually fluid and completely dependent upon causes and conditions. We are still enough to notice the movement and begin to question “who is moving?” “where are we going?” “what the hell is happening here?”
Each character in this story plays an important part in the process of awakening. One role is not more important than another and they each depend on lessons learned from the others for growth. No matter how far along the road we go, we can never leave the energy of our habits, or the identity of our bodies, or the arising of conscious understanding. The tenacity with which we pursue each role, however, determines our relative state of peace.
Finally, take note of how the woman on the side of the road was easily drawn out of her own concerns. This is a significant aspect of our practice: learning to be still in the midst of activity. She was off the horse and out of the game, but as soon as something interesting happened she was ready to get back in. This happens all the time and can be most easily noticed while meditating or engaged in some similar activity. The important lesson to learn from this aspect of the story is this: Whenever you find yourself removed from your place of stillness, simply bring yourself back. So when the horse comes around the corner — your boss gives you extra work on Friday afternoon, your lover cries bloody murder because you’re late for dinner that night, your kids have attitudes that do not respond to your efforts of adjusting — and you get up to see what’s going on — curse your boss out under your breath and secretly plot to find another job, start an argument with your lover because she don’t know the shit you just put up with at work, yell at your kids and send them crying to their rooms, — go back to your spot on the side of the road and start over again.
What about you? What lessons can you take away from this story?