"When our inner life dies, we have nothing to offer in our outer life." Pico Iyer
Pico Iyer has written a lot about stillness and simplicity. He gave up what our culture would call a very successful life in Manhattan at age 29 to spend a year living a stripped down life in a small room in Kyoto. Some time after, he and his wife moved permanently to a small apartment in Japan where they have no mode of transport other than walking and no bedroom.
Yet, he’s become enormously influential. I think it’s because of a life bare of extraneous diversions that he can authoritatively write, in The Art of Going Nowhere, “most of our problems—and therefore our solutions, our peace of mind—lie within” (13). For Pico Iyer, and increasingly for me, simplicity and interior stillness are a form of liberation.
There are others investigating related issues. The value of emotions and their relationship to the body and to peace is not lost, for example, on professor of neuroscience, neurology, and psychology at the University of Southern California Antonio Damasio. In a 2018 Psychology article, the author notes Damasio as understanding that emotions belong to the body.
He quotes the neuroscientist: “one of our goals should be to cultivate positive emotions—above all else. But that also requires . . . keep[ing] our body safe, whether physically or mentally, and [we must have] peace, too.”
Stillness, simplicity, peace, and calm are obviously challenging in our fast-paced, revved-up lives. Yet they are necessary to our well-being, as many in varying scientific and therapeutic disciplines are discovering.
Even some hotels are recognizing there's a hunger to "unplug" and provide rooms where the Internet is not available. And there’s a magazine called The Simple Things whose goal is to “celebrate slowing down, enjoying what you have and making the most of where you live.”
Horses exist in a stillness that exceeds us.
My own experience with Dorian, and especially with Dorian in the woods or in fields, bears testimony to this. And when I’m quiet enough to understand what he’s trying to reflect back to me, enormous progress and healing ensues.
The added benefit of being in nature, as attested to by "forest bathing" is similar to how many feel about the wilderness and wilderness experiences, places of emptiness that can be doorways opening onto some new, unforseen path.
Bene Brown's book Braving the Wilderness is a case in point. The caption above the book title reads "The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone," and it's a New York Times best seller.
In an interview with Krista Tippett in 2018, she also observes that her work, even with high-performing military personnel, has shown her that there is no genuine courage without vulnerability.
It’s all of a piece, then, isn’t it? To find our true selves, we must have the vulnerability to be courageous. There are many paths to get there, of course; I’m here to say one short-cut is through genuine, open, honest, and trusting interaction with horses. And if you have access to the natural world, all the better.
Why is this? I believe it’s partly because horses exist in a stillness that exceeds us. And their stillness draws us to it.
There have been investigations into how synchronous the human heartbeat becomes in the presence of or riding on a horse and I know from my own experience that my breathing takes on a different nature in the presence of Dorian, becoming deeply centered and slow; I breathe as he breathes. What comes of that is an unexplained pleasure and peace.
Simplicity and interior stillness are a form of liberation.
Horses have the capacity to bring us into the natural world and into a realm of calm and centered awareness, one that’s receptive rather than aggressive, cooperative rather than predatory. One that offers openness of heart, soul, and spirit in a way our day-to-day lives simply do not offer us.
And sometimes, we can enter a space of unexplained understanding, even revelation—one that’s as personal and unique to each one of us. Certainly I’ve had odd, unexplained, ineffable experiences with Dorian. Yet those are also unarguably true and sometimes profound. With him, I’ve entered a space of discovering and reclamation, of illumination and what might be called a deep remembering.