I’m on the back of a galloping horse, flying along a narrow path bordered with cacti, I can’t even scream because all I can think of is, don’t fall off.
That moment etched itself into my brain. It will be there with a few other indelible memories, some good, some bad, not all nearly as exciting, until the very last seconds of my life. A memory I can instantly recall, and almost re-live, because while it was happening, nothing else was happening.
My boyfriend and I were in Aruba, riding horses on the beach. A ranch called Rancho Notorious ‘rents’ horses to the tourists and lets them ride on the more wild side of the island. They also rehabilitate abused or mistreated horses, as we learned from our knowledgeable and talkative guide.
Our guide was the happiest man I’ve ever met. He had bright eyes, dark skin and an easy smile. He loved his job, he loved horses, and he loved Aruba. He told us stories of being a kid, sneaking up on wild donkeys, leaping on their backs and riding until the donkey could knock them off or got too tired to run anymore. He warned us that you can only sneak up on male donkeys. The females were too smart and would kick, hard, before you could get up on their back. He swore those smart lady donkeys knew exactly where to kick a young man as well.
He rode his horse with that beautiful grace that you only see on the horse-riding extras in the background of movies. Where the motion of man and animal blurs into a single movement. He also controlled the other horses, the ones my boyfriend and I rode, with his voice. I found myself utterly in awe of him.
“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault- because I would not take the trouble of practising…” Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen.
As with most skills I admire, I feel horseback riding is skill I could also acquire, if only I would practice. Another skill our Aruban guide possessed that I admired even more was his mindful happiness. He took such joy in the ride and in the beauty of the day, even along a path he, and more obviously, the horses had ridden a hundred times before. He was not simple-minded. He had a great deal to say about Aruba, the tourism industry, about desalinated water, about the rehabilitation of rescue horses. But you could see in the way his eyes roved the landscape, and the way his hands and legs guided the horse, he was also totally involved in the moment. The honest joy that shone through him belied any potential worries his life might also contain. I’m sure he had family and friends and the stress and heartache that accompanies them, but right now – all that concerned him was the three horses and the entertainment and safety of his guests.
How do you practice mindfulness? I practice writing by writing everyday. I practice drawing and painting* and sewing and crocheting and gaming by doing those activities over and over. Sometimes, while engaged with those creative activities, I enter into a sort of mindfulness. The world around me fades and I am utterly focused on a single stitch or word or challenge. And that is when memories form. That is when my skills in those activities increase.
Meditation bores me. I dislike it the way I dislike baths. I find taking a bath enjoyable for about a minute. But as soon as my body relaxes, my mind is asking, well, what now? If I’m not actively doing something with my body or mind, I might as well be asleep. I like sleeping, I’m very good at it, I’ve had a lot of practice. And sleeping is not wasted time like meditation or bath taking. While I sleep, my mind takes those moments of mindfulness and turns them into memory. A solid, long-term memory I can use again.
The real trick to mindfulness, for me, is to decide to do whatever it is I am doing, and not feel like there is something more important that I am neglecting. That is what I envied about the guide. A man as happy and kind and mindful as he was? you know he has a wife and kids somewhere. You know he had bills to pay and other obligations to fulfill. Back at the ranch he had other, less pleasant, chores to do. But while he was with us, none of that mattered. He wasn’t being irresponsible. He wasn’t wasting time, he was living the moment he was in.
That galloping horse forced me (via fear of death or dismemberment) to live entirely in a moment. I want to try to live that way all the time. To do what I am doing. To not muddle the now with the then. My plan: I will schedule a time of day to do what needs to be done, the bills, the shopping, the interactions with family and friends. I will trust my future-self to take care of all that, then. So that right now, I can focus on writing these words, and experience the joy in this moment of creation as it is happening.
(And then go back and edit the moment, of course – I am a writer after all, not a performance artist.)
* Painting tangent – I need a word for “painting on the computer.” I’m using MS Paint and my finger on a touch screen – the picture attached to this post is my latest creation, based on a picture I took while riding that horse – but is it really painting if there is no actual paint involved? Is there another word to use?