In Savor, Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung tell the Zen story of a horse and rider: “The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the rider is urgently heading somewhere important. A bystander along the road calls out, ‘Where are you going?’ and the rider replies, ‘I don’t know! Ask the horse!’”
The horse represents our habit energy, “the relentless force of habit that pulls us along, that we are often unaware of and feel powerless to change. We are always running.” I’ve decided that my life depends on understanding my habit energy—the silly, mindless actions and words that litter each day. I eat too fast, drink too fast, drive too fast. I worry too much, talk too much, eat way too much.
Thich Nhat Hanh says I should talk to my habit energy: “Hello, my habit energy. I know you are there.” Plentiful daily siestas and over twenty year’s worth of contemplative prayer are putting me in touch with my silly horse. Writing about napping and other sane practices helps, too.
Last night, as wife Kathy and I walked our happy black dog Watson around the block, we calmed our habit energy long enough to check out little flowers on a neighbor’s fence.
This morning I prayed in bed from 6:00 – 6:30 and intended to dress and dive into the day—much to do. But oncology-nurse-wife Kathy woke up with a knot in her back, so instead of getting right to work, I did my best to massage away what felt like a concrete ping pong ball beside her shoulder blade. (Masseuses have my respect. Subduing stubborn muscles takes strong hands and forearms.) The delay turned into a blessed twenty minutes. Once the knot was worked out, she leaned against me, and we breathed in, breathed out. The cats relaxed with us.
Today’s work includes trying to find good words for someone who lost a loved one to cancer, visiting a woman with lung cancer, and asking prayers for a six-year-old girl who was in an ATV accident a couple days ago and is still unconscious. “Change and decay in all around I see,” says an old hymn. So it is.
When I pray, rest in the afternoon, and—even in this moment—breathe, I can’t help feeling we’re all in a great lap of grace and mercy. All of us. The world’s evidence is against me. Habit energy tells me to clench up, to struggle and strain. No. For too many years my harried horse has been galloping my body and mind where it pleased. Life project: pat the horse on its big nose and train it to carry me slowly through my lovely, crazy days.