Taming the Horse

Sakyong Mipham in Running with the Mind of Meditation describes the Buddhist view of the mind and body as being a single entity. This connection is a unique relationship between the breath and the mind that creates the feeling of calmness that I so often experience after a run. Mipham explains that the breath is like a horse, and the mind is like the rider. This Eastern analogy has been borrowed and re-purposed on numerous occasions from the Switch Framework for change to the tongue-in-cheek “Dead Horse” strategy. The story goes that when you discover you are riding a dead horse the best strategy is to dismount, however in education we do things like:

• Get a stronger whip.
• Ride the horse for longer periods of time.
• Appoint a committee to study the horse.
• Blame the horses’ parents. The problem must be in the breeding.
• Increase the standards for dead horses.
• Increase the standards for dead horse riders.
• Change the standards so that the horse is no longer technically dead.
• Complain about the state of horses these days.
• Identify and visit sites where they ride dead horses more efficiently.

Dead horses aside, runners have a natural feeling for the breath. According to Mipham, the mental benefits of running  are achieved not by taming the horse, but by exhausting the horse.

Thus the mind is present and at peace. So the clarity and peace of mind we feel after running is mostly because the wild horse is tired, not necessarily because it has been tamed. The mental clarity brought about by physical exercise is temporary. When the horse has more energy, it resumes running around.

Perhaps this is why we get addicted to running…

We breathe all the time, but rarely breathe deeply. Taking a few moments each day to breathe deeply, whether through running or just in a quiet moment, is one of the easiest things you can do to momentarily tame the horse.

I was particularly taken by Amit Carmeli’s focus on the breathe as a force for unleashing creativity at Creative Innovation 2015.

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