In his book Lives of the Artists, Georgio Vasari (1511 – 1574) recounts a story about the artist Giotto (1267 – 1337). He tells how the Pope was commissioning art and sent messengers throughout Italy to bring back samples or artist’s work. When the messenger visited Giotto’s studio, Giotto took a brush and keeping his arm close to his side painted a perfect circle in red paint with one brush stroke. The messenger thought he was being made a fool of. However when he recounted the ease with which Giotto had painted the perfect circle the Pope commissioned Giotto, recognising mastery.
Whilst teaching in Japan, I took lessons in Japanese brush painting. One of the tasks my teacher had me repeat many times was to paint the Enso, the Zen Circle. The circle is painted as one brushstroke to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create. It is a training in one’s ability to be whole in the present moment. The quality of the circle is altered by the quality of one’s presence.
If you are a rider I would like to challenge you to pick up a brush and paint a circle. Can you paint a circle freely and with ease? I would suggest that the circles that you ride (if you ride circles) will reveal themselves to you in the circle you paint!
Circles symbolise wholeness, infinity, eternity, time and timelessness, movement, the rhythm of life, unity, harmony, relationships, breath, Earth and our being in the Universe, connection…
By riding circles we have a way to connect to a wholeness within ourselves and our horse (or not!)
Why not give yourself and your horse a break for a bit to train your mind. If you cannot think or paint a perfect circle I don’t think it is possible to ride a perfect one! What do your circles look like? Practise painting circles with both hands.
A few years ago a visitor to an open studio at my home said to me
‘ You are a successful artist!’
I was really startled. ‘How do you work that out?’ I asked.
‘You have space around you’ he replied ‘and that’s my definition of success!’
His words struck me and come back now as I think about this blog about space. One of the core skills I think I have learned through Alexander Technique is developing spatial awareness.
Here are some definitions from the dictionary of SPACE –
a continuous area or expanse which is free, available or unoccupied
the dimensions of height, depth and width within which all things exist and move
the physical universe beyond the earth’s atmosphere
to become euphoric
the freedom to live breathe and think in a way that suits one
an interval of time
the near vacuum extending between the planet and the stars
a blank, gap, interval, opening
As an artist a blank piece of paper really excites me. It represents the potential to create – an opening that allows you to become a space traveller of sorts.
As a rider, spatial awareness and learning to think into the continuous expanse which is free, is my journey forward with my horse. Giving myself the spatial gift of time to move in this flow is my challenge.
As an Alexander Teacher I have started to think about the work as a loving relationship. The skills that one learns through the Alexander Technique, those of staying present to one’s self whilst in relationship, are a gift of love. One that for many of us, who were not brought up with the concept of ‘looking after one’s self’ is a challenge to learn.
When I give myself the gift of space that is a loving of my being in the physical universe, I interestingly give you the gift of space loving too. We both have the freedom to live and breathe and think.
A month ago I broke my fourth toe by stubbing it. Dah! A small bone and a seemingly silly injury, but it has stopped me in my tracks and I now see that as a good thing! The stopping has given me an interval of time to think, direct and meditate into a deeper space, beyond the everyday busy-ness business of self employment. I knew I needed some time out but wasn’t giving it to myself.
It is, I believe, when we allow ourselves to enter the euphoric dimensions of space within which all life exists that change occurs, magic happens, creativity arises and we unlock our full potential.
We habitually harden ourselves into an everyday reality where things may feel great, good, ok, stuck or downright terrible or a crazy roller coaster of frantic emotions and things to do that seem never ending and never changing.
As we let the mind expand into the timelessness of space our sense of reality, if not our reality, expands too and the potential to live opens up. This is a present moment awareness that has nothing to do with the trappings of success, but is the metaphorical success of having space around you that the visitor was talking about.
Coming soon, new audo – ‘Deep Space Thinking – Creativity and the Alexander Technique.’ Watch this space for more info! : )
(I shared this originally as a facebook post on my art page Kirsten Harris Art. I wanted to write something to go with the drawing and to write from my heart about horses. I thought I should post as a blog here. I hope you enjoy it. )
‘In Our Hands’ by Kirsten Harris
5 Thoughts – 1. Our hands have immense sensitivity. Can you let your hands be neutral? Do your hands know how to listen to follow your horse or do they control and bully? Do you use your hands to pull at your horse’s sensitive mouth and head? Or do you allow the energy of your heart-brain and the elasticity of your body to move through your hands into a flow of union and connection?
2. Can you sit in balance on a chair, easily for a prolonged period of time without discomfort? If not, learn to do so before you sit on a horse. You are only bringing your inbalances to your riding and teaching your horse tension otherwise. You will create imbalances. Find your own poise first and then you will find the poise of your horse. It’s magical when it happens and totally worth the work on your self.
3. Horses are teachers for our heart and soul. We have much to learn from them. If you feel anger, frustration or ego around your horse walk away. Take wise counsel, breathe, let go. A horse is not a sponge for your unprocessed stuff. Negative thoughts and emotions do not belong around your horse
4. Be patient and learn to be at ease with yourself. Meditate. Listen. Let go. Horses will teach you about timelessness, unity, flow, courage, the divine, non verbal communication, boundaries, energy… Horses will teach you how to think into the vastness of the universe and the great mysteries. Be patient with yourself and your horse. Learn to get out of your own way to allow the door of knowledge to open. There is plenty of time. It is all you have. Enjoy the process.
5. It is OK to feel fear. You and your horse are both flight animals. It is not OK to take your fear out on your horse. Let your heart be open and soft. Love your horse with all your heart. Let your ego dissolve so you are pure around your horse. Be a child of wonder and awe in his presence. Be fully present. Enjoy what you are learning and experiencing right now. Don’t compare your journey with your horse with that of other peoples. The journey of ‘should’ and ‘ought’ will only get in your way. You and your horse are both unique and marvellous. Your horse is an honest loving mirror into your essence, your soul in space right now if you dare to peek. Do you love what you see?
We were a group of horse women here in Scotland, just starting to play a teaching ‘game’ I call ‘Horse and Rider,’ when one of the participants said, ‘Yes, I can feel a flicker of light.’I love the expression and I think it is the basis of why I am so passionate when I teach Alexander Technique to horse riders.
When we ride we are communicating our light to our horses – that light is our thinking, transformed into ‘feel’ and a direct line of clear communication that allows our horses to be light, free, forward, balanced under us and with us. We can learn to be thinking riders when we know how. I believe Alexander Technique brings clarity to the how. The flicker of light turns into a clear beam of communication and direction over time.
Experiencing our hands-on communication with the Alexander Technique we can get very much clearer understanding as to what we are actually communicating to our horses. The results are surprising, illuminating and engaging. Riders start to realise the need for clear direction. Wooly vague thought, ego, frustration, trying too hard or asking too much at the wrong time in the wrong way is confusing to the horse who really is listening to what you are thinking right now. You may think you are asking clearly, but are you?
When I teach in this way one person is the horse and the other the rider. The horse now has human words to communicate what is being experienced to the rider.
One woman said ‘I am loving being the horse. I am thinking – oh really, you want me to do that? OK, it’s not going to work, but here you are… ‘ She found the lack of clarity from the rider full of humour. Does this sound familiar? Have you ever felt your horse is making fun of you? Maybe you can stay good humoured as a rider, but maybe you get frustrated or worse. Our lack of awareness can be disastrous for the horse and you too!
Our horses communicate with us all the time but are we really listening to what they are saying?Maybe your horse isn’t being stubborn or stupid or can’t do it. Maybe he is more than willing and capable but really unsure as to what you are saying.
Honest open feedback is a requirement from players of this ‘game’. It is fun, informative and very surprising when you start to realise the brilliance of your own thinking moment to moment and how loud and clear your thoughts are beaming to your wonderful sensitive intelligent horse.