Nayana talks about how horseback riding and horse training can lead to centring, connectedness and self-awareness.
I don’t remember ever not being able to ride. I was one of those girls obsessed with horses. I lived with and dreamed about them throughout my childhood. My parents could bribe me into doing anything with the promise of more horse-time.
Horses for me meant freedom, warmth, power. Galloping along the beach on my favorite pony was an experience of exhilarating union. It lifted me beyond myself into a state of witnessing – not that I called it that at age 10 – but the feeling of oneness I experienced while riding set me onto the path of meditation.
Little girls are expected to eventually grow out of their passion for horses. Boys, and later, children, are supposed to replace ponies as we become adults. It’s true that the boys gave the horses some strong competition for a year or two but, stronger than that, was the rebellious streak that brought me to India at age 18… and I walked through the Gateless Gate in Pune. I left the horses behind as I ‘danced my way to god’.
But then we moved to Oregon, to cowboy country, and the music changed. With the purchase of the Ranch came the horses; they had been found on the range somewhere, and sometime in the fall they were rounded up and put in a corral. Inevitably, I was drawn to them and spent my lunchtimes sitting on the fence, hanging out with them, feeding them apples. I thought they were being poorly cared for so took my concerns to Padma, one of the ‘moms’. She immediately put me in charge of them – that’s how it worked in the early days. I couldn’t believe my luck as I threw away my cleaner’s bucket and prepared to ride out into the dawn.
Unknown to me, Padma’s on-the-spot decision had upset people higher up the food chain; there was some sort of power struggle with the hired ranch manager Bob Harvey, who proposed a different person. So, the question was taken to Osho: “What to do about the horses, and who should care for them?” I learned about this from a friend who had hitched a ride to Antelope with Sheela. He was sitting in the back of the Jimmy and overheard Sheela tell Vidya that her “candidate” for horse wrangler had lost: “The Old Man says Nayana should stay with the horses, because she really loves them.”
This was more good news in my much blessed life. Looking back, it was the master’s greatest gift to me.
On the Ranch I had a blast! With the freedom to roam wherever a horse could reach I explored every corner of the property. I got to play ‘cowboy’; round up cows and go on cattle drives — just like in the movies. We would sometimes ride out with neighboring ranchers who loved to share their cowboy-horse-lore. Everybody loved to tell us greenhorns how to do things. I got a crash course in every aspect of horse management, from farriery to breeding, with a vet and nutritionist on call. This was my college education.
In the beginning, the spirit on the Ranch was very communal and the horses belonged to all, so everybody was allowed to ride them. Anyone could go riding at lunchtime or on their days off. We also taught the kids to ride as part of their school curriculum. As time went on, every department had to be self supporting and had to prove its worth. We had to come up with all sorts of schemes to justify the cost of the horses. At one stage we convinced the accountants that if we got more horses we could make enough money to cover the annual costs by taking Festival visitors on trail rides. So off we went around Oregon to buy more horses.
What an adventure that was! Despite the fact that our financial projections proved over-optimistic. We had 24 horses at one point, including a Quarter Horse stallion to start our own breeding programme, and mustangs adopted from the BLM (Bureau of Land Management).
One day I had a realization; I was standing in the center of the round pen, with the horse I was training running around me. I grew quieter and quieter. At a certain moment I took one step forward and redirected the horse’s energy, making him turn. In that moment we were connected as one. It was exactly what I had been taught in aikido classes in Pune. I had a glimpse of what it meant to live and act from our center. Centring through horses. Horsemanship as martial art.
I had the idea of selling this concept to the Rajneesh International Meditation University as a group of some sort. It could have been the perfect way to justify the presence of horses in a spiritual community. It didn’t go as far as that at the time, but it led me to develop my own way of teaching people to ride and train horses, based on body awareness and qi.
When Rajneeshpuram folded, I left horses behind again and hitched a ride to California. I was 25 years old, penniless and clueless, struggling to find my way in a world I knew nothing about. Then I heard from a passing friend that Prasado, had bought the Ranch horses and had taken them to New Mexico. Within a few days I was on a Red Eye flight to Albuquerque. From there I caught a bus to Santa Fe, where Prasado picked me up in his taxi cab at two o’clock in the morning.
He was still on night shift so we drove around the dark streets lined with squat mud houses until dawn broke, ferrying drunks home. We talked on and on about how we were so over relationships and really didn’t want to be involved with anyone ever again. Friendly sex ok, but nothing more demanding. Another of those existential side-splitters, as we are still together today.
For a year we lived in Pecos, New Mexico, with our horses. It was a fun time, in a beautiful location, living a dream. But there was the pull to go back to the master. We arrived in Pune shortly after he did. We had left the horses in the care of friends, thinking we’d be back soon, but we didn’t return till early 1990. The horses had been given away, and so equine beings were no longer part of my life. This time I was sure it would be forever.
But of course it wasn’t. Horses again presented themselves, along with people who were willing to learn from me. This helped me develop a system of teaching based on self-awareness.
From then on I never had to give up horses again. I understood that they were my path, that my love for them was a guiding light – in the most mundane and most divine fashion. They led me to my life partner, to a meaningful way to earn money and to engage with ‘the world’. Every day they lead me deeper into connectedness and meditative awareness.
There is something about horses that enhances the self-reflective process. So much can be learned about ourselves in their company. They have particular lessons to teach us about fear, love, power, projection, alignment, the strength of softness. They teach us to act from our truth, to drop into our center and be present. And, most importantly, to take life as it comes. Just as it is.
For many years Prasado and I traveled the world, rootless. I taught people and explored ‘horse’ on five continents, but I always had in mind a herd of my own that could help me teach. I almost set up camp in Australia, India, Israel, England, but the time was never right.
Then I found Portugal.
Nowadays I live with a herd of horses and my friends Prasado and Zena on 30 wild and beautiful hectares here in Portugal. We chose to live in this place because it provides the perfect environment for our horses to live naturally. It is also about as peaceful and spacious a place as can be found in Europe today, balanced between earth and sky. A place where turning in comes as easy as breathing.
When we bought the land, just over a year ago, there was no running water, no electricity, no habitable dwelling at all. Over the last year we have built a small settlement of caravans and cabins, powered by the sun, and watered by our well. It has been reminiscent of the Ranch: working together intensely, being physically stretched and egoically challenged. We laughed, cried, shouted, hugged and sat quietly under the night stars. Now we are ready for guests.
If you would like to see what horses have to teach, or to experience a quiet meditative retreat, or if you just want to enjoy the tranquillity here, you are welcome to come and visit.
Credit for Rajneeshpuram images goes to Mahendra (Ananya)