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January 2020
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Zen And The Sound Of Einstein’s Violin

Barefoot Ride, originally uploaded by elefanterosado.

Some mortals come ever nearer the softly glowing bulb of enlightenment via hours of sitting in silent meditation. Still others approach it through walking meditation. John Muir found the way of the Zen by tramping through the great redwood forests. Albert Einstein’s magical elixir of deep wisdom, fused with a mighty intellect’s ability to purely outline the universe’s unfathomable mysteries, became a form of high poetry as he moved his bow tenderly across the stings of his beloved violin.

For me, inner peace arrives in glorious poetic abundance from the back of one of the earth’s most magisterial and deeply spiritual beings: the horse. Only on the trail does the corrosive litter of thought evaporate, only on horseback does it spontaneously disintegrate into non-matter; the disjointed non-unity of illusion so at odds with the deeply joyful, peaceful and sonorous grace that resonates in every fiber of my soul when I remember that my spirit, rather than its eroding physical incarnation, is who I really am.

Trotting along swiftly, either through New England’s fallen leaves or New Mexico’s giant vistas, I sync my breath with the delicate exhalation of my Arabian’s nostrils and inhale the wonder and splendor of this earth, feeling refreshed and awakened, feeling wholly alive and emboldened. In these moments I can feel the atoms of existence as they meld, just as Muir’s old wise trees nod their silent, non judgmental assent in steady accord with the crisp, unbroken rhythm of my horse’s stride.

In yet another dimension of time and space, Einstein’s violin eases and soothes the horror of the robotic and faceless approaching troops, filled to brimming with inhuman and exclusive “National Unity.” The troops leech a toxic poisonous gas into the soil of a sleeping Berlin. The madman who developed it is Einstein’s close friend and colleague.

In yet another dimension, the Buddha’s unaltered, compassionate gaze serves as a reminder of the greatest truism of life: the only thing that we as humans ever have to do is remember to breathe. Watch our breath, and breathe.

Recently I have decided to ride alone again, although well-meaning friends and family have voiced their well-meant objections. Trail riding, I’m told, is a dangerous endeavor when undertaken alone. Its very solitary nature poses inherent risks to horse and rider. This much, I’ll allow, is true. But only in the world of fear and mortal illusion. The other world, whose landscape I inhabit on horseback, is completely free of those things. And ever will be. In this world, even death is no deterrent. Even death is impermanent. It is simply an inevitable, and mostly overblown, facet of life.

A friend I’ve ridden with for several years now has begun to chafe against the delicate threads of my solitude. In the past, I brushed these irritants aside. Tactless comments, I reasoned, only become enriched within a cookie crust of pettiness when dwelt upon. I have two horses, after all. Why not share them? And why not share the landscape of the trail? After all, I wrote the book on trail etiquette during my years as the president of an equestrian club. Hadn’t I staunchly declared that the buddy system was an absolute imperative, both in terms of common sense and a rider’s longevity? Hadn’t I taken others to task for riding too fast, too irresponsibly and too erratically for existing conditions? Indeed I had. But I also began to lose interest in being the resident bailiff on the committee of equine etiquette. I began to crave freedom from these aggravating nuisances, these insipid political squabbles. I just wanted to ride, and ride alone. I wanted, above all, to no longer defend my decision. To let the horse and my own solitude carry me along the high ridges of thought, and to the bottomlands of disquiet and despair. Idle chatter was ruining it for me. I wanted to hear from the central core of my being, not from a companion’s surly voice.

My husband, who naturally loves me and doesn’t want me to die, quietly wishes I would cease to stubbornly persist on this issue. He has occasionally accompanied me on rides, but finds sitting in the hard seat of a saddle an experience to be endured rather than enjoyed. Alas, trail riding is not his form of Zen. A carpenter prefers his tools and his own silent world of creation. And so, because unconditional love is itself a form of high meditation, we silently bless one another without hassle or reproach.

“Don’t chop off your hand with that saw,” I’ll say when he sets off for work.

“Don’t die,” he will say as I ride away, watching from the window until my horse and I are far out of sight.

Today it is raining in these southern Vermont woods. The trails are cold, dark, and slippery with wet leaves. The pink ribbons that serve as trail markers flop against the black bark of trees like sodden and dejected Ramen noodles, over-boiled with a surplus of salt. The Green Mountains rise above them in a vaporous cloud of mist, while a snoozing genie lies curled within an uncorked, dingy bottle at their foothills. One day soon the cork will pop, unleashing the wisdom that lies dormant yet expectant. The alchemy that arises will seem desultory until it morphs into something beautifully allegorical. For deep within its chambers rises the steady and clear snapping sound of twigs as they are crushed beneath the old hobo Muir’s galoshes. Now too, the wise and deeply etched lines of the Buddha’s open palm rise out and above the earth in a silent, supple salute. Higher still rises the tremolo of Einstein’s violin as it brings the mysteries of the universe into a sweetened, soft focus. He smiles and puts his bow down, assured of God’s thoughts. They are not, nor have they ever been, disparate from his own.

Y yo, minimal ser? I am alone, yet never lonely, on the trail. I have Einstein’s violin, Muir’s trees, and The Buddha’s steady breath for company on the journey Home.


Comment from Kelly Belly
Time November 25, 2008 at 1:30 pm

Great pic! Barefoot, bareback, what else is there? Perhaps a glass of chardonnay, a child on your back,and a knapsack with a sleeping bag and some matches. Oh – and some tofurky and stuffing for Thanksgiving. Hope it’s a fantastic one.

Comment from Elefanterosado
Time November 25, 2008 at 2:08 pm

I’ve never tried tofurky. Is it any good?

Comment from FjordWoman
Time November 26, 2008 at 10:59 am

Lovely post…one of my favorites. I am so with you on the zen quality of a trail ride in solitude.
We humans talk too much.
I have found that the best converstaions I’ve ever had did not involve words.
Have a great Thanksgiving!