These days I am frequently recollecting a quote by the Japanese philosopher Miyamoto Musashi: ‘If you know the Way broadly you will see it in all things.’
‘It is called being human’, the Mountain Man answered with a knowing smile.
Nothing is making me more excited at the moment than the sorts of words that were leaving the American man’s mouth. I heard a passerby exclaim to a few chuckles from the crowd that he looked like Gandalf, but I’m confident that the ‘Mountain Man’ nickname he has sported for years won’t be lost to such cliche references.
The Mountain Man is a world champion stone skimmer, who has traveled from the US to take part in a world record event here in the UK. I’d been assisting in the production of a documentary on the sport, and although on first mention the topic didn’t capture my imagination, those few days of encountering passionate stone-skimmers has reminded me that assumptions shouldn’t go unchallenged.
‘You could have a thunderstorm going on in your life, but when you’re out there by the water with your stones, none of it matters’
A feeling I believe we should all seek out. The feeling of all feelings. The feeling that helps you take the thunderstorms in life with greater ease.
My assumption was that it would just be a bunch of people throwing stones. The job would be a good addition to my film CV, the guys involved are great people to spend time with…. but hey, it is just stone skimming…
But Mountain Man knows. Never has the expression ‘rippled out’ had more suitable context than within the life of this stone-skimming sage. It was quite clear with the sparkle that glistened in his smiley eyes that his passion for stone-skimming is more than just an activity he engaged in; it is his way of life, his way of being in the world.
I’m kicking myself really, for not considering the depth that sits below the surface of this wholesome activity. Kicking myself because I know the subtle feeling of isolation I can often feel around people who don’t quite understand my way of being in the world.
You see, replace the word ‘water’ with ‘field’ (or forest, mountain etc..) and ‘stone’ with ‘horses’, and he has summed up the reason that I, along with many many others, diminish my bank balance and sweat in the pouring rain day after endless muddy winter day in order to be able to spend time with my favourite animals. In hearing the skimmers describe the place of calm they go to in their minds when skimming, I instantly thought of the place you must go to in your mind to be truly with a horse.
When you’re truly with a horse, it is as though nothing else exists. Particularly when working with young/sensitive horses (and it is my wish that all horses remain sensitive and not get dulled by human influence), your body is in nothing less than a heightened state of awareness. You can feel their cycle of breath, their pattern of footfall on the ground, the state of their energy at any given moment. You should be so in your surroundings that you can react to different levels of what is going on around you without skipping a beat… a deer that’s about to leap out of the trees on your left, the cacophony of the crouched pheasant flying out of the grass to your right; if you’re not completely present in the moment, then you’re not fully there for your horse and things can go wrong. But simultaneously you’re relaxed, as relaxed as can be. If you aren’t relaxed you can’t expect your horse to be relaxed. This state of deep relaxation in a heightened state of awareness, to me, feels like nothing less than meditation. Time does funny things and the feeling can stay with you even after you say goodbye to your horse and explore other areas of life. I find myself being able to carry this level of awareness with me around elsewhere, ever increasingly.
Meditative, meditative, meditative. This word too left the record holding skimmers mouth’s almost as many times as their stones skimmed the lakes surface.
But even the best don’t always glide…
Skim and Plop. Mountain man’s stone disappeared after a single skim. Right down to the bottom of the murky goose pond. A worthy throw from the world’s best?
I sense some frustration, but only for a moment. I watch him literally shake this frustration off and his next throw glides gracefully across the surface, far from sight. This is the man with a video entitled ‘The Zen of Stone-Skimming’ on Youtube, and in this sequence of skims he embodies the message perfectly. Plops are inevitable, but don’t dwell and the glides are within reach.
It is important that we horse people remember this too. Things will inevitably go wrong. The days when my mind is so full that it jumps from one stressed thought to the next, or goes into daydream mode (this is my most common vice!), or feels anxious about this person watching me ride or starts to worry about whether or not my horse really likes my riding him at all. These are the days when things don’t feel quite right, when things feel less fluid, more mechanical. My horse and I just aren’t on the same wavelength. And it is unrealistic to expect never to have moments, or days, or even months like this.
But when all the conditions are right, and I meet my horse in that realm of harmony, there is no better feeling in the whole world. It is so bloody addictive.
‘You’re up Lizzie’
This was it, I was about to receive a one-to-one tutorial from a world champion stone skimmer. After me proudly announcing that I grew up close to Easdale, birthplace of stone skimming, I wondered if he felt he had a disciple in his midst.
I took a deep breath, tried to ignore the fact that I most definitely felt the pressure of being watched, and attempted to channel my inner Child Of The Slate Isles.
Then in my second attempt the stone somehow ended up flying backwards and almost hit the Mountain Man in the head. Rock on MacKenzie!
…So perhaps I need a little more practice. But that is the thing, it is a skill. It is a practice. If I took the time and patience to develop such skills who knows, one day I could be skimming alongside the pros.
And similarly, we might only experience a fleeting moment of harmony once a month with our horses, but if we show up… day after day and month after month, we may find ourselves lost in that moment for several seconds, then the seconds could turn into minutes and before we know it we could blink and realise we and our horse have been swimming in that magical realm for an entire ride.
Some practice meditation, some yoga, some stone skimming and some horses. Music, rock climbing, dance. We all have our thing. And it is the common language, the common space out with normal reality that that thing takes us to that can allow us to connect to everyone we encounter, no matter how mundane their ‘thing’ might seem to us on the surface. We can’t feel isolated in our things when we become aware that we’re all seeking ways to enter that space.
‘What is it that draws us to that space!?’ I asked Mountain Man, excited by the connections I was seeing.
‘It is called being human’, the Mountain Man answered, with his knowing smile and twinkly eyes.
P.S I have lots more thoughts on this, as I just finished my first editing job on a wee film relating craft practice (and the state of ‘flow’ makers enter) to meditation… so many horse connections I nearly peed myself with excitement on several occasions. Watch this space X