Is it possible to get in touch with life's meaning, or the lack thereof, while getting some riding instruction in an outdoor arena? Absolutely.
I've been re-reading Albert Camus' "The Myth of Sisyphus." Here's some existential pondering that applies to a couple of hours of horse riding lessons Laurel and I experienced a few days ago.
...A subclerk in the post office is the equal of a conqueror if consciousness is common to them. All experiences are indifferent in this regard. There are some that do either a service or a disservice to man. They do him a service if he is conscious.
Well, heck, actually those quotes apply to everything. But as Camus implies, some experiences lead us to be more conscious of existence. Such as...getting on a horse and trying to make it do what you intend.
Laurel has done a lot more riding that I have. She's had both English and Western lessons. I've had a few Western lessons, and done considerable trail riding. Not much in an arena, though.
So I didn't know what to expect when we headed off to the Emerald Ranch outside of Sisters (in central Oregon) and joined up with Jessica for some instruction in horse handling. It turned out that my scootering/motorcycling and Tai Chi experience fit right in with Jessica's main message.
Which was: feel what's going on. Stay balanced and centered on the horse (Laurel had to break some forward-leaning English habits). Use your whole body to control movement, not just your arms.
For example, on the first day Jessica had us focus on getting our horse going by raising our hips up and forward, lightening our seat. To stop or slow down, she had us settling back onto the saddle, loosening up "like spaghetti."
After a while, and once in a while, I could get a glimpse of what Jessica was leading us towards -- controlling the horse more with whole-bodied intention and less with pulling on the reins or nudging with our legs/feet (which had been my emphasis before).
She kept reminding us to be conscious of what we were feeling. How is the horse moving? When the horse steps in this fashion, what happens to our hips? How are we connected with the horse, and the horse connected with us?
I realized early on that there is a whole lot more to riding a horse than I thought. Jessica saw things, and could do things, that I'd been completely clueless about.
On the second day she had us pulling the reins in a certain way, the goal being to get our horse's head down and the rear settled, producing an arched posture that would make riding more comfortable and satisfying for both horse and rider.
All new to me and Laurel. Once in a while I'd manage to get Danny, my horse, into a semi-correct position and Jessica would yell, "Yes, yes, yes! That's it! Great, Brian!"
Then the moment would pass.
Danny and I would be back to our not-so-great walking, trotting, and cantering around the arena. But what I enjoyed throughout the lessons was the feeling of being present in the moment of whatever I was doing.
Nothing like driving a car.
No daydreaming. No listening to the radio. No going on automatic pilot. Laurel and I had to remain aware of a lot of nuances -- what our horse was doing, what we were doing, where we were in the arena, what Jessica was telling us to do.
So often, there's a screen between me and reality. Not so much physical (though that's what TV produces), but psychological.
I'm thinking about what I'm doing rather than simply doing it. My attention is divided between activities past, present, and future rather than zeroed in on what's happening right now.
For our final exercise, Jessica set up three barrels in the arena. "We're going to do some barrel racing," she told us. Well, not exactly racing, because we weren't competing with anyone but ourselves.
Still, it was cool. Growing up in California, I'd watched a lot of barrel racing at the annual Three Rivers rodeo. Those girls could fly on their horses.
Laurel and I didn't exactly fly.
But after a few practice runs we got some pretty good turns in around the first two barrels, and a satisfying quick canter back to what I imagined was the finish line -- where, in my own mind at least, I won the World Championship Barrel Racing trophy on Danny.
As Camus says, every experience contains all of existence within it. Riding a horse, doing the dishes, whatever. We just need to be aware.
In other words, phenomenology declines to explain the world, it wants to be merely a description of actual experience. It confirms absurd thought in its initial assertion that there is no truth, but merely truths.
From the evening breeze to this hand on my shoulder, everything has its truth. Consciousness illuminates it by paying attention to it.