Calm, Forward, Straight

As a living, breathing human being, you are an animate creature, capable of orienting in, being motivated by and coloring your expression with a wide variety of spirits. The spirit which compels or dominates your expression in any given moment gives evidence to the true centering of your heart, regardless of what you believe mentally to be your core concern. It is for this reason that it can rightly be said of most people that they worship they know not what.

Whether you claim to be (and may be in fact) more predominantly right or left-brained, the state of both heart and mind is a dominant factor in any deliberate, creative process. It matters not if you prefer a logical, sequential and rational approach or a random, intuitive and holistic approach if your heart and the cloud of emotions which clothe it, is troubled.

While I could and have provided many different examples of this principle over the years, I found another that may help drive the point home. The example is given in the context of training horses and riders, but it is easy to extrapolate the principle into specific application in any field of activity. General Decarpentry, in his fine book on classical horse training, Academic Equitation, writes:

And as for the “spirit” that should animate the student, the formula used by General L’Hotte to describe the spirit of dressage in the sequence of its aims can be applied to it: “Calm, Forward, Straight” (Calme, En Avant, Droit).

The most perfect calmness is essential in any dressage operation. However, despite its firmest determination, the rider will not always be able to avoid a shaking of his moral calm and he will never be able to recover instantly his physical calm once it has been ruffled by however slight and transient a loss of moral calm.

A flash of temper can be inwardly suppressed almost as soon as it is aroused, but its resulting effect on the rider’s nervous tension will persist for some time and, what is more important, for longer than the rider himself realizes. The horse, on the contrary, immediately feels this nervousness and immediately shares it, but needs a much longer time to forget than the rider. In this respect, the horse is gifted with an astonishingly delicate sensitivity, such that even the movements of his ears are a permanent indication of the “state of the horse’s soul” – if this expression can be allowed, which provide the rider with the means of perceiving a change in his own state of nerves, so slight that he may remain unaware of it, and even if the loss of calm is unrelated to the horse’s behavior.

Therefore, as soon as the rider feels any disturbance of his serenity, it is absolutely imperative to allow time for his own physical calm, which determines that of the horse, to be completely restored. A pause, a halt, provided that submission is not in question, is necessary before the lesson can be continued.

After some strong vexation, even if it has nothing to do with the horse, the trainer must be sufficiently wise to put the lesson off until the next day, and be content with a quiet hack.

I find the last sentence ironic in that many people confess to riding horses as a means of soothing their own nerves, of taking their minds off of “life.” Such an approach is a disservice to the horse and must be avoided if there is a genuine concern for its welfare.

In any case, the same pattern holds true in any and every situation you face in life. Substitute the horse for a student, employee, friend, lover, parishioner or political constituent and the principle continues to have immediate, practical application. Notice that General Decarpentry, whose work and writings are considered by dressage experts to be amongst the most important contributions to classical training in the twentieth century, does not mince words. He says that it is “absolutely imperative to allow time” for calm to be restored before continuing on. This is not a suggestion, it is an order! Anything less is the genesis of frenzy.

Many wonderful things in life have been destroyed by acting with a troubled heart. A troubled heart clouds the mind and therefore suppresses wisdom. It has a narcotic-like affect on consciousness, limiting both vision and perspective. A troubled heart focuses on and magnifies the limitations or blockages present and downplays and undervalues the means by which those limitations can be successfully and sustainably overcome.

“Mind over matter” is possible, but only with a cooperating heart.

The Spirit of the Method

The old and familiar maxim: “Knowledge is Power” shapes the way we look at education, marketing, politics, religion and many other areas of human activity. The idea that knowledge begets power is based on the limited view that humanity is meant to dominate his environment, rather than have dominion over it.

Domination is established through strength and power. It is the product of forced compliance and it is unsustainable because of its disconnection from the larger creative context of which it is a part. Dominion, on the other hand, manifests through agility and suppleness. It inspires a willing submission and compels agreement because of its synchronicity with the unifying pattern of truth.

Whereas domination divides, dominion divides but also connects. Domination coerces control by introducing an arbitrary and inflexible restraint on true creative expression, while dominion extends control in lockstep with the wheels within wheels of creation. A horse, for example, can be held artificially in a desirable frame or he can be brought progressively into a state of fitness and understanding which allows him to hold that frame willingly and even proudly, if that can be said.

Likewise, a child can be educated in one of two ways. The first, and most prevalent is based on the notion that knowledge is power. To that aim, facts and figures are pasted on from the outside, typically with complete disregard to the inner wisdom of the child. The second, yet more desirable sees knowledge as the means of unlocking the true creative expression already resident in the child. Knowledge in the former is an end and in the latter is a means to an end.

Knowledge is not power, but the agility and suppleness that attend a well-organized system of knowledge do allow for a safe and contained increase in the expression of power. Loosely arranged or poorly organized knowledge is dangerous in that it does not provide a safe container for power. Power inevitably leaks through holes in understanding.

I have found this distinction to be an important one in every field of human activity I’ve explored. While there are many examples that could be given in support of it, I am privileged to share an example that comes from the field of classical equitation. General Decarpentry, a distinguished scholar of artistic equitation who served in the venerable Cadre Noir from 1904 to 1913 and again from 1925 to 1931 as the school’s second-in-command, provided a useful explanation of how dominion can be established in the field of equitation in his book Academic Equitation, A training system based on the methods of D’Aure, Baucher and L’Hotte:

The methods employed in Academic Equitation are in no way different from the ones used ever since the beginning of training, and they are in fact the only means man disposes of to train any kind of animal.

They consist of progressively developing applications of the principle of submission, by substituting for the means primitively employed to obtain it, other more convenient means that give scope for wider and more subtle applications.

The conventional language which has been thus gradually established between rider and mount becomes enriched with new signs. The understanding of the horse develops. The combined use of the signs, the isolated meaning of which has been established separately, allows the rider to enlarge the scope of his teaching, which always proceeds from the known to the unknown.

This is the spirit of the method. It uses conventional language to apply to the body of the horse the gymnastic progression of a series of movements intended to develop his agility rather than his strength, and his suppleness rather than his power.