I used to be a burnt finish, a frayed electrical twine, a tea kettle whistling on the range nearly boiled dry. I’d been working two jobs for a decade, and I discovered myself within the paradoxical place of getting a little extra cash and zero pleasure. Snippets of free time that sometimes landed at my ft solely provoked my nervousness. I used to be too sure up in each little factor.
How might I heal myself? I’d all the time chafed at the concept journey alone can mend a individual. It appears directly too literal and too extravagant—that a bodily escape is the one repair, and, sarcastically, that such a remedy requires a lot cash (stress), time (stress!), and planning (ditto!). But that spring, I started to fret concerning the injury this nervousness could be doing to my physique. I Googled two issues I really like: “horses and Iceland.” Then, in mid-July, I discovered myself in a van with a dozen different ladies watching Iceland’s lunar-like panorama cross us by via a blur of arctic rain. We have been heading to the horses.
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Vague reminiscences of a journey to Iceland many years in the past had guided me right here. Little did I do know that the meditative energy of a five-day tenting journey within the saddle was past highly effective.
As quickly as I hit the path, the incessant rhythm of the swift and unrelenting tolt—a four-beat trot distinctive to Icelandic horses—dominated the whole lot, focusing my thoughts and physique into a sort of magical clock whose arms solely counted seconds as an alternative of minutes or hours. In the saddle, driving within the tolt, I discovered myself gently rocked into the second. There was no future and no previous. Only now.
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This deep shifting meditation was additionally formed by the barren land itself. Without the size of timber, distances have been unattainable to guage. We traveled over an countless expanse of rock and grass. In July at that latitude, the solar by no means units. Instead, the sky turned an ever-changing research of the vicissitudes of clouds sweeping throughout in an everlasting afternoon. Lacking the cues of day and night time, my world turned intensely targeted on the hypnotic rhythm of hooves hitting the velvety volcanic earth.
Which is why, on the second day of rolling with the tolt, I turned extra attuned to my equine companions—the dozen or so horses I’d bestride over the course of this journey. Riding an animal requires forming a partnership with a silent, ambivalent teammate. Though your destinies are sure collectively, as in any job, there are alternative ways of going about it. You might each slog via—the horse burdened by his cargo, and you, accordingly, feeling a little an excessive amount of like an outsized duffle bag. Or you possibly can, nevertheless briefly, join.
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The horses I used to be working with got here with their very own complexities. Most of the yr, they ran wild throughout the treeless, volcanic expanse—loving, preventing, serving to, continually establishing their place inside the herd. But when the farmers tracked them down, corralled them into a fenced area and saddled them up, they turned, like their riders, a part of a unit dedicated to following and carrying.
The step, step, step of the tolt targeted my consideration on the horses’ subtler cues: eyes open or half-closed, tails excessive or lackluster, ears twitched again towards me or slanted entrance towards the horse forward. Thoughts and feelings, each mine and my highly effective associate’s, flowed in and out of my consciousness with out judgement. Each time I dismounted and pulled off the saddle, my momentary companion would vanish into the ocean of brown, black, and white spots, stripes, thick manes, lengthy, lush tails—again into the hierarchy of the herd. We had days and days of this forward.
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After a week, I started to see how I functioned inside my very own herd. I noticed that the indignities of the proverbial work saddle have been momentary. The actual or imagined slights towards my authority would come and go, like clouds throughout the sky.
Back within the workplace in Boston, the place I reside, I discovered that I’d developed a newer, more healthy sense of time, which made me extra empathetic to these round me; my perspective had turn into directly huge—just like the mountains and glaciers of Iceland—and extremely targeted, just like the twitch of a horse’s ear.
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About our writer
Rachel Slade is a Boston-based journalist and writer of Into the Raging Sea, a gripping account of the sinking of the American cargo ship El Faro. Learn extra at rachelslade.net.