December 7, 2012

What if You are the Worst Horse?

As I consider the teaching on "Finding Our Own True Nature," I am reminded of the character inventory in Step Four. When I did that inventory, what was my worst fear? That I was the worst. And that I could never learn to be better.

To look at such a worst-case scenario dispassionately, Pema introduces us to the  four kinds of horses, explaining the differences between them, rating them in terms of their responsiveness to outside guidance. 

The excellent horse moves before the whip touches its back, due to its great sensitivity.  The good horse responds to the whip's slight flick on its back. Alas the poor horse must feel pain in order to move, and the worst horse, does not budge until "the pain penetrates the marrow of its bones."

How teachable am I?

Thank heavens, sitting practice does not care about whether we are "the best horse or the worst horse." We don't sit in order to judge our quality or worth.  Rather we are seeking to make contact with our true nature and develop the ability to speak, and act, from our nature. That requires acceptance.  

Worst or best is really irrelevant to our success.

There are so many ways that even wise men and women discover they are the worst horse. Dainin Katagiri Roshi came to America after working as a monk in Japan. There, everything was precise and clean. And in America, his student were hippies. He was offended by just about everything about them--for example, their need for a bath!   He had to work much harder to develop the heart needed to work with these students.  Being the "worst horse," he aspired to try harder.

The truth is that the worst horse is actually the best practitioner.  

The story of the Tibetan monk, Lama Sherap Tendar, illustrates this.  Tendar was teaching students to play the cymbals and the drum, in the Tibetan way.  The monk worked with them day after day, with a pained look on his face. He never told them they were doing well....and so they felt terrible, that they had disappointed him. Only after their last performance did Tendar tell them they had done well from the beginning!  Said he, "I knew if I told you that you were good, you would stop trying." He had been gentle in his feedback, he did not make them lose heart; they just knew that he knew the proper way to play the cymbals, and from his face, they knew they had not attained it. So they tried hard the entire 49 days.

Sometimes those closest to us send direct messages that we are worst-case horses.  My mom told me "you don't think, you stink! When you think you are supposed to go in one direction, do the opposite!"  This led me to "crazy horse." 

Maybe, like me, a parent told you that your own true nature is "one continuous mistake."   Don't let such "assessment" goad you into depression or discouragement. Don't let it "make you crazy."  Let it be your divine motivator.   Sit up and pay attention, sit up and claim the pride that accepts you just as you are... and uses that pride to spur you on.

Practice practice practice. Progress, not perfection. 


  1. We should be wild horses running free with no one on our backs. We should never whip ourselves into submission. No other species punishes themselves the way we do.

    I do think we should look at ourselves and see how our own patterns cause us pain like listening to words from the past and thinking their true.

    We got to be like wild horses and enjoy our freedom to run.

  2. I grew up harnessed tightly and RARELY left the stable. Oh, I found my stride, thanks be to God, but it took a whole bunch of falls.

    Growing up with a caregiver who has BPD is a fete in and of itself. One with this disease and no formal diagnosis had to be traumatic, to say the least. As a counselor, this is the one mental illness I struggle most with. I hope, unlike myself, you found your stride much earlier than I. Either way, you have found it and are diligently working toward a healthier way of living,, certainly one with clarity and wisdom!!


I welcome your thoughts. Keep me honest~