It is autumn in the Norwegian mountains.
I am sitting by the river in the Dream Valley, at the foot of Rondane.
At this time of the year, the water is as warm as it gets. Which is still very cold. During summer the rivers are colder as they get filled with snowmelt from the higher mountains, and thus ice-cooled. Summer-cold water, the locals call it.
Shaman stands besides me. His neck is bent, so his muzzle is just above my head. His breathing is calm and deep. The sound of his breathing mixes with the rush of the river. The one sound is calm, rhythmic – the other exceedingly powerful, chaotic.
Yet, it is perfectly quiet here. Enclosed in the soundscape is silence. In this moment, Shaman and I share this inner space of silence.
Shaman has not had an easy life. Before he came to the Dream Valley, he had, for many years, spent most of his time in a factory building. That period would have been his best age.
No horses are happy to be locked inside. Nor Shaman. Horses are wanderers. They belong to the steppe; they are herd animals, escape animals. When free, wild horses move up to 30 kilometers a day.
When my friend, Tina, and I picked up Shaman, getting him into the van turned out to be impossible. The narrow space was too anxiety provoking and claustrophobic. Instead, he showed us that he was willing to follow us if went by foot.
So we did. We left the factory and the village, and slowly ascended to a height of 1000 meters and continued across the trail-less mountains. We had to stop numerous times. Shaman had never experienced so much space at once. He took in the openness of the mountains as if he examined whether this was something terrifying he should be afraid of, or whether it was some kind of paradise.
He must have decided on the latter.
Since that time – which is many years ago now - he has become the calm leader of a herd of nine mountain horses. He is the one who eats first and undisturbed, the one who leads the flock when they have to move from one pasture to another, and he is the one who can stand here with me now, free compared to the other horses that graze well above us.
The depth of his and my relationship - and our shared presence - gives him the calm ability to lean into the assurance that in this moment I am his flock. It is a declaration of trust from horse to human.
We have collected hay for the winter on the farm today. A physically demanding job, but fortunately we are several people on the task. Five women have stacked 21 tons of hay in the barn.
The dream valley is getting ready for winter, where the temperature drops to minus 38 degrees Celsius on the coldest days.
As I sit here by the river, I sense an insidious exhaustion. I listen to the breath of Shaman, and feel how I'm sliding towards the sleeping state.
The exact moment when my consciousness is more asleep than present, Shaman raises his head and gets ready to go.
The muffled sound of his movement calls me back to the present moment. I open my eyes, stretch my spine, and take in the view of the landscape.
Immediately, Shaman lowers his head and resumes his grazing as if nothing had happened. But in his universe, despite the seeming outward tranquility, a million micro-movements have taken place around his and my situation.
We continue our meditation, the horse and I. And again, the physical exhaustion begins to overtake my wakefulness. And as a mirror image of my declining presence, Shaman raises his head and orientates himself towards the flock.
Because the flock is awake.
To a horse, the prey-animal, wakefulness of the herd is a matter of life or death.
The precision of his perception of my state of consciousness, whether I am here, or whether I am disconnecting, is the key to his survival.
After his second mirroring of my tiredness, I wake up. Although I enjoy his company, I know that in this tiredness I cannot honor his trust. I get up, and together we join with the rest of the flock.
It is late fall and the sun has recently disappeared from the valley. Three months will pass before its light reaches the lands of the Dream Valley again. At this hour of the afternoon, all the horses are facing west, towards the gorge where the sun almost reaches the mountain ridge. All the horses, except for Shaman, are standing with their eyes closed and heads lowered.
Shaman holds his head high. Conscious of his role as the leader, he keeps an attentive eye on the surroundings. Attentive, soft and relaxed. A four-legged teacher of meditation.
M.A., psychotherapist, architect and meditation teacher. She is the founder of Kontemplation which offers MBSR-programs and group retreats where mindfulness, presence yoga, compassion and creativity are interwoven into an integrated practice.
She is a part of the organizational group behind The Danish Society for the Promotion of Life Wisdom in Children, an association placing special emphasis on relational competence, teaching the practice of empathy and presence to professionals working with children and young people.
Hanneli lives at Vækstcenteret, a contemplative community in Denmark under the guidance of founder Jes Bertelsen. She divides her time between counseling, teaching, and long-term individual meditation retreats.