Two Selves: Horse & Rider

For many of us when we practice meditation or any difficult skill, there can be an inner voice monitoring and telling ourselves what to do. For example, “Okay. We’re going to meditate now. Just pay attention to your breathe…..No, don’t think about that. Come back……Geez, this doesn’t work. I can’t do this. This place is too cold. I need to try harder…..Okay, right breathe time.”

In the Inner Game of Tennis, the author raises the interesting question, who is talking to who here? It seems like there’s the “I” that is constantly on watch keeping track of things and telling the other “me” what to do and how it’s doing. We could say this first “I” is the self-conscious ego and the other “me” is my subconscious body-self.

Often, the “I” is talking and doing too much. For most modern folks including myself, there’s a perfectionism theme to the self-conscious ego. It’s constantly feeling inadequate, upset, craving, nervous, and anxious about what’s happening and state of one’s practice.

A good metaphor here would be the “ego” as the rider, and the subconscious body-self as the “horse”. If you have ever ridden a horse (or tried to train any animal), you know that the rider doesn’t really have control. The ideal role of the rider is simply to keep the horse on track. The horse is the one doing the actual work and walking. The rider is the support. Once the horse gets into flow, the rider ideally disappears.

Likewise, in our meditation, the role of our thinking self-conscious mind is to keep track. We can use our thinking to coach ourselves rather than judge and criticize our efforts. Easy affirmations and instructions like “Nice job”, “I care about focusing”, “Come back to the breathe, friend”.

This is not a new concept. The Inner Game of Tennis was published in the 1970s. But, meditation teachers have been talking about this for thousands of years.

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