Imagine yourself in ancient times, creeping through the dim and echoing forest, every sense alert and aware. Pushing the branches out of your way, you feel the ferns and forest grasses brushing against your legs. You can smell the rich, pungent scent of pine and hear a distant stream rushing over the stones. Suddenly, up ahead, you begin to make out a clearing – look – a shaft of light penetrates to the forest floor. And what is that? A flash of white – a stag? A horse!
Many adventures begin this way, and many mythologies speak of the allure of glimpsing a white creature in the forest. Such light is all around us, but sometimes, we have to find ourselves tangled in the forest of bewilderment, or wandering lost – like Dante’s pilgrim – in the dark wood of error, or laboring in the midst of a great unraveling, where all of our once-familiar bearings have dissolved, in order to really listen to the true guidance of our hearts.
A good Yoga or relaxation practice can bring us to a place of peaceful unmooring too, where the petty concerns and habits of the day drop away, and we enter into a sense of expansive being in which many things become clear, and those that don’t, seem to matter far less.
In this life, we are constantly being pulled this way and that, sometimes up, sometimes down, sometimes toward fulfillment, happiness, and joy – sometimes toward things that bring us pain and suffering. In the midst all of these powerful currents, something inside of us does its best to lead us toward fulfilling our destiny, our dharma, our personal reason for being here. The ancient Rishis pictured this divinely benevolent force as the white horse – the one powerful and wise enough to pull us in the direction we’re meant to go.
Vedic charioteers prized white horses for their courage and strength; more rare than other colors, white horses possess the majesty, endurance, and intelligence of their peers, but must also be more wise, because although other creatures can hide when darkness falls, the white ones stand illuminated.
In this sense, the white horse also symbolizes the divine light within each of us that can never be put out.
One of the most compelling texts in the Vedic tradition, a tradition that feeds the ancient roots of yoga – is the Shvet-ashva-tara Upanishad, or Sacred Book (Upanishad) of the Supreme, excellent (tara) White (shveta) Horse (ashva). This sacred book urges listeners to follow their white horse in order to reach fulfillment.
Sometimes this means letting yourself feel lost, at least for a time. Entering the forest, where familiar landmarks disappear. Allowing yourself to tread water in a state of not-knowing. Always, it means turning down the volume on the ordinary calls for our attention, and allowing the wise, clear voice within to light our way. We’ll know we’re on the path when we recognize the qualities of the white horse – grace, dignity, inner strength – beckoning us on.
So may it be for you, and so may it be for me, and so may it be for all of us.