Have you heard of the following zen story of the Chinese farmer?
An elderly, hard-working Chinese farmer and his son, had a single horse. They used the horse to plow the field, to sow the seeds, grow the crop, and transport it to the market. The horse was essential for the farmer to earn his livelihood.
One morning, the horse broke the fence and ran away into the woods. When the neighbors found out that the only horse the farmer had, had run away, they came to solace him. They said – “Your only horse has run away just before the planting season. How will you till the land? How will you sow the seeds? This is unfortunate. This is bad luck.”
The farmer replied – “Good luck bad luck. Who knows?” The wise farmer was unwilling to label this incident good luck or bad luck.
A few days later the farmer’s horse returned from the woods along with two other wild horses. When the neighbors found out the news, they said – “Now you have three horses! You can till the land much faster with three horses. Maybe you can buy more land and sow more crop and make more money. Or you can sell the other two horses. Either way, you will be a rich man! This is good luck!”
The wise farmer repeated – “Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?” Again the wise farmer was unwilling to label this incident good luck or bad luck.
Next morning, the farmer’s son started training the wild horses to that they would help till the land. While attempting to mount one of the wild horses, he fell down and broke his leg. Just before the sowing season, the son would not be able to help the farmer with his broken leg. The neighbors came once again and commented – “This is really unfortunate. This is bad luck.”
The wise farmer repeated – “Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?” The wise farmer still was unwilling to label this incident good luck or bad luck.
A few days later, the king’s men started to visit each village in the kingdom. A war had started between their kingdom and a neighboring enemy state. The king’s men were enlisting the eldest son from each family to join the army so that they could defeat the enemy state. When they came to the farmer’s house, they saw the son with the broken leg. He would not be of much use in the army and hence they didn’t take him. He was the only eldest son in the entire village who was not forcibly taken by the king’s men to fight the war. The neighbors, some of them with teary eyes, came once again to the farmer and commented – “Your son breaking his leg was really fortunate. He is the only one who was not taken. What a stroke of good luck.”
The farmer calmly replied – “Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?” Again, the wise farmer was unwilling to label it as either good luck or bad luck.
What is the lesson for us here?
As human beings, we have a tendency to interpret any event as either good fortune or a misfortune. And we do it unconsciously. Every single time the neighbors thought what had happened to the farmer was bad luck, it turned out to be good luck! And just when the neighbors’ thought the incidents had brought the farmer good fortune, it turned around! Have you had similar experiences in your own life? What you thought was a setback turned out to be a blessing? And what you thought was unfortunate turned out to be beneficial? Life happens with all of us.. and we go through an emotional roller-coaster of happiness and sadness based on how we label the incident! However, most events, like in the story, that are beyond our control are just events! It is our interpretation of it that gives it meaning.
We don’t know the end of the story we’re living. We don’t know the twists and turns still to come. Sure, it’s easier to be upbeat when you still have a job, when you haven’t lost your house and when you aren’t ill. However, often when we have lost much, or even nearly everything, sometimes all we can choose is our attitude in the face of trials. The attitude of whether I am in charge of my life OR life just happened to me! One side empowers me and in the other I give my power away! Having personally played victim for a major part of my life, I wish I knew better earlier. But I am deeply grateful to know the difference now and make a conscious choice to feel ‘empowered’ no matter what!