Ancient Eastern philosophy being weaved into a beautiful little story.
I just lost my wallet for the second time in 10 days. Yes, that’s right. I lost everything, my travel cards, my ID, my credit cards, gym membership cards. Quite unlucky some may say.
But then I replaced it all, so I had a fresh new wallet and all my cards back in my possession around 5 days after losing everything. The burden of misfortune had now disappeared.
But then yesterday, I lost it all again. Misfortune. “Why am I so unlucky…” I kept repeating to myself as I would beat myself up mentally. Now the question here is, what is misfortune? Are these series of events really unlucky, or is that just my perception of something that is far simpler.
Fortune, misfortune, luck, or fate? How about we disregard these things and just go with life. Let’s dissect this idea with a story about a Chinese farmer by my favorite philosopher Alan Watts.
The Story of the Chinese Farmer
Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to discuss it. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is so unfortunate.”
The farmer said, “Maybe.”
The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!”
The farmer again said, “Maybe.”
The following day his son tried to tame one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown off the horse and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.”
The next day the conscription officers came around to find people for the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!”
Again, he said, “Maybe.”
— Alan Watts
The significance of this story:
Life is sort of like a puzzle that can never be solved, yet this puzzle is being attempted by cocky people who are convinced that they have the God-given solution. The reality is that they don't have the solution for this puzzle we call life.
This person will constantly try to predict the outcomes of their actions, like a puzzle if you will. “If I place this piece here, maybe this part will fill out and I can complete this section.”, the cocky puzzle maker will think to themselves. Well, this is the opposite of what really happens in life, because we can't predict the outcome of anything. We can make educated estimates, but that's the extent to which we should pay attention to such a pointless endeavor.
It is this cocky puzzle maker who is more vulnerable to the hardships of life, because when things don't go to plan, they will be significantly more distraught compared to someone who had no expectations.
As we can see from the story about the farmer, all the people around the farmer were trying to make judgments about the fortune or misfortune of events. Look how that turned out. They were all wrong.
A judgment about the future, or past, has no place in the present.
The farmer stayed neutral, he made no judgments on the so-called fortune or misfortune he was experiencing. And he was the one who came out victorious. He could easily have cried a river of concern for when his son broke his leg, but he stayed composed. It ended up working for the best.
Now in the poetic words of my favorite philosopher:
The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad — because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune. — Alan Watts
Taoism As An Approach To Emulate The Farmer
Taoism is a 2,500-year-old philosophy from China that embodies this idea of going with the flow of life. It’s about acceptance, not resistance. The most useful analogy to help you understand Taoism is water.
You should flow with the water, along with its effortless nature, passing over the rocks and creaks. If you resist what happens in life, or get annoyed about things that happen, you will face hardship and obstacles.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
― Lao Tzu
Alan Watts, the British philosopher nicknamed “The First Zen Philosopher of the West” was the one who came up with this fable. Watts was heavily influenced by Zen Buddhist traditions and Taoism in particular, and I believe you can see the Taoism shining through the demeanor of the farmer.
A person that is truly content with their existence and their life state will always be like the farmer. They will not make preconceptions on the events of the present, they will rather let them flow by like the current of a river, effortlessly moving through the universe like the processes of nature.
If we can learn anything from this, it’s that nature is the ultimate teacher for life lessons. The processes of nature happen effortlessly with no resistance. The deers frolic through the forests, the birds soar through the sky.
And the farmer, the person in the story who truly benefitted from the events that transpired, he emulated nature. Don’t question if your fate is unlucky or lucky, everything will reveal itself in the way it needs to in due time.
As Alan watts said:
“You never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.” — Alan Watts
Are you beating yourself up for something that happened in your past, or even worst, are you feeling sorry for yourself? I was recently stuck in a period of really low emotions and bad mental health, and do you know why this was?
I was feeling sorry for myself because of the loneliness I was convincing myself I was experiencing after a breakup. After a harsh realization that I needed to stop using unluckiness as an excuse and quit feeling sorry for myself because of a concept that doesn't exist, I felt instantaneously better.
This is why you shouldn't make judgments on whether or not things are good or bad, the mystical nature of the universe is far more complex than that, just do what you can, be who you are, and flow.
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