One of my favorite stories is an ancient fable about a farmer in a small village.
One day, the farmer’s only horse ran away. His neighbors came over to console him, saying “We are so very sorry, this is horrible news! You must feel angry and sad.” The farmer said “We’ll see. Who can know what’s good and what’s bad?”
The next week, the farmer’s horse returned, this time with a dozen wild horses following behind! The farmer and his son wrangled the horses up.His neighbors commented, “Wow, what good fortune! How joyful you must feel!” Again, the farmer said “We shall see. Who can know what’s good and what’s bad?”
The following day, one of the new wild horses trampled the farmer’s son, breaking his legs. The neighbors then said, “I’m so sorry for you. You must be upset with this terrible happening.” To which the farmer replied “We shall see. Who can know what’s good and what’s bad?”
Shortly thereafter, the country went to war, and every healthy young man was drafted to fight. But due to his injuries, the farmer’s son was not drafted. It was a horrible war. Almost every soldier died. The farmer’s neighbors again congratulated him, saying “You must be so happy and relieved that your son did not go to war!” The farmer replied “We shall see. Who can know what’s good and what’s bad?”
This fable of the farmer is confusing at first. It clashes with the common belief that life’s events carry intrinsic meaning.Most people think of events in this way. “Certain things are good, and other things are bad. That’s just the way they are.” In this characterization, there’s a 1:1 relationship between the event and your response. But as the fable illustrates, the link between an event and your experience is not so cut-and-dry. Life events in life aren’t imbued with universal meaning. Instead, it’s your interpretation of life’s events that dictates how you feel. Since all events are up for interpretation, a given life experience could cause you to feel one of many different ways. The fable gives us an example of this in action. While the neighbors were swept up in the automatic judgements about what is good and bad, the farmer was careful not to get led astray. He knew that every event in life has multiple possible interpretations.
Viewing life with this framing can be uncomfortable. “If life’s events are meaningless, what’s the point?” The point is this: since life’s events aren’t imbued with universal meaning, you get to choose how you feel about things. You are in control of your life’s narrative! In this way, you can understand the impact of your mind on daily life. Your mind has shaped, and will continue to shape every experience in your life!
Life really is what you make of it. When you understand that life’s events don’t carry universal meaning, your enthusiasm and energy are not held captive by the randomness of life’s events. This isn’t easy at first, because the brain processes most things automatically. Many of your habitual reactions have been conditioned for years. But when you cultivate mindful awareness, you give yourself the opportunity to catch automatic reactions in their tracks, and pick the most empowering narrative.Over time, this method of interpretation becomes natural. It’s just the way you see the world.
Peace and Love, Jim