#37: Getting comfortable not knowing
There’s a famous Zen story that goes like this:
There once was a village that had among its people a very wise old man. The villagers trusted this man to provide them answers to their questions and concerns.
One day, a farmer from the village went t the wise man and said in a frantic tone, “Wise man, help me. A horrible thing has happened. My ox has died and I have no animal to help me plow my field! Isn’t this the worst thing that could have possibly happened?” The wise old man replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.” The man hurried back to the village and reported to his neighbors that the wise man had gone made. Surely this was the worst thing that could have happened. Why couldn’t he see this?
The very next day, however, a strong young horse was seen near the man’s farm. Because the man had no ox to rely on, he had the idea to catch the horse to replace his ox - and he did. How joyful the farmer was. Plowing the field had never been easier. He went back to the wise man to apologize. “You were right, wise man. Losing my ox wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. It was a blessing in disguise! I never would have captured my new horse had that not happened. You must agree that this is the best thing that could have happened.” The wise man replied again, “Maybe so, maybe not.” Not again, thought the farmer. Surely the wise man had gone mad now.
But, once again, the farmer did not know what was to happen. A few days later the farmer’s son was riding the horse and was thrown off. He broke his leg and would not be able to help with the crop. Oh no, thought the man. Now we will starve to death. Once again, the farmer went to the wise man. This time he said, “How did you know that capturing my horse was not a good thing? You were right again. My son is injured and won’t be able to help with the crop. This time I’m sure that this is the worst thing that could have possibly happened. You must agree this time.” But, just as he had done before, the wise man calmly looked at the farmer and in a compassionate tone replied once again, “Maybe so, maybe not.” Enraged that the wise man could be so ignorant, the farmer stormed back to the village.
The next day troops arrived to take every able-bodied man to the war that had just broken out. The farmer’s son was the only young man in the village who didn’t have to go. He would live, while others would surely die.
After reading this story, you may thinking, like I was, why does the farmer keep returning to the wise man for advice if he thought the wise man went mad?!
Is it out of desperation?
Maybe so, maybe not. 😂
I love this story because it shows how unpredictable life is, and how important mental health is to inner peace.
Let’s play out the sequence of events:
First, the farmer’s ox died so he had no animal to plow the field, then he found a horse that could plow much better than his ox, then his son was thrown off the horse and broke his leg, then a war started and able-bodied men were being drafted but his son, with a broken leg, was spared.
If the farmer would have become attached to the events in his life, he would drive himself mad. The wise man spared him madness.
A few posts ago, I wrote about a new exercise that I started doing where I log events from the day on a sticky note and physically put them into two jars: one for awesome events and one for poop events.
Like the farmer, I am quick to categorize an event as good (awesome) or bad (poop). On the day of the event, it is easy to differentiate between good or bad, but it is not until later, at the end of the week, or at the end of the month, when I review my jars again, that I can say if the event was still good or bad. But even then, I don’t know, because life keeps changing.
And I keep changing, too. A setback one week may turn out to be a valuable lesson learned in 3 months.
Let me give you a fresh example from this week.
My grandmother was top of mind for me all week. She has a heart condition and would need open heart surgery. The surgery was scheduled several months ago, and this Tuesday would have been the day of her surgery. But, when she arrived to the hospital on Tuesday, she had some health complications. The doctor decided it was too risky to perform surgery on her. Instead, she would be in the hospital for a few days and then get a non-surgical procedure done to help with her condition.
Each night before bed, I would write on my sticky an update about my grandmother and categorize it as either awesome or poop. You can see how some of her updates were good and some were bad.
Not enough time has passed to re-assess what actually was awesome and what was poop, but I’m certain that a re-assessment will happen as she continues living her life, and as I do as well.
The best I could do was to take a maybe so, maybe not approach with each of her updates. Otherwise, I would drive myself mad thinking about something I cannot control.
As time goes on, I plan to continue taking this approach, while working on my mindset so I can pay attention to our sweet moments together that, previously, I may have ignored.
By the way, I transcribed the Zen story from a little wonderful book that I’ve been reading called, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson.
I have been writing a lot this week. If you’re interested in Web3, or are just curious about it, check out these two articles:
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