Is It Good or Bad?
If you’re like me, you probably love a good, classic story that illustrates a spiritual lesson. (Especially a short, meaningful one!) Whether it be a Christian parable, a Buddhist Koan, a Taoist story, or a personal anecdote from a minister’s life, we all tend to learn best from an entertaining illustration. One of my favorite examples is a famous Zen story called “Maybe.” It cleverly teaches us about aligning ourselves with Life, and cautions against labeling life events as good or bad. It goes like this:
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful!” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune: “How unfortunate,” they said. “Maybe,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.
You see how the farmer refused to judge the events and circumstances that happened in his life. He simply accepted them for what they were. As Eckhart Tolle explains in his book, A New Earth, a wise man “…enters into conscious alignment with the higher order. He knows that often it is impossible for the mind to understand what place or purpose a seemingly random event has in the tapestry of the whole.” This is good advice for us, to neither become thrilled with excitement at seemingly good luck, nor sink into despair over seemingly bad misfortune.
But how hard it is for us to remember this! We are human, after all, and our egos love to label everything. We have emotions and love to react to outside circumstances happening to us. There is a certain level of peacefulness that comes with behaving the way the farmer did, a sense of alignment with the Universe.
Eckhart Tolle goes on to say, “To be in alignment with what is means to be in a relationship of inner nonresistance with what happens. It means not to label it mentally as good or bad, but to let it be.” Even William Shakespeare pointed out in Hamlet, “…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” We need not be imprisoned by our interpretations and thoughts about our circumstances.
Students of mindfulness may call this practice simply observing our thoughts, letting the calmness of reality be the focus. From a spiritual perspective, the idea is to allow, embrace, and accept the true stability of God, Spirit, Universe, which as we know, always has our back. This is not easy and can take a lot of conscious effort. After all, we humans love our attachments. We attach ourselves to all kinds of things, like outcomes, people, and material possessions. Don’t get me wrong, loss of any of those things is still is a loss. But by choosing to not label a loss as bad and choosing to simply let it be, we are free to live in peace, ready for whatever Life brings us next.
My father understood this well, though it makes me laugh to say he was enlightened. (He would laugh at that, too.) He just loved to tell a good story, and the funnier the better. I’m grateful for the many hilarious nuggets of wisdom he gave me before he passed away. One of his favorite life stories he liked to tell (to anyone who would listen) was about how a free car once cost him $20,000. It goes like this:
My father worked hard his entire life, and he had always wanted to own a Cadillac. So he worked, saved, and eventually, in his mid 60’s he was able to buy the least expensive, lowest-end model Cadillac they made. He was so happy! But then, within a few months, things started going wrong with it. First, it was the transmission, then the automatic windows wouldn’t work, then there was a glitch in the engine that had to be repaired, then it was the transmission again. It seemed like every other month the car was in the shop, and he was inconvenienced. He wasn’t necessarily unhappy, but he was pretty disappointed with his dream car. Then, out of the blue, the dealership called him up and said, “Sir, your car has been in for repairs so many times, General Motors agrees it qualifies for the Lemon Law. You can come down to the dealership and choose any car on the lot. We’d like to replace your car for free.” My father was ecstatic! He chose a very beautiful higher-end model, leather everything, GPS, the whole nine yards. He really enjoyed that new car! And then, a couple years later, my dad’s wife wanted to divorce him. It was an amicable split, and they went to the attorney together. It was explained to him that under state law, all assets must be split equally according to their value. So, he had to pay his ex-wife over $20,000 in order just to keep driving his FREE car General Motors had gifted him.
Fortunately, my father found this hilarious. He harbored no real anger or resentment over the situation. I remember saying to him, “Wow, doesn’t that make you mad?” And he just shrugged and said, “Eh, it’s only money,” demonstrating his peaceful non-attachment to material things and wealth. Ironically, it would have done him no good to get upset and resist whatever happened because he died of cancer the following year. In the long run, that money was of no use to him anyway! We just never know what kind of plan Spirit has in store for us.
So whether our horse runs off, or our child breaks a leg, or our car breaks down, or we are hit with an unexpected financial setback, our reaction (or lack of one!) is always up to us. Trust the higher order of Spirit. When new horses unexpectedly show up, or our child is spared hardship, or we finally buy our dream car, or get a free dream car… trust the higher order of Spirit.