I’m sure you know the wonderful Zen Story of the Chinese Farmer, here told by Alan Watts:
“Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most 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 break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown 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 conscript people into 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 point is that we never know whether anything that happens in life is really good or bad, what will be the real consequences of fortune or misfortune.
This is without doubt one of my favourite tales, and gets me out of many a mental tangle. Most of life’s difficult and seemingly impossible events can be met with a quiet “Maybe…”
What I have just been very struck by though, is the immense peace with which the farmer greets each of these events. The point isn’t just that some things can be good and some bad and we never really know, it’s that this understanding can leave us unruffled when each of these events comes along. Or at least able to regain our inner peace and composure very quickly.
I find this crucially important right now in dealing with parenting and other close and complex human relations. A difficult morning with the kids? It’s OK. Above all, maintain the farmer’s composure and deal with it from there.
I think the Zen farmer is in all of us. What’s needed is a conscious decision to connect with our farmer and stay centered, solid and in peace.
The drawing at the top of this post was inspired by a horse drawing by the poet Federico Garcia Lorca.
Exploring Lorca’s drawings, I found this, ‘Man with black animal’:
I practically jumped when I saw that! It immediately reminded me of prints by my artist sister Ellie, like this one:
When I sent her the ‘Man with black animal’ Lorca drawing above, she was amazed and said she’d never seen his art before! It seems a version of this magical creature makes his way secretly between imaginations!