Zen Story: Maybe
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. “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.
I love that story. I have read it more times than I can count. In Buddhism, there is this very significant concept called “equanimity (upekkhā, upekṣhā) which is one of the four sublime attitudes and is considered: Neither a thought nor an emotion, it is rather the steady conscious realization of reality’s transience. It is the ground for wisdom and freedom and the protector of compassion and love.” For me, that’s what this story represents and the theme has become a real cornerstone of my own spiritual practice.
Here is a great article on the subject to shed more light on the topic.
So often we go through life reacting moment by moment to the stimulus that is all around us. Comments people make. Things that happen to us both bad and good in our personal lives. In our professional lives. Good fortune and bad.
And we typically react to it all and ride that emotional rollercoaster depending on the ups and downs that life brings to us on a daily basis. I have learned, however, to really embrace this concept of equanimity. Letting life reveal itself, surrendering to the Higher Power that governs us all (and to me that is not specific to any one religious belief but ALL of religion and spirituality), and accepting everything that manifests itself as just exactly what is. Accepting it. Not judging it. Not forcing it. Simply allowing it to present itself to you without passing judgment. The middle way.
I am sure this sounds like a very passive way to go through life. But, it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s liberating. It’s stress relieving. Without all of the noise associated with judging every single action in life, it allows you to live a much more passionate existence with a clear eye on the beauty and marvel of life itself.
My yoga and meditation practices reinforce this concept of the “middle way”. The ability to be bear witness to the things in life that come to us. The ability to observe and not pass judgment. The ability to remain calm in the face of adversity. The ability to detach from expectations and outcomes.
- “The real meaning of upekkha is equanimity, not indifference in the sense of unconcern for others. As a spiritual virtue, upekkha means stability in the face of the fluctuations of worldly fortune. It is evenness of mind, unshakeable freedom of mind, a state of inner equipoise that cannot be upset by gain and loss, honor and dishonor, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. Upekkha is freedom from all points of self-reference; it is indifference only to the demands of the ego-self with its craving for pleasure and position, not to the well-being of one’s fellow human beings. True equanimity is the pinnacle of the four social attitudes that the Buddhist texts call the ‘divine abodes‘: boundless loving-kindness, compassion, altruistic joy, and equanimity. The last does not override and negate the preceding three, but perfects and consummates them.”
How to put this into practice? For me, it’s about removing my ego in as much of my life as possible. Removing my “feelings from getting hurt” or “getting rid of expectations of the way things SHOULD be” and simply “accepting whatever presents itself to me”. It doesn’t mean I am devoid of passion, purpose, love, compassion and goals. It just means I detach from the outcome of those pursuits. And by understanding the power, simplicity and beauty of equanimity, I can more fully embrace unconditional love in every aspect of my life.