An old farmer had a very valuable horse that one day ran away. The neighbors, feeling for the farmer’s loss, offer their condolences: “This is such bad news … we are so sorry for you.”
The farmer calmly responds with “What makes this so terrible?”
A few weeks later, the horse returns, bringing with it two friendly stallions. The villagers are delighted, telling the farmer how happy they are for his sudden turn of luck.
“What makes this good fortune?” replies the farmer.
The following day the farmer’s son breaks his leg falling off one of the horses. “This is such a tragedy” lament the empathetic residents.
“Why is this bad?” asks the tranquil farmer.
A week later the army comes through the village recruiting all able-bodied men to the war efforts – passing over the farmer’s son given his injury. The townspeople extend their blessings: “This is such good news!”
“What makes this good?”
The allegory of the lost horse is a Chinese parable dating back over two-thousand years. Its meaning is quite profound: we give everything all the meaning it has for us. The concepts of good and bad are not inherent, objective qualities within a person or a situation. Rather, they are mere judgments, rendered by a biased observer.
Consider how society defines human beauty, one day this certain body-type or clothing trend is in and another day something completely different. Yet we are so certain we know what is good and what is bad (similarly beauty and ugliness) that we easily (and freely) assess those attributes. As the brilliant Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2, “nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
This is such a challenging concept for us because we’ve been conditioned by the ego to believe that certain things are indeed good and other things most certainly bad. Furthering our case is that we can find millions, if not billions of people to agree with us.
However, as science has so powerfully (and poignantly) taught us: opinions, no matter how great their shared consensus, do not make fact.
No one can be upset at a fact. It is always an interpretation that gives rise to negative [or positive] emotions, regardless of their seeming justification by what appears as facts. (M-17.4)
What the ancient farmer understood well is that meaning is something we project onto people, events, and situations. But on their own, those things have no meaning.
Nothing I see means anything. I have given everything I see all the meaning that it has for me. (W-pI.1; W-pI.2)
When we grasp the magnitude of that insight, we begin to realize the how much of our lives are dedicated to passing judgement, particularly good and bad. And from this point we can question our reactions to all situations – not asking, “Is this good or bad?” but rather “What meaning am I giving this, and how can I instead see this from a non-judgmental perspective of love?”
You have no idea of the tremendous release and deep peace that comes from meeting [every situation] totally without judgment. (T-3.VI.3)
Join us in Monday’s class where we will explore the unflappable farmer and his deep serenity – particularly how we can achieve such peace and calmness. I look forward to seeing you then.