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 for what they called 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.
Coaches often tell clients this story to help those that are “fused” to their stories about a situation—to get their clients to create a little distance between their story about a situation and what the ultimate reality might be. They point out that the lesson of the Taoist farmer is, of course, that no event in and of itself can truly be judged as good or bad, lucky or unlucky, fortunate or unfortunate. Only time can tell the whole story. The thinking goes that getting some space between the story and reality might reduce stress and/or help the client move through life with more grace. That is certainly true.
But there is something important here that is often overlooked. The Taoist farmer didn't cultivate detachment as a means to an end. He didn’t keep an open mind to achieve better outcomes for himself. He didn't distance himself from his “story” to lower his blood pressure. He didn't answer “maybe” to maintain aplomb as a way to better deal with Life's ups and downs.
The truth is, he didn't care.
The Taoist Farmer literally does not care what happens. He doesn't divide Life into good events and bad events, like piles of laundry. He experiences Life as one thing: undifferentiated energy/consciousness. Given a choice between another Ice Age or another Renaissance, it would be a jump ball for him.
For the Farmer, this open-minded approach is not a strategy. It is the byproduct of what he was searching for and his ultimate realization. If clients are tired of being whipsawed by their reactions and want more equanimity in their lives, it is fine to tell them the Taoist Farmer story. But it might be even better to point out the path the farmer walked and why he walked it.
“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” —Matsuo Basho
Dennis Adsit is an executive coach and consultant based in the San Francisco bay area. More of his writing can be found here.Share:
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