Have you heard the Chinese Proverb about the horses? For years I hadn’t and when I did, fell in love with it. When I mention it, I have found out it is pretty ubiquitous but also many people don’t know it.
There have been different versions I have heard from others and though I will probably butcher it, here is the gist:
One night the farmer’s horse ran away. The next day, all the neighbors came around shaking their heads. “Oh what a tragedy that has befallen you.” They told him.
He said, “We will see.”
The next morning, the horse was back and had brought two wild horses with him.
Once again the villagers shuffle in and say, “What luck you have!”
The farmer said, “We’ll see.”
The farmer’s son went to train the wild horses. While riding one he was thrown off and broke his leg. The villagers were wringing their hands, “Oh what a terrible thing to happen.”
You guessed it. The farmer just shrugs it off.
In the coming weeks, the army comes to town, taking all able-bodied men for their war effort. The farmer’s son was spared because of his broken leg. The villagers once again mention his luck. The farmer accepts the outcome as it is.
This is not to say really, really bad things don’t happen. Or even that wonderful, amazing things will not happen. But when events out of your control happen, it is up to you to decide how you let them affect you. Letting our lives be ruled by the emotions of external events is a rollercoaster you can choose to be on. In Man’s Search For Meaning, Victor Frankl said between the stimulus and response, there is a space to make a choice.
It doesn’t hurt to take a long breath before you decide how to react.
Currently, I have not worked in a year. Or I guess not been paid in a year (I will send an invoice Matthew, I swear!). Also, when we relocated to Hawai’i, we removed ourselves from any family or political drama. We might have received a phone call or occasionally check Facebook, but felt detached from anyone’s situation. All this has allowed me to slow down and cultivate a calmness to a degree I would have never imagined.
If you can modify your responses to events, then you don’t have to have the highest highs and lowest lows. “Bad” things will bother you less and “good” things that might not turn out to be as wonderful as you hoped will not affect you as much if they go sour. Keeping a clear mind always helps with either end of the spectrum.
Sometimes things get me down. I’m not saying they don’t, but most of the time I try to be bemused by what might be considered negative knowing that it will all work out in the end and take an extra amount of joy in the positive but not feeling drunk or manic. However, if you can hug your child and feel like you just won the lottery, why not choose that feeling?
Another practice that helps is, sometimes I will hear about a negative event from the past and realize I have totally forgotten about it, but remember feeling heartbroken at the time. Five or ten years later and I don’t even remember it? It helps to bring that perspective to whatever is my current situation. Is it worth feeling heartbroken over if in a year it will have been resolved and I have moved on anyway?
This is all to say, when your life feels out of control, just remember that is a feeling. One that you have some control over.