Updated: May 28, 2020
In a word, perspective. Our nature is to immediately label things, to put them in neat little boxes we can identify and relate to, but life is often not that simple. Our ancestors had a strong need for safety, a highly developed mechanism for determining if something will kill us or not. Today we use that skill to group things into good and bad, right and wrong, desirable or undesirable and so on. With everything we are exposed to in life, our perspective and the way we view things matters as our actions and behaviors follow. If we can shift our perspective and become aware of how we assign labels and roles to our experiences, we can begin to reclaim control over the things we are able and better let go of the things we cannot.
Surfing vs. coal mining "When the unexpected happens in surfing, that's what you want. When it happens in a coal mine, it's a matter of life and death. Perspective changes based on how you define your work. That unplanned outcome or sudden emergency—are you looking at with the optimism and possibility of a surfer, or the dread of a miner?"
Godin, Seth. "Surfing vs. Coal Mining". Seth's Blog, 27 Jan. 2018, https://seths.blog/2018/01/surfing-vs-coal-mining/
How do you view circumstances that come into your life? Do you seek the "silver lining" in all situations? Do you surf or do you immediately put on your hard hat like the miner example from Seth above? It may be a great time to ask yourself these questions and consider a timely story from one of my Masters new books, "The Dao In Action".
A Blessing in Disguise
“Often an event occurs that people think of as good luck, but in the end results of which turn out to be disastrous. In the same way, an unlucky event can bring about happiness. Therefore, you should not lose your will to continue if an unlucky event happens, nor should you be too overjoyed or feel too self-satisfied because of a lucky event or because something you desire comes very easily to you.
A long time ago, there was an old man who lived on the plains outside of the Great Wall of China. The kind, gentle old man had only two passions in his life: his son, whom he loved more than anyone else, and collecting rare breeds of horses. Every day, the old man and his son would ride their horses together. Often they would travel great distances to trade horses. Their days were full; they met new people, discovered magnificent horses, and enjoyed the good fortune that life had bestowed upon them.
One morning, a servant accidentally left the stable door open and one of the old man’s favorite stallions escaped. When the neighbors heard the news, they came to comfort the old man. They told him they were sorry he had had such bad luck. But strangely the gentle old man was not upset. He explained to his neighbors that losing the horse wasn’t necessarily bad luck. There was no way to predict that the horse would escape. It just happened, and now there was nothing that could be done about it. He told the neighbors they shouldn’t feel sad about what seemed to be misfortune.
One week later, the stallion returned home and brought with him a mare. This was not just any mare; it was a rare and valuable white mare. When his neighbors heard of the old man’s good luck, they quickly came to congratulate him. But, again, the old man was not excited. He explained that it was not necessarily good luck that had brought him this beautiful white horse. It just happened, and there was no reason to get excited over it. A bit puzzled, the neighbors left as quickly as they had come.
A short time later, his son was riding the white mare, and she slipped and fell. She landed on the young man’s leg and crippled him. Again, the neighbors came to the old man’s house to express their sympathy for the bad luck that had befallen his son. One of the neighbors suggested that the old man sell the mare before she brought them any more bad luck. Others said that he should kill the mare for revenge. However, the old man did neither. He explained to the neighbors that they should not feel sorrow for his son or anger toward the mare. It was an accident that could not be predicted, and there was nothing he or they could do to change it. At this point, the neighbors though the old man was crazy and decided to leave him alone.
Two years later, an enemy army invaded the country. To defend the country against the attack, all of the old man’s neighbors’ sons were drafted. However, because the old man’s son was crippled, he did not have to join in the fighting. The war was very harsh and most of the young men in the village were killed, but his son was spared because he has been crippled by the white horse two years before."
Yang, Jwing-Ming.(2019). The Dao In Action. “A Blessing In Disguise”. Wolfeboro, NH: YMAA Publication Center, Inc., pages 13-14 https://ymaa.com/publishing/book/dao-action-inspired-tales-life
The way we see the world and our relation to it shapes nearly everything we do. By pausing to consider how we interpret the meaning of events, their value and the lessons we take away, allows us to better focus on what we can and cannot control in life.
When challenging circumstances arise, remind yourself of this phrase I often tell my students; "there is a seed of opportunity in every problem, for the prepared and observant mind to grow."
Stay healthy and be well.
Sifu Paul McIntyre~