There was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbours 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 neighbours 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 neighbours 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 neighbours congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "Maybe," said the farmer.
The story continues...
This story illustrates the idea that we can rarely tell if the events we are currently experiencing will be judged by us in the future as 'good' or 'bad.' This is because although we perceive our life as a series of events, in reality these events are not separate from one another, but part of a continuous flow of experiences. These experiences appear separate to one another because we try and organise our lives so that they have meaning. Part of this meaning-creating process includes editing our experiences into sections with fixed beginning and endings, and in doing so creating fixed stories that are disconnected from both their past as well as their potential future. However, if we edit the long story of our life differently, by changing how we chunk our life story into smaller stories, then we would find that we have created a different set of stories. In the taoist story you have just read, the neighbours of the farmer assumed that each event described, was either good or bad. This was because they treated each event as if it was the end of the story, rather than seeing that the story would continue. Of course, this is true for all of us, too. Regardless of where we are in our lives, it is very easy to think of our current situation as being the end of the story, but in reality the story continues for the rest of our lives. When taking this perspective, we can even reflect upon how our own lifetimes are part of an even bigger story that continues to play out, encompassing the history of humanity, evolution, and our own place in the history of the universe. However, for now, I invite you to consider letting your life unfold without trying to assume that you know how it will all end, and also have the faith that you will be able to rise to the different challenges that you meet along the way.