An old story from China:
When an old farmer’s stallion wins a prize at a country show, his neighbor calls round to congratulate him, but the old farmer says, “Good, bad, who knows?”Good, bad. Who knows?
The next day some thieves come and steal his valuable animal.
His neighbor comes to commiserate with him, but the old man replies, “Good, bad, who knows?”
A few days later the spirited stallion escapes from the thieves and joins a herd of wild mares, leading them back to the farm.
The neighbor calls to share the farmer’s joy, but the farmer says, “Good, bad, who knows?”
The following day, while trying to break in one of the wild mares, the farmer’s son is thrown and fractures his leg.
The neighbor calls to share the farmer’s sorrow. The farmer says, as before, "Good, bad, who knows?"
The following week the army passes by, forcibly conscripting soldiers for a war, but they do not take the farmer’s son because he cannot walk.
The Jewish and Christian traditions both study as scripture the wisdom text known as Ecclesiastes. In Ecclesiastes, 6:12, we read:
For who knows what is good for mortals while they live the few days of their vain life, which they pass like a shadow?Maybe we should give up this whole good-bad thing; stop judging, “this is good,” and “that is bad,” and “I like this,” and “I like that.”
When you say, “this is good” – this cake is good, or this video-game is good or this movie is good, or this house is good, or this friend is good, this person is good, then you are saying: this is something to be happy about. This is a reason to be happy.
What if you had no reason to be happy, you just were? If you have a reason for happiness, then that happiness can be taken away. The person you love could leave, the fun game could break, or stop being interesting. If you have a reason for loving life, what happens if that reason goes away? Can you be glad of aliveness for no reason at all?
When you say, “this is bad,” – this food is bad, this weather is bad, this school is bad -- then you are saying, this is something to be unhappy about. What if nothing were something to be unhappy about? What if you stopped wanting it to be different from what it is, and just noticed it for what it is?
Kids, if you ask your parents to go out for a walk around one of our lakes around here, you'll have a lovely chance to get out into nature. And you can also try this experiment: try it without any bug repellent one time.
The beauty of the trees and water -- that's good, you’re thinking. But without bug repellant, you are very likely to get a mosquito bite -- that’s bad, you’re thinking. Now here's the experiment. When that bite itches -- or you can do this any time you have an itch -- sit still, and give that itch all your attention. What an interesting sensation it is! There it is, maybe tingling a little. Do you feel an urge to scratch? Fine. Bring attention to that urge. Where is that urge to scratch coming from? Usually, I think, when we scratch, we want to make the itch stop because the itch distracts us from whatever else we’re trying to pay attention to. But what if there’s nothing else but that itch that we’re paying attention to? Suddenly we see that the only thing bad about the itch was that we didn’t want it.
This is what that farmer knew: if you don’t judge what is good and what is bad, then everything just is. Without specifying reasons to be happy, everything is a reason to be happy. Without specifying reasons to be unhappy, nothing is a reason to be unhappy.
You think? Actually, there’s a bit more to it. I’ll go into that next time (click here).