There is an old Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” The current period certainly qualifies as an interesting time. Interesting and challenging. What can we do in the face of uncertainty and instability?
We may go through life thinking we’re finally getting things figured out and we know what to expect. Then something happens that calls into question all we’ve taken for granted. It could be something in our personal life or it could be global. In either case it means things are going to change. I don’t know about you, but my background leads me to assume that change means things are going to get worse rather than better. Is that true? Who knows? It’s just a habit of thinking.
There’s an old story about a poor Chinese farmer who has one horse. One night the horse breaks out of the corral and escapes. The next morning the man’s neighbour comes by and says, “How unfortunate! That’s terrible.” The man says, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
The next day the horse comes back with a whole herd of wild horses. Again the neighbour shows up and says, “That’s wonderful! What a stroke of luck!” The man again says, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
The following day when the man’s son is sitting on the back of one of the horses, he gets thrown and his leg gets broken. Of course the neighbour comes back again, saying, “That’s terrible! What bad luck!” The man replies, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
Shortly after that, conscription officers come by to force the young men in the village to join the army. They take all the able-bodied young men, but of course they don’t take the farmer’s son because of his broken leg. The neighbour says, “How wonderful that they couldn’t take your son because of his broken leg!” You probably know by now what the farmer said. “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
I think of this story frequently when I find myself saying a situation is either good or bad.
The situation you’re facing may be in your personal life – for example, the end of a relationship, a job loss, a scary medical diagnosis -or it could be the state of the country or the world. Whatever it is, what keeps us from falling into despair and depression or reacting with anger?
Anger is a defense mechanism against fear. People who have a lot of fear defend themselves by getting angry. There is only one proven method to remove anger and that is not to defend your ego. It is very hard not to defend your ego. These practices can help: developing positive qualities, being honest with yourself, and meditation.
Remembering to question our thoughts can keep us from spiralling downward. Is what we’re telling ourselves true is is it a habit of thinking? Even if things are difficult, does that mean we can’t deal with it, does it mean it’s going to be difficult forever, does it mean disaster?
There are some very simple actions that can shift our energy. Step outside and go for a walk, do some asanas – move, do something. This allows your energy to shift. The current situation is temporary. This too shall pass.
The Dalai Lama says, “No matter what is going on, never give up. Develop the heart. Too much energy in your country is developing the mind instead of the heart. Be compassionate. Work for peace in your heart and in the world. Work for peace, and again I say never give up. No matter what is happening, no matter what is going on around you, never give up.”
When you are distressed, reach out to others. We need each other. Katagiri Roshi, a Zen teacher says, “In the end we are all children, walking through this strange land between birth and death. None of us knows much. The best we can do is stay close and hold hands.”
Don’t think that you are carrying the whole world. Make it easy, make it play, make it a prayer.
This is life. It includes pleasure, pain, good, bad, happiness, depression, etc. There can’t be day without night. So don’t expect that you or anyone will always be happy and that nothing will go wrong. Stand in the world bravely and face good and bad equally. Life is for that. Try to develop positive qualities as much as you can.
All your prayers will be heard, your meditation will bring peace, your selfless service will remove your discontent, and your devotion to God will fill your heart with divine love.
Contributed by Sharada
All text in italics is from writings by Babaji
Sharada Filkow, a student of classical ashtanga yoga since the early 70s, is one of the founding members of the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga, where she has lived for many years, serving as a karma yogi, teacher and mentor.
[Rose photo: Creative Commons Zero license]