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The Stories Behind The Teachings

Day 16 of Yoga Journal’s 21-Day Challenge

Who knows whether it is bad luck or good luck,” says the Taoist farmer.

Is that so?” asks the Zen monk.

Everything…is the best,” says the Zen shopkeeper.

Gam zu l’tovah,” says Nachum Ish Gamzu.

In the modern world, especially here in the West, we tend to view things as they come. We are quick to assume that what we have, here and now, is the whole story. And, we are quick to judge accordingly. We define a situation – or another person – as good, bad, or irrelevant depending on how it measures up to our current goals and desires. We suffer, because we react to what’s happening in a moment that is nothing more, nothing less, than the middle of a chapter. Even if (you think) this chapter is the end of your life, it is hardly ever where your story ends.

In fact, even if you’re right, and this is the last chapter of your living life, there’s still another chapter in your story – it just involves other people. If you’re wrong, and this is not the last chapter in your living life, then the next chapter is all about how your attitude about a current situation affected your future situations.

I’ve seen people recover from tragedy because they had a positive attitude. I’ve also seen people who seem to age dramatically because they can’t get past a calamity. Personally, I believe we have an infinity capacity for joy and love, but that we are only given the grief we can handle. Call me a romantic optimist. I still recognize the problem with this philosophy is that sometimes things happen which make us doubt our ability to handle the situation. We fall into the trap of believing it is the end of the story. We become disappointed, irritated, angry – and those emotions begin to supersede the joy, the hope, the love.

My Day 16 story is mostly about molehills that could have turned into mountains. Although, there is a funny celebrity moment and a really dramatic moment (which isn’t mine). The stories behind the teachings quoted above, are a little deeper. Take a moment to consider your answers to the questions which appear after the teachings.

See if you can be open to the possibility that you don’t have the whole story. See if you can be receptive to the inevitable joy that comes from recognizing everything is for the good.

The Stories Behind The Teachings

One of my favorite versions of the Taoist farmer parable appears in Way of the Peaceful Warrior, where Joy tells the story to the author Dan Millman. Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby, wrote a song based on this fable about a farmer who has a “we’ll see” attitude while his neighbor judges everything as it happen.

If, when the horse runs away, the farmer gets depressed and defeated, he may not be physically, mentally, and emotionally capable of doing his job. In which case, we end up with a very different story. Consider how your reaction to a minor (or major) event in your life affects your story.

In Zen Buddhism, there is are two related koans. In the first, people accuse a monk of fathering a child. The monk accepts the child, probably grows to love the child (to say nothing of how the child feels about her “father”); however, when the child is taken away, the monk accepts the change in his situation with the same aplomb he exhibited at the beginning. People around him believe they know the truth of a story, that they understand reality, based on the information at hand. The monk questions their understanding of reality.

When was the last time you questioned your understanding of the facts at hand? In other words, when was the last time you questioned your understanding of reality?

In the second Zen koan, a future Zen master eavesdrops on a shopkeeper and his customer. The customer, like so many of us, wants the best. The shopkeeper claims to only carry the best. If the customer believes the shopkeeper, then the customer goes home happy – no matter what he or she purchases.

When was the last time you accepted that you got a good deal out of life?

In the Talmud, there are several stories of people whose lives are meant to teach us how to experience joy and triumph in the face of tragedy. One such story is the story of Nachum Ish Gamzu, literally Nachum, the man who says it is all for the good.

When was the last time you were open to the possibility that bad news could lead to something wonderful?

Remember, opportunity is always knocking. We choose to answer the door based on who, or what, we think is on the other side.

~ Be open, be receptive. ~


1. Brynn - March 19, 2016

This is so important to keep in my mind as a teacher of young children. I am just one person that can (or not) affect the journey they are on. I am one very small piece of their story which is can be very powerful and insignificant all at once.

ajoyfulpractice - March 21, 2016

It is amazing isn’t it?!?! I find this perspective also helps when teaching the young at heart (and the not so young)!I also remind myself that we really have no way of knowing our full impact on others. So, go forth like it matters – cause it does.

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