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Don’t Blame the Lettuce, and Other Wisdom for Unsettled Times.

 

It is a contentious and unsettled time here in America. Our country remains divided, and emotions are running strong.

Therefore it is especially important to take a deep breath and intentionally navigate our way through whatever is to come.

Although it may be hard to see, from a mindfulness perspective, the tough times can be great teachers — opportunities to cultivate equanimity and the ability to be with strong emotions and feelings.

Good, bad, who knows?

There is a great parable that illustrates this point, and it can help us not get attached to our beliefs, or not to hold too tightly to an outcome.

The story is about an old farmer who lives in a small village with his son. They have one horse, and a small plot of land that they farm. Life is simple and modest, but they have each other, and friends, and all their needs are met.

One day someone accidentally left a gate open and the horse ran away.

The neighbors came over to commiserate. “This is terrible,” they exclaimed. “Now you won’t be able to plow as much land and you might go hungry. How awful!”

The old man just looked at them and said quietly, “Good, bad, who knows?”

A few days later, the horse returns. While he was gone, he had met a tribe of wild horses, and two of them followed him back. The old man and his son got all of them in the corral, so now they had three horses.

The neighbors came back to exclaim what great luck this was! Now the farmer could plow much more land, grow more food, and make more money selling it. This was great news!

The old man just looked at them and said quietly, “Good, bad, who knows?”

While the son was trying to tame the wild horses, he was thrown from a horse and broke his leg.

The neighbors came back over to talk about how awful this was. The old man was too old to tame wild horses, and now the son couldn’t do it. No one could plow the fields to grow and sell the food. They were now back to starving. This was terrible.

The old man just looked at them and said quietly, “Good, bad, who knows?”

A few days later, the army came through the village conscripting every able-bodied young man to go off to fight a war. Because he had a broken leg, the son didn’t have to go.

This, my friends, is equanimity in action. Equanimity, or calmness of mind even in stressful situations, can be your best friend right now.

We sometimes think things are awful and catastrophic, but we truly don’t know.

I’m sure all of us can think back to a time in our lives when we thought something was horrible (maybe a job or relationship ended) and it ended up being the catalyst for something much greater.

We are limited by our human perspective, by our filters, and by not being able to always see the divine plan.

When we believe our thoughts, we often create suffering for ourselves. We can watch the thoughts, feel the feelings (we don’t need to push anything away) and ask ourselves:

Good, bad, who knows?

Another way to ask is:

How do I know this is not a blessing?

These questions can help us find peace in mind and body, which is the first step to peace in the world.

Suffer skillfully

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk and peace activist who came of age during the war in Vietnam. He knows about suffering, and offers great ways to cultivate equanimity and understanding.

We can learn how to suffer skillfully! We don’t have to run away from it or to hide from it by consuming. Food, drugs, alcohol, shopping, mindless TV are just a few of the ways we can distract ourselves from pain — temporarily, of course.

The secret to happiness is to acknowledge and transform suffering through our mindful presence and holding our experiences with a kind compassion, much as we would hold and comfort a crying child.

We know the child has reason to be upset. But we also know that all will ultimately be well. We can have that relationship with our own, inner small child who might be having an inconsolable temper tantrum.

Don’t blame the lettuce

If we plant lettuce and it doesn’t grow well, Thich Nhat Hanh says that we shouldn’t blame the lettuce. It is wiser to look at the reasons it isn’t growing well.

It may need fertilizer, or less sun or more water. It is never helpful, and in fact is a waste of energy, to blame the lettuce. The same is true with people. If we can understand and care for each other, we can grow and thrive and coexist in peace.

He says:

“Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and arguments. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding.”

It is so important to remember this with our fellow human beings. While I understand the urge to blame others for our predicament, it is not the most useful thing we can be doing. It is equivalent to blaming the lettuce.

The more we can stay in love and understanding, even when we disagree with the views of another, the quicker we will find peace on our planet.

No mud, no lotus

Thich Nhat Hanh also talks about how the beautiful lotus flower can only grow out of a lot of mud.

We need mud for certain beauty to be expressed. There is no other way. It is the natural order of things. Without grit, there can be no pearl. We need both darkness and light.

There is a useful role for things that might seem, at first glance, to be nothing other than a dark, ugly, painful mess.

This perspective can create less suffering when a dark, ugly mess shows up. We can start looking for the lotus. Perhaps it’s just a tiny, almost invisible bud, but it’s there somewhere.

Oh, my fellow humans, the good news is that we have laid down plenty of mud. We have great, rich, fertile ground for so many lotuses!

Now is the time to start rising above the mud and blooming. Let’s join hands and hearts and do it together.

***

ErinSharafErin Sharaf is the creator and founder of Mindfulness + Magic, and helps people reclaim their health, power and vitality through enhancing the mind-body connection, and through strengthening our connection with nature and with spirit. She has extensive training in mindfulness through the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare & Society, the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine, and is a certified Life Coach through the Martha Beck Institute. Erin is a recovering academic who believes that narrow boxes are for shoes and not for people, and that each of us has much more control of our well-being than we’ve been led to believe. She has been featured on NPR and in Mindful magazine, Edutopia and the Huffington Post. Her great joy is getting to share this transformative practice with others through coaching, workshops and retreats. Erin invites you to join her mindful, magical community at Mindfulness + Magic or on Facebook.

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