- Posted by Marcelle Crinean
- On 2nd April 2018
The Parable of the Chinese Farmer.
Whilst teaching a Mindfulness workshop earlier this week, I was reminded of the Parable of the Chinese Farmer, which you may have come across in one form or another. I first read a version of it in Richard Carlson’s well-known book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff … And It’s All Small Stuff”, which, if you haven’t read it, is a great little book for bringing perspective and calmness into everyday life’s ups and downs.
The Parable goes something like this:
“A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbours exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbours shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
The moral of this story provides a useful lesson; we don’t know what’s going to happen – we just think we do!
Our brains automatically and consistently make up stories for us, imagining all sorts of scenarios and blowing things out of proportion – even when very limited information is available. And most of the time we’re wrong! Our brains, which have a hard time distinguishing fact from fiction, and real from imagined, interpret our thoughts and stories as though they were facts.
In fact, it’s rarely the events or circumstances in our lives that cause anxiety, stress, disappointment, depression, anger, happiness or joy. Rather, it’s how we think about the events and the circumstances in our lives that cause our feelings and consequent behaviour.
So, here’s the good news … you can change your situation simply by reframing the way you think about it. Next time you find yourself caught up in a vicious cycle of negative thinking and forecasting the future, just remember: Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.