I’ve been getting pretty stressed out by the ups and downs of everyday life lately. And I don’t think it’s necessarily because my life is hard right now – I think that a lot of the time, when I feel stressed, what I need most is a change in my perspective.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of perspective. Our perspective is EVERYTHING. When I’m struggling with perspective, it’s often connected to anxiety about the future and making assumptions.
UGH. Assumptions are the absolute worst.
There’s a veryveryvery old (possibly Taoist) parable about a farmer that I’ve been thinking about this week.
There is a story of a farmer who used an old horse to till his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills. When the farmer’s neighbors heard, they said to the farmer, “Oh no! How unlucky!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A week later, the farmer’s horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer, saying “How lucky!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Then the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, and he fell off its back and broke his leg. The neighbors cried, “How unlucky!” The farmer replied, “Maybe not, maybe so. We’ll see.”
Several weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found in the village. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg, they let him off. The neighbors said, “How lucky!” The farmer replied, “Maybe not, maybe so. We’ll see.”
We don’t know the future. We don’t know the effect of things that happen today on the days to come.
But I act like I do. ALL THE TIME.
I look for a job for a long time. I can’t find what I want. I’m devastated, because clearly this means I will never have happiness at work ever, ever again.
But I don’t know the future. I don’t know what’s coming down the road. We waited for two years for Our Baby to come home, and at the end of the first year, Tee had a major health crisis. Now, it didn’t occur to me at the time – but I really don’t know how we could have handled that crisis while also caring for an infant child. Emotionally, mentally, physically. We would have made it work, of course. But it would have been a big strain on our family at a time when we really needed to be focusing on attachment, bonding, and joy. (And, of course, that baby wouldn’t have been Teddy, who was 100% meant to be ours.)
We don’t know the end of the story, and making assumptions is rarely helpful. I do not have the detached nature that I imagine a Buddhist monk has. I do not allow events to simply happen, and then watch them, non-judgmentally, drift by as I mindfully contemplate the present moment.
I wrestle. I struggle. I try to bend circumstances to my will whenever possible.
But I strive for a little more faith, a little more trust, a lot less ego, and no more assumptions. Because we don’t ever know the end of the story – we just make assumptions and jump to conclusions and (if you’re me) forecast disappointment with the perverse aim of preparing yourself for the worst.
Which, in my experience, never works. Preparing myself for the worst to happen does NOTHING to make things better when the worst DOES happen. All it does is robs me of the joy and peace I could be experiencing in the present moment.
So – perspective. Shifting the way that I look at my circumstances so that I can see them in a different light.
And gratitude. So often I find myself reaching for what I don’t have instead of appreciating what I do have.
And TRUST. For me, it’s not just about trusting that most things usually turn out okay, or that the universe or my higher power or whatever will take care of me. It’s also just about having trust in others in my day-to-day life. I may make mistake and trust someone I shouldn’t trust. But overall, I am a much happier and healthier person when I assume good intention in others.
In closing – an amusing poem from Valerie Cox about the assumptions we make and how wrong we can be,
The Cookie Thief
by Valerie Cox
A woman was waiting at an airport one night, with several long hours before her flight. She hunted for a book in the airport shops, bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.
She was engrossed in her book but happened to see, that the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be. . . grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between, which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene.
So she munched the cookies and watched the clock, as the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock. She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by, thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.”
With each cookie she took, he took one too, when only one was left, she wondered what he would do. With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh, he took the last cookie and broke it in half.
He offered her half, as he ate the other, she snatched it from him and thought… oooh, brother. This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude, why he didn’t even show any gratitude!
She had never known when she had been so galled, and sighed with relief when her flight was called. She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate, refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.
She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat, then she sought her book, which was almost complete. As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise, there was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.
If mine are here, she moaned in despair, the others were his, and he tried to share. Too late to apologize, she realized with grief, that she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.