No matter who you are or what your circumstances in life, we all encounter tough times.
Even the first noble truth of Buddhism says that suffering is inevitable.
Yet, why is it that some people come out of these hardships better than others?
While there are many different factors at play, perhaps the most important is our thoughts about the situation. Eckhart Tolle says it best:
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but thought about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. It is as it is.” – Eckhart Tolle
But how do we actually separate our thoughts from the situation and see everything as neutral? It’s a difficult concept to embrace and one that doesn’t exactly come easily.
However, I came across this powerful Zen story that might help us understand the concept more simply. Check it out:
“Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.”
The Power of Practising Non-judgment
As we can see from the story above, the farmer is practising non-judgment. He understands the true nature of life. There are millions of effects that can rise from one event, so there is no point in labelling it as good or bad.
Good and bad are interconnected; two sides of the same coin. If something seems perfect, is isn’t. If you’re life seems horrible, it isn’t.
That doesn’t mean that we can’t be happy. It means that we need to realize this truth and live in a way that we’re constantly aware of it in order to find peace and happiness.
Yes, suffering might be inevitable in life, but according to Alan Watts, “we must not suffer over the suffering” by putting labels on things when really they’re neutral.