There’s an old story about a horse wandering onto a farmer’s field while he is tilling the earth with a hand held plow. The farmer is overjoyed with his good luck and uses the horse to do the plowing. His neighbors are envious of his good fortune. A few days later his son falls off the horse and breaks his leg — how unfortunate. Then the army comes to the village to conscript the young men into military service, but the son’s broken leg prevents him from joining — how fortunate. The story goes on and on in this fashion.
The key element of the story is that we don’t know how the twists and turns of life will unfold. In challenging times, not knowing is an essential state of mind to be reminded about. Twenty years ago I couldn’t have imagined a whole generation of young people in the US not knowing what it’s like to go to school without fear of being injured or losing their lives to guns or knives. The teens taking action in the ‘March for Our Lives,’ have inspired broad support and a growing awareness that sensible gun laws might be possible.
Yet the tension between taking action or not taking actions grabs many people. Here are three skillful means from the Zen Peacemaker Order 3 Tenets* that address this tension:
Not-Knowing thereby giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and the universe.
Bearing witness to the joy and suffering of the world.
Taking Action that arises from not knowing and bearing witness with the underlying intention that the arising action be a caring action.
By letting go of our fixed views, and coming from not knowing, we can bear witness to the joy and suffering of the world. And by bearing witness we can open to what caring action arises, including the action of not acting, depending on the circumstances.
Like the horse entering the farmer’s field, ultimately we don’t know what the future holds, but we can choose to practice with what’s at hand. And by having an ongoing practice we can cultivate resilience for engaging with our challenging times.