Good or Bad? We’ll Have To Wait and See

Photo Credit: Mike Williams Photography, posted on twitter

Yesterday morning, in my twitter feed, I came across both of these photos I’m including in this post (see other one below). They were taken by the local landscape photographer Mike Williams, whom I enjoy the work of. This above pic was accompanied by the hashtag: badroads, while the pic below had hashtags such as: backroads and fallcolor. Gathering from the hashtag distinctions of what seemed to amount to the classic – and what I would judge to be un-beneficial – determining of what constitutes as “good” and “bad,” I was reminded of the sharing of a version of the story below, that our local dharma teacher Rowan told during our open mic night at the Open Way Mindfulness Center on Saturday evening.

 

The Old Man and his Horse (a.k.a. Sai Weng Shi Ma)

Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure. A horse like this had never been seen before — such was its splendor, its majesty, its strength.

People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. “This horse is not a horse to me,” he would tell them. “It is a person. How could you sell a person? He is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend.” The man was poor and the temptation was great. But he never sold the horse.

One morning he found that the horse was not in his stable. All the village came to see him. “You old fool,” they scoffed, “we told you that someone would steal your horse. We warned you that you would be robbed. You are so poor. How could you ever protect such a valuable animal? It would have been better to have sold him. You could have gotten whatever price you wanted. No amount would have been too high. Now the horse is gone and you’ve been cursed with misfortune.”

The old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know; the rest is judgment. If I’ve been cursed or not, how can you know? How can you judge?”

The people contested, “Don’t make us out to be fools! We may not be philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed. The simple fact that your horse is gone is a curse.”

The old man spoke again. “All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone. The rest I don’t know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can’t say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next?”

The people of the village laughed. They thought that the man was crazy. They had always thought he was a fool; if he wasn’t, he would have sold the horse and lived off the money. But instead, he was a poor woodcutter, and old man still cutting firewood and dragging it out of the forest and selling it. He lived hand to mouth in the misery of poverty. Now he had proven that he was, indeed, a fool.

After fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn’t been stolen; he had run away into the forest. Not only had he returned, he had brought a dozen wild horses with him. Once again, the village people gathered around the woodcutter and spoke. “Old man, you were right and we were wrong. What we thought was a curse was a blessing. Please forgive us.”

The man responded, “Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don’t judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You read only one word of one phrase. Can you understand the entire phrase?”

“Life is so vast, yet you judge all of life with one page or one word. All you have is one fragment! Don’t say that this is a blessing. No one knows. I am content with what I know. I am not perturbed by what I don’t.”

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Digging the Well

On Wednesday night, I attended a banquet dinner on campus with visiting guest speaker Ann Holmes Redding, as part of DiverseU, entitled: A Piece of the Peace. Ann is a former Episcopal priest, who was defrocked in April 2009 for having become a Muslim in March 2006. She is a faith leader, an author, a public speaker, and a teacher, who identifies with being both of Christian and Islamic faith.

Among many other things I greatly appreciated in her talk, she shared this parable:

“The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.”

― Jalaluddin Rumi

One of the things I most enjoy, is attending evenings such as this. Opportunities that allow me to practice breaking down what Thich Nhat Hanh calls our illusion of separateness.

In a stroke of good timing, I felt attending this particular evening paired well with another topic that has been circulating for me recently, centered around our local Festival of the Dead (FOD) celebration – which took place last night – and the concerning matter of appropriation. I’ve been a part of FOD for a number of years, as a performer with Unity Dance & Drum, a local dance troupe. This year, the social outcry about the issue of appropriation, in regards to our Missoulaified FOD, reached a record high, to the point of causing enough ruckus as to greatly deflate the participation and attendance at the parade procession down Higgins Avenue last night.

In the interest of trying to further find my way around this confusing topic, I wrote this in my journal early this morning:

Appropriation: something (as money) set aside by formal action for a specific use. (Merriam-Webster, circa 1997) Apparently, this is one of those words commandeered by the masses and then sent to drift on an ice flow far away from its origination. So long, old chum! Safe sailing on the seas and swells of change! Because as I understand it, appropriation is a dirty, no good, rotten word with negative connotations – but I’m not getting that vibe from Webster’s definition.

In the same kind of funny way that femme fatale follows feminism in our household dictionary, it seems we’ve re-calibrated the word appropriation to match our western culture’s sometimes over-correcting tendency to be offended on behalf of a people who are not offended enough, by the actions of blundering white people, or BWP.

Please understand, I include myself in the BWP demographic and admit readily and upfront my ignorance when it comes to all things white privilege related – it’s also likely that I’m more of a femme fatale than a feminist, so there’s that to consider, too.

While there’s part of me that wants to generate more of an understanding about the culturally important topic of appropriation, another part of me wants to relegate it to those who are better equipped to serve directly in its deconstruction and called to guide its direction. Cuz we can’t all dig appropriately sizes wells when it comes to all subjects in need of attention and transformation. There’s only so much digging one person can do. And we pick our 1, 2 or 3 spots and dig there, alongside others who are digging there, too. And occasionally we lift our heads up, look around, and take solace in the fact that there are a multitude of others digging simultaneously in a myriad of different places.

For example, I gravitate towards hospice work and matters concerning aging and death and dying – do you? If your answer is no, I bet you’re glad to know I’m digging the well here in this particular spot, even if you have no interest in joining me.

We cannot do the work of a million hearts with the one life we’ve been so richly given.

And this truth does not have to be deflating.

Do not allow the fact that you can’t do it all keep you from doing all you can.

Pick up your shovel and dig where you’re called.

(and do so with gladness and joy)