I’ve been thinking a lot about an old, Russian allegory. Perhaps you’ve heard it, or something similar.
A poor farmer, his wife and teenage son lived on the frigid, barren steppe near Siberia. One day, their prize stallion broke free and disappeared into the forest. All the neighbors said: “What great misfortune.” To which the farmer replied: “Perhaps.”
Several days later, the stallion returned, followed by four beautiful, wild horses. The neighbors proclaimed: “What great fortune.” And the farmer replied: “Perhaps.”
Some time later, while trying to break one of the wild horses, the son was thrown and broke his leg. “What a terrible, terrible thing” the neighbors proclaimed. “Perhaps,” replied the farmer.
A few days later, the army came through the town, conscripting all able-bodied boys for battle. Because of his injury, the son was spared from being sent to the front, and the neighbors said: “You are truly fortunate,” And, yes, the farmer replied: “Perhaps.”
And on, and on, and on.
I often recall this allegory when I’m feeling frightened, or anxious, or struggle with doubt about the future. (FEAR: Future Events Appearing Real). And, then, I look back at my life and realize the countless times I judged a situation as either bad or good, tragic or fortunate. Then, in time, it’s as life (spirit, the soul?) corrects itself. I move on. I adjust. I accept, gain insight, learn valuable lessons.
Our never-ending quest for happiness is baked into the American psyche: “….life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But here’s the challenge: we are usually happy only when the circumstances are right. When things turn out the way we expect them to turn out. When the job is right, our goals are met, our life is neat, safe and predictable.
And therein lies the lesson of this allegory. The farmer lived in a state of equanimity, where his emotional state was not dictated by the continually-changing circumstances of life. Instead of happiness, one can guess that he lived from a place of joy with what was at any given time.
It’s a lesson about acceptance, more so than control. It’s about simplicity, and embracing a life of “perhaps.”