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  • Writer's pictureErika Murphy

Discovering the Flow

There's a Buddhist tale about an old Zen farmer who lives very modestly. He is dependent on the help of his one son as well as the labor of their horse. One day, a fence brakes and the horse runs off. The farmer's neighbors come by exclaiming, "Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!"

The farmer replies, "Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see."

A week later, the horse comes back to the farm, accompanied by five other wild horses. The neighbors were amazed, shouting in celebration, "Now you'll be able to produce more crops! This is such good fortune!"

Again, the farmer replies, "Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see."

About a month later, the farmer's son is taming one of the wild horses. The horse throws him off and the son breaks his leg. The neighbors expressed dismay. "How are you going to keep up the farm now? This is such bad news!"

Once again, the farmer replies nonchalantly, "Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see."

After three weeks, the farmer's son is still recovering from his injuries, and is unable to help at the farm. Around this time, an army regiment comes through the village to recruit men. When they see that the farmer's son is injured, they leave him and move on to the next house. "This is amazing!" the neighbors tell the farmer. "You have such good fortune!"

The Zen farmer gives his same reply: "Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see."

This story points out the mind's tendency to be pulled from the present moment by getting caught up in judgement. The mind labels events as "good" if it's something that it likes, or as "bad" if it's something it doesn't like. But the mind's limitations will never allow it to see the ultimate picture: the harmonious flow behind all things that some might call God's will or other may simply call Tao, or "The Way."

The Tao Te Ching tells us, “Bad fortune is what good fortune leans on, / Good fortune is what bad fortune hides in. / Who knows the ultimate end of this process?” When we learn to be completely present with the process, we go beyond the mind's labels and experience the living, joyful presence of harmony — the peace that passes understanding.


Carrying your spiritual body on your head

Can you embrace the One and not let go?

Concentrating the breath

Can you become supple as a child?

Can you polish the mysterious mirror

And leave no mark?

Can you love the people and rule the state

Without indulging in action?

When the gates of heaven open and close,

Can you keep to the female role?

When your mind penetrates the four directions

Are you able to know nothing?

It gives them life and nurtures.

It gives them life without possession.

It benefits them but asks no thanks.

It holds but imposes no authority.

Such is the mysterious virtue.

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