David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech is making the rounds of the internet.
I like this for so many reasons. Our lives are composed of our daily practices. I try to remind myself of this when I am tempted to skip my meditation or my work out. My biggest challenge is I am a veteran, habitual procrastinator – but if I’m not careful I can easily put off things on my to do list for months and months. Want a horrible example of this? On Saturday I finally went to the dentist, after, ohhhh, about 3 years of no dental visits. Said visit for cleaning cost me a massive chunk of change because they found FIVE cavities. FIVE. I feel like I have failed a moral test. If I had not given up on flossing over the past year, I am certain I would have fared better. Alas, my gums were bleeding something fierce when I was pregnant and for some reason I thought dentists were to be avoided when one is pregnant. I think my mind made that up because I don’t like going. But, I digress.
I fundamentally believe that our perspective will determine how we experience our day. There is a Taoist/Zen story that illustrates that very well:
An old farmer 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.
“May be,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.
“How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“May be,” 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.
“May be,” 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. “May be,” said the farmer.
To me the point of this story is to maintain equanimity in the face of events. Allow no event to rouse your emotions – simply experience the moment for what it is, not for what it might be or what it might portend. In the face of apparent suffering, it is difficult not to become completely distraught at what the implications might be for your life. The distress that you cultivate, or whatever your outsized reaction, is likely more damaging then the event itself experienced in its singularity.