We practice meditation for a lot of reasons, right?
To escape our chattering monkey minds, to learn how to be more patient, and to better choose how to react.
I read the story below several years ago in Sharon Gannon and David Life's excellent book, Jivamukti Yoga: Practices For Liberating Body and Soul, and it changed my life. It perfectly illustrates the meditative mind, which has the capacity to be thankful for whatever happens:
There once lived a farmer. He lived on a farm with his wife, his son, and one horse that the family had raised from a colt. The family planned to enter the horse in the annual county fair and hoped it would win prizes that could lead to breeding opportunities. This would ensure a nice future income for the farmer and his family.
The night before the fair, a violent storm swept over the countryside. When the farmer and his family awoke early the next morning, they found that the fences had been blown down. Their prize stallion was nowhere to be found. The farmer's wife was beside herself with despair. The neighbors came and joined in the wife's grief. "What terrible misfortune has befallen us!" cried the wife. "Yes, yes, this is most unfortunate," the neighbors agreed. But the farmer said, "Fortunate or unfortunate, I don't know, let's wait and see."
A week passed and the farmer and his family were sitting at the breakfast table. Looking out the kitchen window they saw a herd of horses galloping toward the farm. It was their faithful stallion, leading five horses and a little filly behind him. He had found a herd of wild mares, and now he was bringing them home. The farmer's family ran out to open the corral gate for the horses. The farmer's wife was overjoyed and exclaimed, "What a fortunate turn of events, this is unbelievable!" The neighbors rushed over, exclaiming, "How fortunate you are!" The farmer just said, "Fortunate or unfortunate, I don't know, let's wait and see."
Over the next weeks the farmer and his son were busy training the new horses. One day the son was thrown by one of the wild horses. He suffered a bad fall and broke many bones. The farmer's wife was very upset. Between her sobs she said, "We never should have let those wild horses in; this is a most unfortunate accident. My poor son." The neighbors came to commiserate with the wife about her misfortune. And the farmer said, "Fortunate or unfortunate, I don't know, let's wait and see."
Two days later the king's soldiers came by the little farm. The king had declared war on an adjacent country and the soldiers had orders to draft all able-bodied young men into the army. On seeing the farmer's son with both legs and both arms broken, not to mention several ribs fractured and numerous lacerations on his face and head, they left him home and continued on to the next family. "The farmer's wife wept with relief, crying, "How lucky we are! This is most fortunate." The neighbors, most of whom had had sons taken off to war, said "You are indeed most fortunate." The farmer said, "Fortunate or unfortunate, I don't know, let's wait and see."
Some months passed. The farmer's son was recovering nicely; he was able to walk, albeit with a cane. A messenger from the king's palace dropped by the farm to inquire about the health of the son. Seeing the son's improved condition he stated that by order of the king, the son must come at once to the palace to work in the gardens and stables. There was a shortage of workers at the palace due to the war. What could the family do but let their son go? The wife was bitterly angry and cursed the king for his unfairness. "How unfortunate we surely are! We have lost our only son and there will be no one to help us with the farm now." The neighbors came by to console the wife, murmuring, "What an unfortunate turn of events." The farmer just said, "Fortunate or unfortunate, I don't know, let's wait and see."
The king had a beautiful daughter. One day she looked out of her window and saw the handsome new gardener. She fell in love with him and went to her father and said, "Father, I have found the man I wish to marry. Please make it happen!" The king, unable to resist a request from his lovely daughter replied, "Of course, it shall be done."
The next day a messenger was sent from the palace to the farm, bearing a wedding invitation for the farmer and his wife, as well as an invitation for them to come live permanently at the palace. Can you imagine the reaction of the farmer's wife? She was ecstatic and could hardly contain her joy. Jumping up and down she laughed, "This is incredible, how fortunate!" The neighbors exclaimed, "Indeed, this is a very fortunate turn of events!" And the farmer, as usual, said . . . !" (p. 45-47)
And there you go.
Do you recognize yourself anywhere in there? In that dramatic, emotionally-tumultuous farmer's wife, whose notion of her life as charmed or cursed changed from event to event, according to her sense of what was fortunate and what was not? Or how about in the neighbors, who in every situation jumped in to escalate the drama of either the pleasure or the pain?
We are all, of course, the farmer's wife and the neighbors — at least until the meditation teachings come along and help us to step back, take a deep breath, and take the long view.
Our lives are this way. We break bones and we lose things of great value to us and find ourselves mired in situations that ostensibly reek of unfairness. We achieve temporary wild success or fall in love or get rich and think we're set for life. The farmer's wife and her constant state of mood-swinging drama is pretty typical of the way most of us react to the events in our lives.
As a yoga teacher, I see this on people's faces in class when they fall out of Natarajasana or land splat on their faces after Pincha Mayurasana. I see it in their frustration when they can't get their chests to the mat in Upavistha Konasana or get the "full split" of Hanumanasana. And in those moments, I always think of this story, and of the way in which the farmer chooses to react: not with drama, not with great joy, not with great sorrow, but always and ever drawing back to the midline, returning to that place of equilibrium, being present with the current situation with the wise perspective of one who's seen great change, and knows that more will inevitably come.
This acceptance of impermanence is the root of the story, of course: the fact that change is the one thing we can always count on, and that even our moments of most joyful pleasure and most difficult pain will all pass. If we can just manage to stay with those moments in some measure of balance, of groundedness, of reasonable equilibrium, we can trust that, a few breaths along, both the sweetness AND the sorrow will pass.
This is life.
This is the gift of meditation.